Time is money: Finance and tax tips with Mike Hamilton

  • Published
  • By U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Timothy Leddick
  • 911th Airlift Wing

Each year, millions of Americans organize their proof of insurance, employment records and year-end statements in preparation for tax season. Yet, there lies a lingering question: How can taxpayers maintain proactive financial awareness throughout the year, not just during tax season?

Mike Hamilton, the Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station personal financial counselor, and a chartered financial consultant, provides both general and professional guidance, and referrals, emphasizing the importance of financial preparedness.

Hamilton has been a ChFC for almost seven years and employed at the Pittsburgh IAP ARS for four years. His hours are Monday through Friday, and unit training assembly weekends, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in building 209. Hamilton offers a comprehensive range of personal finance services, covering various facets including retirement plans (Thrift Savings Plan, 401K, 401A, 457B, etc.), credit card debt and budgeting.

“Be sure to give me a call for anything finance related,” said Hamilton. “Most things I can handle. For taxes, I can refer you; buying a new house or car – I haven’t heard too many surprise questions I haven’t had before.”

While serving as a financial counselor with services accessible to installation members, he is unable to offer direct suggestions or advice, adhering to the policies outlined in his contract with Magellan Federal.

This does not mean he can’t provide counseling, education, referrals and recommendations, however. Hamilton's services are valuable in addressing various nuances in financial readiness that individuals might be unaware of:

For taxes, there are resources available for free filing, consultations and preparations, some specific to the military. For service members, Military OneSource offers free tax services via MilTax. Additionally, United Way and the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program offer complimentary services facilitated by IRS-certified volunteers.

MilTax allows free federal, and up to three state, returns and consultations and is backed by the Department of Defense. United Way offers free tax preparation, and refers to free federal and state taxes via MyFreeTaxes. The IRS’s VITA program offers free basic tax returns for individuals that make less than $65,000 annual income. The two former resources have no income limits.

Hamilton also highlighted that the IRS provides additional benefits regarding military duties, which includes tax deductions if you travel more than 100 miles away from home in connection with your performance of services as a member of the Reserve. You are able to deduct your unreimbursed travel expenses on your tax return by including those expenses from the time you leave home until the time of return.

A guide Hamilton provided for TSP plans explains the differences between Roth and Traditional IRAs. Roth allows you to pay taxes upfront as you make contributions and require no taxes to be paid upon withdrawal at retirement. Traditional is the inverse, where no taxes are paid upfront but rather upon withdrawal. The benefit of which option to pursue depends on not only preference but the consideration of tax rates over the course of “now” and “then.”

A consideration for each is that Roth allows contributions to be taken out at any point with no fee or payment. More contributions in Traditional may allow for a larger return during tax season – though a tax return should not be mistaken for additional income but rather a representation of income that was already yours. Certain deductions or disbursements over the course of a year result in a payout or an outstanding balance.

To further clarify and address any misconceptions or curiosities regarding financial information, Hamilton hosts two video conferences monthly, aiming to educate and respond to inquiries. Notices for these conference calls are located in the installation’s cafĂ©, Perksburgh, and the fitness center. Some of these presentations include topics such as “Exploring digital and crypto assets” and “Retirement and TSP.” Select topics are covered monthly, rotate quarterly, then recur annually. Therefore, if a particular topic piques interest but you happen to miss it, rest assured the topic will resurface in the following month within the same quarter before cycling once more in the following year.

Hamilton has observed that individuals often struggle with determining the appropriate time to assess their accounts and finances. To address this, he recommends a comprehensive review of these accounts at least once a year, ideally coinciding with the tax season when individuals are already engaged in financial scrutiny. This includes year-end statements, TSP, 401K, stocks, bonds and other investments.

A suggestion Hamilton emphasizes greatly regarding financial readiness is to speak with him directly, whether in person, via phone or through email. This approach allows for a discussion on preparation and prevention before an investment or transaction takes place, mitigating the need for later discussions when issues have already surfaced.

“Most individuals come to me after a big purchase or debt or some financial trouble,” said Hamilton. “I implore everyone to discuss these topics and purchases with me beforehand to educate and prevent issues before they happen.”