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It's almost New Year! Have you done your yearly credit report checkup yet? While you're at it, protect yourself from charity scams this season by reviewing some big red flags, and learn how to prioritize cash flow in your business.
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One way to head off fraud during tax season is to get your free annual credit report now. Credit reports often have errors in them; this quick checkup can be the first indication that some form of identity theft has taken place on your account.
The good news is that each of the major consumer credit reporting agencies is required by law to provide you with a free report once a year. Here's contact information to help you get your free credit report:
Annual Credit Report.com Telephone: 1-877-322-8228 Website: www.AnnualCreditReport.com Via mail: (fill out the online form and mail it to the following address) Annual Credit Report Request Service P.O. Box 105281 Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
Listed here are the three major credit agencies and how to contact them directly.
Reminder: Each agency may try to upsell you into additional paid services. If you find problems on your credit report, work through the credit bureau's process to correct the error. Also place fraud alerts on your credit agency account if you experience any kind of identity fraud.
3 Major Charity Scam Red Flags
You’ve probably already received several letters and phone calls from charities asking for donations. Most requests are from legitimate organizations. Some, however, are bogus charities set up by con artists who use the holiday spirit to their financial advantage.
Last year, Americans gave nearly $428 billion to charities, according to Giving USA 2019: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2018. That's a huge incentive for fraud.
If you're planning to donate, take some time to learn how to spot a charity scam. Here are a few big red flags:
Popup charities. Every legitimate charitable association started sometime, and some are still being formed. But natural disasters, endemics and calamities of every type — from Hurricane Dorian to the Ebola virus — seem to spawn an inordinate share of fake charities. You can avoid these popup scams by donating to charities that you trust, which generally means those with a proven track record. If you're unsure, check out the organization with the Better Business Bureau, Charity Navigator, GuideStar or similar watchdog group.
Evasive answers to fundraising questions. A legitimate caller should be upfront about their charity, the percentage of funds allocated to administration and marketing, and what target groups will be aided by your donation. Whether you're giving to provide medical supplies, support research or some other worthy cause, don't be afraid to ask direct questions and expect direct answers. If the fundraiser seems to hedge their responses or knows little about the supposed cause to which you're contributing, consider a different charity. Beware of vague claims like "educating the public" or "promoting awareness."
Urgent email requests. Websites made to mimic legitimate charities have conned many otherwise careful contributors. Emails asking for money on a deadline may originate from the backroom computer of a scam artist. Never divulge your financial information via email. Call the charity directly and find out if it's registered in your state (if required). Ask for written information. When in doubt, check it out.
Many charitable organizations are seeking your aid to address genuine hardships. Avoid the schemes of unethical scammers, and your donations will provide help where it's needed most.
If you think you’ve been contacted by a bogus charity, let the Federal Trade Commission know by filing a complaint.
Cash Flow: A Central Part of Your Business Plan
When tracking and planning your business objectives, it’s easy to focus your analysis on two reports — the income statement and balance sheet. But one of the primary keys to your business’s success relies more on how you handle the money flowing in and out of the business. The appearance of a solid profit can hide a lurking cash flow problem.
Here are practices to help you give your cash flow the attention it deserves:
Understand your cash position. Start with simply getting in the habit of monitoring your bank account activity daily to watch for mistakes or unforeseen charges. Then look at each business process that involves cash — purchasing, inventory, collections and payroll are good examples. Consider extending terms for paying vendors, establishing shorter terms for customers to pay and implementing a review process to ensure accurate payroll calculations. Also explore opportunities to turn over your inventory faster.
Create a cash flow statement forecast. With your knowledge of cash, create a forward-looking statement of monthly cash flow. It will reflect the ebbs and flow of cash throughout the year and identify times of cash crunch. You can then see the impact of changes you are making on your company's cash position.
Identify relevant ratios. There are many helpful cash flow ratios. Identify ratios that are especially helpful to your business. Have debt? Consider the cash flow coverage ratio (operating cash flow ÷ by debt) to help plan for scheduled debt payments. Making a lot of capital purchases? Use the free cash flow calculation (operating cash flow – capital expenditures) to determine how much cash will be left over after the purchases.
Build in some contingencies. Most businesses experience seasonality. Understanding your business cycles can help you strategically manage cash in high cash months to cover shortfalls that come in low cash months. Set up a line of credit so it’s available in the case of an emergency, or as a bridge during short-term liquidity needs. A line of credit only charges interest only when used, so it’s a perfect tool to have at your disposal.
Watch for hidden cash hijackers. Oftentimes, large cash expenditures can be hidden on your income statement or balance sheet. A few examples are payments on capital purchases, debt obligations, dividends, guaranteed payments to partners and taxes. Income taxes, when not accounted for correctly, can cause a twofold problem — a large lump sum that is due in a short amount of time, plus a larger obligation to account for going forward. Don’t wait until the end of the year to project your tax provision.
Appoint someone to manage cash. As with many business processes, important details can fall through the cracks if there is not clear accountability as to who is responsible for the task. So assign yourself or someone you trust to manage the company’s cash flow.
When businesses fail, it’s usually because they run out of money. By making cash flow a central part of your business plan, you greatly reduce this risk.
Winter Wonderland Trivia
Whether or not you hear sleigh bells ringing, winter wonderland is here! Here’s a quiz to test your wintertime wisdom and offer you fun facts to impress your family and friends.
What is the largest 24-hour snowfall ever measured in the U.S.?
b. 6 feet. It’s 6.3 feet to be exact. This amount fell in a 24-hour period in Silver Lake, Colorado on April 14-15, 1921, according to The Weather Channel. It probably had something to do with its 10,220-foot elevation in the Colorado Rockies!
Krampus, the horned half-goat, half-demon creature from Central European folklore, is known for what during the holiday season?
Bringing fruitcake to families
Singing Good King Wenceslaus while caroling
Seeking out children who have misbehaved
Stealing wooden shoes
c. Seeking out children who have misbehaved. This made-up figure seems to be pretty mischievous himself! During an Austrian Krampuslauf (Krampus Run), herds of Krampuses — people dressed in masks and costumes — stomp down streets and play tricks on parade goers.
Which sport was incorporated into the Winter Olympics?
d. Ski ballet. Called figure skating on snow with skis, this sport was a demonstration event in the 1988 Calgary games and the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France.
Which animal hibernates the longest?
d. Wood frog. This bug-eyed amphibian can survive up to seven months in a “deep-freeze” period! They can live while being completely frozen by protecting their cells using glucose, according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.
How many people were part of the largest gathering of holiday sweater-wearers?
a. 3,473. That’s a lot of ugly sweaters! According to Guinness Book of World Records, this goal was achieved by Kansas Athletics at a Kansas University men’s basketball game against Montana in December 2015.
As you enjoy the season, spread some of these fun wintertime facts with your loved ones.
Please note: Some material may be time-sensitive and may no longer apply. Please contact us with any questions.