Can balance transfers backfire?

The average American had $6,354 in credit card debt at the end of 2017 which continues the upward trend of recent years, and many people might be looking for a balance transfer after overspending during this year’s Christmas shopping season.

The benefits of a good balance transfer card are that a person with existing high-interest credit card debt can get as low as zero percent interest rate for up to 21 months. That can allow them to focus on the debt itself without worrying about interest charges slowing them down, according to The Simple Dollar.

Without proper preparation, however, balance transfers can backfire.

Balance transfers still require work and sacrifice to totally clear the debt. Bad spending habits and a lack of budgeting probably created the debt in the first place. Transferring a balance might save you interest, but it won’t save you from bad habits.

One of the worst things to do is continue to use an old credit card while trying to pay off a new one, racking up even more debt in the process.

This includes falling into the trap of wanting to use the credit card to access the rewards for things like presents for the family at the end of the year – they are not worth it if there is a balance at the end of the month.

The only way to clear out debt with a balance transfer is to divide the total balance by the number of interest-free months. That is the monthly payment you must make to ensure your profit from the balance transfer.

This payment will likely be much higher than the minimum required but paying only the minimum amount will not make much progress toward total payoff.

You’ll get the best deals on a balance transfer with a great credit score. The best scores can attract offers of zero interest for close to two years.

A strict monthly budget can help carve out extra money to pay down debt. Focus on absolutely perfect payments to increase your credit score.

Tax moves to make before year-end

As April’s tax deadline looms, there are some things you can do before Dec. 31 to cut your tax bill.

First, use any extra money to make a final contribution to an IRA or 401k. This makes a tidy deduction in taxable income. In 2018, those limits are $5,500 and $18,500, respectively.

Don’t forget that unused money in a flexible medical spending account will be lost at the end of the year so use the balance to stock up on eligible household items like bandages, vitamins, and sunscreens.

Homeowners that plan to itemize their deductions should think about squeezing in an extra mortgage payment at the end of the year, something that adds to a deduction and pays your house off sooner.

One significant change in the 2018 tax code caps the deduction for state and local taxes (SALT) at $10,000 for any combination of property, income, or sales-related taxes. For those with expensive homes in high property-tax states, this can be a hit. For example, New York’s average deduction last year was $21,000. The deduction cap won’t affect the average homeowner outside coastal and metro areas.

According to Quicken, the end of the year is also an excellent time to make energy-efficient improvements such as insulations, roofs, or doors that can qualify for up to $500 through the Residential Energy Tax Credit.

According to Quicken, the end of the year is also an excellent time to make energy-efficient improvements such as insulations, roofs, or doors that can qualify for up to a $500 credit.

Many people can gain a small advantage in their taxes by selling investments that lost money during the year and using the losses to offset capital gains on a dollar-per-dollar basis, up to $3,000, on the ones that did well. Extra losses can also be carried over to future tax years, meaning one particularly lousy year can spread out over time.

Additionally, donating cash to charity is deductible, but it is important to remember that unwanted items can be given and written off at current fair market value as well.

Money saving tips during holiday shopping

Avoid impulsive shopping during the holidays by making your plan and sticking to it.

One method to avoid the madness, according to Real Simple, is to work out a complete gift plan, then set aside one day for shopping.

Before the big day, shop sales for specific items and download any necessary retailer coupons and price scanning comparison tools onto a smartphone for real-time help.

On the big day, get up early, eat a healthy breakfast, dress for business, leave the credit cards at home and plan on using cash only.

By some estimates, spending cash only will save you up to 23 percent on your shopping trip.

While at the store, shop solo, avoiding salespeople, unless you really need help.

Buy cheaper items first. If you buy the big ticket items first, tossing around $20 or $50 here and there seems easy. So start small.

Break up the day with a coffee or soft drink to stay in a good mood and make better choices.

Get in and out of stores more quickly by checking out in less crowded areas of major department stores and steering clear of sales pitches.

During lunch and dinner breaks, cash in credit card rewards on discounted gift cards and exclusive special offers to round out the list.

An extra sneaky tip is to load up an online cart but cancel it right before finalizing. Often, they will send an email offer with a discount code but if not, there is no harm in asking the live chat representative.

Holiday-themed promotions and marketing ideas for small business

Special holiday offers and charity events top the list for best promotions during November to January.

December Holiday sales in 2018 are expected to pass the $700 billion mark in the U.S. with at least a 3.8 percent increase over the prior year, according to Retail Touch Points.

This spike is hot on the heels of a 5.5 percent increase from 2016 during the 2017 holiday season, the month of November and December. Small businesses should be doing everything they can to maximize their exposure to potential customers and driving sales throughout this period.

Fit Small Business tapped small business owners to find out their most powerful marketing and promotions during the holidays that nearly any owner can incorporate into their strategy.

Many events focus on creating scarcity and a sense of urgency through limited-time-only specials such as a 12 days giveaway that offers something new for one day only. This allowed social media marketer Proko to increase the daily traffic to their website by 20-30 percent each day as customers checked to see what was on display and boosted sales throughout the promotion and into January as well. Creating a product or two with a limited-edition holiday run can create instant demand among existing customers that don’t want to miss out as well as new customers intrigued by the offer. Suit maker Shinesty, for instance, creates 100 suit batches of a unique design that, once sold, will never make it back into their shop again.

A great way to tap into the giving spirit during the holidays is to avoid the overplayed Buy-1-Get-1 specials and create a Buy-1-Give-1 promotion that pledges to donate a product or a portion of the profits to a good cause whenever someone buys something. For traditional businesses with a local presence, doing good in the community can bring benefits long into the future by cultivating a positive brand image. Once all of the fun ideas are planned, don’t forget to ensure that there is enough product on hand to last through a busy sales period.

Sometimes injury numbers don’t tell the story

Organizations with low numbers of on-the-job injuries can be proud of their record.

But number of injuries alone doesn’t tell the whole story.

Safety expert Don Groover, writing in Safety and Health Magazine, points out that, in dangerous situations, luck plays a part.

Groover gives this example: An observer stands below a worker on a high platform. The worker is using a hammer. The hammer falls and misses the observer. There are zero injuries on the job that day but, the fact is, the observer was lucky, not safe. The exposure to danger was still there.

The key is creating a work environment and a safety culture that recognizes exposure, not just injury.

In that example, you could say that the workers were in error, either because of the way the hammer was used or because of the position of the observer. While that might be true, Groover points out that the pool of exposure points is more important.

“A focus on exposures is a radical departure from a focus on hazards or unsafe actions,” Groover writes.

The key is focusing on the factors that cause vulnerability to dangerous situations before the injuries occur or, with luck, don’t occur.

“When a person is exposed, the outcome is out of their control,” Groover says. They could have good luck — or bad.

The significance of safety exposures becomes clearer when seen over time.

Groover gives the example of a worker who climbs on a unit to install a strap on a shipping container. When he steps back, he stumbles and falls five feet. He is uninjured.

He is lucky, and the company has zero injuries but their exposure, when considered across the system, is huge: An employee climbs up twice for each unit loaded. About 25,000 units are loaded per day, equaling 50,000 exposures per day or 18 million exposures per year.

Given this immense number of possible falls, relying on perfect execution each time from employees reveals a much bigger risk than merely calculating injuries per day.

Common ways to save money on homeowner’s insurance

Although homeowner’s insurance is a necessary expense, there are several ways to reduce these costs with or without spending money on improvements, according to Nerd Wallet.

Some of the simplest reductions, such as bundling the home insurance with auto insurance through the same company or improving your credit score, won’t cost a penny and will likely only require a short phone call. Similarly, raising the amount of the deductible on a policy or lowering the maximum payout for possessions can reduce the rate without any upfront cost. According to Bankrate, you can also receive discounts between 1-20 percent for being a nonsmoker, over the age of 55, part of a homeowner’s association, and not having filed a claim in many years.

For those looking to spend money on home upgrades and renovations, there may be discounts available to help offset some of that spending if the changes make the home safer or more durable.

Many older homes, for instance, have older wiring that poses a much more significant risk of catching fire and causing property damage that insurance companies will often grant a 10 percent reduction in premiums to avoid the potential payoff. In fact, home electrical fires cause an average of $659 million in losses each year while a wiring-related issue causes more than half of those reported. Meanwhile, wind and hail caused by powerful weather can wreak havoc on an unprepared or deteriorated roof, and discounts of 5-10 percent can be had for installing newer, impact-resistant roofing material.

The pros and cons of buying into a franchise

Buying into a franchise business of any kind allows the owner to go into business for themselves while providing the benefit of a proven business model, but it can come with a substantial cost, according to Entrepreneur Magazine. For those that have never owned a business, franchises can take much guesswork out of the equation because they will automatically receive the brand recognition, marketing, training, and all other resources that the corporate headquarters will provide.

Another benefit of being a franchisee is that they won’t have to worry about new product development, design, or even the financial systems necessary to keep the business fresh and their territory will be protected within their market. According to The Balance, they also typically benefit from the economies of scale that a large corporation enjoys so their inventory will be cheaper, and they will have better access to employee recruitment. Essentially, a franchise owner is purchasing a turnkey business with a much higher success rate than a startup.

Unfortunately, companies understand the value that their franchises can provide to investors, and it often requires a substantial fee to get started as well as paying ongoing fees or royalties to continue using the brand each year. Operating a unit within another person’s company also means that the franchisee must conform to someone else’s idea of how the business should be run and there won’t be much room to change things or add a personal touch. Successful operators must also worry about how their peers are performing in units of their own as a product or human resources scandal in one location could have implications far outside of their local area.

Facebook ads can work for small business

Facebook is the new media driving small business sales, marketing experts say.

According to Content Marketing Institute, a full 97 percent of all business-to-consumer marketers that use social media are using Facebook ads as part of their advertising strategy and 88 percent of those using it feel as though it is their most effective platform for reaching customers and converting sales. With 1.37 billion daily active users and 2 billion monthly users, Facebook has a massive audience, but it is the targeted nature of their ads that make them so useful, according to USA Today.

A local restaurant, for instance, could decide on Tuesday morning that they want to advertise a special on oysters that night and turn to a Facebook ad to drive traffic to the promotion. With a few clicks, the owner can target an advertisement to users in their zip code that like oysters and eating out and are over 21 so they can buy drinks. The cost of such an ad could easily be under $100.

Meanwhile, traditional ad campaigns in print or radio would require significantly more planning time and cost.

Another feature, lookalike audiences, allow a business owner to automatically find people with traits similar to those who are already following their Facebook pages, according to Inc. Magazine. This approach generated $5 for every dollar spent on this type of ad.

The ability for small businesses to create inexpensive, targeted ads whenever they want creates a fantastic opportunity to market-test new promotions, sales, and other initiatives. They even have a Lead Ads service that lets companies without a website gather email addresses from potential customers that have shown interest in their ads.

How to be seen as an expert

You can gain more respect in your area of expertise by using a few basic strategies, according to Entrepreneur Magazine.

Start by narrowing your field of interest, then follow up by writing articles, speaking to groups, and doing podcasts and radio.

Micro-specializing is key. An interior designer might know generally about home and business design. But the idea is to become an expert in one particular type of design. Choose fitness centers or CEO offices, for example, and know everything possible about the needs in the niche.

Publish your results, observations and advice on your specialty in trade journals, or other professional media. This way you become known in the industry.

Once you’ve established yourself in an industry, you could consider taking your most popular or even controversial topics and delving deeper into them with a book focused on solving a problem or informing an audience.

Ultimately, one of the best ways to become an expert or even a celebrity in your field is to move into speaking engagements at professional conferences.

Some brick-and-mortar stores thrive

In small towns and cities all over America, malls are closing, shopping centers are vacant, and the cause is e-commerce.

But physical stores still have power and some sectors are showing resilience, according to Forbes.

Nine companies on the list of Top 10 U.S. retailers is made up entirely of players that rely on foot traffic: Wal-Mart, Kroger, Costco, Home Depot, CVS, Walgreens, Target, Lowe’s, and Albertson’s.

The principal markets for these retailers are groceries, clothing, and home improvement supplies — all more desirable when purchased in person. Consumers still want to examine fresh produce.

They would rather try on new clothes before they buy. Home improvement products such as lumber and tools are still get-it-now items.

In addition, according to a study by the CBRE Group, 70 percent of Millennials — the largest, most connected consumer base — still prefer to shop in stores.

Amazon, the big destroyer of retail, must know that too. Their recent purchase of Whole Foods for $15 billion is a dramatic example of their play in the brick-and-mortar space.