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Articles

Do You Owe Estimated Taxes?

If you are self-employed or have additional sources of income outside of your regular job, you may fall into the category of Americans who are required to file their federal taxes not just once a year in April, but four times annually. While no one likes having to pay estimated taxes to the IRS, you can make the process easier by setting aside money regularly and keeping detailed records.

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Disability Income Insurance: Protecting Your Most Valuable Asset

Have you ever wondered how you would manage financially if you were to sustain an injury or illness that left you unable to work? How long could you maintain your standard of living, pay your bills, and cover your daily expenses? The likelihood of such an event may be greater than you think. According to the Council for Disability Awareness (2013), Americans underestimate their chances of experiencing a long-term disability: 64% of working Americans believe they have a 2% or less chance of being disabled for 3 months or more during their working years; however, the reality is that the odds of experiencing a long-term disability are about 25%.

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Designing an Employee Benefit Plan

When you begin to create an employee benefit plan, you may want to start with a few core benefits, including life insurance, health insurance, and a retirement plan. These benefits form a base from which your company’s benefit plan can grow and evolve in the future. Every year or two, it may be wise to consider the addition of a new benefit to the plan, such as dental insurance or disability income insurance. Rather than bearing the entire burden of cost, you can contribute a portion of the cost, with your employees paying the balance.

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Creating a Long-Term Financial Plan

To help manage your personal finances, you can now purchase computer software that will balance your checkbook, figure out your budget, track your investments, and even help take the sting out of filing your income tax return. Even with the best apps available, you still have to take the initiative to create a strategy that will meet your needs while reducing the stress that goes along with financial planning.

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Estate Planning: A Team Effort

Estate planning often involves a team consisting of an attorney, a financial professional, an insurance professional, and yourself. However, whether you are establishing a new estate plan or revising an existing one, only you can provide the guidance, direction, and information your estate planning team needs to develop an effective plan.

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ESOPs: Rewarding and Motivating Employees

Profit-sharing plans have long been popular with employees because of the opportunity they provide to share in the profitability of a growing firm. Many business owners look beyond shared profitability to shared ownership through employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs).

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Economic Policy and the Fed

While consumers affect the economy by spending according to their own situation and financial pressures, Federal policy decisions also influence the economy. Fiscal policy, enacted by Congress, uses taxation and legislation to boost employment, stabilize prices, and stimulate economic growth. In contrast, monetary policy, which is controlled by the Federal Reserve Bank (the Fed), manipulates short-term interest rates in an effort to spur growth or control inflation.

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Get SMART: Tips for Effective Goal Setting

Regardless of which phase of the business life-cycle you’re in, you can get SMART about setting goals to motivate yourself, move forward to grow your business, and track your success.

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Free Tax Preparation

Did you know that a free, Federal income tax preparation and electronic filing program called Free File is available to U. S. taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes (AGIs) of $58,000 or less?

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Financial Recordkeeping for Tax Purpose

Keeping thorough and accurate financial records is one of the less exciting tasks that business owners face, but it is a necessary one. In addition to enabling you to monitor the progress of your business and make informed decisions on a daily basis, keeping good accounting records is essential when it comes time to prepare your tax returns. While the smallest businesses may be able to get by with the “shoebox method,” having in place a reliable and comprehensive financial recordkeeping system is crucial if you want your business to grow.

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Filing the FAFSA for Higher Education Costs

Even if you expect to cover your child’s college costs through sources other than Federal aid, it usually worthwhile to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). In addition to determining your family’s eligibility for Federal assistance, the FAFSA is the primary qualifying form used by many college, state, local, and private financial assistance programs.

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Estimating Future College Costs

For most people, a child’s college education is the second most expensive purchase (after that of a home) they will ever make. For parents and grandparents who wish to estimate the cost of a college education, the following tables can facilitate an educated guess.

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Your Family Business and Estate Planning

If you are like most entrepreneurs, you don’t expect the business you worked so hard to establish to falter when you are no longer here to run it. But sometimes, when business owners die without leaving wills or estate plans, the business must be liquidated to pay the tax liability, or the company collapses because family members have not been sufficiently prepared to take over operations. If you own a family business, you may want to consider taking steps now to help ensure this valuable asset will remain intact for your children, grandchildren, and others.

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Important Steps in Preserving Your Estate

If you are like most people, wills, trusts, life insurance, disability income insurance, and advance directives are topics you would just as soon avoid. Yet, timely planning is necessary to preserve the assets you have worked so hard to accumulate and to protect your loved ones. Here are some important steps you can take now to help ease your family’s emotional and financial burden in the event of your death:

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Assigning Your Life Insurance Policy

Getting approval for a loan can sometimes depend on, for example, a lender asking a borrower, “How will this loan be repaid in the event of your death?” Your answer may be to assign your life insurance policy, a useful feature that can help provide necessary security for a lender.

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Analyzing Investment Styles: Growth vs. Value

Growth or value—what’s your style? Growth investors look for stocks that will grow at a high rate for a relatively short period of time or mutual funds that focus on growth stock. Value investors look for stocks that are currently undervalued and are expected to increase to their true value over a longer time horizon or mutual funds that focus on value stock.

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An Introduction to Split-Dollar Life Insurance

Contrary to what you may think, split-dollar life insurance is not an insurance policy, at least not in the classic sense. It is a type of arrangement that allows two parties, typically an employer and an employee, to split life insurance protection costs and benefits. The premium payments, rights of ownership, and proceeds payable on the death of the insured are often split between the company and a key employee. In many situations, however, the employer pays all or a greater part of the premiums in exchange for an interest in the policy’s cash value and death benefit. Cash values accumulate, providing repayment security for the employer, who is paying the majority of the premium. In this scenario, business owners have the opportunity to provide an executive with life insurance benefits at a low cost. Another option for companies to consider is to use split-dollar policies in place of insurance-funded nonqualified deferred compensation plans.

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A Financial Review Can Pay Off at Year End

Today, many people find themselves bombarded by a constant stream of financial news from television, radio, and the Internet. Yet, does all this “information age” data really help you manage your finances any better now than in the past? Often, what are considered old-fashioned practices, such as performing periodic financial reviews, can lead to greater success in the long run. Why not spend a few hours reviewing your finances? The changes you make today could result in increased savings. Consider the following seven important items:

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A Budget May Help Boost Your Savings

Whether you have substantial resources or live close to your means, a budget may be an effective foundation for a savings program. It can help you monitor your personal and household expenditures, potentially freeing up income that can be redirected toward savings. Consider the following:

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Budget Basics for College Students

One extracurricular activity that every student can master while in college is personal money management. Typically, a student’s daily spending is done on an improvised basis, meaning that overspending is often the norm rather than the exception.

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Countdown to Retirement: Strategies for Saving in Your 50s

The Baby Boom generation is about to enter another era: retirement. Never known for accepting the status quo, Baby Boomers are ready to redefine the “golden years.” Forget about endless days of leisure. This generation seeks adventure, travel, and new business pursuits. While these changes may redefine retirement, will Boomers be able to finance their plans? Today, many people age 50 and older have not begun to save for retirement or have yet to accumulate sufficient funds.

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Control Your Runaway Expenses

For many of us, the cost of living has risen faster than our income has. In some cases, consumption has increased, as well. If you are looking for ways to control both rising expenses and increasing consumption, here are some timely suggestions.

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Choosing the Right Retirement Plan for Your Business

You’re an entrepreneur and you’re not looking back. You’ve opened your own business, whether alone or with partners, and you’ve achieved success. Now you’re thinking about retirement, not just for you, but also for your employees. Offering a retirement plan can help your business attract and retain employees, while making it easier for you to save for your own retirement. Here are some of the options available to business owners:

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Charitable Giving: Good for the Heart and Your 1040!

It may be better to give than to receive, but it may be even better to give and see your generosity rewarded. Charitable giving can play a valuable role in your financial and tax strategies. A well-planned gift to charity could provide an income tax deduction and a reduction of estate taxes. Your donation could also help you maintain financial security, exercise control over assets both during your lifetime and after death, as well as provide for your heirs in the manner you choose.

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Life Insurance: Adapting to Changing Needs

When Jennifer purchased her life insurance policy 10 years ago, she assumed that her life insurance planning was complete. She thought that if she just paid her premiums on time, she could sit back and not worry about life insurance any more. Jennifer’s policy has provided protection for herself and her family over the years. But letting her insurance program run on autopilot may not be the best route to take in the long run.

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Inflation and Your Retirement

Even if your retirement is years away, it’s important to understand how inflation can affect your retirement savings. You probably know that inflation can depreciate your savings over time.

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Mapping the Road to Retirement

It makes sense to periodically review your financial strategy along the road to retirement to make sure you are taking advantage of all available tools and resources that may help build your retirement income. Your ability to save more now, before retirement, will provide you with a nest egg that will help support a comfortable retirement. You may want to consider these five steps to stay on track toward reaching your retirement goals:

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Life Insurance and Divorce: Protecting Your Family’s Future

Sometimes in life, things don’t work out as planned. One of the most trying examples is when a couple decides they can’t make their marriage work and, subsequently, files for divorce. Divorce can take a significant financial and emotional toll on a couple, their children, and other family members. In the midst of immediate financial and legal concerns, couples also need to consider ways to help protect their individual financial futures and that of their children’s in the event of death. Life insurance may offer a solution.

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“Gifting” Your Way to Estate Tax Savings

If you have been fortunate enough to accumulate substantial assets during your lifetime, do you know that estate taxes could reduce the amount you will be able to pass on to your heirs? Federal estate tax rates can reach as high as 35% for estates greater than $5.12 million in 2012. Unless Congress takes further legislative action, starting in 2013, the top estate and gift tax rates will revert to 55%, with exclusion amounts of $1 million. Therefore, it is important to develop an estate planning strategy that helps reduce the impact of estate taxes. By making gifts of existing assets during your lifetime, you can help reduce the size of your estate and lessen your family’s future estate tax burden. .

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Your Assets and Your Children: Dividing Your Estate

When planning the division of your assets, you may endorse the philosophy of “share and share alike” to avoid conflicts and complaints of favoritism. But does the idea of fairness equate with factors such as age, talents/skills, interests, needs, and degrees of material success? A more practical approach to the division of assets may be one in which you recognize and compensate for differences in the abilities and needs of your children, even at the risk of some disagreement.

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Location Matters When Choosing a Retirement Home

Retirees have many options when choosing where to live. While climate, proximity to family, and the cost of housing will likely factor into the decision about where to retire, prospective retirees should also take into account the amount of taxes they will owe in the state and town where they have their primary residence.

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Retirement Savings: Do Yours Measure Up?

When you envision retirement, do you picture yourself living in a warm climate, traveling to exotic places, or doing whatever suits you on any given day? It might surprise you to learn that, regardless of your age or circumstance, a "lifestyle plan" is an important part of retirement planning.

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Traditional IRAs vs Roth IRAs

Currently, there are two popular Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) vying for your attention: the traditional IRA and the Roth IRA. While both are long-term savings vehicles with tax benefits, each has different rules concerning contributions, age, and income that may change from one year to the next.

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Social Security and Retirement

When contemplating retirement, you, like many other people today, may be counting on Social Security benefits to provide you with a basic level of income. The age at which you choose to retire is an important part of the equation. In addition, there are many other issues to consider when making that choice.

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Retirement Saving: Let the Journey Begin!

We've all heard the old adage, "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." The same concept applies to saving for your retirement. It's up to you to take that first step. If you wait until you have "enough" money to begin saving, you may never start at all. Instead, focus on the first step. Then, you can begin transforming that thousand-mile journey into smaller, more manageable goals.

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Understanding the Basics of Economic Forecasting

When weather forecasts are inaccurate, we can usually change our plans with little consequence in the greater scheme of things. When economic forecasts are inaccurate, however, the consequences may be more significant. While making financial decisions does involve some guesswork, an educated guess - even with elements of uncertainty - may be better than making a decision with no forecast at all.

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Over 50? Strategies for Retirement Savings

The baby boom generation is about to enter another era: retirement. Never known for accepting the status quo, baby boomers are ready to redefine the "golden years." Forget about endless days of leisure. This generation seeks adventure, travel, and new business pursuits. While these changes may redefine retirement, will boomers be able to finance their plans? Today, many people age 50 and older have not begun to save for retirement or have yet to accumulate sufficient funds.

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Lease or Buy: Understanding the Basics

As leasing continues to grow in popularity, many new car buyers wonder how the option of leasing compares to buying. Let’s look at a hypothetical couple, Peggy and Stan, who have always purchased their vehicles. After hearing friends and relatives tout the benefits of leasing, they now wonder whether it is better to lease or buy.

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The Reality of Early Retirement

Is early retirement on your wish list? Do you envision a relaxing lifestyle in a warmer climate or the leisurely pursuit of a personal hobby? Unfortunately, retiring later than anticipated, rather than sooner, is becoming more and more commonplace. But some people are still managing to retire early. You may be asking yourself, “How do they do it?”

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The Importance of Minimizing Your Retirement Risks

With the median net worth of American families showing signs of stagnation and traditional pension plans disappearing, even as the growing number of retirees places pressure on the Social Security system, workers who are currently trying to plan for retirement are facing an uphill battle, according to a report released by the Society of Actuaries Committee on Post Retirement Needs and Risks (CPRNR), the Urban Institute, and the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER).arrangements.

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Investigating Employee Misconduct

The Federal Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 (FACTA) relaxed the rules governing employer investigations of employees accused of misconduct such as discrimination, sexual harassment, and workplace violence, etc. A business can hire an outside firm to investigate allegations of employee misconduct without receiving the accused employee’s written consent for the investigation. In addition, businesses are only required to provide a report when adverse action is taken and may withhold the names of interviewed sources.

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The Importance of Conducting Employee Background Checks

If you are planning to hire a new employee, it is important to conduct proper and legal background checks to verify the information that the applicant has provided to ensure that he or she is the best fit for the position. There are many different types of background checks and various ways to obtain records. However, you are required at all times to abide by the laws that regulate background screening, such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

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Year-End Tax Planning Strategies

Waiting until just before April 15 to start thinking about your taxes may prove to be a costly mistake. Preparing a draft of your tax return before the end of the year will provide you with a more complete picture of what you are likely to owe, and it may leave you with enough time to reduce your tax liability by contributing to tax-advantaged savings accounts or qualifying for deductions. Advance tax planning is especially important if your circumstances have changed over the past year due to events such as marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, or the death of a family member.

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Succession Planning with Buy-Sell Agreements

Planning for certain contingencies, such as death, disability, or retirement, is a concern that affects all business owners. For family businesses, in particular, continuation planning is inevitably intertwined with business, tax, and estate planning. One succession tool that can help ensure a smooth transition is the buy-sell agreement. These multifaceted agreements serve many valuable purposes, such as establishing a sale price for business interests; valuing an estate for estate tax purposes; providing liquidity; and easing the transfer of ownership between partners, family members, or a third party.

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When Giving, Get a Receipt

Charitable contributions can be especially important to help support an organization or a cause that’s close to your heart. As an added benefit, you may be able to deduct a portion of your contributions on your Federal income tax return. However, as with all tax deductions, it’s important to keep accurate records of charitable donations in the event you one day need to substantiate such gifts. Therefore, be sure to obtain a receipt to confirm your charitable contribution.

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Top 10 Tips for Fiscal Fitness

As days turn into weeks and weeks turn into months, it may feel like there is little time to catch up on all of your financial responsibilities. Sometimes it may be easier to simply toss ATM receipts, credit card bills, and bank statements into the “junk drawer” to deal with later. But, later never seems to come. Is it time for you to put fiscal fitness at the top of your to-do list?

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The "Taxing Effects” of Selling Your Home

Because of the generous capital gains exclusion on selling a primary residence, you may find that you do not owe Federal taxes when it comes time to sell your home. But there are situations in which a seller may incur a tax liability, especially if the sale price is very high, if the house is sold soon after purchase, or if the owners are unmarried or are selling as the result of a divorce. In many of these cases, however, the amount owed to the IRS can be minimized, or offset, with some advance planning.

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Non-Working Spouses and Roth IRAs

For many married couples, retirement planning has become not only a personal responsibility but a financial necessity. Since Americans are living longer, retirement funding may need to span several decades beyond the normal retirement age. When you consider the escalating costs of health care, the uncertainty of Social Security and Medicare, and the pace of inflation, it is more important than ever to explore tax-advantaged saving options that can fit into you and your spouse’s overall financial plan for retirement. Let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits of a Roth Individual Retirement Account (IRA).

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Understanding Life Insurance Beneficiary Designations

In the language of life insurance, a beneficiary is the recipient of the proceeds of a policy when the named insured dies. The owner of a life insurance policy has a great deal of flexibility in naming beneficiaries and can generally name anyone he or she chooses. However, it is important to understand the different types of designations and methods of distribution before choosing your beneficiaries.

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Building Your Financial Foundation

Regardless of the path your life takes, money will play an important role at every turn. Certain events, especially graduating from college, entering the work world, getting married, having children, and retiring all require targeted financial strategies. Good habits developed now can go a long way toward helping you achieve your financial goals.

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Paying for College with Help from Uncle Sam

When thinking about funding sources for your children’s college education, you may assume your family earns too much to qualify for Federal grants, loans, and work-study job assistance. However, families with higher incomes are frequently eligible to receive some form of financial aid from the Federal government.

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Your Estate and Life Insurance: It All Adds Up

It can be fairly easy to underestimate your net worth. After all, predicting the future value of your home and savings is merely hypothetical. On the other hand, you can rely on the fixed amount of the death benefit provided by your life insurance policy. However, adding this often significant sum to your asset pool could expose your estate to the Federal estate tax.

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Inflation Affects Your Life Insurance Coverage

Determining your current life insurance needs is important, but your needs may change in the future. Projecting future coverage needs requires you to pay careful attention to inflation, as well as changes in your personal circumstances.

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Minimizing the Risk of Getting Audited

The IRS has been stepping up its efforts to ensure that Americans are accurately reporting the taxes they owe and is auditing a growing number of taxpayers, especially those with high incomes and complex financial arrangements. While all taxpayers are at risk of being audited, you may be more likely to attract the attention of the IRS if certain “red flags” appear on your return.

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How Much Does It Really Cost to Own a Home?

Housing costs have soared over the years. And, while owning your own home may still represent the American dream, many people are unsure at what point it becomes less expensive to buy than rent. There are four key elements in making that decision: 1) the cost of the home; 2) the amount of the down payment and other out-of-pocket expenses required; 3) the interest rate on the mortgage; and 4) your income tax bracket.

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The Tax Consequences of Selling a Business

Business owners who are considering selling their company should take into account the taxes they will owe before putting the "For Sale" sign up. When a sale produces income, owners have to pay taxes on at least part of their gains from the sale. How these gains are taxed depends in large part on the structure of the business, whether the business is being sold as a set of assets or as an entity, as well as the type of assets being sold.

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What is Vesting?

Vesting refers to an employee’s entitlement to funds contributed to a qualified, employer-sponsored retirement plan. An employee’s contributions—and any earnings on these contributions—are fully vested from his or her start in the plan. An employer’s matching contributions, on the other hand, may vest according to a schedule set by the employer, as specified in the plan document and following applicable regulations. Therefore, an employer can arrange his or her contributions to follow a vesting schedule that rewards loyalty by fully vesting plan participants after a specified number of years.

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Succession Planning for Business Owners

If you’re a small business owner, you’ve invested a great deal of time and effort into building your company. With day-to-day demands, it may be difficult to imagine your eventual transition into retirement. Yet, if you want to build personal financial security and ensure business continuation, it is important to plan ahead. Business succession planning can help create retirement income for a retiring business owner and facilitate the transfer of operations and/or ownership to family or another entity. A succession plan can also provide a strategy to handle unforeseen events, such as death or disability.

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Disability Planning and Your Business

Many business owners have life insurance to help protect the financial well-being of their families in the event of their death. They also have property and casualty insurance to help cover the value of their personal belongings in the event of damage, fire, or theft. However, many business owners may overlook one of their most valuable assets, which is their ability to earn an income.

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Exploring Your Retirement Plan Options

You're an entrepreneur and you're not looking back. You've opened your own business, whether alone or with partners, and you've achieved success. Now you're thinking about retirement, not just for you, but also for your employees. Offering a retirement plan can help your business attract and retain employees, while making it easier for you to save for your own retirement. Here are some of the options available to business owners:

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The Tax Implications of Changing Jobs

Whether you are moving to another employer because of a new opportunity or because you were laid off from your previous position, changing jobs can have major tax implications, both for the amount of taxes owed in the year you start a new position, and for your long-term retirement planning.

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Recruiting: Staying One Step Ahead of the Competition

Whether you run a small, family-owned business or a large company, attracting and retaining key employees is challenging in today’s economy. Businesses often compete for skilled and talented employees in the same way they compete for a customer’s business. So, how can your business set itself apart with top performers?

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Whole Life Insurance: What You Should Know

When faced with the wide range of life insurance coverage available, you may wonder what type really fits your needs now and what coverage you should have in place for the future. A good first step is to understand basic whole life insurance coverage.

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Steps for Managing Your Cash Flow

Small business owners inevitably juggle many competitive priorities. While it can be challenging to keep everything running smoothly, “dropping the ball” on cash flow can be a costly oversight. Effectively managing the money flowing in and out of your company is key to staying in business. As you plan for success, three basic steps can help you successfully manage your cash flow: tracking, analysis, and budgeting.

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Options for Financing Your Business

Using many years of experience and industry know-how to establish a business is a goal held by many would-be entrepreneurs. In fact, finding a location, formulating a business plan, and hanging the "Open" sign might be one of your long-cherished dreams. However, securing capital to begin operations can often be frustrating and difficult. But, there are a number of potential sources of financing to explore. Some entrepreneurs are able to secure bank loans or venture capital, while others may turn to family members or friends for financing.

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Why a Home May Still Be Your Best Investment

While everyone’s situation is different, buying a home that you plan to live in for many years may still be one of the best investments you can make. An uncertain market should not necessarily deter prospective buyers, but rather prompt them to develop a more realistic perspective on homeownership.

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Monitoring and Managing Business Credit Reports

Often, large public companies have teams of people dedicated to reporting organizational changes to the business community and credit rating agencies. Smaller private companies, however, must make more of an effort to ensure that their credit reports accurately reflect the current state of their businesses. They need to make certain that reports are free of errors or omissions that could damage their reputation or hinder access to loans or other forms of credit.

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Rent or Own: You Decide

If you’re considering whether or not to buy your first home, it can be an exciting and time-consuming process. For many, the purchase of a home is the largest purchase they will ever make. Therefore, it’s not a decision to be taken lightly. If you feel that you will be better off financially as an owner instead of a renter, one important question remains: What mortgage amount could you afford?

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Key Employees: Protecting Your Most Valuable Assets

Suppose you arrive at your company one morning and discover that a key employee died unexpectedly the night before. Have you ever considered how such a turn of events may affect your company? Along with losing a valued member of your team, you may also be losing knowledge, skill, and important professional relationships cultivated over many years.

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EAPs Help Employees Cope with Personal Challenges

Otherwise dedicated and productive employees can feel overwhelmed by domestic hardships, the death of a family member, mental or physical health issues, financial concerns, substance abuse, or severe work-related stress, which can interfere with their ability to perform effectively on the job. Therefore, a growing number of companies are adding employee assistance programs (EAPs) to their benefit packages to offer professional help. Compared with other types of benefits, EAPs may be relatively inexpensive.

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College Admissions: Thinking Outside the Box

If you were asked how best to prepare your child for college, you might say that a well-rounded high school curriculum would be a good start. It may be true that your child needs to be a good student in order to get a foot in the door of higher education. Today, however, getting to college and finishing college are two distinct challenges.

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Leaving a Legacy

For millions of Americans, “charity begins at home.” Many have decided to make a difference by donating money to local religious, educational, social, or cultural organizations. In addition to the immense satisfaction that comes from giving to others, charitable giving can provide tax benefits for the donor and his or her heirs when done as part of an overall estate plan.

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You’ve Graduated: Now It’s “Payback” Time

It takes four years, on average, to graduate from most colleges and universities. During that time, students can accumulate a large amount of debt. For most, the degree is worth the burden of paying off student loans long after graduation. However, these questions remain: How should the debt be repaid? Are there any plans that can help make “payback” easier? What if a student can’t find a job right away?

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Trimming Your Taxes While Saving for Retirement

Contributing to tax-advantaged retirement plans is one of the most effective financial planning strategies available to U.S. taxpayers: Saving money in a 401(k), IRA, or a Roth IRA account can trim your tax bill, while helping you prepare for the future. Even if you are already contributing to a retirement plan, you should review your retirement savings strategy regularly to ensure that you are making the most of the tax breaks you qualify for.

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The Value of an Appraisal

Television shows featuring auctions and appraisal fairs have ushered the art of appraising into the limelight with fascinating stories—an ancient artifact unknowingly passed down from generation to generation, a rare trinket picked up at a yard sale, or an historic relic found tucked away in the corner of the attic. While appraisals occasionally lead to surprising discoveries, they more often play a key role in developing financial strategies.

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Understanding the Consumer Price Index

The highs and lows of the economy affect people and markets in a variety of ways. While some sectors may be thriving, others may be sluggish. One economic indicator used to gauge the state of the American economy is the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which measures the rate of inflation in the United States.

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The Importance of Advance Directives

Traditionally, estate planning has focused on minimizing estate taxes and directing the disposition of your assets after death. Today, managing your affairs often includes the issue of long-term health care. What would happen if you were to experience a debilitating illness or become incapable of managing your own affairs? Such a situation could occur gradually, due to a progressive medical condition, or suddenly, due to an unexpected accident or illness. If such an event were to happen, who would make important legal, financial, and health care decisions and on what authority?

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The "Value" of an Appraisal

Television shows featuring auctions and appraisal fairs have ushered the art of appraising into the limelight with fascinating stories—an ancient artifact unknowingly passed down from generation to generation, a rare trinket picked up at a yard sale, or an historic relic found tucked away in the corner of the attic. While appraisals occasionally lead to surprising discoveries, they more often play a key role in developing financial strategies.

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Understanding Interest Rates and Your Financial Situation

When discussing bank accounts, investments, loans, and mortgages, it is important to understand the concept of interest rates. Interest is the price you pay for the temporary use of someone else's funds; an interest rate is the percentage of a borrowed amount that is attributable to interest. Whether you are a lender, a borrower, or both, it is important to consider how interest rates may affect your financial decisions.

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Ten Tips for Creating an Effective Estate Plan

Whether your estate plan is simple or complicated, many details can undermine the effectiveness of your plan. But, there are also ways to ensure the effectiveness of your plan. Here are 10 steps to help remedy or avoid some common estate planning mistakes:

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Tax Breaks for Elder Care

Like many Americans, you may find yourself having to help cover the medical costs and caregiving expenses of an aging parent or other close relative. If you and your parent meet certain criteria set by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), you may qualify for tax breaks that can ease the financial burden of paying for care, even if your parent does not live in your home.

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Tax Planning for A Move Abroad

Many Americans are considering moving abroad to take advantage of professional and personal opportunities in a global economy. But as a U.S. citizen living in a foreign country, your tax situation may become more complex, especially because the U.S. requires all of its citizens and green card holders living abroad to continue to file returns in the U.S., and pay taxes on their worldwide income. Depending on the source and level of your income, however, you may be entitled to a number of tax breaks, chiefly designed to keep you from being taxed doubly by your adopted country, as well as in the United States. Whether you actually come out ahead on taxes will depend on which country you work in and its tax rates, along with your individual financial and employment situations.

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Trusts and Your Estate Plan

Arranging for the distribution of assets after death is not a task most people approach eagerly. It is, however, a necessary task. That's where trusts can come into play. A trust, simply defined, is an arrangement whereby one person holds legal title to an asset and manages it for the benefit of another. For estate planning, trusts may be used in several ways.

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Tax Advantages of Turning a Hobby into a Business

Many people dream of turning their passionate pursuit into a money-making venture. Creating a successful and profitable business is seldom easy, but the Federal government offers tax incentives to business owners that could make converting an avocation into a business start-up an effective part of your overall tax planning strategy. If you are thinking about turning your hobby into a business, you would need to realistically appraise your chances of building a profitable enterprise before you declare yourself a business owner.

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The Four Forms of Property Co Ownership

Owning property with another individual or partner may create a complicated relationship. Due to the complexity of the situation, the way in which you take title or ownership must be determined in advance. Consulting with your legal professional can help you establish the form of ownership in such a way that will benefit you and your future heirs. The four forms of co-ownership, one of which will likely be better suited to your circumstances, are as follows:

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Estate Planning and the Importance of Drafting a Will

The prospect of writing a will can often bring up uncomfortable feelings. Yet, drafting a will is one of the most important components of estate planning. Having a will in place ensures that your heirs will be provided for and your wishes for asset distribution will be met. Like many people, have you postponed writing a will? Or, is it time to review and update it?

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Solidify Your Future: Use Advance Directives

Traditionally, estate planning has focused on minimizing estate taxes and directing the disposition of your assets after death. Today, managing your financial well-being often includes the potential need for long-term health care. If you were to sustain a debilitating illness, or become mentally incapacitated, which can occur gradually due to a progressive medical condition, or suddenly, from an unexpected accident, who would make your important legal, financial, and health care decisions, and on what authority?

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Securing a Business Loan with Term Life

As a business owner, you have probably worked long and hard to build a successful company. Yet, even when profit projections look promising and a project is backed by a sound business plan, your banker may be reluctant to lend the funds necessary for expansion, particularly if the success of your venture depends too heavily on you.

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Subtract Inflation and It All Adds Up!

Some of us may remember the “good old days,” when gasoline prices were as low as 25¢ per gallon. Others may recall when a can of soda cost 15¢. But prices tend to rise over time—sometimes steadily and sometimes abruptly. In the years ahead, inflation will most likely decrease the purchasing power of your money, which means that during retirement, your dollars will buy less than they do today.

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Plan Carefully When Choosing Your Executor

One important decision you will need to make when writing your will is selecting an estate executor. Ideally, your executor should possess the tact of a diplomat and the administrative skills of a professional executive. You may want to choose someone who knows you and your family well enough to faithfully carry out your wishes, but who also has the necessary objectivity to handle any conflicts that may arise.

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Strategies for Making Tax-Free Gifts to Loved Ones

Prospective insurance buyers are often confused about disability income insurance because the features and benefits can vary widely from one policy to another. Essentially, there are a few key elements that could make a big difference when you make your choice. If you are in the market for disability income insurance, here are some significant points to consider:

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Protect Your Estate with an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust

Many estate planning practitioners view the irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) as a flexible and useful tool that can provide a number of benefits to their clients. Because the question of where the ILIT fits into the overall estate planning process can be somewhat confusing, a closer look at its potential advantages may prove helpful.

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Retirement Planning: Keeping Pace with Change

Planning ahead for retirement means setting long- and short-term goals, while deciding how they will be met, within the framework of a changing financial picture. As your golden years approach, consider these factors to better position yourself to enjoy your retirement years:

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Taxes and Your Estate: Reconcile Your Domicile

Increased mobility in today’s society has changed the ways in which we live, work, and play. Compared to previous generations, it is now quite common for work and recreational activities to cross state lines, resulting in ownership of property and formal relationships in more than one state. However, the expanded opportunities created by mobility may come at a price: the increased likelihood that several states may be able to tax your estate when you die. If you were to die today, do you know if more than one state would attempt to levy taxes on your estate?

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Is an Annuity Right for You?

When it comes to your retirement, there are three factors that you may want to take into account when planning for your retirement income needs.

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Planning Your Estate before Remarriage

Despite the best intentions, marriages may not last forever. If you are divorced or widowed, and planning to remarry, you may want to take the opportunity to review and revise your estate conservation strategies. This is especially important if you and your future spouse have children from previous marriages.

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Analyzing Investment Styles: Growth vs. Value

Growth or value-what's your style? Growth investors look for stocks that will grow at a high rate for a relatively short period of time or mutual funds that focus on growth stock. Value investors look for stocks that are currently undervalued and are expected to increase to their true value over a longer time horizon or mutual funds that focus on value stock.

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Newlyweds: Get a Financial Head Start

If you are newly married with no children, you may have a special opportunity to build your savings and investments. Financially, a married couple can be more than the sum of its parts. One spouse can work steadily, while the other studies for a college degree or launches a promising business. Or, if both spouses hold jobs, you can try to live on one paycheck and save or invest the other paycheck.

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Points for Business Succession Planning

  1. Start now—address the issue of business succession—don’t put it off!

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Private Foundations—An Alternative to Charitable Giving

For many individuals with accumulated wealth, occasional gifts to a favorite charity may satisfy their charitable inclinations. The added incentive of an often-substantial tax deduction, coupled with various estate planning benefits, can be the driving force behind such charitable gifts. However, for some individuals, philanthropy is a far more serious endeavor, often involving a succession of substantial gifts of at least $5 to $10 million, which may necessitate an amount of control and general oversight. In these situations, a

private foundation can be an ideal venue for managing a large, ongoing charitable giving program.

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Teach Your Children the Basics of Money Management

A four- or five-year-old child may seem too young to grasp the concept of money management, but even at an early age, children waiting in a supermarket checkout line can see that money buys things. Therefore, it is important to begin as early as possible to help your child understand the value of money.

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Making Your Finances Picture Perfect

While most people find the notion of creating a budget about as appealing as cleaning out closets, most would agree that the result—a well-crafted and useful budget—is worth the work

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Tips for Getting and Staying Out of Debt

Debt management is a practice that is always “in style,” whether economic times are good or bad. Effectively managing your debt prepares you to weather tough economic times, as well as to capitalize on a more robust economy. Here are some tips to help you get out, and stay out, of debt:

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Planning for Your Financial Future

Regardless of the path your life takes, money will play an important role at every turn. Certain events, especially graduating from college, entering the work world, getting married, having children, and retiring all require targeted financial strategies. Developing good financial habits now can go a long way toward helping you achieve your future financial goals.

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Controlling Your Runaway Expenses

For most of us, the cost of living has risen more quickly than our income. In many cases, consumption has increased, as well. If you are looking for ways to control both rising expenses and increasing consumption, here are some timely suggestions.

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Protecting Your Financial Information Online

More consumers are conducting financial transactions online and may become vulnerable to tracking, hacking, identity theft, phishing scams, and other cyberspace risks. While nothing can guarantee complete safety on the Internet, understanding how to protect your privacy can help minimize your exposure to risk.

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It’s Your Money. . .Who Decides How Your Charitable $$ will be Spent?

When you give $100 to your favorite charity, you are probably not overly concerned about how your donation is spent, as long as it advances the mission of the charity. On the other hand, if you are making a large donation, it is more likely that you have specific goals in mind, whether to fund a particular program or support another endeavor. This desire to specify exactly where your donation dollars will go may jeopardize your ability to claim an income tax deduction. Therefore, proper planning is essential.

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The Basics of Financing Your New Home

If you are in the market for a new home, interest rates are favorable, and good deals are not difficult to find in many areas of the country. Buying a home is the single largest purchase most people will ever make, and for first-time homebuyers especially, the financing process can appear complicated. The following information provides you with some preliminary information to understand how mortgages work.

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First-Time Homebuyers: Items to Consider

Contemplating whether or not to buy your first home can be an exciting and time-consuming process. For many, the purchase of a home is the largest purchase they will ever make. Therefore, it is not a decision to be taken lightly. If you feel that you will be better off financially as an owner instead of a renter, one question remains: What mortgage amount can you afford?

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Important Considerations for Workplace Monitoring

Many large U.S. companies and organizations have some form of workplace surveillance system in place for monitoring security. But with advances in technology, workplace monitoring has come of age and is also available to small business owners, to closely observe employee behavior. While many employers may use workplace monitoring for what they believe to be legitimate purposes, such as checking employee productivity, performing business-related quality control, or tracking sources of leaks in confidential company information, companies need to formulate specific guidelines—and adhere to them—for the proper usage of security systems, in order to abide by existing laws that help protect employee privacy.

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Retirement Planning: Let the Journey Begin

The sage advice that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, also applies to saving for your retirement. It’s up to you to take that first step. If you wait until you have “enough” money to begin saving, you may never start at all. Instead, focus on the first step. Then, you can begin transforming that thousand-mile journey to retirement into smaller, more manageable goals.

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