Did I Qualify for Self-Employment Tax Deductions?

Did I Qualify for Self-Employment Tax Deductions?

Although I have been working for myself, I still feel like a dunce when it comes to taxes. Everyone knows the American tax code is one of the most complex systems in the world. So, you can understand why it ratchets up my anxiety every year as I prepare to file. Now that I’m managing my business’ accounts as well, it’s even more panic-inducing. I have spent countless hours reading up on what the self-employed should know. However, I still continually ask myself “Did I qualify for other self-employment tax deductions?” or “Did I miss something important?”

Whenever I have basic finance questions, I find it hard to ask my peers. So, I hold my tongue for fear of looking stupid. As much as I’d like to avoid the subject altogether, I know I can’t. Therefore, I turn to online resources and libraries to learn what I need to know. Then, I ask my financial advisor more questions after I have a basic grasp of things. Here’s what I’ve learned about self-employment taxes so far.

What is the Self-Employment Tax?

When I started my own business, I went straight to Investopedia to read up on all the tax codes and deductions that applied to me. Now that I was working for myself, my federal taxes would no longer be deducted from my paycheck. Although I expected to pay a decent amount of money in taxes, I wasn’t sure how much it would undercut my earnings.

As a freelancer, the IRS views me as both the company and the employee. Unfortunately, that means I am responsible for paying both portions of Medicaid and Social Security taxes. When combined, the self-employment tax is 15.3%. While this seems like a shocking number, I discovered that there were self-employment tax deductions that I qualified for.

However, there were also a few restrictions and rules about Covid relief measures that you should also know if you are self-employed:

  1. Anyone who earns more than $400 in earnings from self-employment must pay the tax.
  2. For the Social Security tax, this rate only applies to the first $142,800 of your net income. However, there is no income limit for the Medicare tax.
  3. Half the self-employment tax is deductible. Although the full 15.3% is charged on the business’ profits, the “employee” portion qualifies as a deductible expense.
  4. If you deferred paying the “employer” portion under the CAREs Act, 50% of those taxes were due December 31, 2021. The additional 50% must be paid by December 31, 2022.
  5. Even though you don’t have a withholding tax, you must schedule quarterly estimated payments. Otherwise, you’ll be facing a hefty bill when you file your tax return.

Do I Qualify for Self-Employment Tax Deductions?

The short answer is yes. However, it was up to me to find out exactly which deductions I could claim. What’s included in the list of “business expenses” is wide open to interpretation. While some things are clear, other expenses fall into gray areas.  So, I took some time to review the most common deductions and speak with people I know who are also self-employed.

Based on all my usual sources, I came up with a lengthy list of the most common deductions. They included:

  • the self-employment tax deduction
  • home office
  • office supplies
  • utilities, internet, and phone bills
  • health  and business insurance premiums
  • travel
  • vehicle use
  • meals
  • interest from your loans
  • subscriptions and publications
  • education
  • rent
  • start-up costs
  • advertising
  • retirement contributions

As you can see, some of these categories can lead to more questions. Differentiating your personal and business expenses could become quite complicated. However, I usually revert to the KISS method and keep it simple. Based on my initial assessment, these are the self-employment tax deductions I will qualify for this year.

My Self-Employment Tax Deductions for 2021

Social Security and Medicare Tax

The most common deduction is the “employer” portion of the self-employment tax that you must pay. Although I paid the full 15.3% of the business’ profits, I can claim half of it as a business expense. So, even though you pay a higher percentage in taxes if you work for yourself, this deduction means it will cost less than I initially thought. And, I won’t have to itemize to claim it either.

Office Supplies/Equipment

The next largest deduction would qualify under offices supplies or equipment. My beloved laptop finally gave up the ghost this year. After taking it to a computer repair shop and paying for the diagnostic, I broke down and finally bought myself a new one.

Since my laptop is the lifeline of my business, I knew I couldn’t skimp on this business expense. Fortunately, it happened just before Black Friday. I found some great deals and saved about $250. However, it still set me back about $750 with all the programs and licenses I needed to purchase as well. But you can be certain I saved all my receipts!

Home Office

Although I never claimed this deduction in the past, my living situation has changed. Rather than working as a digital nomad, I now have a home office. Not only do I regularly use this space for business purposes, but it is also my primary workspace. Since it qualifies under the IRS definition, I plan to include it on this year’s return.

However, I have to calculate the percentage of our house’s total square footage to determine how much I can deduct. Since it accounts for approximately 5% of the home’s total square footage, we can deduct 5% of housing expenses for the year.

Phone and Internet Bills

In the same line of thought, if you use your cell phone or internet connection for business, you can also claim it as a self-employment tax deduction. If the line is dedicated for business only, you can claim the full amount. Otherwise, you would need to calculate the percentage of usage that you use for business. In my case, it is split between my personal use as well. Only about 25% of my bill will qualify for the deduction.

Qualified Business Income (QBI)

This last deduction is new to me. So, I still plan to discuss it with my CPA to determine if I can claim the qualified business income deduction. It’s relatively new and set to expire in 2025, so I’d like to take advantage while I can. Under this deduction, single filers with total taxable income less than $164,900 and joint filers under $329,800 qualify for a 20% deduction on your taxable business income. Since most of my earnings are “pass-through income,” I should be eligible for this huge deduction.

As a new business owner, I’ve realized why it’s important to review what qualifies for self-employment tax deductions to maximize your profits. You may find unexpected deductions that can help you keep more of your hard-earned money.

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What to Do When the IRS Rejects Your Payment

What to Do When the IRS Rejects Your Payment

I can only speak for myself, but when given the choice of dental surgery or filing taxes, I would probably opt for the former. Every year when the tax filing deadline approaches, I fill with a sense of dread. Even when I receive a refund, I still hate doing the paperwork. However, this year a friend of mine had even more reason for her feelings of loathing towards the IRS. While she did her due diligence, she received notification that she owed money. She was about to find out what happens when the IRS rejects your tax payment.

The IRS Rejection Letter

This week, a friend of mine came across an unusual tax problem. Like a good citizen, she filed her taxes before the deadline (however, in the eleventh hour). Using Turbo Tax, she e-filed her return and indicated that she wanted to make a payment electronically. But, she only received confirmation that her return had been accepted, not that the payment had been taken.

Understanding that it takes time for the IRS to process these things, she waited for the money to be withdrawn from her account. Two weeks later, the money remained there untouched. Wondering if something went wrong, a slight panic was beginning to set in. Finally, she received notice from the IRS telling her they could not locate her account. Although she had used the same account for previous payments, the IRS could not accept her tax payment.

Tracking Down the IRS Rejection

The fact that the IRS rejected her payment was the most puzzling thing. The account had sufficient funds and had been used for other purchases just that week. So, there should have been no issues making a tax payment. However, the letter informed my friend of her failure to pay, listing “No Account/Unable to Locate Account” as the reason. This seemed vague and unclear, so we called the helpline at the number they provided to figure out what went wrong.

We didn’t have to wait long to speak with an agent who cheerfully identified herself and answered all our questions. She sounded as if she had encountered this problem before and helped shed some light on the situation. Apparently, a number or character from the e-file forms didn’t match the information on the account exactly. When it is unable to verify personal information through the automated system, the IRS rejects your tax payment.

How to Pay the IRS after It Rejects Your Payment

One positive thing I can say about the IRS is that they make it very easy for you to pay them. They provide several ways to contact them online, by phone, or by mail. The letters from the state and federal government informing my friend of failure to pay also came with detailed instructions. Each one outlined where to make payments, step-by-step.

Making Payments Online

There are two separate websites where you can pay your outstanding debt to the IRS. The first is directly through their website at irs.gov/payments. From there you can choose to pay with debit, credit, or direct pay from your bank account. However, be warned that you must pay a convenience fee for both credit and debit payments. There are no fees for the direct pay option, but you will need your account and routing number to complete the transaction.

The second option is through the Treasury Department’s Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) site. Once you have enrolled and received confirmation, you can pay all taxes due using this system. They will also verify accounts or update the bank information for the account you want to use. Enrollment is free, and you can terminate it after you finish using it.

Making Payments by phone

The next option you have when the IRS rejects your payment is by phone. Although the information wasn’t included with the federal notification, the state revenue service provided a dedicated line for Taxpayer’s Assistance at (800) 742-7474. I followed the automated prompts which directed me to the specified lines to pay federal income, state income, and property taxes. As with online payments, credit and debit payments will require a convenience fee. However, in just a few minutes you can get your taxes paid and be free of the burden.

Mailing Payments

The last option is best for those who prefer the tried-and-true methods of paying your taxes. You can send a check or money order addressed to ‘United States Treasury’ to the following address:

Internal Revenue Service

PO Box 1211

Charlotte, NC 28201-1211

If you decide to mail your payment, be sure to include your tax ID (either your Employer Identification Number or Social Security Number), the tax form number, and the time period your payment is for.

Further Assistance When the IRS Rejects Your Payment

There is no shortage in the ways available to pay your taxes. Not only is it secure, but also fairly efficient. That is if all you need to do is make a payment. If you are seeking a refund or need to speak with an agent, you will need to call e-file Payment Services at 1-888-353-4537 to make payment plans or discuss specific problems. I didn’t have to wait long to speak to a representative. However, it was only a general helpline. So, the agent gave me yet another number to call.

To resolve the problem of the undeserved returned payment fee, my friend will have to dispute the charge. Although you might not think it worth your time to dispute a $20, you can pursue it on principle. If you choose to go this route, there is a dedicated line for IRS Customer Support at (800) 829-1040. If you call between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. you can submit your claim and attempt to refund the penalty fees.

Even though technology has made filing taxes much simpler and less daunting, it still makes mistakes. However, if you encounter a similar situation, you can rest assured that the IRS has people on hand to help you pay your taxes.

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The IRS Extends the Tax Deadline for 2021

The IRS Delays the Tax Deadline for 2021

Every American knows what April 15th means, and if you are like me, dreads the day every year. However, this year the IRS announced that it would delay the IRS tax filing deadline for the second consecutive year. Although it is not as long as the previous extension, this year taxpayers have until May 17 to complete their returns and pay outstanding levies. Many are grateful to have the extra time to sort through the confusion caused by the pandemic, including the IRS itself. But the most important question is…how will the extension affect you?

IRS Tax Deadline Delayed to May 17

The IRS just announced that taxpayers have till May 17 this year to file their returns. That means you have an extra 32 days to complete your paperwork or consult with your financial advisor about your taxes. If you are mailing it in, you must postmark it by midnight to avoid penalties. For those filing online, you will receive an electronic acknowledgement by email once you complete it.

This delay only applies for the year of 2020. For individual taxpayers, including those who are self-employed, first quarter estimated payments are still due on the regularly scheduled dates. Furthermore, it will not affect anyone who already applied for the October 15 extension.

Reasons for the Delayed Tax Deadline

The American government recognizes that the last year has been full of financial uncertainties for everyone. So, the IRS delayed the tax filing deadline for 2020 to provide extra time to “navigate the unusual circumstances related to the pandemic.” Since many taxpayers are dealing with filing questions they have never encountered before, both accountants and lawmakers called for an extension of the IRS tax filing deadline as well. As many prepare their returns, there will be many lingering questions that will require guidance from the IRS.

However, if you have tried contacting someone at the IRS, you likely had to wait a very long time to talk to someone. This is due to the fact that their operations have been severely scaled back. And let’s not forget that in addition to its usual workload, it has also been issuing the next round of stimulus checks as well. In short, its offices have been understaffed and overwhelmed.

The extension of the deadline gives the IRS more time to process the massive amount of paperwork and calls they are handling. Not only will there be more complicated returns this year, but the IRS is also still processing remaining returns from 2019. There are an estimated 24 million returns still waiting to be logged. Furthermore, there is also an increased number of refinanced mortgages, estate, trust, and final returns. With new changes in the tax laws taking effect from December 27, 2020, this year is shaping up to become one of the most trying years for the IRS in recent memory.

How the Tax Deadline Affects You

No actions are required to take advantage of the new deadline. Every taxpayer automatically qualifies for the extension. Therefore, you will have an extra month to sort through the confusion and straighten out any problems you come across. Whether you are dealing with stimulus payments or waiting for updated forms, the extension offers you some breathing room. It also allows more time to raise funds you owe or get professional advice if necessary. This is especially good news for small business owners and the self-employed who have been among the hardest hit this tax season.

Claiming Exemptions and Deductions

Others are waiting to receive updated forms to ensure they file correctly under the new changes. For some, this means this will have to resubmit returns to claim additional deductions or exemptions. One of the most significant changes is the exemption for up to $10,200 of jobless benefits. Keep in mind this only applies at the federal level. Each state will have their own laws they determine on a case by case basis. While most are likely to adjust their deadlines as well, you should monitor the situation so you do not end up filing late if your state does not extend it.

Missing Stimulus Payments

There is another good piece of those who need to address issues with their stimulus payments. If you never received your stimulus checks, or need to contest the amount deposited, now is your chance. You can claim the missing funds on your 2020 tax return.

If the IRS owes you money, you will need to find the Recovery Rebate Credit. You can find it listed on line 30 of the 1040 and 1040-SR Forms. This line lets you claim the missing checks or the discrepancy in the amount actually deposited. Once you enter this information, it will either increase your refund or deduct from any money you owe the IRS.

Future Extensions

Another thought on everyone’s minds is if the IRS will consider additional extensions as the pandemic continues. The IRS has the authority to extend the deadline even further without Congressional approval though if they deem it necessary. Last year taxpayers had until July 15 to file. However, this caused many difficulties for businesses whose fiscal year ended June 30.  So, when it comes to the question of a similar extension this year, your guess is as good as anyone’s. Although it does not appear to be necessary at this time, it is definitely a possibility.

It is important to note that even if you file for a longer extension, you must still pay 90% what is owed by May 17 or face late payment penalties. The new filing date does not exempt you from paying taxes, but rather delays the inevitable. As the IRS finishes distributing stimulus checks and processing tax returns, they still urge you not to wait. They have even issued guidelines to help speed everything along so you can get your money faster. Deadlines have a tendency to creep up on you, so do not wait until the last minute or count on additional extensions to file your 2020 tax returns.

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The Third Stimulus Check

The Third Stimulus Check

Just before his inauguration, President Biden released his contingency plan to ease the country through the next phase of the coronavirus pandemic.  The far-reaching American Rescue Plan seeks to “provide critical support to struggling communities.” This includes direct funding to every eligible citizen. On the heels of receiving the second one, there is already talk of a third stimulus check. As part of the relief plan, every eligible person would receive another check to help counteract the economic impact from Covid-19. However, eligibility requirements may be changing. While there is strong support for a relief package on both sides of the aisle, it has yet to be approved.

What is Included in the Third Stimulus Plan?

The extensive (and expensive) $1.9 trillion relief package intends to direct funding to those most impacted by the pandemic. First and foremost, each eligible person would receive another relief payment of up to $1,400. However, the third stimulus check is just one part of the larger relief plan. It expands tax credits, paid leave, unemployment benefits, and provides financial assistance to renters and landlords. In addition, Biden’s plan also extends the moratorium on eviction and the freeze on federal student loans through September.

Other funding is earmarked for measures to contain the spread of Covid-19. Biden’s major objective is to expedite testing and the national rollout for the vaccine. Since we are far behind the initial goal to vaccinate 100 million people by the end of 2020, his aim is 100 million jabs in his first 100 days in office. Furthermore, the plan allocates more state and local funding to reopen schools safely and subsidize health coverage.

Although his plan is ambitious, you can expect pushback from lawmakers over the budget. The opposition wants a more targeted proposal to reduce costs. Some politicians want lower income thresholds so less people receive a stimulus check. Others say it is not enough and are still fighting for the original amount of $2000 which was discussed before Trump left office. While everyone can agree that immediate action must be taken, the application and allocation of resources remains a controversial topic.

Who is Eligible for the Third Stimulus Check?

Chances are that if Congress approves the plan, you will receive a third check if you already got the first two. However, there may be some changes in the eligibility requirements. Some politicians are proposing to change the upper income limit of $75,000 to reduce government spending. Unfortunately, this means less people would qualify the third time around.

On the other hand, Biden’s plan seeks to expand the definition of dependent eligibility to include anyone over 17. This would add an additional $600 for adult dependents such as college students, elderly, and those with disabilities. Families who have mixed citizenship status in their household may also become eligible. If there are delays in approving the proposal, this will likely be one of the deciding factors.

When Will We Be Getting the Third Stimulus Check?

Although it is likely that eligible Americans will receive a third stimulus check, don’t go spending the money just yet. There are still a lot of unanswered questions and negotiations ahead. The first two stimulus checks have helped a lot of people keep food on the table, but never count your chickens before they hatch.

It will be a difficult road to getting the approval needed to pass the relief package. Congress will be hesitant to spend an additional $1.9 trillion after passing the $900 billion last month. It could be several weeks or months before we see any additional relief payments. Therefore, it is better to focus on what is going on in your own house rather than the White House. Instead, if the third check comes along, view it as supplemental income to help you catch up on bills and stay out of debt.

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Which States Do Not Tax Retirement Income?

Choosing where to retire will be one of the most important decisions you make. One factor that impacts this decision is local taxation law. How much your retirement income is taxed may have you considering a move in your golden years. After a little research, you will soon learn that local taxation varies greatly from state to state. In fact, there are some states that don’t tax retirement income at all. Here are a few financial factors you should include when choosing where to put down roots in your retirement years.

States That Don’t Tax Personal Income

If you want to maximize you savings during retirement, there are currently nine states that don’t tax retirement or personal income. Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming do not have income taxes. However, New Hampshire and Tennessee do tax dividends and interest for the time being. But, both states have plans to phase out these taxes. Tennessee will see these changes in 2021 while New Hampshire will phase it out by 2025.

States That Don't Tax Income

 

Taxation of Retirement Income by State

The taxation laws and treatment of retirement income in the remaining states vary greatly. Therefore, you should familiarize yourself with the local laws before you make any decisions.  Some states will allow partial exemptions for pensions and social security income. However, others will tax the entire amount of your retirement income. If you are unsure how local tax laws in your state apply to Social Security benefits, you can read more here.

Pension Exemption

If you live in Illinois, Mississippi, or Pennsylvania, then there is some good news! These states exempt all your pension income from taxes. Although, this 0nly applies to qualified individuals.

Partial Exemptions and Credits

Another common structure for tax on retirement income is to allow a partial exemption or provide a credit for part of your pension income. If you settle in one of the following states, you will receive some relief since these states don’t tax your full retirement income: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.

An alternative structuring in other states is when pension income is tax included. This applies to residents of Arizona, California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia.

The Most Tax-Friendly States for Retirees

Tax Friendly States

In 2019, Kiplinger compiled a list comparing the tax burden for retirees state by state. To complete the analysis, they used the same hypothetical household as the constant variable.  The purpose is to compare how the burden of income, property and sales tax varied across the country.

The rankings are based on a family of four with a yearly income of $150,000 and $10,000 in dividends. Additionally, Kiplinger included $10,000 in mortgage interest on a home valued at $400,000. It then applied each state’s local income tax to these figures. Based on these metrics, here are the top 10 states that are the most tax-friendly towards retirees:

1. Wyoming
2. Nevada
3. Delaware
4. Alabama
5. South Carolina
6. Tennessee
7. Mississippi
8. Florida
9. Georgia
10. Arizona

Keep in mind that these rankings are based on a hypothetical model. Although, it may be different for your personal financial situation. If you are considering a move in your retirement years, be sure to do your homework. Lastly, don’t be afraid to seek out professional advice to help you plan for retirement. Choosing where to retire is a huge decision. Moreover, it is not one that should be made lightly. Moving to one of the states that don’t tax retirement income could help stretch your retirement savings through your golden years.

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Should You Roll Over A Retirement Plan Distribution

retirement plan redistribution

Different circumstances arise that call for one to rollover their retirement plan. You may be left with little time and tough decisions to make. The decisions you make on whether you rollover your retirement plan and how you rollover your retirement plan distribution can have profound effects on several areas of your life, including how much you are taxed. Whether or not you rollover your distribution is not a decision to be taken lightly.  Continue reading

How to Lower Your Taxes in the Winter

Winter time can hike up the bills in both expected and unexpected ways. From heating to winter clothes, the costs climb as the temperature drops. However, there are many advantages to winter time which could help in reducing your taxes. Continue reading

2018 Roth IRA Contribution Limits

2018 Roth IRA Contribution Limits

We all know that we should be saving for retirement.  Whether you have a 401k, a pension, or an IRA, retirement accounts give individuals great tax breaks to help them prepare for their golden years.  It is often reported that people misjudge how much they will need in retirement.  The rule of thumb for a long time has been you need your retirement income to supplement 80% of your income when you were working; however, this number is different for everyone based on a number of factors.  One thing is certain.  Maxing out your retirement accounts never hurts.  For 2017, the IRA contribution limits stayed the same as they were in 2016.  You could contribute up to $5,500 towards your IRA, and if you were 50 or older you can contribute an additional $1,000 bringing your total yearly contribution limit to $6,500.  The 2018 Roth IRA contribution limits won’t be released until October of this year, but we can speculate what they might be.

Each year, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) sets the income and contribution limits for IRA’s.  The last year that the IRS raise the contribution limit was for the tax year of 2013.  The contribution amounts for traditional and Roth IRA’s are the same each year.  They are evaluated and raised based on inflation.  The IRS will raise contribution limits in increments of $500.  This means that the next time they are raised, people under the age of 50 will be able to contribute a maximum of $6,000 a year to their IRA, while people over the age of 50 will be able to most likely contribute $7,000 a year.  In order for this raise in contribution limits to take place, inflation would need to be around 9% over a period of time for this to occur.

9% of $5,500 = $495

This would be near the $500 increment level the IRS would like to see to raise the contribution limits.

Since the last time the IRS raised contribution limits in 2013, inflation has risen by about 6.5% based on data tables.  This means that another 2.5% increase in inflation would be needed for the IRS to raise the contribution limits for traditional and Roth IRA’s.  With all of this being said, the most likely scenario is that 2018 Roth IRA contribution limits will remain unchanged.  A more likely scenario would be a raise in the contribution limits for 2019.

Despite the fact that the 2018 Roth IRA contribution limits won’t change, the IRS will still probably change some limits.  The limit they will change, and almost always do, is the income limits associated with eligibility for participation in IRA’s.  For 2017, the IRS raised the income phase-out limit to $118,000 for single earners and $186,000 for married, joint filling earners, raises of $1,000 and $2,000 respectively.

There are still many months to wait until the IRS reveals their 2018 Roth IRA contribution limits.  An increase in the limit would allow individuals to save an additional $500 a year in a tax-advantaged account.  Although an increase is doubtful, we can still remain hopeful.

Budget Smart, Invest Wise

One Easy Way to Slash Taxes

Slash Taxes

Reduce your taxes and increase your savings.  Sounds almost a little too good to be true right?

It’s possible, it’s easy, and I just did it and so can you.

Today is the final day for you to file your taxes for this year.  Did you pay more in taxes than you would have liked?  Do you want to lower your tax bill for next year?  If so, then here is how to do it:

Increase your 401k contribution to your company’s plan.  What percentage of your salary are you contributing to your 401k currently?  Bump it up.  By increasing your pre-tax 401k contribution to your plan you are in effect reducing the amount of income you take home, thus reducing your tax burden.

I recently increased my pre-tax contribution percentage by 8% and found that I will save roughly $1700 this year on my taxes.  It’s that simple.  Increase your savings, reduce your tax burden.  This offers 3 key benefits.

Benefit 1:

You lower the amount of taxes you will be paying for the year.

Benefit 2:

You increase the amount of savings you will have at retirement.  The more you save now, the more you will have later.

Benefit 3:

Because you don’t see the additional money you put into your 401k plan on your paycheck, you won’t spend it, and most likely you won’t miss it.

 

Budget Smart, Invest Wise