Friday, June 26, 2015
Everybody likes free stuff. Cheese samples from the grocery, fancy soap from hotels, and, maybe best of all, free Wi-Fi to save you from eating up your precious data. But free could come at a price.
Before you jump on any old public network, let’s consider what you do most often online: peruse social media, monitor credit card statements, check bank balances and email employees or clients. Most of these activities put your online session at risk for a multitude of data security issues, including identity theft and wicked viruses. Reduce your exposure with these simple steps:
· Turn off automatic Wi-Fi connections. Connecting to any network is like walking into a stranger’s house. Review and select confirmed networks you can trust.
· Check with the barista, librarian or wait staff to make sure you’re connecting to their specific network—hackers often set up fake networks that look similar to lure users.
· Use a virtual private network (VPN) when handling business communications to shield yourself from unwanted onlookers.
Thursday, June 25, 2015
Being in debt is not easy. Being hounded by an aggressive collector can make a difficult situation even more so. The 30 million Americans that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates have accounts in collection should be aware that some of the shady tactics used by collection agencies are forbidden by the law.
There are multiple examples in recent years of the FTC targeting underhanded tactics by collectors, with numerous lawsuits filed alleging violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
Some tactics that collectors illegally use, according to the agency, include falsely representing themselves as a credit-reporting company, misrepresenting the amount owed, trying to collect interest or fees in excess of what is permitted, and contacting debtors with a postcard.
Here are seven of the most common tactics used by collectors that are illegal:
· Lying. A collection agency can't tell a consumer that they're going to be arrested if they don't pay up right away, or other tall tales to try to force repayment.
· Masquerading. A collector is not allowed to pose as a government agent or any law enforcement official to try to trick a consumer into making a payment.
· Threatening debtors. They can't call threatening violence, or a lawsuit if they're not actually filing a lawsuit, or make any other threats about consequences that are not accurate.
· Telling others. Collectors are not allowed to tell your friends, family or co-workers about your debts and use them to press you to make a payment.
· Calling in the wee hours. Calls may be placed to your home between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. local time. Calls outside of that are considered harassment.
· Using profanity. The law requires debtors be treated with dignity and professionalism and forbids the use of obscenities and other foul language.
· Pretending to use government documents. Collectors cannot send out materials that appear to be official government notices as a way to make debtors think they're risking arrest, prosecution or running afoul of a government agency.
Researchers document health effects of indebtedness
FROM CBC NEWS:
Canadians coping with the financial stress of heavy debt are increasingly talking about suicide, a psychologist says, as they struggle with sleepless nights and high blood pressure.
Dr. Donna Ferguson is a psychologist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. Over her 12 years there, Ferguson has encountered more people aged 40 to 64 who are overwhelmed with the financial stress of being on disability, a single parent or heavily in debt.
"I think it's really knowing and hearing about how people are now more depressed and more anxious about it, that suicide is a thought," Ferguson said. "Now, it's becoming more noticeable."
Researchers have also documented the health effects of indebtedness. A review by Finnish researchers last year of 33-peer reviewed studies concluded "indebtedness has serious effects on health."
"Individuals with unmet loan payments had suicidal ideation and suffered from depression more often than those without such financial problems."
Researchers from Montreal and Chicago also published a study reporting that high financial debt relative to available assets is associated with higher perceived stress and depression, worse self-reported general health and higher diastolic blood pressure among young adults across the U.S.
Tears and sleepless nights
Tanya Zerr, 38, of Airdrie, Alta., recalls the sense of hopelessness when she and her husband, Marty Zerr, faced $15,000 in credit card debt after he lost his job as a labourer in the oil and gas industry in 2008.
"I would cry," Zerr said. "The thing is, it is not something you really talk about. I couldn't call my friends and say, 'Oh my goodness, I am so worried about this'.… You keep a lot of that in."
"It was sleepless nights, a nervous feeling all the time because you're just worried, Am I going to get that letter, that eviction letter saying we're going to cancel your mortgage? It's kind of living in fear, because you just don't know what is going to be taken away from you."
Zerr said stress caused her to eat more and put on weight, while her husband wouldn't eat and lost weight.
At Consolidated Credit Counselling Services of Canada, Jeff Schwartz helps a wide range of people in Toronto, including professionals and those who receive government supports. Many say they're stressed and feel at the end of their rope.
"It's almost like it's a black cloud following them around, and they are not themselves so they can't function properly as they would. There is a lot of sleeplessness, there is lethargy, there is hopelessness that manifests itself within their job, within how they function in their daily lives," Schwartz said.
"At the end, it's almost as if there's been some relief and that cloud is no longer there."
It took Zerr four years to clear her credit card debt through the credit counseling service. For three years, her husband earned five dollars less an hour in a cooking job, then returned to the oil and gas industry, only to be laid off again in January. She's relieved the monthly bills are no longer so high.
Zerr has torn up the Visa, Brick and Bay cards in favour of prepaid credit cards when needed.
If you need to appeal a Social Security disability decision, you can now:
- File your appeal online and upload your supporting documents
- File your appeal even if you’re abroad and not in the United States
- Find a shorter appeals process online
- Receive quicker decisions from Social Security
If you wish to submit an appeal online, be sure to provide the necessary documents to support your appeal online. Learn more about the appeals process.
In general, under the employer shared responsibility provisions of the Affordable Care Act, an applicable large employer may either offer affordable minimum essential coverage that provides minimum value to its full-time employees and their dependents or potentially owe an employer shared responsibility payment to the IRS.
Affordable coverage: If the lowest cost self-only only health plan is 9.5 percent or less of your full-time employee’s household income then the coverage is considered affordable. Because you likely will not know your employee’s household income, for purposes of the employer shared responsibility provisions, you can determine whether you offered affordable coverage under various safe harbors based on information available to the employer.
Minimum value coverage: An employer-sponsored plan provides minimum value if it covers at least 60 percent of the total allowed cost of benefits that are expected to be incurred under the plan.
Under existing guidance, employers generally must use a minimum value calculator developed by HHS to determine if a plan with standard features provides minimum value. Plans with nonstandard features are required to obtain an actuarial certification for the nonstandard features. The guidance also describes certain safe harbor plan designs that will satisfy minimum value.
For more information, visit the Affordable Care Act Tax Provisions for Employers pages on IRS.gov/aca.
Good marketing is more than analyzing data, A/B testing and targeting the perfect audience. Now, don’t misunderstand, all of those things are important. But the one thing that shouldn’t get lost, yet often does, is the human connection. Not only is it the preeminent thing that gets us through life, but it can also boost business.
So, set the human component to maximum when you create content. Here’s how:
Get your story straight. You know your story—tell it. Share your history, your goals and your values. Offering up details about you and your business legitimizes your company and builds trust.
Be a chatterbox. Whether it’s in person, over the phone, via email or on social media, make your mark. Always be friendly—engage customers and make them feel valued.
Tap into empathy. Understanding customers’ struggles puts you on the same level, seeing eye-to-eye, and raises you up from business owner to someone who really understands and cares. That alone helps create loyalty.
Remember, the days of hard-nosed selling and pushy preaching are like faded advertisements on dilapidated brick buildings. Let bygone marketing rest in peace and bring your marketing into the human realm.
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
In the next few years, the decision-maker across the desk or on the screen will likely be a member of the millennial generation. They’re an ambitious group and they expect different things from you than older decision-makers.
When it comes to engaging with millennials during the sales process, here’s what you need to know:
· Millennials aren’t fans of hierarchy and corporate structure, so when you’re engaging them, expect to engage with a group. They make decisions by committee.
· Remember when you used to call the decision-maker? Millennials will engage via text before they connect via phone.
· Forget the martini lunch. Millennials expect you to be social and connect on a personal level online. They don’t want to work with you, they want to collaborate—now, in real time.
· Millennials are the most racially diverse generation in U.S. history, and tend to lean politically toward liberal thought and inclusivity.
Most importantly, when you’re connecting with millennial decision-makers, engage them with technology and humor. And they like stuff, so if you have company swag to give, bring it—especially if it’s useful.
Monday, June 22, 2015
Often thought to be just rows upon rows of books, where whispers are demanded and research confronted, the vast amount of public libraries actually cater to small business owners. It’s true. Many are a go-to place to gain new business and technology skills—some even offer networking and promotional opportunities. And most are up for considering innovative partnership ideas.
When you approach your local library director to discuss possibilities, consider:
· Expertise: Explain your personal expertise (related to your business focus) and how this might make an interesting program or blog post that could be connected to other library resources. Some libraries offer “human” loan programs, where patrons can literally check-out time or the opportunity to ask a question of a local expert.
· Leadership: Showcase your story and business experience, and volunteer to share your distinct insight with other small business owners and staff. Be sure to make detailed program suggestions and offer to lead.
· Networking: View the library as a connector and an objective third party. Come to the table with a slew of potential contributions—that will benefit the general public and ideas for a small business audience. Even if your suggestions don’t come to fruition, an active relationship with library leadership is a helpful connection to many other organizations around your community.
The public library is an incredible, often untapped resource. Use it!
A natural disaster can wreak havoc on any business. But it’s even worse when that real-world catastrophe becomes a data security calamity.
Before the summer storm season arrives, get your business ready. Just like you gather flashlights, bottled water, and emergency supplies, you can prepare your business by reviewing data retention and disposal practices.
Why are data retention practices important? As Bob Dylan said, “the answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.” Remember the Brooklyn warehouse fire, where media reports indicate that medical records (including drug tests), bank checks, and Social Security numbers were strewn about the neighborhood. Or tornados in the Midwest which literally blew away sensitive personal information, sometimes even across state lines.
No one wants that to happen to their business. Of course, you can’t stop a hurricane or tornado. But while the sun is still shining, you can reduce the risk to customers and employees by safely disposing of paperwork you no longer need. The last thing you want is old records, that you should’ve securely destroyed years ago, blowing in the wind. If you hold onto only what you really need, it’s easier to keep it safe – and there’s less to lose in a natural disaster.
To prepare your business, review these data minimization and disposal tips:
- Take stock. Create an inventory of the personal information you have. That way, if your files are destroyed or lost in a natural disaster, you’ll know what information is involved.
- Scale down. Collect only what you need. For example, if there’s no business reason why you have to have someone’s Social Security number, don’t ask for it in the first place. Keep records only as long as you have a reason to maintain them. Don’t hold onto customer credit card information unless you have a business need for it.
- Lock it. Store personal information in the safest part of your building. If information is missing after a natural disaster, contact law enforcement. If possible – this is where your inventory helps – contact affected individuals so they can place a fraud alert on their credit reports.
- Pitch it. Properly dispose of what you no longer need. Shred, burn or pulverize paper records before discarding. If you use consumer credit reports for a business purpose, you may also be subject to the FTC’s Disposal Rule. For more information, see Disposing of Consumer Report Information? Rule Tells How.
Students often get a job in the summer. If it’s your first job it gives you a chance to learn about work and paying tax. The tax you pay supports your home town, your state and our nation. Here are some tips students should know about summer jobs and taxes:
- Withholding and Estimated Tax. If you are an employee, your employer withholds tax from your paychecks. If you are self-employed, you may have to pay estimated tax directly to the IRS on set dates during the year. This is how our pay-as-you-go tax system works.
- New Employees. When you get a new job, you will need to fill out a Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate. Employers use it to figure how much federal income tax to withhold from your pay. The IRS Withholding Calculator tool on IRS.gov can help you fill out the form.
- Self-Employment. Money you earn doing work for others is taxable. Some work you do may count as self-employment. These can be jobs like baby-sitting or lawn care. Keep good records of your income and expenses related to your work. You may be able to deduct (subtract) those costs from your income on your tax return. A deduction can cut taxes.
- Tip Income. All tip income is taxable. Keep a daily log to report them. You must report $20 or more in cash tips in any one month to your employer. And you must report all of your yearly tips on your tax return.
- Payroll Taxes. You may earn too little from your summer job to owe income tax. But your employer usually must withhold social security and Medicare taxes from your pay. If you’re self-employed, you may have to pay them yourself. They count for your coverage under the Social Security system.
- Newspaper Carriers. Special rules apply to a newspaper carrier or distributor. If you meet certain conditions, you are self-employed. If you do not meet those conditions, and are under age 18, you may be exempt from social security and Medicare taxes.
- ROTC Pay. If you’re in ROTC, active duty pay, such as pay you get for summer camp, is taxable. A subsistence allowance you get while in advanced training is not taxable.
- Use IRS Free File. You can prepare and e-file your tax return for free using IRS Free File. It is only available on IRS.gov. You may not earn enough money to be required to file a federal tax return. Even if that is true, you may still want to file. For example, if your employer withheld income tax from your pay, you will have to file a return to get a tax refund.
Last week, Spanish Princess Cristina de Borbon was stripped of her title as the Duchess of Palma de Mallorca as she awaits trial amid tax fraud charges. The princess and her husband are accused of using a sports charity to ($6.75 million) during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. This scandal is one of many reasons former Spanish King Juan Carlos .
Princess Cristina is the first member of the family to be indicted on criminal charges. While her husband faces jail time, she is expected to only receive a fine, in addition to royal titles being stripped.
Princess Cristina does not receive a , so she is selling property under her name in order to pay court fees and fines.
Get free business training and counseling - online and across the country from the Small Business Association:
Beef on weck, frozen custard – and one of the largest debt collection industries in the U.S. Those are some of the things Buffalo is known for. That’s why the FTC kicked off its continuing Debt Collection Dialogue in Buffalo on June 15, 2015. Hosted with the New York State Attorney General’s Office, the event brought law enforcers, industry representatives, and consumer advocates together to talk about recent enforcement actions, consumer complaints, and compliance issues. If you couldn’t make it, here’s our informal take on what attendees talked about.
Dealing with debt collectors is a day-to-day experience for many Americans. According to some studies, 15% of consumers – nearly 30 million people – have an account in collections. And we’re not talking nickels and dimes. The average is more than $5,100.
Recent law enforcement actions have focused on some particularly egregious practices. Why the uptick in debt collection enforcement? Because some companies have stepped way over the lines set out in federal and state debt collection laws. Among the allegations in recent FTC complaints were that the defendants:
· lied to consumers that they would be arrested if they didn’t pay the alleged debts quickly;
· pretended to work for government agencies, including the FBI and other federal and state law enforcers;
· threatened to sue people when they had no intention of filing;
· called consumers’ family members, friends, and co-workers and told them about the alleged debts;
· hounded people about debts they either never owed or had already paid off; and
· sent text messages that violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
Bad apples in the industry are making things harder for consumers struggling to stay afloat – and for legitimate companies trying to comply with the law. In certain circles, the current state of affairs has created a perfect storm of non-compliance. Many consumers are behind on their bills, some of those debts are getting harder and harder to collect, there’s questionable paper for sale, and a workforce of more than 450,000 collectors are making close to a billion consumer contacts each year. Those are just some of the factors that led to the 283,000 debt collection complaints the FTC received in 2014 alone. The harm to consumers should be obvious, but lawless debt collectors also damage the reputation – and the bottom line – for industry members who follow the rules.
Data security and integrity should be important industry priorities. The security of personal information is a concern in every sector of the economy and debt collection is no exception. The FTC went to court last year to challenge the practices of debt brokers who posted portfolios for sale in a way that publicly disclosed sensitive information. That would be bad in any circumstance, but phantom debt collectors compound the impact of slipshod security. When fraudsters get access to account details, it’s easier for them to impersonate the company authorized to collect the debt. That puts consumers in a deeper financial hole and makes it harder for legitimate collectors to do their job. An FTC publication, Buying or selling debts? Steps for keeping data secure, offers guidance for industry members. The accuracy of information matters, too. Portfolios filled with outdated or incorrect data undermine the entire system.
Federal and state agencies stand united in the fight against illegal debt collection. Through the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, New York’s debt collection law and rules, and other federal and state statutes, the standards are clear for companies willing to comply with the laws – and the FTC, State AGs, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau coordinate their efforts to challenge the practices of companies that aren’t. One theme at the Buffalo Debt Collection Dialogue was a call for reputable collectors to lend their support by letting law enforcers know about rotten apples that are ruining the industry barrel.
The FTC will continue the conversation at Debt Collection Dialogues in Dallas and Atlanta. Check back soon for details.
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
The millennial generation is grown and they’re driving the economy. They may forgive you if you still think of them as kids (the oldest hit their mid-30s this year). But they won’t forgive you (or buy from you) if you give them a line of sales malarkey.
And you want this group to buy what you sell. Millennials make up 25 percent of the population and spend $200 billion annually. But according to a recent study, they won’t be influenced in the traditional ways.
· Your ads don’t work on them. They don’t trust traditional media and prefer to go to friends, parents and online experts for opinions before they buy.
· If you’re not social, you don’t exist (62 percent say they’re more likely to become a loyal customer if a brand engages with them on social media).
· Be a giver. Millennials prefer the socially responsible type (half said they expect companies to give back to society), so if you’re in that camp, you’ve already won.
Millennials want transparency, truthfulness and online engagement. If you’re not there yet, get there fast.
Interested in this topic? Get more info in a recent featured article and a Manta Small Business Expert webinar.