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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, What’s Cookin Today
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.
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
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:
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Amazon is attempting to monopolize retailing with its acquisition of Whole Foods for $13.7 billion. While Amazon started as a business unreliant upon brick-and-mortar locations, it is now realizing the products and services the company can offer is limited to the locations of its warehouses. The company even has actual bookstores now.
For instance, While Amazon’s Prime Pantry service allows customers to purchase non-perishables online and have them delivered to their front doors, Amazon does not have the ability to connect customers with fresh food, which is where the more than 400 Whole Foods stores comes in.
Amazon’s price war with Wal-mart just got a steroid injection. The only revenue Amazon was yielding to Wal-mart was on fresh food purchases. That’s no longer the case. Amazon will likely change little in Whole Foods stores to start, simply absorbing the revenue already created at those locations from the customers who would shop there regardless. But it won’t be long before Amazon updates its online catalogs with Whole Foods products that can be delivered to your door the same day you order.
Food delivery has to be the way Amazon intends to cut into Wal-mart’s grocery market share. A service that started as a way for the elderly to get their food and evolved into a means for donated food to find its way to people lacking transportation is going to make a comeback on a massive scale. Since the grocery business is such a low margin industry, Amazon can charge a premium to the customers who are already Whole Foods shoppers to not come to the store. All they’ll have to do is go online, pick their food products and wait for them to arrive at their door later that day or the next. Whether Amazon closes the Whole Foods stores entirely and turns them into order processing warehouses for their fresh food is unknown, but it’s a pretty safe bet Amazon is looking to beat Wal-mart into the food delivery market.
Wal-mart is currently the top provider of food in the nation, and by large margin because of all its locations, so there’s plenty of market share to be had by Amazon. It’s already shown an interest in catering to the low- and moderate-income American by lowering its Prime membership (which includes Prime Pantry access) to $5.99 monthly for those utilizing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). That’s a pretty good indication of what Amazon intends to do.
Amazon has basically exhausted its retail market share for all demographics but one -- the poor. But when Amazon starts enticing the low-income Wal-mart shopper to forego the taxi or bus ride down to the closest store for an online order they can have delivered to their door, there will be little market share for Amazon to gain and no place for prices to move. Until that day, you can expect prices on food to fall. This includes packaged foods like General Mills and Kraft Heinz offerings that have been forced to interior shelves inside grocery stores as Americans have become more conscious and cautious of what they’re eating.
While it’s unlikely the growth of inflation will come to a dead stop due to Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, there will be a slight effect felt. Consider that Whole Foods private label, 365 brand, comes along with Whole Foods, and now that Amazon owns a private-label food brand, you can bet that label is going to be well-represented online. Amazon has been selling private-label perishables for about a year. Available food is cheaper food, and the 365 brand being available to consumers online could put Amazon in a position to compete with other private labels.
So while the effect on inflation might not be to the point that the Fed decides against acting to reach its two-percent growth target in 2018, cheaper food will certainly curtail inflation growth. Even considering real estate and rents increasing in cost, steady fuel prices that are relatively low given recent history help counteract living expenses. And with companies attempting to create an emissions-free semi-truck to change the way food is delivered to Wal-mart and Whole Foods, the cost of food could be falling ever further in the near future. You can do more than hope, though. Here are a few more ways you can save on food.
The biggest value the Amazon acquisition of Whole Foods has for you, the consumer, is all the time you’ll save not standing in line at the store. We hear it all the time in America: “Time is money.” Well, companies are going to do their best to save you time like Amazon has done with its acquisition of Whole Foods because they can only cut prices so much, and making your purchase easier or more enjoyable is cheaper in the long run. If you don’t have to drive to the grocery store anymore, that’s likely an hour or so per week you have to do literally anything else. That’s four hours per week, and even if you make the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, that’s almost $350 you’ll save annually. So if it costs you $6 per month for a Prime membership as a SNAP member, you’re still ahead $276.12, and you get streaming video at home. If you’re paying the full-price for Prime ($99 annually), you’re up almost $250 if you work for the country’s lowest wage. Also keep in mind that Amazon will now be able to accept SNAP and WIC benefits.
Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods will have long-ranging impacts on the fresh food market and grocery market. It makes Wal-mart’s monopoly over low- and moderate-income Americans’ dollars vulnerable to the influence of Amazon. When my brother-in-law saw people getting out of cabs to go grocery shopping at Wal-mart he was stunned. “Why would you do that?’ he asked. “Well, people without transportation gotta eat, too,” I said. “And they’re not going to take a bus and haul groceries home everyday.” Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods will be good for the average American, but it could change the lives of low- and moderate-income Americans. There never seems to be access to fresh food in low-income areas. That’s why people eat so much fast food -- because it’s there. Well, now Amazon is there.
Editor's Note: An update follows.
Amazon’s next task is to apparently undermine Wal-mart's clothing sales by offering something called Wardrobe Prime, which allows online shoppers to have clothes delivered to their home to try on, and they can return what they don't like or what doesn't fit. You can sign up for when it goes live here. You'll get 10 percent off for keeping three or more items and 20 percent off for keeping five items or more.
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, What’s Cookin Today
This is the second of a series of articles about how the impoverished American can overcome proposed budget cuts by utilizing other services and methods.
Donald Trump’s proposed budget would cut funding that provides low-income Americans with affordable housing. Specifically, the $3-billion Community Development Block grant program would be cut entirely. Of that $3 billion, 70 percent must be used to benefit low- or moderate-income persons. It prevents or eliminates “slums or blight” and addresses “community development needs having a particular urgency because existing conditions pose a serious and immediate threat to the health or welfare of the community for which other funding is not available.” I repeat, “for which other funding is not available.”
That’s not all, though. The entirety of the Section 4 Community Development and Affordable Housing Program funding -- the measly $35 million of it -- would be cut. That $35 million was distributed as grants in the following manner last year:
The HOME Investment Partnerships Program, the largest federal block grant to state and local governments designed exclusively to create affordable housing for low-income households, would also be cut from Trump’s budget. The HOME program awarded nearly $1 billion in grants in 2016 that built affordable homes all over the country.
Also proposed to be cut is the Choice Neighborhoods program, which has funded affordable housing on blighted or empty lots all over the country. To get an idea of what they’ve built go here. (UPDATE: A cut to Section 8 billed at $300 million would actually be a cut of $2 billion given inflation and raising rents.)
The Self-help Homeownership Opportunity Program, which awards grants to nonprofit organizations that build affordable homes with volunteer labor (like Habitat for Humanity), would also cease to exist. So affordable home builders would have fewer funds to build fewer affordable homes, and fewer Americans would realize the American Dream.
You might say the government shouldn’t be in the business of providing affordable housing, but if you say that, you’ve likely never been near a project or witnessed people sleeping on the sidewalk or under bridges. And just because you don’t see it everyday doesn’t mean it’s not happening. This money is an investment in America. It provides (or if cut, provided) funding to decrease the number of homeless Americans -- 8.6 percent of which are veterans.
But now that affordable housing is on the chopping block (actually it’s always been) and there will be fewer affordable homes to go around, a lot of low- and moderate-income Americans will have to find a way to pay a higher percentage of their income in rent.
There is still hope, though. The proposed budget cuts have to get through the Senate after all, and those programs are still at work building affordable housing throughout the country. Here are three ways you can pay less in rent despite budget cuts to housing and urban development programs.
Bet you didn’t think that would be the first suggestion to save money on housing, but a mortgage on a single-family home is currently a cheaper monthly payment than a lease in most of America. I can see how much cheaper here. The Economist provided a review of America’s housing market in five interactive charts back in August of 2016, and the ratio of home prices to rents was below the long-run average.
In my area, even considering the low rent I pay because I share a two-bedroom apartment with a roommate, buying a home is 23 percent cheaper than renting. I know what you’re thinking: “But I don’t have enough for a 10-percent down payment.” Well, you don’t need it necessarily. There state and local, down-payment assistance providers who will loan or grant you a portion of your down payment if you live in the home for a certain period. You could end up putting down the minimum three percent down by coming up with one percent yourself and getting the other two percent as a grant if you live in the home for three years.
A good rule is to never pay more than 25 percent of your monthly income to your mortgage, home insurance, and property taxes. Use a mortgage calculator to determine the maximum amount you can spend on a home, and don’t let a lender tell you different, because they will.
I attended a Home Stretch homebuyer education course to get a better understanding of the homebuying process, and you should too. Registration fees for many of the courses are waived during the month of June for National Homeownership Month, and you can even complete the course on nights or a Saturday.
These classes tend to be offered by your state’s housing finance agencies, which you can find with a Google search of “<your state> housing finance agency.” I just searched “Home Stretch homebuyer education course near me” and registered in minutes. The class was very helpful, explaining the importance of inspections, budgeting and saving for a down payment, shopping for mortgages, working with a realtor and closing the sale. You even get a manual to take home, but the best part is you’ll get the business cards of people who can help you with the homebuying process. And since these folks already take time out of their day to help first-time homebuyers, you can trust them to look out for your interests. Sure they leave their business cards for a reason, but most of them wouldn’t present at the class if they weren’t interested in helping homebuyers.
The first thing you can do before you even start shopping for a home is start saving for a down payment by putting together a budget. The more money you can put down the lower monthly mortgage you’ll pay. And you should shop for a mortgage. There are so many banks out there, which means there’s plenty of competition for your money. Don’t take the first mortgage you’re offered. You should take the best of three or four options.
People think they can handle the homebuying process without a realtor, but a realtor doesn’t cost the homebuyer anything. Their fee comes out of the seller’s fees, so there’s no reason not to employ a realtor. It’s important to have someone looking out for your interests, and just because that realtor is from the same agency as the seller’s realtor, that doesn’t mean they’re trying to screw you over. In fact, it could work in your favor.
The one thing that does cost you money is the home inspection, which is worth the $400 to $600 you’ll pay. If you waive an inspection and buy a house that’s on land being eroded and have to repour a foundation, you will have wished you paid $500 for an inspection. And always be there for the inspection. It’s probably some of the most important information you can get before buying a home.
Also your responsibility is to investigate the neighborhood where you’re buying a home. The first rule of real estate is location, location, location. Go to open houses (they’re good practice) and afterwards talk to the neighbors to get an idea what the neighborhood is like. Come back at night and check the crime statistics online. Most police departments publish a crime map on their websites. If not, call them and ask what crimes have been committed in the area lately and how often. Zillow has a 10-point rating system for the schools in the area, but it’s not a bad idea to drive by them and the parks to see what kind of shape they’re in.
Even with average home prices increasing due to a lack of supply and low interest rates, it’s not a bad time to buy considering the proposed cuts to housing and urban development budgets. Supply is expected to increase but still won’t satisfy demand, and while it’s a seller’s market, taking advantage of the relatively low interest rates before they climb could save new homeowners thousands. Homes are only going to get more expensive, albeit at a slower rate, so you might as well get in while the getting’s still good.
If you can afford to purchase a home outright, negotiating a contract for deed on a home is still better than paying rent. Paying rent doesn’t allow you to create equity in your home, but a contract for deed does. You’re going to own that place someday, but be careful to read your contract for deed carefully. Some are written so that just one missed payment can void the contract. Then all the work you put into the place that wasn’t yours yet is lost to holder of the deed. A lot of condos and townhomes can be found on a rent to own basis, and can still be cheaper than renting.
If you don’t qualify for a mortgage, you can still make renting more affordable if you rent a spare bedroom. Yes, renting more space than you need is more expensive and costs more to heat and cool, but you can make a whole lot of money in a whole lot of places renting that spare bedroom by the night using Airbnb. There are stories of Airbnb hosts making $1 million annually, but you’d need pretty nice digs to do that. But if you’re struggling to make rent (which is likely why you stumbled onto this piece), an Airbnb business can be a lifesaver.
If you’re a natural clean freak and don’t pay for water or laundry, an Airbnb business is perfect for you. All you have to do is figure out how much you can afford to pay in rent, because if the third month comes along and you don’t have half the rent because you couldn’t get enough people to reserve your spare bedroom, you won’t have a home for very long. Generally, if you're paying more than half of your income on rent, that's an unsafe place to be. But if you're going to rent your spare bedroom, you can stand to pay half of your income in rent. Whether the owner will accept your credit based on your income is another story, though.
The beauty is Airbnb does most of the work for you (for a small fee, of course, generally 3 percent of earnings). Take some pictures of your clean home and describe it, you and the location. Be honest. Don’t expect people from out of town to know what they’re getting into. You don’t want to host the people that give you bad ratings because of your location, even though they actually choose the location. If you’re in an urban area where gunshots are regularly heard, make sure people know that before they wake up to gunshots. Even community demographics can be helpful, because some people are racists, and you don’t want to host those people. Being thorough in the description of your home and location can save you from bad ratings down the road, and your rating will affect how many reservations you secure and what price you can charge.
Before you get ahead of yourself, though, call your city hall and ask them if there is an ordinance governing short-term renting or home sharing. Airbnb is not legal everywhere. Some cities have outlawed “transient lodging” or “short-term rentals,” with hefty fines accessed to those who are caught.
New York City started fining Airbnb hosts in February, but has issued only a few fines since. Basically, it’s a really hard law to enforce in large municipalities where city employees are already overwhelmed. But neither GCN Live nor I advocate illegal home sharing. I’m actually trying to change the ordinance in Bloomington, Minn. outlawing short-term rentals less than 30 days by forcing hosts to pay the same percentage in lodging taxes that hotels pay. It’s only fair, and it won’t cut too much into hosts’ profits. The city council doesn’t seem to be interested in taking me seriously, but if I get enough people to help me persuade them they’ll have to address the issue.
If home sharing is illegal in your city, move. If you can’t afford to move, you can use the following as a template to get the ball rolling on legalizing home sharing or short-term renting in your city. Of course, you’ll have to find the law governing transient lodging or short-term renting in your city code and alter it accordingly. Otherwise, you can use this to draft a letter or email to your city council:
To Whom It May Concern:
I think Bloomington’s ban on transient lodging is wrong, and I have a solution. First of all, what people do with the homes they own or rent is up to those people and their landlords, and the City of Bloomington, or any municipality, should not be allowed to limit a person’s ability to make a living.
Secondly, the current law is nearly impossible to enforce, because despite monitoring websites like Airbnb, there will still be transient lodging made available through Craigslist, WarmShowers, and other websites. People will find a way.
There’s no reason why the City of Bloomington shouldn’t profit from transient lodging, though. If every Airbnb or similar host paid the applicable lodging taxes for their location, hotels would have little reason to complain, as the people renting Airbnb rooms are more likely to camp than pay for a hotel, and the hosts would be paying the same taxes as the hotels.
I propose the following alteration to the City of Bloomington Code of Ordinances subsection 14.577.
14.577 ILLEGAL RENTALS, OCCUPANCY LIMITS AND NO SUBLETTING
An owner may adopt standards that reduce the maximum allowed occupancy of a dwelling unit from the standards set forth herein. The maximum permissible occupancy of any licensed rental dwelling unit is determined according to the 2012 International Property Maintenance Code and as follows.
(a) Not more than one family, except for temporary guests, will occupy a licensed rental dwelling unit.
(b) No one will lease, license or agree to allow the occupancy, possession or tenancy of a licensed rental dwelling unit to more than four unrelated persons.
(c) Tenants of a licensed rental dwelling unit must not lease or sublet the dwelling unit to another without the prior approval of the property owner.
(d) No one will lease, license or agree to allow the use of a dwelling unit, or portion thereof, for transient lodging, unless applicable lodging taxes are paid.
I believe that tax is seven percent for the City of Bloomington. You can find the applicable codes here: http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hrd/pubs/lodgetax.pdf.
Since Airbnb hosts must pay taxes on their Airbnb income and fill out a W-9 or other appropriate tax form, collecting the tax would be as simple as applying that seven percent to the Airbnb income already reported each year. Let me know your questions or concerns.
If a member of your city council or an administrator from city hall doesn’t get back to you in a couple of weeks, contact them and ask when it will be addressed. If they say the council isn’t interested in addressing the issue, ask them when the next city council meeting is and attend. There’s always a time for public comment at those meetings, and it’s a good way to get media exposure for your cause and recruit other supporters. There really is strength in numbers, so if you show up to the next city council meeting with 20 people behind you, and every one of them takes the time to speak their mind on the issue, your city council members will have little choice but to refer your suggestion to the ordinance committee for review.
It takes months to accomplish anything in city government, so be prepared for a lot of waiting. Take solace in the fact you’re trying to improve your community by increasing tax revenue for street and sidewalk repair, etc.
So there are three ways to pay less in rent despite housing budget cuts. Next up in our series on how to navigate federal budget cuts, we’ll look at how to get around proposed cuts to energy and transportation.
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Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series of articles about how the impoverished American can overcome proposed budget cuts by utilizing other services and methods.
Donald Trump has proposed to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) by $190 billion over 10 years. The entire SNAP budget in 2016 was $70.9 billion, and the program provided an average of $125.50 per month in food per person enrolled.
Executive director of Hunger Solutions Minnesota, Colleen Moriarty, informed that a proposed cut to SNAP that size would result in 120,000 Minnesotans losing SNAP benefits. There are only 400,000 Minnesotans utilizing the program, which is seven percent of the state’s population. That’s roughly half the national rate -- 13.4 percent of all Americans utilize SNAP benefits to obtain food -- two-thirds of which are children, seniors and the disabled. Trump has also proposed cuts to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grants and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) in the amounts of $15.6 billion and $200 million, respectively.
Moriarty was en route to Washington D.C. to accept a national award from the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) when she spoke to GCN Live on Tuesday. FRAC is “the leading, national nonprofit working to eradicate poverty-related hunger and undernutrition in the United States.” Moriarty’s receiving the award because of her SNAP innovations like a one-page application for seniors, securing state funding to give beneficiaries an additional $10 to spend at farmers markets, and a help line to answer calls from all counties in Minnesota. She’s concerned that the Trump administration seems to be targeting children and seniors to fund increased defense spending. She called Trump’s proposed budget cuts “devastating,” adding later that “this administration seems intent to target the people who need help the most.”
Trump’s budget still has to get out of the Senate, though, so it’s unlikely the cuts will pass as they’re proposed. But Senate Democrats won’t be successful in fighting for all the funding programs like SNAP, WIC and TANF have received in the past. They’re going to have to compromise, which means the programs will be available to fewer Americans. This guide will provide five ways to feed yourself and family if you lose SNAP or WIC benefits.
Moriarty believes those who lose their SNAP benefits will spillover to food banks, but she doesn’t think there’s enough donated food to go around.
“The emergency food system cannot accommodate that. It would break the system….I think some people say...let the charitable organizations handle it, but just five percent of all funding is a charitable response, and most of it comes from the federal government,” she said.
Regardless, if you were on SNAP and got kicked off, you still have to find food, and you most certainly qualify for a monthly visit to your local food bank. If you don’t have a food bank in your town, try a neighboring town. Food banks are very welcoming of everyone in need, so if you let them know you drove 30 miles to get there, you’ll almost certainly come home with food. This won’t replace the $125.50 you were getting from SNAP, as a typical, monthly visit to a food bank results in less than $100-worth of food for a single person.
I do qualify for food bank benefits given my income, and my first trip to a Minnesota food bank resulted in more than enough food for one person for one month. This was the case in Montana as well, and I suspect this will be how food banks will support the increased number of families that will have lost SNAP or WIC benefits. By cutting the number of items a single person can take home, food banks will be able to help more families, seniors and starving children.
The value of the nearly 40 items I was able to take home was roughly $103.49, mostly due to a five-pound bag of shredded cheddar cheese ($25), three loaves of bread ($9.95) and five packages of meat ($20.74) -- all of which I can freeze.
Meat is expensive, which is why it’s the best value at food banks. Only a few options have fallen in price since last year (chicken and bologna are two), and with budget cuts to agriculture looming, you can expect prices to continue rising. More on that in a later article, though.
If you don’t eat meat, there are vegetarian options like tuna, vegetarian refried beans and dairy proteins like cottage cheese. If you’re vegan, you probably weren’t on SNAP or WIC in the first place. If you were, at least you’ve nearly replaced the $125 monthly food allowance you had. If you can’t make it to a food bank, many offer delivery service as well. If you can make it, sign up for any nutrition or cooking classes offered. You’ll get some great information, healthy recipes and take home even more groceries.