Heat and humidity add up to danger

Emergency rooms see an increase in cases of heat stroke and dehydration in July and August.

The American College of Emergency Physicians gives this advice on how to stay safe in hot weather:

*Check the heat index before going out to work, play or practice and plan accordingly.

*Avoid direct sunlight in the middle of the day. Schedule activities for the early morning or early evening hours.

*Wear loose, light-colored clothes and hats. Dark colors absorb more heat.

*Drink lots of water or sports drinks; about 8 ounces an hour when in the sun in order to avoid dehydration.

*Take frequent breaks in the shade or in air-conditioning to cool off.

Calculate the “apparent temperature” before taking part in activities. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

* At 90 degrees and 50 percent humidity, it feels like 96. At 70 percent humidity, it feels like 106 degrees. Heat exhaustion is likely, so take it easy.

Heat exhaustion can include cramps, heavy sweating, nausea, heart-rate changes and dizziness. Get the victim out of the sun, remove excess clothing and place cool towels on extremities. Fan and give small sips of water.

* At 95 degrees and 50 percent humidity, it feels like 107 degrees. At 70 percent humidity, it feels like 124 degrees. At that temperature and at any higher temperature or humidity, it is extremely dangerous to be outside and heatstroke could occur.

* At 100 degrees, humidity ranging from 35 percent to 55 percent can cause heat exhaustion. At 100 degrees, humidity of 60 percent or higher puts a person into heat stroke territory.

Heatstroke is a medical emergency. Symptoms include confusion, an altered mental state, unconsciousness and hot, dry skin. Call 911. Do not give fluids, which can cause seizures.

The Great American Eclipse

From Oregon to South Carolina, Americans will see the sight that has left mankind trembling and astonished as long as humans have walked the earth.

The Great American Total Eclipse will be one for the record books as totality junkies from across the globe hurry to the best viewing destinations.

On August 21, 2017, for the first time in 99 years, the earth, moon, and stars will line up perfectly in a total eclipse that can be viewed in 14 states. Best viewing is predicted to be in Oregon where sunshine is predicted, especially near Madras. Local time will be 10:21 a.m. PDT and totality will last for about 2 minutes and 7 to 8 seconds, depending on where the viewer stands.

On the East Coast, the eclipse will start a little after 1 p.m. and reach totality just before 3 p.m.

Further inland, viewers in Illinois and Kentucky will experience 40 seconds more totality.

“A solar eclipse can only take place at the phase of new moon, when the moon passes directly between the sun and Earth and its shadow falls upon Earth’s surface,” according to space.com.

The eclipse will be actively pursued by a sub-culture of totality followers who travel to various parts of the world to experience the out-of-this-world phenomena many times during the year. Scientists will also be watching the display and the shadow allows them to see solar flares.

No, you can’t look at the sun and watch the eclipse.

If you have ever held a small magnifying glass over dry grass, you know what happens. The sun’s rays become so focused that the grass catches fire.

That is what will happen to your eyes if you attempt to watch the eclipse. Your retina will burn up. You won’t know it until you can’t see any more.

DO NOT LOOK AT THE SUN WITH THE NAKED EYE.

Do not look at the eclipse through binoculars or a telescope or a camera lens. The same thing happens: Your retina burns up.

Do NOT use sunglasses, polaroid filters, smoked glass, exposed color film, x-ray film, or photographic neutral-density filters.

What you can do is make a pinhole projector. There are many instructions online for this.

For ideas on how to view, go to www.exploratorium.edu/eclipse/how-to-view-eclipse.

Cyber-Crime Spotlight: Tech-Support Scams

One increasingly worrisome crime is affecting computer users who get tricked into thinking that they have a problem with their PC. According to USA Today, a typical scenario involves a user that gets a nasty looking pop up while they are surfing the internet. It explains that their computer is infected and they should call the displayed number for tech support.

Once they call, the scammers take control of their computer, do nothing, and charge outrageous fees. On average, a typical victim will be out around $280 for using one of these “tech support” companies. Although these scams might seem obvious to many users, analysts estimate that more than $24.6 million dollars were lost in the last two years.

Accept payments like the big guys

Getting paid is becoming increasingly easier for small business merchants thanks to an array of internet-enabled options for consumers.

Apple Pay
Anything related to Apple seems to be a hit, and its payment system is no different. Apple boasts that its payment system’s app allows for ease of use by consumers because they don’t need to have a credit card handy. Merchants only need a contactless payment-capable point-of-sale terminal for Apple Pay, which they can get by contacting Apple’s merchant support.

Square vs. PayPal
Both of these payment methods are especially helpful for owners whose businesses are mobile. Their payment readers can be plugged into any mobile device. Consumers simply swipe their cards, and Square or PayPal processes the transaction. Square wins for its effective POS (point of sale) system. PayPal is hailed for being a good choice for merchants who have low-volume processing needs.
Square charges a flat rate of 2.75 percent per transaction. PayPal charges 2.2 percent to 2.9 percent, plus 30 cents per transaction.

Payline Data
Payline Data is also a formidable choice for processing credit cards. Business News Daily notes that it allows merchants to choose pricing options that jive with their sales volumes. Another benefit it offers is aimed at high-risk businesses. Payline Data offers them merchant accounts, which can be difficult for these businesses to obtain. Payline charges 0.2 percent to 0.5 percent plus 15 cents per transaction.

Bitcoin
The volatile digital currency is becoming increasingly accepted as a reputable form of payment. Reasons to accept the form of cryptocurrency include the fact that there is no fee to the merchant. When it comes to fraud, bitcoin can be more cost-efficient. That’s because bitcoin payments
are irreversible and secure, so the cost of fraud is not shouldered by the merchant that accepts it, explains Bitcoin.org.

Insuring your coastal Texas property for wind and hail damages

Tornado and hurricane season means an increased chance of wind and hail damage to homes. If you are a new resident in coastal Texas, you may be surprised to learn that wind and hail damage aren’t covered by standard homeowner’s insurance policies in the 14 coastal counties of Texas. Instead, you’ll need a separate policy to cover your home and other structures from the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association. If you want to enhance your financial protection against hurricane and tornado damage, you can add endorsements like replacement cost-dwelling and replacement cost-personal property that can make hurricane and tornado season damages easier to bear.

Wind and Hail
Eligibility for TWIA  coverage is not automatic. Each building must meet windstorm building codes and the property owner must hold a Certificate of Compliance (WPI-8 or WPI-8-C) for each structure. According to Texas Insurance Code Chapter 2210, this applies to "any building constructed, altered, remodeled, enlarged, repaired, or added to on or after January 1, 1988." A TWIA policy covers wind and hail damage only. Winds include damage from tornado or derecho.

Water or Flood Damage
Throughout the US, a separate flood insurance policy from the National Flood Insurance Program covers flood damage. Home owner’s insurance covers other water damage. For example, if high winds tear off your roof and rain water enters through the hole, home owner’s insurance covers the water damage. If rising water from heavy precipitation enters your home at ground level due to seepage, flood insurance covers the water damage. An NFIP policy lets you insure the structure, its contents or both.

You Need an Umbrella
You may desire a higher level of coverage on personal property such as boats, sporting equipment, etc. An umbrella policy can help you round out your insurance coverage and protect expensive items with a level of coverage that provides full replacement value if needed. 

Come see us at InsureUS in Cypress, TX to talk about the level of coverage needed to protect your home and belongings from Texas coastal storms. We’ll help you weed through the paperwork, so you can enjoy the Texas sunshine.

IBM leads as big companies rethink remote work

After decades of touting its anytime, anywhere remote workforce, IBM is starting to bring workers back into the office.

About 40 percent of IBM’s 380,000 employees work in non-traditional settings, although the company has offered no information as to how many will be affected by the May announcement.

The tech giant gave affected remote workers 30 days to move back into the office setting or leave the company.

Although the 105-year-old company has experienced 20 quarters of falling revenue, a company spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal that the move was not a cost-cutting measure.

IBM is not the only company abandoning the popular remote work models. Yahoo, in 2013, called telecommuters back to the office as have Bank of America and Aetna. Corporate leaders have argued that putting workers in the same space increases work speed and sparks innovation.

One University of Texas professor who studies telecommuting says companies thought they would reap large savings in office and real estate costs. Jennifer Glass, who also advises companies on remote-work strategies, says these savings have not largely materialized.

IBM spokespeople say the vast majority of remote workers have elected to join a regional office. When Yahoo made the same move, however, it set off a furor.

Small business confidence continues at all-time high

Small business confidence continues at all-time high
Small business owners continue to be very optimistic about future economic growth, according to a recent industry survey.

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) released its February Small Business Optimism Index in March. The reading was at its highest in 43 years.

The NFIB noted that evidence on the economy is mixed.

The New York Federal Reserve puts first quarter growth at 3.1 percent while the Atlanta Federal Reserve is looking for 1.8 percent. Both have access to the same data.
However, the gulf between liberals and conservatives is large. The University of Michigan/Reuters poll in February illustrated this, with the Expectations Index at 55 among Democrats, 120 for Republicans and 89 for Independents. The Democrats expect the worst, the Republicans the best. Spontaneous positive references to economic policy were made by a record 28 percent of consumers, 26 percent made negative references. Reality will resolve the gap.

Small businesses are optimistic that there will be a new health care law, tax reform, and relief from regulations.
It is clear from our data that optimism skyrocketed after the election because small business owners anticipated a change in policy, said NFIB President and CEO Juanita Duggan. “The sustainability of this surge and whether it will lead to actual economic growth depends on Washington’s ability to deliver on the agenda that small business voted for in November. If the health care and tax policy discussions continue without action, optimism will fade,” Duggan said.

The index fell in February, but still is considered very high. The NFIB noted that the slight decline follows the largest month-over-month increase in the survey’s history in December and another uptick in January.
Despite a small decrease, nearly half of owners expect better business conditions in the coming months.

The elephant in the room remains to be whether the Trump administration will be able to deliver on the many policies small business owners are counting on. The health care legislation stalled in March. Tax reform may not be dealt with until the end of the year. It remains to be seen what major regulations will be dismantled.

Balloon Mortgages Q&A

Balloon Mortgages Q&A

Question:
Home sales are brisk in my area and I have decided to buy a home even though I will only be in this location for a few years. My lender recommends a balloon mortgage. I have heard bad things about these loans, but the deal seems good. What do you think?

Answer:
A typical 7-year balloon mortgage can seem very good and, if you will absolutely be selling before the 7-year term is up, it might be good for you. But, it is a risk.
First, let’s talk about the benefits of a balloon mortgage.

Balloon mortgages usually have a much lower interest rate than a conventional mortgage. The overall cost of the loan will be lower and the payments will be lower. That makes it attractive. The assumption is that a buyer makes payments for a set period of time, five to seven years, for example. Then at the end of the period, the entire balance is due. The buyer then refinances at the end of the term or sells. In your case, you want to sell so this is probably why the lender recommended this type of loan.

The reason balloons are risky is that people never know what is going to happen in the future.

Buyers may think they can easily refinance at the end of the term. But this might not be possible. The buyer may lose a job or become an unqualified buyer because of bad credit. Then it might be impossible to refinance.

In the current market, property values are going up. But, if property values go down, you could be stuck with a home that is not worth the balloon payment. No lender will finance under those conditions. In your case, you might not be able to sell at the necessary price.

Finally, interest rates could be much higher in seven years. For someone who wants to refinance, this could make payments dramatically higher.

Some balloon mortgages have a reset option that will automatically recalculate the mortgage at the current interest rates. This might be good protection for most people.
If you know you will sell, a balloon mortgage might be acceptable.

The right time for life insurance

The right time for life insurance

Life insurance can be a tricky subject depending on what stage of life a person finds themselves in. Variables such as term limits, whole life policies, benefit amounts, and riders can all create a complicated mess capable of scaring someone away from getting coverage.

Because of this complexity and cost, U.S. News reports that about 30 percent of American households have no life insurance coverage at all. Even more worrisome is the fact that there are 11 million households without coverage that include children under the age of 18.

The purpose of life insurance
In simplest terms, life insurance provides a financial benefit at the time of death. A family’s breadwinner might want to provide for the family. A spouse might want to be sure the mortgage is paid off if he or she dies. Parents might want to be sure kids could go to college if one of the parents dies.

Life’s different stages can determine need
Kiplinger.com suggests that people look at life insurance through the perspective of what their current and future needs are and allow those circumstances to govern when and how much life insurance is required.

Single people without children
In this stage, of life single people are usually better off investing their money rather than buying life insurance. But some life insurance is probably necessary. For example, everyone will need burial expenses at the end of life and leaving that burden to family is irresponsible.
Of course, single people with children should carry enough life insurance to provide for their children and/or pay off the house.

Married couples without children
At this stage of life, people must have life insurance to pay off a mortgage or debts that could burden the surviving partner.

Families
Families with one income and young children are the classic high-need situation for life insurance. In this case, the financial payout would be vital for covering lost income if the breadwinner died prematurely. Special considerations should be paid to how much income would be necessary to cover the family for many years as well as expenses such as college tuition down the road.

Retirement
Once the kids are grown up, the mortgage is paid off, and the breadwinner is in the twilight of his/her career, life insurance could become less important. In this case, the financial benefit could be used to cover estate taxes to protect heirs.

Active shooter safety

Active shooter safety

As the number of active shooters in public spaces rises worldwide, government, industry and educational institutions have focused on training people to act immediately during a shooting.

Remember most active shooters do not have a specific target in mind. They will shoot at random.

The rules:
Run, escape if the path is accessible.
Hide, in less obvious places.
Fight. As resort of last hope, attempt to disrupt, distract or incapacitate an active shooter.
If you believe you have a chance to escape, don’t pause to urge others to follow you. Act immediately. Get out and do not stop of help injured people.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, if you can’t escape, then find either cover or concealment. Cover might protect you from gunfire. Concealment will hide you from the view of the shooter.

When law enforcement arrives, they will be focused on the shooter. They will not have time to help injured people until the threat is over. Officers might shout orders and everyone must be prepared to follow the orders immediately. Officers might push people to the ground to get them out of the line of fire or even out of the way of responders.

As officers arrive, you must put down any items in your hands, raise your hands, and prepare to follow instructions.