Archive for April 2018

A Free College Education Made Easy

It is possible to get a college education without loads of debt. Learning scholarship application tricks that work is a key ingredient.

The last time it snowed more in NE Wisconsin was March of 1888. That’s a long time ago.

My oldest daughter, Heather, was home from college when the storm hit. It was so bad they closed the college so she stayed with us an extra day. Our family bonding time consisted of shoveling wet, heavy snow a good part of the day. Such is the way of things in the Northwoods.

April snowstorms melt fast. The days are long and the sun is high in the sky. Cold temperatures fight a losing battle.

But when record snow falls it takes time to clean the roads and melt the piles. We should have the last of the piles melted by May 1st.

Heather’s car had to stay outside because the garage is full. With modest coaxing I got the AGCO tractor started and started moving most of the snow out of the way. Heather’s car was the last thing we dug out.

The next day the roads were plowed and it was time to head back to college. On the way back her car died for no apparent reason. The car was towed to a shop south of Neenah for repairs. The bill came to nearly $500, a princely sum for a college student.

As bad as Heather’s luck was, it could have been a lot worse. She saved and invested for several years before committing to college full-time. Still, she is determined to finish college without a penny of debt. (So far, so good.)

But that isn’t the reason why car problems were nothing more than a hiccup along her college journey. And her story can help countless others attain a college degree without cost.




Slow Start

Heather had grand ideas when she reached adulthood. She wanted to attend Full Sail University in Florida on dad’s dime for an art degree. I’ll save you the damage to your eardrums and refrain from my response.

At the time Heather was selling artwork and stashing it away into investments. She is quite good at a variety of art forms. What she struggled with was scholarships and dad wasn’t in the cooperating mood.

Then she got the idea she would go to college (art again) in Thailand. She got her passport (more on that later) and sent the school $500. The short story is she never went to Thailand. She did get one heck of an education for the lost $500 and the cost of a passport. Truth is she wasn’t ready to be alone in a foreign country. Yet.

Then she looked into a school in Missouri that was affordable, but it wasn’t what she wanted. Then she toyed with Japan and more seriously with South Korea. The only place she didn’t want to go to school was some of our affordable options right here in Wisconsin.




Seeing the Light

Dad made it clear he wasn’t paying for any college costs unless Heather found some scholarship money. It wasn’t that Heather didn’t try. She applied to a hundred or more scholarships without a nibble.

The first turning point came when Heather decided the local technical college was an okay place to start her formal education. She busted her tail working to fund her education so dad relented and provided a modest—around $2,500—of financial support. When my kid puts in the effort I’ll do my best to help them.

Choosing a local college and a career she could reasonably expect to earn enough at to calculate a return on her education investment gave dad hope. Heather likes to travel the way I like to nest on the farm. Heather wants to see Asia. She is in love with the cultures and peoples. The only thing missing was some scholarship money to grease the process.

Now that she was going to college close to home she was able to get some small grants and scholarships. Most of it was state or local government provided. Wisconsin chipped in $300 and the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) invested around $1,000. (DVR provided support because she has her own tutoring business and she has some medical issues.)

Proud parents posing with their daughter.

Still, scholarship successes were scarce. I read a book by Ramit Sethi (I Will Teach You to be Rich) years before where the author claimed he had so much scholarship money when he attended college he was able to save and invest some of the funds since they weren’t all needed for college expenses. I was concerned Heather was unable to apply the same procedures to her college funding.

Sethi was slamming one scholarship after another while Heather couldn’t get them to open the envelope. Something was wrong. When something isn’t working it doesn’t mean you double your efforts doing the same thing. You just go nowhere twice as fast!

Dad had no solutions. College was a different animal back in the early 1980s. I had my own home (didn’t live on campus) and paid my own way. Scholarships weren’t necessary because $1,000 would cover a semester easily, including books, with a meaningful remainder left over for social activities.

Heather is like her dad: knuckle-headed. She wanted to go to college so bad it hurt and she wasn’t going to be denied. Mom and dad are supportive, but we will not give a free ride. Eighty percent of a college education is getting there. If you want to make it in the business world you better be able to figure out how to get an education without visiting bankruptcy court.

Money was tight her first year. She wanted college to be self funding; no dipping into long-term savings either. She studied hard and has a 4.0. And she never stopped researching scholarships and other college funding opportunities. She also clung to her dream of teaching English as a second language in China.

As Heather approached the first year as a full-time student (she was taking a class or two prior) opportunities she never knew existed were exposed to her. Since she has a tutoring business several organizations were interested in helping her. Her college started a Fox Trap Pitch Contest. (We live in an area called the Fox River Valley and the Fox Cities.)

Heather tackled this contest the way she did everything in school, with unrelenting effort. First prize was $1,000. Want to guess who won first place. Yup! My daughter! All I can say is, “Good genetics. Especially from the paternal side.”

The pitch contest did more than help her promote her business and raise capital. It taught her how to pitch an idea, like maybe to a scholarship. And this is where it gets interesting. In the last few months she finally figured out how to pitch her business and submit to scholarships in a way that works.




Unlimited Opportunities

You can’t imagine how proud I am of my oldest daughter. She never quit no matter how down she got or depressing it was to work without results. (My youngest shares the same attributes so I’m proud of her, too.)

The best part is she knows how to do it herself. If dad wrote a check Heather would still be clueless on a good many things. I would have robbed her of the most valuable part of her education!

Remember how I said Heather wants to go to China to teach English as a second language? Well, her degree is for teaching. She is also leaving in a few weeks for China to teach for a month. She has been contacted for job interviews when she gets there. When her month is done it is back to Wisconsin to finish another school year. She will probably tutor via internet during the school year and head back to China for a much longer stay after she graduates. Her passport was a worthwhile expense after all. BTW, China instantly gave her a 10 year work visa.

China and the United States are two very different cultures. But as Warren Buffett has said all along, the United States has the “secret sauce”. In the last week he added China to the list saying China also found the “secret sauce” economically. With two great nations and cultures, with a heaping bowl of sauce bridged by my daughter and her efforts, the human race is destined for glory never seen before. (Yes, dad’s pride is swelling.)




Grabbing the Chance

Things were different when I went to school. Higher education is expensive today. Student loans are out of control. School counselors want to help students manage loans. Heather was quick to interrupt when the topic came up to explain she wasn’t interested in loan. God, that kid is smart. Mom had to have done something right because I’m not that gifted.

Scholarships are everywhere. Large numbers of scholarships go unawarded due to lack of interest or quality entries.

Heather was recently elected vice president of the Wisconsin region of Phi Theta Kappa. She gets to do more of that traveling she loves now and is guaranteed another scholarship. This one could be meaningful, if you know what I mean.

As a side note, Heather tried to convince me Phi Theta Kappa means “the smart ones” in Greek. Dad was suspicious and looked it up. Good one, Heather. And yes, I know you’ll be reading this. BTW, it means “wisdom, aspiration, purity.”




A Scholarship for Every Wealthy Accountant Reader

Some things I can’t do no matter how important they are. I’m not in the trenches when it comes to college funding.

Heather is getting an education on how to get an education. Therefore, I asked her to write a follow-up article to this post which she promised me in a week. If all goes according to plan I will publish Heather’s post next week on how she discovered how to write killer scholarship applications that work.

I think she will also include other resources she has used. For example, her college has a service called SALT. The SALT program has a massive clearinghouse of scholarships where the college helps you submit a quality application. And it’s FREE! Just be careful when they try to help you with getting student loans. Student loans are the last line of defense when all other options are exhausted. When you stand firm expecting scholarships to pay for your education, the counselors have to up their game to help you. Make it clear you want scholarships, not debt!

My opinion on college has been published before. Education is the most important thing you can do to improve your life. Most education happens outside the classroom! That doesn’t take anything away from a formal education. College is about learning and making contacts.

Next week, if all goes well, you will make a powerful contact with Heather.

Finally, remember Heather’s $500 car repair bill? She discovered there is a program at the college where they will help pay one major expense per year, in Heather case, up to $500. She kept her eyes open for opportunities removing a car repair bill from the budget.

Smart, girl, don’t you think?



Wealth Building Resources

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to skyrocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

PeerSteet is an alternative way to invest in the real estate market without the hassle of management. Investing in mortgages has never been easier. 7-12% historical APRs. Here is my review of PeerStreet.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. Quickbooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

A cost segregation study can save $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregations studies work and how to get one yourself.

Amazon good way to control costs and comparison shop. The cost of a product includes travel to the store. When you start a shopping trip to Amazon here it also supports this blog. Thank you.

Depression and Personal Finance

If you are feeling suicidal, please seek help immediately. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741. Find a trusted friend or family member to stay with you while you are suicidal.

 

Break the cycle of debt and depression. Loneliness, sadness, depression and helplessness are natural responses to serious money problems. #money #moneyproblems #debt #depression #suicide #breakthecycleDepression knows no boundaries. Anyone at any age can experience debilitating depression. No one is exempt: male or female, young and old, every ethnic background, every religious belief and every level of the economic spectrum.

Depression is hard to treat since it comes in so many flavors. Some people experience mild or seasonal depression, sometimes known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Depression can be brutally severe or cycle between periods of hyperactive behavior followed by an equally severe depressive episode. To complicate matter more, manic-depressives can cycle fast or slow.

Medication doesn’t help everyone and for many only provides mild relief. Frequently external factors trigger an event. Overwhelming debt can bring the walls crashing in.

But external triggers are not necessary for those with a tendency for depression. Successful and wealthy people are not exempt from external triggers causing depression. Eliminating debt can go a long way for many people in regaining mental health. But not always.




The Dear Debt Mission

Melanie is an incredible young woman who writes the Dear Debt blog. What started as a public journey to break up with debt brought an unexpected consequence. People started reading her blog and contacting her with their stories of unmanageable debt. Melanie also noticed in her analytics program that many people finding her blog were suicidal due to their debt load.

It might be forgivable to bow our head in silence and move on feeling there is nothing we can do. Not Melanie. Every September, which is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, Melanie has a Debt Drop program where she encourages bloggers to join her in creating a web of posts focusing on suicide awareness and prevention. A heavy dose of debt reduction is encouraged. I added to the list a few times myself. Here is another entry.

It is impossible to know how many lives have been saved due to Melanie’s efforts. Certainly the number of people helped is tremendous.

But that isn’t why I’m writing today. There is another group of people in desperate need of help I want to address.

Living the Dream or Living in a Dream

Before we continue I must make a confession. The author is a rapid cycler manic-depressive. The dark days of winter can cause SAD, but I also suffer awesome bouts of efficient hyper-activity followed by crushing depression. It can happen any time of the year.

When I was a boy I was diagnosed with the disease. Later doctors tried a cocktail of medications to tone down the highs and lows. Lithium did nothing. Prozac and similar drugs were ineffective. They even tried scary drugs that really messed with my head. Eventually the medications were ended and I attended therapy to understand my triggers and methods to control an episode.

Here is the funny thing. I never had an overwhelming debt burden in my life. I grew up poor on a farm in rural Wisconsin, but we always had food, family life was good and I never felt like we were poor until I got older and the outside world reminded me what I am.

Later I married the best woman on earth and she blessed our household with two incredible daughters. Home life has always been good for me. I got lucky. With a predisposition for mania followed by depression, I found a way to create a life that minimized triggers. Like I said, lucky.




Money Doesn’t Solve Every Problem

When people are deep in debt they think money will solve all their problems. It doesn’t! Money will solve some issues in your life. Money can reduce and eliminate debt obligations. This is a major stress reducer.

Lots of money also opens doors unavailable to the poor. Money makes it easier to retire young or choose the job of your choice since you have resources to weather the time between fulfilling jobs. Money means you don’t have to settle for any job offered just to put food on the table. If you enjoy traveling money certainly helps with that too.

Money can solve financial problems. It can’t fix a broken marriage or resolve a drug problem. Money can buy quality healthcare, but can’t cure every ailment. And money can’t stop the demons of depression from crushing you down.

 

Dealing with Depression

To someone deep in debt it may sound strange to hear someone is suicidal when they have a quality home life and financial wealth. But depression doesn’t work that way!

Mental illness carries a social stigma. It shouldn’t. Depression is not a sign of weakness. Depression is a disease and must be treated as any disease.

Debt can cause serious depression. Not knowing where to turn is normal. Get your life back. #debt #suicide #depression #personalfinance #studentloans #creditcarddebtLeft unchecked it can destroy things of value in your life. Medication is an option for some. I encourage you to have a serious talk with your doctor on your situation. If medication doesn’t work for you, as it doesn’t for the author, you need a different set of tools. I will share some that have worked for me.

I was hesitant writing this post. After nearly a decade of controling excessive bouts of depression (I am less successful controlling the manias) I am in the deepest episode in nearly a decade.

Age gave me experience in handling triggers. Small bouts of depression would set in, but it was manageable. I have ready mental tools to get me back into life and motivated again. Manias are the worst because they make you feel so good as you get stuff done. I even managed to reduce the downside after a mania. Encouraging a mild mania is a valuable tool for an accountant during tax season. It is also dangerous. But when tax season spills into the remainder of the year the energy needs to come from somewhere, or so goes the crazy thinking.

Now is a good time to review the tricks I’ve learned to deal with depression since I’m struggling right now:

  • Triggers: Even if medication helps, controlling triggers is vital. Dark and short winter days can trigger depression in some people. It was an issue for me when I was younger, but it has been a non-event in later adulthood. Sunlight or sun lamps can help.

OTC medication or mild stimulants can trigger an event. For me large amounts of caffeine can trigger a mania. It’s easy when the workload increases to pound the coffee. You should constantly observe your response to foods, beverages, medications and recreational drugs (legal and illegal).

Stress is a huge trigger for many people. This is where a heavy debt burden comes in. But money isn’t the only stress. Other illness or the death of a friend or family member can do it. An unforeseen event can lift the stress level and start an uncontrollable spiral into depression.

  • Communicate: I have a very close relationship with my wife, Mrs. Accountant. We talk all the time. We can feel each other’s moods. Mrs. Accountant frequently knows I’m headed for depression before I do. She can see the outward signs I’m not paying attention to.

A trusted friend, family member or counselor is a tremendous benefit. Let people around you know when you are going down. Make sure a plan is in place to protect you if you become suicidal. It’s not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of intelligence. You know the helplessness of depression. When the depression passes, only then do you realize what you would have thrown away if you ended your life. And the damage to your friends and family lasts decades and longer. Do the right thing. Have a support team in place.

  • Train Yourself: Many people benefit from motivational tapes if they only have mild depression or borderline personality disorder. The upbeat message of optimism from speakers like Zig Ziglar have helped millions.
  • Diet and Exercise: Finding the right diet and mix of aerobic and strength exercises has made an incredible difference in my life. It’s those times where running a business cuts into running in the park conflict when I eventually get into trouble. Then diet suffers and the sodas go down the throat during the day and Jack at night. It all ends badly. Discover what foods cause attacks. And consider a sensible exercise program developed with a professional (trainer, doctor, et cetera).
  • Sleep: Lack of sleep is a serious stressor. Depressive episodes for me are usually preceded by a bout of sleeplessness. Lack of sleep even messes with people who don’t have depression. Get your sleep. It might be the most important thing you do all day. Cut the caffeine if it disturbs your slumber.
  • Avoid alcohol: For some reason people with depression think alcohol will deaden the pain. It might a first, but alcohol doesn’t deaden the pain long and the risk of addiction is real. Alcohol is no solution for depression and is fraught with problems.
  • Avoid important decisions while suffering a depressive event: Depression is a funny thing when it comes to decision making. I can prepare a mean tax return without issue while struggling with depression. The reason is the decisions are less about a choice and more about application of facts. The decisions best avoided while depressed include financial decisions.

Important financial decisions are best avoided while suffering deep depression. Your judgment is clouded when you are suffering. Cashing in a retirement account is a bad idea when you should be focusing on healing. Major expenditures are also to be avoided at these times. Now is not the time to shop, buy a new car, home, et cetera.

When depression strikes deep I start to eliminate things. I cut back on life demands. Depression causes me (most people) to withdraw. I try to cut back on projects or even eliminate them. I’m not saying this is a good thing because this in itself is a decision with consequences long after the depression ends. Unfortunately, you don’t always have a choice. Life doesn’t go on as usual when you suffer depression. Something has to give and certain activities need to be curtailed. Things you don’t want to cut back are your relationships and job. Your family and friends are your support group in your time of need. And you may need that job later when the fog lifts.

  • Seek professional help: It isn’t easy to seek help for depression. When you are suffering the blinding tunnel vision of depression you don’t think anyone can help and don’t even know you need help many times. When not depressed you think you are okay now. You must break out of the trap and seek appropriate medical attention.
  • Don’t be alone: Depression can do strange things to good people. If you are suicidal, call the number at the top of this post. Help is available. Whenever possible, have someone with you.

Remain Strong

It’s not always possible to control triggers. A surprise stressor can come out of left field. Some people are lucky enough to grow out of some types of depression like SAD or borderline personality disorder. Regardless, the illness is always there. Like any serious disease, it is nothing to be ashamed of. Seek help. There are solutions.

And most of all, remember, you are not alone.

 

Wealth Building Resources

Personal Finance is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Finance is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to skyrocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

PeerSteet is an alternative way to invest in the real estate market without the hassle of management. Investing in mortgages has never been easier. 7-12% historical APRs. Here is my review of PeerStreet.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. Quickbooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

A cost segregation study can save $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregations studies work and how to get one yourself.

Amazon good way to control costs and comparison shop. The cost of a product includes travel to the store. When you start a shopping trip to Amazon here it also supports this blog. Thank you.

 



The #MeToo Movement and the Loss of Intimacy

Romance should not die with the #metoo movement. It is possible to love and respect at the same time.

The event of my life happened on April 2, 1987. It was the most unlikely of events and was totally an accident. Unfortunately you can’t enjoy what I experienced. The modern world no longer tolerates that kind of thing.

The spring of 1987 was a calm part of my life. I owned my own home, I had money and I was living the dream. Only one thing was missing.

My lust to learn goes back to my childhood. With plenty of free time I could read from sunrise to sunset. I would walk to the corner café for a cup of coffee and dinner most days. I would putz around the place and yak with the local farmers as I swilled my coffee. To prevent my underwear sticking to my ass or crawling up thereof I would hop behind the counter and pour coffee. The patrons loved the conversation so the owner comped most of my meals and coffee.

As much as I was enjoying life I was lonely. (And young!) The farmers were a mild diversion and books were a mild form of cocaine, but there was still something missing.

I would take a class or two at the local college those years. Eventually I met some people I really enjoyed talking with so we started to take the same classes. A degree made no difference to me so I just took what interested me with an emphasis in having a friend or two in each class.

The spring of 1987 was different. The loneliness was becoming unbearable. I had my eye on a cute girl in Microeconomics. She was heavy on the makeup, but had the look I found intoxicating. I tried to make small talk with her. I thought we were making a connection.

One day a group of guys were sitting in a side area with plenty of windows discussing historical issues. Some of the other guys had the class; I didn’t. My love interest was listening to the conversation.

At one point another guy participating in the conversation said something I felt was effeminate. My love interest was very offended and let me know about it. The gloss was off the rose. There are things worse than loneliness.




The Truth

The next semester our small group, including my prior love interest, moved on to Macroeconomics. It was the spring 1987 semester.

Class was Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday was fine, but there were issues with Thursday. You see, our group was a bit on the frugal side and next to the college was The Image, a bar connected to the bowling alley. Thursday night was happy hour and if we got there before 7 we could buy a drink (I was a soda guy back then) for $1 and we could eat all the tacos we could scarf down.

Our group must have been charismatic because the professor understood our plight and agreed to cut breaks short so class could end 10-15 minutes early on Thursdays.

So far so good.

But as frugal as our group was we also needed to get out and enjoy life a bit, too. Every so often we would make plans for a Friday night at The Image. Then the fateful event happened.

The Image had a dance floor and contemporary music. We danced as a group but dating among our own was rare. I had no interest in any female members of our group. In fact, some of the female members of our group were later invited to my wedding.

On April 2, 1987, a meek girl with a sad face was dancing with her friend center of the dance floor. I had to meet her; I had to know her story.

She was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. Girls like that don’t date guys like me. But the pang of loneliness was too strong to ignore. I gathered my courage and walked onto the dance floor and asked if I could join her and her friend. She nodded.

Why I didn’t pass out on the spot is beyond me. God probably loves crazy fools. We danced a few more songs and then left the dance floor and talked. It was loud and it was hard to make a real connection. We enjoyed a slow dance. Did I mention God, heaven and a few other out-of-this-world feelings I had?

The beautiful woman turned pale when I gave her my name. She didn’t tell me her name. I was disappointed.

I begged her to return the following week. To my surprise she did.

Instead of dancing we left The Image for the sitting area of the bowling alley where it was quieter. (Now you know how loud the music was.) We talked for hours. The connection was instant. I found my soul mate. If only she feels the same.

She finally shared her name. Sue. Her name was Sue. (She doesn’t like to be called Susan because that is what her dad called her when she was in trouble.) She told me she was engaged a few years prior to a guy with my name. It explained a lot.

She still refused to give me her phone number or address, but did say she lived near only a few blocks away, pointing in the direction of her home. She mentioned the name of the avenue, but not the exact address.

At the end of the evening I walked her to her car. I was rewarded with a hug. Sue promised to return the following week. We would see each other sooner.

 

Somewhere around midweek I started missing Sue. (I missed her sooner, but I was able to control myself for a few days.) After class (it might have been Thursday, but knowing me it was certainly Tuesday) I decided to take a ride down her street after class.

I couldn’t believe my luck when I saw her car outside a home a few blocks up from the college. Emboldened by my prior luck I stopped. I contemplated the risks Sue’s dad might own a gun. Lust got the better of me.

Sue’s mother answered. Sue came to the door. She invited me in. I was the luckiest man alive.

That was 31 years ago. We were married one year and six days after we met. A few weeks ago we celebrated 30 years of marriage and I never regretted a one.




The Fantasy

When in a crowd I tell the story a bit differently now. I like to tell people the basic beginning facts where I met Sue, we danced, she wouldn’t give me her name or address or phone number and I walked her to her car.

Then I add I decided to drive up and down every street close to The Image until I found her car and made a nuisance of myself.

I think my fantasy story is more entertaining. And people like to think it’s funny. At least they used to. Up until the #metoo movement.

A Different World

If I pulled the stunt I did 30 years ago I would be drawn and quartered by the #metoo movement if not arrested. There’s even a good chance a few from the movement will criticize me for not knowing how the future would turned out and didn’t adjust my behavior accordingly back then.

Under today’s unwritten rules a lifetime of happiness for Sue and me would be sacrificed. Two beautiful daughters would never have been born. And we would never have celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. What a waste!

Yet, the #metoo movement had to happen! Had to. With a wife and two daughters I feel deeply for the rights and safety of girls and women. Men can be cruel and even violent. Rare is the man suffering catcalls walking past a group of women. Women are not as lucky.

As important as the #metoo movement is, there are real problems with the revelations. So many women—if statistics are correct a majority of females (women and girls) suffer from harassment, assault and rape—are victimized that when they all come out with their story it is overwhelming. It begins to feel normal. And that is really bad.

So many women (and girls) have been abused that it is easy to start thinking every female is a victim and every male a scumbag. Nothing is further from the truth.

There are degrees of inappropriate behavior. (You can shoot me later for my opinion.) Rape and abuse of children is always the ultimate bad when discussing these issues. Touching is equally bad, but rape still is worse.

The real problem is communication. If men are honest they all have to admit saying or doing something inappropriate at one time or another. It could be as simple as an insensitive comment about appearance. As innocent as it was meant it still can cause harm because men have no idea how raw the nerves on women are after a lifetime of unrelenting male behavior.

Men who agree with the #metoo movement find themselves in a corner. What can they say without causing harm? What is an innocent inquiry could be construed in a harmful way.




The Hateful

As important as the #metoo movement is we must be careful. When a mere accusation becomes a conviction of guilt in the public arena we risk destroying the movement which offers so much hope for women in the future. Accusations are front page news and for good reason. People we thought highly of did some pretty shitty things!

But not every accusation should be treated equally. I saw an article in The Economist several months back where they listed all the famous people accused of inappropriate behavior. One man was listed with his photo. The inappropriate behavior? He made her feel “creepy”.

It gets uglier. Lawrence Krauss is an American cosmologist I highly admire. He talks English when explaining the complex issues surrounding theoretical physics and cosmology, two subjects I am very interested in and spend serious time studying.

In February of this year Krauss was suspended with pay from his position at Arizona State University due to a BuzzFeed article accusing him of inappropriate behavior and comments. He also resigned from positions in charitable organizations to prevent his attendance becoming a distraction.

Here is the funny thing. Nobody has accused Krauss of anything. Nobody! A news article (it’s on the internet so it must be true) was published with the intent to harm. That’s it. I’m not privy to all the facts, but what I do know concerns me. Nobody has complained over anything Krauss has said or done even when it was made public people were to come forward with anything they had.

That is really messed up and doesn’t do any good for society or the #metoo movement.

Risk/Reward

There is absolutely no doubt women and girls are abused and experience unwanted vulgar comments on a regular basis. The sheer volume is no longer an unspoken concern, but a raging crisis!

Every woman must be allowed to tell her story. We must also take appropriate action. If the accusations make it likely more women will be harmed immediate action must be taken as a precautionary. If imminent risk is not present we need to wait before passing judgment.  The incidence of false claims is low, but still present. We can’t allow a movement with so much to offer to suffer due to a few questionable claims. The risk is too great.




Lost Intimacy

Men are getting gun-shy. The newsfeeds are so filled with women victimized by men that men are feeling they are all guilty. On some level most men have said hurtful things. But an inappropriate comment shouldn’t stigmatize a man for life!

And men are not alone in saying things they shouldn’t. My office is all women so I hear what the ladies say and sometimes even I get uncomfortable. (I don’t avoid hiring men; they just don’t apply for the job.) I try to tone it down when they get boisterous with variable success.

The females in my office are a good bunch, but if men acted that way around women the boom would be lowered and the #metoo movement invoked. I might be the boss, but shouldn’t feel uncomfortable around female employees. Or should I?

When women talk about women stuff guys look nervously for the exits. Uncomfortable doesn’t mean wrong! Yes, my staff talks girl-talk because they are all female. I turn and walk the other way whenever I can. Just because it is uncomfortable for a male, me, to hear something doesn’t mean they are saying bad things. (Except when they think it would be funny to dress the boss in drag. Not funny.)

Love should be warm and soft, not cold and barren.

Men and women are not that much different. We say and do things from our perspective, our worldview. Inappropriate touch is always wrong. Words can be wrong while not crossing a line. Anything insinuating unwanted sexual contact is always taboo and deserves a strong reaction.

The #metoo movement is causing some unwanted results. As men feel more and more isolated they are pulling back from intimacy. What Sue and I enjoyed 30 years ago is less likely to happen today. Why would I, or any man, pursue a love interest the way I did? That’s inappropriate behavior! And over 30 years of wedded bliss and two wonderful girls would never have existed.

The #metoo movement needs to find a middle ground where men and women can coexist.

The world is different today. The internet makes it easy for men to satisfy their, ah, needs without a human being present. Sorry for being so blunt, but it has to be said.

Women want intimacy and complain men no longer provide it. A simple hug is a social crime so men avoid all contact.

Let me be clear on what I am and am not saying. I’m not talking about sex. You can have sex without intimacy. That is what prostitution and strip clubs provide. Sex can include intimacy, but intimacy doesn’t require sex.

Intimacy is the emotional and personal connection between two people. Co-workers can have it; so can lovers. In each case it is a different level of intimacy. Soldiers on the battlefield must have a non-sexual intimacy sometimes referred to as trust. As you can see, intimacy has many flavors.

The intimacy I’m concerned with today involves the interpersonal relationships between men and women. Most women hunger for intimacy. Honest men admit the same. If I had to give up my snuggle-time with Sue my life would be greatly diminished. And for the record, snuggling is not for the young only. After 30 years of marriage I enjoy a warm snuggle more than ever. Pinky (my cat) only wants to snuggle on her terms. Sue is open to compromise to my delight.




What Does This Have to do with Personal Finance?

A frequent refrain in the personal finance arena involves happiness. Bloggers love to talk about the “why” of early retirement and financial independence (FI). FI can bring us happiness, we are told.

I think they are all wrong! Your goal isn’t happiness; it’s joy. You just don’t understand the difference between the words and it does make a difference.

Happiness is generally triggered by an external event while joy comes from within. Winning the lottery brings a lot of happiness upfront. That is why a leading book on Stoicism is called The Joy of Stoicism and not The Happiness of Stoicism. (Yes, I know I butchered the title. I did it to fit my storyline.)

We want happiness, but crave joy. When I felt lonely I was still happy, but longing for joy. Sue brought me happiness and I allowed it to bring me joy. No matter what happens, what is in here (pointing to head and heart) is what will bring me joy and Sue will always be in here.

What value is financial independence or early retirement if you don’t have joy? If happiness is what you want pretty much anything will do. But joy. That is a whole different animal.

I am well aware how long this post got. I’m still not sure I got everything out I wanted to say.  The #metoo movement is so important and still at such risk of burning out before desperate changes are made in our society.

While changes are necessary to allow women to live without threat of assault or abuse, a common ground must be found where a man can pursue his love interest in an appropriate manner and not be branded. Chivalry should never be dead.

Most women enjoy being courted. It feels good to be wanted by someone you find appealing. Men must learn boundaries. It is easy (with a look or a word) to get permission to hug. This isn’t a hard game to learn: you don’t touch an intoxicated woman sexually; you never touch without permission even if you’re married (there are still boundaries in marriage; that is why mine is still strong after 30 years); offer intimacy before offering sex. Intimacy is more fun than sex! Sex is better with intimacy!

Or you can succumb to the alternative—prostitutes and strip clubs—a world devoid of intimacy. And a world I don’t want to live in.



Stalking the Future of The Wealthy Accountant

All good things must end. (No goodbyes, just good memories.)

Burnout sets in post-tax season. Long hours working leads to exhaustion only to be repeated the next day eventually takes its toll. Recovery is less certain than in the past. Age is part of it, but the new tax code and demands from a wider audience also play a role. Due to these factors there will be significant changes to this blog going forward.

The most notable change will be the publishing schedule. Tax season became so overwhelming something had to give. I reduced the publishing schedule from three times a week with a “Stalking” edition on Saturday to twice per week.

What surprised me was the increase in traffic when I reduced the amount of material published! I was warned about this by several bloggers. Nailing the equivalent of five or more average-length novels per year to the blog can burn out readers. It was even causing some to unsubscribe. I might be slow, but I eventually catch on.

The end of tax season may account for much to the uptick in traffic after the publishing reduction. Regardless, my desire to write in other venues is growing. Whether traffic climbs or not, the new publishing schedule will remain. Monday and Thursday are the new publishing dates, replacing the Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule in effect for the past year or so.

The “Stalking the Accountant” posts are reduced from every Saturday to the last Saturday of the month only. (This “Stalking” post fulfills next week’s weekend post.) I’ll share some of my personal activities in “Stalking”, as always. Other matters will also be addressed where regular posts would be inappropriate.

Since our last “Stalking” publication we had a few drawings for money! On March 30th Gina V. of Florence, S.C. collected a $50 Amazon gift card for opening an email of the latest TWA post. In honor of the end of tax season a drawing on April 16th from a list all of subscribers made Charlie M. of Las Vegas, Nevada the proud owner of a $250 Amazon gift card.

Power Posts!

My previous writing schedule made it difficult to honor my commitments to other writing projects. With the extra time I will work hard to mend bridges ignored. When I publish in other venues I’ll keep you updated on social media and weekend editions here, if allowed.

A reduced writing schedule also means I can focus more on quality. Quantity is fine for certain issues, but digging deeper is required in many instances and if time is short the quality tends to be the same.

Five or so years ago I wrote a series of articles on a content farm dealing with and winning an IRS audit. The articles were short, yet valuable. Changes at the IRS and in the tax code require I update these pieces. I will re-write the entire series with a massive expansion. Because these articles will be a virtual bible for the accounting industry they will not be published in the traditional manner here. Each section will be unavailable until the entire series is complete. Each section will be available for purchase with the whole series available at a lower price than individual article purchases combined. People who want to audit-proof their return may wish to buy that specific article. Tax professionals will want the entire guide. The best part is I will update these articles in real time so once you purchase a section you will have access to future updates. The IRS Audit Manual should be available by late summer or autumn 2018.

Renewed Focus

Warren Buffett has a 20-slot punch card philosophy to investing. I will apply the same methodology to this blog.

Over the decades I’ve written more material than I can count. Writing for me is personal with a side benefit of a modest income. My interests are catholic (little c) so writing the same genre for too long starts to feel stale to me. When I decided to become proficient writing flash fiction I set a goal of 2,000 stories. When I hit 2,000 I was done. The end. Finito. Goodbye.

The Wealthy Accountant has been my most enjoyable writing to date. I write what I know and enjoy talking about. But money is more a side discussion in my personal life. I’m more of a business type of guy than a money talker. Truth is money is pretty straight forward. Control your impulses, spending less than you earn and invest the excess. Even a bad investment is better than no investment. A million words on frugality and investing starts feeling stale to me.

Business is a different story. Writing about running a successful enterprise is endless. Reading another story of how someone paid off debt and retired at any age seems rote. Business is a bit more challenging; value creation more involved.

Over the last several months I’ve included hints of the future around this blog. I published Countdown Clocks. It should have been a dead giveaway. Subtle hints didn’t seem to connect unless readers are keeping it a secret from me. Then I made it less obvious.

On the Where Am I page below the calendar are the words “All good things. . .” printed backwards. Below this is a large bold number. The number is a countdown clock. When it reaches zero this blog will have 500 published articles. The IRS Audit Manual and other private publications here do not count toward the total. When the clock reaches zero I will stop publishing here. By applying a sort of 20-slot punch card approach I will need to focus on what is most important rather than filling column inches. Everything has an expiration date and so does this blog. (Come to think of it, so do I.)

 

What I’m Reading

The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine will Remake Our World by Pedro Domingos. Not only interesting, but concerning. Computers are starting to learn from the massive reservoir of information gathered each day. The future will be radically different from even the recent past. With all good comes some bad is all I can say.

 

What I’m Watching

Brian Greene on the B-Theory of Time. I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately; the kind of time experienced in an Einsteinian world.

 

What I’m Listening To

There is a publishing opportunity to write a story on the rollercoaster ride of blogging. The Karen Carpenter story will play a central role.

 

Now I’m off to spend more time with my family. I’m sure you understand.

How to Develop Your Occupational Living Will

Bev working with a staff CPA, Jeff Dorn.

As children we dream. We dream unfettered. We dream of traveling to the stars; we dream of life as a policeman, fireman or even a doctor. Some fall in love with numbers and can’t think of anything else. We dream of great discoveries as scientists or helping people reach their dreams and goals financially.

Then we grow up.

Society tells us we must prepare for retirement as soon as possible. The financial services industry breathes and dies by our willingness to buy into their story.

The news feeds are filled with stories of people who started early, saved hard and retired early. As someone living inside said community I notice a pattern. A large majority of people who take a knee at an early age—any age, in fact—go through a predictable pattern. Travel dreams are realized. Some want to golf or fish. After a while golfing or fishing all day becomes the job. Travel turns into a drag. Living on the road looks far more appealing from the outside.

Experiencing new destinations is what people really want. The actual traveling is sheer pain. I’ve never heard anyone say she can’t wait to be sealed inside an aluminum tube with her 260 closest friends for several hours.

Even with travel dreams alive, it is as common as weeds in a garden for people to pick up a side gig (some call it a side hustle) after the gloss of retirement wears off.

Then, there are people who find their calling early and live their side gig from day one. We call these people entrepreneurs or business owners.




Never Ending Story

Whether you find your calling early or after you retire from a “traditional” career, life is best when you discover what provides you the greatest joy. Once you find the activity you enjoy most you begin to build a life and habits around said activity.

Starting a business or side gig requires planning. The one issue rarely addressed is the exit plan. As I look down the barrel of my fast approaching 54th birthday I have to ask serious questions about my tax practice. What if I were injured or got sick? Either event could destroy what I spent a lifetime building.

As we age and accumulate wealth we quickly discover the need for a living will. I propose a significant percentage of people also need to consider an occupational living will.

Vision of the Future

Of all the employees I ever had, Bev is the only one still asked about every tax season. Bev hasn’t worked for me in seven years!

Bev was my first employee. Her skills and work ethic assured my efforts to build a firm were successful. Bev wasn’t the fastest, but she was consistent. And for the record, fast isn’t always better in taxes and accounting.

When I let Bev go it broke my heart. I wrestled with the decision a long time. Her abilities were more than adequate, but bitter Wisconsin winters were taking their toll. Cold air took her breath away. There were times Bev would need several minutes to catch her breath walking from the car to the office door. Her health was more important than a few more years of service.

Bev still comes to the office every tax season to get her return done. It’s a continuing fringe benefit for a rockstar employee. It’s always a good day when Bev walks in the door.

But there was another reason I asked Bev to retire.




Lost Step

When winter turns nasty and the hours long Bev felt the effects. She lost a step as tax season wore on. If the weather added to the stress I could chart the increase in errors.

I review virtually every return in my office. Some get a minor once-over and other returns get a proctology exam. Bev started to lose a step in her 60s when the workload increased and weather added stress. If only I found the fountain of youth to keep Bev at her post.

Dementia is an insidious disease. It approaches gradually. People around you may notice, but we have self-defense mechanism to delude ourselves. We are the last to know our quality is no longer up to par.

Bev is still mentally sound. Stress and health were the real deciding factors.

Lifetime of Love

I was lucky. I found the work I enjoy early in life. As a business owner I can choose my hours and workload within reason. This is a lifelong occupation. If I were to sell my practice I’d probably be doing taxes and consulting on the side within months. (Either that or Mrs. Accountant would hit me with a rolling pin as I started to bounce off walls.)

As much as I love my work I must accept the day may come when I’m no longer proficient at it. Worse, a car accident or cancer could end my ability to serve my clients. In the past the issue wasn’t as acute. The returns I handled back then were more traditional. Now I manage accounts from around the nation, all with advanced issues. Finding qualified staff has been a challenge. Dementia in unwelcome.

I’m not alone in this. The Washington Post had an excellent article dealing with these issues and it’s where I got the idea for this post.

The more you love your calling the less likely you want to retire from it. Unfortunately, the day comes when we no longer serve our clients adequately. That is where an action plan set into place well in advance can protect you, your family and your clients.




Occupational Living Will

Your facts and circumstances will determine the necessary steps in your occupational living will. Below are steps I’ve taken over the last several years in preparation for my demise.

  • Create a business bible. Around the time Bev took the long walk I had a come to Jesus moment. I knew the day would come when my body couldn’t cash the checks my mind was writing. Every member of my office team was a part of building the office bible. Every task was outlined step-by-step. Should any employee be on vacation, quit, retire or become incapacitated, there was a guide for each process our company performs. We discovered the office bible is an excellent tool when we get in a bind and it gets regular use. It is also a part of the training process for new employees.
  • Create redundancy. Certain people handle certain tasks. In a small office it is hard to have several people working on every project. While it is natural for one person to handle most issues around certain tasks, it is wise to train staff to have at least a working knowledge of other tasks. The increased payroll expenses should be minimal.
  • Create a succession plan of ownership. This is hard for business owners. In my office if I’m ever unable to perform my duties I would lose the right to vote my shares. In effect I would lose control of my company to someone already in place and able to make the decisions necessary to keep clients serviced and the company alive.
  • Train and train some more. It is almost impossible to over-train your team. Cross train so more than one person is competent in all areas of practice.
  • Keep your family informed. Planning for dementia, accident or other disease is not the highlight of the day. Still, keep a copy of the office bible available to family members with additional information on operating the business. Remember, your family will be under serious stress if something happens to you. Provide a guide to make it as easy as possible for your loved ones in your time of incapacity. Be sure to inform family of pass codes and where the money is, including working capital, online savings accounts and lines of credit.

Here are considerations I’ve had a difficult time handling, yet MUST be addressed.

  • Find your replacement. It is so easy for me to fall into the trap of I’m so good at what I do nobody can measure up. That’s ego, not intelligence speaking. Once upon a time I had a much larger staff. As my practice transformed into serving fewer clients at a higher level it grew harder to find experienced tax professionals to compliment my talents. My primary goal this year is to find my replacement. Instead of sending me out to pasture I can have more free time during tax season and a seasoned pro to compliment my tax skills. A true win/win situation.
  • Work with peer/competitors. At first blush this one sounds stupid. But think about it. You already work with other professionals and businesses in your field. Start a dialog to build bridges for unforeseen personal events. It could lead to a sale or merger of your business. Or, it could compliment both businesses, reducing stress and increasing profits for all.

Estate planning is often put off to the detriment of family. In business it is even more important to plan ahead. Having trusted friends and family in place to guide you through an illness or dementia might be uncomfortable, but it is necessary if you care about your clients, employees, friends and family.

There are alternatives to retiring. Your workload can shift, be reduced or more focused. When you love your work as much as much as I do it is hard to plan for the day it will be reduced or completely out of your life.

But it is still the right thing to do.



Dealing with Clients Who Want to Take Illegal Deductions

Tax professionals all have stories of clients who wanted to cheat on their taxes. It might be tempting to nudge the line a bit to the left to keep a client happy and collect a fee. But you need to think long and hard before you make your decision.

If you prepare your own return you can avoid all the pesky demands of tax professionals to file an accurate tax return. Just as a tax professionals face serious penalties, so does the taxpayer. If you talk a tax professional into an unreasonable position on your tax return you will be penalized a lot faster than the tax professional. Tax preparers are really just entering data. She may not be aware of the malfeasance. That leaves you blowing in the wind. And a cold wind it is.

Then we have those instances where the issues are not clear. You can take a questionable deduction, within reason. If you disclose the position you’re taking you should be secure from penalties from an overzealous IRS agent.




The Client Not Worth Having

Bring up the subject of the unreasonable client or client from hell with tax professionals and they all go into cataleptic shock.  A tax season isn’t complete without at least a dozen or three requests to do something industrial strength stupid.

A few years back my office had a client who included a receipt to deduct IMODIUM® and underwear. I pointed out the receipt and informed the client he hadn’t seen my bill yet so the deduction is not “regular and ordinary” and therefore not deductible. He is the good kind of client. He withdrew the deduction without complaint.

This tax season wasn’t as polite. As hard as I try to winnow down the client list somebody always comes up with a position that will not stand IRS scrutiny and has preparer penalty written all over it.

The client in question this year has been with my firm a few years. He always pushed the envelope too far and should have been shown the door a long time ago, but a certain accountant was a nice guy and listened to the BS.

In the past the client had us do his bookkeeping. That was too expensive so this year he threw everything in a box. I have employees who work exclusively bringing order to chaos. These employees are generally not tax professionals, but we do train them to sift the wheat from the chaff. Items in questions are reviewed by an accountant and added to the numbers if the deduction is allowed.

My friendly client likes to eat out. A lot! As in every meal. He threw every receipt into the box. Working on the road he filled the van with fuel often. Included on the receipt was always a bottle of water, gum or some other snack. The other items are NOT DEDUCTBLE!

If a few small items slip by I don’t lose sleep over it. I’m not auditing the return; I’m preparing it. Sorting wads of paper in a box isn’t bookkeeping. If you don’t care enough about your business to manage it correctly don’t expect me to work for free during the busiest time of the year bringing order to the mess. We separate receipts into piles based on our interpretation of type of expense (or if it is even a business expense) and run a z-tape on each pile.

Back to our client. All those meals and extra items on gas receipts were disallowed by my office. Dawn, a preparer in my office, separated out the questionable items and told the client she would not put those expenses on the return. The client was pissed. The only answer? Gotta talk to da boss.

The boss was having none of it. If you have a meal expense it is your responsibility to record the business purpose. You can NOT deduct everything you eat while on the road and dinner on the way home because that was related to work. NO IT’S NOT!

Smart tax preparers explain why the deduction is not allowed to the client. This is actually required by Treasury Circular 230, the publication regulating tax professionals practicing before the IRS. Section 10.21 clearly states a tax professional must inform the client of an unreasonable position. Nowhere in Circular 230 does it say you must fire the client, but Section 6694 of the Code is very clear: an unreasonable position by a preparer, even if disclosed, can result in penalty and even censure. Preparer penalties start at $1,000 for an unreasonable position and $5,000 for disregard of the rules.




The Most Important Number Every Tax Professional Must Know

For many years my office attended professional education classes taught by Jack Surgent. Jack is one of the smartest tax guys I’ve ever met.

During one of these training sessions we focused on ethics. When the topic of clients wanting to take illegal deductions came up Jack never stopped for comment. All he said was, “800. . . 799. Get it?”

The whole room better have. What Jack meant was if you have 800 clients and lose one you still have 799. Barely more than a tenth of one percent. No one client is worth it.

What Jack didn’t say, and I will, is, if you keep these clients it will hurt the profitability of your practice. Clients always pushing the envelope don’t want to pay for quality consulting. They want to cheat and if the boom is lowered will throw you under the bus before you open your mouth.

800.

  1. Get it?




For the Folks Back Home Preparing Their Own Return

Nothing is more annoying than a highly trained and competent tax professional disallowing bogus deductions or not allowing unreported income. I see bloggers publishing some of the things they think are allowed. I quietly smile as I read knowing I’m not the one who will have to defend them in audit.

Treasury Circular 230 regulates most tax professionals. That doesn’t leave DIYers off the hook. The penalties can get large real fast for playing it fast and loose. Just failing to file a tax return by the due date (without a valid extension) subjects you to a 5% penalty per month up to five months (25%). If there is no balance due you at least avoid this one.

Section 6662 provides for a 20% accuracy penalty if you disregard the rules by failing to make a reasonable effort to comply with the tax code. The IRS automatically assumes you didn’t make a reasonable effort if they assess additional tax because if you did you wouldn’t owe the extra tax. You can fight this in appeals and might even win if you can substantiate you did make a reasonable effort.

Considering my ex-client above, he went to another preparer to get his return done. The other preparer has serious risk if she allows the deductions. The client is still on the hook for a Section 6662 penalty or even a $5,000 penalty for filing a frivolous return. If the numbers get big enough—I don’t think they were in this case, but then again I could be wrong—Section 7201 comes in to play. Section 7201 is the willful attempt to evade or defeat tax which is a felony, subject to a fine up to $100,000, up to a year in prison or both.




Don’t Be Scared

Now that I put the fear of god in you it’s time to take a deep breath and gain perspective. Honest mistakes are generally minor and the IRS rarely assesses a penalty or removes them relatively easily.

The discussion above isn’t about minor or honest mistakes. Small changes in an audit are usually disregarded by the IRS and treated as a “no change” audit. Most IRS auditors are pretty darn nice people. I’ve worked with them for several decades and one was an employee before she bed down with the enemy, ah, the IRS. Yes, there are a few knucklebusters out there, but even they don’t cause problems unless you invite them to.

Fear of an audit or penalties is unfounded unless you played fast and loose on your tax return.

If you do your own return you MUST take the time to educate yourself on the issues affecting your tax situation. Consulting with a tax professional doesn’t mean they must also prepare the return. I personally consult with many people who prepare their own taxes. I even consult other tax professionals. (It happens when you become the old guy on the block with three decades in the trenches.)

The takeaway from this post is thus: If you are a tax professional, do NOT relax your ethics for a fee. Educate your client, if they allow. If the client refuses to follow the rules remember Jack Surgent: 800; 799. No one client is worth your career, a fee or the headache. Move on. Life is better that way.

If you do your own tax return or hire a tax professional, insist on accuracy. Educate yourself on the issues affecting your taxes. There are so many ways to legally lower your taxes it is nothing short of insane to cheat on your taxes.

The only excuse is laziness and then you deserve what you get.



The Greatest Secret Between Debt and Wealth

Learn the secret of the wealthy and how they start each day with a bonus while those in debt are subservient to their master.

There is a secret seldom spoken of by the financially independent. Those in the know can hear echoes of the secret periodically in the utterances from great financial leaders like Charlie Munger when he said the surest way to get in financial trouble is with the three Ls: liquor, ladies and leverage. Then Munger’s buddy, Warren Buffet, laughs about the comment in an interview saying Charlie was joking about the first two; it’s leverage where all the trouble lies.

Did you miss the secret? Unless you are loaded (financially, not with liquor) there is a good chance the greatest secret of wealth whistled past your left ear unnoticed.

Here is the secret for those who missed it:

When you are in debt the clock works against you. Every morning when you wake—weekends, holidays, sick days, birthdays and work days—you are already behind. The mortgage, credit card, car loan, et cetera, all tacked on interest the second after midnight. Long before you rolled out of bed and poured your first cup of coffee you need to work to pay the interest before you have money for food, clothing, shelter or entertainment.

Here is the secret if you weren’t paying attention:

Saddled with debt the clock works against you. Tally up all your debts and calculate the interest accruing daily. Now you know why it’s so hard to get ahead. It isn’t your wage; it’s you! You forgot to do the math and now the universe is teaching you a valuable lesson. If you survive. More on that in a moment.




Here is the secret if you were distracted by the bright lights:

If you have no debt you start each day with a clean slate. You own nothing to anyone as you start your day. You still need to take action to cover your daily needs, but at least you are not behind before you start.

The secret again is:

Without debt, but with investments, interest accrues to your account before the coffee is brewed. Dividends were earned, wealth created.

The secret again:

Investments in interest baring accounts build slowly, yet daily. Investments in index funds means virtually every purchase by every man, woman and child added something to your nest egg. Each sale added to the coffers that pay you dividends. Each sale adds value to the companies you own in the index fund. Each sale is part of the wealth creation process.

In case you missed it, the secret is:

Without debt and a load of investments you have millions of people on your payroll managed by some of the brightest and most educated people in the world. They work hard for a salary. They work hard making you rich!

 

***In debt you are a slave; without debt you’ve broken the chains and ripped open the shackles and threw them into the abyss.

Without debt you are free; without debt and in possession of wealth, each day is yours to use as you chose.***

 




Pay attention! I will repeat the secret one last time:

Debt turns you into a slave! Every day you owe your master. Every day! He is a cruel, heartless master. When the clock ticks past midnight the interest for the day ahead is due.

Only those without debt and in possession of investments are free! Those with wealth are free to live each day as they choose. They can build or create more value or take time to reflect on a life well lived. You can share it with family and friends. Without a harsh master demanding your soul you can walk any path you choose. Any path.

 

I could go on for another 2,000 words, but it would be to no avail. This doesn’t need a long story. The message is short and simple. Even a child can understand it. It requires the poison of mass media to brainwash you into wanting more than you need on a short term of slavery, ah, easy payment plan.

 

Copy this post and paste it on the refrigerator door so you see it first thing in the morning.

Paste a copy on the bathroom mirror so you can read it as you brush your teeth.

Carry a copy in your pocket close to your heart.

Never forget the message. Read it again and again until it is internalized. Only then is the ultimate secret of wealth personally yours.

 

Now you know the secret:

1.) Get out of debt.

2.) Invest constantly in broad-based index funds.

3.) Live the life of your choice.

 

Now that you know the secret you are free. Perhaps for the first time in your life.



Wealth Building Resources

Personal Finance is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Finance is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to skyrocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

PeerSteet is an alternative way to invest in the real estate market without the hassle of management. Investing in mortgages has never been easier. 7-12% historical APRs. Here is my review of PeerStreet.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. Quickbooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

A cost segregation study can save $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregations studies work and how to get one yourself.

Amazon good way to control costs and comparison shop. The cost of a product includes travel to the store. When you start a shopping trip to Amazon here it also supports this blog. Thank you.

Filing Status When You Can’t Find Your Spouse

Determining your tax filing status can be tricky at times. I see the same questions on social media and a few times per year in my office where people are confused on what filing status to use when they are estranged from their spouse. On the tax subgroup in Reddit the question popped up a few times this tax season already and with two new clients in the past week.

I included a decision tree to help you determine your filing status. However, there are details that didn’t fit within the decision tree neatly so it is important to read the text of this post to assure you are using the correct filing status.

There are several reasons when you may want to consider filing a separate return from your spouse. In rare instances your combined tax liability is smaller. Example: spouses have widely different incomes and one spouse has a very large uninsured medical expense.

A more important reason to file a separate from your spouse is if you suspect malfeasance. If you file a joint return and your spouse under reports income and/or overstates deductions and/or credits you are liable for the tax debt if the IRS discovers the irregularities.  The only way to sever liability on a joint return is if you signed under threat or duress. Threat or duress is very hard to prove and the IRS has a history of denying relief when there are no reports of abuse to law enforcement.




The final reason to file a separate return is because you have no choice because you don’t know where your spouse is. This is more common than you think. The Reddit subgroup above has similar questions every tax season. As mentioned, two new clients had this issue in my office in the past week.

If you can’t find your spouse or she/he refuses to file a joint return, you have limited options. The decision tree in this post is an easy way to visualize your choices. In short, if you lived with your spouse at any time in the last six months of the year you must file either a joint or married filling separate return. If you lived apart the last six months of the year and provide more than half the support for yourself and child you can file as head of household. Where no children are involved you are limited to MFJ or MFS. If you are legally separated or the divorce is final you can file as single. You will need the services of a competent attorney if you can’t find your spouse to facilitate a legal separation or divorce proceedings.

There are tremendous negatives to filing a MFS return. Many credit are lost (earned income credit, adoption credit and child and dependent care credit are a few). Education credits and the student loan interest deduction are unavailable on a MFS return. If you own income property the passive activity loss limit is reduced to $12,500 ($0 if you lived with your spouse at any time during the year).

If your spouse itemizes on a MFS return you MUST also itemize, regardless if you have any Schedule A deductions or not. If you can’t find your spouse or he refuses to communicate with you, you will not know if he itemizes so you may have no choice other than to itemize.

You report only your income and deductions on a MFS return unless you live in a community property state (AZ, CA, ID, LA, NV, NM, TX, WA and WI). In community property states you report half the community property income and deductions. If income and deductions are not reported to the other spouse the benefits of community property law can be lost. Community property laws can be circumvented fairly easy if the taxpayers live apart.

Let’s review the decision tree and review the notes that follow.

Use the decision tree to determine your filing status. Use the notes below for further explanation of special situations.

Notes to the decision tree: If your spouse died during the year you can still file a joint return for the current year. If you paid over half the costs of keeping a home with dependent child you can file as a qualifying widow/er for the two years following the death of your spouse. A qualifying widow/er enjoys the same advantages of a MFJ return.

Temporary absences for education or military service do not count as living apart.

If you sign a release of exemption as a custodial parent and would otherwise be allowed the dependent exemption you can file as head of household if you lived apart from your spouse the last six months of the year.

A parent does not have to live with you to claim the exemption if you provided more than half the cost of keeping the parent’s home for the entire year.

 

The simplest part of the tax return can become a confused mess when unique situations make an appearance. The raw number of requests involving a missing spouse required me to publish on the subject.

If you have additional questions leave a note in the comments. I’ll try my best to answer questions promptly. During tax season and when on vacation I’ll need more time to respond.