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How to Protect Your Customer’s Privacy

February 9, 2017 1:54 am

If you run a business, then you know the customer is king. But what about the customer’s privacy? Help your business be more thoughtful about what information is collected and how you can protect that data and foster trust, with these tips from the NCSA.

If you collect it, protect it: Follow reasonable security measures to protect individuals' personal information from inappropriate and unauthorized access.

Be open and honest about how you collect, use and share personal information: Clearly communicate your data use practices and any features or settings you offer to consumers to manage their privacy.

Don't count on your privacy policy as your only tool to educate consumers about your privacy practices: Communicate clearly and often what privacy means to your organization and the steps you take to achieve and maintain consumer privacy and security.

Create a culture of privacy in your organization: Educate employees about their role in privacy, security and respecting and protecting the personal information of colleagues and customers.

In addition to your privacy practices, do your due diligence and monitor partners and vendors: You are also responsible for how they use and collect personal information.

Source: SOURCE National Cyber Security Alliance

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Tax Time: Five Tips to Ensure an Accurate Form W-2

February 9, 2017 1:54 am

Tax season is a troubling time for many of us as we wade through forms and paperwork from the preceding year.  The American Payroll Association, has five W-2 tips to ensure your W-2 is accurate this tax season.

1. Get your hands on all of your W-2s. If you received compensation from more than one company during 2016, you will need to obtain a W-2 from each business. If you haven't received your W-2 by February 3, contact the company's payroll department to request a 'reissued statement.'

Did you earn $600 or more from a single company for freelance or contract work? You need the Form 1099-MISC, Miscellaneous Income, instead of a W-2. You may be responsible for all taxes on those earnings.

2. Ensure your Social Security Number (SSN) matches your social security card. Your name and SSN on the W-2 must match your social security card to receive the social security benefits to which you are entitled. If they do not match, ask your payroll department for a corrected W-2.

3. Compare your W-2 to your final paystub. 

Items to review on the W-2:

A.  Box 1 will differ from your final 2016 paystub year-to-date gross pay if you participated in a 401(k) or other employer-sponsored savings plan.

B.  The Box 3 total should not exceed $118,500 – the 2016 social security wage base.

C.  Boxes 1, 3, and 5 will be different from your final 2016 paystub year-to-date gross pay if you use pre-tax dollars to pay insurance premiums or for transit benefits, or to contribute to flexible spending accounts.

4. Check for tax credits. Depending on your eligibility, you may qualify for thousands of dollars from the Earned Income Tax Credit. Read the back of the W-2 copy B, C, and 2 to determine your eligibility.

5. Put some money in your pocket! If you receive more than $1,000 in refunds adjust your Form W-4 to more closely match your tax liability. By updating this information, you could give yourself an instant raise.

SOURCE: American Payroll Association
 

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How to Move During the Winter

February 9, 2017 1:54 am

Moving is rarely fun, but in the winter, it can be downright miserable. From frigid temps to icy roads, there are many challenges with moving in the colder months. Below are a handful of helpful tips from Ross Sapir, CEO and Founder of Roadway Moving.

Make sure your electric is turned on early. Before you move in, be sure that all utilities have been turned on so you can comfortably enjoy heat and light for your first couple nights.

Avoid any falls. Clear the driveways and walkways of snow and make sure you salt the icy areas so you and your movers are safe walking to and from the trucks

Have a back-up plan. If a winter storm is threatening your move, make sure you've already spoken to your moving company to see if they have a policy in place for any unexpected date changes.

Protect your home. Going in and out of your home during the move will drag salt and dirt all over your floors. Avoid this by laying down plastic or cardboard boxes for protection

Dress in layers. Moving boxes in and out will work up a sweat so make sure you have the proper clothing on that you can either add layers when you go outside or take off layers once you get inside.

Source: Roadway Moving.

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5 Smarter Ways to Keep Your Home Warm

February 8, 2017 1:54 am

(Family Features)--When cool winds are blowing and the temperatures outside take a dive, even a well-insulated house may feel the chill. Simply kicking up the thermostat can be expensive and depending on your home’s circulation, you may still have areas that need an extra blast of warmth. Cozy up with these tips for heating up your living space.

Check for gaps and cracks. Poorly sealed windows and doors are among the biggest sources of heat loss in a home. Not only do those imperfections let heat escape, they also let in the cold. If you can see daylight, there’s definitely a problem, but even less visible gaps and cracks can be problematic. Clear plastic sheeting is one temporary DIY solution for windows. It’s also easy to replace the weather stripping around doors.

Rely on supplemental heat. When it’s impractical to completely eliminate drafts, or other measures aren’t fully correcting the problem, you might consider a home upgrade to your cooling and heating system. One of the most efficient products on the market is a floor-mounted indoor heating system, designed to ensure the whole room warms up evenly and quickly.

Layer up. Especially when cooler weather first appears or makes a comeback, many homeowners forget to dress for the weather, even indoors. Trading in your t-shirt and shorts for long sleeves and pants can help push your comfort several degrees warmer, and even a couple of degrees can result in big savings on your heating bill. If extra clothes aren’t enough, invest in a few plush throw blankets and a cozy robe and slippers for more comfortable lounging.

Enjoy a crackling fire. If your home has a fireplace, use it. These features are often treated as ornamental, but they serve a true function. When paired with blowers, the heat from a fireplace can warm a significant portion of the house, well beyond the room where the fireplace is located. Before your first fire, take proper safety precautions, including checking that the flue is clean and open. Also be sure you have protective features such as glass or mesh covering to prevent popping embers, and be sure to create a barrier that keeps small children safely out of reach.

Decorate your way to warmth. Subtle changes to your decor can make a big impact on a room’s climate and comfort level. Two areas that can make a big impact: the floor and windows. An area rug is an addition that not only takes the physical chill out of a wood or tile floor, but adds visual warmth, as well. Although windows can be a major source of energy loss and drafts, they can also let in a natural heat source: sunlight. Use heavy draperies at night to block the chill and provide privacy, but during daylight hours, throw those curtains open and let the warm light shine.

Source: mitsubishicomfort.com.

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Choose the Right Online University

February 8, 2017 1:54 am

For those with busy schedules, a family to take care of, or an already-demanding career, the option of earning a degree online is a game changer. However, not all online universities are the same, and it’s important to choose an accredited program that fits your needs.

WGU Texas offers these tips to help busy adults choose the right online university to stay on track with their goals.

Know your learning style. Learning in an online environment is similar to what you would expect in a more traditional brick and mortar environment. You will study, write papers, complete projects and take tests. Online, when and where you study and interactions with faculty and other students can be quite different. Earning your degree takes self-discipline with a strong commitment to earn a degree. You'll need to set aside sufficient time and effort to realize your goals. When choosing a school, one that offers a competency-based program allows you to study and learn at your own pace, apply what you already know and advance when you demonstrate mastery of the subject matter.

Understand the total cost of your education. Tuition at online universities varies widely. Before you make your decision, be sure to understand all of the costs. Compare tuition rates, books, fees and financial aid options of various schools. Speak to a financial advisor about financial aid, and only borrow what you need to graduate, as this will help keep costs under control without incurring unnecessary additional student debt. Another factor in your cost consideration should be the length of time you expect to take to complete your degree—the longer it takes, the more it is likely to cost.

Make sure the university is accredited and the degree is meaningful. Regional accreditation is the highest form of accreditation and ensures that employers and other academic institutions will respect and recognize your degree. The U.S. Department of Education publishes a list of regional accrediting agencies that are recognized as reliable authorities on educational quality and effectiveness of the institution. The degree program you choose should offer relevant and up-to-date curriculum to ensure that you'll earn the credentials you need for the job market. Ask for information about alumni placements, employer surveys and graduate rankings on national test scores.

Source: texas.wgu.edu 

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What Americans Would Give Up to See Their Team Win the Super Bowl

February 8, 2017 1:54 am

It’s no shocker that Americans love their football—especially when it comes time for the Super Bowl. But what would you give up to see your team win? That’s the question GoBankingRates asked their audience, and you may be surprised to read the results.

GoBankingRates asked their respondents to choose from one of the following, in exchange for their team winning the big game.

Would you rather:
- Give up your vacation days for one year
- Give up your annual bonus
- Give up your 401k
- Give up the total amount in your savings account

The result? Fifty two percent of respondents said they would give up an entire year's worth of vacation days in order to secure a win for their favorite team in this year's Super Bowl.

Additional Findings:

- 1 in 3 respondents said they would give up their annual bonuses to see their team win, the second most popular choice among all age groups.

- Perhaps surprisingly to some, more female respondents (57%) were willing to sacrifice a year's worth of vacation days over men (48%).

- Zero percent of those aged 35 years and above said they would scrap their 401k savings, compared to 12% of those ages 18-24.

- While women might be more comfortable giving up vacation days, they were 9% less likely than men to give up an annual bonus for a Super Bowl win.

Source: GOBankingRates.com

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Tax Time: Five Simple Form 1099 Tips to Avoid Penalties

February 7, 2017 1:51 am

Many business owners hire independent contractors at some point. Whether you have several contractors working for you regularly, or just bring one on from time-to-time, properly tracking payments to service providers can be a challenge. The following Form 1099-MISC preparation tips, offered by The American Payroll Association, can ensure your tax reporting is correct for 2016.

Form 1099-MISC must be given to all non-corporate service providers. If you paid a service provider at least $600 for services during 2016, you must provide a 1099-MISC to them no later than January 31, 2017. If the provider is a corporation you generally do not have to provide Form 1099-MISC.

Cover all of your bases. If you are unsure whether a Form 1099-MISC is required, go-ahead and send one. If you don't send all qualified service providers their Form 1099-MISC, you set yourself up for penalties.

Deadlines Matter. If you're sending Forms 1099-MISC to service providers by mail, make sure to send them out no later than January 31, 2017. New for 2017!! If your Forms 1099-MISC include an amount in Box 7, Nonemployee Compensation, you have until January 31, 2017 to send paper copies to the IRS (less than 250 forms) or file electronically. If there is nothing in Box 7, February 28 is the last day to submit paper copies to the IRS (March 31 if you file the forms electronically).

TIN truncation. Payees' Tax Identification Numbers (Social Security number or employer identification number) may be truncated on their paper or electronic copies, but forms filed with the IRS must contain their full TINs. Under the truncation procedure, the first five digits are replaced with either asterisks or Xs: ***-**-1234 or XXX-XX-1234.

Let your credit card handle the paperwork. If you paid for contractor services with a credit card, debit card, or gift card, do not file the Form 1099-MISC. The bank or credit card company that made the actual payment will take care of it for you by sending the contractor Form 1099-K.Source: www.americanpayroll.org

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3 Diet Tips for Fighting Heart Disease

February 7, 2017 1:51 am

Diet impacts a variety of general health and wellness issues, but for those at risk of heart disease, diet is integral. With this in mind, USA Medical offers the following diet tips from the American Diabetes Association, whose community has a higher risk of heart disease:

Limit sodium intake. Excessive sodium in a diet increases the risk for heart disease. The federal daily recommendation allows up to 2,300 milligrams of sodium intake, but those with high blood pressure should drop their consumption to under 1,500 milligrams. Beware of restaurant meals and packaged foods that are often dangerously high in salt.

Eliminate trans fats and limit saturated fat. Avoid red meats high in saturated fat such as lamb, beef and venison, and meats high in sodium such as bacon and ham. New York City registered dietitian Willow Jarosh explains that trans fats are "especially bad because too much can lower your HDL ['good'] cholesterol and raise your LDL—a double whammy to your heart health."

Maintain the correct balance and portions of a heart-healthy diet. Make fresh fruits and vegetables staples of your meals. Focus on eating mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Include tofu, beans, fish and lean meats for protein, and whole grains for nutritious carbohydrates. Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables such as asparagus and broccoli; don't make meat the main course of any meal.
Source: USA Medical

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How to Maintain Marble Floors

February 7, 2017 1:51 am

(Family Features)--Veins of color and unique patterns give marble tile a truly stunning appearance. However, maintaining that elegance may seem anything but effortless.

Common advice cautions against using vinegar, bleach, ammonia or other general-purpose cleaners, while taking care to prevent scratches from the wheels of an old vacuum or basic sand and dirt is paramount. With all these rules, it may seem impractical to care for a marble floor, but once you understand the basics, it’s actually quite simple.

Know the difference between etches and stains. “Marble is porous and can stain when it absorbs liquids,” says Jacqueline Tabbah, vice president of the family-owned stone restoration company International Stoneworks in Houston.

Stains can discolor marble and have a dark appearance; they are oftentimes caused by kitchen grease or makeup and lotions.

An etch mark is a chemical corrosion of the surface layer of the stone caused by the acids found in most household cleaners and in substances like tomato sauce, lemon juice and alcohol. Etch marks are often most visible at an angle, when they appear duller and less shiny than the surrounding surface.

If a spot is lighter than the surrounding stone, it’s most likely an etch mark. If a spot is darker than the surrounding stone, it’s probably a stain.

To remove stains, use a poultice, which you can buy at a hardware store. Spread it on the stain then cover the area with plastic wrap, holding it down with painter’s tape. The next day, remove the plastic, allow the poultice to dry completely and gently wipe it up. If the stain is still there but noticeably lighter, repeat the procedure. If it’s just as bad as it was, it will only come out with the help of a professional restorer. Etch marks can usually be prevented by wiping up spills immediately and using the right cleaners.

Be careful what you use to clean. Acids are the main enemy of calcitic marbles. Avoid cleaners containing vinegar or citrus, as well as abrasive powders and creams, which can scratch softer stones. Strong household cleaners like toilet bowl cleaner, metal cleaner or oven cleaners can cause irreparable etching or permanent color changes in stone.

Tabbah recommends a cleaner with a pH level of at least 7 or 8, or buying one that specifically mentions marble.

Mop carefully. “A microfiber mop is the main line of defense for your marble floor,” says Tom Workman, owner of Floor Cleaning Experts, a Florida company that cleans and restores commercial and residential floors.

A dry microfiber mop draws in dry hair and dirt. For deeper cleaning, saturate the mop with water. The thin microfibers have tiny triangular wedges that lift grease and oil as the mop glides across the floor. The small amount of water won’t stain your marble.

Soften water in showers. “If you have hard water, a water softener is a must,” Workman says.

Mineral deposits build up slowly but surely, requiring professional honing and polishing to remove. If you don’t use a water softener, leave the vent fan on after showering and squeegee the walls after use.

Use a doormat. Place a mat outside your front door and another mat or rug inside. They’ll absorb dirt and sand before it gets to your marble floors.

Source: naturalstoneinstitute.org/consumers/care.

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Save Energy This Winter

February 6, 2017 1:51 am

Regardless of how cool or warm you like your home to feel, you probably like to save on heating bills.  Below are a handful of simple tips you can use to save energy and money this winter, courtesy of the Florida Power & Light Company.

Start at 68 – If you need to heat your home, set your thermostat to 68 degrees with the fan set to "auto" and be sure to turn off your heat when you leave. Every degree below 68 saves you five percent on heating costs.

Check your filters – Clean or replace your air conditioner filter regularly (approximately each month) to help your unit operate more efficiently.

Keep warm air in – Seal doors and windows with weatherstripping or caulk, which helps prevent warm air from leaking out.

Harness the sun – Make sure your south-facing windows are clean and open those curtains during the day to heat your home with the sun.

Lower your water heater temperature – Set your water heater temperature at 115 to 120 degrees to conserve energy. Shortening your showers helps, too!

Source: FPL.com/wintertips.

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