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Spending, Taxes

February 2nd, 2018 at 05:42 am

**MH saw some noise cancelling headphones on Amazon for 90% off. He figured what the heck. In the end I guess it was a pricing mistake because they canceled the order.

**MH is still looking for the right blu ray player for the TV we bought 9 months ago. In the end he saw another "too good to be true" deal for $25. I guess this was at Walmart. In the store it didn't show the advertised price (85% off) and they seemed to think he was crazy when he inquired, but it rang up for $25.

He hadn't picked one up before because he was being crazy picky. I got the sense this had everything he wanted, but maybe also willing to settle a bit in the interim because nothing to lose at that price. In the end, it seemed to have some problems and they were out of stock by then (couldn't exchange) but he diagnosed that he needed a better cable and it seems fine now.

So I thought he was 0 for 2, but maybe this one will work out. He is going to give it some time.

**My cell phone is almost 4 years old and I was targeting all along to replace this spring (at the 4 year mark). Given work uncertainty, I asked MH yesterday to keep an eye out. I told him I probably rather get used to a new phone before I am more seriously job searching. & I'd rather buy a phone while I have a (high paying) job. So he will start looking around for me.

My phone is mostly fine but has admittedly been wonky for about 18 months. It is not secure as I am sure it is no longer receiving updates, so that is my main concern. It turns off randomly at times (but I don't use enough for it to matter). MH saved it from a "black screen of death" about a year ago. I know his tech skills have helped me to keep it the 4 years that everyone else seems to think is crazy and impossible. But even MH has been nagging me a bit as he knows I no longer receive security updates. I was dead set on 4 years because I had paid $400 for it. I can be okay with 3 years and 10 months.

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I usually file taxes early, before I have tax forms. Because I don't need the tax forms. But I peruse the tax forms as they come in and make sure they agree to my records.

In the end, my mortgage company reported that I paid more interest than I did. ??? It's the only tax form mistake I ever recall catching. I double checked their website and their monthly interest amounts (2017) matched mine, so I will ignore the tax form. It was in my favor so I won't worry about it. If it went the other way I would make sure that they correct it.

I plan to file taxes today. Our software at work hadn't been updated yet. I talked to the person in charge of that yesterday and she seemed confused, but we finally decided she was out Friday and hadn't followed up on our weekly updates. (They should get done regardless, but she usually makes sure that they are done). She got it updated ASAP when she realized we couldn't file *any* tax returns yet. It was a hectic day/week, so will just press the "send" button when I get to work today. I knew I had all sorts of tax forms in the mail (in route or sitting in mail box) and figured I better check those first.

I did well with harvesting tax gains for kids. I always strategically harvest tax gains at 0% tax rate. But this year I squeaked by with harvesting tax gains and not even having to file a tax return for them. I don't know how realistic that goal is as their investments grow, but works for now.

Raise, Taxes

January 16th, 2018 at 05:53 am

Was shocked to get a raise this year. Just seemed unlikely given economics of employer. (Was a bit of a niche market that just happened to fared very well during the recession, but now we have an aging/retiring client base). There is still a weird dynamic where I am youngest in office but have surpassed some of my elders, and so have been the only one to get raises over many years. Ever since I realized this, I've not taken raises for granted. I was legitimately shocked this year.

Well, that's easy! I can take care of everything I wanted to in 2018 budget/spending plan without worrying about it.

--Health insurance went up $65/month
(Where the vast majority of my raises have gone since having kids. This year was a small increase in the grand scheme of things.)

--MM wanted to attend third weekly gymnastics class offered this year. We told him we have better things to do than to drive him over there 3 times a week (yikes!) But, that we could discuss after my work review. I am more open to it now; will have some extra funds. Will still have to find some reasonable balance.

--I wanted to bump up our short-term savings. Expenses like insurance (life, disability) are creeping up. Most especially since I turned 40. (Maybe some "leaping up" in that case). This gives us more breathing room in the budget because we use short-term savings for one-off expenses. It's a hard balancing act because if we save money we want to leave it there, and I think psychologically it might work well being a little tight. But it's starting to get a little out of balance and is stressful at the end of the year when I really haven't saved enough for all this stuff.

This breaks out to:
$5,500 property taxes
$4,300 insurance (various)
$2,000 vacation
$1,500 car maintenance
$1,200 Dental
$2,300 Misc.

The extra $1,200 to Misc. = some breathing room. Phew!

When I plugged my new salary into a paycheck calculator I came up with +$280 monthly income with a $250 monthly raise. I presumed that was because of the new tax tables. Anyway, I will do some tax projections today and figure out what to do. I barely withhold any taxes from my monthly paycheck, because I get a OT check every year that's taxed like a bonus. So while it would probably be wise to adjust my withholding with the extra windfall, I also don't see the point of letting the government hold my money all year. It may be that I just decide to put the entire difference ($80/month?) into investments. That is money I can put into tax withholding if my job situation changes.

But I will do a tax projection, make sure I am paying in enough state tax, etc. Once I figure out how much I need for taxes, I can finalize my 2018 goals.

I may just leave sidebar goals as is because they are very aggressive. Not really entirely sure I can or even want to make these goals, but aiming high seems to work well for us.

Maybe I am weird, but the more money we make the harder I find it to save 20% or 30% for long-term. I think that's probably because of taxes. But is probably also the longer we have gone without any BIG expenses. When I am not replacing cars, paying for braces (x2), funding teen drivers, and doing maintenance on a 20-year-old home, it's much easier to lock up 30% of income in retirement and other long-term funds.

Tax Notes:

--Our taxes will remain unchanged with the new tax laws. Our "taxable income" will increase substantially because we lose all of our exemptions. Which probably doesn't bode well for the long run. (For the short run, like just a couple of years, this increase is offset by child tax credits)

--That said, MH's small income is getting taxed at 15% instead of 30%. If we are shifting to a two full-time income, then the timing works out pretty well. As long as we have kids, I still pay "almost nothing" as to taxes on my income. Which is why the high tax rate on an additional few thousand dollars has been so jarring.

--Accordingly, we will probably drop the 401k contributions. We've only done for tax reasons, which annoys me, because increasing cash flow would be the motivation for this job. Will build up taxable investments instead of adding to 401k, which just makes more sense given our financial situation.

It depends how my tax projections go today. Not 100% decided, but I like that I feel less tied to the 401k.

--Will stick with the Traditional IRAs (as much as we can; MH is being phased out). Taxes are complex, and we need the Traditional IRAs to increase our itemized deductions and to lower our taxes. I believe last I calculated was a 24% savings for every dollar we put in Traditional IRA, because it increases our itemized deductions the more we can decrease AGI. So that is why. I will check today now that I have some better salary estimates to plug in. Oh, and we have to do the Traditional IRAs to keep our taxable investments tax-free. Between those two points, I don't see any ROTH contributions in our near future.

Edited to add: It was probably a bigger second income which was much more palate-able with the new tax law. Which is just interesting timing for us. I can't re-create that 15% tax rate with current income situation, so I am guessing that was a more long-term/higher income tax projection.

I ran numbers today and we save 32% for every dollar we put into 401k+Traditional IRA. Looks like we will stick with the 401k. (It's the loss of 0% investment tax rate that is tripping me up).

Federal tax withholding is surprisingly better than I remembered (withholding enough from salary to cover all taxes for year, even with lower withholding rates). But I have to send +$40/month to the state, a 50% increase. This leaves $40-ish per month for investments. I will just round up to $50.

Harvesting Tax Gains

July 20th, 2017 at 12:50 pm

Today I harvested some tax gains. Is a strategy to keep "taxable" investments tax-free.

In the process, I just converted to admiral shares and way lower expense ratios. In theory, I'd generally just immediately buy back what I sold; selling solely to lock in 0% tax rate on those gains. But in the end I decided to move funds over in the process and to be a little more efficient.

For myself, technically any long-term capital gains are tax-free for Federal. But... That's not entirely true because bumping up our AGI (even just a couple of thousand dollars) wreaks all sorts of havoc on the rest of our taxes. It decreases what we can put in tax-deductible IRAs and reduces our medical expense deduction, etc. But, whatever. It's not like it's going to get better than a 0% tax rate. (I mostly expect our income and taxes to be much higher in the future).

Since we've mostly been able to shelter our investments in retirement funds, this is the first time that I've had a tax-free gain to harvest. At about $3,000 for long-term gains and I figured I could live with that. (I probably wouldn't want to add much more to our tax return. We are already on track to maybe have 10% more wage income than last year).

For the kids, I have been selling off funds frequently to the same end, though I got a bit of a break the past two years. But for today, MM was at a good selling point. $1,000 investment income is tax-free for them. $1,500 is just some very minimal state tax. I might have timed it well enough that they are more in the $1k range and won't owe any state taxes.

Note to self:
$1,000 investment income is the sweet spot for kids. No requirement to file a tax return at this investment income level.


If you have no idea what I am talking about, here is a link that explains:

[url]https://www.bogleheads.org/wiki/Tax_gain_harvesting[/ur...

I guess this came to front of mind because my dad *finally* sold some mutual funds that he had wanted to sell a few years back. He's waited for tax reasons, and I guess given my tax perspective I have no idea what he has been waiting for. !! I mean, Obamacare was the reason the last two years, but now in 2017 I would have sold January 1. Not sure how long 0% investment tax rate will be around and am glad he finally took advantage.

As for the kids' "college" money, it's conservatively invested (balanced fund) and I have an equal amount in cash (our cash savings/emergency fund). So I feel that I Can shoulder any short-term market fluctuations. It seems way too premature to do anything with that. Kids start college in 4 & 6 years. Keeping in mind that we used our own "college money" for a home down payment instead of college. (College is still super cheap here and housing is only more insane now than it was then). This really could be money that remains untouched for 10+ years. So for now, we have no plans to cash out any college money or to shift to a more conservative allocation. We may set aside more new money in cash, as college becomes more imminent.

Taxes

January 22nd, 2017 at 07:30 am

Finished our taxes yesterday.

I have the financial records to complete taxes on January 1, generally, but was waiting for investment 1099s (the only info I can't calculate on my own). I got an e-mail that those were ready on Friday.

I also haven't seen a pay stub for MH in months (got locked out of his online account) so will just wait to file until we get his W-2. I otherwise probably wouldn't even wait for the W-2. I expect I know his gross pay within a few pennies or a dollar, but would rather it all match 100%. We do not withhold any income taxes from his check, so that is some of why I don't really need his pay stubs. As long as the direct deposits are what I would expect them to be.

{I am totally fine with filing taxes before I have W-2s or 1099s, when I have any financial records whatsoever. It's just that I am flying pretty blind with MH's income}.

With MH working all year, we bumped up our "taxable income" from $46,000 to $48,000. We are still nowhere near the next tax bracket of 25%.

But, MH's income is being taxed around 30%. Taxes are complex.

In the end, we'd owe $1,400 if we did ROTH IRAs, or we get $1,000 back if we do Traditional IRAs. Total tax savings of $2,400. We can't max out the Traditional IRAs because of MH's work retirement plan. But rounding a bit, we can put $5,000 into his Traditional IRAs and $500 into his ROTH. I will hold off funding those until I get his W-2 and finalize everything. I already knew I could max out my Traditional IRA and did fund that already. We will do the Traditional IRAs and will invest the tax savings, per sidebar goals. (I expect for 2017 that MH won't be able to put nearly as much into Traditional IRA).

When I get the 1k refund I will just throw it at our investments. Not entirely sure how I will come up with the other $1,400. I think I will probably just fund that part when I get my OT check.

When we first started doing this it was like "$2,500 tax refund" for Traditional IRA or "no taxes due" for ROTH contributions. I did it this way because we were really in "flip a coin" territory, and I did want to just invest the difference. I'd say we are still somewhat in "flip a coin" territory, but also I am just covering MH's income taxes from my paycheck. I will just leave it be, for now. I expect everything to change, tax-wise, anyway. So we can re-evaluate from there. For now, this works, and still gives us some room to go either way.

Taxes Done & Goals

January 29th, 2016 at 06:06 am

I did complete our taxes. I don't really need any tax forms except some investment information. But I wasn't thinking that I didn't have dh's W2 from which I needed his employer Tax ID for e-file. So I thought that would hold us up for a while.

In the end I poked around online and found his W2.

Yes, our taxes are very simple. (I don't need W2s because neither of has any benefits, and even if we did I could figure it out from our pay stubs. I don't need any tax forms except for "qualified dividends"; is the only info I don't seem to have on my own).

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We did save $2,500 doing Traditional IRAs instead of ROTHs. I will get a $1,500 tax refund that (I will invest) and already moved $1,000 over from savings to investments. The deal is if we do the Traditional IRAs then we invest the tax savings.

Edited to add: And I just noticed we already got tax refund. So will move the other $1,500 over to investments today.

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For 2016 goals I just copy and pasted 2015 as a starting point. I didn't have enough information otherwise to form goals yet.

In the end I got a small cost of living raise, which just covers cost of living increases for this year (our utilities all seemed to go up suddenly and our HOA fees went up for the first time ever). So I will keep my salary goals the same. Which are the goals in my sidebar.

As to dh, he went back to work this week, post long winter break. The last thing we really want or need is more long-term retirement funds. But it is the most efficient thing to do. I Was surprised when I ran a tax projection and his income is being taxed at 30%. Yeesh! Thankfully he does have a 401k that he is already eligible for. We discussed it a while ago before I knew the taxes would be so bad and dh was leaning more towards the 401k. I was more trying to talk him out of it. After running the tax projection dh didn't want to talk about it because he is getting some MRI results next week. He just can't think "future" until he knows where his health stands. So we will enjoy his first full paycheck for the year and figure it out after that. Historically we always delay taxes and I expect that is what we will do, even if we haven't had the formal "let's do the 401k" discussion yet. I don't see either of us throwing 30% of his income down the drain. We had abandoned ROTH contributions around the 20% marginal tax mark.

We are also still very much in the 15% tax bracket; nowhere near the 25% tax bracket. But taxes aren't exactly simple. They can be pretty whacked.

What we miss more than anything is the liquidity of dh working and this doesn't do much to resolve that. But... Our parents are in a generous stage and so this is helping us to just suck it up and fund the 401k. We might get some cash gifts this year to fund more "Early retirement" funds. If we do the 401k and we hang onto some taxable investments (gifts) then that takes away from the potential mortgage avalanche. The big picture is more important to us.

Taxes

February 9th, 2014 at 08:28 am

**We made it to our 3 San Francisco days of events. I thought we were driving to San Jose twice more this month, but dh seemed to think we would combine trips. Will see. It will be a lot to celebrate his folks' anniversary and his Grandma's birthday on one weekend day. Two weeks might be better for me, though more driving. (I was thinking of skipping the birthday, anyway).

THEN we will probably be on low-spend mode until May.

**It's funny because I really thought SIL (more means) would want to do an extravagant party for the in-laws' 40th anniversary.

But, since they are moving into their $1 million+ home this month? Dh has yet to talk to her about this anniversary at all ( Rolleyes ), but we got the message loud and clear. They aren't planning to spend a penny.

{I am rolling my eyes that dh has yet to speak to his sister about it - rolling them at him}.

I suppose it works out. I was trying to set aside $1k - $2k of money that in-laws gave us, in case it was a big dinner party out kind of thing. BUT, I have failed miserably given how 2013 was, and so it is what it is. I doubt we will spend a penny. Dh and I will offer to take them out to dinner. I just can't imagine them letting us pay.

Dh is working on a video, but has been struggling with his own family. I think it's easier to do for other families - maybe being more removed from the subject? I am sure he is also being too hard on himself.

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**I finished our taxes. Being organized and having a simple tax situation (& having really nice professional software), it was not a time consuming endeavor. Maybe one hour, max, to gather information and file all of our tax returns. I harvested some tax gains for the kids, which means having to file for them when they sell mutual funds.

I always aim for breakeven, but my withholding and deductions have been pretty sporadic in recent years.

I did adjust my withholding in 2013 because our medical deductions are more limited with Obamacare AND our mortgage interest went down significantly (with latest refinance). About $6,000 less deductions than last year, from those two things. Plus income went up a bit, etc.

In the end, I did good. $30 net refund. (Er, I think I just got lucky).

The big question for me is what to do about our IRA contributions. *sigh* I am squarely in "flip a coin" territory with this.

Tax rate has gone up from negative (less than 0%), up to 23%, in the years since we have had kids. So, the ROTH is officially no longer a "no-brainer."

25% is a strong tipping point for me. One reason is because in the past we took a larger deduction up front and then converted ROTHs in lower income years. I am also in the middle of converting my parents' ROTHs (early retirement/no income years). All this to say that it is not a simple situation with a simple answer. (It could be a MUCH better tax savings decision to skip the ROTH for now).

I think the long and the short of it is that even at 23%, it's a lot of money to throw away in the hope that the tax code and our circumstances work out to our favor in the long run. $11,000 x 23% = $2,530 tax savings. Which is certainly no small beans, to me. This would boost our savings rate significantly. ($2500 is like 3% of my income - we'd just turn around and invest the tax savings).

That said, we don't have to decide until next April. At which point we will have more information. If we can easily cash flow the ROTHs at that point, we may just to do so. If not, we can do the Tradiitonal IRA, or do 5/50.

For 2013, I had already committed to doing the ROTHs. Kind of glad about that. Because if I thought to check before I filed, I might have changed my mind. We got our ROTH balance to six figures already, so I think we will do fine whatever we decide. (Those ROTHs will be no small beans when we reach retirement age, even if we stop contributing to them).

(Tax) Knowledge is Power

January 19th, 2013 at 01:34 pm

I am quite sure the average person is quite ignorant about all the taxes they pay.

I know I personally have a very strong edge with all my tax knowledge (income tax, payroll tax, etc.).

BUT, I don't always pay attention to every tax I pay. Some of the smaller stuff is easy to ignore.

SO, while I am tracking our sales tax this year and monitoring that I am also starting to look at all the taxes that we pay.

So, I have more tax observations, and I found a simple way to save some taxes!

**We share cell phone service with my parents, who live in another city. While looking at our cell taxes, I found that our city has some of the highest cell phone taxes in the region. Which is not to say there is much we can do, because my parents live in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Odds are, their tax is even higher.

So I looked it up. Best I can tell, our cell phone tax rate is 7%. I have *no idea* how it is figured, since it comes out to about 3% of our total cell charges. BUT I found that San Jose has a cell phone tax rate of 5%.

Worth a shot, so I changed the mailing address to my folks' address. Totally on the up and up as our usage runs very 50/50. It's a toss up which city the taxes should be billed too. We have apparently been paying more tax than we need to, for several years. {I initially did not want to change it all over to their name, but realized that all I had to do was change the billing address. Easy peasy! Will see if this makes a difference...}.

**I am also seeing another layer of it being impossible to compare apples to apples sometimes when discussing these things online.**

Other utility billing observations:

**Our landline is also subject to the 7% tax, but it cost pennies. In fact, all of our landline taxes (lots of Federal taxes) are negated out because they run about $2 per month, and we get a $2 credit per month for getting online bills. So, I'll consider it a "no tax."

**Our internet is subject to -0- taxes. No fees. No taxes. I found this one surprising. I didn't know "high speed internet" was tax-free.

Clearly it's in how they bill it. I am sure they could lower the "bill" and add some fees. This is one of our higher utility bills. All the fees are obviously included in the rate. But still, I like the no tax part!

**Water/City Charges. $0 Tax.

I appreciate this because their charges are kind of insane and completely out of our control. For reference, the metered water portion of our bill was $3 last month. The rest is a flat fee, and we pay a TON for water in this city. Glad I don't have to pay taxes on top of fees I can't control at all.

**County Sewer Charges

It's a flat fee and I don't have the bill handy. I don't think the taxes really matter - they will charge what they charge and I have no control over it. But I will look it up later.

**Gas and electric is interesting. We use the regional private PG&E for gas and the local city utility for electric. The general impression is that our electric is dirt cheap because of this. Hard to say (I'd have to compare rates), but the city charges us a heck of a lot of FEES. I think our lower electric bill is mostly due to the energy efficiency of our home. As most people even locally guess we pay about 3 times what we do in winter, etc. {My parents seem to think they'd have a much lower bill here than their PG&E Electric, but I am not so sure - excepting a more modern and energy efficient home}.

PG&E GAS: 7.5% utility tax. Basically no charges and fees. We barely use any gas and so the tax is negligible. We literally pay on average $20/month. We have gas heat (furnace, hot water, gas stove, etc.).

City Electric: 7.5% utility tax. Plus this and that fee. They literally add $18/month just plain flat fees, to our bill. Our last bill (December) was $55 for electricity usage and $25 for fees and taxes. Lovely!!

So though I always kind of feel like our electricity conservation isn't as stellar as our gas conservation, I suppose that really isn't quite fair. Electric costs more anyway, and the fees and the taxes add up. This utility tax is calculated based on all the usage AND the fees. So, double ouch.

So today I have far more knowledge than I had yesterday. & I might have even saved a couple of bucks in the process.

Sales Tax Tracking

January 10th, 2013 at 06:51 pm

My overall feeling is that we don't pay a lot of sales tax. It's a tax that is easy to avoid with lifestyle choices.

SO, I am putting my feelings to the test. I don't know if I will have the patience to track this all year, or if it will get too tedious.

This is what I got so far:



Our sales tax just went up to 8% on 1/1.

I was pleased to see that our grocery bill was literally $0 sales tax. That is about what I expected - but seems like this or that or the other is always taxed. Obviously this was an all-food run.

(I think at Target dh also picked up some tape. I just lump most the household type spending with "groceries.").

This is all good, since grocery spending is the bulk of our retail spending.

We will see how the year progresses...

IRS Filing January 30th

January 8th, 2013 at 03:00 pm

IRS announced today that they will accept e-files on January 30th. They will accept paper returns prior, but will not process them before January 30th.

The following forms will not be processed until late February or March (see list on link):

[url]www.irs.gov/uac/Newsroom/List-of-IRS-forms-that-1040-fi...

Most the items on the list are not common forms. I give the IRS credit for not delaying more forms. But maybe since the tax changes were not too different from last year...

Taxes Taxes Taxes

January 2nd, 2013 at 11:03 am

I have extremely mixed feelings about the tax bill that just passed in Congress. I will note the changes at the end of this post, for inquiring minds who want a quick summary.

My feelings are a little bit of "Holy heck, our taxes would have been insane" without these tax extensions. On the flip side, the tax extensions are expected to add $4 trillion to the deficit over the next decade. My ire goes to why these tax cuts were ever put in the first place (during times of high spending/war, etc.). This can be seen as very political, but to me it just is what it is. We certainly wouldn't run our household in this way financially - it is totally insane.

I think a lot of it is fine temporarily with the economy in the toilet, but not sure why so much of this is being made more permanent.

As to Congress? Seriously? Like you couldn't have figured this out 30 days ago? 2 weeks ago? Life has been rendered beyond complicated for me in the tax field. I feel more sorry for software developers and the IRS, though.

I am so relieved AMT is patched and we saved that $500. Not that I have strong opposition to paying another $500 in taxes. But I Really thought Congress was going to pay lip service to middle class tax cuts while letting stealth taxes like AMT run rampant. As they have been for a long time. The fact it was going to affect us was not a good sign for the lower middle class. I am more relieved that they made a permanent patch, indexed to inflation. This should have been done about 15 years ago...

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I ran some tax projections today. We are still at owing about $1,000; is what I projected early in 2012. Final number was highly dependent on medical bills for the year, which ended up as low as could be.

I ran tax projections for next year, but our software has not been updated for the very recent tax law changes. So, I refigured what it will be. Interesting to note, our taxes would have gone up $2500 this year without recent tax law changes. Add in $1500 for the payroll tax holiday ending. That is no small sum, to me. 5% of our income would have gone to increased taxes. Ouch! Dodged a bullet, for sure. We'd survive, but not sure how most people would handle it. Which is why I have so many mixed feelings... (ETA: I think more to the point - our Federal income taxes would have about *doubled* with that $2500 increase. Ouch! I think that is what bothered me more than anything. I'll agree our taxes are too low and should go up, but no matter how you slice it, it is going to be painful when it comes to pass).

Since the payroll tax holiday expires, and my withholdings are probably due for a change due to less medical deductions allowed in 2013 (Obamacare tax increase) and lower mortgage rates, I refigured my paycheck at a few different exemption levels. Decided to move my allowances down from 12 to 10. I also increased my state withholding by $20 per month.

The net effect of all this is to decrease my paycheck by $230 per month. But would have me at about breakeven for our taxes *this year.* Which means we will still owe a little next year with all the reduced deductions - is fine.

Our health insurance also went up about $75/month. So we are down about $300/month between this and taxes. I had set aside the payroll tax holiday and refinance "monthly savings" to our savings account last year, but will lose that $300/month.

This leaves my savings goals mostly as is:

--$1200/month to short-term savings. I was thinking of upping this to $1300 for property tax increases, but that will only be half the year, and I have run out of savings room anyway. Paying more income taxes and owing less later will help with just keeping our savings at $1200/month. All this money is spent within the year (mostly various insurances and taxes)

--$400/month to mid-term savings.

--Max out ROTHs, of course

--Overtime saved for China

--Extra mortgage payments will have to be snowflaked and come from other income sources. I think $4k is still very possible. Dh's folks seem very generous of late. It is also not every year that we will be saving a large sum for an overseas trip. More like "once every decade or two." So still gives us wiggle room for ever rising health insurance and ability to prepay more to the mortgage in future years, all else being equal.

--Raise? Perhaps, but doubt it will be much if anything. If so, I will put it to the ROTHs. We have been doing about $800/month. $900/month is a better clip for the new contribution limits. (It doesn't matter for this year, since I already advanced the additional $1000, but will help for next year, and is probably where any raise should go).

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**I harvested some capital gains in the kids' accounts this year, since the stock market kept going up, up and up. Basically, first $1900 or so of investment income is tax-free for them, annually. I was also unsure if this would still be true for 2013 (0% capital gains rate for them, and us, in 2012).

We don't bother with the complications of 529s and such, because hell would freeze over before we actually were eligible for any financial aid, and because it is pretty darn simple at this stage in the game to keep their earnings tax-free. Our strategy can always be re-evaluated as money grows and actually starts hitting kiddie tax limits. For now, I sell high and reset the cost basis of their mutual funds. This is the first time I have ever had any motivation to do so (in about 10 years).

I checked today and they were well under the limit. They both had about $1,100 in investment income for 2012. I was checking to be sure, when projecting our taxes.

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**Did you hear that California now has highest income tax bracket in the U.S. 13.3%? Ouch! A huge tax increase just went into effect on higher incomes. Thing is we already totally gouge the rich. I don't intend to ever be *that* rich, so we are okay. Our effective income tax rate for 2012 was less than 1% of my salary.

It's such a progressive tax state, that I don't have many complaints at our income level. I was thinking of tracking our sales taxes this year, out of curiosity. I don't think we pay that much because we don't consume that much. But I am curious to see real numbers. I may only have the energy to track for a month. Might be pretty tedious.

Obviously this is more painful with big purchases. So not that it never affects us - but less likely to affect us much on a day-to-day basis.

The ugliest taxes we pay are probably gasoline taxes. I should probably track those too.

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Recent Federal tax changes of note:

--Top rate 39.6% (up from 35%) for individuals making $400k+ and married households with $450k+ income.

--Payroll tax holiday is gone - Social security tax goes up from 4.2% to 6.2%, starting January 1.

--AMT patch made permanent, indexed to inflation, starting 2012.

--The maximum capital gains tax will rise from 15% to 20% for individuals taxed at the 39.6% rates ($400k+ income, as noted above)

--The itemized deduction phase-out is reinstated, and personal exemption phase-out will be reinstated, but with different AGI starting thresholds (adjusted for inflation): $300,000 for married filing joint, and $250,000 for single.

--The estate tax will continue to provide an inflation-adjusted $5 million exemption (effectively $10 million for married couples) but will be applied at a higher 40% rate (up from 35% in 2012).

--The $1,000 Child Tax Credit will be extended through 2017.

The following is for 2013 only:

--No taxes on discharge of debt (e.g. foreclosure) for primary residence.

--Mortgage insurance premiums treated as deductible interest.

--college tuition deductions

--favorable business write-offs for equipment purchases, extended one year