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  • Articles, Money

    What Teens Should Know About Taxes

    What Teens Should Know About Taxes

    If you have ever gone shopping then you know about sales tax, but do you know about every other tax under the sun? When you buy a house, rent an apartment, buy land, buy a car, pay for license plates, get a job, or have dinner, you are bound to pay some sort of tax. For some reason, general education does not focus enough on things that are relevant to students once they graduate high school, such as hidden tax fees.

    I recently purchased a car from a private seller and knew a little bit about taxing and that I should expect to pay it heavily on my new car. Yet, when I arrived at the dealer, I was met with a smaller amount to be paid than anticipated. Why was that, you may wonder? I was under the impression that sales tax (being around 9% or 10% in my state) was the average amount of taxes taken out of everything. I had been working multiple different jobs since graduating high school and never once stopped to ask what the percentage was being taken from my paychecks. I just accepted that the money would be automatically withdrawn and moved on.

    If someone had never purchased a car before (I.e. a recent graduate of high school or college), then finding out a tax needed to be paid at all might come as a shock. Fortunately, I had bought a car prior to this instance with my mother and had to pay taxes on it. The only problem is that the first time I bought a car, the tax was 10%, but this time it was only 3%. I asked the lady at the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) why the tax was different, and she explained to me that the state I live in only does a 3% tax on vehicles, and this was a recent change. I accepted the information, paid the due, and once again moved on.

    Here is some useful information to consider when making large purchases in Alabama:

     

    1. The sales tax in Alabama is pretty high compared to other states in the nation, and in the counties nearest me it is either 9% or 10%. This means that for every dollar you spend, you pay 10 cents in taxes. If you spend $10, you will pay $1 in taxes. This only applies when shopping.
    2. Do not assume you know the exact value of the taxes on your vehicle purchase. The state now assigns an estimated value for your vehicle and taxes it according to that. So, if you purchase a car for $5500, but it is valued at $6900, then you will be paying a 3% or 4% tax on $6900.
    3. Always, always research your local taxes before making large purchases, because taxes can change. Or there could be additional taxes that you may not have even known about.

     

    Here is a link for further knowledge of taxes:

    https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/irs-offers-tips-for-teenage-taxpayers-with-summer-jobs

  • Articles, College, Confidence, Money, School, Writing

    How to Write College Essays

    How to Write College Essays

    guest post by Rick Wedell, RFG Chief Investment Officer

     

    College application deadlines are approaching, and with that there comes the stress of the application process. Some schools do not ask for essays, while others may ask you for several different pieces of writing. With that in mind, we thought we would share with you a good approach to writing college essays beyond the simple “make sure you proof- read carefully”.1

     

     

    Step 1: The Personal Narrative

    Ideally, a college application should tell a compelling story about who you are, why you want to go to school in general, and why this institution in particular. We’ll call this your personal narrative – the twenty second elevator speech youwould give to the admissions of cer if you were fortunate enough to be able to trap them in an enclosed space for thatlength of time.

    This is a story that you should construct on paper prior to even looking at the application, and it’s crucial that it weaves itself together into a compelling and coherent story line. Consider two narratives –

    1. I’m Rick, I’m a natural leader, I ran track and focused on Model UN in High School, I want to go to college so that I can become a marine biologist, and I’m interested in the University of Miami because of your amazing overseas exchange student program
    2. I’m Samantha, I’m inquisitive, I was active in the debate team and student government in High School, I’m looking to go to college so that I can one day go to law school, and I’m interested in the University of Virginia because of your excellent pre-law curriculum track 2

    To a college admissions counselor, Rick sounds like he has no sense of what he is doing with his life, while Samantha sounds like she has been organized around a single purpose since the day she could walk. Each aspect of her narrative is complementary and additive to the others, and as a result, Samantha is a far more compelling candidate. More importantly, her story is a heck of a lot more memorable because it all hangs together – inquisitive, debate, law school, pre-law.

    As a guideline, your narrative should include two to four characteristics that describe who you are (or who you want the admissions department to think of you as). These can be interests, achievements, activities, or descriptors.
    The most important thing about your narrative is that it needs to be believable! If you say you want to help impoverished children, then you had better be able to point to something concrete that demonstrates this desire.

    That said, saying it needs to be believable is not the same thing as saying that it needs to be 100% accurate, particularly when you discuss why you want to go to college and why this school in particular. In your heart of hearts, you may want go to the University of Wherever because that’s where your friends are going, or because you love their sports teams, or because your parents went to their arch-rival and you are trying to rebel. These are all valid reasons for going to the school and horrible reasons to put on your application. You shouldn’t lie about grades, an activity, a leadership role or accolade or anything like that, however stretching the possible on your motivations or what attracts you to the school is fair game so long as it is believable. In our examples above, Rick could make his story more compelling if he tied his experience in Model UN to an interest in a government degree and Miami’s fantastic public policy program. He can always switch to marine biology once he enrolls.3

    So now we’ve got our personal narrative, which is a well-constructed, believable story about who you are, why you want to go to college, and why you want to go to this college in particular. The next step is to actually look at the application itself.

     

    Step 2 – The Grid

    Every college application is different. Some applications ask for a single essay, others ask for multiple short answers, others ask for multiple essays, and some ask for no written samples at all. If the application asks for a single essay – no problem – just take your personal narrative and start writing. If multiple written responses are required, that’s when we come to the concept of the grid.

    The grid is pretty simple – put your narrative in boxes across the top row and the list of writing requirements down the page. At the far right should be a column called “topic”. To illustrate, we’ll use Samantha’s narrative and some essay questions I made up:

    Inquisitive

    Debate

    Student Gov.

    Law School

    Pre-law track

    Topic

    Talk about a time you struggled?

    What are you most proud of?

    Why would our campus be a better place with you on it?

    Now, all we need to do is decide which situations or experiences we are going to address in each essay, making
    sure that we touch on all of the elements of our narrative at least once in the entire application. We don’t want every response to check every box, but we do want to check 2 or 3 boxes with each answer and make sure that nothing in ourpersonal narrative gets left out when the admissions of cer nishes reading the application as a whole.

    page2image47944page2image48104

    What the grid forces you to do is focus your writing on your message and avoid the cardinal sin of application writing – DO NOT simply answer the questions in a laundry list fashion. Samantha may be very proud of the time she won the spelling bee in Junior High. If the application asks what she’s proud of, she might be tempted to write about it. After all, who wouldn’t be proud of that? At the same time, that response is off message. It’s impressive, and it might make for a good essay topic for some applicants, but it doesn’t really fit into Samantha’s story. She certainly should list that achievement when asked about extra curriculars, awards, and accolades, but she shouldn’t spend essay time writing about it. Instead, she should pick an experience or situation to write about that helps to tell her story.

    Keep in mind that the questions are just prompts to get you talking about yourself, and no admissions officer is going to penalize you for being a little off topic with your answers so long as you make an effort to frame it within the question. The best overall candidates get into school, not the people who have the best examples to fit into the application questions.

    If Samantha wants to talk about a debate tournament she won for the “struggled” question, she can spend a little time describing the struggle she had with preparation for the tournament as she crafts the response. If she’d rather talk about the tournament in the next question, then she can be “most proud of” the fact that she worked together with her team and coaches to get to the victory. You get the idea.

    When Sam is finished with her grid, it might look something like this:

    Inquisitive

    Debate

    Student Gov.

    Law School

    Pre-law track

    Topic

    Talk about a time you struggled?

    XXX

    XXX

    Debate Win

    What are you most proud of?

    XXX

    XXX

    Class Senator

    Why would our campus be a better place with you on it?

    XXX

    XXX

    XXX

    Legal Intern

    She’s chosen topics to write about for each of these three essays that highlight the qualities checked on the grid. Once again, she’s not talking about everything in every response, but when she’s finished her narrative should flow through the application. Now that she has her topics, it’s off to write!

     

    Step 3 – The Writing

    Steps 1 and 2 are about figuring out what to write about for each question, and now we get to the point of actually putting words on paper. A couple of tips:

    • Make every word count. You have a limited number of words, and most of us are prolific with our prose. You want to cram as much content into as few words as possible. Start by writing with no filter, and then go back and delete / rephrase until you hit the target word count. Intro phrases like “for example” and “in other words” are great candidates to slash and burn.
    • Show, don’t tell. Wherever possible, use examples / stories / anecdotes (like the Samantha and Rick storylines above) to illustrate your points versus just stating them – it makes the work more engaging to the reader.
    • Customize your answers for each school. You may be tempted to copy essays from one application to the
      next. Resist the temptation unless the questions are the same. You can talk about the same situations on every application by reframing the experience (e.g. Samantha’s debate tournament win), but the copy / paste function on your word processor should be avoided like the plague.
    • If a question asks you about your personality or “who you are”, be brutally honest. These questions are probing not only for who you are, but for how well you know yourself, and should be treated with an appropriate level of introspection. They aren’t necessarily asking you to talk about the time you were elected president of the student government or some other mind-blowing achievement or skill. You can still fit these into the grid, but be careful – you want these responses to show that you are aware of your weaknesses as well as your strengths.4 Be honest with yourself. A good rule of thumb is that you will know that this type of essay is ready to submit when you hesitate to print a copy for fear that one of your friends might someday find it.
    • Find someone you trust to edit and proofread. You do not need 50 different editors, because they will give you conflicting advice. Find 1 or 2 people who will read all of the essays together and make sure that they present a compelling storyline, and who are willing to suggest changes to things that are a little off – an editor is worthless if they simply tell you the essays look great.

    Step 4 – The Recommendations

    You might think that we are all done once we’ve done the writing, but we still have letters of recommendation to consider! After all, we did all the work to come up with our personal narrative, and there is no reason not to share that with whoever is writing your letters of recommendation.

    page4image33496

    Indeed, you should probably think about your personal narrative when you think about WHO you ask. Ideally, we want the recommender to discuss something additive to your story, but not repetitive. If Samantha has her softball coach write a letter, it’s nice, but it doesn’t really build her story. Her Social Studies teacher might be a better option, as that is consistent with and adds to Samantha’s narrative. Having her Debate coach write the letter would be more in the repetitive camp.

    Once you’ve identified who you want to write the letter, you should ask them. Give them an out, so that if they do not want to write the letter they have a pre-built excuse. Something like “Mr. Johnson, I’m applying to the University of Wherever, and I was wondering if you have the time to write a good letter of recommendation for me?” Asking if they have the time gives them an out without hurting your feelings – you don’t want someone writing a rec who doesn’t want to do it.

    If they agree – great! Most people who write letters of recommendation want to see you succeed – they wouldn’t write it if they didn’t care. By telling your recommender how you are positioning your application, you let them know what
    to highlight in their letter. At the very least, it helps ensure that they won’t directly contradict you! Share your personal narrative with them, and if you feel comfortable enough, suggest what you think they might be able to add to the conversation.

    Sam might say: “Mr. Johnson, thank you for agreeing to write a recommendation for me. Elsewhere in my application, I’ve talked about how I’m inquisitive, loved student government and debate, and am interested in law as a career. I was hoping that you might be able to highlight my work in your class for the admissions office?” This is innocuous enough to not be pushy, but gives the letter writer enough information to compliment her story.5

    Last, but not least –

    I hope that this has been helpful as you approach your college applications. While the process may seem daunting, in a sense you are really just being asked to tell a couple of stories about yourself. These stories should be chosen and written carefully so that they are both interesting and present the best picture possible, but try to approach the process with a sense of humor. After all, no one is more qualified or better positioned to write about your life than you are.

    Good luck!

    page5image28448

    1 Which you should 100% do.
    2 The “why this particular school” portion requires you to do some homework on that school and what they offer you in that particular field. Spend the time and craft a custom answer – it shows you aren’t cutting and pasting.
    3 As an aside, MOST schools want a nice mix of math geeks, jocks, and poets. For schools that have a particularly dominant bent towards one type of major, saying you are interested in something OTHER than that might be helpful (so long as you can make it believable). Case in point – I applied under the guise of pursuing an engineering degree at a school more known for finance, then switched once I got there.
    4 I’m not talking about weaknesses like “I like to steal things” or “I have a crippling addiction” which will get you kicked out of the process immediately. We all have things we are great at and places where we could improve. Show that you know about both aspects of yourself.
    5 You should send this to your recommender in an email, or otherwise write it down so that they can refer to it later – most letter writers are doing a lot of them this time of year, and simply saying it risks they will forget it.
    Investment advice offered through RFG Advisory Group, LLC, a Registered Investment Advisor.
  • Money

    Money Tips

    How to Ace Your First Test Managing Real Money in the Real World

    As a teen, you’re beginning to make some grown-up decisions about how to save and spend your money. That’s why learning the right ways to manage money…right from the start…is important. Here are suggestions.

    Save some money before you’re tempted to spend it. When you get cash for your birthday or from a job, automatically put a portion of it — at least 10 percent, but possibly more — into a savings or investment account. This strategy is what financial advisors call “paying yourself first.” Making this a habit can gradually turn small sums of money into big amounts that can help pay for really important purchases in the future.

    Save some money before you’re tempted to spend it. When you get cash for your birthday or from a job, automatically put a portion of it into savings.

    Also put your spare change to use. When you empty your pockets at the end of the day, consider putting some of that loose change into a jar or any other container, and then about once a month put that money into a savings account at the bank.

    “Spare change can add up quickly,” said Luke W. Reynolds, Chief of the FDIC’s Community Affairs Outreach Section. “But don’t let that money sit around your house month after month, earning no interest and at risk of being lost or stolen.”

    If you need some help sorting and counting your change, he said, find out if your bank has a coin machine you can use for free. If not, the bank may give you coin wrappers.

    Some supermarkets and other non-banking companies have self-service machines that quickly turn coins into cash, but expect to pay a significant fee for the service, often close to 10 cents for every dollar counted, plus you still have to take the cash to the bank to deposit it into your savings account.

    Keep track of your spending. A good way to take control of your money is to decide on maximum amounts you aim to spend each week or each month for certain expenses, such as entertainment and snack food. This task is commonly known as “budgeting” your money or developing a “spending plan.” And to help manage your money, it’s worth keeping a list of your expenses for about a month, so you have a better idea of where your dollars and cents are going.

    “If you find you’re spending more than you intended, you may need to reduce your spending or increase your income,” Reynolds added. “It’s all about setting goals for yourself and then making the right choices with your money to help you achieve those goals.”

    Consider a part-time or summer job. Whether it’s babysitting, lawn mowing or a job in a “real” business, working outside of your home can provide you with income, new skills and references that can be useful after high school or college. Before accepting any job, ask your parents for their permission and advice.

    Think before you buy. Many teens make quick and costly decisions to buy the latest clothes or electronics without considering whether they are getting a good value.

    “A $200 pair of shoes hawked by a celebrity gets you to the same destination at the same speed as a $50 pair,” said Reynolds. “Before you buy something, especially a big purchase, ask yourself if you really need or just want the item, if you’ve done enough research and comparison-shopping, and if you can truly afford the purchase without having to cut back on spending for something else.”

    Be careful with cards. Under most state laws, you must be at least 18 years old to obtain your own credit card and be held responsible for repaying the debt. If you’re under 18, though, you may be able to qualify for a credit card as long as a parent or other adult agrees to repay your debts if you fail to do so.

    An alternative to a credit card is a debit card, which automatically deducts purchases from your savings or checking account. Credit cards and debit cards offer convenience, but they also come with costs and risks that must be taken seriously.

    Protect yourself from crooks who target teens. Even if you’re too young to have a checking account or credit card, a criminal who learns your name, address and Social Security number may be able to obtain a new credit card using your name to make purchases.

    One of the most important things you can do to protect against identity theft is to be very suspicious of requests for your name, Social Security number, passwords or bank or credit card information that come to you in an e-mail or an Internet advertisement, no matter how legitimate they may seem.

    “Teens are very comfortable using e-mail and the Internet, but they need to be aware that criminals can be hiding at the other end of the computer screen,” said Michael Benardo, manager of the FDIC’s financial crimes section. These types of fraudulent requests can also come by phone, text message or in the mail.

    Be smart about college. If you’re planning to go to college, learn about your options for saving or borrowing money for what could be a major expense — from tuition to books, fees and housing. Also consider the costs when you search for a school. Otherwise, when you graduate, your college debts could be high and may limit your options when it comes to a career path or where you can afford to live.

    For more information on saving and borrowing for college, visit Student Aid, a Web site with information from the U.S. government and other sources.

  • Articles, Money, work

    So You Want to be a Nanny?

    Nannying is a lot of fun but it also requires a lot of work! Babies can be fussy, kids don’t always want to pick up their toys, and broccoli still doesn’t taste good to them. It can be tricky but once the kids gain your trust, the possibilities of having fun are endless!

    The best tips I can share are to:

    1) Always listen to the child. A lot of times they just want to tell you a 10-minute story of how they fell down but they got a really cool band-aid at the end, or how they went to see this really awesome movie with their family!

    2) Make sure you are engaging with the kids and respond with something cool you did; they want to know about you too!

    3) Another big thing is rewards! If the kids are acting up, try and set a reward. For example, if they do all their chores, THEN they get to play at the playground or the pool! It keeps them on top of their chores and motivates them to get through the boring chores.

    4) My last piece of advice is to be creative! Typically, little girls love to play with dolls. Try creating a place for the doll to sleep using an old cardboard box and some construction paper. I can guarantee they will love it! If you are nannying little boys, build a race car ramp so they can race their cars and trucks down it! Nanning is all about what you make it, but it is a lot more fun when the kids are smiling from ear to ear!

    Remember, your role is to be likable and fun, but also someone the kids respect. If you put these tips into place, nannying or babysitting can be a very rewarding job!

  • Money, Shero, work

    (S)hero: McDonald’s owner Ashley Kaple, an entrepreneur in action!

    GirlSpring is always looking for inspiring women to share their story of success. We learned about Ashley and thought that it was really cool that she owned McDonald’s! Here is a little more about this (S)hero:

    I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman who owned a McDonald’s before! You own several! How did you get into this line of work?

    There are many ladies that own McDonald’s restaurants and I am very honored to be a part of that group. My family built the first McDonald’s in Oneonta, Alabama when I was very young. I have been involved in the business my entire life. I am blessed to have a career that I really love and have a lot of fun doing!

    What is your educational background, and how does is tie into your work?
    I would like to think that most of my training has come from working in the business with my family all my life. McDonald’s has very detailed training programs that you must complete before you can be approved as an Owner Operator. I attended Samford University where I received degrees in Biology and Business. There are many principles that I learned as a McDonald’s Owner Operator. The one that sticks with me the most is that you must be able to motivate people and help them achieve their goals. I think this is one of the most important parts of the business.

    How does McDonald’s fit in with the healthier side of life, and what are some healthy options?
    There are many healthy options at McDonald’s! Some of these include the parfaits with yogurt and fruit, the Southwest Salad (with grilled and crispy chicken), the oatmeal, non-fat lattes with sugar-free syrup, grilled chicken sandwiches and egg whites which you can have on anything any time of the day. For breakfast, the Egg White Delight and Egg McMuffin are my personal favorite healthy breakfast options.

    What is your favorite food from McDonald’s? Calories aside.
    I love McDonald’s food! I eat it all the time. There are times that I enjoy a Big Mac and fries. Chicken nuggets, fries and Sweet ‘N Sour sauce bring back great childhood memories for me. My favorite drink is definitely the Caramel Frappe. Recently, I have been getting the Buttermilk Crispy chicken biscuit (that are made fresh in store every morning) with an egg white for extra protein. Everything in moderation!

    You must stay pretty busy. How do you balance work and family?
    It’s all about balance. Balancing family and work is just like achieving any other goal. It is imperative to have great time management, great people helping you and to always have a goal you touch base on every day.

    What advice do you have for girls wanting to pursue non-traditional careers?
    As I always try to do, I believe that girls should not only pursue but embrace it. Do not be afraid that you can’t do anything. I encourage all women to push yourself and be able to stand on your own. Certainly, try out different careers to find what is right for you. We are evaluated on results achieved, not excuses encountered. I try to remind myself of this every day so I do not let excuses stop me.