Key Tax-Preparation Tips to Cut Stress

Tax FormAlthough it comes around every spring, tax season tends to inflict the same headaches year after year. To reduce your stress — and maximize your refund — it’ll help to stay organized and be aware of recent changes to the tax code.

For additional motivation to get on track, keep in mind that the average refund has been about $3,000 in recent years. Even if you don’t expect to get that much back, there are plenty of ways to put a refund to good use. But first, you’ll have to file your returns properly, taking advantage of any deductions you might qualify for. Here’s a look at where to get started.

Compiling the necessary information

For starters, you’ll need your W-2 form listing earnings and tax withholdings, which employers typically send out in January or early February. Be sure to have your Social Security number or taxpayer identification number available, as well as those numbers for any dependents you’ll claim. You’ll also need documentation of any income they may have had.

Affordable Care Act penalty

The 2010 Affordable Care Act ushered in one of the most significant tax law changes in recent years. It stipulates that if you didn’t have health insurance in 2014 and didn’t qualify for an exemption, you may face a penalty. In 2015, taxpayers who lack adequate insurance may be penalized at either 2% of a portion of their income or $325 per adult and $167.50 per child, to a maximum of $975 per family — whichever is higher. Those fees are set to increase in upcoming years, which means it’s a good idea to get insured as soon as possible.

Tax deductions reduce taxable income

Deductions reduce the amount of your income that you have to pay taxes on. Sit down and figure out whether the standard deduction or itemized deductions will work best for you. The former is a set amount that reduces your taxable income depending on your filing status; the latter lets you list qualified expenses separately, such as mortgage interest and local property taxes. If your itemized deductions add up to more than your standard deduction amount, go with that.

So what kinds of expenses can you deduct? Contributions to eligible organizations and interest on education loans are among the more well-known deductions you can take. Others, such as medical and home office expenses, aren’t as widely used for various reasons. Make sure to look into which of your expenses you can use to reduce your taxable income, which will probably increase your refund. Bear in mind that income limits and expense thresholds may limit these deductions or eliminate them entirely.

If you qualify to contribute to a traditional individual retirement account, or IRA, you may be able to shield up to $5,500 of income from taxes — plus $1,000 more if you’re 50 or over — by putting it in an IRA. You have until April 15 to make deductible contributions for the previous year. Withdrawals are subject to income tax, however.

Also, if you’re in a same-sex marriage, stay alert for further changes in the rules governing your tax status and other financial issues.

The bottom line

Completing your tax returns won’t be much fun, but it’s the first step in claiming a refund. Once you’ve filed your returns, you should expect to get what you’re due within three weeks — or in less than half that time if you ask for the money to be directly deposited to a savings or checking account. Just remember to compile all the essential paperwork before getting started, keeping an eye out for tax credits and changes to the tax code.

©Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Kristi Yamaguchi’s Golden Moment

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Brian Boitano and Kristi Yamaguchi

This past Friday, November 20, and Saturday, November 21st, the people of Hawaii got to experience a once in a lifetime event – watching Olympic ice skaters perform at the Blaisdell Arena in an event titled Kristi Yamaguchi’s Golden Moment.

Kristi Yamaguchi and her co-host Brian Boitano introduced a star-studded cast of both figure skaters and local musicians, and in between performances, they shared about Kristi Yamaguchi’s Always Dream Foundation and how it is helping Hawaii’s elementary schools promote early childhood literacy.  Throughout the show, there were musical performances by Na Leo Pilimehana and Manoa DNA, some of their songs accompanied the skaters as they did their routines.

The show featured amazing performances by American skaters Jeremy Abbott and the Olympic Gold pair, Meryl Davis and Charlie White.  Canadian skater Kurt Browning also made an appearance and showed off his immaculate footwork in his high-energy performances.  Russian figure skater Katia Gordeeva also made an appearance, and of course, Kristi and Brian also got their time on the ice.

Top figure skaters from Japan (Shizuka Arakawa, Miki Ando, Yuka Sato, and Takeshi Honda) also performed and wowed the crowd of locals and Japanese tourists.

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Kristi Yamaguchi skating with her daughter.
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Brian Boitano, Jeremy Abbott, and Kurt Browning

 

It wouldn’t be a Golden Moment without special routines.  Brian Boitano, Kurt Browning, and Jeremy Abbott entertained the crowd with a comical performance.  Kristi Yamaguchi skated to a number with one of her daughters, also an aspiring figure skater.  Katia Gordeeva also performed with her own daughter, who also skates professionally.  Shizuka Arakawa, who gave birth just last year, did a beautiful performance as Na Leo Pilimehana sang “You Don’t Remember” live.  During the middle of the song, she brought out her daughter and skated around the rink as she carried her.

The final performance was a never-before-seen, once-in-a-lifetime routine with Kristi, Shizuka, Yuka, and Miki all skating together in a beautiful, heartfelt routine as Na Leo Pilimehana sang “I Miss You My Hawaii.”

All in all, it was an amazing show with a great cause.  Even better, all the proceeds earned from the shows will stay in Hawaii to go towards the Title I schools.  This was a great event for Hawaii to have, and hopefully Kristi and her friends will come back for another great show!

Making the Most of Your Holiday Budget

Holiday money in a jarThe holidays are a wonderful time to celebrate with your loved ones. But unless you manage your festivities and gift-giving carefully, it’s easy to fall victim to the temptation to overspend on presents and cheer. The best way to avoid overindulgence is by doing a little planning so you know how much you have to spend.

Here are some tips:

Set a realistic budget
Keep your overall financial picture in mind when you set your holiday budget. Set a dollar limit for how much you want to spend in total, not only on gifts, but also other categories of expenses such as holiday travel, entertainment, food and drink, and even decorations and wrapping paper.

Add up all the categories, and, if the total is too high, you can tweak your numbers or cut back in areas that are less important to you. For example, you might forgo restaurant meals for a certain time to afford those expensive Star Wars toys. By making choices, you won’t find yourself ringing in the New Year with a new pile of credit card debt.

October is generally the month when Christmas Club account holders can begin to take penalty-free withdrawals in preparation for holiday shopping. These dedicated short-term savings accounts are a tradition that became popular during the Great Depression, and they are a great way to sock a little away each month throughout the year. Credit unions like Hawaiian Tel Federal Credit Union offer free Christmas Savings share accounts that pay the same dividends as regular share accounts.

Try a holiday budgeting app
Use your smartphone to manage your holiday shopping list and keep tabs on your budget. Popular free apps like Santa’s Bag for iPhone, and Christmas Gift List for Android are highly rated by app store users. They provide a handy way to create a gift budget for each person on your list and check off presents as you buy them. They also create an archived record that you’ll be able to refer to next year.

 

Research prices online
Instead of trudging through the mall or driving to many brick-and-mortar stores, save gas money by shopping online for the gifts you plan to buy. Check for discount codes on savings websites like RetailMeNot and Coupons.com. You can often find significant savings on toys, clothing and even holiday food items for parties. For online orders, allow plenty of time for delivery. In previous years, many websites were overburdened with holiday orders, and some deliveries were delayed until after Christmas.

Don’t pay for postage
With the cost of first-class package delivery up over 5% in 2015, sending gifts to friends and family can be more costly than ever. One way around this expense is to take advantage of online shopping websites that offer free shipping. If you have an Amazon Prime membership, you’re also eligible for free shipping.

So if your nephew is dying to get that Munchkin board game for Christmas, make your purchase online and send it to him directly, instead of buying it at the local toy store, gift-wrapping it at home and mailing it at the post office.

For smarter spending around the holidays, refer to your budget often as you make your way through your gift list. If you do splurge on one present, find another area where you can cut back to stay on track. Then you’ll be able to enjoy the holidays without worry.

Jeanne Lee, NerdWallet
© Copyright 2015 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Veterans Day

Every year, on November 11, the American people honor all those who served in the military, past, present, and future.  Veterans Day is a national holiday that was originally created during the end of World War I when an armistice took effect between the Allies and Germany on November 11.  From that day on, November 11 was known as Armistice Day–a day to remember veterans from World War I.

It was during World War II that the name was changed to Veterans Day to honor vets of all wars.

Veterans Day is celebrated every year, and here in Hawaii, we have our own way of celebrating those who serve.  The Wahiawa Veterans Day Parade is a huge event that attracts hundreds of spectators.
2015 Veterans Day Parade 2015 Veterans Day Parade

This year’s parade featured many different groups, including local veterans who served in WWII,  Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East.

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Multiple bands came out to perform, including the Royal Hawaiian band and Schofield Barracks’ very own 25th Infantry Division Tropic Lightning Band.  They filled the streets with uplifting, patriotic music that left us all with a sense of pride and motivation.

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Schools from all over the state also showed their support through their marching bands, JROTCs, and other school associations.

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Even the girl scouts and boy scouts were seen proudly marching in the parade as well as many other different groups.

All in all, the parade was a great way to show appreciation for all of our men and women in uniform.  It was very humbling to see people from all over the state come together to show support.

For those of you in service, past and present, Happy Veterans Day and thank you for all that you do!

Volunteering at the Les Murakami Stadium

This past Saturday, October 17, HiTel FCU employees had the opportunity to volunteer at University of Hawaii’s Les Murakami Stadium to help with renovations.  Armed with brushes, rollers, and green paint, we broke into groups and were tasked with painting the dugouts and sprucing up the stands.

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It was a bright and sunny day for the most part, but a few showers caused the newly painted walls to run!  Despite the rain, we persevered and continued to paint and retouch the areas that got wet.

After a daunting 4 hours, we completed our share of the stadium renovations and were rewarded with pizza and refreshments.  The UH baseball coach and the team were even there to join us and thanked us for our efforts.

This was the first time that HiTel FCU volunteered at the stadium and it was time well spent.  It was a fun, new experience for our employees, and with ICU Day having just passed, it was a great reminder of who we are and what we do – we are people helping people make their dreams come true.

Mahalo to everyone who came out to volunteer!

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