Broker Owners: Manu Ruggeri and Sonny Shanks
Broker Owners: Manu Ruggeri and Sonny Shanks

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Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Working for yourself comes with a lot of responsibilities"and funding a retirement plan should be one of them. After all, if you don’t think ahead to your retirement, who will?

Payroll deductions and 401(k) retirement plans set up by employers make it easy for workers at 9-to-5 jobs to contribute to retirement plans. But for the self-employed, it can be more of a challenge simply because there’s no one to do it for you.

Here are some ways to take the process of funding a retirement plan into your own hands:

Traditional or Roth IRAs

If you’re just starting out or saving less than $55,000 a year, a traditional or Roth IRA is a good option. If you’re leaving a job to start a business, you can roll your old 401(k) into an IRA.

As of 2018, the annual IRA contribution limit is $5,500, plus $1,000 catch-up contribution if you’re 50 or older. The Roth IRA has income limits for eligibility, meaning that those who earn too much can’t contribute.

With a variety of differences between the two, depending on your situation, one may prove to be a better choice for you.

For example, a Roth IRA might be best if your business isn’t making much money. While there’s no immediate tax deduction for a Roth IRA, withdrawals are tax-free in retirement when your tax rate is likely to be higher. In addition, a Roth IRA doesn’t require withdrawals at a specific retirement age.

On the other hand, a traditional IRA offers immediate tax deductions on contributions, and ordinary income taxes on withdrawals at retirement must be paid. You must start withdrawing from a traditional IRA when you retire or reach age 70-and-a-half.

Solo 401(k)
For the self-employed or a business owner with no employees, except a spouse, a solo 401(k) plan is a good way to save a lot more money for retirement than through an IRA. A solo 401(k) is like the 401(k) retirement plan you may have had when you worked full-time for someone else but is operated and used by a single person.

As of 2018, the contribution limit is up to $55,000 (plus $6,000 in catch-up contributions if you’re 50 or older), or 100 percent of earned income, whichever is less. Being self-employed basically allows you to contribute to the plan twice, or double the limits in a traditional 401(k) plan, as both an employee and employer.

As an employee to yourself, a solo 401(k) allows you to contribute up to all of your compensation or $18,500, whichever is less. As the employer who administers the plan, you can match contributions of up to 25 percent of compensation.

The tax advantages are the same as a standard, employer-offered 401(k). Contributions are made pre-tax, and distributions after age 50-and-a-half are taxed.

SEP IRA
A Simplified Employee Pension Individual Retirement Arrangement (SEP IRA) is best if you have few employees or none altogether.

The 2018 contribution limit is the lesser of two options: $55,000 or up to 25 percent of compensation or net self-employment earnings, with a $275,000 limit on compensation that can be used to factor the contribution. Net self-employment income is net profit less half your self-employment taxes paid and your SEP contribution. No catch-up contributions are allowed.

For tax purposes, either the contributions can be deducted from your taxes, or 25 percent of the net self-employment earnings or compensation can be deducted. Distributions in retirement are taxed as income.

This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as professional or legal advice.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Opening mail from your credit card company is never fun. If it isn’t a bill or marketing letter, it’s often an update to the terms of the credit card agreement, including changes to the annual percentage rate, or APR, that determines the interest rate paid on revolving balances.

Credit card interest rates are tied to the benchmark rate set by the Federal Reserve, so if you’re paying attention to what the Fed does then you might get an idea of upcoming increases. Or if you wait to receive a letter from your credit card company, the notification will usually come 45 days in advance, giving you at least one billing cycle to pay down your balance or find a better credit card.

When You Won’t Be Notified
However, you may not get such explicit notice if you incur a penalty APR for missing payments. The APR increase is immediate and is explained in the terms and conditions you originally received with the card. The contract will also list how you can get back to the original interest rate. Promotional rates are for a fixed period and you likely won’t get notified of when they’ll end.

If your APR is variable and tied to interest rates set by the Fed, then you may also not be notified early. Your credit card company may notify you anyway, but it isn’t required.

What to do About a Rate Hike
If you receive a credit card rate increase notice, your best solution is to ask the bank to lower your rate. It just takes a phone call and can often get you a reduction if you have good credit history and always make payments on time. You can also shop around for a better credit card elsewhere"be sure to let your bank know of better offers that it should at least match.

If you have a large balance, a balance transfer card can help you avoid the higher interest rate that’s coming soon. Balance transfer cards often offer 0-percent interest for a year or so, giving you time to pay it off before having to pay interest.

The best solution is to pay your credit card balance in full each month to avoid paying interest. Not carrying a balance is one of the best things you can do to raise your credit score.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Not organizing your refrigerator correctly can make foods spoil faster, lead to cross-contamination and make things hard to find.

Put foods that don’t need to be cooked (leftovers, processed meats, cheese and beverages) on top shelves.

Store meat on the bottom shelf in a plastic bin. Put other raw ingredients on lower shelves, in different areas.

Crisper drawers have adjustable humidity and temperature controls to keep produce fresh. Store leafy greens in a high-humidity drawer and put other vegetables and fruits in a low-humidity drawer.

Remembers, when you open the refrigerator, items on the door are exposed to room-temperature air…so only keep condiments, sauces and butter there.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Wood floors are a top choice for modern homeowners. Proponents believe they offer warmth as well as elegance, but they do require care to maintain their luster and are costly. Fortunately, say flooring exerts, technology makes it easy to achieve the look and feel of wood flooring without the need for special care"and at a far lower cost.

Check out the look and feel of these alternatives at local flooring or big box stores. (If you don’t plan to do it yourself, factor in $30 to $45 an hour for professional installation):

Bamboo
Bamboo flooring is an eco-friendly alternative to hardwood that is easy to clean, shrugs off wear and tear, and results in a similar look. Available in vertical, horizontal or strand-woven varieties, it will cost $2 to $5 per square foot.

Engineered Wood
Designed to handle moisture and wear, engineered wood flooring is durable, moisture resistant and available in a variety of wood-look patterns. This faux wood flooring is so much like the real deal (because it includes real wood in the layering) that it can even be refinished. Expect to pay $8 to $12 per square foot.

Laminate
Laminate vinyl is a photo of wood that is laminated onto vinyl flooring. Very resistant to high-traffic wear, it’s available in a wide variety of wood-like designs. It’s moisture-resistant, making it a great choice for kitchens and bathrooms. Laminate vinyl can come in sheets, tiles or planks. The price is significantly less than hardwood, with luxury vinyl tile coming in at $2 to $5 per square foot.

Porcelain Tile
A perennially popular flooring material, porcelain flooring comes in a variety of sizes, colors, and designs, many of which mimic wood-grain textures. In general, tile is durable, easy to clean and water resistant, making it ideal for bathrooms and kitchens. Large-format tiles can serve as a dramatic decor element, visually expanding a room due to minimal grout lines. Average cost is $4 to $9 per square foot.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Do you dread staring at your cars fuel gauge? Do you sigh when its time to refill the gas tank? If so, thats understandable. Gasoline is a major expense for many drivers, and its hard to not feel the pain at the pump. To help boost your cars gas mileage and save you some cash, the experts at FuelEconomy.gov offer the following driving and maintenance tips:

Driving Tips

  • Minimize idling your car by turning off your engine when your vehicle is parked for more than 10 seconds. Idling can use a quarter- to a half-gallon of fuel per hour, depending on engine size and air conditioner use, adding up to $0.03 of wasted fuel a minute.
  • Drive sensibly and avoid aggressive driving, such as speeding, rapid acceleration and hard braking. Aggressive driving can lower your highway gas mileage by up to 33 percent and your city mileage by 5 percent.
  • Avoid high speeds. Above 50 mph, gas mileage drops rapidly. For every 5 mph above 50 mph, it’s like paying an additional $0.19 per gallon of gas.
  • Reduce drag by placing items inside the car or trunk rather than on roof racks, which can decrease your fuel economy by up to 8 percent in city driving and up to 25 percent at Interstate speeds.
  • Avoid keeping heavy items in your car. An extra 100 pounds in your vehicle could increase your gas costs by up to $0.03 per gallon.
  • Combine errands. Several short trips, each one taken from a cold start, can use twice as much fuel as one trip covering the same distance when the engine is warm.

Car Maintenance Tips

  • Use the grade of motor oil your car’s manufacturer recommends. Using a different grade can lower your gas mileage by 1 percent to 2 percent.
  • Improve your gas mileage by 0.6 percent on average"up to 3 percent in some cases"by keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure. Inflate your tires to the pressure listed in your owner’s manual or on a sticker that is either in the glove box or driver’s side door jamb. This number may differ from whats listed on your tire’s sidewall.
  • Get regular maintenance checks to avoid fuel economy problems due to worn spark plugs, dragging brakes, sagging belts or transmission problems. Fixing a serious maintenance problem, such as a faulty oxygen sensor, can improve mileage by as much as 40 percent.
  • Don’t ignore the check-engine light"it can alert you to problems that affect fuel economy, as well as more serious problems, even when your vehicle seems to be running fine.

Of course, the best way to save on gas is to avoid driving altogether by walking or riding a bike whenever possible.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

A certificate of deposit (CD) is an investment product with a fixed interest rate for a term of three months to five years.

Long-term CDs have higher interest rates.

If you withdraw money early, youll pay a penalty.

A CD ladder is a strategy in which you open several CDs that mature at different times to take advantage of long-term interest rates and have access to funds on a regular basis.

When a CD matures, you can reinvest the money at the same financial institution or somewhere else to get a better rate.

Compare annual percentage yields and terms from several banks and credit unions.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Smart home technology is advancing beyond telling your phone or internet-enabled device to play music and look up sports scores.

Smart thermostats, lightbulbs, plugs, locks and doorbells are available to homeowners, and the list of things technology can connect to within a home is growing every year.

Here are some smart devices you may want to consider integrating into your home:

Thermostat
With a variety of options to choose from, one of the most popular smart thermostats among today’s homeowners is the Nest Learning Thermostat, which is owned by Google.

The Nest thermostat uses an algorithm to adapt to your preferences, as well as when you leave and arrive home. When you’re away at work, it uses your phone’s location to determine that you’ve left and enters eco mode to save money and energy, reducing bills by up to 15 percent, according to the company.

Floodlight
The Sengled Smart LED Floodlight is an inexpensive way to monitor your home as a motion sensor, while providing light without having to turn the light switch on and off.

Unlike some motion detector lights that require installing new fixtures and possibly wiring, the Sengled Smart LED bulb connects to existing fixtures. Built-in motion and daylight sensors turn the light on automatically for 90 seconds when motion is detected within 30 feet. The light can also be controlled through voice control on Alexa or Google Assistant.

With the Sengled app, you can even receive mobile notifications when motion is sensed.

Smart Lock
The August Smart Lock Pro + Connect attaches to the existing deadbolt and features keyless access. With your phone in your pocket, you can open the door without fumbling for your keys. It automatically locks the door behind you after you leave.

The lock can also be voice activated through Siri, Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant.

Smart Doorbell
Want to see who’s ringing the doorbell? With continuous streaming and video recording, the Nest Hello gives you a 160-degree view and visitor detection alerts. It also has a speaker and microphone so that you can communicate with visitors knocking on your front door whether you’re inside the house"or away from home.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

If youve paid off your debt, you owe yourself a round of applause. Its a rare feat, and one that should be celebrated"in moderation.

Now that you have extra money coming in each month, the first thing youll want to do is have a plan in place so that you dont turn around and find yourself right back where you started.

Here are three things you can do with your money to set yourself up for continued success in the future:

Start an Emergency Fund
Some of the debt you paid off may have come from emergencies: a hospitalization, a car or household repair, or even a job loss.

To better position yourself for an emergency in the future, work on putting away three months of expenses in an emergency fund at your bank. From there, build up to six months to a year of savings so that you can still pay your bills if you lose your job. If youre out of work for any period, youll want to have enough money to pay your rent/mortgage, transportation and food costs, utility bills and other essentials.

Save for Retirement
Saving for the future may not be at the top of your list, but youll thank your past self when you reach retirement age and can comfortably retire because you contributed the maximum amount to your retirement account when you could.

As you should do with an emergency savings account, be sure to automate your retirement contributions each month. Check with your employer about how to do this, and increase your 401(k) contributions each month.

Put It in a College Fund
If you have children or plan on having some, starting a college savings account (529 plan) can be a great way to invest in the stock market to help pay for college. Money from the account can be used to pay for qualified expenses such as tuition and books.

Saving for college early"just like anything else"allows you to earn compound interest and more money than you might otherwise.

This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as professional or legal advice.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Is student loan debt weighing you down?

Pay beyond the minimum payment every month to reduce your principal and avoid wasting money on interest.

To trick yourself into making an extra full payment annually, split monthly payments in half and pay that amount every two weeks instead.

Consider refinancing and consolidating your loans with a lower interest rate.

Devote cash windfalls, such as pay raises or tax refunds, to paying off your loans.

Try getting a side job and putting the extra income toward your loans.

If you cant boost your income, trim other monthly expenses to make bigger loan payments.

By using these strategies, you might be able to pay off your loans faster.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Children gain confidence by exploring the world around them, trying new things, and learning how to process both successes and failures. The way you interact with your kids on a daily basis can have a profound effect on how confident they feel as they grow up.

Provide Love and Support
The most important ingredient that helps children build confidence is unconditional love from parents. That doesnt mean that you should agree with everything your children say and let them do whatever they want, but rather, it means that your kids should always know that you have their backs and that youll love them even if they make mistakes.

Encourage Your Kids to Try New Things, but Set Limits
Whether you introduce your kids to foods from other cultures or different genres of music, or take them to museums, plays or foreign countries, help them see the richness and beauty of the world around them. If a child expresses an interest in playing a new sport or musical instrument, let him or her try, even if the idea seems to come out of the blue and you think its just a passing fancy. Your kids may surprise you by sticking with an interest youve never heard them express aloud before.

Letting your children try new things doesnt mean that you should let them try everything. Kids need rules to protect them, although the rules can change as they get older. Knowing where boundaries lie provides children with a sense of security.

Help Children Succeed and Learn From Failure
Kids will be confident if they know that theyre capable. That doesnt mean that theyll do everything perfectly, but everyone has talents, so help your kids find theirs. Encourage them to try things they might enjoy and to keep trying, even if they have a hard time at first. Instead of letting kids set lofty goals that will leave them disappointed, teach them to set realistic, incremental goals. With each accomplishment, their confidence will grow. Offer assistance, constructive criticism and praise whenever appropriate.

A large part of gaining confidence is learning from failure. When your kids are unable to do something, reassure them that everyone fails along the way"and encourage them to try again. They might need to devote more time and attention to a task, slow down, or try an entirely new approach. Frame failure as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Give Your Kids the Support and Freedom They Need
Parents can help children learn to be confident by allowing them to explore while enforcing rules for their safety. Kids gain confidence by knowing that with hard work and determination they can succeed, and that even if they dont, their parents will love them just the same.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Monday, September 28, 2020

To avoid late fees and a possible increase in your credit card interest rate, make at least the minimum payment on your credit card bill each month. The minimum due will change from month to month, so it can be hard knowing ahead of time how much money you’ll have to come up with to pay that minimum amount.

Paying only the minimum, however, means it will take a while to pay off the credit card bill in full, resulting in interest payments on the balance. Paying the balance in full each month is the only way to avoid paying interest.

The minimum payment depends on the size of your balance and the rules of your credit card issuer, which are listed in your cardmember agreement. If you owe a small amount such as $25, you’ll usually have to pay it in full.

There are two basic ways to calculate the minimum payment when carrying a balance:

Flat Percentage
This is the percentage of your total statement balance, including finance charges and any fees. Most credit card issuers charge 5-7 percent of the balance as a minimum payment.

Percentage Plus Fees and Interest
This formula calculates 1 percent of your total balance, excluding finance charges and fees. Then the fees and interest accrued during the billing cycle are added to the minimum balance due. For example, a $2,500 balance at 15 percent interest would have a minimum payment of $56.25. One percent of the balance is $25 and the interest charged would be $31.25.

You can incur additional fees if you pay the previous month’s payment late, if you don’t pay the previous month at all or the past due amount, or you exceed your credit limit. If you carry a balance on your credit card, you’ll notice a small box on the first page of your statement that shows the payment required to pay off the debt in three years. It will also show how long it will take to pay off the debt by only making the minimum payment each month.

You can also find an online calculator to see how long it will take to pay off the debt and how much interest you’ll pay over time. You can plug in numbers to see how making more than the minimum payment can sharply lessen the amount of time needed to pay off the debt.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

If your homeowners insurance policy covers your pet, it will pay for injuries or damage the pet caused to a person or property not named in the policy.

But it won’t cover injuries to your family or home.

Many companies deny coverage for dog breeds considered aggressive, regardless of the pedigrees or individual histories. Some companies provide coverage, but with high premiums.

Homeowners policies generally exclude exotic pets, such as ferrets and snakes.

Standard liability limits might not be enough. Consider a dog liability policy, umbrella policy or excess policy.

Tell your insurer about your pet. If you dont, it may deny a claim and/or cancel your policy.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Protecting children is a constant responsibility for parents and guardians alike, and many are unaware that they also need to be protected from identity theft.

Identity thieves often apply for government benefits, open bank and credit card accounts, and apply for a loan in the name of the victim, even a child. They often do this long before the child is old enough to open a credit card themselves, destroying a child’s credit history.

If your child is getting mail such as bills for products they didn’t receive, an IRS notice that income taxes haven’t been paid, or you or your child are turned down for government benefits because the benefits are being paid to another account linked to your child’s Social Security Number, then they may be the victim of identity theft.

To protect them, make sure you’re not carrying around their birth certificate or Social Security Card. Keep these locked in a fire-proof safe at home and have your home computer updated with virus protection software.

Also, be cautious about who you give your child’s identifying details to. Ask why the information is needed before giving it out. Ask if you can use a different identifier, or use only the last four digits of your child’s Social Security Number.

Your child shouldn’t have a credit history at all before age 14, so any signs of credit history could mean fraud. Check with the three main nationwide credit reporting companies to make sure a credit history doesn’t come up. You can also get a report every 12 months from annualcreditreport.com.

One misconception about helping a child build credit is to open a credit card in their name and pay it off on time for years. Called “piggybacking,” this practice was eliminated in 2007 by the three major credit bureaus because it was being exploited by people looking to boost their credit scores.

A credit card account can’t be opened for a young child, such as age 5 – 10, as a way to build their credit history early. This could open the door to identity theft, and creating a credit file could give a family member or stranger a chance to steal the child’s credit identity.

Adding a young child to a parent’s credit card account as an authorized user is also a bad idea. A clean credit history"meaning no use of credit at all"is best for a child when they do get a credit card someday.

What you may want to do"if you’re comfortable with it"is add your child at age 15 or so as an authorized user to your credit card, as this can boost their credit score if you have a good credit record.

Make sure they understand how a credit card works, and keep tabs on their charging activity. You can also add them as a user while not allowing them to use the card, or to only use it when you’re shopping with them.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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