Effective tax rates in the United States

I messed up! Despite trying to make this article as fact-based as possible, I botched it. I’ve made corrections but if you read the comments, early responses may be confusing in light of my changes.

For the most part, the world of personal finance is calm and collected. There’s not a lot of bickering. Writers (and readers) agree on most concepts and most solutions. And when we do disagree, it’s generally because we’re coming from different places.

Take getting out of debt, for instance. This is one of those topics where people do disagree — but they disagree politely.

Hardcore numbers nerds insist that if you’re in debt, you ought to repay high-interest obligations first. The math says this is the smartest path. Other folks, including me, argue that other approaches are valid. You might pay off debts with emotional baggage first. And many people would benefit from repaying debt from smallest balance to highest balance — the Dave Ramsey approach — rather than focusing on interest rates.

That said, some money topics can be very, very contentious.

Any time I write about money and relationships (especially divorce), I know the debate will get lively. Should you rent a home or should you buy? That question gets people fired up too. What’s the definition of retirement? Should you give up your car and find another way to get around?

But out of all the topics I’ve ever covered at Get Rich Slowly, perhaps the most incendiary has been taxes. People have a lot of deeply-held beliefs about taxes, and they don’t appreciate when they read info that contradicts these beliefs. Chaos ensues.

Tax Facts

When I do write about taxes — which isn’t often — I try to stick to facts and steer clear of opinions. Examples:

  • The U.S. tax burden is relatively low when compared to other countries.
  • The U.S. tax burden is relatively low when compared to U.S. tax burdens in the past.
  • Overall, the U.S. has a progressive tax system. People who earn more pay more. That said, certain taxes are regressive (meaning that, as a percentage of income, low earners pay more).
  • A large number of Americans (roughly one-third) pay no federal income tax at all.
  • Despite fiery rhetoric, no one political party is better with taxing and spending than the other. The only period during the past fifty years in which the U.S. government had a budget surplus was 1998-2001 under President Bill Clinton and a Republican-controlled Congress.

Even when I state these facts, there are people who disagree with me. They don’t agree that these are facts. Or they don’t agree these facts are relevant.

Also, I sometimes read complaints that the wealthy are taxed too much. To make their argument, writers make statements like, “The top 50% of taxpayers pay 97% of all federal income taxes.” While this statement is true, I don’t feel like it’s a true measure of where tax burdens fall.

I believe there’s a better, more accurate way to analyze tax burdens.

Effective Tax Burden

To me, what matters more than nominal tax dollars paid is each individual’s effective tax burden.

Your effective tax burden is usually defined as your total tax paid as a percentage of your income. If you take every tax dollar you pay — federal income tax, state income tax, property tax, sales tax, and so on — then divide this total by how much you’ve earned, what is that percentage?

This morning, while curating links for Apex Money — my second personal-finance site, which is devoted to sharing top money stories from around the web — I found an interesting infographic from Visual Capitalist. (VC is a great site, by the way. Love it.) They’ve created a graphic that visualizes effective tax rates by state.

Here’s a summary graph (not the main visualization):

State effective tax rates

As you can see, on average the top 1% of income earners in the U.S. have a state effective tax rate of 7.4%. The middle 60% of U.S. workers have a state effective tax rate of around 10%. And the bottom 20% of income earners (which Visual Capitalist incorrectly labels “poorest Americans” — wealth and income are not the same thing) have a state effective tax rate of 11.4%.

Tangent: This conflation of wealth with income continues to grate on my nerves. I’ll grant that there’s probably a correlation between the two, but they are not the same thing. For the past few years, I’ve had a low income. I’m in the bottom 20% of income earners. But I am not poor. I have a net worth of $1.5 million. And I know plenty of people — hey, brother! — with high incomes and low net worths.

It’s important to note — and this caused me confusion, which meant I had to revise this article — that the Visual Capital numbers are for state and local taxes only. They don’t include federal income taxes. (Coincidentally, I made a similar mistake a decade ago when writing about marginal tax rates. I had to make corrections to that article too. Sigh.)

GRS readers quickly helped me remedy my mistake, pointing to the nonprofit Tax Foundation’s summary of federal income tax data. With a bit of detective work, I uncovered this graph of federal effective tax rates by income from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. (Come on. What parent names their kid Peter Peterson? That’s mean.)

Federal effective tax rates

Let’s put this all together! According to the Institute on Taxation on Economic Policy, this graph represents total effective tax rates for folks of various income levels. Note that this graph is explicitly comparing projected numbers in 2018 for a) the existing tax laws (in blue) and b) the previous tax laws (in grey).

TOTAL effective tax rates in the U.S

Total Tax Burden vs. Total Income

Here’s one final graph, also from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. This is the graph that I personally find the most interesting. It compares the share of total taxes paid by each income group to their share of the country’s total income.

Tax burden vs. total income

Collectively, the bottom 20% of income earners in the United States earned 3.5% of total income. They paid 1.9% of the total tax bill. The top 1% of income earners in the U.S. earned one-fifth of the nation’s total personal income. They paid 22.9% of total taxes.

Is the U.S. tax system fair? Should people with high incomes pay more? Do they pay more than their fair share? Should low-income workers pay more? Are we talking about numbers that are so close together that it doesn’t matter? I don’t know and, truthfully, I don’t care. I’m concerned with personal finance not politics. But I do care about facts. And civility.

The problem with discussions about taxation is that people talk about different things. When some folks argue, they’re talking about marginal tax rates. Others are talking about effective tax rates. Still others are talking about actual, nominal numbers. When some people talk about wealth, they mean income. Others — correctly — mean net worth. It’s all very confusing, even to smart people who mean well.

Final Note

Under the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014, the U.S. Department of the Treasury was required to establish a website — USASpending.gov — to provide the American public with info on how the federal government spends its money. While the usability of the site could use some work, it does provide a lot of information, and I’m sure it’ll become one of my go-to tools when writing about taxes. (I intend to update a couple of my older articles this year.)

U.S. federal budget

The USA Spending site has a Data Lab that’s currently in public beta-testing. This subsite provides even more ways to explore how the government spends your money. (I also found another simple budget-visualization tool from Brad Flyon at Learn Forever Learn.)

Okay, that’s all I have for today. Let the bickering begin!

Source: getrichslowly.org

A Guide to Coinsurance and Copays

You often pay your copay when you check in for a visit.

Having health insurance makes it possible to receive medical care while only paying a fraction of that care’s true cost. Insurance doesn’t cover everything, however. Some of the cost of your care is still up to you to pay, and that cost comes in two primary forms: copays and coinsurance.

What Is a Copay?

A copay is a flat amount of money that you’re responsible for paying for a health care service. Copays typically apply for things like a doctor’s appointment, prescription drug or medical test. The amount of your copay is dependent on your specific health insurance plan.

You can typically expect to pay your copay when you check in for your service, be it an annual physical, dental cleaning or blood test. Copays are typically lower amounts ranging from $10 for something like a generic drug prescription to around $65 for a visit to a medical specialist.

Depending on your insurance plan, copays may not take effect until after you reach your deductible. Your deductible is the amount of money you must pay out-of-pocket before your insurance provider starts to pitch in. Deductibles reset at the beginning of every year.

When you are reviewing your plan information and you see the phrase “after deductible” or “deductible applies” in reference to your copays, that’s an indication that the copay is only in place once you meet your deductible. On the other hand, if you see “deductible waived,” that’s a sign that your copay is in place from the beginning. It may go without saying, but the latter situation is vastly preferable to you.

What Is Coinsurance?

Coinsurance is another method of splitting the cost of medical coverage with your insurance plan. A coinsurance is a percentage of the cost of services. You pay the percentage, and your insurance company foots the rest of the bill. So, if you have a $8,000 medical bill and a 20% coinsurance, you would be on the hook for $1,600.

Coinsurance typically only comes into play after you hit your deductible. Further, you may have differing coinsurance percentages for the same services depending on your provider network. If you have a preferred provider organization (PPO) plan, your coinsurance could be a higher percentage for providers outside your network than it is for providers in your network.

Similarly, your coinsurance may not apply to providers outside your network if you have a health maintenance organization (HMO) plan or an exclusive provider organization (EPO) plan. That’s because these plans typically don’t provide any out-of-network coverage.

Copay vs. Coinsurance

You likely pay a copay when you visit the doctor.

Copay and coinsurance are very similar terms. They both have to do with portions of the cost of your health care that’s under your responsibility. Because of that, and their similar names, it’s easy to confuse the two. There are a couple of important distinctions to keep in mind, however.

The most notable difference between copays and coinsurance is that copays are always a flat amount and coinsurance is always a percentage of the cost of the service. Another difference is that some copays can be in place before you hit your deductible, depending on the specifics of your plan. With coinsurance, you have to hit your deductible first.

Bottom Line

copays are fixed amounts, while coinsurance is a percentage.

If you’re choosing between health insurance plans, make sure to examine the provided copays and coinsurance for each option. While they may not be the most important factor to consider, a high copay can be quite a pain, especially over the course of years of appointments and procedures.

Tips for Staying on Top of Medical Expenses

  • One of the best ways to stay ahead of surprise medical expenses is to have an emergency fund in place for just such a situation. If you can manage it, have three to six months worth of expenses stashed away in a high-yield savings account. That way, if you’re dealing with medical bills or have to step away from work, you’ll have a bit of a cushion.
  • If you’re not sure how an unexpected medical expenses would fit into your finances, consider working with a financial advisor to develop a financial plan. Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

Photo Credit: ©iStock.com/DuxX, Â©iStock.com/SARINYAPINNGAM, Â©iStock.com/Aja Koska

The post A Guide to Coinsurance and Copays appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

15-Year vs. 30-Year Mortgages: Which is Better?

Once you decide to become a homeowner, it’s likely that you will need to take out a mortgage to purchase your new home. While the conclusion that you need a mortgage to finance your home is usually easy to arrive at, deciding which one is right for you can be overwhelming. One of the many decisions a prospective homebuyer must make is choosing between a 15-year versus 30-year mortgage.

From the names alone, it’s hard to tell which one is the better option. Under ideal circumstances, a 15-year mortgage mathematically makes sense as the better option. However, the path to homeownership is often far from ideal (and who are we kidding, under ideal circumstances we’d all have large sums of money to purchase a house in cash). So the better question for homebuyers to ask is which one is best for you?

To help you make the most informed financial decisions, we detail the differences between the 15-year and 30-year mortgage, the pros and cons of each, and options for which one is better based on your financial priorities.

The Difference Between 15-Year Vs. 30-Year Mortgages

The main difference between a 15-year and 30-year mortgage is the amount of time in which you promise to repay your loan, also known as the loan term.

The loan term of a mortgage has the ability to affect other aspects of your mortgage like interest rates and monthly payments. Loan terms come in a variety of lengths such as 10, 15, 20, and 30 years, but we’re discussing the two most common options here.

The Difference Between 15-Year Vs. 30-Year Mortgages

What Is a 15-Year Mortgage?

A 15-year mortgage is a mortgage that’s meant to be paid in 15 years. This shorter loan term means that amortization, otherwise known as the gradual repayment of your loan, happens more quickly than other loan terms.

What Is a 30-Year Mortgage?

On the other hand, a 30-year mortgage is repaid in 30 years. This longer loan term means that amortization happens more slowly.

Pros and Cons of a 15-Year Mortgage

The shorter loan term of a 15-year mortgage means more money saved over time, but sacrifices affordability with higher monthly payments.

Pros

  • Lower interest rates (often by a full percentage point!)
  • Less money paid in interest over time

Cons

  • Higher monthly payments
  • Less affordability and flexibility

Pros and Cons of a 30-Year Mortgage

As the mortgage term chosen by the majority of American homebuyers, the longer 30-year loan term has the advantage of affordable monthly payments, but comes at the cost of more money paid over time in interest.

Pros

  • Lower monthly payments
  • More affordable and flexible

Cons

  • Higher interest rates
  • More money paid in interest over time

15-Year Mortgage

30-Year Mortgage

Pros

• Lower interest rates
• Less money paid in interest over time
• Lower monthly payments
• More affordable and flexible

Cons

• Higher monthly payments
• Less affordability and flexibility
• Higher interest rates
• More money paid in interest over time

Which Is Better For You?

Now with what you know about the pros and cons of each loan term, use that knowledge to match your financial priorities with the mortgage that is best for you.

Best to Save Money Over Time: 15-Year Mortgage

The 15-year mortgage may be best for those who wish to spend less on interest, have a generous income, and also have a reliable amount in savings. With a 15-year mortgage, your income would need to be enough to cover higher monthly mortgage payments among other living expenses, and ample savings are important to serve as a buffer in case of emergency.

Best for Monthly Affordability: 30-Year Mortgage

A 30-year mortgage may be best if you’re seeking stable and affordable monthly payments or wish for more flexibility in saving and spending your money over time. The longer loan term may also be the better option if you plan on purchasing property you couldn’t normally afford to repay in just 15 years.

Best of Both: 30-Year Mortgage with Extra Payments

Want the best of both worlds? A good option to save on interest and have affordable monthly payments is to opt for a 30-year mortgage but make extra payments. You can still have the goal of paying off your mortgage in 15 or 20 years time on a 30-year mortgage, but this option can be more forgiving if life happens and you don’t meet that goal. Before going this route, make sure to ask your lender about any prepayment penalties that may make interest savings from early payments obsolete.

Best of Both- 30-Year Mortgage with Extra Payments

As a prospective homebuyer, it’s important that you set yourself up for financial success. Fine-tuning your personal budget and diligently saving and paying off debt help prepare you to take the next steps toward buying a new home. Doing your research and learning about mortgages also helps you make decisions in your best interest.

When picking a mortgage, always keep in mind what is financially realistic for you. If that means forgoing better savings on interest in the name of affordability, then remember that path still leads to homeownership. Try out these budget templates for your home or monthly expenses to help keep you on a good path to achieving your goals.

Sources: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

The post 15-Year vs. 30-Year Mortgages: Which is Better? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Popular Housing Markets During the Pandemic

There’s something weird happening with the real estate markets today. Normally in a recession, demand for rentals goes up while demand for houses goes down. But if there’s anything 2020 has taught us, it’s that everything is turned on its head right now. 

Instead, we’re seeing an interesting trend: despite the ongoing pandemic, home-buying is experiencing higher demand now than they have been since 1999, according to the National Association of RealtorsⓇ (NAR). If you’ve been hoping to buy a home soon, you’re probably already aware of this weird trend, and excited. But is it the same story everywhere? And is a pandemic really the right time to buy? 

How the Pandemic is Changing Homeownership

This pandemic is different from any other in history in that many people — especially some of the highest-paid workers — aren’t being hit as hard as people who rely on their manual labor for income. This, coupled with an ultra-low mortgage rate environment and a new lifestyle that’s not fit for a cramped apartment, is creating the perfect storm of high-dollar homebuyers. 

“I didn’t want to pay someone else’s mortgage to have three roommates,” says Amy Klegarth, a genomics specialist who recently purchased a home in White Center, a suburb of Seattle where she was formerly renting. “I moved because I could afford to get a house with a large yard here for my goats, Taco and Piper.” 

Whether you have goat kids or human kids (or even no kids), you’re not the only one looking for a new home in a roomier locale. According to the NAR report, home sales in suburban areas went up 7% compared to just before the pandemic started. In some markets, it’s not hard to understand why people are moving out. 

Where Are People Going?

Apartments are small everywhere, but they’re not all the same price. For example, homes in cities tend to be 300 square feet smaller than their suburban counterparts. Some of the hottest home-buying markets right now are in areas where nearby rents are already too high, often clustered around tech and finance hubs that attract high-paid workers. After all, if you can’t go into the office and all of the normal city attractions are shut down, what’s the point of paying those high rental costs?

According to a December 2020 Zumper report, the top five most expensive rental markets in the U.S. are San Francisco, New York City, Boston, San Jose, and Oakland. But if you’re ready to buy a home during the pandemic, there are nearby cheaper markets to consider.

If You Rent in San Francisco,  San Jose, and Oakland, CA

Alternative home-buying market: San Diego, Sacramento 

  • Average rent: San Francisco, $2,700, San Jose, $2,090; Oakland; $2,000
  • Average home value (as of writing): San Diego ($675,496) and Sacramento ($370,271)
  • Estimated mortgage payment with 20% down: San Diego ($2,255) and Sacramento ($1,236)

Big California cities are the quintessential meccas for tech workers, and that’s often exactly who’s booking it out of these high-priced areas right now. Gay Cororaton, Director of Housing and Commercial Research for the National Association of Realtors (NAR), offers two suggestions for San Francisco and other similar cities in California. 

San Diego

First, is the San Diego-metro area, which has a lot to offer people who are used to big-city living but don’t want the big-city prices. An added bonus: your odds of staying employed as a tech worker might be even higher in this city. 

“Professional tech services jobs make up 18% of the total payroll employment, which is actually a higher fraction than San Jose (15.5%) and San Francisco (9.3%),” says Cororaton.

Sacramento

If you’re willing to go inland, you can find even cheaper prices yet in Sacramento. “Tech jobs have been growing, and account for 7% of the workforce,” says Cororaton. “Still not as techie as San Jose, San Francisco, or San Diego, but tech jobs are moving there where housing is more affordable. It’s also just 2 hours away from Lake Tahoe.”

If You Rent in New York, NY

Alternative home-buying market: New Rochelle, Yonkers, Nassau, Newark, Jersey City

  • Average rent: $2,470
  • Average home value (as of writing): New Rochelle ($652,995), Yonkers ($549,387), Nassau ($585,741), Newark ($320,303), or Jersey City ($541,271)
  • Estimated mortgage payment with 20% down: New Rochelle ($2,180), Yonkers ($1,834), Nassau ($1,955), Newark ($1,069), or Jersey City ($1,807)

Living in New York City, it might seem like you don’t have any good options. But the good news is you do — lots of them, in fact. They still might be more expensive than the average home price across the U.S., but these alternative markets are still a lot more affordable than within, say, Manhattan. 

New Rochelle and Yonkers

Both New Rochelle and Yonkers are about an hour’s drive from the heart of New York City, says Corcoran. If you ride by train, it’s a half hour. Both New Rochelle and Yonkers have been stepping up their appeal in recent years to attract millennials who can’t afford city-living anymore (or don’t want to be “house poor”), so you’ll be in good company. 

Nassau

“NAR ranked Nassau as one of the top places to work from home in the state of New York because it has already a large population of workers in professional and business services and has good broadband access,” says Cororaton. If you have ideas about moving to Nassau you’ll need to move quickly. Home sales are up by 60% this year compared to pre-pandemic times. 

Newark or Jersey City

If you don’t mind moving to a different state (even if it is a neighbor), you can find even lower real estate prices in New Jersey. This might be a good option if you only need to ride back into the city on occasion because while the PATH train is well-developed, it’s a bit longer of a ride, especially if you live further out in New Jersey. 

If You Rent in Boston, MA

Alternative home-buying market: Quincy, Framingham, Worcester

  • Average rent: $2,150
  • Average home value (as of writing): Quincy ($517,135), Framingham ($460,584), or Worcester ($284,936)
  • Estimated mortgage payment with 20% down: Quincy ($1,726), Framingham ($1,538), or Worcester ($951)

Boston is another elite coastal market, but unlike New York, there’s still plenty of space if you head south or even inland. In particular, Quincy and Framingam still offer plenty of deals for new buyers.

Quincy

If you like your suburbs a bit more on the urban side, consider Quincy. Although it’s technically outside of the city, it’s also not so isolated that you’ll feel like you’re missing out on the best parts of Boston-living. You’ll be in good company too, as there are plenty of other folks living here who want to avoid the high real estate prices within Boston itself.

Framingham

Framingham is undergoing an active revitalization right now in an effort to attract more people to its community. As such, you’ll be welcome in this town that’s only a 30-minute drive from Boston.

Worcester

“Now, if you can work from home, consider Worcester,” says Cororaton. “It’s an hour away from Boston which is not too bad if you only have to go to the Boston office, say, twice a week.” Worcester (pronounced “wuh-ster”) is also a great place for a midday break if you work from home, with over 60 city parks to choose from for a stroll.

Renting Market(s) Average Rent for 1-Bedroom Apartment Housing Market Options & Avg. Monthly Mortgage*
San Francisco, CASan Jose, CAOakland, CA $2,700 San Diego ($2,255) Sacramento ($1,236)
New York, NY $2,470 New Rochelle ($2,180) Yonkers ($1,834)Nassau ($1,955)Newark ($1,069)Jersey City ($1,807)
Boston, MA $2,150 Quincy ($1,726)Framingham ($1,538)Worcester ($951)

*Average home mortgage estimates based on a 20% down payment.

Should You Buy a House During a Pandemic?

There’s no right or wrong answer here, but it’s a good idea to consider your long-term housing needs versus just what’ll get you through the next few months. 

For example, just about everyone would enjoy some more room in their homes to stretch right now. But if you’re the type of person who prefers a night on the town, you might be miserable in a rural area by the time things get back to normal. But if you’ve always dreamed of a big vegetable garden or yard for the family dog, now could be the right time to launch those plans. 

Another factor to consider is job security. And remember that even if you’re permanently working from home today — and not everyone has this ability — living further from the city could limit your future opportunities if a job requires you to be on-site in the city.

Finally, consider this: most homes in outlying areas weren’t built with the pandemic in mind. For example, “… open floor plans were popular, pre-pandemic,” says Cororaton. “If the home for sale has an open floor plan, you’d have to imagine how to reconfigure the space and do some remodeling to create that work or school area.” 

Here are some other things to look for:

  • Outdoor space
  • Area for homeschooling
  • Broadband internet access
  • Proximity to transport routes
  • Office for working from home

Is It More Affordable to Buy or Rent?

There aren’t any hard-and-fast rules when it comes to whether it’s cheaper to rent or buy. Each of these choices has associated costs. To rent, you’ll need to pay for your base rent, pet fees and rent, parking permits, deposits, renters insurance, and more. To buy, you’ll have an even bigger list, including property taxes, maintenance and upgrades, HOA fees, homeowners insurance, closing costs, higher utility bills, and on.

Each of these factors has the potential to tip the balance in favor of buying or renting. That’s why it makes sense to use a buy vs. rent calculator that can track all of these moving targets and estimate which one is better based on your financial situation and the choices available to you. 

In general, though, most experts advise keeping your housing costs to below 30 percent of your take-home pay when setting up your budget. The lower, the better — then, you’ll have even more money left over to save for retirement, your kid’s college education, and even to pay your mortgage off early. 

The post Popular Housing Markets During the Pandemic appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

Mortgage Rate vs. APR: What to Watch For

It’s time for another mortgage match-up: “Mortgage rate vs. APR.” If you’re shopping for real estate or looking to refinance, and you’ve seen a certain mortgage rate advertised, you may have noticed a second, similar percentage adjacent to or below that interest rate, possibly in smaller, fine print. But why? Well, one is the mortgage [&hellip

The post Mortgage Rate vs. APR: What to Watch For first appeared on The Truth About Mortgage.

Source: thetruthaboutmortgage.com