If you are getting a tax refund, please think carefully about what to do with the money. I would be tempted to take a vacation or buy one of the newest, fanciest TVs but I would be much better served to reduce high cost debt (hello credit card account) or save the money. If you have an ongoing balance on your credit card (or cards) a tax refund can play a useful role in reducing or eliminating that debt. Since most credit cards carry high rates of interest using the refund to reduce those balances will greatly improve your financial picture. If you don’t have credit card balances, saving the money for the proverbial rainy day is a good idea. According to the experts, a household should have 3 months of income in reserve for unexpected expenses (like a new furnace or car repairs). If you don’t have reserves at that level, here is a chance to add to (or start) a savings account.
Small businesses can have big tax problems!
If you own a small business you have a special set of concerns at tax time. Here are 5 steps to take to reduce your risk of problems with your business return.
- File on time and pay the taxes due. Sounds simple but many business owners fail to do these simple things, resulting in penalties and interest charges.
- Remember to make estimated tax payments during the year. A qualified tax preparer or tax software will tell you what you should be paying.
- Take all the deductions you are entitled to but avoid the temptation to take unqualified deductions.
- Take the time to maintain accurate records so that you or your tax preparer can complete accurate returns in a timely manner.
- Use care if you are contemplating classifying workers as contractors, rather than as employees. This has become an area of focus for the IRS so use care.
But Groundhog Day was last month….
In the movie Groundhog Day every day was like the preceding one. For me, it feels like I just finished last year’s tax returns yesterday and now it is filing season once again. How time flies. Unfortunately, with filing season we also get tax scam season. The hackers and criminals are always looking to make a buck so we need to protect ourselves. Fortunately, you can take steps to reduce your risk of getting scammed. First and foremost, you can reduce your risk by being aware of the more popular scams. You can learn a lot by visiting the IRS website, www.irs.gov as it has a wealth of information about scams and filing in general. Getting educated about potential scams and safeguarding your data will reduce your risk during tax season. Oh, and don’t forget to file!
It was a Dog’s Life
The same week my friend died we euthanized our 13 year old dog. She had cancer and was fading rapidly. I don’t wish to compare the impact of a human’s life with that of a dog but both have value and can teach us something. Our dog was a pound puppy, rescued from a tough city life and brought to the country. She loved to run and was always wagging her tail and smiling. For 13 years she would greet me when I came home from work, looking for a pat on the head, a walk, dinner, a treat. Hers was a simple life but she was always in a good mood, always happy to see you. She loved it when our now-grown children came home to visit because they would invite her up on the couch – usually forbidden territory. She looked so content curled up with them, it really didn’t take a lot to make her smile. Maybe that is her lesson – keep smiling, be happy when around family and friends, and enjoy each day.
Lessons from a Life Too Short
Last week we buried a friend who died way too young, he was 57. I knew him primarily through our shared passion for golf. He loved the comradery and competition of golf as well as the fellowship during and after a round. In addition, he was a good husband, father, friend to many, and businessman. That was reinforced by the large number of people who came to his wake and funeral – there to honor him and support his wife and two children. At both events the tears were softened by laughter as we remembered good times we had shared. He looked for the good in people and experiences, seemingly always in a good mood. In his 57 years I believe he managed to accrue a full measure of life experience – he truly enjoyed each and every day. While he made it look easy, I know he worked hard in all of his endeavors, especially in tending to relationships. After all, what is more important than our relationships with those we love? Even when career and life demand so much of our time and energy it is vitally important that we tend to our relationships with those dear to us. I know I can do a better job in this area and his example and memory will, hopefully, help me to fully appreciate each day and to be a better person. It seems like the least I can do to honor his memory.
As we approach the Holiday Season and the end of the year it is a good time to reflect on what we are thankful for. It could be something as simple as the fact that is hasn’t snowed yet (at least as of the day I am writing this) or having our health, or having family close-by during the holidays. It is so easy to focus on the negative – just read or watch a news report and you will feel instantly depressed. The reality is that the vast majority of people are good-hearted and kind. I truly believe that and would find it difficult to get out of bed each day if I did not believe it. That doesn’t mean I don’t have days when I wonder if I am kidding myself, wondering if kindness can survive in our modern world. But, at least so far, I have been able to find that kernel of kindness and remain optimistic about our future.
I invite you to join me in looking for, and finding, that kindness in others. I promise you, it is there. And if we can show our own humanity and kindness we can make a huge difference; as the saying goes, “Be the change you want to see.” The only way we can make this a better world is to do our part and look for the good in others. A little kindness goes such a long way! I wish you all the blessings of the season and the happiest of New Years.
Kindness is contagious, Infect Someone Today!
Kindness is defined as the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.
When you hear the work kindness, what comes to mind? For me, it could be one of many things; holding the door for someone, a warm smile and a kind word in passing, saying thank you to someone who has provided good service, a $3 tip on a $7 lunch at Mulligan’s. I could go on for quite a while, but will stop here. I am sure that you could come up with a long list and we would have some items in common but some would be unique to each of us. The tremendous range of ways we can demonstrate kindness is what makes it so powerful. It is so easy to be kind, it doesn’t have to take long or cost anything but still has such an impact on the person to whom it is expressed.
Oh, and I am the only one who feels like it, kindness that is, seems to be in short supply of late? For all those reasons Biddeford Savings launched our Path to Kindness initiative last month. The idea is simple, treat someone with kindness and let us know how it made you feel. As you can see on our website, www.biddefordsavings.com/pathtokindness, many have shared their stories. Thank you to all of them and to all of those who have lived out kindness without telling us about it. There is still time to let us know about it, again that can be done on our website. On December 15, 2015 we will select five of those stories and the author of it will be able to designate a charity of their choice to receive $500. In the meantime, keep up the kindness, it really can be contagious!
What are you thankful for?
As we contemplate Thanksgiving Day it is appropriate to ask that question. I hope we will all be thankful for a satisfying meal taken with family and friends on November 26th. But, beyond that – what are you thankful for? I am blessed to have a wonderful family, good friends, my health, and a fulfilling career. Each of those requires constant “care and feeding” which I provide willingly. At the same time, I am troubled by the many challenges we face, both here in the US and abroad. I pray that we can find ways to bridge the many divides that separate us so that we can all live the best lives available to us. In closing, I wish you and yours a safe, satisfying Thanksgiving.
Path to Kindness
Our bank’s advertising tag line references “your path to prosperity.” On November 13, 2015, which happens to be National Kindness Day, we launched our Path to Kindness initiative. You can find details on our website or Facebook page. Basically, we are asking our customers and friends to engage in calculated random acts of kindness (I realize that is a bit of an oxymoron so please forgive me for that) and let us know about them. We will honor select acts of kindness with donations to charities chosen by those committing the kind acts. Our hope is that our initiative will encourage folks to be a bit kinder to each other. I believe that people are inherently good and look forward to hearing about many acts of kindness in the coming weeks.
Surfing the Net is my Favorite Sport, how can I do it Safely?
The internet is a powerful resource that many Americans have come to depend on for everyday activities like shopping, banking, and connecting with friends. Yet, for all the internet’s advantages, it can also make users vulnerable to fraud, identity theft and other scams.
Here are a few tips to help you stay safe and secure online:
- Keep your computers and mobile devices up to date. Having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware, and other online threats. Turn on automatic updates so you receive the newest fixes as they become available.
- Set strong passwords. A strong password is at least eight characters in length and includes a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.
- Watch out for phishing scams. Phishing scams use fraudulent emails and websites to trick users into disclosing private account or login information. Do not click on links or open any attachments or pop-up screens from sources you are not familiar with.
- Forward phishing emails to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at email@example.com – and to the company, bank, or organization impersonated in the email.
- Keep personal information personal. Hackers can use social media profiles to figure out your passwords and answer those security questions in the password reset tools. Lock down your privacy settings and avoid posting things like birthdays, addresses, mother’s maiden name, etc. Be wary of requests to connect from people you do not know.
- Secure your internet connection. Always protect your home wireless network with a password. When connecting to public Wi-Fi networks, be cautious about what information you are sending over it.
- Shop safely. Before shopping online, make sure the website uses secure technology. When you are at the checkout screen, verify that the web address begins with https. Also, check to see if a tiny locked padlock symbol appears on the page.
- Read the site’s privacy policies. Though long and complex, privacy policies tell you how the site protects the personal information it collects.
By taking these steps you improve your chances of avoiding a painful wipeout while surfing.