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Be Careful When Hiring a Contractor

April 24th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle

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Spring is a great time to work on those projects you could not get to during winter. Whether your home improvement projects are large or small, it is important to know what to look for when hiring a reliable contractor. If a contractor does not have the proper licenses or insurance coverage, it could cost you in the end. Below are some tips to help you complete your project successfully.

1. Make a list of potential contractors and interview them prior to signing a contract.

Some questions to ask are:

  • Is the company state-licensed and registered?
  • What types of permits are required for the project?
  • How many projects similar to this one have you completed?
  • Will you be using a subcontractor?
  • How long will the project take?
  • Will you be working on my project full-time?

2. Requesting Bids

Obtain a written bid from at least three prospective contractors. Make sure the bid includes materials, labor rates and a time frame to complete the job.

3. Checking References

It is smart to check at least three references provided by the contractors. Ask the references if they were pleased with the work done, and if they came across any issues. Also ask if the job was completed on time and within budget.

4. Licensing and Insurance

Prior to hiring a contractor, ask to see a current, valid contractor’s license (if they are required in your state) and proof of insurance. It is important that a contractor has the following coverage:

  • Worker’s compensation – Provides coverage to workers for job-related injuries and is required in most states.
  • General Liability – This coverage helps protect negligent acts or omissions resulting in property damage or bodily injury to the contractor’s employees or hired subcontractors.

Remember! It is critical that your contractor have the appropriate insurance when working on a project. If they do not carry the proper insurance, you are ultimately liable because the work is being done on your property.

If you are planning on a home improvement project and want to make sure that you and your contractor have proper coverage, PRIMESolutions Advisors can point you in the right direction.

The Heartbleed Threat

April 24th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Financial News

How vulnerable are your accounts? 

Heartbleed-Refresh

A plague at the heart of the Internet. Anyone who ventures online should be aware of the risks posed by Heartbleed, the biggest threat to Internet security in at least a couple of years. All Internet users need to respond to its reality.

What is it? Heartbleed isn’t a virus, but a software bug – a distressing flaw in web encryption technology, specifically a defect in the widely used Open SSL cryptographic software library.1

Heartbleed was recently detected by Google Security researcher Neel Mehta and researchers at Internet security firm Codenomicon. They determined that all versions of OpenSSL released between March 14, 2012 and April 7, 2014 contained the bug. This flaw in RAM is hugely problematic, as popular open-source Web servers like Apache and ngnix use OpenSSL to protect user security.1,2

What kind of damage can it do? SSL is the software that gives you the secure connection (https://) on assorted websites. Potentially, the Heartbleed flaw in OpenSSL can let identity thieves snare enormous numbers of username/password combinations from such websites – without a trace.1,3

What websites are still vulnerable? The list is changing (and fortunately, decreasing) daily. Head to the respected tech website Mashable.com for a frequently updated “Heartbleed Hit List” (Google “Heartbleed hit list” and you’ll get there in a click).4

Some vulnerable websites have promptly patched the Heartbleed defect, and this means that you should be changing your password at those websites, which include Facebook, Pinterest, Google, Yahoo! and others. If you don’t, you are leaving yourself open to identity theft.4

Fortunately, very few of the big banking and day trading websites use OpenSSL; none have reported security issues so far. LinkedIn, AOL, PayPal and eBay also report that they are unaffected. The IRS reports no problems with its website.4

How can you protect yourself? Head to Mashable.com’s list to see where you must change your password. Change passwords at those websites, and don’t use the same new password for one site at another.

Some people like to use password managers such as Dashlane and LastPass – these are software programs that generate random, unique and very strong passwords for websites you visit, and which automatically enter them for you. You will actually never know these passwords; they will be hidden behind a single master password.5

Italian cybersecurity specialist Filippo Valsorda has a tool (filippo.io/Heartbleed/) where you can test a website (specifically, its server) to see if it is suffering from Heartbleed. Type in the website address and hit “go”; if the website is “all good”, it has been patched for Heartbleed, but your password should still be changed anyway as a precaution; if the test finds it “vulnerable,” that means you should refrain from changing a password for the moment and wait for the site to be secured. If you change passwords prior to the site being secured, you may actually be putting yourself at greater risk than you previously were.5,6

Be safe, stay alert. While the response to Heartbleed has been necessarily swift, it reminds us that we need to be vigilant and that online security can sometimes be overstated. So change those relevant passwords for sites that have been patched, if you haven’t done so already.

http://mashable.com/2014/04/09/heartbleed-bug-websites-affected/

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.
1 – theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/04/the-5-things-to-do-about-the-new-heartbleed-bug/360395/ [4/9/14]
2 – tinyurl.com/pt4u4jd [4/8/14]
3 – forbes.com/sites/jameslyne/2014/04/08/heartbeat-heartbleed-bug-breaks-worldwide-internet-security-again-and-yahoo/ [4/8/14]
4 – mashable.com/2014/04/09/heartbleed-bug-websites-affected/ [4/12/14]
5 – slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2014/04/10/password_managers_can_protect_you_from_vulnerabilities_like_heartbleed.html [4/10/14]
6 – latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-tn-heartbleed-test-check-safe-sites-20140409,0,2218732.story#axzz2ytqRwphB [4/9/14]

The Retirement We Imagine, the Retirement We Live

April 24th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Financial News

Examining the potential differences between assumption & reality.

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Financially, how might retirement differ from your expectations? To some degree, it will. Just as few weathercasters can accurately predict a month’s worth of temperatures and storms, few retirees find their financial futures playing out as precisely as they assumed.

As you approach or enter retirement, you may find that your spending and your exit from your career don’t quite match your expectations. You may be surprised by these developments, even pleasantly surprised by some of them.

Few retirees actually outlive their money. If this was truly a crisis, we would see federal and state governments and social services agencies addressing it relentlessly. The vast majority of retirees are wise about their savings and income: they don’t spend recklessly, and if they need to live on less at a certain point, they live on less. It isn’t an ideal choice, but it is a prudent one. Health crises can and do impoverish retirees and leave them dependent on Medicaid, but that tends to occur toward the very end of retirement rather than the start.

You may not need to retire on 70-80% of your end salary. This is a common guideline for new retirees, but according to some analysts, you may not need to withdraw that much for long.

In the initial phase of retirement, you will probably want to travel, explore new pursuits and hobbies and get around to some things you may have put on the back burner. So in the first few years away from work, you might spend roughly as much as you did before you retired. After that, you could spend less.

Bureau of Labor Statistics data is very revealing about this. JP Morgan Asset Management recently studied U.S. household spending and found that it peaks at age 48. The average U.S. household headed by people aged 65-74 spends only 63% as much as a household headed by people aged 55-64. Additionally, the average household headed by people 75 and older spends only 72% as much as the average household headed by people aged 65-74.1

In the big picture, households run by those 75 and older typically spend about half as much per year as households headed by people in their late forties.1

Further interesting analysis of BLS statistics and retirement spending patterns comes from David Blanchett, the head of retirement research at Morningstar Investment Management. He sees a correlation between career earnings and retirement spending, one contrary to many presumptions. Comparatively speaking, he notes that higher-earning retirees commonly have to replace less of their income once their careers conclude. As he commented to Money Magazine, “the household that makes $40,000 a year might have an 85% replacement rate, and the household making $100,000 a year might need 60%.”2

Why, exactly? The upper-income household is watching its costs fall away in retirement. The home loan, the private school tuition, dining out due to convenience, the professional wardrobe, the car payment, the workplace retirement plan contribution – this is where the money goes. When these costs are reduced or absent, you spend less to live. Blanchett believes that the whole 70-80% guideline may “overestimate the true cost of retirement for many people by as much as 20%.”2

Your annual withdrawal rate could vary notably. Anything from healthcare expenses to a dream vacation to a new entrepreneurial venture could affect it. So could the performance of the stock or bond market.

You could retire before you anticipate. You may want to work well into your sixties or beyond – and the longer you wait to claim Social Security benefits after age 62, the greater your monthly payout. Reality, on the other hand, shows that most people don’t retire at age 66, 67 or 70: according to Gallup, the average retirement age in this country is 61. The aforementioned JP Morgan Asset Management study determined that less than 2% of Americans wait until age 70 to claim Social Security benefits. So if your assumption is that you will work to full retirement age (or later), you should keep in mind that you may find yourself electing to claim Social Security earlier, if only to avert drawing down your retirement savings too quickly.1

You don’t have to be a millionaire to have a happy retirement. In a 2011 Consumer Reports poll of U.S. retirees, 68% of respondents were “highly satisfied” with their lives irrespective of their financial standing. Backing that up, JP Morgan Asset Management found that retiree satisfaction increased only incrementally the more retirement spending surpassed $40,000 a year.1

The retirement you live may be slightly different than the retirement you have imagined. Fortunately, retirement planning and retirement income strategies may be revised in response.

This material was prepared by MarketingLibrary.Net Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.
1 – reuters.com/article/2014/03/12/us-column-stern-advice-idUSBREA2B1R020140312 [3/12/14]
2 – money.cnn.com/2014/02/26/retirement/retirement-spending.moneymag/index.html [2/26/14]

April Monthly Economic Update

April 24th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Monthly Economic Update

April - Monthly Economic Update

Don’t Want Your Identity Stolen? Better Do This

April 24th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle

Don’t_Want_Your_Identity_StolenLinda Foley of San Diego didn’t think twice about filling out the tax forms her employer handed her. That is, until a credit card company called her to confirm her change of address — and she hadn’t moved. That’s when she learned her employer had used her Social Security Number to get credit cards and a cell phone. The trauma of that experience — and the months it took to repair her credit — led Foley to start the Identity Theft Resource Center to help the millions of others trying to recover their identities, too.

Identity theft costs Americans more than all other property crimes combined — more than burglary, theft and car theft, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Some cases take months or even years to resolve. Those who’ve suffered the worst kind of identity theft, where new accounts are opened in their names, are far more likely to report financial hardship, emotional distress and problems with work and family relationships than those whose existing accounts were taken over.

There’s no foolproof way to prevent identity theft. Too much of your private, personal information is already out there, stored in poorly-protected databases that are catnip to those who want to steal it. But you can take steps to dramatically reduce the odds of becoming a victim. Here are some of the most effective.

Get Stingy With Your Social

Your Social Security Number is the key to your identity. With it, identity thieves can pose as you to open new accounts, get health care and even get you arrested for crimes they commit. Yet Social Security Numbers have become an all-purpose identifier for private businesses that don’t really need to know them (even my vet asked for it once!). Social Security Numbers may be required for transactions involving credit, government benefits, banking and taxes. Otherwise, demand to know why you’re being asked for this number, what will happen if you refuse and what measures the business takes to safeguard private information from identity thieves. If you don’t like the answers, keep your numbers to yourself.

Be Vigilant Online

Ultimately, the second Target store breach — the one involving customers’ names, email addresses and phone numbers — may prove more costly than the compromise of millions of credit and debit cards. Thieves can use this nonfinancial information in phishing and other scams to dupe recipients into downloading viruses or revealing more personal data. The sophistication and variety of these scams mean you need to be ever-vigilant. Install, update and regularly run anti-malware software. Update your browsers and operating systems when security patches are released. Most importantly, be extremely wary about clicking on links in emails and social media. If you’re not absolutely sure of the source or where you’re going, don’t bite. You could end up on an identity thief’s site or downloading malware that could help the bad guys steal your identity.

Freeze Your Credit

Also known as a security freeze, this maneuver locks down your credit reports to help prevent identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name (the most traumatic and hardest-to-fix kind of identity theft). Credit freezes won’t prevent thieves from misusing your existing accounts, however, and your current lenders will still be able to view your files. You’re given a personal identification number to “thaw” your credit report when you want to apply for new credit, bank accounts, cell service or other business that requires a credit check.

Credit freezes involve some hassle and they aren’t free, unless you’re already an identity theft victim with a police report to prove it. The cost to freeze your report at each credit bureau is typically $10 (so $30 for all three bureaus), while thawing it usually costs another $10 per bureau. You should consider a freeze if you’ve already been victimized by new-account fraud, you’ve been told your Social Security Number has been compromised — or if it will just help you sleep better at night.

Alert Lenders

If a credit freeze sounds like too much work, you can quickly put a fraud alert on your credit reports for free. Just contact one of the three credit bureaus (it’s easy to do online), and they’re required to inform the other two. Fraud alerts signal to businesses that they should verify the identity of someone trying to open accounts in your name. The downside: Fraud alerts only last 90 days, although you can renew them, and there’s no guarantee a lender will heed them. If you’re already the victim of identity theft, you can qualify for an extended fraud alert that lasts seven years, but you probably should opt for a freeze instead.

E-file Your Taxes Early

“Stolen identity refund theft” — where someone else files a bogus tax return in your name and makes off with your refund — is a multi-billion-dollar business these days. The IRS has 3,000 of its employees working on identity theft cases, twice the number from a year ago, but if someone beats you to your refund, you may have to wait weeks or even months to see your money.

Filing your taxes electronically as soon as possible after tax season opens in late January can help reduce the odds thieves will grab your money first. (Sorry late filers — there’s always next year.) Also, if you’ve lost your wallet or been told your Social Security Number has been compromised, you should contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490, extension 245, to notify them of the issue.

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Be Prepared for Severe Storms

April 24th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle

Severe storms strike most likely from April to July. Long before storm season sets in, you should prepare for a storm and know how to stay safe.

Before the storm:

  • Assemble a kit of essentials, like water, battery-operated flashlights and radios. Keep a list of emergency phone numbers that includes the electric utility. Be prepared for the possibility of a prolonged outage due to power line and electric equipment damage.
  • During an outage, switch off lights and appliances to prevent overloading circuits and damaging appliances when power is restored. Leave one lamp or switch on as a signal for when your power returns.
  • If severe weather is on its way, pay attention to local weather reports and recommendations. A tornado or severe storm watch means that conditions are favorable for those weather conditions forming. A warning means that dangerous weather conditions are developing and imminent.
  • Consider having Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) professionally installed or purchasing a portable GFCI. GFCIs detect dangerous electrical situations, and cut off power before a person can be shocked. These dangerous electrical situations are likely to occur around water, so GFCIs are recommended in bathrooms, laundry rooms, kitchens, and anywhere else where water and electricity may meet.
  • Lightning can travel up to ten miles away from a storm, so seek shelter as soon as you hear thunder.

After the storm:

  • When venturing outside, stay away from downed power lines and be alert to the possibility that tree limbs or debris may hide an electrical hazard. Assume that any dangling wires you encounter are energized and dangerous. Warn others to stay away and contact the electric utility.
  • If you are driving and come upon a downed power line, stay in your vehicle, warn others to stay away and contact emergency personnel or electric utility. Also when driving, be careful at intersections where traffic lights may be out. Stop at all railroad crossings, and treat road intersections with traffic signals as a four-way stop before proceeding with caution.
  • Before re-entering storm-damaged buildings or rooms, be sure all electric and gas services are turned off. Never attempt to turn off power at the breaker box if you must stand in water to do so. If you can’t reach your breaker box safely, call your electric utility to shut off power at the meter.
  • Never step into a flooded basement or other area if water is covering electrical outlets, appliances or cords. Be alert to any electrical equipment that could be energized and in contact with water. Never touch electrical appliances, cords or wires while you are wet or standing in water.
  • Do not use water damaged electronics until a qualified electrician has inspected them and ensured they are safe.
  • When using a generator, follow all manufacturers’ recommendations. Keep the generator dry and never plug it into a wall outlet or directly into the home’s wiring. This could inadvertently energize the utility lines and injure yourself or others working to restore power. Your generator should be installed with a transfer switch to prevent electricity from leaving your generator and going into power lines where it can kill line men.

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Homebrewing Fundamentals – All-Grain Brewing Basics

April 24th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle

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