Is Cash Still King?

Is cash soon to suffer the fate of the dinosaurs? There is no denying that an increasingly large number of goods and services are moving onto digital platforms that do not accept cash. This past year, due to the pandemic, and subsequently, the inundation of new online and mobile payment apps, has put a spotlight on the notion of an eventual cashless economy. In fact, the U.S. House Financial Services Committee Task Force on Financial Technology held a hearing this past January reviewing the rise of mobile payments and posing the question, “Is cash still king?”

As COVID-19 continues to impact businesses across the country, many business owners are looking for cashless options for monetary transactions like electronic and credit card payments. There has been a huge shift to online and even phone e-commerce transactions during the pandemic. A recent Federal Reserve survey revealed that cash, especially over the past two years, has had a major decrease, with cash as a percentage of the average consumer’s total payments declining from 40 percent in 2009 to 30 percent in 2019.

Interestingly, however, according to the Fed, consumers were holding more cash post pandemic. In October 2019, 43 percent of consumers has less than $25 in their wallets, compared to over 50 percent holding more than $100 in April/May 2020. This increase was most likely due to the round of stimulus payments and because there were fewer places to spend cash during the pandemic.

Cashless payments have definitely seen a surge during the pandemic, according to a new report from financial technology company Square, and it seems doubtful there will be a reversal of this trend. Square’s small business owners cited a 23 percent increase over the past year, with online spending mostly on entertainment, retail, charities, education and beauty care. According to a report from Statistica, released this past February, $130 billion is expected to be digitally spent between now and 2023, with a significant increase in mobile payments.

Anticipating sweeping technological disruption in the decade ahead, as we increasingly digitize every aspect of our day-to-day lives, from grocery shopping to taxi fares, Global Data, a leading data and analytics company, forecasts the following countries as the most likely be the leaders in moving towards a truly cashless society in the near future:

Finland

Finland ranks second to Ireland in terms of frequency of use of cards, fifth in e-commerce spending as a percentage of their gross domestic product (GDP), third in internet penetration and second in smartphone penetration.

With a population of only 5.5 million, cash in Finland, in both rural and urban areas, is increasingly irrelevant.

Sweden

Sweden’s government has very aggressive policies to rid the nation of cash. Due to these policies and increasingly higher internet banking penetration and the frequency of use of credit /debit cards, the nation is poised to be the first truly cashless society by 2023.

China

Over the last decade, China has become a serious contender to be the next dominant superpower. One area of extreme development is the rapid adoption of mobile payments. One of the most popular phone payment methods is QR code scanning. This method has been successfully adopted by both urban and rural areas. China has a leading position in e-commerce, with spending to account for 11.6 percent of its GDP by 2022.

South Korea

South Korea is considered the cashless champion of Asia, with most of the cashless infrastructure in place nationwide. With approximately 6 percent of the country’s GDP being e-commerce spending and more than 100 transactions on average per card every year, South Korea is well on its way to becoming a cashless country in the next couple of years.

United Kingdom

The UK, and specifically London, has geared up its finance technology, especially the digitization of money. The UK ranks second globally for e-commerce as a percentage of GDP. The British have become very comfortable using their phones or debit/credit cards to pay for just about everything. At this rate, the UK is expected to be predominantly a cashless society by the mid-2020s.

Australia

Australia is seriously gearing up to digitize most of its economy by 2022. It’s expected that by then most of the population will have at least one smartphone, and internet banking penetration will reach almost 70 percent of Australians.

While there is a global move towards a cashless society, most economists believe that the United States won’t follow suit anytime soon. Cash remains the most popular method of payment for Americans for transactions under $25. Cash will persist in the U.S. for the elderly, those in remote areas, and most significantly, the un-banked.

Although the growth in online and app-based goods and services significantly benefits consumers with lower costs and greater convenience, people cannot access those savings without access to low cost or free digital payment options. Currently, one in 15 households in the U.S. are un-banked, don’t have access to a bank account or debit or credit card. Without this access, these consumers often have no way to make digital payments.

Rather than a cashless society being around the corner for the U.S., the demand for cash remains strong, especially for low dollar notes. So, for now, cash is still king in the U.S.!

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Their Future Depends on You

Small businesses have been severely impacted by the Covid-19 crisis. The economic hardship, caused by the pandemic, has forced many small businesses into bankruptcy, or to drastically scale back operations, leaving them struggling to survive. About 53 percent of small business owners don’t expect to return to pre-Covid operations for at least the next six months, according to the Small Business Pulse Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau in December 2020. Now, it’s more important than ever to ensure local small businesses recover because of the role they serve in driving economic vitality into our local communities.

According to The Small Business Economic Impact Study, conducted by American Express in 2018, small businesses account for 44 percent of the economic activity. The study also states that every dollar spent at a small business supports 50 cents in local business activity, and every ten jobs created at a local business supports an additional seven jobs within the community. Consequently, losing these businesses could have a devastating ripple effect on a local community.

Supporting your local small businesses – some added benefits:

  1. Community Support. Local small businesses become an integral part of the communities they serve. By supporting these businesses, small business owners will likely give more back to their communities in return. It’s a win-win!

  • Community Desirability. The unique flavor a small business brings to a community makes it a special place to live or visit.

  • Unique Offerings. Local small shops can fill a narrower niche than big-box stores. They can cater to the customer looking for something unique or uncommon.

  • Personalized Customer Service. Many small business owners know their customers by name and make it a point to develop relationships with their regulars. Customers are more than a number.

  • Competition. Competition is fostered by communities with many small businesses, which keeps prices low and innovation high.

As the impact of COVID-19 lessens and many of the local businesses you once frequented are open again, here are some surprisingly simple ways you can help and support them:

  1. Shop locally and online. Patronize open local shops. If you’re still not comfortable shopping in person or if the store is still not open for in-store service, many small businesses have an online presence as well.

  • Do something small for your favorite local shop each week. Making a small purchase or giving them a positive review online each week can go a long way to help them stay afloat.

  • Buy a gift card or shop now for later. Think about gifts or gift cards you can buy right now and give later. You may not need these today, but the revenue from these sales is a huge boost to the business’ bottom line during this critical time.

  • Order take-out. Even if your favorite restaurant remains closed for indoor dining, you can support them by curbside pick-up or delivery (e.g. Grubhub, DoorDash, Uber Eats, etc.).

  • Tip generously. Whether you eat in or take out, give a generous tip. Tips are even more important right now to small business workers who may have lost hours due to in-house services being shut down.

  • Recommend your favorite small businesses to your friends and family. Word of mouth, especially when it comes from a friend or family member, can go a long way to help support local small businesses.

  • Advertise your favorite small businesses. Small businesses often have branded merchandise (t-shirts, caps, etc.) By purchasing these items you will be increasing their sales revenue as well as promoting their business when you wear them.

  • Consider small before big. Before hitting the “purchase” button on your favorite big-box online store, always be mindful and take a few extra minutes to determine if you could be supporting a local small business instead.

We are stronger together and because of that we can be a great source of support to our local small businesses. Together we can truly make a difference and help save our small businesses and the jobs they create.

National Teach Children to Save Day

One of the most valuable lessons you can teach a child is the importance of saving. With April 22 designated as National Teach Children to Save Day, there’s no better time to start or reinforce this important practice. This annual event, sponsored by the American Bankers Association since 1997, promotes education to students in grades K-12 about budgeting, saving, recognizing needs versus wants and how interest makes money grow.

According to a recent National Foundation for Credit survey, just 55 percent of adults give themselves a good grade in their knowledge of personal finance. In additional, according to Bankrate, approximately 3 in 10 Americans, or 28 percent, have no savings set aside for emergency expenses.

Building a habit of saving money doesn’t happen overnight. It requires time and diligence, and many adults have yet to master it. Consequently, our next generation’s financial literacy needs attention immediately. Developing good saving habits as a child creates a foundation for a lifetime of saving and teaches money management skills that prepare them for a solid financial future.

Here are some actions you can take to get your child – and perhaps yourself – on the right track:

  1. Help them understand the difference between wants and needs. Teaching kids to differentiate between wants and needs is the building block of the value of saving. If you don’t have a household budget, this is the perfect time to develop one and share it with your child. With this in hand, explain that needs include the basics, like food, shelter and clothing, and wants are the extras – once the basics have been met.

  • Let them earn their own money. Allowing your child to earn their own money, via a weekly allowance for chores around the house or getting paid for other side jobs (e.g. helping the neighbor with yard work, washing their car, etc.), helps them to become savers. This also teaches them the importance of earning, saving and where to spend their money, as well as helps them learn the value of hard work.

  • Help them establish savings goals. Just being told to save money without a “why” will seem pointless to a child. Having a savings goal, for example, wanting to buy a certain video game or toy, will help them figure out how long it will take, based on their savings rate, to reach this goal.

  • Provide a place to save. Once your child has established a goal, now he/she needs a place to put their money. For younger kids, this can be piggy bank. But, if they’re older, this is an opportune time to help them set up their own checking or savings account. With either option, provide them with a journal or register to help them keep track of the progress they’re making towards their savings goal.

  • Provide interest as a motivator. Like adults, children are motivated to set money aside not only by achieving a set goal, but also by earning interest. While savings accounts today offer very low interest rates, you can provide additional incentive for your child by being the banker, so to speak, and providing an established interest payment, based on their savings balance, or a matching contribution every month.

  • Help them account for their spending. Realizing where their money is going will be an eye-opening experience, like it is for most adults when developing a household budget. Have your child write down their purchases (in their journal or register), as they occur, and adjust the balance. This will help them have a better understanding of how they are spending their money as well as how much faster they could reach their savings goal if they change their spending habits – practicing delayed gratification.

  • Allow them to make mistakes. Putting your kids in control of their money also gives them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. Although it’s tempting to step in and steer your kids from financial mistakes, in the long run it’s better to use the mistake as a teachable moment. Learning from their financial mistakes now will help them avoid potentially costly mistakes in the future.

  • Talk about money and lead by example. In a recent T Rowe Price study, 44 percent of the parents indicated they’d never discussed long-term investing with their kids and 10 percent of these parents said they had zero savings for retirement, emergencies, college, or other financial goals. If you want your child to know about saving and become a saver, you must lead by example by keeping the money conversation ongoing and being a saver yourself.

Although Teach Children to Save Day only occurs once a year, there are lessons to be learned, by parents and children alike, all year long. So, take the opportunity that April 22 presents to lay the foundation for a bright financial future for your child and yourself.

Intracoastal Bank Announces Management Changes

Bruce Page, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Intracoastal Bank, today announced changes to management.

Laura Salazar will now serve as Assistant Vice President/Assistant Manager, Flagler Banking Center.  Salazar has had a variety of roles for Intracoastal for the past nine years. In her new role, she will have responsibility for supporting all aspects of consumer banking in Flagler County including sales, service, and operations.  She will continue to be actively involved in development and servicing of business banking relationships.

Laura Salazar has a passion for business, community service and education.  She has been active in a variety of organizations including serving on the board of directors of Flagler County Education Foundation and Police Athletic League(PAL). She also volunteers for Santa Maria Del Mar Catholic Church.  

John Aguiar has been appointed to succeed Laura Salazar as Assistant Vice President/Assistant Manager, Volusia Banking Center.  Aguiar has held a variety of positions with Intracoastal for the past five years in Flagler County.  In his new role, he will have responsibility for supporting all aspects of consumer banking including sales, service, and operations.  He will continue to be active in supporting development and servicing of business banking relationships.

John Aguiar is fervent for business and community service.  He has been involved in many organizations including Habitat For Humanity, Portuguese American Cultural Club, Rotary and Young Professionals Group.

“We are thrilled John and Laura have committed to such important roles at Intracoastal Bank,” said Page. “They are incredibly talented professionals who are committed to assisting the bank with our goal of enhancing the economic vitality and success of the customers and communities we serve.”

Intracoastal Bank is a locally owned and operated community bank.  Intracoastal Bank’s Flagler County banking center is located at 1290 Palm Coast Parkway, NW, Palm Coast, Florida 32137. The Bank’s Volusia County Banking Center is located at 2140 LPGA Blvd., Daytona Beach, FL  32117. The community bank serves the Northeast and East Central Florida area. The bank offers a full range of deposit and loan products and services tailored to meet the needs of consumer and business customers. Intracoastal provides an unmatched client experience by offering a high-touch relationship based banking with high-tech delivery solutions.  The company offers state of the art convenience through digital solutions including online and mobile banking and a 24-hour ATM network. The bank is a state chartered commercial bank, member FDIC. Corporate information and e-banking are available at www.intracoastalbank.net. They can be reached at 386-447-1662, or Facebook at https:www.facebook.com/intracoastalbank.

Intracoastal Bancorp Announces Annual Meeting Results

Intracoastal Bancorp, Inc. held its annual meeting of shareholders on March 18, 2021 at 8:30 AM at the company’s Volusia Banking Center. 

At the meeting, the following individuals were elected to serve as directors for the coming year:  Dr. Pamela Carbiener, C. Scott Crews, Thomas L. Gibbs, Anand Jobalia, Albert B. Johnston, Jr., Gerald P. Keyes, Michael Machin, Bruce E. Page and Ryan T. Page.

Bank management provided a progress update highlighting the growth and success the Bank experienced in 2020.  The highlights included the following:

Total assets at December 31, 2020, were $483.6 million , up $139.3 million, or 40%, from $344.3 million at December 31, 2019.

Total deposits at December 31, 2020 were $415 million, up 105.1 million, or 34% from $309.9 million , at December 31, 2019.

Total loans at December 31, 2020 were $282.4 million, up 41.2 million, or 17% from $241.2  million, at December 31, 2019. 

Net income for the full year 2020 increased by 7% from the full year 2019. 

The Bank continues to be safe and sound with strong credit quality with no material delinquent loans and no foreclosed properties for 2020.  Management also reported the Bank has reinvested 682 million in loans in the community since opening its doors in 2008 in the form of personal and business lending. Intracoastal’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bruce E. Page said, “Intracoastal‘s 2020 results significantly exceeded expectations. The Bank continues to perform far better than industry norms in most key areas and in overall performance.  Intracoastal’s proven track record of exceptional financial results has positioned the Bank to offer our community a high quality, safe and sound, local alternative.  This elite level of performance also gives Intracoastal Bank the ability to continue to grow and make loans for the betterment of the local economy and community.”

Intracoastal Bank is a wholly owned subsidiary Intracoastal Bancorp, Inc. Intracoastal Bank is a locally owned and operated financial institution. Intracoastal Bank’s Flagler County banking center is located at 1290 Palm Coast Parkway, NW, Palm Coast, Florida 32137. The Bank’s Volusia County Banking Center is located at 2140 LPGA Blvd., Daytona Beach, FL  32117. The community bank serves the Northeast and East Central Florida area. The bank offers a full range of deposit and loan products and services tailored to meet the needs of consumer and business customers. Intracoastal provides an unmatched client experience by offering a high-touch relationship based banking with high-tech delivery solutions.  The company offers state of the art convenience through digital solutions including online and mobile banking and a 24-hour ATM network. The bank is a state chartered commercial bank, member FDIC. Corporate information and e-banking are available at www.intracoastalbank.net. They can be reached at 386-447-1662, or Facebook at https:www.facebook.com/intracoastalbank

The Day Everyone Is A Wee Bit Irish

On March 17 people across the globe celebrate being a little Irish.

This annual celebration, St. Patrick’s Day, began in Ireland in 1631 when the Church established a Feast Day honoring St. Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland. So the story goes, St. Patrick, whose given name was Maewyn Succat, but later changed to Patricius (or Patrick), was born in Roman Britain in the late 4th century. He was kidnapped at the age of 16 and taken to Ireland as a slave, where he either escaped or was released. After becoming a priest, he returned to Ireland around 432 to convert the Irish to Christianity. At the time of his death, March 17, 461, he’d established several monasteries, churches and schools in Ireland. In addition, several legends grew up around the Patron Saint. Supposedly, St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland and used the shamrock to explain the Trinity. For these feats as well as his tireless efforts to spread Christianity, Ireland came to celebrate his day, March 17, with religious services and feasts.

However, it was emigrants, particularly to the United States, in the early 18th century, who kicked St. Patrick Day’s traditions into high gear. Since the holiday falls during Lent, this timely celebration provided Christians a day off from abstinence leading up to Easter.

St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and themes really took shape throughout the 1700s, especially in cities with large numbers of Irish immigrants. Boston held its first St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1737, with New York City following suit in 1762. Interestingly, it wasn’t until 1798, the year of the Irish Rebellion, that the color green became officially associated with the day. Prior to this, blue was the official color associated with St. Patrick.

Modern-day celebrations have the Irish and non-Irish alike donning their green and shamrock pins and honoring the day with traditional Irish meals and gargle (Irish slang for beer) or the classic corn beef and cabbage and green beer, an American practice that was eventually adopted by Ireland for the benefit of its tourists. The city of Chicago takes this day to a whole new level by dying its river green, an annual tradition since 1962.

Regardless of your actual heritage, March 17 marks the day of the year when everyone is a little Irish. And some a little more than others. These cities (and one island) are heralded as hosting the most elaborate St. Patrick’s Day celebrations across the globe:

  1. New York City – NYC hosts the world’s largest St. Patrick’s Day celebration, with more than two million people gathering for the city’s grand parade, featuring bands, bagpipes and dancers.
  2. Dublin – This city’s celebration is filled with five days of celebration, including boat races, music and street performances, a spectacular parade and the Irish Beer & Whiskey Festival.
  3. Sydney – This city hosts a large, themed parade the Sunday before St. Patrick’s Day, with pre- and post-parade entertainment along the streets of Sydney. For an added touch, the Sydney Opera House and the rest of the city turns green on March 17.
  4. Chicago – On the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day, more than 400,000 spectators gather along the Chicago River to watch 45 pounds of environmentally-safe vegetable dye turn the river a bright shade of green. After the morning’s dyeing ceremony, even more people gather to watch the city’s parade at noon.
  5. Montreal – The Montreal St. Patrick’s Day parade takes place the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day and includes floats, bands and a variety of costumes. The three-hour parade features a massive replica of St. Patrick, which marks the beginning of the parade.   
  6. London – The Sunday before St. Patrick’s Day is marked with the city’s annual parade, with floats and marching bands traveling the 1.5-mile route from Green Park to Trafalgar Square. This is followed up by an all-day festival at Trafalgar Square which includes musical performances, a food market, fashion show and film festivals.
  7. Montserrat – Often referred to as “the Emerald Isle,” this island in the British West Indies is the only place outside of Ireland where St. Patrick’s Day is considered a public holiday. The country marks the holiday with a 10-day festival, which includes a St. Patrick’s Day dinner, a Kite Festival and performance by the emerald Community Singers Irish Cabaret.
  8. Savannah – This city hosts one of the largest St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the world, drawing more than 300,000 people each year. The annual celebration features a parade of horses and floats and a celebration on River Street, with vendors, crafts, storytellers and live musical performances.
  9. Munich – Although this city is a fairly recent elaborate St. Patrick’s Day celebration contender, it’s gaining momentum each year. With approximately 15,000 participants, the city shuts down Leopold Strasse to celebrate the holiday.
  10. Buenos Aires – Not only is this city home to the largest St. Patrick’s Day celebration in South America, but the city is also home to fifth largest Irish community in the world. The city’s St. Patrick’s Day street festival takes up 10 blocks along Reconquista Street with music and dancing, and their annual parade features Celtic music and a leprechaun costume contest.

For those of us who won’t be partaking in any of these extravagant St. Patrick’s Day festivities, here are a couple of traditional Irish recipes to brighten up – bring some luck of the Irish – to our St. Patrick’s Day celebration at home:

Beef and Guinness Pie

Ingredients

2 tbsp of rapeseed or canola oil

2 lbs. of boneless beef chuck, cut into 1-inch chunks

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

2 carrots, coarsely chopped

2 celery sticks, coarsely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced

1 cup of beef stock

1 cup of Guinness

Sea Salt and ground pepper to taste

1 bay leaf

2 tbsp of flour

2 sheets of ready to roll puff pastry

A little butter to grease the baking dish

1 egg to brush pastry

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat ½ of the oil in a large pot and brown the meat. Remove meat and set aside on a plate. Add remainder of oil and fry the onion, carrots and celery until tender.
  2. Add the meat back into the pot along with the garlic. Pour in stock and Guinness, add bay leaf and season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer gently for about 1 ½ hours until liquid has reduced. Note: If sauce isn’t thick enough, strain the juices into a bowl and then transfer to a small saucepan. Mix a little of the sauce with flour over medium heat until you have a smooth paste, then whisk through the rest of the liquid. Simmer gently until you have a thickened sauce and then add back to meat mixture.
  3. Grease a baking dish with butter and lay one sheet of puff pastry into dish. Press it into the sides and prick base all over with a fork. Fill with the beef and Guinness mix, and top with the second layer of puff pastry. Pinch the two sheets of puff pastry together so they are sealed.
  4. Cut one or two holes in the pastry top to allow steam to escape and then brush all over with beaten egg. Place the pie into the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes or until pastry has risen and has a golden color.

Irish Soda Bread

Ingredients

1 ¾ cups buttermilk

1 large egg

4 ¼ cups of all-purpose flour, plus more for your hands and counter

3 tbsp granulated sugar

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

5 tbsp of unsalted butter, cold and cubed

1 cup of raisins (optional)

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. There are options for the baking pan. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat, use a seasoned 10-12 cast iron pan or grease a 9–10-inch cake pan or pie dish. Set aside.
  2. Whisk the buttermilk and egg together. Set aside. Whisk the flour, granulated sugar, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. Cut in the butter using a pastry cutter, a fork, or your fingers. Work the dough until into coarse crumbs, then stir in the raisins. Pour in the buttermilk/egg mixture. Gently fold the dough together until dough it is too stiff to stir. Pour crumbly dough onto a lightly floured work surface. With floured hands, work the dough into a ball as best you can, then knead for about 30 seconds or until all the flour is moistened. If the dough is too sticky, add a little more flour.
  3. Transfer the dough to the prepared skillet/pan. Using a very sharp knife, score an X into the top. Bake until the bread is golden brown and center appears cooked through, about 45 minutes. Loosely cover the bread with aluminum foil if you notice heavy browning on top.
  4. Remove from the oven and allow bread to cool for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm, at room temperature, or toasted with desired toppings/spreads.
  5. Cover and store leftover bread at room temperature for up to 2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Enjoy these traditional Irish recipes and St. Paddy’s Day!

Sharing Kindness…It’s a Win-Win

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not. – Dr. Seuss

If ever there was a time to show kindness to others, it’s now.

National Random Acts of Kindness week is celebrated February 14-20 this year, with February 17 designated as Random Acts of Kindness Day. For those of you who are wondering what’s happened to good, old-fashioned kindness in what seems to have become a world of nastiness and disinterest, this is your time to show it still exists.

The practice of random acts of kindness began in a restaurant in Sausalito, California in 1982 when patron Anne Herbert scrawled the words “practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty” on a placemat. From there it gained powerful momentum, and by February 1993 stories of random acts of kindness were appearing in nearly every newspaper in the U.S. and hundreds of radio stations were devoting airtime to the cause. The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation (RAK), a nonprofit organization, designated February 17 as National Random Acts of Kindness Day in 1995 and the second week of February as National Random Acts of Kindness Week in 2018.

Sharing kindness with others not only benefits them, but it also boosts our own health and wellbeing. Researchers found that when people do something good for others, they feel better themselves. A 2018 study conducted at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England, examining the brain scans of 1000 participants, found that acts of kindness measurably activated the reward centers of the brain. In addition, they discovered that the more altruistic the gesture the more the brain’s reward areas illuminated.

For those of you who’d like to be a part of this national celebration, leading by example by spreading kindness, here are few suggestions from RAK to get you started. (For more resources, visit randomactsofkindness.org.)

  • Pay if forward – pay for the coffee or meal for the person in front of you in line.
  • Leave a kind note for someone, without an explanation.
  • Share words of encouragement or compliment a stranger. You never know who really needs this, and how much it is appreciated, especially today.
  • Drop off a load of groceries at your local food pantry.
  • Put your skills to work for someone in need (e.g., offer to create a resume for someone looking for a new job).
  • Mail a “Thinking of You” card to someone you’ve not talked to in a while.
  • Send a meal to someone in need through a delivery service (DoorDash, Uber, Grubhub, etc.).
  • Run errands for a neighbor or friend in need – many people can’t get out and shop right now, so on your next trip to the supermarket offer to pick up needed groceries or medicine. You can still practice safe social distancing by leaving the goods on their doorstep/porch and giving them a quick call to let them know it’s there.
  • Phone a family member or friend – you may not be able to see your family and friends who may be struggling right now, due to the pandemic, but you can take the time to call them and really listen. Cheer them up by talking about topics they really enjoy and remind them that they are not alone.
  • Be kind to yourself – after you’ve done good for others, do something nice for yourself (e.g., take that long-overdue soak in tub scented with a relaxing essential oil). This and sharing kindness with others will make you feel good all over.

How the CARES Act May Affect Your 2020 Taxes

Now that you’ve ushered in the new year and closed and padlocked the door on 2020, it’s time to get a jumpstart on preparing your 2020 taxes. Because, like so many things over the past year, some of the tax guidelines changed as well.

Much of the attention of the $2.2 trillion, Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was signed by President Trump on March 27, 2020, in response to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been focused on the small business loan program known as the Paycheck Protection Program. However, there are several provisions in the Act that could directly or indirectly impact your 2020 individual tax return.

Provisions of the CARES Act that could affect your individual tax return

Stimulus Payments: The economic impact payments taxpayers received in 2020, based on 2019 tax returns (or 2018 returns if 2019 weren’t filed yet), are technically an advance payment of a tax credit for 2020. Because of this, these payments are not considered income and therefore are not taxable nor are they used to determine eligibility for premium tax credits for Affordable Care Act marketplace coverage or Medicaid.

If you were entitled to stimulus payments in 2020, and didn’t receive them, or only received partial amounts, you can get these credits when you file your tax return. In addition, if you received stimulus payments that were more than you were actually allowed, based on your actual 2020 income, you will not have to pay the credit overage back.

Unemployment Benefits: One of the most popular benefits of the CARES Act was the $600-per-week federal boost to state unemployment benefits. But many taxpayers may have forgotten that unemployment benefits are subject to federal income tax. The extra $600-per-week you may have received is no exception. If you didn’t opt to have the taxes withheld, hopefully, you put aside some of the money you received in preparation for your 2020 tax return.

The unemployment amounts available under the Act could have a significant impact on family income and could also affect eligibility for premium tax credits for the Affordable Care Act marketplace coverage and Medicaid. Generally, unemployment benefits are considered family income in determining eligibility for these programs. Consequently, the $600-per-week CARES Act supplement will also be considered as income for determining eligibility for premium tax credits for the marketplace coverage. However, it will not be considered as income in determining Medicaid eligibility.

Early Distribution Penalty Waiver: Generally, if you withdraw money from your retirement plan before 59 ½, there is a 10% tax penalty. However, the CARES Act waived this penalty for 2020 if an individual, or their spouse or dependent was diagnosed with Coronavirus through a CDC-approved test, or were economically harmed by it as the result of a quarantine, business closure, layoff or a reduction in work hours. Under the CARES Act, an affected individual can withdraw up to $100,000 from their qualified IRA, pension plan, or 401(k) plan in 2020, without incurring the early distribution penalty. However, regular income tax will still be assessed on the distribution. Under the CARES Act, this tax payment can be spread evenly over three years.

However, any withdrawals can be recontributed to a qualified retirement plan at any time over the three-year period to eliminate the otherwise reportable taxable income. The recontributed funds do not count toward annual contribution levels.

In addition, the CARES Act allowed you to borrow up to 100% of the vested balance or $100,000, whichever is less, from a qualified retirement plan. This option was only available for loans taken out during the six-month period from March 27, 2020 to September 23, 2020. These loans must be paid back within 5 years. However, the CARES Act allowed borrowers to forgo repayment in 2020 and begin the 5-year repayment plan in 2021. The loan, however, still accrued interest in 2020.

Required Minimum Contributions: The CARES Act waived minimum distributions that were required to be paid in 2020, including those that would have been required by April 1, if an individual turned 70 ½ in 2019. If the required minimum distribution (RMD) for 2020 was already paid, you can recontribute, within 60 days of the receipt of the original distribution, to a qualified plan.

If you opted not to take your 2020 RMDs, you’ve positively impacted your 2020 taxes in three ways. You don’t pay taxes on your RMD, you’ve reduced the risk of the RMD pushing you into a higher tax bracket, and you have the opportunity to ride out the market volatility that may have affected your retirement portfolio during the COVID pandemic.

Charitable Deduction Rules: In an effort to help 501(c)(3) qualified organizations affected by decreased contributions, due to the pandemic, the CARES Act removed the income-related cap on charitable contributions for 2020.

The CARES Act gave a new above-the-line charitable contribution deduction of up to $300 to taxpayers who do not itemize their deductions. For individual taxpayers who itemize deductions, the CARES Act temporarily removes the 60% cap and allows you to deduct up to 100% of your AGI in 2020 after taking into account other contributions subject to charitable contributions limits.

With the many changes to the tax guidelines in 2020, due to several of the CARES Act provisions, your 2020 tax return will most likely be more complicated than in the past. So, if you don’t normally use a professional tax preparer for your returns, this may be a good time to start.

Protecting Yourself From Fraud This Holiday Season

The 2020 holiday season will most certainly look very different as we try to balance celebrating and keeping our loved ones and ourselves “COVID” safe. Sadly, this unprecedented change will not deter the exploitation of our holiday habits by cybercrooks. In fact, the tremendous increase in Internet shopping this holiday season, due to the pandemic, is expected to ramp up online schemes and scams.

According to CreditCards.com, 71 percent of consumers plan to do a majority of their shopping online this holiday season, greatly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, as the retailers roll out all their seasonal deals, it sets a fertile ground for scammers to lure in bargain hunters with fake websites and social media campaigns impersonating major brands and online outlets. These bogus sites will entice consumers to spend money for goods or services they will never receive. Some of the more recent enticements include charity scams, delivery scams, travel scams and letter from Santa Claus scams.

This season’s increased distractions and transactions, unfortunately, also increase the likelihood that your personal information will be hacked, often resulting in account takeovers, fraudulent activity and wide-ranging identity theft. Although we can’t eliminate this threat, here are several tips to help reduce your chance of becoming another holiday season, cybercrime statistic.

  • Use Apple Pay (used with an Apple device) or Google Pay (used with an Android device) or another digital wallet instead of your debit or credit card for contactless purchases in stores, apps, and on the web. Digital wallets use an encryption system, replacing your card information with a one-time digital “token” for your transaction.

  • Use a credit card for your holiday purchases. Disputing charges with a credit card is less of a hassle than with a debit card.

  • Use a virtual private network (VPN). This allows you to create a secure connection to another network over the Internet, providing online privacy and anonymity when using a public Wi-Fi connection.

  • Don’t shop or conduct any financial transactions or activities on a public Wi-Fi. Even with a VPN, it’s a good year-round practice to avoid public online transactions that could pose a threat to the security of your personal information.

  • Don’t store your debit or credit card information online. Cybercriminals will have less access to your key information in the event of a data breach.

  • Be cautious at points of sale. Skimming devices can be attached to card readers to capture your credit or debit card information.

  • Be cautious of social media ads. If the offer seems too good to be true, most likely it is. Before making a purchase, do some research on the company, including their return and refund policies, and look at the Google reviews. Drag your cursor over social media ads to display the true URL destination.

  • Beware of email phishing and social engineering scams. If an email looks suspicious or is sent from an unfamiliar address, or someone calls you seeking personal information because one of your accounts has supposedly been hacked, always go directly to the company’s website and call the support number listed.

  • Activate card security features. Set up text alerts and notifications for your card transactions. Turn your cards off when they are not in use. Use virtual cards (temporary virtual credit card numbers that stand in for your regular credit card credentials) for secure online shopping.

  • Monitor your credit and identity. Experian’s free, credit monitoring gives you access to your regularly updated credit score and report, and will alert you if there are any changes to your credit.

Although the holiday season offers more scheming opportunities for cybercrooks, being mindful of your online security is a good habit all year long. Following these safe holiday shopping tips throughout the year will go a long way toward preventing identity theft.

November…The Perfect Time for Storytelling

With the Thanksgiving holiday just a few weeks away, November is the perfect time to celebrate National Family Stories Month. 

Family memories and traditions hold a special place in our hearts, especially during the holiday season. So, National Family Stories month, celebrated throughout the month of November, is a great way to kick off the holidays by gathering your loved ones together and taking a trip down memory lane. This annual celebration provides an opportune time to share fun stories from the past as well as revisit some of life’s historical moments that can be passed around and down to future generations.

Whether it’s a funny story about your then teenage brother who was met with the seething look of the neighbor lady as he’d just finished toilet papering her house or a sad story about unexpectedly losing someone dear to you at a young age or the story of the strength and courage of your grandfather who immigrated to America by himself at the tender age of 13 or a romance story of how your parents or grandparents met, your loved ones will surely treasure these anecdotes for years to come.

So, as you gather your family (big or small) together this Thanksgiving holiday, start a new tradition, family storytelling. I’m sure you’re already coming up with some great ideas to celebrate National Family Stories Month, but just in case, here are a few suggestions to get the dialogue started:

  • Prepare a list of questions ahead of time and email them to your family members who will be attending your Thanksgiving celebration. Here are some prompts:
  • What is your favorite story about your childhood?
  • What was the most impactful invention/breakthrough in your lifetime and why?
  • Who was your first crush?
  • What did you want to be when you grew up, or for kids, what do they want to be when they grow up and why?
  • What was the scariest thing that ever happened to you?
  • What was the bravest thing you ever did?

  • Grab an elder in the room and ask them to share some stories about the “good ole days.”

  • Share stories about your children with them – their birth, funny things they said and did as a kid, their first words, etc.

  • Add photos, when possible, to complement the stories.

Every family has a story to tell. Stories that teach, inspire, bind and give us a sense of belonging. These are family heirlooms to be held on to long after the holiday dinner leftovers. So, celebrate this National Family Stories Month and the Thanksgiving holiday by opening your family’s book and sharing the first of many memorable chapters.

From our Intracoastal Family to yours, have a safe and blessed Thanksgiving holiday!

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