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A Personal Finance Cheat Sheet for the Overwhelmed

by Hannah Cole on May 18, 2017
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Money is the most powerful metaphor we have. For many people it represents their self-worth, their standing, their power and their security. In many ways artists are a little different—we have a life where we choose to value different things than the rest of society – freedom, both artistic and from societal norms, as well as intellectual independence. Our very existence can be seen as a challenge to capitalism. It’s why some people feel threatened by us—our choice to place a high value on things other than money might call into question their own choices and values.

So I understand why many artists may want to or feel as though they live outside the “regular” financial system. However, we all still must function within it. I have seen too many artists succumb to their own lack of financial knowledge and security – by giving up art, making outsized financial sacrifices (like homeownership, children, or secure retirement), and even becoming destitute. Money can be very emotional: not knowing how to manage it can make us feel out of control, anxious, overwhelmed, and ashamed.

But the flipside is wonderful. Taking some basic steps to control your money is empowering. It can prolong your career, help you meet personal and professional goals, and set your mind at ease.

I’d like to outline the most basic ideas of personal finance. There are tomes written on each single line below, and a million variations. But since feeling overwhelmed can cause paralysis, I want to assure you that the very basics of solid personal finance are universal.* Here they are.

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The Estate Tax: An Economic Justice No-Brainer

by Hannah Cole on May 2, 2017
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Economic inequality is one of our biggest problems as a society, and it’s ruining our health. But it’s hard to write headlines about something that gets incrementally worse every day, instead of making a dramatic, newsworthy entrance. Bernie Sander’s campaign struck a chord by focusing on income inequality, and Trump garnered popularity by addressing workers on the losing end of the economy (though, I would argue, not with actual solutions).

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Set up For Your Best Year Ever: A Tax Day How-To

by Hannah Cole on April 18, 2017
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Here we are at Tax Day. Your taxes are filed. (They aren’t? Here’s an IRS extension form – postmark it today. You’ll need one for your state, too.)

Last year you vowed to get your stuff in order. Then suddenly the tax deadline was upon you, and you scrambled through the process, and weren’t as careful as you intended to be. You suspected you should have been paying estimated quarterly taxes all year, but didn’t, and now your tax bill is surprisingly high.

Now that the time pressure is off, let’s take a look at how you can make this year better. Plus some discounts on apps that can help you.

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Charitable Deductions for You, Me and Warren Buffet

by Hannah Cole on April 4, 2017
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What’s the difference between standard and itemized tax deductions? An Itemized tax deduction is what rich people use to write-off their charitable giving. And, maybe, you could too.

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Some Real Numbers for Artists on the ACA Repeal

by Hannah Cole on March 22, 2017
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When I went back to school for accounting, I never thought I’d get an education in healthcare. But the Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka Obamacare) forced tax preparers like me into learning about our healthcare system, because most of the credits and penalties are reconciled on the tax return.

Given this background, I have some insights on what the new Republican proposal, the “American Health Care Act” (ACHA, aka Trumpcare) would do to you, me, and our federal budget. It’s not good.

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The SEP IRA: A Lovesong

by Hannah Cole on March 8, 2017
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We freelancers pay a lot of tax. We don’t just pay an income tax rate of anywhere from 0 to 39% on our freelance income – we also pay a flat 15.3% self-employment tax, no matter what our income bracket. Without tax planning, this can be a huge bite.

As artists and cultural workers, our freelancer tax strategy is generally to reduce the amount of our taxable self-employment income as much as legally possible. Tax planning is hard, because it’s about saving small bits in many places. There are few silver bullets.

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Why Refusing to Pay Federal Taxes Is an Ineffective Protest of Trump

by Hannah Cole on February 22, 2017
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Frustrated with President Donald Trump’s first four weeks in office? So far, he’s rolled out a sloppy and disgraceful travel ban on Muslims (notably omitting countries he has business ties to), and used taxpayer money to pay for his sons’ jaunts to other countries to promote Trump family businesses. His presidency has been rife with conflict of interest but he has not released his taxes, so there remain few ways to prove it.

It’s not surprising, then, that a lot of talk has surfaced among artists and progressives about not paying income tax this year in protest of the Republican administration’s policies. Is this a good idea?

The short answer is, “No.”

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Rent Too Damn High? Deduct Your Home Studio.

by Hannah Cole on February 6, 2017
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One of the best tax breaks out there is the home office (or home studio) deduction. In tax terms, this essentially turns a portion of your nondeductible personal expenses (your home) into deductible business expenses (a workplace). A lot of people are confused about the rules, and some people are scared to take the deduction at all because they’ve heard that it can be a red flag to the IRS. As long as you are following the rules correctly, there is nothing wrong with taking the deduction. And it’s a big one! So here is some help.

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The Nitty Gritty: How To Prepare for Filing Your Taxes

by Hannah Cole on January 19, 2017
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Nobody likes filing taxes. But thinking ahead and getting your documents lined up reduce the stress of the process. Here are some key ways to prepare yourself for tax season, and get you ready to sit down to your own tax prep software or deliver an organized package to your tax preparer.

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Getting Organized: Financial Resolutions for Artists in 2017

by Hannah Cole on January 6, 2017
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As we enter a the new year, let’s take time to think about the priorities in our arts practices, and in our personal lives. You may roll your eyes at the idea of New Year’s resolutions, but there is evidence that writing down your goals actually helps you achieve them. So grab a pen, and let’s put some intention into 2017.

In my interview with artist Susan Crile about her eight year ordeal defending herself in US Tax Court, there was a lot of discussion about keeping records to prove the profit motive in one’s art practice. It brings up a good question for most of us: how are we doing on our own record keeping? If the IRS sent an audit letter tomorrow, would you feel good about the shape that your records are in? If the answer is not good, don’t panic. Here is a list of what you will need, and some thoughts on how to improve your record keeping going forward.

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