This was originally published at Grandstand Central, where we cover sports from unique angles. 


 

A great American tradition born of the struggle to fill great American ballparks with great American baseball fans is dying. The ballpark giveaway is giving way to greed.

The Ohio Supreme Court heard arguments last Wednesday in a dispute over taxes on promotional items purchased by the Cincinnati Reds and offered to fans through promotional ticket packages. Ohio state law exempts companies from paying taxes on items they buy and resell, but the issue is whether promotional items like bobbleheads are being sold as part of a ticket package or given away in an effort to increase ticket sales. Simply put, if the team gives away bobbleheads, they pay tax. If they sell them with the ticket, they do not.

Regardless of whether the Reds’ techniques are legal or not, the attempt to avoid paying $88,000 in state taxes is pretty insensitive given the Reds’ recent history, both on and off the field. The construction of Great American Ball Park cost Hamilton County taxpayers $349 million and deprived federal taxpayers of $142 million in revenue — the third-most costly of any Major League Baseball stadium according to a Brookings Institute study. The Reds share responsibility with the Cincinnati Bengals for burying Ohio’s Hamilton County in debt, resulting in cuts to social services, including the sale of a hospital, and forcing Hamilton County Commissioners to refinance $376 million of stadium bond debt in 2016. Property owners in Hamilton County were promised 30 percent of the revenue raised by the half-cent increase to the sales tax in the form of reduced tax bills, but the county has rarely had the money to pay the stadium debt and offer the full tax rollback.

Meanwhile, the Reds could go from increasing attendance by giving away items for which they once paid tax to profiting from tax-free items while also increasing attendance. And they’re not the only ones.

The Minnesota Twins are also offering more of these promotional ticket packages and fewer giveaways after winning a similar case back in 1998. Like Ohio, “goods and services purchased solely to resell, lease or rent in the regular course of business” are tax exempt in Minnesota. In fact, most states allow businesses to purchase items tax-free as long as those items are to be resold. So this is only the beginning, and already, great American ballparks are turning giveaways into takeaways, likely turning a profit on what was a cheap means of advertising and now is a cheaper means of advertising.

According to a sales representative at Associated Premium Corporation, a preferred vendor of MLB promotional items, a seven-inch bobblehead purchased in bulk exceeding 10,000 units could cost a ballclub between $3 and $5. Markups on promotional ticket packages are considerably higher than that, and in some ballparks, they vary by seat location.

Senior manager of group sales for the Twins, Phil McMullen, informed me that the prices for their promotional ticket packages are based on the price of their group tickets, which explains why the markup for the promotional item appears to vary by seat location when compared to buying a single game ticket alone. The same cannot be said for the Reds.

The June 19 promotional bobblehead in Cincinnati is available at three different price points in three different sections of the ballpark. The promotional ticket package is $25 per “View Level” ticket, $55 for a seat in the “Field Box” section and $80 for an “Infield Box” seat. The price of a ticket to the same game in the “View Level” section is $17. A field box seat is $41, and infield box seats range from $65 to $68. So the same bobblehead costs $8 when purchased with a “View Level” ticket, $14 when purchased with a “Field Box” ticket and between $12 and $15 when purchased with an “Infield Box” ticket. Assuming the “Field Box” price is based on one ticket price, Cincinnati fans purchasing the promotional ticket package will pay three different prices for the exact same product in the same store.

“It’s consistently very close…the difference is negligible,” Reds’ group sales representative Kristen Meyers said of the varying costs for the promotional items. She attempted to explain the difference in price to accommodate fans buying tickets with exact change, but the Twins’ ticket prices are also full-dollar amounts and their cost of the promotional items don’t vary by seat location.

Minimal research revealed that the Twins and Reds aren’t the only Major League Baseball teams selling promotional items at varying prices depending on seat location. On June 23, the Colorado Rockies are selling a promotional ticket package available in five different sections of the ballpark that includes a University of Nebraska hat. Based on the Rockies’ group ticket prices, fans will pay either $8, $11 or $12 for the hat, depending on their seat location. In Milwaukee on July 7, fans will pay four different prices for a bobblehead depending on their seat location.

If MLB teams are going to sell promotional items on a sliding scale to make those items more accessible to lower-income fans, that should be advertised and owned. But forcing fans who pay more for their tickets to also pay more for a promotional item without their knowledge is theft. While buying a promotional ticket package might be preferable to standing in line for hours with no guarantee of scoring a giveaway item, don’t think for a moment you’re taking advantage of a business desperate to sell tickets. Quite the opposite is true, and the degree to which they fleece you varies as much as the prices of the promotional items they claim to sell in order to avoid paying state tax. But if you must have a promotional item offered with one of these promotional ticket packages, you’re likely best off buying the cheapest seats.

Published in Money

Sure, a business card will remind a potential customer who you are, how to contact you and what your business does, but you can be sure most people will never look at that business card again unless they absolutely need your services. And even then, they’ll probably have a hard time remembering where they stashed it. I know I have multiple stacks of business cards on my desk and bookshelf in the office that were organized in a certain manner I can no longer remember.

 

Even the nicest business cards get lost in the literal shuffle. Your business needs more than just business cards to convert potential customers into paying customers. If you really want to make a good first impression, you need to leave potential customers with promotional items they love so much they won’t even consider them advertisements. They’re just cool things they want, or even need. So here are the best promotional items to advertise your business and turn potential customers into paying customers.

The Best Promotional Items

5) Clever T-shirts

While more expensive than your typical promotional item, a clever t-shirt worn by a loyal customer is the best walking billboard in which you can invest. Not only do you have ample space to let people know what makes your products or services unique, but you have an ambassador who can pay lip service to your company’s quality, too.

 

T-shirts are an especially effective investment for nonprofit organizations because their supporters are much more likely to represent the organization on their backs, or even pay for the t-shirt to represent their favorite nonprofits. Nonprofit supporters associate themselves with their nonprofits of choice like sports fans associate themselves with their favorite teams. They aren’t just consumers or spectators -- they have a real effect on the game. Some nonprofit fans even get in on the marketing efforts by designing t-shirts for their favorite nonprofits. That’s the case for the Marijuana Policy Project, which holds a t-shirt design competition annually.

 

You can save some money by printing your own t-shirts. Here’s a video on how to do just that. Personally, I can attest to how difficult it is to make great looking t-shirts, not because making the t-shirt is difficult. The problem is never applying the ink to the shirt, but properly exposing your silk screen. If you mess it up, you’re out at least $50 -- $25 for the screen you ruined and $25 for the new screen you’ll have to buy. The best screens we’ve worked with we built ourselves rather than buying at the arts and crafts store. They still work to this day despite bottles upon bottles of ink going through them.

 

Building and exposing your own screens might not be worth your time given the many options to design custom t-shirts online for around $3 to $6 per shirt, depending on quantity. But if you intend to print a ton of t-shirts over a long period of time, having a means to print them yourself whenever you need them would be a wise investment.

4) Mugs

Ranging from 60 cents to around $2 each, a customized, ceramic mug is something everyone can use and everyone around them can see. Giving your potential customers or even loyal customers a mug is commonplace in many industries. Most of my mugs advertise something: the title company who helped me close on my house, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, New York Air Brakes, Makoshika State Park, Hershey’s Chocolate. In fact, just one of my six mugs lacks advertising.

 

Mugs are always useful and tend to be used in the company of others. People at the office drink coffee or tea from their personal mugs at meetings, and people at parties drink beer from glass mugs. Both of which should be advertising your business.

3) Mobile Phone Wallets

As phones get larger, pocket space gets smaller. Enter the mobile phone wallet -- a silicone wallet to hold identification, credit cards and cash right on the back of your phone. The backs of people’s mobile phones are like billboards for your brand. People are on their phones constantly, so your brand is bound to reach people while giving your potential customer the convenience of carrying less stuff.

 

You can easily design your mobile phone wallet using online software and choose multiple colors so your potential customers are comfortable affixing your promotional item to their precious mobile phone. You can order mobile phone wallets in bulk at less than 70 cents each.  

2) Calendars

Classic car calendars are my personal weakness. Everytime I see a classic car calendar for free I take one. I could have two at home and still find another place to put a third. You can never have enough calendars or pictures of hot cars. It’s cheap wall art as well as a practical item that serves a purpose. But not all calendars provide the same promotional payoff.

 

First of all, don’t bother with the peel and stick calendars that simply have your company logo atop a small, plain calendar capable of nothing more than telling your potential customer the date. There’s no space to write on it, so it’s not likely to get much attention. It also can’t be easily seen nor does it attract the eyes of passersby. If you’re going to give a potential customer a calendar, make it a calendar that draws their eyes as well as the eyes of anyone in the vicinity.

 

The same could be said of desktop calendars. They’re just too small, and while more practical and useful than the peel and stick calendars, you’re not going to catch the eyes of anyone except the person behind the desk.

 

The traditional, spiral-bound, hanging calendar is still king of the calendars. The average price of a customized calendar is less than $1, and you can design one yourself using online software and your own images.

 

Magnetic calendars are starting to catch on because they combine two great marketing materials into one. Most people’s magnets on their refrigerator/freezer were probably free and probably advertise something. Of the eight magnets on my fridge, I paid for one, and that’s because I wanted a momento from The Mob Museum in Las Vegas, which is well worth your time and money if you’re in Sin City. While I have no use for a calendar on which I can’t write, a magnet always comes in handy, which brings us to the best promotional item to advertise your business.

1) Magnets

While most calendars have a promotional life of one year, magnets will promote your business for as long as they’re magnetized, so don’t pinch pennies, which is all you’ll be pinching. Most magnets can be had for less than 50 cents each unless you’re going big. While I really like the practicality and convenience of magnetized notepads, they too have a limited promotional life, so stick with a magnet that won’t exhaust its usefulness.

 

Invest in a thick magnet that will stand the test of time and secure a bunch of stuff to the fridge. There’s nothing more annoying than a cheap magnet that struggles to keep my cousin’s holiday, family photo attached to my freezer. But don’t pay the premium for the magnetized paper clips. They don’t allow you to convey any other information about your business besides your logo, which will be lost amongst the many papers the clip will hold.

 

The only real drawback of magnets is the competition. Refrigerators are consumed by children’s drawings, “A+” test papers, grocery lists, to-do lists and all manner of coupons or receipts -- each suspended there by a different magnet likely advertising a different company -- maybe even a competitor of yours. So it’s very important that your magnet stands out from the crowd.  

The Worst Promotional Items

3) Keychains

The only people who see keychains are the owners of said keychains, so you can’t expect your investment in this promotional item to payoff. But I’ve seen variations of this promotional item that keeps it out of last place.

 

After a football game one day, I was handed a keychain that doubled as a windshield scraper. I’ve seen others that serve as flashlights. The best keychain I’ve seen is a bottle opener with a beer brand advertised on it. So if you’re going to go this route, make sure your keychain serves a purpose besides hanging from people’s keys.

2) Hats

People who regularly wear hats tend to have hats they prefer to wear. A cheap, trucker hat with your company’s logo is not likely one of those preferred hats. The only time I wear promotional headgear is when I’m doing construction work outside and don’t want to ruin one of my preferred hats. That’s not going to get your brand noticed.

 

Hats are also expensive promotional materials, especially given the limited return on investment. You can expect to pay about the same amount for a hat as you would a t-shirt, which is just asinine.

1) Pens

Pens are too small to allow others to see what’s advertised on them. And while they’re an affordable investment (less than 40 cents each), the return on investment in terms of lead generation is next to nothing.

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If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: USA Prepares, Building America, Free Talk Live, American Survival Radio, Jim Brown’s Common Sense, Drop Your Energy Bill, The Tech Night Owl

Published in News & Information

The stock market is not the economy. It is not indicative of the economy’s health. The stock market is a human collective reacting emotionally to news and numbers. It is merely a means to measure the perceived value of publicly-owned companies based on human emotion and expectations. Those perceived values can be overvalued, undervalued or properly valued, and with the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropping nearly 1,000 points the last three days, it seems stocks were overvalued.

Why did stocks fall?

Stocks were overvalued due to a myriad of factors. According to the “Shiller PE Ratio,” stocks were more expensive than they were on “Black Tuesday” in 1929, but less expensive than they were at the height of the dot.com bubble. So historically speaking, stocks were dangerously expensive.

Stocks are overvalued when things are going right. A lack of volatility over the past few years has culminated in a perfect storm that’s seen the VIX -- the stock market’s most popular measure of stock volatility -- rise more than 300 percent in a month.

“One big change affecting the market is interest rates, which have climbed sharply in 2018 to multiyear highs in the U.S. and around the world as economies have picked up steam,” Ed Carson writes for Investor’s Business Daily. Higher interest rates mean higher borrowing costs, which result in people consuming less. Much of the stock market’s recent losses are tied to an expectation that consumers will be spending less in 2018.

What to expect from the stock market in 2018

Don’t expect the stock market to continue providing 2017 rates of return, and with interest rates likely to increase, bonds aren’t necessarily the best place to put your money, but not the worst either.

There is good news for this newly volatile stock market. Midterm elections are more often good for the stock market than bad. “[T]he seasonality associated with midterms has brought positive returns for the stock market a lot more than it has brought losses,” according to Dominic Chu of CNBC. “On average, the S&P 500's return between Oct. 31 of the midterm year and Oct. 31 of the following year has been an eye-popping 17.5 percent.” So it’s not time to pull your money out of the stock market; it’s time to invest in the stock market.

What’s the best approach for investing in 2018?

The best approach for investing in 2018 is the same approach for investing in 2017 and any other year: invest and forget. You’re not going to get rich buying Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs), but you will realize a better return than you would from putting your money in a savings account or buying a Certificate of Deposit (CD).

Attempting to time the market is also a mistake, as is reacting to the market like stock traders did this week. Pulling your money out of the stock market at the first sign of adversity is the same emotional response that drove the stock market down in the first place. Traders selling shares in fear worsened the market’s decline because they had come some accustomed to the market’s lack of volatility. In fact, regular contributions to the stock market help limit volatility. So expect volatility and accept it. Just keep feeding the beast and try to forget that it’s there.


If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: USA Prepares, Building America, Free Talk Live, American Survival Radio, Jim Brown’s Common Sense, Drop Your Energy Bill, The Tech Night Owl

Published in News & Information
Saturday, 28 October 2017 18:52

5 steps to get out of student loan debt

It might be a while before post-secondary education is free for any American accepted to a public college or university. New York has become the first state to offer residents a tuition-free, post-secondary education at community colleges and public colleges and universities, and California could be next. That doesn’t help those of us who have already graduated from college with massive student loan debt, but you can get out of student loan debt without paying it all or worrying about interest accruing. The earlier you take these steps the better.

1) Don’t get scammed by student loan “negotiators”

There are a ton of corporate scammers out there preying on recent college graduates struggling to repay their student loan debt. These companies offer nothing you can’t do yourself from the StudentLoans.gov website but charge a monthly fee for playing middle man between you and your student loan servicer(s).

You should be able to identify these scammers by their too-good-to-be-true offer, but if you ever call any other number besides (800) 557-7394 or (800) 557-7392, you’re likely dealing with a scammer. Keep in mind, though, that these companies already get a bad rep, so if you do end up being scammed, do not hesitate to demand a full refund.

2) Don’t take on new debt

This might sound impossible for an unemployed, college graduate, but it’s essential to improve your borrowing power during the six-month grace period you have before your first student loan payments are due.

What you can borrow depends on your debt-to-income ratio, which is probably pretty terrible for any recent college graduate looking for a job. But even if your income is low (or nonexistent), you can take steps to improve your financial situation by simply moving your debt around. The first step is prioritizing your non-student-loan debt.

Credit cards can be an asset if you use them correctly. If you’re struggling to find a job to improve your debt-to-income ratio by increasing your income, you must improve your debt-to-income ratio by reducing your debt. But how can you reduce your debt without income?

You should know which credit cards are costing you the most in interest. Some of these rates can be upwards of 30 percent, so check to see if there’s an opportunity to transfer your highest credit card balance to a credit card with a lower rate. You might pay a three percent fee on the balance transferred, but if that’s less than you’d pay in interest over the life of the introductory rate, better to pay that amount upfront during your six-month grace period.

The key is to never allow your credit card balance to grow. At the end of every month, your credit card balance should be less than it was when you graduated. That way, when the six-month grace period on your student loans expires, you can work with smaller (or nonexistent) credit card payments.

3) Consolidate your student loans under one servicer

If you are tired of paying multiple student loan servicers, consolidate your loans under one servicer. This will make your student loan payments one payment paid to one servicer. The important thing to keep in mind when consolidating, though, is when asked the question of whether you work for a nonprofit, answer “yes,” even if you don’t. This will assure that your loans are consolidated with a servicer who qualifies for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF). So if you end up working for a nonprofit in the future, your loans already qualify for the program.

4) Apply for an income-based repayment plan

You can only pay what you have, so anyone with student loan debt should be on an income-based repayment plan, unless, of course, you make a ton of money. If that’s the case you should just pay off your student loans as quickly as possible to avoid paying interest.

While you must reapply for an income-based repayment plan annually, regardless of your change in adjusted gross income, it will result in the lowest qualifying payment you can make on your student loans.

If your income is low enough, you could end up paying $0 per month, but unless you intend to work for a nonprofit for 10 years and have the remaining balance of your student loans forgiven, interest will accrue at an astronomical rate.

5) Work for a nonprofit for 10 years, or start your own

Under the PSLF program, if you make 120 payments -- even of $0 -- while working at least 30 hours per week for a nonprofit organization, the remaining balance of your student loans after those 120 payments will be forgiven. It will disappear.

You don’t necessarily have to be paid by the nonprofit. If you volunteer for 30 hours per week with a nonprofit or multiple nonprofits, you just need an executive of that nonprofit to verify that you work 30 hours per week for them using this form.

You can even start a nonprofit and have a member of your board verify your work hours. I just found out all the work I did for a nonprofit I started to grow ice sports in my hometown qualifies me for the PSLF program, so if there’s a cause near and dear to your heart that isn’t being addressed by a nonprofit, start one. It’s as easy as raising some money and filing some corporate paperwork with the state to acquire tax exempt status. (Note: partisan political nonprofits and labor unions do not qualify.)

Don’t let student loan debt cripple your economic outlook. Take these steps as soon as possible to get out of student loan debt.

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If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: USA Prepares, Building America, Free Talk Live, American Survival Radio, Jim Brown’s Common Sense, Drop Your Energy Bill, The Tech Night Owl

Published in Money

Attending a first-time homebuyer workshop is a great way to prepare yourself for purchasing your first home. You’ll learn how much home you can really afford and how mortgage interest rates are determined, the importance of home inspections, what to look for in a home and how to thoroughly inspect a home during an open house. But an eight-hour, first-time homebuyer workshop isn’t enough time to completely prepare you for the home-buying process. Here are 5 things they don’t tell you at first-time homebuyer workshops.

1. Check the light bulbs and faucets when you tour a home

You’ll probably be looking at homes during the day, so you might not turn on all the lights to make sure they work. You should. When I moved into my house I found almost every light bulb dead, which isn’t a big or expensive problem, but one fixture had a connection that needed cleaning with steel wool and electronic parts cleaner. It could have been worse. I could have had to replace the entire fixture, or worse yet, the wiring to the fixture. So turn on every light switch.

Flush the toilets and turn on all the faucets, too. You might find out your kitchen faucet or sink leaks, or your toilet doesn’t flush, or your shower head needs to be replaced, or your washer or dryer doesn’t work. These are all things you should request the seller repair, and you should go so far as to request all the carbon monoxide and smoke detectors and thermostats have fresh batteries. When buying your first home, you should nitpick.

2. Check crawl spaces, attics and basements for rodents

Even your home inspector might not do a thorough inspection of your attic or crawl spaces. Their biggest concern is with the insulation of those areas, which they can see from afar. When you tour a home, check those areas for rodents or places where rodents could enter the home. If there are holes where rodents can enter, request the seller cover those holes with steel, which rodents can’t chew through. This will save you a lot of trouble you really don’t want.

3. Find out the cost of the average utility bill for the home

You can get a sense of what utilities will cost you before offering on a home by making a few calls. Call the city or county regarding garbage and water, and call the electric company to see what the monthly electricity bill will run. If your home has natural gas, that should excite you, as it’s more efficient and cheaper than electricity. Once you have an idea what your monthly living expenses will be, you’re ready to make an offer.

4. The seller can verbally accept your offer and deny it two weeks later

Even after you submit your highest and best offer and it’s verbally accepted by the seller, the seller has more than a week to sign the papers officially confirming the acceptance of your offer, which is contingent on your request for work to be done on the house prior to the sale. If the seller decides to go with another offer because they don’t want to do the work you’ve requested, they can. So don’t get too excited when your realtor says your offer was the highest and best, and the seller has verbally accepted it, because the next eight to 10 days (depending on whether your offer is accepted around a weekend) will be the longest in the entire home-buying process unless your realtor has made you aware of it. Now you’ll be prepared.

5. Owning certain dogs will raise your home insurance rates

If you’re the owner of an “aggressive breed” or “bully breed” dog, you won’t even qualify for home insurance policies with some insurers. Others will raise your rate because of the perceived risk associated with your dog, even if your dog is the gentlest dog on the planet. So before considering homeownership, shop around for home insurance so you get the absolute best policy and price.

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Published in News & Information

If the tax plan presented by Donald Trump and Republicans is adopted, the average American stands to benefit very little. According to a new report by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, four-fifths of American taxpayers can expect their after-tax income to increase .5 percent or less, while the top fifth of earners would see a three percent increase in after-tax income.

The study also found that 80 percent of tax benefits would go to the top one percent of American earners. Households making more than roughly $900,000 a year would save $200,000 on average. The top one percent of American earners can expect a tax cut of 9.8 percent between now and 2027. Repealing the estate tax would cost the federal government $240 billion in tax revenue over the first decade, most of which would stay in the pockets of the super rich.

Big businesses stand to benefit from the Trump tax plan, too, thanks to a decrease of the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent. But businesses that rely on debt to finance their investments, like real estate companies, private equity firms and financial companies, will likely see costs increase, because Trump’s tax plan proposes limiting the deductibility of corporate interest.

Realtors have been especially opposed to the Trump tax plan, because while it preserves the mortgage interest deduction, fewer people would benefit from itemizing their mortgage interest given the plan’s proposed increase to the standard deduction, which is closer to a 15 percent increase than a doubling of the standard deduction. This could make homeownership less attractive and hurt the housing market.

High-tax states like New York and California would be especially affected by Trump’s plan to eliminate the state and local tax deduction, which allows taxpayers who itemize to deduct property, state and local taxes. Congressional Republicans in high-tax states have already expressed their concern, so Trump’s tax plan might not pass without the state and local tax deductions being preserved.

Who is paying for these tax cuts for businesses and the super rich? The Tax Policy Center found that a majority of households earning between $150,000 and $300,000 would pay more in taxes under Trump’s tax plan, as would almost 30 percent of Americans earning between $50,000 and $150,000 annually.

Trump’s tax plan also doesn’t come in under budget. The tax plan would increase the deficit by $2.4 trillion over the first decade, and by $3.2 trillion over 20 years. And while the Royal Bank of Canada thinks Trump’s tax plan will raise gross-domestic product by .5 percent annually, even if that were sustainable over the next 20 years, Trump’s tax plan still increases the federal deficit by $1.252 trillion.

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Published in News & Information
Tuesday, 01 August 2017 17:01

The 5 best places to keep your money

Loyalty to your bank doesn’t pay. In this era of online banking, there is no reason to keep all your money in one bank. Even if you live in a small town and use a credit union, online bank accounts at the very least give you leverage over your bank to negotiate higher interest rates, but I would suggest taking some of your money out of that credit union or bank and stash it accordingly:

1. Discover Checking

Discover Checking is the best checking account on the planet. Most checking accounts don’t allow you to accrue interest on your money, or if they do, it’s a very small amount of interest. Discover doesn’t offer interest, either. It offers cashback rewards.

 

Every time you spend the money in your Discover Checking account you get free money. Every check you write is worth 10 cents in rewards, and you’ll get enough free checks to last you a decade. Every time you use your Discover debit card, you get 10 cents.

 

Consider you pay every monthly bill with your Discover Checking account: rent, water, energy, credit card and a student loan or car payment. That’s 50 cents. Now consider all of your debit purchases each month. You probably buy groceries and fuel at least once every two weeks. There’s another 20 cents, and if you go out for dinner or entertainment a couple times per month, you’re making at least $1 per month in cashback rewards in lieu of interest. I’ll take that over a miniscule interest rate on my tiny checking account balance.

 

Oh, and if you ever need cash, you can withdrawal on your Discover Checking account at over 415,000 ATMs and do so for no fee at 60,000 of those ATMs. There’s an even better checking account if you live a mobile lifestyle, though.

2. Aspiration Summit Checking

The Aspiration Summit Checking account offers an interest rate up to 100 times bigger than the big banks. I get .25 percent APY on my Summit Checking account balance currently, and one percent APY when my balance reaches $2,500. The best part is I never pay an ATM fee no matter where I am in the world. Instead of getting traveler’s checks before going on vacation, you can just open an Aspiration Summit Checking account and use your debit card anywhere.

 

So those are my recommendations for checking accounts, but where should you keep your savings?

3. Synchrony High Yield Savings

Synchrony is one of three banks that offer 1.2-percent APY on savings accounts (Barclays, Goldman Sachs), but Synchrony comes with easy access to your money, which could be a good thing or bad thing. Regardless, Synchrony offers discounts on hotels and car rentals that Barclays and Goldman Sachs don’t offer.

4. Discover Savings

Since I already have a Discover Checking account, I opened a Discover Savings account as well. It stacks up well against the competition when it comes to its interest rate (1.1 APY), but it makes this list because of its $100 bonus offer. If you make an initial deposit of $15,000 into your new Discover Savings account, you get $100.

5. Wealthfront

For an even better return on your savings, you can open a Wealthfront personal investment or retirement account by answering a few simple questions. Before opening your account, Wealthfront asks you questions about your preferred savings goals. If you want to take more risks for the chance at a better return, you can do that. If you want to preserve as much of your investment as possible, you can do that, too. Wealthfront will invest your money based on your answers to those questions, and they’ll even sell investments that have dipped in value so you can deduct the amount from your taxable income if you enable tax-loss harvesting. That’s why Wealthfront makes the list of 5 best places to keep your money: ease of use. You can open the account and never check it again until it’s time to collect.

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Published in News & Information

Now that we know Donald Trump's budget would increase the deficit and do little to improve the economy according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, you can expect fixed costs like energy and transportation to cut into the average American’s income even more so than in the past. In fact, the Trump administration made a $3.7 trillion mistake in its budget, which is far larger than the $776 billion and and $303 billion mistakes the Obama administration made with its budgets.

Energy cuts focus on energy-efficiency research

While the bulk of Trump’s proposed cuts in energy are research programs at the Energy Department ($3.1 billion, an 18 percent cut in budget) seeking ways to decrease carbon emissions from coal-burning power plants and more efficient batteries for electric cars, programs that actually help Americans save money on energy will also be eliminated.

 

The Energy Star program, with which you’re likely familiar, costs about $50 million annually, but will be cut from the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget despite the EPA estimating that the program helped American consumers and businesses save $34 billion in energy costs and prevent more than 300 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. That little blue label won’t be there to tell you whether the appliance you’re looking to buy meets the EPA’s standards because those standards no longer exist.

 

The same goes for the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), which funds energy audits of homes inhabited by low-income Americans and the installation of energy efficient additions like attic insulation and plastic over windows. Those workers are doing a lot more than installing plastic over windows, though. They also address health and safety issues by fixing broken windows, replacing faulty water heaters, repairing holes in roofs as well as installing other protective measures.

 

WAP cost $193 million in 2015, and the it estimates that for every dollar invested in the program, it returns $1.65 in energy-related benefits. In the past 31 years, 6.2 million low-income families have taken advantage of the program, which also produces “non-energy” benefits of an additional $1.07 per dollar invested. By lowering energy bills on average of $413 per year, low-income Americans have more income with which to stimulate the economy. But not anymore, which is likely why the CBO doesn’t see any improvement to the economy in Trump’s budget.

 

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) received $280 million in 2015, and its budget will also be cut entirely. ARPA-E advances high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that are too early for private-sector investment, so cutting it would put more strain on technology businesses, resulting in higher costs for consumers.

 

The loan program that has made fuel-efficient vehicles more affordable, the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program, would also be cut. Luckily, according to its website, the program has $16 billion in loan authority remaining, despite loaning Ford Motor Company $5.9 billion in 2009. The scrapping of the program will also make it harder for the average American to afford fuel-efficient vehicles.

 

Finally, Title XVII of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorizes the U.S. Department of Energy to support innovative clean energy technologies that are typically unable to obtain conventional private financing due to high technology risks through the issue of loans. Those loans will no longer be made available.

 

So that’s what’s happening to the U.S. energy budget. No more investing in American energy unless it comes in the form of decayed dinosaurs. But with fossil fuel exploration and drilling increasing, the price of fuel should go down, right? Well, the real price of gasoline and diesel fuel is already below nominal prices, which means they’re likely to increase to at least the nominal price.

Transportation budget cuts make Americans more dependent on cars, fossil fuels

Then there’s the U.S. transportation budget, or lack thereof. While shifting air traffic control to a nonprofit organization would transfer thousands of workers off the government payroll, it could impact smaller airports providing cheaper flights, which means more expensive rates for you. The elimination of $175 million in subsidies for commercial flights to rural airports will hurt rural Americans especially.

 

Also being eliminated is funding for many new transit projects and support for long-distance Amtrak trains, which, of course, would make Americans more car-dependent, and by design, more fossil-fuel dependent. Worst yet, the roads Americans will be forced to drive won’t be getting any better. The Republicans’ budget would cut $499 million from the TIGER grant program despite skyrocketing demand. The Department of Transportation received 585 eligible applications from all 50 States, and several U.S. territories, tribal communities, cities, and towns throughout the United States, collectively requesting over $9.3 billion in funding in 2016.

 

So how do we as Americans manage to get to and from the places we need or want to go with energy costs, both in the form of electricity and fuel, and transportation costs, both in the form of planes and trains, increasing? Well, here are 5 ways to save money despite budget cuts to energy and transportation.

1) Bicycle

If your roundtrip is under 10 miles, you need not drive. Get out the bicycle, put on the padded underwear and a helmet and take your share of the roads. I recommend wearing padded underwear if you intend to cycle for an hour or more. It generally only takes an hour to go 10 miles on a bike, and with a caddie and saddlebags, you can carry a towel and fresh clothes to change into once you arrive at your destination. Do not wear a backpack! You’ll regret it the moment you get a mile from home.

2) Carpooling

Not all of us live close enough to the places we frequent to do so on bicycle. But there are other people taking a similar trip. Mobile devices with unlimited data have made social circles a whole lot bigger than the water cooler at the office. Just because no one in your office goes by your house on their way to work doesn’t mean you can’t carpool.

 

Carpooling apps are becoming more popular in metro areas, with New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C. already being served by Via. But growth of carpool communities is dependent on us as Americans to make them viable options. Apps like Duet and Waze need demand to be useful, and if we’re all set on wasting money and killing the Earth by driving our cars to work everyday, they might never be available in your area. So sign up to either drive or ride with all the carpool apps and share them with your friends on social media so we can grow the carpooling communities and all save on transportation.

 

In the future, your self-driving car will simply go out and drive people to work while you’re at work or asleep. Until then, we’ll have to take the wheel, both figuratively and literally.

3) Work from home

More and more Americans are working from home these days, as employers look to cut costs like rent and energy, and employees look to cut transportation costs. If you do most of your work on a computer or over the phone like me, you can probably negotiate a work-from-home agreement with your boss. You might not be able to work from home everyday, but a few days per week will still save you money on transportation costs. And there’s nothing really like working in bed to the sounds of Rick James on vinyl.

4) Buy an electric vehicle

This isn’t going to be feasible for the average American, but for the first time ever, a car doesn’t have to be a liability anymore. Buying an electric vehicle is an investment that will pay for itself. The payback period depends on the car, of course, but it could be as little as eight years for a Kia Soul EV and as many as 30 or more years for the mysterious Tesla Model 3. And if the average American drives 13,474 miles annually, a Model 3 owner will have paid for her car in 30 years. That’s seven years before Model 3 owners will have to worry about investing in replacement batteries given the 484,669-mile projection for the batteries’ ability to retain at least 80 percent of their capacity.

5) Invest in solar or wind energy

Regardless of where you live, there’s likely an opportunity for you to harness solar or wind to create energy and lower your energy bill. And until Republicans pass a budget, there are still tax incentives and rebates available to you for installing solar arrays and wind turbines. You might as well take advantage of them while you still can, as both technologies have become more affordable to install. Solar installations have dropped nine percent in a year, and wind turbines have dropped more than 60 percent in price since 2009.  

 

The energy companies are doing their best to deter customers from installing renewable energy sources, though. Many are charging flat fees just for hooking up a solar array or wind turbine, and then they’re taking the extra energy you don’t need, but that you provide, and selling it to others. That’s why you should consult an electrician and find things you can run directly from your renewable energy sources if your energy provider is looking to take advantage of you.

 

Maybe your solar panels charge a battery or generator that runs the lights and electricity in your newly built shop or garage. You can always rewire your solar array or wind turbine into the grid, so don’t give in to paying those flat fees to use your own energy. If we discovered farting in a can could run lights for an hour, the energy companies would find a way to suck the fart out of that can and make you pay rent on the can. Don’t let them get your farts.

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If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: The Costa Report, Drop Your Energy Bill, Free Talk Live, Flow of Wisdom, America’s First News, America Tonight, Bill Martinez Live, Korelin Economics Report, The KrisAnne Hall Show, Radio Night Live, The Real Side, World Crisis Radio, The Tech Night Owl, The Dr. Katherine Albrecht Show, Free Talk Live, The Easy Organic Gardener, The Magic Garden, The Paul Parent Garden Club Show, USA Prepares, American Survival Radio, Jim Brown’s Common Sense, Home Talk

Published in News & Information

If you haven’t been paying attention to your credit score, you best start. It determines how much you can borrow in this age of credit enslavement. Monitoring your credit score will help you fix the issues that are limiting your purchasing power.

Say you want to buy a home, but your credit score is too low to qualify for the loan amount you need to live in the area closest to your work. If you view your credit score before applying, you can not only save a hit on your credit when the bank runs a credit check, but fix some of the easy things that will raise your score.

Anytime anyone asks your permission to run a credit check, they are running what’s called a “hard check” of your credit score. Accumulating a bunch of these at once can sometimes lower your credit score, but if you’re buying a home and comparing mortgage rates, you’re often given a grace period to run hard checks of your credit score. I’ve been told by multiple loan officers that the grace period is 30 days, but it can be as little as 14 days and as many as 45 days. You should always check your credit score before running a hard check because using Credit Karma doesn’t affect your credit, and you might avoid applying for a loan for which you don’t qualify. Then you’re just hurting your credit score and coming up empty-handed.

Credit Karma not only provides your Transunion and Equifax credit scores for free, but also provides free tax filing software that’s truly free and includes tax forms for independent contractors for nothing. So now that you know the importance of your credit score and the best place to get it, here are 5 ways to improve your credit score and purchasing power that will put you in a position to get that loan you need.

1. Never use more than 30 percent of your credit

Credit utilization is the most important factor in determining your credit score. If any one of your credit cards has a balance that’s more than 30 percent of your credit limit, it will negatively affect your credit score. This is whether you pay off the balance each month or not, so don’t think you can just max out your rewards card every month and maintain a quality credit score. That’s not how it works.

If you see a credit card balance getting close to that 30-percent threshold, start using a different payment method. You can set up balance alerts with your banks to let you know when you’re getting close to 30-percent credit utilization.

If you have a balance that’s already over the 30-percent threshold, request a credit limit increase. If you’re not paying interest on that balance, pay off other cards to lower your overall credit utilization below the 30-percent threshold. You can even transfer balances from cards with high balances to cards with low balances, albeit at a fee.

2. Transfer credit card debt to a fixed-term loan

Lenders like fixed-term loans more than credit cards because the payback period is set in stone, whereas you can make the minimum payment towards a credit card and take as much time as it takes to pay it off. An auto loan with a fixed term and interest rate looks a lot better to lenders than a credit card running a balance for years. Lending Club is a highly reviewed fixed-term loan company and can help you get out of credit card debt while also improving your credit score.

Be sure to do your research, though. You don’t want to end up paying more in interest for a fixed-term loan than you would with your credit card. For instance, if you have a zero-percent, introductory rate on your credit card for a year, it’s not beneficial for you to consolidate that debt into a fixed-term loan on which you will pay interest. If you’re paying more than 15-percent interest on multiple credit cards, though, consolidating that debt into a fixed-term loan could be cheaper and improve your credit score.

3. Make an extra payment each month

Paying your credit cards twice per month is a great way to avoid missing a payment, which is the second most important factor in determining your credit score. If you always make at least the minimum payment two weeks before your due date and then again on your due date, not only will you never miss a payment, but you’ll pay off your credit card debt in half the time and pay half as much interest.

If you’re not already using automatic payments, you should be. Just setup an account from which your credit card company can withdraw payments each month and you’ll never have to worry about missing a payment.

4. Leave credit cards at home

You don’t have to use credit to improve your credit score. If you have a problem with credit card debt, the easiest thing to do is leave them at home when you go out for the day. Forcing yourself to pay for things with cash will not only keep your credit card balances from increasing, but probably keep you from buying things you shouldn’t. Credit cards allow for impulse purchases that otherwise wouldn’t be considered if all you had for payment was cash. Just considering what a purchase will do to your bank account might be enough to talk you out of the purchase. But if you keep telling yourself, “I have a month to pay this off,” or “I’ll take advantage of my introductory rate and pay it off in six months,” you’re probably buying things you don’t need with money you don’t have. Paying off purchases over time is how people end up living beyond their means and sinking their credit score. Don’t do that.

5. Know when to apply for credit

It takes time for your credit card companies to report information to the credit bureaus. You can get a good sense of when they do this by clicking “View score details” under your respective credit scores on Credit Karma, and then clicking “Credit card use” on the following page. This will tell you when your credit card companies last reported changes to your accounts.

You can also call the customer service number on the back of your card and get the exact date your credit card company reports and plan your credit applications around this. It usually takes three to five business days for changes to affect your credit scores, so give it a week after the reporting date and then check your scores to see if they’ve improved.

So there are 5 ways to improve your credit score and purchasing power. If you follow these steps you’ll be on your way to realizing the American Dream.

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If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: USA Prepares, Building America, Free Talk Live, American Survival Radio, Jim Brown’s Common Sense, Drop Your Energy Bill, The Tech Night Owl, Travelers411, What’s Cookin Today

 

Published in News & Information

So you’ve got an idea that’s going to revolutionize an industry. You’ve got some startup capital to invest in your business, and you’re ready to dedicate yourself to your startup. But before you launch your product or service, there are mistakes you can easily avoid when starting your business that will sink your startup before it starts up.

1. Write a business plan before doing anything else

You might be thinking, “But I don’t need any funding,” or “I’m bootstrapping this business,” or “I have to be first to market.” And none of that matters. A business plan isn’t just a way to entice investors to provide funding for your startup. It’s a way for you to get to get to know your business intimately.

Most startups that fail do so because the CEO provided a product or service that didn’t solve a problem. Don’t try to solve a problem people don’t know they have; solve a problem they know they have. Writing a business plan is the best way to determine whether your business is solving a problem people know they have.

A business plan will also help prepare content for your website. You’ll nail down your company’s mission and answer key questions customers will have about your business. You’ll likely realize where a section of your business plan fits on your website while you’re writing it.

Most importantly, a business plan will help you prepare for each phase of your startup process, both operationally and financially. You’ll know how much startup capital you’ll need to start your business and have a budget so you don’t overextend yourself. You’ll also know who you’ll need to help start your business, and the list is probably longer than you imagined.

2. Invest in people before your product or service

The most important assets a company has is its employees, and it’s no different for a startup. Before you invest in a prototype or technology, surrounding yourself with the right people can help you avoid a failed launch of your business.

The first people you need are potential customers. You’re not selling them at this point, but their needs should dictate yours and that of your company. They can provide valuable feedback about your product or service that will help you perfect it prior to launch. Talk to at least 15 people you think would have an interest in your product or service. Let them know what you intend to offer and how they would improve it.

One of the best investments you can make in your business is in public relations. You might think you can do this work yourself, especially after writing a business plan. After all, you know your business better than anyone else. But journalists and editors of newspapers, magazines and websites are more apt to publish something about your business when it comes from a PR person or firm with whom they’re familiar. A press release received from an email address that contains the same business name as the press release doesn’t exactly scream “trust me.” A third party writing about your business, though, does have some validity, even though you’re paying that party.

You’ll likely pay more than you think, too, according to Tom Hogan and Carol Broadbent’s new book, The Ultimate Start-up Guide: Marketing Lessons, War Stories, and Hard-won Advice from Leading Venture Capitalists and Angel Investors. Hogan and Broadbent recommend you never have a PR firm work on your account part-time and to hire a local firm where available. You should also seek out a PR firm that has contacts with media members who publish to your target market. And when you set the initial meeting, request that the people who will be actually working on your account are at the meeting. Some firms will send principal members of the firm who will never actually work on your account. Don’t allow them to pull the “bait-and-switch.”

Once you’ve chosen a PR firm to spread the word about your company, set regular updates and weekly meetings to keep everyone on the same page and make sure your goals are being accomplished. Also be sure that your public relations team is fulfilling your agreed-upon reporting style.

Another place new business owners attempt to save money is by not hiring a social media manager. Don’t do this unless you are a social media wizard that understands how to read Facebook Insights and analytics and where to best invest your social media advertising dollars. If your target market is Millenials, the majority, if not all of your advertising budget should be spent online.

3. Don’t do business with family

If you have a family member with money to invest in your startup, don’t allow them to do so unless they’re aware they could lose every penny and you know it won’t alter your relationship.

If your big brother is a social media wizard, think twice about hiring him as a social media manager. How will your big brother handle taking orders from you? Believe me, I know what it’s like to work with family. I made my senior film a family affair and ended up being ordered around by my elders despite being the writer, producer, assistant director and assistant editor of the film. While I didn’t follow their orders, it wasn’t pleasant for anyone else on set.

4. Don’t go it alone

You need a partner. While no one likes to give up equity in their company, investors like to see at least two people working together to start a business. It shows that both are capable of working with others. If you go it alone you don’t give that impression.

Having a partner also allows you to get a different perspective to make more well-informed decisions early in the startup process. Working within your own bubble puts your business in a bubble that will burst. Be open to new ideas and different perspectives because your business can benefit.

5. Find a mentor

You can find business executives that will give you free advice through SCORE, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping small business get their start. Just enter your zip code and find business mentors near you. They’ll give you tips on your business plan, sales, advertising, operations management, etc.

There are also other tools available through SCORE. There are templates for business forms, webinars that will answer your immediate questions, and you can even register for a workshop in your area our schedule time with a business counselor. Even if you’re confident in your business plan, run it by a mentor to see what you and your partner are missing.

6. Stick to a timeline for launch and expansion

Whether you’re planning a soft launch or a massive grand opening, your launch is the first impression potential customers get of your business. Don’t screw it up too badly because it can sink your startup before is starts. Plan every part of your launch (and expansion) meticulously and stick to that timeline. Set goals that you want to reach within a certain period of time and then meet those short-term goals. If you say you’re going to launch on a certain date in press releases and advertisements, the worst thing you could do is push back your launch date because you’re behind schedule.

You’ll also want to set goals for expanding your company and meet those goals within a certain timeframe. If you say you want to open a new store within three years of launch, make sure you do your damndest to be in a position to do so. Meeting your goals gives you a lot to brag about as a company and CEO.

These are the easiest and most common mistakes you can avoid when starting your business, so don’t let one of them sink your startup before it starts.

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If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: USA Prepares, Building America, Free Talk Live, American Survival Radio, Jim Brown’s Common Sense, Drop Your Energy Bill, The Tech Night Owl

Published in News & Information
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