Throwing a Gender Reveal Party on a Budget

6 Cheap Gender Reveal Ideas for Those on a Tight Budget

Congratulations! If you’re reading this, it probably means you or someone you care about is starting a family (or adding to one). One popular way to celebrate is with a gender reveal party: It’s a fun way to get all the expectant parents’ loved ones involved before the new addition arrives.

But gender reveal parties, like any kind of get-together, can quickly get expensive. Renting a space, ordering flowers and decorations, and wrangling the menu can add up. Which can be an issue, especially if the couple that is expecting or the person hosting is trying to also save for, say, the baby’s nursery or a baby shower.

So read on for six gender reveal party ideas that will be a fun way to share the news without breaking the bank.

Cheap Gender Reveal Ideas

When ​​saving for a baby, it’s vital to protect your finances, even during celebrations. Sure, you want to share the excitement in a stylish way, but there are cribs, strollers, and lots of diapers to be bought! To help you pull off a gender reveal on a budget, read on.

💡 Quick Tip: Make money easy. Enjoy the convenience of managing bills, deposits, and transfers from one online bank account with SoFi.

1. Keep It Small

You can save money by downsizing your event. Instead of inviting anyone and everyone, try including just friends and family. Not only will a smaller party keep costs low, but it will make the event more personal and a whole lot less frantic. An intimate gathering with those closest to you can be a lovely way to celebrate learning a baby’s gender. Plus, it allows the host or guest of honor to get more quality time with each invitee.

However, you may want to run this by the expectant mother if you are organizing the party on her behalf. She should have the last say about the invite list so that no one significant gets missed.

2. Choose a Cheap or Free Venue

You can hold a gender reveal party anywhere. When you think about it, it’s a very accommodating event without a lot of rules about the dress code, timing, or the activities involved. So, you can likely make any location work, whether it’s at home, a local restaurant, or elsewhere.

•   Be creative with the location. Instead of a full (pricey) restaurant meal, could you host a party at a local coffee bar (some host events)? Or could you do an afternoon tea at a favorite eatery, before they open for dinner? These kinds of options can help you save a considerable amount of money.

•   When picking where to have the party, you may need to factor in the size of your guest list and the type of gender reveal you want. For example, if you plan to use a gender-reveal powder cannon, you probably need a venue outdoors.

•   Rented venues can be expensive, so for a gender reveal on a budget, consider hosting at home.

•   Look at other cheap locations like a nearby green space. Many gender reveal parties are happily hosted in a local park. You bring cushions, a picnic blanket, and all the trimmings, and you’re set, without the cost of renting.

3. Send Digital Invites

Invitations are where many people let their creativity shine. But physically mailing them out may not be the most cost-effective option; you’ll have to buy the cards and spend money on postage, too. If you are looking for a way to send fun invites but for a fraction of the price and time, consider digital versions.

•   There are apps and websites that offer digital invite services. You can find a wide range of gender-reveal invitation templates on them. Spend a few minutes scrolling; you may find some totally free options, or you might spend anywhere from $10 to $20 on them. You can also find fun graphics and animations to make them unique.

•   These resources make planning a party more straightforward for the host. That’s because they usually come with a function that lets guests RSVP digitally, so you can keep track of who is coming. You can also usually automate updates and reminders.

•   Where to start? Try exploring Punchbowl, Evite, and Paperless Post for some great evite options.

4. Make Your Own Decorations

Similar to birthday parties, a gender reveal party isn’t complete without a few decorations. Here are some ways to keep costs down:

•   Easy DIY décor can include banners, streamers, candles, and table centerpieces. Often, you only need cardstock, ribbon, and paper to get creative. You might also be able to find printable images online. Sayings like “Whether pink or blue, we love you” and the like can be a fun way to underscore the reason everyone has gathered.

•   Use what you already have — outside. Anyone with a green thumb can take advantage of their garden to liven up their party. You can set the whole event up outdoors if the weather is nice or use flowers to decorate your home. For example, fresh flowers in mason jars or dollar-store vases are a simple but effective centerpiece.

•   A quick reminder: Even if the parents know the gender already, decorations shouldn’t give it away. Instead, aim for a gender-neutral look or a mix of pinks and blues so that nothing spoils the surprise.

5. Do a Potluck

Hosting a gender reveal party that includes a meal can get very pricey, very fast. No matter the size of your guest’s appetite, you have to purchase food per head. Some recommend around a half-pound of meat and half a bottle of wine for each person at an event. That alone could rack up a bill equal to a few months’ worth of baby supplies.

Instead, consider a potluck.

•   A potluck can save you significant costs in the food department.

•   It’s a great way to bond as a community or family. Everyone plays a role. You may find that having a number of people contributing makes the endeavor more creative.

•   Hosting a potluck does take a bit of organization to make sure, say, that not everyone brings a dessert, but the savings and sense of teamwork may be well worth it.

6. Opt for These Ways to Do the Reveal

The most important part of a gender reveal party is the reveal itself. But, you don’t have to pay for expensive fireworks, a band, or an entire room of balloons to make a statement. Some budget-friendly ideas include:

•   Gender reveal confetti or powder cannons

•   A giant balloon filled with colored confetti; pop it to reveal the gender

•   Cupcakes or cake with the gender color inside

•   A pinata filled with either pink or blue ribbons and glitter

You can also set the stage with color-themed food and drink. Some hosts like to have pitchers of fun fruit drinks, one tinted pink and the other blue with berries.

Recommended: A Guide to Using Savings Clubs

Setting Your Gender Reveal Party Budget

Your budget will obviously vary with the type of party you are planning. If you have a backyard potluck for 10 close friends it will, of course, be much more affordable than a meal for a few dozen guests at a rented space.

For example, let’s say you choose a large venue; that alone may cost you upwards of $200 to rent. In addition, decorating the location may be expensive, anywhere from $50 to $100 and up. That’s because there is more space to cover than your garden or living room. Plus you’ll need to factor in the food as well. Ka-ching! And double ka-ching if you live in a major city; your costs are likely to be higher.

That said, only you and your loved ones know what will be the right way to celebrate the upcoming birth. Just like putting together a budget for a baby, be methodical.

Budget Beforehand

Sit down early in the planning process and create a budget for your party. If there is more than one host, pool your resources and determine the total you can spend. It’s essential to do this before you start party planning.

•   Go line by line, item by item. Write down what you need and estimate the cost. That way, you know exactly what you need to buy and how much it will cost. Otherwise, there’s every chance that you’ll discover your cheap gender reveal party wound up being a high-cost celebration.

•   Understand where the funds are coming from. Is the expectant couple or individual footing the bill? If you are organizing, who else might contribute? Sometimes family members of the parents-to-be are also willing to help. They may contribute some cash or offer to bring items to the event.

Stick to Your Budget

It sounds self-explanatory: Stick to the budget you make. However, any party planner knows that it’s easier said than done, whether you have a baby shower, birthday, or anniversary on your hands.

•   Hold yourself and the team that’s organizing the event accountable. It’s very easy to dip a little further into your funds for extra decorations, more flowers, or a beautifully decorated dessert. While those gestures are nice, they come at a financial cost. You may need to separate your “party fund” from your savings account. Or, if you have a co-host, report your spending to each other. You’ll be less inclined to go overboard that way.

•   Play around with your distribution of funds. For instance, maybe you have a baker in the family who can bake a fab gender reveal cake. In that case, you can put more money toward a venue. Or, perhaps you are hosting a potluck version of a gender reveal party. That frees up some cash for decorations or how you handle the big reveal.

It’s a balancing act, for sure, but with a little planning and a strong commitment to your budget, you can host a gender reveal party that won’t leave you with debt to pay off.

Recommended: Budgeting for Beginners

The Takeaway

Hosting a gender reveal on a budget may take a bit of extra planning. But spending less won’t make the event any less memorable. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to test your creative muscles and come together as loved ones. Play around with your budget to find the best party plan. Maybe you host it at a restaurant but it’s a tea party instead of a full meal. Or perhaps you gather in someone’s yard or a local park and then have enough to splurge on an amazing cake. It’s all about balance.

Whether you’re expecting a baby or simply planning a party for one of your besties, life is expensive. That’s why finding a banking partner that offers competitive interest rates and low (or no fees) can be important.

Interested in opening an online bank account? When you sign up for a SoFi Checking and Savings account with direct deposit, you’ll get a competitive annual percentage yield (APY), pay zero account fees, and enjoy an array of rewards, such as access to the Allpoint Network of 55,000+ fee-free ATMs globally. Qualifying accounts can even access their paycheck up to two days early.

Better banking is here with up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.

FAQ

What is a good budget for a gender reveal party?

Budgets will vary depending on the host’s means and goals and the expectant parents’ desires. However, you can stretch a fund further with a more relaxed event. For example, a small barbecue in your backyard with a few friends won’t cost as much as a luxe rented location but may make up for that with the warm, intimate vibe.

Who usually throws a gender reveal party?

There is no norm; anyone can throw a gender reveal party, from a close family member to the parents to a best friend. It’s all good! In some cases, there are even multiple hosts. This allows everyone to take on a smaller financial burden than a singular host. The only rule is to keep the gender a secret during planning.

How much should a gender reveal cake cost?

The cost of gender reveal cake can vary in price depending on where you buy it, how big it is, and how ornate it is. Prices often land in the range of $25 to $50. However, features like surprise candy inside will likely run you more money. And if you purchase a cake from a highly rated patisserie in a big city it will probably be considerably more expensive than one at a local bakery in the suburbs.


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SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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What Is a SIMPLE IRA? How Does it Work?

The Ultimate Guide to SIMPLE IRAs for Employees and Small Businesses

If you’re exploring retirement plans, you may be wondering, what is a SIMPLE IRA? A SIMPLE IRA is one type of tax-advantaged retirement savings plans to help self-employed individuals and small business owners put money away for their future.

You may already be familiar with traditional individual retirement accounts (IRAs). A SIMPLE IRA, or Saving Incentive Match Plan for Employees, is one type of IRA.

What Is a SIMPLE IRA?

SIMPLE IRA plans are employer-sponsored retirement accounts for businesses with 100 or fewer employees. They are also retirement accounts for the self-employed. If you’re your own boss and self-employed, you can set one up for yourself.

For small business owners, SIMPLE IRAs are an easy-to-manage, low-cost way to contribute to their own retirement while at the same time helping employees to contribute to their savings as well.

How Does a SIMPLE IRA Work?

Now that you know the answer to the question, what is a SIMPLE IRA?, you are probably wondering how this plan works. A SIMPLE IRA is one of the different types of retirement plans available. In order for an employee to participate, they must have earned at least $5,000 in compensation over the course of any two years prior to the current calendar year, and they must expect to make $5,000 in the current calendar year.

It is possible for employers to set less restrictive rules for SIMPLE IRA eligibility. For example, they could lower the amount employees are required to have made in a previous two-year time. However, they cannot make participation rules more restrictive.

Employers can exclude certain types of employees from the plan, including union members who have already bargained for retirement benefits and nonresident aliens who don’t receive their compensation from the employer.


💡 Quick Tip: Before opening an investment account, know your investment objectives, time horizon, and risk tolerance. These fundamentals will help keep your strategy on track and with the aim of meeting your goals.

SIMPLE IRA vs Traditional IRA

When it comes to a SIMPLE IRA vs. Traditional IRA, the two plans are similar. However, there are some key differences between the two. A SIMPLE IRA is for small business owners and their employees. A traditional IRA is for anyone with an earned income.

The eligibility criteria is different for the two plans. To be eligible for a SIMPLE IRA, an employee must have earned at least $5,000 in compensation over the course of two years prior — and expect to make $5,000 in the current calendar year. With a traditional IRA, an individual must have earned income in the past year.

And while both types of IRAs are tax deferred, a traditional IRA allows individuals to make tax deductible contributions, while only an employer or sole proprietor can make tax deductible contributions to a SIMPLE IRA.

One of the biggest differences between the two plans is the contribution amount. Individuals can contribute $6,500 in 2023 to a traditional IRA (or $7,500 if they are age 50 or older) and $7,000 in 2024 (or $8,000 if they are 50 or over), while those who have a SIMPLE IRA can contribute $15,500 in 2023 and $16,000 in 2024 (plus an extra $3,500 for those age 50 and older for both 2023 and 2024).

SIMPLE IRA vs 401(k)

SIMPLE IRAs have some similarity to 401(k)s. Both are employer-sponsored plans that eligible employees can contribute to. Contributions made to both are made with pre-tax dollars, and the money in the accounts grows tax-deferred. Both types of plans give the employer the option to make matching contributions to employees’ plans.

One major difference between the two plans is that while self-employed individuals can’t open a 401(k), they can set up a SIMPLE IRA for themselves.

Additionally, individuals can contribute much more to a 401(k) than they can to a SIMPLE IRA. In 2023, those with a 401(k) can contribute $22,500 to the plan, plus an extra $7,500 for those 50 and older. In 2024, they can contribute 23,000 to their 401(k) and an additional $7,500 if they’re 50 or older. In comparison, in 2023, individuals can contribute $15,500 to a SIMPLE IRA, plus $3,500 extra for those 50 and up. For 2024, they can contribute $16,000, plus an additional $3,500 if they are 50 or older.

SIMPLE IRA Contribution Rules

Employer Contribution and Matching Rules

When an employer sets up a SIMPLE IRA plan, they are required to contribute to it each year. They have two options: They can either make matching contributions of up to 3% of an employee’s compensation, or they can make a nonelective contribution of 2% for each eligible employee, up to an annual limit of $330,000 in 2023 and $345,000 in 2024.

If the employer chooses the latter option, they must make a contribution to their employees’ accounts, even if those employees don’t contribute themselves. Contributions to employee accounts are tax deductible.

Employee Contributions

Eligible employees can choose to contribute to the plan, as well. In 2023, SIMPLE IRA contribution limits are up to $15,500 in deferrals. Those 50 and older can contribute an extra $3,500 in catch-up contributions, which brings their annual maximum contributions up to $19,000. In 2024, eligible employees can contribute up to $16,000, while those 50 and older can contribute an additional $3,500. Those contribution levels may change over time, as the government adjusts them to account for inflation.

Contributions reduce employees’ taxable income, which gives them an immediate tax benefit, lowering their income taxes in the year they contribute. Contributions can be invested inside the account and may grow tax-deferred until the employee makes withdrawals when they retire.

IRA withdrawal rules are particularly important to pay attention to as they can be a bit complicated. Withdrawals made after age 59 ½ are subject to income tax. If you make withdrawals before then, you may be subject to an additional 10% or 25% penalty. Account holders must make required minimum distributions from their accounts when they reach age 73.

Establishing and Operating a SIMPLE IRA Plan

SIMPLE IRAs are relatively easy to put in place, since they have no filing requirements for employers. Employers cannot offer another retirement plan in addition to offering a SIMPLE IRA.

If you’re interested in opening a SIMPLE IRA, banks and brokerages may have a plan, known as a prototype plan, that’s already been approved by the IRS.

Otherwise you’ll need to fill out one of two forms to set up your plan:

•   Form 5304-SIMPLE allows employees to choose the financial institutions that will receive their SIMPLE IRA contributions.

•   You can also fill out Form 5305-SIMPLE, which means employees will deposit SIMPLE IRA contributions at a single financial institution chosen by the employer.

Once you have established the SIMPLE IRA, an account must be set up by or for each employee, and employers and employees can start to make contributions.

Notice Requirements for Employees

There are minimal paperwork requirements for a SIMPLE IRA. Once the employer opens and establishes the plan through a financial institution, they need to notify employees about it. This should be done by October 1 of the year the plan is intended to begin. Employees have 60 days to make their elections.

Eligible employees need to be notified about the plan annually. Any changes or new terms to the plan must be disclosed. At the beginning of each annual election period, employers must notify their employees of the following:

•   Opportunities to make or change salary reductions.

•   The ability to choose a financial institution to receive SIMPLE IRA contribution, if applicable.

•   Employer’s decisions to make nonelective or matching contributions.

•   A summary description provided by the financial institution that acts as trustee of SIMPLE IRA fund, and notice that employees can transfer their balance without cost of penalty if the employer is using a designated financial institution.

Participant Loans and Withdrawals

No loans are allowed to participants in a SIMPLE IRA. Withdrawals made before age 59 ½ are subject to a possible 10% or 25% penalty.

Rollovers and Transfers to Other Retirement Accounts

For the first two years of participating in a SIMPLE IRA, participants can only do a tax-free rollover to another SIMPLE IRA. After two years, they may be able to roll over their SIMPLE IRA to other non-Roth IRAs or an employer-sponsored plan such as 401(k).


💡 Quick Tip: Want to lower your taxable income? Start saving for retirement with a traditional IRA. The money you save each year is tax deductible (and you don’t owe any taxes until you withdraw the funds, usually in retirement).

The Advantages and Drawbacks of a SIMPLE IRA Plan

While SIMPLE IRAs may offer a lot of benefits, including immediate tax benefits, tax-deferred growth, and employer contributions, there are some drawbacks. For example, SIMPLE IRAs don’t allow employees to save as much as other retirement plans such as 401(k)s and Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) IRAs.

In 2023, employees can contribute up to $22,500 to a 401(k) account, with an extra $7,500 in catch-up contributions for those 50 and older. In 2024, they can contribute up to $23,000 to a 401(k), plus an additional $7,500 for those 50 and over. Individuals with a SEP IRA account can contribute up to 25% of their employee compensation, or $66,000, whichever is less, in 2023. They can contribute up to $69,000 or up to 25% of their compensation, whichever is less in 2024.

The good news is, employees with SIMPLE IRAs can make up some of that lost ground. Employers may be wondering about the merits of choosing between a SIMPLE and traditional IRA, but they can actually have both.

Employers and employees can open a traditional or Roth IRA and fund it simultaneously. For 2023, total contributions to IRAs can be up to $6,500, or $7,500 for those ages 50 and older. For 2024, total IRA contributions can be up to $7,000, or $8,000 for those 50 and over.

Here some pros and cons of starting and funding a SIMPLE IRA at a glance:

Pros of a SIMPLE IRA

Cons of a SIMPLE IRA

Easy to set up, with less paperwork than other retirement accounts, such as 401(k)s. Lower contribution limits than other plans, such as 401(k)s and SEP IRAs.
Employers have lower upfront and management costs to run the plan. Withdrawals made before age 59 ½ are subject to a possible 10% or 25% penalty.
Contributions are tax deductible for employers and employees. There is no Roth option that would allow employees to fund the retirement account with after-tax dollars that would translate to tax-free withdrawals in retirement.
There are no filing requirements with the IRS.

Eligibility and Participation in a SIMPLE IRA

As mentioned previously, there are some rules about who can participate in a SIMPLE IRA. Here’s a quick recap.

Who Can Establish and Participate in a SIMPLE IRA?

Small business owners with fewer than 100 employees and self-employed individuals can set up and participate in a SIMPLE IRA, along with any eligible employees.

Employers can’t offer any other type of employer-sponsored plan if they set up a SIMPLE IRA.

Employees’ Eligibility and Participation Criteria

In order for an employee to be eligible to participate, they must have earned at least $5,000 in compensation over the course of any two years prior to the current calendar year, and they must expect to make $5,000 in the current calendar year.

Employees can choose less restrictive requirements if they choose. They may also exclude certain individuals from a SIMPLE IRA, such as those in unions who receive benefits through the union.

Investment Choices and Account Maintenance

The employer chooses investment options for the SIMPLE IRA and maintains the plan. Employees then select the investment options they want.

Investment Choices Under a SIMPLE IRA

Typically, there are more investment choices with a SIMPLE IRA than there with a 401(k). Investment options can include stocks, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), and bonds.

Understanding SIMPLE IRA Distributions

There are particular rules for SIMPLE IRA distributions, and it’s important to be aware of them. This is what you need to know.

Withdrawal Rules and Tax Consequences

As discussed previously, withdrawals made before age 59 ½ are subject to income tax plus a potential 10% or 25% penalty. Withdrawals made after age 59 ½ are subject to income tax only and no penalty. Account holders must make required minimum distributions from their accounts when they reach age 73.

The 2-Year Rule and Early Withdrawal Penalties

There is a two-year rule for withdrawals from a SIMPLE IRA. If you make a withdrawal within the first two years of participating in the plan, the penalty may be increased from 10% to 25%.

The Takeaway

SIMPLE IRAs are one of the easiest ways that self-employed individuals and small business owners can help themselves and their employees save for retirement, whether they’re experienced retirement investors or they’re opening their first IRA.

These accounts can even be used in conjunction with certain other retirement accounts and investment accounts to help individuals save even more.

Ready to invest for your retirement? It’s easy to get started when you open a traditional or Roth IRA with SoFi. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).

Help grow your nest egg with a SoFi IRA.


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Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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Tax Credits vs Tax Deductions: What’s the Difference?

Tax credits and tax deductions work differently, with deductions lowering your taxable income and credits actually reducing the taxes you owe.

To be a little more specific, deductions can decrease the amount of income you have to pay taxes on, which can lower your final bill. Tax credits are a dollar-for-dollar reduction in what you owe — and might even get you a bigger tax refund.

It’s possible you may be able to claim both deductions and credits. Read on to understand more about how both options work.

What Are Tax Credits?

Tax credits represent a dollar-for-dollar reduction in your overall tax burden. They directly lower the tax amount you owe to Uncle Sam.

For example, if you owe $1,500 in taxes but qualify for a $500 tax credit, your total tax bill will decrease by $500, meaning you’ll only have to pay $1,000.

💡 Quick Tip: Help your money earn more money! Opening a bank account online often gets you higher-than-average rates.

How Do Tax Credits Work?

When filing your taxes, you can use IRS resources, tax software, or a certified accountant to research tax credits for which you may be eligible. If it’s your first time filing taxes, these resources can be especially helpful.

Even if you don’t owe anything in taxes, it’s worth looking into tax credits. Why? Because some tax credits are refundable, meaning the government might owe you money:

•   Refundable tax credits allow your tax liability to go below zero. For example, if you owe $100 in taxes but receive a $500 refundable tax credit, the government will actually owe you $400.

•   Nonrefundable tax credits do not work that way, unfortunately. If you qualify for a nonrefundable tax credit, the best it can do is eliminate your tax liability (meaning you owe nothing). But even if the credit is large enough to wipe out what you owe and there’s still money left over, you don’t get to pocket that extra money.

Tax credits are not for everyone. Each credit has specific requirements to qualify.

And if you’re wondering what happens if you miss the tax deadline, tax credits would still apply for the year that you’re filing your taxes.

Common Tax Credits

Your tax software or accountant should know the full list of tax credits to look out for, and the IRS website features the whole list. (You can also learn important information from an online tax help center.)

Before diving into your taxes, however, it’s a good idea to note some of the most common tax credits for which you may qualify:

•   Earned Income Tax Credit: Commonly called by its initials (EITC), this refundable tax credit is for low- to moderate-income workers. The amount you might qualify for and your eligibility can vary depending on whether you have dependents and/or have a disability.

•   American Opportunity Tax Credit: This education tax credit is partially refundable. Students (or parents claiming a student as a dependent) can claim this tax credit for the first four years of higher education. It’s $2,500 per eligible student, but once your tax bill hits zero, you can earn 40% of whatever remains (up to $1,000) as a tax refund.

•   Child Tax Credit: Even if a child isn’t enrolled in higher education, parents have access to a handy tax credit. The Child Tax Credit is a refundable tax credit for parents (with dependent children) who meet income requirements.

•   Child and Dependent Care Credit: Parents have access to yet another potential tax credit, this time for those who pay for babysitters or daycare. The credit amount depends on such factors as your income, child care costs, and number of children requiring care.

You can use tools on the IRS website to discover if you qualify for these and other tax credits.

What Are Tax Deductions?

Tax deductions are another way to reduce your tax burden, but they work differently. While a tax credit discounts your final tax bill after all the calculations, a tax deduction reduces the amount of income eligible for taxes.

The more deductions you have, the less money you have to pay taxes on. This can result in a lower overall tax bill, but it cannot result in a tax refund.

Recommended: What Triggers an IRS Audit?

How Do Tax Deductions Work?

Let’s look at an example to understand how tax deductions reduce what you owe:

If you made $100,000 in a given year, you would owe 24% in federal taxes based on your marginal tax bracket. But if you have $10,000 in tax deductions, you would lower your taxable income to $90,000, which puts you at both a lower base to calculate taxes ($90K vs. $100K), and you would be in the 22% tax bracket, which this year is capped at $95,375 for single filers.

As you can see, when calculating how much a tax deduction will save you, it’s important to know which tax bracket you’re in — your tax bracket represents the percentage at which your income could be taxed. In general, the more money you make, the higher the tax rate.

Common Tax Deductions

Nearly every tax filer is eligible for the standard deduction. Without inputting any information accounting for business expenses, medical costs, charitable contributions, student loan interest payments, and other eligible deductions, you can simply subtract the standard deduction amount from your taxable income.

For the 2023 tax year (which will be filed in April of 2024), the standard deduction is:

•   $13,850 for single taxpayers (and married, filing separately)

•   $27,700 for married taxpayers filing jointly

•   $20,800 for heads of household.

Many people choose to take the standard deduction, but if you qualify for various deductions that would amount to more than the standard deduction, it’s worth itemizing your deductions.

Working with a personal accountant or tax preparation software may be your best bet for determining which deductions you qualify for. Here are some of the most common types of deductions:

•   State and local taxes

•   Business expenses (if you are self-employed)

•   Mortgage interest

•   Property taxes

•   Qualifying medical expenses

•   Charitable contributions

•   Student loan interest.

You can explore even more tax deductions on the IRS website.

If you run your own business, it’s wise to look into common tax deductions for freelancers.

Pros and Cons of Tax Credits

Tax credits are largely a good thing, as they reduce your overall tax burden. But they also have some drawbacks. Here’s a closer look at the pros and cons:

Pros

First, consider these upsides of tax credits:

•   Reduces your tax bill

•   May result in a refund

•   Often designed for moderate- to low-income families.

Cons

Next, the potential downsides of tax credits:

•   Strict eligibility requirements

•   Can delay your refund when you claim them.

Recommended: How to File for a Tax Extension

Pros and Cons of Tax Deductions

Similarly, tax deductions serve a useful purpose in filing taxes, but they also have their own set of pros and cons.

Pros

Here are the potential advantages of tax deductions:

•   Reduces your tax bill

•   The standard deduction is easy to claim

•   Useful for self-employed individuals with business expenses.

Cons

Also be aware of the possible downsides:

•   Lots of paperwork (itemized deductions)

•   Weighing the standard vs. itemized deduction can be complicated

•   Won’t generate a refund.

Tax Credits vs Deductions: What’s the Difference?

Let’s break down the differences between tax credits and tax deductions in chart form:

Tax Credits Tax Deductions
Dollar-for-dollar reduction in your total tax bill Reduction in how much income you have to pay taxes on
Can result in a tax refund Can only reduce taxable income; cannot result in tax refund
Must claim specific credits for which you qualify Can take the standard deduction or itemize your deductions
Only available to filers who meet specific criteria Available to most filers as standard deduction

While nearly everyone can qualify for the standard deduction, tax credits can actually be the more effective way to lower your tax bill. But the best part? You can utilize both tax strategies when you file.

Tips for Using Tax Credits and Deductions

Preparing to file your taxes? Here are some tips for using tax credits and deductions:

•   Research eligibility requirements online: The IRS website has useful tools to help determine if you qualify for specific tax credits and deductions.

•   Gather all your paperwork: Taxes require a lot of forms, documents, and receipts. When claiming credits and deductions, it’s important to have the paperwork (whether printed or digital) to prove your eligibility.

•   Consider using tax software or an accountant: Taxes can be overwhelming. If your situation is complex (maybe you are confused by, say, your payroll deductions), you may benefit from tax software (TurboTax, H&R Block, and TaxSlayer are popular brands) or a tax professional.

The Takeaway

Tax credits and tax deductions can both lower your overall tax burden. Tax credits reduce what you owe dollar-for-dollar, while tax deductions reduce the amount of income you owe taxes on. If you’re eligible, you can take advantage of both tax strategies when you file.

While you are getting your taxes organized, don’t overlook the value of a banking partner that makes it easy to manage your finances.

Interested in opening an online bank account? When you sign up for a SoFi Checking and Savings account with direct deposit, you’ll get a competitive annual percentage yield (APY), pay zero account fees, and enjoy an array of rewards, such as access to the Allpoint Network of 55,000+ fee-free ATMs globally. Qualifying accounts can even access their paycheck up to two days early.

Better banking is here with up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.

FAQ

Between a tax deduction and tax credit, which lowers your bill more?

A tax credit lowers your tax bill dollar-for-dollar and may even result in a refund. A tax deduction only reduces the amount of money you owe taxes on. For example, a $1,000 tax credit takes $1,000 off your tax bill. A $1,000 tax deduction reduces your taxable income by $1,000; the actual reduction in tax depends on your tax bracket.

Do more people utilize tax credits or tax deductions?

Most tax filers can claim the standard deduction, but not everyone qualifies for tax credits. So it is more likely that you’ll use a tax deduction on your tax return than a tax credit. That said, it is possible to use both credits and deductions to lower your tax bill.

Can I claim both deductions and tax credits?

Yes, you can claim both tax deductions and tax credits on your tax return, as long as you qualify for the deductions and credits you claim.


Photo credit: iStock/Jinli Guo

SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2023 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
The SoFi Bank Debit Mastercard® is issued by SoFi Bank, N.A., pursuant to license by Mastercard International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.


SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a deposit to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.

SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.

SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.

Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 10/24/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at https://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.


Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

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What Are Estimated Tax Payments?

Guide to Estimated Tax Payments

If you are self-employed or receive income other than a salary or employment wages, you could be responsible for making estimated tax payments.

You might think of these estimated taxes as an advance payment against your expected tax liability for a given year. The IRS requires certain people and businesses to make quarterly estimated tax payments (that is, four times each year).

Not sure if you are required to make estimated tax payments or how much you should pay? Here’s a closer look at this topic, which will cover:

•   What are estimated tax payments?

•   Who needs to make estimated tax payments?

•   What are the pros and cons of estimated tax payments?

•   How do you know how much you owe in estimated taxes?

What Are Estimated Tax Payments?

Estimated tax payments are payments you make to the IRS on income that is not subject to federal withholding. Ordinarily, your employer withholds taxes from your paychecks. Under this system, you pay taxes as you go, and you might get money back (or owe) when you file your tax return, based on how much you paid throughout the year.

So what is an estimated tax payment designed to do? Estimated tax payments are meant to help you keep pace with what you owe so that you don’t end up with a huge tax bill when you file your return. They’re essentially an estimate of how much you might pay in taxes if you were subject to regular withholding, say, by an employer.

Estimated tax payments can apply to different types of income, including:

•   Self-employment income

•   Income from freelancing or gig work (aka a side hustle)

•   Interest and dividends

•   Rental income

•   Unemployment compensation

•   Alimony

•   Capital gains

•   Prizes and awards

If you receive any of those types of income during the year, it’s important to know when you might be on the hook for estimated taxes. That way, you can avoid being caught off-guard during tax season.

💡 Quick Tip: Tired of paying pointless bank fees? When you open a bank account online you often avoid excess charges.

How Do Estimated Tax Payments Work?

Estimated tax payments allow the IRS to collect income tax, as well as self-employment taxes from individuals who are required to make these payments. When you pay estimated taxes, you’re making an educated guess about how much money you’ll owe in taxes for the year.

The IRS keeps track of estimated tax payments as you make them. You’ll also report those payments on your income tax return when you file. The amount you paid in is then used to determine whether you need to pay any additional tax owed, based on your filing status and income, and the deductions or credits you might be eligible for.

Failing to pay estimated taxes on time can trigger tax penalties. You might also pay a penalty for underpaying if the IRS determines that you should have paid a different amount.

Who Needs to Pay Estimated Tax Payments?

Now that you know what an estimated tax payment is, take a closer look at who needs to make them. The IRS establishes some rules about who is liable for estimated tax payments. Generally, you’ll need to pay estimated taxes if:

•   You expect to owe $1,000 or more in taxes when you file your income tax return, after subtracting any withholding you’ve already paid and any refundable credits you’re eligible for.

•   You expect your withholding and refundable credits to be less than the smaller of either 90% of the tax to be shown on your current year tax return or 100% of the tax shown on your prior year return.

•   The tax threshold drops to $500 for corporations.

Examples of individuals and business entities that may be subject to estimated tax payments include:

•   Freelancers

•   Sole proprietors

•   Business partners

•   S-corporations

•   Investors

•   Property owners who collect rental income

•   Ex-spouses who receive alimony payments

•   Contest or sweepstakes winners

Now, who doesn’t have to make estimated tax payments? You may be able to avoid estimated tax payments if your employer is withholding taxes from your pay regularly and you don’t have significant other forms of income (such as a side hustle). The amount the employer withholds is determined by the elections you make on your Form W-4, which you should have filled out when you were hired.

You can also avoid estimated taxes for the current tax year if all three are true:

•   You had no tax liability for the previous tax year

•   You were a U.S. citizen or resident alien for the entire year

•   Your prior tax year spanned a 12-month period

Pros and Cons of Estimated Taxes

Paying taxes can be challenging, and some people may dread preparing for tax season each year. Like anything else, there are some advantages and disadvantages associated with estimated tax payments.

Here are the pros:

•   Making estimated tax payments allows you to spread your tax liability out over the year, versus trying to pay it all at once when you file.

•   Overpaying estimated taxes could result in a larger refund when you file your return, which could be put to good use (such as paying down debt).

•   Estimated tax payments can help you create a realistic budget if you’re setting aside money for taxes on a regular basis.

And now, the cons:

•   Underpaying estimated taxes could result in penalties when you file.

•   Calculating estimated tax payments and scheduling those payments can be time-consuming.

•   Miscalculating estimated tax payments could result in owing more money to the IRS.

Recommended: What Happens If I Miss the Tax Filing Deadline?

Figuring Out How Much Estimated Taxes You Owe

There are a few things you’ll need to know to calculate how much to pay for estimated taxes. Specifically, you’ll need to know your:

•   Expected adjusted gross income (AGI)

•   Taxable income

•   Taxes

•   Deductions

•   Credits

You can use IRS Form 1040 ES to figure your estimated tax. There are also online tax calculators that can do the math for you.

•   If you’re calculating estimated tax payments for the first time, it may be helpful to use your prior year’s tax return as a guide. That can give you an idea of what you typically pay in taxes, based on your income, assuming it’s the same year to year.

•   When calculating estimated tax payments, it’s always better to pay more than less. If you overpay, the IRS can give the difference back to you as a tax refund when you file your return.

•   If you underpay, on the other hand, you might end up having to fork over more money in taxes and penalties.

Paying Your Estimated Taxes

As mentioned, you’ll need to make estimated tax payments four times each year. The due dates are quarterly but they’re not spaced apart in equal increments.

Here’s how the estimated tax payment calendar works for 2024:

Payment Due Date
First Payment April 15, 2024
Second Payment June 17, 2024
Third Payment September 16, 2024
Fourth Payment January 15, 2025

Here’s how to pay:

•   You’ll make estimated tax payments directly to the IRS. You can do that online through your IRS account, through the IRS2Go app, or using IRS Direct Pay.

•   You can use a credit card, debit card, or bank account to pay. Note that you might be charged a processing fee to make payments with a credit or debit card.

•   Certain IRS retail locations can also accept cash payments in person.

Keep in mind that if you live in a state that collects income tax, you’ll also need to make estimated tax payments to your state tax agency. State (and any local) quarterly estimated taxes follow the same calendar as federal tax payments. You can check with your state tax agency to determine if estimated tax is required and how to make those payments.

The Takeaway

If you freelance, run a business, or earn interest, dividends, or rental income from investments, you might have to make estimated tax payments. Doing so will help you avoid owing a large payment on Tax Day and possibly incurring penalties. The good news is that once you get into the habit of calculating those payments, tax planning becomes less stressful.

Another way to make your financial life less stressful: Find the right banking partner.

Interested in opening an online bank account? When you sign up for a SoFi Checking and Savings account with direct deposit, you’ll get a competitive annual percentage yield (APY), pay zero account fees, and enjoy an array of rewards, such as access to the Allpoint Network of 55,000+ fee-free ATMs globally. Qualifying accounts can even access their paycheck up to two days early.


Better banking is here with up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.

FAQ

What happens if I don’t pay estimated taxes?

Failing to pay estimated taxes when you owe them can result in tax penalties. Interest can also accrue on the amount that was due. You can’t eliminate those penalties or interest by overpaying at the next quarterly due date or making one large payment to the IRS at the end of the year. You can appeal the penalty, but you’ll still be responsible for paying any estimated tax due.

What if you haven’t paid enough in estimated tax payments?

Underpaying estimated taxes can result in a tax penalty. The IRS calculates the penalty based on the amount of the underpayment, the period when the underpayment was due and not paid, and the applicable interest rate. You’d have to pay the penalty, along with any additional tax owed, when you file your annual income tax return.

How often do you pay estimated taxes?

The IRS collects estimated taxes quarterly, with the first payment for the current tax year due in April. The remaining payments are due in June, September, and the following January. You could, however, choose to make payments in smaller increments throughout the year as long as you do so by the quarterly deadline.


Photo credit: iStock/pixdeluxe

SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2023 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
The SoFi Bank Debit Mastercard® is issued by SoFi Bank, N.A., pursuant to license by Mastercard International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.


SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a deposit to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.

SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.

SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.

Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 10/24/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at https://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.


Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

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Finding Your Old 401k: Here's What to Do

How to Find an Old 401(k)

Tracking down an old 401(k) may take some time, and perhaps the quickest way to find old 401(k) money is to contact your former employer to see where the account is now. It’s possible that your lost 401(k) isn’t lost at all; instead, it’s right where you left it.

In some cases, however, employers may cash out an old 401(k) or roll it over to an IRA on behalf of a former employee. In that case, you might have to do a little more digging to find lost 401(k) funds. If you ever wished you could click on an app called “Find my 401(k),” the following strategies may be of use.

4 Ways to Track Down Lost or Forgotten 401(k) Accounts

There’s no real secret to how to find old 401(k) accounts. But the process can be a little time consuming as it may require you to search online or make a phone call or two. But it can be well worth it if you’re able to locate your old 401(k).

There are several ways to find an old 401(k) account. Here are a handful that may prove fruitful.

Contact Former Employers

The first place to start when trying to find old 401(k) accounts is with your previous employer.

If you had more than $5,000 in your 401(k) at the time you left your job, it’s likely that your account may still be right where you left it. In that case, you have a few options for what to do with the money:

•   Leave it where it is

•   Transfer your 401(k) to your current employer’s qualified plan

•   Rollover the account into an Individual Retirement Account (IRA)

•   Cash it out

When your plan balance is less than $5,000 your employer might require you to do a 401(k) rollover or cash it out. If you’re comfortable with the investment options offered through the plan and the fees you’ll pay, you might decide to leave it alone until you get a little closer to retirement. On the other hand, if you’d like to consolidate all of your retirement money into a single account, you may want to roll it into your current plan or into an IRA.

Cashing out your 401(k) has some downsides. You would owe taxes on the money, and likely an early withdrawal penalty as well. So you may only want to consider this option if your account holds a smaller amount of money. If you had less than $5,000 in your old 401(k), it’s possible that your employer may have rolled the money over to an IRA for you or cashed it out and mailed a check to you.

Recommended: How Does a 401(k) Rollover Work?

Track Down Old Statements

If you have an old account statement, you can contact your 401(k) provider directly to find out what’s happened to your lost 401(k). This might be necessary if your former employer has gone out of business and your old 401(k) plan was terminated.

When a company terminates a 401(k), the IRS requires a rollover notice to be sent to plan participants. If you’ve moved since leaving the company, the plan administrator may have outdated address information for you on file. So you may not be aware that the money was rolled over.

Either way, your plan administrator should be able to tell you which custodian now holds your lost 401(k) funds. Once you have that information, you could reach out to the custodian to determine how much money is in the account. You can then decide if you want to leave it where it is, roll it over to another retirement account, or cash it out.

Check With Government Agencies

Different types of retirement plans, including 401(k) plans, are required to keep certain information on file with the IRS and the Department of Labor (DOL). One key piece of information is DOL Form 5500. This form is used to collect data for employee benefit plans that are subject to federal ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) guidelines.

How does that help you find your 401(k)? The Department of Labor offers a Form 5500 search tool online that you can use to locate lost 401(k) plans. You can search by plan name or plan sponsor. If you know either one, you can look up the plan’s Form 5500, which should include contact information. From there, you can reach out to the plan sponsor to track down your lost 401(k).

Search National Registries

Another place to try is the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits. This is an online database you can use to search for an unclaimed 401(k) that you may have left with a previous employer. You’ll need to enter your Social Security number to search for lost retirement account benefits.

In order for your name to come up in the search results, your former employer must have entered your name and personal information in that database. If they haven’t done so, it’s possible you may not find your account this way.


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What Should I Do With Recovered Funds?

If you do manage to recover an old 401(k) account and its assets, you’ll have some options as to what to do with it. In many cases, it might be a good idea to roll it over into another retirement account to try and stay on track with your retirement savings.

Another important point to consider: If you’ve changed jobs multiple times, it’s possible that you could have more than one “lost” 401(k) — and taken together, that money could make a surprising difference to your nest egg.

Last, if you were lucky to have an employer that offered a matching 401(k) contribution, your missing account (or accounts) may have more money in them than you think. For example, a common employer match is 50%, up to the first 6% of your salary. If you don’t make an effort to find old 401(k) accounts, you’re missing out on that “free money” as well.

But if you’re unsure of what to do, it may be worth speaking with a financial professional for guidance.

Further, if you’re not able to find lost 401(k) accounts you still have plenty of options for retirement savings. Contributing to your current employer’s 401(k) allows you to set aside money on a tax-deferred basis. And you might be able to grow your money faster with an employer matching contribution.

What if you’re self-employed? In that case, you could choose to open a solo or individual 401(k). This type of 401(k) plan is designed for business owners who have no employees or only employ their spouses. These plans follow the same contribution and withdrawal rules as traditional employer-sponsored 401(k) plans, though special contribution rules apply if you’re self-employed.


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The Takeaway

There are several ways to try and find an old 401(k) account, but for most people, the best place to start is by contacting your old employers to see if they can help you. From there, you can also try reaching out to government agencies, tracking down old statements, or even searching through databases to see what you can find.

Saving for retirement is important for most people who are trying to reach their financial goals – as such, if you have money or assets in a retirement account, it may be worthwhile to try and track it down. Again, it may be worth consulting with a financial professional if you need help.

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For a limited time, opening and funding an Active Invest account gives you the opportunity to get up to $1,000 in the stock of your choice.

FAQ

Is it possible to lose your 401(k)?

It’s possible to lose money from your 401(k) if you’re cashing it out and taking a big tax hit or your investments suffer losses. But simply changing jobs doesn’t mean your old 401(k) is gone for good. It does, however, mean that you may need to spend time locating it if it’s been a while since you changed jobs.

Do I need my social security number to find an old 401(k)?

Generally, yes, you’ll need your Social Security number to find a lost 401(k) account. This is because your Social Security number is used to verify your identity and ensure that the plan you’re inquiring about actually belongs to you.

What happens to an unclaimed 401(k)?

Unclaimed 401(k) accounts may be liquidated or converted to cash if enough time passes, and that cash could be transferred to a state government, where it will be held as unclaimed property.

Can a financial advisor find old 401(k) accounts?

A financial advisor may be able to help, but the simplest way to find old 401(k) accounts is contacting your former employer. It’s possible your money may still be in your old plan and if not, your previous employer or plan administrator may be able to tell you where it’s been moved to.


Photo credit: iStock/svetikd

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