As everyone in the U.S. knows, we have just passed one of our most "favorite" times of the year: income tax season. If you are going to create and sustain wealth, it is inevitable that you will have to address your personal tax situation.
By "address," what I really mean is take control. This is true whether you live in the U.S. or just about any other country. Agree or disagree with the "fairness" of taxes, this is a subject that you must obtain some basic understanding if you want to significantly increase your wealth.
Before I start, let me say that I am certainly not a tax expert. And space does not permit going into detailed tax strategy. The purpose of this article is to explain why it is so important for you to take up the study of basic tax law and strategies, and even more important seek out the advice of a true tax expert.
Why is it important to understand taxes?
In most cases, taxes are your largest expense. This is probably the key reason that wealthy people spend so much time, effort, and money doing their best to minimize their tax expense. Depending on your tax bracket, your federal taxes may be as high as 28%-35% of your income! And then there are social security, state income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, etc., etc. If you are generating all of your income from your wages (earned income), you may be lucky to actually keep 50% of what you really earn.
That is a staggering figure when you think about it. That means that if you have a salary of $50,000, you may be only keeping $25,000 of your earnings for your own purposes.
If you think I am exaggerating, pull out your last paycheck and look at the tax withholdings for taxes that have been taken off the top of your earnings. If you take your net earnings and divide them by the gross earnings, what is that percentage? Don't be shocked if it isn't about 40%. Then take a look at your sales taxes. In California, the sale tax is around 8.25%. So just doing a quick estimate, I'm already at about 48% in tax expense (assuming most of the money is spent on taxable items).
The cost of ignoring your tax expense and not doing everything legally possible to minimize it is huge. Of course, tax law can be exceedingly complex, and the penalties of making a mistake are high. So a large number of people, simply accept this large tax expense as inevitable. They concede defeat without really even trying to take any type of action to minimize the impact.
What are some actions that you can take?
1) Recognize that you can take action to reduce your tax expense. Too many people blindly assume that it is impossible to significantly reduce their tax expense. Either they think it is too complicated, too much trouble, or they are afraid that if they take deductions that are legitimate, that the government will come after them. If you assume there is nothing you can do (learned helplessness), you are right. If you assume you can improve your tax position, you're right. The fact is that while you must pay your legal share of taxes, the government actually wants you to take advantage of tax deductions and credits. That's why the laws were passed to allow for them.
2) Make a commitment to study basic tax law so that you have at least enough knowledge to speak with a tax advisor with a certain degree of intelligence. You can't take deductions that you are not aware of. Because of the potential savings, the study of tax law needs to be a fundamental part of your financial literacy education. Your two highest priorities must be to create wealth in the most efficient manner and protect it. And any protection strategy must include protecting it from over taxation. Don't just limit your study to books. Also seek out college classes, night-school, and seminars. But be careful of seminars as they can be a lot more expensive and not as thorough as a class from a community college.
3) Seek out a CPA and/or Certified Financial Planner to come up with a long range plan to minimize your taxes and increase your wealth. Start with the most experienced person you can afford and plan to pay for even more expert advice as your wealth increases. Ultimately, it will probably be less expensive to pay for outstanding advice than to over pay on your taxes. If you wait until tax time to come up with your plan, you have waited too long.
4) If you haven't already, start keeping detailed financial records. This is a good habit to get into even if you don't yet have a business. If you keep detailed records (using a computer program!) as you go through the year, it makes it much easier to turn over your records to your tax preparer when tax time comes.
5) When you record your income from your paycheck, be certain to record all deductions taken from your check. Don't just record the net. If you actively track your tax expenses deducted from the top of your wages, you will be more motivated to do everything possible to legitimately reduce that expense. If you simply record the net wages, you have probably fallen prey to the tax trap without a fight.
6) If you are an employee, make certain you are taking full advantage of your 401k and medical flex spending plan if available. Money set aside for your 401k (usually matched by your employer) helps reduce your taxable income. You have to pay taxes eventually, but hopefully by the time that happens you will be in a lower tax bracket. Medical flex spending plans help you pay for medical costs (including over-the-counter medicines, dental work, glasses, etc.) using pre-tax dollars. Flex spending plans are also available for child day care.
7) As soon as possible, replace your income from wages with income from your own business and unearned income from investments. Of course, this is easier said than done, but the benefits are huge. If your income comes from a business that you own, it's much easier to pay for expenses with pre-tax dollars. Obviously, you have to have a real business (not just a hobby) and the expenses must be legitimate business expenses, but this allows you to have a lot more flexibility in your tax planning. Realize that you can (I would say must) still start a business even if you have a full-time job. If you want to create great wealth (and minimize your tax expense), don't let fear, unbelief, or lack of knowledge prevent you from starting your own business. You must take action to overcome those obstacles.
Eventually, you need to target making the ultimate shift to getting your income from unearned income rather than wages. Unearned income is taxed at a lower rate than earned income. That's one of the ironies of our tax law: the more income that is "unearned" the lower your tax expense.
Some Power Affirmations Related to Helping you Take Control of Your Tax Expense
1) I am now in confident control of my tax expenses.
2) I have a clear understanding of basic tax law and strategies.
3) I regularly seek out sound tax advice from seasoned professionals.
4) My unearned income from investments is increasing everyday.
5) I record all financial transactions regularly and take advantage of every legitimate tax deduction.
6) I now take maximum advantage of my employee benefits including my 401k and flexible spending accounts.
7) I pay as many expenses as possible with pre-tax dollars.
8) I enjoy studying basic tax law, because I enjoy the savings my knowledge brings.
9) I am absolutely committed to increasing my financial intelligence everyday.
10) I now take full advantage of every legal tax deduction available to me.
11) I track my tax expenses and take every action possible to minimize that expense.
12) By studying books, taking college-level classes, and attending seminars, my financial intelligence is increasing everyday.
Copyright (c) 2005 Bill Marshall - All rights reserved. Feel free to republish this article provided you include the copyright information and the weblinks where possible.
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