Taxes and budgets should be easy. You make a certain amount of money; the government takes some, and the rest is yours. So why are filing taxes and dealing with personal finance so endlessly complicated?
If the thought of taxes and budgets gives you a headache, fear not! There's a new generation of websites designed to make the process easier. Before you can get the most out of your money, you need to get a handle on it and figure out where it's going.
According to Dictionary.com, a budget is "an estimate, often itemized, of expected income and expense for a given period in the future" or "a plan of operations based on such an estimate." A budget is the quickest and easiest way to see what you are making and where it's going.
For personal budgets, one resource is Mint.com. It allows you to keep all of your accounts in one place and track your spending. By using the same security practices as major financial institutions, you can keep your information safe. You can't actually move money on Mint.com; it just keeps track of your accounts. As an added bonus, it alerts you to any suspicious charges. Plus you can set goals for yourself and get suggestions for different accounts, credit cards, certificates of deposit and 401(k) plans that could end up saving you hundreds. It's free to sign up for and use the website.
Now that you know where your money is going, make it work for you. If you want to get started playing the stock market but don't understand the difference between a bull market and a bear market, there are many sites that will explain the differences and help you invest your money. TeenVestor breaks down stock market terminology in easy-to-digest chunks and offers market tips to teens looking to get into finance. The simple-to-understand setup is also beneficial to adults who are unfamiliar with the market.
Once you've invested your money, Wikinvest will help you keep track of it. Much like Mint.com, it allows you to keep all of your accounts in one place, so if you've invested through different firms, you can track everything from one site. Wikinvest also uses bank-level security, so your information never is compromised. It offers real-time streaming -- so you don't have to keep refreshing -- and portfolio insights to make sure you are getting the most from your investments. It is also free.
Want to know how certain stocks are performing? The website StockMapper has the answer. It is a collection of stock heat maps that measure the changes in stock values. It allows you to group stocks by geographical location, industry and index.
So now you've budgeted and invested, and April 15 is staring you in the face. What are the best sites to use to file your taxes?
TurboTax offers very comprehensive plans. Starting with the basic plan for $29.95 -- which offers step-by-step guidance through online filing -- and progressing to a business plan for corporations, partnerships and limited liability companies for $129.95, TurboTax is sure to have a plan that's right for you. It also offers online chat support, helps with e-filing for both state and federal taxes, and guarantees the biggest return possible.
H&R Block has been preparing taxes since 1955 and has more than 22 million customers worldwide. You can prepare and file your own taxes through software available on its website, http://www.hrblock.com. It costs $44.95, and you get the added benefit of free chat support on the website, so you can get information from an H&R Block tax pro in the comfort of your own home!
Still have questions regarding taxes, investments and filing? Go directly to the source: IRS.gov. The Internal Revenue Service has the thankless task of collecting taxes and interpreting and enforcing the Internal Revenue Code. Its website is an excellent resource for all things taxes. It can be a bit dense, so don't hesitate to contact the IRS directly with questions.
With all of the online resources available, taxes, budgeting and investing have never been easier. Get the most out of your money!