Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Haters of technology and technophobes, listen up! The forecast calls for an even bigger wave of cloud computing to hit, so ditch the negativity and take another gander at why this storage option may be an effective tool for your business.
Monday, March 30, 2015
Did you know that American consumers are more likely to trust and be loyal to companies that support corporate social responsibility (CSR)? So, if you think CSR is just for big corporations, think again. It's not. And small businesses can not only benefit, but the potential collective impact is enormous.
But what exactly is CSR, anyway? The term has varying definitions, but essentially means the self-regulation of a company's actions that impact the environment, consumers, employees and community. You most likely already have socially responsible practices, such as recyclable elements in your products or the use of locally-sourced materials or contractors, or waste management and energy consumption protocols. So, it's probably a matter of defining and tracking—as well as identifying additional opportunities.
Don't make it a daunting task.
- Focus on your business and industry, product or service, and possible impacts, as well as particular causes that matter to you or your community.
- As a small business, don't get caught up in thinking big. Starting a company recycling program, for example, counts.
- Get staff involved and partner with another community organization to volunteer locally.
Implementing and tracking a CSR policy presents opportunities to inject values into practices that can be woven into your company story—positioning your brand positively in the eyes of the growing number of socially conscious consumers and potential partners.
Do you work at a doctor’s office? A nonprofit? How about a church, retirement home, or small business? Then you might be interested to hear that the FTC has stopped some scammers targeting businesses and organizations like yours.
Here’s how the schemes worked, according to the FTC: Businesses with names like “American Yellow Group,” “American Yellow Corporation,” or “Medical Yellow Directories” would send bills with the well-known “walking fingers” logo to small businesses and nonprofits all over the U.S. The charges — several hundred dollars’ worth — were for supposed listings in business directories.
The invoices were fake, but the scammers included details — like the name of someone from the targeted organization and a visual of how the listing would appear — to make people believe their employer had already agreed to buy a listing. And the U.S. mailing address for payments simply forwarded checks to Canada, where the scammers were based.
So what if you just ignored the invoices? You’d get more outrageous charges for thousands of dollars, and statements like “COLLECTION WARNING” and “LAST CHANCE TO PROTECT YOUR CREDIT SCORE IN GOOD STANDING!!!” Still not paying? Then you’d get dunning notices from the company, now posing as a debt collector.
Here’s what to know to help protect your organization:
1. Tell your employer and coworkers. You can send them a link to this blog post and this article, which talks about several small business scams.
2. Inspect invoices. Larger companies usually have a purchasing department. But even in small businesses, it's wise to designate a point person for office supplies, directory listings, subscriptions, and other things you buy periodically. Tell your staff that all purchasing calls should go through that person and keep a central file of your usual suppliers.
3. Verify. Check a company out for free at bbb.org, and read the BBB’s report on them. Also try doing an online search using the company name and words like “complaint” or “scam.”
4. File a complaint. If you’re getting bogus bills, file a complaint with the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint and with the BBB. If the scheme involved the U.S. mail, submit a Mail Fraud Complaint Form to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. You also can alert your state Attorney General.
This article originally appeared on FTC.GOV, by Amy Hebert, Consumer Education Specialist, FTC
It should come as no surprise that consumers make the bulk of their purchasing decisions based on emotion vs. any kind of rational calculation—and more emotionally engaged customers will probably recommend a company, product or service more often. This doesn't necessarily mean you have to pull at the heart strings through your marketing (although it wouldn't hurt), but rather identify impactful ways to make meaningful connections. And small businesses have the size and agility to do this well.
A good place to start is a thorough review of your customer service—online and offline. By viewing your procedures, processes and general contact from a customer's point of view, you can make simple changes that enable the development of a much stronger bond. Consider every touchpoint as part of their experience, and think about how that experience might be improved.
- Are you missing opportunities to develop a common bond?
- Is your staff empowered to provide service on an individual basis?
- Does your staff use humor, compassion and empathy?
- Are you really listening and acting on customer feedback—before, during and after a touchpoint? (This includes online and automated interactions.)
Without a significant connection to your business, customers could be easily swayed by any number of marketing maneuvers from competitors, large and small. Take time to look at the human side of service, and unearth opportunities to make the most of customer contact.
If you can’t pay your taxes in full, the IRS will work with you. But you should know that back taxes or certain past due debts can reduce your federal tax refund. The Treasury Offset Program can use all or part of your federal refund to settle certain unpaid federal or state debts. Here are five facts to know about tax refund offsets.
1. The Department of Treasury’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service, or BFS, runs the Treasury Offset Program.
2. Past due federal tax debt may reduce your tax refund. The BFS may also use part or all of your tax refund to pay certain other debts such as:
· Past-due child and parent support.
· Federal agency non-tax debts, such as a delinquent student loan.
· State income tax obligations.
· Certain unemployment compensation debts owed to a state.
3. The BFS will mail you a notice if it offsets any part of your refund to pay your debt. The notice will list the original refund and offset amount. It will also include the agency that received the offset payment. It will also give their contact information.
4. If you wish to dispute the offset, you should contact the agency that received the offset payment. Do not contact the IRS.
5. You may be entitled to part or all of the offset if you filed a joint tax return with your spouse. This rule applies if your spouse is solely responsible for the debt. To get your part of the refund, file Form 8379, Injured Spouse Allocation. You can view, download or print tax forms on IRS.gov/forms at any time.
The law prohibits the IRS from using liens or levies to collect any individual shared responsibility payment. However, if you owe a shared responsibility payment, the IRS may offset that liability against any tax refund that may be due to you.
If you found this Tax Tip helpful, please share it through your social media platforms. A great way to get tax information is to use IRS Social Media. You can also subscribe to IRS Tax Tips or any of our e-news subscriptions.
Friday, March 27, 2015
Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but sometimes it’s illegal. Just ask the people behind First Time Credit Solutions, who promoted their business as “FTC Credit Solutions” until the real Federal Trade Commission shut them down. The group claimed their credit repair firm was licensed by the FTC, and allegedly took thousands of dollars from people after promising to delete negative, but accurate, information from their credit reports. In fact, the operation wasn’t licensed by the FTC — no credit repair service is — and didn’t get true, negative information removed from credit reports, because that’s against the law. The FTC is working to permanently ban the operators from offering credit repair.
FTC Credit advertised nationwide — online, in print and on radio and social media. According to the FTC, the company preyed mostly on lower-income Spanish-speaking people who wanted to modify heavy debts or improve low credit scores. It took illegal advance payments of about $2,000 per person. The FTC said the company mis-used the Commission name and an altered Commission seal, and boasted that its connection to the FTC allowed it to lawfully “delete” true information about late payments, defaults, even bankruptcies. In the end, all it did was draft dispute letters full of false information for people to send the credit reporting companies, the FTC said.
You can improve your credit, with time and effort. You don’t have to use a credit repair company; you can do it yourself or with a credit counselor. It doesn’t cost anything to dispute mistakes or outdated items on your credit report. Some accurate negative information will stay on your report for a time, and there’s nothing you can do to make it go away sooner. Most accurate negative information stays on your report for several years. Bankruptcy information usually stays for seven to 10 years.
This article originally appeared on FTC.GOV, by Bridget Small
Nobody’s perfect. Mistakes happen. But if you make a mistake on your tax return, it will likely take the IRS longer to process it. That could delay your refund. The best way to avoid errors is to use IRS e-file. Paper filers are about 20 times more likely to make a mistake than e-filers. IRS e-file is the most accurate way to file your tax return.
Here are eight common tax-filing errors to avoid:
Here are eight common tax-filing errors to avoid:
1. Be sure you enter all SSNs on your tax return exactly as they are on the Social Security cards.
2. Be sure you spell the names of everyone on your tax return exactly as they are on their Social Security cards.
3. Some people use the wrong filing status, such as Head of Household instead of Single. The Interactive Tax Assistant on IRS.gov can help you choose the right status. If you e-file, the tax software helps you choose.
4. Double-check your math. For example, be careful when you add or subtract or figure items on a form or worksheet. Tax preparation software does all the math for e-filers.
5. Many filers make mistakes figuring their Earned Income Tax Credit, Child and Dependent Care Credit, and the standard deduction. If you’re not e-filing, follow the instructions carefully when figuring credits and deductions. For example, if you’re age 65 or older or blind, be sure you claim the correct, higher standard deduction.
6. You should choose to get your refund by direct deposit. Be sure to use the right routing and account numbers on your return. The fastest and safest way to get your tax refund is to combine e-file with direct deposit.
7. An unsigned tax return is like an unsigned check – it’s not valid. Both spouses must sign a joint return.
8. When you e-file, you sign your return electronically with a Personal Identification Number. If you know last year’s e-file PIN, you can use that. If you don’t know it, enter the Adjusted Gross Income from the 2013 tax return that you originally filed with the IRS. Do not use the AGI amount from an amended return or a return that the IRS corrected.
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
While it may be trendy, co-working is not just a trend—it's here to stay. If you currently run your business out of a home office, you know the pros and cons of working independently. Co-working offers not only social and professional engagement, but as this niche market expands and spaces become more specialized, it also provides opportunities for sharing equipment, technology and other nice-to-haves that many small business owners otherwise couldn't afford.
Is it for you? Ask yourself a few questions:
1. What's your work style? If you function better in quiet and privacy, you may find the shared nature of co-working space distracting. If you're a collaborator, co-working is likely right for you.
2. Can your business benefit from new ideas, networking opportunities and random new relationships? Those with co-working experience laud interaction and a feeling of community as top benefits.
3. How important are convenience and professionalism? Most co-working spaces are plug and play, and all offer a more appropriate client meeting environment than your living room.
4. Does your work day stretch from 5 p.m., to 6 p.m., to 7 p.m. and beyond? Co-working space can help you bring more balance, and separate your work and home lives.
Rolling out of bed and making a 60-second commute to the coffee maker and on to your home office is convenient, but it's not always productive and could be limiting growth of your business. It might be time to consider your options.
Any way you look at it, employee turnover is costly. From recruiting to lost productivity, you should aim to hire and retain. Unfortunately, it's not always as easy as it sounds. Whether you're currently experiencing high turnover or you have a good retention track record, pinpointing trends can help isolate causes and improve best practices.
For example, you might find age as a contributing factor. Are you seeing younger employees leave at a faster rate than mature staff? Probably. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median tenure of workers ages 55 to 64 is just over 10 years—three times that of workers ages 25 to 34 years.
Tips for retaining millennials:
Tips for retaining millennials:
- Company culture matters all around, but investing in activities to foster meaningful emotional connections will affect whether or not employees like to come to work.
- Don't skimp on training. The first few weeks are critical to establish rapport, create trust and start building skills. Many studies show that a large percentage of employees are still looking for jobs during this honey moon period, so it's up to you to keep them focused and fulfilled.
- Younger employees feel pressure to advance their career. Encourage consistent development, establish mentor programs (or mentor them yourself), promote from within and develop career tracks.
Regardless of the composition of your employee pool, getting ahead of turnover is a smart investment of time and resources.
You’ve tackled the taxes, made your list of spring cleaning projects, and maybe you’ve even started thinking about what you might plant now that the snow is melting. But I have one more spring project for you: checking your credit report. It’s good for your financial health, and it’s free.
You might be surprised at what’s in your credit report: details about your loans or credit — from home loans to store credit cards — and whether you’re behind on any bills. It also shows whether you’ve been sued or arrested, or have filed for bankruptcy. The three nationwide credit reporting companies sell information from your report to lenders, employers and other businesses that consider your applications for credit, work or renting a home. So, if you’re planning to buy a car, get a loan, or apply for a job, it’s time to see what’s in your report.
Under federal law, you’re entitled to one free copy of your report from each of the three credit reporting company every 12 months. Go to annualcreditreport.com to order. When you order is up to you — order all three at once, or request one report every few months. Financial advisors say spreading your requests over a 12-month period is one way to monitor what’s in your reports and possibly spot problems.
Your Source for a Truly Free Credit Report? AnnualCreditReport.com
Once you have your report, read it over to see if it’s correct. If you notice something that doesn’t look right, contact the credit reporting company and the business that provided the information. Checking your report also can help you guard against identity theft. Visit ftc.gov/idtheft if you spot accounts that aren't yours.
This article originally appeared on FTC.GOV, by Bridget Small
If you paid for work-related expenses out of your own pocket, you may be able to deduct those costs. In most cases, you claim allowable expenses on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. Here are six tax tips that you should know about this deduction.
1. You can only deduct unreimbursed expenses that are ordinary and necessary to your work as an employee. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted in your industry. A necessary expense is one that is appropriate and helpful to your business.
2. Some costs that you may be able to deduct include:
· Required work clothes or uniforms that are not appropriate for everyday use.
· Supplies and tools you use on the job.
· Business use of your car.
· Business meals and entertainment.
· Business travel away from home.
· Business use of your home.
· Work-related education.
This list is not all-inclusive. Special rules apply if your employer reimbursed you for your expenses. To learn more, check out Publication 529, Miscellaneous Deductions. You should also refer to Publication 463, Travel, Entertainment, Gift, and Car Expenses.
3. In most cases you report your expenses on Form 2106 or Form 2106-EZ. After you figure your allowable expenses, you then list the total on Schedule A as a miscellaneous deduction. You can deduct the amount that is more than two percent of your adjusted gross income.
4. If you are a K through 12 teacher or educator, you may be able to deduct up to $250 of certain expenses you paid for in 2014. These may include books, supplies, equipment, and other materials used in the classroom. You claim this deduction as an adjustment on your tax return, rather than as an itemized deduction. This deduction had expired at the end of 2013. A recent tax law extended it for one year, through Dec. 31, 2014. For more on this topic see Publication 529.
5. You must keep records to prove the expenses you deduct. For what records to keep, see Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax.
6. Most people qualify to use free, brand-name software to prepare and e-file their federal tax returns. IRS Free File is the easiest way to file. These rules can be complex, and Free File software will help you determine if you can deduct your expenses. It will do the math, fill out the forms and e-file your return – all for free. Check your other e-file options if you can’t use Free File.
Visit IRS.gov/forms to view, download or print IRS tax products anytime.