The Katana: Holy Crap! Taxes Are Due Soon!

This is the first year where I actually owe money to the government and I’m not too pleased.  For all intensive purposes, I should be happy that I got a free multi-thousand loan for the year, but it just feels off.  Your typical personal finance blogger will argue that it’s stupid to celebrate a tax refund, but I’m telling you to go right ahead.  Tax refunds are good for most people because most people can’t save for cookies!

I’m waiting until the absolute last moment to file because I constantly find errors in the way I’m doing my returns.  There’s no doubt in my mind that every single tax return submitted by an individual has at least one error, or sub-optimal input.  I generally go over my taxes at least three times before submitting them.  It’s in my nature to double and triple check everything when it comes to money.

Doing your own taxes forces you to learn a tremendous amount about your finances.  It heightens your awareness, leading to better financial decisions.  You learn about things such as deduction limit phases outs, rental property amortization, and alternative minimum taxes all too well.

Once you understand how much income leakage there is, you’ll join the side which wishes for a fair flat tax and a smaller, more efficient government.  Too many people just blindly follow what their accountant tells them to do without fully understanding where their money is going.  That’s irresponsible.  My #1 tax tip for everyone is to do your own taxes at least once.  Even if you make mistakes, which you will, you’ll be a better person because if it!

Readers, how many of you do your own taxes?  With tax software making things relatively simple nowadays, why not try it out on your own if you don’t now?  Taxes are due Thurs, April 15th in case you don’t know.

“Capitalism: A Love Story” DVD Review & Giveaway

Michael Moore thinks he is pointing out injustices through his latest documentary, “Capitalism: A Love Story“.  Instead, Michael simply reminds us that life isn’t fair in a free market economy where those who work hard sometimes get the short end of the stick through no fault of their own.

I find it ironic that one of the wealthiest documentary filmmakers is bashing Capitalism.  Despite highlighting that 33% of “young Americans” now believe in Socialism (37% for Capitalism, 30% undecided), it’s hard to argue for a better system.  It’ll be interesting to see if these young Americans still believe in Socialism by the time they reach their thirties and make some money.  Socialism just creates a new set of problems for society.  Is it really that bad buying a foreclosed property from someone who can’t pay their debt on time?  Property vultures are necessary to provide a floor in many devastated markets or else things go to zero and more people suffer.

There is a sense of self-righteousness when Michael tells the viewer that he can’t fight the system alone and encourages all to rise up.  Michael you aren’t alone.  Thousands upon thousands of us fight for what we believe in every single day.  I wish Michael would put his money where his mouth is and donate all his proceeds to helping victims he continues to highlight.

A STRANGE PLACE

The Best Financial Advice I’ve Ever Heard From A Comedian

One of the best things about living in a big city is the diversity of people.  Minorities are actually a 51% majority, leading to an abundance of food, culture, and festivities.  Most importantly, a diverse community teaches us acceptance and understanding of each other.

Canadian-Indian comedian, Russell Peters recently visited San Francisco where I got to see him perform.  He is an absolute riot!  Russell pokes fun at the incredible ability by both Indian and Chinese to drive hard bargains.  It’s interesting to witness what happens when they negotiate with each other!  Keep an open mind, and I hope you enjoy the skit.

Three Key Lessons From The Video:

Samurai’s Alexa Ranking Challenge Update: Progress Through Adversity

Financial SamuraiIt’s been just over a month since the Samurai Alexa Ranking Challenge was announced, and I’m pleased to report we’ve made tremendous progress!  With 35+ members strong, we are actively helping each other achieve our respective goals.  I’d like to use this opportunity to recognize several Yakezie members for their achievements and initiatives in helping the team.

* Daniel-San from Sweating The Big Stuff took the initiative to compile the list and keep track.  His efforts have in turn created a home for us members to visit once a week and get pumped.

* @Elle_CM from Couple Money has been amazingly selfless in retweeting my posts and many other posts.  She is exactly the type of member the Yakezie Group seeks.  @FinEngr created a Yakezie Twitter Group to keep track of us and follow.  Pls follow so the group can follow you back.

* Monevator, The Amateur Financier, Evolution Of Wealth created weekly wraps to specifically highlight posts from the Yakezie Group.  Meanwhile, Money Funk wrote a derivative post on how to increase your Alexa ranking.

* Eliminate The Muda and Planting Dollars have busted through their 200,000 goal and should obviously now shoot for top 100,000!

THE RULES HAVE CHANGED AND WE WILL ADAPT

Charles Farrell From “Your Money Ratios” Speaks! Part II

Social Security Act FDR

The following is the second and last part of my interview with Charles Farrell, the author of “Your Money Ratios“.  We discuss the much maligned 401k, whether Social Security will survive, and crowd favorite, how raising personal income tax levels further will ruin America!

The 401K AND ALL ITS GLORY

Question: Why do you think there are so many detractors of the 401k plan? Furthermore, do you think it is fair that the pre-tax limit contribution is only $16,500 for some 22 as well as someone who is 45? Presumably, the average 45 year old is making much more than the average 22 year old, so how come the government doesn’t propose an increased pre-tax contribution scale the older one gets?

Answer: Many people don’t like 401(k) plans because they believe the burden of funding retirements should fall on employers and not employees; thus they would like to see us go back to defined benefit plans that are funded by employers. Well, that is just not going to happen. Employers have no appetite for guaranteeing to pay their workers for 30 or 40 years after they stop working for them. And DB plans are not flexible enough to accommodate a globally competitive marketplace, plus they discriminate against individuals who change jobs or careers. Moreover, many DB plans (particularly government plans) are significantly underfunded and many who thought they had guaranteed retirements may be unpleasantly surprised at some point. So I think the “romance” with DB plans is misguided, but many people would like to see those types of plans again. I just don’t think it’s going to happen.

Then there is another set of individuals who don’t like 401(k) plans because of the limited investment choices and sometimes high expense structure of the plans. I agree with people on this front, and there are problems with some 401(k) providers, particularly those smaller plans that can’t drive better deals on their investment platforms.

But, most plans do offer competitive options and are low cost. It’s important for readers not to lose sight of the primary reason to use a 401(k) plan, which is the huge tax benefit provided to those who contribute; and if you get a match, that is just makes it more attractive. The tax deduction, the match and the tax deferral on growth are incredibly valuable tools to help build your capital. So even with some restrictions, the plans are basically the best place to build your retirement assets.

Regulators Are The Problem! (401K Con’t)

Charles Farrell of “Your Money Ratios” Speaks About Retirement And Investing,

As I wrote in my review of “Your Money Ratios”, Charles’ book sings to me. Charles has the ability to simplify complicated financial topics for the average reader to understand. His book is seriously one of the best books I’ve read on personal finance in a long while.

One of the keys to progress is learning from experts in their various fields.  Charles is gracious enough to answer some follow up questions I’ve been burning to ask after reading his book.  This will be a two part post due to the 2,800 word length of the interview.  In part I, we discover Charles’ motivation for writing his book, strategies for early retirement, and his conservative and debatable 50%/50% investment split between stocks and bonds.  In part II, we discuss the much maligned 401K, personal income taxes, why Social Security will survive, and why the flat tax is the right way to go!  Please enjoy!

WRITING “YOUR MONEY RATIOS”

Question: Was there a particular lightning bolt reason why you decided to write this book? For aspiring authors, what suggestions do you have to get your worked published in this ultra competitive field of business?

Answer: I wanted to write a book that would help average readers understand the most fundamental and critical relationships among one’s income, capital and debt, and how those things must be managed throughout your working career to build financial independence. So I took what are often quite complicated topics and figured out a way to present them in a very simple format that anyone can follow. I would like more people to enjoy the benefits of financial independence, and I hope this book does that.

As far as writing, all I can say is write about what you believe in. Hopefully, if you believe in it strongly enough, you’ll develop some expertise and then seek out ways to spread your ideas. Try to develop some niche that is reflective of your expertise. So I developed the ratios and they came out of my background in tax, finance and also working with individuals.

Think about what you do that is a little different and try to focus on that unique nature of what you do. It is a tough slog because the field is very crowded and often the least valuable information gets the most press. But you have to accept that reality and still push ahead. And then you need a little luck. Your message has to somehow get into the hands of people who appreciate and understand it. And that is hard to predict, which means you need a little luck to get it out there. So if you are going to pursue that path, I think you need to accept those realities of the marketplace.

EARLY RETIREMENT

The Katana: A Week Long Celebration of Love

A Sliced Heard

A Sliced Heart

With Valentine’s Day coming up, I thought it’d be nice to dedicate some of this week’s posts to relationships.  Few things are as rewarding as finding the one you want to grow old with.  I can be stranded somewhere in Kabul, and so long as the one is beside me, I am happy.

That said, does true love have a price?  If a genie gave you the option of having $100 million dollars but never finding the love of your life, or finding that special someone but always living just above the poverty line, which would you choose?

Before answering the question, think about all the fun times you had in your prior relationships, some that could have been.  Not all bad right?  Now think carefully whether after a certain point, more money can really bring you more happiness.

My theory is that “love” will be the landslide victor, however, at the margin men will have a greater tendency to choose money over love, while women will gravitate towards love over money.

The Samurai Fund: -3.13% YTD vs. the S&P 500 -4.4%. Lenar +15%, Berkshire +11%, GE +4% and STE +6.15% continue to be stars. While MWW -18% and Toyota -11.3% are the biggest dogs.  If Toyoda-san didn’t apologize on Friday, I would have sold the stock in a heart beat.

Samurai’s Alexa Ranking Challenge: Is growing strong!  I’m very happy to see so many people progress and support each other.  Forget about all about SEO, link ratios, and yourself.  Keep up the content and the promoting of others!  If you would like to join, read the post, let us know in the comments section with your rank so Daniel-san and I can track.

HIGHLIGHT POSTS OF THE WEEK

Tax Refunds Are Good For Most People Because Most People Can’t Save

Bet You Can't Eat Just OneThe average tax refund is $2,400 a year, and 74% of Americans get a tax refund. I’ll consider you average for argument’s sake.  At today’s typical savings rate of 1%, you’re missing out on a whopping $12 bucks in interest income! Why $12, and not $24? It’s because you have to calculate the average balance of the year if you saved every $200/month payment diligently starting January 1st i.e. January $200, February $400, March $600 etc.

I’m definitely not a proponent of giving the government more money than they deserve, but missing out on $12 bucks in interest is something I can live with and so should you.

You have to ask yourself whether you have the discipline of saving that extra $200 a month, or using it to pay down debt. Most people are not disciplined enough to pay down debt and avoid buying junk. This is why we have such massive debt problems in the first place!  The government is essentially helping you “go broke to win big” by protecting 75% of American tax payers from blowing $2,400 a year without even knowing it.

A SIMPLE GUIDELINE & SOME COOKIES

The Katana: Help Haiti If You Can 1/17

So far over $7 million has been raised to help Haiti by just texting the word “HAITI” to 90999.  You’ll get a confirm receipt from your mobile carrier once sent.  Please consider donating!

This week on Financial Samurai, we’ll share our thoughts on the latest government rhetoric, highlight a guest post by Flexo, introduce a new fun challenge, and perhaps discuss one of the key things to consider for job seekers.

THE SAMURAI FUND UPDATE: +3.85% vs. S&P 500 +1.88% as of Friday, Jan 15th. 203 basis points of outperform puts us in the Top Tier of all funds.

Stars: Lenar +25%, Toyota +8%, GE 9%, Harmon +7.4%,, Calgon +7%, Big Lots +7%.

Dog Poops: Lumber Liquidators -7%, Berkshire -1.6%, Steris -1.25%, ABM -1%, Monsanto -1%.

Looks like there’s some good demand from new entrants, and investors who want to give us several hundred million more to build new positions!  Contributors, please provide an update on your name in the TSF page above, especially if your name is sucking wind.  Will be making room for new names in February.

SAMURAI WEEK IN REVIEW

* People now realize that converting to a ROTH IRA is pretty ridiculous as Kevin M reminds us that the first $18,700 (equivalent to $470,000 in pre-tax funds at 4%) you withdraw from your retirement funds is tax free.  Meanwhile, JoeTaxPayer highlights that if you retire with $2.17 million in today’s dollars, you only have to pay 15% tax!  You’ll have to retire with more than $5 million dollars to average a 25% tax rate, based off a 4% income return.  $5 million is only 50X your $100,000 “average” income.  Always good to dream big for those of you who’ve justified your ROTH IRA contributions.  Joe, you made my day!

* Family seems to be the number one reason why people choose to freeze during the winter, and melt during the summer.  FYI, it is possible to make friends in paradise folks.  It’s also possible for your family to fly out and visit you on the beach.  If you’re miserable, don’t limit yourself!  Just think about how much easier it is to travel now vs. 300 years ago.

* The “Get Financially Naked” book giveaway ends on Saturday, January 23rd.  It’s a great little book for couples who feel they need some help in improving their communication as it relates to finance.  With all our book giveaways, we’d like to share them with those who’d like and need them the most.

* Americans really shouldn’t complain about our finances since we’re wealthier than 99% of the rest of the world.  That said, it’s all relative, and if everybody is wealthy, then it’s really hard to feel special.  The key seems to be to amass your wealth, and move elsewhere!

Keigu,

Sam Samurai – “Slicing Through Money’s Mysteries”

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Where Americans Pay The Most To Live And Why

Samurai On Waialae Beach At Sunset

As one can guess, higher paying jobs leads to higher costs of living.  In fact, more than half of the 20 cities surveyed by the US Census Bureau are based in Caleeforneea, as Governor Arnold would say.

How is it that California is so dominant in the expensive category, when the mass of settlers first arrived on Plymouth Rock 300 years ago?  3,300 miles is a long way to travel, especially on horse and foot!  The main reason for the unfettered move out west is simply warmth and sunshine!

Every time I vacation in Hawaii, I always ask myself, why the heck ain’t I here for good.  Let’s face it, more sunshine equals happier people.  Sunshine is the classic zeitgeber to help us wake up and get us motoring in the morning.  No sunshine leads to no photosynthesis, which means no plant life, and therefore no ecosystem.

After 10 years of living on the east coast, I can still feel the grey skies weigh down my soul every winter.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love the winter snow during the holidays, but I just love being in a cheerful mood more.  Here are America’s most expensive places to live based off median monthly housing costs.

TOP CITIES WHERE AMERICANS PAY THE MOST TO LIVE