A Basic Guide to Understanding Inflation

A Basic Guide to Understanding Inflation

Sean Cooper |May 12, 2020

How Is Inflation Measured?

You probably already have a basic idea about what inflation is, but have you ever wanted to know more? In this article we’ll cover the basics of inflation: what inflation is, why it’s important, how it affects the economy and financial markets, why you should care about it, and finally, how it is measured and determined year-to-year.

What Is inflation?

Inflation is a general rise in the average price level of goods and services over a period of time. When inflation occurs, your purchasing power, the amount of goods and services that you can purchase with a unit of currency, is reduced.

Inflation is the opposite of deflation. Deflation is when price levels fall instead of rise over time.

It’s important to understand what inflation is and what inflation isn’t.

Avocadoes are popular with millennials these days. But just because more millennials are eating avocado toast and the prices of avocadoes go up, it doesn’t mean it’s because of inflation. Avocadoes are more popular due to shifting consumer tastes. Inflation is when all goods and services get more expensive, not just one or two items.

Why Inflation Is Important and Inflation Causes

Inflation is important because it has a huge effect on the overall economy. It’s the goal of most governments to keep inflation in line.

But, what causes inflation? Inflation happens when the demand for goods and services exceeds the supply. When this happens over time, prices go up.

If the inflation rate is too low it means that consumer demand is dropping. This may signify that there could be a larger problem with the economy. Low inflation encourages consumers to put off purchasing goods and services, doing further harm to the economy. However, low inflation does help lower the cost of borrowing for consumers, as low inflation means the Federal Reserve is less likely to hike interest rates.

On the other end of the spectrum, if inflation is moving up too quickly, it can negatively impact the purchasing power of consumers and also hurt the economy. This is why a country’s central bank will usually aim to keep inflation around a modest 2%.

How Inflation Affects the Economy and Financial Markets

Inflation can affect the economy and financial markets, too.

If inflation is rising too quickly, it’s possible that it could cause a recession. If the economy is growing too quickly it can cause a government’s central bank to raise interest rates by too much, which can cause growth to slow and subsequently cause a recession.

Low inflation generally signifies a healthy economy. When inflation is low, American consumers are encouraged to buy more goods and services. Waiting to purchase something would mean that you’d have to pay more for the same item later on. Low inflation also means it’s more attractive to borrow money, since low inflation and low interest rates usually go hand in hand.

In terms of financial markets, investing in stocks is usually a good way to combat high inflation. That’s because a company’s earnings should theoretically go up at the same pace as inflation. The reverse is also true. During periods of low inflation, investors tend to earn less from stocks, making it a less appealing time for investors.

Why You Should Care and Know About Inflation

You should care and known about inflation because it affects your daily life.

Let’s say you’re an investor. Taxes are an important consideration in investing, but so too is the inflation rate. If you’re only earning 1% interest on your savings account and the inflation rate is 2%, you’re actually losing money once you factor in inflation. (We haven’t even factored in taxes yet either.) That’s why it’s important to consider both taxes and inflation when investing, to determine your real rate of return.

Inflation also tends to have a big impact on those with fixed incomes. For example, people with disabilities and retirees can be negatively affected by inflation. If the prices of goods and services keep going up, while the income of these individuals stays the same, this could result in some difficult decisions for them to make. Individuals on fixed incomes may be forced to cut back on food and other discretionary spending to get by if inflation rises too quickly.

Inflation doesn’t just affect those on fixed incomes. You’ll notice inflation at work when the prices of goods go up at the supermarket, making it more expensive to feed your family.

How Inflation Is Measured and Determined

We already spoke about what inflation is: it’s the increase in price level of goods and services. Inflation is measured by measuring the rate of change in those prices.

The most common way to measure inflation is the Consumer Price Index (or CPI for short). The CPI measures the change in price of a basket of goods and services that the average family consumes.

Inflation is determined year-by-year by looking at the change in the inflation rate this year compared to last year.

The Basics of the Consumer Price Index (CPI)

The CPI is based on the shopping diaries of average Americans. Americans write down what they purchase and how much it costs. This information is then used to figure out how much prices are changing for certain goods and services.

The CPI gives you a better glimpse of how much prices are going up versus just visiting one grocery store. The CPI isn’t just for items you can purchase at the grocery store; it includes other expenses like utility bills, home insurance and gas.

So, how is CPI calculated? The CPI can be calculated in different ways. It can be calculated overall for the U.S. and it can also be calculated city-by-city to give an idea how expensive it is to live in one city relative to another.

When CPI figures are released, they have the overall rate prices have changed and then a core CPI rate. The core CPI rate strips out food and energy because those tend to fluctuate a lot more over time.

When you read about inflation figures in the news, they’re usually talking about the core CPI figures. Nevertheless, the core CPI figure can be deceiving since it includes housing costs, which can vary a lot depending on where you live in the U.S.

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How to Apply for a Business Credit Card

Myles Leva | May 12, 2020

Paying for Business Expenses Applying for a business credit card is something a small business should seriously consider for itself. Business credit cards can provide a range of benefits to a business. They allow a company to build up credit for better borrowing conditions down the road. They’re also quite easy to apply for. In this article, we’ll go over how to apply for a business credit card and other important points to note. What Is a Business Credit Card? A business credit card is a credit card that is intended for business expenses. These cards are not meant for any individual’s personal use, but they are available to businesses of all sizes. What Is a Business Credit Card Used For? Business credit cards are meant for business expenses, and as such, they come with several perks that you wouldn’t get with a normal credit card. Business credit cards typically have far higher credit limits than normal cards, but they are also harder to qualify for. [youmaylike] As a business phenomenon, business credit cards vary their offers greatly, and certain cards are meant for certain businesses. They are also highly customizable when it comes to individual payment terms. Businesses don't always have consistent incomes like individuals do, and business credit cards handle this problem. These cards are used to gain access to a long line of credit, to control employee spending on business expenses and more. One of their other common uses is to make accounting easier, as putting all business expenses on one separate account makes reporting to the Internal Revenue Service easier. In the end, there are many uses for a business credit card. Why Would I Need a Business Credit Card? You might not need one, but if you run a business, you’ll be leaving money on the table by not at least looking into them. Business credit cards can solve many of the problems business owners face. If you need employees to make purchases for the business, a business credit card is the safest option. These cards can be given to authorized users, a status you can easily give to any of your employees. From here, these cards make it easy to monitor employee spending and spot any discrepancies. You can attach customized user privileges to each card to limit spending and place limits on where the card can be used. As mentioned, if you feel like your credit is too limited, business credit cards are a sure way around low credit. According to the American Bankers Association, the average monthly payment on a business credit card is twice as high as the average payment on a normal one. If you’ve found yourself annoyed with the Internal Revenue Service over the complicated reporting processes for business owners, you’re not alone. This is where a business credit card can solve another problem. Simply handing over your business credit card statements to your accountant will make them love you. It will also provide them with the information they need to predict future spending. Another great use for a business credit card is lifting your liability for debts. Liability for credit card debt is determined by the liability offered by the card. If you’re using a personal credit card for business expenses, you are liable for all debts. On the other hand, if you use a business credit card with commercial liability, your business is liable for any debts, which changes the game. Keep in mind that some cards offer joint liability, which leaves both you and your business liable for any debts. Make sure you know what you’re getting into before signing any paperwork. Lastly, just as personal credit cards offer rewards programs, so do business cards. The main difference here is that business credit card rewards are tailored to your business needs. How to Apply for a Business Credit Card Before you apply for a business credit card, you should make sure you’re eligible. For the most part, you only require the following to be able to apply for one: A legal name for your business. A business structure to apply with, such as a Limited Liability Corporation. An explanation of the nature of your business. You’ll typically be given a list of industry types to choose from. A tax ID number issued by the Internal Revenue Service Your roll in the business you’re representing Various business/financial information including: Annual revenue. Number of employees. Length of time in business. Estimated monthly expenses. If you have this information ready, you can apply for a business credit card. At this point, it would be wise to shop around and find the best option for your business. Your decision on the business credit card you choose will have larger ramifications than your choice of a personal credit card. Applying for a business credit card is much the same as applying for a personal one. There are a few differences, but the main thing to remember is that business credit cards are taken more seriously than normal ones, so you’ll have to face a higher bar of entry. This doesn’t mean getting a business credit card is hard, but it does mean you need to arrive more well-prepared than you normally would. To make things easier, you can prepare for certain obstacles in advance. You may need to sign a personal guarantee that you will pay off any debts. Also keep in mind that if you’re the one applying for a business credit card, and your business doesn’t already have one, they will conduct a personal credit check. It may be best to try to optimize your personal credit if you plan on applying for a business credit card in the future. Some Options at a Glance Here are some of the most popular options for small business credit cards: Chase Inc Business Preferred This is a great option for a few reasons. With the Business Preferred card from Chase Inc, you get 80,000 ultimate reward points when you spend $5,000 with the card in the first three months. The card also provides generic, but highly useful benefits for business owners. Business Platinum Card from American Express The Business Platinum is ideal for businesses that spend a lot on flights and travel. This card offers numerous rewards on flight and hotel expenses and makes sure you get something serious back if you use it for these expenses. Chase Inc Business Unlimited The Chase Inc Business Unlimited offers unlimited 1.5% cash back. While we’ve said enough already, they also offer several other perks that are overshadowed by their first one.

Everything You Need to Know About Filing Your Own Taxes

Katie Macomb | May 12, 2020

It's Not Fun, but It Has to be Done Benjamin Franklin wrote a 1789 letter that states, “But in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Even at the United States’ early beginnings, federal taxes were a necessary evil to fund various public projects and administrative costs. Today, federal taxes serve much of the same purpose. While virtually no one likes to prepare and file their taxes, it is a necessity if you want to avoid fines and further hassle. It is no secret that preparing and filing your taxes is notoriously complicated. Many people lament that it should not be so difficult to pay the government. However, some of the complications allow people to save money if they discover specific tax benefits. Knowing how to file your own taxes may be a good option if your tax situation is relatively straightforward, or if you are willing to learn the process. Why Do You Need to File Your Taxes Every Year? The short answer is that federal law requires that most individuals file taxes annually. Income taxes are assessed every year based on your income earned during that period. You then pay a percentage of that income to the government, less any deductions, adjustments, or credits that you qualify to receive. If you do not file (and pay) your taxes, then you may be assessed penalties and interest. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can even go as far as garnishing your wages and repossessing your property if you do not file and pay as required. The Benefits of Filing Your Own Taxes If you are one of the 43% of Americans that are doing your own taxes, you are certainly not alone. Roughly 53 million people prepared and filed their own taxes in 2018. There are many benefits to filing your own taxes, including: Saving money: Hiring a tax professional is expensive, and many people can prepare and file their returns on their own, completely free of charge. Control: Some people like knowing the exact information that is included in their return and being able to control the data, and for some, knowing precisely how the numbers work out, is comforting. Gain helpful information: When you prepare your taxes, you can see what items saved you money this year or which issues you should address so you can save money next year. While filing your own taxes is complicated, it can be beneficial under the right circumstances. There are several programs online that walk you through the process to help ensure you are taking advantage of all of your available deductions and credits. The Drawbacks of Filing Your Own Taxes In addition to the benefits, there are also some disadvantages to filing your own taxes. These include: Time and effort: Preparing and filing your taxes takes time and work You have to sift through financial information and deal with concepts that you may not understand well. The process can be frustrating and take a considerable amount of time. Error risk: If you do not completely understand how your taxes work, you run the risk of making a mistake because of misconceptions. If that happens, it could lead to underpayment and audits down the road. Questions: Even if you use a tax preparation software, you may still have questions that will remain unanswered unless you do significant research or reach out to a tax professional. For some people, the risk of having a substantial error that triggers the IRS’s attention is enough to scare them away from preparing their own taxes. Preparing for Filing Your Taxes When you begin work on your taxes, you should have information gathered throughout the year. Some of the most common items that you will need include: Social Security numbers for you, your spouse, and any dependents Information about wages, such as W2s or 1099s Investment income information Documents that represent any other source of income Information regarding adjustments to income, such as student loan interest paid, IRA contributions, and health savings account contributions, just to name a few Information regarding potential credits, including, for example, child care expenses, education expenses, or retirement savings contributions Data about any tax payments that you may have made throughout the year Keeping good records will help make tax preparation easier at the beginning of the year. [youmaylike] The Basics About What You Can Claim When Filing You must pay income taxes on all your income earned throughout the year. However, that income is reduced by a few things. The further you can reduce your taxable income, the less you tax you will pay. There are three general categories of tax reduction methods: Standard or Itemized Deductions Everyone can claim either the standard or itemized deductions. Standard deductions are a set amount that is based on your filing status. Itemized deductions are based on actual expenses that you incurred throughout the year. You can choose to use the higher deduction. The higher the deduction, the less tax you will have to pay on your income because your income decreases on paper. Itemized deductions include things like medical expenses, state and local tax payments, and home mortgage interest deductions. Itemized deductions will only decrease your income by a certain percentage, or up to a specific point. Adjustments Some adjustments to your income may also be available. These include things like paying student loan interest or alimony. Adjustments are more valuable compared to deductions because they decrease your income dollar for dollar. Credits A credit decreases your taxable income as well. Some credits are refundable while others are not. For example, you get a child tax credit simply for having children that qualify for that credit, but that credit will not be paid out to you if you do not have any tax obligations. On the other hand, the Earned Income Credit, which is available for low-income filers, will be refunded to you even if you do not owe any taxes. There are a wide variety of deductions and credits available. Take a look at the federal forms and related schedules to determine whether you might qualify for any of these. How to File Your Own Taxes If You Live Overseas If you earned income in the United States as a U.S. citizen or resident alien, you likely need to pay taxes on that income. This is true even if you live overseas. You can still choose to e-file or mail your tax return to the IRS once you have it prepared, just as if you physically lived in the United States. In some cases, you will be taxed on the income that you earned throughout the world. However, you may be able to deduct a portion or all of the revenue that was not made in the United States in some circumstances. Filing Online The IRS offers an online filing option that is free for individuals that have an adjusted gross income below a specific threshold. Generally, your income must be below $66,000 to qualify for this service. You can also file online by using a commercial tax preparation software. Examples of this type of software include: H&R Block TurboTax TaxCut TaxSlayer There are many programs available that will file your taxes for you, often for a fee. Knowing how to file your own taxes can be a great way to save money, but it can be tricky as well. If you want to file your taxes yourself, be sure to read the form instructions thoroughly and get familiar with various tax saving opportunities before you begin preparing your return.

5 of the Best Investment Apps for Beginners

Stephanie Colestock | May 12, 2020

Make Investing Simple Whether you’re putting away your first $1,000 or have been saving for the future for years, you’re going to want to consider investing your funds at some point. Doing so will allow you to maximize returns and exponentially grow your savings. Unfortunately, the investment process can be pretty intimidating, especially if you are starting out on your own. It’s hard to know how to begin, where to invest, how to balance your portfolio and even what sort of fees you should expect to pay along the way. That’s where the convenience and ease of today’s best investment apps can come into play. What Are Investment Apps? Once upon a time, your only choice for investing was to pick up the phone and call your stock broker to initiate a trade. You were charged for the service, either based on commission or as a flat fee per transaction. While stock brokers are still an option, you can take investing into your own hands these days, without ever needing to talk to another human. And it’s all thanks to investment apps and platforms. Today’s apps offer a range of services and features. With them, users can: Research funds and individual stocks View fees and expenses related to investment choices Invest funds on-the-go, and even automate regular contributions Automatically reinvest earnings on current investments Adjust portfolio for personal risk tolerance View performance projections Choose funds or individual stocks that align with personal beliefs, through portfolios based on socially-responsible missions The best part? Investing through trusted apps is usually cheaper, faster and you’ll have instant access to your portfolio/reports at any time of day. Not only that, but you’ll also be able to set your investment risk tolerance, rebalance your portfolio and even reinvest earnings automatically. Who Are Investment Apps Designed For? Whether you’ve been playing the market for ages or are ready to invest your first $100, the right investment app is worth considering. For those new to the stock market, apps will simplify the process and put the power of investing at your fingertips… literally. From your phone or computer, you can easily see portfolio recommendations based on your own goals, savings plans and even risk tolerances. The right app will tell you up front how much you can expect to spend in fees throughout the year, and can even allow you to automate many of the more confusing aspects, such as picking well-performing stocks or even rebalancing. While investment apps are ideal for beginners, newbies aren’t the only ones who will see the benefits. Even seasoned investors will find the process easy to use, and may even learn that these platforms can maximize returns (and save them money in fees) along the way. Not to mention, many investment apps offer additional insight into specific funds, so you can choose to invest in companies that align with your own passions and beliefs. Now that you know why you should consider using an investment app for your own savings, let’s take a look at some of the best ones available today. Best Investment Apps Great for Beginners: Acorns Fees and Expenses: For investors with less than $1 million invested, fees are between $1-3 per month depending on the account option you choose. Acorns is also free for college students. Beginning Investment Requirement: At least $5 to start Types of Investments Available: ETFs (exchange-traded funds) Portfolio Options: Conservative, Moderately Conservative, Moderate, Moderately Aggressive, Aggressive Automatic Investing?: Yes Automatic Reinvesting?: Yes Automatic Rebalancing?: Yes If you want an easy, hands-off approach to investing that won’t leave your head spinning, Acorns is a great first choice. This app not only simplifies investing for beginners, but allows investors to completely automate the process from start to finish. After connecting the app to your debit card, the app will “round up” each of your daily purchases, putting the savings into an investment holding account. Once you reach the minimum required, Acorns will invest this money on your behalf, based on your account preferences. The app will also reinvest your earnings, as well as rebalance your portfolio when necessary. [youmaylike] Great for Truly Free Investing: Robinhood Fees and Expenses: Robinhood is a free investment platform in every sense of the word, pledging to never charge company fees or commissions to customers. Beginning Investment Requirement: You’ll need $2,000 to get started Types of Investments Available: ETFs, stocks, cryptocurrency and options Portfolio Options: Interest-based options such as Fashion ETF, Tech ETF and Energy ETF, as well as a standard S&P 500 ETF, all with personal risk tolerance settings. You’ll also find “collections,” which are individual stocks grouped according to specific interests — such as companies with female CEOs or that are in the social media sector. Automatic Investing?: No Automatic Reinvesting?: No Automatic Rebalancing?: Yes A great option for beginners and experienced investors alike, Robinhood makes the process both easy and affordable. How affordable? Well, it’s entirely free. By offering a truly free experience, Robinhood saves investors some serious cash over time. Additionally, the platform makes it easy to choose individual stocks or ETFs based on personal interests. If you want to invest in cryptocurrency or options, you can also do so through Robinhood. One of the biggest limitations of the platform, though, is its automation. While you can set up automatic deposits into your account, you will need to manually invest those funds and then reinvest (or withdraw) your dividends. Stash Fees and Expenses: $1 per month fee for those with less than $5,000 invested, or $2 per month for retirement accounts with less than $5,000. For users under 25, fees on retirement accounts are waived. If you have more than $5,000 invested, your fee will be 0.25% annually. Beginning Investment Requirement: You’ll need at least $5 to begin investing (fractional shares are available) Types of Investments Available: ETFs (exchange-traded funds) and fractional stock shares Portfolio Options: Too many to name, ranging from things you Want (portfolios that are conservative to aggressive mixes), things you Believe (such as groups of companies that believe in clean energy, LGBT rights, etc.), and things you Like (tech, retail and social media companies). Automatic Investing?: Yes Automatic Reinvesting?: No Automatic Rebalancing?: No The closest competitor to Acorns, Stash seeks to make investing easy for everyone, regardless of your goals and passions. They have three account options to choose from, allowing you to manage your investment and retirement accounts, or even a child’s education savings through custodial accounts. With Auto-Stash, you can set any number of automatic investment options and transfers. However, Stash will not rebalance your portfolio for you, nor will they reinvest dividends on your behalf. Wealthfront Fees and Expenses: 0.25% annually Beginning Investment Requirement: $500 minimum initial investment Types of Investments Available: ETFs (exchange-traded funds), individual stocks, retirement accounts (401k, IRA), 529 savings plans, trusts Portfolio Options: 11 asset classes to choose from, including natural resources and real estate Automatic Investing?: Yes Automatic Reinvesting?: Yes Automatic Rebalancing?: Yes Wealthfront’s investment platform is designed to be friendly for users of all experience levels. If you’re a seasoned investor, you’ll enjoy all of the options available to you, including the ability to manage your retirement accounts, education savings, and even non-profits or trusts. If you’re a newbie, their free financial expertise center is the perfect place to learn all about investing and your future. TD Ameritrade Fees and Expenses: The managed, automatic portfolio investment option (called Essential Portfolios) is available with a 0.30% advisory fee Beginning Investment Requirement: $5,000 minimum for managed portfolios (no minimum requirement for traditional trading) Types of Investments Available: Stocks, ETFs, options, mutual funds, futures, bonds/CDs, Forex, cryptocurrency Portfolio Options: Essential Portfolios (EP) offer investors a range of options from Conservative to Aggressive, based on your individual passions, preferences and tolerances Automatic Investing?: Yes, with EP Automatic Reinvesting?: Yes Automatic Rebalancing?: Yes A more traditional brokerage app, TD Ameritrade is one of the most recognizable names in the industry. You can easily educate yourself on all things financial, thanks to their free videos and posts. If you want a traditional experience, you can choose your trades and pay per transaction. Prefer a more streamlined, automated approach? Opt for their Essential Portfolios, a hands-off investment option (robo-advisor) that charges a flat monthly fee and requires little-to-no oversight from you. Plus, their app makes the investing process easier than ever with a user-friendly interface, price alerts and no minimum to get started. If you prefer a desktop experience, this is also available to you through TD Ameritrade. Bottom Line Getting started with investing can be intimidating. With all of the terminology and account options out there, it’s easy to want to run and hide. Thanks to some of today’s best investment apps, though, you can not only get started with your first portfolio but also watch your money quickly grow… no matter how much of a beginner you may be! It’s important to choose an app that offers you the portfolio options and features you want most, with fees and deposit minimums that match your financial needs. The five apps above are our favorites for beginners, making that first foray into investing easier than ever before. The hardest part will be choosing the one you love most!