So I Paid Off My Student Loans- Part 1

If you’ve been following this blog for the past few years, you may know that I’ve been on a quest to pay off my student loans since… basically forever. Actually, for the first few years after I graduated, as my debt amount surged while interest piled up, I simply lived in hopeless despair. I wondered what magical miracle would occur that would enable me to pay off more than $100,000 (yes that 6th zero belongs) worth of debt – and for undergrad only! I’m not even a doctor or a lawyer or even a prosperous business person- I have a DRAMA degree, for god’s sake! And that $100,000 total is with ONE YEAR PAID OFF ALREADY by mom and grandma! So even with a whole year of school paid off, plus some financial aid, my loans were STILL that much!

And the loan kept growing, even after college ended, because in the first few years after graduation I’d decided that since my interest was high on the smaller of the two loans (one was for around $86,000 and the other was $14,000), I’d put the smaller loan on forbearance (effectively deferring it) and not pay it for awhile.

I know now that this is BACKWARDS thinking- it’s a really bad idea to put loans on forbearance unless you’re absolutely desperate and have no other choice. To be fair, most people put loans on forbearance because they have no other choice- I myself was the definition of desperate- so the warning is probably unnecessary. But forbearance is a horrible sneaky trap that only punishes your future self while your current self breathes a very temporary sigh of relief. I got the 14k loan down to 11k with a lot of blood sweat and tears, and then put that loan on forbearance for a year. When I started paying it again, after only one year of deferment, the loan had GONE BACK UP to 14K! As if I had never made a dent! The experience was both sickening and horrifying.

NYU is even more expensive now- disgustingly expensive. Somewhere around 70K a year expensive. It’s wayyyy overpriced, and pricing seems to only be only going up. The thing is, many colleges are following that same path of being completely out of line overpriced- the problem is not just NYU. To be fair, I really enjoyed my NYU program- I had private conservatory training in all aspects of acting, directing, and theater, and the 4 years were pretty amazing. It’s not a bad school. But the loans afterwards all but buried me- and I don’t recommend anyone ever taking on that kind of student loan debt. Ever. Even if  you’re going to medical school or something that should fast track to a lucrative career, I’d still advise you to think your finances through very carefully.

In a blaze of glory I finally completed my last student loan payment this February, 2018. I still can’t believe it. I remember the day I hit ‘send’ on that last payment- I cried. My body shook in front of my computer and nothing made sense. The student debt that had hung over my head for so many years of my early adult life was finally gone. It felt like a miracle- but it wasn’t. It was the result of an incredible amount of work and very carefully calculated planning. Even making very little money per year, I finally did it. I did it.

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I did it! In the next post I’ll tell you how…

 

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The Most Common Tax Questions in Your Thirties- Part 1

Oh man, it’s getting to be tax time soon. Has anyone already filed their taxes? If so, good for you! Kudos!

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I’m still working in Chicago right now and won’t be able to get all my 1099s together and ready for filing until I get back to New York. I have things moderately organized, and I even have an accountant, but my tax preparation still requires quite a bit of effort- especially since I sometimes end up with over a dozen 1099s per year (!)

In honor of the advent of tax season, and taxes starting to be on the forefront of everyone’s mind, I’ve compiled a list of common tax questions that are relevant to those of us in our thirties. The first few are pretty basic ones which you may have already figured out, and then they get slightly more detailed. Of course, tax answers are rarely simple, so you should make sure to triple check everything for your own personal situation. And I’m splitting this into sections, so you’ll get more tax question and tip articles as April 15th approaches.

1. Should I use tax software this year? Which program?

I used to use H&R Block’s tax software, which I think is pretty good. It’s about $20 for a basic program, and $65 for self-employed software.Turbotax is also quite popular- and it’s base cost is free. Once my self-employment taxes started to get really complex, I hired an accountant.

2. Should I get an accountant?

Only you know whether you need an accountant based on your personal situation. However, I think you can almost definitely make do with simple tax software if you are an employee with only one job and all you need to file is your w2. If you have side income from anything (rental income, side jobs, etc), you may want to consider an accountant- however, I think you still may be able to use tax software successfully. If you’re self-employed, I recommend considering an accountant, if only to protect yourself from accidental audit triggers. You can even find accountants on Yelp now. My goodness, I love Yelp.

3. How much do accountants cost?

CPA’s (Certified Public Accounts) charge anywhere from $150-$400 or more. But you can definitely get a great accountant for less than $400…read those Yelp reviews. A funny bonus of having an accountant is that your tax prep fee is actually tax deductible!

4. Does last year’s tax refund count as income this year?

The answer to this is almost always no if you took the standard deduction. If you itemized your deductions, it may count as income- look into it.

5. What documents do I need to do my taxes?

You need all your w2s (if you work only one job, you’ll have only one w2).

You’ll need all your 1099s if you’re self-employed or have side income.

Also, it’s important to have documentation of any interest you made on any of your savings or investments (you get taxed on this).

Additionally, you’ll need documentation of any interest you paid so you can deduct that from your taxable income (the interest paid on student loans, etc, is tax deductible). Also, if you’re itemizing deductions, you’ll need your receipts, or a spreadsheet of your receipts if you made one. (You won’t actually need to show anyone the actual receipts (except your accountant) unless you’re audited.)

6. If I made very little money this year, do I still have to file taxes?

Officially, for 2014, if you’re under 65 and filing as single and independent, you don’t actually have to file your taxes if you made under $10,500. If you’re married and filing jointly and under 65, the number is $20,300. Here’s a chart with more details. However, you may still want to file taxes for several reasons- one of which is that if you had taxes withheld, you can’t get your tax refund without filing. Here are a few other reasons.

7. What are some deductions I can take to help reduce what I’m paying on my taxes?

Have you deducted the interest you’re paying on your mortgage or student loan debt? Have you deducted your health care costs? Did you spend lots money to move for your job? There are some great deductions you may not be using to your advantage. Mashable goes into fantastic detail on this here.

Hope this has helped you with some of your questions- feel free to comment below with additional ones- I’d love to hear from you! Look out for more tax info here soon, and good luck filing!

Am I Liable if I Marry Into Debt?

The other day a friend of mine and I were having dinner and she was discussing buying a house with her boyfriend. They’d been together for some time and were hoping to get married within the next few years.

“I’m wondering though,” she said, “if I’ll take on his debt when I marry him. ”

For the last two or three years, the number of people I know who are engaged, about to be engaged, or married has skyrocketed. This definitely corresponds with the thirties- many people hitting their thirties are (possibly) beginning to settle down and find others they want to be with for the rest of their lives. Not everyone, of course, but it’s definitely been a trend.

Which is why I was surprised that I didn’t know the answer- I felt like I’d researched this before, and the answer was no, but I couldn’t be positive. I actually forgot to look up the answer that night and then today Suze Orman just happened to bring it up on her podcast.

For anyone about to be married and wondering about it, the answer is:  NO, YOU WILL NOT LEGALLY INCUR ANY OF YOUR SPOUSE’S DEBT FROM BEFORE YOU WERE MARRIED. (Big sigh of relief!!) If your spouse incurred debt BEFORE you got married, it’s his or her debt ALONE. Of course, you can help with the debt, and some would say that once you’re married you share everything, including debt. But LEGALLY, debt incurred by one spouse before a marriage doesn’t touch the other one. No one is going to come after you for your spouse’s debt, and if they do they are JUST TRYING TO SCARE YOU. 

To avoid all the clarification questions Suze Orman (and all the finance websites I’ve been to) get all the time, I will clarify up front: the debt you’re NOT liable for includes EVERYTHING before marriage. It includes student loan debt, credit card debt, auto loan debt, tax debt, bank loans, EVERYTHING. You’re legally liable for NONE OF IT.

HOWEVER, debt incurred AFTER you get married is totally different. If you get married and your spouse suddenly gets into a lot of debt, that debt will be legally yours too IF you live in what are known as “Community Property States.”

Community-property states include Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin and the territory of Puerto Rico. Alaska also allows married couples to opt in to community-property status. Most people do not :p

If you’re NOT in any of these states, you’re in what’s known as a Common Law state. This means that in general if your spouse gets into debt, you’re not legally responsible. There are exceptions here such as if you open a joint account together and that account goes into collections (obviously, because now BOTH your names are on the account.)

Hope this solves things for any of you newly marrieds or almost-newlyweds! If any of our Canadian, UK, and other international readers would like to weigh in on the policy in your country, I’d love to learn about that (and I’m sure others would too!)

Sorry if this wasn’t the most fun topic ever, but it’s an important one as we head through the thirties. Here’s some funny photos of a flash mob I did once to lighten the mood, haha:

There were 50 of us dressed as brides and we stormed Times Square and took a lot of people by surprise.

There were 50 of us dressed as brides and we stormed Times Square and took a lot of people by surprise.

We were promoting a pretty terrible movie called "The Big Wedding." ;)

We were promoting a pretty terrible movie called “The Big Wedding.” 😉

 

Below are some links for even more details about marriage and debt:

The Simple Dollar: http://www.thesimpledollar.com/financial-infidelity-4-steps-for-healing-marriages-torn-by-finances/

Bankrate- http://www.bankrate.com/finance/debt/wife-not-married-to-spouse-s-old-debts-1.aspx#ixzz3Nzez1PNj

Nolo- http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/debt-marriage-owe-spouse-debts-29572.html

Lifehacker- http://twocents.lifehacker.com/how-to-protect-your-credit-when-you-marry-into-debt-1576458795

 

 

 

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