Jan 01

Dog Walking – A Great Business

There are over fifty million dogs in the United States. One in four homes has a dog. Many dogs sit home all day while their doggie parents work. A lot live in Condominiums and apartments, which means they don’t get to be outside during the day at all. Dog walking has become a necessity. If you love dogs this is your chance to cash in on a fantastic career and start your own dog walking service.

Dog walking is a great career because you can earn money while you exercise. And while the work can be physically demanding it’s fun so you hardly notice. The good news is that you won’t have to fight traffic, or do the nine to five grind and you can actually make a good living at it. Think about it you get paid for playing with people’s dogs.

If this seems like an interesting enterprise you will need a few things to get started. You are going to build a kit. This is easy and you can build it for less than $100.00, not a bad investment for your own business. You will need a plastic box about 15x21x18 with a lid for your car.

In your kit should be a fanny pack, which you will wear and use everyday. I got the fanny pack with water bottle holders on the sides. In the fanny pack you will pack waste bags, water for yourself and the dog, your keys, sun block, business cards and treats, and maybe even an extra leash. The fanny pack is essential because you want to keep your hands free.

It’s nice if you have a shirt with the name of your company or your name on it. This lets people you come in contact with know what you do. I’ve gotten business this way. You can buy a shirt later if you are starting with bare bones financing.

A good strong key ring is a must. You will want to have “all” your client’s keys with you at all times. I can’t tell you how many times I have had a client call at the last minute and request a walk. Put your name and phone number on the key ring so if it is lost you can be contacted to have it returned. Never label the keys with your client’s address. Use the name of the dog instead. If you have two dogs with the same name use Ally 1 & Ally 2 for example.

You will need an endless supply of dog waste bags and you can’t be afraid to use them. Hey if this is the worst part of the job you can’t complain.

Business cards are a must. You can make your own on your computer or buy some cheap at a local printing place. If you can afford to buy them get some door hangers too. I’ve put door hangers on doors where I see or hear a dog in a back yard. I’ve gotten work this way. One time I saw this poor girl with a business suit and high heels being pulled by a Great Dane. I pulled over and gave her a business card. I had that dog for over five years before he passed away of old age. Business cards are a great marketing tool and this business sells itself.

In this day of our litigious society release forms are a must. This basically lets your customer know that unless it was negligence on your part they will be responsible for vet bills should the dog get sick or hurt while in your care. One time I had to rush a dog to the vet because she was allergic to bees, which we didn’t know until she got stung. Her head blew up like a balloon and I got her to the vet just before she went into anaphylatic shock. Another time I was driving a bunch of dogs back from the dog park when one of them had a seizure. The customer had no idea his dog was epileptic. Unforeseen things happen make sure you are covered. You can find basic release forms on line.

Note pads and a pen are important. Some customers want a daily activity report on their dog. I had both pens and note pads with my name and number on them. They are a great marketing tool. In this age of cell phones I text a lot of my customers with updates.

Buy and keep an appointment book. Write down all of your appointments everyday even if they are regulars, this way you can fill in time slots and at the end of the month you can use your appointment book to do your billing. It will be a lifesaver when you start getting busy and it’s a good resource at tax time. Be sure to write in pencil and keep it updated.

A tax manual gives you a chance to record all your expenses for the year by month. It comes in handy at tax time and much better than a shoebox. Be sure to keep receipts for all business expenses. I filed mine monthly in an accordion file.

A mileage book will help you record mileage when you’re working. Unless you have a separate car for your business you are not allowed to write off the cost of your car, although you can write off a portion of the gas and maintenance as long as you keep a log.

An address book is essential. You should keep your customers numbers with you at all times. I kept mine in my cell phone and in a book just in case my phone wasn’t usable. I’ve had to call clients on the spot if their dog is sick or if something happened at home. Keep your customers numbers with you at all times.

Always have a First Aid Kit on hand. You hope nothing happens, but if does you’ll be ready with your doggie first aid kit. You can buy dog first aid kits on line, but they have instructions for building one on line as well.

Now that you have your kit together you will need to figure out what your fees are going to be. Check around to see what other dog walkers and pet sitters are getting. Look through your yellow pages and call a few pet sitters to see what they are charging. You want to be competitive, however different areas command different fees. Find out what the going rate is in your area. My business grew fast and I was actually able to raise my rates with in a six- month period. This business really does sell itself.

You will want to charge accordingly if you are walking more than one dog in a family. You can give a discount, but make sure you charge. You can also set a monthly rate if you walk the dog more than one time a day. Set up a pay structure that both you and the customer are comfortable with. To get first time customers you may want to offer an introductory price, say a months worth of dog walks at half price, or you can offer a goody bag to first time clients.

Although I never charged extra for services like feeding a dog or giving them a pill some dog walkers do charge for extras. If you have to go back to the house later to do these things then by all means charge them as you are using more gas.

The next thing you will want to do is set up your books. You will need a billing system to bill your clients. I used quick books and billed at the end of every month. I sent them a bill with all the dates I walked their dog. Okay where is that appointment book? I go through the book for each client and make up a bill. Most of the time you will be billing after the fact. Clients may need to cancel during the month so billing after just makes more sense.

You will need another set of books (tax book) for your income and expenses. This is where you will mark down your mileage from your booklet, any treats you bought, money spent on gas, sun block, waste bags, of course your start up kit and anything else you buy that helps you run your business. You can even write off walking shoes. I recommend getting a tax preparer who has experience in doing business taxes. If you run your business out of a home office you can also write off ten percent of your mortgage, rent and utilities. List all of your income and all or your expenses, using the receipts you saved (I keep all my receipts in a basket), use them when I do my books and then file them in my accordion file by month.

You will definitely want insurance. There are a few companies that can help you, but a broker can hook you up much easier. Business insurance can be expensive, but it is much better than losing everything you have worked for if something tragic happens. Don’t get scared in all my years of walking I never had to use my insurance once.

There are a lot of ways to advertise but word of mouth will always be your best resource. Visit area condominium and apartment complexes that take pets. Wearing your company shirt go and talk to the complex manager. Tell them what your business is and ask them if you can advertise in the complex. They will welcome you because they don’t want dogs messing in their units. Ask them if you can leave business cards to put in the new resident packets. Also see if you put some business cards in their community room, laundry room or near the mailboxes.

Another good place to get clients is corporate housing complexes. Corporate housing is where companies put up new employees until they can get relocated. These complexes often take pets. You can be the person that welcomes them to the area and at the same time take a load off their mind by walking their dogs while they are moving. Getting to know you will be a relief for them as you can be a wealth of information for them, like giving them the names of local vets and groomers.

Other good resource is local veterinarians. Ask them if you can put business cards on their front counter(always provide your own business card holder). Tell them that when you get new clients you will refer them. It’s a win-win situation. Your local pet store is another good avenue for advertising. Laundromats and anyplace else that has a bulletin board are good advertising resources. Always carry your business cards with you. Strike up conversations with people. Let them know what you. You always want to be prepared.

If you have your own dog take your dog to the park in the evenings or on the weekends and talk to every dog owner there. Tell them about your services and give them a business card. Let them know how much their dog’s fitness means to you.

If you live in a tourist area visit local hotels that allow pets. A lot of people bring their pets on vacation and would definitely pay to have their pet walked if they are going to be out all day. Visit the hotel’s manager and give them some of your business cards and door hangers. If asked the hotel clerk can just hand their hotel patron a door hanger when they check in. Again the hotel owner does not want dogs messing in their rooms.

Always do a client visit before you take on the responsibility of walking a dog. You want to meet the dog so they know you when you show up at the door for their first walk. Let the customer fill out and sign the release form. In the mean time get down on the floor and interact with your new client.

You want to test drive a new client. Find out about all their quirks, are they social with other dogs, with people, what are they afraid of, do they ride in the car okay, are they toy or treat aggressive? You’ll want to have all these questions answered before you take the dog out on its first walk. I had a dog that was terrified of garbage trucks. To avoid putting him in a situation where he’d come face to face with a garbage truck I took him to the park. Be sensitive to their phobias. They are like children in your care and you want their experience to be pleasant.

Don’t be afraid to ask your client what they expect of you. Some may ask you to leave a light on as the owner gets home after dark. Still others may want you to turn the television on so the dog has company. You may have to change potty pads if they are dirty. You will get all kinds of requests. Always, always change the dog’s water bowl whether you are asked to or not.

Some homeowners use alarms. There’s nothing worse than setting off the alarm on your first day. The alarm is blaring the dog is howling and the neighbors coming running over to see what is wrong. Then the local police ride up and you have to explain why you are there. I speak from experience. Ask about alarms and get the code before you start. Gated Communities are another issue. You’ll need a way to get in. Some places have a gate code others you’ll need a gate opener. Get all of these issues out of the way ahead of time so there are no surprises on your first day.

Your job is to get your clients dog out for some exercise and a potty break during the day. Each walk will be different, however each walk should last at least a half hour. There are a few ways to accomplish exercise time. You can walk each dog individually or you can take a carload of dogs to a dog park for an hour and let them run off leash. If you do take them to a dog park remember you are responsible for them. They must be watched at all times. If your client isn’t very social still try to make walk time, playtime. For example you can run an energetic dog up and down a hill for added exercise, or bring a ball and let them play fetch. A geriatric dog may just need to be let out to be relieved, but you can still give them a half hour by sitting under a tree or giving them a massage.

You’ll be walking dogs in all kinds of weather. You have to be careful with hot weather as much as inclement weather. Dogs can get overheated very quickly. This is a dangerous situation for any animal. On hot sunny days keep exercise to a minimum. You may not want to play ball. A simple walk and then home again, if you can walk in a shady area all the better. Don’t walk your client on hot pavement. Stick to sidewalks or grassy parks. Make sure your client has plenty of water while out on the walk and then again when they get home. Yes, you still have to walk your clients even if it is raining, however most customers only want their dogs going out for a potty break so they don’t track mud into the house. Ask your customers what they prefer. Never walk a dog in a thunderstorm. It’s a good idea to keep old towels in your kit for rainy days.

Most dogs love snow, but again you have to be able to cater to a whole host of dogs. Be aware that smaller dogs and dogs with little hair become cold faster than most other dogs. You may want to cut their walk in half and warm them in towels when you take them inside. Don’t leave any dog shivering. Icy roads or sidewalks are another concern. Ice and salt dry out a dog’s pads and get stuck between their toes. It can even cause burns. Clean ice and salt from their paws when you get your client back home. They have paw wipes for this purpose.

Remember your job is very important to your customers. They feel guilty leaving their pet behind all day. You make them feel better about it. Also when they come home tired, from a long day at the office their dog will be tired too. You give your customer a sense of security. Besides, what other job can you do where you play and get paid for it?

 

aswhiteauthor@cox.net

Article Source: EzineArticles.com

Dec 30

Buying your first home? Follow this New Year’s plan to get fiscally fit

(BPT) – So buying a new home tops your list of New Year’s resolutions. As you picture the big moment – the one where you pull up to your dream home in your moving truck, sprint up and unlock your front door – you probably understand there’s something you need to do first. You need to get your finances in shape.

Just like those who make resolutions to run a marathon, making this big investment starts with a plan. Runners know that if they run a certain distance each day, it gets them closer to accomplishing their goal.

“The same is true, in many ways, when it comes to buying a home,” says Eric Hamilton, president of Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance. “Before taking on a loan, many home buyers find they need to build their ‘financial muscles’ and establish ‘healthy’ money habits.”

By following a few tips to reach financial fitness goals, you, too can achieve the goal of home ownership.

Do those daily sprints

People who reach their fitness goals begin with a look at their current habits and then make a plan to replace them with better ones. The same is true for homebuyers. First, look at the spending choices you’ve been making, and review three to six months’ worth of bank statements. Consider what is necessary and what needs to cut back. The goal is to trim the fat in your budget so you can use the extra money to reduce your debt and increase your savings.

Crunch your debt

Take a look at your debts and consider the monthly payments you make. Are there any debts standing in the way of making a house payment affordable? Those are the ones you want to knock out with an accelerated payment plan, using the money you freed up by cutting back on unnecessary expenses. Try focusing on one debt at a time, paying close attention to the ones with the highest interest rates to pay off first.

Beef up your credit score

The good habits you exercise today will make all the difference on your interest rate later. Put in the extra work to raise your credit score. Your credit score pulls together many details from your past and current debts as well as other financial factors, and helps lenders determine your creditworthiness. Making the effort to raise your score is worthwhile because shaving off even one-quarter of a percentage point from a mortgage loan can potentially save you thousands of dollars in interest over the life of a 30-year mortgage. A credit score factors your history of on-time payments, the amount you owe on your debts, the type of credit you have, the age of that debt and any recently opened new credit lines as well as other factors. You may be able to improve your score and get the lowest possible interest rate on a home loan if you follow these “reps” every month: pay all your bills on time, don’t close old credit card accounts and don’t open new lines of credit.

Increase your intake of savings

Even when paying down debt, it’s still a good idea to start a small savings plan so you have some cash to fall back on if, say, you need to go to the doctor or get new tires for your car. Start by opening a savings account and set up automatic transfers each month. Even with $50 a month, you’ll have $600 in one year, which could bail you out of a number of small emergencies. Eventually, once your debts are paid off, you can divert those payments right into savings, which also can build your down payment for that new dream home

Prepare for the big event

All these steps lead to one main event: buying a home. Once you meet those smaller goals – following a budget, eliminating debt, raising your credit score, and saving for your down payment – you’re ready for the final push toward home ownership.

First, figure out how much home you can afford: look at home prices in your area, use an online loan calculator to estimate your payments, and go through your budget. Then gather up the financial documents you’ll need, including proof of employment, bank statements and tax statements. Finally, choose a lender that is right for you. Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc. has many programs that can fit many kinds of buyers. Perhaps you’re getting your first mortgage, have perfect credit, and in some cases, less-than-perfect credit. All loan programs are subject to credit approval and restrictions apply. Contact Vanderbilt for details. If you are interested in learning more about Vanderbilt, visit, http://www.vmfhomeloan.com. Vanderbilt is a Berkshire Hathaway national housing lender that has been in business for more than 40 years and has helped families just like yours find the right financing program.

“Following these habits can be challenging from a motivation standpoint,” Hamilton says. “It takes patience, but once you’ve followed the steps to get financially healthy, it is a very rewarding experience.”

Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc., 500 Alcoa Trail, Maryville, TN 37804, 865-380-3000, NMLS #1561, ( http://www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org/), AZ Lic. #BK-0902616, Loans made or arranged pursuant to a California Finance Lenders Law license, GA Residential Mortgage (Lic. #6911), Illinois Residential Mortgage Licensee, Licensed by the NH Banking Department, MT Lic. #1561, Licensed by PA Dept. of Banking.

Dec 30

5 easy tactics for making your New Year’s resolution to save money a reality

(BPT) – It’s almost that time of year again – you prepare for the holidays and start thinking about what you want your New Year’s resolution to be.

According to research from Nielsen, one quarter of Americans want to spend less and save more money in the New Year. If you’re one of these people, follow these five easy tips to stay on track financially in 2017.

Automate payments into your savings account.

When payday rolls around, it can be tempting to pocket every last dollar. But realistically, it’s difficult to save money that’s right in front if you. Instead, automate payments into your savings account before it makes it to your checking account. This way, you won’t miss it from your budget, and you’ll be on the road to staying true to your New Year’s resolution all year.

Dine in.

Everyone knows eating out is more expensive than dining in, but you might not even realize how often you’re doing it. When you’re on the go, buying lunch or ordering take-out, costs quickly add up. Pre-planning and preparing meals for the week ahead will not only save money but help you eat healthier at the same time.

Rethink your wireless plan.

Do you feel like you’re paying too much for your data? In 2017, set yourself free from your overpriced wireless plan. For only $40 a month, Net10 Wireless’ no contract cell service makes this easy. You’ll get nationwide coverage on one of America’s top four networks and the first 3 GB of data at high speeds, then at 2G*. Plus, you can make the switch while keeping your current phone and number with the Net10 Wireless Bring Your Own Phone program. “Ringing” in the New Year is all about making changes for the better, and switching your plan could save you lots in the long run.

Bring the gym home.

Exercising is important, but monthly gym membership fees can make a huge dent in your savings. Instead, try working out at home for a few months by following exercise videos, running outside (weather permitting) or modifying your favorite utilizing home items. If that’s not enough, try pay-per-class offerings coupled with your own exercise outside of the gym.

Cut out your cable bill.

Similar to spending too much on a cell data contract, your monthly cable bills could also be hindering your financial goals. How often do you really watch specialty channels anyway? Opting for monthly streaming services can cost you as low as $7.99 per month while offering the same programs and movies you love. Meanwhile, the average cable bill is $99 per month. Making the switch could save you more than $1,000 per year, which just goes to show how sticking to your New Year’s resolution can pay off.

*At 2G speeds, the functionality of some data applications, such as streaming audio or video may be affected. Please refer always to the latest Terms and Conditions of Service at NET10wireless.com.

Nov 15

Five key deadlines to help small businesses avoid IRS headaches

(BPT) – The adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure still rings true – especially for businesses preparing for tax season. If you oversee your company’s filing requirements, knowing what is due and when can save you and your employee’s penalties, time and stress.

Every year, January’s arrival means two important tasks if you are in charge of filing and reporting for your company or employer: issuing W-2s and 1099 forms to employees. Small-to-medium-sized businesses should plan accordingly to stay ahead of key dates crucial to making the 2013 filing season your “gold-star” year.

According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), businesses must send their employees W-2s by Jan. 31 and provide all W-2s and the transmittal form W-3 to the IRS by the last day of February.

If an employee does not receive a W-2 from their employer, they can contact the IRS for assistance. The IRS requests employees to wait until at least Feb. 14, allowing for slow mail delivery. After Feb. 14, the IRS will contact the employer and request the employee receive a duplicate W-2. The employer will be notified of the penalties if it fails to comply with government regulations, which can include fines, penalties and even imprisonment.

The same applies to issuing 1099s, used primarily for reporting company payments to freelance and contract workers, or other non-employees. In general, businesses need to furnish employees with a copy of their 1099 form by Jan. 31, 2014.

According to the experts at Greatland Corporation, a company that provides W-2 and 1099 forms and e-filing services to small businesses, for the past three years, the IRS has been cracking down on contractors who aren’t always attentive when it comes to paying taxes. In fact, the government has collected $9.5 million in back wages from employers who misclassified workers as independent contractors since 2011.

“We have many customers that used to feel overwhelmed by adopting a clear process for managing the timeline for ordering and submitting their forms,” says Janice Krueger, a spokesperson for Greatland, one of the country’s leading providers of W-2 and 1099 products for business. “Feedback from a recent survey we conducted showed that 43 percent of small business filers are terrified of being fined by the IRS for not complying with a new rule or regulation for W-2 and 1099 reporting. Adopting an early game-plan is always recommended to allow enough time for the complicated filings.”

Estimates are that 20 percent of businesses misclassify workers; so make sure your business knows how to correctly report your contractors when issuing a W-2 and 1099 forms.

According to Greatland, these key dates will allow company W-2 and 1099 filers to stay on track this filing season:

* Jan. 31, 2014 – Due date to mail employee copies for W-2

* Jan. 31, 2014 – Due date to mail recipient copies for 1099

* Feb. 18, 2014 – Due date for 1099-MISC if reporting payments in boxes 8 or 14

* Feb. 28, 2014 – Due date to send Copy A to federal agency on paper (W-2 to SSA, 1099 to IRS)

* March 31, 2014 – Due date to send Copy A to Federal agency electronically (W-2 to SSA, 1099 to IRS)

To make sure your business doesn’t miss a deadline, you can find a full list of federal state and filing dates to remember on Greatland’s W-2 and 1099 fact center website.

Nov 12

Filing taxes for the first time? Easily conquer taxes with 3 simple tips

(BPT) – Unless you majored in accounting, the thought of filing your own income tax return may evoke feelings similar to your first job interview.

Though understandable, this is an unfounded fear, given the simple taxes most individuals have in their early to mid-20s and the easy digital tax programs available.

“All you need to file your own tax return is a little self-confidence, the desire to get your maximum refund, and a computer or mobile device,” says TaxACT Spokesperson Jessi Dolmage. “You’re well qualified to do your taxes because you’re the expert of your finances.”

With the affordable and even free DIY tax programs, it’s like having an expert personally guiding you. You’re asked straightforward, simple questions about your income and financial situation. Meanwhile, the programs determine which tax deductions and tax credits you qualify for while completing the necessary math and tax forms.

The top solutions offer several means of tax and technical help if you need it, including robust help within the application or on the website, and one-on-one help via email, chat and phone.

If you’re the curious type who wants to better understand taxes (after all, they will impact your personal finances for the rest of your life), DIY tax programs have plenty of easy-to-understand explanations and tips if you want them. Some even offer planning and guidance for next year’s tax return.

The interfaces of these DIY tax programs use the sophistication and technology of other secure Web and mobile applications, carefully designed to be extremely easy to use, intuitive and fast.

Follow these simple tips to successfully file your taxes for the first time and every year after that.

First, don’t procrastinate. Waiting until the last minute causes undue stress, and rushing increases potential for typos and overlooked information. While you can do your taxes in one fell swoop, it’s unnecessary. Tax programs save as you go, so you can stop and finish at your leisure. You may reap benefits from starting early – as soon as October (when TaxACT releases its solutions) – because tax programs point out potential savings requiring action before Dec. 31 or April 15.

Second, gather all your tax forms and documents before starting your return, including:

* Form W-2 from your employer (you should receive by Jan. 31)

* Form 1099s if you’re self-employed or a contractor

* Form 1098-E from your lender if you’ve paid student loan interest (even if you don’t receive this form, you can still deduct interest paid).

* Form 1098-T for tuition paid and scholarships or grants received

* Statements for retirement savings accounts

* Receipts for charitable donations

After filing, keep these papers or make electronic copies to save with a copy of your return.

Finally, carefully compare top DIY tax products before choosing one. Read expert and user reviews. Look at the situations and tax forms each includes, as some require you to upgrade for certain forms. If you have to file a state return, compare prices. Using a mobile filing app? Choose one that also provides access to your data on a browser for convenience and peace of mind in case you lose your smartphone or tablet.

Dolmage offers another tip for tax refunds: “To avoid delays, e-file your return and have your refund direct deposited into your bank account.”

For more tax tips and filing information, visit www.irs.gov. Get a tax checklist and file your federal return free on your computer, tablet or phone at www.taxact.com.

Nov 12

Better late than never for retirement planning

(BPT) – If you’re within 10 years of retirement and haven’t done any appreciable planning, you’re not alone.

Nearly half of Americans age 50 and older expect to retire later than they hoped, citing financial concerns, according to a 2013 study by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. And while you may be part of that group, keep in mind, it’s better to plan late than never.

A good benchmark on retirement readiness is the ability to replace at least 75 percent of your pre-retirement income at the age you qualify for full Social Security benefits, which is 66 or 67 for most people. Retirement income can come from a variety of sources, including Social Security, savings and a pension, if you have one.

“While people age 50 or older no longer have time on their side when it comes to retirement savings, there are strategies that can help you play catch up,” says Elaine Sarsynski, executive vice president, MassMutual Retirement Services division. “Pre-retirees have some levers to pull that younger workers may not.”

To help you make the most of your retirement planning, follow the tips below.

* First, take stock of where you are. Meet with a financial professional who can evaluate your retirement resources and project how much income you can expect if you retire at a certain age. Many 401(k) plans offer online tools to help you determine where you stand and how likely you are to replace your income based on your current assets and saving habits.

* Make the most of matching contributions. Say your employer matches contributions to your 401(k) plan up to 5 percent of your salary and you only contribute 2 percent, you’re turning down free money. Make sure you save enough to at least get the full match.

* Talk to your tax advisor about whether you should contribute to your 401(k) on a before- or after-tax basis. Pre-tax contributions may make it affordable to save a higher percentage of your pay by deferring some of your tax liability until retirement. After-tax contributions may reduce your tax liability in retirement.

* Take advantage of catch-up contributions. If you’re age 50 or older at the end of the calendar year, you are eligible to contribute up to an additional $6,000 to your retirement plan in 2015. That’s on top of the $18,000 limit for younger employees. Matching contributions from your employer do not count toward your contribution limit.

* Optimize Social Security. You can begin taking Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62. But should you?

“It depends on a lot of things – your health, medical history, current cash needs, and future financial obligations, to name a few,” says Farnoosh Torabi, best-selling author and personal finance coach. “But one thing is certain: the longer you delay your application, the bigger your benefit will be.” The maximum benefit from Social Security starts at age 70. You can estimate your retirement benefit by using the Social Security Administration’s Retirement Estimator at ssa.gov/estimator.

* Don’t forget your pension. If you are entitled to a pension, this is an important source of income that should factor into your retirement planning. Your pension pays you a benefit at retirement based on factors such as your years of service and salary. Your plan administrator will have specific information about your plan.

“When it comes to saving for retirement, don’t let a late start dissuade you,” Sarsynski says. “Becoming more financially disciplined and making the most of your resources can go a long way toward helping you retire on your own terms.”

For more information about planning your retirement, go to www.RetireSmart.com.

Nov 12

Facing financial pressures: 5 tips for the sandwich generation

(BPT) – Would you sacrifice your retirement and savings to simultaneously support your elderly parents and adult children? It’s not something many people envision, but millions are doing just that. These individuals are part of the sandwich generation—middle-aged adults caring for two different generations of family at the same time while planning for their own retirement goals.

Not surprisingly, this situation can cause significant financial strain. Research shows the pressure experienced by the sandwich generation is growing. According to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey, 21 percent of adults ages 40 to 59 provided some financial support to a parent aged 65 or older. By contrast, nearly half (48 percent) provided support to at least one adult child in the same period, up from 42 percent just seven years earlier.

“The emotional and financial strain of caring for an aging parent is challenging, but as more people also provide support for an adult child, financial security becomes a big concern,” says Adam Hamm, National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) President and North Dakota Insurance Commissioner. “Fortunately, making smart choices along the way can help alleviate the financial stresses felt by the sandwich generation and safeguard their long-term financial well-being.”

To avoid common pitfalls and to help plan for the unpredictable, the NAIC offers five tips to help consumers in the sandwich generation.

1. Create a plan: Alleviate confusion in the midst of a crisis by creating a plan for your loved one’s care.

2. Solicit support: Caring for a parent while working full-time and raising kids is physically and emotionally draining. Surround yourself with people who care and be willing to ask for help.

3. Talk about finances: Long before you think you need to, review your parents’ insurance policies to understand their wishes, so you’re informed enough to make changes together.

4. Set expectations: Be open about how much financial support you plan to give your children once they reach adulthood. Decide how long you will allow coverage under your health plan and who will pay associated co-pays and deductibles. If your adult children live with you, have the same conversation about auto insurance.

5. Review your life insurance: If your family depends on you as the primary source of income, take time to evaluate your life insurance needs. Getting the correct amount provides peace of mind. Once your child is financially independent, you may wish to decrease the amount of your policy.

“Initiating important conversations can help reduce stress and ensure finances remain intact,” says Hamm. “It’s essential to maintain an open mind and employ honest communication so everyone understands expectations.

Visit InsureUOnline.org for more information, including a checklist with action items you can take now to ensure that unforeseen insurance needs do not impact financial stability.

Nov 12

A higher standard: understanding the types of financial advisors and under what rules they operate

(BPT) – What’s in a name? When choosing a brand of paper towels or laundry detergent, one name may be as good as another. When it comes to selecting a financial advisor, however, consumers should know there are different types of advisors who are held to significantly different professional standards.

Registered investment advisors (RIAs), for example, are regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or individual states. They are held to a “fiduciary” standard of care, which means they have a legal duty to place the interests of their clients first. Brokers, or registered representatives, are regulated by the Financial Industry Regulatory Agency (FINRA) and are generally not considered investment advisors by federal regulators. They are held to a lower “suitability” standard, although FINRA views that as including a “best interest” of the client standard.

While more than half of U.S. investors use a professional financial advisor (a catch-all phrase that some might see as including financial planners, accountants, brokers, RIAs and even insurance salespeople), four in 10 don’t know which standards govern their advisor, according to a 2013 survey conducted by TD Ameritrade Institutional. Yet it is a key distinction.

“It’s not uncommon for investors to think a broker is the same as a registered investment advisor,” says Skip Schweiss, managing director of advisor advocacy and industry affairs for TD Ameritrade Institutional. “Even savvy investors may not know the difference. But different types of advisors deliver different types of services and are held to different professional standards. Before you invest with any advisor, it’s important to understand what their credentials mean, and under what accountability standards they operate.”

Fiduciary vs. suitability

There are two basic standards for financial advisors: fiduciary and suitability. Of these two standards, Schweiss says, the fiduciary standard for RIAs is the higher one. Under the fiduciary standard, RIAs are bound by a 74-year-old federal act – and regulated by the SEC and state regulators. While both RIAs and brokers are required to act in their client’s best financial interests, RIAs are required to put their client’s interest first, even above their own or their company’s interests.

Brokers (also known as registered representatives) operate under the suitability standard. They are required to have reasonable grounds for believing that securities recommendations are suitable based on information provided by the customer regarding other security holdings, financial and tax status, and investment objectives, and other information that would reasonably need to be considered.

“Financial advice can come from practically anywhere these days,” Schweiss says. “Some of it will be good, some will be spurious. When you’re investing your money, it’s important to do your homework and not only research the individual or firm who is helping to manage your money, but the laws and standards to which they are held accountable.”

Schweiss also offers these tips for choosing an advisor:

* Know who regulates the advisor you’re considering. The regulatory body he or she answers to can clarify what standards he or she operates under.

* Ask how he or she is compensated. By companies selling investment products? Fees paid by clients? Commissions? Compensation type may give you an idea of any potential conflicts of interest between what’s best for your money and what puts the most money in the advisor’s pocket.

* Learn whether the advisor has been disciplined in the past for dishonesty or inappropriate behavior. You can find background information on financial advisors through the websites of the SEC, FINRA, National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, Certified Planning Board of Standards and the Financial Planning Association. Information may also be available through your state securities agency.

* Ask how frequently your advisor’s firm conducts audits, and if your portfolio assets will be handled by a third-party custodian. A custodian will provide a monthly statement of your assets to both you and your advisor.

“Information is an investor’s greatest asset,” Schweiss says. “While investing always carries an array of different risks, selecting the right advisor and knowing how he or she operates can help ensure your investments are in alignment with your plans and risk tolerance. Investors can help themselves by choosing an advisor who works to help them pursue their own goals.”

Provided by: TD Ameritrade Holding Corporation, brokerage services provided by TD Ameritrade, Inc. member FINRA/SIPC.

About the survey: An online survey was conducted by True North Market Insights on behalf of TD Ameritrade. The survey was conducted among a representative sample of 1,000 general population consumers between May 14 and May 21, 2013.

Nov 12

3 empowering reasons why women can be better investors

Despite the earning power of today’s women, many still shy away from investing and long-term planning. One of the reasons may be a lack of confidence. A 2014 report by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies found that half of women say they are not confident about the ability to retire comfortably.

“There’s no reason a woman should shy away from investing in her future,” says Nicole Sherrod, managing director for TD Ameritrade’s Active Trader group.

Sherrod points to several factors that should encourage women when they think about their finances and investing for retirement, including:

* As of 2009, women controlled as much as 70 percent of household purchases and $20 trillion in consumer spending worldwide. “In a market dictated by supply and demand, women are the demand,” Sherrod says.

* Women may be less likely than men to be overconfident investors. They may also be naturally more risk averse and more likely to hold investments for the long haul, which many financial professionals and academics see as incredibly valuable when investing for long-term goals like retirement.

“Sherrod adds, “Pair that with the fact that working women are estimated to drive an increase in earned income globally from $12.5 trillion in 2013 to $18.5 trillion by 2018, and it appears that a shift may be taking place.”

Whether married or single, women can and should view retirement planning and investing as well within their abilities. Sherrod offers some advice to help women who still may not feel quite confident:

If you’re planning as a couple, your investing personalities will almost certainly be different. You can, however, try to complement each other. Both spouses should attend meetings with a financial planner or registered investment advisor and allow an approach to evolve from both of your differences. One spouse may pick up on a nuance the other misses. One may be the voice of reason when the other is tempted to rush into a decision without fully researching it.

Or if you’re taking a do-it-yourself approach, take advantage of free tools and information to help you make informed financial decisions. TD Ameritrade offers a variety of free investor education and third-party research reports that cover a wide range of topics from retirement to analyst rankings of individual stocks. Used with other tools, these reports can help you learn terminology, plan for retirement, examine the fundamentals of a company’s stock, or dig into an array of other investing ideas.

Use technology you’ve already embraced. Mobile apps and push notifications can help you keep a close eye on your career, your family and your calendar, so use them to keep a close eye on your investments as well. Your time is valuable. Make technology work for you and create easy routines that help you stay on top of the market.

Finally, Sherrod points out that women can lean on their strengths and shift their lenses.

“Women are often able to look at the landscape of products they need for themselves, their families or their homes, and then search for the best possible product for the best value. So they shouldn’t find it a stretch to apply those same principles to investing decisions. Shifting your lens to look not only at the products you buy, but also at the companies that produce them can help open your eyes to potential investing opportunities. Of course, just because you’ve found a brand or product you like is no guarantee that you have found a winning stock.”

For more resources on investing, visit www.tdameritrade.com/up.

Provided by: TD Ameritrade Holding Corporation, brokerage services provided by TD Ameritrade, Inc. member FINRA/SIPC