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When freedom rings: top tips to help launch your own business

Fri, 09/05/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - With summer bringing the celebration of our country’s freedom and a bit more flexibility in our hectic schedules, it’s also a time to reflect on the American dream: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. For many Americans, that means seeking success and prosperity by building their own business.

Approximately 15 million people in the United States are self-employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These small business owners are the lifeblood of the economy, accounting for 63 percent of net new jobs created between 1993 and 2013. Many small business owners find running their business extremely rewarding, according to the Bank of America spring 2014 Small Business Owner Report, a semi-annual study exploring the concerns, aspirations and perspectives of small business owners across the country. The report found that when asked what their greatest accomplishment is, the top three answers among small business owners are: having enough money to support their family, being their own boss and doing what they love.

However, entrepreneurship takes extreme dedication; the report found that nearly three quarters (72 percent) of small business owners have made significant sacrifices in their personal lives to run their business. While running a business can be exciting and liberating, it can also be challenging. So how do you know if it’s the right time to take the leap and start your own business?

“Starting your own business can seem daunting, but most of the time, once you go solo, you will never look back,” says Steve Strauss, a leading small business expert and columnist. “Small business owners truly embody the American dream. There are seemingly endless opportunities when you are your own boss. It allows for more creativity and flexibility, not to mention more independence. But before you begin, talk to experts and other small business owners who have gone through the process. Just because you are in charge does not mean you have to figure out everything alone.”

Here are four tips to consider before you launch your own business:

1. Do your research before writing a business plan. As a first step, analyze the market to make sure your idea is something that will resonate with people in your area. Are you filling a void? Are other businesses already offering the same product or service? Figure out what sets your business apart, and then write a detailed plan taking everything you’ve learned into consideration. This document will serve as your roadmap for the first three to five years.

2. Set up a support system. Find an accountant who specializes in your type and size of business. Retain an attorney to review your paperwork and help you identify the best legal structure for your business. Connect with other small business owners through online platforms like the Bank of America Small Business Community or through networking events and ask them to share their best practices. Having a reliable support system that you can depend on for guidance and advice will ensure you get started on the right foot.

3. Determine your source of financing. A dedicated small business banker who knows your community and industry can provide advice on what traditional financial products, such as term loans and lines of credit, your business may qualify for. Crowdfunding, venture capital, lending clubs and angel investors are also potential options, depending on the size and structure of your business.

4. Leverage your digital assets. With the rise of the mobile revolution, the size of your business doesn’t matter nearly as much as how connected it is. Learn how to manage your business accounts on your phone or tablet. Develop a social media or mobile marketing campaign to reach new customers. Download apps that help with everyday tasks like note taking, scheduling and website building. A multitude of affordable tools are available online to help you get started quickly.

The number of small businesses in this country has increased 49 percent since 1982, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, and many view small businesses as the cornerstone of the U.S. economy.

“Entrepreneurship allows individuals to pursue their dreams and to contribute to the success of their neighborhoods,” says Robb Hilson, small business executive at Bank of America. “Our most recent Small Business Owner Report shows that the majority of small business owners are feeling optimistic about growth in the coming year. This optimism underscores the need for dedicated resources in their communities, which is why we’re hiring an additional 200 small business bankers around the country this year."

Categories: Lifestyle

Your credit scores: What you don't know could cost you

Wed, 09/03/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Do you know what your credit scores are? If you don’t, you’re not alone. In fact, many people know very little about their credit scores, what they are or how they work. And they certainly don’t understand that having low credit scores can have a big impact on their future.

Are you one of these people?

Recent research from the Consumer Federation of America and VantageScore Solutions highlights some of the crucial credit score information most people don’t know. According to the survey that polled 1,000 American consumers, almost half of the respondents did not know that a credit score measures the risk of a person’s likelihood to default in 90 days, as opposed to factors such as knowledge of - or attitude toward - consumer credit. This is paramount, as lenders typically review a person’s various credit scores before authorizing a loan.  

The youth factor

Although people of all ages showed a lack of knowledge regarding important credit score information, the results show that the wider knowledge gap exists with Millennials (ages 18 – 34) than with older Americans.

Less than half of all Millennials understood that age was not used when calculating credit scores, according to the data. Meanwhile, more than 60 percent of adults (45-64) understood this.

Millennials also were less likely than older adults to know that credit scores are based on information collected by each of the three main credit bureaus.

“It isn’t a big surprise that consumers in the 45-60-year range know more than younger consumers about credit scoring, but the generation of consumers coming into the workforce is particularly challenged by massive student loans. A student loan is a great opportunity to help establish good credit for these consumers, but the concern is that many of these young adults could miss payments and begin their financial lives deep in debt with low credit scores, putting them in a difficult position,” says Barrett Burns, president and CEO of VantageScore Solutions.

Knowledge is power

Many people fail to realize how many different ways poor credit scores can affect their lives. Credit scores affect not only whether a person can receive a loan but also the interest rate a person pays for the loan.

The data shows that while the majority of all respondents understood that their credit scores would be reviewed by credit-card issuers and mortgage lenders, they did not know that electric utilities, home insurers, landlords and even cell phone companies may also review this information.

In short, a good credit score could save you hundreds or thousands of dollars in interest or rate payments when compared with possessing a poor score. If you want to improve your scores, the first step is to obtain your credit scores so you know where you stand. Not surprisingly, individuals who obtained their scores in the past year knew more about credit scores and how they are used by lenders in the market than those who didn’t obtain their scores in the last year.

“We know that education can help consumers improve their scores, and whatever the consumer’s age, our aim is to arm him or her with accurate, unbiased information and resources to help them become good managers of their credit,” Burns said.

To get a true picture of your credit status, it’s best to review your credit reports and credit scores from multiple sources.  Test your knowledge about credit scores at, which was created by VantageScore Solutions and Consumer Federation of America. Both the online quiz and a corresponding brochure are available in Spanish at

For more tips and resources to educate yourself regarding credit scores, visit the VantageScore Website. There you’ll find useful information regarding what impacts your credit score and how to be a good manager of your own credit.

Categories: Lifestyle

Exciting STEM careers and opportunities aplenty in the Navy

Thu, 08/28/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - There’s a big push for students to excel in the subjects of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and for good reason. The careers available to students pursuing degrees in these areas present students with plenty of exciting and challenging opportunities. What you might not realize is how many of those opportunities exist in the Navy.

The Navy is looking for intelligent students with critical thinking skills who are interested in careers that involve working on the world’s most-advance weapons systems, developing the next generation of medical technology, or a number of other fields of STEM study. It is estimated more than 1 million STEM jobs will be created by 2020, creating a great need in the market for qualified employees.

For these reasons, talented, committed individuals with a STEM education will be needed to maintain the U.S. as a world technology leader. The U.S. Navy is partnering with organizations across the U.S. to help promote an interest in STEM subjects among elementary to college-level students. The Navy STEM for the Classroom tool is available for teachers and students, providing lesson plans and interactive tools to increase learning in these subjects.

One program incorporating STEM subject learning with real-world experiences is the Oceanography and Meteorology lesson, which provides students and teachers in the classroom tools to learn, study and measure the principles of oceanography like waves, tides and currents. Once they understand how these principles affect ocean navigation, students will be able to pursue other exciting opportunities like a hands-on search-and-rescue scenario.

The Navy also offers the Navy Proving Grounds widget, which is an interactive tool for students to test their minds in diving missions, flight school or at-sea trials.

Students with a background in STEM courses have the opportunity in the Navy to work with some of the most awe-inspiring ships, submarines, aircraft and communications systems, develop unmanned vehicles and robotics that keep people out of harm’s way, and pioneer advances in everything from nuclear propulsion to biofuels or medical research. A STEM-related career in the Navy provides almost limitless possibilities for leadership and relevant experience.

Joining the Navy allows students interested in STEM subjects to continue their learning with ongoing development opportunities during nearly all stages of their career. These opportunities include:

* Navy Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) scholarship program with up to $180,000 available for college.

* Nuclear Propulsion Officer Candidate Program, which offers up to $168,300 for students who finish a degree in math, engineering, physics or chemistry, and allows them to begin the process to become a commissioned Navy Nuclear Officer.

* Civil Engineer Collegiate Program giving students pursuing civil engineering degrees the opportunity to pursue projects around the world right out of college. This program also offers up to $113,100 while finishing a college degree.

For more information about opportunities to serve in the Navy, call 866-408-1241 or visit

Categories: Lifestyle
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