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How the CARES Act May Affect Your 2020 Taxes

Now that you’ve ushered in the new year and closed and padlocked the door on 2020, it’s time to get a jumpstart on preparing your 2020 taxes. Because, like so many things over the past year, some of the tax guidelines changed as well.

Much of the attention of the $2.2 trillion, Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was signed by President Trump on March 27, 2020, in response to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been focused on the small business loan program known as the Paycheck Protection Program. However, there are several provisions in the Act that could directly or indirectly impact your 2020 individual tax return.

Provisions of the CARES Act that could affect your individual tax return

Stimulus Payments: The economic impact payments taxpayers received in 2020, based on 2019 tax returns (or 2018 returns if 2019 weren’t filed yet), are technically an advance payment of a tax credit for 2020. Because of this, these payments are not considered income and therefore are not taxable nor are they used to determine eligibility for premium tax credits for Affordable Care Act marketplace coverage or Medicaid.

If you were entitled to stimulus payments in 2020, and didn’t receive them, or only received partial amounts, you can get these credits when you file your tax return. In addition, if you received stimulus payments that were more than you were actually allowed, based on your actual 2020 income, you will not have to pay the credit overage back.

Unemployment Benefits: One of the most popular benefits of the CARES Act was the $600-per-week federal boost to state unemployment benefits. But many taxpayers may have forgotten that unemployment benefits are subject to federal income tax. The extra $600-per-week you may have received is no exception. If you didn’t opt to have the taxes withheld, hopefully, you put aside some of the money you received in preparation for your 2020 tax return.

The unemployment amounts available under the Act could have a significant impact on family income and could also affect eligibility for premium tax credits for the Affordable Care Act marketplace coverage and Medicaid. Generally, unemployment benefits are considered family income in determining eligibility for these programs. Consequently, the $600-per-week CARES Act supplement will also be considered as income for determining eligibility for premium tax credits for the marketplace coverage. However, it will not be considered as income in determining Medicaid eligibility.

Early Distribution Penalty Waiver: Generally, if you withdraw money from your retirement plan before 59 ½, there is a 10% tax penalty. However, the CARES Act waived this penalty for 2020 if an individual, or their spouse or dependent was diagnosed with Coronavirus through a CDC-approved test, or were economically harmed by it as the result of a quarantine, business closure, layoff or a reduction in work hours. Under the CARES Act, an affected individual can withdraw up to $100,000 from their qualified IRA, pension plan, or 401(k) plan in 2020, without incurring the early distribution penalty. However, regular income tax will still be assessed on the distribution. Under the CARES Act, this tax payment can be spread evenly over three years.

However, any withdrawals can be recontributed to a qualified retirement plan at any time over the three-year period to eliminate the otherwise reportable taxable income. The recontributed funds do not count toward annual contribution levels.

In addition, the CARES Act allowed you to borrow up to 100% of the vested balance or $100,000, whichever is less, from a qualified retirement plan. This option was only available for loans taken out during the six-month period from March 27, 2020 to September 23, 2020. These loans must be paid back within 5 years. However, the CARES Act allowed borrowers to forgo repayment in 2020 and begin the 5-year repayment plan in 2021. The loan, however, still accrued interest in 2020.

Required Minimum Contributions: The CARES Act waived minimum distributions that were required to be paid in 2020, including those that would have been required by April 1, if an individual turned 70 ½ in 2019. If the required minimum distribution (RMD) for 2020 was already paid, you can recontribute, within 60 days of the receipt of the original distribution, to a qualified plan.

If you opted not to take your 2020 RMDs, you’ve positively impacted your 2020 taxes in three ways. You don’t pay taxes on your RMD, you’ve reduced the risk of the RMD pushing you into a higher tax bracket, and you have the opportunity to ride out the market volatility that may have affected your retirement portfolio during the COVID pandemic.

Charitable Deduction Rules: In an effort to help 501(c)(3) qualified organizations affected by decreased contributions, due to the pandemic, the CARES Act removed the income-related cap on charitable contributions for 2020.

The CARES Act gave a new above-the-line charitable contribution deduction of up to $300 to taxpayers who do not itemize their deductions. For individual taxpayers who itemize deductions, the CARES Act temporarily removes the 60% cap and allows you to deduct up to 100% of your AGI in 2020 after taking into account other contributions subject to charitable contributions limits.

With the many changes to the tax guidelines in 2020, due to several of the CARES Act provisions, your 2020 tax return will most likely be more complicated than in the past. So, if you don’t normally use a professional tax preparer for your returns, this may be a good time to start.

Protecting Yourself From Fraud This Holiday Season

The 2020 holiday season will most certainly look very different as we try to balance celebrating and keeping our loved ones and ourselves “COVID” safe. Sadly, this unprecedented change will not deter the exploitation of our holiday habits by cybercrooks. In fact, the tremendous increase in Internet shopping this holiday season, due to the pandemic, is expected to ramp up online schemes and scams.

According to CreditCards.com, 71 percent of consumers plan to do a majority of their shopping online this holiday season, greatly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, as the retailers roll out all their seasonal deals, it sets a fertile ground for scammers to lure in bargain hunters with fake websites and social media campaigns impersonating major brands and online outlets. These bogus sites will entice consumers to spend money for goods or services they will never receive. Some of the more recent enticements include charity scams, delivery scams, travel scams and letter from Santa Claus scams.

This season’s increased distractions and transactions, unfortunately, also increase the likelihood that your personal information will be hacked, often resulting in account takeovers, fraudulent activity and wide-ranging identity theft. Although we can’t eliminate this threat, here are several tips to help reduce your chance of becoming another holiday season, cybercrime statistic.

  • Use Apple Pay (used with an Apple device) or Google Pay (used with an Android device) or another digital wallet instead of your debit or credit card for contactless purchases in stores, apps, and on the web. Digital wallets use an encryption system, replacing your card information with a one-time digital “token” for your transaction.

  • Use a credit card for your holiday purchases. Disputing charges with a credit card is less of a hassle than with a debit card.

  • Use a virtual private network (VPN). This allows you to create a secure connection to another network over the Internet, providing online privacy and anonymity when using a public Wi-Fi connection.

  • Don’t shop or conduct any financial transactions or activities on a public Wi-Fi. Even with a VPN, it’s a good year-round practice to avoid public online transactions that could pose a threat to the security of your personal information.

  • Don’t store your debit or credit card information online. Cybercriminals will have less access to your key information in the event of a data breach.

  • Be cautious at points of sale. Skimming devices can be attached to card readers to capture your credit or debit card information.

  • Be cautious of social media ads. If the offer seems too good to be true, most likely it is. Before making a purchase, do some research on the company, including their return and refund policies, and look at the Google reviews. Drag your cursor over social media ads to display the true URL destination.

  • Beware of email phishing and social engineering scams. If an email looks suspicious or is sent from an unfamiliar address, or someone calls you seeking personal information because one of your accounts has supposedly been hacked, always go directly to the company’s website and call the support number listed.

  • Activate card security features. Set up text alerts and notifications for your card transactions. Turn your cards off when they are not in use. Use virtual cards (temporary virtual credit card numbers that stand in for your regular credit card credentials) for secure online shopping.

  • Monitor your credit and identity. Experian’s free, credit monitoring gives you access to your regularly updated credit score and report, and will alert you if there are any changes to your credit.

Although the holiday season offers more scheming opportunities for cybercrooks, being mindful of your online security is a good habit all year long. Following these safe holiday shopping tips throughout the year will go a long way toward preventing identity theft.

June: A Celebration of the Men in Your Life

The month of June celebrates the men in your life. Not only is the third Sunday set aside to honor dads, but the entire month of June is dedicated to taking stock of the health of the men in your life as well.

Men’s Health Month, a national observance anchored by a Congressional health education program and recognized by the White House and the official symbol, a blue ribbon, is an annual observance to raise awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of diseases including cancer, heart disease and depression. Health fairs and other health education and outreached activities will be held across the country to encourage men to take care of their bodies by eating healthy, exercising and working to prevent disease.

According to menshealth.org, men, on average, die almost five years earlier than women. This is due, in part, to the fact that men are more reluctant to go to the doctor. Studies indicate that women tend to go to the doctor twice as much as men. Consequently, Men’s Health Month provides the perfect opportunity to motivate, promote and support healthy habits in the men in your life.  Here are a few ways you can do this:

Encourage him to get a physical – Most of the contributors to men, on average, having a shorter lifespan than women are preventable. This prevention begins with a physical with a primary care provider. This establishes baselines for factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol, weight and PSA (a screening test for prostate cancer risk). These visits should continue annually to monitor how these factors change over time, consequently, catching potentially dangerous conditions early, while they’re still treatable.

Encourage him to exercise – The benefits to physical activity on our health, especially as we age, are extensive. However, most of us are not motivated to exercise on our own. So, make it a partnership…find fun ways to get fit together. Join a gym, sign up for personal training or make walks part of your regular routine. Adults need about 2.5 hours of physical activity each week.

Encourage him to eat healthy – Help him make healthy eating choices by including a variety of fruits, vegetables and lean meats in your diet. Limit foods and drinks that are high in calories, fat, sugar, salt and alcohol.

Encourage him (if he does) to quit smoking – Set the example for him by choosing not to smoke and encourage him to quit. Quitting smoking has immediate and long-term benefits such as lowering the risk for different types of cancer as well as other cardiovascular and lung diseases.

Encourage him to recognize and reduce stress in his life – Physical and emotional illness are often a byproduct of long-term stress. Encourage him to learn how to manage stress in his life through finding support, eating healthy, exercising regularly and avoiding alcohol and drugs.

Encourage him to seek help for depression – Depression is one of the leading causes of disease or injury for both men and women worldwide. Learn to recognize the signs, which include persistent sadness, grumpiness, feelings of hopelessness, fatigue and decreased energy, and thoughts of suicide, and how you can help the men in your life. If someone in your life is in crisis, seek help immediately by:

  • Calling 911
  • Visiting your local ER or healthcare provider
  • Calling the toll-free, 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255); TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889) to talk to a trained counselor.

And lastly,

Let him know you care – Men often disregard their own health because they’re too preoccupied with taking care of everyone else. So, remind him how much he’s loved and how important he is to you and other family members, and that you want and need him to stay alive and healthy as long as possible.

Life After Covid-19 – Scenarios of Economic Recovery

As the cases of Covid-19 begin to level off, many states are cautiously reopening and beginning to loosen their social distancing restrictions in hopes of jumpstarting their economy.

The coronavirus pandemic has devastated the U.S. and world economy, plummeting economic activity and causing soaring unemployment rates. Social distancing policies designed to slow the spread of the disease have resulted in an economic decline that rivals the Great Depression.

So, what can we expect over the next several months? Will the economic recovery be as painful as the coronavirus-linked lockdowns or will there be a bounceback or possibly a scenario in between these extremes?

Currently, economic analysts are debating the following scenarios of recovery:

The “Z-Shaped” Recovery – This most optimistic scenario predicts that the post-pandemic economy bounces back above the pre-pandemic baseline due to pent-up demand, creating a temporary economic boom. In other words, once the risk of the pandemic passes, we will come out in full force, shopping and dining and taking those trips we postponed.

The “V-Shaped” Recovery – The next best recovery scenario suggests that although the economy permanently loses the production that would have occurred absent the pandemic, it will quickly return to its pre-pandemic baseline once social distancing restrictions have been lifted. In other words, the economy will go back to its pre-virus state.

The “W-Shaped” Recovery – This double-dip scenario suggests that there will be a surge in COVID-19 cases after the initial re-openings, causing another round of closures, causing another downturn in the economy prior to a recovery.

The “U-Shaped” Recovery – This scenario suggests that GDP remains low for some time, possibly more than a couple of quarters after the lockdowns have been lifted, resulting in the economy recovering, returning to its baseline slowly.

The “Swoosh-Shaped” Recovery – Borrowed from Nike’s logo, this scenario suggests that after a sharp downturn the economy will gradually bounce back as restrictions are eased and consumers, businesses and state and local governments are willing to spend. Many economists believe this or the U-Shaped recoveries are the likeliest scenarios.

The “L-Shaped” Recovery – This most pessimistic scenario suggests that the pandemic has a permanent affect on GDP, causing growth to continue to decline and not recover for some time. This is pretty much what the Great Depression recovery looked like. Most economists believe this scenario is unlikely unless the number of global coronavirus cases continue to rise, forcing more lockdowns.

The common thread that runs through these various scenarios is that they contain some variation of the tradeoff between the physical health response and economic response. As the economy reopens, measures will still be in place that will curtail economic activity to some degree – businesses will have to space workers and customers further apart, travel will be less common, restaurants will be serving fewer customers at a time, and activities involving large crowds will remain off limits for possibly a long time. Many people will be reluctant to return to life as it was prior to the pandemic, settling into a new “normal.”

Although economists have different recovery theories, they seem to be in agreement that the economy isn’t going to rebound overnight. The key question, however, is whether the damage to our economy will be long lasting.

‘Tis the Season…Not to Go Broke!

The season of giving is upon us! But, before you head out
the door to join the hustle and bustle at your local mall or begin filling your
shopping cart at your favorite online shopping sites, here are a few tips to keep
you from overspending and going into debt this holiday season.

Develop a holiday
shopping budget…and stick to it!

The first and most important thing you need to do is to
develop a realistic and reasonable holiday budget.  This will save you from impulse buying and
overspending.

If you haven’t saved already, look at your current household
budget and determine how much money you can allocate each week (paycheck) to
holiday spending. This includes gifts, food (items you only purchase during the
holiday season), decorations and travel. There may be items on your current
household budget you can eliminate until after the holidays (e.g. your daily
latte) and/or you could pick up a part-time holiday job to save even more
money.

Look for deals

Start browsing for people on your list, looking for the best
deals.  Beware…the best prices are not
necessarily found on Black Friday or Cyber Monday. These days typically offer
good deals on items like electronics, apparel and beauty products. You will
usually find better deals on toys and outerwear later in December.

Many stores will negotiate their prices to meet competitors
so you will buy from them. Doing your homework, comparing prices, before you
hit the big box stores will put you in a better negotiating position.

Use your credit cards
wisely

Using your credit cards for your holiday purchases may save
you money, especially if you utilize your card member perks/rewards, but only
if you’re able to pay off the monthly balance. The interest you will have to
pay if you don’t far outweighs the value of the card’s rewards.

Save money on
purchases with discounted gift cards

Sites like GiftCardGranny or CardPool sell discounted gift
cards. You can use them to make in-store purchases and save on whatever you
buy. If you couple the discounted gift card with a coupon, you’ll really save
money on your purchase.

Don’t go overboard
buying holiday attire

You don’t need a new outfit for every holiday function. Make
a few solid pieces unique by accessorizing. That same little black dress will
have a whole new look with different jewelry and shoes or a colorful scarf or a
dressy sweater or jacket. Be creative!

Hold off on self-purchases
until after the holidays

Many people like to buy that special something for
themselves during the holiday season. But, resisting this temptation will give
you more wiggle room in your holiday budget. Wait until after the holidays to
satisfy this urge by using gift cards you may have received. You will also reap
the benefits of the post-holiday sales.

DIY

People love receiving homemade gifts. So, bring out your
inner Martha Stewart and make your money go even further. Come up with more
sentimental gifts that won’t break the bank.

When it’s all said and done, consider your long-term
financial goals. Is it worth depleting your savings or racking up high-interest
debt for one day? Think about the true meaning of the holiday season…the
special time spent with friends and loved ones.

Have an open and honest conversation about your budget with
your family prior to the holidays. Most likely, they have been stressing about
overspending too.

From our Intracoastal Bank family to yours, have a safe and
blessed holiday season!

Remembering Jane

It’s hard to believe the holiday season is just around the corner. Where did the year go? As we, the Intracoastal Bank family, happily anticipate the first holiday of this wondrous season, Thanksgiving, we are also mourning the loss of a longtime member of our banking family, Jane Worthing. Jane, who was 57, passed away recently after a two-year battle with ovarian cancer.

Jane was born in Augusta, Maine. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Prior to her 8 ½ -year tenure with Intracoastal Bank, as our Secrecy Act Officer, handling compliance issues and legal requests, and monitoring accounts for fraud issues, Jane worked for the Bank of New York.

Jane will be greatly missed by her Intracoastal Bank family as well as all the customers she assisted during her time with us. Jane was considered as one of the most selfless people – always going above and beyond to help others – by both her coworkers and managers.

When Jane wasn’t giving of herself through her duties at the bank, she spent her time traveling, especially internationally, reading and hanging out with her two, much cherished cats. Jane is survived by her parents, a brother and sister-in-law and a niece.

Ovarian cancer, which begins in the ovaries or the fallopian tubes, has been dubbed “the silent killer” because of its low survival rate (an overall 5-year survival rate of 47 percent). Also labeled as the “whispering disease” because no specific test diagnoses it, ovarian cancer’s prognosis is unfavorable due to the delay in detecting it.

The American Cancer Society estimates for ovarian cancer in the U.S. for 2019 are:

• About 22,530 women will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer.
• About 13,980 women will die from ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women and accounts for more deaths than any other cancer of the reproductive system. Ovarian cancer mostly develops in older women, about 50 percent diagnosed at age 63 or older, and is most common in white women.

Sadly, our Jane is one of these statistics.

So, this year, as our Intracoastal family sits around the Thanksgiving table, we’ll be counting our many blessings, which include our health, family, friends, and the wonderful customers we continue to serve in our community. We will also take a quiet moment to fondly remember those who are no longer with us, including our Jane.

From all of us at Intracoastal Bank, may you and your family have a safe and blessed Thanksgiving holiday!

Trade School or College?

By the end of the 1950s, the focus of education in the United States shifted from vocational and job-ready skills to preparing all high school students, through college prep courses, for college. However, today, statistics indicate that the highly coveted bachelor’s degree doesn’t seem to carry the weight it once did.

The latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicate that approximately 68 percent of high school students attend college. The remaining students graduate with neither academic nor job-ready skills. But even the 68 percent aren’t fairing that well. Almost 40 percent of these students, as low as 10 percent for those in poverty, don’t complete a four-year college program, wasting a lot of time and money, and often acquiring significant student debt. Of those students who do graduate, the BLS found that about 37 percent end up with jobs they could’ve obtained with a high school degree.

In the United States, a college degree has been viewed as the pathway to success, and it still is for many. Earnings studies do show that college graduates earn more over their lifetime than high school graduates. However, these studies don’t take into account the amount of debt these students take on in pursuit of higher education (the outstanding student debt balance in the U.S. was $1.5 trillion as of 2018, according to the Federal Reserve) nor that more than half of recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed. In addition, these studies don’t include data on those high school students who graduated with vocational training. These graduates have gone on to well-paying, skilled jobs, creating a rosier picture for them than many of their college graduate counterparts.

The U.S. economy has changed. The manufacturing sector is growing and modernizing. This, along with the demise of vocational education in high school and retiring baby boomer, skilled trades workers, has created, and will continue to create, a significant demand for skilled labor. The skills shortage in manufacturing today has created a wealth of opportunities for high school and unemployed and underemployed graduates alike. Many of these jobs are attainable through apprenticeships, on-the-job training, and vocational programs offered at community colleges.

Even with the above statistics aside, the traditional 4-year degree isn’t for everyone. People have a diverse range of skills and learning styles. Some do best in a lecture hall or classroom, studying math, biology, history and other traditional subjects, while others learn best by doing, and would thrive in a studio, workshop or shop floor.

There are still many advantages to a 4-year degree. As stated before, most college graduates will earn more money over their lifetime, especially if they continue their studies through master’s or doctoral degrees. However, the cost/benefit equation to higher education is changing every day. The education system needs to recognize this and that vocational schools can offer students with valuable skills, resulting in competitive paying jobs and a secure financial future. Students need to be exposed to the possibility of vocational training as an alternative to the college degree, helping both them and their parents see a variety of paths to a successful future.

National Internet Safety Month

June is designated as National Internet Safety Month as a
means of spotlighting the importance of safe online practices for you and your
family.

As we head into summer, and, according to the National Cyber
Security Alliance, our children and teens begin spending an average of 7.5
hours each day with electronic devices, this month provides the perfect time to
spread awareness of the various ways we can keep our families and ourselves
safe on the Internet.

Today, with social media and social networking becoming
increasingly important in people’s everyday lives, even Grandma’s, ensuring a
safe online experience for you and your family can seem daunting. So, here are
a few guidelines that can help you keep the entire family safe in today’s
increasingly threatening digital world.

  • Home
    Wi-Fi Security

Your home Wi-Fi gives your children or
grandchildren access to the Internet from anywhere in your house. This makes it
more difficult to monitor their online activity. So, make sure your Wi-Fi is
highly secured by using strong router passwords, enabling wireless encryption,
to prevent strangers from seeing or having access to your network.

  • Read
    Online Privacy Policies Carefully

Websites and social networks that require
basic information from you when you create an account with them have privacy
policies. So, whenever you or a family member want to join a new social network
or set up a new website account make sure you know the creator’s privacy
policies – how they intend to use your information and what they do to ensure
the information you give them remains safe from dangers such as phishing and
identity theft.

  • Ensure the
    Whole Family Practices Safe Social Networking

Unless a social network is specifically
created for kids, a child under the age of 13 shouldn’t subscribe to a social
network. However, everyone else that does should use their personal information
wisely – don’t use full names, disclose birthdays or addresses. In addition,
you shouldn’t discuss your vacation plans or share photos with identifiable
details (your home address, car license plate number, etc.). You should also
talk to your children about cyberbullying and online predators and stalkers.

  • Ensure
    Safe Online Gaming

Kids and teens can interact with
their friends and people they don’t know in a fun way via live online games. However,
this can expose them to dangers such as bullying and predators. Make sure your
child uses only a nickname or an avatar (a icon or a figure) when playing
games. In addition, carefully monitor your child’s play and use the parental
controls – safety measures – the game offers.

  • Install
    Parental Control Tools on Family Computers

Although open communication and trust
is always the best practice when it comes to your child’s online use, some
extra precaution doesn’t hurt. Parental control tools can block your child’s
access to inappropriate websites as well as monitor their online activity.
Implementing a parental control tool isn’t about spying on your child. It’s
about keeping them safe from the growing number of online dangers.

  • Create
    Safe Passwords

Creating strong account passwords will help
keep hackers from breaching your online accounts and stealing your identity.
Create a strong, unique password for each online account and change it
regularly.  Make your passwords long, at
least eight characters, and a mix of letters, numbers and symbols. Also,
whenever possible, use security questions with answers only you’d know. Teach
your family members this practice as well.

  • Install A
    Complete Internet Security Program on Family Computers

An effective security program will protect you
and your family from malicious links, viruses and malware.

  • Only
    Download and Install Software from Trusted Sources

The Internet provides access to free games,
movies, etc. However, some of them contain spyware and other types of malware
that can compromise your computer as well as the whole family’s Internet
security.

  • Look for
    https:// in Website URLs

The https:// at the beginning of a web
address means it’s a secure site. This should appear in every bank or online
shopping site you use. In addition, if you or a family member bank or shop
online, make sure the Wi-Fi is secure.

  • Recognize
    and Avoid Phishing Scams

Cybercrooks are after your personal
information, and they’ll use all kinds of email and text scams to try to obtain
it. Watch out for alarming messages and threats of bank account or credit card
closures. You and your family members should also be wary of requests for
charitable donations, lottery wins and giveaways as well as links contained in
suspicious looking emails, texts or websites.

  • Backup
    Important Files/Data on Your Computer Regularly

You never know when your computer will crash
or become the victim of an accident or a cyber attack. So, backup your home
computers on a regular basis to keep your data safe and sound.

  • Stay
    Informed About Internet Security Threats

The best defense is always a good offense.
You don’t have to be an Internet security specialist/analyst to defend your
family from online dangers. You just need some basic knowledge.  So, do your homework and stay informed.

Are You Ready for Hurricane Season?

Summer is just around the corner, and so is hurricane
season. The 2019 Atlantic hurricane season officially begins June 1 and runs
through November 30.  With May 5-11 set
aside as National Hurricane Preparedness Week, there’s no better time to make
sure you’re ready if you live in an area prone to tropical cyclones.

Are you prepared?

According
to FDEM (Florida Division of Emergency Management), all Floridians should have a
disaster preparedness plan (if you don’t one, this week, National Hurricane
Preparedness Week, is the perfect time to develop one) based on their own
personal needs as well as an emergency kit to sustain themselves and their
family for up to 72 hours after a hurricane strikes.

The most
important person to protect your life and property during a hurricane…or any
natural disaster is not the firefighter or police officer or a representative
from the federal government…it is you. By taking a few simple steps over this
next week, you’ll be prepared if you are affected by hurricane this season.

Some initial steps

  1. Determine if you live in a storm surge hurricane evacuation zone or if your home would be unsafe during a hurricane. If so, determine where you’d go and how you’d get there in the event you have to evacuate. If you have pets, make sure to account for them in your plan.
  2. Get an insurance checkup. Call your insurance company/agent and review your current policy. Are you insured for a hurricane…repairs or if you have to replace your home? Keep in mind standard homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover flooding. Whether you’re a homeowner or renter, you’ll need a separate flood policy. Flood insurance requires a 30-day waiting to period, so you’ll want to act now. 
  3. Develop a written plan. Begin by identifying an out-of-town contact that all family members know to reach should you become separated. This individual would serve as a contact person for family members to report to and to let them know where they are and that they are safe. Identify a location away from home for family members to meet in case your home is inaccessible. Be sure all family members are aware of this location.
  4. Prepare a disaster supply kit. This would include but would not be limited to the following:

Enough
food, canned and dried food or anything easy to prepare and doesn’t require
refrigeration, and water, one gallon for each person per day, to last for 3
days.

A
manual can opener

Sleeping
bags or cots

Flashlights
and lanterns with extra batteries

First-aid
kit

Bathroom
supplies

Medicines
(prescriptions and over-the-counter medications)

Soap
and hand sanitizer

Rain
gear and tarps

Pet
supplies

Facemasks

Tools

Cell phone
charger

NOAA
all-hazards weather radio or battery-powered radio

Credit
cards and cash (bring enough cash keep you afloat for at least three days in
the event there is no electrical power to operate credit/debit card machines)

Written
list of important contacts

Games

5. Get
your home ready. Whether you decide to ride out the storm in your home or
evacuate, make sure your home is up to local hurricane building code
specifications and amply protected from the damage hurricane-force winds can
produce (e.g. have plywood on hand to cover windows, trim trees on your
property, have a safe place to store loose items such as porch/pool furniture,
etc.). 

These
steps are a good beginning. But, preparedness comes in all sizes, and you’ll
want to customize your plan to meet your individual and collective needs.
However, the best plan for everyone is the plan that begins today. To be better
prepared to plan for, respond to, and recover from a hurricane, visit hurricanes.gov/prepare.

Succession Planning…A Must for Business Owners

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” -Benjamin Franklin

People become business owners for a variety of reasons. The driving force behind most business owners is the belief that they can do things better than anyone else, the allure of being their own “boss,” and the ability to be the master of their own destiny and build their own wealth.

The natural evolution of being a business owner begins the minute you start or buy the business. The life cycle continues as you design, build and grow your business into something special…and profitable. However, at some point, the sooner the better, you must begin planning for an exit strategy, or a succession plan, to ensure the kind of legacy you want to leave behind with your business.

Most business owners don’t prepare for their exit. In fact, a recent trust survey revealed that only approximately 40 percent of small business owners have a succession plan in place. The majority of those without a plan said that they enjoy what they do so much that they can’t imagine a transition of ownership, while the remainder of the business owners surveyed said they were too busy to plan or felt that succession is still too far away in the future to begin thinking about it. But, life happens fast and unexpected life events can happen at any age. So, if you own your own business and you don’t have your exit strategy…succession plan in place, it’s time to get started!

How to build your succession plan

First, you must ask yourself a few important questions. Do you plan on selling your business to a third party at a certain price, do you want your business to live on through one or more or your children or do you see yourself selling to a third party yet maintaining a level of involvement in the company? This decision is key to how you will build your succession plan.

Once you’ve determined this, begin by taking the following steps:

1. Gather financial documents – A smooth transition of ownership begins with organizing the company’s financial documents like valuation data, inventory and up-to-date financial reports (audited P&L and Balance Sheet Statements). Buyers and lenders will want to review these records to determine how the business has performed historically before entertaining a deal. Organizing and consolidating your financial documents also protects your business if an unexpected circumstance forces you to sell or a family member is left handling a transition.

2. Establish a buy-sell agreement – A buy-sell agreement is a legally binding contract that allocates portions of the business in the event an owner passes away, becomes seriously ill or is contemplating selling his or her share of the business. This agreement contains information about the business like its sale price, the value of each owner’s share and stipulations such as who can or can’t buy the business. A buy-sell agreement also reduces the risk of conflicts among family members or partners who may not have the company’s best interest at heart.

3. Begin identifying your potential successor(s) – As a successful business owner, you’ve built your company from the ground up…it’s your baby…your pride and joy. Consequently, you want the business to continue to flourish when you are no longer at the helm. For this to happen, you must select the right person. Finding the right person, however, takes time. Whether you choose a family member or an outsider to take over your business, you will need to train them to run the business. By having an active role in the training process, you’re afforded the opportunity to develop and evaluate the critical skills and business traits of your potential successor to help ensure the long-term success of the business.

4. Establish a timeline – Set a timetable to determine when the control of your company will be turned over to your successor. Ease your successor into the transition, allowing him or her to make decisions, as well as mistakes, during this phase.

5. Execute your succession plan – If you’ve done your homework…the proper preparations, this should be as simple as handing over the keys. But, before you step aside make sure all your account information is organized and readily available to the new owner. As part of an exit strategy, you should have all sensitive login credentials for email servers, business software, IT systems, etc. organized and in a secure place to pass on to the new owner(s) or you should assist them with setting up new ones before you leave.

A well-thought-out succession plan is essential for small businesses and partnerships. Planning early and revisiting the plan as conditions change are the keys to a successful transition of ownership when that day arrives. With many options available to you and your business, you’ll greatly benefit from the counsel of a business and commercial law attorney. He or she will be an invaluable resource in helping you design a plan that is right for your business as well as minimize your business’s tax burden.

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