The One-Year Plan for better credit:

1. Go to annualcreditreport.com and get a free report. Correct any errors.

2. Pay your bills on time. You must never be late even once. Set up automatic payments.

3. Work on getting your credit balances below 30 percent of your maximum credit limit.

4. Do not apply for new credit, but if you are offered an increase in credit limits on your existing accounts, take it. This can raise your score, but remember you still need a clean record of payments.

5. Do not make new credit charges.

6. If you have unused credit accounts, don’t close them if you are planning to apply for a mortgage. That can actually make your score drop.

7. During your credit improvement year, don’t buy a car. Lenders don’t want to see buyers committed to several new, large credit accounts. Never finance a car before you apply for a mortgage. Never take out new credit card accounts before you apply for a mortgage.

8. Use caution with store accounts that offer a hefty discount on purchases if you apply for a card. Although some stores say they do not make a hard credit inquiry, a new account on your credit report is probably not what you need if you are trying to improve your score.
However, if your credit history is thin, you might take out a store account, providing you make several payments on time and then pay off the balance.

Problems with partners in a small business

Starting a small business can be a daunting task that has led about 1.6 million owners to seek out a partner to add leadership support or to help provide skills that they lack, according to Forbes magazine. While teams formed around a common business goal are likely to be well-aligned and full of trust in the beginning, there are many reasons the relationship can fill with doubt, frustration, and disrespect over time which can ruin a business quickly. According to Entrepreneur magazine, starting a business can be extremely stressful even without worrying about coexisting with a partner and differences in leadership style, skills, commitment, and even personal habits. All of these can cause tension.

Having two bosses with entirely different styles, for example, can negatively affect everyone in a company if they are sending mixed signals or spend too much time arguing. One might be a task-oriented disciplinarian that values efficiency and order over the laissez-faire, creative mindset of their partner who would rather make sure employees are happy and having fun. Perhaps the partners come from a background of management and design, respectively, and they tend to lead based on the skills they are already familiar with from their past. Each person will privately value their own perspective more than the other, leading to conflict.

As the initial stages of a startup wind down and time goes on, the commitment and personal habits of each partner become a more significant factor in maintaining a successful relationship. Two people will likely have different coping mechanisms and work-life balance priorities along with changing ideas on their role within a company. In this situation, it is incredibly easy for the 50/50 balance of a partnership to swing in one direction or another, leading to feelings of guilt or resentment as the inequality builds.

Although there is no perfect system, it is recommended that partners talk openly at all times about their expectations, feelings, and sense of progress while being careful to avoid unproductive ‘mudslinging.’ Be prepared not to find agreement on every issue, and the more willing partners are to discuss matters, the better their chances of long-term success. If an owner feels like there is an unresolvable impasse looming, they should consult with a lawyer on an exit strategy and be prepared to leave an unreasonable partner.

Time for the appraiser? Make your home shine

If you are selling or refinancing, the lender will have your home appraised.

It’s different from a home inspection. A home inspector is primarily preoccupied with the internal workings of a home, and looks for current problems or things that could become a problem.
An appraiser is trying to determine the value of your home, comparing it to prices of similar homes in the area, and weighing the location of the home including neighborhood and proximity to schools.

The appraiser will look at the size of the lot and the condition of the home itself.

An appraisal is key to selling a home, since a low valuation might force the seller to reduce the price. A higher valuation might come in handy, however, if you are refinancing, giving you extra equity in your home and making a loan deal easier.

Some say there is no point in doing a complete house cleaning for an appraiser, but that isn’t necessarily true. A clean, well-groomed home inside and out, can help boost the evaluation of how well a house is maintained. They look for signs of neglect such as appliances that don’t work, floors that are damaged, carpets that are torn or dirty. Even paint can be a factor.

If you are preparing for an appraisal, do make sure your home is clean and tidy inside and out: Mow the lawn, pull weeds, put away lawn equipment. Get rid of clutter.

Remember the appraiser will take photos. Tidy up the pool area, if you have one, as well as the bedrooms and baths.

If you have pets, be sure to confine them during the appraiser’s visit, if for no other reason than to be polite. But you might also consider how the cat’s litter box will look on film.

The appraiser will also find out the age of your home and evaluate its effective age. Doors, lights and windows should all work.

It’s best not to trail the appraiser around the house, but you could point out things like a recent renovation of a kitchen or bath.

Just try to make your home appear maintained, loved, and up-to-date.

Toughness, compassion can lead to success

Success requires a balance of being tough on yourself with a capacity for self-compassion, according to Entrepreneur Magazine.

Becoming too tough on yourself can lead to a path of self-destruction. Being too compassionate can lead to poor performance.

Becoming tough on yourself means making decisions even when they are difficult. When making hard decisions, don’t let lack of information, fear, or regret over past mistakes stop the truth from coming through clearly.

Raise your standard of excellence and demand the same from everyone else. The best people will appreciate the firm leadership.

In the long run, a business profits when people are tough because they will continue to improve over time and create a culture of high standards.

While being tough on yourself can drive strong results among a team, having compassion for yourself is equally important, according to The New York Times. Humans are naturally prone to obsess over their flaws and shortcomings. Unfortunately, dwelling on these issues can lead to depression, anxiety, negative self-image, and even lower productivity over time.

Acknowledgement of past mistakes is key to improving but remember to approach yourself as you might approach a friend with the same problem — by providing support and encouragement without apologizing for their behavior.

The basics of changing ownership in an LLC

It is typical for a small business to have some ownership transfer or sale during its lifetime, and it is crucial to know the differences between selling, transferring, or closing your business, according to the Small Business Administration.

Selling a business will require a lot of work upfront to ensure that everything is in order before the sale such as legal documents, proof of ownership, and the correct valuation. During this phase, experts recommend that the owner seek out a lawyer and a qualified business appraiser. The business appraiser will consider all physical assets owned by the company as well as things like brand value, intellectual property, and the book of business or projected future earnings. Typically, they will value the company based on future revenue (income approach), comparisons to similar business sales (market approach), or a basic subtraction of all liabilities from assets (assets approach).

When transferring ownership of an LLC, the most critical factor is who the current owners are and who the future owners will be, according to LegalZoom. Typically, a transfer of ownership that isn’t an outright sale involves adding or removing members such as when bringing on a new partner, buying out an existing one, or when there is a death. When the LLC formed, especially when there are multiple parties, there should have been an operating agreement signed by everyone that outlines how such a transfer will work through the buy-sell section. This section might include the requirement to buy out shares of a departing member or stipulate that a certain party will always be the majority owner. In some states, the entire business must be dissolved and recreated any time there is a change of ownership.

The decision to close a company could stem from the desire to retire or just to quit a business that isn’t working out. All owners must agree to the closing, and there are dissolution documents required to be filed in every state to prevent future tax filing requirements. Any licenses, permits, and other business registrations will need to be cancelled and final employee checks issued. The final tax returns for the last operating year must be filed as usual to fulfill any obligations to the IRS and records should be maintained for at least three years.

Payroll options for small business

Managing payroll for a small business can be a complicated and expensive task, but new online payroll solutions are available that can bridge the gap for many small business owners, according to Inc. Magazine.

Many business owners try to handle the paperwork and regulatory compliance on their own, and the IRS has shown that about 40 percent of them are incurring average penalties of $845 per year due to filing errors, omissions, and lapsed deadlines. The best services are those that are specifically geared towards small business, set up employee wage rates, track benefits-related hours, and withhold taxes automatically while providing online access to both employers and employees.

Most small business owners could benefit from a digital solution that will save them money compared to a traditional full-service provider while saving them time and eliminating the risk of potential legal troubles for mistakes they make on their own. According to Entrepreneur Magazine, one of the most popular and highly rated examples of these services is Intuit Payroll. Their product starts at just $20 per month with an extra $2 per employee, and it runs the entire payroll system and calculates taxes, but does not file them. Their full service, meanwhile, costs $79 but automatically files taxes and can fully import data from a pre-existing payroll provider. Other options to look for include check printing, direct deposit, and 24/7 customer support.

For owners that want to add additional benefits for their employees, a few new digital online providers have entered the market to make the process as intuitive and straightforward as possible for owners while meeting the high expectations of this generation’s tech-savvy entrepreneurs, according to Forbes Magazine. One such company, JustWorks, can pool employees from different companies together in its network to get better prices on things such as health insurance, vision, and dental insurance as well as access to 401k’s. They also track and automate paid time off, commuter allowances, workers’ compensation, and more.

Why good customer service is essential

The best small businesses will excel in many areas, but the most critical quality for long-term success is having exemplary customer service, according to Entrepreneur Magazine.

Corporate giants like Amazon have risen to the top based on their value of providing genuine satisfaction to their customers and continuing to evolve within an ever more competitive market. Jeff Bezos states that Amazon not only wants to meet customers’ expectations but that they actively try to solve problems they don’t even know they have yet.

Keeping a customer through excellent customer service is much cheaper than acquiring new customers through advertising or sales teams. Customers that are happy with a transaction also have around a 60-70 percent chance that they will buy something in the future. When a customer is treated poorly, however, they are more likely to return products, tell their friends and family about their negative experience, and even feel obligated to seek legal compensation.

On the other hand, one fan of a business can help convert many more people through word-of-mouth advertising, and when enough people agree that a company is good, it will attract strangers that are buying based purely on reputation.

Employees, aware of how owners treat their customers, are more likely to take pride in their work.

Options for refinancing with credit card debt

If you are thinking about refinancing your home, but concerned about your credit card debt, know that you do have options, but your situation needs to be clarified.

You’ll need to qualify for the new mortgage and that means your credit should be in order. You’ll have to document your income, assets and debts and prove you can make the payments on the new loan.

You must have enough equity in your house to refinance your mortgage and cover your outstanding credit card debt.

If you have owned your home for some years, you might have some happy news about your home value. Home prices have been rising in many locales and homeowners often find they have more equity than they thought.

If you have sufficient equity, then you could do a cash-out refinance. That means you refinance your mortgage for more than you owe and take the difference in cash.
You’ll need at least 20 percent equity to do a cash-out refinance.

It is likely that your new interest rate on a cash-out refinance will be higher than your current one, since interest rates are rising. If that is the case, then you might consider a home equity loan or a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC).

A home equity loan has a fixed interest rate on a lump sum of cash.

A HELOC works like a credit card secured by your house. Like a credit card, you have a credit limit that you can spend up to. The interest rate on a HELOC moves up and down with the prime rate.

Most experts agree that for short-term purposes, such as paying off credit cards, a home equity loan or HELOC can be better. That’s because you will pay off those loans faster and not be locked into a higher interest rate for 20 years (or whatever the life of your mortgage is).

The seller’s inspection: Inspecting a home before listing can be a good move

You take good care of your home and when you are ready to sell, why have it inspected? After all, the buyer will have an inspection before the deal.
Should you save the $350 to $500 it costs to have an inspection and hope for the best?

Maybe not. It might well pay for a seller have a home inspection before they list.

Sellers who have owned a home for some years might not recognize problems that have cropped up. If they were to keep their home, they would eventually discover and fix these issues. But, during the sale process, home issues can be a nasty surprise and delay or even kill a deal.

The business of selling a home and buying a new one is tricky enough but when a good offer is on the table, at just the time they are buying a new home, sellers don’t want the deal to fall through. Since most deals are contingent on inspection, a potential buyer can always opt out if their own inspection uncovers issues. That starts the sale process over in a big way, with the seller being forced to address problems and the buyer potentially moving on.

Inspectors take a close look at the home’s inner health in 10 areas: Interior and exterior, structure, roofing, plumbing, electrical, heating, air conditioning, ventilation, and fireplaces.

These detailed evaluations can identify the kind of problems that are easily fixed, but might cost the seller money and delays after the buyer’s inspection.

On roofs, for example, inspectors study shingles, flashings, roof drainage, skylights and chimneys. A seller might not want to put on a new roof, but repairing the flashings and roof gutters puts your house in a solid light. Buyers might not expect a new roof, but they don’t want to find leaks.

There are a variety of specific things that a home inspection can look for, depending on individual concerns. For example, a radon inspection checks a home for levels of radioactive gas and takes between two and seven days to complete. Termite inspection looks for damage to the wood structures of a home. With homes that have a well for water, well water testing is another option; for homes with a septic or oil tank, examination of those structures may be part of an inspection as well.

A general inspection should consider the condition of the roof, the water pressure and plumbing, electrical outlets and switches, and the crawl space and attic, according to HGTV.

How and why mortgage interest rates rise (or fall)  

The rate on a mortgage loan is often the most significant factor in how much an owner will ultimately pay for their home.  Monetary policy, market inflation, and the overall economy all play apart in determining when it rises and falls, according to Nerd Wallet. Currently, the United States is experiencing remarkably low rates by historical standards, below five percent in most cases, that contrast harshly with those in the high teens during the early 1980’s. In this country, the Federal Reserve is the foundation of most of the traditional lending system due to their setting of the federal funds rate – the interest rate that banks must charge each other for short-term loans. This base rate then influences longer-term rates between banks, businesses, and personal borrowers like those looking for a 30-year mortgage. During times of expected inflation, the Federal Reserve is likely to raise these rates to protect the value of the dollar by keeping prices in check at the expense of increasing the cost of borrowing money for everyone. These rates can have a compounding ripple effect throughout the economy as well, as businesses will be less likely to want to borrow money for investment when their interest payments become larger than the potential payoff. Slowing business can mean layoffs, suspended raises, and make potential home purchasers less sure about their financial future and ability to afford payments. Often, the housing market and overall economy will move through cycles of low-to-high interest rates that can be impacted by political changes, global events, and natural scarcity of resources. Anyone in the market for a new home should be paying attention to the current mortgage rates as even a fraction of a percentage point can have a dramatic impact on how much they will pay over the life of the loan. Using a 30-year, $300,000 loan as an example, someone with a four percent interest rate will pay a total of $515,609 while someone with a five percent loan will pay $579,767.