Dear Liz:I have a garage full of old financial records. I believe I need to keep only seven years of information for tax purposes. Is that correct? However, I have decades of receipts on house repairs and improvements since I believe there is some cumulative tax credit that might someday be important. Also, I have kept receipts on personal and household purchases in case of a loss that required an insurance claim. Am I keeping too much paper?
Answer: Yes. Here’s what you need to know.
Many tax experts recommend hanging on to your tax returns indefinitely, but you can shred most supporting documents after seven years when the risk of audit ends (unless you’re significantly underreporting income or committing fraud).
When it comes to assets such as homes or stocks, you should keep supporting documentation for as long as you own the asset plus seven years.
That includes receipts for home improvements, but not repairs. You can’t take a deduction for either home repairs or improvements, but the cost of improvements may help you reduce any taxable profit should you sell your home. In Publication 530, the IRS defines an improvement as something that “materially adds to the value of your home, considerably prolongs its useful life, or adapts it to new uses.” Examples include putting an addition on your home, replacing an entire roof, paving your driveway, installing central air conditioning or rewiring your home. You can’t include improvements that are no longer part of your home. If you install carpeting and then rip it out to install hardwood, for example, you can no longer include the carpeting cost as an improvement.
You would have to have a considerable profit for those receipts to come in handy. The first $250,000 of home-sale profit, per person, is tax free. If you’re married, that means you wouldn’t face capital gains taxes on your home sale unless your profit exceeded $500,000.
Keep in mind that the IRS accepts electronic records. If you’re concerned about tossing paperwork you might later need, consider scanning everything first and maintaining a backup copy off site, either in the cloud or in a safe-deposit box.
Chances are good your insurer also accepts electronic records and scans of receipts, but call and ask first. Keeping receipts for insurance purposes is a good idea, as long as you cull the ones for items you no longer own.
But Apple’s new payment system has the potential to sidestep the bad guys and someday, perhaps, make breaches a thing of the past, according to LowCards.com’s Bill Hardekopf.
Apple Pay, announced Monday, allows people to pay for stuff with their phones, but your credit and debit card numbers won’t live there. The system generates unique tokens that are used instead. No longer would your sensitive financial information be sent into the ether, to be stored in insecure databases.
You can read more at “Could Apple Pay Be the End of Data Breaches?“
Today’s top story: What to do when debt collectors harass you for someone else’s money. Also in the news: Online tools to help manage your money, what the new FICO 9 credit score could mean for those about to apply for mortgages, and seven ways you’re misusing your credit cards.
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More than half of Americans—56 percent—say they’re falling behind financially, according to a new national survey by the Pew Research Center.
That’s not surprising, given that a recent Census Bureau study concluded that most Americans are worse off financially than they were before the recession, despite gains in the stock market and home prices.
Which is why Donna Freedman’s latest piece for Get Rich Slowly, “Why I voluntarily slashed my salary,” is a timely read.
Like the rest of us who wrote for MSN Money, Donna faced a big drop in income when the site pulled the plug on original content. Rather than try to recoup what she’d lost, though, Donna made a conscious decision to live on a lot less.
Donna’s situation is Donna’s. Yours is probably quite different. But I’m always inspired reading what she has to say about the benefits of a more frugal, conscious life.
That doesn’t mean I think that status quo is okay. The ever-widening gap between rich and poor is not okay. The huge debts young people take on to get educated is not okay. The fact that most people’s finances can be seriously and permanently upended–by a layoff, a divorce, a death in the family–is not okay.
It’s also not okay to keep blaming individuals for what are clearly huge economic trends. Overspending on credit cards did not trigger the Great Recession.
But if you’re living with less, Job One is figuring out how to make that work, at least for now. Job Two may be pushing for change.
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Dear Liz: After a divorce, I had to start my life over at 62. I got three credit cards. Somehow, I failed to see the online bills for one of them and neglected to pay it. The company didn’t contact me until three months had passed. I got a letter saying the small balance ($130) was forgiven and the card had been canceled. I was shocked. I made several calls but was told nothing could be done. Now one of the credit bureaus has my score at 640. I’m a reliable person and always pay my bills on time. This was a great oversight. Is there anything else I can do?
Answer: Even seemingly small missteps can have outsized effects on your credit scores. Missing even one payment can knock more than 100 points off good scores.
And as you’ve learned, creditors tend not to be sympathetic to the idea that you didn’t pay because you didn’t see the bills. You’re expected to know when your bills are due and pay them. A quick phone call or visit to the credit issuer’s website would have told you what you owed.
Fortunately, you still have the other two cards. Those should help you rehabilitate your credit scores as long as you use them properly and you don’t cause any further damage.
Before another day passes, set up automatic payments for both accounts. You typically can choose to have one of three amounts taken every month from your checking account: the minimum payment, the full balance or a dollar amount that you specify. Ideally, you would choose to pay off the full balance each month, since carrying a balance won’t help your scores and will cause you to pay unnecessary interest.
Mark the dates of the automatic payments on your calendar and set up alerts to make sure that there’s enough money in your checking account on that day.
Use both of your cards lightly but regularly, charging small amounts each month. Don’t use more than about 30% of your available credit — less is better. To rehabilitate your credit scores even faster, consider adding an installment loan to your credit mix, if you don’t already have one. Mortgages, car loans and personal loans are examples of installment loans.
Finally, make sure you don’t fall behind on any other bills or let any account, such as a medical bill, fall into collections. Another black mark would just extend the time it takes to rebuild your scores.