How to Keep Usernames and Passwords Secure

In the electronic age we live in, with a login for everything from your bank account to your medical records, it is important to keep usernames and passwords unique and as secure as possible to protect your confidential information.  You should not use the same username and password for multiple logins.  Passwords should include upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols.  Passwords should be changed periodically.  With the number of logins today, it can be impossible to remember numerous unique logins.  One method to keep track of all your confidential information is through a password management app that can be downloaded to your mobile device. 

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Internal Controls You Can Implement To Prevent Fraud

Business owners who are victims of internal fraud or embezzlement are usually victimized by trusted employees or family members.  Generally, the person committing the fraud is someone who has worked for the business a long time, a friend, or a family member the business owners and managers feel they can trust because of the long standing relationship.  Every business should have good internal controls to limit exposure to theft.  Below are some things business owners can do to protect their assets.

  1. Check signatures:  All checks should be signed and mailed by someone other than the person preparing the check.
  2. All mail should be received by someone other than the person processing payments or paying invoices.
  3. All bank statements should be opened and reviewed by an owner.  Often they are mailed to the owner’s home address.  When reviewing the statement, review the check image for appropriate signatures and the validity of vendors.
  4. Bank reconciliations should be prepared by someone other than the person recording accounting transactions and reviewed by management.
  5. Sales and accounts receivable collections should be reconciled to deposits.
  6. Accounting employees should be required to take annual vacations.  Often embezzlement is discovered when the employee is away from the office and is not able to cover up issues that arise in their absence.
  7. Businesses should take periodic inventory counts to ensure amounts are being sold legitimately.
  8. All fixed assets should be verified against depreciation schedules to ensure items are not disappearing.
  9. All new employees should be subjected to a background check and credit check.  Employers should consider updating background checks and credit checks for employees.
  10. Management needs to have the ability to monitor all email accounts, the ability to log in to all workstations, voice mails, etc.  Employees should understand these are company accounts and management has the right to monitor these resources.

5 Year-End Planning Considerations for Individuals

  1. Sale securities with losses to offset current year capital gains.  A net capital loss (prior year capital loss carryovers plus current year net capital gain or loss) up to $3,000 can be deducted against ordinary income in the current year.

  2. Make charitable contributions by year end.  This is a good time to clean out some old items you do not use anymore.  Be sure to get a receipt.  You should also consider donating appreciated assets (i.e. stocks, bonds, land).

  3. Increase the contribution to your retirement plans and IRAs.

  4. Bunching of itemized deductions.  If your itemized deductions are just below the standard deduction you may benefit from “bunching” your deductions.  For example:  You could pay your 2014 real estate taxes in January of 2015 and your 2015 real estate taxes in December 2015.  This may allow you to itemize your deductions every other year.

  5. Review your FSA (flexible spending account) funding for 2015 so you get the most out of this benefit.  These designated contributions are required to be established prior to January 1 and cannot be changed unless you experience a qualifying family status change.

Year-End Considerations for Businesses

As year-end approaches business owners and managers should be preparing for year-end.  Year-end planning is crucial to minimize 2014 taxes, comply with year-end reporting and leave you in the most favorable position going into 2015.

Minimizing 2014 taxes is important but owners and managers should consider what their expectations are for 2015 when deciding whether to accelerate expenses in 2014 to minimize taxes or to defer purchases until 2015 for a larger tax benefit overall.

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New Sales Tax Rules

Effective October 1, 2014, new sales tax rules went into effect in North Carolina for service contracts.  Service contracts are defined as a contract where the obligor under the contract agrees to maintain or repair tangible personal property or a motor vehicle.  Examples include extended warranty contracts, maintenance agreements, and repair contracts.

Service contracts on real property are excluded from the sales tax.  Additionally, a service contract on tangible personal property which has been permanently attached to the real estate is exempt from being subject to the sales tax unless the service contract is entered into at the time of the sale prior to the asset becoming permanently attached to the real property.  An example would be purchasing a garage door opener and simultaneously purchasing a service contract prior to having the opener installed.  A service contract purchased after the installation would be exempt.

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Preparing and Paying for College

Saving for College

When saving for college parents typically use one of the following four investment plans:

1) 529 plans
These plans provide a tax benefit of not taxing the growth on the account as long as the funds are used for qualifying educational expenses.
2) Invest in accounts owned by the parents
These are taxed at the parents’ income tax rate but can be used for other purposes if not needed for college.
3) Invest in accounts owned by the child
These are taxed some at the child’s income tax rate and some at the parents’ rate.  The drawback is the funds are owned and controlled by the child when they reach the age of majority (typically age 18).
4) Invest through a trust
Trusts allow for a lot of flexibility and control by the grantor (contributor) to the trust

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4 Ways to Simplify Your Finances

Consolidating Accounts
Many people have bank accounts and investment accounts at multiple locations.  By combining these type accounts you reduce the amount of paperwork you receive and the number of advisors you are dealing with.
Automating Payments
For many people paying your monthly bills is a dreaded chore.  Having your bill payments automatically drafted or setting up automated bill payments through your financial institution is a great way to save time.

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