Protect Your Credit & Identity If You Were Compromised

This article: Equifax Hack — How To Protect Your Credit And Identity If Your Data Was Compromised was posted last month on the Forbes.com website.

I write about building wealth and achieving financial freedom. Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

As widely reported, the credit reporting bureau Equifax was recently hacked. If you have a credit report, you’re likely one of the 143 million Americans whose data may have been exposed, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

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A monitor displays Equifax Inc. signage on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., on Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. The dollar fell to the weakest in more than two years, while stocks were mixed as natural disasters damped expectations for another U.S. rate increase this year. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

According to Equifax, the breach lasted more than a month, from mid-May until July of this year. The hackers gained access to people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and even some driver’s license numbers. They also got credit card numbers for 209,000 people and dispute documents with personal information for 182,000 consumers.

Unfortunately, at least some of your information was likely involved in this breach if you had a credit file with Equifax. I can tell you that my data was compromised. Let’s walk through what you need to do to first determine whether your information was compromised. Then we’ll look at what you can do about it.

 The first step is to visit www.equifaxsecurity2017.com to find out if your information was exposed. The site includes a Potential Impact tab, where you can enter your last name and the last six digits of your social security number. (Be sure you’re on a secure computer and internet connection when you’re doing this!) This will tell you whether or not your information was compromised.

Enroll in free credit monitoring even if the site doesn’t say you were affected. You’ll be able to find out when you can enroll at the site linked above. You’ll have from that date until November 21, 2017 to enroll for a free year of credit monitoring.

Here I should add that one year of free credit monitoring is totally inadequate. The Equifax data theft can have life-long consequences for consumers. When a credit card number is stolen, you simply get a new card with a new number. You can’t, however, get a new date of birth or Social Security number.

For this reason, consumers should also enroll in several free credit score services. I use several of them and receive email alerts when changes appear on my credit report. You can find a list of free credit score services here.

Next, check your credit reports now so that you have a baseline. You can get your free annual credit reports from www.annualcrediterport.com. You can also get your reports along with your credit scores directly from FICO.

How to protect your friendship and your business

Good friends, great business partners

Survey small business entrepreneurs and you’re sure to discover relationships that soured when long-time friends became business partners. Fortunately, the story doesn’t always end on a tragic note. Here’s why:

  • Friends can talk openly. Because a foundation of trust has been established, friends have already learned to communicate candidly. When tough business decisions need to be made, they can discuss choices without wondering how criticisms will be construed.
  • Friends capitalize on each others’ strengths. One partner may love recordkeeping but tend to avoid dealing with the public. The other, a crackerjack salesman, may struggle with accounting minutia. As friends, they can capitalize on one another’s strengths to advance the company vision while minimizing internal squabbles.
  • Friends are committed. Friends care about each other, and will often go to lengths to work out differences because they’re committed to the friendship. They also typically have an understanding of each others’ top priorities, and are willing to help in reaching goals.

How to protect your friendship and your business

No significant business relationship should be undertaken lightly or blindly. With the help of skilled advisors, initial expectations about the company should be committed to writing. This includes laying out the details of operational roles, capital investments, working hours, exit strategies and other crucial aspects of the business. Even among friends, clearly written policies can prevent future misunderstandings.

Depending on your timeframe and industry, consider performing a beta test: a pilot project you can complete jointly before launching a business together. Along the way, ask these questions:

  • How do you handle disagreements?
  • Does one person always take the lead?
  • Can you easily switch leader and follower roles as circumstances dictate?

Test your relationship in a real-world setting. Observe how well you work together and make adjustments before the firm starts operations.

One more question worth pondering: is your potential business-partner friend in a stable position in life? If he or she is working through the aftermath of a divorce or climbing out of financial debt, consider postponing the launch of your business. If possible, start operations without major distractions.

If you’d like more advice about creating a successful business partnership structure, give us a call.

Today’s Luxury Car Trends


While automobiles are depreciating assets, they are necessities for many people. And with advances in technology, car owners have come to expect much more from their vehicles than simply transportation. Are you currently in the market for a new car? Are you familiar with the latest high-tech offerings? Consider your options and decide what’s most important to you.

High-Tech Safety Features
Integrated lane drift warnings, rear bumper cameras and adaptive cruise control (to maintain a safe distance behind the vehicle ahead of you) are some of the most desirable features in today’s cars. Advanced safety components like these might even qualify for a discount on your auto insurance, so be sure to talk to your provider.

Entertainment and Convenience
Manufacturers also develop new technology to make the driving experience more enjoyable and convenient. Road warriors, in particular, value a car with connectivity capabilities common in smartphones, such as Wi-Fi that can act as a mobile hot spot. Voice commands, which allow drivers to make a call, send a message and play music without the use of their phone, are also in demand.

Top-of-the-Line Rides
Of course, car tech isn’t just about safety and entertainment; it’s also about taking luxury to the next level. Many commuters are thrilled (and some are skeptical) about self-driving cars as they continue to pop up in cities across America. But it’s clear the idea is still in its infancy. For now, discriminating tech enthusiasts in the market for a new vehicle look for innovations that minimize one’s carbon footprint while offering elegant touches and an exciting driving experience.

Internet of Things: What It Means to You

Are you always looking for the latest gadget, or do you prefer to wait and see what stands the test of time? Either way, you’re likely connected to the internet of things whether you know it or not. What exactly does this trendy terminology mean? Here’s an overview to bring you up to speed.

Everyone’s Getting Into It
In a nutshell, the internet of things describes a technological ecosystem of devices — think cars, heart monitors and kitchen appliances — that send and receive data via the internet. This trend is spreading to diverse and surprising industries, including agriculture, retail and transportation, as hardware gets stronger and cheaper.

Less About the Device, More About the Data
Don’t expect to browse the web, stream your favorite TV show or use instant messaging services on these gadgets like you can on your smartphone or computer. Reminder alerts, seamless firmware updates and similar features will appeal to consumers, but the real draw is for manufacturers and other companies. They will benefit from the enormous amount of data that can provide analytics and insight into how people are using the devices, as well as personal data like health-related metrics.

Exciting Pros, Worrisome Cons
Security and privacy are the primary concerns surfacing with the internet of things and for good reason. The extensive data flowing from so many devices poses a logistical issue for IT infrastructure, not to mention the vulnerability to hackers and other cyberattacks.

Staying current with new tech can feel like a full-time hobby, but for those looking to constantly improve and optimize their lives, each year brings further advancements. Just remember to embrace the internet of things and other changes with your eyes wide open

What’s the ROI from fitness trackers?

 

Are you one of the millions who wears a fitness tracker? This technology has become so mainstream, even high-fashion and well-known designers are joining the craze and creating custom devices and stylish accessories to personalize them. Is this just another fad or do wearables actually deliver?

Not a Silver Bullet
A fitness tracker may help you lose weight but not necessarily more than if you didn’t wear it, according to a 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The research centered around wearables and weight loss showed a surprising trend: Those logging their meals and exercise on a website lost more weight than the individuals wearing tracking devices.

Fitness-tracking devices monitor and report data, but they can backfire without a human layer to meaningfully interpret that information. Plus, our brains can justify overindulgence or otherwise counterproductive behavior when we’re able to review our progress in real time.

Consider the Right Metrics
Corporations and businesses have been integrating wearable technology stats into wellness programs to improve the health and productivity of the workforce. But wearables track a great deal of data, which can be troubling for those who value their security and privacy. And it’s important to consider the information in a careful context given that fitness technology can still include incomplete or faulty data.

Remember, wearable tech trackers are still in their infancy, but professional athletes and those involved with innovating this technology see a lot of hope on the horizon. And consumers can reap some of the benefits as these companies present personal health metrics in a more personalized, human-centric and psychologically optimized fashion.

 

  • June 27, 2017
  • ROIs

Refine the power of your business website

Why do people visit your business website? Generally speaking, potential customers want to know three things: What you’re offering, how much they can expect to pay, and whether the items are currently available.

Studies have shown that online visitors who peruse business websites tend to form an opinion of a company’s brand in about three seconds. A well-designed website may entice them to stick around for an additional 10 to 20 seconds. In other words, you don’t have much time to get and hold their attention.

Give visitors the information they want and you may make a sale. Annoy them, and they’ll look elsewhere. That’s why it’s crucial to consider the needs of busy customers when designing your website. Keeping those needs in mind, consider the following tips to create a website that generates business for your company.

  • Focus on the customer, not the company. The company’s history and the CEO’s credentials may kindle positive feelings in you, but potential customers may find such details irrelevant. Remember that visitors want answers. Provide those answers quickly or they’ll click elsewhere.
  • Keep it updated. Have you ever scanned to the bottom of a webpage and discovered that the latest revision happened three years ago? If the content on your website isn’t current, people may not trust the site’s information about products, services, and prices.
  • Make navigation easy. Each webpage should have the same “look and feel.” Don’t make visitors wonder how to get back to the home page or main menu. If potential customers get disoriented in your website’s confusing maze, they’ll exit.
  • Use text wisely and avoid data-hogging graphics. Most of the content on your site should be quick-to-load text. Don’t bombard visitors with flashing words or unnecessary distractions. A few strategically placed and relevant graphics can enhance an otherwise dull website. Remember: Short attention spans are the rule in cyberspace.
  • Proofread. A website that’s riddled with typos, poor grammar, spelling errors, and bad formatting will give potential customers an unfavorable impression of your company and its offerings. Visitors may wonder, “If this business doesn’t care about the quality of its website, how can I trust the products in its warehouse?”

Once your website is built, don’t ignore it. A well-maintained, user-friendly website can build loyal customers who keep coming back.

Charitable giving: Don’t miss a deduction

Charitable giving: Don't miss a deduction

Although you can’t deduct the value of time and energy spent on charitable endeavors, you can often write off un-reimbursed expenses incurred while performing charitable duties. Here are some of the more commonly overlooked charitable deductions.

  • Travel expenses: Generally, you can deduct travel expenses on behalf of a charity if you did not gain significant personal pleasure, recreation, or vacation. If you travel by car, you can use a flat rate of 14 cents per mile. But at times, qualified charitable expenses can include air, rail, or bus transportation, and tracking of actual vehicle expense. It can even include qualified lodging and meals.
  • Electronic communications: Don’t forget to deduct specific charges for telephones, cell phones, fax machines, and computers incurred on behalf of a qualified charity. You may also write off costs for a separate landline in your home if used exclusively for charitable functions. The trick here is to clearly show the activity is related to the charity.
  • Conventions: When you’re a designated delegate for a charity, unreimbursed expenses at a convention, including reasonable amounts for meals and lodging, are deductible. But the accommodations can’t be overly lavish.
  • Entertainment expenses: You may be able to deduct reasonable costs of sending underprivileged youths to athletic events, movies, or dinners to help reduce juvenile delinquency. But expenses for your own ticket or tickets for your children are not deductible. If you host a fundraising dinner or party at your home, your out-of-pocket expenses for the event can be deductible.
  • Exchange students: Taxpayers who provide a foreign exchange student with a place to live may deduct up to $50 monthly for each month the child attends high school. But the student must reside in the taxpayer’s home under a written agreement and cannot be a relative.
  • Uniforms: Even the cost and upkeep of special uniforms needed to perform charitable services, such as Boy or Girl Scout uniforms for group leaders, are deductible.

This area of the tax code requires excellent recordkeeping. The IRS is quick to question large dollar amounts associated with charitable work, so keep your receipts and document your activities. Call us if have questions.

INCOME TAX BASICS FOR YOUNG PROFESSIONALS

After you’ve graduated from college and taken up your first job only recently, income tax can give you a tough time. Young professionals find it troublesome to get the hang of income tax and the finances that come along.

Sometimes you can get this information from websites or social media profiles of renowned business consultants in Dubai, UAE and USA, however mostly you’re left to figure out your own way through income taxes.

It is for young professionals like you that we have created this comprehensive guide to income tax basics and explained everything… in Plain English. Read on.

What do the terms ‘Tax Year’ mean?

Tax Year is also known as Previous Year or Financial Year. It refers to the 12-month period that starts on April 1st and ends on March 31st of the next year. Tax Year starts and ends on these exact dates irrespective of when you start your job. Tax Year is the duration for which income taxes are withheld for earnings or the year for which income tax return is being filed.

What is the amount of income on which tax is paid?

Income tax has to be paid on all of your sources of income. Your total income is the sum total of all the following major income sources:

  • Income from Salary
  • Income from House Property
  • Income from Gain or Loss obtained from selling a capital asset
  • Income from Business
  • Income from saving bank accounts, fixed deposits, family pensions, cash gifts, etc.

The amount of tax to be paid also depends on your age and gender as there are different income slabs for men, women, and senior citizens.

What are the documents required for filing income tax?

Filing income tax can be a daunting tax for first-timers. We recommend taking the help of an experienced chartered accountant. However, you will need to provide/submit the following documents:

  • Form 16 – provided by the company you’re employed at. This gives the details of the deductions made from your salary marking that you have paid the income tax on your salary
  • Form 16A – given by the bank or a financial institution where you have invested in term deposits. This form contains the details of deductions made on your term deposits
  • Bank Statement Summary – a detailed preview of the transactions made by you all through the financial year
  • Property details – details of any property bought or sold by you in the previous financial year have to be clearly shown during the filing
  • Interest Certificate – this document can help you save on taxes by showing that you’re paying back your house loan through monthly installments

Income taxes may seem daunting but they are an essential duty of all earning citizens also obliged upon them by the law. The collected amount helps in further development of the nation, and in an indirect way, is invested back on the citizens themselves.

Author Bio: Brenda Cagara

Brenda has been writing for websites, articles and blogs for five years now. She has written for a variety of niches but her main focus is business, tax, and finance. Currently, She is working with Riz & Mona Consultancy which offers company formation and branch office Dubai services. Other services are products registration, visa processing, bank account opening, trade license, trade mark, local sponsors and many more.

Get more from your tax refund

Before spending your tax refund – you might consider investing your refund
or using it to increase your financial security.

While everyone’s needs are different, here are some optional uses of your refund that may work for you.

Contribute your refund to your employer’s 401(k) plan. If your employer offers a matching contribution, that’s an immediate return on your money in addition to deferring taxes on your contribution. And, funds in the plan grow free of tax until withdrawal.

Use your refund to pay down credit card balances – you could earn a double-digit return.

Consider investing your refund in your child’s education. Both Section 529 college savings plans and education savings accounts offer tax-advantaged ways to save for college costs.

Take full advantage of your IRA options for retirement savings. Both Traditional and Roth IRAs are great ways to save for retirement.

If you’ve maximized your retirement and education savings, and your credit cards are under control, put your refund in diversified investments that make sense for your age and financial situation.

Ask yourself if getting a big refund every year is a smart idea. Would you rather invest your money during the year instead of making an interest-free loan to the government? If so, consider filing an updated Form W-4 with your employer.

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