5 Ways Businesses Can Cut Energy, Save Money

Brandpoint  |  2016-04-14

(BPT) - Companies across the nation are looking for ways to become more energy efficient, and small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are no exception. Reducing energy consumption is one of the top areas where SMB leaders need more guidance - up 14 percent from the previous year, according to the Cox Conserves Sustainability Survey.

Energy costs are among the largest business expenses for any company. Simple conservation efforts will go a long way to lower the power costs of your current operations.

“More companies than ever have said they want information on sustainability,” says Cox Enterprises Executive Vice President Alex Taylor. “Our survey showed that some SMBs often find it difficult to make or justify the investment in sustainability programs or prioritize them over other demands and initiatives. From our own experience with the Cox Conserves program, I can confirm that sustainability is as good for our business as it is for the environment.”

Here are some quick tips that can help any sized business improve efficiency and cost savings.

  1. Know your baseline. Your utility company can provide detailed usage records that show usage and cost totals, as well as helpful details like peak usage times. This data helps you measure your progress.

  2. Take advantage of savings. Government agencies offer a variety of tax credits, rebates and other incentives to support energy efficiency. Visit www.energy.gov/savings to find programs that may be available to your business.

  3. Pay attention. Take note of the natural energy sources specific to your geographic location. Sun or wind energy technologies may be great money-saving solutions. If the sun sufficiently lights your office or meeting room, make a point of keeping the blinds open and the electric lights off.

  4. Look at lighting. Lighting retrofits are a simple and effective solution that do not interrupt regular operations and often offer a short return on investment.

  5. Encourage employees. Turning off computers and other office equipment when not in use is an easy way employees can make an impact.

These tips can start your business on a journey toward becoming a more efficient and eco-friendly organization. The benefits start at protecting the earth and extend to enhancing the bottom line.

Mythbusting the Adjustable Rate Mortgage

Brandpoint  |  2016-03-30

(BPT) - In pop culture, myths can sometimes be mistaken for truth. Common ones, like, “don’t swim for a half hour after eating,” or “we only use 10 percent of our brain,” are false even though they’re widely taken for fact.

The adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) earned a bad rap after the 2006 housing crisis. The problem was, before the crisis, many borrowers were able to qualify for more home than they could actually afford by using interest-only, No Income Verification or No Ratio ARM products. When the housing market tanked and many houses lost value, some homeowners with rising mortgage payments either foreclosed or walked away from their properties.

Fast forward 10 years to today. The ARM is back to show potential homebuyers it’s not the villain of the housing market. It’s time to debunk the myths that give ARMs the “bad guy” reputation it doesn’t deserve.

MYTH: ARMs are unstable and aren’t a good option while the Feds are raising rates.

This myth stems back to the days of the 2008 recession. It’s like saying, “dial-up is the fastest way to access the Internet,” it’s just not true anymore. All ARM loans have annual and lifetime caps, so there’s built in protection. If stability is what you’re concerned with, consider an ARM with a longer adjustment period. For example, Navy Federal Credit Union’s 5/5 ARM adjusts only once over the initial 10-year period.

Interest rates rise and fall in cycles. Even if rates are increasing now, that doesn’t mean they won’t be on the downturn when you arrive at your potential adjustment point. Many ARM mortgage holders never refinance to a fixed rate because the many ups and downs of the market happen in-between their adjustment points. Refinancing is always an option for those with ARMs. Just remember to calculate closing costs on your refinance to make sure you’re actually improving your situation. Research and the guidance of a trusted lender will be the winning combo for saving money over the life of your mortgage.

MYTH: ARMs are only for people who want to be in a home for a few years.

Not true. ARMs have fixed intro periods that can vary from one to even 15 years. If you think you’ll own that home for five or six years, a fixed mortgage rate may have a higher interest rate over that span. So why spend the extra money associated for the added security of a fixed rate?

“The potential savings on an ARM, can range from $10,000 to $20,000, compared to a 30-year, fixed rate jumbo mortgage,” said Katie Miller, Navy Federal vice president of Mortgage Lending. “That’s enough money for a down-payment on a car, or part of your child’s college tuition.”

Again, it pays to plan for various scenarios based on how long you plan to own the home.

MYTH: Rates only rise when you have an ARM.

The term “adjustable” gives the misconception ARMs are unstable. The ARM is very similar to a fixed-rate mortgage; both offer a 30-year term with no prepayment penalty and early payoff options, among other similarities.

The intro rate period (usually a lower rate) and potential rate changes (up or down) over the life of the loan is what makes an ARM unique. Knowing your cap and what the difference in payments are over the life of the loan protects you, even if rates are on a roller coaster. Knowledge is power as an ARM holder. That “power” helps you make necessary calculations to figure out a yearly breakeven point should your interest rate increase and your introductory rate savings begin to decrease. Check out an ARM vs. Fixed-rate Mortgage Calculator to see if this type of mortgage works for you

Like any myth, do your research before accepting it at face value. If you add up the ARM’s initial savings plus the cost to refinance, an ARM is hard to beat from a financial standpoint, and that, is the truth.

...Read More!  
  |  

3 Reasons Why You Should Consider an IRA

NewsUSA  |  2016-03-15

Are you ready for retirement?

(NewsUSA) - Sponsored News - April 18 is the deadline to file income tax returns with the federal government this year. But tax day is another important deadline: Up until then, workers can still make contributions to their individual retirement accounts (IRAs) for the previous year. And, IRAs offer a great tax-advantaged savings opportunity.

Here are three reasons why you should consider an IRA as a valuable tool for your retirement savings:

  1. Traditional IRAs provide all workers, regardless of income, with access to tax incentives to save for retirement. Tax deferral helps workers build a nest egg over time by putting off taxes on your investment earnings until you retire. Contributing to an IRA is a great way to invest and build retirement savings.

  2. The flexible structure of IRAs provides Americans with choices when it comes to their retirement savings. For example, workers decide how much they want to contribute and when. Workers who are age 49 and younger currently can contribute up to $5,500 to their IRAs, and workers 50 and older can contribute up to $6,500. IRA contributions can be made at any time during the year. Workers who meet certain qualifications may decide to open a Roth IRA. Unlike traditional IRAs, workers pay tax when they make contributions into Roth IRAs and pay no taxes on qualified withdrawals in retirement.

  3. Workers can easily roll over their employer-sponsored 401(k) assets into an IRA upon leaving a job. Job changers who simply cash out their 401(k) may have to pay taxes on their assets and possibly a penalty tax for early withdrawal. These taxes and penalties can be avoided by rolling over 401(k) assets into an IRA, which is not tied to an employer and allows the individual to keep saving for retirement.

Today, Americans are increasingly using IRAs to grow and maintain their savings for retirement. As of 2015, more than 40 million U.S. households reported that they owned IRAs, according to “The Role of IRAs in U.S. Households’ Saving for Retirement, 2015” published by the Investment Company Institute (ICI). Other research from ICI shows that Americans have $7.3 trillion invested in these accounts.

But IRAs are only one piece of our multilayered retirement savings system. When IRA assets are combined with all other assets earmarked for retirement, Americans have set aside $23.5 trillion. The various pieces of the entire system -- including IRAs, employer-provided defined benefit and defined contribution plans, personal savings, and Social Security -- are working well for millions of workers. In fact, successive generations of near-retirees have reached retirement with higher wealth than the previous generation.

To learn more about IRAs and the strength of America’s retirement system, please visit www.ici.org/retirement.

...Read More!  
  |  

(BPT) - This tax season brings changes you should know about as you're preparing your 2015 return and planning for 2016 and beyond. Here are five areas to keep in mind.

There's a delayed filing date.

If you're a procrastinator filing at the last minute, this year you have more time. Because Friday, April 15 is a federal holiday, your 2015 income tax return is due the following Monday, April 18. This is also the due date to file for an extension until Oct. 15 or to make an IRA contribution for 2015.

"The due date to file your return or for an extension may also be affected by state law," says Robert Fishbein, a vice president and general counsel at Prudential Financial. For example, if you live in Maine or Massachusetts, Monday April 18 is a state holiday and you don't have to file returns until the 19th. But be careful, Fishbein warns, as the delayed filing date for the 2015 returns may not delay when you must make estimated tax payments.

There are new steps for fighting fraud and ID theft.

Tax return preparation software may now require you to provide your driver's license number for the IRS and state tax agencies to combat tax return fraud. "The rules here are tricky," says Fishbein. "You have no legal obligation to provide that information or to have a driver's license to file a tax return. But depending on your software, you may need to provide information to file your return. It's possible that withholding your driver's license will slow the process."

Another new anti-ID theft/fraud measure is a 16-digit verification code for online filers. If the code is on your Form W-2, you'll need to enter it when prompted by your tax software program. If you fail to provide the code, you won't be able to e-file your return. "Not all Form W-2s will have the code," Fishbein notes.

Note health care reporting changes.

Again this year you must report "minimum essential coverage," or MEC. If you indicate so on line 61 of your Form 1040, you won't be subject to a penalty tax. This is the first year employers are required to report if coverage qualifies as MEC, and they must send the applicable form to you by March 31, 2016. "Of course, for early filers this means you may not have evidence of your coverage qualifying as MEC," Fishbein says. "But assuming you know that you have MEC, you can still complete line 61 and file your return."

If you do not have MEC, you must pay the penalty tax - currently $325 per adult and $162.50 per child, up to a maximum of $975 - for each month you weren't covered, unless you can demonstrate you're eligible for an exemption. Examples include if coverage is considered unaffordable (more than 8 percent of household income per person), if you had a short coverage gap (fewer than three months), or if your income is below the tax return filing threshold.

Watch for retroactive reinstatements.

Until the end of 2014, taxpayers had been permitted for some time to deduct the greater of their state income tax or their state sales tax. This helped residents of states, such as Florida and Texas, that don't have an income tax. The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 retroactively extended this provision for 2015. For those who have not tracked their state sales tax payments, there's a table that provides a safe harbor deduction based on income. Also, the sales tax from the 2015 purchase of a new automobile can be added to the sales tax from the table.

Also reinstated retroactively to the beginning of 2015 is a provision allowing distributions from an IRA to be paid directly to a charity and excluded from income. "The amount donated to charity will avoid income tax," Fishbein says. Without this provision, an individual would have to include the amount in income and take a charitable deduction that might not entirely offset the income amount. This provision is available up to $100,000 of charitable donations in a calendar year. You must be 70 ½ or older and required to take IRA distributions.

Roth recharacterizations may affect you.

If you converted a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA in 2015, and if the converted investment has declined in value, you can recharacterize that amount and not pay income tax on an amount greater than the current value. "The law allows this type of 'do over' option when you convert to a Roth IRA," Fishbein explains. "For a 2015 conversion, you must recharacterize on or before Oct. 15, 2016 and not convert again to a Roth IRA until 2017."

Prudential Financial, its affiliates, and their financial professionals do not render tax or legal advice. Please consult with your tax and legal advisors regarding your personal circumstances.

Prudential Financial Inc. Newark, NJ
0288797-00001-00

...Read More!  
  |  

Retirement Readiness Improves as Americans Save More

NewsUSA  |  2016-02-25

(NewsUSA) - Sponsored News - Are people wising up when it comes to ensuring their retirement won't be like something out of "The Hunger Games"?

Maybe.

Two years ago, Fidelity Investments (Fidelity.com) came up with a unique way of measuring not only how close working Americans are to meeting their post-retirement expenses, but also how different generations - baby boomers, Gen Xers, and Gen Yers - stack up against each other. The one standout back then was boomers.

But now that same gauge, the Retirement Preparedness Measure (RPM), is signaling more widespread improvement - thanks in large part to what John Sweeney, Fidelity's executive vice president of retirement and investment strategies, ascribes to "across-the-board progress in savings, and investments being allocated in a more age-appropriate way."

Specifically, the number of people likely to afford at least their essential expenses in retirement jumped 7 percentage points since 2013, from 38 to 45 percent, according to the firm's biennial "Retirement Savings Assessment" study.

On the flip side, of course, that means 55 percent are estimated to be "at risk of being unprepared to completely cover" essentials like housing, food and health care.

That said, what's especially illuminating about the RPM is the color-coded breakdown - with dark green being the best - showing how retiree households are currently prepared to withstand a down market compared to 2013:

  • Dark Green. Twenty-seven percent are on track to cover more than 95 percent of their total estimated expenses (up 4 percent).

  • Green. Eighteen percent are headed toward only covering essentials, with no money for travel and entertainment (up 3 percent).

  • Yellow. Twenty-three percent are off track and would likely require "modest" lifestyle adjustments (up 4 percent).

  • Red. Thirty-two percent definitely "need attention," to put it mildly, though that's down significantly from 43 percent.

So which generation is faring best?

Well, boomers saved the most - stashing away 9.7 percent of their salaries (up from 8.1 percent, which is still below Fidelity's recommended rate of at least 15 percent). However, millennials showed the most improvement by boosting their savings from 5.8 percent to 7.5 percent.

For those curious how they're doing, Fidelity now allows anyone to access their personal retirement score online. And if you are flashing "code red" - or just eager for a more comfortable retirement - certain "accelerators" can help.

Saving that aforementioned 15 percent of your income, for example, brings the study's median RPM score of 76 - smack in the yellow zone - up to the green zone's 84. Replacing portfolios that are either too conservative or too aggressive with more age-appropriate asset mixes can help improve the score, too.

"The score reaches 100 if you combine delaying retirement with the other two accelerators," says Sweeney.

...Read More!  
  |  

3 Common Tax Mistakes That Could Cost You

Brandpoint  |  2016-02-24

(BPT) - Tax season is in full swing, and according to the IRS, Americans often leave more than a billion dollars on the table in unclaimed refunds.

With the average refund hovering at $2,800, ensure you get back your maximum refund and avoid these common filing mistakes this tax season.

1. Using an incorrect filing status.

When filing your taxes, you may be confused about whether your filing status is single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, or head of household. Your filing status affects a few things: what kind of credits and deductions you might be eligible for, your tax bracket, and the value of your standard deduction.

Filing status is a grey area for a lot of filers who are married and may fall into multiple categories. If you're legally married and going through a divorce, you could potentially file as married filing jointly, married filing separately, or head of household. You can't file as head of household if you and your spouse lived together at any point in the last six months of the tax year. In fact, the head of household filing status might be the one that causes the most headaches.

Confused about which filing status applies to you? Consulting with an experienced professional tax preparer can help set you on the right course. They can help determine if you qualify for a filing status that is more to your advantage.

2. Taking the standard deduction instead of itemizing.

Only one in three taxpayers itemize their deductions, but millions may be missing out on the benefits.

Often times, home ownership is a life change that helps taxpayers move from taking the standard deduction to itemizing. Itemizing your deduction allows taxpayers to deduct qualifying charitable donations, medical expenses, state income or sales tax, and employee business expenses, among others. Itemizing can save taxpayers hundreds of dollars. For example, if a single taxpayer pays $9,600 in mortgage interest, property taxes and charitable donations, that is $3,300 more than the standard deduction of $6,300. With a marginal tax rate of 25 percent, itemizing saves this taxpayer up to $825.

3. Forgetting to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit.

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a tax benefit for lower-income workers. The IRS estimates 20 percent of those eligible for the EITC fail to claim the credit on their taxes. In fact, many overlook the EITC because they may not earn enough money to have to file a return, but because the EITC is a refundable credit, those who do not owe taxes can still be eligible to receive this credit.

Another mistake taxpayers make? Paying full price at the tax office! If you filed your taxes with someone other than H&R Block last year, H&R Block will do your taxes for half of what you paid last year. Make an appointment today at hrblock.com/payhalf before the offer runs out on March 31.

...Read More!  
  |  

The Financial Solution You've Been Looking For Might Be Right Under Your Roof

Brandpoint  |  2016-02-24

(BPT) - What would you do with a little extra money? Chances are, you thought of something pretty fast — and you probably had more than one idea. Whether you’re looking to improve your home, pay off outstanding debt or take a vacation, a little cash can go a long way and you can find the money without changing jobs or cutting expenses. The answer lies within the walls around you in your own home.

The housing bust of 2007-09 was a rough time for many homeowners, but today’s market has shown signs of continued recovery and as it does, homes continue to increase in value. Sixty percent of homeowners report equity in their homes has increased since 2013, and almost half expect their equity will increase even more this year, according to research from loanDepot. And as that equity continues to grow, more and more homeowners are realizing that capitalizing on it can be a valuable tool to support their financial stability.

“Homeowners who bought during the housing boom are regaining equity many thought was lost forever, yet too many are not aware of the equity they have gained or they are unclear about how to determine changes in their equity,” says Bryan Sullivan, chief financial officer of loanDepot. “People who bought after the housing boom when prices were low are realizing homeownership can be a great investment and asset leveraged through equity to realize many dreams. Whether they choose to leverage their home equity now or reserve it for future needs, millions of homeowners have choices today not available just a few years ago.”

To better understand how homeowners would leverage additional funds from a home equity loan, loanDepot surveyed 1,000 homeowners to get their responses. The most common uses for funds from a home equity loan included:

  • Remodeling projects. The majority of respondents, 39 percent, said they would reinvest the money acquired by their loan into making further improvements to their home, continuing to support its value.

  • Consolidating high interest debt. For homeowners with significant debt obligations, a home refinancing loan can offer the opportunity to pay down that debt and replace it with a home loan that features a more favorable interest rate.

  • Save for retirement. More than 17 percent of those surveyed said they would use the money to bolster their current retirement package or even start a retirement fund.

  • Pay down student loans. College was a wonderful part of your life, the loans — not so much. Nine percent of respondents said they would use the money to be done with those payments once and for all.

  • Take a trip. If that dream trip seems to always be just slightly out of your financial reach, a home equity loan can help. Nearly five percent of respondents said they would use the additional money for vacation and travel purposes.

Learn more about taking out a home equity loan

Everyone could use a little extra money and finding it is easier than you may think, you just have to capitalize on your home’s inherent value. To learn more about obtaining a second mortgage and the flexibility such equity would offer you, visit www.loanDepot.com/homequity today or watch this video.

...Read More!  
  |