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Doctor Lee's Blog

Musings from The Doctor of Fitness: Fitness Trainer, Nutrition Expert, & Sports Medicine Physician

The purpose of this blog is to write informally for anyone who is interested in fitness, strength and conditioning, sports nutrition, sports medicine, and breaking fitness and nutrition news. If you'd like to reach me directly, you can contact me here. Feel free to take a look at my professional bio and my not-so-professional bio.

Your Financial and Tax Health: Your Social Security Might Not be Tax Free

on Tuesday, 31 March 2020. Posted in Doctor of Fitness

When it comes to planning for retirement, many people mistakenly believe that their Social Security benefits won’t be taxed. It’s an easy assumption to make. After all, they paid into the system for years. Why should they have to pay tax on money they already had deducted from their check? Unfortunately, the government doesn’t see it that way. There are many situations in which Social Security benefits may be taxable.

When people say their benefits aren’t taxable, it’s sort of a half-truth. Technically, these retirement benefits aren’t taxed at the federal level (although they may still be taxed at the state level). In other words, if the ONLY income you received during the year was from Social Security, then you won’t have to pay tax. However, like many household chemicals which are harmless by themselves but can become deadly poisons when mixed with other chemicals, Social Security benefits may be taxable if combined with other income, such as a part-time job or a pension. Depending on your overall income from Social Security and other sources, your benefits may be taxable up to 85 percent. This article from SmartAsset provides a great summary of how state and federal taxing authorities deal with Social Security benefits. 

Retirement can be a great time of life, a chance to enjoy the hard-earned fruits of your life’s labors. However, it does require careful thought. Don’t overlook the tax consequences of your Social Security benefits when you’re making your retirement plans. 

Your Financial and Tax Health: Not Filing is Not Smart

on Tuesday, 24 March 2020. Posted in Doctor of Fitness

If you’re like many of us, the idea of paying taxes isn’t particularly appealing. Some people just don’t want to be bothered with it, while others believe the whole idea of an income tax is unconstitutional to begin with. The legality of the income tax was established with the ratification of the 16th Amendment in 1913. Whether you need to file is another matter. In some cases you might not. This interactive tool from the IRS can give you an idea. 

If you do expect to owe a balance, know that a tax liability only gets worse with time. To begin with, the IRS can assess a failure to file penalty of 5 percent as well as add a levy of another 5 percent of any unpaid balance for every month or part of a month that the return remains unfiled and unpaid. It can add up pretty quickly!

The IRS isn’t going to kick in your door on April 16th if you don’t pay your taxes. Long before that you will receive a series of increasingly ominous letters. Ignoring these letters is where taxpayers get into trouble. You’ve probably heard about the IRS placing a lien against taxpayer’s future earnings or even seizing their property or bank accounts. These extreme measures are usually the result of putting off your tax obligations.

Remember that the IRS will never call you, so if you do receive a threatening phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, it’s a scam. If you receive a letter from the IRS, make sure to respond to it promptly. If you’re unsure as to what steps to take, consult a qualified tax professional. Take care of any liabilities as soon as you can. No, it won’t make your tax bill any easier to swallow, but it will save you a lot of trouble in the long run.

A Few Tidbits about Saint Patrick’s Day

on Tuesday, 17 March 2020. Posted in Doctor of Fitness

Begosh and begorah! Saint Paddy’s Day is upon us once again! It’s that wonderful time of year when leprechauns appear on more than just cereal boxes and we celebrate the Irish in us. Even if we’re not Irish, it a still a great excuse to put on that cool green outfit we’ve been saving in our closet, head down to the local pub for a hearty glass of green beer and break out our Irish brogue. 

So where did all the shamrocks and other trappings come from, and who decided turning the town river green was a good idea? Read on to find out.

Shamrocks are a native Irish plant and are the Irish version of clover. How did they get mixed up in this Saint Paddy’s Day business? Well, when Saint Patrick was converting pagan Ireland to Christianity, their three leaves made an excellent analogy for the holy trinity.

To answer your next question, dyeing the river green started in Chicago in 1962. It takes over 40 pounds of vegetable-based dye to get the water a suitable shade of green. 

Leprechauns may be known for hoarding their pots of gold, but these petite pixies were actually pretty shrewd businessmen. As legend has it, they made their fortune by making and mending shoes. Cobbling is hard work, so they’re understandably stingy about giving away their wealth.

The same can’t be said about those who celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day. A recent estimate put the total amount spent on beer alone for Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations at nearly $250 million, and that’s before tips. Overall, in 2016 American spent nearly $4.4 billion celebrating the holiday.

And if you’re hungry before you hit the pub, here’s a traditional Irish dish that should go perfectly with that green beer. 

So, happy Saint Patrick’s Day. May the luck o’ the Irish be with you!

Your Financial and Tax Health: Watching Your Paycheck

on Tuesday, 10 March 2020. Posted in Doctor of Fitness

While a tax bill is inevitable for some filers, the reality is that many of these liabilities could have been avoided. In this part of our financial health series, we’ll take a look at one of the more common pitfalls many taxpayers fall into: not looking at their paycheck. 

Back in the day, it was pretty easy to look at your check. After all you got handed one every week that you would then take to the bank. If something wasn’t right, you would notice pretty quickly. With most payroll checks being direct deposited these days, it’s fairly common to only have a vague idea of what’s being subtracted from your income. Ignoring the numbers on your check may save you time on a busy Friday afternoon, but it is not the smartest thing to do.

At some point early in their employment with a company, an employee will be required to fill out a form W-4. This form basically tells the employer how much federal and state tax to withhold from the paycheck. Although it’s only a one-page form, it can be confusing. To add to the madness, the IRS has completely revised the W-4 Form for this year. Here is an FAQ from the IRS so you can get up to speed on the changes. Pay careful attention to the form and be sure to fill it out carefully. If you have questions, contact your Human Resources department. 

There will usually be other deductions from your check as well, such as those for retirement savings and for health care. Make sure you thoroughly understand what is being taken out and why. Some of those numbers can make a big difference at tax time. If you don’t like what you’re seeing, don’t hesitate to make changes. If you do it early enough in the year, you still have time to make a difference. 

It’s your money. Keep track of it by watching your paycheck. 

Your Financial and Tax Health: Contributing to an IRA

on Tuesday, 03 March 2020. Posted in Doctor of Fitness

With the holidays behind us, and winter still holding the land in its icy grip, our thoughts naturally turns toward spring. And spring brings with it the yearly ritual of taxes. In our series on your financial and tax health, we dive into how to navigate the challenge. 

Unfortunately, in the world of taxes, by the time you realize there’s a problem, it’s often too late to do anything about it. All we’re left with is lessons to remember for next year. The one major exception to that rule is contributing to a traditional IRA. It’s one of the few steps you can take after the first of the year to reduce your tax burden THIS year.

Contributing to a traditional IRA reduces your taxable income by the amount you put in— up to $7,000 if you’re over 50 ($6,000 is you’re under the age of 50.) So, if you make $50,000 and make a $5,000 dollar contribution, your taxable income is reduced to $45,000, and that’s before subtracting out your standard or itemized deduction.

Of course, there’s a catch. Your possible deduction might be reduced if you (or your spouse) are covered by a retirement plan at work and your income exceeds certain levels. Here’s a table from the IRS to give you an idea if you qualify.

The beauty of this deduction is that you’re not just trying to wriggle out of a tricky tax situation. You’re also saving for your retirement. It’s a win-win! And if that weren’t enough, you can choose to make your contribution for the previous year, all the way up to the filing deadline of April 15th.

Not that’s something to make both you and your bank account feel healthy!

Healthy Eating for Kids

on Tuesday, 25 February 2020. Posted in Doctor of Fitness

If you’re a parent, you already know children can be picky eaters. There’s the kid that will only eat French fries and pizza. There’s the kid that won’t eat anything red. Or the kid who considers the entire meal ruined if there’s a pickle in sight. The list goes on and on.

Getting your kids to eat healthy doesn’t start with them, it starts with you. It’s hard to convince them of the value of healthy eating when you’re chowing down a candy bar and a bag of chips. Set a good example by eating healthy yourself, both at meal times and in between, with your choice of snack foods.

You’re more likely to follow a set of eating guidelines if you have a say in it. That’s why it’s important to involve your kids in planning what’s in the cupboard. Listen to them and take their food preferences into account. Don’t force them to eat something they don’t want. Instead find healthy alternatives to foods they do like.

Family mealtime may seem old-fashioned in this age of cellphones and streaming services, but don’t let all those entertainment options disrupt an important family time. A regular dinner time is the perfect time to introduce new foods, and it helps avoid the formation of unhealthy snacking habits. It may take a little juggling to pick a time that fits everyone’s busy schedule, but the effort is well worth it.

Getting your kids to eat right is a great way to set them up with a lifetime of good health, so try out these tips. It beats chopping up some vegetables into their food and telling them it’s ‘seasoning.’

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