It's Not Fun, but It Has to be Done Benjamin Franklin wrote a 1789 letter that states, “But in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Even at the United States’ early beginnings, federal taxes were a necessary evil to fund various public projects and administrative costs. Today, federal taxes serve much of the same purpose. While virtually no one likes to prepare and file their taxes, it is a necessity if you want to avoid fines and further hassle. It is no secret that preparing and filing your taxes is notoriously complicated. Many people lament that it should not be so difficult to pay the government. However, some of the complications allow people to save money if they discover specific tax benefits. Knowing how to file your own taxes may be a good option if your tax situation is relatively straightforward, or if you are willing to learn the process. Why Do You Need to File Your Taxes Every Year? The short answer is that federal law requires that most individuals file taxes annually. Income taxes are assessed every year based on your income earned during that period. You then pay a percentage of that income to the government, less any deductions, adjustments, or credits that you qualify to receive. If you do not file (and pay) your taxes, then you may be assessed penalties and interest. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can even go as far as garnishing your wages and repossessing your property if you do not file and pay as required. The Benefits of Filing Your Own Taxes If you are one of the 43% of Americans that are doing your own taxes, you are certainly not alone. Roughly 53 million people prepared and filed their own taxes in 2018. There are many benefits to filing your own taxes, including: Saving money: Hiring a tax professional is expensive, and many people can prepare and file their returns on their own, completely free of charge. Control: Some people like knowing the exact information that is included in their return and being able to control the data, and for some, knowing precisely how the numbers work out, is comforting. Gain helpful information: When you prepare your taxes, you can see what items saved you money this year or which issues you should address so you can save money next year. While filing your own taxes is complicated, it can be beneficial under the right circumstances. There are several programs online that walk you through the process to help ensure you are taking advantage of all of your available deductions and credits. The Drawbacks of Filing Your Own Taxes In addition to the benefits, there are also some disadvantages to filing your own taxes. These include: Time and effort: Preparing and filing your taxes takes time and work You have to sift through financial information and deal with concepts that you may not understand well. The process can be frustrating and take a considerable amount of time. Error risk: If you do not completely understand how your taxes work, you run the risk of making a mistake because of misconceptions. If that happens, it could lead to underpayment and audits down the road. Questions: Even if you use a tax preparation software, you may still have questions that will remain unanswered unless you do significant research or reach out to a tax professional. For some people, the risk of having a substantial error that triggers the IRS’s attention is enough to scare them away from preparing their own taxes. Preparing for Filing Your Taxes When you begin work on your taxes, you should have information gathered throughout the year. Some of the most common items that you will need include: Social Security numbers for you, your spouse, and any dependents Information about wages, such as W2s or 1099s Investment income information Documents that represent any other source of income Information regarding adjustments to income, such as student loan interest paid, IRA contributions, and health savings account contributions, just to name a few Information regarding potential credits, including, for example, child care expenses, education expenses, or retirement savings contributions Data about any tax payments that you may have made throughout the year Keeping good records will help make tax preparation easier at the beginning of the year. [youmaylike] The Basics About What You Can Claim When Filing You must pay income taxes on all your income earned throughout the year. However, that income is reduced by a few things. The further you can reduce your taxable income, the less you tax you will pay. There are three general categories of tax reduction methods: Standard or Itemized Deductions Everyone can claim either the standard or itemized deductions. Standard deductions are a set amount that is based on your filing status. Itemized deductions are based on actual expenses that you incurred throughout the year. You can choose to use the higher deduction. The higher the deduction, the less tax you will have to pay on your income because your income decreases on paper. Itemized deductions include things like medical expenses, state and local tax payments, and home mortgage interest deductions. Itemized deductions will only decrease your income by a certain percentage, or up to a specific point. Adjustments Some adjustments to your income may also be available. These include things like paying student loan interest or alimony. Adjustments are more valuable compared to deductions because they decrease your income dollar for dollar. Credits A credit decreases your taxable income as well. Some credits are refundable while others are not. For example, you get a child tax credit simply for having children that qualify for that credit, but that credit will not be paid out to you if you do not have any tax obligations. On the other hand, the Earned Income Credit, which is available for low-income filers, will be refunded to you even if you do not owe any taxes. There are a wide variety of deductions and credits available. Take a look at the federal forms and related schedules to determine whether you might qualify for any of these. How to File Your Own Taxes If You Live Overseas If you earned income in the United States as a U.S. citizen or resident alien, you likely need to pay taxes on that income. This is true even if you live overseas. You can still choose to e-file or mail your tax return to the IRS once you have it prepared, just as if you physically lived in the United States. In some cases, you will be taxed on the income that you earned throughout the world. However, you may be able to deduct a portion or all of the revenue that was not made in the United States in some circumstances. Filing Online The IRS offers an online filing option that is free for individuals that have an adjusted gross income below a specific threshold. Generally, your income must be below $66,000 to qualify for this service. You can also file online by using a commercial tax preparation software. Examples of this type of software include: H&R Block TurboTax TaxCut TaxSlayer There are many programs available that will file your taxes for you, often for a fee. Knowing how to file your own taxes can be a great way to save money, but it can be tricky as well. If you want to file your taxes yourself, be sure to read the form instructions thoroughly and get familiar with various tax saving opportunities before you begin preparing your return.
Protect Against Collisions and More
If you drive a car in the United States, liability insurance must cover it. This type of policy pays for medical and property damage resulting from a vehicular accident. You can also purchase comprehensive and collision insurance to cover other costs. These additional coverages help protect the value of your car should it be damaged.
If you are calculating how much it will cost to buy a car, you need to take into consideration the cost of insurance as well.
In this article, we’ll review the basics of car insurance and the best auto insurance companies in America, including costs, pros and cons.
This is a brief introduction to automobile coverage.
When an accident occurs, liability insurance covers you, household members and authorized drivers for the costs associated with property damage and bodily injury. It covers the cost to repair or replace property damage that you caused.
You are also covered if you cause the bodily harm or death of someone else while you are driving the car. This includes medical expenses, loss of income and specified legal defense costs.
If you are involved in a collision, this type of insurance will help pay for repairing or replacing your vehicle. If the collision is your fault, the coverage may extend to other damaged vehicles involved in the accident. States do not mandate that you buy collision insurance, but your lender or car dealer will if you finance or lease the car.
Policies offer a range of deductibles, which is how much you’ll have to pay for repairs before the insurance kicks in. Larger deductibles lower the policy premiums but expose you to more out-of-pocket expenses if a collision occurs.
Comprehensive insurance covers damage to your car that occurs for reasons other than a collision, including theft, fire, vandalism, weather and natural disasters. This coverage is often required if you finance your automobile.
You can add riders to this insurance to provide coverage of additional costs, including auto towing, glass repair, daily rental while your car is in the shop and emergency roadside service. As with collision insurance, you can set the deductible on your comprehensive insurance policy to cut your premium costs.
If your car is severely damaged in an accident or other incident, you might find that your comprehensive and collision damage won’t provide enough coverage to pay off the amount you owe on the vehicle. Many policies pay only the fair market value of a totaled car, which might be only 80% of the amount you owe.
You can buy additional insurance to plug this gap and ensure you can pay off the car loan in full if the vehicle is destroyed or stolen. Normally, car leases require you to buy gap insurance. If you pay cash or pay off your loan, you can save money by avoiding or dropping gap insurance when no longer needed.
Top Five Auto Insurers
These five insurers all offer full coverage policies and many additional services.
Amica is a superstar among car insurers, winning accolades from Consumer Reports and J.D. Powers. It’s known for handling the claims process smoothly. Average annual cost for full coverage: $1,360.
- You can have your car repaired at any body shop, without restrictions.
- Offers a premium package which, for additional cost, provides full glass coverage, rental coverage, good driving rewards and identity fraud monitoring.
- Superior financial stability rating from A.M. Best.
- Missing some discounts, such as military, low-mileage and prepay discounts.
- Must speak on phone to get a quote.
- Sparse website when it comes to customer education.
State Farm is the country’s largest multi-line insurance company. It excels in customer service and regularly garners high marks from customers. Average annual cost for full coverage: $1,337.
- Superior financial stability rating from A.M. Best.
- Excellent online quote tool, getting customers a quote in as little as five minutes.
- Easy claim handling and top service from its more than 18,000 agents and its easy-to-use mobile app.
- Doesn’t offer coverage for new car replacement or uninsured motorists.
- Missing prepayment and automatic payment discounts.
While only 11th in size, the Hartford is big when it comes to policy options. It offers rates based on your actual driving as well as full-replacement of new cars when destroyed shortly after purchase. Average annual cost for full coverage: N/A.
- Solid benefits, including superior roadside assistance and towing programs.
- High marks from customers for their purchase experiences.
- One of the few insurers with mechanical breakdown coverage for out-of-warranty repairs.
- Mediocre service interaction according to J.D. Power surveys.
- Sparse online learning materials.
Geico is the second-largest U.S. car insurer. It is a favorite among tech-savvy geeks who appreciate the insurer’s mobile app and excellent online service. Average annual cost for full coverage: $1,627.
- Geico offers plenty of ways to save, such as multi-vehicle, driving history and vehicle safety equipment discounts.
- Special savings for active and retired military members and federal employees.
- Full-featured mobile app for getting quotes, buying insurance, managing your policy, submitting claims, summoning roadside assistance and making payments.
- Human help may be in short supply, as just about everything is handled online.
- No gap insurance offered.
No insurer matches USAA for service to military members. Unfortunately, it's only available to active service members, their families and retired veterans. Average annual cost for full coverage: $896.
- Superior financial stability rating from A.M. Best.
- Top-ranked purchase experience score from J.D. Power.
- Missing gap coverage.
- Doesn’t offer interior vehicle coverage or new car replacement coverage.
- Limited availability.
The Right One for You
Competition in the insurance industry helps drive down prices and prompts insurers to offer money-saving features. For example, your carrier might reward you for a safe driving record and for having a long-term relationship with the insurer.
The right insurer for you is one that is highly rated for service, offers the exact coverage you want and does so at an unbeatable price. You should always gather multiple quotes before selecting an insurer, and make sure you get credit for all applicable discounts.