Easy ways to make your data, and your dollars, go further

(BPT) – Wireless providers would love for you to believe that a modern lifestyle requires an endless, unlimited stream of data; and by the way, they’d love to sell it to you! On its face, there’s probably nothing wrong with this assumption. Just think about how much of your day is spent on data-dependent activities, like streaming video or music, searching the internet or using GPS on your smartphone. They all require data, in some form, to deliver what you need.

But in our fast-paced, plugged-in world, don’t lose sight of the fact that all of these things can actually be done while using far less, and sometimes even none, of the data from your cellular plan. This means that in just a few simple steps, you can save considerable money each and every month. Here’s how:

Tame the video beast

The convenience of watching video on your smartphone can sometimes obscure an important fact: it’s a data glutton. For example, viewing a full-length movie on Netflix consumes about 1GB of data per hour in standard definition video, and up to 3GB per hour in high definition. At that rate, you’ll burn through even the most robust data package in no time.

Try connecting to Wi-Fi instead. It’s widely available, and lets you stream without using any cellular data at all, often with a faster connection. While connected to Wi-Fi, you can also download videos, TV shows or movies to your phone or SD card to watch anytime at your convenience, with no data required.

In addition, when you’re streaming video on a small screen, such as a cellphone, you really don’t need high resolution. Many apps give you the ability to change video quality settings, and therefore consume less data. For Netflix, log into your account and switch to one of three settings: low (using 0.3GB per hour), medium (which uses 0.7GB per hour) or high (using up to 3GB per hour). In the YouTube app, just tap the three-dots menu and click “Quality” to lower it.

Manage social media and streaming music

Videos have also become a standard part of the social media experience. Adjusting your settings to prevent videos from playing automatically will prevent them from eating up your data. The steps to change this setting can vary between applications. On most platforms, like Facebook, you’ll go to your Account Settings and either disable the “Autoplay” feature entirely, or change it so that videos will only play automatically when you’re connected to Wi-Fi.

All of the popular audio streaming apps offer ways to listen to your music without having to use a network connection, or even Wi-Fi. Spotify lets you download your albums and playlists right to your device. If you use Apple Music, you can add songs, albums and playlists to your library. With Google Play Music, you can download everything: songs, albums, playlists and even radio stations.

Try a smaller plan for bigger savings

By managing data effectively, you can save money by choosing smaller, less expensive data plans. Consumer Cellular, for instance, offers no-contract monthly plans ranging from 250MB to 10GB, for $5 to $40 per month. That’s far less than most “unlimited” options, and you also get the flexibility to change your plan as needed with no extra charges.

Also, be sure to take advantage of Usage Alerts, which most carriers provide for free. On an Android device, you can do this by going to your device settings, and then tapping the data usage option. Simply turn on “Alert me about data usage” to receive notifications about how much data you are consuming.

Follow these tips and you’ll enjoy streaming movies, listening to music and so much more while also keeping money in your pocket for things other than a colossal data plan. You can truly have it all, without needing an unlimited budget to do it.

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Gig worker gains: Are you grabbing the best possible tax relief?

(BPT) – If you earn all or part of your income these days from freelance or contract work, you’re far from alone.

A CNN report this year estimates some 34 percent of the U.S. workforce is now part of the so-called gig economy, a segment expected to reach 43 percent — representing some 7.7 million workers — by 2020.

The gig workforce includes people paid per task through companies such as Uber and Lyft and those paid per project in more traditional roles such as writer, tutor, entertainer, carpenter or electrician. Some freelance by preference, enjoying the sense of freedom that comes with being their own bosses. Others become gig workers because they can’t find other work. And a certain portion holds down a part-time gig in addition to a steadier job so they can gain extra income or experience.

Because the surge in gig work is relatively new, however, many remain unsure how to maximize the multiple tax breaks available to freelancers. If you’re among them, user-friendly, online tax preparation software available through TaxAct can tell you everything you need to know about maximizing your gig income when tax time rolls around — regardless of your freelance profession. For example, did you know the following expenses are tax deductible?

* Home office and utility costs: Even if you only use a corner of your dining room as your work space, you can count that area as a deduction. Opting for the Simplified Home Office Deduction (instead of the regular deduction) lets you deduct $5 per square foot, with a 300-foot cap, of any portion of your home used exclusively for business. Conversely, the regular-deduction method allows a more specific professional-space deduction while also allowing you to write off the portion of your electricity, gas, cable and cell phone bills pertaining to your business. Further, under either method, a portion of your mortgage interest and real estate taxes could also be deductible under Schedule A guidelines.

* Website expenses: Many savvy freelancers invest in their own websites to further their self-employment. Related fees are all deductible, including anything spent over the last year on domain rights, design, building and maintenance.

* Equipment and supply costs: Save your receipts! If you’ve never taken time to identify and list the costs of doing business, you may be surprised how quickly they can add up in the form of a tax benefit. You can deduct all expenses related to purchasing computers, software (including standard programs such as Microsoft Office), printers, cameras and supplies, pens and paper as well as any other equipment needed to complete your work effectively.

* Professional development fees: Conferences, seminars and other educational opportunities that relate to your freelance career are all deductible. The same goes for travel and accommodations for business-related events and half the cost of your business-related meals. Are you networking through your local trade group or business association? Good news: Dues and membership fees associated with professional organizations also qualify as deductions.

* Unpaid invoices: One of the biggest thorns in freelancers’ sides can be unreasonable employers and/or disorganized accounts payable departments that don’t pay up in a timely manner. Unpaid invoices can be hugely problematic when you’re trying to stay on top of your expenses. Fortunately the IRS has sympathy for such woes. If you previously recorded the invoice as income, you can likely deduct the amount you weren’t paid as a bad debt.

Have more specific questions about your tax benefits as a freelancer? TaxAct has the answers. Let us demystify the complexity of your taxes so you can focus on maximizing your freelance income.

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An overlooked benefit to consider this open enrollment season

(BPT) –

Being a parent is a balancing act. You are constantly being pulled in different directions and it can be challenging managing all of the things you need to get done. Your company’s open enrollment period is a chance to take stock of what benefits your workplace offers that may be able to help you manage some of the issues you face.
One often overlooked benefit is a group legal plan, which provides access to a nationwide network of attorneys for help with personal legal issues for around $20 a month. Here are just a few reasons why a legal plan can be a valuable benefit for a parent:
It helps with the things keeping you up at night. Have you considered who would take care of your children if something happened to you or your spouse? Or what if someone in the family became disabled? Do you have financial and health care directives in place to protect your family? If you have kids, you need to have estate planning documents. A group legal plan covers the cost of drafting documents like wills and powers of attorney for you, your spouse and dependents.
It can help protect or restore your identity. Identity theft is on the rise, with child identity theft quickly becoming one of the fastest-growing identity theft crimes. Contacting creditors and other agencies to resolve an identity theft issue can be very time-consuming and costly. In fact, the average cost to resolve an identity theft issue, including legal fees, is around $1,300, according to a U.S. Department of Justice study cited by CSID. Access to identity theft assistance through a group legal plan connects you to experts who can do the work for you, saving you time and money.
It helps with buying or selling a home. Having children can mean having to move to a bigger house. There are numerous legal issues involved in buying or selling a home. Attorneys can review contracts, draft documents related to the purchase or sale, as well as attend the closing for you. A legal plan provides you with access to an attorney to guide you through the homebuying or selling process, taking away the stress of dealing with complicated paperwork and legal issues.
It can help with school-related issues. As your child enters school, there are many complicated issues he or she may face. Dealing with special needs requests, administrative hearings at school or even juvenile court for traffic infractions are all legal issues that can be difficult for most parents to maneuver without legal help. When you are enrolled in a legal plan, it’s similar to having an attorney on retainer. You can contact an attorney for any questions you have related to issues your children face throughout their school years.
Having access to affordable legal help through a group legal plan can help you navigate many of the issues you face as a parent. If your company offers this as a benefit at your work, it’s one to consider this open enrollment season.

Read more

An overlooked benefit to consider this open enrollment season

(BPT) –

Being a parent is a balancing act. You are constantly being pulled in different directions and it can be challenging managing all of the things you need to get done. Your company’s open enrollment period is a chance to take stock of what benefits your workplace offers that may be able to help you manage some of the issues you face.
One often overlooked benefit is a group legal plan, which provides access to a nationwide network of attorneys for help with personal legal issues for around $20 a month. Here are just a few reasons why a legal plan can be a valuable benefit for a parent:
It helps with the things keeping you up at night. Have you considered who would take care of your children if something happened to you or your spouse? Or what if someone in the family became disabled? Do you have financial and health care directives in place to protect your family? If you have kids, you need to have estate planning documents. A group legal plan covers the cost of drafting documents like wills and powers of attorney for you, your spouse and dependents.
It can help protect or restore your identity. Identity theft is on the rise, with child identity theft quickly becoming one of the fastest-growing identity theft crimes. Contacting creditors and other agencies to resolve an identity theft issue can be very time-consuming and costly. In fact, the average cost to resolve an identity theft issue, including legal fees, is around $1,300, according to a U.S. Department of Justice study cited by CSID. Access to identity theft assistance through a group legal plan connects you to experts who can do the work for you, saving you time and money.
It helps with buying or selling a home. Having children can mean having to move to a bigger house. There are numerous legal issues involved in buying or selling a home. Attorneys can review contracts, draft documents related to the purchase or sale, as well as attend the closing for you. A legal plan provides you with access to an attorney to guide you through the homebuying or selling process, taking away the stress of dealing with complicated paperwork and legal issues.
It can help with school-related issues. As your child enters school, there are many complicated issues he or she may face. Dealing with special needs requests, administrative hearings at school or even juvenile court for traffic infractions are all legal issues that can be difficult for most parents to maneuver without legal help. When you are enrolled in a legal plan, it’s similar to having an attorney on retainer. You can contact an attorney for any questions you have related to issues your children face throughout their school years.
Having access to affordable legal help through a group legal plan can help you navigate many of the issues you face as a parent. If your company offers this as a benefit at your work, it’s one to consider this open enrollment season.

Read more