The Risks of Using Self-Directed IRAs

Self-directed IRAs (SDIRAs) are becoming more and more popular as IRA holders look to enter alternative investments. While SDIRAs can open up a world of investment options, the rules around them are complicated and compliance can be tricky. Below, we’ll look at a couple of relevant court cases that illustrate some of the potential pitfalls.

Self-Directed Equals Higher Fees

A SDIRA can own an investment in pretty much any type of asset except life insurance or collectibles. The downside to accessing investments beyond stocks, mutual funds, ETFs and bonds is that it is more expensive.

The SDIRA custodian usually charges an annual fee as well as per transaction fees. The assets also need to be valued at the end of every year for reporting purposes so there is usually a custodial appraisal or valuation fee. These fees and structures often lead to SDIRA owners taking shortcuts to save money or ease administration.

Side-Stepping Rules is Looking for Trouble

One recent case that went before the tax court involved a taxpayer whose SEP-IRA owned an LLC where he was the only owner and manager, with a national bank as the custodian. The taxpayer opened a checking account for the LLC at the same bank.

The taxpayer took distributions from his SEP-IRA and put the money into the LLC account. He then used the money to fund loans on real estate to third parties. The loans paid back over time and the repayments, including interest, were deposited back into the IRA.

The bank issued a Form 1099-R reporting the distributions as taxable events; however, the taxpayer included this income on his tax return. The IRS taxed distributions, plus the 10 percent penalty because he was under 59½. The case went to tax court with the taxpayer claiming he never actually took distributions because the money went from the IRA custodian to the LLC checking account.

The tax court found in favor if the IRS for several reasons. Most important of which is that the taxpayer held full control of the funds that were distributed. Another mistake was that he owned the LLC, which held his checking account and not the IRA. As a result, the bank as IRA custodian no longer held legal control over the money.

In the end, the taxpayer didn’t want to change custodians from the national bank, which held his SEP-IRA, because he didn’t want to pay the fees associated with setting-up a proper SDIRA. If he had, then he could have structured the investments to be made via the LLC, with the IRA as the owner of the LLC and avoided the taxable distributions completely. In the end, it cost him far more than the fees ever would have.

Collectibles Versus Property and Possession

In another case that went before the tax courts, the taxpayer opened an LLC owned by her IRA where she was the sole managing member. The IRA then purchased American Eagle gold coins, which she took physical delivery of and held in her possession.

IRAs are not allowed to own collectibles, with gold bullion and coins generally considered collectibles. There are exceptions however, with gold American Eagles being one of them – so no issue here.

The problem centered on whether the taxpayer took physical possession of the coins. The tax code says that exempt precious metals can held in physical possession by an IRA custodian. As a result, the taxpayer taking physical possession of the gold was deemed a distribution.

Conclusion

These two cases show that LLCs created to invest through a SDIRA must follow all the IRA rules. This is because the IRA is the entity considered to be engaged in all transactions executed by the LLC. Further, the IRA owner shouldn’t be the managing member of the LLC or take physical possession of the assets. It should always be the IRA custodian who holds the assets and maintains control.

How Businesses Can Combat Inflation’s Toll

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the Producer Price Index (PPI) or the increase in prices, goods and services that producers experienced for their input costs, saw a substantial rise, according to its latest report issued on Dec. 14.

For November 2021, the PPI grew by 0.8 percent. For the past year ending in November 2021, it rose by 9.6 percent on an annualized basis. According to the BLS, this is the hottest PPI reading since this metric originated in November 2010. With costs not appearing to abate anytime soon, how can businesses combat rising costs?

Figure out Financial Priorities

Harvard Business Review (HBR) details steps that companies can take to evaluate and make adjustments to mitigate the rising cost of inflation. The first decision is to determine “high-resolution spending visibility,” which means a fully transparent documentation of how much money is spent, in what way it’s spent and how effective such spending is in the organization.

When it comes to effectively deploying capital, HBR recommends reducing expenses and/or investing capital to grow and maintain a businesses’ market edge. If there’s a unique customer experience that would suffer, that might not be the right area to cut. However, HBR cites an energy business that conducted an audit of its operations and determined a savings of $10 million was possible if it temporarily suspended 80 business operation expenses.

Analyze Past Spending for Future Efficiency

After a business understands spending patterns and how they impact profitability, this can be analyzed to see how to work around inflation. HBR gives the example of how “external groups” beyond the decision makers on new build projects cost certain companies more than $400 million and six months of time. By using “cross-functional collaboration,” costs that could be cut or work that could be done differently gave the company a way to realize greater efficiency.

Reduce Choices for Consumers

As the competition among employers to find and retain workers is tough, including the pressure to raise wages, simplifying what a company offers can help reduce costs.

Mondelez International, a global producer of comestibles, reduced the number of products it offered to customers by 25 percent when the COVID-19 pandemic started. Similarly, hotels began reducing the need for housekeeping by asking guests, especially during the pandemic, if they needed their rooms freshened up during stays.

Selectively Digitize Tasks

When it comes to businesses fighting for their survival, one silver lining of the pandemic is automation. Many companies discovered the benefits of automation, including higher profits, gains in output, etc.

HBR explains that processes on data for products, such as weight, size, images, etc., can be automated, freeing up human workers for higher level tasks, such as analysis and projections. Citing the example of David’s Bridal, through its Zoey messaging concierge service during the beginning of 2020, appointment and communication center expenses fell by 30 percent. This helped shift human workers to devote more time to in-person assistance.

While there’s no magic recipe to combat inflation, by analyzing a company’s books and keeping up with trends, there are many ways to affect cost savings.

Sources

https://hbr.org/2021/09/6-strategies-to-help-your-company-weather-inflation

https://www.bls.gov/ppi/

Long-Term Investment Opportunities Presented by the Infrastructure Bill

In November, President Biden signed legislative funding that represents the largest transportation spending package in U.S. history. The $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act authorized funding for roads, highways, bridges, public transit systems, utility systems, electrical grids, energy projects and broadband infrastructure.

Because the funding extends over a five-year period, it should not have a major effect on the fiscal deficit. This is not only good news for taxpayers, but also investors. Those long-term investments offer the potential for shareholders to get in on the ground floor of reliable and well-capitalized government projects by hundreds of American companies poised to get the business. The new bill is expected to enhance productivity, innovation, improve labor force participation and have a positive impact on inflation. Overall, the bipartisan bill is expected to help drive economic growth for the foreseeable future.

Local Funding

Because this funding has been long-awaited and is badly needed, infrastructure projects that have been in the planning stages for years can finally take off. Furthermore, the federal funds will be allocated to local public-private partnerships, which enable community job development and enhance local economies.

Transportation Infrastructure

More than $110 billion is directed to repair and rebuild 45,000 bridges, highways and major roads across the country. The funding also focuses on climate change resilience, as well as safety (reduce traffic fatalities) and parity across geographic areas and demographic populations. Industries poised to benefit include:

  • U.S. steel companies
  • Companies that produce aggregate materials (e.g., gravel, crushed stone, sand)
  • Manufacturers of construction, roadbuilding, earthmoving and mining equipment
  • Companies that lease heavy equipment

Broadband Internet

Presently, more than 30 million U.S. residents live in areas with either poor or no broadband access. Particularly during the pandemic, we have learned how important internet access is to keep Americans connected – in jobs, through online education, with community news and resources – not to mention social networks and personal relationships. The new legislation provides $65 billion in funding for broadband infrastructure, particularly in rural communities throughout the country, in an effort to provide universal access to reliable high-speed internet. Investment sectors that should benefit include:

  • Manufacturers of wireless towers
  • Power management companies that supply the electrical components and systems for wind and solar farms to integrate them into the national grid

Water Utility Infrastructure

The bill allocates a $55 billion investment into water infrastructure and the elimination of lead pipes for the 10 million American households and 400,000 schools and childcare centers that currently lack safe drinking water. Investment opportunities include utilities and companies that specialize in:

  • Water distribution
  • Water filtration
  • Flow technology
  • Water treatment/purification
  • Manufacturing pumps, valves and desalination units

Public Transit

Currently, the United States has a repair/replacement backlog of more than 24,000 buses, 5,000 rail cars, 200 stations and thousands of miles of tracks, signals and power systems. To update and expand the nation’s public transit system, $66 billion will go toward passenger rail, $25 billion to upgrade U.S. airports and $17 billion for ports throughout the country. In addition to bolstering the nation’s supply chains and transportation systems, upgrades will focus on reducing emissions and deploying more electrification and other low-carbon technologies. Industry sectors that should benefit include:

  • Railroads
  • Airlines
  • Trucking
  • Marine transportation
  • Delivery services
  • Logistics companies

Sustainable Energy Sources

The infrastructure bill allocates $65 billion toward upgrading the nationwide power infrastructure with new lines for the transmission of renewable, clean energy. Another $7.5 billion is earmarked to install 500,000 electric vehicle (EV) chargers along highway corridors to accommodate the fleet of electric consumer and commercial cars currently in production. Opportunities in sustainable energy investments include:

  • Electric vehicle industry, including government fleets of electric vehicles, such as U.S. mail trucks
  • Companies that build EV charging stations
  • Commodities used in green materials, such as copper (electric vehicles and renewable energy sources use four times more copper than internal combustion vehicles)

Given the breadth of infrastructure opportunities on tap, one way for investors to get exposure across the wide range of industries is to invest in a diversified infrastructure or utility funds (mutual fund or ETF). Through a single, professionally managed investment, investors can spread their capital across a wide spectrum of engineering and construction firms, rail travel companies, electricity providers, water and sewage services, and more.

How to Get Your 2022 Finances in Order

Believe it or not, the New Year is here. If you’re trying to wrap your head around everything that’s ahead, one of the best things you can do is prepare yourself financially. Here are a few tasks you can get started on right away.

Look Back at 2021

Depending on how in-depth you want to go, this could take a couple hours or more. That said, ask yourself these questions: Did you spend as planned? Where do you want to adjust, increase or decrease spending thresholds? What kind of unexpected expenses came up? How did you handle it? Think about what you’ll do for the upcoming year. When it comes to money, the cliché “hindsight is always 20/20” will often ring true.

Tackle Your Debt

If you want 2022 to be the year you become debt free, it can happen. We’re talking about consumer debt, not your mortgage, rent, car payments or any other necessities. A good strategy is to make a list of your credit cards, balances and interest rates. Start with the account balances that are the highest and create a payment plan, then move down the list until you’re finished. Balance transfers to cards with zero interest (for a limited time) are a smart idea, too. Then freeze your spending for 30 days, or however long you need. It might take some time, but these days, financial freedom is well worth it.

Increase Your Retirement Funds

Good news: the maximum contribution limit for your 401(k)s increases by $1,000 in 2022 compared to 2021, for a total of $20,500. If you’re 50 or older, the limit is $27,000, which is great for those closer to retirement. If you can’t max out your contribution, just increasing it by one percent can have an incredible effect. According to calculations from Fidelity Investments, if you’re 35 and earning $60,000, this tiny bump could yield an additional $85,000 to your retirement fund over a 32-year period. That’s equal to putting aside $12 per week (how easy is that?), assuming a 5.5 percent return and consistent salary growth.

Create a Back-Up Plan

This probably isn’t something you want to think about, but it’s necessary should something happen to you. Take few minutes to update your beneficiaries on all your financial accounts, including retirement, investment and benefits accounts. Next, make sure you have a durable power of attorney, someone you trust to take care of all your monetary affairs. After this, designate a health-care proxy or power of attorney, who can speak for you if you become incapacitated. Finally, update your will. Decide who will inherit your assets. If you have children, you can even assign guardians for them. In the long run, if the worst-case scenario unfolds, you’ll save your loved ones a lot of time and trouble.

Carve Out Time for a Life Audit

This task might sound big, but it’s necessary if you want to achieve your dreams – financial or otherwise. Start with a pen or pencil, about 100 sticky notes, a journal and a large space, perhaps a door, board or wall. Turn your phone off, then get started. Look back at your life. Assess where you’ve been, where you are and where you’d like to go, then brainstorm. Do you want to save a certain amount of money this year? Put away some cash for a dream trip? Learn a language? When you think you’ve finished, then organize your goals into three categories: personal, work/career and money. After that, further divide them short-term and long-term goals. Take a photo of your notes and keep it near to remind yourself of what you’re trying to accomplish. More often than not, your dreams involve money, which is directly related to your priorities and how you budget.

Budget for 2022

Now that 2021 is in your rearview mirror (and perhaps you’ve even done a life audit), take what you’ve decided upon and create a budget you can live with. Then, download a budget app to keep you on track. If last year’s budget worked well and you’re already on your way to living your dreams, just hit “repeat.” If not, make necessary changes. That said, no matter the status of your finances, it might be a good idea to increase your emergency fund, given all the uncertainty we’re facing in our world.

If you think about it, taking time in January to look closely at your finances is kind of like going to the doctor for your yearly checkup: You want to make sure there are no red flags you need to address. After all, your fiscal health might be as important as your physical health.

Sources

https://www.cnbc.com/2021/11/17/use-this-checklist-to-get-your-finances-in-order-before-2022.html

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/01/23/why-you-should-increase-your-401k-or-ira-contributions-by-1percent.html

https://www.fidelity.com/viewpoints/retirement/save-more

8 New Year’s Resolutions for Dealing with Debt in 2022

Raising the Debt Limit, Protecting the Capitol and Prohibiting Foreign Campaign Financing

A joint resolution relating to increasing the debt limit(SJ Res 33) – This legislation was initially introduced on Dec. 14 by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY). It is a joint resolution that authorized an increase to the public debt limit by $2.5 trillion. It passed in the Senate and the House within one day and was enacted into law by the president on Dec. 16.

Capitol Police Emergency Assistance Act of 2021(S 3377) – This bill empowers the chief of the U.S. Capitol Police to unilaterally request the assistance of the D.C. National Guard or Federal law enforcement agencies in emergencies without prior approval from the Capitol Police Board. The legislation was introduced on Dec. 13 by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). It passed in the House and the Senate within one day and is currently awaiting signature by the president.

Protecting Our Democracy Act (HR 5314) – This bill is designed to protect American democracy by preventing abuses of presidential power (e.g., requires the president to submit materials relating to certain pardons to Congress, prohibits self-pardons by the president, suspends the statute of limitations for federal offenses committed by a sitting president or vice president); restoring checks, balances, accountability and transparency in government (e.g., requires cause for removal of inspectors general, increases whistleblower protections, requires a candidate for president or vice president to produce 10 years of most recent income tax returns); and preventing foreign interference in U.S. elections (prohibits the acceptance of foreign or domestic emoluments and foreign donations to political campaigns); as well as other purposes.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) on Sept. 21 and passed in the House on Dec. 9. It is currently with the Senate.

No CORRUPTION Act (S 693) – Presently, the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 prevents a member of Congress who is convicted of a felony from collecting a government pension. However, they may continue receiving their pension until the completion of legal appeals. This bill alters the conditions of the previous Act to stop pension payments immediately after the original conviction. Should the conviction eventually be overturned, the pension would retroactively pay out lost benefits and resume from that point on. The bill was introduced by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) on March 10. It passed in the Senate on Dec. 8 and is in the House for consideration.

Federal Rotational Cyber Workforce Program Act of 2021 (S 1097) – This bill was introduced by Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) on April 13. It passed in the Senate on Dec. 14 and is currently under consideration in the House. The purpose of this legislation is to establish a rotational cyber workforce program. The program will have processes in which to dispatch certain federal employees to work in other cyber positions at other agencies.

Methamphetamine Response Act of 2021 (S 854) – The purpose of this legislation is to designate methamphetamine as an emerging threat as an illicit drug, and directs the Office of National Drug Control Policy to implement a methamphetamine response plan. The bill was introduced by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) on May 18. It passed in the Senate on Dec. 18 and is currently in the House.

Year-End Tax Planning Tips for Individuals and Businesses

Year-End Tax Planning 2021Here we are again, nearing the end of another year. While the tax deadline for 2021 isn’t until April 2022, now is the time to plan and make some strategic moves to optimize your tax situation. Below we’ll look at some tax planning ideas for both small businesses and individuals.

Business Tax Planning

Business owners should consider a few potential planning areas. Below we’ll look at a handful of relevant topics.

Section 163(j) Interest Expense Limitation

Businesses can deduct interest expenses, subject to a limit at 30 percent of adjusted taxable income (ATI). The calculation for determining ATI is changing in 2022, so some planning might be in order.

Currently, ATI is calculated as taxable income with depreciation and amortization added back. Starting in 2022, depreciation and amortization will no longer be an add-back, effectively lowering the amount of deductible interest a business can claim.

Taxpayers should consider their current year forecast and 2022 projections to see if there is opportunity in converting debt financing to equity financing.

COVID-Driven Innovation

Many businesses needed to change and adapt processes and products to survive or thrive during the pandemic. Depending on the nature of the activities, some of the expenses might qualify for R&D tax credits. Now is the time to investigate what will qualify and begin to gather the documentation.

Remote Workers and Nexus

With so many companies allowing remote work in this new normal, consideration should be given to year-end planning for state and local taxes. State laws around nexus are evolving, and remote workers may create new reporting and payment requirements for both income and employment taxes.

Net Operating Loss Carryforward

Net operating loss (NOL) rules are changing. First, NOLs created from activity in 2021 and beyond can only be carried forward; no carry-back is allowed. Also note that NOLs generated in 2017 and can be used to offset 100 percent of current year taxable income, whereas those generated 2018 and after can only offset up to 80 percent of taxable income in any year.

As a result, taxpayers should consider revenue recognition and other tactics to maximize the use of NOLs.

Individual Tax Planning

Start Gathering Your Documents Now

Taxpayers should start gathering their documents now as there are two main benefits to this. First, it will make things more manageable and organized in 2022. Second, it will get them thinking about their financial picture. Gathering documents forces you to give your year-to-date a mental review so you don’t forget about any new or unusual events that could provide planning opportunities.

Retirement Accounts Review

Generally, everyone should consider topping off tax-advantaged retirement accounts such as IRAs or 401(k).

Perhaps more importantly, consider a back-door Roth conversion. This tax savings strategy permits taking deductible or non-deductible IRAs and converting them to a ROTH IRA. There are a lot of nuances to this move depending on the individual’s situation, but it’s very important to consider since 2021 may be the last year this is allowed, depending on legislative developments.

Required Minimum Distributions

In 2020, required minimum distributions (RMDs) from retirement accounts were suspended. RMDs return for 2021 however, so taxpayers who are 72 or older need to remember to make the calculation and withdrawal by Dec. 31.

Conclusion

There is no better time than now to step back and look at the past year, your financial situation, and the changes to tax laws this year and next. Remember, tax planning only works if you act before the end of the tax year. Once we reach 2022, it will be too late to make much of an impact on your 2021 tax situation.

How Businesses Can Recognize and Combat Employee Burnout

Employee BurnoutAccording to the job site Indeed, COVID-19 has taken a toll on workers even more in 2021, compared to 2020. The survey conducted by Indeed found that 52 percent of those surveyed felt “burned out” in 2021. Sixty-seven percent of those asked said that feeling burned out has become more pronounced as COVID-19 has progressed. It’s more noticeable among remote workers (38 percent), compared to 28 percent of employees working in person.

Gallup reported in October 2020 that between 2016 and 2019, worker burnout was already on the radar. Once COVID-19 hit workers in 2020, those working remotely 100 percent of the time are reporting even higher levels than those who work outside the home.

Pre-COVID-19, when employees worked remotely either 100 percent of the time or via a hybrid approach, they had lower levels of burnout compared to those who worked at their place of employment full-time.

When it comes to remote-only employees who “experience burnout at work always or very often,” levels have gone from 18 percent pre-pandemic to 29 percent during the coronavirus pandemic.

This phenomenon is blamed on not being able to choose to work remotely or at the workplace – the choice is not there with COVID-19. As of September 2020, 4 in 10 full-time employees worked exclusively from home, compared to 4 percent pre-COVID.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “job burnout is a special type of work-related stress.” Internal factors, according to the Mayo Clinic and Gallup, include uneven treatment by management, excessive work assigned to an individual, a toxic workplace and ambiguous or unclear assignment instructions.

Outside factors such as their personal life, their natural disposition, mood disorders, etc. may add to it. When a worker is fatigued, physically or intellectually, this also grips the worker with a feeling of lower productivity and a loss of who they are professionally.

For those who can’t manage job-related stressors, burnout often leads to negative results. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this includes feeling dubious about one’s future at the company, experiencing an inability to sleep, an inability to concentrate, feeling tired and having little motivation to complete one’s work.

If there’s a completely new way of working, unpredictability of being exposed to COVID-19, having to juggle work and personal obligations throughout the workday and the inability to have the right tools to get work tasks completed, burnout will likely ensue.

Managing Burnout

There are many recommendations to regain control and keep work-related stress in check. This includes creating a schedule for both regular sleep and time to fulfill work tasks, if feasible. Taking strategic breaks and finding constructive non-work interests can lessen the stress of work as part of a balanced schedule.

According to Gallup, managers must harmonize maintaining high-performance expectations with employee commitment to the organization and worker welfare.

Gallup credits effective managers and “organizational communication” with keeping full-time remote workers fully engaged by making them feel like an integral part of their company. Through purposeful training and crystal-clear expectations, workers are set up for success.

The CDC recommends how workers can reduce the effects of burnout. Staying diligent with emotional wellbeing treatments and recognizing and getting treatment for new substance abuse issues is recommended. Staying in touch with others can help both sides feel supported mentally and lower stress. Taking a break from constant negative news is also recommended.

Much like businesses, employees are unique. With COVID-19 impacting each of us differently, managers must evaluate their organization’s circumstances and employees to find a balance between employee performance and their ability to maintain wellbeing.

Sources

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/mental-health-non-healthcare.html

https://www.gallup.com/workplace/323228/remote-workers-facing-high-burnout-turn-around.aspx

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/burnout/art-20046642

https://www.indeed.com/lead/preventing-employee-burnout-report

Venture Capitalism and ‘Unicorns’

Venture Capitalism UnicornsVenture capitalism comes from an investor who offers money to start-up companies in exchange for an equity stake – much like you see on the ABC television show, Shark Tank. As a general rule, a venture capitalist (VC) invests after the new venture is up and running and looking for additional capital to further commercialize its product.

Once a privately held enterprise reaches a value of $1 billion, it is referred to as a “Unicorn.” This is because new start-ups that reach this level of success are so rare that they are considered comparable to the mythical creature. What is interesting these days is that the current labor market is so disruptive that we are seeing more start-ups, and this trend is expected to continue. At some point it becomes a numbers game – the more new start-ups established, the greater the likelihood of Unicorns achieving success.

Ever since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States has experienced a shortage of workers. It started with massive layoffs during the shutdown, but even though jobs returned – not all workers did. The lack of child and elder care forced many working moms to leave their jobs. Today, the controversy over low wages not keeping pace with the cost of living has many people rethinking their career choices. It used to be that a position with a company with generous health insurance benefits was the very definition of a good job. Now, in the wake of the Great Resignation, it appears more workers are looking for a job that is fulfilling. In fact, because workers can now purchase affordable healthcare insurance on government exchanges, they are no longer tethered to a specific employer.

This combination of frustration and flexibility is empowering would-be entrepreneurs to go ahead and take the leap to starting their own business. In 2021 alone, there has been a tremendous increase in new business filings. Furthermore, venture capitalists have been pouring money into these new ventures at a record pace, with more than $240 billion invested this year alone through September. The largest of these investors tend to be private equity firms, hedge funds and corporations.

With more new start-ups, come more Unicorns. Historically, the number of new Unicorn businesses averaged about four per year in the United States. In 2021, however, more than 260 have reached $1 billion status. And the United States isn’t alone in experiencing this trend. Young adults in Japan also are leaving traditional corporate jobs to start their own businesses – and many of them are receiving financing from VCs and other institutional investors in the West.

In China, where TikTok was born and became a global phenomenon, there are presently more than 800 Unicorns. India is the third largest start-up ecosystem in the world, with more than 65 companies recently reaching Unicorn status.

5 Affordable Ways to Share the Holiday Spirit

Holiday SpiritThe holidays are a season of giving. While much of this involves financial expenditures, you can also give in ways that are more affordable and may hold more meaning. Here are some suggestions about how you can engage in acts of generosity and return to what the season is all about.

Cook Food

Nothing nourishes the heart and soul, not to mention your stomach, like food made with love from your own kitchen. Baking cookies is always an easy and fun thing to do, but a main dish (with protein) or hearty casseroles are also good options. People who are homebound due to an illness, those going through financial difficulties or even new moms will appreciate the gift of a warm meal. You might also ask co-workers, local churches or homeless shelters if they’re looking for some extra sustenance during this time of year.

Create Necessity Bags

Giving to those on the streets during the holidays is an easy, inexpensive way to make a difference. Fill a gallon-sized food storage bag with things like gloves, toothpaste and toothbrush, hand sanitizer, sanitary wipes, bottled water, snacks and a gift card to a grocery store. Then contact your local organizations and charities to see where the needs lie. You might also carry these bags in your car and when you see someone, give it to them. Moments like these are invaluable to those in need and for you, too.

Volunteer Time

Showing up with an extra pair of hands is often what someone needs. A great place to check out is VolunteerMatch. Just type in your ZIP code and you’ll find all kinds of opportunities to help everyone from seniors to children in many sectors, including education, arts and health. You might also find ways to help animals or read to the blind. These are feel-good, money-free ways to experience the joy of giving.

Donate Craft Items

How many times have you thrown away your toilet paper rolls or egg cartons? This year, save and donate them to nearby schools or community centers. All it takes is a few phone calls to find out what their craft needs are. You’ll also be helping the environment – sharing some love for Mother Nature. How simple is that?

Declutter Your Dwelling

This one has so many terrific benefits. You can get rid of clothes and belongings that crowd your closets, which is a wonderful feeling. One option is to sell them on eBay Charity and donate to a nonprofit of your choice. You choose what percentage of the sale goes to the organization (from 10 to 100 percent). eBay will even give you a credit on your selling fees based on the percentage you choose. If you want to give away gently used professional clothes, Dress for Success and Jails to Jobs, are groups that empower people to look their best when making a fresh start. If you’d like to rid yourself of shoes you’ll never wear again, Soles4Souls is a great resource and you can ship up to 15 pairs of shoes without paying a fee through the Zappos for Good program. Talk about good for the sole, er, soul!

For the most part, should you choose to get into the holiday spirit with these activities (aside from a few costs here and there), the main thing you’ll be spending is time. However, experiencing the joy of the giving is priceless.

Sources

https://www.discover.com/online-banking/banking-topics/affordable-ways-to-spread-generosity-holiday-season/

Congress at Work: Infrastructure Spending, Hiring Veteran Health Heroes and Initiatives for Education, Childcare and Immigration

HR 3684, S 1031, S 894, S 108, HR 5376Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act(HR 3684) – This legislation authorizes funding for federal highway, transit, safety, motor carrier, hazardous materials and rail programs of the Department of Transportation (DOT). The bill also addresses climate change with strategies to reduce the environmental impacts of the surface transportation system and facilitate the efficient use of federal resources. It was initially introduced on June 4; it passed in the House on July 1 and in the Senate on Aug. 10. It was passed again in the House in its final form on Nov. 5, and then was signed into law by the president on Nov. 15.

A bill to require the Comptroller General of the United States to conduct a study on disparities associated with race and ethnicity with respect to certain benefits administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes. (S 1031) – This bill was introduced by Rep. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) on March 25. It passed in the House on Aug. 6, then in the Senate on Nov. 15. It is awaiting signature by the president. Within one year, a study must be conducted and Congress briefed on how race and ethnicity impact VA compensation benefits, disability ratings and the rejection of claims for VA benefits.

Hire Veteran Health Heroes Act of 2021 (S 894) – The purpose of this legislation is to identify separating service members in healthcare occupations and refer them for jobs at the VA. The bill was introduced by Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) on March 23. It passed in the Senate on July 21, the House on Nov. 15 and is currently with the president.

A bill to authorize the Seminole Tribe of Florida to lease or transfer certain land, and for other purposes (S 108) – This legislation allows the Seminole Tribe of Florida to lease, sell, convey, warrant or transfer any real property it owns that is not held in trust by the United States. The bill was introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) on Jan. 28. It was passed in the Senate on May 26, in the House on Nov. 2 and is currently waiting to be signed into law by the president.

Build Back Better Act (HR 5376) – This bill is currently being debated in Congress as the second phase of President Biden’s effort to “build an economy from the bottom up and the middle out.” It includes funding for a wide array of initiatives, including education, labor, childcare, healthcare, taxes, immigration and the environment. Specifically, the legislation would provide for up to six semesters of free community college, free childcare for children under the age of 6, free universal preschool services, health benefits for eligible individuals who reside in states that have not expanded Medicaid, expand Medicare to cover dental, hearing and vision care; provide certain aliens with a path to permanent resident status (e.g., those who entered the United States as minors); and provide up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. Funding mechanisms include increasing the tax rates for certain corporations and individuals with annual income over $400,000; and require the Department of Health and Human Services to negotiate maximum prices for certain brand-name drugs under Medicare. The bill was introduced by Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) on Sept. 27 and is currently under consideration in the House.