Earn high interest with online savings accounts

You might love your local bank, but it isn’t necessarily the place to park money over the long term.
Today, online high-yield savings accounts offer dramatically higher savings rates than brick-and-mortar banks.
A typical savings account in a brick-and-mortar bank could pay .02% APY (annual percentage yield) compared to 2.25% or more with an online bank, according to Magnify Money.
What this means to savings really matters.
A $15,000 savings account at .02% yields about $3 per year — a whopping 25 cents a month. The same amount saved at 2.25%, yields about $337 per year, or about $28 per month.
Online banks are FDIC insured as is the local bank. But online banks have lower overhead with no buildings to worry about.
However, they also may not have ATMs, they might have fees, or require high minimum deposits. But not all do.
Synchrony Bank, for example, has no minimum deposit and no fees, but you are limited to six withdrawals or transfers per month. APY is 2.25%.
The low-interest account at your local bank will give you access to money at all times and likely include easy transfers. Still, these accounts are best reserved for merely separating money to be used for different purposes.
Search for high-interest online savings to compare features.

Securing internet of things

You are on vacation; wouldn’t it be nice to check in on the family pet? Or you are at work; it would be nice to check to see if the baby is down for a nap.
The convenience of security cameras and baby monitors make them an important part of the Internet of Things (IoT).
But they can and do have security issues.
Most security flaws involve software called iLnkP2P, which is often bundled with IoT devices like doorbells and video recorders. The software makes it easy to access remote devices from anywhere in the world, according to Krebs on Security. But they are easily hacked.
Here is what you can do to protect your security:

  1. Avoid connecting devices to the internet without a firewall or in front of a firewall. Keep IoT devices behind a firewall, such as is found on routers.
  2. Change the device’s default credentials if you can. On cameras and DVRs, you might not be able to do that.
  3. Update the firmware when an update is available.
  4. Disable Universal Plug and Play.
  5. Don’t buy Peer-to-Peer (P2P) devices.
  6. Don’t go cheap.
    Check out the internet security site: grc.com’s Shield’s Up.

Vested: It’s not what you wear; it’s what you own

It’s a term thrown around a lot, and it sounds important: vesting. As in, being fully vested — that sounds pretty good and it is.
According to the IRS, being vested in a retirement plan means ownership. All employee contributions to a retirement plan are 100% fully vested — the employee owns everything he or she puts in.
However, employers usually provide a match of a certain percentage of employee contributions.
Matching contributions
Employers match contributions made by employees in different percentages. An employer might say: If you put 6% of your paycheck into the 401(k), then we’ll match your contribution by 50%. So suppose your 6% equals $3,000. Then the employer will put in $1,500. That would be an unusually generous match. Typically, an employer may match 3% of the first 6% of the employee’s salary. That equals a 9% contribution — still pretty good, especially over the long term.
They key idea, though, is that the employer sets a certain match percentage. The employer may also have rules about when their contributions are fully owned (or vested) by the employee.
Vesting rules
The employer, along with the fund managers, decides how much of the match the employee owns and when.
Newer employees may start out at lower percentages, but they become fully vested in time.
For example, an employee may become 20% vested in the company match after two years, meaning the employee owns their personal contributions plus 20% of the company match. Many 401(k) plans work out vesting in tiers. The longer you stay with the company, the more of the company contribution you own. An employee might become fully vested in, for example, six years. Then the employee owns 100% of the matching contribution.
Sometimes 401(k)s are set up so that an employee becomes 100% vested at a specific time — say after 2 years. Then they own all the matching funds on one day.
Being fully vested
The good thing about being fully vested is that you own all the money you put in and all the money your boss matches. (Plus, you own all the money that grows over time.) That means you can take the money with you if leave the company or retire.

Book Review: Is Online Interaction Worth Our Privacy?

Although it’s easy to shop online these days–and communicating with others is faster than dialing a phone number–it all comes with a price.
Our privacy.
So warns Shoshana Zuboff, a Harvard Business School professor emerita who has written “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for the Future at the New Frontier of Power” following decades of scrutinizing labor and power in the digital marketplace.
With scant resistance from the law or society, Zuboff writes, surveillance capitalism is very close to shaping the digital future and–in the process–ruling social order.
In its book review, the New York Times notes that instead of serving the needs of people, surveillance capitalists make billions more by monitoring, purchasing, and selling the characteristics of peoples’ behavior. Simultaneously, the fundamental production of goods and services is being governed by “behavioral modification.”
Comparing companies like Google and Facebook to the slaughter of elephants for their tusks, Zuboff writes that instead of being the product, the public is the “abandoned carcass” from the wrenching of raw material from the daily experiences of humans.
Such big tech platforms continue to sell advertising, but now it’s targeted by the behavior information gleaned from users.
The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for the Future at the New Frontier of Power
Author: Shoshana Zuboff
Publisher: PublicAffairs
Pages: 704

Road trips for June

Welcome to June, when thoughts turn to vacations. School vacation, work vacation, whatever — it’s summer and it’s time to chill. Or travel.
Looking for something fun to do this month? Here are some events to fire up your brainstorming and kick off the summer season:
Chicago Blues Festival. This free three-day event takes place June 7-9 at Millennium Park and celebrates the history of blues in Chicago with live performances on six stages by local and national artists.
Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival is June 13-16 in Manchester, Tenn. The event features more than 150 musicians and performance artists on 10-plus stages along with art, events, a 5k, and education about sustainability.
The U.S. Open Golf Championship is June 10-16 in Pebble Beach, Calif. Will Tiger Woods win another Major after his dramatic win at the Masters?
The Belmont Stakes, the third leg in the Triple Crown of horse racing, is June 8 at Belmont Park in Elmont, NY.
Firefly Music Festival is June 21-23 in Dover, Delaware. A music and camping weekend, the lineup includes Panic! At the Disco, X Ambassadors, Death Cab for Cutie, Travis Scott, Vampire Weekend, and dozens more acts throughout the weekend.
The South Carolina Festival of Flowers is in its 52nd year and will be held June 7-9 in Greenwood, SC which kicks off a month-long calendar of events. Likewise, the Mackinac Island Lilac Festival in Michigan runs June 7-16 and is in its 71st year. Events include tours, a 5k, parade, and kite-flying.
The Saratoga Balloon & BBQ Festival is June 21-23 at the Saratoga County Fairgrounds & Expo Center in Ballston Spa, NY.

Taxes and retirement: What is taxed?

Upon retirement, you don’t get a paycheck with the proper amount of taxes withheld. That’s obvious.
What may not be so obvious until you retire is the amount of taxes you owe. Unlike employees, retirees write checks for their taxes, making them acutely aware of their tax burden.
Of course, everything we save for retirement is taxable at some point and in some way.
If you are ready to retire, here are some things to look forward to:

  • Social Security taxes: You have to pay tax on your benefit. You can have amounts from 7 percent to 22 percent withheld from every check. See form W-4V (for Voluntary).
  • Pension and annuity taxes: See Form W-4P to instruct the payor how much to withhold.
  • IRA distributions: The law requires 10 percent be withheld unless you tell the distributor not to withhold. You can also tell the distributor to withhold all of the taxes.
  • Company plans and lump sums: Some of these plans are taxed at 20 percent.

The etiquette of doing business abroad

Every facet of U.S. business abroad depends upon its international relationships. As a result, it’s vital that business professionals understand what is expected of and from him or her when visiting a foreign country on business.
According to Business Etiquette International, research and retain as much as you can about the specific region of the country you are visiting. Learn the cultural nuances of the area, and–at a minimum–be able to use the local words for “Yes,” “No,” “Please,” “Thank you,” and “Help.” Clients truly appreciate the visitor who is trying to speak their language, if only in a few words or phrases.
Keep in mind that etiquette has no uniform set of standards around the globe. A gesture or remark in the U. S. may have the opposite meaning in other cultures and countries.
Business relationships cannot be overstated in international business etiquette. How you meet and greet residents in a foreign country is probably the most important part of your visit.
Behavioral studies show that, in the U.S. and abroad, most people judge your social position, economic, educational, and success levels within 30 seconds of introduction. In the next five minutes, they also form their opinions about your intelligence, reliability, friendliness, and compassion, among other traits.
Be sure to rehearse your meeting in advance and dress for it in a manner reflecting the culture and your client’s expectations. Establish clear objectives for your meeting, communicate politely, and be upbeat.
The more you know and understand about the nation’s culture–and local language–the deeper your relationships will become.

Determining Comps When You Want to Sell Your House


The home you’ve cared for and loved might seem incomparable to you, but when you sell (or get a home equity loan), someone is going to have to find a comparison.
In the language of real estate and mortgage that is called comps.
Comps help answer the biggest question on your mind and a lender’s mind when you look to sell your house: What’s my home worth?
The answer? It depends.
It’s important to note that home values boil down to educated — and sometimes uneducated — guesses. They are merely opinions, with the one that truly matters being the bank’s. Toward the end of the process, the buyer’s bank needs to approve of the purchase price in order for the loan to be approved.
Before then, however, you have a few ways of gathering information. The best is to consult with a real estate professional who can provide you with a figure based on “comps” — comparative sales. The agent will conduct a comparative market analysis, or CMA, and give you their professional opinion on your home’s potential sales value. This is generally a far better option than relying on your neighbor’s or your uncle’s opinion, as the agent is trained and experienced at comps.
What goes into a CMA? The agent will find recent sales of similar properties in your location; the best comps are within 90 days or less, though if you live in an area that’s less populated, you’ll likely use comps from six months back and sometimes longer.
If your home is ranch style, it should be compared to sales of other ranch homes. A cape or a contemporary is different. Comps also take into consideration the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, the acreage, whether there’s a garage and a basement, and things like central air and the type of heating.
The key is to work with someone who understands your specific market and who has a track record of accurately providing figures. Top-selling agents (not necessarily top listing agents) are generally the ones who do best at this. As a seller’s agent, they know how to price your home to move while also getting you a fair price; as a buyer’s agent, they typically understand how to negotiate well.

Some 401(k) fears valid, others not, experts say Fear: The boss might steal it.

Somewhere on an assembly line is a young worker who once told a reporter: I wouldn’t put my money in a 401(k) because the boss could steal it.
Rest easy.
In average situations, there is very little chance the boss could steal the money from a 401(k), which would be a crime, probably involving fraud.
Contributions to a 401(k) go to a financial company. Maybe the boss picked the company, but the boss can’t access your money. The boss doesn’t own it and can’t spend it.
Fear: I can’t afford to contribute.
There are a lot of benefits to a 401(k). The money you put in isn’t taxed. It’s only taxed when you take it out at retirement.
If you took about $100 a week out of a paycheck every month for 15 years and put it in a 401(k), you would probably have more than $146,000 at the end of 15 years. At the end of 30 years, you’d have $611,729. This example by the Motley Fool assumes a return of 8 percent.
So, when you reach retirement, you might have your Social Security (depending on government future plans), and you’ll be able to add to it by taking 4 percent of your nest egg each month. You’ll be comfortable then if you sacrifice now.
Fear: I’ll lose all my money.
Over the long term, there is a 99 percent chance you will make money. But sometimes you won’t. Recently, retirement plans have racked up interest of 10 percent and higher. In 2008, during the housing crisis, people lost money…but not all of their money.
If you can’t stand losses, you usually can have your plan administrator put your money in highly conservative, safe investments. They don’t make as much money, but they don’t lose it either.
Fear: What if the company goes out of business?
Your money is safe because the company usually doesn’t manage retirement accounts. They have big financial companies like Fidelity, Vanguard, or Principal do that. Those companies manage millions of retirement accounts. Motley Fool says be skeptical if the plan administrator is “Scruffy’s Retirement and Fried Chicken.”

Business Book Review: How crazy ideas sometimes change the world

Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries
By Safi Bachall
St. Martin’s Press
In 2004, a team of engineers was gripped with a fantastic idea: They would make a handheld phone with a big color screen and give it the ability to connect to the internet. Plus they would set up a store where people could download applications for the phone.
Sound familiar? Surprise. Those engineers were not at Apple. They were at Nokia, where that crazy idea was shot down soon after birth.
Three years later, writes Safi Bachall, Nokia engineers watched Steve Jobs introduce their dumb idea on a stage in San Francisco.
Bachall’s book chronicles Loonshots, crazy ideas that change the world — or would change the world, if they weren’t buried and forgotten.
Bachall’s exceedingly readable book combines the principles of science with business to show how good teams often kill good ideas.
The structure of companies and teams means more than culture, he writes. Bachall points out that small, starving companies can produce dazzling results because the stakes are high for all members. Rank doesn’t matter. But as the teams get larger and more successful, the stakes aren’t nearly as high. Then rank matters more. At that point, good ideas can be ditched.
Small changes in structure, not culture, can transform a team, he writes.
This book will interest business leaders for its unique take on teams and culture. But anyone who wants to know about the nature of success and failure will be fascinated by the many stories Bachall tells.