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Saturday, November 30, 2013

How are some companies appealing to the sustainability generation?

Going green helps businesses succeed
Companies are incorporating sustainability for marketability
By Alvin Webster

We’re becoming greener each day. That’s at least according to Steven Cohen, Executive Director of the Sustainability Generation. In a post on the Huffington Post, Cohen points to a Gallup Poll that showed that the gap between economic concerns over environmental well-being is lowered. 

In 2011, 54% of the people polled valued economic concerns when they were at odds with environmental issues, but that number has dropped to 48%. This is could be due to a lot of factors: the economy is slowly getting better, climate change is becoming increasingly accepted by even the staunchest of opponents, and, finally, the Millenials are getting older.

Although not an exact term, Millenials is the name given to those who were born after 1980. This is a generation that grew up on Captain Planet, was exposed to the World Wide Web at a young age and watched An Inconvenient Truth in movie theaters. Dubbed the Sustainability Generation by Cohen, this generation is more receptive to environmental concerns and understands that solidifying the future means doing things in the present. As these people get older and influence corporate responsibility and offerings, we should see many more companies seek greener operating options and products, but here are just a few innovative companies that are paving the way for others:

Whole Foods: When one considers the Millenials, one has to think about where they shop and the grocery store they often go to is Whole Foods. Whole Foods was founded by John Mackey, who coined the term high trust organization. The term was meant to address how corporate responsibility needs to be voluntary, and how everything can’t be about profit. That’s why Whole Foods posts sustainability brochures and posters all over the store and includes ample places to recycle. In addition, they make it a point to use recycled bags and packaging, and the company has been honored by the EPA for its waste reduction efforts.

North American Power: North American Power was honored by Forbes Magazine as being one of the most promising companies in the country because of its efforts to supply customers with renewable sources of electricity. Rather than join traditional utilities, North American Power decided to try something a little different. They buy energy in the wholesale market and pass off the savings to the customer. In addition, they realize the importance of charity, and that’s why they’ll donate a dollar to each customer’s charity of choice every month.

MOVMNT: How many plastic bags do you think there are in our world’s oceans right now? According to the people of MOVMNT, too much, but the numbers are rather staggering. A trillion bags are consumed each year, and over a 100,000 marine animals die each year because of bags ending up in oceans. That’s why MOVMNT created a line of shoes and accessories that are made entirely of recycled single use plastic bags and organizes beach cleanups periodically to save the planet.

These companies are just three examples of the influence Millenials are having on the corporate world. As the push for sustainability continues, it should be interesting to see what other companies come about. 

About the author: Alvin Webster is an experienced electrician with a strong role in his community. He is always looking for more sustainable energy sources. He has been featured on many websites writing about these interests.

Image license: Sunshineconnelly, CC BY-SA 2.0

Friday, November 29, 2013

Fraud in the health care industry

The cost of healthcare fraud is very high
Healthcare fraud amounts to 30.8% of annual spending
By Britni Zandbergen

According to recent FBI reports, health care fraud costs the United States approximately $80 billion dollars annually.  Recent cases have shown that medical professionals are even willing to risk patient’s health in their fraudulent activity.  Americans spend about $2.6 trillion dollars annually on health care, which is part of the reason why fraud in this industry has been on the rise, according to CNBC.

What is health care fraud?

Health care insurance fraud is considered a white collar crime, which involves dishonest claims for health care in order to make money.  Medical practitioners have become more and more involved in health care fraud with schemes where they bill patients for services which were never provided, filing for tests which were never run, and obtaining prescription pills illegally which are covered by insurance, then reselling them on the black market to turn a profit.  Other ways in which medical practitioners have been found committing health care fraud include the modification of patient’s medical records, using unlicensed staff, waiving co-pays illegally, and prescribing additional or unnecessary treatments.

The worst thing about health care fraud is that the perpetrators are never the ones who pay the price.  The cost is always passed on to the patient.  According to the law department at Cornell University, about 10 percent of every single dollar spent by patients for health care will be used to pay off fraudulent health care claims. In addition to the existing fraud committed by healthcare professionals, there are scammers that are taking advantage of the confusion many have over the upcoming healthcare law changes as part of the Affordable Care Act.

In March 2010, President Obama signed the comprehensive health reform, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), into law. Open enrollment for the ACA begins October 1, 2013. The problem with the ACA is that it is quite complex. And fraudsters are taking advantage of the surrounding confusion.

Some of the scams being pulled in relation to the ACA include calling people and claiming to be government workers to acquire personal information.  Other scams include malicious phishing websites that are aimed at grabbing personal information. Once they obtain this information illegally, they can use the information in many ways to commit fraudulent activity. Some of the most targeted groups are the elderly and low income individuals. 

It is important to remember that if someone calls you and claims to be a government employee, they will never ask you to send money, divulge any personal banking information, or offer to send you money.  Never put your personal banking or credit card information on a public computer and be wary of phishing websites which try to steal your information or inject malware programs onto your computer. Legitimate businesses will use a good id verification program to keep your information safe.

There are many ways to protect yourself and your business from becoming the victims of fraudsters and scammers, so be sure to do online research on how to protect yourself.

About the author: Written by Britni Zandbergen, Senior Director of Marketing at Idology.  Britni has years of experience in identity management as well as dynamic SaaS solutions.

Image license: jfcherry, CC BY-SA 2.0

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Are Bitcoins safe from counterfeiting?

Crypto currency is also vulnerable to theft
Bitcoins are subject to network counterfeiting

By James Duvalis

The on-going story of the emergence and continued evolution of the fledgling bitcoin cryptocurrency is one of the most fascinating ones to have emerged in recent years. When the pseudonymous developer Satoshi Nakamoto first introduced us to the concept in a 2008 paper, few people could have anticipated just how far the idea would have come five years later.

The gradual and widespread uptake of the bitcoin currency has understandably lead the spotlight of scrutiny to be shown directly upon the currency. Chief among the concerns raised regarding the cryptocurrency are the price volatility and a whole host of potential security problems.   

This widespread scepticism has meant that the currency has been experiencing extreme reactions in the last year. In June 2013 alone it was announced that while BitPay had facilitated bitcoin transactions from over 4,500 companies, Thailand had effectively declared the currency to be illegal. So, just what are ordinary users supposed to make of all this? Is getting into the bitcoin game an unduly risky one, with the chance of fraud or counterfeiting waiting around every corner?

Bitcoins and theft

First things first, the short history of bitcoin is not one that has completely free of theft, attempted manipulation and other potential sources of mischief. Because the currency is built for anonymous transactions (something that saw it quickly adopted by sites such as the nefarious silk road website) many have argued that it is not as secure as it might be.

Some of the biggest instances of bitcoin theft are:
  • In 2011, MyBitcoin (a then transaction processor) was hacked. The episode ended with around 78,000 bitcoins (equivalent to a staggering $896,929 at the time) being completely unaccounted for
  • In 2012, Bitcoin savings and Trust was shut down with around $5.6 million in bitcoin based debts. This has led to pretty fervent accusations of foul play and the US SEC has subsequently opened up a federal investigation into the case
  • In 2012, a Trojan horse virus stole thousands of bitcoins from several sites
  • In 2013, the site Instawallet was robbed of around 35,000 bitcoins. The value of individual coins at the time meant that this theft was worth over $4.5 million! 
As with anything in the online world, bitcoins are only as safe as the systems that they operate on. One weak link in the global chain can bring the whole thing grinding to a halt, the consequences becoming very real financially very quickly for those involved.

It is still unclear whether law enforcement agencies around the world have developed anything resembling a coherent strategy when it comes to the theft of bitcoins at this point, although the issue is likely to be weighing increasingly heavily upon their minds.

So while you can have your bitcoins stolen from you, is it possible for someone to make a copy of your bitcoins and pass them off as authentic?

Are Bitcoins safe from counterfeiting?  

If you talk to anyone who is invested in the bitcoin project for long enough you will eventually hear the claim that bitcoins are by the very nature impossible to counterfeit. This claim is made repeatedly and loudly whenever the security concerns surrounding bitcoins are raised by those that are not yet sold on the validity of the currency.

If bitcoins are indeed impervious from counterfeiting, this would obviously be one of the strongest feathers in the cap of those that are trying to convince a wider audience of the young currency’s legitimacy. But are these claims accurate?

There is no “bitcoin” to counterfeit

There are several features of bitcoins that seem to back up the claim that the currency is counterfeit protected. Firstly, and perhaps most significantly, there is no ‘thing’ called a ‘bitcoin’ to counterfeit.  When you have twenty bitcoins on your computer, this is an abstraction. What you really have are twenty individual addresses that relate to the second main anti-counterfeiting aspect: the bitcoin network.

When you transfer some of your bitcoins to another person as part of a transaction you are not giving them a number of individual bitcoins. Rather, you are submitting your transaction to the bitcoin network where the address and value of your claim is verified, making a legitimate bitcoin really nothing more than an entry on the network list.

So, it is argued, counterfeiting is impossible due to both the nature of the bitcoins themselves and the network all transactions must take part in.

Counterfeiting has always been about fooling people and systems, not ‘creating money’

While this argument seems to be sound, it seems to be founded upon an incorrect assumption as to what counterfeiting actually is and what it entails.

Anything can be counterfeited because counterfeiting has never been about creating actual money (or in this case bitcoins). The aim of the game has always been to create something that fools other people or a particular system into believing that you possess the real thing. When this view is taken, it becomes clear that it is possible for bitcoins to be counterfeited, or at least for someone to be able to make transactions on the network without legitimately obtaining their bitcoins first.

There are a number of theoretical ways in which the currency could become subject to counterfeiting. The first is the ‘race attack’ (a form of ‘double spending’) where two simultaneous transactions using the same bitcoin are sent to the network.  One transaction would be sent to an address controlled by the hacker and only announced to a few nodes in the network, while the second transaction would be sent from another address and announced to the whole network in the normal way. The aim would be for the second payment to register first, thereby deeming the transaction as received.

The second main way is another form of double spending named the Finney attack.  Here, the counterfeiter pays for a service with bitcoins that they have not publically announced to the network, before overriding the transaction before it is technically completed by publically announcing the bitcoins to the network.

In essence, these two methods involve crediting two separate people at the same time in order to confuse the network system. If these tactics are successful then there is no need for the perpetrator to even attempt to counterfeit anyone else’s bitcoins.

So, the claim that bitcoins are entirely safe from counterfeiting is not entirely accurate, although the methods involved are intrinsically difficult and resource heavy. Whether or not these kinds of attacks continue to grow in correlation with the currencies increasingly widespread use remains to be seen. What do think of bitcoins? Are they a risky flash in the pan or something far more substantial?  

About the author: James Duvalis a freelance blogger who loves studying the ways in which the internet is changing the way we do things. He recommends Essentra Security.

Image license: henribergius, CC BY-SA 2.0

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Pros and cons of paying off your mortgage early

By Linda Baker

Buying your first home is one of the biggest steps you will ever take in your life and once you have signed on the dotted line you will feel a sense of relief. You are finally on the property ladder and you have the privilege of calling yourself a homeowner, but after a while the realization of what is in front of you will set in. For the next X amount of years you will have to pay a considerable amount of money each month towards your mortgage until it's finally paid off and you can forget about it.

Some people don't want to be tied into a mortgage for so long, especially if they're earning a considerable amount more than when they first took out their mortgage. Why would you want to be tied into something for so long when you have the means to pay it off early? Just because you can pay your mortgage in full before the agreed upon date it doesn't necessarily mean you should. We're going to look at some of the pros and cons so you can decide for yourself what you should do.

Save lots of money

Save money by paying off your mortage early
Early payoff lowers interest costs
It's scary to work out how much money you will pay in interest over the lifetime of your mortgage. All that money is wasted and it's the same as taking some of your wages and flushing the notes down the toilet. 

If you repay your mortgage early you will end up paying a lot less interest and that is very attractive to people. Over 30 years it can add up to a huge amount that could be better spent elsewhere, but at the end of the day it's still a long-term plan.

New found freedom

Lower expenses by paying off your mortgage
Personal cashflow improves with pay off
Speak to anyone who has successfully repaid their mortgage and they'll tell you it's one of the best feelings in the world. 

For years and years you'll be used to having a small amount of money left over after your payments get taken out of the bank then suddenly you'll have all that extra money to spend on whatever you want. 

With all those extra funds you will be able to do almost anything you desire and you'll enjoy the latter part of your life a lot more.

Less chance to save

Cash-on-hand is reduced by high mortgage payments
Mortgage payments lower savings
When your mortgage is finally paid you'll have a lot more money, but even if you repay your mortgage twice as fast you will still have to go a long time without being able to save lots of money. 

Does it make sense to have all your money tied up in your home when you don't have any proper savings in the bank? If something was to happen and you needed money you might need to sell your home, or even if you refinanced it the fact you were paying it off early wouldn't mean anything anymore.

No special treats

Paying off a home loan before retirement is wise
Home loans create financial pressure
Once your mortgage is paid in full you can begin to live like a king, but you'll be old and you might not have a lot of years left in you. 

Some people seem to think life is for living when you're young and they definitely have a point. Will you be able to live an enjoyable life if all your extra money is going towards your mortgage? You won't be able to treat yourself like the rest of your friends and you might end up resenting it.Saving for retirement

What you eventually decide to do is completely up to you, but there is one thing all the experts tend to agree on. When you have extra money and you're looking for somewhere to put it you should start maxing out your retirement savings plans before anything else because it will ensure you can have a great life when you're older.

About the author: The author of this article is Linda Baker, a professional freelance blogger. She writes articles for First World Mortgage, a credible mortgage lender in Connecticut. Linda takes keen interest in wildlife photography and will soon do an exhibit to showcase her work.
Image licenses: 1.401(K) 2012, CC BY-SA 2.0; 2. 401(K) 2012, CC BY-SA 2.0 ; 3. OTA Photos, CC BY-SA 2.0 ; 4. 401(K) 2012, CC BY-SA 2.0

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The increasing cost of long-term care

Last station nursing homeBy Jenni Wiltz

You might already know that 70% of people over age 65 will need long-term care at some point in their lives. But did you know that 40% of the people currently receiving long-term care are between the ages of 18 and 64? According to LongTermCare.gov, a surprising number of young and middle-aged people (not seniors) need help with one or more activities of daily living, such as dressing, bathing, or eating.

Obviously, planning for your long-term care needs isn't something that should be put off...especially with the rising cost of care.

How much does long-term care cost?

Every year, the cost of care goes up. A recent survey by the MetLife Mature Market Institute shows that the total cost of long-term care treatment can easily add up to $200,000. But how do the costs get so high? It all depends on what kind of care you need.

Let's take a look at a few numbers from the 2013 Genworth survey of long-term care costs:
  • Private nursing home room: The median annual rate for a private nursing home room is $83,950. In 2008, it was $67,525. That's a huge increase...and it's not likely to go back down anytime soon.
  • Hourly rate for a home health aide: The national median hourly rate is $19.
  • Adult day care: The national median daily rate is $65.
  • Assisted living community: The national median monthly rate is $3,450.

How do I know what my costs will be?

You can't predict the future, but you can make a general estimate of costs. Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you start figuring out how much you'll need:
  • Your family history. Have others in your family needed daily care for long periods of time? If so, you can use their experiences to help estimate your own.
  • Your current health. Do you have any health problems that may indicate a need for care sooner rather than later?
  • Your age and gender. Women tend to live longer than men, which means they usually need care for 2-3 years longer, too.
  • Your family situation. Do you have family members nearby who can help take care of you? If not, you'll need to plan on paying for 100% of your care.
  • National averages. You can also refer to long term care statistics to help estimate your costs. For example, AARP notes that the average nursing home stay is 2.5 years. Just multiply that by the yearly cost listed above to get a quick estimate.
These costs add up quick, no matter which type of care you might need. Some people look at these costs and wonder if they'll have to sell their home, sell off investments, or depend on their family's generosity just to pay for the care they need. Those are options, of course, but here are a few more.

Long-term care payment options

It’s extremely rare that anyone has hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash available to pay out-of-pocket. According to Nationwide Financial, 54% of Americans think Medicare will pay for their long-term care. It won’t—Medicare does not cover long-term care unless it is the direct result of a specific illness or surgery (and even then, coverage comes with a cutoff date).

Here are a few options for long-term care payment:
  • Long-term care insurance: Private insurers offer policies that can be expensive, but not nearly as expensive as long-term care costs.
  • Medicaid: There are restrictions on assets (less than a couple thousand dollars) and multi-year “lookbacks” designed to ensure only the truly needy qualify for this program.
  • Life insurance with long-term care rider: Many insurers allow you to dip into your death benefit to pay for long-term care.
  • Annuity with long-term care benefits: Some annuity providers allow buyers to elect a percentage of their annuity’s face value—200%, for example—to be available for long-term care coverage. If you don’t need long-term care, the money stays in your annuity.
Paying out-of-pocket is increasingly not an option. Family members can act as caregivers, but the financial strain and emotional stress take their toll. While long-term care is a touchy subject that most folks don’t want to think about, a little bit of preparation can save your family money, time, and stress.

About the author: Jenni Wiltz writes about long-term care, health, and insurance for TrustedQuote.com.

Image license: Ulrich Joho, CC BY-S.A.  2.0

What are the best business debt relief options?

Businesses have a choice of several debt-relief options
Debt relief can save a business
By Angel Cruz

Businesses naturally take on a lot of debt in order to maintain inventory, pay staff and cover general operating expenses. It is not uncommon for a business to go from comfortably handling debt to suddenly struggling to pay creditors.

Every business is subject to changes in the local or national economy and other factors. In some cases, internal management difficulties can plunge a company into the red. During tough times a business may look for some fast relief in the form of a debt consolidation loan.

When to choose debt consolidation

Seeking business debt relief in the form of a consolidation loan is a better option for businesses with a ton of debt. This is a situation where numerous bills are taking a big chunk out of the budget. Monthly payments and interest rates are very high. Things are quickly spinning out of control. The business may be at risk of closing if this debt isn't handled soon.

SBA Loans

The SBA loan program has been expanded to make it easier for small businesses to gain access to money in a pinch. These loans are often the only option after being rejected for a bank loan. While the government guarantees SBA loans, there are specific requirements to qualify. There is also a lot more paperwork involved when filing an application.

7(a) Loan Program - This a popular type of loan that is available for all sorts of business uses. It is flexible, unlike other SBA loans.

Keep in mind that a business can be turned down for an SBA loan if they are perceived to be too much of a financial risk.

Debt consolidation company

There are numerous debt consolidation companies that loan money to cover business debts. Some are better than others. It is important to do thorough research on companies that appear to be the most promising. Securing a loan through a reputable debt consolidator means the business will be paying them on a monthly basis instead of several creditors.

These companies have various fees and payment plans. Before agreeing to a loan read everything and ask questions. Depending on your credit, fees and interest rates may be reasonable or high.

Home equity loan

With a home equity loan a business owner can borrow money against their home. This valuable collateral provides the lender with assurances that monies will be paid back. Often these loans give business owners a sizable amount of money that is used to pay off large debts. The downside is the borrower is at risk of losing their home should they default for any reason.

Private lender loan

Peer to peer lending companies make it possible for borrowers to receive money from individual investors. A business owner can secure a loan of up to $25,000. Payment terms and interest rates are normally fixed. There is usually a three to five year window to repay the loan.

Businesses that are looking for a faster way to get out from under debt may want to go this route.

Credit card transfer

Credit card debts can be consolidated onto one card for purposes of better managing debt. Balance transfer cards are advertised at zero to low interest rates. There is a fee for initiating the transfer. Read the fine print to ensure there are no hidden fees or rate hikes.

Money management

Regardless of the type of debt relief solution a business chooses, it is imperative to put in place a viable money management plan. Following a smart budgeting plan ensures that the business stays out of future debt trouble. This is the best way to grow a business in any economy.

When a business is struggling each month to pay numerous bills it is time to consider the various debt relief options available. It is important to research each option and determine which one, if any, provides a solid road back to financial stability.

About the author: Angel Cruz lives in New York and a professional guest poster. She writes about many financial topics including business debt relief. She wants to help as many people as possible manage their finances better.

Image license: Alan Clever, CC BY-2.0

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Life insurance: Things to look out for when choosing a policy

Without life insurance, families have an increased financial risk
Life insurance benefits differ between policies
The reality of things means that at some stage we’re all going to pass on and though it’s not easy to discuss it with loved ones, it’s a fact. However, whether you find it easy or not, proper financial planning is a good idea and responsible.

Life insurance can be the perfect solution and provides peace of mind. However, the biggest issue is choosing the best possible plan and fortunately there are a number of options out there. There’s no one fit all solution as most of us lead different lives. Fortunately, there’s also many flexible plans too, allowing you to change the plan as your life does.

However, let’s take a look at how you can ensure you have the correct plan for your needs and have no worries about cover.


The main thing when choosing a policy is to decide between whether you want life insurance that pays upon death, or term insurance that will last for a definite period of time and pay out only until a certain age – say retirement for instance. Term insurance is lower in price as there is a likelihood you won’t pass-on within the specified term. However, though life insurance is more expensive, it will ensure that you are covered for the remainder of your life and there will be a payment, albeit a deferred one. The best policy to choose is one with the option to chop and change and add to and take away. This gives you full flexibility and allows you to change to suit your needs or changes of mind.

How much to insure

It’s hard to decide on how much to insure, however income multiples are often a good place to begin. Many insurance companies offer 20 times your current salary as a cover level for life insurance – take a look at My cheap life insurance to get an idea. Of course, you should also take into account tax in case of such an occurrence.

The options

As we’ve mentioned before, each and every person will require something different from their life insurance policy and it’s up to you to choose this. These can be decided on the life you lead, what you want and what you intend to do. Many insurance policies nowadays allow you a greater degree of flexibility than ever before and this means you can take advantage of all sorts of policy options when the time comes to do so, or to make a change.

The policy

A lot of people have life insurance policies with their work and this means they end up with a heavily discounted policy that covers them for the time they are in that specific workplace. This ensures that the person is covered should anything happen during their time in that career. However, most of these policies end when you leave that place of work or retire.

People often find continuing such a policy tends to be very costly, mainly because the business subsidised it. However, looking around beforehand for a fully private policy can be a far cheaper and more beneficial option. If you’re healthy when you look and do so well before retirement, you will find that you can get a far better deal that if you wait until nearly retired or in bad health.

Signing up well in advance and paying a little extra before you retire or move jobs can mean saving a lot of cash in the long term and means you pay a lot less for the policy.

So, by following these tips you can greatly lower your policy and get the right insurance to ensure you’re safe, covered and assured.

Image license: Kelly Sturgeon, CC BY-SA 3.0

Monday, November 25, 2013

Pros and cons of using a mortgage orginator

Mortgage origination allows for loan comparison
Mortgage originators find loans
Mortgage originators play a major role in originating mortgage loans / bonds and assisting prospective borrowers in finding the best mortgage loan/bond.

What services do mortgage originators offer?

• Assist you in finding the best mortgage loan / bond for your particular circumstances
• Provide advice on mortgage loan rates and mortgage products and lenders in the market
• Ensure that all documentation required by banks / mortgage lenders are completed correctly reducing any possible delays due to missing information etc
• Provide guidance as to how much mortgage loan / bond you could qualify for
• Liaison with banks and mortgage lenders ensuring a quick turnaround in the approval process.

How are mortgage originators paid?

Mortgage originators get paid commission by banks / mortgage lenders for each successful application that they refer. The commission paid by the banks averages 2% of the mortgage / bond amount – the actual amount varies from bank to bank.

Using the services of a mortgage originator does not add to the costs of the bond as banks have been able to reduce costs in their home loans divisions thanks to mortgage originators doing a lot of the back office administration themselves. So it’s a win –win scenario for everyone, the banks reduce their costs, the originator earns commission and you get the best mortgage deal.

Be wary of using the services of a mortgage originator who charges a raising fee in addition to the commission paid by the bank / mortgage lender.

Advantages of using a mortgage originator

• Less paperwork, many mortgage originators submit the applications electronically to the banks / mortgage lenders
• Apply at more than one bank / mortgage lender
• Quicker turnaround time in the approval of mortgage loans / bonds
• Cash back / reduced bond registration, many innovative originators provide a cash incentive or a reduction in your registration costs.

Pitfalls to avoid in dealing with a mortgage originator

Mortgage originators can make the mortgage application process much smoother, however there are still unscrupulous operators masquerading as mortgage originators and the following pitfall should be avoided.

• Deeds of sale that force you to use the mortgage originator/conveyancer specified by the developer/agent. Insist on appointing your own mortgage originator.
• Be wary of originators that charge a raising fee, mortgage originators earn commission from the banks and shouldn’t charge you an additional fee for their services.

In summary, a mortgage originator finds the mortgage loan that is most suitable to the needs of the borrower and also takes care of the many administrative and form filling tasks involved in the mortgage loan application process. That is what you are paying them to do, mortgage originators earn a commission from the bank, however you as the client always end up paying. Be wary of mortgage originators, who charge a fee in addition to their commission, this practice is unethical. Remember that only applications with a high success rate of being approved will be send by the mortgage originator to his processor.

About the author: David works for a financial services provider that can find you a find you a personal loan online. Their product also includes a 24 month legal and ID assist plan plus a credit status report.

Image license: Nikcname, CC BY 2.0

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Is Arizona starting to boom as a Silicon Valley?

Arizona's location makes it a suitable alternative to Silicon Valley
Large tech. companies are establishing plants in Arizona
By Amy Taylor

In 1996, the Phoenix Business Journal published an article saying that Arizona was poised to become a high-tech Mecca.

It described pending or recently created semi-conductor plants plus serious interest from big industry names at the time like Intel and Motorola which both had announced plans to add manufacturing plants and other infrastructure. Total revenue from the top 16 Arizona software companies doubled from $34 million in 1995 to $68 million, and these companies were also was responsible for nearly 450 new jobs.

Good tech things were said to be taking place all through the state, including Tempe, Chandler and Phoenix, and apart from some small set-backs, like Motorola mothballing one plant because of low chip demand, the article was very hopeful and encouraging, saying the industry was about to explode, especially if something called “the Internet” took off, and would cause even more advances.

So where are we today, coming close to two decades later from those predictions? Did Arizona successfully yank every tech job away from the Bay Area, and now has become synonymous with dynamic R&D, big brains and bigger wallets? Not completely, but it has come quite a long way since then.

According to InnovationAZ.com, an initiative created by the Arizona Commerce Authority to either lure new tech and science companies here or stimulate the growth of new companies, there are 7,196 high-tech companies employing 105,643 people – 66,675 in service and 38,968 in manufacturing. Of 1,000 private sector workers, 54 are employed by high-tech firms, which pay a decent wage of $82,018.

Apple is jumping in, and announced plans this fall to take over a closed solar-power factory in Mesa and begin manufacturing glass and other components, a venture that can add 2,000 new jobs. Innovation Arizona’s economic projections show the tech industry is in an upswing, and predicts at least a 1.3 percent increase for this sector this year, compared to a loss over the last three years. “This is very exciting,” said Jason Hope local entrepreneur, “Many of us have known about Arizona’s potential for years, and now it’s really coming into its own.”

Barry Broome, CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, goes even further and predicts that the area will explode even more, at the same time that California will continue to lose its dominance as the leading tech community. Earlier this spring, Broome even predicted that the Silicon Valley as we know it will “crumble” within five years.

Hopefully, he wasn’t speaking literally about the earthquake-prone community, but there are some definite draws that can and should attract these kinds of businesses to Arizona
That intangible asset called “quality of life” is a biggie – we have plenty of sunshine, plenty of culture, plenty of open space. Is there a Grand Canyon in San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta, Boston or other tech-dominant communities? Not that I’ve heard of.

The state does want these potentially very profitable businesses, that’s for sure.
Innovate Arizona offers all sorts of resources about everything from tax credits to possible sources for grants, plus possible partnerships with existing businesses or Arizona colleges and universities. It also offers something called the Innovation Challenge – two annual awards of $1.5 million for the most promising technology ventures.

What else makes the Baby State so appealing?

Forbes maintains a big answer is a simple one – there’s cheap, undeveloped land, and lots of it. The Bay area, on the other hand, has high commercial and residential costs of living, high tax rates and wall-to-wall people. Southwestern states like Arizona, Texas and New Mexico simply have a lot of room to grow.

Wages are also high in Arizona, which can make it appealing for developers to want to come. The CTO of Stremor, a software company which relocated from the Bay area, told Forbes contributor Kelly Clay that he’s renting a three-bedroom home in Phoenix for $850 a month, which would have cost him at least $3,000 in the Silicon Valley. Food and taxes are also significantly cheaper and there’s less competition for tech jobs.

“Whether we’re talking about the greater Phoenix area, Tempe, Yuma or some of the other communities, there’s plenty of potential here,” Hope said. “Things like low prices at stores or restaurants, or even our beautiful sunrises and sunsets may not seem that significant in the big financial picture and balance sheets, but really offer so much appeal to people checking out this area as a place to work and live.”

About the author: Amy Taylor is a technology and business writer. Amy began her career as a small business owner in Phoenix, Arizona. She has taken that knowledge and experience and brought that to her unique writing capabilities. She really enjoys new business related issues that are tied directly to technology.

Image: Author owned and licensed

Saturday, November 23, 2013

5 game-changing, environmentally conscious transportation companies

Environmentally friendly firms are developing energy efficient transportation
Green energy vehicles appeal to energy conscious buyers
We can’t get rid of transportation. Everyone needs a vehicle, or an airplane, in order to conduct business, get goods to market, or visit relatives. That’s just how it is.

While politicians and pundits are flying all over the world in private jets and large motorcades debating man-made global warming, smart, forward-thinking companies are doing their part to protect the environment.

According to the EPA, when it comes to carbon emissions, the second-largest source of greenhouse gases is the transportation industry.

But that’s only part of the ugly story. Transportation technology ads more pollution than simply carbon emissions. From the fluids that keep engines running to the rubber tires that have to be manufactured and exposed of, transportation alone has a massive impact on the health of our planet.

A large amount of national carbon emissions come from the transportation industry
Lighter component parts improve vehicle fuel efficiency

5 luxury transportation companies making a difference

Here are five companies that are doing their part to not only provide excellent luxury transportation services, but to limit the impact their companies have on the environment. As these forward-thinking pioneers increase the environmental standards on the rest of the transportation industry, other companies are starting follow their example.

1. Con-way Trucking

Con-way is a major trucking company, especially in the southern United States. With trucks being the most efficient way to bring goods to market, Con-way is leading the charge to higher environmental standards in the trucking industry.

To lower emissions and keep the carbon footprint of trucking fleets, Con-way practices slower speed governors on their big rigs, giving them increased mileage per gallon. They also train their drivers on correct driver behavior, which can reduce emissions from 5-10 percent depending on the skill of the driver. Engine Controls, Equipment and proper maintenance standards make Con-way an environmental leader in the trucking industry.

2. Brilliant Transportation

Brilliant Transportation is somewhat of a newcomer to the luxury transportation industry. They offer a fleet of, not limousines, but customized luxurious Mercedes Sprinter vans and minibuses. Each vehicle is decked out with connectivity and entertainment technology and all the comfort of the home or office.

Their environmental impact would be staggering if it wasn’t for their commitment to green technology and practices. Brilliant uses a revolutionary biodiesel, made of 20% used cooking oil, to power it’s fleet of luxury vans. Not only that, but they use waterless carwash methods to clean their vehicles between each use, saving thousands of gallons of water every year. Their dedication to green goes so deep they’ve even installed “smart” thermostats in their offices in New York and LA, to make sure office energy consumption is minimized to the maximum.

Brilliant is leading the way for luxury transportation companies to drastically shrink carbon footprints, but the impact luxury transportation has on mother earth altogether.

3. Tesla Motors

Tesla has become a famous name over recent years with their initiative to not only create environmentally friendly cars, but to do so on the high-end, high-performance market. They’re not about making the cheapest electric car available, they want to make the best, most luxurious vehicles and at the same time save the planet.

This company is rather young, but their impact on transportation, innovation, and green transportation technology is going to change the game over the next few years.

4. General Electric Aviation

GE Aviation has recently broken ground on a new facility in North Carolina where they will work to produce a new aircraft engine material technology called Ceramic Matrix Composite. According to GE, a jet engine constructed of CMC can reduce fuel consumption by 15%.

Imagine the impact this technology will have in the future if each jet engine consumed 15% less fuel. The savings on fuel would be substantial but the savings on the environment could mean much more to future generations.

5. Segway Inc

While their ground breaking balancing Segway has been relegated to tourists, meter maids and mall cops, Segway still have some impressive technology on their hands. Their personal transportation options deliver astounding energy efficiency clocking in a whopping 450 miles per gallon.

If you can’t ride a bike or walk to work, try hopping on one of Segway’s machines. If you’re real adventurous, you’ll be able to travel from Oklahoma to Seattle on the energy equivalent of 6 gallons of fuel. You may want to wait until summer though.

We have a long way to go

While none of these companies are single-handedly solving the problem of pollution, they are industry leaders that are working to change the way we get from point A to point B while having as little impact on our planet as possible.

As more companies fall in behind these leaders, the positive impact on current greenhouse emissions, and other forms of pollution, will steadily decrease.

While we still have a long way to go before we reach an environmentally neutral, industrialized world, you’ve got to start somewhere. These five companies are starting us off on the right foot.

 About the author: Ryan Scott, a writer based in Seattle, enjoys finding ways to connect with an audience, build positive relationships and make a positive impact on the world around him.  You can find him on Google Plus and Twitter.

Image licenses: 1. Mariordo, CC BY-S.A. 3.0;  2. Felix Cramer, CC BY-SA 2.0;   3. Author owned and licensed Featured images:

Email marketing best practices to improve your campaign

Use marketing analytics to improve a marketing campaign
Effective email marketing boosts conversions
By Jessica Conars

It's true that email marketing doesn't seem worth it at the first glance. When you think about all the irrelevant mail you've received and not even bothered to open, you realize how ineffective the whole ordeal is. If you don't open it, why would anyone else, right? Even though it seems obvious, that's not really the case at all. The irrelevant emails you've received tell only part of the story – the random part where people think that they can win based on sheer numbers and send emails to everyone on their list without thinking about relevancy or opening rates. 

This practice is as common as it is ineffective. You don't want to send many emails. You want to send a few but to the right people. Think about it – you're in a bar (I'm going with the bar metaphor here because we've all been there and it's easy to imagine) and you want to meet someone. What would you prefer – walking up to random people and asking them about their names and trying to make contacts, or spending a bit more time looking for people who would actually be interested in you?

Personally, I'd go with the latter any day. Now, you might say that the metaphor is not accurate because in a bar you'd actually have to face rejection, whereas in email marketing you don't. But that's not really the case, is it? When you look at your analytics and realize how many of your emails have been left untouched and how low your conversion rate is, you learn that rejection in this sense can be just as awful. I'm here to help you fix that problem and teach you how to bet on quality instead of quantity. After all, a wise general always picks battles he's sure he can win.


As previously stated, analytics play an important role in the whole process. There are three categories you're interested in here: open rate, click-through rate and conversion rate.

Open rate is quite naturally the percentage of people who have actually bothered with your email. This is the first metric that gives you an idea of how good a job you're doing. The way to find this is to multiply the number of opened emails by 100 and then divide it to the number of emails you've sent in order to get the percentage. For example, you've sent 100 emails (for easier calculation, but in reality it will very well vary) and 10 of them have been opened. This means 10x100/100=10, or 10%.

Click-through rate is the second one. This one is a bit more important because it shows you how many people have actually followed the link you've provided in order to enter your site. We apply the same formula as before, only this time it's the number of clicks instead of opened emails. So, 5 people have clicked through. 5X100/100=5, or 5%.
Conversion rate is the most important one. You are leading people to your site for a reason. This reason may be liking something, sharing, purchasing and more. Whatever your goal is, the number of people who have actually followed through is the most important. We apply the same formula. Let's say two people have purchased a product from your site. 2X100/100=2, or 2% conversion rate. The higher this is, the better.

How to improve

Tracking your analytics is the best practice you can incorporate in the email campaign because it gives you an idea of how well you're realistically doing. But that's just the first step. The next one is to actually improve. This is where the real challenge begins. You have to focus on people who actually have the potential to be interested in your services. If you're sending the same email again and again and the person never opens it, then you're not doing a good job and you're actually spamming. Focus on people who will probably open it based on their history.

Also, if you have a bigger email list, try to break it down on segments or groups. This way you can cater the messages much better and actually provide people with something useful or relevant. Otherwise you're just wasting your time and resources.

Final words of wisdom – time your emails carefully. Do a research on the highest potential opening times of your particular target demographic and send the emails an hour earlier. Combining all these tips and carefully following your analytics will ensure that your email marketing campaign is successful.

About the author: Jessica Conars knows a lot about business and marketing. She runs http://www.perfectcleaning.org.uk/house-cleaning-kentish-town-nw5/ and has a lot of experience to share.

Image attribution: Danard Vincente, CC BY-2.0

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Affordable Care Act and whistleblower protections

Legal whistleblower protections are aimed at industry violations
Legal designation is required for whistleblowers
By Theda K. Rogers

There has been much discussion over recent news cycles about whistleblowing and legal protections afforded to those with enough intestinal fortitude to actually make hidden information known to the government. It is important to understand that whistleblower protections vary across employment categories.

In many ways, whistleblower protections are a one-way street. If an individual is reporting private sector fraud to the government, then protections may be provided. If the employer is the government, and reporting is made to another government agency, then the executive branch has the authority to classify the information and prosecute the whistleblower for a breach of national security.

Classification overreach is a standard policy for the current executive administration, so whistleblowing against the public sector is much different than whistleblowing against a private sector entity.

Legal standing for a "Qui Tam" claim

The problem for the informant employee is that the actual whistleblower must be duly designated by the federal legal system in a closed hearing in order to establish legal standing to file suit. An addendum to the problem is that the legal system is highly reluctant to issue the whistleblower status ruling, along with having a long investigation window for determining validity of the employee's claim.

The employee can be left with no legal recourse if OSHA rules in favor of the employer and appeals appear to be futile actions because the employee is not granted protection and standing to sue.

Whistleblowing under the Affordable Care Act

Section 1558 of the Affordable Care Act states that employers cannot retaliate against an employee for filing a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The law specifically lists employer actions that are deemed as retaliatory. In general, the items revolve around termination and denied promotion, but can extend to other menial areas of employment. OSHA then conducts an investigation into the matter, but they have 210 days to issue a ruling after the initial filing date. The employee, then has 90 days to appeal an unfavorable OSHA ruling before the ruling becomes final.

Whistleblowing and the "At Will" employment model

Employment conditions in the United States are relatively simple. Employees work for an employer at the will of the employer.  An experienced whistleblower law firm like Goldberg Kohn would probably tell you that there are a myriad of reasons an employer can make a decision to terminate an employee, unless the employment relationship is controlled by a collective bargaining agreement or personal employment contract.

Even in a personal employment contract, whistleblowing can still be deemed by the employer as a breach of contract. And, even in a collective bargaining agreement, unless an act is specifically stated in the agreement, the "at will" system applies to all other employer actions. There are numerous valid reasons an employer can use to terminate any employee, so the retaliation protections in the law are weak at best.

Employers may use tactics to deter informants

There are no provisions in the Affordable Care Act whistleblowing act that impede the employer from terminating the employee. The employer can fire the whistleblower immediately and dare them to sue after an investigation is completed.

Employers will know quickly if they are being investigated and will ferret out the informant immediately. The ACA accepts informal complaints, so information can leak, and the whistleblower protection is merely a qualified avenue of legal recourse that takes over six months for finalization through a snail-paced bureaucracy before the case is ripe for presentation to the federal court system, which is also infamous for slow movement.

Just because protections are codified does not mean that the informant employee can sustain the damage inflicted by the employer before a case can be adjudicated. And, if the termination leaves the employee non-compliant with the law because of a lack of resources, it can impact the remainder of the employee's life.

It is clear that many questions still loom over the complete implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Employees who consider blowing the whistle on their employer need to thoroughly investigate their options and possible outcomes with the help of an attorney.

About the author: Theda K. Rogers is a freelance copywriter. She was a law student for almost one year, and she worked as a legal assistant for some time. Even though she’s not directly involved in law right now, Theda has never lost her love of all things legal. In her never-ending quest for information, she learned about whistleblowing and how attorneys can help whistleblowers by researching sites like Goldberg Kohn and others online.

Image license: Steven Depolo, CC BY 2.0

President Obama's regulations are killing the mining industry

Carbon emission regulations affect industry profitability
Coal mining expansion is held back by emissions regulation

As of September 2013, the federal government has imposed the first-ever carbon output limitation on the nation's power companies. Specifically, newly built electricity-generation plants will be required to produce no more than 1,000 lb. of carbon dioxide (CO2) for each megawatt hour of electricity generated, while newly built coal-fired plants are limited to no more than 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour of electricity produced. 

As things now stand, this basically means that no new coal-burning plants will be built anytime in the near future, since even the most technologically-advanced plants right now produce more than 1,600 pounds per megawatt hour and the technology needed to reduce this number within the new limits doesn't currently exist on a commercial scale.

Natural gas-fired plants, however, are well within the capability of operating within the government's new CO2 limitations, which is just one more nail in the coffin of the hard hit U.S. coal industry, already reeling from many new regulations in what many view as the Obama Administration's "War on Coal." These new regulations are cited as being responsible for a number of coal-production plants closing and thousands of workers losing their jobs, especially in the half-dozen or so Appalachian states responsible for most coal production in the U.S. Consider the following:
  • Alpha Natural Resources, the second-largest coal producer in the country, recently closed eight of their mines because of Obama's regulations, throwing as many as 1200 employees out of work. Affected areas include Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
  • Coal-mine closures nationwide are being tied to "fundamental changes" taking place in the industry, i.e., new EPA regulations, backed by the current Presidential Administration, putting a "squeeze on coal."
  • While the President acknowledges the importance coal has played in providing energy to the country, he makes no secret that his goal is to have this resource replaced by cleaner natural gas which, especially with the advent of fracking gas from shale, has become a more competitively-priced energy resource.

Is there really a war on coal?

While the administration seems to deny it, there's no question that the Obama administration is anti-coal and pro-natural gas. The actual term "War on Coal" has been picked up and widely used by the media, but also referred to by Daniel Schrag, one of the members of the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology, who was quoted as saying, "A war on coal is exactly what's needed."

If you're one of the thousands of mineworkers who have been laid off from your job in an already depressed economy and unable to find work, to you this is a war and you and your family are the unwitting casualties. If you live in a state such as Kentucky, where a great percentage of the jobs are dependent on the coal mining industry and more than 90 percent of the state's electrical energy is produced through the burning of coal, not only have you possibly lost your job but your utility rates have also skyrocketed. It's a lose/lose scenario, much like any other "war."

Although the U.S. House of Representatives passed a "Stop the War on Coal" bill at the end of 2012 just before the November recess, that was basically just a political show that went nowhere. With more than 50 members of congress coming from "coal country," they're feeling the pain of their constituents. On the other hand, if you've seen pictures of what the Chinese are dealing with as far as air pollution greatly affected by the burning of coal, you may have your own opinion of the need for serious environmental regulations.

About the author: Nicole has been writing about the mining industry for years, including everything from the newest government regulations to the best mining products. In her opinion, allight mining pumps are the best on the market.

Image license: Steven Codrington, CC BY 2.5