Gunning Daily News

3 Ways to Protect Yourself on Public WiFi

February 12, 2013 6:04 pm

Seeing that tiny sign for "Free WiFi" at a bookstore or coffee shop is always a little thrilling, especially if you need to get some work done online. But you may be paying the price when it comes to your Internet security.

As great as unsecured web access is, it can be a real problem if you want to keep your computer and its information safe. Unsecured access means anyone can be on the network. And it also means anyone can be snooping into what you're doing online.

If that makes you uneasy, you may just want to stop using unsecured public WiFi altogether. Alternatively, there are some steps you can take to to keep your information more secure. For example:
Vary your passwords. One of the most common security breaches happens when someone discovers a password that you use online. Many people reuse passwords on all or many of their accounts, which means one stolen password may place a lot of things at risk. Don't use the same password for Facebook as you use for your bank account, and try to change your passwords once or twice a year, just in case.
Stay on secure sites. Some websites are secured with a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), which you can tell by the web address; it should say "https" instead of "http." That extra letter means those sites are encrypting your information, such as credit card numbers and your user ID and password, so hackers can't get access to them. If you're not on a secure site, definitely don't enter sensitive information.
Double-check the WiFi network. This is a decidedly low-tech form of protection, but make sure the WiFi network you connect to is the one the coffee shop offers. Sometimes hackers will set up similarly named networks that reach the same spot in the hopes patrons will confuse them. Using the hacker's network makes it easier for him or her to steal your information while your computer is connected. You may feel foolish asking the barista for the WiFi connection's name, but it's worth it.
Source: www.findlaw.com.

Basements and Roofs – Alternative Materials That Last and Look Great

February 12, 2013 6:04 pm

In our final segment on basements and roofs, I will pass on a few of the latest developments in systems and materials available to protect and preserve your roof.

Schulte roofing (schulteroofing.com) of Navasota, Texas points out that homeowners can get the beauty of wood from a more durable material, by considering shingles made from recycled materials including cellulose fibers are popular.

They are environmentally friendly, have a Class A fire rating; are thaw and freeze resistant; have UV protection for color consistency; and can withstand up to 100 mph wind gusts.

Shulte also sees metal continuing to be a popular option because it is long-lasting and practically maintenance free; lightweight to decrease stress to an existing system; and a very painless replacement option.

It can also be coated with a variety of colors to reflect the sun's rays; with proper ventilation, metal can keep the interior of a house cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. It is also tested to withstand hurricane force winds and protect homes against fires.

Mark Daniel Exteriors out of Dallas, Texas also points out that:

• Metal roofing does not warp, split, rot or crack. It is also impervious to pests and termites and is almost maintenance-free.
• Metal roofing is very durable; it can resist strong winds, some hail, debris, or anything else from Mother Nature. It is also fire-resistant, meaning that it can withstand dry summer heat. When installed by a qualified contractor, it will not require repairs or replacement for many years. This saves your money in the long run.
• In addition, metal roofing has excellent insulation qualities, making it great for reducing your energy bills. If you have other energy-efficient systems at home, you should see your monthly bills drop significantly.

Cornerstone Exteriors of Schaumburg, Ill. (cornerstone-exteriors.com) also talks about the advantages of fiber-cement roofing, which has been around for some time, but is enjoying a recent resurgence in popularity.

According to the folks at Cornerstone, fiber cement roofs, unbeknownst to most homeowners have been around for more than 50 years. It is just recently that they have become popular because of their easy application and durability.

Made of a combination of sand, cement and cellulose fibers, fiber cement roofs provide the beauty of a wood roof with the durability of a cement roof. So if you are planning on a new roof this year, Cornerstone says choosing fiber cement can provide the contemporary look of more expensive roofs without the cost.

How Female CEOs Can 'Lead with Impact'

February 12, 2013 6:04 pm

A record number of women are Fortune 500 CEOs. Women are launching businesses at 1.5 times the national average. There are now 8.2 million American women running their own companies.

“The numbers are notable,” says executive and business coach Debora McLaughlin, author of “The Renegade Leader: 9 Success Strategies Driven Leaders Use to Ignite People, Performance and Profits.”

“From 1997 to 2011, the number of U.S. women-owned businesses increased by 50 percent,” McLaughlin says. “And in 2011, the median compensation for female CEOs was 13 percent more than for male CEOs,” according to NerdWallet Financial Markets.

According to Catalyst, a non-profit organization, as of Jan. 1, there were 21 women running Fortune 500 companies, including IBM and PepsiCo, That’s up from seven in 2002-2003. Among the Fortune 1000 companies, there are twice as many, including the CEOs of Neiman Marcus Group, Cracker Barrel and Dun & Bradstreet.

“Nonetheless, business women still face hurdles,” McLaughlin notes. “Keep in mind, while 21 are Fortune 500 CEOs -- a record high – that’s only 4.25 percent of the total and the figures hold for Fortune 1000 companies, less than 5 percent have a female at the helm.”

A recipient of the 2012-13 Women of the Year award presented by the National Association of Professional Women, McLaughlin watches the financial trends. While women are launching more businesses, they have an upward climb; studies show that women-owned companies are less likely to hit the $1 million mark and are more likely to fail.

“To claim, own and keep the keys to the corner office, women executives need to be seen, heard and to lead with greater influence and impact,” McLaughlin says. She offers three key tips:
Develop your personal brand: Let people get to know you, your core story of experiences and how they relate to your drive and vision. As Steve Jobs said, "connect the dots," then use transparent communication to share your story. People make better connections with people who tell a great story, and they’re most interested in the story behind the person at the top. Transparency encourages greater communication, team building and leadership.
Develop and use your personal network. Find a mentor and be a mentor; seek out other women at your level; and accept the strength, ideas and energy your connections have to offer. It is no longer necessary to blaze trails alone, and women have more power than they may realize. According to a Dow Jones report, startups with five or more female executives have a 61 percent success rate. It goes further and says that odds of success "increase with more female executives at the VP and Director levels."
Stand for something; position yourself as a strong thought leader. It’s not easy being at the top. Women tend to distrust powerful women, and men may view women as weak or too collaborative and sensitive. Take a firm stand on something you care about deeply and rally the organization around that objective. You will gain the respect of your peers, customers and stakeholders.
As the numbers clearly demonstrate, business is changing. Women account for 73 percent to 85 percent of consumer decisions in the United States, which gives female CEOs yet another advantage -- insight into their customers’ values, McLaughlin says.

Debora McLaughlin, best-selling author of “The Renegade Leader: 9 Success Strategies Driven Leaders Use to Ignite People, Performance and Profits;” the forthcoming book, “A League of Her Own,” and CEO of The Renegade Leader Coaching and Consulting Group combines her experience as certified executive coach and as a top sales performer in New York City and Boston to help CEOs, business leaders and organizations achieve accelerated results.

7 Mistakes to Avoid on Your 2012 Tax Return

February 11, 2013 3:40 pm

Every year, our politicians talk about the need to simplify the tax code and every year, they make it more complex.

The average taxpayer will spend an estimated 23 hours completing their return this year. Eighty percent of taxpayers will hire someone to do the work, or buy tax software, even though 64 percent of taxpayers don’t owe anything.

There are six definitions of a child; more than a dozen educational credits, and 16 different types of tax-favored savings plans. That may seem daunting, but with some basic knowledge and planning, you can avoid costly mistakes.

Here is a list of the seven common mistakes and missed deductions to help you prepare your 2012 tax return.

1. Charitable deductions - cash.
Did you make a contribution to charity last year? The IRS is cracking down on bogus deductions, so be sure to follow the donation tax rules. One of the most important rules is that you give to a charity with an IRS tax-exempt status. Don’t forget to take the mileage deduction when it applies. The IRS allows 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations.

2. Charitable deductions – in kind. Your used clothing donated to charity may not be seem worth much, but consider using valuation software to determine how much to claim. You may be pleasantly surprised. The same applies for furniture and other household items donated. Clothing must be in good condition or better to take the deduction.

3. Social Security number. Privacy concerns caused the IRS to stop putting taxpayer Social Security numbers on tax package labels. Most of your tax information is keyed to your tax ID number.Tax ID number errors raise red flags with the IRS, which attempts to match reported income to tax returns. This number is also important when claiming the Child Tax and Additional Child Tax credits and credits for educational expenses. Take time to verify that your tax ID number is correct on 1099s, W-2 forms and all tax documents to avoid delays processing your return.

4. Dividend reinvestments. Each time a stock or mutual fund reinvests dividends, it’s the same as making a new purchase of shares. The amount of the reinvested dividend adds to your tax basis when you calculate your taxable gain from a sale. Make sure you don’t overpay the IRS. Mutual funds generally track the average basis of shares and automatically include reinvested dividends in the calculation. Ultimately it’s up to you to make sure you calculate the gain properly.

5. Unused deductions from 2011. The tax code allows capital losses to offset capital gains. When losses exceed gains, the taxpayer can use only $3,000 of losses against other income. Any excess loss can be carried forward into future tax years. Don’t forget to carry the unused losses over to your 2012 tax return. Charitable deductions are capped based on the type of property donated and your adjusted gross income. Excess deductions can also be carried into future years. Don't let carryovers get lost in the shuffle.

6. Excess Roth contributions. Single taxpayers whose modified adjusted gross income is between $110,000 - $125,000 ($173,000 - $183,000 for joint filers) cannot make a full Roth IRA contribution. Check this number when you complete your tax return. Excess contributions are subject to a 6 percent penalty on the amount you contributed.

7. Overlooked medical deductions. Health insurance premiums are an often overlooked deduction. The portion paid by the employee is a deductible expense when you itemize. This includes the portion you pay to Medicare which is usually deducted from Social Security. Transportation expenses for trips to medical facilities or doctors’ offices are also deductible. The IRS allows 23 cents per mile driven for medical purposes in 2012.

If you have made a mistake or missed a deduction you can file an amended tax return to correct the problem. Some taxpayers worry filing an amended return will increase their chances of being audited. Amending the return doesn’t focus the IRS’s attention on your return but it will extend your exposure to their challenges. The IRS looks back three years from the date you file a return. When you amend your tax return you reopen the three-year window.

No one likes to deal with the IRS and taxes, but you could be leaving money on the table by not filing an amendment. If the total amount of tax you owe is smaller than your original return, the IRS will refund the difference.

Also file an amended return if the correction results in additional tax owed. The IRS will add interest to the amount if you amend after your filing deadline, but it rarely adds penalties. Correcting the mistake early saves interest and can avoid penalties.

Certified Financial Planner® Rick Rodgers is president of Rodgers & Associates, “The Retirement Specialists,” in Lancaster, Pa., and author of “The New Three-Legged Stool: A Tax Efficient Approach to Retirement Planning.”

For more information, visit www.RodgersSpeaks.com.

By John Voket

February 11, 2013 3:40 pm

Sometimes, during the coldest, darkest days of winter, I like to see a flash of natural green to warm and brighten the surroundings. That brought me to a little lesson by Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor at the University of Vermont who writes about indoor topiaries.

Professor Perry explains that topiary, by definition, is the art of growing plants and training them over a frame to create a three-dimensional object. The word is also used to describe the finished product.

If you want to take a crack at creating one, he says start with a simple, open-frame style topiary.

Frames are available at garden centers, or shape your own out of a coat hanger, chicken wire, or similar material. Circle and heart-shapes are among the most popular shapes for these topiaries along with star or triangles.

You will need a clay or stoneware pot with a drainage hole (pot size would depend on size of desired topiary), potting soil, sterile sand, twist-ties or cotton twine, and creeping vine-type plants with tendrils.

English ivy is a good plant to use for your first topiary, and Professor Perry says as it's easy to grow, train, and is available in many varieties with different colored leaves..

To create a simple topiary, he says:
• Fill the bottom half of the pot with a mixture of half sand, half potting soil - the sand adds stability
• Stand the wire form upright inside and add potting soil all around it, making sure the form stays in place.
• Gently remove strands of ivy from the plant, being careful to include the roots and place in the pot, covering the roots with an inch or two of soil.
• Wind each strand of ivy separately around the topiary form, using twist-ties or soft cotton twine to loosely secure the ivy to the wire.
• Water thoroughly, fertilize every two to three weeks with an all-purpose houseplant fertilizer, and mist with water periodically.
Train the ivy to encircle the form. and once the two ends meet, pinch the tips to encourage side shoots that can be trained to fill in empty spots and give your topiary a full, lush appearance.

Word of the Day

February 11, 2013 2:40 pm

Gentrification. Process whereby private or government-sponsored development of certain aging neighborhoods results in the displacement of low- or moderate-income families by the more affluent and leads to an increase in property values.

Q: How Much Home Can I Afford?

February 11, 2013 2:40 pm

A: The general rule of thumb is that you can buy a home that costs about two-and-one-half times your annual salary. A good real estate agent or lender can determine how much you can afford and estimate the maximum monthly payment based on the loan amount, taxes, insurance and other expenses. To find out now how your income, debts, and expenses can affect what you can afford, use online calculators to figure out how much you may be able to borrow to purchase a home.

Save a Bundle by Bundling Insurance

February 11, 2013 2:40 pm

(BPT) - Bundling insurance products with one company-- and scoring cheaper premiums as a reward-- isn't a new concept. But, according to a recent study by J.D. Power and Associates, not only is bundling still popular among consumers, it also results in higher customer satisfaction.

The study found that nearly 60 percent of customers bundle auto and homeowners policies with the same insurer. When customers need additional products - such as motorcycle, boat and life insurance - 77 percent of them choose to bundle. The study notes that insurance bundlers also tend to be more satisfied with their insurers overall, not just with the premium discounts they're getting.

Charles Valinotti, Head of Underwriting & Product with insurer QBE, says bundling insurance policies offers other benefits besides lower premiums.

"Customer convenience is one advantage," says Valinotti. "It's easier to manage insurance policies when you don't have to work with multiple insurers. And if you have a claim, you just need to call one company."

Bundling might also give you an edge when you file a claim. Valinotti says insurance companies are interested in keeping your business and will be open to renewing policies when there's a loss - unless it's something extreme.

How can you get the biggest bang out of your insurance bundle? Valinotti suggests:
• Take a look at all your insurance policies. If they're not with the same insurance company, you could be losing as much as 25 percent in bundling discounts on each car, as well as on your homeowners policy. Think about including your life insurance, as well, which could result in another 2 to 5 percent in savings.
• Consider adding an umbrella policy. If you own your home, an umbrella policy gives you extra liability protection on your home and car, and might earn you even more discounts to your homeowners and auto insurance.
• Research options for renters. If you don't own your home, bundling may still be an option. Look into bundling a renters policy with your car insurance, which might result in as much as a 20 percent discount on your auto coverage. Because renters insurance is inexpensive, it may almost pay for itself by savings through bundling.
• Investigate bundling with business policies. If you have a business, find out whether bundling your business policies will qualify you for discounts on your personal insurance.
Valinotti cautions that some auto or home insurance bundling discounts might not be available to people with poor driving records. He also advises not to base decisions on price alone. "Customer service is just as important to consider," he says.

Valinotti adds, "Make sure you speak with your agent about all available bundling options and choose those you're most comfortable with."

Q: Is It Best to Save for the Ultimate Dream Home or Begin with a Less Expensive Starter Home?

February 8, 2013 4:14 pm

A: It can take a long time to save for that perfect dream home. Meanwhile, the market has been flooded with some of the most favorable mortgage interest rates in years. Low rates make housing more affordable, which is why so many buyers have jumped on the home buying bandwagon.

Home-price appreciation has also been strong, making very solid gains in communities across the country. In fact, home prices are expected to increase 2.5 percent to 3 percent annually over the next five years.

If you purchase a starter home today, you can potentially begin to build value that can lead to the purchase of a larger, or more desirable, trade-up home in the future.

Word of the Day

February 8, 2013 4:14 pm

Grace period. Specified period of time to meet a commitment after it becomes due, without penalty or default. For example, most lenders allow a two-week grace period after the due date of the mortgage payment before a late fee is imposed.