Spring is a common time when people start buying new homes, or simply moving to new apartments across town. Moving by itself is an incredibly stressful time, and no one needs to add additional financial stress into the mix. Moving tends to be expensive, transporting things across town (or further) and getting everything settled can put a major dent in an established monthly budget. Once you get to your new place, it’s likely that the layout of the furniture won’t be the same, and you’ll need to figure out how to best fit everything in while very likely buying some new furniture to make everything work.
When you’re starting the moving process and getting settled into your new place, don’t let the expenses get out of control. Here are some tips to help prevent the new nest instinct from taking over and ruining your savings and budgeting progress.
1. Walk The New Space To See How Things Will Fit
Take some time to walk through your new home, make and record some measurements and roughly plan where things will go. Doing so will allow you to declutter the things that you either don’t need or simply won’t fit in the new space. There’s no sense moving something that you’ll just end up getting rid of shortly after. This preparation will allow you to save money by potentially renting a smaller, less expensive moving truck.
2. Wait To Buy New Things Until You’ve Lived There For A While
While it’s tempting to go to your favorite furniture store and buy everything you think you’ll need in your new home, I’d highly suggest waiting until you’ve lived there for a few weeks. Unless something is absolutely essential, you will benefit from waiting and seeing what things you actually need. This gives you the opportunity to find the small quirks and needs of that specific home and you won’t waste money buying things before you know you need them.
3. Take Your Time And Acquire Unique or Interesting Pieces
Just like number two, if you’re willing to wait a little bit and acquire things more slowly, you’re more able to find interesting and unique pieces of furniture to bring into your space. These pieces will add more character to your home, and really bring it to life. If you’re the DIY type, you can make some custom solutions that will perfectly fit the space you have. Even if it’s repurposing and upcycling an antique piece by painting or refinishing it, it’s guaranteed to be cheaper and likely more durable than something from a local superstore.
4. Remember That White Space Is Perfectly Fine
Especially if the space you’re moving into is bigger than your previous home, remember that you don’t need to fill up every corner of every room. It’s okay to leave big open spaces in your new living quarters, for a clean, uncluttered look. If you don’t feel the need to fill in all the space, you’ll save a ton of money on potential furniture and decorative purchases along the way. Focus on fewer, more meaningful purchases and you’re good to go.
5. Don’t Buy Everything Right Away
When visiting the homes of parents and other folks that have lived in their homes for a long time, it’s easy to feel like that level of furnishing is expected. Don’t go into debt immediately buying furniture for your new place! The reality is that most people have had years (sometimes decades) to furnish their home and have done it over a very long period of time. Relieve yourself of the pressure to have a perfectly decked out home and feel free to leave some rooms open, undecorated, or even unused if you want. It’s your space, and you get to choose exactly how you use it.
If you follow these tips, you’ll significantly cut the cost of moving into a new home whether it’s an apartment, a house, or anything in between. While you might feel pressure to get everything set up right away, take your time and make everything work to your advantage.
A home’s attic may just be the most overlooked space of the house. Often used simply for storage, this space has the potential of turning into a sleek living space, hobby room, home office or even a guest bedroom, if given a good amount of tender love and care.
Most people don’t consider using their attic space due to the absence of finished walls and proper lighting. But with the right knowledge and some fairly small additions, you can convert your attic into an elegant getaway that not only adds value to your property but that can also be used as a place to relax and unwind.
Wondering what it takes? We thought we’d give you a hand by looking at some of the most crucial elements you need to consider if you’re thinking about turning your attic into a living space.
Turning your attic into a livable area
Now, while there are quite a few elements involved when converting an attic, taking them one step at a time — maybe even spacing out the work and giving yourself lots of time to get it done — will make the whole process seem less daunting. Here are some of the major improvements you need to account for:
Wire your attic for electricity
While this isn’t an extensive project, you will need to hire a professional to help you out and get this one out of the way. Whether or not your attic is already wired, you’ll need to hire an electrician to check your wiring and make sure it’s up to par; and if it’s not, they’ll have to wire it altogether. Either way, get this one out of the way well before you start working on the walls or floors, otherwise you might find yourself in a position to ruin your freshly redone walls to set up wiring.
Strengthen the attic’s floors
If you plan on adding furniture to the space, especially larger pieces like a bed or an armoire, you’ll have to account for the extra weight and strengthen the floors. This is another aspect you might want to contract out to a professional, given that you need to make sure both your floors and your home’s foundation and framing can handle the extra weight.
Insulate the attic
Since all the walls (along with the roof) are exposed to the outside, your attic is likely the hottest and coldest room of the house, depending on the season. That’s why you’ll want to take extra steps to insulate it properly, and depending on the area you’re in and how cold/hot it gets, fix the space up with PTACs (package terminal air conditioners) to maintain the right temperature. You might also want to consider adding drywall or add extra wood or shiplap to the exterior walls.
If your attic conversion also involves adding a bathroom to your newly created living space, you’ll need to account for plumbing. This part might add up and bring your expenses up considerably (especially considering all the other elements you’ll have to purchase and install in your bathroom, from the toilet to vanity, fixtures etc.) so think it through before adding it to your wish list. Especially since you can’t really space them out very much, and you’ll need to buy the toilet/bathtub and all the other elements before plumbing starts — as you’ll need to connect them. Also, remember we were talking about strengthening the floors of your attic? Water adds tons of weight, so you’ll have to plan your structure reinforcement accordingly if you’re gonna move forward with the addition of a bathroom. For more info on what it entails to install a bathroom in your attic, here’s a handy guide.
Get proper lighting
If you’re going all out with your attic conversion (and have the funds to back it up), you’ll want to consider adding some nice skylights or windows. But this can ramp up your costs considerably, and make the whole process far more complicated. So instead, why not flood the place with light through some good old light fixtures? Mix things up with a combination of LED lights, overhead lighting, and tall lamps — and pick bright bulbs to get as much light in as possible.
Paint the walls and ceiling
You’re almost done with your DIY attic remodel, so now it’s time to start making it look pretty. Even if your attic has finished walls and ceilings, you’ll want to add a fresh coat of paint to make the space look brand new and inviting. To make the space appear more airy and to compensate for the lack of windows, choose bright colors for most of the walls (though an accent wall that stands at the opposite end of the entrance is always a stylish addition).
Add furniture, appliances & décor elements
The next step in setting up your attic living space is to make it practical and beautiful. This entails adding furniture, design elements, and whatever appliances you think you might need for the space. Think TVs, a mini fridge, a nice stereo system, low, sleek A/C units, whatever you find most practical depending on how you want to use the newly-created room of the house.
Maybe you want to have it ready as a guest bedroom, or a teen kid’s room, a hobby room, a much-needed home office or a place to relax and meditate in. Each potential use comes with its own individual needs, so it’s up to you to get creative from this point forward (though here are some great tips if you’re setting up a meditation room).
Last but not least…
If you’re seriously considering turning your attic into a living space, there’s one hurdle you need to get out of the way before embarking on any of the above changes: checking with your local permitting office to see whether or not you’ll need a building permit for converting your attic space. Not all cities require their residents to pull out a permit for this, but it’s better to know for sure instead of winging it. Your home insurance and later property valuation might take a hit if you don’t account for this aspect.
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Planning budget-friendly date nights can keep your relationship and your finances healthy.
Whether you’re cozying up on the couch together with a bottle of wine or headed out to the trendy restaurant everyone’s talking about, date night is an essential part of most relationships.
“Date nights are important because they give new couples a chance to get to know each other and established couples a chance to have fun or blow off some steam after a rough week,” says Holly Shaftel, a relationship expert and certified dating coach. “Penciling in a regular date can ensure that you make time for each other when your jobs and other aspects of your life might keep you busy.”
There’s just one small snag. Or, maybe it’s a big one. Date nights can get expensive. According to financial news website 24/7 Wall St., the cost of an average date consisting of two dinners, a bottle of wine and two movie tickets is about $102.
When you’re focused on improving your finances as a couple, finding ways to spend less on date night is a no-brainer. But you may be wondering: How can we save money on date night and still get that much-needed break from the daily grind?
There are plenty of ways to save money on date night by bringing just a little creativity into the mix. Here are eight suggestions to try:
1. Share common interests on the cheap
When Shaftel and her boyfriend were in the early stages of their relationship, they learned they were both active in sports. They were able to plan their date nights around low-cost (and sometimes free) sports activities, like hitting the driving range or playing tennis at their local park.
If you’re trying to find ways to spend less on date night, you can plan your own free or low-cost date nights around your and your partner’s shared interests. If you’re both avid readers, for example, even a simple afternoon browsing your local library’s shelves or a cool independent bookstore can make for a memorable time. If you’re both adventurous, check into your local sporting goods stores for organized hikes, stargazing outings or mountaineering workshops. They often post a schedule of events that are free, low-cost or discounted for members.
2. Create a low-budget date night bucket list
Dustyn Ferguson, a personal finance blogger at Dime Will Tell, suggests using the “bucket list” approach to find the best ways to save money on date night. To gather ideas, make it a game. At your next group gathering, ask guests to write down a fun, low-budget date night idea. The host then gets to read and keep all of the suggestions. When Ferguson and his girlfriend did this at a friend’s party, they submitted camping on the beach, which didn’t cost a dime.
The cost of an average date consisting of two dinners, a bottle of wine and two movie tickets is about $102.
To make your own date night bucket list with the best ways to save money on date night, sit down with your partner and come up with free or cheap activities that you normally wouldn’t think to do. Spur ideas by making it a challenge—for instance, who can come up with the most ideas of dates you can do from the couch? According to the blog Marriage Laboratory, these “couch dates” are no-cost, low-energy things you can do together after a busy week (besides watching TV). A few good ones to get your list started: utilize fun apps (apps for lip sync battles are a real thing), grab a pencil or watercolors for an artistic endeavor or work on a puzzle. If you’re looking for even more ways to spend less on date night, take the question to social media and see what turns up.
3. Alternate paid date nights with free ones
If you’re looking for ways to spend less on date night, don’t focus on cutting costs on every single date. Instead, make half of your dates spending-free. “Go out for a nice dinner one week, and the next, go for a drive and bring a picnic,” says Bethany Palmer, a financial advisor who authors the finance blog The Money Couple, along with her husband Scott.
4. Have a date—and get stuff done
Getting stuff done around the house or yard may not sound all that romantic, but it can be one of the best ways to save money on date night when you’re trying to be budget-conscious. And, tackling your to-do list—like cleaning out the garage or raking leaves—can be much more enjoyable when you and your partner take it on together.
5. Search for off-the-wall spots
If dinner and a movie is your status quo, mix it up with some new ideas for low-cost ways to save money on date night. That might include fun things to do without spending money, like heading to your local farmer’s market, checking out free festivals or concerts in your area, geocaching—outdoor treasure hunting—around your hometown, heading to a free wine tasting or taking a free DIY class at your neighborhood arts and crafts store.
“Staying creative allows you to remain flexible and not bound to simply doing the same thing over and over,” Ferguson says.
6. Leverage coupons and deals
When researching the best ways to save money on date night, don’t overlook coupon and discount sites, where you can get deals on everything from food, retail and travel. These can be a great resource for finding deep discounts on activities you may not try otherwise. That’s how Palmer and her husband ended up on a date night where they played a game that combined lacrosse and bumper cars.
There are also a ton of apps on the market that can help you find ways to save money on date night. For instance, you can find apps that offer discounts at restaurants, apps that let you purchase movie theater gift cards at a reduced price and apps that help you earn cash rewards when shopping for wine or groceries if you’re planning a date night at home.
7. Join restaurant loyalty programs
If you’re a frugal foodie and have a favorite bar or restaurant where you like to spend date nights, sign up for its rewards program and newsletter as a way to spend less on date night. You could earn points toward free drinks and food through the rewards program and get access to coupons or other discounts through your inbox. Have new restaurants on your bucket list? Sign up for their rewards programs and newsletters, too. If you’re able to score a deal, it might be time to move that date up. Pronto.
8. Make a date night out of budgeting for date night
When the well runs dry, one of the best ways to save money on date night may not be the most exciting—but it is the easiest: Devote one of your dates to a budgeting session and brainstorm ideas. Make sure to set an overall budget for what you want to spend on your dates, either weekly or monthly. Having a number and concrete plan will help you stick to your date night budget.
“Staying creative allows you to remain flexible and not bound to simply doing the same thing over and over.”
Ferguson says he and his girlfriend use two different numbers to create their date night budget: how much disposable income they have left after paying their monthly expenses and the number of date nights they want to have each month.
“You can decide how much money you can spend per date by dividing the total amount you can allocate to dates by the amount of dates you plan to go on,” Ferguson says. You may also decide you want to allot more to special occasions and less to regular get-togethers.
Put your date night savings toward shared goals
Once you’ve put these creative ways to save money on date night into practice, think about what you want to do with the cash you’re saving. Consider putting the money in a special savings account for a joint purpose you both agree on, such as planning a dream vacation, paying down debt or buying a home. Working as a team toward a common objective can get you excited about the future and make these budget-friendly date nights feel even more rewarding.
Nareit, approximately 145 million American households (44%) are invested in REITs.
It combines the best of both worlds: the potential for high gains in the real estate market, but at a level that anyone can afford. Keep reading to learn more about this real estate investment option.
REITs have the potential for high gains in the real estate market, but at a level that anyone can afford.
How REITs Work
You can think of REITs as a type of index fund for real estate. REITs are funds that invest in real estate and allow people to buy shares. Just like with stock market funds, you’ll earn dividends, and you can buy or sell shares at any time for (hopefully) a profit.
There are some special rules that apply to REITs compared with other types of funds, however. For example, a REIT must have at least 100 shareholders, be managed by a board of directors or trustees, invest at least 75% of the funds in real estate of some sort, and pay at least 90% of its income to shareholders as dividends.
REITs are a hot commodity, too. To see why, it’s helpful to look at the fund FTSE Nareit All REITs, which is a fund-of-REITs that invests in all publicly-traded REITs in the U.S. stock markets. The yield dividend for this fund is 4.3%, as opposed to just 1.8% with the S&P 500. It also has a higher 20-year return of 9.5% vs. 6.3% for the S&P 500, too.
However, the FTSE Nareit All REITs fund is down this year, by a lot: 17%, in fact.
That brings up one of the major downsides of REITs: they’re highly volatile. Although they’re generally a good piece to add to your portfolio in small amounts, you won’t want to invest a lot of money in them, especially if you’re getting close to when you might need that money.
Types of REITs
Currently, there are around 1,100 REITs in the U.S., with about 225 of them available on the publicly-traded markets. That’s a lot of REITs, and as you might expect, there are almost as many types of REITs available as there are ways to invest directly in real estate.
Some of these categories overlap with each other. For example, an REIT that specializes in office buildings and a REIT that specializes in apartments both fall under the same umbrella: equity REITs. Let’s sort out some of these categories next.
Equity REITs are what most people think of when they think of REITs. These are funds that focus on purchasing income-producing properties like retail stores, house rentals, and more. In this way, they’re more akin to people who purchase buy-and-hold real estate, and bank on the value of the rental increasing and steady income from rent each month.
Some REITs focus on the actual lending of money — i.e., the mortgages themselves, rather than the properties they buy. Mortgage REITs might invest in mortgages directly, or focus on mortgage-backed securities (yes, the very same from the famed Great Recession).
Most REITs fall under the umbrella categories of either equity REITs or mortgage REITs. Hybrid REITs, however, invest both: buying actual properties, and funding the mortgages that other people use to buy other properties, too.
Another way to parse out REITs is by certain industries. Each of these REITs also falls under the equity, mortgage, or hybrid umbrellas. For example, a residential REIT can specialize in buying homes and apartments, providing the mortgages for other people to buy them, or both.
Here are some of the most common sector-based REITs:
The advantage of sector-based REITs is that if you’re savvy, you can key in on trends that affect certain parts of the real estate industry. You might have a hankering that there’s something big going on in the office building vs. residential market, for example, and that might affect your investment decisions.
Pros and Cons of REITs
There’s a reason REITs are considered separate investments from the usual breakdown of stocks vs. bonds. Here are some considerations, before you invest in a REIT.
Highly liquidEasy to get startedPotential for high returnsEasy to diversify your portfolio
High volatilityManagement feesDividends are taxed as ordinary income
There’s a lot to like about REITs. Let’s look at each of these more closely.
If you buy a real estate property, you might find yourself in the unlucky position of not being able to sell it later. And even if it is a hot seller’s market, there’s a lot of time, hassle, and money you have to spend to turn that property into cash in your bank account.
But with REITs, you can just click a few buttons to sell your shares and get done with it. No realtors, no title companies, fewer hassle.
Easy to Get Started
REITs are infinitely more affordable than buying an entire property. A single share of VNQ (an ETF version of a REIT offered by Vanguard) is just $86 as of this writing, for example.
On the other hand, if you were to buy real estate, you’d need a lot of cash up-front. If you bought a home in the Seattle marketplace with an average value of $784,000, for example, you’d need a down payment of $157,000 if you used a conventional mortgage with no PMI.
Not exactly obtainable for the average investor.
Potential for High Returns
REITs offer the potential for some pretty impressive returns. For example, VNQ has shown returns as high as 30% in some years. Imagine earning a 30% APY from your bank account — that’d be quite the cause for celebration.
Easy to Diversify Your Portfolio
Since REITs are so easy to handle, it’s also easy to add them into your portfolio mix and keep them at whatever percentage you want. You can even automate it entirely by buying REITs within a robo-advisor platform.
For example, let’s say you want to keep real estate to just 5% of your portfolio. If we use the same example from Seattle above with an average home value of $784,000, you’d need at least $15.7 million more in your portfolio to keep it to that target 5% mark.
Again, not quite so obtainable for the average bear.
So, why doesn’t everyone invest all in REITs, all the time? They do have some downsides.
It’s true that Vanguard’s VNQ REIT has offered returns as high as 30% in some years. But it’s also true that REITs can go down in value — and sometimes spectacularly so. During the 2008 real estate crash, for example, this same fund offered returns of negative 37%. That’s not exactly something you want to see if you’re right on the verge of retiring, for example.
If you’re a DIY real estate investor, you can control a lot of the costs yourself. You can even get up in the middle of the night to fix a flooding toilet, if you don’t want to spring for property management services, after all.
But if you invest in a REIT, there will be costs in the form of an expense ratio and possibly trading fees. These don’t have to be high (VNQ has an expense ratio of 0.12%), but they’re a cost you’ll have to pay if you’re not a DIY real estate investor.
Dividends Are Taxed As Ordinary Income
Many types of investments pay out qualified dividends, which are taxed at a lower capital gains rate. But REIT dividends aren’t considered “qualified,” and so they’re generally taxed at your marginal tax rate as ordinary income (like from your job), and this can be a lot higher than the capital gains rate.
Are REITs a Good Option for You?
REITs are just like any other investment type. They’re a tool, and whether they’re a good tool for you depends on your situation.
If you’re looking for an easy and affordable way to invest in real estate without jumping in headfirst to the DIY real estate investing world, REITs can be a good option for you. They’re also a good choice if you’re just getting started and you don’t have millions (or even thousands) to invest in real estate just yet.
But if you think you’d enjoy a more hands-on approach and you’re not afraid of devoting a lot of time and money (and headaches) to the cause, investing more directly in real estate might be in the cards for you.
Remember, there’s no wrong answer here. Only what you (and/or your financial advisor) determines is best.
Buying fixer-upper homes is currently a popular investment in the housing market, especially since lower-priced houses increase housing confidence in home buyers. On the one hand, it is a great way to purchase a home below market value and sell it for more than you paid. On the other hand, it often seems to be more work than people anticipate, and sometimes the final product doesn’t end up being worth as much time, effort, and money as people put into it.
So, is a fixer-upper home worth it? The answer depends on a variety of factors and your current situation. Thankfully, we have a list of pros and cons as well as tips and recommendations if you’re trying to decide if a fixer-upper home is the right decision for you.
You have more creative leeway. You can build, renovate, and design the house the way you want.
You can decide what places in the home you want to spend more money on (i.e., a better kitchen or a better bedroom).
You have the opportunity to make the home worth a great deal more than you paid.
You can likely flip the home for more money
Fixer-upper homes are typically 8% below the market value.
You will pay less in property taxes because they are calculated based on your home’s sale price.
If you have a home warranty, you can save money on replacing and repairing broken appliances and systems.
Most fixer-upper homes are not move-in ready.
Renovations are costly.
You also don’t have an exact total of what everything will cost, making the financial bottom line uncertain.
Fixer-upper homes can be a risk. You never know when things are going to go wrong, so you have to anticipate possible complications.
If you need to make structural changes, you’ll need a building permit, which is around $1,000, according to HomeAdvisor.
It can take months or even longer to finish a fixer-upper.
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Do a Home Inspection
If you are interested in a fixer-upper home, you want to begin with a home inspection. The inspector will likely be able to determine whether the home is worth the investment or not, depending on the severity of the necessary renovations.
Note that if the necessary improvements in the house are structural, such as roof and/or wall issues, it’s likely not worth the investment. These type of renovations are complicated and extremely expensive. They are also not typically noticeable by potential buyers, so they fail to raise the value of your home enough to make up for the money you invested. However, if you have a written report from your home inspector listing the major issues and the estimated repair costs, you might be able to get the seller to lower the cost of the house to account for the added repairs you’ll have to do.
Get an Estimate of Renovation Costs
Deciding if a fixer-upper home is worth it is heavily influenced by the estimated cost of renovations. As stated above, home inspectors can often help you with this. Note all of the necessary renovations and how much they will cost by using a home inspector or a contractor; it’s better to over quote this than under quote. Then you want to subtract this from the home’s projected market value (after repairs and renovations). You can estimate a home’s market value by researching the neighboring homes’ values. Finally, you need to deduct 5 to 10 percent more for possible complications and other possibilities.
Determine If You Need Permits
Depending on your area, you might need permits to do certain renovations. If you build without obtaining the proper permits, you could have difficulty selling the house in the future. Make sure you have the money to get the required permits before committing to remodeling.
Identify the Skills You Have and What You Can DIY
Part of purchasing a fixer-upper is having to do much of the work on your own. Decide if you have the skills to do the necessary renovations. If you can do most of the repairs by yourself, figure out what you can DIY and hire someone to do the rest. If you’re doing most of the labor, all you need are the parts and equipment for the renovations, and you won’t have to waste money paying someone else.
If you don’t have the ability to do a large chunk of the workload yourself, consider staying away from a fixer-upper home. Hiring someone to do most of the work for you will likely cost more than the renovations are worth in value.
Make Sure You Have the Time—and the Motivation
Fixer-upper homes require a considerable amount of time. If you think you’re too busy to manage the home renovations, consider going with a move-in ready home instead. Especially if you delay pressing repairs, you could risk losing money and value in your home.
Along with a time sacrifice, fixer-uppers require motivation to deal with such a huge project. Ensure you have the motivation and determination to finish renovations before committing to a fixer-upper home. You don’t want to take the plunge and buy the home just to get burnt out halfway through and regret your decision.
Check Financing Options
Buying a fixer-upper home is more financially complicated than your typical finished home; you will need money for the routine down payment and closing costs, but you will also need money for the home repairs and any possible complications in the renovation process.
If you don’t have enough money for the renovations up front, there are borrowing options such as the 203(k) loan that is meant for home repair, improvement, and reconstruction. A multitude of other loan options can ease the financial difficulty.
Avoid Being House Poor
Being house poor is when you spend the majority of your income on your home ownership. This can include your mortgage payment, property taxes, utilities, maintenance costs, etc. If choosing a fixer-upper home is going to take the majority of your money, you’re most likely better off to wait until you have additional income to handle the financial burden.
Take into account your debt-to-income ratio (DTI) when deciding if a fixer-upper home will make you house poor. Your DTI is all of your monthly debt payments divided by your gross monthly income. Generally, a 36 percent or lower DTI is ideal.
Plan for Complications
With fixer-upper homes comes unpredictability. There are unexpected issues and costs that can leave you scrambling if you’re not prepared. Although you can’t predict the future, you can still take precautions so you are as prepared as possible if something goes wrong, whether that be additional expenses, time constraints, etc. You don’t want to be left in a tough spot because you assumed everything would go as planned.
The Bottom Line
Fixer-upper homes can be a great home investment, but a great deal of responsibility and financial burden comes with it. Make sure you have the resources and the time to manage such a project. If you do, use the above tips in your fixer-upper journey. If not, maybe consider a move-in ready home or you could postpone the fixer-upper project until you are more prepared.
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If you’re concerned about your credit, you can check your three credit reports for free once a year. To track your credit more regularly, Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card is an easy-to-understand breakdown of your credit report information that uses letter grades—plus you get a free credit score updated every 14 days.
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Fortunately, there’s a wide range of digital DIY tax filing services available to help you get your paperwork right and file your taxes online without spending your entire refund on an accountant.
In this TurboTax review, we’re covering everything you need to know about its online filing services and tax software and how it stacks up to its competitors.
TurboTax: How Does It Work?
Perhaps the best-known of the digital filing options, TurboTax is the tax-focused baby of Intuit, the same company behind Mint and Quickbooks.
As such, it’s not surprising that TurboTax has a dazzling array of financial tools to help you during tax time as well as year round, regardless of your tax situation.
TurboTax offers both totally DIY filing options as well as an upgraded suite of DIY filing with live online help. You can also purchase its tax preparation software on CD or by download, which can help you save even more money. You pay a one-time fee and get up to five included federal filings, though you’ll likely still need to pay to file your state tax return.
Here’s what the pricing tiers look like at TurboTax. (These prices are current as of January 2021 and are subject to change.)
The TurboTax Free Edition is appropriate for filers with simple tax returns. It covers W-2 income, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EIC) and child tax credits. True to its name, it’s free — but few peoples’ taxes are truly basic, and this tier doesn’t cover as many filers as competitors’ free options.
The TurboTax Deluxe edition includes everything the Free Edition does, plus mortgage and property tax deductions, charitable donations, student loan interest, education expenses and 1099-MISC income — i.e. earnings of an independent contractor like a freelance writer or Uber driver.
If freelance work is your sole source of income, you’ll be better off using the TurboTax Self-Employed edition, which is described below.
Cost: $40 for federal filing, plus $40 per state
TurboTax Premier includes everything you get in Deluxe, as well as coverage for tax deductions and credits for things like stock market and cryptocurrency investments, rental property income and refinancing deductions. It also has a feature that lets you auto-import your investment income reports.
Cost: $70 for federal filing, plus $40 per state
TurboTax Self-Employed helps you prepare tax returns with personal and business income, so it’s a fit for freelancers, independent contractors and small business owners.
This edition includes a host of features specifically designed for freelancers, such as:
Help finding deductions specific to your line of work.
The ability to import 1099-MISC forms with a quick photo.
Free access to Quickbooks Self Employed.
Access to a year-round tax estimator after filing.
Cost: $90 for federal filing, plus $40 per state
For each of the products above, TurboTax lets you upgrade to TurboTax Live to get on-demand answers and a line-by-line review of your taxes by a tax expert — CPA or EA.
Cost: TurboTax Live comes in tiers similar to its DIY products:
Basic costs $0, including free state filing.
Deluxe costs $90, plus $50 for state filing.
Premier costs $140, plus $50 for state filing.
Self-Employed costs $170, plus $50 for state filing.
Weighing your options for filing taxes? We’ve got you covered with an overview of all the best tax software.
No matter which tier works best for you — and there’s an easy, clickable questionnaire that helps you figure out the right product based on your tax situation — all TurboTax customers get access to a wide range of tools, guarantees and features.
Audit Support Guarantee
TurboTax guarantees the accuracy of your taxes and stands behind that promise with its Audit Support Guarantee, which grants you free access to the Audit Support Center.
If you’re audited by the IRS, you can access the support center to get free, live, one-on-one guidance with a tax professional, as well as year-round answers to your questions and assistance on what to expect and how to prepare. This service is not, however, a replacement for legal advice.
Money-Back Maximum Refund Guarantee
TurboTax guarantees you’ll get the biggest refund possible. If you tally up a larger refund (or similar tax liability) with another tax preparation service, TurboTax will refund your fee (or pay you $30 if you used the Free edition).
Mobile Apps for Apple and Android
TurboTax lets you file from your smartphone or tablet with popular and highly rated apps for both Android and iOS. You can use the app to track charitable donations and deductible expenses throughout the year.
If you need your money post-haste, TurboTax offers a refund advance of up to $3,000 of your expected federal tax refund with 0% interest and $0 loan fees. To be eligible, your expected refund must be at least $500.
If you’re eligible, you’ll get the funds within as little as three hours of the IRS accepting your tax return, loaded onto a Visa debit card. You’ll get the virtual card info, so you can spend online right away, and the physical card should come in the mail in five to 10 business days.
Once the IRS processes your federal return, your remaining refund amount will be loaded onto the same debit card. You don’t have the option to receive the rest of your refund in another form (e.g. direct deposited into your savings account).
TurboTax lets you pay your product and filing fees with your federal tax refund, meaning you never see an out-of-pocket cost for the service. There is, however, an additional fee for this option; most users report a charge of $39.99, though this price is subject to change.
To prepare and file your tax returns through TurboTax, you’ll pay a fee for the filing program or software, plus additional fees to file your state return. Here’s how that looks:
DIY online filing: Free to $90, depending on tier.
State filing fees: Additional $0 for free filing, $40 per state for paid DIY tiers, $50 per state for paid Live tiers.
TurboTax Live: Free to $170, depending on tier.
If you owe taxes after you file, you can pay through TurboTax’s payment processor via credit card or debit card for a convenience fee.
TurboTax also helps you pay via direct debit from your bank account for free. This is an option not all competitors offer; with other tax services, you’d have to go directly to the IRS to pay this way.
TurboTax: Pros and Cons
Now that we’ve laid out the basics of TurboTax’s features, what’s the verdict on its performance? Like all financial products and services, there are both pros and cons to using TurboTax.
Affordable: TurboTax’s tiers clock in at a lower price than similar tiers from competitors — though its free DIY service doesn’t cover as many filers as other options.
Ease of use: Filing with TurboTax is pretty comprehensive and user friendly, according to user reviews. Its technology simplifies the process — for example, you can automatically populate your tax forms by snapping photos of your W-2s.
Comprehensive: The company has a product available for just about every filer, no matter your income or tax situation, or how hands-on or hands-off you want to be.
Customer service: TurboTax offers lots of support, including links to extensive support topics as well as a community forum that lets you interact with other filers and tax experts in real time.
Overwhelming user experience: All those options mean TurboTax is super customizable. But sifting through them can feel kind of overwhelming. Its homepage tries to guide you to the right products based on your tax situation, but those can be confusing and make it tough to get an overview of products if you’re a comparison shopper.
Lack of transparency: Your total TurboTax fees aren’t totally clear until you actually go through the tax prep process. That could mean wasted time if you end up wanting to find a cheaper option.
No physical locations: TurboTax doesn’t offer in-person, brick-and-mortar offices like H&R Block. If face-to-face, personalized service is important to you, this isn’t your best option.
Who Is TurboTax Best For?
When it comes right down to it, most online tax preparation services are more alike than they are different.
TurboTax may be best for someone who wants custom tax help without going into an office and dealing with a live person. It’s also a good option if you’re looking for a truly fee-free line of advance tax credit so you can access your money ASAP.
Remember, you can always file for free, if you’re eligible, through the IRS portal. This service is available to filers who earned $72,000 or less (in 2020), and the page also links to free fillable forms for earners at all levels.
Still comparison shopping? Check out our reviews of H&R Block and TaxAct before you make a decision.
If your waterproof boots have sprung a leak, or your car doors keep freezing solid, don’t worry. We’ve gathered solutions for those and for 11 other cold weather problems you might have this winter.
Bruce and Jeanne Lubin
October 14, 2020
vanilla extract on your furnace’s filter. Your house’s heating system will do the rest of the work for you. To scent one particular area, take a small jar and place several cotton balls inside. Dab a few drops of vanilla extract onto the cotton balls. Before putting the cover on the jar, use a nail to puncture a few holes into it for your very own vanilla air freshener.
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Make it spicy
To easily deodorize your kitchen, put a cinnamon stick and other favorite spices (such as cloves or ginger) in a mug of water, and microwave it for 2 minutes. Remove the mug and set it on the counter so that the aroma can fill the kitchen. This trick is great for winter, when the scent of the spices will create a warm, cozy atmosphere.
Seal the door
Have a sliding glass door that’s rarely used during the winter? Seal it with duct tape to keep cold air from coming in.
SEE ALSO: Domestic CEO’s How to Make Your Home (and Everything in it) Smell Good
Winterize deck furniture
To keep your metal deck furniture free from rust and wear all winter long, reach for the petroleum jelly Just apply a thin layer (especially in areas where the furniture tends to rust) after cleaning the surface with simple soap and water.
Ease painful pads on pets
Many dogs love to play outside in the snow, but their paws can cause them pain if ice starts to build up between their pads. Before heading out for a winter walk, rub some petroleum jelly between each pad. The ice will stay away and your dog can enjoy the outdoors! If your poor pet’s pads are already cracked or dry, gently rub a little petroleum jelly into her pads while she’s sleeping.
Petroleum jelly is completely safe if your pet decides she wants to lick it off later.
Spray on a little D-fense.
Spray WD-40 in the lining of car doors. Doing this once in the beginning of the winter should keep your doors opening easily.
Baby powder to the rescue
Use baby powder or baking soda to absorb the moisture that collects on the rubber seal lining of your car door. Just wipe the weather strip with a dry cloth before sprinkling on the powder. Repeat every few days in the dead of winter to make sure you can always get into your car.
RELATED: Who Knew’s 7 Car Hacks for Winter Weather
Easy undercarriage cleaning
Don’t forget to clean under your car, especially if you live in an area where salt and ice assault in winter.
A trick for these hard-to-reach areas: Run a lawn sprinkler underneath the car and drive back and forth.
Block the lock
To keep your car’s door locks safe from ice during the cold winter months, place a refrigerator magnet over the lock. You can even take an old magnet (last year’s calendar from a local realtor, perhaps) and cut it into pieces that fit perfectly.
Brush to better lips
For lips that need a little extra TLC, especially in the winter, try this effective scrub. Mix together 2 teaspoons baking soda with enough lemon juice to make a paste. Gently scrub the mixture over your lips with a dry toothbrush for a minute or two, then rinse, and apply some petroleum jelly or your favorite lip balm.
Go crazy for cranberry
For a seasonal solution to chapped winter lips—and a great DIY gift idea for the holidays—try this cranberry lip balm! In a microwave-safe bowl, mix together 1 tablespoon avocado or almond oil, 10 fresh cranberries, 1 teaspoon honey, and 1 drop vitamin E oil (from a capsule). Microwave on high until the mixture begins to boil. Remove carefully as the bowl may be hot. Mash the berries with a fork and stir well to combine. After the mixture has cooled for 10 minutes, strain it into a small portable tin, making sure to remove all of the fruit pieces. Cool completely. You’ve made your own great-smelling lip balm!
If your favorite cashmere or angora sweater is looking a little worn, put it in a plastic bag and place it in the freezer for half an hour. The cold causes the fibers to expand, making your sweater look new again! Who knew there was such a thing as sweater cryogenics?
JUST FOR FUN: Savvy Psychologist’s How to Harness Light to Defeat Winter Blues
Your warmest boots
Make your winter boots a little warmer—and make sure they’re completely waterproof—by lining the bottom of the insides with duct tape. The tape will create a waterproof seal, and the shiny silver will reflect your body heat back onto your feet.
About the Author
Bruce and Jeanne Lubin
Bruce Lubin and Jeanne Bossolina-Lubin are the proud parents of three boys and more than a dozen books. After saving thousands per year using everyday tips and simple lifehacks, they started their own business in the hopes of sharing their knowledge with others. They have been known to go into their friends’ refrigerators to turn their eggs upside down so that they last longer.
Sometimes it’s hard to see the upside of harsh winter weather, especially when snow storms leave you stuck inside. However, you can take advantage of a snow day by using the opportunity to improve your home decor. Here are some simple DIY projects for when you’re snowed in. Ask your children to help out (safely) for family fun time that may add a bit of luxury to your living space.
Decorative Lampshade Add some pizzazz to a lampshade by gluing an inlaid paper cutout on its inner surface. Use a blade to cut a design from paper (either freehand or from a template), making sure to place a rubber mat down first to protect the surface underneath. With a mixture of 50% glue and 50% water, decoupage the paper cutout inside of the lampshade. Once it’s dry, turn the lamp on and admire the glowing design!
Fabric Wall Art If you have some bold print fabric, use it to create art that pops. All you’ll need to buy are wooden frames of varying sizes and a hot glue gun. Cut the fabric wide enough so that there will be two inches leftover when stretched across a frame. Cover, glue, and voila! Create a gallery wall to display your new pieces.
Hanging Planters If you have small planters in your indoor garden, consider hanging them for a fun look that will free up surface space. Simply drill two small holes close to the top edge of the planter. Make sure they’re exactly opposite from one another. Knot a thin but sturdy rope or twine inside each of the holes so you can hang them from a hook. Tip: Install the hook near a window so your plant can still get the sunlight it needs.
Memory Table Memory tables are a great way to personalize your home. You’ll need a deep photo display and a similar sized coffee table. Using a strong wood glue, adhere the back of the photo display to the table. You can now place objects in the display to create a sentimental scene. Try using objects that are cohesive, such as trinkets and photos from a memorable family trip. You may want to glue the objects in place so they are not disturbed when the table is moved.
If you keep one (or more) of these projects in mind for your next snow day, getting snowed in might not seem so bad!