Posts by Keith Taxguy

Mr. Money Mustache Fired His Accountant

It was late May of 2015 when a wayward accountant from the backwoods of Nowhere, Wisconsin traveled to Cascadia. Tucked away in the Washington State foothills stood the Rainbow Lodge where a nondescript gathering of devoted followers of the emerging Mustachian movement were preparing for Camp Mustache II. This was our hero’s destination.

The goal of our accountant was to meet the Great One, Mr. Money Mustache himself, Pete Adeney, and present him with a business offer. 

The wayward accountant had a game plan. Since Pete had no idea who this crazy guy was he needed to build rapport before springing his devious plan on the unsuspecting celebrity. He had four days to build this rapport, present his offer and seal the deal. The pressure was on!

Since our hero was already attending the event he figured he could volunteer to give a short tax presentation. And wouldn’t you know it, the Big Guy attended the session and sat right in front of him, no more than five feet away!

Oh, well, figured our country boy. He went ahead with his tax strategy presentation. No more than ten minutes into the presentation and Pete interrupted, saying, “You’re my new tax guy.”

Gulp!

Cool as a cucumber, our backwoods accountant never missed a beat as he finished his session. When the session ended Pete introduced himself to the accountant and said, “When I say something I mean it. You are my accountant.”

 

Pressure

You would think the pressure would be off at this point. Mr. Backwoods Accountant had his foot in the door three days early. Not only did he have his coveted rapport, he had a new client; Mr. Money Mustache himself! (Can I squeal like a girl in delight now?)

But there was one problem. Mr. Accountant wasn’t looking for new clients. He had a business proposition to make and he had to figure out how to present it.

Honesty is the only way. Later the same day our hero pulled Pete off to the side and spilled the beans on why he was there.

He admitted to Pete he wanted to offer his DIY online tax software service, using MMM as the platform. Pete didn’t care for the idea. (Disappointment.) But he would be happy to mention the project on the MMM blog without strings attached. (Glee!)

But there was still one overwhelming problem.

 

Honesty

The story to this point is public information. I’ve shared this story in the past and many are aware of it.

What is not publicly known is why I wanted to make the business offer to Pete in the first place.

Sometimes getting fired is the best thing that can happen to you. The loss of a job or client opens the door for new opportunities. You can only grow when you deny the past and embrace the future.

Sometimes getting fired is the best thing that can happen to you.

The reason for the DIY tax software project was because I was ready to take a step back and start living the MMM lifestyle. Now that I ended up with a very visible new tax client that dream fell to dust. 

The DIY tax program is alive and well, thanks to the extra push Pete gave it in February 2016. However, the idea of slowing down and focusing on teaching the next generation of tax professionals had to be put on hold. 

The phone and email server started to smoke the traffic was so heavy. Mr. Money Mustache gets close to 10 million page views per month and his readers are devoted. They all wanted the same taxguy Pete had. This wasn’t going to work.

At its peak I was receiving over 300 emails a day that tax season just from the MMM blog alone. Just saying “No” to each request was a strain on resources. And these weren’t the simple returns either. These fine people took serious advantage of the tax code.

Instead of slowing down I was winding up at a rapid clip and it was wearing my team and me out. It took a few years to adjust to the New World Order. I had to learn to say “No” at a level I never imagined before. 

Employees were crushed by the onslaught. I still don’t understand how I survived the transition. Stress was higher than at any other time in my career. 

Let’s be clear. None of this was Pete’s fault. He had no idea what was about to hit me. Every action Pete took was to help someone he admired and liked. Pete and I became friends. And he empathized with my situation. He offered to break the links on his blog, but I begged him to keep them up. My ego was the only thing enjoying the ride.

 

Hell

My descent into hell was complete. I was adding new clients, but couldn’t keep up with the pace. The first tax season (spring of 2016) was non-stop triage. It wasn’t good at all.

The quality of my work suffered and I was exhausted. And my attitude started to show it.

This was NOT what I had planned. I couldn’t even dream something like this would happen. We’re country folk and live a fairly secluded life. More people contacted my office that year than there are people in the county I live in! Think about that for a moment.

The next tax season (2017) was better, but not my much. I wanted to help all these people and I still fantasized I could. I was saying “No” more, but still held myself open to more clients. It was a round robin at this point. When I said “Yes” to one new client I would lose another. And all the while Pete watched patiently.

Pete knew I was struggling no matter how brave a face I put on. He offered helpful guidance and even mentioned on several occasion I was working too hard. But I kept thinking, “This is Pete! He thinks everyone works too hard. I’m a Wisconsin boy. I can take it.” 

But I couldn’t and I knew it. 

I might be slow, but I ain’t dumb. (No comments from the back row.) Last tax season (the third since that fateful day at the Rainbow Lodge) I was starting to adjust to my new situation. I slowed the pace of client growth (I actually orchestrated a small decline) to a manageable pace.

 

Back on Track

The saving grace of this whole ordeal was automation. I was forced to think in ways I never had to before. 

My team did not fare so well. Every employee I had at the start is now gone. The last one left late last year, burnt out from the experience. My senior employee is now three years with me. It is hard sometimes to see how I could rebuild, but rebuild I did with my original goal back on track.

It could have been worse. You could have kept your job. Sometimes losing your job is the best thing that can happen to you. You now have the freedom to choose the path you want going forward.I’m one ornery backwoods Wisconsin coot that refuses to give up! I had a plan and it got detoured. Nothing more. 

After three plus decades in the tax industry my value wasn’t best utilized serving one client at a time. Yes, this blog does help spread the word and teach others. This blog isn’t enough, however.

With headcount lower and the door closed to virtually all new clients, I was able to focus on the original goals. 

To accomplish these goals I needed to focus on what I was good at: tax. I outsourced all payroll. Except Pete. Pete was my friend. I couldn’t do that to him. 

Bookkeeping—a low margin service—was curtailed to just those clients needing the service as it related to their tax situation. Automation and outsourcing did the rest

Last tax season was at least reasonable. Even my senior employee, Dawn, with me three years, noted the difference. Things were looking up.

Then I made a serious decision. It was time to explain to my friend, Pete, that he needed to have his payroll handled elsewhere and I facilitated the transfer to the service I use in my office. Pete contemplated doing it himself, but decided to take my direction.

Then I got the email.

 

You’re Fired

Pete saw the handwriting on the wall even if I wasn’t totally honest with him. He knew I was under tremendous pressure and was putting on a brave face for the world. I was the only one fooled into thinking nobody knew what was happening behind closed doors.

Pete is one of the smartest. most common sense, guys you’ll meet. His email was titled: Continued Collaboration Plans. Yeah, I can see a pink slip when I see one.

I wasn’t really fired (or is that FIREd) and it wasn’t a surprise. Discussions in our conference room at the office centered several times around the Pete issue: Should we continue doing his taxes? The discussion revolved around how narrow the office demographic had become. We wanted to return to a more traditional tax office. My teams—what was left of them—knew I still wanted to work out of the traditional tax environment and start preparing the next generation of tax professionals.

Pete had no idea. In truth, we never would have turned Pete away: he is too much a friend; I admire him and his work too much. Still, it wasn’t the right thing and apparently Pete knew it too.

Pete made very clear in his email how happy he and Simi were with my work. I responded I wasn’t as thrilled with my performance as he was. I knew where I dropped the ball. Stress and taking on too much are not valid excuses.

Then Pete said he wanted my blessing for a new tax accountant he found, saying,

But at the same time, I’d love to continue collaborating with you on whatever you see fit, whether it is talking about life, blogs, tax strategies, sending folks your way, or whatever.

Pete is all class, as if you guys didn’t know that already.

Pete finished his email with,

So my own taxes are just a footnote – I feel with your firm being so busy already, I’d rather not be a burden myself, and I also don’t feel comfortable sending too many additional customers at you, because you are all so busy already! As stated earlier, I want to be able to bring in more new firms to the fold so we can help more people.

Like I said, all class.

 

Overjoyed

(Don’t bail on me yet, kind readers. The best part is still coming!)

I shouldn’t feel such relief that the ordeal is over, but I do. Serving a very visible client is distracting at best. But the change will serve Pete, his readers, and even you, kind readers, better than ever!

I did something horrible, however. When Pete sent the email I could tell it was hard for him to write it. I waited almost a week to respond, though I saw it the moment it hit my mailbox. My response, you see, was equally difficult to write.

Pete gave some sage advice in his original email:

. . . your teachings through both the Wealthy Accountant blog and the in-person seminars have helped tens of thousands of people – or more. So I want to continue all of this! 

How could I let my friend down. He wanted me to realize my goal from five years back when we first met. You have no idea how humbled I am by his encouragement. 

I finally was able to write back what I wanted to say. Now Pete was overjoyed.

I wrote in my email:

Pete, I can only imagine the apprehension you had writing this to me. Understand I think your proposal is a good one so no worries. 

Rather than just assigning 2018 to his firm, let’s do this as a full transition to the new accountant. If he has difficulties I am available to consult; if he doesn’t live up to your standards I can always step in again.

I made it clear to Pete I was still on his team. His new accountant is close to his home and I am certain will do an awesome job. Because of the new tax law changes I will reach out to the new accountant (name undisclosed at this time for reasons obvious in above writings) to make sure he understands how this will affect Pete. That 199A thing is really important. I can provide guidance (my true value) and he can perform the application.

So you understand how overjoyed Pete was I didn’t take it personally, he started his response:

WOW, thanks so much for that helpful response! You are right that I was nervous that you’d take my request the wrong way. But as I said, it just seems like a win/win for everyone, so why not!?

I agree.

There is one more morsel to share later. You want to stick around.

 

Now for Something You’ll Really Love

While all this was happening, a certain accountant from the boondocks of Wisconsin was still planning and working hard toward his goals of serving his people better than ever before.

Outsourcing and downsizing certainly made a difference in the office environment. With new processes in place working and Pete doing what I should have presented long ago, I have been able to focus on things you, kind readers, have been asking for. And so far this has been the best tax season in well over a decade.

The best boss sees your potential and pushes you to reach for it. The best leaders bring the best out of others.

The best boss sees your potential and pushes you to reach for it.

Camp Accountant is now almost certain to happen. Before it was just too much to fit into an already crowded schedule. The new world order turns this into a real possibility.

Camp Accountant is tentatively planned for late summer this year in beautiful West Bend, Wisconsin. Attorneys, CPAs and enrolled agents will earn continuing professional education (CPE) credits for attending. No other camp has ever done that!

And I have another secret no one reading this will know.

This blog has been growing thanks to training courses I’ve taken. The best course by far is Moolah Marketing. Highly recommended.

The Moolah course, by the way, is remarkable in more than just driving traffic. Rachel Miller, the wonderful woman running the course, hammers first on identifying who your fans are. This is important as I’ll now illustrate.

When I started the Moolah course Rachel kept asking who my fans were and I kept saying the FIRE community. She kept telling me I was wrong. I finally figured out the FIRE community is only a small part of my demographic, but tax professionals scream for more of my work. The tax pros are my people!

What Rachel instilled in me is a new path for this blog, my work and fulfilling my original goal back in May 2015. Several courses in this vein will be produced by this blog or are in the works!

Rachel invited me on a Facebook Live and asked her people if they would like a course from me on 30 Tax Tips for Solopreneures. She said if 50 people were willing to pre-order I was obligated to create the course. It took less than 5 minutes!

So I need to be committed, ah, I’m committed to creating the course. Now I need to set up the order form (a future post will list details and how to order) and create the course. Due date is May. (This year!)

Here are a few more courses in development:

  • 20 Tips to Avoid Taxes When Investing in Real Estate
  • Build a Million Dollar Tax Practice
  • Investing For Dummies (May need to change the name due to copyright.)
  • Bookkeeping for Profit

We are floating more ideas.

This means I will be teaching more than ever. In the past I was locked into serving one client at a time. Now I will serve thousands at a time! If you have a topic you want my team to consider be sure to let me know.

Finally, you may have noticed a new feature here. I started a Find a Local Tax Pro page! (This might be what triggered Pete to email me. A few weeks after I launched I heard from Pete.)

If you need a tax professional, this is the place to look. If you are a tax pro willing to add more clients to your book and follow The Wealthy Accountant tax principles, allow me to add your name to the list. If your tax pro is awesome, be sure to point her to this resource. It is free and you can change or delete your listing anytime your situation changes with no fee. This is for the people of this community. 

 

Did Pete Finally Get Something Wrong?

I’ve known Pete for about 5 years now. The one thing you quickly notice is his clarity of thinking. Anytime I’ve asked for his advice or he just gave it because he saw I was in desperate need, he has always hit the nail on the head.

Pete gave me this final warning:

I’m not sure if I’d post the MMM new accountant thing just yet (and of course you never have to, I can always explain if ever needed that we still work together and collaborate) – but I’ll leave it up to you. In general, I find it’s good not to stoke the gossip engine, because people always get stuff wrong!

I feel this post is about more than Pete using a new tax professional. I covered a lot of material today that will serve your needs, kind reader, for a long time to come. 

I can’t be a mini-Pete forever; I need to strike out on my own in a direction I feel best serves my people, you.

Pete is right. People tend to get it wrong. Many will read the title and no further, building their entire opinion on those few incomplete words meant to drive traffic more than anything else. (Gotta get ya to read it before I can help you.) 

Just this one time can we prove Pete wrong. He is a good man. He’ll be happy to be proven wrong on this. This is a major step forward for this community and desperately needed. We need more qualified tax professionals and this is a serious first step. 

Now if you’ll forgive me, I need to find my handkerchief. I was just FIREd.

 

 

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.

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 segregation 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 Coming Collapse of China

Protect your finances if China's debt bubble implodes. Don't let the trade war ruin your retirement plans.

Protect your finances if China’s debt bubble implodes.

When the Western economic world collapsed in 2008 there was only one beacon of light: China.

For decades China has grown at nose-bleed speeds and looked like an unstoppable economic miracle. Now the foundations of that miracle are exposed and the house of cards is in peril. Shadow banks and ghost cities are only the tip of the ice berg.

Speculation over the years of fudged official economic numbers coming out of Beijing is starting to haunt the government there. As 2018 came to a close the government reported the slowest growth in 28 years. This was still a bit north of 6%.

Unfortunately, these slower growth numbers are probably a wildly exaggerated lie. Recently, a former chief economist for the Agricultural Bank of China mentioned a report that two recent studies show China’s economy growing at a mere 1.67% and another showing the economy actually declined.

While there is no doubt China has made massive economic leaps over the past several decades, much of the recent growth is built on a shaky foundation.

In many Western nations an economic crisis can ensue from excessive indebtedness. The difference between Western nations and China is what the debt funding was used for. In the U.S., for example, corporations can over-extend themselves, causing over-production and an inventory hangover. Household debt might be wasted on stuff that has virtually no value. But homes and autos have at least some value and a good amount of utility. Something we will see China wasn’t spending on.

 

Dangerous Foundation

China is mired in a massive amount of debt. Trustworthy numbers are hard to come by, but many reports claim China’s government and municipal debt are several times larger than the annual economic output of the country.

What China spent the money on is a bigger problem than the excessive debt! The growing mountain of debt is difficult to manage. However, if the debt was used to produce something of value it would be possible to work through the financial problems with only modest economic pain.

China did some of that (spending on productive investments) and a whole lot more creating rubble. 

People inside China have captured videos of buildings built in the last decade tipping over and put them on YouTube. Ghost cities in China are well known outside the country. Whole cities with virtually no people living there. 

What is worse is the quality of construction. A large number (based upon information from people living in China a long time) of buildings only a few years old look like they are more than a century old! It is hard to imagine the crumbling facade and disrepair huge parts of these cities can fall into after only two or three years. Again, YouTube videos allow you to glimpse the slow moving disaster in the works.

The layers of debt these unlivable buildings have is equally ill-constructed. Municipalities borrow so they can encourage growth which generates tax revenue. (The tax system in China is untenable as local governments frequently find the greatest source of funds though the crazy financial deals with developers.) 

Builders, which are frequently state-owned and very inefficient, pile on more debt to build the structures.

Then the final layer of debt is added when individuals buy, believing real estate never goes down in value. People in China buy real estate because they consider it a good investment even when they don’t live there or rent it out.

Renting is also far cheaper than buying a property in the populated areas of China. Rents frequently only cover a fraction of the mortgage payment so ownership is even more financially demanding.

 

Inside Information

A year-and-a-half ago this blog was one of the few websites allowed inside China by the government. Today it is officially banned!

My oldest daughter spent time in China last year and was able to pull up this blog. She taught English as a second language and lived with a host family. That is no longer possible.

Are you prepared for the collapse of China and the debt bubble? Protect your finances with these 3 simple steps.Many foreigners teaching English as a second language in China are sheltered from the worst parts of China. My daughter, Heather, sought the real experience and got it. Fortunately she had a host family who considered themselves unconventional and enjoyed Heather’s presence. Her friend stayed with a family that wasn’t unconventional and had a miserable experience.

When Heather returned home she stayed in contact with her host family. She grew a bond with the host mom and their 5 year old daughter. 

In the last few months contact has been more difficult. We actually lost contact for over a month and feared the worst. These are good people and we worry about them because they are friends. 

As we started to give up hope of ever hearing from our extended Chinese family the host mom made contact. The story was grim.

This family had another foreign teacher and they had to send her home early over safety concerns. From the inside China has already started to implode.

The government’s solution to the stagnant economy was to set off another round of debt spending. With state-owned firms extremely inefficient and getting a large portion of the additional spending it is like doubling down on stupid.

 

Reality Test

You can hide fiscal malfeasance for a very long time if the government want the facts hidden. However, the natural laws of economics still apply and eventually assert themselves. 

The growing mountain of debt will eventually cause a crisis. The longer the delay before appropriate remedial action is taken the more pain will be measured out. 

China had started steps to resolve the issues. It would have taken a long time to fix the worst of the financial problems. However, the risk was high China would implode before they resolved the worst of the imbalances. The world community, knowing the approximate depth of the problems, quietly played along. What other choice did they have.

Unfortunately for China, the new American president had no patience for such slow resolutions. The trade spat exposed the underlying weakness of China’s economy quicker than expected and might be the trigger to set off the avalanche. 

The Los Angeles Times recently reported China announced more than $600 billion of economic stimulus. The goal is to fix the problem as fast as possible before catastrophe strikes. More debt seems a poor choice of ointment.

China’s history in not encouraging if the slowdown is too fast and/or a currency or debt crisis occurs before adequate safeguards are in place. 

The debt may be too large for an economy the size of China’s to navigate to calm waters. Many Chinese banks are insolvent because they can hide behind government censors. In a true capitalist economy these banks and other companies would have been shuttered long ago. So the inefficiency of the system trudges on and deepens.

Normally I would have an optimistic option at this point. And while I think this could be the next financial crisis to strike, I don’t think it will be the end of good times forever. All I’m saying is there will be a few moments when people get really scared if China collapses.

 

Preparing for the Storm

Dinny McMahon in his book, China’s Great Wall of Debt, does a better job digging deeper into the debt issues in China. This short post can’t cover the details the way a book can. The issues are deeper than I mention with shadow banks and incredible debt loads even greater than the government in China understands since they also know much of their data is faulty. I recommend reading this book. 

The risks posed by China should not cause undue alarm. Planning for the possibility is wise, but no one knows when, or even if (the miracle could actually be a miracle), the boom will drop. 

Is China's debt bubble about to burst? Learn how to protect your investments before it's too late.Since timing a crisis of this nature is impossible you can’t sell all your investments and hope it is the right move. The investments you sell might benefit from the Chinese crisis or the market could rally for years before the flood of Chinese debt consumes the news feeds.

There are some steps you can take to protect yourself if China implodes and if it doesn’t will bolster your financial situation regardless.

The 2008 financial crisis that started in the U.S. was a debt crisis. Home lending was out of control. Appraisals were based on fantasy and fake documents. Almost sounds like what China is dealing with today. 

Debt crisis are always painful events. Companies fail and jobs are lost. People with money hold it tight for fear things will never improve. 

As we saw in 2008, a financial crisis in a major world economy spreads. Very few parts of the world went unscathed by the 2008 events in the U.S. Even China was affected. 2008 set China on a massive borrowing for growth scheme they can’t seem to get off. Once the lie starts you need bigger and bigger lies to keep the charade going. 

Since debt is the cause of so many financial crisis I suggest you insulate yourself by reducing or eliminating debt. (I prefer the elimination of debt because the seriousness of the China issue is large enough to harm virtually anyone holding debt.)

Reducing debt is an easy (relatively) and simple (relatively, again) way to insure your fiscal soundness if China stumbles. Like all debt, it takes time to pay off. Today is the best day to start the process. When the tsunami is visible on the horizon it’s too late; there will only be time to grab something solid and hold tight.

A second security procedure is to keep some of your finances liquid. Most of your money should probably be invested in broad-based index funds all the time. Market timing just doesn’t work. Having two years of spending in a money market fund might also be a good idea. This is a similar tactic people in or near retirement use so they don’t have to dip into investments when the market is down.

 

Final Planning Tips

I wish I could share more, but I fear if I was totally blunt it might harm my friends in China. 

This is a serious issue China works hard to keep from the press around the world. It is easy to think China is loaded with cash since they hold so many U.S. Treasuries. In a crisis China may have to sell large amounts of these Treasuries to defend their currency causing an interest rate spike in the U.S. This would be economically disruptive even if the Federal Reserve fights to counter the effects of such a liquidation. 

The most serious issue happened when we lost contact with Heather’s host family for over a month. They only contacted us because they were traveling outside China. This is very concerning. When things get really bad (and usually just before), totalitarian governments clamp down hard. Foreigners in China have been learning this. The security alert for Americans traveling in China is elevated and travel there is not recommended. This is not a warning to be disregarded.

If the same thing happened in Russia it would be less an issue since their economy is so much smaller. Even with inflated numbers, China’s economy is still one of the largest on the planet. If China stumbles we will all feel the ground quake, especially since some of the debt is in U.S. denominations.

This post is not about inciting panic, rather the opposite. Risk is high and even the U.S economy looks to be softening. Smaller refund checks this tax season means people were enjoying a slightly higher take-home pay during the previous year. That could lead to a softer U.S. economy for a while.

You can weather almost any economic storm without debt. Even in good times debt can be a burden. 

I worry because a family in China close to my heart is living dead center of where the storm will strike. I wish them and all of China well. 

We are all in this together. So take precautions, reduce debt, increase your financial cushion and be well.

 

 

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.

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 segregation 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!

Final 199A Regulations

The Section 199A deduction requires you to be a trade or business. Follow these rules to take advantage of this generous deduction on your rental properties.

The Section 199A deduction requires you to be a trade or business. Follow these rules to take advantage of this generous deduction on your rental properties.

The IRS released final regulations on 199A. The Kiplinger Tax Letter said it best: “Final regulations provide limited guidance, but IRS gives a safe harbor.”

In this post we will discuss the safe harbor as it relates to “trade or business” with special emphasis on application with rental properties. The safe harbor doesn’t apply to all taxpayers and the trade or business designation is still possible without meeting the safe harbor parameters.

The final regulations run 248 pages. I will follow this post with a detailed post on 199A tiers with several decision trees. Due to the length and complexity of the regulations we are forced to remain focused on one aspect of 199A. Taxpayers with a sole proprietorship, partnership, S corporation or investment property may wish to seek the services of a competent tax professional until more clarification is reached through more regulations or from the Tax Court.

Links are provided at the end of this post to the entire 248 pages of regulations released and Notice 2019-07 (only 10 pages!) dealing with the trade or business safe harbor for real estate issues for your further research.

 

Remaining Problems with the Final Regulations

The final regulations refer to Section 162 (as previous releases have). Section 162 generally governs the deductibility of expenses for a trade or business. But Section 162 is unclear when it comes to rental activities. 

The reason for the vagueness is because the facts and circumstances of each taxpayer differs. Whether the property is commercial or residential, the lease terms, services provided, how many properties owned  and day-to-day involvement in the activity all play a role. We will touch on each of these throughout this post. 

The biggest problem with the final regs is that they were issued after 2018 was in the books. Nobody knew they needed to keep track of time spent in the activity, nor did they know they were required to keep a separate bank account for the rental activity.

The IRS, aware of this, has granted some leeway for the 2018 tax return as it regards contemporaneous records.  However, for tax years beginning after December 31, 2018 you must follow the new regs for record keeping. Ignorance is not an excuse.

Once the IRS laid out the safe harbor for a “rental real estate enterprise” they state: 

Failure to satisfy the requirements of this safe harbor does not preclude a taxpayer from otherwise establishing that a rental real estate enterprise is a trade or business for purposes of
section 199A.

This means the safe harbor isn’t the only way to take advantage of the generous 199A deduction. 

If you use the safe harbor you must include a statement to that effect with the tax return. Qualified pass-through entities (RPEs) can also use the safe harbor and provide the taxpayer with the required statement that application of the safe harbor was used as outlined by regulations. This is attached to your return.

 

Safe Harbor

The new deduction for rental property owners is no game. Get your deduction today.Rental Real Estate Enterprise: For purposes of the safe harbor the IRS uses the term rental real estate enterprise, defined as an interest in real property held for the production of rents and may consist of an interest in multiple properties. 

The individual or pass-through entity relying on this safe harbor must hold the interest directly or through a disregarded entity. This means you can only use the safe harbor if you hold the property personally or as an LLC treated as a disregarded entity. If you hold the property in an LLC electing to be treated as an S corporation (and there is no reason to ever hold real estate in an S corp) you cannot use the safe harbor.

The taxpayer must treat the property (or group of properties) held for the production of rents as a separate enterprise. This means you hold each property or group of properties as a single enterprise. Which means you have a separate bank account and name for the enterprise. Those with multiple LLCs could experience issues with qualifying for the safe harbor. 

Commercial and residential property cannot be part of the same enterprise. Yes, this can cause real confusion when you have mixed property under one LLC and/or business name. As I read this regulation you would need to qualify for the safe harbor for both the residential and commercial property.

Once you establish a treatment for your properties (which properties belong with each enterprise) you must continue with the same treatment unless there has been a significant change to the facts and circumstances (sale or purchase of property, for example).

Safe Harbor Defined: For the Qualified Business Income Deduction only, a rental real estate enterprise will be treated as a trade or business if the following requirements are satisfied during the taxable year with respect to the rental real estate enterprise:

  1. Separate accounting of income and expenses are maintained for the rental real estate enterprise.
  2. 250 or more hours of rental services are performed for taxable years beginning prior to January 1, 2023 with respect to the rental enterprise. 
  3. For taxable years beginning after December 31, 2022, 250 or more hours performed in respect to the rental real estate enterprise in any 3 of the 5 prior consecutive years.
  4. Contemporaneous records are required, including: time reports, logs and similar documents regarding the following:
    1. hours of all services performed
    2. description of all services performed
    3. dates services were performed, and
    4. who performed the services

Of course, contemporaneous records are a bit hard to produce when the rules were not in place until after the tax year concluded, and therefore the records do not need to be contemporaneous for tax year 2018. I recommend going over 2018 ASAP to create a log of all services performed.

 

What Counts for the Safe Harbor

Not all activities count toward the 250 hour requirement for the safe harbor. 

Rental services performed by the taxpayer or by employees, agents, and/or independent contractors of the taxpayer all count toward the 250 hour safe harbor requirement. 

Rental services for the rental real estate safe harbor include:

  1. advertising to rent or lease the property/s
  2. negotiating and executing leases
  3. verifying information from prospective tenants
  4. collection of rents
  5. daily operation, maintenance and repair of the property/s
  6. management of the property/s
  7. purchase of materials
  8. supervision of employees and independent contractors.

Keep in mind the time supervising employees and/or contractors only includes your time supervising. The hours performing services by employees and independent contractors do not count toward your hours.

 

Activities that Don’t Count as Rental Services

Several activities do not count as rental services as applied to the 250 hour requirement:

  1. travel to and from the property/s
  2. financing activities
  3. investment management activities (financial statement review; property search; and procuring and planning, managing or constructing long-term capital improvements)

Generally, things that are easily fudged are disallowed. Saying you spent many hours reviewing the books or driving to the property will not benefit you. Saying you spent x number of hours planning capital improvements to the properties also do not count toward the safe harbor.

 

Other Exclusions

Real estate is better than ever with the new tax laws. Discover the advantages to 199A. Get your tax break today.Several situations are excluded from using the safe harbor. 

Any personal use of the property during the year excludes use of the safe harbor.

Triple-net leases are also excluded from the safe harbor. A triple-net lease is defined as a lease agreement that requires the tenant to pay for all or part of the taxes, fees and insurance, and the tenant is responsible for 

maintenance requirements in addition to rent and utilities. Since most commercial property is leased triple-net, the safe harbor option is unavailable, but may still qualify as a trade or business as shown next.

 

How to Still Claim as a Trade or Business

Since so many tax dollars are riding on the line it is important to determine if you qualify for the 199A deduction. The safe harbor is just that, a safe harbor. Just because you don’t qualify for the safe harbor does not mean you do not have a trade or business.

There are some similarities in this safe harbor with the material participation tests under the passive activity rules. While the numbers between this safe harbor and the material participation tests are different, we can still gather guidance by reviewing the facts and circumstances in determining if the activity is a trade or business.

Earlier last summer while waiting for the IRS to provide guidance on what a “trade or business” is, I decided to build a policy for my office. My conclusion was that investment property (reported on Schedule D when sold) was not a trade or business and property that is treated as a sale of business property when sold (reported on Form 4794) is a trade or business. With the recent IRS guidance I am forced to tighten my definition of a trade or business in situations not covered by the safe harbor.

The IRS actually uses the words “trade or business activities” in their material participation tests. In other words, they say:

You materially participated in a trade or business activity for a tax year if you satisfy any of the following tests:

Whereas the safe harbor for 199A rental services say you need 250 hours, the first material participation test says 500 hours. I think it is safe to say we can use 250 hours when not using the safe harbor as well.

But you can still be a trade or business if you put in fewer than 250 hours if the material participation tests are a valid ancillary. 

Material participation test #3 says if you put in 100 hours, and is more than anyone else in the activity, you pass the test and materially participate.

According to test #2, if you put in substantially all the participation in the activity you pass.

There are additional tests to determine material participation. For trade or business issues I think it is reasonable to use the material participation guidelines, whether it be a small business or rental property. The safe harbor is a bit easier to pass for 199A based on hours, but if you meet the guidelines in any of the material participation tests you have substantial grounds for claiming you are a trade or business since the IRS already recognizes this in another area of tax application.

 

Final Considerations

Section 199A, the Qualified Business Income deduction is one of the most complex pieces of legislation to hit taxpayers in a long while. I dealt with one narrow subsection of the regulations. 

It might be a good idea to hire a tax professional for at least one year if you own a business and or rental property to deal with the litany of tax issues surrounding 199A. Even if an extension is required and your taxes are not filed until later in the year.

Here are a few issues not covered in this post that you will want to discuss with your tax professional:

  • Tier #1, #2 and #3 for small businesses
  • Specified service trades or businesses (SSTB)
  • Form 1099 (If a rental in not a trade or business then Form 1099 reporting can sometimes be avoided. However, you want to be a trade or business for 199A reasons so if you don’t file Form 1099 with contractors the IRS may disallow the deduction because you didn’t act like a trade or business)
  • Contributed property to an entity has special rules
  • Special rules apply to like-kind exchanges and involuntary conversions
  • Special considerations for basis of inherited property
  • Net operating losses affect 199A
  • Capital gains and losses may affect 199A
  • Amended returns are not allowed to initiate aggregation, but aggregation can be used in future years
  • SSBTs are better defined in the final regulations
  • and more. . . 

 

As promised, here are the reports from the IRS. You can read Notice 2019-07 as well as I. It is a short 10 page document and worth a read if you have rental properties. Less readable is the final regulations on 199A, coming in at 248 pages.

If you ever have trouble falling a sleep one evening just pick up the final regs. You’ll be out cold in minutes.

 

 

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.

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 segregation 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!

Challenges of Running a Successful Blog

Learn how successful bloggers grow their business.

Blogging can be fun, but takes a lot of work.

Blogging is a business. Sometimes it’s hard to believe, but it is true. Along with podcasting, speaking and every other form of training and education, blogging is a business. Sometimes a really big business. And businesses take work to manage and grow.

It is easy to forget that those friendly bloggers you communicate with work some serious hours to bring you information and perhaps a laugh or two. Most people don’t realize bloggers are sweating it out at the keyboard in the wee hours of the morning to get a post out on schedule. 

And then there is the invisible work. It seems like blogging is about the cheapest hobby going until you realize that every part of the platform demands a fee and usually loads of time. And that is where this blogger enters.

I originally planned a detailed post of the coming collapse of China when the IRS released another 249 pages of regulations on Section 199A. The ink wasn’t dry before the calls flooded in for a brief post on the IRS release. The good news is we finally have a definition for a trade or business as it applies to 199A. The bad news is those 249 pages contained a lot of material and one simple post wasn’t going to cut it. A series was in process before the next hammer fell.

 

Time to Get Social

If I’m going to put in all this work I may as well bust tail to acquire a few readers. You see, people don’t magically find my glistening prose. (Yeah, I know. Surprises the heck outta me too.) I’ve done all the obligatory stuff: auto-posting, email list, attend conferences, remind everyone I see I have a blog. And traffic has been good for a tax blog with heavy doses of personal finance mixed in. 

But more is always better, I heard, so I purchased a few courses to hone my skills. First I attended a course on Pinterest and saw my Pinterest traffic go from nothing to several hundred page views per day and still climbing.

Then I cracked open my wallet for a very in depth Facebook marketing course called Moolah. (Hint: Rachel is one awesome lady when it comes to Facebook. She knows her stuff.) Here is an example of some of the free stuff she offers from her course, banned words on Facebook, for example. The free Facebook group alone will send your traffic higher

Increase your blogs ad revenue with tricks used by the most successful bloggers today.

Automate the hardest part of blogging.

The Moolah course is an intense 10 week program. (You have access to the videos and other materials for at least a year afterwards and there is a special Facebook group for graduates to keep pushing their traffic and sales to the moon.) While in the course I was informed I wasn’t handling ads correctly. I used Google ads, of course, and another platform called IMS. It was a small, yet steady stream of income to cover blog costs. With my traffic levels I was informed I needed to move to a more robust platform like Mediavine. So I took the plunge.

As this was happening another serious request came into the Facebook private group. (Y’all are invited to join our august group and The Wealthy Accountant business page. It is a great place to meet like-minded people and learn how to cut your taxes and manage your money for greater returns.) A reader asked about stock options, the kind granted by an employer, and that wasn’t a simple answer.

So, the China post was on hold even though this reporter has inside information about China that will shock most readers. I will post on this soon due to the serious financial consequences. The 199A post is also delayed due to the imminent incentive stock option issue. 

And now all those posts are on hold as I just spent 30 hours of my weekend before the approaching tax season ripping code from this blog. Why? It seems Mediavine is a vibrant platform requiring all old code removed before they go live. Well, once the process was started my other ad revenue was reduced to zero as the transfer took place. What was supposed to be a quick flick of the switch turned into a detailed review of all 454 published posts to pull out rouge ad code and other issues from the early days of the blog. This became priority if I wanted this blog to stay viable.

The good news is I did it. It is Sunday night as I type and I think I got all the problems fixed. I’ll find out tomorrow morning (probably as you read this). If you don’t see an ad anywhere on the blog you will know I’m still toast. Now I have to sweat it out as Mediavine is an automated system; I have no idea how they will display ads. I demand it is tasteful and useful to my readers. Time will tell.

 

Writing Shtick

The best news is that publishing posts from now on will be faster and easier. This weekend opened more of my time in the future with the improvements. (As long as I live long enough to reach the time break point.) 

But publishing a post is not the most time sensitive part of the process: research is. Tax issues take time to unravel. Answering a client question is faster because I only deal with one facet of the issue facing the client. When writing I must take into consideration all other possibilities a reader might encounter. This is more challenging than it sounds.

The China post requires a modest amount of research. I already have the links built. However, I need to pull from multiple sources, including a source inside China, to complete the post. Still, there wasn’t enough time to do it justice.

The 199A issues are so massive and time consuming I don’t know when I’ll be able to tackle the issue for the blog, but I am committed to a short series before tax season gets too far along. This is important for readers! The weekend workload just didn’t offer anywhere near the time I needed to get a quality post out on 199A.

The same applies to the incentive stock option post.

So, if time didn’t cooperate, offering me the chance to write a detailed financial or tax post, what was I to do? Well, you’re reading it. A post outlining some of the back office headaches of running a blog is easy to write because I can just tell the story of my weekend. Other bloggers should find value in this post while non-bloggers will gain a greater understanding of what it takes to keep a web page up and vibrant.

 

Whether You Believe it or Not

And if all the stuff above isn’t enough, we get some wonderful Wisconsin weather. The forecast has a foot of snow in it for this evening with plenty of blowing to make it as miserable as possible. Then temperatures will dip colder than -20 F. Wednesday’s high is forecast at -12 F. Yes, that is the high for the day. Welcome to the backwoods of Wisconsin.

None of this is meant as whining. I should have known better things wouldn’t transfer to Mediavine as smoothly as predicted. It’s still an excellent learning experience which should increase ad revenue by a significant margin and save time posting from now on. 

As for the weather, there was a hint the weekend would end with snow so I brought plenty of work home with me Friday. Technology today allows me to work from home and it’s as if I’m sitting at my desk. The bad news is I don’t know if any employee will make it in tomorrow. Everything is closed tomorrow: every school, program and every business I checked. 

Write viral blog posts, increasing traffic, revenue and sales. Write something meaningful for your readers. Provide value. Killer titles meant to go viral.

Write something meaningful for your readers. The rest will take care of itself.

And good thing. I can’t get the tractor running tonight so I need to get up early if I’m going to get snow moved so I can get out my driveway. Ah, when it rains, but it pours. Snows, I mean

Actually, I had a great and productive time last week and this weekend I killed it. Things were looking ugly for a while when I found some crazy code from the legacy platform when this blog was set up. But I broke through to the other side. It looks like the code is clean now.

Technology also bails me out. Twenty years ago a snowstorm would devastate my schedule. Today I log in from the living room couch and get more work done than if I was at work because there are no interruptions. 

By noon or so things should be clearing out as the plows get the roads open. I’ll break down and wander into the office if possible. 

I just wanted you, kind readers, to understand why I didn’t provide a tax post as tax season bares down on us. There is plenty of powerful stuff in the queue, but those golden nuggets take work to produce. Frequently it is required I call experts to dig deeper into issues these days. It’s almost like journalism for advanced tax strategies. 

Before I sign out I want to whet your appetite with a few more items from the queue: investing in conservation easements for massive tax deductions (special handling required to avoid problems), Medicare complaint annuities (the one annuity members of the community I run in will want to own), the wealth gap, income inequality, Form 3115 (for cost segregation studies), and more. My guess is I’ll need to live to 135 to get all these things published. 

One thing is certain; I enjoy tackling the difficult issues. And for good reason. The stuff regurgitated ad nauseam in the traditional press doesn’t really help you. I want to provide the power tools you need to control your taxes and financial life. It’s a lot of work and worth every bit of effort. 

Before I sign out, can I ask a favor? I busted tail this weekend (and a lot more) working on this blog. The upgrades make it easier and more user friendly to share posts on social media. Would you be so kind as to help out an old wayward accountant by sharing a post or three on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other social media. I need the ego boost. Thanks.

Now I need to get back to the tractor. The snow isn’t going to move itself.

 

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.

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 segregation 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!

Why the FIRE Movement Will Never Die

The worldview of financial independence and early retirement has been under assault recently. Suze Orman proclaimed to the world her hate for the FIRE movement on the Afford Anything podcast and set off a firestorm that culminated in a Washington Post article and a belated apology in the form of back-stepping her comments; seems she misunderstood the FIRE movement before passing judgement. (Or, perhaps, books sales were involved. Just throwing that out there.)

One of our very own, Sam Dogen of the Financial Samurai blog, has also turned a critical eye to the nascent FIRE movement. In a MarketWatch article Dogen is reported as saying FIRE stands for:

Foolish Idealist Returns to Employer

rather than Financial Independence/Retire Early.

Ouch!

The promise of financial security and early retirement will never grow old. The FIRE community has delivered since the invention of money and is still going strong. Learn the ancient lessons for a better today.

The promise of financial security and early retirement will never grow old. The FIRE community has delivered since the invention of money and is still going strong. Learn the ancient lessons for a better today.

What precipitated the rebuke was a simple one-month market decline. December 2018 was the worst stock market performance by most broad indexes since 1931. And the death of the movement was declared and a new acronym was created with the hope of replacing the Old World Order. What has so far been the shallowest of bear markets (defined as a 20% or greater decline from a recent market top) has heralded the end of times once again. And we barely (pun intended) entered bear market territory!

It is true the market could once again turn lower and inflict pain on the foolish. It is also true I’ve been critical of the FIRE community myself a time or three. And don’t think for a minute I didn’t catch hell for it too, only on a smaller scale. (Guys, you know when you link an article on Reddit, the web host—that would be me—can see it. I heard the nasty things said about my pedigree.)

As critical of the the FIRE community and the movement as Orman, Dogen and a certain wealthy accountant who shall remain unnamed are, the movement is never going to die! That’s right. The FIRE movement has grown large enough it can make the economic needle wobble now and again and that makes some people nervous. But the movement, the community, will never die.

Who Started the FIRE Movement?

Modern acolytes can be forgiven for thinking Get Rich Slowly, Early Retirement Extreme or even Mr. Money Mustache kicked this whole thing into gear. The truth is the concept of the FIRE movement has been around for a very, very long time.

Retirement, or at least the ability to to live a hedonistic lifestyle, appeals to many people. Age has nothing to do with it. Punching a clock working for the man gets old real fast when you don’t have perspective. Until you realize how useless life becomes when you spend each day creating no value and have no real reason to live do you begin to understand. Then the job looks more appealing. Or starting a business. In either case you get real interaction with people on a similar mission and it brings the spice back to life. (Redditors, fire up your engines!)

Join a community where financial freedom is the phrase of the day. Early retirement and other financial goals are possible when you become part of the FIRE community.

Join a community where financial freedom is the phrase of the day. Early retirement and other financial goals are possible when you become part of the FIRE community.

But I contend, as I often have in this blog, that retirement had nothing to do with the FIRE movement. It was never about retirement; that was the dream sold to get victims in the door. FIRE has always been about wealth, about independence and freedom. People never wanted to be retired like and old worn out machine. They wanted meaningful activities. Financial independence allows the freedom to choose and that is what people really wanted all along.

And still they keep searching because they don’t understand what it is they really desire.

The beauty of the FIRE lifestyle is it encourages elimination of debt and all the stress it brings and investing intelligently in index funds with a long-term time horizon. Without debt you can withstand a lot of economic instability. Every minor wobble in economic activity has the debtor soiling his, ah, well . . .  We’ll leave it at that.

People hate living paycheck to paycheck and love the idea they can choose their destiny. FIRE delivers on that promise. And the concept is not a modern one.

Benjamin Franklin spoke often of money and wealth. In a way he was the father of the American FIRE movement. But if you go back 2,000 years you can read the parables of Jesus and see that over half his recorded teachings involve money and wealth. But even that isn’t the beginning! Proverbs in the Old Testament teaches plenty of lesson about money. I don’t want to go all religion on you, but I do want to point out that the teachings of the FIRE community are not new.

In fact, if you want to know who actually started the FIRE movement you have to go all the way back to Grog, the caveman, as he taught around the evening campfire. He would say to the young and old, “No debt!” Grunt. “Debt bad. Invest in community coconut index fund.”

As funny as I might think I am, man discovered these principles early on. Shakespeare peppered his verse with financial wisdom. Every religion I studied speaks about wealth, debt and money. Great leaders in business from the beginning of time had to acquire the skills of the modern FIRE community if they wanted to survive.

The truth is the FIRE movement discovered some of the oldest lessons of the species and dressed it up in contemporary clothing. Nothing wrong with that. Except some, the snake oil salesmen, don’t get it because they are peddling large loads of manure and they need to discredit the wise to move today’s load of. . .

Evolution

The FIRE movement is not dead; it is evolving. A long bull market in stocks has lured many new converts. Secretly they kept their debt while plowing at least a bit more into index funds. As long as the elevator raced higher on the back of a SpaceX rocket things would be good. Besides, you saw how Elon Musk developed rockets that gently land themselves, ready for instant reuse.

A short market decline will not end the FIRE movement. The Great Depression didn’t kill the philosophy of the FIRE movement, though it had different names back then. The worse the economy the stronger the FIRE message appeals! Mild economic downturns and market corrections will not slow this animal down. If the economy and/or stock market get vulgar the FIRE community message will evolve as it should.

“It was the worst of times, it was the best of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. . . ” wrote Dickens to begin A Tale of Two Cities. Things haven’t changed much in 160 years. It doesn’t end any better either. (You can read the book to understand what I mean.) Things are good right now. Jobs are plentiful, prices relatively low and many investments have moved significantly higher over the past decade. But government, corporate and personal debt are all at record highs, some precipitously so. The best and worst of times. Especially when you realize the debt will be a harsh slave in the next economic cleansing, same as the last.

The best is ahead of us! The longest bull market in the U.S. lasted a decade, starting in the early 1990s until the current bull market. To put this in perspective, the two longest bull runs in the market happened in the past 30 years. The vast majority have no idea what it was like prior to 1980. For the old guys who do, we take extra caution to keep debt low, if we use the acid at all, placing our wealth in a broad mix of businesses throwing off a steady stream of income. We know there are no guarantees, but we structure our financial lives to withstand a very strong storm.

FIRE of the past was about frugality (it always was about frugality) and retiring from enforced labor due to financial condition. This is changing to something more valuable for the acolyte and society at large. Retirement is becoming less the goal and creating value the new mantra.

It’s not about work to fill the day; it is about fulfilling work. It’s about creating something of value, something we can be proud of. Curing a disease, building an advanced rocket or electric car is part of the New World Order inside the FIRE community.

We discovered it was easy in the modern world to save money and invest it. We discovered how easy it was to build a massive net worth, negating the necessity of work. But we also discovered it left us empty.

FIRE’d Up

The modern incarnation of the FIRE movement is young, made up of millennials who thought the dream of retiring at 30 would make their lives meaningful. They now have the experience to know that was a lie.

Travel has been a massive draw for many entering the FIRE lifestyle. What was discovered is extended vacations or a gap year are perfect for exploratory travel. Then, when the road turns weary, there is a home where people gather most days of the week to create an even better world. Call it work; call it your business. Call it what you want.

Financial freedom and retirement are not hollow goals. Join the FIRE community and feel the Strength of a community versed in helping people achieve their financial goals.

Financial freedom and retirement are not hollow goals. Join the FIRE community and feel the Strength of a community versed in helping people achieve their financial goals.

Social media is filled with people in desperate need of financial help. Maybe it’s a tax issue, or debt or other unique challenge. A few weeks ago I saw in a private Facebook group a young lady who was worried about the market. She put the down payment to a home they wished to purchase in an index fund last June and the fund was now down 25%, or $20,000 for her. She wanted advice. Many offered. I said: If you put a home down payment in the market what you are saying is you will buy your home five or more years in the future. Any sooner and you should not have put the money in the market. It was shallow comfort, I’m sure. But if I’m lucky I helped two or three people thinking of making the same mistake.

Orman was wrong. So are most people inside the movement!

The FIRE movement is nothing to hate and the people inside the community should grow some thicker skin. It is said: Of which much is given, much is expected. Those in the community have built a larger fortune than most. Jealousy is a given, especially from those unwilling to take the simple steps outlined for thousands of years by one FIRE community after another.

People will hate you for being rich and hate you for being poor. I’d rather be hated for being rich; it’s less painful.

The modern FIRE community has a gift unlike previous FIRE movements. We are not limited to the few wise locals living the FIRE (or whatever name it was called in the past) lifestyle. We are a worldwide movement, community. The internet has made us legion. We have a massive support group and an awesome responsibility to our world, our community, our family, ourselves.

We have a gift we must share! A market decline, even a large one, will not unravel the FIRE movement. I disagree with Dogen and the MarketWatch article. We don’t need another acronym to identify with responsible financial activities.

The basics make us great. Michael Jordan wasn’t great because he could make the three-point shot (though he was darn good at it, too); he was great because he mastered the basics, like the layup.

Money basics are not that hard and work extremely well. Teach your children, family and friends. Teach your community and share with the world. Together we can make a difference; together we can change the world.

The FIRE community will have its challenges and may soon go under a different name. For those in the know, we know exactly what the message is. It is as old as Grog and his nightly chat around the FIRE.

Remember to share the same message with your children around the hearth.

It is our future. Our only hope.

 

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.

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!

 

Pricing Your Product in Your New Business or Side Hustle

Finding the right price to charge for your product or service will determine the success of your business. Learn how successful businesses find the price that maximizes profits.

Finding the right price to charge for your product or service will determine the success of your business. Learn how successful businesses find the price that maximizes profits.

“Start a side hustle or small business” is a common refrain when working to reduce debt or retirement planning is involved. It all sounds easy on paper until you realize most businesses fail within a year or so.

The problems with starting a business are myriad. Most businesses fail because they either have too little or too much business and the problems begin with the price or fee charged the customer.

Yes, some businesses fail over financing and other financial issues, but price frequently is the destroyer of small businesses. Charge too little and you end up with too much work and no profits to show for the effort; charge too much and nobody will even waste their time kicking the tires to see how good you really are.

The type of business also plays a role in pricing. A cheap attorney or doctor (or accountant!) is never a good idea. Even if it is a good deal you are unlikely to trust a cheap attorney. But what if you have a side hustle dog sitting? Is cheaper better then?

Then we get the loss leaders. Using our dog sitting example, do you offer a free trial to get clients in the door? It might work, but it costs the business owner money and time to promote in such a fashion. Research also indicates it is a poor way to promote your business.

Too Good a Deal

When I started my practice in the 1980s I subscribed to the “cheap is better” promotional school of thought. I was the first guy in town offering free e-filing for federal and was the only guy who could offer state e-filing the first year it was available because Wisconsin wanted to test their program with firms that offered the service for free and had no fraud cases. I fit the bill and the rest is history.

The free e-filing is a good example of giving something for free to grow your business. I still was paid for preparation services; only the e-filing was free. The benefit cost me nothing and saved time. My software provider only charged me a dollar and I saved that in toner and paper not printing copies to send to the government. This also saved time so I was a net winner. The best deal around town outside my office was $25 for e-filing. By the time other firms caught on it was too late. I was well established and well known for my progressive business ideas.

There was still one small problem. I prepared tax returns for a low fee. The goal was to grow the business fast and large. This is a massive problem when the service provided frequently required I personally work on or review most tax returns. I was providing value added service but not charging for it. That led to long hours and lower profits. Something had to change.

Quality or price, you can't have both. When you provide high quality service you deserve a higher price. See how professionals set price to maximize profits.

Quality or price, you can’t have both. When you provide high quality service you deserve a higher price. See how professionals set price to maximize profits.

By the time my practice reached 2,000 returns I was exhausted. Sure, anyone in the office can prepare a return. So can any other tax office. But not many can reduce a clients tax liability legally the way I can. That takes experience, skill, research, and most of all, time.

Around the year 2000 I was preparing about 1,600 individual returns  with another 400 business returns, amended returns and returns from prior tax years. Many clients walked in the door when I was giving my services away and I wasn’t bringing their fee to a reasonable level fast enough to regain my sanity. That, and attempts to increase prices brought loud complaints. It was exhausting. People wanted more and more without paying for it. Worse, clients didn’t take my advice seriously! What was it worth anyway? I gave the consulting away for fee and clients treated it as worth exactly that much.

The first year I decided to make a draconian cut. The tax software I use allows me to pull reports based on time spent preparing the return and the fee charged. I ran a report showing the least profitable to most profitable clients. To my surprise I had almost 400 clients that were money losing accounts! (I know, I know. I’m not proud of it either.) Those 400 clients were send a letter kindly asking them to leave.

That was the best tax season in years. Prices were not increased much, but the money losing accounts were out so I had time to breath and profits actually climbed because expenses dropped faster than revenue.

The next year I raised fees significantly. My real clients stayed. Fewer people left than I anticipated. Something else also started to happen. Clients, especially business clients, started saying it was about time I raised my fees so people would start respecting my work. Clients saw what I was blind to! People actually wanted to pay me more because they saw value and all the bottom feeders were sucking me dry, hurting the serious clients. In hindsight, I’m feel great gratitude these clients were willing to wait until I regained my sanity.

Perceptions of Value

How much do you value the endless supply of news online? Do you trust it? What if you pay for a newspaper? If you are like most people, paying for something causes you to value it more. It may have something to do with the sunk-cost fallacy businesses fall prey too. Regardless, we understand “free” does not bring out the best. A free report is valued lower than a report you pay for and for good reason. When a payment is made/received all parties expect a certain level of value to be provided.

But free works so well! But not really. In my line of work I see plenty of businesses. I know what does and does not work. The “free” thing has been done to death. The philosophy has destroyed more businesses than any other policy I know of. Free meals mean nothing to a restaurant if the food is no good. All free does is sink your boat faster.

Back to our dog sitting example. Giving away a free day when you have no way of creating more time is a rabbit hole you do not want to fall down. Instead, a free doggie treat might be a better way to promote the business. You still charge your regular fee, but you give something extra of value. The perception of value remains intact. The people who would turn their pet over to a free service are not the kinds of clients (and dogs) you want.

 

Finding the Right Price

Over the years I tried many methods of pricing my services. Checking the competition and pricing comparatively is the most common method of pricing I see and used it myself in the early days. It’s also the worst, except for the free or super cheap thing we talked about above.

Setting your prices/fees similar to or a nickle below competitors means you get paid nothing for any added value you provide. Here we are again at the trough of free stuff. If you charge what the other guys charge what is the incentive to use your product or service? If you provide greater value there is a reason to patronize your business, but you don’t get paid for the superior product if your only pricing method is to undercut competitors.

All these pricing issues lead to two problems: 1.) you are either too busy (or people don’t trust you’ll do a good job) due to your under-priced goods and services which leads to poorer quality as you are run raged, or 2.) your fee becomes over-priced compared to what competitors are selling due to market changes before you differentiate your product.

You can’t win if you do not differentiate your product or service. The differentiation is where the value is created and where clients are happy to pay your fee even if it is high.

There is a better way and I learned this trick from two men I highly admire: Seth Godin and Tim Ferriss. Seth Godin is well known from his numerous best-selling books; Tim Ferriss from his books and podcast.

Recently Tim invited Seth to join him on his podcast. It may have been the most important podcast I ever listened to.

Seth shared his method for setting prices for his speaking engagements. He said he only has two prices: free and full price. If Godin really wants to do the gig and if it is for a good cause he will sometimes do it for free. Otherwise his fee is full price, no discounts.

Wonderful! But how does Seth Godin find his price? Simple. He started by setting his price so a few people would hire him. Once someone—anyone—offered him more that was his new price. As simple as that.

However, this is simple theory, difficult in practice. Godin admits it’s tempting to take a gig when your calendar is empty. It takes time to learn the skill of saying “no” when you have lots of white space on your calendar. But if you don’t stick to your principles you dive head first down the aforementioned rabbit hole. And it is going to hurt really bad.

Higher is Better for Everyone

It may sound crazy, but a higher price is frequently better for the business and the customer! People will pay for quality and those who will not are not the kinds of people you want to serve. Remember, you’re a business, not a slave! You solve problems, fill a need. And do it well! You should get paid for that and paid well. If you don’t it is only a matter of time before you either quit or sacrifice your ethics and provide cut-rate products and services.

The fear business owners have when raising fees is the worry clients will leave. Well, I hope so!

Not everyone wants or needs the higher level of service and quality. Your choice is to produce crap and sell a manure spreader load full of it or to sell a respectable amount you can comfortably provide  at the highest quality money can buy. Either way is fine. But, crap gets old fast while quality instills pride and that carries you a lifetime and makes you feel proud of the work you do.*

Last year my small tax firm prepared around 550 tax returns in total. This is a long fall from the heady days of 2,000+ returns annually. It was the best tax season in years as I worked hard to adjust to my new worldview of a tax office with national exposure. This is easily the most difficult transition I ever went through. There were times I didn’t know if the firm would survive.

Here it is mid-January and I’m nervous. One of my preparers thinks I committed to around 650 returns for this tax season. (Was it that may?) If it’s true I have a real problem. I spent heavily on increased automation and productivity enhancements. However, the clients I serve now are of a different caliber than of the past. These are large returns with serious issues and I’m one guy. (Yes, my team does most of the heavy lifting, but I need to be in the final review process for virtually all returns so clients get maximum value.)

Finding the right price to charge is as important as the service you provide.

Finding the right price to charge is as important as the service you provide.

Fees have steadily climbed. As fees climbed some clients left. Revenue still climbs because fewer people leave than the fee increases. The higher fee allows me to add more value to each return. This means lower taxes for clients so my fee is really free after tax savings are included. But, Dawn, my ace tax preparer, and I will sit with every client this year. The last few years we allowed other team members to handle this. I hated it because I need to know my client better and the new system will allow for it as long as I don’t grow the business too large. (Clients living further away will have more phone time with us.)

The goal is to always provide a better experience for the client. Quality is important as long as the client feels respected. Doing the best work and ignoring the client is still bad form.

And don’t worry about losing all your clients. I’ve experienced that emotion all too often. Let me sooth your nerves with a story: This blog has produced an excessive flow of consulting clients. I love the work and with rare exception the client walks away from the consulting session with thousands or even tens of thousands in tax savings. There is a reason for the high demand.

I consult with new clients from June to December on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The max, I discovered, is two consulting sessions a day. Any more and the research and face time exhausts me too much. (Regular clients can have consulting sessions any time of year, even tax season.)

The past year I charged $275 an hour. When the new consulting season starts in June the fee is $350 per hour. Still a good value when thousands in taxes are saved.

You would think the fee increase would slow things down. It didn’t. June is already filling up six month in advance! Kind readers, please understand. People are hungry for top-quality service and products! They are sick and tired of junk. The more I raise my fee the more people know I’m focusing on increasing the value even more. And they want this even higher value product more!

Let me make one thing clear as we wrap this up. This is not about bilking the client. This is about serving the client at the highest level possible and pushing higher from there. You are good today; you’ll be even better tomorrow as you learn and accumulate more experience. People want that!

The increased consulting fee means I will work slightly fewer hours and, of course, will make more. But cutting the hours just a bit allows me to learn and grow more as I have the time to research ideas and strategies. This makes every hour of my time purchased worth significantly more.

Tax preparation fees are the same. Cheap is NOT better. Cheap means a shortcut was taken. You can’t do it profitably any other way. What you save in accounting fees is lost to your least favorite uncle in Washington. I’m not close to the cheapest. I played that game before. I’m embarrassed to say it because that means my clients were screwed by my lack of experience in those days. If I’d have raised priced I might have done a better job earlier in my career.

As for the dog sitting side hustle: People love their pets and want the best for them. Charge more and include a doggie massage and doggie treats. The dog and the human will thank you for such kind consideration.

As a bonus, you’ll have a profitable and successful business you enjoy running ever day. No retirement for you; you’re already living the dream.

 

* If you work at a job and hate it there is a good chance you work for a company peddling as much crap as they can flush out the door. People who work for companies that provide high quality products or services are almost always a pleasure to work for also.

 

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 Anatomy of Wealth

Every fortune starts with the first small investment. See how this man turned a small investment into a large fortune with a steady stream of income.

Every fortune starts with the first small investment.

I did something different this holiday season than I ever did before: I took two five-day weekends. This may sound like a minor thing considering the FIRE* community I supposedly belong to**, but to me it was a serious adjustment.

The first long weekend over Christmas didn’t feel like a true long weekend. Every day was filled with family events so I didn’t have to worry about filling lots of dead time.

The New Year’s weekend was the opposite. I had a full five days to do anything I wanted. Sure, I still checked the office email a few times and kept current with social media, but for the most part I stayed the course and enjoyed five days without the obligations of work.

As most people know, it is easy to waste a day or five if necessary. For hyper-productive people this is more of an issue. Can you imagine what Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett or the late Steve Jobs would do with their free time? You guessed it. They do exactly what they do every other day. Either you create value in the world or you don’t. One has a reason to be alive; the other does not. You choose.

The extra days off were delightful, actually. I enjoyed several good books and extra time with Mrs. Accountant and the girls. Still, I was reading the stuff I always read. I was learning and growing. The only difference is I was on my couch versus my office chair.

But this story isn’t about my long holiday weekends; it’s about money; the reason you stopped by this place.

Anyone Have Some Spare Change?

As the holiday came to an end I was sitting on the living room  floor reading a book as Pinky, my cat, pawed underneath the edge of the couch. I put my book down to see what she found. (I was hoping it wasn’t a real mouse (as opposed to the toy mouse we gave her.))

Pinky had her paw underneath the edge of the couch as far as she could reach and kept trying to push further. Whatever she found—or lost—she wanted back badly. I nudged Pinky to the side and lifted the edge of the couch and reached under and found the elusive prize.

A quarter! Pinky’s keen eyesight found a shiny quarter deep under the couch. A guest over the previous weekend must have lost the coin and it finally fell through the cushion to the floor beneath the couch.

To most people this coin is a modest 25 cents. If found in a casino most people would immediately drop the coin into a slot machine with the outside chance of turning the coin into serious cha-ching. Most people would be just as broke as the moment before they found the coin.

Pinky is not a gambler; neither am I. As small a prize as the coin was, Pinky still wanted it. It was shiny. That was it’s value and Pinky knew it.

The Gift that Keeps Giving

Like any cat, Pinky soon gave up her prize when she realized I wasn’t giving it to her. (In my defense, I retrieved the coin she couldn’t get. A smile emoji might go nice here.)

Proud of the prize I stole from Pinky, ah, earned, I should have dropped it into my coin bucket I use for playing cards Friday night. But I didn’t. Something else entirely different crossed my mind.

Why does one man succeed and another fail? It comes down to one simple rule. Follow it and you win; break it and you lose.

Why does one man succeed and another fail? It comes down to one simple rule. Follow it and you win; break it and you lose.

You see, that simple coin is money! Add enough of them together and it becomes a serious nest egg. Even a mere 25¢ has value! If you respect money—which is a store of value—then a simple quarter will be respected as much as a hundred dollar bill. You don’t toss it away in a mindless casino game.

Even Pinky understood the coin has value (as a toy). But it’s worth a heck of lot more than that to me.

The first thought that entered my mind when I saw the coin was how much of a fraction of a share of an index fund will that buy and how much of dividend (an income stream) will it throw off? Pinky, our resident diva, placed a more immediate, hedonistic value on the coin. Pinky’s human (me) was thinking longer term.

Now I know what some of you are thinking. How much income can one simple 25¢ piece actually throw off? Well, by my calculation, the same amount as every other quarter in my portfolio.

Think about that a moment. From this perspective, your entire investment portfolio is made up of a bunch of quarters throwing off an income stream.

This isn’t a hard concept to understand. Your body is made up of a large number of cells. Cells are made up from numerous chemical compounds constructed from atoms. Atoms are made of electrons, protons and neutrons. And the components of atoms consist of a number of elementary (sub-atomic) particles.

All things of size are composed of many parts. Each part alone seems small, but remove the infinitesimally small part and the house of cards starts to crumble. Remove an electron from an atom and the atom is different; responds and reacts different. Helium has two protons. Take one away and the atom is now hydrogen, a very flammable element. One small change does make a difference.

Anatomy of Wealth

What makes one person rich and another poor?

Two people working the same job side by side earning the exact same wage can have radically different financial conditions. One worker can squander her paycheck each week while the other maxes out her retirement plan and saves even more for a rainy day.

The worker spending all her income as it comes in is under a lot of stress. A slow economy is cause for concern. If her hours are reduced, or worse, she is let go, hard times will follow quickly. The worker saving a large percentage of her income feels virtually no stress. A lay-off or reduced hours is nothing more than a reallocation of life-hours. She can always do something else productive with her time. Since she has plenty saved, money will not be a problem.

How much can you turn a 25¢ coin into to? How much of an income stream? If a man and his cat can do it, so can you.

How much can you turn a 25¢ coin into to? How much of an income stream? If a man and his cat can do it, so can you.

So why did one worker save/invest and the other live paycheck to paycheck? It might take a series of questions to get to the bottom line, but I bet the final answer sounds something like this, “I save so I have an income stream when I need it or when I retire.”

The concept is simple in theory; difficult in practice. Everyone knows they need to save and invest for the inevitable day when the money will make life easier. But some see money as a chance to spend and party. So why do some save? What motivates them? Triggers them?

Once the thought entered my head when I saw the quarter Pinky was trying to dig from under the couch it seemed silly. Why was my first thought to invest the newfound wealth for an income stream? And do other people think this way or am I just weird? (Don’t answer that!)

My guess is about the same number of people who have financial wealthy have the thoughts I have about money. Financial wealth is a simple process. Start investing early as much of your income as possible, reinvesting the income stream except in extreme emergencies. Yet, some people can’t do it. If they have it, they spend it.

It comes down to mindset. The ancient Stoics talked about visualization. Well, investing money for an income stream tomorrow requires vivid visualization. I could see the income stream from that quarter the second I saw it. It’s the reason my first thought was to invest it.

People who spend most or all their income can’t see the benefit of saving/investing some of their hard-earned income. “I don’t want to be the richest guy in the cemetery,” they say. “Can’t take it with you.” To which I reply, “You’re right. But I’d like to have some while I’m here!” Perhaps it is time to train your mind to visualize yourself with lots of money and the income stream it provides.

If Pinky can see value in digging a coin from under the couch you can visualize the value and benefits of investing a significant portion of your income.

Warren Buffett is known to keep personal expenses low so he has more to invest. Wealthy people think this way and you need to adopt the financial mindset of the rich if you want less stress and more options in the future.

Every dollar that passes your paw is an opportunity to create an income stream. Even a bank deposit throws off a limited amount of interest. The income stream is vital to your financial health and future.

My grandfather always had a saying that has stuck with me: Never take off the pile. Granddad was an old farm boy living the dream in the backwoods of Nowhere, Wisconsin. He lost the farm in the farm crisis of the early 1980s and then rebuilt his fortune doing nothing more than saving a serious portion of all his income. Most money was only deposited in bank accounts. And he still managed to re-grow his liquid net worth well into the seven figures starting over from an old age. His rule of only consuming the income from an investment had a lot to do with his success.

The corpus of your investments, that original seed money, is sacred. If you never touch the sacred you will always be safe! The income stream keeps growing larger with time. Dividends reinvest to earn more dividends. You don’t need a pension when you have one far safer and personally designed.

 

As for the quarter I commandeered from Pinky? Well, I tossed it into the coin bucket I use for Friday night cards. Seems Vanguard requires a deposit larger than 25¢. Guess I’ll up next month’s auto investment.

 

* FIRE: financial independence/retire early

** Before someone takes these words wrong let me clarify. There is no doubt I’m a member of the FIRE community. I handle tax issues for several key bloggers of the demographic and attend conferences periodically. I say “supposedly” because I don’t feel like a member to the FIRE community. I’ve never been a fan of retirement—I like doing productive activities as long as I’m breathing. As readers may notice, I don’t chum with many members of the community either, instead choosing to keep plugging along in my tax practice. I’m a rural guy who likes his rural life without the bright lights of center stage.

 

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 Best Books I Read This Year

There are many forms of communication; none are as vital as the written word. It is the edited word which conveys more information than any other media. Sure, video is superior when showing majestic vistas, but words, when edited well, are the most powerful learning tool we have. There is a reason the written word has survived so long even with radio, television and YouTube desperate to overturn the monarchy.

Wealthy people the world over credit their success to reading. From Warren Buffett to Bill Gates to Elon Musk to Richard Branson to your favorite accountant, good books are part of the history of the people currently in the winner’s circle. Educated people possess the tools to create the future the rest of us are forced to live in. Most failures can be traced back to a lack of understanding or misunderstanding.

For these reasons I’ve been a dedicated reader since my late high school years. Before that I couldn’t get myself to read a book the the end and it showed. I struggled with direction in life until the magical day I picked up a book from the school library on weather. It was a mere 128 pages and there were a few drawings of clouds and cloud formations, but when I finished that book something clicked and I never looked back.

Before long I was consuming (and digesting) 1000 page books and begging for more. My interest in personal finance was unleashed! I was reading The Wall Street Journal (every section) from beginning to end daily. Business magazines and books were an addiction. (Science fiction novels were also an addiction I never shook if we can be brutally honest here.)

Learning became a part of my daily life, as important as eating and sleeping. I cannot remember a day when I didn’t read at least a few pages of a book. It has been a long time.

From the humble pages of that 128 page book on weather I built a library with well over 2,000 volumes. It might be at 3,000 by now, but I don’t have time to count; I’m too busy reading.

Find a quiet place to read these powerful books from the past year.

You can always find a quiet place to read.

A few months ago I started a Facebook marketing program for this blog. (I fell in love with writing shortly after I discovered the high finishing a book creates which eventually led to this blog.) As the program started a facilitator asked the group for an interesting fact. I said “I read more hours per day than I sleep.” She was shocked! I told her the truth. “I read a lot — several hours per day — and sleep seems to elude me too often for good health.”

Each year I add 50 or so books to my library. This is down from my younger days when I’d add 150 or so novels to the ranks annually, plus a dozen or so meaningful books. Then I visited the library. When I reflect I sometimes feel like Charlie Munger, (Warren Buffett’s right hand man) a book with hands and legs sticking out from it. It is a rare event for me to go somewhere without a book at hand.

If you love books as I do you enjoy lists of good books to help you select your next literary victims. If an educated individual publishes a list of “Best” books I save the list. I’m always looking for more good material and I rely on the smartest people to give me a recommendation.

Fiction is a minor part of my reading now. There is just too much I want to learn before I go to the Great Beyond. My goal is to be the smartest guy in heaven (or biggest smartass in hell). So I read mostly non-fiction now.

Because I read so many books I have a ready mental arsenal to draw from. By sharing with you the best books I read this past year you can focus on the most important material with your limited (egads!) reading time. I hope you pick up my habit of carrying a book with you where ever you go. A few free moments is easily turned into a education if you do.

Below is my list of favorite books I read in the last twelve or so months. There are many more, but I don’t want to bog you down. I grabbed from the stack the books that most moved or educated me. Consume at your leisure. (Consumption is sometimes dirty word in our society. It is far from dirty when it comes to books, learning and knowledge.)

China’s Great Wall of Debt, by Dinny McMahon

There is a fear in the West that China is taking over the world. The China Miracle, we learn from McMahon, is more mirage than miracle. Ghost cities, complete concrete jungles with few people, really do exist in China. Take away all the extravagant (and wasteful) construction and China’s economy isn’t even close to the size of the U.S.

And then there is the debt for all the wasteful building. The tax system encourages bank lending to state enterprises and local governments. The bad debt is hidden from public view. Nobody know how bad it really is. One thing is sure: if it wasn’t that bad there would be no reason to hide the numbers.

China is still a vibrant nation with a growing economy. However, we need to put the economic miracle into perspective. China has lots of problems and time is running out to fix them. The real question is how bad will it hurt Western economies when China implodes?

And China doesn’t manufacture everything! Many products are created and produced elsewhere and shipped to China for assembly. The trade war is unnecessary and more damaging to U.S. companies than politicians are letting on.

This is my favorite business book of the year because it was so eye-opening. I knew China had massive debt and sewer oil was a real issue, but I never realized how difficult the situation in China is.

 

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaosby Jordan B. Peterson

Jordan B. Peterson has been everywhere these last two years. His newest book is a set of rules for living life well. It seems so common sense at first: Tell the truth—or, at least don’t lie; Stand up straight with your shoulders back; and, Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient) are three of the twelve rules. But it doesn’t take long before you realize the depth of his message.

Peterson struck a cord in our world of identity politics and constant offense at every action. I’ve written on Peterson’s work before. And here. And ended up with endless grief. People either love his work or hate it. Those who hate did their best to deliver a groin shot to a certain unnamed accountant.

But many do find value from Peterson’s videos and books. 12 Rules happens to be the best selling book this year on this blog. Readers are also clamoring for a review of his earlier book (Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief) since they discovered I purchased. (Note: I started reading Maps, but this one will take a while. This is serious and difficult reading. I’m 40 pages in as I write and will read several other books in between—something I rarely do. The material is just too deep to plow through without a break. You’ll get your review if I don’t suffer an aneurysm first.)

12 Rules is highly recommended. One of the best books ever written on what makes us tick.

 

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, by Steven Pinker

Media constantly tells us how bad things are and many times we yearn for the good ‘ol days. But the data doesn’t bear that out. Things are better now than ever and improving at a rapid pace!

I’ve always been an optimist. There has always been a grand appreciation in me for the awesome time we live in. But even an optimist adjusts to our modern opulent lifestyle and begins to wonder.

The most successful people today spend more time reading than anything else. Here are 5 must-read books on success and growth from the past year. Even the honorable mentions are incredible books.

Winners read.

Pinker not only makes the case, but backs it up with data. This approach appeals to my analytical accountant mind. Here are a few things I found fascinating: We are living longer by a lot, are healthier, eat better, have more wealth, are less unequal (yes, inequality isn’t as bad as we pretend!), enjoy a cleaner environment in most Western nations than a few decades ago, enjoy more peace (no world wars recently), are safer, have more rights, are smarter and have access to more knowledge, and enjoy a quality of life never before experienced by the species.

It is socially acceptable to whine about how bad we have it. Yet the facts are clear. We are in the best of times and the time are getting better! Reading Pinker allowed me to internalize the worldview that the sky isn’t falling and the world isn’t coming to an end.

There is also a good reason for optimism. Warren Buffett is also an optimist. When the world is ending (the stock market is down double digit percentage points) Buffett knows it’s fake news and buys more great businesses at discount prices. If you can discard the negative attitude for a moment and focus on how good the world has become—as outlined by Pinker’s work—you to can make profitable decisions when the Chicken Little’s of the world are screaming like chickens with their heads cut off.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens really surprised me. I’ve read dry mega-histories of the human race and expected the same here. Regardless, I enjoy ancient human history so I pried open my wallet and am glad I did.

Harari compiled an incredibly vibrant and alive story of human history all the way back to the beginning. A good history story allows us to see ourselves in a cleaner and clearer light. This work does just that.

Who we are and where we come from is lost in the fog of a “time from long ago.” In keeping with the theme of this blog, Harari did an excellent job explaining where and when money was created and first used. It was enlightening to see the backstory to our current financial system. It cleared up many questions I had.

We all want to know where we came from. That is why DNA tests are so popular as tools to determine our true ethnic background. Bringing the details into perspective allows us to live a better life, filled with the knowledge we have an important place in the grand scheme of things.

Once you finish reading Sapiens I’m sure you’ll be on the horn with Amazon ordering Harari’s latest classics: Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow  and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. These two are on my shelf waiting for digestion. How I’m going to keep these off next year’s “Best Books” list is beyond me.

 

The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century, by Walter Scheidel

Have things ever been worse when it comes to inequality? Well, actually, yes! It has also been better, too.

Inequality is the buzzword of the year. Media is filled with demands of gender and race equality. We demand equal pay and equal rights. Some go as far as wanting equality of outcome! (I have no idea how to accomplish that. We tried communism in many societies in the 20th Century with less than desirable results.)

Equality is a worthy goal regardless what happened in the past. There is a sense of unfairness when the rich get richer while the poor keep getting poorer. (Refer to Steven Pinker’s book above for a clearer perspective.) There is something noble about helping people with less get more for their efforts. Poor people can be just as hard working (if not harder working) than the wealthy. So inequality is a necessary study.

Scheidel gives us a broad view of equality in the past up to modern times. No spoiler alerts from me. You have to read the book! But let me say this: There are four ways to lower inequality (as history has taught), but you might not like the answer. Worse, equality doesn’t mean the poor become wealthier; usually it’s the other way around. This is an eye-opening book you want to read.

 

Honorable Mentions

As mentioned above, I read about 50 books a year; a few more if they are short. The list of all I read is more than most can get their arms around. The five books above are page turners worthy of investment. You might want to chisel time out of your schedule for these honorable mentions as they are equally as good as those above. (You should see the good stuff I left off the list. It makes my eyes bleed.)

Energy and Civilization: A History, by Vaclav Smil is the best book I’ve ever read on energy production and consumption by humankind. The facts and figures are addicting. From prehistory to modern times, energy sources and uses are illustrated in an easy to understand format.

Books are a vital part of education, learning and success. Here are the best 5 books of the last year. They are required reading.

You are never too old to read or learn.

Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature is Thriving in an Age of Extinction, by Chris D. Thomas and The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth’s Past Mass Extinctions, by Peter Brannen are two excellent books covering the worries of environmental doom popular on social media and news outlets. Things are not as bad as they seem and there is actually some good news! And history tells a story of renewal, rejuvenation and healing from the planet’s past.

Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street, by John Brooks, was promoted on the CNBC website. After Bill Gates gave a nod I made the purchase. As expected, these are twelve really engaging (and informative and instructive) stories of Wall Street behind the scenes. If you like money then Business Adventures will read better than a Stephen King novel.

Hoover: An Extraordinary Life in Extraordinary Times, by Kenneth Whyte. I always thought of President Hoover as the guy who brought us the 1929 stock market crash and The Great Depression. The truth is far from it. Many of FDR’s policies came from Hoover and were not instituted over politics and misunderstanding of economic theory until Hoover was out of office.

I now have a healthy respect Herbert Hoover and his life of public service. Our 31st President was an incredible man of many accomplishments. This biography so moved me I have plans of visiting his Presidential Library in Iowa soon. If only I could find the drive to work as hard and productively as he did.

Finally, we end with a novel: Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson. My shelf is filled with westerns, romance novels, mystery novels and every other genre known to man. What stands out is the shear volume of science fiction I once read. Old habits die hard so I’m back at a familiar trough.

Seveneves is the best kind of science fiction: engaging, entertaining, filled with suspense and mystery, and just enough science fact to make it all work suspending disbelief. This novel start with the moon blowing apart and gets more exciting from there. Two-thirds of the way through the the human race is all but extinct; the attempt to save the world from a lunar catastrophe is nearing an end and seven women (the seven Eves of the future human race) are all that remains of the species. I’ll let you enjoy the story on your own. My guess is you’ll end up staying up too late at night, unable to put this book down, as I did. But trust me, it is all worth it.

 

These are my favorite books of the past year. I encourage you to read the ones that interest you. Please share books you were moved by this past year. You see, I need more good books to read, too.

 

More Wealth Building Resources

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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.

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