Total Cost of College for Des Moines Folks

Total Cost of College for Des Moines Folks

Yes, there is chaos in the political world. Since it’s not related to our vocation around here, I’ll withhold comment, and let’s move on to a happier conversation.

Paying for college.

(Yes, that was sarcasm.)

So much ink (and an abundance of pixels) has been spilled over the past decade about rising tuition costs, that sometimes parents overlook the fact that tuition isn’t the only component of college costs to consider.

Here’s what I mean…

Total Cost of College For Des Moines Folks

“The things taught in schools and colleges are not an education, but the means to an education.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you’re reading this, you fall into one of two categories:

  1. The Des Moines parent with a child approaching, attending or having graduated college.
  2. Someone who knows a parent with a child approaching, attending or having graduated college.

And instead of highlighting ways to save for those college costs (which we’ve done in the past and likely will revisit in the future), let’s break down some of what makes college so expensive in the first place.

Because it’s not just rising tuition.

By the way, if you have questions on immediate ways to save for college, please give me a call. There are MULTIPLE tax-sensitive components of higher-ed savings, and I’d love to discuss them in-depth with you over the phone or during a meeting.

Tuition & FEES

“Tuition” specifically relates to the education a student receives while at university — the classes, faculty, campus resources, and opportunity to earn a degree. The “fees”, on the other hand, relate to those hidden costs within that education: admin fees, school activities and clubs, etc.

In addition, there are other costs SEPARATE from even tuition and fees — “Room” (the costs for housing) and “Board” (costs for a meal plan). And lastly, books and other classroom materials that add up to a large chunk of change for students.

Billed Costs

When living in on-campus housing, the university will typically issue a combined bill for all tuition, room, board and fees that apply to each student. This is the “total cost of college attendance” (in terms of billed costs), or TCOA.

Financial aid is applied to this bill beforehand so the cost is shown and collected at a more manageable rate (for the spender).

These total costs are a topic about which parents/caregivers and their students should communicate. If parents are paying any part of the bill each semester, it’s important the student has an idea of the payment structure (both present AND future) backing his or her education. Too many students graduate with a load of debt to pay off and have no idea how such a large number accumulated over time.

And this is often because they are blindsided by the fact that tuition isn’t the only item being billed. And then, there are the…

Unbilled Costs

One could infer: unbilled costs are the “hidden” costs associated with college (books and classroom materials, travel, personal expenses and so on).

This is where strategy comes into play when planning your college costs. All college-goers should keep in mind the following when budgeting for unbilled costs — those costs that aren’t “required” by the university but inevitably work your way.

  • Cost of living in the college town itself
  • Various off-campus housing options
  • A budget-friendly meal plan (or a grocery budget)
  • Ancillary costs associated with particular classes and majors
  • On-campus entertainment (and alternatives)
  • Travel and transportation expenses

If a student can devise a solid strategy (read: budget) pertaining to these items (in addition to the standard, predictably “billed” costs), then he or she is set up for success in the college costs game.

Many of us know the short-term gratification college can bring to the student, but the delayed gratification comes with steady bouts of responsibility and faithfulness.

These, my friend, are the total costs of attendance.

And all of it should be planned for.

Warmly,

 

Ann Hartz

(515) 259-7779

Ann M. Hartz, CPA

Thinking Through Real Estate Investments In Des Moines

Thinking Through Real Estate Investments In Des Moines

When it comes to your money, you’re either spending, saving, giving or investing. I know that many of my Des Moines clients are doing all four, which is always wonderful to see.

The last one, investing, is the one I want to focus on today. I talk a great deal about climbing out of financial holes, but sometimes one of the best ways to do that is to also plan for the time when you are OUT of that hole … or even give yourself (and your finances) some intrinsic motivation to climb faster.

Investing is a smart move at any age, but the earlier you start the better. However, like the old Chinese proverb says:

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

That said, if you’re buried in a BIG hole, this might not be for you.

But if you’re simply just not where you want to be … yet — and you’re waiting until ALL of your ducks are lined up, maybe the time really is now.

A good option to start with is real estate. It’s tangible (as opposed to equities, which can sometimes feel like imaginary assets), it can be both long-term and short-term, and it is something that can be moved into gradually.

Thinking Through Real Estate Investments In Des Moines

“The best investment on earth is earth.” Louis Glickman

Last week, we wrote about your “digital estate”, but now things are about to get a little more … real. (Did you see what I did there? Just checking.)

There are three things that come to mind when it comes to starting (and SUCCEEDING) in real estate investing. I’ve seen our Des Moines clients do VERY well in this area … and I’ve also seen some of them lose their shirt.

So let me start with this…

Do the Research. Choose the Method.

There are different types of real estate investments – commercial, residential, apartments etc.

It’s important to know the highs and lows of each. And when I say “research” that typically means months (at least) of doing your homework, asking others in the industry, and potentially taking some classes to learn about real estate investments. There are countless books and podcasts dedicated to teaching on the matter, so chip away at some new expertise.

After you decide your conduit for investing, it’s time to put your money where your research is.

Find the Spot. Make the Deal.

You know where this one is going: location, location, location.

Even though that phrase is mind-numbingly redundant, it packs a whole lot of truth – especially when it comes to real estate investments. Once you narrow down options, making the deal is either the most fun or most daunting part of the process. And if you don’t like a little risk in life, then real estate might not be for you. But it does have big gains if completed early and accurately.

Think about nice neighborhoods around you. Have they always been that way? You need to have the foresight for which communities could grow and why. It’s definitely a chess match.

Honor the Commitment. Build the Team.

The last section leads well into the “commitment” piece of this article, and commitment is largely rooted in patience.

I can’t stress that enough – patience will either make or break you in the real estate investment process. Unfortunately, HGTV and DIY television make real estate tune-ups seem quick and lucrative. That’s not the case.

In real life, it’s imperative you build a team around you – attorney, accountant, realtor, marketing professionals – for the support you’ll need. Don’t think you can do this alone. And with that being said . . . we would love to be able to help you with the tax implications of whatever method you choose, and help in any other way we can.

We’re in your corner, no matter where your financial life takes you.

Warmly,

 

Ann Hartz

(515) 259-7779

Ann M. Hartz, CPA

Ann M. Hartz, CPA’s Guide to Estate Planning for Digital Assets

Ann M. Hartz, CPA’s Guide to Estate Planning for Digital Assets

Technology has certainly shifted our society over the last 15 to 20 years — you can see it right here in the Des Moines area.

So much so, that it’s time we discuss estate planning with a technological twist.

Before we get there though, may I offer you this important reminder: the only “magic” we can do on a tax return is a “reaction” to what is being done right now.

What I mean by that is that preparing a tax return is historical reporting. And yes, we’re certainly better equipped to find every possible historical deduction than some Joe down the street or a piece of robotic software (however many CPAs might be “on call” to assist the robots) — but we can only respond to what has already occurred.

In other words, if you want to make changes to your tax situation with smart planning, give us a call ((515) 259-7779) or head over to the contact page to shoot me a message and let’s talk. Let’s get ahead of the game.

Otherwise, we’re just cleaning up after the fact.

Now, all that aside, there are a few key pieces when forming an organized estate plan, but here are a few pointers when it comes to your personal, digital assets for the sake of future management and allocation.

Ann M. Hartz, CPA’s Guide to Estate Planning for Digital Assets

“A man who does not plan long ahead will find trouble at his door.” -Confucius

This isn’t particularly a “fun” topic, but again, this day and age calls for it. If you have a lot of important business and data online (most of us do) let’s ensure that nothing is ever lost.

Define “Digital Asset”

Before we go any further, the following could be considered digital assets in your name:

  1. Emails
  2. Social Media Sites
  3. Blogs
  4. Financial Accounts
  5. Music Files
  6. Photographs
  7. Videos
  8. Customer Database
  9. Cryptocurrency

The list goes on, but these are a few common personal online assets.

Taking Inventory

Have you created a will? If so, estate planning for digital assets works similarly in theory.

And a huge component of the planning phase is to get your assets in order. The list provided is a great place to start. Are those items listed organized? Are they saved onto an external hard drive? Do you have them under certain files in your computer? (“The files are in the computer!”)

Side: After compiling this list, it’s important to decide if you want a fiduciary to disperse and allocate the information accordingly.

In addition to the items on our list, you should list out all of your passwords and security questions. But you probably shouldn’t keep those in a Word Document or Google Doc. There are numerous password services that will keep those passwords safe for you. (Although most password managers cost a little cash, your privacy and safety are worth it in the end.)

As for social media, you do not need to leave login information for many social media accounts, according to their policies — simply the username and information for how to contact the company is sufficient. These “deceased user” policies are often buried deep in their “help” sections and can be hard to find.

Here is a list of policies we located for the major companies:

Google

https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/3036546?hl=en&ref_topic=2382809

Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/help/1506822589577997/

Twitter 

https://help.twitter.com/en/rules-and-policies/contact-twitter-about-a-deceased-family-members-account

LinkedIn

https://help.linkedin.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/2842/kw/deceased

Instagram

https://help.instagram.com/151636988358045/

Pinterest

https://help.pinterest.com/en/article/deactivate-or-close-your-account

Yahoo

https://help.yahoo.com/kb/yahoo-account/SLN2021.html

WordPress

https://en.support.wordpress.com/deceased-user/

Take a few moments and familiarize yourself with each site’s policies that matter to you.

If you take the time now to record which social media sites you have accounts and what you would like to happen after your death, your family will not have to guess after the fact, try to remember where you had accounts, or try to figure out what you would have wanted. They will see your instructions and know what to do.

Make a Plan and Stick to It

After collecting and listing out your digital assets, it’s up to you and the fiduciary to make a plan for the future. Execute this kind of plan within your will, and come to an agreement on asset alignment or destruction in the event of death or disability.

It’s important to factor in the terms of use and agreement on your most important accounts (yep, those boxes you check and say you “read”).

Winston Churchill once said, “Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.” And although we can’t be certain the “plans” of our life, “planning” makes the uncertainty a little more bearable.

Need any help or clarification? Please reach out and give me a call. I’d love to walk you through some necessary, financially-sensitive steps in this information (and digital) age.

 

Warmly,

 

Ann Hartz

(515) 259-7779

Ann M. Hartz, CPA

Ann Hartz’s Four Common Investment Mistakes

Ann Hartz’s Four Common Investment Mistakes

The stock market has caused some alarm as of late. Will investors wake up panicked or encouraged tomorrow? It’s hard to say.

But one thing is clear: basing your peace of mind on market signals is no way to live.

That said, I’d love to see my Des Moines clients be wise about how they are approaching their savings and investment strategies. For some, it’s a simple admonition: start investing.

And for others, it’s avoiding certain common mistakes. Tolstoy once wrote: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

Perhaps it’s time that we take a look in the mirror — together — and make some changes that would help you better build for the future.

So today let’s look at four mistakes you can avoid when it comes to stock market pitfalls.

Ann Hartz’s Four Common Investment Mistakes

“Beware the investment activity that produces applause; the great moves are usually greeted by yawns.” -Warren Buffett

Before I get to these mistakes, I must hasten to add: every person’s situation is different. And without looking at the specifics of your financial picture, it’s impossible to make the right recommendation. And some recommendations require specific licenses in order to make them. So, consider this a disclaimer: nothing in this article is intended to be a specific piece of investment advice for your situation.

That said, here are some common mistakes I’ve seen when people begin financial investments…

1. Eggs in One Basket

You know the expression, but have you divulged in its (tempting) strategy? To research one company and invest in them alone is a mistake. Plain and simple. Especially if you think “but they’re doing great lately” is a good enough reason to invest.

This is where diversification (and sectors and asset classes) comes into play, and it’s vital to your wealth. The kind of investing you should pursue is another topic for another day.

But for now, please avoid the “all in on one approach”. Fretting over which individual stock to buy will only cause stress and limit your chance of investing success.

2. Playing the Compare Game

It’s been said to “never count another man’s money”. And the same goes with investing.

Yes, you can have mentors in this area, but this is ultimately YOUR money and YOUR investment. Stocks are so nuanced (especially when you get into international investments) that comparing your investments to other “seemingly successful” moves is not wise for your own strategy or psyche.

3. You’re Too Patient

Waiting for the right time to invest isn’t a problem at the beginning … but it does become a problem the longer you wait.

Although the market is volatile, many fret over when to buy or sell. As a result, many sell off their investments when the market is trending downward. But many also end up regretting that decision when the market inevitably rises again.

The key: it’s not the time you choose to enter the market — it’s the amount of time you’re willing to stay in.

4. Neglect

Don’t get 20 years down the line only to wonder, “What if I had started investing 20 years ago?” It’s one of the reasons investing in something like a 401(k) is so important now. It will only grow with time — which means patience on your part!

If you’ve never explored various investment strategies, perhaps now is the time to consult somebody who can come alongside you, with wisdom. I would hate for you to just not invest because you don’t understand some basic principles of investing. There are many Des Moines people who would love to help you.

I am definitely one of those people in your corner. Let me know if I can help in any way.

Warmly,

 

Ann Hartz

(515) 259-7779

Ann M. Hartz, CPA

How Des Moines Residents Can Donate for Dorian Relief

How Des Moines Residents Can Donate for Dorian Relief

Unfortunately, this is a follow-up piece to some advice I shared in the spring — March to be exact.

When tornadoes ravaged Lee County, Alabama, the country rushed to its aid. Although nature is beautiful in various forms, it’s also equally unpredictable. And that unpredictability sometimes leads to loss of life and communities.

If you’ve turned on the news anytime in the last couple weeks, you’ve watched Hurricane Dorian sweep through the Bahamas, up along the east coast and even reach Canada.

A reported 70,000 residents in the Bahamas are now searching for what to do next — for their families and communities.

Before I get to how you can help their community, please know that if you, or any friend or family member, are ever personally affected by a natural disaster, I will be here to walk you through pertinent tax questions related to your losses. There is a great IRS resource page which helps walk victims through tax-related issues following natural disasters.

Tuck this info away for a day I hope never comes.

And one last thing: On Monday, September 16th, estimated taxes for the third quarter are due. Plan accordingly.

How Des Moines Residents Can Donate for Dorian Relief

“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” – John Bunyan

In the spring, I was struck by how different my daily existence was, from the devastation wrought in the disaster zones. The same is true here … and almost every time news of this sort hits the wires.

I must confess to feeling some “disaster fatigue” setting in.

It seems that the world keeps spawning disaster after disaster…

But that doesn’t mean we can turn away.

It’s good to keep your mind clear from the political and cultural “battles” of our day so that we can focus on the things that really matter.

And things like THIS really do matter. In fact, it’s a good practice to consider donating towards disaster relief causes each and every time — however small the amount — simply for the sake of your own soul, and what it signals to yourself about the “hold” that your bank accounts might have upon your heart. We truly do live in a world of abundance.

And that is especially obvious in contrast to those whose worlds have been most recently wrecked.

So, if you donate to Dorian relief using this link to the Red Cross, your contribution will go towards hurricane relief and help communities across the Bahamas who are rebuilding from rubble. Our Des Moines community can be a part of helping those in need across the world with a few clicks.

An even easier option? Text the word “DORIAN” to this number: 90999. You’ll automatically donate $10 to relief efforts, and the charge will simply show up on your phone bill.

Or if you want to donate a little closer to home, The National Association of the Bahamas will help provide food and shelter for hurting victims.

It’s hard to fathom how many animals were affected by the hurricane, but donating to the Humane Society will assist (foreign and domestic) efforts to aid animals unfortunately caught in Dorian’s path.

When you donate, are those contributions tax-deductible? Yes. But more importantly, when debating over a gift to these organizations, know the day may come where you or someone you know is affected by a natural disaster. When it’s humanity versus nature, other problems fade to the background when we realize we’re all in this together.

If you have any questions about the tax ramifications following a natural disaster, please give me a call so I can walk you through the options available.

I’m on your side. Now go let hundreds of strangers know you’re on theirs.

Warmly,

 

Ann Hartz

(515) 259-7779

Ann M. Hartz, CPA

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