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Monday, March 31, 2014

How to protect yourself from text messaging scams

SMS text message scams
SMS texts that ask for money to be sent may be a scam
By Brennen Kliffmueller

As the world evolves and methods of communication continue to change, so do the methods of those out to steal your money or your identity. Of late, text messaging has become another means by which unscrupulous individuals try to pull information or install malicious software intended to steal personal information. 

By learning how to spot these scam texts and how to respond to them, you can better protect yourself and your family and ensure that your information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Many of these methods for recognizing and handling scam texts are the same methods used to handle fraudulent e-mails, and so the lessons could apply to both.

Recognizing a scam text

The first step to addressing a scam is determining when somebody is making the attempt in the first place. What a lot of scammers are most concerned with is obtaining your personal information: bank account numbers, credit card numbers, income information, and even your social security number.

Often times these scam texts will try to create a sense of urgency by saying you have to respond immediately, creating the impression that you could lose money or that your life will suddenly become a whole lot more difficult if you don’t immediately respond. This is a technique similar to what a salesman would use to get you to buy something: create a sense of urgency in order to get you to shut down your critical thinking skills and make an impulsive decision. The text message scam warning is an actual alert issues by a financial institution:

Text message scams
Source: KURL8 News; License: Fair use
Just remember that if it’s somebody you’re doing business with, they likely already have your information and would not be proactively soliciting that information from you. Furthermore, if a situation is really urgent enough to merit immediate response, most businesses will also employ other means of contact beyond simple text messages to include direct phone calls, e-mail, and physical mail. If it’s not somebody you’re doing business with, they aren’t supposed to be sending you unsolicited texts anyway. While political or fundraising messages are legal, and texts from a business you do have a relationship with are legal, unsolicited spam is not.

What not to do

So you’ve received a suspicious text message and are wondering how to respond to it. Replying in general is not a wise course of action as that alone tells the sender that somebody actively uses this number, and opens you up to further irritating texts in the future from this same source. Clicking links or downloading attachments is also bad as the links will often direct you to a website that looks legitimate but is, in fact, fraudulent. Furthermore, downloading anything when you don’t know the source is a terrible idea as this could lead to the installation of difficult to remove malware that is designed to send your personal information to others.

If you think the text could be legitimate, such as something from your bank or another company you do business with, rather than simply following the link in the message a good idea may be to navigate to the website of the company yourself through a web-browser (do NOT simply copy and paste the link, usually manually navigating to the page or googling the name of the business is a better course of action) and log in to your account. If the text was legitimate, and there was something that needs to be done for your account, there will be a notice posted there as well.

If all else fails, contacting the customer service department of the business in question can help to shed light on the situation. This all assumes you actually deal with them in the first place – if you’ve never heard of them before, the best course of action is to simply disregard the message, or better yet: follow the advice below.

How to find help

Once you’ve identified a text message scam, the common response is to simply delete the message and move on, however there is a way you can help others avoid falling prey to this sort of fraud in the future! Most businesses strive to shut down those performing fraudulent activity in their name, and will usually provide an e-mail address or a phone number you can forward fraudulent messages and other information to. Filing a complaint through the FTC is another method, as is forwarding the text to 7726 (SPAM on keypads). Finally, contacting your cell phone carrier for information on how to stop fraudulent text messages is another way to raise awareness about a scam and help to avoid others from becoming victims in the future!

Also, if you find yourself victim of a scam or continuous spam messages, be sure to contact a lawyer to defend your rights. Consumer rights are put in place to protect you! Don't let criminals take over your life.


At the end of the day, contrary to Hollywood portrayals of internet scam artists, keeping oneself safe is generally a question of awareness. People cannot take or steal your information unless you open the door for it, and keeping that door locked will deter most. This is especially true for text messages: simply by being alert and not taking the text at face value can you keep yourself protected and your information secure.

About the author: This article was written by Brennen Kliffmueller, a professional writer and content creator for the Law Office of Scott D. Owens. Brennan knows the importance of proper representation when it comes to protecting your rights and believes everyone should consult a lawyer on any legal matter.

Better Business Bureau

Image license: Alton, GFDL, CC BY-SA 3.0

Saturday, March 29, 2014

How to host a spectacular home staging party

Home staging party
Positioning a couch in just the right location can make a room look great
The real estate market is unpredictable. Homeowners often hope for a quick sale, but in order to generate interest for their property, they must list it in good condition and show off its best features. 

Staging your home for real estate purposes often involves a lot of work. If you are concerned that you will not be able to get everything on your “to do” list accomplished, why not have a home staging party? With the help of family and friends, you can transform your home in no time at all!

Set the date

Pick a day and time for your home staging party. Keep in mind that many people have work and family obligations; therefore, a Friday night or Saturday afternoon party is ideal. Identify a group of people that are willing to help and send them an email invitation. Include all the pertinent details, like the date, time commitment and the type of work involved. Remember that staging often involves moving large pieces of furniture. Be sure to send invitations to several individuals that are physically capable of those tasks.

Socialize first

Before you get down to the business at hand, spend an hour socializing with your guests. After all, this is a party! If you decide to have your event on a Friday night, order a few pizzas, relax and chat with your friends and family members. If you find it too expensive to feed everyone, ask that they bring a dish for a potluck meal prior to the staging activities. For a Saturday afternoon party, have a few appetizers and drinks on hand to get the party started off on a positive note.

Assign rooms

Once the socializing portion of the event is over, break your guests up into teams. Assign each group to a certain room in the house. Hand them a checklist of tasks to guide them through the staging process. While this checklist should vary according to each individual house, there are a few techniques that are fairly universal.

Get to work

First, each area needs to be decluttered. Make sure there is at least one box in every room so your guests can put away items that are getting in the way, like small knickknacks, pictures and other home d├ęcor items. You don’t want the rooms to look stark, but it is important that your “stuff” is thinned out.

Too much furniture can make a room seem very small. Taking a few pieces out often makes a huge difference. For example, perhaps your master has a large bed, two dressers and two nightstands. Storing one of the dressers and one nightstand really opens up the room, and chances are, you can make do with less storage space for a while. If removing items is not an option, ask your guests to try and rearrange the rooms so that they appear more open and welcoming to potential buyers. Relocating a piece of furniture from a small space to a larger room may also be an option.

Make sure each room is clean. That often means dusting and vacuuming, at a bare minimum. A dirty house creates a bad first impression, so it is an important issue to address. Obviously, some rooms, like the bathroom, may need more cleaning than others. 

A home staging party is a great way to get your property ready for the market. Remember, simple changes can make a big difference, so do what you can to get your home sold quickly. 

This post was provided by GlenCove Rentals, a real estate agency located in Long Island, NY. 

Image license: US-PDGov

Friday, March 28, 2014

How to stop wage garnishment

By Phil Steel
Wage garnishment
Wage garnishment may be limited to a percent of income

“Wage garnishment occurs when an employer is required to withhold the earnings of an individual for the payment of a debt in accordance with a court order or other legal or equitable procedure…,” The United States Department of Labor informs. So is wage garnishment a permanent curse, or is it a temporary head-ache?  When exactly, does ‘wage garnishment’ stop?  Wikipedia answers the question in these words:“Wage garnishments continue until the entire debt is paid or arrangements are made to pay off the debt. Garnishments can be taken for any type of debt, but common examples of debt that result in garnishments include: child support; defaulted student loans; taxes and unpaid court fines.” It is the responsibility of organizations and companies, whose employees have been served with such a notice, to correctly calculate the amount of garnishment and deduct it from the employee’s salary, till such time- that the garnishments are paid in full.

The adverse effects of wage garnishments

Wage garnishment has some obvious adverse effects! While it spoils your impression in front of your employer, unfortunately it does not simply stop there! If you do not want ‘wage garnishment’ to drill a permanent hole into your earnings, you need to find ways to stop it.  According to thenest.com- there are two major ways in which wage garnishment can impact you badly. Among these is the fact that-it can, not only lead to your termination, but at the same time -can also lower your credit scores!
“Since the employer must make deductions from your paychecks, liability for failure to comply with a garnishment order falls on the employer's shoulders. This is why your employer can terminate you if you receive more than one garnishment order,” ‘thenest.com’ informs. Likewise, it also notes that - since “garnishment orders are a matter of public record…credit reporting agencies can find out about them. Because garnishment is a result of debt default, it has a negative impact on your credit score. If you have more than one garnishment order, it's safe to say credit reporting agencies will hear about every one of them.”

Ways to stop wage garnishments

Seek exemptions to stop wage garnishment

Stop wage garnishment
Filing for bankruptcy may curtail wage garnishment
For those who are worried about their wages being garnished, or those whose wages have been garnished, relief does exist in the form of -wage garnishment exemption provisions! “Wage garnishment exemptions are a form of wage protection that prevents the garnishing creditor from taking certain kinds of income, or more than a certain amount of your wages.  

The idea is that citizens should be able to protect some of their wages from creditors in order to pay for living expenses. Accordingly, each state’s laws provide you with various exemptions that you may use to protect your wages,” explains the legal website- nolo.com. “Depending on your situation, you may partially or fully protect your income. Generally speaking, ordinary creditors cannot garnish the following types of income: social security, disability, retirement, child support, and alimony,” it informs.

Use the percentage provision to stop wage garnishment

When an individual’s wage is garnished-there exist provisions in law made by every state-that stop a wage garnishment order, from deducting his/her full salary to repay debts. According to ‘thenest.com’, “Generally speaking, creditors can't garnish more than 25 percent of your gross earnings after mandatory deductions. In other words, if you pay mandatory union dues, Social Security, and state or federal taxes, your creditor can't take more than 25 percent of whatever is left of your earnings. If you have more than one garnishment, total garnishment deductions still can't exceed 25 percent of gross earnings after mandatory deductions.”

LaToya Irby elaborates on the subject in more precise terms on About.com.  “The maximum amount that can be garnished from your paycheck is the lower of the following: 25% of your disposable income if it’s greater than $290” and “Any amount greater than 30 times the federal minimum wage: $217.50,” she states.

Filing bankruptcy to stop wage garnishment

If you are really determined to stop wage garnishment and all your other options have run out, filing bankruptcy may be your only saving grace! On filing it- “the law immediately begins protecting you from creditors by imposing an "automatic stay." The stay orders creditors to stop any and all collection activities going on against you. Garnishment, thus, is ceased upon filing. If you really need the garnishment to stop right away, you may even want to consider an emergency filing,” suggests alllaw.com.

About the author: This article was written by Phil Steel, an experienced researcher and writer on finance, currently investigating ways to stop wage garnishments.
Image license: 1. Keith Ramsey, CC BY-SA 2.0  2. :MyBlogGuest

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Is Chinese growth finally slowing down?

By Jack Kaur

Figures publicised on 20th January 2014 indicate that China’s economic growth in 2013 was the same as in 2012, 7.7%. For an economy that has been growing massively in recent years, such a slowdown could potentially set alarm bells ringing.

However, it is also being seen as a positive sign of stability, as with wild growth comes the danger that everything could fall down like a house of cards. To China’s credit, what they have been doing seems to be working, as they are yet to fall on hard times. Indeed, it seems unlikely that they ever will do.

Stability, not slowdown

One thing it is important to note is that it is the growth of the Chinese economy that has stabilised. There are countries around the world that would kill for economic growth of 7.7% year on year, and even though this will probably be a disappointment for the Chinese administration the reality is they are still miles ahead of anyone else around the world.

What keeps China moving

One of the key drivers of the Chinese economy is that foreign investment shows no signs of letting up. There are plenty of investment management companies with interests in the country, and with these companies responsible for high values of investment, there are always going to be opportunities for the country to capitalise on.

In contrast, a slowdown in Chinese growth is probably a sign that the country is hitting a point in its development that it is happy with. Although there has been a lot of controversy around air pollution in China in recent years, it has also been the case that continued infrastructure development has been essential, or else the country could have very quickly found itself on its knees.

Keeping up with China

While governments around the world are looking to China to see what they can learn and understand how they can keep up with the country, investment managers like Alok Oberoi are looking to see where the opportunities lie so they can service their clients.

Such is the money being pumped into China that no one is going to be able to keep up with them; the best bet is surely to look at where investments can be made for a high return in the years to come. Many investment companies are actively refocusing their activities in order to take advantage of the opportunities afford to them in China and other potentially lucrative areas.

The future for China

Where is China headed from an economic and financial standpoint? In terms of the economy and the wider impact on the area, something surely has to give in terms of the environment. It has long been believed that being green and making green can’t be done together, but China need to be one of the countries that finds a way to make it happen.

Such are the levels of exports from China that it is difficult to see anything other than continued growth for the economy, even if internal development does continue to slow down.

About the author: Jack Kaur is a small business owner who imports many products from China. He is always interested in developments related to the Chinese economy as it can have a major impact on the prices he pays for goods.

Image license: 1. VOA, US-PDGov; 2.  GDS Infographics, CC BY 2.0

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Understanding real estate market trends

The last decade has seen turbulence in the real estate market, so it's understandable that some investors would be shy of entering the housing market. That being said, all signs show that the market is slowly improving, so it's important to try and understand the real estate market so as to position yourself for optimal investment and purchase decisions. Read on for some things to keep in mind when entering the residential property market.

Image Courtesy of Shutterstock

Location, Location, Location

If you've ever been around anyone with experience buying or selling a home, you will no doubt have heard that location is everything. It's the reason why condos in Midtown Manhattan cost more than family homes in the suburbs of Salt Lake City, Utah, for example. In order to consistently make money in real estate it's vitally important to understand the location and history of a property. This includes public transportation in the area, access to freeways, proximity to schools, property taxes in the area and similar factors.

Prices and future infrastructure

Another important piece of information to make note of is the housing price trends in an area. If you can gain access to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), either on your own or through a realtor, then it would be wise to check the sales history of the area. Check past prices and how they relate to current prices; are prices increasing quickly or is it a gradual increase? Are housing prices in the area on an upswing but still horribly depressed from past highs? All of this trending information gives clues to the potential future of a specific location.

Future infrastructure developments also have a significant impact on residential properties in the area. Is the city planning a new mall or some urban development? Scour the internet and local papers when you're checking out a property, as these plans are often in the works for many years before a shovel ever strikes the dirt. If you're really into getting your hands dirty, check with the local political office or the local environmental agencies for things like Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), which require companies to lay out plans completely to government officials to ensure the proposed plan isn't too disruptive to the local environment.
Image Courtesy of Shutterstock

The children are our future

School rankings in the area can often increase real estate values as families attempt to move closer to a good education for their children. If you have kids who are already in school or who will be in school soon, or if you're just looking for a good neighborhood to settle down and start a family, picking a house near a good school will help make sure that your home appreciates in value over time.

The overall economy

Applying macroeconomic theory specifically to real estate is a risky business because markets tend to be so localized. Even though the majority of news about the housing market during the "great recession" was negative, there will still markets that managed to make money over that period. The majority of bad news in the housing market came from places like Las Vegas and Northern California, where properties were hugely oversold and lending standards were basically non-existent.

The bottom line

Do your homework! Make sure to keep all the factors above in mind when you're hunting for investment properties, and if you have further questions don't be afraid to reach out to an expert. Nobody has a crystal ball; but studying the location where you want to purchase will drastically increase your odds of making a good housing investment. 

This article was written by Richard Craft, a regular contributor here at Moneycation. He writes this on behalf of Focused Finances, LLC., your number one choice when looking for help with estate planning in California. Check out their website today and see how they can help you!

11 companies that recently increased their dividend stock payouts

By Andrew Lisa

Companies that continually boost their dividend payout are among the best stocks to purchase for income. With markets at a record high, dividend stocks are doing even better than the market as a whole. But evidence shows that even in down or stagnant markets, dividend stocks fare better than many other choices.

Of dividend stocks, the best ones are those that routinely increase their dividend payout. Here are a few of the best that have recently boosted their bonus. 

Dividend stocks
Disney might be the king of all dividend stocks

The Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS)

Disney was the best of the bunch. In December 2013, the 90-year-old company announced its 58th consecutive dividend payment increase. Disney is the world's largest media company by revenue and the Dow's fifth biggest gainer of the year. The company lifted its annual payout by 15 percent to $0.86 a share, up from $0.75.

Hillenbrand Inc. (NYSE: HI)

The company raised its quarterly payout 1.3 percent to $0.19 a share for a new yield of 2.77 percent.

John Hancock Investors Trust (NYSE: JHI)

The financial firm upped its quarterly payout 17 percent to $0.44 per share, up from $0.38. Shares boast yields just under 9 percent.

Macquarie Global Infrastructure Total Return Fund (NYSE: MGU)

After moving its quarterly dividend up to $0.35 a share from $0.32, investors now rake in a nearly 6 percent yield.

MFS Intermediate High Income Fund (NYSE: CIF)

The firm increased its monthly dividend a full 82.4 percent to $0.31 per share. The stock now yields 13.24 percent.

Mid-America Apartment Communities Inc. (NYSE: MAA)

After boosting its quarterly dividend by 5 percent, it rose to $0.73 per share, up from $0.69. Shares currently yield 4.72 percent.

Altisource Residential Corp (NYSE: ALTI)

Altisource went big, raising its quarterly dividend 150 percent to $0.25 a share, up from $0.10. Shares yield 3.26 percent.

American Tower Corp. (NYSE: AMT)

The firm upped its quarterly payout 3.6 percent to $0.29 a share from $0.28. The stock now yields 1.49 percent.

Bank of Montreal (NYSE: BMO)

This bank raised its quarterly dividend 2.7 percent to $0.71 a share for a 4.32 percent yield.

Capella Education Co. (Nasdaq: CPLA)

The educational firm became a dividend payer in December when it initiated a quarterly payout of $0.35 per share, good for an annual yield of 2.1 percent. The first payout was on Jan. 10.

Core Site Realty Corp. (NYSE: COR)

Core increased its quarterly dividend 29.6 percent to $0.35, up from $0.27. Shares yield 3.65 percent.

Corporate dividend stock increases
Choose stocks that increase dividend payouts consistently

Data show that over the last 36 years, dividend stocks have done better than the rest of the S&P 500 by more than 8 percent. If you can find one that increases payouts steadily and consistency, it's almost certainly a stock you want to hang onto.

About the author: Andrew Lisa is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He writes about financial markets and gives advice on how to maintain a budget.

Images licensed via Mediashower.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Dividend stock bubble: Should you be worried?

By Andrew Lisa

The explosion of the tech bubble in the late 1990s, and then the bursting of the housing bubble a decade later, made smart investors leery of any market that was growing so big and so rapidly that it seemed too good to be true.

Any market observer knows that the entire stock market is soaring, with some key indices hitting record highs. Of them all, dividend stocks are the juggernaut. According to one expert, dividend stocks are up 226 percent since the market bottomed out in 2009.

Dividend stock bubble
Although the stock market is booming, dividend stocks are not in a bubble.

A Few Red Herrings

Although this rapid ascent has sparked recent conversations about a "dividend bubble", many experts say worries are not only premature, but altogether misguided. According to one expert, much of the hysteria is fueled by the improbable and unexplainable ascent of just a few stocks. At the end of 2013, Twitter gained 73 percent in value in just a few days. Tesla, which trades on the Nasdaq, saw a 300 percent gain. Although these gains were historical, unnatural and unexplainable, they were not indicative of a larger bubble.

Missing Signs

Alexander Green, Chief Investment Strategist for the Oxford Club, argues that the signs of a dangerous bubble simply don't exist. The two telltale signs of a bubble, he argues, super-inflated valuations and unbridled optimism, are not present. Although the stock market is at a record high, valuations - one of the two ingredients for a bubble - are not. In fact, they're nothing compared to the heady days of the 1990s when then tech-heavy Nasdaq rose 417 percent.


The second key ingredient - irrational optimism - is also not a factor. Far from the "can't lose" rush to gobble up tech stocks in the '90s or real estate stocks in the 2000s, Green argues, today's gains show a mass return to the market by regular investors. The overwhelming majority of those, however, are on gradual climbs in mutual funds. Although everyday investors are optimistic enough to take risks in the market again, those risks are generally measured and prudent. 

Dividend investing tips
The market is up - and dividend stocks are leading the pack

Although a lack of caution led to the two worst bubbles in recent history, first the tech flop of the 1990s and then the housing crash 10 years later, an abundance of caution is probably not necessary in the current climate. Although optimism should be tempered with healthy skepticism, the current boom seems to be fueled by a genuine rise in investor confidence that is built on economic recovery, not wild speculation. Be cautious, but not afraid.

About the author: AndrewLisa is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He writes about personal finance and covers myths about auto loans with bad credit.

Images licensed for use via Mediashower

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Biggert Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act: What does it mean for homeowners?

Biggert Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act
As global water levels rise, flood insurance costs also increase
By David Holly

The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act (BW-12) was passed in 2012 in order to induce FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and other associated agencies to change up some of the methods of operation of the NFIP (National Flood Insurance Program. The NFIP will be extended for another five years. Paramount changes of the Act include raising rates to reflect true risk, reorganization for more financial stability, grants, flood hazard mapping, management of floodplains and altering the dispersal tactic of updating policyholders. 

Overall, the idea here is to secure a level of financial security for the NFIP and more accurately reflect the true risk and cost of flooding for individuals and businesses in the nation. These changes plan to be phased into effect and have begun in 2012 when the Act was passed by Congress and signed by the President. There are some alterations to individual policies and premiums paid that have taken place as a result of the Act, and there has been conclusions drawn on the benefits and drawbacks of this significant program reform. Increases in premium rates for some policyholders are among the main controversial debates among the general public. 

Why was the Act passed and what cost/insurance rate changes have resulted

It all comes down to flooding, which has been a catastrophic risk to homeowners and business owners for many years. Insurance companies have abandoned the inclusion of flood insurance within their homeowners policies for a while now due to the costly mass claims that can arise form natural disasters and other flooding events. It was in 1968 that the issue was confronted by the US Congress by creating the NFIP as a federal program which facilitated property owners to purchase flood insurance. They could only purchase flood insurance if their community adopted floodplain management ordinances and minimum building code standards. The only problem was that a grandfathering in of existing structures that predated the standards polluted the true risk of flooding danger. As time passes the costs of insurance and the risks they attempt to cover increase accordingly, but when a system such as the NFIP does not increase premiums that emulate these increases, the system becomes inefficient and costly in itself. 

One of the major debates of the Act revolves around the rising premiums for some flood insurance holders. Many individuals have spiked concern about whether or not their premium cost would rise, but the reality is that only the subsidized policy holders will experience an increase. The increase is scheduled at 25% annually starting in 2012 and will continue to increase until these policies reach the rates of the standard full-risk premiums. Subsidies have been, for the most part, dropped as a means of catching the program up to the “true cost” of flood risk insurance. Unfair, not at all considering that around 80% of policy holders in the US are not paying rates that have been subsidized, which equates to nearly 4.5 million policies of only 5.6 million in play. Just as the debate with the taxing structure leans heavily on the concern of many paying the way for a select few, the concern of many here applies almost the same. Subsidized policy holders complain about the rising cost while the 80% who pay fully realized rates shoulder the load. This change is attempting to even the playing field for all policy holders while providing a realistic coverage for the actual potential risk involved.  

What does the Act mean for homeowners?

As mentioned before, approximately 80% of policyholders pay realized, full-risk premiums and these holders will not see the large increases mentioned above. Most all policyholders will, on the other hand, see a slight rise in their premiums which is due to the Reserve Fund assessment itself as sanctioned by the BW-12. The exception to the Reserve Fund assessment ding are those with Preferred Risk Policies (PRPs). Homeowners who fall within the 20% hat are working with subsidized policy rates are the ones that ill experience higher rises in premiums. 

Starting in 2012, after the Act was passed, these subsidies policyholders experienced a 25% increase in their premiums, followed by a steady rise each year thereafter until their policy costs catch up with the realized true cost being shouldered by the remaining 80% of policyholders. When the Act passed, roughly 5% of policyholders experienced an immediate increase in premiums because they fell into the categories of non-primary residences, businesses and repetitive loss properties. This was to catch up the policies by eliminating the non-essential subsidized policies first and giving the primary residence policyholders time to prepare for the increase in premiums. Homeowners that enjoyed a subsidized rate for newly purchased properties, new first time policies and lapsed policies will no longer be able to do so. 

Properties that are located within a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) that were “grandfathered” in before their parent community adopted it’s first Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM), and have also not chosen to elevate their property to meet the standards after the remapping, experience the greatest chafe in rates. These are the properties that are below the current standard elevation for flood hazards. It is logical that changing the elevation of your home to meet newly established standards of elevation for flood hazard protection seems absurd, considering the costly expenditure necessary to do so. This is a major point of concern and backlash from property owners in these circumstances. 

Another major concern for homeowners is the uncertainty of what the “remapping” of the FIRM entails for their specific communities. If the elevation to protect against flood hazard rises after the reassessment, which is scheduled to occur in 2014, their rates will rise as a result. The uncertainty of how much that rise may be is an unnerving detail of the Act, as it should be. Another aspect of this is that for policies to reach the “full risk” rate, that includes rare catastrophic flooding events that may have occurred only once or twice throughout history in this nation for particular areas. The likelihood of a policyholder experiencing this during their lifetime is minimal and people are concerned as to why they should be responsible for such a low probability for a flooding disaster of such immensity given the infrequency. 

The concerns raised are legitimate but the reality we are seeing with policies, not only flood hazard insurance, is that the true cost of keeping the programs functioning is not realized. The same can be said for the true cost of transportation, utilizing natural resources such as water and even smaller public city amenities. Our nation has had a break in the costs, but as we begin to tip the economical scales in terms of our production and consumption rates, these costs begin to come out of the shadows as big financial issues which are only gaining ground. This Act is a pure example of legislation realizing that tightening up subsidized handouts may be coming to an end if capitalism is still to be pursued as the foundation our the nation’s economic model. 

About the authorDavid Holly is a professional writer and marketing consultant at CFL Insurance. You can visit him on Google+ to see more of his work.

Image license: US-PDGov

Friday, March 21, 2014

Tax deduction tips for your business

Business tax deductions
Home office & business expenses lower taxable income
By Phyllis Stent

One of the many benefits of being self-employed is the fact that- you get to save on major earnings through tax deductions, which would not be possible if you were in a job! Irrespective of the size of your business and whether, you are a sole proprietorship firm or a partnership enterprise- “You already know that you’re legally obligated to pay your taxes, but that doesn’t mean you should pay more than you owe,” states Nellie Akalp on Mashable.com.  Consulting business tax accountants can help you find out, exactly, how much of your income is really taxable!

Business tax accountants, provide small and medium enterprises with expert advice on the legitimate ways in which they can prevent their earnings from being taxed! Given below are some interesting ‘business tax deduction tips’ offered by experts in the field.  

"Claim home office deductions" say business tax accountants

Ask a group of business tax accountants, if claiming ‘home office tax write-offs’ is a good idea; and, they will respond with a unanimous “Yes!” “Many small business owners are afraid to claim “home office” deductions for fear it will bring the auditor a-callin’. Fear of an audit should never keep you from claiming legitimate deductions. Just make sure you keep well-organized records, and that you can prove your deductions are indeed for business expenses and you’ll be fine,” advises Dave Symmonds on lessaccounting.com

In this context, Richard Eisenberg in a recent article in Forbes notes that: “The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) came up with the optional simplified option “to combat complexity” and provide an easier way to determine the amount of expenses you can deduct for a home office. It estimates the new method will reduce the paperwork and recordkeeping burden on small businesses.”  However, business tax accountants believe, that despite the process being simpler, it will make “tax-preparation more complicated for some,” observes Symmonds.  Still, “Anything that helps people keep more of their money is a good thing,” says Lisa Greene-Lewis, Turbotax’s CPA and among San Diego’s leading business tax experts.

Business tax accountants advise businesses to "plan expenditures and shift incomes"

“Plan your spending. Entrepreneurs typically benefit from minimizing taxes by lowering reportable annual profit. If expenses are due to hit early in 2014, and your business accounts on a cash basis (as many small firms do), it might pay to incur the costs before the end of 2013,” suggests Joseph Steinberg, on Forbes.com. “Likewise, if you are accounting on a cash basis and wish to reduce taxable income for 2013, consider billing your customers late or giving  them an extra-long grace period for making payments, so that revenue that you otherwise would have received in 2013 arrives at your desk in 2014,” he states. Skilful business tax accountants dole out advice in a similar vein, when speaking on the subject.

"Charity donations can reduce your tax burden" claim business tax accountants

Michael Rubin, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and financial planner, like many other experienced business tax accountants-believes that, charitable donations can lead to major tax savings! Although your charitable nature surely isn’t solely motivated by the potential for a tax deduction, saving a few bucks on your taxes is a nice side benefit,” he says in an article titled- ‘Save on Your Taxes with Year-End Charitable Giving.’ However, “to make sure you maximize the tax value of any of your planned philanthropy before the end of the year,” ensure that you first know-‘to whom you can make charitable donations; which donations are deductible;  by when you must make them; and that you have the necessary proof to show that you have made charitable donations,’ he advises.

Business tax accountants view "technology purchases and travel costs" to be non taxable

“To be deductible, a business expense must be both ordinary and necessary. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted in your trade or business. A necessary expense is one that is helpful and appropriate for your trade or business. An expense does not have to be indispensable to be considered necessary,” informs the IRS website. “…equipment expenses such as computers, printers, and even company vehicles are tax-deductible, up to a certain amount. Depending on the item, you can deduct the full cost on the year of purchase, or split it between several years,” advises Symmonds. Similarly, business tax accountants also see ‘travel costs,’ to be part of the non-taxable segment of expenditure that a business incurs.  “Since travel can be necessary for business success and expansion, many of the expenses are completely tax deductible. Our tax tip on travel is to write off expenses like airfare, hotel fees, car rental and mileage, and travel expenses like laundry costs,” Symmonds declares.

About the author: This article was written by Phyllis Stent, who believes that business tax accountants can save you a lot of money.

Image license: Ken Teegardin, CC BY-SA 2.0

Thursday, March 20, 2014

How real estate agents are staying ahead of the curb

Real estate agents are responsible for just about every aspect of your business, including calling clients, dealing with lenders and networking with other agents and Realtors in your area. Sometimes it is impossible to answer every phone call that comes in, which can mean the difference of making a sale or losing it. Enlisting the assistance of an answering service is one way real estate agents are able to stay ahead of the competition.

Real estate agents and Realtors
Professional services help Realtors
A lack of communication and follow-through are among the main complaints waged against real estate agents and brokers. Solid communication skills are paramount to continued success and future business growth. However, this may not always be possible to accomplish on your own. Virtual receptionists make it possible so no call ever goes unanswered. Not matter what time of day or how busy a realtor’s schedule is, all incoming phone calls are answered by a professional who is trained to assist with the caller’s needs.

How agents and Realtors benefit from virtual receptionists

It is important to know how hiring an answering service can help improve customer and client services. Here are some ways real estate agents may benefit from using an answering service such as Peak Answering:
  • Scheduling: Answering services can help cancel, rebook, schedule and confirm appointments with clients.
  • Live Service: Calls are answered by a person in a timely manner, eliminating wait times on hold and having to deal with automated menus.
  • Records: Records and reports are kept according to your needs, including who called, when, what the message was and what the service’s response to the caller was. Many services print out records on a daily basis and provide to their clients, or more often if needed.
  • Customer Service: Some answering services will be able to complete event registration and lead capture for realtors.
  • Interactive: Through online programs, call services are able to conduct online chats to better assist clients without having to talk on the phone.
  • Emergency Services: If there is an emergency with a client or property, the answering services will be able to handle the emergency and if not, escalate the details directly to the real estate agent or other authorized party that can handle the situation.
  • Client Retention: Outsourcing a live receptionist can eliminate the fear of clients and potential clients from seeking other realtors. Client calls are answered promptly, reducing the chances of them moving onto a different real estate agent.
  • Non-traditional hours: Because many clients go looking for homes outside of office hours, a 24/7 call center will be able to handle their questions on their time, without having to wait for the realtor to call back during office hours.
  • Knowledgeable: Answering services do more than just answer the phone. Many services offer knowledgeable call agents who are able to provide callers with property information. All scripts and extent of information are customizable to your needs.
  • Professional: All callers are greeted according to the real estate agent’s specifications and not generic greetings.
  • Messages: Depending upon the preference of the realtor, messages can be relayed via text message, email, cell phone, PDA, voice mail or fax.
Real estate agents who outsource to answering services, never have to leave clients waiting for a returned call. They will have the satisfaction of knowing that all of their clients, potential clients and other callers are being taken care of to their specifications. This results in a peace of mind for realtors knowing all incoming calls will be answered and handled professionally, resulting in increased leads and thus sales. Services available include 24/7 live answering, bilingual agents (at no extra cost) and urgent call forwarding.

Image license: Gerald_G/Openclipart, US-PD

Debt harassment is illegal: Don’t let creditors victimize you!

By Jason Steinhook Debt Harassment is Illegal-Don’t Let Creditors Victimize You!
Debt harassment is a crime
Debtors have rights under the FDCPA

Debt can easily become your best friend or your worst enemy. If used correctly, it will allow you to make important purchases during a time when your money is not available. This is especially helpful during emergencies.

Unfortunately, many of us have found ourselves in trouble when it comes to debt. The bills keep coming and interest keeps accruing until it seems like there is no end in sight. Handling this situation is tricky, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it.

Don’t ignore the situation 

You should never assume that a debt problem will go away if you don’t give it attention. When you find yourself with debt that you’re having trouble paying back, you must act before things escalate

Contact your creditor  

The best thing you can do is contact your creditor. Let them know that you’re having trouble making the payments, but that you are willing to work with them to come to a solution.  

Most of the time, your creditor will be very receptive to this. They know it is in their best interest to find a way that will allow you to pay your debt to them.

Dealing with a collection agency 

If contacting your creditor doesn’t work, they will eventually hand over your debt to a collection agency. It’s usually not a pleasant experience to deal with these companies. They are known to call continuously in order to get you to pay them.

Luckily, you have rights in this scenario. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, or FDCPA, states that collectors must stop attempting to contact you once they receive a written request.

When you write this request, make three copies. One should be sent to the collection agency, one should be for your personal records, and the other should go to this address:

Federal Trade Commission
6th & Pennsylvania Ave.,
NW, Washington, FC 20850

If they have broken any laws in their previous attempts to collect the debt, make sure to note that in the letter. Once it is received, they may contact you once more to let you know that they have received the letter. At this point, they will inform you whether they intend to stop pursuing the matter or sue you. 

When further action is necessary

If the collection agency doesn’t stop after receiving the letter, it’s time to involve a debt harassment lawyer. Unfortunately, this won’t be cheap, but it’s worth the cost.

According to this debt harassment lawyer, usually all it takes is one more letter – this one from the attorney – requesting the collection agency to stop the harassment. If that doesn’t do the trick, the debt harassment lawyer can help you make claims under the FDCPA.

The lawyer will most likely send one more letter asking the collection agency to stop. Generally this will be enough to resolve the situation. If it’s not the lawyer will help you make any claims under the FDCPA.

Another option is filing bankruptcy. A collector must then attempt to receive permission from the bankruptcy court to contact you. You should only use this option as a last resort, however. This will affect your credit for up to 9 years, and you can most likely stop debt harassment with less dire actions. 

Stand up for yourself

Debt is a great tool that can easily turn into a burden. When it becomes an issue, many people are tempted to bury their heads in the sand, but it’s best when you stand up for yourself and face the problem head on. Remember to contact the creditor first. If you have to deal with a collection agency, know your rights, and use them.

About the author: Jason Steinhook works for a debt harassment lawyer. He is often frustrated when clients contact him for services – no one should be victimized by overzealous creditors! 

Image license: StacieBee, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Graphic design and business branding basics

Business identity contributes to brand equity
By Tiffany Olson

Your business identity is used to communicate your purpose to consumers and highlight what sets your products or services apart from those of your competitors. Establishing this identity is one of the most important tasks a company has because of its direct impact in regards to reputation and prosperity.

Whether you are operating a big corporate business or running a small locally-owned shop, you must have a strategy in place to promote your brand, and graphic design plays a large role in that. Integrating your brand identity throughout all aspects of your company is crucial for the consistency needed to develop consumer recognition. Here are some key steps to successful branding.

Identify your business brand

Whether your company is first forming its brand identification or working to redefine it, it's necessary for you to think ahead and answer the questions of what your goals are for the business and how you want to be viewed in the public eye.

This requires careful consideration, and for established companies, it also means taking a long look at the opinions consumers already have of your products and/or services based on your company's current image. Before you can settle on a brand, the appropriate research must be done to find out the desires, needs and habits of the kind of customers you want to attract.

Incorporate professional-looking graphic design features

After the concept of your brand has been developed, it's time to start incorporating it into all the elements of your business by using graphic design features. The first step to this is designing a logo. The groundwork for branding has been laid down once a logo is created. Your logo should be placed on all advertising opportunities, your website, packaging material, etc.

Because it will essentially become the face of your company, it's important to work with a professional graphic designer that is knowledgeable about the characteristics that a quality logo should possess. Just as a logo can benefit a business in many ways, one that is not appealing, doesn't translate well to multiple platforms, is too complex, isn't relevant to your products or services and was obviously not done by a professional can work against the positive image you're trying so hard to build.

Integrate your brand identity

Once your logo has been designed, you can begin to place it on different platforms where it's sure to get noticed and start to look at additional ways to integrate your brand identity through various aspects of the business. Every employee should be familiar with the message you’re trying to convey and expand on it through each individual customer or client interaction. Taglines should be memorable and concise and all materials containing graphic design features should be easily connected back to your company.

Some of the most successful businesses in the world have been built on branding strategies with quality graphic design at the foundation of it all. Always keep in mind that consistency and a clear message are vital to brand identification.

About the author: Tiffany Olson has a passion for blogging as well as graphic design. She knows the importance of good design and loves to help others gain knowledge on this topic. When she's not writing she loves to travel, do yoga and make art. 

Image licenses: 1. Alejandro Peters, CC BY 2.0; 2. Author owned and licensed.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

How to grow your business internationally

Globalization, Free Trade, Global Marketing, Trade Agreements
Developing economies abroad provide expansion opportunities for businesses

By Sarah Detlef

Changing political landscapes, advances in technology, improving infrastructure, accessibility to high quality localization and translation services and improving economic conditions around the world are influencing a growing number of businesses to develop global business strategies by entering overseas markets.  While domestic markets are still very lucrative to manufacturers, the United States represents a small fraction of the overall population and only one third of total purchasing power in the world.  Thus going global offers huge rewards for businesses that invest and plan wisely.  Entering foreign markets requires investment and innovation, whereas increasing competition influences the development of well-thought-out strategies.  As an example, with sales stagnant in many developed countries, PepsiCo’s beverage division developed a strategy to enter Africa. 

What is international marketing?

International marketing deals with planning and initiating marketing strategies outside of a domestic market.  As an example, Walmart employs 2.2 million workers in 10,000 retail units that are located in 27 countries. McDonald’s has 35,000 restaurants that serve an estimated 70 million people who are located in more than 100 countries each day. General Motors, the second largest foreign automobile manufacturer in China, sold more than 200,000 more automobiles in China than in the United Stated during the first six months of 2013.  Starbucks has more than 21,000 stores in 62 countries, that serves approximately 20 million customers each week. 

The potential of international marketing

Obviously, successful international marketing strategies offer great potential for profitability and growth.  In an effort to support international marketers, governments throughout the world are offering assistance to domestic companies to help them develop effective international marketing strategies.  In the United States, Export.gov, operated by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration, provides manuals, webinars and licensing information to companies seeking to export products throughout the world. 

Marketing internationally—Then and now

In the past, companies didn’t have the resources provided by government agencies, organizations and trade groups.  Instead, companies had to learn the best ways to marketing internationally by trial and error.   These early international marketers included such giants as McDonald’s and KFC that gradually entered new markets as they acquired knowledge about those markets and opportunities.   However, as a growing body of knowledge about entering foreign markets became known, that knowledge was made available to larger numbers of people, companies and organizations.  In the 1990’s, the amount of information available allowed some companies like PayPal, Dell, eBay and Cisco to launch with the resources needed to sell their products internationally.  Upstart technology-based companies frequently had a larger percentage of revenues coming from outside their domestic markets and were able to begin exporting their products quickly.

Employment opportunities

For language translation services companies, the trend for businesses to enter and expand in overseas markets presents considerable opportunities.  Translators should be aware of global marketing and the economic and social characteristics that produce opportunities and threats for businesses.  Translators seeking new clients might also want to familiarize themselves with various trade consortiums and agreements, the various ways companies are entering foreign markets and the degree to which companies are involved in the distribution and marketing of their products. Lastly, translators should also become familiar with how prospective clients are fine-tuning the marketing mix for the various markets they participate in.

 About the author: Sarah Detlef is a freelance translator with 24hourtranslation.com.