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PERSONAL FINANCE/JOHN NINFO: December reflections –

There is still time to make a few smart financial tax-saving moves, something we talk about annually. I know that most taxpayers by now have reviewed their situations with their accountants, but here are a few things that I always feel I have to highlight at this time of year, making it clear that I am not a tax expert.

First, once again for the 2021 tax year, you can take a $300-per-individual, or $600-per-couple filing jointly, charitable tax deduction, even if you otherwise don’t itemize and claim the Standard Deduction. Given all of the needs out there these days, it would help so many charities, and people in need, if more Americans would make a cash gift (not an in-kind gift) this year, and take advantage of the deduction. One thing that is important is to be aware that charitable scams dramatically increase during holiday times. That is not a problem if you have a list of charities that you regularly give to, with their correct mailing addresses, and you mail them a donation, rather than making some kind of a digital contribution, without being very careful that it is actually getting to the desired charity.

Second, there is still time to max out your tax-deferred retirement/profit sharing/IRA plan contribution, if you have not done that — as well as to take advantage of any employer match, if that applies to you.

Third, if you are over 72 and you are required to take Required Minimum Distributions from a tax-deferred plan, make sure that you have done that so that you don’t have to pay any significant penalties. In addition, if you have not made some partial distributions to a qualifying 501(c)(3) not for profits, make sure that you have made any appropriate state and federal tax withholdings.

Speaking of the Standard Deduction, I am still hoping that if some form of the Build Back Better Bill is actually passed in the next two weeks, it won’t change the current $24,000 deduction per couple filing jointly. On the other hand, I would be ok with Congress just running out the clock for 2021.

INFLATION is a different subject that we are all talking about and hopefully focusing on. By now, we have all heard that this week, at 6.8%, it is the highest in nearly four decades. We have talked in this column about how it may last for a while, some steps that people can and should be taking to get through it, and that it may never get back to recent low levels. However, what I hope that everyone will also focus on, is that inflation, at least in terms of many ordinary price increases for products and services over time, is normal, and we have to factor that into our long- range financial plans. So, for example, if we think about it, if we had our house painted this year, we would not expect to pay the same price to have it painted again in five years. So how will we afford that if: (1) our income doesn’t increase: (2) we specifically save for it, at an increased price, as an anticipated expense: (3) we tap into general savings: or (4) we decrease some expenses at that future time? This can be particularly problematic for some retired people on a fixed income. Bottom line is that some inflation in future prices is a reality, so keep focusing on how you will effectively deal with it, WITHOUT PLANNING TO GO INTO DEBT FOR IT, or going into debt because you didn’t plan for it.

On a different subject, I don’t consider myself environmentally knowledgeable or even conscious, even though I did buy an electric lawnmower, and I am seriously thinking of making my next car an electric one, if they can effectively deal with the range and recharging when traveling issues. That is true, even if they take the tax incentives away. However, the advertisements this fall for the Aspiration Zero credit card have gotten my attention. Here are some excerpts from a piece by The Ascent, a Motley Fool Service.

“Aspiration, a socially conscious bank that focuses on stopping climate change … will plant one tree per purchase made with the Aspiration Zero credit card. It will also give you the option to round up your purchase to the nearest dollar to plant a second tree.

“According to Aspiration CEO Andrei Cherny, 60 trees planted per month are enough to offset the average American’s carbon footprint. If you use your card at least once per day and round up every purchase, then you’ve reached carbon neutral.

“When you use your Aspiration Zero credit card enough to offset the average American’s carbon footprint, you earn 1% cash back on your purchases. That’s 60 planted trees per month by Aspiration’s calculations, so you’d need to do one of the following every month: Make 60 purchases with your card, or make 30 purchases and round up every one.

“With the Aspiration Zero credit card, cash back is just a nice extra. It’s not the main feature, and it can’t compete with cards that are made for earning cash back.

“The one thing to watch out for is making unnecessary purchases solely because of that benefit. This is a common trap consumers can fall into with any credit card that rewards consumers for making purchases. It may be good for the planet, but it likely won’t be good for your budget.”

If you are a regular reader, you know that I recommend having only one credit card, to keep things simple, and just use it for convenience, another way to spend the money you already have, not to go into debt with. If you are environmentally conscious, you may want to research this more, and consider this card as your one credit card.

Next time, in connection with our continuing discussions on taxing the rich, we will look at some taxes paid in Europe.

John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at

John Ninfo