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by Mike Vestil 

Understanding Taxation Strategies: A Comprehensive Guide

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This comprehensive article provides insights into various taxation strategies to maximize income, minimize tax liabilities, and optimize tax deductions. Topics covered include different types of taxes, short-term and long-term tax planning, tax-efficient investments, income-shifting strategies, deductions, credits, write-offs, individual and business tax strategies, and working with tax professionals. The article serves as a valuable resource for individuals and businesses looking to make well-informed decisions concerning their tax situation.

Taxation Strategies Overview

Taxation strategies enable individuals and businesses to maximize their income, minimize tax liabilities, and capitalize on available tax deductions. These strategies require understanding tax laws, leveraging deductions, and staying abreast of tax changes. An effective tax strategy ensures compliance with tax regulations while also protecting your financial well-being.

Objectives of Taxation Strategies

Taxation strategies aim to meet three main objectives: maximization of income, minimization of tax liabilities, and optimization of tax deductions. Let’s discuss these objectives in more detail:

  1. Maximization of income: The primary goal of any taxation strategy is to maximize after-tax income. By understanding the various tax laws and making informed decisions, individuals and businesses can maximize their income and ensure they are retaining the most money possible.

  2. Minimization of tax liabilities: Another objective of taxation strategies is to minimize tax liabilities. By understanding how to utilize various deductions, exemptions, and credits, taxpayers can make informed decisions that reduce their overall tax liabilities.

  3. Optimization of tax deductions: A crucial aspect of any taxation strategy is to optimize the tax deductions available to individuals and businesses. Proper knowledge of the tax code and expertly leveraging legally permissible deductions can result in significant tax savings.

Types of Taxes

An effective taxation strategy requires knowledge of the different types of taxes levied by federal, state, and local governments. Here are some of the most common types of taxes:

  1. Income Tax: Income tax is a tax levied on an individual’s income earned through employment or investments. In the United States, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) administers the collection of income taxes. Income tax rates are progressive, meaning that individuals with higher incomes pay a higher rate of tax.

  2. Corporate Tax: Corporate tax is a tax levied on the profits of corporations. Like income tax, corporate tax rates are also progressive, with larger corporations paying higher rates. Corporate tax policies can sometimes provide deductions or incentives to encourage investment, innovation, and job creation.

  3. Payroll Tax: Payroll tax is a tax levied on employers and employees, used primarily to fund social insurance programs such as Social Security and Medicare. In the United States, both employers and employees contribute to payroll taxes, which are withheld from an employee’s paycheck and remitted to the government by the employer.

  4. Capital Gains Tax: Capital gains tax is a tax levied on profits from the sale of assets, such as stocks, real estate, or other investments. The tax rate on capital gains depends on the holding period of the asset, with long-term capital gains taxed at a lower rate than short-term gains. Proper tax planning can help taxpayers minimize their capital gains tax liabilities.

  5. Property Tax: Property tax is a tax levied on property owned by individuals and businesses. It is usually based on the assessed value of the property and is collected by local governments, such as counties and municipalities. Property taxes are often used to finance essential services such as public schools, law enforcement, and infrastructure.

  6. Sales Tax: Sales tax is a tax levied on the sale of goods and services. Sales tax rates vary by state, and some states do not have a sales tax at all. In some jurisdictions, specific items such as food or clothing may be exempt from sales tax, while others may have higher taxes on items such as tobacco or alcohol.

Understanding these various types of taxes and their applicability to your unique financial situation is crucial to creating an effective tax strategy. By effectively navigating the tax landscape, taxpayers can maximize income, minimize tax liabilities, and optimize deductions, ensuring a more secure financial future.

Tax Planning and Strategy Framework

Tax planning is an essential part of managing personal finances and building wealth. A tax planning and strategy framework helps individuals and businesses develop a comprehensive plan to minimize tax liabilities and meet financial goals. This framework involves considering various aspects of tax planning, such as short-term vs. long-term planning, tax-efficient investments, and income shifting strategies.

Short-term vs Long-term

Tax planning can be categorized into short-term and long-term planning. Short-term tax planning refers to tax planning strategies implemented within a year, while long-term tax planning encompasses strategies designed to achieve tax-related financial goals over a more extended period.

Short-term Tax Planning

Short-term tax planning focuses on immediate tax-saving opportunities. This could include taking advantage of available tax deductions and credits, such as expenses related to education, healthcare, or childcare. Other short-term tax planning strategies might involve adjusting one’s investment portfolio to minimize capital gains tax or making charitable contributions to reduce taxable income.

Additionally, short-term tax planning should consider the timing of income and expenses. If possible, it could be beneficial to defer income and accelerate expenses, resulting in lower taxable income for the current year.

Long-term Tax Planning

Long-term tax planning aims to minimize tax liability over an extended period, focusing on aspects such as retirement planning, estate planning, and wealth transfer strategies. It involves evaluating the tax implications of various financial decisions and adjusting one’s financial plans to optimize tax savings.

For example, long-term tax planning could include establishing retirement accounts with tax-deferred or tax-free growth potential or developing strategies to minimize estate taxes. Long-term planning is essential not only for personal financial success but also for ensuring that future generations can enjoy the benefits of one’s wealth.

Tax-efficient Investments

Tax-efficient investments are critical components of a tax planning and strategy framework. These investments aim to minimize tax liabilities while maximizing returns. Some popular tax-efficient investments include municipal bonds, real estate, stocks and mutual funds, and retirement accounts.

Municipal Bonds

Municipal bonds are debt securities issued by state and local governments to fund public projects. These bonds offer interest payments that are generally exempt from federal, and sometimes state and local, income taxes. Municipal bonds can be an attractive investment option for individuals in higher tax brackets as they can provide tax-free income.

Real Estate

Real estate can serve as a tax-efficient investment because of the various tax benefits associated with property ownership. These benefits can include deductions for mortgage interest, property taxes, and depreciation. Moreover, investors can take advantage of the 1031 exchange, which allows deferral of capital gains tax on the sale of a property if the proceeds are reinvested into another property within a specified period.

Stocks and Mutual Funds

Investing in stocks and mutual funds can also be tax-efficient if done intelligently. Investors can minimize capital gains tax by holding on to investments for more than a year, qualifying for long-term capital gains tax treatment. Dividend-paying stocks may also be advantageous as qualified dividends are generally taxed at a lower rate than ordinary income.

Retirement Accounts

Retirement accounts, such as 401(k) plans, IRAs, and Roth IRAs, can provide tax advantages to investors. Contributions to traditional retirement accounts are generally tax-deductible, and earnings within the account grow tax-deferred. Roth IRAs, on the other hand, are funded with after-tax dollars, but qualified withdrawals are tax-free.

Income Shifting Strategies

Income shifting strategies involve adjusting the timing, recipient, or source of income to minimize tax liabilities. Common income shifting strategies include income splitting, income deferral, and income transfers to family members.

Income Splitting

Income splitting involves distributing income between two or more taxpayers, such as spouses or family members, to reduce the overall tax burden. This strategy takes advantage of lower tax rates applied to lower income levels. Income splitting methods can include using joint accounts, family loans, or income-splitting trusts.

Income Deferral

Income deferral refers to delaying the receipt of income until a future tax year when the taxpayer may be in a lower tax bracket. This can be achieved by making use of tax-deferred retirement accounts or delaying the sale of an asset to postpone the recognition of capital gains.

Income Transfers to Family Members

Transferring income to family members in lower tax brackets can also help reduce the overall tax burden. This can be done through gift-giving or employing a family member in a family-owned business. Careful consideration must be given to the tax rules surrounding gifts and income attribution to ensure compliance with tax regulations.

Deductions, Credits, and Write-offs

Understanding deductions, credits, and write-offs can help you save money on your taxes. Deductions lower your taxable income, which decreases the amount of tax you owe. Tax credits, on the other hand, directly reduce your tax liability. Business write-offs (which are also deductions) allow you to deduct business-related expenses from your taxable income.

Standard vs Itemized Deductions

When filing your taxes, you have the option to choose between claiming the standard deduction or itemizing your deductions. Both options lower your taxable income, but they work differently.

Standard Deduction

The standard deduction is a fixed amount that you can deduct from your income, regardless of your expenses. Most taxpayers choose this option because it’s simpler and often results in a higher deduction. The amount depends on your filing status, and it is adjusted each year for inflation. For example, in 2021, the standard deduction for a single individual is $12,550, while for a married couple filing jointly, it’s $25,100.

Itemized Deductions

Itemized deductions allow you to deduct your actual expenses for certain things, such as medical expenses, state and local tax payments, mortgage interest, and charitable donations. You should consider itemizing your deductions if your eligible expenses exceed the standard deduction amount for your filing status.

Before choosing to itemize, make sure to gather all necessary documentation and receipts for your eligible expenses. The process is more complicated than claiming the standard deduction, so you may want to consult with a tax professional to determine whether itemizing is right for you.

Common Tax Credits

Tax credits provide a direct reduction of your tax liability, which is more valuable than deductions. Tax credits can be refundable or non-refundable. Refundable tax credits may result in a refund if they exceed your tax liability, while non-refundable credits can only reduce your tax owed to zero. Here are some common tax credits:

Child Tax Credit

The Child Tax Credit offers a tax credit for each qualifying child dependent under the age of 17. For the 2021 tax year, the maximum credit amount is $3,600 for children under the age of 6 and $3,000 for children ages 6 to 17. This credit is partially refundable, allowing eligible taxpayers to receive up to $1,400 per child as a refund if they have no tax liability.

Earned Income Tax Credit

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a refundable credit for low-income working individuals and families, particularly those with children. The amount of the credit depends on your income, filing status, and family size. In 2021, the maximum EITC ranges from $1,502 (without qualifying children) to $6,728 (with three or more qualifying children).

Education Tax Credits

There are two primary education tax credits available – the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) and the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC). The AOTC offers a maximum annual credit of $2,500 per eligible student for the first four years of higher education. The LLC provides a credit of up to $2,000 per tax return for qualifying education expenses, with no limit on the number of years you can claim it. Both credits have income limits and are non-refundable.

Foreign Tax Credit

The Foreign Tax Credit helps taxpayers avoid double taxation on income earned in a foreign country. If you paid income taxes to a foreign government, you may be eligible to claim a non-refundable credit for the amount of foreign taxes paid. This can only be claimed if you choose to not use the foreign earned income exclusion.

Business Write-offs and Expenses

Business owners and self-employed individuals can claim deductions for business expenses, which include costs related to running the business. Claiming these deductions can reduce your taxable income and lower your tax liability.

Depreciation and Amortization

Depreciation is a tax deduction that allows business owners to recover the cost of property used for their business. This includes tangible property, like machinery and vehicles, and intangible property like patents and copyrights. Depreciation spreads the cost of the property over its useful life to match the wear and tear or decline in value.

Amortization is a similar concept, applied to intangible assets such as goodwill, patents, and copyrights. It allows business owners to deduct the cost of these assets over a specified period, typically 15 years.

Business Operating Expenses

These are the day-to-day expenses for running a business, such as rent, salaries, marketing, and utility bills. To qualify for the deduction, the expenses must be both ordinary and necessary for the operation of your business. Keep diligent records of these expenses, as they can significantly lower your taxable income.

Home Office Expenses

If you use a part of your home exclusively and regularly for business purposes, you may be eligible to claim the home office deduction. This includes a portion of your rent or mortgage interest, property taxes, utility bills, and maintenance expenses related to the business use of your home. You can calculate your home office expenses using the simplified method, which allows you to deduct $5 per square foot of office space (up to 300 square feet), or using the actual expense method, which requires detailed record-keeping and calculations.

Tax Strategies for Individuals

Employment Income

One significant aspect of an individual’s taxes is their employment income. There are various strategies that individuals can use to manage and reduce their tax liabilities related to employment income.

Salary Deferral and Bonuses

Deferring part of your salary or a year-end bonus can be an effective way to manage your tax liabilities. By deferring a portion of your income, you can postpone the tax liability that comes with it. This can be particularly helpful if you expect to be in a lower tax bracket in the future or want to time the receipt of the income to a more tax-efficient year.

Some employers offer salary deferral plans that can, for instance, let employees defer compensation into a retirement plan or a deferred compensation plan. As with any tax planning strategies, it is essential to consult with a tax professional to ensure that these plans are compliant and meet your financial objectives.

Working as a Contractor

Another way to manage your employment income for tax purposes is to consider working as an independent contractor rather than an employee. Independent contractors can often benefit from increased flexibility and potential tax deductions. As a contractor, you may be able to claim business-related expenses that were incurred while generating income.

These expenses can help lower your taxable income and reduce the overall tax burden. Additionally, independent contractors can also take advantage of pass-through tax benefits offered to certain business entities. It’s essential to consult with a tax professional to determine if working as a contractor is right for your specific circumstances.

Retirement Savings

Planning for retirement can provide significant tax advantages, mainly when you contribute to tax-advantaged retirement accounts. Leveraging these tax benefits can lead to significant savings in the long run.

Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs)

IRAs are a popular vehicle for retirement savings that offer various tax benefits, depending on the type of IRA. Traditional IRAs allow individuals to contribute pre-tax income, resulting in a tax deduction for the year of the contribution. This can lower your taxable income for the year, reducing your overall tax burden. However, withdrawals from traditional IRAs will be taxed as ordinary income upon retirement.

On the other hand, Roth IRAs let individuals contribute after-tax income but permit tax-free withdrawals upon retirement. Additionally, Roth IRAs do not have mandatory distribution requirements, providing increased flexibility in retirement.

401(k) Plans

A 401(k) plan is a retirement savings option provided by many employers that allows employees to contribute a portion of their pre-tax salary, reducing their taxable income. Additionally, employers may offer matching contributions, providing an extra incentive to participate in the plan. Earnings within the 401(k) grow tax-free, and withdrawals made during retirement are taxed as ordinary income. Similar to IRAs, it is essential to evaluate your specific circumstances and determine which type of 401(k), traditional or Roth, best suits your needs.

Roth IRA Conversions

If you anticipate higher tax rates in the future or want to avoid required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your traditional IRA, you might consider converting some or all of your traditional IRA funds to a Roth IRA. While the conversion will be taxable as ordinary income, future withdrawals from the Roth IRA will be tax-free. It is essential to consult with a tax professional to determine if the conversion is the right strategy for you.

Estate and Gift Tax Strategies

Implementing estate and gift tax strategies can be another effective way to manage and reduce tax liabilities.

Annual Gift Tax Exclusion

The annual gift tax exclusion is a tax strategy that allows individuals to give gifts of a certain value each year without incurring a gift tax. For 2021, the annual exclusion is $15,000 per recipient. Couples can combine their exclusion amounts, allowing them to jointly gift up to $30,000 per recipient without triggering the gift tax. Utilizing the annual gift tax exclusion is an excellent way to gradually transfer wealth to family members or loved ones without incurring additional tax liabilities.

Unified Credit

In addition to the annual gift tax exclusion, every individual has a lifetime unified credit, a lifetime exemption against estate and gift taxes. For 2021, the unified credit exemption amount is $11.7 million per individual, meaning you can gift or pass on this amount without incurring federal estate or gift taxes. In certain situations, utilizing the unified credit can be an effective means of transferring wealth and reducing your estate’s overall tax burden.

Charitable Contributions

Charitable giving can be another tax-efficient strategy, providing income tax benefits and potential estate tax benefits. Cash contributions to qualified charities are generally deductible up to 60% of an individual’s adjusted gross income (AGI). In contrast, appreciated assets, such as stocks, can often be given to charity, allowing the donor to avoid capital gains taxes on the asset’s appreciation while still claiming a tax deduction for the asset’s fair market value. When planning charitable contributions, it’s essential to consider any AGI limitations, carryforward provisions, or other tax implications to maximize the tax benefits.

Tax Strategies for Businesses

Choice of Business Entity

The choice of business entity can have a significant impact on taxation. It is important for business owners to understand the tax implications of different business structures and choose the one that best suits their needs.

  1. Sole Proprietorship: A sole proprietorship is the simplest business structure where the business owner operates under their personal name. The business income is reported on the owner’s personal tax return, and the owner is responsible for paying self-employment tax. The main advantages of this structure are simplicity and lower compliance costs, but the owner has unlimited personal liability for business debts.

  2. Partnership: A partnership consists of two or more business partners who share in the profits and losses of the business. Partnerships are pass-through entities for tax purposes, meaning that the business income, expenses, credits, and deductions flow through to the partners’ personal tax returns. Each partner is required to pay self-employment taxes on their share of the earnings. In a general partnership, all partners have unlimited personal liability for the business debts, but there is limited liability for limited partners in a limited partnership if they do not participate in managing the business.

  3. LLC (Limited Liability Company): An LLC is a flexible business structure that combines certain features of partnerships and corporations. The owners, called members, benefit from limited personal liability for business debts. LLCs are usually treated as pass-through entities for tax purposes unless they elect to be taxed like corporations. If taxed as a pass-through entity, LLC members report their share of business income on their personal tax returns, and they are responsible for paying self-employment taxes.

  4. S Corporation: An S Corporation is a special type of corporation that has elected to be treated as a pass-through entity for tax purposes. Shareholders of the S Corporation report their share of business income, losses, and deductions on their personal tax returns, and the company itself generally doesn’t pay federal income taxes. Unlike LLC members or partners, S Corporation shareholders don’t pay self-employment taxes on their share of the company’s income, and only the wages paid to them are subject to payroll taxes.

  5. C Corporation: A C Corporation is a separate legal entity from its owners, providing limited liability protection. Unlike other business structures, C Corporations are subject to double taxation. The corporation itself pays taxes on its income at the corporate tax rate, and the shareholders are taxed again on the dividends received or the capital gains when they sell their shares. However, C Corporations can potentially lower their overall tax liability through certain deductions and tax strategies.

Business Financing and Debt Strategies

Understanding various financing and debt strategies can also help businesses manage their tax liability.

  1. Convertible Debt: Convertible debt is a loan that can be converted into equity at a later date. The interest payments on the debt are tax-deductible for the company, making it an attractive option for reducing taxable income.

  2. Equity-based Financing: Businesses can raise capital through issuing equity, such as selling shares or granting stock options. This can help a company defer current taxes and potentially lower the effective tax rate.

  3. Small Business Loans: Utilizing small business loans from banks, credit unions, or Small Business Administration (SBA) programs can provide tax-beneficial financing. Interest on business loans is tax-deductible, making it a viable option for reducing overall tax liability.

Maximizing Tax Deductions

Business owners should seek to maximize tax deductions, as these can significantly reduce their taxable income.

  1. Business Travel and Meals: Businesses can deduct expenses related to travel, including flights, lodging, and 50% of meals while on business trips. Accurate record-keeping is essential for claiming these deductions.

  2. Employee Benefits: Investing in employee benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans, and tuition assistance can lead to substantial tax deductions. Besides lowering overall tax liability, these benefits also help attract and retain employees.

  3. Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credits: Many countries offer tax credits for businesses engaged in R&D activities. These credits can help offset a portion of the costs associated with innovation and can result in meaningful tax savings, especially for high-tech companies.4>

Working with Tax Professionals

Working with a tax professional can be beneficial for individuals and businesses that need assistance in navigating the complex tax laws and regulations. Tax professionals come in several forms, such as accountants, certified public accountants (CPAs), tax attorneys, and financial planners, each focusing on specific areas of tax management. These professionals provide services such as tax preparation and filing, tax advice and planning, audit representation, and more.

Accountants and Certified Public Accountants (CPAs)

Accountants and CPAs are professionals who provide services related to tax preparation and filing, as well as tax advice and planning. These professionals are knowledgeable about tax laws and regulations and can help you identify potential deductions and credits, minimize your tax liabilities, and comply with tax obligations.

Tax Preparation and Filing

When working with an accountant or CPA, they can help you prepare and file your tax returns, ensuring that you properly report all sources of income, deductions, and credits. They can also advise on the most advantageous tax filing strategies for your individual or business financial situation, help you avoid common mistakes, and minimize your potential tax liabilities.

Tax Advice and Planning

Accountants and CPAs can also provide expert tax advice and planning, which can be beneficial for individuals and businesses looking to minimize their tax liabilities and maximize their financial opportunities. This can include strategic tax planning, identifying potential tax savings strategies, and staying up-to-date with changes in tax laws and regulations that might affect your situation.

Audit Representation

If you ever face a tax audit from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), an accountant or CPA can provide valuable assistance and representation. They can help you respond to audit inquiries, provide necessary documentation, negotiate on your behalf, and advocate for your best interests, ensuring that your rights are protected throughout the audit process.

Tax Attorneys

Tax attorneys specialize in tax law and can help clients navigate complex tax matters and disputes. These legal professionals can provide advice and representation on various tax-related subjects, such as tax disputes and litigation, estate tax planning, and business formation.

Tax Disputes and Litigation

If you find yourself in a tax dispute with the IRS or state taxing authority, a tax attorney can provide legal representation and help you resolve the conflict. They can advise you on your legal rights, help you prepare for negotiations or litigation, and represent you in court if necessary.

Estate Tax Planning

Estate tax planning involves structuring your assets and investments in a way that minimizes potential estate tax liabilities upon your death. A tax attorney can help you create a comprehensive estate plan, ensuring that your assets are properly managed and distributed according to your wishes, while minimizing tax implications.

Business Formation

Tax attorneys can also provide valuable assistance when it comes to business formation, helping you choose the appropriate legal structure for your enterprise and ensuring compliance with federal, state, and local tax requirements.

Financial Planners

Financial planners are professionals who provide advice on managing finances and maximizing financial growth. They can help clients with tax-related matters, such as asset allocation and tax-efficient investing, retirement planning, and educational savings plans.

Asset allocation and Tax-efficient Investing

A financial planner can help you design an investment strategy that considers the tax implications of various asset classes and investment vehicles. They can recommend tax-efficient investments, such as municipal bonds or tax-advantaged retirement accounts, that can help you minimize your tax liabilities and maximize returns.

Retirement planning

Tax implications are an important factor in retirement planning. A financial planner can help you develop a strategy that maximizes your tax-advantaged retirement savings and minimizes your tax liabilities during your retirement years.

Educational Savings Plans

A financial planner can also help you explore tax-advantaged educational savings plans, such as 529 plans or Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), that can help you save for a child’s or grandchild’s future education expenses while also minimizing your tax liabilities.

Taxation Strategies — FAQ

1. What are the key principles of effective taxation strategies?

Effective taxation strategies focus on maximizing deductions, considering tax credits, optimizing taxable income, deferring tax liabilities, and utilizing legal tax-saving investment tools. These strategies help individuals and businesses minimize their tax burden while complying with tax laws.

2. How can tax credits and deductions be used effectively in taxation strategies?

Tax credits and deductions help reduce the tax liability by lowering taxable income. Taxpayers should identify all applicable credits and deductions, such as expenses related to education, mortgage interest, or childcare. By keeping well-organized records of eligible expenses, taxpayers can claim all available deductions and credits to minimize their tax bill.

3. Why is tax deferral an essential element in taxation strategies?

Tax deferral is a strategy that involves delaying the payment of taxes to a later time, in order to benefit from lower tax rates or leverage tax-sheltered investment opportunities. Deferring taxes can lead to significant long-term savings, as taxpayers can primarily focus on the growth of their capital without immediate tax implications.

4. How can careful timing of income and expenses benefit one’s taxation strategy?

By strategically timing income and expenses, taxpayers may be able to reduce their tax liability. Accelerating or deferring income, capital gains, or deductions in specific tax years can enable taxpayers to optimize their tax bracket and maximize their tax-saving opportunities. Periodic income and expense reviews can help identify adjustments needed for an effective taxation strategy.

5. What role do tax-advantaged investments play in taxation strategies?

Tax-advantaged investments, such as retirement accounts, education savings plans, and municipal bonds, offer tax-deferral or exclusion from taxable income. Including these investments in a taxation strategy can help reduce current and future tax liabilities while achieving further financial goals, leading to a more comprehensive and effective financial plan.

6. Can engaging with a tax professional improve taxation strategies and overall financial planning?

Yes, engaging with a tax professional can significantly improve taxation strategies and overall financial planning. Tax professionals have in-depth knowledge about tax laws, credits, deductions, and investment opportunities, providing valuable guidance on optimizing tax positions and maximizing savings over the long term.

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About the author 

Mike Vestil

Mike Vestil is the author of the Lazy Man's Guide To Living The Good Life. He also has a YouTube channel with over 700,000 subscribers where he talks about personal development and personal finance.

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