The Wise Latina Club Money: 3 Cheap Ways to File Your Taxes

I don't know what happened this year, but I'm behind on my taxes and will likely file on or very close to Tax Day. ¿Will your mañana ways cost you big come April 15th? Not if you follow these tax preparation savings tips.

The Wise Latina Club Money: 3 Cheap Ways to File Your Taxes

3 Cheap Ways to File Your Taxes

  1. Tax software discounts through your bank: You may remember from The Wise Latina Club Money: 4 Ways to File Your Taxes for Free that I filed my taxes through a software program when my accountant keeled over. As I was scrambling to find another preparer, I paid a bill online and saw my financial institution was offering a 25% discount to customers. Go to your bank or brokerage's website and check under "special deals" and "offers" for discounts on tax software.
  2. If you bank isn't offering a discount, search for coupons and coupon codes online: Sites such as CouponCabin.com or CouponWinner.com can save individuals and/or small business filers between 10% to 50%. Tax Tip: your mañana ways could have cost you already since some tax prep coupons expire before April.
  3. Support small or local business in the form of a small tax preparer: A tax accountant may charge a flat fee of say $50 or $100 (instead of hundreds) for short-form tax preparation. Whether it's word of mouth such as my hospitalized accountant (who survived) or Mr. Patel, my papis' tax preparer of 25 years, do your homework to verify creds and to review any complaints filed or disciplinary action taken.

This is part of the original The Wise Latina Club Money series which I created because the time has come for Latinas to change our money mindset from just consuming products and enriching others to building wealth. We must think about investing to strengthen ourselves, our families, and communities through savings, buying a piece of property, or committing to a college or retirement savings plan. TWLC Money aims to get you thinking about and give you the tools to achieve financial literacy and independence. Click here to read more TWLC Money posts.

How will you invest the money saved filing your taxes?

The Wise Latina Club Money: 4 Ways to File Your Taxes for Free

I have filed my taxes every which way: paper forms mailed when I was in college; a fancy tax attorney (hmmm...curious that my tax return almost matched his fee), a reasonable local accountant before he keeled over (he did and survived); and when my hospitalized tax preparer didn't call me back, I was left to my own devices, actually using tax software, right before Tax Day.

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I'm passing along what I learned, including how to save money preparing taxes or even file for free (which is different than actually saving on your tax return through deductions which will be covered in a separate post). You can stash away this extra money into a future fund--reinvest in your skills or business, save for retirement, college, or buy a piece of property.  What's important for The Wise Latina Club Money is starting a savings habit, however small the dollar amount, because savings are a building block to create wealth.

4 Ways to Prepare Your Taxes for Free

  1. Free help: If you made less than $51,000 in 2012, you qualify for VITA--Volunteer Income Tax Assistance from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)--where you can get free expert advice on an appointment or walk-in basis, even file federal forms at no cost, at schools, libraries, shopping malls, and recreation centers around the country. Click here for the VITA location nearest you.
  2. Over 60? And low to mid-income? You qualify for the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program through AARP (without having to be an AARP member). Trained volunteers can help you navigate the ins and outs of retirement and pension plans. Click here to find a location near you.
  3. Younger and make $57,000 or less (that's about 70% of America)? Try IRS Free File tax software. Click here for information, including which program may be right for you.
  4. Free federal filing for everybody--no matter how old you are or how much you make. If you are comfortable with online versions of IRS paper forms and have the time, click here to access Free File forms.

Remember that unless you live in a state that doesn't have state individual income taxes such as Texas and Florida, you will have to pay a fee to file your state tax forms.

This is part of the original The Wise Latina Club Money series which I created because the time has come for Latinas to change our money mindset from just consuming products and enriching others to building wealth. We must think about investing to strengthen ourselves, our families, and communities through savings, buying a piece of property, or committing to a college or retirement savings plan. TWLC Money aims to get you thinking about and give you the tools to achieve financial literacy and independence. Click here to read more TWLC Money posts.

What have you done with the money saved filing your taxes?

 

TWLC Money: 5 Savings Tips When You Don't Make A Lot of Money

With the exception of kids, I am no different than my driver last week or the female manager at the nearby Kinko's: it is virtually impossible for these single moms and I to save money for retirement or the "rainy day" fund when we're struggling to pay rent or put food on the table. Savings_Tips_Money-TheWiseLatinaClub-VivianaHurtado

Some of us are working more hours for less pay or stuck for years at the same salary. Others are freelancing, temping, consulting, or starting businesses which can mean little, zero, or negative cash flow and out of pocket health or retirement benefits.

Gracias Brutal Recession and Anemic Economic Recovery.

¡Love ya back, New Economy!

How to save when I barely have un dólar to spare a day?

5 Ways to Save When You Don't Make A Lot of Money

  1. Plan your daily budget and financial future NOW whether you have money or not: Yes, ahora, not when you secure that full-time job, promotion, raise, or big contract.
  2. Prioritize debt and savings: Ask yourself, is my debt under control? Maybe the answer requires analysis: a mortgage payment and taxes costing no more than 30% of your monthly income is different than thousands in credit card debt ballooning each month with late fees and 30% interest.
  3. Create an automatic savings habit: 10% may not be realistic for your budget today. How about 1% or $4 a day? Bring coffee to work and stash your daily Starbucks money in a savings account. The key is to create a money ritual that you can later increase when you get a raise or discover extra money through creative budgeting.
  4. Create a "confidence fund": The unemployed did not only lose income, they lost skills. Save money to reinvest in yourself in the form of learning new skills. Whether it's writing media reports, learning the website platform WordPress, effective social media outreach, editing videos on Final Cut Pro, or writing editorials, as founder and editor in chief of The Wise Latina Club, I've had to master new skills.
  5. Save each month or with each payment in a Tax/Benefits Fund to pay the IRS or your health benefits. You may still need to shell out some cash, but with some money put away, you'll be partly there

Chicas, be conservative with your money which is not foreign to us because we come from familias that got ahead by earning each cent and building wealth through hard work and frugal spending habits. Also, seek professional advice from a financial planner, one who is fee-only as opposed to one who collects product commissions.

I got this savings advice from Money expert Louis Barajas who shared them with me when I guest hosted NPR's Tell Me More with Michel Martin. Click below to hear the interview which aired on April 12, 2012.

This is the inaugural post of the original The Wise Latina Club Money series which I created because the time has come for Latinas to change our money mindset from just consuming products and enriching others to building wealth. We must think about investing to strengthen ourselves, our families, and communities through savings, buying a piece of property, or committing to a college or retirement savings plan. TWLC Money aims to get you thinking about and give you the tools to achieve financial literacy and independence. Click here to read more TWLC Money posts.

Can you add a savings tip?

My First Apartment

Two years ago I sat in my Penn State dorm room with a calculator and a question: is it cheaper to live on campus, in my small but comfortable dorm, or in an apartment complex off-campus?

As I crunched numbers, the answer emerged: moving out of the dorms was best for my bank account. For the first time, I went apartment hunting.

I ran upstairs to grab a picture of the college student's living room. In hindsight, the mattresses and giant paper Christmas tree might not be average. Courtesy: Dulce-Marie Flecha

Like cramming for a final exam, I had to learn a volume of real estate terminology in little time.

In hopes of diminishing another "First Timer's" stress, I've compiled Apartment Search Cliff Notes, specifically, a glossary of important rental terms to bring on your tours:

Cosigner: A person who agrees to assume equal legal and financial responsibility for a rental contract which for many college students and recent graduates are their parents. Basically, if you mysteriously disappear without paying your rent, your cosigners will pay.

Credit Score: A number based on your credit report banks, businesses, and landlords use to gauge how reliable you may be paying debts such as loans, credit cards, or your monthly rent. As with a final exam, you want the highest score possible.

Grace Period: Rent is normally due on the first of the month (do you remember that Bone Thugs-N-Harmony song?). Often times renters have a penalty-free window--about five days--without racking up a late fee or interest. Reference point: when your professor lets you submit an essay a few days late without losing points.

Length of Lease: The amount of time--normally one year--you are legally responsible for the apartment.

Security Deposit: An amount that can be equal to one month of rent that serves as "proof of intent" or a guarantee you will not destroy the property or not pay utilities.

Most deposits are refundable minus cleaning and repair--you'll get it within a limited time period after you've vacated the apartment provided there aren't damages. This is separate from first and last month's rent, which landlords will ask you to pay in advance.

Sublet: Studying abroad? Going home for the summer? Rather than pay for an empty room, many students will find subletters to live in the apartment and pay at least a portion of the rent for a negotiated time period. But be careful! You, not your subletters are still legally responsible if anything should go wrong.

Utilities: This refers to miscellaneous apartment costs such as gas and water. Always ask your potential landlord to define "utilities."

Getting your own apartment can be scary, but using this glossary will give you confidence and the tools to make an informed decision.

The Wise Latina Club’s Dulce-Marie Flecha is a rising senior at Penn State. When she is not writing her honors thesis, she is trying to learn a fourth language, feeding her fashion obsession by Googling her favorite designers’, or begging the Yankees to hit with runners in scoring position. Click here to read more about and connect with Dulce-Marie.

When you moved into your first apartment, what did you not know then, you now know?

Latinos' Bad Credit, No Credit, Big Problem: TWLC Interviews Progreso Financiero's James Gutierrez

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"In this country if you don't have a credit score, it's like not having a face."

-James Gutierrez, Progreso Financiero

Because of the global financial crisis, we know how integral credit is to economic growth, recovery, and overall U.S. competitiveness.  Eyes glazing over?  It's also vital to YOU--the middle class.  No, not spending what you have and don't on passing trends to keep up with the Kardashians.  Credit in the form of home and student loans helped expand the U.S. middle class in the 20th Century.  As millions of GIs will attest, credit allows for smart investments which fling open the door to upward mobility.

Nearly 25 million Latinos have abysmally low credit scores, making it virtually impossible for them to access credit.  This threatens our fragile economic recovery because the more difficult it is for them to secure loans for homes, small businesses, and college, the harder it becomes for them to generate wealth, stimulate our economy, and build communities.  This matters because as the Census results show, the number of Hispanics is growing exponentially.  No politics, just math.

Instead of waiting for a government solution, one entrepreneur decided to act.  Armed with a Stanford MBA, Gutierrez, co-founded Progreso Financiero, a lending institution that combines micro-credit principles lifting communities out of poverty in the developing world, with hallmark free market strategies which have historically generated wealth.

Watch the Wise Latina Club interview with Progreso Financiero's James Gutierrez here:

His idea is simple: lend manageable amounts to individuals according to their income and monthly budget at a total of 36% APR (far less than what "underground lenders" charge) and within about a year, the borrower pays off the loan and has started to boost her credit score because Progreso Financiero reports to the bureaus.  Eventually, these borrowers will be empowered with choice: options to build their wealth including banking at mainstream institutions.  Starting or expanding a business, buying an affordable home, and sending children to college all positively impact families, communities, states, and our country.

Gutierrez isn't the first American to recognize the importance of integrating underserved immigrant communities though access to mainstream financial options.  At the beginning of the 20th Century, A.P. Giannini founded the Bank of Italy which later became the Bank of America.