Archive for November 2018

Regaining Motivation When You Have No Debt

What happens when the thing that motivated you most of your life is removed? Here is how you can bring meaning and purpose back to your life.
What happens when the thing that motivated you most of your life is removed? Here is how you can bring meaning and purpose back to your life.

What happens when the thing that motivated you most of your life is removed? Here is how you can bring meaning and purpose back to your life.

The literature is largely silent on what you should do once you attain financial independence(FI). Plenty has been written about building wealth and how much is needed to reach FI and how much you can safely withdraw each year in retirement.

Plenty of debate has also revolved around paying off the mortgage — any debt for that matter — versus plowing the excess payments into investments that pretend to offer a return greater than the interest rate on your debt. While investments can provide outsized returns, the return isn’t guaranteed; the interest on the debt is.

As much as we preach about eliminating debt as part of a smart wealth building program designed for FI, there are some benefits to having certain kinds of debt. Risks are always present, but the advantage may be worth the risk. Buying a home without debt ever would mean most people would never have a chance at home ownership. And you can forget about income properties if you can’t use leverage to start your real estate empire unless you inherited from a rich uncle.

A mortgage (all debt) does have one powerful advantage most people overlook. Debt is the #1 motivator when it comes to getting people to sacrifice time with family and friends. Debt motivates you to work harder than you ever would if debt demands were not hanging over your head.

So if debt is so caustic to financial success a prime goal should be to remove debt from your life except for only the rarest of cases. But then what?

If you pay off your debt and build a sizable nest egg, a primary motivation to keep producing declines! How will the economic engine of progress ever survive? (I’m being facetious here.)

People will take a second, or even third, job just to pay for prior sins, plus interest. Families are destroyed; health ruined; children neglected, just to make good on your obligations. You did give your word and you’re a person of your word.

 

And then you had a come to Jesus moment. Maybe you read a blog or had a serious talk with a councilor or your accountant. Debt became enemy #1. And then the debt finally disappeared and cash kept accumulating in your investment accounts until money was no longer a reason to work; money is only a tool now.

A once powerful motivator in your life is gone. You either took an early retirement, did the traveling thing you always wanted to or started a side gig from a childhood dream. And it didn’t take long before you asked: Is this all their is? Is there no more?

Travel became dreary as it was nothing more than a replacement for the old job. Life on the road isn’t what you hoped it would be. Travel is wonderful in modest gulps, but inhaling the elixir sends it down the wrong pipe and you end up coughing it back out.

Early retirement left you with long days and nothing to do. The fellowship from the work environment is gone and you miss it.

The side gig fills some of the gaps, but still something is missing.




Finding the Meaning of Life and Motivation

While debt can be a thorn in your backside motivating you to action, it is a cruel taskmaster at best. Better the drudgery of excess travel, days of boredom or a side hustle that doesn’t completely fill the gaps of emptiness. Debt can do more than motivate; it can destroy. Best to keep the debt where it belongs; in the past.

Use the secrets wealthy, successful and happy people use to achieve anything.

Use the secrets wealthy, successful and happy people use to achieve anything.

A mixture of options can improve the attitude. Some travel is a great thing. Time off to read, think, reflect and enjoy family time is important and something to cling tenaciously to. And side hustles can be a lot of fun so why give that up.

If you really think about it, traveling, more free time and side gigs are not the problem! The problem was created by debt and you’re still suffering the consequences even when it’s gone.

For the first time in your life you can do something truly meaningful. In the past you were so focused on paying the bills you never learned how to make a real difference in the world that juiced you to the max. You were too busy helping Wells Fargo meet analysts expectations for the quarter.

The travel, family and free time and side gigs are good things to have and do. But too much of a good thing is bad. (Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But can you imagine me connected to the hip of Mrs. Accountant? I’d have a rolling pin beside the puss by the second day! There is such a thing as too close.)

So now we need to add meaning back into our lives; something that makes us excited to get out of bed and charge into the day.

Before I share what I consider the best motivational tool any FI individual can have, let me share a few other ways to bring viva! back into your life:

  1. Plan: You may have heard retired people saying their more busy once they retired than when they worked. It’s true! I see it all the time. And it was because they had a plan. They planned retirement before they got there: the travel ventures, entertainment choices, how much family time and with whom, how much time to dedicate to a hobby. If you plan you will find more than enough meaningful stuff (a purely technical term, I might add) to fill your day; more than enough to motivate you to get out bed exited daily. Too many people think they will retire and do one thing like travel or golf. That ends up the new job and drudgery. Variety is the magic potion.
  2. Turn your side hustle into a real business: A side gig can occupy a portion of time each week. Depending on the depth of your side gig determines the time and enjoyment involved. However, a side hustle doesn’t contain the drive necessary to really push. (You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to.) If you really enjoy your side hustle, consider going all-in. A full-blown business takes work, but if the work is pleasurable it becomes a powerful motivator. A business provides much more to a community than a mere side gig. Not only will you provide more valuable goods and services for your community, you might even create jobs. Best of all, when you run your own business you are the captain. You can make real changes; solve real problems perplexing society.
  3. Challenge yourself: Of course travel and side gigs have challenges, but I’m talking about something more. Using travel as an example: you can take a tour or strike out on your own. Striking out on your own have various levels. Consider an extended stay in a country, learning their language and culture on a deep level. Since many reading this blog are younger, consider mountain climbing or similar challenging tasks. It takes time and dedication to learn serious climbing. It could take years or decades to reach a level on competence. (You will not climb El Capitan in Yosemite the first week. Not if you want to live long enough to get your motivation back, at least.) Striving for excellence in a large goal will have you jumping out of bed each morning early to meet the day.
  4. Set personal goals: This pertains to what was said above. Business is filled with goals; planning is a form of goal-setting; undertaking (remember we used mountain climbing as an example so the pun was intended) a massive challenge (learning a new skill to a level above mere competence) will bring motivation back into you life. Not all goals need to be grandiose. If your life is consumed by one all-encompassing goal it can cost you in other areas of life. Notice I said “personal” goals. Goals must include family and friends and should include many short, easily attainable goals. Business and rock climbing are major goals. That isn’t what I’m talking about in this point. Numerous smaller goals of things you think you’ll enjoy is what I’m suggesting. It’s all about enjoying the process and feeling motivated and alive each day.
  5. Take on a large project: Turning a side hustle into a full-fledged business is a “large” project. What I’m suggesting in this point is a bit different. The large project I’m suggesting straddles the business and personal world. For example: get a college degree in a field that interests you (history might be a poor degree choice, but now you have the time and money to really dig in). Now is the time to write that novel you always promised yourself you would write. Maybe start a blog and share your adventure from subsistence to abundance.

The whole idea of these ideas is to give you one big thing to do with your life with multiple smaller goals to keep you active and motivated. Any of these endeavors will fill a good portion of your day and provide motivation to keep moving forward.

The key is to choose something important, that makes a difference in the lives of others. Hedonism will only take you so far. When you do something that benefits others your life is filled with meaning and purpose. That is the birthplace of motivation.

And that brings us to the last and most powerful way to gain motivation, meaning and purpose in life when you’ve reached the safety of financial security.




The Meaning of Life is to Give

I work with numerous wealthy individuals in my practice. What I see in private I also see in the news: wealthy people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett giving large chunks of their net worth to charity.

The happiest people in the world have a reason to get out of bed each day. Learn the lessons the wealthy use to do the impossible.

The happiest people in the world have a reason to get out of bed each day. Learn the lessons the wealthy use to do the impossible.

It goes beyond mere financial donations. Peter Lynch, the great mutual fund manager at Fidelity Investments’s Magellan Fund from 1977 to 1990, volunteers his time and experience to charitable organizations. Bill Gates not only donated a massive chunk of his wealth; he started and funded the foundation he runs, changing the world for the better. Gates’s experience allows him to make a serious difference.

You also have skills and experiences many organizations can use. There is no greater satisfaction or satisfying job than to work with people of a common cause doing good. 

Listen, we hear all the bloggers bragging about their exotic travel and early retirement bragging. After a while the selfies get old. It must be depressing to spend so much time in self-aggrandizement.

We can do better! Let’s use the 5 points above to illustrate what I’m suggesting:

  1. Plan your giving: Each gives what each has. Maybe you have loads of money so you spend time reviewing the best organizations to fund. Maybe you’re good at helping raise money for organizations. (You’ll be in higher than demand than you can imagine if you are.) Maybe you love working with your hands. Perhaps Habitat for Humanity could use someone with excellent construction skills.  You have limited time and resources so you need a plan on how to give wisely.
  2. Experience: People tend to enjoy what they are good at. Familiarity bias is something we can use to our advantage. I work with a non-profit connected to Goodwill helping people with serious money and/or tax problems. It’s what I’m good at; it’s what I enjoy, so it is where I can do the most good. Take an inventory of the skills and experiences you have and match it with the things you most enjoy doing. Satisfaction of a job well done and demand for your skill sets will leave you massively motivated, satisfied and enjoying every day to the max.
  3. It ain’t easy, but it sure is darn fun: Life is most enjoyable when challenged. Charitable organizations are designed to deal with challenges. The work can be hard at times, even frustrating, as you try to achieve goals that make the world a better place. Working with like-minded people is one of the most pleasurable things you can do.
  4. Pace yourself: Don’t turn your good nature into drudgery. Set limits (read: goals). You can’t solve all the ills plaguing our world alone. The nice thing about FI is you can pace yourself. One day of challenges at a time instead of overwhelm is just the ticket to living the good life post-debt.
  5. Service: Serving your community is a large project by definition. Remember, you can help more than one organization. But don’t spread yourself too thin. The goal is motivation.

People are happiest when they give. (Read that again.) Giving is the meaning of life.

You spent a lifetime fighting to retire debt obligations. Now that you buried the debt-demons and built a mighty financial fortune, it’s time to find a reason to live another day.

There are so many things you can do to feel alive each morning.

I get up early; I always have. I’m excited about life. Deep down I kept a mortgage around way to long, knowing it was a powerful tool to motivate me. (You can check the links at the beginning of this post to read more about my mortgage/wealth adventures.)

Debt is a stupid way to stay motivated.

I knew once I retired my mortgage a serious motivation pillar would be removed from my life. My net worth is well above the FI threshold.

No more than the mortgage was gone and I noticed the loss of drive to set more appointments or even write so much on this blog. The nice thing about FI is you no longer have to do anything anymore; it is also the greatest problem.

It doesn’t have to be that way. You can live a life filled with excitement and adventure; you can live each day knowing there are people who really need you.

Find what motivates you. Sit down and really think about it. Write your thoughts out.

The world will be a better place if you do.

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Credit Cards can be a powerful money management tool when used correctly. Use this link to find a listing of the best credit card offers. You can expand your search to maximize cash and travel rewards.

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?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, 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.

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

Amazon is a good way to control costs by comparison shopping. 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 very much!

 

 



The Benefits of Having a Mortgage

Paying off the mortgage is the American Dream and the first step toward retirement; it’s harder to retire with a mortgage payment blowing a hole through a fixed budget. Owning your home is the foundation of any vibrant financial plan. Until your home is unencumbered (without a mortgage) the bank still owns it in a manner of speaking (and they’ll remind you of it if you miss a payment).

Still, a home mortgage has its benefits. The traditional reasons to carry mortgage debt are bad reasons to carry the liability, but there are still a few good reasons.

We will review the traditional reasons for borrowing against your home and why the benefit is perceived rather than real. We will finish with the three reasons a mortgage can help you build wealth.




Revolving Mortgage

The debate is legend: should I pay off the mortgage faster or invest the extra instead? I recently finished that personal debate permanently.

In Accounting 101 they teach students how leverage (borrowed money) spikes investment returns. It all makes sense.  If I pay cash for a $100,000 home and it increases in price by $3,000 the first year I managed a meager 3% return on my investment (assuming you feel your primary residence is an investment). If instead you borrowed $90,000 and only invested $10,000 of your own money, the gain jumps to 30% ($3,000 increase in value divided by the investment of $10,000).

A mortgage is a powerful financial tool to build wealth. It also carries risks that can harm. Learn how to use a mortgage to build wealth.

A mortgage is a powerful financial tool to build wealth. It also carries risks that can harm.

They also teach of the risks of leverage in the classroom, but it doesn’t feel as real as the real world will make it. Leverage is wonderful animal when your assets are increasing in value. When the inevitable decline happens real pain begins.

In our above example the 30% gain is an illusion. If you have a mortgage against your home you will pay interest and that reduces the actual gain. Let’s assume a 5% interest rate on your mortgage. This equals $4,500 in interest the first year without consideration for the principle payments on each monthly payment. Your 30% gain went south darn fast, taking a $3,000 gain and turning it negative!

But if I invested the $90,000 (assuming I didn’t need a mortgage) and earned a return there I once again should be popping some mouth-watering returns. Maybe.

We’ll return to this in a moment.

Understanding how leverage can spike investment returns, I always subscribed to holding a mortgage. I bought my first home in 1986 and had a loan against it. It was paid off when the home was sold. (I’m embarrassed to say it was a mobile home, but in my defense I was single and enjoying life to the max. I was retired at the time (turned out to be gap years only) and immersing myself in an endless supply of books.)

From the mobile home I moved into a three bedroom ranch in town (1989); full mortgage in place. Opting to invest every dollar I had, the mortgage was never paid a penny sooner. Then I bought the farm (sounds morbid, doesn’t it?).

The farm is my final resting place and — embarrassed as I am to say it — was used as an ATM since 1995 when I took ownership. The farmhouse was unlivable, but I wanted a traditional barn and the 10 acres also appealed to me. I coughed up a $120,000 hairball with a $100,000 mortgage. I handled some remodeling on my own to make the farmhouse livable until I was ready to seriously remodel with an addition.

A few years later (somewhere around the year 2000) the mortgage was down to $40,000. It was time for a serious upgrade.

My 900 square foot farmhouse swelled to 3,000 square feet and cost close to $200,000 to remodel and expand. (I still swallow hard when I think of that. Not to be outdone, the bank (Farm Credit; they have awesome terms and interest rates for farmers) allowed me to borrow 80% of the value of the finished home; $400,000. That means I was able to grab another 80 grand and drop it into the market.

By 2008 the farm mortgage was under $100,000 again as I paid extra in spurts. The market tanked and good credit came to the rescue; I was able to take another quarter million. Into the market it went.

Of course I look like a hero because the timing of my remortgages coincided with market declines. This wasn’t an accident. When the market died I wanted to add to the account and the ATM was cheap money. (You can read the prior article linked above for more. The ends do NOT justify the means so the increase in investment value is a poor reason to toot my horn.)

I tell you this story for a reason. I struggled with paying off the mortgage for decades as many readers also do. I had the funds to retire the debt a long time ago, but chose to keep the mortgage anyway. Until last month.

At the beginning of this year I had whittled down the mortgage to ~$100,000. I didn’t want to sell assets/investments to pay the mortgage, causing a taxable event. Hyper-frugality set in. By June the mortgage was down to $57,000 and the sickness set in. It was time to kill the mortgage forever!

And I did it! On October 5th I made a special trip to the bank to put the final nail in the mortgage. (Mrs. Accountant came with to experience the magical moment. Either that or she didn’t trust me and was worried I might chicken out and drop it all in an index fund.)




Traditional Benefits of a Mortgage

Mortgages have been touted for a variety of reasons with promises of helping the economy, providing liquidity to the housing market and offering tax advantages to some. We’ll now run down many of the most popular traditional mortgage advantages and why it’s best to avoid the boondoggle.

 

Real estate is a known way to create and build wealth. Turn your property into a cash cow using the right financial tools.

Real estate is a known way to create and build wealth. Turn your property into a cash cow using the right financial tools.

1.) Tax Advantages. This is the most popular reason given for having a larger mortgage. Banks and other financial institutions have a vested interest (pun intended) to get you to borrow more. You know the advertisements: Mortgage interest may be tax deductible. Consult your tax professional. Rarely do people consult with their tax professional and the bank is counting on it. All people hear is mortgage interest is tax deductible.

Why this is bad advice. 

Every lie has a grain of truth to it. Mortgage interest is deductible. Unfortunately many will not benefit from the deductibility of the mortgage interest they pay because they don’t itemize. Also, paying the bank $10,000 in interest just so the IRS might give you up to $3,000 back is a really stupid move.

 

2.) You can afford more house. Yes, the more you borrow the more house you can buy. If every home was required to be purchased with cash the price of homes would drop precipitously.

Why this is bad advice.

Just because you can dig a deeper hole doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Dig a deep enough hole and it’s called a grave.

 

3.) You can invest the difference for a higher rate of return. Fair enough. If you borrow the maximum you free up capital for other investments.

Why this is bad advice. 

This concept is fine as long as you don’t take on more house than you can afford. And you have to actually invest the difference. After 35 years in the tax profession I can count on one hand with fingers left over of people who invested money earmarked for additional mortgage payments into an investment account. Sure, some may have invested the money without a formal accounting. But my suspicion (gather from decades of experience) is that people tend not to save the money; they just increase lifestyle spending. All is fine until storm clouds appear.

 

7 ways to use your mortgage to build wealth.

7 ways to use your mortgage to build wealth.

4.) You don’t have to sell assets triggering a tax event to put more down on the house. Once again, fair enough. I used the same philosophy when paying my home off faster (fast!). Selling assets to put more down on a property can cause a serious tax issue. A larger mortgage (temporarily) makes a lot of financial sense.   

Why this is bad advice.

The larger the mortgage (the more leverage) the larger the risk something can go wrong. The investments you didn’t sell could decline in value. Selling to have a reduced mortgage means you forgo future gains on the sold investment. By keeping the asset and acquiring a larger mortgage you take on market risk while paying additional interest to boot.

 

5.) Investment gains. I hear it all the time, “The market goes up 10% a year while I’m only paying 5% interest.” It is true the market averages gains of about 10% per year on average. Some years the market increases more; other times the market gets cut in half! 

Why this is bad advice.

As we noted at the beginning of this article, leverage seems like a great idea. . . until you look under the hood. It might be easier to see with an income property.

The choice is to pay cash for the property or mortgage it to the hilt. If you mortgage the property you can invest the difference.

Let’s assume you purchase a $120,000 property for cash. If the value increases 3% the first year your net worth has increased $3,600, plus any profits from renting the property. Sound good, but the real estate agent introduced you to his banker friend and he says you can borrow $100,000. This means you can buy more properties (now you know why the agent recommended his banker) or keep the money in an index fund or other investment.

A good banker can make the numbers look compelling and this banker is gooood. You decide to borrow $100,000 for 15 years at a fixed 5%. We’ll use simple interest to keep this easy to follow. The value increased the same 3% as above (and also a common annual increase in value for real estate). The value of the property increased $3,600; the mortgage interest amounted to $5,000!

Yikes! You actually lost on the deal!

Maybe not. The property in a vacuum with the mortgage appears to have lost $1,400 the first year. Hopefully you didn’t invest in 5 more properties with the same mortgage deal because then you are hurting. The $100,000 you left invested earned, let’s say, the average 10%, or $10,000. Added together you made $8,600. It seems the mortgage was a good deal after all.

Buuuut. . .  You have to assume a good market (or a pretty good return on whatever investment you made) to justify the out-sized mortgage. If the investment under-performed, or, {gulp!} declined in value, you not only suffered a loss on the investment, the property has interest expenses in excess of the gain in value, increasing the total loss from the investment.

 

 

The above traditional advantages are not bad in and of themselves. Most people don’t decide between paying cash or a mortgage; they don’t have the money to pay cash so a mortgage is the only choice. Home ownership, especially as you begin your financial journey, almost always requires a mortgage.

Now we turn to non-traditional reasons to have a mortgage; reasons that might actually make sense.




Good Reasons to Have a Mortgage

Real, or good, reasons to have a mortgage are few. The risks of leverage are higher than most people anticipate. The odds are virtually 100% the economy will decline one or more times during the lifetime of a mortgage. Job loss or disability further add to mortgage risks. Rare is the person who doesn’t have a few times when the mortgage payment is a challenge.

All the negatives of the mortgage doesn’t mean the liability is totally worthless. There area a few reasons I can think of to have a mortgage, reasons worth their weight in gold.

 

There are good reasons to have a mortgage. Tax benefits are the smallest benefit. A mortgage can do a whole lot more when used properly.

There are good reasons to have a mortgage. Tax benefits are the smallest benefit. A mortgage can do a whole lot more when used properly.

1.) Free up capital. Leverage entails risk; no working capital can be a greater risk! If you pay cash for a property and have no working capital to deal with maintenance, insurance, property taxes or other expenses you can find yourself in just as deep as if you have a large mortgage.

Landlords should be acutely aware of this issue. Vacancies early in property ownership can cause serious financial harm. Without a mortgage the landlord should have a really good cash flow. But, you need a maintenance fund and resources to cover insurance and taxes should the property refuse to rent early in the ownership cycle.

The same can be said for those buying a primary residence. Without any emergency fund, a minor unexpected expense can create hardship.   

Solutions to potential problems. 

Up till now I’ve used the all-or-none approach. Taking out a small mortgage can free up capital to deal with any of the problems listed above.

Another very low-cost solution is a home equity line of credit (HELOC). For a couple hundred dollars you can secure a line of credit against the property. If things go well you have no additional mortgage expenses; if cash gets tight you have a resource to manage the bumps.

 

2.) Working capital. In business, investment properties and even your personal life, working capital is necessary to achieve your financial goals. Being property rich and cash poor means you have to pass on obvious opportunities for financial gain.   

Solutions.

When I bought my office building I didn’t want a mortgage. Profits are really nice when you don’t owe anyone anything. However, the seller wanted to spread his taxes out so I accepted a land contract (7 year amortization; seller allowed me to make a final lump sum in the fifth year).

But owning my office building requires ~ $200,000 of my net worth to be tied up in real estate. If an opportunity comes along I might have to pass and that would bother me. (It really would!) So I’ve always had a line of credit in my business. Originally it was attached to the building; now I have an unsecured line of credit. This allows me to smooth out the lumpiness of my business income (spring is good; year-end not so much).

I haven’t used the LOC for a few years so the only cost in $150 per year. Still, if I ever needed funds I can dip into the LOC for a very short term. This allows me to invest excess capital more quickly without fear I’ll need it before the good times return the following tax season.

 

3,) Motivation. This is the reason I wrote this post. I knew from the beginning if I ever paid off my mortgage, to be totally debt-free top to bottom, I would no longer have a financial motivation to get out of bed. And just as I predicted, I’m feeling the slump.

Financially I had the money to pay the house off decades ago without even a minor hardship. My logic was that I invested the extra money I borrowed so it was okay to keep the spur of a mortgage in my shorts.

Don’t worry too much, kind readers. I still roll out of bed around noon and put in an hour or two before calling it a day. (I’m joking, guys!)

Financial independence is different from debt-free! A mortgage always focused my attention. It helped me push my frugality (defense) while encouraging more income growth (offense). The frugal part has been good since the mortgage is gone; good habits continue on.

However, I find myself thinking more and more about how much I don’t have to do now that I’m mortgage free. I need $2,000 a month to live without a mortgage payment (a bit more during the winter heating season; a bit less in the summer). The nice thing about a mortgage is I needed lots of income to fully fund retirement accounts, add to non-qualified accounts and then pay extra on the mortgage. Without the mortgage money is no longer a driving force even on a minor scale!

 




And this is where we stop for now. My next post will deal with finding motivation when money is no longer an issue. Debt creates (or at least should) a crisis environment. As my good friend Mr. Money Mustache says, “It’s not a debt emergency; it’s a DEBT EMERGENCY!!!

I used a DEBT EMERGENCY to prod me in the past. Now I need to grow up and find motivation from other places. While debt can focus one’s attention, it is a poor way to achieve a goal! I used it way too long.

Debt is a tool with serious risks. Debt in and of itself isn’t bad, but it can create the illusion it is making things better when all it is really doing is increasing risk. We can do better than that.

Paying off my last liability has been liberating. I’m glad I did it. There are many ways to refocus attention so you can continue to create value in the world around you and in your life.

I think you’ll enjoy the answers I publish next week.

Happy Thanksgiving, American readers!

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Credit Cards can be a powerful money management tool when used correctly. Use this link to find a listing of the best credit card offers. You can expand your search to maximize cash and travel rewards.

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?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, 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.

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

Amazon is a good way to control costs by comparison shopping. 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 very much!

 



How to Retire Happy with Lots of Money

What is the secret to a happy retirement with lots of money? Here are a few who actually did it.
What is the secret to a happy retirement with lots of money? Here are a few who actually did it.

What is the secret to a happy retirement with lots of money? Here are a few who actually did it.

When I started this blog a primary goal was to share the worldview from my side of the desk. Over the years I’ve seen things I would never have seen if I were not in the profession I am in. And now I’ve seen things in the early retirement community I can no longer keep secret.

Many secrets have been shared over the last few years while new secrets have emerged as I sit smack-dab in the middle of the FIRE (financial independence/retire early) community. In many regards I represent an anti-FIRE philosophy. I espouse frugality while venting disdain for travel and anything that echoes of retirement.

As an odd apologist for the FIRE community I watched on as Suze Orman set the community on fire when she exclaimed she HATED! the FIRE movement. While card-carrying members were up in arms I muttered under my breath, “I know what you mean.”

Yes, you heard that right. I actually agreed with Orman on something, a rare occurrence. Orman’s insistence you need $5 million to retire is absolute rubbish. But there is something deeply disturbing about the FIRE community and it has the power to rip it apart.

To make matters worse, I may be the only one in the community who understands what is happening under the surface. And how I know this is due to my unique position in the community.

As readers may know (and they will now if they didn’t), I prepare taxes or advise a number of A-list bloggers within the FIRE community. I also consult with several people each week from this blog. And a concerning pattern has taken shape.




Feelings of Failure

It didn’t exactly start with Mr. Money Mustache, but the FIRE community solidified around Pete and his work. Pete retired at the ripe old age of 30 and set a new standard in early retirement.

News feeds have a litany of stories of 30-somethings living the good life as they travel abroad. Coupled with the stories of people paying off a gazillion dollars in debt in four and a half minutes and it starts to look easy.

Except it isn’t that easy! It’s actually damn hard. Personal circumstances play a vital role. Where you live, your health and education opportunities determine at least a part of the outcome.

I’ve been consulting with members of the FIRE community for close to 5 years now. At every personal finance (PF) conference I’ve attended I conducted consulting sessions. Tuesdays and Thursdays are consulting days at the office and I’m usually booked months in advance. (Okay! Sometimes I get caught up because I say “no” for a few months to every request.)

You would think consulting sessions with a “wealthy accountant” would focus on taxes. Au contraire. Personal finance issues and retirement are front and center as well.

People pay a lot of money for what frequently turns into a therapy session. Fully half of all consulting sessions start with an apology that sounds something like this: “I’m 37, but I haven’t retired yet.”

WHAT!

Your 37 and and haven’t retired? The inhumanity. But I have to take their words seriously! The words come out as contrition. These people feel like complete failures because they were still gainfully employed the day after their 30th birthday.

The steady stories of early retirees living the good life, traveling the world and loaded with cash has warped the worldview of many young people.

Another 15% or so of consulting clients already reached financial independence and partook of early retirement. Traveling grew old or they didn’t care for running around any more. They need guidance to get back into life.

Which leaves at best a third of my consulting clients who ask what I would consider normal questions of a tax guy.




Tears in Heaven

On more than one occasion it came to tears. Earlier this year a young man needed a consulting session bad. He started the session with an apology; he was 32 and still was working out of necessity. His voice broke and then the tears came.

This is why I felt somewhat the same as Suze Orman said she HATED! the FIRE community idea of frugality and early retirement. There is more to it than that. Some people take it to heart and experience depression when the extraordinary doesn’t come to pass.

Orman is wrong on many levels. She is too much of a self-promoter for me. But she does get it right often enough. That is why she reached the position she has as a trusted (by many) financial resource.

Orman is also right on a few things. A singular goal of early retirement smacks of narrow-mindedness. Exactly what do you plan on doing with all that time if not engaged in creating value? (Now you know why I’m an outlier of the FIRE community. Many stay far away due to my opinions concerned they may rub off. A recent visit to the doctor confirms I’m contagious.)

But if a community causes depression in some people it might be time to rethink the mantra. I’m only one guy and I have only so many therapy session time slots. There has to be a better way.

 

Publicly Speaking

A few weeks ago I was talking with Pete (Mr. Money Mustache) when I shared these facts with him. He was aghast. He had no idea people were experiencing these kinds of negative emotions due to the FIRE movement and his work.

Family, friends and loved ones are the true meaning of a happy and joyful life. Money and wealth don't make for an incredible retirement; you do.

Family, friends and loved ones are the true meaning of a happy and joyful life. Money and wealth don’t make for an incredible retirement; you do.

But it’s not Pete’s fault! Like many people Pete had the opportunity. Unlike many people he went for it and succeeded! His story resonated and for a reason. The MMM story provides a template for how it can be done.

Saving hard and investing gives you an advantage. If others are distressed it isn’t your fault!

I wish I had an easy answer for people struggling with FIRE community concepts. If you reached your 40th birthday, or God forbid, 50, before you retire there is no shame! Even if you retire at 70 or older there is no shame.

But the older guys are not the problem. When a 70 year old asks for a consulting session he doesn’t worry about early retirement; he wants guidance on financial issues, legacy planning, investments, taxes and medical problems. The pressure to retire early left the station long ago. And thank God for that. Pity is not a good place to begin a PF plan.

For the younger guys feeling the weight I need to convince them retirement isn’t the issue; financial independence is. Clients in their 20s want a firm game plan to reach the finish line no later than their 30th year. It’s an insane request.

Up to this point I just said what needed to be said, but the only way to get the message across is with an allegory. And I start with a joke so their minds open to options.

Here is what I say:

I’m not afraid of public speaking; I’m afraid people might actually believe what I tell them.

Public speaking is the number one fear for most people. People would prefer a root canal than to speak before a group.

Not me. I’ve never had an issue with speaking to a group of any size. I guess I’m weird that way.

What does scare the living bejesus out of me is that someone in the crowd may actually listen and take my words to heart. And that too is a bit strange. (It seems your favorite accountant is often half bubble off center.)

 

Easy Peasy

From the inception of this blog to today I’ve worked hard to outline where I failed and how I dealt with the issues. But no matter how hard I try people seem to think it was easy for me.

History seems preordained to future readers. The same applies to me. Readers know the outcome even when reading the struggles I faced and anguish I felt. There was no chance of failure. The outcome was known.

It was never easy and it certainly wasn’t a sure thing at the time. The nights I lay awake in bed in a cold sweat trying to figure out what to do did not guarantee an acceptable outcome. There were a few times when I thought I was finished for good. Business can mete out some bloody lessons.

And that is why public speaking doesn’t scare. I faced far worse deaths than dying on stage.

But what about my fear that people might take my words to heart?

That is where the real fear lies. When I accept a podcast or speak to a group (or even when speaking to a client in a consulting session) there is no guarantee my best advise will work. Like everyone else, my past is littered with good ideas that went bust!

My concern when working with any client is to prevent further harm. A victim of assault (yes, I’ve had a few sessions where personal safety was the primary issue) needs good advise, but the risks already exist and it is imperative I weigh my words carefully to prevent further harm.

Even when it comes to business, money and taxes I take great care. The mistakes I’ve made over the years are legend and a reminder of how fallible I am . Yes, a tax professional with my experience can get it wrong. (I know, it blows my mind, too!)

But it happens. The best laid plans often go awry. Standing in front of a group of people doesn’t cause the fear. The fear is later when I realize some of the attendees will take my words and use them. Using history as a guide I know some of those concepts will not work as designed.




Lots of Money

By now alert readers will point out the title of this post promised a happy retirement with money; lots and lots of cash.

I didn’t forget my promise and it wasn’t a click bait title either. Before I could deliver on the promise I had to expose you to the riptides under the surface of the FIRE community; a riptide even the fearless leaders of the community are probably not aware of.

Then I needed to share an allegory to illustrate the problem the leaders of the community face. The winners have a jilted view. They made it happen. They saved, invested and it worked. It is hard at times to see what is happening on the ground floor when sitting at the peak

There are many with serious medical issues not so lucky. Educational and business opportunities also play a key role.

Still, nearly anyone (I leave room for the possibility some have little to no chance of living the FIRE fantasy) can reach the goals espoused by the FIRE community.

Suze Orman was wrong to HATE! the FIRE community when she later admitted she didn’t fully understand the movement. (I think Suze Orman is a very smart lady and knew exactly what the FIRE community stood for. She also understands human psychology. She said exactly what she wanted and the FIRE community promoted her most recent book better than $100 million of advertising. We need to be smarter than that FIRE community and not be so easily baited.)

She did get one thing right. The FIRE community leaves many feeling empty when the bar is set so high that only a few can reach it (retire by 30 that is, not financial independence which is attainable by the vast majority).

The pursuit of financial independence and attaining said goal at any age is awesome! Feeling bad because some 30-something has his/her picture in the news feed enjoying another adventure around the world is the wrong impression to take.

Remember who I am! I consult with many of these people and speak with them periodically even if they aren’t clients. More than you think return to a “normal” job or start their own business after the shine comes off the bauble of early retirement.

So how do you reach financial independence? How do you get the loads of money I promised?

As my old friend Doug Nordman once said, “Your net worth is a product of

  1. your savings rate,
  2. investment fees and
  3. time.”

It’s as simple as that. The more you save and invest the better off you are, just give it a little time. The larger the percentage of your income you invest in low-cost index funds mixed with time determines your net worth. To reach your goals you only need to plug in the numbers and wait a bit.

If you want to retire sooner you have to increase your savings rate. The earlier you start the earlier your reach financial independence. Then you can toy with retirement until it gets old and you decide to start creating value again.

Of course your income will also plays a role. The higher your income the easier it is to save a larger percentage of your income. A good six-figure income can take you from zero to FI within 10 years. Minimum wage will take longer.




Retire Happy

The most viewed post of this blog was published years ago in April of 2016. In that post I share how I met Mrs. Accountant and how our relationship grew. I concluded the best way to have a rich, happy life (the best kept secret of early retirees, the wealthy and happy people) was to have a nurturing relationship with the one you love for life. In other words, I stayed married for over 30 years now (to the same woman, if I need to point that out!). This one fact is largely responsible for my level of wealth, happiness and contentment with life. (Every morning I wake and feel stunned by level of awesomeness my life has been. That same moment every morning I realize the relationship with the woman sleeping next to me is the most valuable asset I have.)

Early retirement gets all the press, but how you retire is what really matters. Retire to the life you will love at any age.

Early retirement gets all the press, but how you retire is what really matters. Retire to the life you will love at any age.

Money is the easy part! This blog and many others provide plenty of ideas to get rich. Even when I speak to a group and I fear someone might think I actually know something, I still utter a few golden nuggets you can use to have a better than even chance at knocking the ball out of the park.

Happy is the hard part because people don’t listen to what I say. There is no fear on my part when I explain what has made me happy in life.

And it’s more than happiness! Happiness is an event and fleeting. Winning the lottery or having a child or achieving early retirement at age 29 (eat your heart our mustachioed man) will bring happiness. Happiness creates a giddiness. And it is fleeting. Once the newness of the experience begin to fade, so does the happiness.

Instead, I encourage joy. Joy is much more than happiness and not dependent on an external event. Joy comes from in here (pointing to my head and heart) not out there. I imagine I will feel joy on my deathbed as I say goodbye to my children, family and friends. This isn’t happiness. I’ll miss the people I love and dying doesn’t sound like fun. But I will feel joy.

Joy is a more powerful emotion. In a world where people are brought to tears over a delayed retirement (delayed to some age less than 50 especially) it is important to spend less time on happiness (retiring at 30 brings happiness for a while) and more time experiencing joy. You can feel joy in any situation in any location. The choice is yours because joy is internal.

Joy is contentment, a coming to terms with oneself. Joy is gratitude for the gift of life. Even if it means a life of hardship and poverty.

Pete did a good thing when he set a goal of retiring by his 30th birthday and reaching said goal. His example can provide us with tools to achieve our own goals. (All those young people in the news feeds telling their story of early retirement provide the same material: a blueprint to help us design our own goals. Our goals; not their’s.)

If for some reason you manage to retire by the time you live 30 years on this planet I’m sure you’ll feel happiness. At least for a little while.

If you want to know the secret of happiness then you need to feel gratitude for whatever life has dealt you. Then you feel something even more powerful than happiness: JOY!

And nobody can take that away from you.

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Credit Cards can be a powerful money management tool when used correctly. Use this link to find a listing of the best credit card offers. You can expand your search to maximize cash and travel rewards.

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?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, 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.

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

Amazon is a good way to control costs by comparison shopping. 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 very much!

 



Micro Business and Side Gig Tax Guide

Enjoy all the tax benefits allowed for owning your own micro business or side gig.

The reason for starting a side business are legion. Maybe early retirement left you with more free time than you know what to do with. Maybe you took early retirement a bit early with the intentions of earning some side income. Or, personal or family issues limit the hours available for gainful activities.

Micro businesses are a great way to earn more money without a massive expenditure of time. You can enjoy the best of both worlds: reasonable income and freedom.

But there is one factor that causes more headaches than any other: taxes. Micro businesses/side gigs have special tax rules that can cause serious problems, or, if done correctly, virtually eliminate your tax bill.

I’ve published on this in the past, but new tax rules require I provide an entirely new guide. Several notable changes require your attention. A misstep will cost you hard-earned tax dollars; a well thought out plan allows you to keep most or all of your side gig income.

 




Highlights of the Changes

First we need to define what I mean by a micro business or side gig. For this discussion I consider a business micro if profits (not revenue!) are less than $30,000 annually and are expected to remain so in the future. This profit level is confined by economic and personal factors. You still have a micro business if you elect to remain small.

By eliminating businesses with over $30,000 of profits we also limit the choices when we plan for taxes. That allows for a detailed analysis of the issues without concerns for larger side gigs.

One of the large changes to the micro business environment involves hobbies. In the past (2017 and prior) hobby income was reported on the front page of Form 1040 with expenses deducted on Schedule A as an itemized deduction. Hobby expenses could not exceed reported income from Form 1040 and the expenses were combined with multiple other deductible items (job search expenses, safe deposit boxes, tax preparations fees, et cetera) and then 2% of adjusted gross income was subtracted.

Starting in 2018 hobby expenses are no longer deductible in any amount while income is still required to be reported. The revamped Form 1040 also means you need Schedule 1 to report hobby income (see inset).

Where to report hobby income on a tax return.

Where to report hobby income on a tax return.

 

The other big change for micro businesses comes from §199A, the Qualified Business Income Deduction. This new animal allows for a 20% deduction on certain business income (profits) without an out-of-pocket expense. We don’t have to worry about limitations since we are focused on businesses/side gigs with under $30,000 of annual profits.

 

While tax code changes didn’t affect LLCs, S corporations or regular corporations (the C corporation), there are considerations for micro businesses when it comes to entity formation.

 

The Hobby Decision Tree

Even without the possibility of deducting any hobby expenses, there are times being a hobby might be advantageous. Before we begin this part of the discussion you should review this article to refresh your memory of who can and cannot report income as a hobby.

Why would anyone want to report income as a hobby? First, you may actually have a hobby rather than a sole proprietorship (a small business for tax purposes). Second, there is still a possible tax advantage to hobby income over small business income.

Hobby income does NOT incur self-employment tax on the income. A hobby with few expenses will be taxed less as a hobby than over a sole proprietorship.

Enjoy all the tax benefits allowed for owning your own micro business or side gig.

Enjoy all the tax benefits allowed for owning your own micro business or side gig.

Example: Fred has a hobby building model ships. He sells a ship every 4 or 5 years without a profit motive; he just likes building model ships in his free time. He meets all the criteria of a hobby. If Fred sells a model ship for $5,000 and reports it as business income he will face income tax at ordinary rates (determined by his income level), plus a 15.3% self-employment tax. Reported as a hobby Fred would not pay around $750 in SE tax. He would still pay income taxes on the hobby income at ordinary rates.

Once the self-employment tax issue is understood (or experienced), smart taxpayers start pushing their tax professional to list income as hobby versus small business income. However, you are automatically considered a business by the IRS anytime you turn a profit in 3 of any 5 year period. 

There are ways around every problem. First, you don’t have to conduct the same hobby every year. If you report hobby income every year, but from significantly different hobbies you should be prepared to explain to Revenue your position. (I would actually explain it with an attachment to your tax return every year you report hobby income in 3 or more of any 5 years.)

Second, you can enjoy your hobby like Fred. Fred loved the process of fleshing out a detailed ship from times past. He would spend a year or more on each masterpiece. Fred doesn’t have to sell a ship every year. He can sell his growing cache once every 4 or 5 years. (His wife might require Fred to divest in his some of with hobby creations due to space limitations. She might get sick of cleaning the growing horde of ships decorating every corner of the house.)

Because Fred has few expenses (perhaps $500 or less per ship) most of his income from the sale is profit. However, since he is a hobby he avoids paying self-employment tax on top of income taxes.

How do new tax rules affect your hobby decision? While avoiding self-employment tax can be enviable, hobby expenses are no longer deductible, meaning your income tax will almost certainly be higher. Your other income determines your tax bracket. High earners might be better off as a business than a hobby once expenses are considered.

Finally, don’t succumb to temptation to cheat. The IRS watches hobby income and gets irritable when the line is crossed. Yes, if Fred had a model ship hobby where he completed and sold a ship every 5 or for more years for $80,000 he could avoid SE tax. But he better be prepared to explain why he isn’t really a business. Be sure to read the article from the link about to gather a better understanding of where the line is if you plan on reporting income from a hobby.

 




Business Deductions

Business deductions that are “ordinary and necessary” and that are reasonable are allowed. This is a very wide road to travel.

Your business structure doesn’t change what can be deducted. A sole proprietorship, regular corporation, S corporation and partnership can all deduct reasonable ordinary and necessary business expenses.

Let’s talk about common deductions first. Anything related to your business is usually deductible. Advertising, rent, utilities, office supplies and bank fees are just a start. A painting to decorate a wall at your business or home office is ordinary and necessary because it creates a better profit producing environment. (A Picasso would not be reasonable and would be disallowed for all but the largest of businesses and even then might be a problem. Remember the expense needs to be reasonable.) Desks, computers, chairs are also business expenses, though they may need to be depreciated over a number of years.

There is a sweet spot in business deductions, too! While cash going out is easy to record and deduct, non-cash deductions are easily forgotten. You may qualify for an office in the home. With the standard deduction much higher now the office in the home might be a way to benefit from some of your mortgage interest and property tax expenses.

Explore all the tax benefits of a side hustle with this Micro Business and Side Gig Tax Guide.

Explore all the tax benefits of a side hustle with this Micro Business and Side Gig Tax Guide.

Mileage is another expense without an easy correlation. The mileage deduction can exceed actual cost, creating an additional non-cash deduction.

Meals and entertainment offers a choice when traveling. You can use actual expense or a per diem. The per diem can exceed your actual outlay providing another non-cash deduction. The beauty of this method is that you can choose which method you use for each business trip. High meal expense trips can use actual expense and low meal expense business trips can use the per diem.

Bonus depreciation is 100% this year for most new assets. The de minimis election to deduct rather than capitalize tangible property with a class life of 20 years or less and with an initial cost of $2,500 or less also allows for faster expensing of most business assets purchased.

You can even estimate some expenses! If receipts are lost or destroyed you can use reasonable numbers for expenses, except for meals & entertainment, travel, auto expenses and listed property. Advertising, supplies and postage can be estimated if records are unavailable. Be sure to review the rules with the link at the beginning of this paragraph to avoid problems.

And here is a final deduction nugget frequently overlooked. If you have a customer appreciation event, Christmas party for the office or other business event at your home you can charge your business a reasonable fee (deductible) and not report it on your personal return (tax-free) if you rent out your home for 14 or fewer days per year. To determine “reasonable”, check around locally for the cost of renting a similar facility. As always, document ad nauseam.

 




Retirement Planning

Even the owner of a micro business can reduce or eliminate income taxes.

We turn now to deductions that amount to moving money from one hand to the other and receiving tax advantages as a result.

There are a host of retirement plans available to micro business owners unless the income is classified as hobby income.

SEP plans are probably not the best choice for a micro business due to contribution limitations based on income. (20% of a $20,000 profit is only $4,000).

401(k) plans, including solo plans, allow for larger deductions ($18,500 in 2018 and $19,000 in 2019) but can have higher fees than other options.

If other income doesn’t preclude an IRA contribution you then have a choice: Roth or traditional. The maximum contribution allowed for either is $5,500 in 2018 and $6,000 in 2019; folks 50 and older on the last day of the tax year can add an additional $1,000.

If the traditional or Roth IRA are not allowed or not enough for your needs you should consider a SIMPLE IRA. SIMPLE IRAs are just the way they sound: simple. They are simple to setup and maintain with low fees, if any. Investment houses like Vanguard and Fidelity will help you with the process if you have issues. The best part of SIMPLE IRAs is the higher contribution limits: $12,500 ($13,000 for 2019) with a $3,000 additional catch-up provision for those 50 and older on the last day of the tax year. Also, you can contribute 100% of your business profits up to the contribution limits! This means if your micro business earns $10,000 per year you can contribute the entire amount, avoiding income tax on your business income (SE tax is stilled owed on business profits regardless of retirement plan contributions).

 

§199A: The Qualified Business Income Deduction

This new and unique deduction is in the news a lot lately. The Code is vague on certain issues at it pertains to the §199A deduction. While vague may sound like a problem, tax professionals deal with vague tax issues all the time. It comes with the territory.

We can avoid many of the complicated issues because we limited our discussion to micro businesses of less than $30,000 of annual profits.

Owning a micro business/ side gig/ side hustle is rewarding and profitable. Use this guide to pay the least amount of taxes with your venture.

Owning a micro business/ side gig/ side hustle is rewarding and profitable. Use this guide to pay the least amount of taxes with your venture.

Real estate investors of income property can also benefit from the 199A deduction. (Generally an income property investor must meet the definition of a “trade or business” (undefined as of this writing) before taking the QBI deduction up to the level of profit or 2.5% of the original basis before adjustment, whichever is less.)

Regular corporations saw a massive reduction in their marginal tax rates, except for the lowest bracket which was increase from 15% to the flat rate for regular corporations of 21%. Unlike partnerships, S corporations and sole proprietorships, the §199A deduction does not apply to regular corporation.

Revenue issued some guidance on the QBI deduction. One thing is certain, the deduction is allowed for all business entities, except regular corporations. Partnerships that pay guaranteed payments to partners (the paycheck portion paid to owners of a partnership, in a manner of speaking) will reduce the QBI deduction.

Example: Sally and Mark form a 50/50 partnership to sell widgets. They have one part-time employee. The employee receives a weekly wage and a W-2 at year-end. Sally and Mark agree to pay themselves $100 per week. They do not get a W-2! Instead, their payments are considered guaranteed payments to partners. If profits are $20,000 after all expenses, including guaranteed payments to partners, they use $20,000 to calculate their QBI deduction of $4,000.

S corporations generally require more than $30,000 of annual profits to be a viable choice for tax reductions. If you have an S corporation you must pay reasonable compensation to owner/employees which reduces the QBI deduction.

Sole proprietors do not pay themselves a wage or receive a W-2. Instead, they take draws. QBI is generally the reported profit of the sole proprietorship without regard to self employment taxes. Once again, multiple by 20% and deduct.

The QBI deduction is not taken at the entity or business level. The deduction is claimed on page 2 of Form 1040, Line 9 (2018 tax forms).

Claiming the Qualified Business Income (QBI) deduction(Section 199A) on your tax return.

Claiming the Qualified Business Income (QBI) deduction(Section 199A) on your tax return.

Caution! My journals have some conflicting advice on reasonable compensation to S corporation owner/employees and guaranteed payments to partners. Before Revenue released guidance on August 8th some felt guaranteed payments to partners and reasonable compensation to S corporation owner/employees would be added back before calculating QBI. Sharp readers called me on this. The reason for the assumed (by some people) add-back before guidance was released is so high earners couldn’t play with reasonable compensation to qualify for the QBI deduction in certain service businesses. Guidance now indicates QBI is profit after reasonable compensation or guaranteed payments.

Planing tip! Because S corporations require reasonable compensation to owners/employees, micro businesses probably do better as a sole proprietor since there are no wages to the owner to reduce QBI.

 

Entity Selection

I preach LLCs treated as S corporations a lot. However, micro businesses rarely benefit taxwise from such a structure. In most cases S corporation treatment does not lower taxes enough to offset costs of organizing as an S corporation until profits consistently exceed $30,000. Even $30,000 is really low! I prefer to see $50,000 or more before deciding to switch to an S corporation and only if it appears profits will remain north of $50,000 in future years.

We are discussing micro businesses of under $30,000 of annual profits so organizing as an LLC is fine for legal purposes, but electing to be treated as an S corporation is a questionable move if taxes are the reason why.

Your S corporation may have started as something bigger and withered over the years as you downsized. Keeping the S corporation may be more convenient than moving to a sole proprietorship.  For these reasons we’ll touch on S corporations.

S corporations generally pass all their profits to the owners on Form K-1. The QBI deduction is not lost! Rather, as stated above, owner’s wages are added back with 20% of this higher total deducted on page 2 of Form 1040.

We already discussed partnerships above.

While I focus on tax considerations, entities serve a legal purpose as well. I encourage you to discuss the legal ramifications of entities with a competent legal professional.

While the sole proprietorship is easy to organize, it also pays the most tax of any form of conducting business. Sole proprietors also face a highest federal audit risk, around 4% per year. Corporations (regular and S) and partnerships are audited at well below 1% per year. For this reason  alone you may wish to organize even a micro business as an S corporation, regardless of the tax ramifications.

 

The Best Tax Choice

Here is a step-by-step guide to deciding how to manage your micro business:

  1. Are you a Hobby or business? It makes a difference. A hobby is by far the easiest way to report income. But no expenses are allowed while SE tax is avoided.
  2. Choose an entity structure. An LLC provides legal protections and takes on the tax flavor you want. A single member LLC defaults to a sole proprietorship and if there are two or more owners to the business, partnership is the default. These are called disregarded entities (disregarded for tax purposes only, not legal purposes.)
  3. Make sure you don’t miss any deduction.
  4. Take advantage of the QBI deduction.
  5. Consider retirement plans.
  6. Enjoy! It is a micro business for a reason. Your goal is a bit of extra money while engaging an enjoyable activity.

 

Note: Technical corrections were made to this article. The complexities of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act have caused serious issues when tax planning. The IRS issued some guidance on August 8, 2018, but more issues remain. Tax professionals are encouraged to contact the author if they disagree with a statement here. I have attended several training programs this year on the new tax rules and there are areas of disagreement between programs. I’ll make additional technical corrections as they are discovered by readers (or me) or further guidance is provided by Revenue.

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Credit Cards can be a powerful money management tool when used correctly. Use this link to find a listing of the best credit card offers. You can expand your search to maximize cash and travel rewards.

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?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, 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.

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

Amazon is a good way to control costs by comparison shopping. 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 very much!