Posted on October 28, 2015
I was just working on calculating our deferred rent adjustment, because we amended our lease. I was pretty confident I did the calculation right, but sent it to the auditors to get their approval on the method. Auditors sent it back with a correction, and for a few moments, I thought they were right… then did the work of putting it into a journal entry and realizing nope… my original calculation was correct.
It reminded me of something that happened I think in my first year as an auditor, but maybe second. I found an error in the client’s deferred rent calculation. A big one. A couple hundred thousand dollars.
My manager said the client was right. I kept re-doing the math from different angles, and I kept coming out to the wrong answer. Frustrated with me, the manager had the partner deal with it. The partner looked at the client’s math, thought it looked fine, and explained that I was wrong.
Next year, we get out to the client site for the audit. Client has a new controller running things. He tells us “Oh, I had to make a huge adjustment to deferred rent when I started–I can’t believe you guys didn’t catch that it was all wrong.”
Okay, vindicated! Right? No. The manager and partner have somehow lost all memory of last year’s argument. They look to see who “screwed up” on last year’s work paper, and see that I did it. I never know in these situations if they just pretend not to remember because they don’t want to say they were wrong . . .
Anyway, in no way was it a good experience. Firstly, I set the stage for them to find me an annoying and frustrating staff member the first year, when I kept arguing my point. Secondly, they attributed the error to me anyway, once they heard it was wrong from someone they respected. Honestly, I still don’t know what lesson I learned from this. To just agree with the boss when you know they’re wrong, because it’s going to go their way anyway? Always send an e-mail explaining why I disagree so you can wave that around later? I mean, the consequences are much worse for the partner to be proven to have gotten it wrong than they are for people to think that I, the staff person, did it wrong. Really makes you question the competency of the firm as a whole.
But when people tell me they can’t do accounting because they’re “not very good at math” I just laugh at them . . . It didn’t seem to be part of the job requirement at my old firm.
Actually, it probably wasn’t weakness with math that was the problem–if the manager or partner had taken 5 minutes to really try to do the calc himself, he would have seen what I did. The problem was that he trusted that an experienced client had done it wrong, and he assumed that I, a young staff person, was unlikely to be doing it correctly. So maybe the only real lesson here is that if the people who are really working hard on a problem raise an issue to you, their manager, it is worth it to take it seriously, since they’re the ones who are “expert” in the details of the situation.
Posted on August 8, 2015
I first learned about early retirement about four years ago, in my first year of having a real job after college. I immediately knew that this was something I wanted to aim for.
I wasn’t on track to earn as much as say, Mr. Money Mustache did, early in his career, but accounting is pretty well-paid, and I live in a low cost-of-living area, relative to salaries, so it seemed like I should be able to make a plan and be financially independent well in advance of the traditional retirement age of 65.
Now, after five years of work, I think I could probably early retire in another seventeen years. (I am using what I believe to be “reasonable” expected rates of return, which are probably less aggressive than many other people doing this calculation.)
I find myself sitting here now with the following questions:
- If I have another 17 years of work anyway, should I try to change careers to another career that’s more rewarding for those remaining years of work?
- Should I try to find higher paying work that is more stressful, to retire sooner?
- Can I reasonably live a different lifestyle so as to retire sooner? Or is my lifestyle likely to just cost more, as we will likely move to a more expensive city and possibly have children during the next seventeen years?
- What will I do when I early retire?
- Is early retirement the right goal? Maybe I should instead try to identify a career that is rewarding enough that I will want to go to work as long as I possibly can?
- How should I plan for things that are best to enjoy, or can only happen, earlier in life (travel and kids)? i.e. Would have to take a break from work before 17 years have passed if I wanted to spend time at home with kids, and the return to work later.
I don’t have any answers yet, but I am exploring whether there exists another career path where I would be more excited to go to work every day. Otherwise, another compromise might be working as a consultant, but not full-time. This would be a great choice, except I’m starting to learn that typically opportunities where you only work say 2/3 of the time, usually pay less than 2/3 of the equivalent full-time salary. Anyone have any experience or thoughts on reducing workload?
Posted on June 16, 2015
As you might expect (or maybe you don’t expect it), the effects of changing the tax code can be complex. The effects of changes in the tax code is the field of study for many accounting academics. In some cases, the effects are as-expected, and in some cases, not. For example, the mortgage interest deduction is intended to make homes easier for people to afford. In reality, average home prices simply increase to offset any savings from the deduction. This has been proven in several studies, however, the deduction is so popular with voters that it is unlikely to be removed any time soon.
The problem with the poster above, is that it implies that it is possible for the percent of federal tax revenue that is derived from corporate income taxes to be affected by changes to the tax code. (Of course–the poster could be implying a tax cut for individuals across the board–if total tax revenues decreased, but corporation tax revenues stay the same, we would increase the corporate “share” of the tax revenues. But I don’t think that’s what this poster is saying.)
I’m no tax researcher, but I suspect that this would be a very difficult number for the US tax code to change, since the companies contributing these tax revenues are operating in a global business environment. In fact, the global environment is likely the cause of much of the decrease in tax revenues received from corporations. If there is a more favorable tax code in another country, these corporations and their teams of tax accountants can structure their business to take advantage of this. If the US tax on corporations increases, I would imagine that the corporations would find a way to shift even more of their taxable revenue to other countries. Of course, in order to keep operating in the U.S., these businesses will have to pay some tax here, but I do think this is a particularly tough battle to take on.
For example, a corporation may have branches in Country A and in the U.S., where Country A has a more favorable effective tax rate. Imagine that the final market in the U.S. is willing to pay $100 per unit for the final product. The branch in Country A may manufacture the product at a cost of $10, and can “sell” it’s U.S. branch the products at $80/unit, realizing a profit $70/unit in Country A, and only $20/unit in the U.S. Worldwide, the true profit per unit is $90, but the US only receives tax on $20. So there are transfer pricing laws that address what a reasonable sales price between the Country A branch and the U.S. branch could be. But these laws can only provide guidelines for reasonableness, and besides, as many resources as the IRS can devote to investigating specific corporations to ensure that they comply with these laws, the corporations can undoubtedly put additional resources of their own towards circumventing the spirit of the law in a legal manner.
So, corporations are going to do all that they can to pay the minimum tax possible. Maybe the U.S. tax rate is too high?
Here is a simplified example, with some fake tax rates:
If Country A has a tax rate of 20%, vs an effective tax rate for this particular corporation of say, 25%, then if the U.S. lowers its tax rate to say, 19%, the corporation would be better off paying taxes to the U.S. instead of Country A. If the corporation then allocates $70 of profit t to the U.S. ($70 x 19% = $13.3 tax revenue) instead of only $20 at a rate of 25% ($20 x 25% = $5 tax revenue), the U.S. would receive more total tax revenue. So that’s one possible way to address the situation. But what if Country A’s tax rate is only 5%? The U.S. is better off only taxing $20 of profit at 25% ($5) than taxing $70 of profit at 5% or less ($3.5).
To summarize, the U.S. might be able to shift more tax revenue to the U.S. by reducing corporate tax rates, but not if the rate needed to attract corporations to allocate more revenue to the U.S. is too low, relative to the amount of additional profit to be taxed. (This Bloomberg article has more thoughts on tax inversion and also some links to various politician’s proposals to address the issue.)
Plus, what about small corporations that are not large enough to have international locations and a team of tax accountants? These corporations are paying the high tax rate on 100% of their profits already. Lower the corporate tax rate, and you lower the tax revenue from these companies too. Of course, perhaps they’ll take their tax savings, invest in their businesses, and ultimately generate more taxable income. Perhaps, instead, owners will sell their businesses sooner, since they are worth more, and take advantage of low capital gains tax rates to retire earlier than they would have otherwise–and that is yet another example of how difficult it is to quantify the effects of tax policy changes.
Fun stuff, right? I certainly don’t have any answers. And, for the record, Bernie Sanders is addressing tax reform from many other angles, especially tax reform for individuals, which seems like it might have more direct results on Americans. I’m not expressing an opinion on his politics, nor am I saying there is or is not a need for tax reform–I was just struck by the message of the poster, and wondered if it the % of tax revenues contributed by corporations is something a future President could change.
Posted on June 12, 2015
At our public accounting firm, our “business development” team had to cold call potential clients. I sat next to the office of a particularly loud BD team member for awhile, and the calls sounded pretty painful. He was an accountant-turned-salesperson, and it wasn’t a pretty transition.
Where I work now, I share an office with our admin, who also answers all of the calls made to the main company phone line. I would say that at least 80 percent of our calls are people trying to sell us something. They call back again and again.
I can see it working in some cases–both the admin and I have fielded calls from “Breakfast with Bob” a guy who comes to businesses like ours and does soft skills training. We don’t pass his messages on to anyone, but if our boss suddenly decided we all needed soft skills training, maybe we’d remember Breakfast with Bob.
But so many of these companies use really poorly trained individuals, who just create a terrible company image. There was the lady who, when our admin said we weren’t interested in their service, said, “You obviously don’t know what you’re talking about–I’ll just call back later and talk to someone who knows what they’re doing.” Um? No one besides the admin is ever gonna answer your call.
We got one this week looking for one of our research engineers. Our admin said “Okay, do you want to leave a message and I’ll see if Joe can call you back?” The woman on the other end explains, “No. I have to call three times.” And then says goodbye and hangs up. Sounds like someone didn’t really understand their training?
I think the part that really surprises me is that, rather than making their pitch to the person who picks up the phone, they ask to speak “to the CEO.” Our admin is NEVER going to transfer their call to the CEO. They usually will leave their name and number, but not explain why he should call them back. So he’s NEVER going to call them back. Actually, he’s probably never even going to get the message. And yet the same ones will call over and over, insisting on speaking only to the CEO. Does that tactic ever work, anywhere? I guess it must, otherwise why is anyone paying them to make these calls?
Posted on May 18, 2015
Stay on top of household expenses with HomeBudget
Money management seems to be an issue that affects all classes. Several reports indicate that a global recession will take effect sometime this year, so if there was a time that we needed to take care control of our finances, it’s now. Numerous programs are available online that can sort out your daily expenses and monthly bills, but why go through all that trouble when there are plenty of mobile financial apps that will allow you to clearly see where your income is going.
It seems like smartphones can do anything these days. Owners of online slots portal SpinGenie have said that mobile internet is the most prominent trend in the “internet landscape,” so budgeting with the help of an app is proven to be much more productive and accessible than you manually building expense reports on your personal computer.
There are a host of financial management apps currently on the market, with each having the intention of helping you organize your cashflow. CNBC named 2015’s top ten money management mobile apps, but if there was one app that was readily applicable to any individual having difficulty tracking their monthly expenses it would be HomeBudget with Sync.
For just a small fee, you can effectively manage your family’s income and cash outflow for optimum financial security. The app lets you add debit and credit accounts so that you can maintain your account balances for impending bills.
The best feature about this app is that it can sync with multiple devices, allowing you and your family members to work off the same budget. Then you can export the data onto your computer to easily analysis your family’s monthly spending. That way, if your family’s ever short on funds at any given point, you’ll be able to manage finances so that it doesn’t occur again next month.
Posted on April 4, 2015
In January I posted about an upcoming talk I was going to have with my sibling about money matters. Our mother got in a mood, and did the math before I had a chance to. It turned out that with the amount of time sibling was spending commuting, and an estimate of car costs, sibling was making very little money per hour (under $5), or in some cases negative, if the mileage costs were more than the amount earned that day.
The problem is, sibling was working in a job related to the one sibling wanted, for $20 an hour. The other problem was that this job could not offer 8 hours a day of work. So sibling was driving 1.5 hours each way to only work 3 or 4 hours. There were opportunities closer to home, in retail stores for example, but for under $10 an hour. It turns out that it’s a better net gain to work for $8.50/hour without driving distance, and with 8 hours of work.
The problem? None of the $8.50/hour jobs close to home are 40 hours a week (they don’t want to give benefits.) They also still require SOME driving, but more like 30 min each way instead of 1 to 2 hours.
So sibling quit the long-distance job to take a job at $8.75 at a major company. They will allow sibling to work up to 29 hours, since I believe once sibling hit 30 hours, the company would need to give benefits. The main positive with this job is it is mostly evenings, so sibling can do some part time work in the area (landscaping stuff), during the day time. Now that it’s spring anyway. The landscaping working doesn’t exist in the winter.
In conclusion, I am so glad that I got an accounting degree. Sibling has a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree too, same as I do, but accounting jobs are far more numerous and pay better. The decisions sibling has to make are tough–it is better to do landscaping work, on a per hour basis, than most of the other jobs around, but no benefits, and seasonal. So sibling needs to try and turn the part-time retail work into something that can provide income during the winter, and hopefully provide benefits. And in the end, it’s only really do-able because sibling doesn’t have kids, and has rent-free place to live.
I am also anxious to hear the supreme court’s decision on healthcare subsidies for people in state’s without a state exchange. Sibling would be on the hook for about $400 extra per month for health insurance if this subsidy is not in place. Which would mean sibling would have to instead pay for health insurance with a $10,000 deductible, for example, which most likely family members would need to pay for, should the full deductible need to be met.
We have talked about tracking spending. At the very least, sibling HAS to track income, so that we can calculate quarterly tax payments. But sibling seems to struggle even to track income, which seems like it should be easy, since generally there are fewer income transactions (2-4 per month), than spending transactions. I struggle to understand why sibling struggles with this. I love tracking money. Sibling loves to live in denial that money even exists. It’s a wide gap to bridge.
Posted on April 2, 2015
My experience with Greek life was at a large state university in the south east, so I guess that fraternities and sororities in other parts of the country may be positively influenced by less racist local culture to begin with.
My interaction with the sorority and fraternity members was also fairly limited, which is telling in and of itself.
I moved from “up north” to the south for university. At orientation, a bunch of friendly moms recommended I attend sorority rush. It took place the week before classes began, and we would be allowed to move into our dorms early if we participated. I was told that even if I didn’t decide to join a sorority, it was a great way to meet people.
So, I attended rush. I did not remotely fit in, and I definitely did not make any friends through this process. It also really set the stage for me thinking that southerners were far too different from what I was used to, even before school started. I could have joined a sorority–I had a couple of options. The one I think I would have been most comfortable in was the “Jewish” sorority. Note–I’m not Jewish, they clearly accept non-Jewish members, but that was their label. They all had labels–and since the labels were generated by outside groups, they were never positive. This one was the “ugly” sorority, that one was only “sluts,” etc. By the way, my impression was that the “Jewish” sorority label was used just as negatively by outsiders as the “ugly” sorority label. Love the south, right?
There were a couple with enough prestige that I didn’t hear negative labels tossed about, and these were the ones everyone wanted to get into. I realized I had no desire to join a group simply to be labeled with whatever reputation that group had. So I didn’t join any.
ALSO, while the sororities did not explicitly exclude black women, there were two or three “black” sororities, which had a completely separate rush (I believe they are under a different umbrella organization with different rules), so I do not recall a single African American women participating in the rush for the sororities I attended rush for.
So that brings us to the frat at Oklahoma University singing the racist chant on a bus.
1) I am convinced that fraternities and sororities primarily to carefully segregate people of certain races and social means from others. They don’t believe this of themselves, and generally like to talk about the Good Works they do for charity, but they are primarily social groups, and they are social groups for folks who want to socialize with people who are very much like them. So basically, these people just got caught being very clear about their racist feelings–I do not think that their feelings are isolated to that one chapter. And I also think that wanting to join an all-white social group is a red flag for likely racism, and once in the group, that racism is then nurtured and encouraged to grow.
2) From my experience, it is very clear to me that part of what people WANT from joining a sorority or fraternity is to have the “good” reputation that might go with it–the girls wanted to be in the sorority known for its prettiness, etc. I don’t know much about fraternities, but I expect that there are certain reputations fraternities have that the men joining them want to be included in. People include their Greek organization on their resume thinking that it will positively impact their ability to get a job.
SO if you join an organization, and a whole chapter of it embarrasses you, I have little sympathy for people who suddenly want to claim that one part of the organization doesn’t represent the whole. You joined this because you WANTED to take on the mantle of the organization’s reputation for yourself. You can’t pick and choose which parts people judge you for. My point being, if a resume came across my desk for someone who proudly listed that fraternity as an organization they’re associated with, it would be a negative mark in my eyes, even if that person wasn’t personally implicated in the bus chant incident. This is probably a wrong attitude on my part–it’s just another form of stereotyping after all–but it’s true. And young people should consider that when they’re signing up to join an organization.
Love to hear all your agreements and disagreements in the comments
Posted on March 4, 2015
So, I wrote in December that my monthly escrow payment would be dropping in March, and that I had 14 more months of prepaying $575 a month so that PMI would be dropped.
Since then, I’ve learned that PMI won’t be dropped until I get my mortgage balance down to the required amount AND I have paid PMI for 5 years. So even if I got the balance down next year, they wouldn’t drop PMI for another year after that. So starting with the March 2015 payment, I’ve dropped my prepayment down to $100.
I also e-mailed Chase to confirm the balance the loan needs to be at, and how long I need to pay PMI, and they responded with detailed numbers for my account, which is nice to have. The balance I have to pay the mortgage down to in order to waive PMI is also higher than I thought it was, since I have to pay the loan down to 78% of the original purchase price of the house, not 78% of the original loan balance, as I had thought.
So, since the interest rate is only 3.75%, I’m going to prepay the minimum necessary to get PMI dropped at the earliest possible time. They do “recalculate” PMI each year, so technically I could pay a bit less PMI next year if I pay off more of the balance now, but it doesn’t seem worth it. Plus it’s complicated to calculate what they’ll adjust the PMI balance down to, so really, I was just too lazy to figure out if it might be worth it.
That means I have an extra $475/mo freed up now for savings. It’s a bit dangerous, because the more I have in my accounts, the more I feel like I can spend when I suddenly feel like buying something, but it’ll also be good to build up a few more months of expenses into my emergency fund, and to make sure I’m maxing out all my retirement accounts, and more. It’ll be better to have the money in savings accounts I can access if I need them, instead of paying down a loan faster. I can’t get the loan prepayments back if I needed cash for anything. (Nicole&Maggie have mentioned recasting mortgages on their blog–basically, getting your future monthly payments revised down thanks to prepayments, but I looked it up and this is not available for my type of loan, so I really can’t convert prepayments today into better cash flow in the future, unfortunately.)
Posted on March 3, 2015
A new way to build a stock portfolio
You may have noticed a new investing platform–Motif Investing–popping up all over the personal finance blogosphere over the last few months. It has received a lot of press thanks to a generous bonus offered to existing customers who get new customers to sign up, as well as being an innovative service. Since most everyone who’s talking about it is hoping you’ll click on their affiliate link to sign up, it’s hard to find objective information.
Summary of the service
As people interested in investing in stocks, up until Motif Investing arrived, we had two basic options for investing:
- Purchase a mutual fund (or other type of fund) and pay a certain “Expense ratio” for the privilege
- Purchase individual stocks through a brokerage (like e-trade or Schwab), and pay a trading fee every time you buy or sell shares of an individual stock
Motif Investing is somewhat of a mix between these two. You can create a “motif” which is a set of up to 30 stocks, and set what % of each stock your motif will hold. Think of each motif as self-managed mutual fund. Once you’ve set the ratio of stocks the motif will hold, you can then purchase however much you want of that motif, say $200 or $2,000, and pay a transaction fee of $9.95. So instead of paying $5 per stock, you pay $9.95 to get 30, which is a good deal.
Unlike a mutual fund, you are truly holding those shares and part-shares that you purchased through the motif. You will get e-mails about proxy votes and all the other stuff that comes along with being a shareholder.
The sign-up bonus
Motif is also offering a juicy sign-up bonus to new customers. You can get up to $150 for opening a new account. This is what attracted me to open my account, and why I closed it shortly after, so that I could cash in on the bonus.
Here’s what you have to do to get the cash:
- Open an account and fund it with at least $2,000 within 30 days of opening the account
- You then earn different amounts of bonus by making different amounts of motif trades (within first 45 days of funding). Remember, each trade costs $9.95 to buy the motif, PLUS $9.95 to sell it later. I rounded up to $10 in the calculations below.
- 1 motif trade will receive $50. Total cost to buy+sell = $20. Profit = $30.
- 3 motif trades will receive $75. Total cost to buy+sell = $60. Profit = $15
- 5 motif trades will receive $150. Total cost to buy+sell = $100. Profit = $50
- The new funds must remain in the account for 45 days.
I can confirm that the bonus is legitimate, if it’s worth it to you to get the $50. I opened an account with $2,000 on 10/27/14, did 5 motif trades, and then cashed out on 1/27/2015. I didn’t incur any hidden or extra fees other than the trading fees listed above. If you want to use the offer, Google something like “get 150 opening a motif account” and pick the link from your favorite blogger, as they’ll get an affiliate bonus for linking you there.
If you’ve wanted to play around with holding stocks directly, then this can be a much cheaper way to do it than trading individual stocks. You can diversify your purchases and pay only one fee. I would recommend if you want to get hands on with investing in stock, and if you think you’ll have fun.
With one-time fees, you may find that Motif is cheaper for you than investing in a mutual fund with an expense ratio, depending on the total dollar amount you are investing. So, possibility of very cheap, diversified portfolio.
A major con I almost forgot about is that Motif allows users to share their motifs with each other. A motif made by a random user is probably not properly diversified, and can cause you to carry additional risk. ALSO Motif likes to market what I would call “bad” investments, because they sound fun, like “Make a motif that’s all your favorite retail stores!” This might appeal to new investors, and add to the “fun” ratio, but a portfolio of only retail stores is NOT a sound method of investing.
I realized I didn’t like the hassle of being a stock owner compared to mutual fund owner. I held a 50+ stocks, and got individual emails for each every time an investor communication went out.
No dividend reinvesting currently available. Currently, any dividends paid out sit in your cash balance in Motif. You can’t have them automatically reinvested for free, and would need to pay the trading fee to reinvest. If you don’t want to cash out dividends right away, you won’t like this.
I wasn’t completely pleased with the process to recover money. First, I had to sell the motifs. There were several days delay between initiating the sale, and having the proceeds from the sale available in my Motif account to transfer out to my bank account. I used an ACH, so there were no fees.
Initiated sale of stocks: 1/28/2015
Initiated transfer out to bank account on 2/3/2015 (4 business days stocks to be sold and for the cash to be available within the Motif platform)
Cash available in bank on 2/4/2015 (5 business days)
HOWEVER, for some reason, some dribs and drabs of the initial sale were still processing. So after transferring out to my bank account, suddenly my motif cash balance was $0.25, then $0.65. Luckily, it seems that motif will let you transfer these small amounts with an ACH for no fee, so they are not “stuck” there.
A note on cashing out
When I went to close out my account, I was nervous because I had read a couple reports saying I would be required to wire the money out to my bank account, and pay motif a $30 wire fee. If I factored in the fee my bank would charge for receiving a wire, I was worried that would wipe out my $50 profit from the bonus right there.
Luckily, transferring out via ACH was definitely an option, and did not involve any fees. You are also not (currently) limited to how small an amount you can transfer out, making it easier to pull out those little dividends that you might start accumulating.
Since I want set-it-and-forget-it investments, I’m going to stick with no-load low-expense mutual funds. I learned that I am really not interested in playing around with stocks, since I don’t believe that picking individual stocks will do better than the market average. For any readers who are just getting started investing and want to just put some money into stocks and they don’t really care about what, I would definitely recommend opening a Vanguard account and purchasing a cheap S&P 500 index fund.
I would recommend giving the Motif service a try if you are interested in playing around with owning individual stocks, or if you think their fee structure will save you money. From my experience with the service, it was easy to work with, and didn’t spring any unexpected fees on me, which is a big positive. Given the current bonus of $150, you can make up to 5 trades without actually “losing” any money on fees, so that makes it a nice low-risk way to try it out without wasting money.
Posted on February 1, 2015
Tax season is here! *Happy dance*
I love doing my taxes. Mostly because, since buying the house, I always get a nice big refund. Of course I know that means I loaned the government money for free over the past year, but it also means extra savings I didn’t know that I had!
A couple years ago, I used almost my whole refund to purchase a nice bicycle. Still enjoying that, but this year I plan to add that refund straight to my savings account!
I’m just waiting on a couple more forms from Prosper and Motif Investing. (Look forward to a full Motif Investing review in the next few weeks which will include thoughts on the timeliness of their tax documents being released! And how easy–or not easy–it is to close an account and cash out.)
Tax season for my personal return is awesome. Much more awesome than tax preparation season where there’s too much work to do and rich people are mad that they have to pay taxes in order to support the army that they probably voted in favor of expanding the budget for!
Do you like filing your taxes? Or do you take the common approach that it’s lame and un-fun?