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Thursday, January 31, 2013

How to navigate the life-insurance labyrinth


Life insurance products are often complex, but provide numerous financial benefits
Life insurance products are regulated
Life insurance is one of those financial matters that is often complicated, time consuming and expensive. People are often naturally cautious of life insurance when they cannot understand the labyrinth of terms, scenarios and cost structures set out by the policy. This is a financially healthy perspective to take and reflects awareness of possible red flags in the insurance acquisition process.

Clarify


The terms of life insurance influence cost, however these conditions are not always favorable. For example, in a CBS MoneyWatch report, it is pointed out that the age of an insured person at the time of death affects pay outs. If this age range is unrealistic, then the benefits of the insurance are less likely to be obtained. When reviewing a policy ask specific questions that clarify broad claims. For example, if an insurance agents says the return of policy X will be Y amount per year that may be true, but is that before or after additional surcharges and fees? 

Research


Numerous variables affect the quality and cost of life insurance. For instance, according to the Wall Street Journal, life insurance agents have an advantage over brokers because they can offer lower rates by working with a single insurer. Being aware of all the factors that influence a policy as well as the various types of policies is important. To build consumer awareness, also consult and compare insurance ratings from companies such as A.M. Best, and take time reviewing the policy details before signing anything. 

Evaluate


Knowing how to assess and evaluate life insurance involves more than just referring to ratings and assuming it is the right financial decision. To illustrate, the insurance needs of a single person with no debt and no children are far different from those of an indebted single parent of three. Identification and incorporation of financial planning goals, in addition to individual and family needs is prudent before embarking on a long-term life insurance contract. Completing a life insurance question list such as the one provided by the Motley Fool Insurance Center is one way to accomplish this task. 

Decide


There should be no pressure to decide whether or not a life insurance policy is the right choice. Offer expirations, time related policy benefits and incentive rates are somewhat relevant, but also distracting to overall financial objectives that are more important. Effective policy choices take into account individual health, available insurance products, agent compensation and much more. Self-educating via sources such as CNN Money's "Money 101", rather than relying on just what a salesperson says helps with making informed decisions. 

Life insurance is a financial instrument that serves to protect financial needs and interests in addition to being a potential source of retirement savings. Life insurance products do have some advantages such as creditor protection, however they also have costs and require substantial financial commitment. When assessing life insurance, and in order to fully benefit from a policy, it is wise to consider future financial scenarios such as affordability after layoff, and opportunity cost in addition to financial security.

Image license: US-PD

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Google Plus - Now 400 million users and counting


Google is a leading multi-national information technology firm
Google Plus is a social networking platform

By Annie Marsen

Vic Gundotra, Google’s vice-president has just announced that Google’s social network service, Google Plus, has exceeded 400 million users. However, it is estimated that only 25 percent of that 400 million are active users, a notable difference when compared to Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg’s company is just a small step away from reaching the 1 billion mark. Gundotra published a message on the network’s own Google Plus profile. He stated that the company has reached a very important milestone: more than 400 million registered users on their Google Plus service.

Too much growth for the web giant?


Gundotra mentioned that the company didn’t expect to reach the 400 million user mark so fast. He stated that Google’s social networking service has only been available for barely a year. To reach almost half a billion users in 12 months is astonishing, he added. However, Google Plus has still a long way to go in order to reach Facebook levels of success. Facebook allegedly has 955 million active users. However, it has been active since 2004. On the other hand, millions of people use Google’s services, especially Gmail. You can access dozens of Google’s apps and services by registering once. If you already have a Gmail, you can access Google Plus immediately.

Numbers too good to be true?


Google mentions that recently there have been more than 625,000 new users per day. Many analysts mention that a majority of Google Plus’s user base comes from people registering their Android devices which run on Google’s operative system developed for mobile devices. Estimates mention that there were nearly 700,000 Android devices activated daily. Those who own a smart phone or tablet than runs on Android are required to create a Google Plus account, whether they intend to use it or not. So the 400 million mark may be a false number rather than people actually sitting down and signing up for Google +.

User over 10 times more active on Facebook than Google+?


Many people attribute Google Plus’s fast expansion to their television commercials and celebrity brand appeal. Curiously, Facebook’s users register higher levels of activity when compared to Google Plus’s. It is estimated that Facebook has 10 times more active users than Google Plus. Google may want to develop new strategies that encourage activity within its user base.

Time will tell just how successful Google’s social network will be compared to Facebook. Some Google Plus supporters mention that the service doesn’t need to compete with Facebook, as it delivers a slightly different experience than its rival. In Google’s favor, it is important to mention that it took Facebook several years to reach 100 thousand active users, while they got to that number in less than 12 months. 


About the author: Annie Marsen is what most people would call a Social Media addict. If there's a new social media site that even hints at going viral, she's on it. This is also one of the reasons why she is very suited to be writing about social media strategies as a Virtual Personal Assistant. So the next time you have an inkling to go social, drop Annie a line. You'll probably find her buried deep in some brand new site exploring.

Image license: US-PD

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The energy boom in America is opening the door for new investments

U.S. domestic oil production has reached an 8-yr high
Domestic oil production helps boost international exports
By Donald Turner

The United States and their explosive gas and oil energy growth provide some great investment opportunities to investors. Just a few years ago, the United States was importing an increasing amount of oil and natural gas each year. Yergin states the United States oil and gas production was in a steep decline since the 1970s providing very few investment opportunities. 

Newly developed technology has made it possible for tremendous growth in the United States gas and oil industries over the last five years. The United States will become the largest producer of oil and natural gas within the next two decades and the explosive growth in the US oil and gas production provides many opportunities to investors in most sectors of the United States economy, according to Jubak.

Current investing


Energy industry expansion benefits exploration technology manufacturers
U.S. oil production has benefitted from shale gas exploration

Carey from Forbes states that the most obvious places for investing would be with the companies that developed the new technology used for gas and oil production. These companies have seen impressive growth with some being bought out by big oil companies.

Current and near future investments


Companies in place to supply or support the oil and gas industry growth can offer prime investment opportunities through stocks or ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds). Companies that own gas and oil pipelines provide very economical means to ship the gas and oil over long distances in a timely manner. The pipelines help to ease bottle necking of the gas and oil going from the production fields to the market which can affect the price in the commodity market; another area investors can utilize. 

Transportation companies are a necessary component of the gas and oil production boom in the United States. The transportation industry hauls everything from gas and oil to market to hauling the parts for the drilling rigs to the water used for drilling. The transportation sector servicing the gas and oil production provides many opportunities to invest in by including truck and railroad companies. 

Construction companies contracted to build the infrastructure needed for the growing oil and gas production may provide great investment returns. Construction companies are building new pipeline systems to move the oil and gas supply to the markets and thus are responsible for building infrastructure necessary for the expansion.

Energy related investment opportunities have risen along with access to reserves
Large gas reserves are accessible via technology

Investments for the next few years


A great benefit being a leading oil and gas production country is lower energy costs as the lower energy costs provide the more investment opportunities and many companies will see an improved bottom line from energy cost savings. Chemical companies may receive the biggest benefit from reduced energy costs but any company that utilizes products from chemical companies will see a domino effect in their production prices giving investors a better return rate on Mutual Fund investments.

The United States gas and oil energy growth continues to rise; providing fantastic investment opportunities in many sectors of the US economy for investors. The smaller oil and gas companies that embraced the technology and took prudent action provide the most obvious investment choices. Supply and Support companies to the oil and gas industry offer many prime investment opportunities. Still, other investment opportunities can be realized in many other sectors of the US economy from reduced energy costs leading to an improved bottom line for most companies.


About the author: This article was written by Donald Turner, an avid writer of business and finance articles across the web. He writes this on behalf of US Emerald Energy, a company that has the facts about how to invest in oil.

All images: US-PDGov

Monday, January 28, 2013

Finding work in the current economy


By Fred Burns

Unemployment figures in both Europe and the U.S. are still at all-time highs, even though some reports say the problem is getting better. If you are one of the millions of people out of work, and either anticipating or awaiting unemployment payments, there are a number of ways to make ends meet.
U.S. labor force participation is near 35 year lows
Seek to identify personal strengths and skill sets
 

Cash in on skills


When you’re out of a job, you can often suffer from a blow to your sense of self-worth. Just keep in mind that you are just as capable as you ever were. There are other ways to make a living. You have a whole host of skills that will apply to other employment opportunities such as finance careers other than the one you have specialized in.
Developing a professional network takes time
Necessity is the mother of invention

Look beyond your work history, and consider branching out from that narrower focus. For example, if you have been a supervisor, you have the ability to observe and evaluate the work of others. This is a great skill to have in the industry of security. I’m not talking about a night watchman. There are many jobs available in security that never involve being seen by the public. Surveillance is performed in almost every department store, and you are never expected to approach anyone- only report what you are observing. Other places that need this type of surveillance are hospitals, banks, and resorts. You may be the person in the office watching and evaluating what you see on surveillance cameras.

Personal skills


If you have personal skills, it means you are pretty good at reading other people. This is a perfect skill for a security officer at the door of a convention center. You can get training in threat assessment, and that, in combination with your native instincts, can make you a good living in the security industry.

For example, I know a teacher, with a Master’s degree, who has been priced out of the job market. No one wants to pay for someone with 30 years of experience to teach music, when they can hire a fresh-out-of-college grad for one half the salary. They have been out of a job long enough that they can’t get unemployment any more. But, with over 30 years in education, from pre-school up through university, they have a lot of experience in what the security industry calls “threat assessment”. Sure, they had to learn about the more weapon-oriented side of the field, but they can spot a shoplifter a mile away just from the way they are acting.

On the job training


If you are retired military or public service, you already have on the job training for most of the security jobs out there. Maybe you need extra money for your retirement, or just needed out of the pressure of a high risk job. The different levels of security work can provide you with a good living, and you can choose the stress level. Finding a job in this economy is not impossible. Just beef up your resume, and think outside the box.  


About the author: Fred Burns has worked within the security industry for many years. He enjoys writing articles that help people and point them in the right direction. When he isn't writing you can find him working for Crossdeck, a company that provides a job search and access to CCTV training courses.

Image licenses: 1. Getty Images/SRBichara; royalty free license 2.  Getty Images/Kolobsek; royalty free license

Sunday, January 27, 2013

How U.K. property performed in 2012


U.K. real estate grew in 2012
The South East U.K. experienced strong property price gains in 2012

By Cormac Reynolds

According to Halifax, the UK’s largest lender Southend saw the largest rise in house prices of any place in the UK during 2012. The area saw a 15% rise in its prices over the 12 months, compared to a 1% fall overall the country.

The largest gains in house prices were made in the South East of the Country, whereas the largest drips were in Wishaw in Scotland and Craigavon in Northern Ireland. However, overall there was little change in the housing market in the UK over the period even though there have been large disparities country wide.

The best towns are those that are located within commuting distance of the capital and Basingstoke, Rochester and Southend all report rises of over 13%. Halifax has taken these figures from only its lending so it may not be 100% accurate.

South-East performance


According to the Land Registry the price of houses in London rose by around 7% and Brighton and Hove followed with a 4.7% gain over the 12 months to October 2012. However, the Land Registry only reports a 2.4% gain in Southend for the same period, which would suggest otherwise than the Halifax figures. The rest of Essex has seen a 1.5% gain on average.

One of the factors behind the rise in prices is the increase in the mortgages being lent, which increased a number of times in the year on 2011 levels. According to the HMRC the number of homes bought had been 6% higher than in 2011. There were over 91,000 in November 2012, the highest since December 2009, almost three years ago.

UK house buying activity has increased as many people look to companies such as You Sell Quick so they can purchase a new larger home. They believed that this has came about due to easier lending.

Experts


Experts in the housing industry also think that the rate of house buying and selling may increase to an even further degree in 2013. The Council of Mortgage Lenders and the Royal Institution of Cartered Surveyors believe that there will be a rise in the number of homes bought and sold and this activity will be down to the governments Funding for Lending Scheme. This scheme is allowing banks and building societies the opportunity to lend money to first time buyers who wish to fulfil their dream of buying a home.

Add to this the low cost of interest and you have the lowest mortgages ever seen, which has led to increases in lending month by month. However, the biggest issue people find is the deposit, which they need to get on the housing ladder.


About the author: Cormac Reynolds writes for UK company YouSellQuick and has written on finance topics for a range of clients

Image license: US-PDGov 

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Trial verdicts delivered on actuarial testimony


Attorney's request actuarial testimony to provide quantiative insight
Actuarial math is useful in financial forensic analysis
By Melanie Price
 
Actuaries are the premier experts on analytics, statistics and predictive models in the finance and insurance industries. The advanced mathematical skill-set of an actuary can be useful to nearly any type of business. Many actuaries are independent consultants, work for the government or work for insurance or financial firms.

Expert testimony from these actuary professionals has become more prevalent and effective in the court room throughout the last few decades. Recently, defense attorneys and prosecutors have had success using actuaries to provide insight in a variety of complex topics like finance, insurance, pensions, criminal tendencies or predispositions, and other subjects that require large data sets, statistics and expert interpretation.

Actuaries' expansive expertise on trial


The trial between the Atlantic Mutual Insurance Co. vs. Commissioner of Internal Revenue in 1998 was the first time and perhaps the most renowned occasion when actuaries were used in Supreme Court hearings. Expert testimony from four professionals from the Casualty Actuarial Society provided clarity regarding the definition of "reserve strengthening" that helped the Supreme Court reach a final decision. Atlantic Mutual Insurance Co filed a claim against the commissioner of the IRS concerning the application of the Tax Reform Act of 1986. The actuaries from the Casualty Actuarial Society provided testimonies for both parties. The four actuaries were used to define “reserve strengthening”, the IRS term that would dictate the provisions of forgiveness for the previous tax year.

Actuaries were also used in the sexual predator case, Elliott v. State. The state of Missouri used actuarial testimony in Mr. Elliot's initial hearing to assess the potential danger and probability for re-offense of his violent crimes. Elliot’s defense appealed claiming that the state of Missouri had provided insufficient evidence and never actually met with Mr. Elliot before designating the convicted sexually violent predator to a secure mental ward. The court ruled that the state's expert testimony from the actuary was admissible and reliable. The expert actuary witness used the static-99 application to demonstrate the long-term risk potential of Mr. Elliot committing a re-offense once released from prison.

Expert actuary testimony was also used in the 2011 trial of Harry Marnie v. WCAB. Both parties used testimony from actuaries to help provide evidence regarding how to offset State Employees Retirement System (SERS) payments between the employer and the claimant who was recently collecting disability from a work injury. The case went through multiple courts, and judges heard actuarial testimony from both parties. Despite appeals from the claimant, the courts ultimately decided that according to the employer’s actuarial testimony, WCAB was entitled to offset the SERS payments. This case set precedent that, despite the lack of precise calculations, the actuarial testimony was still deemed legally sufficient because it was sound and credible.

As the actuary industry and big data continue to evolve, it's reasonable to expect more and more cases that feature these financial professionals. It's also reasonable to expect actuarial testimony to become more popular for a more divergent array of court cases.


About the author: Melanie Price is an actuarial science student who has grown to share her attorney husband's interest in landmark legal cases.  She writes more about her chosen profession at Guide to the Best Online Actuarial Science Degree Programs.

Image license:  US-PDGov

Friday, January 25, 2013

Tax Loopholes for car manufacturers and buyers

Safety and efficiency regulations affect the U.S. auto industry
Over time the auto industry has seen many regulations

By Chris Turberville

In the earliest days of the internal combustion engine, there were few regulations. In fact, there weren’t even roads suitable for the daily driving of motorists. But just as the car, along with the network of roads necessary to support it, grew in popularity, so has the political environment around cars evolved.

Today’s auto industry – especially here in the United States – functions in anything but an economic vacuum. Not only do taxes and regulations affect everything in automotive production from manufacturers to buyers and consumers, but also, a number of tax loopholes exist that have changed the automotive landscape nationwide. What have these regulations and loopholes meant for both car owners and car manufacturers? Let’s take a closer look.

“Cash for clunkers” 


Everyone remembers “Cash for Clunkers.” The program, which allowed people to trade in old cars to the government for as much as $4,500 cash back, sought not only to stimulate the economy but also to rid the roads of particularly high-polluting vehicles.

Hybrid automobile manufacturing was helped by tax credits
The "Cash for Clunkers" program was intended to generate economic stimulus

If that sounded like a good idea at the time, it may be time to re-consider its consequences. According to “E” Magazine, known as The Environmental Magazine, many people actually did take advantage of the “Cash for Clunkers” program. The problem was that they sold perfectly good, usable cars – cars that could have been recycled for parts – and many of those vehicles ended up essentially being thrown in the trash. The result is that “Cash for Clunkers” sent cars to landfills rather than recycling centers.

“Cash for Clunkers,” thus far, was a one-time program that has seen its positive effects disappear along with the program itself. People are no longer selling perfectly good cars just to throw them away. One can’t help but wonder, however, if the program did more harm than good.

Discounts for electric cars


One of the most popular tax loopholes in the automotive industry today is the tax credit that incentivizes the purchase of electric cars. Federal tax credits for the purchase of electric vehicles have allowed cars like the Chevy Volt to be offered at lower prices, making them more readily available and affordable for purchase on the market.

The tax incentive may be a necessary perk in order to stimulate the sales of electric cars on the market. The Chevy Volt, which for a long time cost car buyers $40,000, is certainly more affordable thanks to the tax loophole and to Chevy’s price-reducing policies.

Manufacturing loopholes


Of course, automotive manufacturers are in business to make money, so they keep their eyes out for tax loopholes at every turn.

For example, a company called GreenTech Automotive spurned Virginia for Mississippi when Virginia’s Economic Development Partnership did not bid on a proposed plant for the manufacturer. When Mississippi did, GreenTech took the government money and moved further south. Although this is not an example of a federal tax credit, it is an example of how states will compete with each other through bidding wars designed to attract manufacturers.


About the author: Chris Turberville-Tully works with HR Owen automobile dealerships where one can purchase various luxury cars. For example, a used Maserati.

 Image attribution: OcaNieba; CC BY-S.A. 2.0,, 2.  Mindfrieze; CC BY-S.A. 2.0

Thursday, January 24, 2013

7 of the best online payment methods


US-PDGov

By James Green

Online payment solutions are a necessity for the existence of online businesses. However, they are also useful for so many other things.  For example, you can easily shop online, pay a bill, use online bill paying through a bank, make electronic payments and so much more with just a couple of clicks. Since Internet shopping and banking is so popular nowadays online payment solutions have also gained a lot of popularity. Here are some of the best online payment solutions that are trustworthy and can really do the job for you:

1. PayPal


This is the most widely used online payment solution in the world. It processes billions every year. You can set up a PayPal account for free and fund it through your debit card, credit card or bank account. It is all up to you and you can easily make payments and receive money at low fees.

2. Payza


Payza was formerly known as Alertpay, but the name was changed in May 2012. This global online trading platform specializes in processing of e-commerce deals. You can transfer funds from your bank account and to it easily through Payza. However, there are specific regulations that apply for different countries.

3. 2Checkout


This is a payment processing service for online transactions that combines a payment gateway with a merchant’s account for simpler integration with a website. 2Checkout provides a dependable, reliable, highly secure and affordable payment option for medium and small online businesses.

4. Moneybookers


This is an e-commerce business which allows money transfers and payments through the Internet. Moneybookers allows the receiving and sending of payments from and to 200 countries and in 41 different currencies. It also supports all the major credit and debit cards as well as more than one hundred local payment options.

5. WorldPay


This is a leading provider of electronic payment services including checks, debit cards, credit cards, customer loyalty cards, e-commerce, fleet cards and ATM processing. It also offers a lot of cash management services to its customers.

6. Square


Square is a payment processing gateway which supplies its users with a free card reader dongle which can be plugged into every smartphone. It can also be linked to a bank account and then all you need to do is swipe your credit card in order to collect money. It can even e-mail you a receipt. The fee Square charges for each swipe is 2.75 percent.

7. Google Checkout


This is a famous online payment processing service that is aimed at making the process of paying for online purchases as simple as possible and is powered by Google. The Google account of a user stores their shipping information, debit card and credit card information for further reference and thus makes the process of shopping online so much easier. All a user needs to do in order to place a purchase in a participating store is click one or two buttons because all the needed information is already stored in the Google account.


About the author: James Green's area of expertise is developing online payment solutions (the Swedish term is betalningslösningar).

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A critical time for school fundraising


Fundraisers are used to supplement tightening school budgets
Selling goods online is used as a form of product fundraising

School budgets are tightening almost everywhere, and money is hard to find which is why more and more educators and parents are turning to school fundraising as a way not only to fund after-school programs but to plug holes in educational funding.

Extracurricular programs, athletic programs, field trips and other out-of-school activities have traditionally been the beneficiaries of school fundraising. But in a tight economy, with politicians cutting educational budgets, teachers, administrators and parents are turning to school fundraising to keep classes and even entire academic programs running.

Many different methods are used in school fundraising, some old, some new. Some tend to be more successful than others, while some rely on student labor and involvement more than others. They can include everything from dinner events and bake sales to car washes and carnivals.

School fundraising and product fundraising


But perhaps the most popular form of school fundraising is newer than these more traditional approaches. It's called product fundraising, and if you've ever bought Girl Scout cookies, you've come across it. There it's used to benefit the Girls Scouts of America; when it's used to benefit a school or extracurricular program, it's a type of school fundraising.

Product fundraising is a very simple concept. The non-profit organization that is performing the school fundraising (be it a parent group, a teacher group or some other organization) buys products from a commercial business and sells them to the public, often using students as sales people. The non-profit keeps some of the profits.

Product fundraising can be done in one of three ways. Online fundraising simply involves the use of a Web page to sell products. Product-in-hand fundraising is the direct sale of the products by students to the public. Pre-sales fundraising, meanwhile, involves the sale of orders to the public; the orders are later filled by students.

Product fundraising is a booming business, with more than 1,000 such companies in the United States as of 2010. There are online businesses that can help streamline the fundraising process for parents and educators. And special software allows organizations to set up Web sites managed by distributors, who are also responsible for shipping and customer service.

More traditional types of school fundraising


But many other types of school fundraising can be very successful at raising money. Auctions, raffles and similar events are still used frequently as fundraisers. Prizes and donations at these kinds of events typically come from local business owners.

Students usually carry the grunt work of school fundraising, but within limits. Though schoolchildren may wash cars, sell baked goods, or participate in staff led raffles, they may have restricted or monitored involvement with adults, especially when it comes to product fundraising.

This is a change from earlier years, due largely to incidents of violent crime. An 11-year-old boy was murdered selling products in his neighborhood in 1997, and as a result, children sell less frequently to adults they don't already know.

Crime isn't the only problem for product fundraising and other types of school fundraising. In a rough economy, household incomes are tightening at the same time school budgets are shrinking. That means it has become harder to raise money at the same time the money has become that much more critical.


About the author: Brandon researches and writes articles on different subjects.  One subject he has written about quite a bit is the subject of school fundraisers.

Image license: US-PDGov

Tips on how to choose accounting software for your small business


Cost savings are possible when identified by accounting software
Accounting software streamlines business bookkeeping
Years ago, keeping books was a tedious and difficult job which involved tons of papers, pens and pencils, ledgers, and commonly the carpal tunnel syndrome, because accountants and small business owners used pen and paper to record all the financial transactions a business was making. Today, however, things are significantly different. We live in a world where everything moves very quickly, and every minute is important. With the advancement of technology, we have been able to computerize almost every task we have, and this includes bookkeeping.

Why is accounting software so important to utilize?


Well, we will start from the obvious reasons – saving time, saving money, and eliminating the human error factor from the equation of bookkeeping. Aside from the obvious reasons, there are many more reasons related to the performance and success of your business. For example, you can see different trends in your business practice, such as financial reports from the past quarter, your stocks, predictions for the next quarter, and so on.

What should you look for when choosing business accounting software?


Here is a list of things to look for when deciding which accounting software to go for:
  • Price – The first thing to think about is the price. There are some open-source accounting programs available, but it is always better to go for a paid software application. Find one that has a reasonable price and go for it.
  • Ease of use – It is very important that the accounting software you go for is easy and intuitive to use, especially if you have to do your own bookkeeping. There are accounting programs that are very complicated, and there are those that are pretty easy to use. Try a few out and see which suits you most.
  • Features – The features offered by the accounting software you choose will make all the difference in your daily schedule. Namely, not all the programs will offer you the same options and tools, and you should choose the one that has everything you need in order to run your business smoothly and without any hiccups.
  • Ask your staff – If you have accounting staff, you should consult them regarding which accounting software to choose. They might have previous experience with this, and you should also take into account their opinion if they are the ones who will be using this software the most.

QuickBooks 2013 is a very good choice


While you are doing your research you will surely come across accounting software called QuickBooks, and there is a very good reason for this. QuickBooks 2013 is probably the best choice you can make when trying to find the perfect accounting software for your company. This program has all the features you can only wish, and QuickBooks Pro 2013 training will help you master all of them. It is important to know that QuickBooks Pro 2013 is very easy to use and intuitive as well, so mastering all the tools within the program should not be very difficult and shouldn’t take you a lot of time.


About the author: Jack offers Quickbooks pro 2013 training, both for corporates and individual clients. He has been in this field for last 5 years and regularly travels around the world on training assignments.

Image license: US-PDGov

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A complete guide to self-directed individual retirement accounts

By Rick Pendykoski

Self-directed IRAs
Self-directed IRAs are an alternative to traditional IRAs
Provided by financial partners, custodians and CPAs amongst other licensed and authorized entities, having a self directed individual retirement account (IRA) is one of the most effective and easy ways through which you can save on the taxes  you pay and accumulate significant savings for good use in the future.

A self-directed individual retirement plan is an arrangement where you establish a retirement account and reserve the sole rights to dictate on what types of investments your accumulated funds are invested in, on behalf of your retirement plan. Your custodian or trustee merely serves the role of maintaining the assets and records of transactions relating to the same. Your custodian also has the responsibility of filing reports as required under IRS regulations.

IRA benefits


There are several benefits that you obtain by establishing a self directed IRA. They include:

• Doing so expands your investment options, meaning that you are no longer restricted to such traditional investments as CDs and stocks.
• Establishing an IRA provides you with the best opportunity to diversify your investment portfolio.
• You have the freedom of choosing where to invest your IRA funds.
• Establishing a traditional IRA means you enjoy tax reprieve on your deposits.

Investment Prohibitions


Self-directed IRAs may benefit experienced investors

The fact that establishing a self directed IRA gives you the freedom to dictate how your funds are invested does not mean that you can invest in any vehicle you choose. Under IRS regulations, you are prohibited from investing in such vehicles as life insurance, collectibles (artwork, rugs and antiques) and particular precious metals

You are also prohibited from irregularly using your IRA such as borrowing cash from the account, using it to secure a loan and selling property to the account amongst other prohibitions. You are however allowed to invest your funds in real estate, mortgage, stocks, partnerships, precious metals (gold, silver and platinum) and franchises amongst other investment vehicles.

Types


There are basically three types of IRA you can establish to grow your retirement funds as an individual:

Traditional IRA – At times referred to as Regular IRA, traditional IRA gives you the opportunity to contribute and at the same time take out a deduction from your contributions. Withdrawals are however only permitted after you have attained a specified age. Although your contributions remain tax-free, your withdrawals are subjected to tax using IRA calculators.

Education IRA – This is the most suitable IRA you may establish in case you have a child below the age of 18 years. The account gives you the opportunity to save for specified higher education expenses for your child or other beneficiary with all your savings being tax-free.

Roth IRA – This is probably the simplest types of IRA that you can establish. It tax regime differs from the other two in that you pay any applicable tax before making any contributions. This means that any both your contributions and resultant growth are never subjected to taxation. Furthermore, you can withdraw your funds at any time that you wish.

An IRA is not only available to individuals. Self directed retirement IRA plan is also available for small businesses. You can opt to establish this in case you operate a small business and reap the tax benefits that accrue. Like with a personal IRA, all contributions to a small business IRA are also tax deductible.

Your retirement investment options have never been that open with IRA. You only need to ascertain the most suitable type of IRA to establish. In choosing a type of IRA to establish, it may be necessary to make use of IRA calculator to ascertain the level of taxation you will be subjected to. You may also choose to establish a personal IRA, small business IRA or both, depending on your retirement investment need.


About the author: , is an expert on retirement savings plans. In this article, he discusses various self directed IRA however, he finds self directed IRA to be the most suitable one. To learn more about LLC retirement plans, visit sdretirementplans.com

* All images US-PDGov

Monday, January 21, 2013

Using present value when evaluating investment options


Present value calculation
Present value calculation is used to assess stock option worth
By Donald Turner

“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” While this phrase was first used in mediaeval times, the person who said it must have had some idea about present value. In a sense, present value answers the question about how money in the future is worth today. Most people understand intuitively that $10 today is more valuable than $10 a year from now. Furthermore, if you have the option of $10 today, $11 a year from now, or $15 three years from now, which one would be the best option? This article will show you how to make that decision.

Comparing apples to apples


The problem is that the amounts of money really can’t be compared. To change the example, suppose you had the option of receiving $10, 50 yen, or 50 rupees. Which would you choose? You would not look at the raw numbers, because they’re for different currencies. First, get them into a common currency, and then see which one is the largest amount. In this case, 50 yen is less than $1, and 50 rupees is about $1. Choosing $10 would make the most sense.

It is the same problem in choosing among the different options in our earlier example. Present Value (PV) is the term that is used to take money paid at different times and converting them to a common basis for comparison in today's dollars, similar to the currency example.

Discount rate


The place to begin the conversion process is with figuring out the discount rate. The discount rate is the interest rate that you would expect for an investment. It is important to determine a good value for the discount rate, as it becomes the basis for converting the future cash payments to a value today. Selecting the discount rate can be done in several ways. For example, a business may use a discount rate that is the minimum return they would expect from any investment. Individuals might choose a discount rate that reflects their desired investment return. In either case, selecting a discount rate that is either too high or too low will improperly skew the results, so choose carefully.

Determining present value


Let’s choose 10 percent as the discount rate for answering the question which of the three options in the earlier example is the best. The baseline is $10, since that is the amount available today. For the future values for this example, the rate is only applied once per year, so $11 one year now can be discounted by dividing the future amount by 1 plus the discount rate. In this situation, the present value equals $11/(1 + .1) or $10. So, $11 one year from now is equal to $10 today at a 10 percent discount rate.

What about $15 three years from now? The present value calculation would be similar, except the above formula would have to be applied three times, once for each period. Since this can become very tedious, most financial calculators and spreadsheet software packages have this calculation built in. Using this formula, $15 three years from now is worth $11.28 today.

Putting it all together


Using this approach, it’s clear which option to choose. The third option, $15 three years from now would be the best option. You can use this approach to evaluate any kind of investment where payments occur at different times.


About the author: This article was written by Donald Turner, an avid finance writer online, on behalf of Approved Cash Advance. If you're looking for an InheritedCash Advance, make sure to check out their website and see what they can do for you.

Image license: FamZoo Staff, CC BY-SA 2.0

Save money when starting a business

US-PDGov

You can wait your whole life time to open your business as something is always going to prop up and get in the way of you starting it up. If you have some money saved away for your business opening and you believe it is not quite yet enough, it is sometimes wise to use that money and not put it off any longer. For example, if you are able to open your business on a budget, you don't really need to spend a fortune; there are ways which you can save on the money.

Location

The most important factor about opening your own business is the location which you choose. If you are selling products which you believe will sell best in a busy city centre area, then you are going to have to fork out and spend a little extra on the good location. Paying rent in city centres is always a little higher to what you would pay if you were located outside of the city centre. There is no point in paying the lower rent if it is going to make you lose all your potential customers.

If it is not critical that you need to be in a city centre environment, then you should choose a location which has the lower rent payments. However, it is important that you choose an area that is easily accessible for customers and clients to come visit you.

Equipment and furniture

Instead of buying brand new furniture and equipment, why not look at buying it second hand? It is possible to buy almost any furniture and equipment second hand; this can include used computers to used machinery. If you are after used equipment, it is advised that you should shop around to get the best price possible.

If you are buying used furniture, you should make sure that it is still pleasing on the eye. The last thing you want is your business looking tatty and a mess, this may put off any customers and clients which you have, it is said that the look of your business will have an influence on how well you perform. 

Make sure any equipment that you are going to buy is in full working order before you agree to purchase. If you need quite a lot of equipment, then you can buy in bulk from a second hand centre where you will often get a discount if you buy quite a lot at once. You should also request that you get a long term warranty so that you are covered if anything happens to the equipment once you have it back at your business.


About the author: Harry started his own manufacturing business on a budget; he shopped around to get the best deals on used machine tools. For more information, go to http://www.industrialmachines.net

Financial news: Martin Luther King Jr. Day


Zero Hedge: S&P 500 prices are not grounded in reality
AOL: Scam of the year award goes to fake $1,000 Target gift card
CNN: Collector auction yields $4.6 million for '60's Batmobile
Reuters: Cyclical earnings to indicate economic trajectory
BI: As many as 1.6 billion human beings do not have electricity
Money News: Global economic growth to slow this year
NYT: NY Rep. questions $1.5 bln cost of $3.3 bln settlement
BBC: Fiscal innovation key to U.K. economic growth per study
RTT: Bank of Italy downgrades '13 GDP growth to -1%
Bloomberg: China's GDP growth to be limited by demographics

* Image: US-PDGov

Friday, January 18, 2013

The newest emerging markets for American products


By Denise Ferrier

Many major companies’ earnings reports serve as a global map of where U.S. products and brands are making inroads in trade. These new areas of commerce hold the potential for new revenue to make up losses sustained during and after the Great Recession in the markets of the United States and Europe.
Exports measure international market expansion
India, China and Latin America have been beneficial markets for U.S. products
The slow global recovery has put greater focus on India, China, Latin America and Hong Kong, where the economies have stayed fairly well insulated from the housing asset bubble that sent U.S. and European money markets into a tailspin. The current economic resilience in these regions has made them a few of the hot spots for American goods in this new era of trade.

India


India's marketplace offers opportunity to American corporations
India has a large commercial market
Since opening up to the global markets in 1991, the country has seen steady growth with better jobs and more disposable income among its residents. This area’s GDP has grown above 8 percent per year, according to an investment report from Ernst & Young India.

The rise of urbanization and technology has made the country ripe for expansion of various American products and fairly well insulated from the global downturn. Familiar U.S. brands such as Starbucks and McDonald’s continue to evolve with their Indian sites. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz predicts that India will become one of the chain’s top five markets, while McDonald’s is moving toward vegetarian sites in the country. With a demand for cleaner fuel, U.S. investors are looking ahead to the export of liquefied natural gas to the country.

China


China's commercial marketplace is growing
China's economy grew rapidly in the early 21st century
While this market certainly is not new, no list of emerging markets is complete without it, given its continued explosive growth that supports nearly all markets in the world. U.S. cities nationwide have seen their exports to China soar. In 28 states, China is the largest recipient of U.S. goods. Computers, food and chemical products are among the most popular items sent to the country. For Starbucks, who already has 700 stores in the country, plans for 1,500 China sites would make the area the chain’s biggest market outside of the United States.

Latin America


While it might lag as a home to millionaires compared with Russia and Hong Kong, all three are ahead of the United States in this area as hot zones of money. Colombia and Brazil both work hard to be investment friendly, and Brazil in particular has been the focus of many U.S. interests as a regional leader in business. Brazil also will be a star on the world stage for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, which offer a wealth of marketing potential for businesses and brands. Investing in Mexico has also experienced a resurgence, and the country's buying power for American goods has greatly increased as well.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong/U.S. trade relations
Hong Kong is a valuable commerical intermediary for U.S. corporations

This area was among the top 10 of U.S. export markets in 2011 according to the U.S.-China Business Council, and it shows continued robust growth. The country’s gateway access to China ties the two markets together, making it easy for many U.S. manufacturers to cover both areas with targeted shipments. Many U.S. retailers have relied on their shops in Hong Kong to help lift overall store results. Most chains you would see in U.S. malls, such as Forever 21, Abercrombie &  Fitch and The Gap, keep a strong presence in the area.

About the author: Denise Ferrier is a freelance business blogger.

* All images US-PDGov or US-PD

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Tips for keeping your business flush with cash


Monthly business cash flow is impacted by credit term changes
Invoice factoring enhances the cash conversion cycle

By Kelli Cooper

Unless you operate a business where you receive payment immediately upon your customer or client making a purchase, finding ways to maintain a steady infusion of cash is probably a top priority for you; and, if you are like many small business owners, you may be struggling with keeping the flow as steady as you would like it to be. The money you earn from offering your goods and services will really serve no useful purpose until you actually receive it, so here are some tips to make sure you get it in a timely fashion.

Evaluate terms with customers and vendors

If cash flow is a problem, it may be time to take a good hard look at the terms you have set up with both customers and any vendors of your own. If your time frame for receivables is 60 days, you might benefit from changing it to 30; you might also consider making changes such as requesting down payments or requiring payment immediately upon completion of a service or delivery of a product. If your payments to vendors and payments being received from clients is not ideally aligned, you might consider asking to change payment dates to vendors to a time when you will be sure to have money from your clients.

Set clear terms with customers

Clarity is a key first step in executing any successful endeavor—to get something accomplished, you need to be very clear on exactly what it is you want to get done. Make sure you have very clear terms with your customers regarding payment—when it is expected and how you want it done. It should always take some written form, whether you clearly outline it in a contract with new clients or it is part of your website. Clearly outline information regarding interest for late fees and any collection costs that will be passed onto the client in the event you turn to an outside agency to pursue payment.

Consider accounts receivable financing

If your payment terms are 30 days out or more and you are really hurting for cash now, you might consider using the services of a receivables financing company; this involves selling your receivables to a company now for immediate cash. Of course, on top of paying the money back to the company when you get the payment from the client, you will also have to pay their fee for giving you the money. When considering this option, you have to carefully weigh whether getting that money immediately outweighs the extra money you need to lay out for the service.

Carefully evaluate customers, suppliers and inventory

To get the best idea of how to improve cash flow, it is important to separate and evaluate the three major areas of customers, suppliers and inventory carefully. When it comes to inventory,  carefully evaluate how different items are selling and where your money is going. You might find you have a lot of money tied up in products that sell infrequently. As for suppliers,  look to reach out to the ones you work with regularly to try and work out better terms and discounts—you may not have much leverage with one-off buys, but it does not hurt to ask when looking to make a purchase. Keep a close eye on customers and really get on those slow-payers. There may be some easily solved problem that explains their constantly late payments, like frequent invoicing errors.

About the author: Kelli Cooper is a freelance writer who enjoy sharing tips on how businesses can improve their financial health.

Image license: US-PDGov

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How ill-gotten gains are legally bypassed

Investment banks and the Treasury Department make money via an unspoken collusion of rewarding ill-gotten gains via the guise of  economic stewardship. One need not look far to see how the Securities and Exchange Commission, and a seemingly weak or soft-handed judiciary has fallen short of firm financial regulation countless times.

In the past, the SEC has even admitted as much per the New York Times. Steve Denning, a contributor to Forbes magazine reiterates the problem that big banks are still getting away with risky derivatives trading that has the potential to cause another financial meltdown. Why? The reason, according to another NYT article by Gar Alperovitz, is that Wall Street is too big to regulate. However, the lucrative fines that are redistributed to the Treasury and cost-benefit of the fines to financial institutions offer another reason, specifically financial incentive. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

The secret to taking control of your pension

Pension plan tips
Maximum contributions help grow pension funds
By Phillip Bray

One of the most common complaints about pensions is the lack of control investors have; this can cause two main issues.

Firstly, in our retirement planning experience, most people who actually do pay into a pension simply make their monthly contributions and pay little or no attention as to where the money is invested, then wonder why it’s not performed well and they have a lower income in retirement than they expected.

The second group doesn’t even get as far as making contributions, they simply read often misleading articles in the press, about the ‘lack of control’ pension investors have and don’t bother. This certainly means they miss out on tax relief and may mean they are not receiving valuable employer contributions, both of which could help them achieve their retirement goals.

First things first, advice or DIY?


So, how do you take control over your pension? Well, there are a few ways, firstly though you need to decide what type of investor or saver you are.

The first group of people, perhaps because they don’t have the time, don’t know enough or simply want some help, take advice. The second group are DIY investors, in other words they want to make their own investment decisions and not pay for an adviser to help them.

Take some time to think about which group you are in, do you feel comfortable making your own investment decisions? Do you have the time and the knowledge to manage your own pension investments?

If the answer to these questions are a resounding “no!” then you probably need some advice, preferably from an independent financial adviser. Now that doesn’t mean you can’t have some control. Choose an adviser who offers an ongoing service and who will allow you to be part of the decision making process; the best adviser / client relationships are a collaboration rather than a dictatorship.

Taking advice has many merits and if the adviser does his or her job properly it should mean you don’t end up with any nasty surprises in retirement. However, it is the DIY investor who can really take control over their pension.

Goal setting


The first thing any DIY investor needs to do is take some time to think about his or her goals.  When will retirement start? How much income is needed? Will any capital be needed? What state pension will be received? These are all really valuable questions and a great starting point.

Next start thinking about how much risk you are prepared to take. As a rule of thumb the more risk you can tolerate the more you will invest in stocks and shares as well as other riskier assets, the less risk you want, the more you will look at cash and safer investments.

You then need to make two key decisions, where to invest and who to hold your pension with; these are two very different questions.

The pension provider dictates the charges you will pay, the service you receive and importantly, the types of investment you can buy. For example, if you just want to buy funds the a Personal Pension or a Stakeholder Pension may be sufficient for your needs, but if you want to buy other assets such as shares, EFTs, deposit accounts or even property, you will probably need to use a SIPP (Self Invested Personal Pension).

Although not for everyone, most DIY investors really start to feel in control of their pension when they open their first SIPP. You are in control, you can buy a far wider range of assets (within the rules of course, some assets are strictly forbidden in SIPPs), no one is making the decisions on your behalf, you really are in the driving seat.

Of course there are downsides, even the best investors make mistakes and losing money from time to time is inevitable, but crucially you are in control, which might be the difference between actually planning for retirement and not.


About the author: Phillip Bray writes for Investment Sense and looks at how using a SIPP can help you regain control of your retirement planning.

Image license: Dave Dugdale, CC BY-SA 2.0