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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Stock market alternatives for investors

By Kari Lloyd

When it comes to investing, most consumers think that the stock market is the only way to gain a proper reward for your time and efforts. However, you’ll find an assortment of investment opportunities for individuals who think outside the box and many of those can out-perform the stock market in today’s business world. As with anything, you want to thoroughly research the possibilities before departing with your hard earned income. The following are some unique investment opportunities that go beyond the stock market.

Antiques and collectibles

Antiques are long-term investments

Collectibles and antiques make great investments, but it can take numerous years for them to retain their value. Consumers who may have purchased a set of Star Wars action figures or Barbie dolls when they first came out for $20, can expected to reap rewards years down the road. This is especially true if the items are in mint condition. 

Antiques can be just as prosperous today, however the Wall Street Journal urges some caution as some expertise is required to take advantage of market mispricings.  Shows on the cable network discuss the valuable finds that many consumers make either at a garage sale, items stored in their home or pieces that they’ve found through antiquing. What was once thought to me $50, could turn into a financial treasure.


With the fickle economy, smart investors have chosen artwork as a way to gain financial income. According to CNBC, the art market is showing a significant inflow of cash due to foreign demand for art. It doesn’t offer the same type of compensation that you would expect to get through stocks and bonds, but it can still be a great resource in liquidity. 

Art pieces can be sold or traded in for other works with investment potential
Your investment portfolio is easy to expand by selling your current pieces of art for something new that has greater value. Before you begin the investment process, you want to speak to an art dealer and educate yourself in the ways of the art industry. While you’re waiting for the pieces to gain proper value, you have something to show for your investment and can hang the items on any wall in your home.

Real estate

Real estate yields via income and equity
The housing market has begun to rebound over the past couple of years around the nation and mortgage rates are still at an all-time low. With the variety of lending programs available, purchasing a home can make the real estate industry a solid investment once again. 

Whether you’re looking for a home to live in or rent out as additional income, you’ll find that this is one of the best times to purchase real estate. Some of the benefits in a real estate transaction can include deductible mortgage interest expenses, rental units that are able to depreciate a portion of the home value as a tax deduction, and your home and mortgage working as a buffer against inflation. Forbes reminds ust to keep age and investment timeline in mind as they are relevant factors when making a decision to put money into the property market.


Craftsmanship and durability add value to jewelry
With the economy and stocks in turmoil over the past few years, investors have been looking for other areas to put their money. Gold, platinum and diamonds have always been safe bets for placing additional funds, but it has been seen as nothing but good news during the course of the past few years. 

Moreover, with the rise of commodity prices such as precious meatals, investment of jewelry has the potential to yield a return. When selecting jewelery for investment, CNN Money suggests quality jewels of excellent craftsmanship have more potential to yield a return-on-investment over time.  Unlike stocks, jewelry has real value and isn’t affected by the volatility of the market. 

The stock market has continued with its dramatic upswings and drops, and you’ll find it to be an unstable place to put your extra cash. With the right amount of research and hard work, you can narrow down your search to find other passionate investments that can reap a proper return on your money.

About the author: Kari Lloyd writes on a variety of topics both on and offline, and has a particular interest in investing opportunities as well as jewelry in general. SuperJeweler, www.superjeweler.com, is one of the internet's premier sites for great jewelry at discount prices. In addition to finance articles and blogs, Kari has also been published in various entertainment and lifestyle publications.

* Image licenses: 1. Morguefile; attribution & royalty free 2. PD 3. Morguefile; royalty and attribution free  4. Morguefile; attribution & royalty free

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

How Obamacare will impact your hospital's revenue

Fin Health 1
Changes to healthcare restrict hopitals from credit reporting
By Ashley Sutphin Watkins

While most of the country is struggling to come to terms with exactly what the Affordable Care Act will mean, two groups that seem to be the most concerned with making sense of how they'll be impacted are hospitals and Federally Qualified Healthcare Centers (FQHC).

Alternative views on Obamacare's impact

Under Obamacare, some analysts anticipate overall revenue will increase, because theoretically more patients will have insurance and therefore seek medical care. The alternative to this belief is that hospital and FQHC revenue will actually see a decline, due to a reduction in rates the government pays for Medicare, and the potential that most of the uninsured will pay the nominal penalty fees, rather than obtaining insurance.

Big changes for billing and collection

Healthcare law regulates how hospitals issue, collect and report bills
Hopitals must fairly evaluate patients' financial capacity
In addition, new changes are being enacted particularly targeted at hospitals regarding billing and collection practices. One change prohibits hospitals from engaging in extraordinary collection practices. This means hospitals can't report patients to credit reporting agencies, nor can they sell the debt of patients that have opted to utilize financial assistance plans. 

Hospitals are also required to make reasonable attempts to determine whether or not a patient qualifies for financial assistance before engaging in potentially extraordinary collection practices. This means notifying patients about the availability of financial assistance plans and providing assistance during the application process.

Along with these changes, it's anticipated that patient accounts receivable could rise nearly 30%, while the insurance account receivable totals will likely undergo a substantial reduction under Obamacare. Hospitals that don't find realistic solutions to the rise in patient A/R will have to face the reality that it's not possible to simply maintain adequate revenue through co-pays and insurance reimbursements alone. Whereas in the past patient balances were written-off, under Obamacare hospitals are going to be forced to reevaluate the way billing and collections are handled.

Leading up to the implementation of Obamacare, most hospitals are losing, on average 15% of their revenue because of issues with self-pay billing, and it's expected that this percentage will rise with the start of Obamacare.

The value of third-party billing services

Hospitals are able to increase revenue via efficient third-party billingFor many hospitals looking to increase their revenue in the face of significant changes, it is becoming more evident that third-party billing solutions will be required. Most hospitals are already understaffed, and facing the possibility of lay-offs, meaning they typically don't have the manpower to complete not only standardized collection policies, but also help patients understand the complicated insurance and billing scenario.

Obamacare requires that patients are fully informed about their payment and billing options, and a third party self-pay service like Financial Health can keep your hospital compliant, while simultaneously increasing revenue and cash flow.

By using a third party medical billing service like Financial Health, hospitals can ensure that they're closing the gap in revenue that occurs as the result in the rising percentage of patient A/R, and the decline in insurance A/R. This happens through the implementation of relationship building with patients, which hospitals ordinarily don't have the time or resources to develop.

Third party billing services like Financial Health carefully explain the details of the billing process to patients to help them create an individualized solution that is more likely to mean the hospital will see a much larger percentage of the patient's financial responsibility.

As Obamacare continues to mean more changes for healthcare providers, tools and services like those provided by Financial Health can keep organizations thriving, growing and providing the best possible services to their patients.

About the author: Ashley Sutphin Watkins is a professional writer and journalist, who specializes in marketing and public relations.

* Image licenses: 1. Royalty and attribution free 2. sqback; RGBStock.com royalty free 3. Morguefile; royalty and attribution free

Monday, July 29, 2013

Richard Branson: What makes him a great leader?

Branson's leadership style motivates employees
Have you ever wondered about the student who couldn't seem to keep up with the class? The one who found reading difficult and was horrible at math? If you went to Stowe School in England in the 1960s, you don’t have to wonder. Richard Branson, despite being dyslexic and having trouble in school all of his life, has managed to thrive in adulthood. Starting multiple successful companies, he is now worth an estimated four billion dollars and is one of Britain’s wealthiest citizens. 

The rewards of risk

Richard Branson has always understood the power of being willing to take a risk. Perhaps because he did not succeed academically in school, he has never trusted facts and figures when running a business. Instead of looking at the accounting books, he prefers to rely on his gut feeling and past experience when making a big decision. If a person truly feels they have a good idea, they should believe in it regardless of what the accountants or bankers say, Branson feels. Trusting in himself has allowed him to lead many successful companies, even when the odds seem stacked against him.

Trusting in himself has been, at times, a truly courageous act for Branson. As a young business owner, he was charged with tax irregularities and had to put his mother’s house up as collateral. Though he ended up owing a large fine, he dedicated himself to learn how his business could bring in big profits, and was able to pay the entire fine off in just two years. That mail order record business that he opened when he was only 20 grew into Virgin, a music label where some of the world’s biggest musicians have recorded. 

Believing in employees

Branson also has a unique managerial style that encourages employee participation and everyone to be a leader in their own right. He insists that management has an open door policy, so that everybody can feel free to contribute their ideas. He also believes in employee independence. Give people an idea of what you want them to do, the tools to do it, and some general perimeters, and they will perform. According to Success Magazine, Branson feels that one of the reasons for his massive success is due to him surrounding himself with people who believe in his ideas. However, he also feels that debate is important and encourages employees who disagree to speak up. This questioning and discussing makes a good idea even better.

Branson told Inc. Magazine that company leaders should lead with the goal in mind that first of all their employees should be happy, next their customers should be happy, and then their investors should be happy. Keeping this order in mind is the best way to make sure that everybody is happy.

By believing in himself, believing in his ideas, and believing in the people he surrounds himself with, Richard Branson has transformed himself from a struggling student to one of the world's top business leaders.

About the author: Tom writes for a number of businesses including DLPROG a Leadership Program organisation based in Australia.

* Image attribution: David Shankbone; CC BY-SA 3.0

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Four common mistakes small-business owners make

Small-businesses ensure market strength with competitor analysis and technological capacity
Micromanagement curbs employees' natural work style
By Scott Murray

First-time small business owners have tough roads ahead of them. Running an independent company without any assistance is borderline impossible and many entrepreneurs make mistakes that wind up hurting the long-term prospects of an organization.

While some snafus are minor, they can quickly snowball and lead to huge headaches down the road. Unfortunately, many owners don't have the business acumen to prevent the exacerbation of small issues.  You don't have to allow mistakes to hurt your business. Look out for these common errors other owners make:

Micromanaging employees

It's difficult to cede control of your business. After all, the company is the product of your work ethic, so you want to ensure that every process is in good hands. Unfortunately, this philosophy can often lead to micromangement, according to the National Federation of Independent Business.

Don't excessively demand that employees perform actions in certain ways. Everyone has their own work style, and as long as workers are productive, there shouldn't be an issue. Additionally, you must realize that you can't run a business without any assistance, so you must trust staff members to do their jobs.

Not minding the competition

CNBC notes that assuming you have no competition is an easy trap to fall into. Even if you're entering an emerging market, there will always be other businesses that will market toward the same consumers as you. Unless you have a complete monopoly over a sector, there will always be competition.

Always keep a sharp eye on other organizations so that you don't fall behind. Ensure that you're always on the cutting edge of the marketplace so that you're viewed as the industry leader while other business owners struggle to keep pace.

Failure to address technological requirements

Implementing software and installing equipment is critical for a small business. Kyle Haroldsen, managing director and chief technical officer at Intrinsic Technologies, notes there are many technical aspects involved with running a company. "There are a lot of different things that make up a business, and there's some aspect of technology associated with all of it," Haroldsen told Fox Business.

Stay abreast of new technology so that you can integrate recent innovations with your current systems. This can ensure that you always have a state-of-the-art enterprise that is always improving and streamlining processes.

Not using social media effectively

It’s not enough to just to have a Facebook and Twitter page to post on.  In order to succeed in the realm of social media, you need to have a fully developed marketing plan that includes goals, target audience strategy and content to offer.  Every platform is different and your approach to each platform should be different.

It’s important to have a plan and be prepared to interact with people on your company Facebook page.  Not understanding the power of a social platform like Twitter can also cause inordinate amounts of damage to a business.  Twitter has been around awhile, and you can learn from other people’s mistakes.

With the economic and business climate in flux, it’s important to learn the newest ways to start and develop your organization through business skills training.  In a competitive, technological and social business environment, there are real benefits to having a comprehensive strategy.

About the author: Scott Murray is the Social Learning Evangelist for www.TrainUp.com, the web’s largest career marketplace.  He is also a contributor to TrainUp.com’s Training Insights Blog, a series of blogs dedicated to career and professional development.

Image license: Royalty Free or iStock source: www.istock.com

How infographics make your company memorable

Infographics are used in marketing because they deliver information in a fun way
Infographics help differentiate business
By Marianne Ross
Being memorable is basically the most important factor for being successful online. It can be tricky to do this sometimes, but using infographics is usually a great way to get started. But you’d be surprised how easy it is to get your company’s message out there through infographics as long as you use a few reasonable principles and tools

They make you unique

The most important thing to make sure that you’re infographic makes waves and gets your company on the map, is to be unique. There are a ton of infographics out there that are all the same, and no one pays attention to them. It’s OK to say something similar as to what other people have said before, but it’s a good idea to try and say it in a totally different way if it’s at all possible. There are many tools online to help you do this, including sites like Visua.LY to do things like add infographics to maps. If people can click on an Infographic and get new results that are personalized to them in a way that’s unique, they will definitely remember the site.

They help you stay simple

The entire reason why people love infographics in the first place is because they get to the point so quickly. It’s important to make sure it’s easy to get to the bottom line of your infographic. People’s eyes will automatically drift in that direction anyhow. As long as people can see the bottom line, and it’s interesting enough, they will tend to actually read the rest of the graphic to see how the bottom line was achieved.

They help you stand out 

Standing out above the crowd is the hard part half the time. There are programs you can use that make this even easier, such as programs to help you create animated infographics like Videoscribe. You can even add music and voice over to your animations to make sure that your brand or company is memorable. If you make your graphics animated you have a much better chance of being memorable, however. There’s a good reason why sites like YouTube are so popular. People love animations and videos, and they will be much more likely to interact with infographics that are incorporated into such videos.

The important thing is to make your company seem fun, that is, to associate it with something fun or interesting so that people will be more likely to remember it. There’s always a time when people are trying to remember something, that only one phrase or idea comes to mind. If you make that time something positive, and make the association in the viewer’s mind a thrilling one that wows them, they will be much more likely to commit your company to their long term memory.

People might forget reams of paper on a subject, they may gloss over an entire screen’s worth of text online. But good images and effective infographics are the kind of thing they tend to remember long term.

About the author: This is a guest post by Marianne Ross, a freelance writer on business topics. You can find her articles on various blogs.

* Image license: Maid services; CC BY-SA 3.0

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Emerging markets: Where to invest in property for the best returns

By Mark Winters

Real estate is supported by labor market growth
Emerging markets indicate growth
A recent report from the Royal Institution of Chartered surveyors (RICS) highlighted the areas across the globe that are expected to see the largest construction boom over the coming decades. The report lists Eastern Europe, China, India, Asia Pacific, Africa and South and Central America as the premier places to invest in commercial property.

Brazil to become luxury sector world beater

RIC’s latest report shows that China, India and Brazil will become the major players in the global property market in the next ten years, with the increased demand for property development being engendered by upgraded transport systems, the expectation for better living standards, labour mobility and increased purchasing power.

By 2018, the report predicts, China will be the world leader within the construction market, but India will have a higher rate of construction, whilst Brazil will lead the field in the luxury market.

110% increase for emerging markets

Researchers believe that emerging markets will enjoy an increase of 110% over the coming decade, amounting to $7 trillion, which by 2020 will represent an enormous 17.2% of the Gross Domestic Product. Meanwhile, it’s predicted that first world countries will only see a rise of 35%, representing an increase of just over $1 trillion by 2020.

Up until this point, fiscal deficits in less developed countries have led to constraints on government budgets, whilst weak consumer spending lack of finance, the rising price of materials and austerity measures have all contributed to the current lack of construction development.

Signs of recovery

But it’s not all bad news for less developed countries. The RICS report affirms that there are serious signs of recovery and asserts that for investors who want to make the maximum return, emerging markets are still the best place to invest.

Capital is becoming increasingly available throughout the world and greater investment in hospitals, transport, education and highways in countries like Brazil will also encourage foreign investment in construction, particularly within the hotel and hospitality sector.

India will be fastest growing economy

The report asserts that India is likely to be the third largest economy in the world within 20 years which will mean more money being invested in property to accommodate this densely populated country, but quantity does not equal quality and the country may not be the most lucrative place to invest.

However, Brazil is a different story. In 2011 the country’s economy grew by 2.7% and this is expected to grow to 6% in 2014. Although the country is currently enjoying an economic boom and tourism is a huge profit generator, property prices both in the residential and tourism sectors aren’t currently reflecting this and are still relatively low.

Those investors who wish to tackle the luxury sector should look to Brazil as one of the best places to invest as the price of property will increase in line with the growing economy and the luxury market is set to explode as tourism increases, so in order to get the best possible ROI, Brazil is the ideal country to invest in.

About the author: Mark Winters is a keen financial blogger and financial advisor at Aspen Woolf- specialists in identifying wealth building opportunities across the globe from Brazil property investment opportunities to investments in renewable energy sources such as biofuel.

* Image license: Sqback; RGBStock.com royalty free. 

Banking services: More than just checking and loans

Long-term savings instruments are also offered by financial institutions
Financial institutions offer retirement planning advice
 By Kendall Moore

If you asked your parents what a bank is good for, they probably told you that it was a place to save some money, cash checks, write checks and apply for loans. All of these things are correct, but that is a very narrow view of the things that a financial institution can do for its customers. The best financial institutions have a variety of services that they provide and can help their customers navigate through the many different stages of life.

Retirement planning

Since 2008 Americans have seen the value of their retirement plans plummet, and even though there has been some recovery, there is still a lot of uncertainty about what the future might bring. It is important to save for retirement, as many estimates suggest that people will need well over a million dollars in assets to live comfortably after retirement because of the increased cost of healthcare and longer life spans. A financial institution can offer you retirement planning advice, such as how to open an IRA and how to roll over a 401(k) if you change jobs or lose your job. This protects the money that you already have set aside for retirement, because IRAs are usually not tied to the volatility of the stock market, and it gives you the best chance to have a good life when you finally get ready to stop working.

Long-term savings

A savings account is a good way to teach a child about how to save money, but the interest on those accounts is small compared to some other investment options. Sometimes you will want to invest some money for the long-term, but you want to make sure that money is safe, and available in a dire emergency. A financial institution has just what you need to invest in long-term savings. Certificates of Deposit, or CDs, are variable length savings programs that will let you put money aside and gain a higher interest rate than it would in a savings account. After the CD matures you will get the money back that you invested, plus the interest. At that point you can renew the CD if you do not need the money right away. This is great way to build a down payment for a home or other large purchase.

Financial services

Finally, there are advanced financial services that a financial institution can provide that you might have gone to other places to have done. They can wire money instantly from one place to another, putting money directly into the recipient’s account, instead of forcing them to go to a Western Union location to pick up the money. The financial institution can also issue traveler’s checks when you travel, and they can print cashier’s checks when you need to make a purchase with certified funds. 

Too often these services are overlooked, and if you are going to another vendor to get any of these financial services, you are paying far more than your bank would charge to do the exact same thing. By using your financial institution for advanced financial services you will get the most from your banking experience. The financial institution exists to serve its customers, and it is wise to see what the institution can do for you before you start seeking help from the outside.

About the author: I am Kendall Moore and I am a financial services advisor for EACU. All too often I hear people complain that they cannot find a company that can provide the banking or financial services that they want, and they are shocked to learn that EACU has all of these advanced services. For more information about what EACU can offer, visit http://www.eacu.org.

* Image license: Micromoth; RGBStock.com royalty free

Friday, July 26, 2013

Repercussions of a false slip and fall suit

Expense and complication of fraud litigation makes prosecuting slip and fall accidents unappealing
Not all slip and fall cliams are genuine
By Jacob Masters

There is video footage all over the internet of fraudulent shoppers pushing shopping carts and staging their own “slip and fall” incident.  These shoppers, hoping to make some money in a lawsuit, are caught on store cameras pouring liquids from a shopping cart on the floor and then slipping in the puddle.  The footage looks more like an entry on “America’s Funniest Home Videos” than a true victim of a slip and fall incident.  Given the repercussions of an illegal stunt, the joke is on them!

False slip and fall claims on the rise

According to National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), many individuals looking for an easy way to make money try out their acting abilities and stage a slip and fall accident in businesses such as grocery stores, gas stations, and restaurants.  A fraudulent slip and fall claim is where a person creates a false, but potentially dangerous situation, with the intent to fake a slip or fall for money.  

While such claims are attempted against large businesses, smaller businesses are falling victim to the fraudulent behavior more often.  When the “injured” party comes to the small business with the threat of slip and fall litigation and shop owners will go for the “pay and forget” option in order to avoid an expensive and lengthy legal process.  Even if and when the shop owner realizes he’s been “had”, the false claim is rarely reported to authorities.  The fraudulent acts keep happening and businesses continue to fall victim, not to mention lose money.

NICB reviewed slip-and-fall questionable claims, from small businesses, referred during the period of 1/1/2010 – 12/31/2011. In 2010, there were 1,944 referrals; in 2011, there were 2,168—an increase of 12 percent.  The five states generating the most slip-and-fall questionable claims from 2010-2011 were:  California (667); New York (280); Texas (245); Illinois (230) and Florida (286). The five cities were:  New York (134); Los Angeles (127); Philadelphia (99); Chicago (63) and Las Vegas (62).

The repercussions of being fraudulent

In June of 2013, an Illinois man was charged with insurance fraud after admitting to authorities that he filed a series of false slip and false lawsuits.  The man, who confessed to false slip and fall accidents in the washrooms of restaurants such as Popeye’s Chicken and Burger King, was arrested.  

The NICB contacted local authorities after they learned of a suspected insurance fraud in which the man’s attorney demanded $180,000 for injuries.   Police soon learned that the man, who had an alias, had been making numerous false claims in an attempt to extort money from local businesses.  The man also admitted to collecting $219,000 for a fake injury in a false slip and fall case in 2009.  The fraudulent man now faces up to 15 years in prison for making false allegations.

Faking a slip and fall accident can potentially hurt others and destroy the reputation of a honest and law abiding business.  Not only are false accusations, with the attempt to swindle money, not worth the trouble, but can leave you in a lot of unwanted legal trouble.  Remember, the next time you are looking for a quick way to make a buck, don’t do anything stupid in the grocery store; cameras are rolling!

About the author: Jacob Masters is a freelance writer and author who has worked in the health industry for over a decade. His goal in life is to increase the internet knowledge base one article at a time. He also likes to push the boundaries through his city wide evening excursions as a guerilla gardener.

* Image: Author owned and licensed

How to enter credit card charges into Quickbooks

User friendly categories make bookkeeping in Quickbooks easier
Make entries in a Quickbooks credit card account 
Let's face it, credit card transactions are an integral part of just about any business. Whether you are receiving or spending funds, chances are you'll use a credit card at some point or another. 

Thankfully, Quickbooks is designed to make credit card accounting a quick and easy process. If your business recently received a payment through a credit card, or if you intend on paying for an expense using a credit card, you'll want to update your Quickbooks account with this transaction; otherwise, your entire balance could be thrown off. 

To learn more about how to enter credit card charges into Quickbooks, keep reading.

Set up a credit card account

First and foremost, you'll need to set up a credit card account. From the Quickbooks home screen, click “Chart of Accounts” followed by “New.” This will open up a new screen where you can add credit card accounts. Go ahead and follow the built-in Wizard tool that guides you through the process. You'll need to choose the type of credit card, name on the card, account number, expiration date, etc. Once you are finished, click “Done” and the credit card will then be added to your account.

Entering charges

After setting up your credit card account on Quickbooks, you will then need to go back and enter the actual charge amount. Go to the “Banking” menu under your account and select “Enter Credit Card Charges.” A new window will appear with a dropdown box showing all of your credit card accounts. Assuming you followed the previous instructions on adding your account, you should now see the respective credit card listed here. Double check to make sure it's the appropriate credit card account before clicking on it and proceeding to the next step.

Next, you'll need to select the vendor where your business credit card was used. Hopefully, the vendor is already listed in your Quickbooks account. If they aren't listed, you'll need to go back and add them before entering the credit card charge. Adding a vendor or client is a pretty straightforward process that only takes a few minutes. You can even use the built-in Wizard tool to walk you through it.

Lastly, look for the “Expenses” tab after selecting the credit card account and vendor. You can manually enter in the products or items purchased with the credit card. Click on “Ok” after entering the amount and the transaction should now show up under your Quickbooks account.

Because credit card transactions don't automatically update into Quickbooks, you'll have to manually enter them in by hand. Some people may find this a tedious task, but it's necessary to keep your accounting accurate. One little tip that's helpful is to enter your credit card transactions as soon as they occur. Once the transaction has successfully gone through, fire up Quickbooks to enter it. And remember, you can refer back to this article if you are having trouble entering credit card charges into your Quickbooks account.

About the author: Kelly is a content contributor for MyVAO. Kelly enjoys writing about Quickbooks software, new technology and much more. She recommends you check out this website for the best quickbooks hosting available online.

* Image attribution: Author owned and licensed

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Social Security disability demystified

By Elizabeth Mercer

The Social Security Disability Insurance program (SSDI), managed by the Social Security Administration, helps people who can’t work because of a temporary or permanent disability. The payments are provided until the disability heals, or until retirement if it’s a permanent condition.

Social Security Disability Insurance is only granted to applicants who prove disability
Social Security Disability Insurance ends upon reaching retirement age

Who Qualifies?

There are several factors that determine eligibility to receive SSDI benefits:
  • Must not have reached retirement age
  • Must be able to prove a disability that prohibits “substantial gainful activity” 
  • Disability must exist for at least a year, continue for an indefinite period, or result in death
  • Must have worked for at least five of the last 10 years (unless disability occurred before age 22)
  • Must not be currently working, and provide medical evidence of inability to work
All applicants undergo a background check that includes a review of all medical records and history.

Social Security Disability Insurance applications require extensive documentation
Medical background checks include a review of medical history


The following information will be needed to complete the SSDI application:
  • Social Security Number
  • Proof of age (birth certificate)
  • List of all your health care providers with contact information
  • Work history
  • Proof of income and financial status
  • Medical insurance information
  • List of dependents and ages
The qualifying process is extensive and may take as long as a year. It’s also common for the initial application to be denied because of failure to fulfill all the eligibility requirements. Denied claims can be appealed, but it’s a cumbersome process that will consume even more time.

How to apply

By phone – Call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY: 1-800-325-0778).

In person – If you're currently in the US, you can use the locator to find a Social Security office near you and apply for benefits using a paper form. If you are out of the country, on military duty or for other reasons, you can contact the nearest US embassy, consulate or Social Security Offfice of International Operations.

Online – Certainly the easiest way, applying online allows you to answer questions at your own pace and skip questions if you don't know the answer. You can come back later and answer those questions as your application is auto-saved for you. Apply online using the disability benefits application .


SSDI is different than the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program and should not be confused.
SSDI is an insurance program that is funded by Social Security taxes deducted from employment wages. Those who apply for SSDI can also apply for SSI, and may sometimes be required.

SSI is a needs-based, welfare program that is funded by the federal government through general tax revenues. Its purpose is to help low-income citizens of any age, and those who are severely disabled and have no means of earning a living. Prior employment is not required to be entitled for this benefit, but those who are working are still eligible. It’s strictly based on demonstrated financial need.
Needs based social welfare is supported through the Social Security Insurance program
Supplemental disability insurance expands government sponsored coverage

Disability insurance is also available for a premium through many employers and private insurance companies. These policies are more affordable for younger people because of a lower health risk to insurers. They provide supplemental coverage to the government-sponsored programs described above.

About the author: Elizabeth Mercer Matlock writes for Singleton Law Firm in Atlanta and has long enjoyed seeing the fruit of a well-written legal article. She's well-rounded in her interests and never above making a good lawyer joke.
* Image licenses: 1. ; Kayugee; CC BY-ND 2.0 2. Ken Teegardin; CC BY-S.A. 2.0  3.  Tony Alter; CC BY 2.0  

Gay marriage: 4 federal benefits given to same-sex spouses

By Kris Hopkins

Based on studies performed by the Williams Institute, there are about 650,000 gay couples living together in the country, and about 114,000 of these couples are legally married. This estimated figure could increase significantly due to the court's recent ruling that removes any legal obstacles to gay couples marrying in the state. The common legal obstacles that same-sex couples need to face include filing tax returns and health insurance.

The recent ruling has made it clear that same-sex spouses living in the states that recognize gay marriage will immediately have access to more than a thousand federal benefits, including Social Security as well as family leave rights. Here are a few of the rights given to same-sex spouses.
Same-sex couples are afforded several legal benefits
Legal same-sex couples can share Social Security benefits

Social Security

Same-sex spouses living in the states where gay marriage is legal can now apply for Social Security so that they, too, can enjoy its benefits. This means that they can benefit on their spouses' earnings and survivor benefits. It is also possible that couples in certain civil unions and registered domestic partnerships will also benefit from this. However, these same-sex couples need to understand that they cannot enjoy the same benefits if they move to another state where gay marriage is not recognized or legal.

Health insurance coverage and taxes

With the recent ruling, many gay couples, especially those who work in public agencies, are now able to add their spouse to their health plan. Even before the law has required this coverage, many private companies are extending these benefits to their employees. The only question is whether a same-sex spouse can be added right away. Normally, an employee can add a family member within 30 days of a qualifying event, such as birth of a child or marriage. Gay couples can inquire their employer about the rules concerning these changes.

Aside from coverage, there are also certain changes when it comes to paying the health insurance taxes. Unlike a typical marriage of a man and women, same-sex spouses need to pay federal taxes on the amount of their partner's health insurance. This is due to the fact that the government did not recognize their marriage. Today, gay couples are now treated just like traditional couples. This means that they are not subjected to paying extra taxes. This will result to huge savings in the long run.

Family and medical leave

The law states that big companies and public agencies need to provide their employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave and continual health benefit for sick leave, child birth or adoption as well as to care for the opposite-sex spouse, a child, or a parent who is sick. In the past, this benefit is only given to opposite-sex married couples. Today though, the law will also extend the same benefits to same-sex spouses.

Federal income taxes

Gay couples who are living in states where gay marriage is legal can now file joint federal income tax returns. This will help them save a lot of money, especially if one spouse earn much less than the other or is unemployed. High-income gay couples who are both employed will probably pay higher income tax.

To that end, filing a joint income tax will lead to the ineligibility of the lower-income couples for certain tax savings, such as the earned-income tax credit. The tax cost will depend on where the couple resides, their income, and their circumstances. Unfortunately, it is still unclear whether the gay couple can still file a joint federal return if they decide to move to a state where gay marriage is not legal.

About the author: The author, Kris Hopkins is a blogger for law firms and websites. In this article, she lists a few of the federal benefits given to gay married couples and discusses how it can help these couples. She also advises her readers to seek legal assistance from reputable law firms, such as Livesay & Myers.

* Image attribution: Mike Licht; CC BY-2.0 

Electronic check processing technology: Helping your business succeed

Electronic check processing is not always favored over traditional checks
Check writers create register bottlenecks
By Jean McDaniels

While a lot of people are now using other payment methods instead of checks, refusing to accept check payments wouldn't do your business any good. 

Despite the numerous advancements in the payment processing industry and the significant decline in check payments, there are still a large number of consumers who prefer to use checks in most of their transactions. So, while a lot of people are now using other payment methods instead of checks, refusing to accept check payments wouldn't do your business any good.

Accepting checks payments – The pros and cons

There are a lot of reasons why most people are now using other alternative payment methods instead of checks. For one, there is nothing more cumbersome than having a customer fumble for his or her checkbook and writing a check at the checkout line. Needless to say, it may create a bottleneck at checkout and upset your other customers – a situation that may result in fewer sales.

In addition, check payments carry a significant risk to the merchant. Unlike credit and debit cards that can be verified right on the spot, there is no way to determine whether the check has enough funds to cover for the transaction. As such, you can say that you are taking a leap of faith when accepting paper checks for payment.

Considering the fact that not many people use paper checks anymore and that accepting them slows down your service and puts you at a greater risk for fraud, is there any reason why you should still consider accepting them? Well, you may not believe it but there are a number of good reasons why you should. Here are some of them.

They don't cost anything to use. Unlike other electronic payment methods, personal checks do not cost anything to use. With plastic, you are obliged to pay a certain percentage for every transaction while you can keep 100% of your profits with checks.

Refusing check payments can affect your profits. Refusing check payments can result in losing your older patrons. Are you willing to risk it?

You can always convert them to electronic checks. Thanks to the advancements in the payment processing industry, that paper check your customer just paid you can now be converted into an electronic check. With electronic check conversion, you can process payments more quickly and receive your funds sooner. In addition, the process is relatively easy to set up, entails lower processing costs and reduces the potential for error and fraud.

By leveraging the power of electronic check conversion, you can be sure that your transactions are 100% safe and secure. It uses 128-bit encryption, secure sockets layer (SSL) and a number of authentication services such as digital signatures or digital certificates and public key cryptography to make sure that the person providing the account information has the authority to use the account.

Without a doubt, electronic check conversion can bring a lot of benefits to the table – especially if you choose a reputable payment processing company such as PayMeSecure to convert all those paper checks into electronic checks. With electronic check processing, you will definitely get all the help you need to accelerate the growth of your business. That's a guarantee!

About the author: Jean McDaniels has owned a quick mart for the past 7 years, but recently took a leap of faith with a food truck business of selling burritos. He has found success with using PayMeSecure’s wireless services to help with credit card processing for his business.

* Image license: Woodsy; RGBStock.com royalty free 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The fastest growing state economies

2012 saw North Dakota's state economy growth the fastest
N.Dakotas economy grew fast in 2012
It turns out that 2012 was a pretty good year economically in the United States. In 2011, the US GDP, or Gross Domestic Product, increased by 1.6 percent. By comparison, GDP rose by 2.6 percent in 2012. Especially when considering the size and economic clout of the US, this is a sizeable number. Growth in GDP during 2012 can be largely attributed to GDP growth in some of the largest states in the US. It makes sense that these large states do much to drive the economy.

However, these weren’t the only states to experience GDP growth. Most of the states on this list experienced high population growth in 2012. Population growth is generally one of the primary factors associated with growth in GDP. And remember, growth in GDP ought to be a factor considered by those who are trying to decide which state or states to focus their entrepreneurial efforts in. So without further ado, here are the top five fastest growing state economies in 2012.

Fifth fastest: Minnesota

In 2012, Minnesota had a banner year. This northern territory enjoyed the fifth highest growth in GDP at 3.5 percent. Simultaneously, Minnesota was home to the lowest unemployment rate in 2012, with just 5.6 percent of its workforce reportedly out of work. Much of Minnesota’s GDP growth can be tied into growth in the finance and insurance industries. However, it ought to be noted that this GDP growth did not translate into heavy job growth; during 2012 Minnesota was in the middle of the pack when it came to generating new jobs.

Fourth fastest: Washington

Washingtonians had much to be happy about this past year, at least from a growth standpoint. GDP growth in Washington was an impressive 3.6 percent in 2012. Much of this growth is credited to Washington’s increasing influence in the information sector. Growth in information sector businesses was responsible for a third of all GDP growth in Washington state during 2012.

Third fastest: Oregon

Washington’s neighbor and rival Oregon also made it high on the GDP growth list, boasting 3.9 percent GDP growth this past year. Durable goods manufacturing is responsible for much of Oregon’s GDP growth. Much of this durable goods growth comes from the presence of the computer part manufacturer Intel in Oregon. The company employs 17,000 people there.

Second fastest: Texas

Oil and gas are huge for GDP growth. So too is population growth. Texas experienced in an increase of all three in 2012 and had a GDP growth rate of 4.8 percent as a result. Texas is already the nation’s second largest economy, and these new numbers do nothing but bolster that status.

The Winner: North Dakota

In 2012, North Dakota’s gross domestic product grew by a whopping 13.4 percent. Unsurprisingly, North Dakota was also the leader in population and employment growth this past year. To a large extent, all of this rapid growth can be traced back to the oil boom that has recently hit the state. North Dakota recently became the second largest oil producer in the US, second only to the state of Texas. Still, investors ought to be careful – oil revenue won’t last forever!

About the author: Justin blogs about business news and how to found and market a business on behalf of Kwikkerb. He also provides information on the Kwikkerb business opportunity.

* Image license: Lusi; RGBStock.com royalty free

Retirement money for the love generation

By Tom Brown

A favorite joke captures an attitude about aging, “What’s the best part of being 100? Answer: The almost complete absence of peer pressure!”

But with so many boomers relatively broke, beginning to break down physically, their marriages having broken up and now living a-lonely, downsized out of their careers and being blamed for the bad luck of living in a collapsed world economy, what is there really for them to laugh out loud about?

And yet, with the same confidence they’ve exhibited for their entire existence and despite the staggeringly serious statistics and all the dire predictions, the baby boom generation is laughing in the face of old age and death and turning even the ultimate buzz-kill into their latest society-changing way to get high on life.

They’ve eaten and exercised better and consumed more and lived more fully than any generation of humans, and as if that weren’t enough, now seem determined to redefine aging (60 is the new 40) rediscover meaning (older is better) and since they’re now a full third of the US population, preparing to flex their political and economic muscle in a final “We’re just getting started” rejection of being forced into any kind of box, especially a pine one.

But if government programs aren’t able to swallow the enormous needs of this python-in-a-pig sized generation, if collectively they’re over leveraged and had what little they’d saved decimated by the world financial crisis, if their pensions have disappeared, jobs they were depending on sent overseas, and they’re too old and face too much competition for the few remaining corporate cubicles, what are the optimistic former hippies to do?

It turns out they’re happy to work longer, start businesses and join together in communities to help one another. “I was forced to find ways to deal with the challenges we boomers are facing and now I’m pulling as many people as possible into the lifeboat with me.” says Doug Leedy, a Florida-based Retirement Income Options Advisor.

Leedy spent 37 years in the real estate business, mostly as a realtor and appraiser, in his hometown of Wooster, Ohio before moving to Florida to “retire” only to realize he needed to continue to work. “My partners and I experience the most success through Renatus Real Estate Education. It’s the best concept in real estate investing I’ve seen in my entire career. Approximately 75% of the wealthy 1% we’ve heard so much about, have earned their wealth through business ownership and/or real estate investing. Renatus offers both. Not only does the company provide a world-class education so you can succeed in the challenging field of real estate investing, they offer a wonderful community of fellow investors who challenge you and help you evaluate and do deals. 

Self-employment was widespread before the Industrial Age
Doug Leedy: Florida Retirment Income Options Advisor

Networking is the buzzword in business today and Renatus creates a national network of like-minded investors who learn together, critique each other and partner on deals. It’s “competitive collaboration” and because of it,I’m not only making enough money to be able to live well for the next however many years,” said Leedy, who’s now 63, “I’m able to create a legacy for my kids.”

Boomers are being forced to deal with a legacy of macroeconomic forces beyond their control in their retirement planning. Forty-three million jobs disappeared from America between 1979 and 1995. Those benefit-rich manufacturing jobs came back as less safe and less well paid white-collar jobs, and lately many of those jobs are being outsourced to foreign workers. Playing by the rules and being responsible turned out to not always be enough to produce security.

Many disciplined, well-intended boomers had their home equity destroyed by the financial crisis and their retirement 401k’s devastated by the stock market crash. Some dire warnings estimate that at least one-third of the generation is financially unprepared for retirement.

And there appears to be no Government cavalry coming to the rescue. In 1950, 16 workers paid for each retiree’s Social Security benefit. In 2010, about 3 workers supported each.  By 2025, it is projected that there will be only two workers supporting each retiree.

Due to these economic realities, along with finding themselves alone or divorced and facing health problems they’re unprepared to accept, the “have it my way” generation is experiencing higher suicide rates than any cohort in recent U.S. history.

Death, however, isn’t as frightening to them as living. According to The New Retirement Survey, Created by Merrill-Lynch with guidance from gerontologist and author Ken Dychtwald, Ph.D., boomers are three times more worried about illness (48%), their ability to pay for healthcare (53%), or winding up in a nursing home (48%) than about dying (17%).  Dychtwald predicts “If the looming shortfall in entitlement programs is not addressed, boomers will confront challenges that rival those faced by their parents and grandparents in the Great Depression and World War II”. Now that’s frightening!

Yet, just as they’ve bounced back from Vietnam and other government insanities, the assassinations of their political and cultural leaders, overreaching idealisms, and so many other harsh realities, most boomers seem undaunted by the disappearance of retirement, as we knew it. It turns out they never wanted it in the first place. Perhaps it’s because they noticed when their parent’s generation shifted suddenly from work to leisure they became ill; both physically and psychologically.

So Americans aged 55 to 64 are starting small businesses at a higher rate than any other age group. A recent USA Today/Gallup poll says that 63% of non-retired adults in the United States plan to work into retirement. Most interesting is that the poll was taken long before the current economic collapse and that most people were making the choice for non-financial reasons. Most said they want the stimulation and satisfaction they get from working.

Almost half of America’s self-employed workers are currently Baby Boomers according to the U.S. Department of Labor. A recent AARP study on self-employment found that about one in three self-employed workers age 51 to 60 made the transition to self-employment at or after age 50.

Forrest Bledsoe made his transition at 53, after noticing “I was getting ulcers while everyone around me was getting rich”. The doctors Bledsoe worked with as he managed large healthcare organizations had created their wealth through real estate investing. Bledsoe, after he tested and rejected the guru investor weekend workshop style of learning, discovered Renatus, was immediately sold and now six years later owns or controls over 230 properties worth millions of dollars.  “I was suspicious at first, so I took my wife, who’s a fantastic businessperson, and when she agreed Renatus was a great business model built on integrity and good people we jumped in with both feet. It’s a decision we haven’t regretted for one moment. Being part of the Renatus community has made us rich.”  

Dychwald’s study points out the “me” generation is fast becoming the ”we” generation and because of their concern for the well-being of their children, fellows and recognition of the value of being in community are now ten times more likely to put others first rather than themselves.

Leedy, who is in real estate deals with Bledsoe, puts it this way, “In addition to the property I’ll leave my kids, I’m hoping to help them understand the lessons I learned from believing that if I did everything “right” and played by all the rules, the government would be there to take care of me. We are in a transition period. 

Prior to the Industrial Era, almost everyone was self-employed. The Industrial Age created a need for employees that grew to the point where almost everyone was an employee. Now we are entering the Information Age, and because of free trade, unimaginable gains in technology and the development of the internet, those jobs have been replaced and disappeared.  I hope my example will teach my kids and others in their generation to be self-reliant and find a good team to work with like I have.”

Successful Toronto-based agent and investor, Darren Ford, who’s only 38, but already thinking about his later life says retiring seems like asking to die. “To me, the only safety in life seems to be dedication to a lifetime of continuous growth and learning.”

Ford’s advice about real estate investing comes in a simple list of the top 4 mistakes people make:

#1. Not getting into the real estate investment game
#2. Not finding and building a good team
#3. Not being willing to ask questions
#4. Not being patient.

Retirement Income Options Advisor, Leedy agrees investing is a challenging, specialized field and offers his clients this list of reasons their best answer is still to get educated about real estate:

1. Real estate has always been the best way to build wealth
2. 74% of the top 1% built their wealth through business ownership and/or investing in real estate
3. Real estate values and interest rates are at an all-time low.
4. People always need places to live and will work diligently to pay you (rent/mortgage) first, before they pay anyone or anything else.

Leedy says when he meets people and shares with them an opportunity to get real estate investment education to secure their future, some respond with fear. He then asks "If you are afraid to do this, what are you going to do to change things for the better?"

“There’s no reason to be afraid,” he says, “ because the system allows people to get the education for only a couple hundred dollars down and the company offers financing with payments spread over 3 years. Anyway, a key strategy of the program is to teach you how to use other people’s money to get started in the game. There are millions of dollars lying around in IRA’s and 401K’s that are underperforming and can be rolled-over into self-directed funds for investing in real estate. We can offer people a much better rate of return, often secured with a first mortgage”.  That’s a win-win situation, which is what we always strive for.

It appears many Baby Boomers, despite circumstances, are not afraid to change themselves, their expectations and anything else that gets in the way of living long, full lives. How about you? Share your strategy, success stories and opinions.

About the author: Tom Brown, is a technology and business journalist with a passion for covering businesses, technologies and ideas that produce positive social impact, change social paradigms, and eliminate inefficient processes.

* Image licensed and copyrighted by Doug Leedy