Gunning Daily News

How-To Protect Your Small Business' Data Privacy

October 25, 2013 5:21 pm

According to The Ponemon Institute, 55 percent of small businesses experienced at least one data breach in 2012 and 53 percent had multiple breaches. Yet, a recent study by the National Cyber Security Alliance and Symantec found that only one in 10 small business owners say they have someone responsible for  online and cyber security at their business.

Below are five keys to help small business owners protect their businesses from cyber threats, provided by Hanover Insurance Group.

Five keys to small business cyber safety

Encrypt your data – Begin with the assumption that "bad guys" are going to get in. From this position, the first priority becomes minimizing damage they can cause—and that starts with making sure that data encryption software is properly installed. Remember that cyber-thieves are experts at finding and exploiting system weaknesses. For this reason, ensure that your encryption software is tested and updated on a regular basis.

Know your personnel – Insider threat is one of the main causes of data breach incidents. The fact is, employees are often the weakest link in the security chain. For this reason, conduct background checks on all personnel—including vendors and contractors—whose work requires them to have routine access to sensitive or confidential information.  Remember, too, that even the most trusted employees can cause a data breach if they misplace their laptop, USB device, or hardcopy files of sensitive or confidential information.

Understand exposures and find the right insurance coverage – Many businesses think it cannot happen to them – but Cyber-liability is a real risk for businesses. Business owners are wise to carefully review their exposures with the help of a qualified independent third party, and build an insurance program that protects their businesses from cyber threats.

Understand your insurance contracts – Regardless of what kind of coverage you purchase, the best place to begin always is talking to your independent insurance agent. Discuss your exposures and various risk scenarios and, together, decide on the policy terms and conditions that provide the most appropriate type and level of protection for your business.

Have an incident response plan developed in advance – Your company is better positioned to minimize potential damage from a data breach when you have a response plan in place. Make sure your plan identifies where and how sensitive data is stored, where and how it is backed up, and who has access to it. A robust response plan also includes a list of "first contacts" to notify, including law firms, forensic data experts, public relations firms, and credit monitoring companies. The faster you can respond, the better able you are to minimize and control potential damages.

These five steps can help small business owners protect their businesses from harmful and costly breaches in data privacy—including cyber-liability.

Source: www.hanoverlosscontrol.com.

 


Word of the Day

October 25, 2013 5:21 pm

Fiduciary. Person acting in a position of trust, responsibility and confidence for another, such a broker for his client.


Q: What Home Improvement Cost Controls or Budgeting Ideas Might Be Helpful?

October 25, 2013 5:21 pm

A:  Plan ahead and create a realistic budget.  Decide on the items and materials you would like to have in a room and set your budget accordingly.  This will prevent hasty, and costly, decisions down the road.  The experts suggest setting aside 10-20 percent of your budget to cover unforeseen problems and miscellaneous charges.  


Then, choose less expensive products that will help you achieve the look you’re trying to obtain.  Avoid labor intensive design features, such as tiled floors. You may also want to pursue your home improvement in stages, if you can’t afford to pay for the entire project at once.  Also, purchase surplus, secondhand, or discounted materials from other contractors, warehouses or classified websites like www.build.recylce.net to reduce costs.  If possible, avoid too many take-out meals and/or hotel stays.  Try isolating construction areas so that your living space isn’t interrupted and other household space can be used to heat or prepare meals once the kitchen is being remodeled.

 


Tips for Buying a Home in a Low-Inventory Market

October 24, 2013 8:06 pm

If you're buying right now, you may notice that inventory is low. There are several factors you need to take in mind when buying in a tight inventory market.

Real estate investor Michael LaCava (biggerpockets.com) recently pointed out that when there are multiple bidders on the same house, you need to think and offer unconventionally.

The following are excerpts from LaCava's tips on how to do just that.

  • All Cash Offers - When you’re selling a property after the rehab is complete, a cash offer is often more appealing than a finance offer – no need to worry about financing contingencies, banks and all that.
  • Offer a Super-Fast Closing - For every day a house stays on the market, the seller is losing money. So offer a super-fast closing. LaCava says you need to get your inspections, financing and documentation in place in a short period of time. If you know you can do this, tell the seller you are willing to close within two weeks or less.
  • Waive The Inspection - LaCava believes waiving the home inspection is a very effective tool to entice sellers to accept an offer. If you waive the right to an inspection, then all you have to lose is your offer deposit. For newer investors, however, LaCava recommends getting an inspection.

Dotty Reuning, and agent in Tennessee, says if you love the property and it appears there will be several counter-offers, make your first concession the largest.

Reuning also recommends finding ways to "give." She says sellers do want money, but they want other things as well. Consider the following:

  • If you have a time share, let them use for a week this winter.
  • Let the sellers stay in the house an extra two weeks after closing.
  • If you own a large truck, maybe consider helping them move.
  • Or pet sit for the sellers while they take a vacation after closing, or while they're moving to their new home.

How to Test Drive a Car

October 24, 2013 8:06 pm

A car shopper can learn just as much on a test-drive when the car is parked as when it's zooming down the road, advises Edmunds.com, a premier resource for car shopping and automotive information. In fact, says Edmunds.com Sr. Consumer Advice Editor Philip Reed, a quick orientation in the vehicle before you hit the road can answer a lot of your questions.

"It's a little like trying on clothes," says Reed. "People come in different sizes and shapes, and they have different tastes in what they want. The little things that you spot now could be major annoyances later, so don't discount any of your reactions."

At the start of any test drive Reed advises car shoppers to take note of some of the car's physical accommodations:

  • Is it easy to get in and out of the car without stooping or banging your head?
  • Does your body type match the pedal positions? If not, are the pedals adjustable?
  • Is the seat comfortable? Is it easily adjustable? Is there a lumbar support adjustment?
  • Is there enough head-, hip- and leg-room? Remember to sit in the backseat too.
  • Are the gauges and controls easy to read and use?
  • How is the visibility? Check the rearview mirror and the side mirrors and look for potential blind spots.
  • Check the trunk space and cargo area. Is the vehicle easy to load? Is there a pass-through in the trunk opening for long items?
  • Of course, the "drive" part of the test-drive is equally important. Edmunds.com offers these recommendations to make sure car shoppers get an accurate driving impression of what just may be their next new or used car:
  • Turn off the radio so you can hear the engine and concentrate on the driving experience.
  • Make sure the test-drive route incorporates your specific driving requirements. If you regularly drive into the mountains, find a hill and see how the car climbs. If you have a highway commute, get on a freeway and see how the car accelerates into traffic and performs at higher speeds.
  • Be sure to evaluate these other specific points: braking, steering and handling, suspension and in-cabin ergonomics.

Source:  Edmunds.com

 


7 Simple Tips for Choosing Kid Tech Tools

October 24, 2013 8:06 pm

Computers, video games, mobile phones, and tablets are ubiquitous in our lives and the lives of our kids. Parents want to embrace technology to facilitate their children's learning. But with so much technology available, how are parents supposed to know which tools and activities will actually help build skills?

"Every day new resources appear in our Apps stores and we're bombarded with all the 'Best of' and 'Top 10' lists. Parents should look for reviews and endorsements by reliable sources, including educational organizations, before giving their children access to any new tech resource," says Julia Fitzgerald, Sylvan Learning's Chief Marketing Officer.

To help parents make good choices with digital media, Sylvan Learning is offering seven simple guidelines for selecting new tech tools and apps:

  • Does it focus on active learning? Choose educational tools and activities that are interactive, rather than passive, like TV and DVDs.
  • What skills does it reinforce? Look for skills like eye-hand coordination, memorization, computation, dexterity, critical thinking and creativity.
  • Does it allow your child to practice the skill? When a program or activity says it teaches a skill, then it should provide practice with that skill and explain how the skill building is accomplished.
  • Does it provide feedback? Effective technology provides feedback on performance to help your child build their skills and confidence.
  • Is it age appropriate? Check the age and skill level to make sure they are a good match for your child's current developmental level.
  • Is it user-friendly? Your child should be able to understand and navigate the technology, so that it fosters engagement and enjoyment.
  • Does it include ads? Some free or "lite" versions of apps or programs include ads. Before your child uses the program, you can review the content first and vet the ads. You can also opt to forgo Apps that include ads.

"When used effectively, technology helps enable and empower our children's educational lives," says Fitzgerald. "The key lies in monitoring kids' electronic use. There's no substitute for parental involvement when it comes to encouraging our children to learn. Playing educational games with our kids is a great way to encourage their academic progress. Also, as parents we need to remember to model good behavior and limit our own screen time."

Source: www.sylvanlearning.com.

 


Word of the Day

October 24, 2013 8:06 pm

Interim financing. Short-term loan usually made during the construction phase of a building project or until a permanent, long-term loan can be obtained.  Also called a construction loan.


Q: Is a Home Equity Line of Credit Similar to a Second Mortgage?

October 24, 2013 8:06 pm

A: A home equity loan, like a second mortgage, lets you tap up to about 80 percent of the appraised value of your home, minus your current mortgage balance. But because it is set up as a line of credit, you will not be charged interest until you actually make a withdrawal against the loan, although you will be responsible for paying closing costs.

The withdrawals can be made gradually as you begin to pay contractors and suppliers for handling your remodeling project. The interest rates on these loans are usually variable.  Of particular importance: make sure you understand the terms of the loan. If, for example, your loan requires that you pay interest only for the life of the loan, you will have to pay back the full amount borrowed at the end of the loan period or risk losing your home.  


Taxpayers Should Act Now to Take Advantage of IRS Changes

October 22, 2013 5:27 pm

Unlike last year, tax planning for 2013 is not hampered by uncertainties over a looming fiscal cliff. Unfortunately, there is always some uncertainty and a few expiring provisions to warrant special attention by taxpayers.


Managing income taxes at year end involves techniques designed to address three issues:

• Accelerating or deferring income: If a taxpayer expects to be in the same or a lower tax bracket next year, it's best to defer as much income as possible until after the yearend.
• Accelerating or deferring deductions: If a taxpayer's overall tax rate is the same in both years, accelerating deductions achieves tax savings this year rather than waiting for those tax savings to materialize next year.
• Take advantage of tax provisions scheduled to expire at the end of 2013. There are several temporary tax provisions which can only be used this year.

Tax planning begins by projecting income and deductions for the year to determine your tax bracket and income thresholds that trigger higher and/or additional taxes, or limits the effectiveness of deductions.

One of the impacts of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA12)is the reintroduction of the Pease limitation, which can greatly limit itemized deductions.  Once a taxpayer knows what his or her income taxes will look like, it’s time to evaluate which techniques will help the most.

Strategies to accelerate or defer income:

• Adjust your elective deferral plans at work: Taxpayers who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, or in the Thrift Savings Plan can defer up to $17,500 this year.  Taxpayers age 50 and older can defer up to $23,000.

• Harvest capital gains or losses: Long-term capital gains are taxed at 0 percent for taxpayers in the 15 percent bracket.  Capital losses can be used to offset capital gains and reduce other income up to $3,000.

•Use the IRA. Taxpayers age 59 ½ and older can accelerate IRA distributions in 2013.  Contributions may be deductible depending on your income level and whether you’re covered by a retirement plan through work. Taxpayers under age 59½ can convert traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs to accelerate income.

• Health-care assistance: People with health savings accounts – available with some high-deductible health insurance policies -- can save up to $3,250 tax-deferred for an individual and $6,450 for a family.Those who are 55 and older can save an additional $1,000. Flex spending contribution limits are capped at $2,500 this year.

Strategies to accelerate or defer deductions:

• Medical expenses: The Affordable Care Act (ACA) raises the income threshold this year to 10 percent of adjusted gross income for taxpayers under age 65. The threshold remains at 7.5 percent for those 65 and older. Taxpayers may need to prepare or defer medical bills to lump expenses in a single year to get the deduction.

• Gifts to charities: Use a donor advised fund (DAF) to maximize the tax savings from charitable giving.   A DAF makes gifting appreciated securities easier.  The DAF can be funded in tax years when the deduction will have the most impact.  Distribution to charities can be made at any time without tax consideration.

• Qualified Charitable Distribution: This year only, taxpayers age 70½ or older can choose to direct up to $100,000 of their IRA-required minimum distribution to charity. By doing so, the distribution does not show up as taxable income, which can lower taxation of Social Security benefits and help reduce other threshold levels to further minimize taxes.

ATRA12 extended—but did not make permanent—several tax incentives for individuals.Taxpayers should consider whether they can benefit from these incentives this year and plan accordingly.

The following provisions are set to expire on Dec. 31 unless extended again:

• State and local sales taxes deduction. Taxpayer can choose between deducting state and local income taxes or the sales taxes they’ve paid through the year.

• Deduction for teacher expenses. Eligible educators can deduct up to $250 of any unreimbursed expenses.

• Deduction of mortgage insurance premiums. Payments of Private Mortgage Insurance premiums can be treated as deductible home mortgage interest in 2013.

• Discharge of principal residence indebtedness. This can be excluded from gross income this year.

• Qualified Charitable Distribution. Taxpayers can make tax-free charitable donations from their required IRA distributions.

2013 is certainly an exciting year for tax planning. Start now in order to minimize your tax bill in April.

Certified Financial Planner® Rick Rodgers is president of Rodgers & Associates, “The Retirement Specialists,” in Lancaster, Pa.


Six Tips for Quick and Convenient Healthy Eating during the Holidays

October 22, 2013 5:27 pm

For many people, the holidays involve indulging in buffet tables loaded with lots of fattening, processed foods and sugary sweets.

For those of us who strive the rest of the year to eat a healthy diet while leading busy lives, it can be a challenging time. Not only are we busier than ever, we know that all those foods we usually try to avoid are going to give us indigestion, sap our energy, and pile on the pounds.

“It really isn’t hard to give yourself, your family and friends the gift of delicious, nutrient-rich meals over the holidays,” says holistic chef and certified healing foods specialist Shelley Alexander, author of “Deliciously Holistic.”

“Instead of heading to the local supermarket, visit a farmers’ market, where you can buy fresh, local, seasonal and organic produce, along with other nutritious foods created by farmers and local food artisans,” she says. “You’ll have a much more enjoyable experience in addition to stocking up on all the ingredients you need to have handy. You can also find excellent choices at natural and health food stores.”

Nutrient-rich, whole foods that don’t have unnatural fillers and other additives, including seasonal, organic vegetables and fruits, wild-caught seafood, and pasture-raised, organic chicken and meats that come from well-fed, unadulterated, healthy animals, will completely nourish your body, make you feel better and ramp up your energy, she says. And you’ll find you won’t overeat, so it’s much easier to maintain your weight without counting calories.

Alexander offers six tips for quick and convenient healthy eating during the holidays.

• When shopping, check labels and avoid foods with a long list of ingredients. The best whole foods have one or just a few unprocessed or minimally processed, easily recognized ingredients, Alexander says. Among ingredients to avoid: chemicals, artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, nitrates, MSG, genetically modified ingredients and preservatives (indicated by the initials BHT, BHA, EDTA and THBQ.)

• Set aside a few hours each week to prep foods to eat in the days ahead. Cut up produce and store it in airtight containers. Lightly wash produce before using with natural vegetable wash or use one part white vinegar to three parts water. Make several homemade vinaigrettes or dressings to last all week so you can make leafy greens and vegetable salads in minutes. Clean and marinate enough meat or poultry for dinners over the next few days.

• Start your day with a green smoothie. Cut and freeze organic fresh fruit to use in green smoothies. You can also buy frozen fruit that’s already cut up. Add organic kale or spinach, coconut water or nut and seed milks plus natural sweeteners such as dates or stevia for an energy-boosting beverage.

• For your holiday dinners, plan on making at least three to four dishes that are both delicious and nutritious. Good examples are pasture-raised, wild turkey with sage and garlic, baked wild salmon with lemon and herbs, steamed greens, roasted heirloom root vegetables drizzled with balsamic glaze, pureed winter squash soups, and desserts made with seasonal fruits, spices, and healthy sweeteners like coconut sugar or raw honey.

• Invest in a dehydrator. Dehydrate fruits and vegetables and raw nuts or seeds that have been soaked in unrefined sea salt water (which removes anti-nutrients, kick-starts the germination process, and increases key vitamins), and you’ll have plenty of on-the-go snacks with a long shelf life. Dehydrators are convenient and easy to use; Alexander recommends Excalibur.

• Make batches of fermented vegetables twice a month. Alexander recommends eating fermented vegetables every day to keep your digestive system healthy. They’re loaded with probiotics – the good bacteria your intestines need. Mix a variety of organic vegetables such as carrots and celery into brine with warm filtered water, unrefined sea salt, and cultured vegetable starter or liquid whey, and mix with shredded cabbage heads. Pack the mixture into sterilized glass jars and allow the vegetables to ferment for five to seven days. Once done fermenting, store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

“Stick to whole, healthy foods this holiday season, and you’ll feel so good, you won’t want to go near the buffet table at your office party,” Alexander says.

Shelley Alexander received her formal chef’s training at The Los Angeles Culinary Institute. Alexander is a holistic chef, certified healing foods specialist, cookbook author, and owner of the holistic health company, A Harmony Healing, in Los Angeles.