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Ask Chuck: Is It Time to Go All in on Gold?

Dear Chuck,

My husband is convinced that we should convert our entire 401k into gold. He’s concerned about several things, including our nation’s debt, the potential of a stock market bust, and now World War III. I am opposed and told him I would ask you to offer us your opinion. 

Divided Retirees 

 

Dear Divided Retirees,  

Your dilemma is not that uncommon. It is true that our emotions tend to drive our investment decisions, so many are struggling with what to do in the current environment of fear and uncertainty. Gold is currently on a nice run upward. 

We often get questions asking about a similar strategy of going all in, but the investment choices can range from cryptocurrency, real estate, oil, gold, or technology stocks to a new get-rich-quick scheme. I hope I can help the two of you find unity around a balanced approach. 

A Balanced Approach

On one hand, the Bible instructs us that no one knows the future; therefore, I do not give investment advice. Run from any advisor who is overly confident in predicting investment returns. On the other hand, the Bible also reminds us to be prudent. 

“A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.”  

(Proverbs 27:12 NLT)

Because we serve a sovereign, wise, and loving God who has given us financial principles for our good, we can avoid the arrogance of thinking we know the future but also the foolishness that comes from being impulsive or the paralysis of indecisiveness that leaves us at the mercy of our circumstances. My advice, taken from Solomon’s wisdom, is to practice diversification.

Ask Chuck Is It Time To Go All In On Gold

Diversification Explained

King Solomon, contemplating an unknown and potentially disastrous future, wrote:

“Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight; you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.”

 (Ecclesiastes 11:2 NIV)

An investment, unlike savings, is money put at risk in assets with the intention of multiplying or growing it. When we allocate those funds into different asset classes, this is known as diversification. The strategy of owning a variety of assets and investments is intended to reduce exposure, risk, and volatility while increasing potential returns. Some assets will do well one year, while others perform poorly, and vice versa. Diversification aims to produce steady returns overall. Portfolios will vary depending on investors’ age and risk tolerance.  

Diversification Practiced

Years ago, Austin Pryor wroteHow to Make the Right Investing Decisions.” The wisdom is still applicable today: 

“The right investing decision is one that is prudent under the circumstances. Does it pass the “common sense” test? How much of your investing capital can you afford to lose and still have a realistic chance of meeting your financial goals? The investments that offer higher potential returns also carry greater risks of loss. The right portfolio for you is not always the one with the most profit potential. 

“For example, it’s usually best not to have a majority of your investments in a single asset or security. For that reason, people who have large holdings of stock in the company they work for often sell some of it in order to diversify. If the stock doubles after they sell it, does that mean they did the “wrong” thing? No, they did the right thing. After all, the stock could have fallen dramatically as well as risen (ask the former employees of Enron.)

“What would a large loss have done to their retirement planning? The right investment step is the one that protects you in the event of life’s occasional worst-case scenarios. Generally, this moves you in the direction of increased diversification.” 

In an article at Fidelity.com, investing is described as an “ongoing process that requires regular attention and adjustment.” Three steps are suggested to keep one’s investments working well:

  1. Create a tailored investment plan.
  2. Invest at an appropriate level of risk.
  3. Manage your plan: monitor periodically, rebalance when drift occurs, refresh at least annually or whenever financial circumstances or goals change, and make sure it all makes sense.  

Diversification Pros and Cons

According to the Wall Street Journal, portfolio diversification is a simple, cheap investment strategy that can save you a lot of stress. 

Pros

Cons

Better Returns than Silver or Gold 

Warren Buffett famously said, “Buying gold is going long on fear.” I have written an entire article on the decision to invest or diversify into gold

Read the article, and decide if the two of you can agree on a plan to diversify or remain diversified in your 401K. Should you determine to rebalance your investments, seek the advice of a professional advisor who shares your worldview.

God graciously gave us His Word, which is filled with His financial wisdom. He sent His Spirit to counsel us and His Son as our Good Shepherd to lead and guide us. He, alone, is greater than man’s wisdom or expertise. Pray, and ask the Lord to guide you with His wisdom, which is of greater value than silver or gold. Ultimately, we must put our faith in the triune God and abide by His commands for our good and His glory. 

I’d like to invite you to join a free Crown Bible study on the YouVersion app. We have several devotionals regarding money and stewardship that will help bring God’s Word into your daily life.


This article was originally published on The Christian Post on April 19, 2024

Ask Chuck: How to Stop Financial Procrastination

Dear Chuck,

I just started my career. Can you give me some simple tips that could help me improve my finances? I really struggle with procrastination. How do I set and meet financial goals? 

Financial Procrastinator 

 

Dear Financial Procrastinator, 

Congratulations on starting your career and the desire to change the way you manage your finances! Procrastination seems harmless, but it actually leaves you vulnerable to financial pain in the future. I hope I can motivate you to take action. 

Make a Plan and Stick to It Daily

Have you ever made a little decision that resulted in a BIG impact? I know I have. In 2015, I decided to drink only water for the entire year—no coffee, tea, juice, soda, smoothies, or lattes; nothing but H2O! For full disclosure, I made it the entire 365 days and felt so good.

What difference did it make?

For one, it helped my budget! I broke the habit of buying $5 coffee at the airport or buying a soda just because I was thirsty. More importantly, it made me realize just how much sugar I was consuming! It caused me to enjoy water and sleep better, and it improved my overall health.

We can apply that same type of thinking to our finances.

Ask Chuck How To Stop Financial Procrastination

Five Financial Habits to Change Your Life 

Five little decisions can make a walloping impact on your finances. I have compiled a list of those that I believe will help the most. They are my personal favorites, things I would tell my own children are essential for them, as well as for me!

Honor God off the Top

Right now, you are honoring someone or something first with your finances. It might be the government, your landlord, your mortgage lender, your utility company, or your favorite shopping destination. Someone is getting the first portion of your income. Replace whoever or whatever is currently first by giving off the top of every source of your income to your church and other ministries that build God’s Kingdom.

If you cannot give a full 10%, which I think is the appropriate beginning standard, start with what you can cheerfully do, and don’t turn back. Increase the amount as you are able.

“Trust me on this one!” Those are not my words; they are God’s words, paraphrased from Malachi 3.

Save Diligently

Pick a day and declare, “No more! I will not go another month without saving something from my next paycheck!” Make the decision, and then start saving something—even if it is only $5 a month. Save something from every source of income. You need a minimum of $1,000 in an emergency savings account at all times. 

Open a savings account, buy a small safe, or simply put money under the mattress for now, but don’t spend everything you have! This habit will make you wise like the ant in Proverbs 6:6–8. Little by little, you will have money saved for emergencies, your stress will go down, and financial stability will one day become a reality. 

Stop Getting a Tax Refund

Many people celebrate a tax refund as if Uncle Sam decided to reward them for their good behavior! While I never like to discover that I owe the IRS money, I do not like to get a tax refund either. 

Rather than loan the government money this year, adjust your withholding or quarterly payments. Pay what you owe or expect to owe—but nothing more. This small act could impact your cash flow and allow you to begin giving and saving some money each month.

Spend Less Than You Earn 

This is the key to reaching any financial goal. It requires the discipline of a budget. Rather than being intimidated by budgeting, recognize that it will keep you on track, help you reach goals, and allow you to experience rewards. It’s a tool that you can adjust as needed. Record your spending, and note where your money goes. Recognize any and all bad spending habits, confess them, and repent. Resolve to change your behavior by believing that you “can do all things through Him who strengthens” you (Philippians 4:13). Ask God to give you self-control, then listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  

The envelope system, or “cash stuffing,” has value in that it is harder to take cash out of an envelope than to hand over a credit card. Each month, you divide cash into envelopes that represent different spending categories. Record every purchase, and you will discover that you spend less because your envelopes hold you accountable. 

Reduce Your Expensive Debt  

Hopefully, you have not gone into consumer debt. Avoid expensive debt, like credit cards, store accounts, or car loans. If you are in debt, decide to pay off your most expensive debt. Then do it again… and again… and again. It is a little decision with a major payoff—freedom from worrying about the future, about your job, about making it to the end of the month. Check out these debt reduction methods.

Take Action Today 

In 1 Corinthians 9:24–26, the Apostle Paul said, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

Take action today with a disciplined approach to achieve your goals and please God with the way you manage money. These tips are not big mountains to climb, just smart steps that over time will change your relationship with God, your finances, your relationship with others, and much more! Set attainable goals, and proceed with hope, discipline, and joy. 

If credit card debt is holding you in bondage, a valuable and trusted source is Christian Credit Counselors. They can help consolidate debt and get you on the road to financial freedom. 

This article was originally published on The Christian Post on April 12, 2024.

Ask Chuck: Breaking Financial Strongholds

Dear Chuck,

I am 32 years old and a fairly new believer. I am depressed by my poor handling of money. Can you give me advice to do better with money from a Christian perspective?

Struggling with Money 

 

Dear Struggling with Money, 

It is a joy to welcome you to the family of God! Your decision to follow Christ will change everything, including how you handle money. You have an exciting journey ahead. 

Most financial teaching deals with the external mechanics of good financial management: get on a budget, spend less than you earn, get out of debt, have an emergency savings fund, etc. You can and should learn those practices. I have written a lot about this in my prior columns. But the Bible has far more to say about our beliefs regarding money than the nuts and bolts of handling it. This is where Christian financial practices vastly differ from the world’s. 

Breaking Financial Strongholds 

Many people who struggle with money are held captive by financial strongholds and may not be aware of it. Major money problems result when we adopt philosophies, theories, and schemes of the world that take priority over God’s Word through ignorance, neglect, or disobedience. We are trapped by our very own thinking and need a transformation of our minds. 

Ask Chuck Breaking Financial Strongholds

What Exactly Is a Stronghold?

When we run for safety into the fortress of human reasoning and the pretense of wisdom that is completely man-centered, we enter Satan’s trap. There, the pinnacle of pride sits enthroned on the human heart. It revels in thoughts of its own excellence and self-sufficiency. We are fueled by the desire to “do it my way” or solve the problem without anyone’s help, especially God’s. 

In 2 Corinthians 10:3–5, the Apostle Paul declared:  

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. . .” (ESV, emphasis mine).

According to this passage, Kenneth Berding, a professor of New Testament at Talbot School of Theology, defines strongholds as:

He continues: “Strongholds relate to our thoughts, opinions and allegiances. Such strongholds can and should be addressed by meditating upon the truth (as revealed by God in Scripture), declaring such truth, and tearing down the faulty arguments raised against the truth that hinder people from believing the truth.” 

This is the process of renewing our minds on God’s truth. Let’s begin with some areas where you may struggle regarding your finances. 

Worry

Worry is a financial stronghold that affects every single one of us—some more than others. 

It is a feeling of anxiety or unease about the future caused by fear and doubt within the mind. It is rooted in a lack of confidence in God, usually combined with a lack of self-control over our finances. When taken captive by worry, we cannot fully trust God. 

Satan wants to keep us bound up by worry, especially about money. In Matthew 6, Jesus says that the “pagans” are the ones we most resemble when we worry. He promises to provide for our daily needs. He does not say we should not work but clearly that we should not worry. 

Let’s get practical. When you worry, learn to immediately cast your fears and doubts upon Jesus. He knows your future—trust Him. Be set free by abiding in Him, taking one day at a time. You can also take action to get your finances under control by learning and applying Biblical financial principles. 

Selfishness

This financial stronghold is hard to identify in ourselves. Selfishness is the preoccupation with self and a dangerous stronghold. It is the state of being unwilling to give money, time, or love. We see it in others but are blind to our own captivity. That’s why we stay locked in it for years.  

Let’s get practical. Selfishness can be overcome by obeying God. Recognize that He is your provider, and give without expectation of receiving. Give generously of your time, your money, and your influence. You will be surprised at the freedom and joy you will experience when you learn to make giving your top financial priority. 

Envy 

Envy is a financial stronghold tucked deep within the heart. It is a feeling of discontentment or a resentful longing triggered by someone else’s possessions. Social media fuels it. Dante defined it as “a desire to deprive other men of theirs.” Aquinas described it as “sorrow for another’s good.” Traditionally considered one of the seven deadly sins, envy is a form of self-idolatry. We have envy when we can’t be happy for what others have. 

Let’s get practical. Freedom from this stronghold occurs when we thank God for all He’s provided for us and others. Repent of envy when others prosper, and learn to be content with what God’s entrusted to you. 

Change Your Mind, Change Your Actions

Don’t lose hope! The victorious Christian escapes financial strongholds by identifying every false theory, every human philosophy, and every prideful thought that controls us. Then we replace it with Truth. Only by the power of God’s Spirit and Word can we escape faulty thinking that holds us back. Read the Bible; study and meditate on the living Word. Immerse yourself in learning God’s ways. It is never too late to begin.

Invite God to reveal erroneous beliefs and transform your life from the inside out. Determine to break free from Satan’s grip on your life and finances. Put on the armor of God, take up the sword of His Spirit, and fight for your freedom! Crown has budget coaches, courses, and lots of materials that can help. 

Another valuable and trusted source is Christian Credit Counselors. They can help consolidate debt and get you on the road to financial freedom. 



Ask Chuck: Financial Advice for Unwanted Divorce 

Dear Chuck,

My husband is seeking a divorce. I am in shock and not sure how I will survive this financially with two young children. I have not worked since we got married. Do you have a guide or advice to help me? 

Unwanted Divorce 

 

Dear Unwanted Divorce, 

I am so very sorry, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be of some help. We do not have a financial guide for your situation, but there certainly are Biblical and financial principles that will help.  

Foremost, I do hope and pray for reconciliation. I have seen God restore marriages that have been through devastating betrayal and painful loss of love and trust, as well as those that die from financial stress or lack of spiritual unity. God can do anything, so don’t give up hope. Remind your children that you will be there for them. They will be suffering as well. 

Financial Guidance

Working through the financial challenges of a divorce requires careful planning, faithfulness, and self-discipline. Emotions can run high, and your strength may waver. Here are some guiding principles to avoid a financial disaster: 

Ask Chuck Financial Advice For Unwanted Divorce 

Professional Advice

Earning spouses may find their income impacted greatly if alimony is awarded in the settlement. Non-earning spouses face a future of needing to earn enough money to cover bills. The ability to save can be very difficult. I recommend seeking help from a professional financial advisor if you are able. They are often experts in navigating the new financial situation and implications, such as asset valuations or accessing restricted accounts.

Are Restricted Savings Accounts Involved?

There is a one-time opportunity to dip into a 401(k) account without a tax penalty for those under 59½. The qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) allows money to be distributed to the account holder’s spouse or dependent without penalty. Unless necessary, avoid dipping into retirement savings for divorce expenses. Social Security spousal benefits can be claimed in certain cases. 

Some Sources of Help and Encouragement

Going Forward

Do you need some education, skills training, or certifications? Crown has an assessment that will enable you to cut through job confusion and help you chart your course. Our Career Direct will encourage you and help you see the way God uniquely wired you so you can find a job you love. 

Cast Your Cares on the Lord

Don’t lose hope. Trade your shame for God’s love, and choose to walk in the light. Even in your darkest hours, renew your mind on the attributes of God. Praise Him, and look at the many things for which you can give thanks. Take care of your physical, mental, and emotional health as well.  When overwhelmed, seek God’s peace. 

You keep him in perfect peace
    whose mind is stayed on you,
    because he trusts in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.

Isaiah 26:3–4 ESV

If credit card debt is a source of financial pain, Christian Credit Counselors is a trusted resource. They can help consolidate debt and get you on the road to financial freedom.

This article was originally posted on the Christian Post on March 29, 2024.

Ask Chuck: Setting up an Emergency Fund 

Dear Chuck,

I’ve never had an emergency fund. My parents always helped when I got in a bind. Recently, they told me that since I’m 30 and have an established career, it’s time I handle my own financial affairs. So how does an emergency fund work? 

Seeking Financial Independence

 

Dear Seeking Financial Independence, 

It sounds like your parents have been incredibly supportive, so be sure to thank them for their care and financial help through the years; but yes, it is time to wean yourself from this arrangement. 

You do need an emergency fund. It is a primary element of a basic financial plan. Having funds set aside and always available for the unexpected expenses that will surely come eliminates a lot of financial stress and the need to rely on credit cards.  

Survey Says…

Wallet Hub conducted a nationally representative survey. Here are the results:

Ask Chuck Setting Up An Emergency Fund 

How Much Do You Need? 

An emergency fund is a source of money to draw on during unexpected circumstances. It is basically an insurance fund for sudden setbacks: a layoff, the loss of income, medical bills, car or home repairs, a natural disaster, an unforeseen tax bill, a death in the family, or emergency travel expenses. Giving gifts, non-urgent medical costs, or predictable expenses are not emergencies. 

Most experts recommend saving three to six months of your current living expenses, but here are some other scenarios:

A portion of the emergency savings should be “liquid,” or easily accessible, in accounts that won’t be penalized for withdrawal. Basically, don’t confuse your long-term retirement savings plan with an emergency fund. 

You need to be able to cover rent, mortgage, utilities, insurance (car, home, health, life), gas, routine maintenance (car and home), HOA fees, health care, groceries, child care, and debt payments. Find the total monthly cost of these items and multiply that by three to calculate a three-month saving goal; multiply by six to determine what is needed to cover six months. This total is for basic survival—luxury items are not included. This is money needed to survive if the unexpected hits.

How to Start

Open an account that you absolutely will not touch unless a true emergency arises. Save $1,000 as quickly as possible into an FDIC-insured account with some liquidity, like a money market or high-yield savings account. Set up automatic deposits so you will not spend the money. Deposit financial gifts, credit card rewards, raises, bonuses, or tax refunds when possible. Go through your bank and credit card statements to see where you can cut expenses, and divert that money toward an emergency fund until you establish a three-to-six-month cushion. If you must withdraw money, aim to replenish it ASAP. 

Set a goal; then challenge yourself with spending fasts, like a no-eating-out month, a no-entertainment-expense month, etc. Find friends to do this with you; some competition may help you build it faster! 

If you have high-interest credit card debt, consider working with Christian Credit Counselors while saving something every month. The problem with using credit cards in emergencies is that unless the balance is paid in full, the total bill will cost more due to additional interest that compounds monthly. 

Once you hit your goal, consider another account or laddered CDs for future needs, like replacing a vehicle, necessary maintenance, vacations, and more. 

Lessons from Ants 

Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.

Proverbs 6:6–8

Not only are ants extremely busy creatures, but they are also known for their ability to store food that is ultimately shared with others in their colony. Most of us have seen an ant carrying off a large breadcrumb under the picnic table. They are not feasting on the bread; they are harvesting it for use in the future. This is the wisdom that God wants us to learn from.  

I know your parents will be so proud of you for this step toward financial independence. While you will no longer rely upon your parents for their financial help, be sure to remain totally dependent upon the Lord, regardless of how much or how little you have in savings. 

Set and achieve your goals with the help of a personal business coach. Crown’s online Budget Coaching program matches you with a certified coach who will work with you to develop a customized plan to put you on the road to financial freedom. 


This article was originally published on The Christian Post on March 22, 2024

Ask Chuck: Make Good Use of Your Tax Refund

Dear Chuck,

I am so excited because we’re getting a significant tax refund this year! What are the best uses of these unexpected funds? 

Rejoicing over Our Refund

 

Dear Rejoicing over Our Refund, 

It is always exciting to receive unexpected funds! Like you, millions of Americans receive refunds every year. According to IRS data, the average direct deposit refund amount has decreased year over year. The weeks ending February 3, 2023, and February 2, 2024, were $2,056 and $1,543 respectively which is a 25% decrease. I think that is good news. 

A tax refund is essentially an interest-free loan that you make to Uncle Sam. In simple terms, you have overpaid your taxes and have filed a request for them to send it back to you. Now, to be fair, it is far better for most than owing more taxes and finding yourself unprepared to pay. But do consider adjusting your withholding or quarterly payments to reduce the amount you are refunded in the future by adjusting W-4s. Check out the IRS tax withholding estimator, and revisit your W-4 form at least once annually. Major life changes like marriage and babies or changes in tax laws are reasons to take an extra look and make adjustments. 1040.com explains how to do it. Divide your refund by 12 to calculate the monthly increase you would receive in lieu of future refunds. Figure out how you can best use this money in a dedicated manner throughout the year. Now to your question…

Don’t Blow It 

Having had a similar experience with a tax refund, I know it can feel like “free money.” Often people look at a big inflow and have serious temptation to use it frivolously. Here is an article about just that: Outrageous Ways Real People Spent Their Tax Refund

Ask Chuck Make Good Use Of Your Tax Refund

Good Uses of Your Tax Refund

Larry Burkett said, “How we use our money is the clearest outside indicator of what we really believe. . . . If someone is a true disciple of Jesus Christ, the evidence will be found in that person’s everyday life—including his or her use of money.” I would add “and the use of his or her tax refund.” Without knowing your specific financial situation, here would be my list of priorities:  

If you’ve covered all the above, then plan a vacation or celebration, and enjoy the benefits of stewarding wisely! 

Set and achieve your goals with the help of a personal business coach. Crown’s online Budget Coaching program matches you with a certified coach who will work with you to develop a customized plan to put you on the road to financial freedom. 


This article was originally published on The Christian Post on March 8, 2024.

Ask Chuck: Tips for Saving Money on Income Taxes

Dear Chuck,

We have always filed our taxes taking the standard deduction. A friend at church suggested I might qualify for a greater deduction because of our increased giving in 2023. What do you think is the best option? 

Paying Caesar What Is Caesar’s 

 

Dear Paying Caesar What Is Caesar’s, 

Charles Schwab notes that for most people, total itemized deductions may be less than the standard deduction. My advice is simple, take whichever provides the greater deduction. It requires more time and patience to go the itemized route, but you may be rewarded in unexpected dollars refunded to you in overpayment of taxes. The Do-it-Yourself tax filing software makes it as easy as filling in the blanks. Just be sure you have receipts. 

April 15th is the tax filing deadline. If you are filing an extension, the deadline is October 15th

The standard deduction for the 2023 tax year is set at $13,850 for singles, $27,700 for those married and filing jointly, and $20,800 for heads of households. Taking advantage of available tax credits and itemizing deductions, however, can significantly lower your tax bill. Simply total your allowable itemized deductions. If the amount is higher than the available standard deduction (see above), then itemize. Take your time to avoid these common errors

If you are preparing your own taxes this year and have yet to file or are interested in finding ways to increase your tax savings for next year, keep reading. Due to limited space, I am only addressing some commonly overlooked credits and deductions. 

Ask Chuck Tips For Saving Money On Income Taxes

Tax Credits 

Make sure to record all possible tax credits because they reduce the tax bill dollar for dollar.

Limited to $2,000 for every dependent under 17 with $1,600 refundable for the 2023 tax year. Details here. 

This credit covers a percentage of daycare or similar costs for children under 13. You (and your spouse, if married) must have earned income from a job or be full-time students to qualify. If you run the maximum amount through a plan at work but spend more on work-related childcare, an extra dollar amount can be claimed. For tax year 2023, the maximum amount allowed to claim is $3,000 for one dependent or $6,000 for two or more. This does not apply when adjusted gross income exceeds $438,000. Details here.

This applies to those who lost a job, took a pay cut, or worked fewer hours during the year. It ranges from $632 to $7830. The amount varies depending on income, marital status, and family size. A tax return must be filed to qualify for the refund. If you failed to claim it in the past, you can file and claim an EITC refund for the three previous tax years. 

American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOC): Maximum of $2,500 for the cost of tuition, books, equipment, and school fees—without including living expenses or transportation. 

Lifetime Learning Credit: 20% of the first $10,000 paid toward tuition and fees. Maximum of $2,000.

Itemized Deductions

TurboTax reported that 45 million Americans itemized 1.2 trillion dollars’ worth of tax deductions. The total for those who claimed the standard deduction came to $747 billion. 

The income tax deduction is usually larger unless you paid significant sales tax for big-ticket items like cars, trucks, boats, airplanes, etc., or major home improvements. This is especially helpful for those living in income-tax-free states. You can also total (with proof) all sales tax paid during the year. The total itemized deductions for all state and local taxes are limited to $10,000 per year. 

If you owed taxes last year, include that with your state tax itemized deduction on the 2023 return, plus your state income taxes (if applicable.) 

Deduct the points over the life of the loan. $1000 of points spread over 30 years gives a $33/year deduction. If the house was sold or refinanced and the loan is paid off, any remaining points can be applied that year.

Active duty military personnel who relocate can deduct these expenses unless reimbursement was provided by the government. This includes costs of travel, lodging, and the moving of possessions.  

Besides the dollar amount given, you can write off expenses incurred while serving: 14 cents per mile if driving for charity, ingredients for soup kitchen, stamps purchased for a fundraiser, etc. Be sure you have receipts for monetary donations or gifts in kind to qualified charities.

A student, not claimed as a dependent, can deduct up to $2,500 of interest paid by you or someone else. Details. 

If an employer pays your full salary but requests that jury fees be turned over to the company, you can deduct them. 

Be sure to note that gambling winnings are considered taxable income. Losses are deductible but cannot exceed winnings. 

Retirees need to pay attention to the 13 overlooked tax deductions for retirees.

I do not know anyone who finds pleasure in filing their taxes. However, I enjoy seeing how much I can reduce them by carefully reporting all possible deductions. As citizens of this nation, we are called to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Luke 20:25 ESV) It is good stewardship to pay your full taxes after taking advantage of all available credits and itemized deductions. 

I’d like to invite you to join a free Crown Bible study on the YouVersion app. We have several devotionals regarding money and stewardship that will help bring God’s Word into your daily life.

This article was originally published on The Christian Post on March 1, 2023

Ask Chuck: Are Casino Resorts a Good Family Reunion Destination?

Dear Chuck,

My brother wants to have a family reunion at a casino resort. He thinks it is a real bargain. My husband and I are totally opposed. Can you give us some guidance? 

Not a Gambling Family 

 

Dear Not a Gambling Family, 

First, there are a number of factors here that must be considered. The most exciting part is that your family wants to have a reunion! That is the good news. You don’t want to offend them or miss the opportunity. Family gatherings are priceless. But I certainly understand why you want to avoid a casino resort. It would be helpful to have more information about the “casino resort.”  For instance, most of the large mainline cruise ships have casinos on board, but these can be avoided while enjoying other amenities and entertainment options. It does not sound to me like that is the case with the location your brother prefers. 

Casino Resorts

This PlayUSA.com article explains that casino resorts have become tourist destinations because they have “everything one needs for an enjoyable weekend getaway.” They include entertainment, dining, gambling, spa, wellness and relaxation, and outdoor activities like hiking, golfing, sightseeing, and shopping. Customers say the resorts are a budget-friendly vacation. But the real costs are often hidden. These “budget-friendly vacations” are available only because so many of the guests will lose their money gambling. 

Some people say gambling is just entertainment, like fishing, seeing a movie, or going to a baseball game. But when someone wins at gambling, they do so at the expense of others. Those who lose often go into debt. Addicts gamble more, thinking a big win will cover their debts. Many have shipwrecked their finances and possibly their entire lives by starting out with the idea of spending a limited amount on “entertainment” only to find themselves either addicted to the adrenalin rush of winning a few times or trying to double down and make up for their losses. 

Gambling really boils down to self-gratification. It’s the thrill of possibly hitting the jackpot at any time. And winners don’t have to look at all the people who have been hurt by their participation.  

The Facts about Gambling 

EarthWeb.com gives these statistics:

PlayToday.co states, “The average loss of casino addicts is around $55,000,” and it is estimated that “23 million Americans are in debt because of gambling.” 

Fortune.com reported that the casino industry was on track to win a record $60 billion from gamblers last year. According to the industry’s national trade association, the U.S. casino gambling industry generates almost $329 billion. 1.8 million jobs are supported by commercial and tribal casinos, either at the location themselves or in servicing them. 

A gambling rivalry has existed between Virginia and North Carolina for years. Virginia opened a new Caesars last May, just across the border from North Carolina. The casino could be profiting as much as $250 million from North Carolinians. Some think casinos could improve the state’s economic growth. Others believe it would expose their communities to crime, addiction, and sex trafficking. 

Despite the fact that casinos add revenue to communities, states, and the federal government, there are social costs involved. Technology has changed the look of gambling, and sports betting is on the rise. All segments of society are vulnerable to the temptation of gambling due to the availability of cell phones. People must determine not to play and be able to defend their stance. 

“Almost every time, it’s in your best financial interest not to walk into that casino and place the bet—the math simply isn’t your friend.” 

 (Chris Neiger at Investopedia)

Ask Chuck Are Casino Resorts A Good Family Reunion Destination

For Me to Win, Others Must Los

Some say gambling is good for society, just like investing. There is a vast difference between gambling and investing. If you invest in a successful company making advances in medical technology, you’re putting your money into something that has intrinsic value: jobs are created, there are returns on your investment, and patients benefit from products the company creates. It’s a win-win situation. Those who gamble and hit the jackpot celebrate their win while ignoring the fact that others suffer loss.

Believers should focus on wisely stewarding the money they have, not dreaming of what they might win at gambling.

“Steady plodding brings prosperity; hasty speculation brings poverty.” 

(Proverbs 21:5 TLB)

Faith that is put in luck and random chance ignores God’s Word. Relying upon His wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, while seeking godly counsel, improves the opportunity for financial success. We must aim to be faithful with what we have and trust God to multiply our efforts, no matter how small, for His glory. 

Don’t Gamble on Your Family Reunion

Armed with the facts, I suggest you have a warm conversation with your brother about why you would like to avoid the casino resort. Perhaps you can suggest an alternative family-friendly place nearby? Or you could stay elsewhere and join them at meals or excursions not held at the casino. Presented with love and grace, I think you will be able to agree with the need to find a more suitable option. 

If anyone you know is struggling with credit card debt, Christian Credit Counselors is a trusted resource. They can help consolidate debt to get on the road to financial freedom.



Ask Chuck: Helping Others Break Their Financial Dependency 

Dear Chuck,

I serve on the benevolence committee at my church. Inflation seems to be a common issue. How can we help the hurting during this time without creating dependencies? 

Helping Without Creating Dependency 

 

Dear Helping Without Creating Dependency, 

Many people suffering from the impact of inflation are hurting because of the symptoms of a deeper problem. With rare exceptions, the problems they experience began years earlier, perhaps even in childhood.

Many of the symptoms we see today, like business failures, bankruptcies, divorce, job-juggling families, soaring credit card debt, etc., stem back to the problem of a lack of understanding of God’s financial principles. Few come from homes that instill basic financial training or Biblical stewardship. False attitudes toward money were essentially modeled for them. Here is an example of that problem I recently addressed that may be helpful to those you serve: https://www.crown.org/all-resources/ask-chuck-practical-advice-for-the-young-and-broke/.

Let’s review the basics that can help those seeking benevolence support to avoid having to return in the future.

 

Budget 

Proverbs 13:18 reads, “Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored.”

Spending less than one earns is vital to avoid many of the financial issues that families encounter. Overspending should be so discouraged in Christian homes that children wouldn’t even consider it a possibility in their own homes later. 

Borrowing

Psalm 37:21 says, “The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives.” 

Not only are we to repay what’s owed, we should save for needs, not borrow to get them. Trusting God to provide without borrowing is the beginning of financial freedom. 

Saving

Proverbs 21:20 states, “Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man’s dwelling, but a foolish man devours it.” 

The availability of easy credit is crippling today’s society. Families must model the Biblical and financial wisdom of saving for the future rather than relying on creditors. Expecting a continual bailout from the church, family, friends, or the government is wrong. 

Hasty Decisions

 Proverbs 21:5 says, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” 

Hoping to win the lottery or living off the compassion of others is not a strategy to break dependency. A firm financial foundation is built by taking small steps over a long period of time. A husband and wife who commit to managing money in God’s way will model self-control, self-discipline, and sacrificial living. One of the best disciplines a parent can teach a child is working toward a goal. When things are given without effort, then an expectation of that becomes a lifetime habit. 

Ask Chuck Helping Others Break Their Financial Dependency 

Become Outwardly Focused

Many Scriptures teach about the dangers of material riches, but God’s Word does not teach that poverty is the alternative. Greed and covetousness lead many to financial ruin. Greed is wanting more of what you already have. It is the endless pursuit of more. Covetousness is wanting what someone else has. Both are misplaced desires for things that cannot meet our deepest needs for fellowship and communion with God. When we set the standard for pure motives and contentment with what we have, we will be transformed from selfish-driven pursuits into the character and goodness of God that puts others’ interests ahead of our own. 

God wants us to see money as a tool to use in accomplishing His plan through us. It is a matter of conforming to the standard of what He set forth in His Word. Here are some basic guidelines for families who want to break the cycle of dependency and desire to wisely steward the resources with which they have been entrusted:   

The need for Biblical financial literacy training in the church is acute. I hope your committee will consider all the resources that Crown can provide.

Another helpful and trusted source is Christian Credit Counselors. They can help consolidate debt and get those with financial dependency on the road to financial freedom.



This article was originally published on The Christian Post on February 16, 2024

Ask Chuck: Retirement Housing and Elderly Parents

Dear Chuck,

Based on the high cost of retirement housing, we’re considering building an ADU on our property for my parents. We want to make sure it’s a wise investment. They are elderly but healthy and have offered to pay a small rental fee and for all utilities. Do you see this as a good investment? 

Options for Retirement Housing 

 

Dear Options for Retirement Housing, 

ADU is a new term for me. It is sometimes known as a granny flat, in-law suite, casita, carriage, or guest house. ADUs, or accessory dwelling units, are growing in popularity for adult children or elderly relatives. According to Investopedia, an ADU is “a legal and regulatory term for a secondary house or apartment that shares the building lot of a larger primary home.” 

Some Insights into ADUs

ADUs are sometimes used for an office, studio, gym, or home-based business. They can be rented out or provide space to house friends or family. Buying or selling one separately from the main house is prohibited. 

There are prefab, off-site construction, and on-sight building options. There are DIY assembly packages, those that require professional assembly, and a multitude of builders for custom work. The size, location, and cost vary according to individual needs and desires. In my neighborhood, one neighbor converted an extra garage into a two-bedroom guest house. Another is in the process of building a detached garage with upstairs living quarters. 

Pros

Cons

Ask Chuck Retirement Housing And Elderly Parents

Do Your Homework 

Jesus used this verse to consider the cost of being a disciple. It is appropriate here as well. “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (Luke 14:28 ESV) That’s pure logic!

Before diving into the project, check with your city or county to see what you are allowed to build. Zoning laws and permits are extremely important. Gather as much information as you can. If you add onto your existing home, you will gain extra square footage and save on yard space if you own a small lot. Check the bylaws of your home-owner association. What is permissible? Will it add value to your property? Not necessarily

I suggest you try to determine your return on investment before proceeding with a project. This requires research on property values, the impact on your taxes, and knowledge of market trends in your location. 

Funding can come from savings, selling an investment, a cash-out refinance, a second mortgage, a reverse mortgage, a home equity line of credit (HELOC), a 401K loan, a construction loan, a renovation loan, and on and on. There are pros and cons to these, and everybody’s situation is different. More information is provided here. To avoid overspending, factor in the additional costs that will accompany an ADU. Do not forget the expense of furniture and appliances. If you plan on rental income, make sure you can cover all bills should a lapse occur. 

Care for Family

Most of our friends who have provided quarters for their elderly family members have truly enjoyed the overall experience. Although it can be hard at times, they have precious memories of being there in their time of need. They learned to establish clear boundaries and financial expectations for occupants. Put it in writing and have it signed and witnessed. If you buy the unit to house your parents, perhaps your siblings will cover other costs of their care. If allowing an adult child to live there, prepare for others to follow in the future. Keep communication open so no resentment or hard feelings ensue. 

An ADU can be a blessing to you and those you love. Just do your research, abide by the law, and work within a clearly defined budget. Consider the priceless memories of showing your parents love and kindness at the end of their lives when determining the true return on your investment. 

Do you want more tools and tips regarding financial freedom? Are you interested in receiving ministry updates from around the world? Sign up to receive the Crown Newsletter emails by using the form on the homepage at Crown.org.

This article was originally published at The Christian Post on February 9, 2024.