Budgeting & Saving

How Can a College Student File Taxes?

If you’re a college student, you may not think a lot about taxes. After all, you may not earn a lot of money, or you may get work-study money and assume you don’t need to pay taxes. However, it’s important to be aware of the topic, even if you think they don’t yet apply to you.

Even if you’re in college, you may still have to pay taxes. While you can only answer these questions yourself, you may want to check with your parents and/or a tax professional as well for the best, most accurate advice.

Are You an Independent or Dependent Student?

In many cases, even if your parents have claimed you as a dependent on their taxes, and even if you’re a student, you may still have to file taxes. It depends on how much money you earned throughout the year.

If you were self-employed during the past year and made more than $400, you will have to file a federal tax return and pay self-employment tax. In addition, even if you received Federal Work-Study, you still are generally subject to federal and state income tax. However, unlike self-employment tax, your work-study income is exempt from FICA taxes, provided you’re enrolled full-time in school and work less than half-time.

No matter what income you receive throughout the year, you’ll want to make note of any earnings when you fill out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Your FAFSA helps determine how much aid you will receive in the upcoming year for school. You should always fill it out, even if you think you or your family make too much to qualify.

Do Students Qualify for Tax Benefits?

College students may qualify for some tax breaks, or benefits, as long as they’re attending an accredited university, college, vocational school, or adult education classes. There are two tax credits in particular students will want to be aware of, as they can help lessen your tax burden and help you pay off student loan debt while you’re still in school.

As a student, you’ll want to check out the American Opportunity Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit. While you can only apply for one credit per person (i.e. you and a sibling could qualify for each credit, but you yourself can’t claim both), these credits are very helpful toward reducing your tax burden.

If you’re a student currently paying off student loans, you can also qualify for the student loan interest deduction and the tuition and fees deduction. Here are additional tax credits which you may also qualify.

"Will I Pay Taxes on Scholarships or Grants?"

This will likely come as a relief to many of you: you do not have to pay taxes on scholarships and grants. Any scholarships you’ve received for merit, athletics, and more do not have to be included in your gross income on your tax return. This also includes fellowship grants, which many graduate students receive.

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Once you've determined if you need to pay taxes, and how much you need to pay (if anything), it's time to file your taxes. If you're a dependent, you can work with your parents and provide them any paperwork they need to complete their taxes. If you're filing on your own, you can always e-file, likely for free since you're a student and don't make much money. In all likelihood, you won't owe anything and you may even get a tax refund. That's why it's always important to file your taxes, even if you think you didn't make enough of an income. Never leave money behind!

The tax code can be very complicated, regardless of your status as a student. See our Ultimate Tax Guide for more assistance.

Originally posted 2016-01-06 10:00:18.

Budgeting & Saving

Last Day of the Year: How Much Do You Have Saved?

The end of the year is nearly here! If you're like 45% of Americans, you're probably starting to think of resolutions for 2016. If you're like me, you might be regretting some of the resolutions you set in 2015 and didn't keep (I'm looking at you, running goals!) You may have set budgeting, saving, health, family, or any number of goals for yourself in 2015, and maybe you're thinking of continuing a lot of those goals into 2016.
Since you're a Young Finances reader, you've probably been better than most at keeping at least a few of your money goals. We'd like to know, how much have you saved this year? What were your goals for saving and how did you do?
If you're interested in determining your saving rate, you can look at it a few ways. Here's how to determine how you did on saving this year:

The 50/20/30 Method

One way to evaluate how well you did on your saving goal this year is to see if your spending and saving followed the 50/20/30 method. LearnVest outlines examples of how this method works but here are the basics:
  • 50% of your take-home pay (after taxes) goes to fixed expenses like rent, utilities, food, and fuel. LearnVest lists student loans under "financial goals" and not fixed expenses but I would include student loans under your fixed expenses. Unless you make so little, or you're in school and can defer your loan payments, every lender considers your loans non-negotiable. You have to pay your student loans, unless you get a forbearance or deferment. If you don't, you'll go into default and damage your credit among other repercussions. Student loans also cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. Bottom line: they're a fixed expense!
  • 20% of your take-home pay is for savings and other financial goals. This is where you get to calculate some of the fun stuff! What were your 2015 saving goals? Take a look at your savings or investment accounts, and see if you put at least 20% toward saving of some form. If you were able to save or invest 20% of your take home pay, you're on the right track! No worries if you weren't, though. Any amount of saving puts you on the right track. For 2016, you can always find additional ways to hustle and thus be able to save more moolah.
  • 30% of your take-home pay is for flexible spending like shopping, entertainment, and hobbies. It's just fine if you spent less than 30% on hobbies or entertainment. Some people prefer to save their money for big ticket items, like travel, instead of spending money throughout the year. If you spent more than 30% of your take-home pay on flexible spending, though, you'll definitely want to go back and read more Young Finances articles.

Emergency Savings Evaluation

For some of us, especially those who've just graduated and maybe aren't making a huge salary, sometimes your saving goal is determined by your emergency savings. If you have emergency savings, you're doing really well!
Take a look at your emergency savings right now. See if you have enough saved to cover at least 3 months of expenses. For example, if your monthly fixed expenses come to $1,000, you should have $3,000 in your emergency savings. Even better is 6-9 months of emergency savings.
If you don't yet have enough saved to cover 3 months of expenses in case of a job loss, this should be your biggest priority in 2016. No matter what age you are, emergencies can happen at any time. It doesn't make sense to put money you don't have on a credit card with a high interest rate.
For 2016, let's make saving a priority! By evaluating your saving rate in 2015, you now know where you're doing well and where you can improve.
How much were you able to save this year, and how did you do it? If you'd like to see more articles on how to save, let us know!
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Originally posted 2015-12-30 10:00:20.

Budgeting & Saving

How to Navigate Your Quarter-Life Crisis

The time in your early to mid-thirties is a time of immense growth and personal change. You may have graduated from college, moved hundreds if not thousands of miles away from friends and family, and you're likely trying to figure out your career. While not every mid-20-year-old will experience it, the quarter-life crisis is real and affects people in different ways.

If you've ever questioned your life, love, or work choices, you're not alone! As someone who has definitely experienced a quarter-life crisis, here are ways to figure things out from someone who's been there and survived.

Face Your Quarter-Life Crisis Head On

If you're unhappy about one or multiple aspects of your life, sit down and list out why, exactly, you're feeling that way. By creating a list of what's making you unhappy (or confused, or frustrated, etc.), you can determine if it's external or internal factors that are making you feel that way.
For example, let's say you're feeling overwhelmed by your student debt. Your friends may be able to go out and spend more money, which makes you feel anxious because you know you have to pay rent and your student loan bill. By identifying your personal finance issue, student loan debt, as a point of stress, you can determine it's an external factor that you can control.
In that case, consider setting yourself up on a budget. You'll find plenty of resources here. If your student loans are too much to pay, check out student loan relief programs to have your payments lowered. Think about setting up fun, non-expensive nights out with your friends. And remember: your friends may be in just as much debt as you, but they're living on credit cards. Not everything is as perfect as it seems!

Take Steps to Move Forward

It sounds so simple to say, but you really do have to keep moving forward during your quarter-life crisis. You may not know what you should be moving toward, or how to do it, but challenging yourself will help you grow.
If you've ever been scared to do something, like going back to school or starting your own business, now is the time to take some steps to make these things a reality. While we all have to pay the bills, a quarter-life crisis is slightly easier to tackle simply because you don't have many of the responsibilities someone who is 40 or 50 might.
While you're still young, take some calculated risks with the knowledge that time is on your side. If you want to go back to school, start taking classes in your field, ask to shadow people whose jobs you admire, or even take some free online classes. Do it now, while you're young.

Don't Sweat It

When I was going through my quarter-life crisis (just last year!), I felt paralyzed. I wasn't happy in my job, so I put out a few resumes, but I didn't hear back. I kept working while taking some free, fun online courses in social media, but I didn't feel like I was going anywhere.
Within the span of a year, during which I applied to more jobs and created my own blog, I received a promotion into a new, exciting field, and my side business grew tremendously. If I lost my job tomorrow, I'd be able to pay my bills from my side hustle - which is a very good position to be in.
While you may feel like you're not moving forward as fast as your other friends are, be patient and don't worry about what you "should" be doing. You also don't want to rush into something because you think you "should" or because others are doing it, then regret it later. Regret plus a quarter-life crisis is a recipe for disaster! Remain positive and do things that make you happy. Things will work out.
Remember, you shouldn't compare your beginning to someone else's middle. It will be much better for you if you don't compare your life to your friends, because everyone takes a different path. Some people never go through a quarter-life crisis, but for those who do, every crisis looks different. The only thing you can control is your response to your quarter-life crisis. That is why it's important determine what's bothering you, figure out how you can move forward, and ultimately remember time marches on no matter what you do.
Have you gone through a quarter-life crisis? How did you handle it? If you haven't gone through one, have you known others who have. How did they cope?

Originally posted 2015-12-16 10:00:22.


How You Can Start Investing Now, Before the Next Year Starts

Even though it's almost the end of the year, it's never to late to start investing!
If you'd like to start investing this year, there are a few things to keep in mind. Depending on how involved you want to get, investing can take up a lot of time or very little time. It's easy to start investing, especially if your company offers a 401(k). If you want to 'go big', you can get as involved in investing as you want. There's plenty to read out there about investing.
Consider your age, too. The younger you are, the more aggressive you probably want to be when you start investing. People in their twenties and thirties have many years to let their portfolios grow and change. They can weather some of the typical market ups and downs that happen over decades.
If you want to start investing, here are ways you can get started now:

Contributing to Your 401(k)

Many employers offer some type of investment plan for their employees. Most offer a variation of the 401(k). Public school employees and some who work at non-profits may have 403(b) plans. They are similar to 401(k) plans. Either of these plans are great for people who want to start investing but don't know how.
The best part about 401(k)s is that some employers offer matches! This means if you invest in your company's 401(k), your employer will match your contribution up to a certain point. That's free money!
Contribution limits to a 401(k) are high: you can save $18,000 in your 401(k). The federal government's Thrift Savings Plan also falls under this contribution cap.
Even if you can't afford to contribute the maximum to your 401(k) this year, consider investing enough to get your employer's match. Not every employer offers this perk, so check with your Human Resources department to make sure it's an option. If it isn't, consider some of the additional investing resources below.
For the self-employed and freelancers out there, the IRS offers several investment and retirement options for you, too! Check out the Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) plan here, as well as other options for self-employed people to start investing.
Find your investing style with this investing compatibility quiz.

Start Investing in an IRA

Traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs are extremely popular investment vehicles, particularly for those whose companies don't offer a 401(k) or match. IRA stands for Individual Retirement Account. IRAs are easier to max out, as the contribution limit is $5,500 per person.
The main difference between a Traditional and Roth IRA is when you're taxed - and yes, you will be taxed. With a Traditional IRA, you don't pay taxes up front, but you do pay taxes when you take out your money at 59 1/2 years old. Note: you don't have to start withdrawing that early, but you must start withdrawing at age 70 1/2 or else you will face a penalty. One benefit to a Traditional IRA is that by contributing to it now, you reduce your taxable income immediately.
A Roth IRA, on the other hand, does not reduce your taxable income. You invest in a Roth IRA with after tax income. However, when you withdraw from your Roth IRA, at 59 1/2 years old or older, you won't pay any taxes on the amounts you withdraw. If you expect to be in a higher tax bracket when you're older, a Roth IRA makes sense. A Roth IRA also makes sense for those who owe little to no money at tax time and don't need to reduce their taxable income now.
There are some limitations to investing in both a Traditional and Roth IRA. Visit the IRS website on IRAs to determine if they're right for you.
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Start Investing in Your Health Savings Account

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) are quite possibly my favorite investment vehicle. I recently got started investing in my HSA. It's a great way for those who want to start investing to begin and not be overwhelmed.
In order to get an HSA, you must be enrolled in a high deductible health plan (HDHP). HDHPs do have higher deductibles than typical insurance plans, so it's something to keep in mind if you're considering an HSA. For example, depending on the type of HDHP offered by your employer or through self-employment, your deductible could be $1,500. This means you have to spend $1,500 out of your own pocket before your health insurance kicks in.
Some people have the funds to cover that deductible from their emergency savings. If, on the other hand, you wouldn't be able to cover your deductible amount, you may want to reconsider an HDHP for now.
If you choose an HDHP plan with an HSA, you'll quickly find out how useful and awesome Health Savings Accounts can be. With an HSA, you can pay for many medical expenses, found here, from your HSA. Contributions are also tax free, meaning they come from pre-tax income and reduce your taxable income.
The maximum you can contribute to your HSA, as a single person, is $3,350. If you have family coverage, you can contribute up to $6,650 per year. You can also invest your HSA contributions and take your HSA with you, no matter if you switch jobs or quit to start your own business. Your HSA, and its investment profits, are all yours!
As long as you spend your HSA funds on qualified medical expenses, you won't be taxed, making this investment one of the best out there. Medical expenses continue to increase every year, and you're likely to find your HSA will come in handy as you spend money on regular medical expenses.
With all of these options, you're sure to find something that interests you to start investing now. You can contribute to all of these accounts right now, before 2016 even starts. If you don't yet have an HSA account, you will have to wait to enroll in an HDHP, but you can plan for it until then!
Want to start investing now, but not sure where to start? Find your investing style with this investing compatibility quiz.

Originally posted 2015-12-09 10:00:21.

Budgeting & Saving

What Happens When You’re Married to a Frugal Spouse?

Having a frugal spouse can be both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, a frugal spouse can help you make an effective budget, keep you on track with spending, and build an impressive net worth. On the other hand, a frugal spouse can drive you nuts by being too frugal by questioning the things you buy, or never wanting to spend any money for entertainment.

If you're not as frugal as your spouse, it can be a challenge. However, marriage is a lifelong series of compromises, and setting mutual money goals is an important component of a successful marriage. Here are several ways to get along with your frugal spouse.

Decide on Your Core Values

You and your spouse married each other for a reason: you have a lot in common. You share similar life goals. If you're struggling to get along with a frugal spouse, it's time to sit down as a couple and review your core values.

Set time aside for a "money date" with your honey. This should be a quiet, peaceful time of the day, not right after you've both come home from a stressful day at work. Get out your budge.

Once you've sat down together with your budget, go over last month's spending and carefully evaluate your expenses. Are your expenses lining up with your values? If you both value travel, are the $30+ a week lunches at work aligning with those values? If they don't, make an effort to cut down your spending to free up money for the things you do value. This will show your frugal spouse you're serious about your values and are working to make them a reality.

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Fairly Evaluate Your Budget

It's not all up to you to placate a frugal spouse. In addition to agreeing on core values, your spouse needs to work with you to establish a fair budget. This means he or she needs to be willing to spend money on things you both value.

For example, if retirement is your frugal spouse's priority, evaluate your retirement budget and discuss your spouse's concerns. If you're saving a reasonable amount of money, show your spouse how other expenses, like travel, aren't threatening their retirement goal.

Your spouse may be worried that you both won't have enough money saved in retirement. These fears are reasonable. But as with all these, they can be abolished. By evaluating your budget, you can show him/her that it is possible to save and spend.

Accept & Embrace Frugal Habits

Your spouse probably has a wealth of frugal habits you can embrace. Embrace some of your frugal spouse's quirkiness and try to see life from their side. Also encourage them to live a little more and occasionally spend money doing things with you. Show them that life isn't all frugal, all the time.

When trying to understand your frugal spouse, take into account his/her past experiences. Perhaps your spouse grew up in a money insecure household. Being frugal may now be a way to handle his/her past. By talking about your goals in relation to your budget, you support them and want to understand their struggles.

Your frugal spouse's habits aren't going to go away all at once. It's a process.

Originally posted 2015-12-02 10:00:05.


Top 5 Interview Questions Most College Students Bomb

When you're going out on your first round of professional interviews, you may be worried about your lack of a lengthy resume, relevant experience, or salary history. Luckily, many companies realize young professionals may not have the depth of a resume older professionals do. And if you've practiced typical interview questions, you'll likely do a great job of explaining how the experience you do have will benefit your potential employer.

However, there are some questions that college students completely bomb. College students typically fail these interview questions because they lack experience and practice. Luckily, I've faced several of these questions and, while I initially failed at answering them too, preparation can help you successfully navigate these difficult interview questions.

1. "What would you add to our company? What about our company stood out to you?"

If you're new to an organization, as in you haven't already interned with the company or worked there before, you'll likely face interview questions related to your knowledge of the company and its business.

Companies want to know you've done your homework, you know what the company does, and you've thought about the value you'll provide if hired. If you can't talk about one project the company has worked on, you haven't done a thorough job to understand the position or the company culture. Not knowing anything about the company you're interviewing for could not only doom your chances of getting the job, but could also doom you if you do get the job. After all, why apply for a job if you don't know anything about the company - good or bad? Will you even like it there?

2. "Why did you leave your last job?"

Out of all the interview questions asked of recent college graduates, this one is by far the easiest - if you know how to answer it correctly. This question could also be one of the most difficult if you haven't prepared for it. It's difficult because many college students don't realize diplomacy is an important skill during the interview process, and often take the opportunity to discuss everything they didn't like about a previous employer.

This question is designed to see if you know how to diplomatically yet truthfully answer why you left a previous job. For many college students and graduates, this question is easy. Many college students and graduates are typically leaving previous employment or internships to utilize and improve their skills, as well as get into a particular field.

This question is not designed for you to tell your potential future employer about all the things you hated in your last job. As your grandmother may have said, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all". Above all, be diplomatic and professional in your answers.

3. "Tell us about the time you worked with a difficult coworker."

Similar to the "Why did you leave your last job/former employer, etc." interview questions, this question about difficult coworkers is not an opportunity for you to complain. However, you might fail this question if you answer it the same as the question above.

An interview question about a difficult coworker is not a time for you to be diplomatic, but it is time for you to be creative and persuasive. This question is looking to see how you handle adversity, because you'll likely face some challenges in your new job. Succeed in answering this question by focusing on a difficult encounter with a coworker and how you still were successful.

You may have been successful at managing your interactions with this difficult coworker, or you may have been successful at completing a project while still working with a difficult coworker. Show how you can handle adversity without melting down and running to a supervisor, and this may be a question that gets you the job!

4. "Tell us where you see yourself in 5 years."

These types of "Where will you be in our organization?" interview questions are becoming less popular as employers realize Millennials aren't like Baby Boomers. Millennials don't typically plan on staying with one company forever. This interview question is tricky, because you don't want to lie. While you may not plan on being with the company forever, you do have to make the company want you and see you as a long term investment. While many companies nowadays know young employees won’t stay forever, they want to know the commitment they’re making to you will pay off - i.e., hopefully you’ll stay longer than 6 months.

Focus on the skills you want to achieve in your new position at the company. Talk about how you'd like to develop communication, leadership, or specific hard skills in your role, and about any type of training or advanced certificates you'd like to learn. Keep it broad and, whatever you do, don't tell them you "want their job" in 5 years - even if it's true!

5. "What salary do you believe you deserve?"

Salary interview questions are far less common in the public sector, as salaries are typically fixed and lack wiggle room. However, these questions are still fairly common in the nonprofit and private sectors. These are tricky interview questions too, because you don’t want to answer something too low that undervalues your worth, but you don’t want to answer too high and lose out on the position all because of salary.

Temper your answer in terms of opportunities, like vacation, flex time, or a change in title. Try to avoid giving a hard number, but say you’re looking to work with the company to come to something that is equitable for both of you. If pushed to give a number, do your homework on salaries within the company, and include overall compensation instead of an hourly wage in your answer.

With some practice and preparation, you can save yourself a bombed interview and potential embarrassment. While you may lack a lengthy resume, you can make up for it with a professional and polished interview.

Originally posted 2015-11-02 10:00:37.