Black Friday Deals

Buyers  be warned! There are a lot of apps, websites, and advertisements for Black Friday deals that are scams designed to rob you of your money or personal information.

If you are buying online, only buy from seller websites (like Amazon.com), or from local dealers on Craigslist (where you meet the seller in person).

Never enter your personal information if there is any doubt about the authenticity of an online store or deal.

Be wary of apps. Many are pretending to be coupon deals. Only use apps that are offered on Google Play or iTunes. Check out this article from NerdWallet for a good place to start:

 

 

Happy Turkey Day

Hello everyone!

Today is thrifty Thursday. Money saving is really important to your future. However, nothing is as valuable as the present. If you are reading this on Facebook, Twitter, blog, or email, GET OFF YOUR DEVICE and visit with family. If you cannot visit with family, make sure that you still catch up with them. Family is irreplaceable.

College Planning

Financing College – Tips for Parents and Kids

To borrow or not to borrow? That is not the question any more when it comes to college. As tuition rates rise each year, many Americans are forced to borrow to afford a college education for their children. The new question is how to borrow. Here are so things you need to know.

Savings v. Loans. All student loans or equity loans will accrue interest daily, starting on the day the loan was disbursed to the school. As most student loans accrue interest between 6-10%, whereas your savings account is probably only accruing 1-5% interest. The numbers make this decision easy. If you have put money aside for your children’s education, you should use those funds first. Do not borrow unless or until you must.

Children borrow first. This seems like common sense, but after working in the lending industry for years I can definitively say it is not. There are no loans for retirement. There are loans for college. Many parents tap into their retirement savings to put their children through school. However, no one knows what the future holds. What happens if you are laid-off or injured and unable to replenish those funds? You child does not have any legal liability to pay you back and may not be able too. Therefore, I always recommend that the child borrows before the parents, and before the parents tap into retirement funds.

Parent Borrowing Limits. Often parents take out loans or co-sign on loans without regards to if they can afford the loan. Underwriters are looking at if you can afford the loan based on your current income. But what happens if you retire within the next 5 years? Will you be able to afford the loan on your retirement income? The best piece of advice to parents is to make sure that you can pay the loans off in ten years or by the time you retire, whichever occurs first.

Student Federal Loans. The federal educational loans, of which there are several different types, offer the most forgiving repayment terms. After grants and scholarships are tapped out, you should always start with federal loans. There are no parent income limits for your child qualifying for Stafford Loans. There are two types of Stafford Loans, Subsidized and Unsubsidized. Almost every student will qualify for an Unsubsidized Stafford Loan, limits on the child’s borrowing are determined by their filing status as dependents. Unsubsidized are need-based loans, where the government will cover the interest on the loan while the student is in school. There are also need-based loans such as Perkins loans for undergraduates, which are also federal. The big tip with these loans, try to pay the interest that accrues monthly. When you sit down and discuss budgeting with your child be sure you know how much interest is accruing on their loans and discuss with them fitting interest payments into their budget. Why? Again, if it is not a subsidized loan, interest accrues daily. Not only that, but accrued and unpaid interest is capitalized upon graduation. What does that mean? It means that any unpaid interest is added to the principal balance of the loan. Interest then accrues on the original balance and the combined capitalized interest. In other-words, the student is paying interest on interest.

Parent Federal Loans. Again, the federal loans offer the most forgiving repayment terms. While some parents chose to co-sign, with the student being the primary borrower, Parent Plus loans through the federal government are the sole liability of the parent. Why should you choose this over co-signing? That is a tricky question that will depend on your financial situation. Parent Plus loans are good for parents with less than stellar credit history. Often, the interest rates are comparable too. Many parents chose Parent Plus loans over cosigning because they want control over the timeliness of payments. Do you trust your child to make payments on time? If you co-sign and they are late, it will be reported on both credit reports. Therefore, many parents choose to use Parent Plus loans to protect their credit.

Private Loans. Private loans are generally not recommended. They do not have the flexible repayment plans of federal loans and students almost always need a co-signer. Having worked in the lending industry, I can say that it is really difficult for a student to qualify for a co-signer release. To remove a co-signer the student typically needs a credit score above 650, a debt-to-income ratio less than 50%, minimum income of $45,000, and a full year of on-time payments. Most students do not qualify for a co-signer release for 5 to 10 years after graduation. Okay, what does that mean for the co-signer? As you are equally responsible for the loan, if your child pays late or fails to pay, so, you owe that payment and your credit will be affected. I saw way too many cases of families torn apart over these loans. Since the rates are not usually much better than federal loans, it is usually better just to stick to the federal loan programs.

Home Equity Loans. Do not do it! You are literally putting your house up as collateral. What happens if your financial situation changes? Do not risk your home.


Client Management App

Happy Tuesday!

Today I have a cool productivity assisting app for you called Cloze.

So what is Cloze?

Cloze is a free client relationship management system that integrates  with Gsuite platforms and apps.

What does it do? Almost everything! It’s like having your personal assistant in your pocket.

https://www.cloze.com/app

Here are the key features:

Emails

From within Cloze all of you email threads are saved to a contact and company. Threads are collapsed but searchable. You can respond to emails on any platform without being in the app. When it syncs it will pull those emails in too.

Teammate and employee emails, both internal and external, can be synced to this app. Which makes client communication supervision and retention a breeze.

You can archive old emails too.

Relationships

This is where the app shines. You can setup steps for leads, client on boarding, maintenance, exiting or inactive clients. This helps you and your  team remain focused while providing your employees step by step instructions for client interaction management.

 

Best part of this app are the automated reminders. This reminds you and your team which steps are next and the time frame for completing them. Additionally, you can set communication reminders to assist you with reaching out to those clients you may not have heard from in a while.

Leads

You probably do not even realize how much potential business you are losing by not following up on leads, particularly if you are a sole proprietor. This app analyzes your emails for potential leads, and you can manually enter other leads. Once in the system, Cloze will remind you of the next steps and remind you to follow up on your leads.

Automation

Once Cloze is set up, you can set it to do a lot of your client maintenance for you. For example, you can create templates and schedule them to go out at different phases of the client relationship, i.e. Touch basis email once per quarter.

To-Do

A really fun feature is you can add action items straight from emails to a to-do list in the client’s file. They will automatically be added to you calendar and agenda.

Task management – The dashboard shows you what tasks need to be done immediately, what is past due, and what items you have not yet assigned due dates to.

Meeting and Call logs

You can record the time spent in meetings, out-going, or incoming calls, and any notes about the interaction.

If you have any action or follow up item, it can easily be added from the menu.

Notes

App syncs with Evernote so you can keep track of your ideas and work flow. No need to worry about lost post it notes.

Also great for client issues, complaints, etc.

Analytics

Cloze automatically records how much of you time is spent on emails, your conversion rates on customer leads, potential income secured from leads, and how strong your client relationships are. This allows you to improve on weak relationships and improve customer satisfaction.

Over all it is a great app. Check it out! Cloze.com

 

Productivity Booster

Accountant are extremely bad about taking lunches away from our desks. Ahem, found this article during lunch break. But I figured you may appreciate it.

Eat lunch away from your desk, be more productive

By Neil Amato

November 2, 2017

Research has shown our brains need a break from work, and we don’t need research to tell us that we get hungry during the workday. But some people are not taking a dedicated break for lunch, and that could be a productivity killer.

“Everyone needs a break and a little exercise in the afternoon to re-energise,” said Bob Pozen, author of the book Extreme Productivity. “So walking to lunch can help you re-energise.”

You’ll be more productive overall by taking time away from your desk and ideally away from answering work email from your phone, according to the research of Kim Elsbach, a professor of organisational behaviour at the University of California at Davis. Her research is not lunch-specific but related to taking breaks.

“Eating at your desk often undermines the benefits of taking a break,” Elsbach said. “You’re still at your desk, so you still have all those cues that make you get back into work mode.”

About 20 years ago Elsbach struggled to come up with creative ideas when she was at her desk. Now, Elsbach said, she insists on making her own copies and sorting her mail even though others in her office can handle those tasks for her. “If I didn’t take those breaks, I might not have another idea in my life,” she said.

The break “allows the mind to wander, and it allows those connections to get made that don’t get made in effortful thinking,” she said. “It’s not just taking a break and doing nothing. It’s taking a break and going for a walk, or taking a break and having lunch and talking to a friend, not about work.”

Taking a break for lunch does not necessarily mean leaving for 60 to 90 minutes and going to a restaurant. It can mean bringing food from home and relocating to a place you don’t associate with work. She recommends the break include time outside or in a nature-like setting.

“Twenty or 30 minutes is all it takes,” Elsbach said. “Take your lunch out to the lobby of your building, watch the world go by, and take a quick walk around before you go back.”

What we do during lunch, even a lunch away from our desk, matters. Scrolling through social media on our smartphones isn’t always advisable.

“If you’re looking at work email, and responding to work questions, then it’s not OK,” Elsbach said. “Getting rid of the technology is better, because you get more engaged in what’s around you. That’s when the creative juices really flow. … People who do cognitively demanding work need to take breaks to rejuvenate their state of mind.”

Neil Amato (Neil.Amato@aicpa-cima.com) is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.

 

Five Facts about Charitable Contributions

Here is a great little article posted by the IRS for donations.

IRS Tax Tip 2017-77, November 15, 2017

With the holidays around the corner, many people will be making donations to benefit charitable organizations. However, come tax time, the person who made the donation might also benefit. That’s because taxpayers who donate to a charity may be able to claim a deduction for the donation on their federal tax return.

Here are five facts about charitable donations:

Qualified Charities. A taxpayer must donate to a qualified charity to deduct their contributions. Gifts to individuals, political organizations, or candidates are not deductible. To check the status of a charity, taxpayers can use Exempt Organizations Select Check on IRS.gov.

Itemize Deductions. To deduct charitable contributions, taxpayers must file Form 1040 and
itemize their deductions. To do this, taxpayers complete Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. They file this form with their tax return.

Getting Something in Return. Taxpayers may receive something in return for their donation. This includes things such as merchandise, meals, and event tickets. Taxpayers can only deduct the amount of the donation that’s more than the fair market value of the item they received. To figure their deduction, a taxpayer would subtract the value of the item received from the amount of their donation.

Type of Donation. For donations of property instead of cash, a taxpayer can only deduct the fair market value of the donated item. Fair market value is generally the price they would get if they sold the item on the open market. If they donate used clothing and household items, those items generally must be in good condition. Special rules apply to certain types of property donations, such as cars and boats.

Donations of $250 or More. If a taxpayer donates $250 or more in cash or goods, they must have a written receipt from the charity. The statement must show:

  • The amount of the donation.
  • A description of any property given.
  • Whether the taxpayer received any goods or services in exchange for their gift, and, if so, must provide a description and good faith estimate of the value of those goods or services.

Taxpayers can also use the Interactive Tax Assistant, Can I Deduct my Charitable Contributions? This tool helps determine if charitable contribution is deductible.

Stolen Refunds

How taxpayers can protect themselves

Tax season is one of the busiest times for identity thieves, but there are steps taxpayers can take to protect themselves. Here’s what CyberScout recommends:

  • Use a password-protected Wi-Fi connection when filing your taxes. Use a long and complex password — not just for your Wi-Fi but also for any accounts you’re using during the tax-filing process.
  • Get your return via direct deposit. If you must receive a return check via mail, have it sent to a locked mailbox.
  • Ask your tax preparer to use two-factor authentication to protect your documents and personal information.
  • Use an encrypted USB drive to save sensitive tax documents.
  • Never give information to anyone who contacts you by phone or online claiming to be from the IRS. The IRS will never contact you this way.
  • Monitor your accounts and online identity for any signs that your identity has been stolen. For example, if you see a sudden, unexpected change in your credit scores, it could indicate your identity has been stolen. You can easily get a look at your credit by using our free credit report snapshot, which is updated every 14 days.

Click here to read the full article.

Free Resources

Happy Friday!

This week we are going to talk about SCORE. SCORE helps small business owners start, grow, and successfully exit their business ventures with free Business Mentors. It is a fanatic program that we highly recommend and they are FREE.

Ken Sethney is our local Kitsap Business Mentor and we have heard nothing but good things from those he has worked with.

They also offer free monthly seminars in Silverdale and Poulsbo. Check them out at https://kitsapscore.org/your-biz-academy/

Homemade Soda!

If your in Washington, you will know that we have been having some really crazy weather! Wind gusts up to 60 mph and massive amounts of rain. Ick! It’s the type of weather that weakens the immune system during the cold season.

Here is a fun little project to do with the kids this Thanksgiving, which is healthy and supports the immune system! Make your own soda!

Unfortunately, soda is cheap but extremely high in sugar and compounds that are terrible for the body. Did you know that Diet Soda can be even worse for weight gain? (We’re not going to get into that today.)  Here is  a recipe that can give you almost an unlimited supply of healthy soda with less calories for less than $5.

What do you need:

  • A mason jar (any cleaned sauce jar will do)
  • Ginger Root
  • Sugar
  • Water
  • Flip-top bottle (or old soda bottle with a lid you can secure tightly)

Chances are you probably have most of this at home already.

So here is what you need to do:

  1. Make a ginger bug, its a lot like a sourdough starter. Click here for instructions. I found adding a tiny bit of yeast if the room temperature is cooler helps get it going.
  2. Strain off 1/4 cup of your ginger bug liquid and mix into 1 quart or herbal tea infusion, fruit juice, etc. and seal in your flip-top contain for 3 days.
  3. Replenish your ginger bug.
  4. Flip the bottle once per day but do not shake. This keeps the alive ginger bug working. You will notice little bubbles when you flip it if it is working. If your room temperature is less than 70 degrees it may need a week, instead of 3 days.
  5. After a 3-7 days put it in your fridge to chill before serving.

Here is another cool recipe.

Have Fun!


Equifax Breach

Last summer, from May-July, the identity of 145.5 million Americans was stolen in a data breach of Equifax, one of the three credit reporting agencies.

that means that almost 1/2 of the american population are affected!


What does this mean for you?

It can be a big problem for you if you are not careful and take steps to mitigate your exposure. What can happen? Well, your tax refund could be stolen, credit cards and other loans can be taken out in your name, your social security benefits can be stolen, etc.

It is a big deal and you need to protect yourself! The first step is to see if you were affected.

Go to: https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/

If you are affected, here are your next steps:

  1. Enroll in Equifax’s TrustedID Premier program and lock/freeze your credit. It is free.
  2. The above program only protects your equifax information, so you need to put a fraud alert on your credit with the other two agencies.
  3. Go to Experian and Click “Add Fraud Alert
  4. Go to TransUnion and Click ” Place Fraud Alert
  5. Review all three credit reports and file disputes for fraudulent activity.

These alerts are only good for 90 Days so you may want to consider permanently freezing your credit.