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Establishing a 401(k) at your small business is easier than you think - and helps employees save for the long-term

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Over the next 16 years, 10,000 people will turn 65 every day. Social Security alone may not be enough to provide an adequate retirement. Every day you hear about the lack of retirement savings and how ill-prepared many Americans are to meet their spending needs during retirement. Many remedies are suggested to help Americans save for the long-term. While there is much discussion around new ideas on how to close the savings gap (state administered plans, myRA savings plan, etc.) one answer to help Americans save more for retirement is available today.

Creating a workplace retirement plan (such as a 401(k)) continues to be one of the most appreciated benefits of any company. According to The Small Plan 401(k) RetireWell Study conducted by Guardian Retirement Solutions, overall satisfaction with 401(k)s among existing plan sponsors is virtually 100 percent, including a majority (56 percent) who are “very satisfied.” Specifically, more than half (57 percent) of small-business owners say the plan helps employees retire with an adequate and secure income and at least half say their plan is very successful when it comes to making retirement savings easy, providing employees with retirement income planning tools and supporting and encouraging disciplined, systematic savings by employees. 

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s (EBRI) 2014 Retirement Confidence Survey found that 73 percent of people without access to a workplace retirement plan say they have less than $1,000 in total retirement assets. The solution? Increase access to workplace retirement plans.

Many small businesses are still without a 401(k) plan. In fact, 46 percent of small businesses do not offer a workplace retirement plan, according to Guardian’s Small Plan 401(k)RetireWell Study. This makes it more difficult for small businesses to attract and retain the talented employees vital to making them competitive in their industries. It also does not help close the savings gap for the average U.S. citizen. In order to help more Americans save, small-business owners should consider offering or improving a workplace retirement plan. Satisfaction rates are high, and the need is significant.

If you’re a small-business owner considering offering a 401(k) plan or looking to improve the current workplace retirement plan you offer to your employees, follow these five tips to establish a successful plan so your employees can feel more confident about their retirement and remain loyal to your company.

5 tips for implementing a successful workplace retirement plan

1. Work with a competent financial professional. Business owners who work with a financial professional when offering a 401(k) plan were much more satisfied (61 percent) with their overall plan than those who did not work with a financial professional (40 percent), according to the Guardian Retirement Solutions Small Plan 401(k) RetireWell Study.   

2. Understand your role – as the plan sponsor, you are the plan fiduciary.  This means you have taken responsibility for the plan and you must act in the plan’s best interest. Among other duties, this includes acting prudently and in the best interest of the plan participants, selecting and monitoring the service providers who help administer the plan, providing education for participants and employees, selecting and monitoring the plan investment options, and ensuring the plan is paying “reasonable” fees for the necessary services required to administer the plan. Educating yourself on these responsibilities, and talking to your legal adviser to understand your obligations as a plan fiduciary is critical. Additionally, your financial professional can work with you to help find service providers who can assist with these responsibilities to ensure you’re doing what’s needed for the plan, minimizing your fiduciary risk, and ensuring the plan is operating optimally.

3. Find the right help for you and your plan. Look for a recordkeeper and other retirement plan service providers who are focused on the needs of small-business owners to ensure your needs are met. Services can include: customized and flexible solutions for your business, fiduciary support services, investment flexibility (target date funds, managed accounts, multiple fund choices), access to customer service teams, enrollment and on-going education and support. Small companies do not have the same access to staff and resources that larger companies do. Working with providers who understand and cater to the small business market and who can offer these value-added services will help you reduce your administrative burdens.

4. Find the right plan design for you. Talk to your third-party administrator (TPA) about a plan design that makes sense for you and your employees. There are many ways to setup a workplace retirement plan, not just a 401(k) (i.e. defined benefit plan, cash balance plan, profit-sharing only plan,etc.). In order to maximize company and employee tax savings and meet other plan and business owner objectives, you want to be sure the plan has the necessary features to help you attract and retain employees.

5. Educate your employees. Look to work with service providers who can provide your employees with robust enrollment and on-going educational tools and the support to help them plan, save and invest for retirement. At the end of the day, you want to make sure you can help your employees achieve the retirement they desire.

Categories: Lifestyle

6 tips for a safe and enjoyable summer

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Summer is all about spending time outdoors – either at home or away. Whether you’re hitting the road or taking a trip to the local park, it’s time for fun in the sun. And when you’re preparing for fun outside, remember that there are safety concerns to consider as well.

With that in mind, Master Lock offers these six tips to help make the season a safe and enjoyable one for everyone in your household:

* Make your backyard a safe place. Remember to put garden tools and lawn mowers away in a locked place after use. Un-stored tools could cause a fall or be used by young children as toys. Secure your shed or garage door with a high-security, weather-resistant padlock. Not only does this deter kids from using tools as toys, it also guards lawn equipment from theft.

* Sleep safely with the windows open. Sleeping with open windows provides a cool breeze for pleasant rest and helps many people sleep better. What’s more is that it lessens the chance of succumbing to carbon monoxide poisoning, a dangerous nighttime killer. Unfortunately, it also provides intruders with easy access to your home. Before enjoying this summertime routine, take proactive measures to ensure you do so safely. If you have a home security system (only 14 percent of North Americans do, according to the recent Safety and Security Survey), make sure it provides window security coverage. Otherwise, use a window-blocking device that prevents windows from opening more than 6 inches, and ensure windows cannot be accessed from outside. While you’re sleeping, ensure all doors are locked and safeguard patio doors from intruders with Master Lock’s Door Security Bar.

* Designate a family meeting spot. More than half of North Americans have not designated a meeting spot in case of a house fire. Choose one with your family now so you’re prepared in case of a fire. It’s also good practice to designate a meeting spot whenever you’re away from home. Whether you are at a carnival, park or away on vacation, always come up with a plan of where to meet. This will give you peace of mind in case someone in your family is separated from the group.

* Check your smoke detectors. Properly installed and maintained smoke detectors save lives and protect against injury and loss due to fire. Yet, survey results showed that only 7 percent of North Americans test smoke detectors monthly – the recommended frequency to ensure they’re always working correctly. Replace batteries yearly or as soon as you hear a low-battery warning sound - usually a chirping noise. Smoke alarms themselves should be replaced every 10 years.

* Create backups. With busy summer schedules, it’s easy to forget your keys before leaving the house. To avoid being locked out of your house, make extra copies of your keys and keep them in a secure spot. A lock box allows you to store your extra key and make it accessible only to those who know the combination.

* Prepare for the unexpected. Technology today makes it easier than ever to ensure you’re never without important information, such as your child’s insurance details or passwords to your online accounts. Store digital copies of your family’s important medical and identification information in a secure app such as the Master Lock Vault for access whenever you need them.

By taking the proper safety precautions, you’ll enjoy a safe and worry-free summer. To learn more about the products available from Master Lock, visit

Categories: Lifestyle

How to maximize your tax benefits from charitable gifts

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - You answer calls to support your alma mater, the local animal shelter and the American Red Cross with gifts of money and volunteer time. And after cleaning out the closets, dressers, kitchen cabinets and garage, you take a trunk load of donations to the thrift store.

You know your gifts of cash, time and household items may be tax deductible, but what do you need to do to verify that and maximize your deduction?

"Being charitable can cut your taxable income, as long as you follow a few simple rules," says Jessi Dolmage, spokesperson for popular digital tax preparation brand TaxACT. "Those include giving to eligible organizations and keeping accurate records."

To determine if you've donated to eligible organizations, search the IRS' database of Exempt Organization Select Check at Most religious organizations and government agencies are eligible, even if they’re not listed in the database.

Keeping detailed records is important for accurate valuation of your gifts (and in turn your tax deduction) and in the unlikely event of an audit. Dolmage says records should include organization name, donation date and amount.

For monetary gifts, keep the written acknowledgment from the organization with the donation date and amount. A canceled check or card statement with the transaction date also suffices for gifts under $250.

If you receive merchandise, benefits or privileges in exchange for a gift, you must subtract the value of those from the original gift amount. If your payment is more than $75, the organization must give you a written statement with a description and estimated value of the merchandise, goods or services.

For noncash donations, document the charity name, date and location of the items, along with a reasonably detailed description of the items. If you receive a receipt from the charity, keep it with your records.

The IRS requires additional documentation for vehicle donations. You must receive a written acknowledgment or Form 1098-C from the charity for the vehicle.

Noncash donations, such as clothing, kitchen gadgets and furniture, must be in good condition or better. The tax-deductible amount of those items is the fair market value (FMV), the price if they were exchanged between willing buyers and sellers. Special rules apply to donations of cars, boats airplanes, property subject to debt, investments that have appreciated in value and inventory from your business.

Mobile apps can make tracking throughout the year painless. Donation Assistant by TaxACT tracks cash, noncash and recurring gifts, with FMVs for more than 1,300 commonly donated household items. You can also save photos of your donations and receipts. When doing your taxes, import the information and TaxACT Deluxe will calculate your maximum deduction and complete your tax forms.

You can deduct charitable gifts you made between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 only if you itemize deductions on Form 1040 Schedule A. In order to itemize, all of your itemized deductions must exceed the standard deduction amount based on your adjusted gross income and filing status.

Additionally, you must file Form 8283 if your noncash contributions total more than $500, and include a qualified appraisal of property worth more than $5,000.

Download the free Donation Assistant app at and learn more about the tax rules of charitable giving at and

Categories: Lifestyle

How to help veterans who've returned home from service

Tue, 07/15/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - In wartime, members of the armed forces often face dangerous situations. President George Washington recognized this, when he created what is now known as the Purple Heart medal in 1782, to honor combat wounded veterans. Since then, an estimated 1.7 million Purple Hearts have been awarded by the military to soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen.

The Purple Heart medal is awarded to men and women in uniform who have been injured or killed in combat or captivity. Medal recipients who return home can join the Military Order of the Purple Heart, an organization that supports veterans and their families with many nationwide programs. Volunteer and financial assistance is needed year-round to continue these services. If you’re interested in looking for ways to help veterans across the country, consider the following ways you can assist:

* Say “thank-you” – On Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Purple Heart Day and every other day of the year, telling a vet,  “Thanks for your service,” is a great way to honor their sacrifice. If you own a business, you can also offer veterans a discount on your products or services as another way to show your thanks.

* Volunteer for a veteran service organization – Veterans often need assistance in many different areas of life, including financial, career, educational, health and social. If you are interested in volunteering your time, contact the Purple Heart Foundation at to determine the right service organization that will best match your talents and availability. By volunteering, you not only will be helping service members adjust to civilian life, but also gaining valuable expertise in the field of your choice.

* Donate your vehicle or gently used household items – If you’re considering holding a garage sale this summer, you can save time and energy by donating clothing, furniture, thrift goods and even cars to the Purple Heart Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports all veterans and their families. Visit to learn more about how your donation can be picked up from your home, and how you can declare the donation on next year’s income taxes.

* Make a financial donation – Veterans organizations are always in need of financial donations to continue the services they provide. Keep in mind that any monetary donation you make to a registered nonprofit organization can be declared as a deduction on your federal income taxes. The Purple Heart Foundation has made it easy for a person to donate $10 toward veterans causes supported by the Military Order of the Purple Heart by texting PURPLE to 20222.

“The Purple Heart medal represents courage, sacrifice, commitment and ‘heart,’” says Jim Blaylock, president of Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation, and a Vietnam veteran who earned three Purple Hearts. “The Purple Heart Foundation celebrates the heart of every veteran by providing emotional, physical, educational and financial support for veterans and their families. They earned our support with their sacrifice.”

Since 2008, the Purple Heart Service Foundation has invested more than $42 million in programs and services to help veterans and their families with suicide prevention, Post-Traumatic Stress, brain injury, women’s health issues and to get claims approved. Join the millions of Americans helping veterans returning home after service. To learn more, visit

Categories: Lifestyle

Stay on top of your rheumatoid arthritis with these helpful tips

Tue, 07/15/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an incurable, progressive disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks a person’s joints, causing inflammation and damage. Approximately 1.3 million people have RA. This condition strikes about three times as many women as men and most commonly appears in people between 40 and 60 years old.

If you have been diagnosed with RA, you are probably familiar with many of these statistics, just as well as you know the pain that occurs in your joints during an RA flare-up. Chances are good that symptoms of your RA have caused you to miss social events or even work.

But there is good news. Although RA is not curable, there are multiple ways to effectively manage your condition and improve your quality of life. Follow these tips to begin improving your condition today:

* Stay positive. Just because RA is incurable doesn’t mean it has to dictate your life. People across the United States who have been diagnosed with this disease lead very productive and rewarding lives. Don’t let RA control you. If you have recently been diagnosed, or have had an especially painful flare-up, it’s important to educate yourself about the disease and take proactive measures to ensure successful management of your RA. This is the first and most important step in your treatment.

* Find the doctor who’s right for you. If you feel comfortable with your current rheumatologist, then you can skip to the next tip. If you don’t have a rheumatologist or you don’t feel comfortable with your current doctor, make finding the right one a priority. Remember, you will work closely with this doctor to create a personalized treatment plan, so trust is important. Before meeting with a new rheumatologist, be sure to create a list of questions you want to ask them. The answers you receive will help determine if this doctor is right for you.

* Maintain a healthy diet. Inflammation is the hallmark sign of RA. Patients may reduce their RA symptoms by incorporating foods that have anti-inflammatory properties, including omega-3 fats such as fish, certain vegetables and soy foods and walnuts. Antioxidants have also been shown to help ease inflammation. Leafy greens, fruits, beans, nuts, dark chocolate and certain spices contain high levels of antioxidants, such as vitamins C, E, carotene, lycopene and flavonoids. Speak with your doctor to learn more about dietary changes that may benefit you.

* Get out and be active. Many people diagnosed with RA mistakenly believe they must limit their activity to avoid disease flare-ups, but regular activity has been proven to limit or control RA’s symptoms. Discuss your activity goals with your doctor to determine which activities could be beneficial for you.

* Improve your methotrexate (MTX) efficiency. As a person with RA, you may be taking an oral form of MTX and know all about the side effects that come with your medication. But these days, some RA patients are opting for new, easily injectable MTX options.  Speak with your doctor about what options may be most appropriate for you.

To learn more about how you can treat your RA, visit

Categories: Lifestyle

Addressing a new era in security: how to protect your business from the inside out

Mon, 07/14/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - During the first 43 days of 2014, the Identity Theft Resource Center said 91 data breaches were reported by companies across the country, and the full list doesn’t just show household names of big brand retailers – many of these companies were small businesses, family medical practices or local restaurants that never thought they’d be cybercrime victims. For instance, the most high profile breach of 2013 – Target – was actually set into motion when one of its much smaller regional contractors was hacked.

Undoubtedly, businesses of all sizes are potential targets for cyber criminals, but while the “big boys” often have the financial means to rebound relatively quickly, for small business owners, one attack can mean life or death for the future of their business. In fact, according to the National Small Business Association, a single cyber-attack costs a small business an average of $8,000 to recover from (and this figure does not include the incalculable damage done to the company’s reputation).

Historically, small business owners have focused their security prevention on their physical domains, but, with the lines between physical and digital security having blurred over the last decade, it’s critical for small business owners to rethink their 21st century security strategies.

ADT offers these helpful tips for small business owners in order to more effectively protect themselves, their assets, and their loyal customers from the wide range of physical and digital threats:

* Make sure your employees are informed. Whether you’re concerned about digital security or physical security, your employees are your first line of defense. Your employees should be up to date on all company security measures and aware of the vulnerable digital and physical areas in your business. Keeping them informed ensures they know how to protect your business and alert you should a problem arise.

* Increase the strength of your passwords. Creating strong passwords may at first be inconvenient for you and your staff, but stronger passwords can greatly improve the security of your business. Using your name or the company’s name or address will not deter a hacker for long, but complex passwords have a significantly greater chance of tripping up hackers.

* Improve the traditional security system. A security system is a must for a business of any size, and an interactive solution like ADT Pulse can help mitigate threats with all-in-one security and automation capabilities that combine video surveillance with activity-triggered alerts. This allows you the freedom to monitor and control your business with a web-enabled device from any location.

* Erase old hard drives. You’ve heard the saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” and that is certainly true when it comes to old hard drives. While your business may not have any use for these outdated systems, the information stored on the hard drive is valuable to would-be criminals. Before you throw out that old computer or copy machine, be sure to erase the hard drive.

While many small business owners may think cyber criminals aren’t interested in businesses their size, the reality is small businesses require the same strategic physical and digital protection as major corporations, and following the above steps can help you to prevent the significant financial and reputational damage that comes with a security breach.

In order to learn more about how ADT can help protect your small business, visit

Categories: Lifestyle

5 vital questions to ask your financial professional

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - When was the last time you met with a financial professional? Would you be more likely to keep those appointments if you knew some specific questions to ask? These meetings provide an important opportunity for you to ensure your strategy is still on track and ensure your family and finances are protected. You can get the most out of your meeting by asking the right questions.

Whether it’s your first meeting or your 20th, Thrivent Financial suggests you consider asking these questions when meeting with a financial professional:

1. Is my coverage adequate?

Ensuring proper financial protection against death, disability or injury is one of the most important things you can do for your family. Talk to your financial professional about cost concerns, protection options and how you can make sure that your family will be covered financially in the event of an untimely death or disability. If you’ve experienced major life changes like the birth or adoption of a child, purchased a house or gotten married, chances are your protection will need updating.

2. What are some creative ways we can refine my strategy to help maximize benefits?

A financial professional can help you organize your financial strategy in a way that factors in things like taxes and market volatility, and he or she will know what changes are on the horizon that could affect you. A financial professional can also help use primary products, like life insurance, in unique ways - like helping supplement a retirement income stream. These are applications many don’t know about but can offer different advantages to your financial strategy.

3. How are my financial strategies aligning with my values?

Having a financial strategy that allows you to align your finances with your values is another important topic to bring up. If you have charitable causes you want to support, or volunteer trips you want to take, make sure your financial professional knows about them. He or she can help you develop ways to bring your generosity to life.

4. Tell me about the strength and stability of your company or organization.

Insurance is only as strong as the ability of your financial institution to pay out claims when you need to claim a contract. Make sure to investigate the strength and stability of any company you’re working with to ensure it is financially sound enough to make good on its obligations.

5. What should I do differently in the next year?

This seems like an easy question, but you’d be amazed how few people ask it. Your financial professional is often in a unique position to help you stay ahead of the curve when it comes to your future strategy needs. Taking advantage of market volatility and ensuring your future protection needs are just two of the many variables to consider. Yearly meetings with a financial professional can help you hone your financial strategies for the upcoming year and help keep them as healthy as possible.

Your time is valuable, and your financial future is even more valuable to you and your family. Make sure you’re maximizing both and ensure you get the most out of meeting with your financial professional.

Categories: Lifestyle

Smart tips to keep your student and their possessions safe this school year

Mon, 07/07/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - If you’re on the way to the cabin or in the middle of an amazing family summer vacation, the upcoming school year is probably quite far from your mind. However, school will be here before you know it, and it’s important to make sure your child or teen has all the tips and tools he or she needs to be successful this year. As those helpful - and oftentimes required - educational tools continue to get more expensive, it is in your best interest to teach your children how to keep their property safe.

“With millions of iPads, smart phones and laptops now essential parts of everyday student life, efforts must be made to keep them secure,” says Rebecca Smith with Master Lock. “The new school year can be stressful enough without worrying about losing expensive electronics and other valuables.”

If you plan to make safety part of your back-to-school preparations this fall, the following tips will ensure your student, and his or her possessions, enjoy a safe, productive year.

1. Safety away from the desk. Middle school and high school mean your teen will be traveling around the building much more than they did in elementary school. This extra travel increases the risk of lost or stolen items. To protect these items, find out what locks are provided by the school and what you need to provide yourself. Then look for a padlock like the Master Lock 1500eXD dialSpeed Digital Combination Padlock to keep your teen’s possessions safe. This easy to use lock, which features a set your own combination for easiest recall, provides a measure of safety for your teen and ensures their clothing and electronics remain right where they left them. You may also consider getting one for their gym locker as well so they can participate carefree.

2. Have a back-up plan. Being a student today means more than just protecting your physical possessions. There are plenty of digital files to be worried about as well. As your teen writes longer, more in-depth papers and reports, it’s important to develop a back-up system for these projects. A paper lost to a power outage or computer error could take hours to recreate. Teens can prevent this by saving their work in multiple locations, including at least one cloud-based system that can be accessed anywhere, such as the Master Lock Vault. Students should also save their online passwords and lock combinations there, assuring they’re never without a code they need.

3. Keep the combination secret. The best way for students to protect the items in their lockers is to make sure they are the only person who can access them. This means encouraging them to not share their locker combination with anyone else. Remind your child that even though sharing lockers with his or her best friend or girlfriend/boyfriend may sound like a great idea, it could lead to other unintended people having access to personal belongings inside, putting the contents at risk. And if your student will have a locker partner, make sure that both teens understand the risk of sharing their combinations with anyone outside of their locker partner.

4. Invest in the proper backpack. Not all backpacks are created equal. Your child’s backpack and its contents should amount to no more than 10-20 percent of their body weight. When shopping for a new backpack, select a pack with dual shoulder straps and instruct your child to wear both to dissuade thieves from trying to steal the pack. If your child’s backpack has only one strap, slinging it across the body protects it better than carrying it over one shoulder. A lightweight portable lock like the 1550DAST Backpack Lock is perfect for warding off pickpockets and protecting your child’s possessions. Older students may not want a backpack at all so remind them that carrying one ensures they have all of their materials where they need them and they won’t leave anything behind to be lost or stolen.

You may not be ready to think about the new school year just yet, but the first bell will ring before you know it. Planning proper safety and security procedures ahead of time will ensure your student has an enjoyable year and can focus on getting the most out of each and every class.

For more advice on back-to-school security tips, visit

Categories: Lifestyle

Money-saving tips so you can earn your degree without going into debt

Thu, 07/03/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - If you’ve just finished high school and you’re headed to college, or if you’re an adult student looking to go back to school, chances are you’ve thought about student debt. You’re not alone.

The epidemic of student debt is taking higher education by storm. In 2011, combined student debt eclipsed the $1 trillion mark. Consider the fact that total credit card debt in the United States was estimated at $798 billion that same year, and you can see why student debt is such a problem.

While concerns about accruing debt may make you nervous, obtaining your college degree is the key to better career opportunities and a higher earning potential throughout your professional life. So how do you earn the degree of your dreams without a mountain of debt? Follow these money-saving, debt-prevention tips and you’ll see the benefits on graduation day.

* Avoid the credit card blitz. As a college student you will be inundated with new credit card offers. While the idea of spending now and paying later may be tempting, credit cards carry some of the highest interest rates available. Frequent use of your credit card without paying the balance off in full will cause you to pile up debt quickly. What’s worse, poor use of your credit card – maxing out the limit or making late payments – hurts your credit score and could make future purchases like a home or car more difficult. Avoid credit cards if possible, but if you must have a card, try to limit your cards to no more than two and don’t charge more than you can pay off each month.

* Maintain your current job or take a part-time job. Paying off credit cards or staying ahead is easier if you’re working part-time. Many students don’t want to work during their college years, but part-time work is an excellent way to avoid debt. Working even a few hours a week can help you pay down your bills and provide for a little financial cushion so you don’t always have to feel like a poor college student.

* Seek advice at your school. Universities across the country are more aware of student debt than ever before, and some of them are even instituting programs to help students save and reduce debt. Columbia College of Missouri’s Money Stacks Program provides students with important financial education and the tips and tools they need to graduate with little to no debt. You’ll learn about saving, spending smartly and how overall financial awareness can help you avoid debt.

* Avoid using loan money for non-education related costs. Think your loans are like a low-interest credit card? Think again. Instead of looking at your loans as a source of free money, budget your loan money solely for tuition, books and related fees. This will ensure your loan money is spent as it was intended and you stay on budget.

* Save money where you can. College is expensive, but there are plenty of ways you can save. Purchase new textbooks only after you’ve exhausted rental or used-book options. Living at home or in the dorms is more cost effective than renting a place of your own. Plus, if you live on campus or close to public transportation, you can eliminate the need to own your own vehicle, which will save you even more.

A college education is an investment that will benefit you the rest of your life, and while you may be concerned about the debt that pursuing a degree can create, saving and spending smartly will allow you to attain your degree without a mountain of bills. To learn more about Columbia College of Missouri and its Money Stacks Program, visit

Categories: Lifestyle

Home safety tips that put families at ease

Mon, 06/30/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - While summer is most looked forward to for warmer weather, more time spent outdoors and family vacations, when the weather heats up, burglaries and home invasions increase as well. It is essential that families and individuals learn to protect themselves and their homes from unwanted intruders. With burglaries taking place every 14.5 seconds across the U.S., according to American Police Beat, it is essential to no longer push home safety aside. Instead, be aware of the increased likelihood of a break-in and take preventative action.

Jennifer Cassetta, a nationally recognized martial arts and personal safety expert, encourages conversation, awareness and education surrounding the issues of home and personal safety.

“Unfortunately in today’s society, break-ins and burglaries are something that people often feel invincible from, but also don’t like to talk about. The simple fact is that with today’s growing crime rates, it is more likely than we would like to think that something could happen to us,” says Cassetta.  “Because of this, it is essential that we don’t walk around in fear but that we become educated, aware, and informed about our home and personal safety.”

As far as overall home protection, Cassetta recommends the SABRE Home Series, a new series that includes a wireless protection system as well as several standalone door and window alarms that are now available nationwide at Target stores. She believes that the line is not only effective in warding off intruders but with the easy DIY installation and affordable price points, it provides an approachable and effective means to superior home safety that is accessible to everyone.

In addition, families and individuals should consider the following steps to ensure their homes are as safe as possible:

* Today the tendency is to post all whereabouts on social media, including vacations. However, posting about summer vacations or utilizing any location-based apps on social media can alert potential burglars of a vacant house that will be safe and ideal for them to enter. Refrain from posting about whereabouts on the Internet until after returning home.

* With over 50 percent of intruders entering through first floor windows and back doors according to, it is crucial to be aware of vulnerable entry points throughout the home in order to protect them efficiently.

* Ensure your first floor windows and front door are completely visible from the street.  Do not block them with trees, bushes, or plants so criminals can hide behind them while trying to gain access to your home.

Do you have home safety tips that have worked for you and your family? Share your advice on staying safe at home or while away via social media using the hashtag #SafeIsSmart. For every use of the #SafeIsSmart hashtag in June, SABRE will make a $1 donation to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN).

For more information, visit or

Categories: Lifestyle

Teaching kids to give back

Fri, 06/27/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - One of the most rewarding reasons to get involved in your community is to set a good example for your kids. Whether you donate money or time, giving back is beneficial, and not just for the recipients. The reward for your selfless acts can be a beautiful thing for both your community and your children’s future. But what are some of the ways you can teach kids to give back and what age should you begin encouraging them?

Giving back is just as much about volunteering as it is about philanthropy. Dr. Lois Winchell, child and family therapist at Argosy University, Sarasota, believes it should be a combination of both. “If we want our children to give back, our families need to be involved in multiple activities,” says Winchell. “These include volunteering resources and time and giving money when possible. Learning how to donate time can be a very powerful lesson for children because it is a giving of ourselves. This intimate experience can be significant and can often reap a more personal reward than the offering of money and things.”

As with everything else in life, kids learn best by example. The closer you can bring your child to the recipient of the gift, the more personal the experience becomes.

“Nurturing a sense of giving and making sure this is a value for your children starts as early as age 3 or 4,” says Winchell. “At this developmental age, we can teach them that others have feelings and that your child has an impact on those feelings. This sense of empathy is the underpinning of charity. The most significant impact on our children is what they actually see us doing as it relates to a giving spirit. As we engage in specific projects, we can have conversations with our children regarding why the project is important and who will benefit.”

Start by expanding their sense of environment, from the immediate family to their local community and eventually the world around them. A sense of awareness of something greater than themselves is important in raising a compassionate individual. This sense of responsibility to others and the environment as a world citizen can be supported by making children aware of others’ needs whether in visiting a shelter or a food banks with family members or simply helping younger siblings.

“From infancy to about 5 years old, children aren’t necessarily capable of thinking outside of themselves. Even so, parents need to foster their child’s sharing with others,” says Winchell. As children grow older they can begin volunteering and supporting community projects more directly. Whether they donate toys to a children’s shelter or simply participate in a walk for charity, these years are important for a child to learn the art of giving back. When they become teenagers, they can do even more for the community by assisting an elderly neighbor with his yard work or helping out at a local food bank or soup kitchen.

Additionally, it is important to convey the message that “giving back” does not include an expectation of getting something in return. Instead, highlight the sense of joy in being able to make someone happy and how those feelings are the greater gift.

“When a child experiences sharing and the serving of others, an internal sense of contentment and self-worth is experienced,” says Winchell. “This self-enhancement and sense of belonging is coincident with their giving and results in a benefit that cannot be gained any other way. This sense of happiness and accomplishment then contributes to their positive sense of self.” In other words, teaching kids to give back is one of the best things a parent can do for the community and the child.

Categories: Lifestyle

Student loan aftermath: educating graduates on the importance of credit scores

Wed, 06/25/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - This is a special time of year. Across the nation, graduates are on the horizon of new careers and building their own lives.

While this is an exciting stage in life, it is a concerning time as well. Many students are graduating with student loan debt, and research shows that Millennials (ages 18-34) know comparatively little about how that debt affects their credit scores and what it takes to have great credit, according to recent research conducted by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and VantageScore Solutions, LLC.

How concerning is it? The research found that only 40 percent of Millennials claim to have good or better knowledge about credit scores. Furthermore, only 65 percent of Millennials could name the three main credit bureaus. And fewer than half (47 percent) of Millennials knew that age is not a factor when calculating credit scores.

“Most troubling is that only 42 percent of Millennials know that a credit score measures the risk of not repaying a loan rather than factors such as knowledge of, or attitude to, consumer credit,” says CFA Executive Director Stephen Brobeck. “Consumers should be aware that they can take steps to reduce this risk and improve their scores, most importantly by making all loan payments on time.”

Since credit can be the key to home, auto and other ownership, how can graduates improve their credit scores and make their future dreams a reality? Here are a couple of ideas and resources:

* Access your credit reports. The research shows that individuals who have obtained their credit reports previously knew significantly more about their credit than those who have not. If you’re looking to improve your credit, it is important to become more credit literate, review your credit report and find out your existing scores. Websites like help people understand their credit scores and the many life situations that are affected by credit scores. You can also obtain a free copy of your credit report from all three national reporting companies at

* Pay your bills on time each month. Making late payments on your monthly bills does more than just damage your credit scores. It causes you to waste money on needless late fees and additional interest charges. Paying bills on time is the most effective way to pay your bills off quickly and, ultimately, maintain good credit health.

* Avoid maxing out a credit card. Credit cards carry some of the highest interest rates around, and the more you charge on your card, the longer it will take to pay it off. Maxing out your credit card may also damage your credit score because it will appear as if you are overspending your limits.

* Pay down the highest-interest-rate bills first. If you’re making the minimum payment on your bills each month, it’s likely that you’re going to be paying interest. Some bills, such as credit cards, will carry higher interest rates than other bills, like student loans. After you’ve set aside the money necessary to pay the minimum balances each month, use your remaining funds to pay down the highest-interest-rate bills first. This will save you money in the long run.

* Don’t take out too much credit at the same time. Some lenders also look at your debt-to-income ratio. A high percentage ratio can signal to lenders that your monthly debt payments are more than what your gross monthly income can accommodate. Therefore, carrying a heavy credit balance may hurt your credit score because it suggests you may not be managing your finances wisely. Work towards maintaining at least less than 30 percent of your maximum credit on each credit card.

The pathway towards having good credit is sustainable if you can consistently demonstrate the ability to manage your credit accounts without becoming overextended and missing payments. Much like earning your degree, improving your credit takes hard work, dedication and time. But, if you develop a sound plan and stick to it, you’ll achieve the scores you deserve in the end.

Categories: Lifestyle
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