All posts tagged financial independence

Are You Paying a Sucker Tax?

It may surprise you that most taxes and fees people pay are voluntary.

By Brad Beckstrom.

Did you know the sales tax rate in the city of Chicago as of Jan 2017 is 10.25%. The 10.25 percent rate includes sales taxes assessed by the state, county, city, and local transit agency.

I felt like that was high compared to taxes where I live, until I took a closer look. The state of Virginia has a 5.63% sales tax, then Arlington County adds an additional 1.07%. Not too bad until you look at the personal property tax of up to 5% that you pay every year on personal vehicles including cars, trucks, boats, RVs etc. for as long as you own them. You pay the tax even if you’re leasing them, based on assessed value determined by the state. This is separate from property tax on real estate which in my county in Virginia is about 1% of home value annually.

I’ve always thought that kind of sucked until I took it look at the total tax burden by state. The folks over at Wallethub put together this cool sortable chart, with tax burden by state based on personal taxes, property taxes, sales, and excise taxes as a percentage of income. That’s where things really get interesting. As it turns out, Virginia is ranked 40th in total tax burden. That means people in 39 states may have it worse than we do when it comes to state tax burdens. See how your state ranks. Read more…

Perfecting the 4 Hour Workday

By Brad Beckstrom

What if you could wrap up your work each day by noon? Would it improve your life? Would you have more time for family, friends, exercise, and other pursuits? If you could work just four hours a day, would you ever need to really retire?  These are some of the questions I had in 2007 after reading Tim Ferriss’s book “The 4-hour Work Week.” The book isn’t about working 4 hours a week, it’s about taking control of your workday, and your life, so that you’re focused on the part of your work that you really love.

Failing at the 4 hour workweek

I’ve yet to pull off the four hour workweek, but after 10 years of working at it, and about 5 years of writing about it, I’ve gotten to a place I’d like to call the 4 hour (workday). The idea was pretty simple. If I’m able to eliminate, commuting, needless meetings, the office, and other time killers, I’d already be part of the way there. Staying focused and eliminating distractions like breaking news, social media, and email could get me there.

So, I’ve done it. I’ve gotten to a schedule where I can start my morning’s early and be done right around lunchtime. I’ve realized that if more people could create four hour workdays, our working life, retirement, and even our education would look different.

3 Boxes Read more…

Living like a Lightweight.

By Brad Beckstrom

You still hear it occasionally. “That guy’s a lightweight.” When I was a kid, it may have meant you couldn’t hold your own on the playground. In college, this term was often used to describe someone who was a sloppy drunk or couldn’t hold their liquor. In business or politics, lightweight may be used to describe someone who can’t take a little heat, or bails out when the going gets tough. Today the word lightweight implies something very different. If you’re a lightweight who can compete or dominate above your weight class, then you have something. If you’re talking about a boxer like Roberto Duran, a legend like Bruce Lee, or the UFC fighter Conor McGregor then lightweight can take on a whole new meeting.

Look at any sport in the racing world, “lightweight” is the hottest thing going. Carbon fiber tubing is used to make incredibly fast racing boats to compete in the America’s Cup, and superlight racing bikes that weigh as little as 13 pounds. In a competitive world, lightweight can have great advantages.

If you’re not a professional athlete, or in the market for a $9,000 bicycle, you can still live like a lightweight. Let’s apply this term in three areas: Health, Life, and Work.

Health, Physical and Mental.

There’s a memorable scene from the documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. The movie is about Joe Cross who lost 100 pounds juicing. You hear stories all the time about people losing tremendous amounts of weight. What Joe did differently is he that he visually demonstrated how much weight he’d lost by carrying around six professional bowling balls to represent the weight. This really clicked with people and helped him kick start the green juice trend. Most of us could not imagine carrying around even one or two bowling balls all the time.

The bowling balls Joe carried around are a great metaphor. Think of all the excess stuff we carry around, garages and closets full of stuff we don’t use, those extra pounds, guilt and regret about things that happened in the past, huge SUVs to haul all this around, while sitting in traffic. It’s time to start looking at the benefits of becoming a lightweight. Read more…

Tax-Free Investing. The True Secret Behind Health Savings Accounts.

By Brad Beckstrom

Why would I waste a perfectly good Thursday morning writing about health insurance and health savings accounts? Well, politics has made paying for healthcare a national obsession.

There’s been a lot in the news recently about the spiraling costs of healthcare and Republican promises to cut the costs of health insurance for individuals and families. While no formal plan has been presented, one key component mentioned by both Republicans and Democrats is the Health Savings Account or HSA. The fact is, tax-advantaged HSAs have been around for years. In many ways they are also one of the best ways to save for retirement. I’ll explain why.

What is an HSA?

An HSA used in conjunction with a high deductible health insurance policy allows users to save and spend money tax-free to use for medical expenses. Contributions to an HSA can be made pre-tax directly from your paycheck or you can make contributions on your own that are 100% tax-deductible, up to $3300 for individuals and $6550 for families and, if you’re over 55, you can contribute $7550 per year. For example, a family in the 25% marginal tax bracket could save you over $1600 a year in taxes.

How does it work?

Once you have money in your account, you can then use it to pay for all types of medical expenses, including things like new glasses, prescription drugs, medical and dental visits, and any medical expenses not covered by your high deductible health plan. To be eligible, you need to have a health plan that qualifies as a high deductible plan. (Example a minimum deductible of $1300 for singles or $2600 for families). A high deductible plan means you will pay more out of pocket before meeting your deductible. The advantage is that the premiums on these plans are lower. Due to the high cost of health care, many employers are now offering only high deductible plans, or versions of it, as an option.  For entrepreneurs, these plans are also available through healthcare.gov and labeled as HSA or through most health insurance brokers at comparable rates. Read more…

Make Banks Work for You.

bankrates

How I locked in a historically low mortgage rate without getting lost in research, voicemails, and paperwork.

By Brad Beckstrom

I’ve been putting it off. Mortgage rates are at historic lows and, on paper, it made a lot of sense to refinance my current mortgage to a 10 year mortgage available at a lower fixed rate. It’s just that even thinking about my past experiences with refinancing both my home and some rental properties gave me gas. I knew I needed to get it done, especially since I’m always telling people to cut their largest expenses first. Our mortgage is our largest expense.

I’d made some mistakes in the past, like listening to some TV ad and then going to a website like Lendingtree. They say they’re going to find you the lowest rate but in fact they are getting all of your information and giving it to banks, selling your name as a lead. Immediately your phone starts to ring off the hook from banks you’ve never heard of. Luckily I gave them a Google voice number that sends all these folks directly to a digital voicemail graveyard. The messages are transcribed for me in a Gmail account and I quickly delete them in bulk. But, the calls kept coming for months. So, the lesson here is don’t give your loan or refinance information to any consolidator site, claiming to “find the best rate” or “do the work for you.” In fact, take this one step further: don’t share any of your personal information, email, phone number, address, income etc. with any mortgage site, including companies like Quicken Loans. Or any other big banks that bombard you with national TV ads. There’s a reason they can afford to advertise on the Super Bowl.

When it comes to finding a great mortgage rate, you’ll actually save time by doing it yourself, and you won’t have to share any personal information. Here’s a few steps I recently used to lock in a fixed 2.37% rate on a 10 year mortgage. With rates this low there’s really no benefit in getting an adjustable rate loan. Read more…