Military Millennials: What’s Your Emergency Savings Tactical Mission Plan?

Military Millenials 6.30.16

Written by guest blogger Letty Stevens, AFC®

Millennial servicemembers, do you have an emergency savings SMEAC? Whether you’re just building emergency savings or adding to it, here’s a basic emergency savings tactical mission plan for you to use today. When you have a plan, it’s easier to save.

S: Situation

M: Mission

E: Execution

A: Administration and logistics

C: Command signal (terms, code and signals)

SITUATION: If you are not saving a percentage of each paycheck to create an emergency savings account and to save for your financial goals, you may have a serious situation on your hands. What stops someone from saving up for his or her financial goals? Let’s think about this. The opposite of saving is spending, and you are surrounded by this enemy every day. This enemy is highly trained in the marketing of its product. When you go into a grocery store, you are the target.

From the music you hear to the colors you see, everything is strategically implemented to get you to spend your hard earned money. Even Harvard contributes to the science of marketing. It’s no wonder so many people are in debt!

MISSION: The mission of Military Saves is to help you reduce debt and build long-term wealth through financial action. So, how do we learn to do this?

  • Reading: It is best to learn from those who are succeeding at financial management. Reading about financial management is a good start. You are reading this article, so we can check that box.
  • Speaking: Make talking about your finances a healthy conversation by focusing on goals. But who can you talk with? Who do you trust enough to speak freely about something as personal as your finances? If you are married, please start the conversation with your spouse. I reference this list before speaking with my spouse about our finances. If you are having a hard time speaking with your spouse about your finances, you can always get free assistance from financial professionals on your installation. Military OneSource also has financial counselors available, and they are just a phone call away.
  • Doing: This situation requires a plan. A financial plan is unique to the individual because it often depends on what you value. What do you value? When you know what your values are, you can easily identify where you want your money to go and, more importantly, where the financial holes are. This is the beginning of a budget. The younger you start learning, the more you can save.
  • Teaching: It is our parents who provide the foundation for our adult lives. Unfortunately, not everyone learns good money habits from their parents. If this is the case, teach yourself. Newly married couples teach each other. Parents, teach your children.

EXECUTION: Start the conversation today! The sooner you begin reading and talking about savings, the sooner you can start to change your behavior to line up with your financial goals. What percentage of your pay can you save per paycheck? When will you set up that automatic savings deposit at the bank? Who is your buddy who will hold you accountable? You have a stable paycheck and numerous resources to help you along as you create your financial plan and work on your financial goals.

ADMINISTRATION: You are the sole administrator of your finances. When a married servicemember deploys, the spouse often becomes the administrator. Should you seek expert advice, again the free financial counseling found on your installation is the way to go.

COMMAND/ SIGNAL: You are a confident servicemember. Are you confident that you can reduce your spending and increase your saving? Since you’ve already started by reading this blog, you should be confident. Keep reading, keep learning and keep saving.

Set a goal. Make a plan. Save automatically.

Advertisements

Want to Open Your Own Business? Start Here

Image courtesy of Gratisography / Ryan McGuire | freerangestock.com
Image courtesy of Gratisography / Ryan McGuire | freerangestock.com

Reposted from my column in the Portland Business Tribune.

When you envision your dream job, you probably think about things such as the difference you’ll make in the world, what your office or store will look like, how much money you’ll make, how satisfied and accomplished you’ll feel at the end of each week.

I feel fairly confident in assuming that your vision does not include a boss. In your dream job, you’d be your own boss! You’d be an entrepreneur, living out the American Dream.

You’ve spent countless hours imagining it, so why not go for it? What holds most people back from taking the leap and starting their own business—manifesting their dream job—is uncertainty and fear.

The cold, hard truth is that about half of all new businesses don’t make it past five years, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA); only a third survive 10 years or more.

Yet small businesses are everywhere, the backbone of our communities. There are more than 340,000 small businesses in Oregon, according to the SBA. In spite of the possibility of failure, people are still trying. And when true entrepreneurs fail, they learn from it and try again.

There’s no question that owning your own business is risky. But with risk comes reward. To paraphrase French author André Gide, you can’t cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.

The following guidance may help you get closer to turning your dream job into a reality.

Do what you know and love. Don’t start a business because you think you’ll get rich quick. A business built around your passion and talent is much more likely to succeed. If your heart isn’t in it, your chances of growing and being profitable are slim.

Make a business plan. This is your roadmap to success. Describe what makes you stand out from your competitors, who your target customers are and how you plan to market your business. A well written business plan will also support your request for funding from your bank or government programs.

Be wise with money. Save up as much as you can before launching your business, but you’ll likely still need financing. Check with the SBA to find resources and government-backed loans. If you’ll need retail or office space, location is important, but keep a budget in mind and try to negotiate on price. When you’re up and running, keep a detailed profit and loss statement, and always keep current on your loan payments, taxes and bills.

Stay in compliance. Find out from the IRS what business taxes you’ll need to pay. Check with the Washington Department of RevenueOregon Secretary of State or Alaska Department of Commerce to find out if you need to register your business with the state. A specialty license may also be required, depending on the type of work you’ll be doing.

Manage your reputation. It’s a given that potential customers or clients will search online for information about you and your business. According to research by ZenDesk, 88 percent of people have been influenced by an online review. Take a little time each day to work on your website and social media profiles, and respond to positive and negative comments in a professional manner. Delivering on your promises is essential, too. Build trust by doing what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Chances are you won’t get it exactly, perfectly right the first time. You will experience ups and downs, successes and failures. If your idea isn’t panning out, reflect on the mistakes you’ve made and what went wrong, and think about what you could have done differently. Don’t let your ego keep you from calling it quits when it’s appropriate. If it’s time to walk away, take time to regroup—and then try again.

#BBBinRipCity: Why the Trail Blazers/BBB Partnership Works

bbb_trailblazers_sponsor_headerIt’s game time! As the Portland Trail Blazers enter the NBA playoffs as a No. 4 seed, capping off what has been an exhilarating 2015 season, many wonder just how far they will go. But for Better Business Bureau, who is a proud sponsor of the Blazers, it can’t get much better than this.

BBB and the Blazers entered into a partnership last year sharing a common interest in educating, community support and consumer protection. And with the help of BBB’s Accredited Businesses, the Blazer/BBB partnership has come to fruition.

So, was it worth it?

You better believe it.

Spencer Mitton with his $10,000 scholarship check from BBB Foundation.
Spencer Mitton with his $10,000 scholarship check from BBB Foundation in March 2015.

I was in awe last month when I watched 18-year-old Spencer Mitton of Anchorage, Alaska, accept a $10,000 scholarship check from BBB CEO Tyler Andrew in front of 20,000 cheering fans during the Portland Trail Blazers halftime show. It was a huge moment for this young man, BBB and the Blazers because it reinforced the commitment that both organizations made to improve the lives of young consumers.

Like the Blazers, BBB strives to stay relevant—which has been increasingly difficult in today’s digital world. A partnership with the Blazers put BBB back into the mix.

During the 2014-15 season, the Blazers partnership connected BBB with 950,000 fans across the Northwest. With the support of our Accredited Business partners, BBB’s brand and mission was showcased in front of fans during every home game, in the community, at an exclusive watch party, during the first-ever Blazers/BBB Business Summit at the Moda Center and now in the playoffs.

This is a partnership that works—for everyone.

BBB staff with Jerome Kersey and Blaze the Trail Cat at BBB Secure Your ID Day in October 2014.
BBB staff with Jerome Kersey and Blaze the Trail Cat at BBB Secure Your ID Day in October 2014.

“We have already had the pleasure of working successfully with BBB,” said Steve Scott, Trail Blazers Vice President of Corporate Partnerships Marketing & Sales. “Based on our experience with BBB during Secure Your ID Day, we know this partnership will provide security to many deserving members of our community.”

Now with the NBA playoffs in motion, BBB and our participating Accredited Businesses have an even bigger opportunity to leave our mark. As thousands of fans pile into the Moda Center, they’ll see BBB’s seal on the LED board, hear about our mission over the radio and read about us in the Rip City Magazine. This connection drives trust and connects consumers with an added resource to help improve their lives.

Just ask Spencer Mitton, who created this 90-second video about BBB:

His video entry on how BBB protects people from identity theft earned him a scholarship to BYU so he could pursue a career in engineering.

So the next time you’re at a Blazers game, or when you’re watching them on TV during the playoffs, look for the seal and be reassured that the Blazers/BBB partnership is not only working, but making a difference to the people we serve.

Watch Out for IRS Scams

Image courtesy of Adamophoto | freerangestock.com

During the final two weeks of the tax filing season, scammers are increasing their efforts to impersonate the Internal Revenue Service in attempts to steal money or personal information from consumers.

Taxpayers should be alert for these two common IRS scams.

1. The Phone Scam

You receive a phone call from someone claiming to be an IRS agent. They demand immediate payment via prepaid card or wire transfer, and they threaten you with jail time, deportation or driver’s license suspension. They may even know the last four digits of your Social Security number or other personal information.

The truth: The IRS will never call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill or giving you the opportunity to appeal the amount they claim you owe. They will not ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone, nor will they require you use a specific payment method. They will not threaten you.

How to spot the scam:

  • You have received nothing in the mail from the IRS.
  • They demand payment immediately.
  • They threaten to get the local police or an immigration agency involved.

What to do:

  • If you know or suspect you do owe taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040. They can help you with a payment issue.
  • If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 800-366-4484 or report it online at the IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting Page.
  • File a report through the Federal Trade Commission’s FTC Complaint Assistant. Include the words “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.

2. The Email Scam

You receive an email that claims to be from the IRS, telling you that you’re eligible to receive a tax refund for a given amount. It instructs you to click on a link in the email to access a form for the tax refund. The form requires the entry of personal and financial information.

The truth: Taxpayers do not have to complete a special form to obtain a refund; refunds are based on the tax return they submit to the IRS. The IRS does not initiate taxpayer contact via unsolicited email or ask for personal identifying or financial information via email.

How to spot the scam:

  • The email requests detailed personal and financial information.
  • It dangles bait to get you to respond to the email and threatens a consequence for not responding.
  • It gets the Internal Revenue Service or other federal agency names wrong.
  • It uses incorrect grammar or odd phrasing.
  • It links to a site that’s not the actual IRS website (www.irs.gov).

What to do:

  • Do not open any attachments or click on any links in the email.
  • Contact the IRS at 800-829-1040 to determine if the IRS is truly trying to contact you.
  • Forward the suspicious email to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov, then delete the email from your inbox.

Alaska Student Wins BBB Scholarship Contest

This year, Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington offered one $10,000 scholarship for a student (or up to three students on a team) in our three-state region. High school seniors applied for the scholarship by creating a 90-second video demonstrating how BBB helps people become smarter consumers. Judges evaluated the applications based on BBB branding, effort and creativity, content and total website views.

Spencer Mitton (center)
Spencer Mitton (center)

Spencer Mitton, a student at South Anchorage High School in Alaska, won this year’s contest from a pool of 16 finalists (individuals and teams). His video offers consumer tips on preventing identity fraud, garnering more than 2,000 views on YouTube.

Spencer grew up in Anchorage and plans to attend Brigham Young University this fall to study engineering. He has always been strong in math and science but found that he also enjoys creative projects. He has been studying graphic design on his own since middle school—a talent that is evident by his winning video. Spencer would eventually like to combine innovation with math and science in the technology industry.

Currently the captain of his high school cross-country running team, Spencer would like to continue competitive running while attending college. During the summer months, Spencer runs his own business mowing lawns and teaching piano for clientele that he has built over the past few years.

Spencer is also the winner of the Anchorage School District’s Spirit of Youth Award and has earned the Eagle Scout award for community service.

National Consumer Protection Week

Your ‪BBB‬ is partnering with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office to celebrate National Consumer Protection Week from March 1-7. Below, we’ve compiled warning signs and tips on 6 of the most common scams we’ve seen affect local consumers.

Be an informed consumer; avoid scams and fraud!

https://www.flickr.com/photos/zak/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/zak/

1. Phishing emails ask for personal info and may contain links to malware. Antivirus software can help, but the best protection is a good sense of judgment. Legitimate companies and government agencies never ask you to confirm personal info via email.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/rreyes-2010/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/rreyes-2010/

2. Don’t fall victim to an advance-fee loan scam. Check out the company at bbb.org/search. Be skeptical of any offer where you have to pay money up front. Walk away if you’re asked for money immediately, especially if it’s supposedly for “insurance,” “processing,” or “paperwork.”

https://www.flickr.com/photos/armydre2008/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/armydre2008/

3. With overpayment scams, a buyer “accidentally” sends you a check for more than the amount they owe. They ask you to deposit it and wire them the difference. The original check turns out to be a fake, leaving you on the hook to pay the bank for any money withdrawn. Always wait for a deposit to clear before writing checks against the funds—it can take weeks to uncover a fake check.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/filterforge/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/filterforge/

4. Identity theft scams come in all shapes and sizes—grandchildren “stranded” in a foreign country, the hotel front desk “verifying” your credit card in the middle of the night, “charity” solicitations from groups you’ve never supported in the past. Never give your Social Security, bank account or credit card numbers to someone who has contacted you to ask for them.

winner5. In a lottery/sweepstakes scam, you get an unsolicited phone call, email or letter stating you’ve won a prize, but in order to collect the winnings, you have to wire a small sum of money to pay for “processing fees” or “taxes.” You never get your “winnings,” and the scammer has your money. You never have to pay to receive legitimate winnings.

Wixphoto.com | FreeRangeStock.com
Wixphoto.com | FreeRangeStock.com

6. Itinerant contractors move around, keeping a step ahead of the law… and angry consumers. They knock on your door with a story or a deal: a roofer spots missing shingles on your roof, a paver has leftover asphalt and can give you a deal on driveway resealing. Then you can’t track them down after they’ve left you with a shoddy or incomplete job. Never agree to do business with someone you haven’t researched first. Start at bbb.org/search.

Go to ncpw.gov to find more consumer tips and free materials from government and private organizations.

Lottery Scams Target Seniors

junkmail
One day’s worth of mail for one victim.

Better Business Bureau sees scams reported to us by individuals in all age groups, but I have particularly noted that lottery scams appear to prey on seniors. Or maybe seniors are more susceptible to this type of scam because of their age.

Just in the past few months, I have had reports of three different individuals, ranging in age from late 60s to early 90s, who have fallen victim to lottery scams. We’re not talking a few hundred dollars, either. Two of these victims have sent more than $30,000, and the third has wired more than $100,000 to scammers. And they haven’t just been scammed once, but several times. Who knows if it was the same or different con artists that scammed these individuals multiple times?

It appears that once someone falls victim to a scam, their name ends up on a list. These lists of “easy targets” are often sold or traded between scammers.

I spoke to one woman who sent checks to alleged charities that requested money for sick children. She received phone calls as well as letters asking for her help. She told me it was difficult to turn down these requests because they involved children. Now she receives upwards of 40 pieces of mail a day from fake lotteries and charities. She wonders if the money she sent really went to any sick children. I don’t think so.

So why are seniors more vulnerable to these types of scams? There is evidence that as we age, we lose cognitive ability, and we may process information more slowly. These scammers are skilled at convincing the elderly that they must act now or they will lose out on their winnings. They are coerced into making instant decisions, leaving the individual no time to think, research or talk to family members. Additionally, seniors may be isolated and living alone. They react emotionally rather than rationally.

Seniors are prime targets for financial exploitation for other reasons, too. They may have a significant nest egg, although plenty of low-income victims are at risk. At an older age, this is especially devastating because there is no time to recoup financial losses. Once victims realize they have been scammed, they may be too embarrassed to tell family members or friends. They also may not remember details to help with investigation and prosecution. In two of the cases I mentioned, the victims were eventually threatened with bodily harm to themselves or their families if they did not continue to send money to the scammers.

Some important reminders:

  • You can’t win a contest you didn’t enter.
  • It is illegal for U.S. citizens to participate in foreign lotteries.
  • You do not have to pay money in order to receive a legitimate prize.
  • Never wire money or put money on a pre-paid debit card – both are the same as sending cash. There is no way to trace the money or to get it back once sent.

One helpful note I received while doing this research: Due to multistate settlements with Western Union and Moneygram, the Attorney General’s office can request that a fraud victim be blocked from wiring money. If you have a family member who has been a victim, call 206-464-6684 (WA), 503-229-5576 (OR) or 907-269-5200 (AK) for help. Also contact your local Better Business Bureau office at 206-431-2222 (WA), 503-212-3022 (OR) or 907-562-0704 (AK) to report the experience.

Two Ways Tax Scammers Might Target You

Reposted from Federal Trade Commission.

It’s that time of year — tax time. It’s also a great time to get up to speed on tax-related scams. Here are two ways tax scammers might target you:

1. Tax identity theft
This kind of identity theft happens when someone files a fake tax return using your personal information — like your Social Security number — to get a tax refund or a job. You find out about it when you get a letter from the IRS saying:

  • more than one tax return was filed in your name, or
  • IRS records show wages from an employer you don’t know.

If you get a letter like this, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490. You can find more about tax identity theft at ftc.gov/taxidtheft and irs.gov/identitytheft.

2. IRS imposter scams
This time scammers aren’t pretending to be you — they’re posing as the IRS. They call you up saying you owe taxes, and threaten to arrest you if you don’t pay right away. They might know all or part of your Social Security number, and they can rig caller ID to make it look like the call is coming from Washington, DC – when it could be coming from anywhere. Leaving you no time to think, they tell you to put the money on a prepaid debit card and tell them the card number right away.

The real IRS won’t ask you to pay with prepaid debit cards or wire transfers, and won’t ask for a credit card number over the phone. When the IRS contacts people about unpaid taxes, they usually do it by mail.

If you have a question about your taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 or go to irs.gov. You can report IRS imposter scams to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) online or at 800-366-4484, and to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

End the Year on a Good Note

2015loadingReposted from my column in the Portland Business Tribune.

The year is winding down, and the holidays are upon us.

The remaining days of your 2014 calendar are likely filled with parties, dinners and family gatherings. It’s time to put business on the back burner and spend some quality time with loved ones. You deserve a break!

If you are planning to switch off from your business around the end of December, you’ll need to do a little planning ahead to ensure you don’t lose any momentum as we transition into a new year.

1. Send holiday cards to customers
If you haven’t already, send a holiday card to your valued customers, clients and subscribers. You don’t have to be William Shakespeare — a simple holiday greeting and a note of appreciation will suffice. Keep the message short and fairly generic and avoid cards that are religious or humorous.

Sending an e-card for free may be tempting, but it will not be nearly as effective as a traditional card hand-delivered by the postal service. Emailed cards could be mistaken for spam, and they just don’t have the same personal impact. Customers want to do business with companies that make them feel appreciated. By sending physical cards, not only are you spreading some holiday cheer, but you are keeping your company in your customers’ thoughts.

Because the postal service is busy around the holidays, try to get your cards in the mail by Dec. 13 so they arrive before the end of the year.

2. Schedule your social media posts
Many social media platforms allow a business to create a post and schedule it to be published at a later date and time, effectively putting your pages on auto-pilot. You can also sync many of your social media pages so that, for example, when you publish a new blog entry, it is automatically posted on your Facebook and Twitter pages. Check out each site’s FAQ or help sections for detailed instructions on these processes.

3. Organize and clean your inbox and computer
Clean up your inbox and computer files and attend to those less-important items that you’ve been putting off. Archive items you need to keep but to which you do not need immediate access. File documents into their proper folders for easy access later on. Having a clean office environment and computer will do wonders for getting off to a good start in 2015.

4. Get your financials in order
Make time to go over your 2014 budget and your actual revenues and expenses. This will help you plan your finances for 2015. Are you over-spending in any areas? Adjust and get back on track in the new year. Are there any outstanding invoices you need to send out? Send them out now. As a bonus, by getting your financials in order now, you are getting a head start on tax season!

5. Set up your out-of-office systems
Customers may have questions over the holidays, so make sure they’re not left waiting for answers. Change your voicemail message to explain your plan for the holidays and when you will return. Also set up an automatic email reply with the same information.

If there are any files or documents you want to work on during your holiday break, email them to yourself or use a digital drop box to make them available wherever you are. However, I do recommend taking a real break from all work-related activity. It is perfectly OK to take a step back, relax and recharge your batteries!

What You Need to Know about Scholarships and Financial Aid

Image courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/people/pictures-of-money
Image courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/people/pictures-of-money

Millions of students depend on grants and scholarships to pay for college, and applying for financial aid can be confusing.

Some companies claim they can help, but they often end up charging fees for information and assistance that students could have gotten for free elsewhere!

Before paying a company to find financial aid for college, do your research and listen for the following red flags:

  • “The scholarship is guaranteed or your money back.” No one can guarantee they will get you a grant or scholarship. Refund guarantees usually have so many conditions or strings attached that it is almost impossible for consumers to get their money back.
  • “You can’t get this information anywhere else.” Scholarship information is widely available in books, at libraries, at financial aid offices and on the Internet.
  • “We’ll do all the work.” Only students and parents can determine and provide the financial information needed to complete the forms.
  • “You’ve been selected by a national foundation to receive a scholarship.” If you have not entered a competition sponsored by the foundation, this claim is highly unlikely.
  • “May I have your credit card or bank account number to hold this scholarship?” This is never a requirement for a legitimate scholarship offer.
  • “The scholarship will cost some money.” Legitimate scholarship offers never require payment of any kind.

In 2015, your Better Business Bureau is offering a $10,000 scholarship to one lucky high school senior in Western Washington, Oregon or Alaska. It is 100% free to enter–all it takes is a little creativity! Click here for details.

scholarship_banner_header