Ann Hartz’s Five Key Long-Term Financial Goals

Ann Hartz’s Five Key Long-Term Financial Goals

It’s helpful to have long-term financial goals at which to aim. But the problem is that there is just SO MUCH financial advice to be had on ye olde World Wide Web that cutting through the noise and finding simple targets is difficult.

So, that’s what I’m here to provide today.

For those of my clients who are over age 50, this can be a guide to catching up … or, well, it might be the perfect thing to send along to a friend of yours who is in their 40s who might be interested in a great tax professional from Des Moines. 😉 [Referrals really are the lifeblood of our practice.]

And as the nation’s eyes are on the Northern California fires, let’s not forget that no matter where you might find yourself on the financial scale, there are ALWAYS things for which to be thankful. Recognizing this fact is the first step towards financial well-being, no matter your age.

Ann Hartz’s Five Key Long-Term Financial Goals
“Change might not be fast and it isn’t always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.” – Charles Duhigg

Finances should be viewed as dispassionately as possible, don’t you think?

Unfortunately, too many financial planners have their advice clouded by various financial incentives, and they often don’t take a holistic view of every part of the financial picture.

As a tax professional in Des Moines, I get unique insight into financial health because I see so many tax returns … and because I am not burdened with as many competing incentives.

So, that being the case, allow me to establish some landmarks for you on our map towards financial independence. It’s great to know where you should be headed … or, from what place you should be coming.

Here are five real-world financial targets to shoot for by age 50:

1) Your estate plan should be fully in place.

Of course, various assets are handled differently. This is the time to make a complete review of how your plan is put together, to ensure that EVERY asset (not just the tangible ones) are still handled properly.

Intangible assets can include such things as what you are passing down to your children in terms of “family ways” and values that you would like to see spreading down throughout your generations. This is an important step at midlife.

2) If college is paid for, consider dropping term insurance. 

At this stage of life, it becomes more costly to pay for this service. You are probably at the point where your children are nearing the completion of their education.

Remember that you purchased “peace of mind” (term insurance is not an investment) so that if anything were to happen to you, your home and your children’s education could be paid for. If those things are now moot, it may be time to reassess.

3) Evaluate where you are with your saving and investing.

You may not want to retire for quite some time yet. That’s a wonderful place to be. But you should be considering whether you have saved up enough to match your desired lifestyle spending. It’s a good rule of thumb that you should have saved about 8-10 times your annual lifestyle spending at this point.

If you haven’t?

4) Catch up on your savings.

At age 50, the maximum savings limit in a 401(k) or 403(b) account increases from $18,500 (which is the 2018 limit under age 50) to $24,500 (it was $500 less for each amount in 2017). At age 50 or older, Roth contributions also increase from $5,500 a year to $6,500 with these “catch-up” provisions. If we don’t have eight times our lifestyle spending saved, now is the time to press these limits.

Of course, saving well is half the battle; investing well is the other half.

That’s a subject for another day.

5) Lastly, begin considering what you really want out of retirement.

Consider that living a life of purpose doesn’t necessarily mean decades of simple recreation.

Reaching the place where you don’t “have” to work is a wonderful marker of true financial success. But you can make the decision to view your retirement years as an opportunity to do new, meaningful work. Commit yourself to a nonprofit or a ministry endeavor. Find ways to strategically invest your time and energy into different work that matters (aside from your first-half career).

Although you can have that attitude at any age, it is especially powerful when redefining the second half of your life.

I do hope this helps … and no matter where you find yourself, there is “no shame in our game”, and we are in your corner.

Until next week,

Ann Hartz
(515) 707-0884
Ann M. Hartz, CPA

New (and Old) Tax Scams Taxpayers In Des Moines Need To Know About

New (and Old) Tax Scams Taxpayers In Des Moines Need To Know About

You’d think that this would be about golf, since here we are smack in the middle of summer. But I’m here with a word of caution about other kinds of traps, not of the sandy variety.

Last week, we spoke about executors, and I’ll return to that subject soon.

But today, I thought I’d issue some words of caution about some new (and some old but still kicking) scams out there targeting Des Moines taxpayers of all stripes.

We’ve had to clean up after the fact on behalf of some clients in the past on these issues, and trust me … vigilance BEFOREHAND is far superior to after-crime cleanup.

You’d think from the fact that it isn’t “tax season” that these criminals would let up.

Alas, no.

New (and Old) Tax Scams Taxpayers In Des Moines Need To Know About
“Don’t let the same dog bite you twice.” – Chuck Berry

The most common forms of scams targeting Des Moines taxpayers occur before April 15th (or the 18th, as it was this year), but as tax planning and correspondence continues year-round, so do the fraudsters.

It seems that once they get a taste of that sweet, sweet stolen money, they keep inventing more.

So here are some newer ones for which to be on guard, as well as a reminder about some of the regular variety…

Real bank accounts sent fraudulent money
This is a new twist to a common problem: fake returns filed. But in this instance, the criminal sends funds to YOUR bank account … and then comes to you, claiming that there has been some sort of error. They do this in order to prevent the IRS from raising an alarm for funds being deposited into unrelated accounts.

The scammers then contact you, either posing as an IRS representative calling about a refund error or as an agent of private collection agency going after tax debts. As fake agents, they tell you to send the funds back to the Treasury — except it’s really going into their hands. As collection agent impersonators, they instruct you to forward the money to their little fake collection agency.

Fake charities come calling
Every time a natural disaster strikes, these outfits pop up like moles to be squashed. They advertise, and spread via social media and typically don’t appreciate it when you ask difficult questions. That’s why if you have any questions about a charity and the group seeking your contribution won’t answer them, don’t give. Legitimate Des Moines nonprofits are happy to prove that they are really doing the good work they advertise.

The IRS has set up an online tool to verify charitable organizations called “Select Check” that can help you navigate the murky waters of this area. In general, a good rule of thumb is to give to established charities, or those endorsed by trusted friends.

Fake withholding verification
In this doozy, the crooks will mail (or fax, if you can believe it) a letter to their scam targets, most often those who are international taxpayers or non-resident aliens. The letter tells them that although they are exempt from withholding and reporting income tax, they need to authenticate their information by entering personal and tax info on the enclosed, phony version of Form W-8BEN and faxing it to the crooks.

The first problem is that these forms are only supposed to be sent to a “withholding agent“, and they often reference fictitious forms. Don’t fall for this one — run these sort of things through us before complying.

Fake IRS agents calling you
This one has been apretty common tax scam as of late. The IRS estimates that 2 million taxpayers have been called over the past year. And lest you think we’re getting collectively wise, they also estimate that they have already gathered over $60 million in fraudulent funds. And they are still going at it. Watch out.

There are more out there like this, so if you suspect you’re being targeted, here’s what you should do…

  • Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. Use TIGTA’s “IRS Scam Reporting” web page to report the incident.
  • You can also report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov.
  • Send any phishing emails you think you’ve received to: phishing@irs.gov

If you think you actually may owe taxes, but are leery of the source telling you:

  • Ask for a call back number and an employee badge number.
  • Call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS employees can help you.
  • Or, if you would rather not land in phone-tree oblivion with the IRS, you can give us a call: (515) 707-0884

The main thing: use your common sense. Be skeptical. And remember that we’re in your corner.

Warmly,

Ann Hartz
(515) 707-0884
Ann M. Hartz, CPA

Delayed Gratification: Staying Focused to Get Ahead (Later) in Des Moines

Delayed Gratification: Staying Focused to Get Ahead (Later) in Des Moines

For sports fans, that was quite a run last week. The NHL crowned its champion (and the nation’s capital seemed like it was one massive street party for the weekend), the rest of the NBA conceded to the Golden State Warriors, and we witnessed another Triple Crown in horse racing.

Now, well … there’s baseball.

But this is a good thing, as far as I’m concerned, and for anyone who is a sports fan, because it allows you even greater incentive to free your mind from these smaller (albeit enjoyable) things, and to move your life forward in a fruitful direction.

Last week, I wrote about FOCUS, and the difficulties which the summer can bring to that task. And it is a “task”, because as I said, it’s not just the summer that preys against our personal productivity … it’s everything that *we* allow in.

I thought I’d take up the subject once more today, but before I do, a few quick tax things for Des Moines taxpayers:

1) Reminder that estimated taxes for the 2nd quarter of 2018 are due Friday, June 15th. Let us know if you need any help with that. We’re in your corner.

2) (This shouldn’t apply to any existing clients) Thursday, June 14th is the deadline to avoid more serious late-filing penalties for your 2017 taxes. If, for some reason, you (or perhaps one of your friends) has NOT filed their taxes yet, a higher penalty scheme kicks in after Thursday. This is because the IRS offers a 60-day window after the initial filing deadline (April 17th this year), during which penalties are smaller.

So, I know you’re not a delinquent … but if you have a friend who might be, let’s help them avoid any further unnecessary fees.

And again, we’re here to help: (515) 707-0884

And speaking of delinquency. Let’s talk again about your focus. Because it’s something we all need to become more and more ruthless about in this heavily-distracted age…

Delayed Gratification: Staying Focused to Get Ahead (Later) in Des Moines
“You are the only person on earth who can use your ability.” – Zig Ziglar

Recently, I was reading about a study done years ago regarding the effects of instant gratification…

Edited excerpt from Wikipedia
Mischel’s famous research study, “The Marshmallow Test,” showed the importance of impulse control and delayed gratification for academic, emotional and social success.

In the 1960s at the preschool on the Stanford University campus, Mischel put marshmallows in front of a room full of 4-year-olds. He told them they could have one marshmallow now, but if they could wait several minutes, they could have two. Some children eagerly grabbed a marshmallow and ate it. Others waited, some having to cover their eyes in order not to see the tempting treat and one child even licked the table around the marshmallow!

Mischel followed the group and found that, 14 years later, the “grabbers” suffered low self-esteem and were viewed by others as stubborn, prone to envy and easily frustrated. The “waiters” were better copers, more socially competent and self-assertive, trustworthy, dependable and more academically successful. This group even scored about 210 points higher on their SATs.

Fascinating study.

And though there have been recent attempts to duplicate this famous study that have failed, the results and the underlying principle therein provide an important lesson for those of us who want to move our lives forward with intention.

Business thought leader, Jim Rohn, could see it a mile away, when he wrote about the harvest.

Paraphrasing Mr. Rohn: it’s about planning, focus and execution (and later … harvesting) vs. chasing the fad of the week, getting distracted and wasting time you can’t ever get back.

How many “get rich yesterday guru” emails did YOU get today? How many shiny-object advertisements were attempting to allure you out of what you knew you needed to get done?

How many “pressing” business or organization questions did you manage, rather than focusing on growth-oriented tasks for your vocation or business? How much time do they waste?

How many rabbits can you chase at one time?

Now, more than ever, in this digitally-saturated age: Plan, focus, execute and harvest.

Be ruthless about your time. Don’t let the guru of the week waste it by trying to convince you that there’s a golden goose and only they know where it is… and trust me, it’s not in Des Moines. The real experts produce results for themselves AND help multitudes of others do the same.

The guru of the week produces results for the guru of the week and their insider buddies.

Don’t bite.

And, separately — chances are very good that you’re personally executing tasks which could be easily handled by a $15/hr employee/helper (or $10/hr even) … and which are keeping you from pursuing what only you were put on this earth to do.

There really is a tyranny of the urgent.

Fight against it. Instead: Do at least one thing today to grow yourself or your vocational calling. That is your most important task.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve you, and for your referrals…

Warmly,

Ann Hartz
(515) 707-0884
Ann M. Hartz, CPA

Focus Training For Folks In Des Moines

Focus Training For Folks In Des Moines

Now that we’re into June, it really does feel like summer is here. The air conditioning kicks in, the days are hotter … and, if you’re like me, “focus” becomes something I have to set myself towards. It doesn’t just “happen” — especially when the days are hot.

It might be simply because tax season is now fully behind us, and we’ve already turned the page into year-round work. No matter the fact that we work with our Des Moines clients all year, there really is something very focusing about that April 15th deadline every year (or the 18th, in this year’s case).

But as I said: focus is a decision. And whether you’re an employee, retired, a Des Moines business owner, or some other vocational expression — really, WHOMEVER you are — living a life of intentionality has never been more difficult.

Devices, screens, “the internet of things” — all of it is pulling against our mind, our imaginations and our wills. Much of that influence is very positive, obviously (who doesn’t love ordering food with a click and a swipe??) … but it’s probably no big surprise that this digitally-overwhelming world can be a little distracting.

Yes, this topic isn’t *exactly* financial, and clearly not tax-related. I don’t pretend to be any kind of “life coach”.

But we like to see our role here at Ann M. Hartz, CPA as more than merely transactional. We’re in your corner, for all kinds of decisions that affect your finances — and this issue can certainly become a financial drain as well.

So again … focus is a decision.

And here are some things that might be hurting it for you.

Focus Training For Folks In Des Moines
“What’s right isn’t always popular. What’s popular isn’t always right.” -Howard Cosell

Just because you work harder doesn’t mean that you are accomplishing anything of actual significance.

In fact, many times it’s the opposite.

Busyness does NOT equal effectiveness.

Sometimes, you find that you are “working harder” because you have fallen into a pit of poor productivity and efficiency.

What I have found to be helpful is recognizing how there are certain habits and practices that are very likely sucking all of the life-force from your day’s productivity.

As an idea starter for focus training, here are four things that very well might be killing your momentum. For you, these might not be an issue, so I urge you, therefore, to consider what really is robbing your attention these days.

These are not all merely related to DIGITAL OVERLOAD, either.

But all of them are decisions — those that are made, and those that are avoided.

1. App Addiction
If you’re constantly checking Facebook, answering or originating random text messages, or have any social media account alerts turned on, you’ll never be as productive as you could be.

One simple way to decrease your Facebook use is to remove the app from your phone. Even if you just use the browser to access it, it’s that extra step or two that it requires that can help your weaker self resist the constant dopamine hit of social media activity.

2. Email Addiction
Turn off your alerts here, too. Don’t leave your inbox continually open when you are engaged in real work.

Because whenever you click on that “Get Mail” button, your brain drip feeds small doses of Something-Important-Is-About-To-Happen-Juice (i.e. dopamine).

Except, it’s hardly ever actually urgent. It can usually wait for your actual focused attention.

So try this out for just one week and see if you don’t accomplish more than you thought possible.

3. Other People’s Emergencies
Emergencies aside, send your calls to voicemail first and return them only during set times (and perhaps even state those times on your voicemail greeting). This has three instant benefits.

First, it tells people you are a focused person, which they will respect and even appreciate. Second, it makes you a focused person — keeping you on task and freeing you from interruptions you can’t anticipate.

Third, you can determine if you’re the right person to handle the call or if it can be delegated.

4. Delegation
As I’ve said, there is a big difference between being busy and being productive. Want to know where you’re just “busy”? Keep track of everything you do every 30 minutes, every day, for one week. Then take all the items that aren’t moving you toward your goals and stop doing them, delegate them to someone else, or hire someone to do them for you.

What will you do with all that extra time? Concentrate only on activities and processes that make money or move you ahead.

The key to more productivity is not more work. The key is more focus. Creating your “Not To Do” List will reset your priorities, refresh your morale, and could even remake your career.

Don’t let your best energy be sucked out of your day.

I’m grateful for our chance to serve you and your family  — and we are dedicated to your thriving. Which means we want to protect you from all of what could tear you down…

Warmly,

Ann Hartz
(515) 707-0884
Ann M. Hartz, CPA

Instilling Financial Literacy For Kids In Des Moines

Instilling Financial Literacy For Kids In Des Moines

Memorial Day weekend can often feel a little disjointed.

There we are with our burgers, our pools, our picnics — all while we are supposedly remembering the sacrifice of so many thousands who laid down their lives in the line of duty for this country, and for the sake of our constitutional freedoms.

However, when you talk to veterans from Des Moines (as I get the chance to do in the course of our tax preparation work), they do often tell you that these very freedoms (the ones much bigger than backyard barbecues, of course) are exactly why those sacrifices are worthwhile.

So I suppose that despite how jarring it can feel, parades and picnics are exactly the right sort of thing to honor those men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice.

And so we pause and remember.

Memorial Day is much more than simply the “start of summer”.

Moving forward … now that summer *is* here, for many Des Moines families, children are much more “underfoot” than they are during the school year.

So I have an idea for you: Might I suggest the summer to be the PERFECT time to rework your children’s relationship with money? Here are some thoughts on financial literacy for kids that might help start the conversation…

Instilling Financial Literacy For Kids In Des Moines
“Adversity doesn’t test character, it reveals it.” James Lane Allen

Teaching children to save money when they’re young can help them deal with financial emergencies when they’re older. Here’s how to get them started, even this summer…

Encourage kids to save *something* over the summer. 
Whether you’ve got a 10-year-old stashing away a dollar or a teenager opening a savings or checking account, get your children in the habit of saving no matter how small the amount. Start them small over the course of the summer, and have them build towards something for the end of the season that will be a real treat.

Help kids balance treats and sacrifices. 
Work with your kids to set and meet small goals, which will allow for small indulgences along the way. Once these smaller goals are met, allow them a little withdrawal to buy something for themselves. Go for the little victories in the beginning.

Instill the idea of an emergency fund. 
Loose change can add up, so don’t let kids toss pennies or leave them lying on the ground. These can become the perfect seeds for the concept of an emergency fund (which will help them as they grow into adulthood).

Set an example. 
Children don’t miss much. If they don’t see you saving, they might wonder why they have to save. Share with them what YOU are saving towards so they can see the process of building towards a victory.

Keep kids away from credit as long as possible. 
Credit card companies expend lots of effort on marketing to teenagers. And with the rise of app-related money systems, many children with smartphone access have even readier availability to the kinds of “time-saving” money traps that so often ensnare adults. Make sure your kids understand what credit pitfalls could lie ahead.

Schedule money meetings. 
Meet with your child at regular intervals to discuss their savings and emergency accounts, answer questions, and discuss money issues he or she might encounter. Especially if they are working a summer job in Des Moines, helping your children to see where their money is going over each month of the summer will help them to get financial clarity.

Which of course, leads to…

Help children set up a real budget. 
The earlier that young people learn to manage a budget, the easier things will be down the line. Younger ones can start learning by jotting their pluses and minuses down on a piece of paper, while older kids can be introduced to budgeting on software and apps.

The main thing is that you should not rely upon “school” to train your children in financial literacy.

And the summer is a great time to get started.

Warmly,

Ann Hartz
(515) 707-0884
Ann M. Hartz, CPA

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