Apr 23 2014

Saving Your Credit After a Job Loss

By |April 23rd, 2014|General Personal Finance|Comments Off|

If your boss calls you into his office, you might believe that he has good news to share. This is especially true if you’re doing a stellar job at work and he’s pleased with your performance.

But given present economic conditions in the world, being called into your bosses office doesn’t always suggest a pay increase or a promotion. The truth is, many companies are struggling; and in order to keep their heads above water, many have had to lay off some of their personnel — including a few top players.

There’s nothing fun about losing your job, and you may immediately think about all of your monthly financial obligations — perhaps your mortgage, an auto loan, student loans and other living expenses. In all likelihood you’ll qualify for unemployment, and depending on your company, you might receive a severance package. However, the money received may not be enough to cover living expenses. To stay financially afloat, you might use your credit card to pay bills and purchase the things you need.

If you’re able to secure another job quickly, using credit may only be a temporary annoyance. But since it can take on average 7 to 12 months to find a job when unemployed, using your credit card to cover living expenses can dig a deep hole. As you watch your debt balance increase each month, you may stress about your credit score and wonder whether you’ll be able to make your payments.

Credit and financial problems are two of the biggest consequences of losing your job. But rather than become discouraged and frustrated, explore different solutions to reverse your situation. Here are four practical way to deal with credit issues after a job loss.

1. Discuss the situation with your creditors

Notify creditors of your job loss to protect your credit score. If you feel that you might fall behind on your payments, speaking with your creditors and explaining the situation helps. If they’re aware of your present economic situation, they may offer provisions to keep your account in good standing. For example, your creditors may lower your interest rate to reduce your minimum payments, or offer forbearance and suspend payments for a specified number of months.

2. Sacrifice and pay the minimum

If your credit card debt steadily increases, paying just your minimums will only put a small dent in your balance. However, paying your minimum is better than paying nothing.

Minimum payments are typically 2% to 3% of the outstanding balance. It’s always smart to pay credit card balances in full each month to avoid debt; yet, paying the minimum is enough to keep creditors off your back and maintain an acceptable credit score.

Depending on your cash flow, affording your minimum payment might require sacrifice on your part. For example, you may have to give up cable, cancel your landline phone, or even reduce your transportation and grocery budget to ensure there’s enough money to pay bills.

3. Work with a credit repair company

If you credit score takes a serious hit after a job loss, working with a credit repair company like Lexington Law can get you back on track. Understand, however, that these companies cannot remove legitimate negative items from your credit report. However, if your credit report has costly errors, such as late payments or a collection account, credit repair companies are highly successful with getting questionable items off credit reports.

4. Use your tax refund

It’s tax season and if you anticipate a sizable refund, there are ways to put this money to good use. You can use this money to cover some of your living expenses while you’re out of work. But if your unemployment check and severance covers the majority of your household expenses, use your refund to pay off debt accumulated while unemployed.

This is undoubtedly a scary, frustrating time. However, panicking will only worsen the situation. If you notify creditors of your situation and adjust your spending accordingly, you can survive this temporary financial setback.

Apr 15 2014

Six Essential Business Plan Components

By |April 15th, 2014|General Personal Finance|Comments Off|

If you are writing a business plan, you should know that a good business plan has several components. Professional business schools teach their students how to write a good business plan in extensive detail. However, small-business owners may not have the degree and experience to create their own business plan. As a result, they usually use online resources to learn about the different parts of a business plan and to write their own business plan. There are several websites offering detailed help on writing a good business plan, but here is a short guide that should prove helpful.

business plan

Executive Summary

The goal of an executive summary is to cover the entire business plan in one page. This single page will describe the entire business, its financial backing, investors, product, product manufacturing, etc. Although this section appears in the beginning, it is usually written in the end, as it is essentially a recap and guide to the entire policy.

Company Description

As the name suggests, the company description section provides information about the company. As a business, you are trying to sell a product to consumers. However, you have to justify to the reader why your business can be successful, and what gave you the idea for setting up the business. The company description will also include the legal form of the business, nature of your business, what you need to set up the business, a brief history of the company, a summary of company growth, short term and long-term business goals, overview or products, customers and suppliers, manufacturing process, etc. Try to keep this section as relevant as possible and try to draw in the reader to be interested in your company.

Services

For a company to succeed and grow, it should provide a product that is clearly going to sell at a profit. In this case, the product/services description should provide a complete guide to the product and how it can benefit the consumer. You should identify the target market and show how the consumer will use your service to fulfill a valuable need in the market. Sometimes, investors want to see essential research and development information about the service and its cost and the profit potential associated with the product after removing R&D costs.

Market Analysis

In the end, it all comes down to how good your product is and how well it will sell and this has to be proved by market data. Market analysis is where you will present data about a product and show how it will sell due to demand. For example, if you are promoting a window cleaner service, you have to show the reader the demand for window cleaning, current competitors already in the areas, how your services are better than other companies in the area, and what will make your business profitable.

Market Strategies

This is where you actually show how you plan to sell your products to the customer by creating brand awareness, pricing your products, setting up sales chains, advertising, packaging, sales promotions, etc.

Financial Plans and Projections

Financial plans are a complete list of how you plan to finance your business, how much you have invested in the business, how you plan to raise finances, the cost of the product, manufacturing costs, etc. According to the Houston Chronicle, this section should be the most comprehensive section of the business plan to convince investors to give funds for your company.

Although there are several components to a business plans, not all of these components will be applicable to your business. Professionally created business plans may be as much as 30 to 50 pages long, but you may not need to have such a detailed plan. Business website entrepreneur.com states that some entrepreneurs may even write a single page business plan that will cover every aspect of a business and still prove to be impressively comprehensive. As a result, much depends on the nature of your business, how you present it and the data you have placed in the business plan. A short plan is just as effective as a long plan, provided it describes all the information required.

However, if you are creating the business plan for a specific reason like financial investment, stick to the traditional format. Financial investors, banks and angel investors want a detailed breakdown of a business and they are not satisfied with single page business plans. Single page business plans will not provide detailed information about a business and a single page will not be acceptable. In this case, if you do not have the professional expertise, you may want to hire a professional writer to create the business plan or use an online generator to frame the business plan so you can make sure you don’t miss something vital.

Apr 14 2014

Save Money on Taxes by Getting Married

By |April 14th, 2014|Blog, Personal Finance Tips|3 Comments|

I’m getting married in a few months, as most of you already know. The main benefit to getting married is getting to spend the rest of my life with the woman I love most in this world.

A nice side benefit is saving a lot of money on taxes next year.

When one person makes substantially more than the other person in a relationship (which is my situation with my future wife) then getting married saves a boatload of money on taxes. Let’s run some numbers and see just how much getting married could save us next year.

Let’s Pretend We Make $73,800 Combined

I don’t discuss my annual salary on this website, but for the sake of argument let’s pretend my future wife and I make $73,801 in taxable income this year (in 2014, meaning we are using the 2015 tax brackets). That means our actual income would be higher but after things like our deduction, 401k contributions, HSA contributions, and more, we end up with $73,800 in taxable income.

Taxes

photo credit: flickr.com/donkeyhotey

If I were single with $73k of income, I’d be in the 25% tax bracket. In fact, every dollar I earn after $36,251 would be taxed at 25%, meaning the government gets a quarter for every dollar (plus 7.6% in social security and medicare, but we’ll ignore that for now).

However, as a married couple, $73k means all our income is taxes at a maximum of 15%.

A single person with $73,800 of taxable income in 2014 will pay $14,306 in federal taxes. A married couple with $73,800 of taxable income in 2014 will pay $10,162 in federal taxes. That makes the tax bill $4,144 lower for the married couple.

Of course this is an oversimplification that assumes the taxable income is the same both pre-marriage (1 income) and post marriage (potentially 2 incomes). However, the point I’m trying to make here is that getting married generally lowers you tax bill.

This situation works great for a couple where one person stays home to raise children or is in school. However, it gets much more complicated when both people work.

It’s Possible to Incur a Marriage Tax Penalty

If two high-earning individuals get married, there are situations where their combined tax bill would actually result in them paying more taxes than they would have if they remained single.

This again, is a very complicated subject due to the complex nature of our tax laws. There is an article on US News that explains the marriage tax penalty that I recommend you look at if you are about to marry someone and both of you earn a lot of money (over about $75k each).

Consult a Tax Professional

If you really want to know the impact of getting married on your taxes, there are really only 2 ways to do it. Either use the IRS tax forms and worksheets to calculate your taxes, both as single people and as a couple and compare the two, or talk to a tax professional like a CPA.

Marriage doesn’t only change a couple’s tax brackets, but also the amount of their standard deduction and other variables. Of course, if kids are in the future, those little guys and girls can significantly reduce your tax liability as well (although they also dramatically increase your household expenses).

To My Married Readers: How did your tax bills change after you tied the knot?

Mar 28 2014

11 Strange and Unusual Taxes

By |March 28th, 2014|General Personal Finance|1 Comment|

Did you know there was once a tax on windows? Sounds strange, but in fact, it made sense at the time. Though we might chuckle at the concept now, there have been a number of strange or unlikely taxes that citizens were expected to pay back in the day.

As April 15th approaches, it’s time to stop procrastinating and gather all necessary forms and financial information to ensure a successful filing. The IRS tax code is complicated. To avoid an audit, it’s best to give yourself plenty of time to organize and file.

Read on for 11 strange and unusual taxes that have come into practice over the years and be grateful that, for the most part, they no longer apply today.

Unusual Taxes Throughout History

Mar 26 2014

I Finally Found a Great Web Host

By |March 26th, 2014|Blog, Personal Finance Tips|7 Comments|

I started this website in July of 2010, which means I’ve been using a web host for almost four years. Aside from a few months when my friend Andrea from Nuts and Bolts Media was offering a hosting service, I’ve generally been dissatisfied (or “pissed off” if we’re talking bluntly) with my web host.

I’ve had quite a few because when I get unhappy I switch. I’ve even tried one company twice thinking for some reason they would have gotten better since I left the last time. In every case I’ve been frustrated and disappointed. That is, until now.

For the last month or two I’ve been using Siteground to host my multiple websites, and I can finally say I’ve found a host I love. I have a few criteria that I look for in a webhost:

  • My websites load quickly (most important)
  • If I need support, I can get it fast and they are helpful
  • Prices are reasonable

Here’s how Siteground meets all of that criteria and then some.

In the spirit of full disclosure, links to Siteground are affiliate links and I do receive a commission on any sales. However, all my previous hosts offered affiliate links and I never used them (aside from Andrea’s discontinued service) because I didn’t really love the product. Well, I do love this product so I’m recommending it wholeheartedly.

Websites Load Quickly

A lot of people with WordPress websites spend a lot of time trying to optimize the site for speed. They download plugins like WordPress SEO and configure them for the most optimal caching solution, and they might host files or images with a service like Amazon S3 for fast, reliable access to large files.

Web HostingHowever, none of that stuff matters if you have a slow web host. If it takes 3 or 4 or 8 seconds for the host to respond (which was happening frequently with my old hosts), then your readers will be waiting and some of them are going to leave before anything even loads.

Since I’ve moved to Siteground, I’ve consistently found wait times for the server response to be 1 second or lower. Some people would say 1 second is bad, but keep in mind this is a cheap, shared host. If you want server response times of 100-200 milliseconds, you’ll need to pay more than $3.95 per month.

The key is the sites CONSISTENTLY have wait times at 1 second or less. I actually found Siteground after reading this article comparing WordPress hosting companies. You really aren’t going to find faster hosting at this price.

Siteground Support is Amazing

When I was with my other bad hosts, I’d have to wait 8-10 seconds for my site to load. That wasn’t acceptable so I’d try to initiate a chat session with support to understand the problem. That means waiting 20-30 minutes until someone was available, and then having support tell me “You have too many plugins,” which is complete BS.

I haven’t had to ask Siteground for support on slow loading times because my load times have been great, but I have needed support on a variety of other issues.

And each time I initiate a chat session I am connected instantly. I get people who know what they are doing and understand my problems and how to help. I also have a button on the chat window that says “Not happy with this chat? Escalate to a manager.” or something like that. If I’m not getting the service I need, I can easily talk to someone else to solve my problem.

This is by far the best web host support I’ve ever encountered.

The Price is Great

Web Hosting
After all my bad experiences, I was willing to pay a little extra for the hosting service I wanted. Luckily with Siteground I don’t have to.

Their smallest plan is just $3.95 a month for a single website. I have multiple websites and host a few sites I don’t own, so I used their GoGeek plan which is $14.95 a month and is a great deal in my book.

Their plans do include free website transfer, so if you have been thinking about moving but don’t want to deal with the hassle of moving your site, their experts will do it for you.

Bonus Feature: Staging

I was simply looking for a web host that met all my criteria. What I found with Siteground was one that met all my criteria and also includes a fantastic additional benefit: staging. Note: this benefit only applies to the GoGeek ($14.95/mo) and better plans.

When one of my sites needs work I really don’t want to do the development on the live production copy of the site. However, it’s a big pain to manually create a staging or development copy of the site and database for tinkering. Then, when I’ve finally made the changes I want, I have to copy/paste them to the original site. Not fun.

With Siteground, they have a one click option to create a staging copy of any of my sites. It takes about 20-30 seconds and the site is ready for me to go to work. Then when I’ve made the changes I want and I’m ready to implement them on the live site, there’s no copy paste. I just click a button and move the staging copy into production. And of course they create backups at every step in case a mistake is made and I need to roll it back.

This has saved me so much time and headache, this service alone is worth the price.

Siteground Hosting Rocks

That’s the bottom line here. I can’t tell you how much headache moving to Siteground has saved me. If you have a website and you’ve been experiencing any of the frustration I used to have, I strongly recommend giving Siteground a try.

Mar 20 2014

How to Set Up a Personalized Terms and Conditions Page for Your Website

By |March 20th, 2014|General Personal Finance|1 Comment|

It has taken you months, but the website is up and running and it has been vetted for defects. The product descriptions and images are ready and the page content is up. In fact, everything is ready on your business’ website, except the terms and conditions page. At this point in the game, you might be thinking about taking a generic terms and conditions page from another website to cover any potential legal problems. However, that’s the wrong approach. Your terms and conditions page has to be personalized for your industry and your business in order to protect your business from any potential lawsuits that may arise from situations that aren’t included in a general terms and conditions page. It also signifies a binding legal agreement between you and your customer. Special provisions appropriate for your business have to be included into it so it will protect the business owner and the customer in case something goes wrong.

To help you create your own personalized terms and conditions website template, here is a short guide.

Step #1 – Evaluate Your Own Business.

Almost all businesses have their own requirements. For example, if you are a shopping website, your terms and conditions page should cover exchange policies, return policies, and even replacement policies in case of damaged goods. It is vital to establish the exact terms and conditions applicable to both parties. Make a list of the products or services provided and the payment terms. The terms and conditions page should also include delivery timelines, guarantees or warrantees offered, premature termination or cancellation of orders, notice periods in case of termination, and the legal jurisdiction in case of conflict. These are basic legal requirements required for all businesses, but if you offer unique products or services, make sure you check other similar websites. Note points that appear valid and add them to your own personalized terms and conditions website template.

Step #2 – Use a Personalized Generator

Once you know what to include in your page, make sure you use a terms and conditions generator. Generators are simple software programs that will ask you a series of questions. Once you have answered these questions, the generator will create a personalized template that is appropriate for your industry. You can then download the terms and conditions and use them on your website. These personalized terms and conditions generators are available as free and paid packages, and they are quite effective in creating good terms and conditions pages, especially for someone who is just getting started. However, a word of caution; some programs may try to sneak in a few words that are contrary to your business policy or they may add legalese that will force you to pay a small amount of every transaction to the generator website. To prevent this from happening, the Houston Chronicle recommends using a paid generator to create your custom terms and conditions pages.

Step #3 – Periodic Review Is a Must

As with any part of your business, it is important to revisit your terms and conditions page yearly to make any changes that may be necessary. Rules and regulations tend to change quickly and it is necessary to evaluate your terms and conditions page every year to make sure that you stay current with the rules and regulations of your industry. When you make these changes, be up front with your customers about them. Make sure that customers know what’s different by setting up pop-up boxes on the home page of your website.

Step #4 – Site Usage details

It is also necessary to be very clear about site usage and content details. Almost all sites now have a pop-up on the first page that requires a digital acceptance before the user can browse further. However, apart from this, a generalized disclaimer at the beginning of the terms and conditions page that warns users that browsing constitutes legal acceptance of site policies can be a great catchall.

The Bottom Line

When starting a new online enterprise, you have enough to worry about. Make the process easier for yourself by getting the help you need. A company that is well-versed in setting up terms and conditions pages can prove invaluable. If you have the money to be able to hire a company to take care of the initial set up of your business’ terms and conditions page as well as changing it as necessary, it is one expense that you may want to consider. They will not only create your custom terms and conditions page, but will continue to review it to ensure that all the information is accurate and up-to-date with the latest state and federal regulations to protect you and your customers.