Each year, millions of Americans scramble to locate every receipt, form, pay stub, and scrap of documentation they need to maximize their income tax refunds, or at least minimize the amount that they owe to the United States government on April 15.
If this sounds like you today doing your taxes for the 2020 tax year, it’s time to adopt a new way to prepare for the 2021 tax year now.
According to Turbo Tax, the best way to maintain a good record of receipts and expenses is to handle them regularly, so you can avoid tracking down months-old materials. They recommend color-coded folders in an easy-to-access location. Folders might include home and office expenses, vehicle expenses and mileage, education costs, child care expenses, medical expenses, and other items, such as charitable donations, work uniform purchase and cleaning costs (for work-only attire), and work-related expenses. Turbo Tax also recommends that you scan each receipt and maintain both electronic and paper copies.
If the multi-folder system sounds like too much hassle, The Motley Fool recommends a simpler three-folder tax filing system.
Folder number one: Income. Log every penny you earn on a sheet in this folder. Store other related documents, like 1099 and W-2 forms in this folder as well.
Folder number two: Expenses and deductions. If you choose to itemize your deduction instead of taking the standard deduction that Uncle Sam offers to most taxpayers, you’ll need to maintain a file of every receipt, mortgage statement, investment-related expense, medical bill, child care costs, and other employment-related expenses. Be careful, though: This folder can get fat in a hurry, so it may be worth your time to organize it into more sub-folders or use envelopes for each expense category.
Folder number three: Investments. Use this folder for statements, purchase receipts, sales confirmations, year-end overviews, and dividend notices. You’ll probably want to create sub-folders for deductible/tax-deferred investments, non-deductible investments, and taxable investments.
Maintaining a year-round system for tax documents may sound annoying, but it pays off big. In 2015, taxpayers left about $1.4 billion in tax refunds on the table with failure to file returns and other tax mishaps, according to CNBC. With a little planning and experimentation you can save the frantic search of tax season — and maybe even get a bigger return.
Shoplifting goes online
Google shoplifting, then read past the first page of results.
You’ll see stories about shoplifting gangs targeting stores all over the country, and nobody is really sure why. One author says it’s a ‘howl of grief.’ A Texas lawman says it is big business. Others say it just offers a big thrill.
But when dozens of people clad in ski masks looted a Nordstrom last November, was it just for the thrill?
According to the National Retail Federation, shoplifting caused $50 billion in losses to storefront retailers in 2020.
In San Francisco, Walgreens said shoplifting was the primary reason it closed five of its 53 stores. Bloomberg reported that the actual cause may have been slower pandemic traffic (or looting) and they said the stores didn’t report such incidents to police.
San Francisco famously passed a law in 2014 that reduced shoplifting to a misdemeanor crime if the stolen items totaled $950 or less, but recently Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed a bill that allows prosecutors to press felony charges against participants in shoplifting gangs if the theft totals more than $500, according to the New York Times.
But is there something different going on today than in the past?
Organized gangs have always had to become retailers themselves. It was a lot of work, but the work is easier now.
These days, some thieves have elevated their game — literally. In Katy, Texas, police raided a home with a freight elevator that moved 55 pallets of stolen Home Depot goods worth $5 million. The goods were sold on Amazon, according to The Wall Street Journal.
In fact, online retailing, especially on Amazon, makes it a lot easier for thieves to steal and sell their goods. Police in San Francisco found a couple who actually acted as a wholesaler, moving $8 million in stolen goods to sketchy Amazon sellers. According to MarketWatch, the average shoplifting incident nets $750 at small stores and $300 at large ones. To accumulate $8 million in goods would mean thousands of hits to stores — and a lot of dedication from more than one person.
Putting words to racial justice
Like no other leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. demanded a better nation, one committed to eliminating the scourge of racism through nonviolent resistance.
During his years of activism in the 1950s and 1960s, his genius was to adapt the lessons of civil disobedience to America’s core values of justice and fairness. His eloquence, combined with his unbreakable dedication to a righteous cause, helped harness peoples’ fury and turn it into action.
King did not invent nonviolent protest. He studied India’s famed nonviolent protester Mahatma Gandhi’s methods and borrowed from the teachings of Jesus. What made King a miraculous leader was that he not only understood the morality of nonviolent social change, he translated ideals into action.
He was a patriot. The Black freedom struggle, he argued while referencing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, was a way to a stronger republic. It became hard to disagree with his message.
King kept the economic basis for the cause front and center and urged Black Americans to use their dollars to push for change. Businesses were forced to recognize the purchasing power of Black customers when they boycotted public buses and refused to buy cars or groceries or clothing from hostile retailers.
By the time King was assassinated in 1968, Wall Street was hiring its first Black bankers and President Lyndon B. Johnson had signed the Civil Rights Act. The changes King helped to set in motion are still at work and progressing today.
How to determine if you need a new credit card
Are you wondering if switching to a different credit card might be worthwhile? If so, here are a few things to do before you decide.
Evaluate your needs
Over time, your needs can change. For example, if you presently have financial difficulties, it might be a good idea to replace your current credit card with one that has a lower interest rate. Additionally, you may want to get a new credit card if you’re currently sharing one with someone else. If you have your own, it’ll help you build your credit rating.
Compare the rewards
Many credit cards offer rewards. Depending on your spending habits, you may prefer a card that offers travel rewards or cashback. Make sure you understand how the point redemption system works and what categories of purchases allow you to earn the most points.
Consider the added benefits
Banks are always on the lookout for new customers. Therefore, they regularly offer promotions and incentives to people who sign on to use their products. These deals might include travel insurance, concierge service, cashback, a free flight, or a hotel stay.
If you decide to get a new credit card, it’s a good idea to make a list of your priorities and monthly expenses before you choose one. This way you’ll be able to identify the card that best meets your needs.
Church cemetery wrought iron fence history recently revealed
No one knew the date the wrought iron fence was installed on the east side of the Stephens City United Methodist Church (SCUMC) cemetery grounds. It is believed the iron gate served the third church as the entrance to the SCUMC cemetery. Eighty feet of the iron fence remains today and church elders wanted to ascertain when it was manufactured. We do know that an American wire fence bordered most of the cemetery in the 1930s through the 60s and still exists on the north side.
On this site, construction of a log meeting house began in 1788 and was completed in 1789. The cemetery was established in 1790 and the oldest tombstone dates to 1809 and the newest to 1906. The log meeting house served until 1827 when it was torn down and replaced with a brick one on the same site. During the Civil War, the church suffered considerable damage as the sanctuary was used as a hospital to treat both federal and confederate wounded soldiers. The 1827 church sanctuary was repaired after the war, but eventually the church was considered “unsafe” and “uncomfortable” for worship. In 1882, the congregation replaced the 1827 building with a more spacious facility on the same site. It was noted at the time that the foundation of the old log church could be seen when the 1827 building was demolished.
I discovered two ornate old wrought iron corner fence posts (in the photo above) buried near the 120-year-old elm tree that was cut down in February 2020 to make way for an expanded children’s play area. Fences around cemeteries, especially wrought iron fences, served both practical and otherworldly purposes. In terms of practicality, wrought iron fences were placed around a cemetery to prevent wild animals from entering the grounds and digging up recently buried human remains. Our Colonial ancestors wanted to be assured that the remains of their loved ones would be well intact for their resurrection on Judgment Day, so they erected sturdy and gated wrought iron fences with spear tipped bars.
Wrought iron fences were also placed around cemeteries to protect the living from the spirits of the dead. People believed that the ghosts of their dead loved ones could follow them from the cemetery if preventative measures were not made. Iron was believed to ward off both benign and evil spirits. Just as it was believed that spirits could not cross water, so it was believed that they could not move through or past iron. If you have ever seen an iron fence that has the upper portion of its bars pointed in towards the cemetery — rather than away from the grounds — you can be assured it was constructed that way to ward off spirits.
Wrought iron (sometimes called puddled or charcoal iron) is the traditional material of the blacksmith. It is a mixture of nearly pure iron and can resist corrosion, is not brittle and seldom breaks. It is soft, relatively malleable and easily worked. As a result, it is often found as delicate artwork.
According to Sandra Bosley, executive director of Preservation of Historic Winchester, the gate decoration appeared to be similar to the 1880 “Buckeye” wrought iron fence. Bosley virtually visited the remnants of the wrought iron fence for some historical investigation. The eighty feet of fence fortunately retained the gate, which is one of the most likely places to find a manufacturer’s mark or other distinguishing maker characteristics. This gate was by far the most distinctive Bosley had the pleasure of examining, with an elaborate crest on the top with crossed halberds, heraldic sea snakes, and scroll-like decorative flourishes around the central finial. Although the label where the maker’s mark should be was long worn away by time, the gate design alone was unique enough that Bosley could say with relative certainty it was a “Buckeye” wrought iron fence from the 1880s.
Naturally, having found such a distinctive architectural piece but never having heard of it before, it seemed like a good time for Bosley to do a little more investigation into the parent company. Buckeye fences were just one of the products produced by Mast, Foos & Company. Although founding dates have been contradictory, Bosley was inclined to believe the company was founded in 1876 by Phineas P. Mast and John Foos in Springfield, Ohio, after Mast had undertaken earlier ventures in buggy and farm implements. In addition to the Buckeye fence, the company also produced wind engines, force pumps, lawn mowers, and lawn sprinklers. The company existed for almost 100 years after various acquisitions and remains well-known in Springfield, Ohio, particularly as Phineas P. Mast helped to found the local historical society.
The late historian Mildred Lee Grove’s grandfather, Milton Boyd Steele was a Stephens City resident and a devout Methodist and Sunday School teacher. I am speculating that Mr. Steele, who was in the mercantile trade, had a long-time business relationship with Mast & Foos and recommended that the Methodist church purchase their fence from that company in 1882.
What in the world is a crypto wallet?
If you’re into investing, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of bitcoin and other so-called cryptocurrencies. Investing in and safely storing bitcoins and other crypto coins can be intimidating, especially if you’re not tech-savvy. However, with the right crypto wallets, or bitcoin wallets as they are sometimes called, trading coins is easy and generally safe.
The total value of all cryptocurrencies has surged past $2 trillion, up from $200 billion in 2019. Bitcoin retailed for less than $10,000 per coin through most of 2019 but has surged past $50,000 in recent weeks, according to statista.com. Other coins, such as Ethereum and Binance Coin are gaining market share and value as well.
Cryptocurrencies are typically encrypted and use a mix of public keys to record and track transactions, and private keys to restrict control and access. Keys are simply a long string of letters, numbers, and symbols, sort of like a large, randomized password.
Public keys allow users to create addresses where money can be sent to. Private keys essentially act as the lock and control mechanism for a specific coin. Someone who has a private key can take control of the coin. The private key is a piece of data that proves you own the right to a specific bitcoin or another crypto coin.
A crypto wallet is typically a software solution that you can use to store both public and private keys. With the public key, people can send you cryptocurrencies, meaning they can pay you. And if you know someone else’s public key, you can pay them.
As for private keys, a wallet will help you keep private keys secure. You can set passwords and other authentication methods to restrict access to your wallet. So long as the private keys and your wallet’s login information remain hidden, your cryptocurrencies are typically safe.
The once-a-year to-do
What should you try to accomplish in 2022? Goals don’t have to all be mountains, but when we plan the little, necessary things, it can make our lives easier, save money and free up our time and mental energy for the big things we’d rather focus on.
* Get your wheels checked. Properly aligned wheels save money on repairs later.
* Replace your smoke detector batteries. It takes a few minutes at most and can save your life in a fire.
* Call “the guy.” You should get your HVAC system, roof, appliances, and pipes inspected regularly to prevent little problems from turning into huge, expensive repairs later.
* Get your teeth, skin, and eyes checked. Talk to your doctor about any other regular recommended checkups.
* Take your pets to the veterinarian. Pets need checkups too, as well as annual vaccinations and blood work to identify any potential problems.
* Clean out your closets. Get rid of old stuff that you don’t wear anymore and make room for new things that you actually like.
* Take a deep dive into your finances. Are you meeting your savings goals? Is there an unnecessary expense that can be trimmed?
* Do something for yourself. Go on a trip, build and renew your connections with others, do things that make you happy. Think of it as a bill that comes due every month or so, and if you don’t pay up, you’ll regret it.