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DOL Fiduciary Rule is Dead.

DOL Fiduciary Rule is Dead.

In a 2-1 decision on June 21st, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with a group of financial industry plaintiffs to effectively put an end to the Department of Labor's fiduciary rule, which would require all financial advisors to act in clients' best interests with regard to retirement accounts.

Before Making a Donation, Here’s How to Find Out if the Charity is Legitimate.

Before Making a Donation, Here’s How to Find Out if the Charity is Legitimate.

When I received the lovely greeting card, tender letter and dream catcher from a Native American School, I immediately wrote out a check. Then, I thought to look up the organization to learn more about it. I learned that even though they collected $51 million last year, almost none of it went to a school.

Prospective donors can find a suitable charity just about anywhere they look. However by doing some homework, you can better distinguish among the many giving opportunities available to you.

15 Surprising Benefits of Amazon Prime

Provided by Angel McCall CFP®

By Bob Neidt, Online Editor |

Many of us first signed up for Amazon Prime years ago to take advantage of free two-day shipping, and stayed with it as the giant online retailer edged the annual fee toward the triple-digit mark. But what are you really getting with your $99-a-year Amazon Prime membership? A lot more than you’re probably using.

I recently dove into my Amazon Prime account when I realized my renewal was fast approaching. My relationship with Prime had mellowed. I wasn’t ordering as much from Jeff Bezos’s baby, and I felt it was time for a change.

Boy, was I wrong. I use Prime services more than ever after I realized the bounty I had let go fallow in years past. Some of these wide-ranging free perks might even goose the rate of your Amazon Prime usage so you get more value out of your annual membership. Have a look.

Free Same-Day Delivery

Free two-day shipping is so 2005, the year Amazon launched Prime. Today’s Amazon Prime is all about getting more stuff to members at an ever-faster pace. Free same-day delivery doesn’t apply everywhere, mind you, but 5,000 eligible cities and towns and counting is a fairly wide swath. If your ZIP code, which you can check out right here, offers same-day service, when you order before noon and choose the same-day shipping option at checkout, Amazon says the package will be delivered by 9 p.m. that night (Sundays included, and don’t be surprised to see the U.S. Postal Service delivering). If you order past noon, an option is next-day delivery. Two caveats: The same-day order must total $35 or more, and not every product Amazon stocks is eligible (though the company claims over a million items are).

Free Two-Hour Delivery

Talk about impulse shopping. Amazon’s Prime Now service delivers the goods to Prime members for free within two hours, in 28 select markets (located near Amazon warehouses, naturally), including Atlanta, Los Angeles, Orlando, San Antonio and Virginia Beach. Can’t wait that long? You can get the goods in an hour in some areas, but you have to pay a $7.99 upcharge. Prime Now specializes in delivering a mix of more than 25,000 items ranging from food and pet supplies to electronics and beauty products. And, of course, Amazon-only products, including Kindles. The service will also deliver food from member restaurants in select cities to your door in an hour at no extra charge.

Get Paid for No-Rush Shipping

Hey, if you can slow your roll on some of your orders, it just may pay off. If you choose no-rush shipping, you can earn Amazon credits and still get your order in five days or less. You can use your amassed credits to snag movies on Amazon Instant Video, buy e-books and more. Credits are applied after your no-rush order ships. Typical givebacks include a $5 credit toward purchases on Prime Now or Prime Pantry each time you choose no-rush shipping.

Membership Sharing

This was a new one to me: You can share your Amazon Prime membership. Here’s the catch: Your Prime benefits can be shared with one other adult in a household – as long as you both agree to share your payment methods. That’s fine for, say, a spouse, but giving your roommate access to your credit or debit card might be a deal-breaker. Your partner in Prime has to have a separate Amazon account to be able to be added to your Prime membership. You’ll then be able to share certain Prime perks including free two-day shipping.

Dash Buttons

You can replenish scores of everyday products from Amazon at the touch of a button – no computer required. The secret is the Dash Button, a freestanding plastic device about the size of a thumb drive that’s tied to a specific product. Let’s say you’re running out of toilet paper. Simply push the Charmin Dash Button mounted in your bathroom, watch for the green light to flash, and in two days you’ll get more rolls in the mail.

I tested two Dash Buttons: one for Tide detergent and another for Slim Jims (don't judge). Once the buttons arrived by mail, it was a snap to connect them to my home Wi-Fi network using the Amazon Shopping app on my smartphone. Each button costs $4.99, but the money is credited toward the first order. I placed the Tide button in the laundry room, of course, and the Slim Jim button near the beverage fridge.

Access to Exclusive Brands

Amazon is expanding its private-label offerings – an area that holds huge business potential, as we pointed out in our story about grocery chain Wegmans. Amazon Elements products, for example, are already available only to Prime members, and the company is rolling out other exclusive private-label brands. Also unique about Elements: Scan a special code on the product – using your Amazon Shopping app – and you will see where every ingredient in the product was sourced, down to the water in the baby wipes. The Amazon Elements line also include vitamins and nutritional supplements.

Prime Pantry’s Flat Fee

You can do your weekly grocery shopping, or a good chunk of it, on Prime Pantry, an Amazon Prime perk where members shop for groceries and household products. For a flat fee of $5.99 for shipping (plus the cost of the products), you fill up a box online and wait for delivery. Looking for free shipping anyway? Shop the Pantry and look for products that qualify for free shipping. Add five to your box and bingo: free shipping.

Unlimited Photo Storage

Amazon Prime members can skip the $12 fee paid by non-members to get unlimited photo storage. It’s accessible from any device anywhere you can tap into your Amazon Prime account. If you’re like me, doubling down by having an Amazon Prime account and paying Apple $9.99 a month for cloud storage for those precious photos, it may be time to trim some costs.

Oh, and no worries about tagging photos. Amazon’s scary servers will automatically sort your photos. Want to free up storage on your phone? Use the Amazon app, upload them to Prime Photos and delete them from your phone. What could possibly go wrong?

Prime for Students

Just right for sitting around the dorm room and streaming “Game of Thrones” during study breaks, here comes Amazon Prime Student. It’s free for the first six months with a legit .edu email address (along with proof you’re actually taking at least one legit class). The free trial includes free two-day Prime shipping (textbooks and Doritos don’t buy themselves), free same-day pickup and unlimited movie streaming. After six months it costs $49 a year for Prime Student, and the paid upgrade comes with unlimited streaming of Prime Music.

Free Music

Why pay for ad-free Pandora, Spotify or Apple Music when you’re already making beautiful music with your Amazon Prime account? Included in Amazon Prime Music is free access to more than a million songs. The drawback? Music fans argue that Amazon’s free playlists and stations aren’t as deep as those of competing streaming services – and it’s true. But before you fork over an extra $9.99 a month for Apple Music or Spotify, download Amazon’s music app and take it for a test run. It might be all you need. If not, an upgrade to Amazon Music Unlimited, which features tens of millions of songs including new releases, runs $7.99 a month for Prime members.

Free Books, Magazines, Audiobooks

Here’s a new one: You don’t need a public library to get a free loaner when you have Amazon Prime. That's because Prime members have access to a fairly wide collection of books, magazines and audiobooks nestled in Prime Reading. I clicked on The Atlantic magazine and the right price came up: $0. I didn’t need a Kindle to get it. I could have it delivered to my iPhone or iPad.

As a bonus, Prime members also get free access to certain podcasts and other audiobooks and series through Audible Channels, a limited version of Audible. You need to download the Audible app and log in with your Prime account to start listening. Otherwise, a subscription to the full version of Audible, owned by Amazon, costs $14.95 a month.

Binge on Your Favorite Shows

Look at you, Amazon Prime member. Binge-watching at no charge “The Man in the High Castle” (an Amazon original series) or “10 Cloverfield Lane” … wait, that’s me. Yes, I am increasingly taking advantage of watching free movies and TV series via Amazon’s streaming service, Prime Video. If you have a newer TV, like me, the Amazon app comes built in, so click on it and boom! I’m in Hollywood. Oh, and don’t you worry. While you’re watching Prime Video, Amazon is watching you. The “personal recommendations based on your viewing history” can be both creepy and convenient. You can even download movies and TV shows to mobile devices for later viewing.

Early Access to Lightning Deals

You like your deals fast and hot. And you want to be at the front of the pack getting them. Amazon Prime members enjoy access to those one-off, deeply discounted Lightning Deals 30 minutes before the great unwashed. Lightning Deals are only good for a few hours (or as long as supplies last) so if you really want what’s on sale the early access is an advantage. But even then, Amazon warns that some deals could sell out during the early access period, before opening up to the general public. Recent Lightning Deals ranged from hair dryers selling at an 85% discount to a “no bark” dog dollar going for 78% off.

Something for New Moms and Dads

The former Amazon Mom has morphed into Amazon Family, a Prime perk that includes 20% off diaper subscriptions, free shipping and free returns, which we don’t want to think about when we’re talking diapers. Oh, and Amazon Family has lots of other nice perks, meaning discounts on kid-friendly items and unlimited streaming music plans for families of up to six.

Say Hello to Alexa

If you own an Amazon Echo or Echo Dot, your Prime membership allows you to place orders through Alexa, the voice-activated digital assistant. For example, if you just ran out of batteries for your flashlight, say “Alexa, order AA batteries” and a 20-pack of AmazonBasics will arrive on your doorstep two days later. Shipping is free for Prime members, naturally, and Alexa is already aware of your Prime status. Amazon was recently offering 20% off when you order through Alexa.

Click here to download a PDF of this article.

Do You Need Longterm Care Insurance?

Like estate planning, long-term care insurance is a critical component of a financially secure future, but many people tend to put it off or actively avoid it. Planning ahead helps you avoid burdening your family and loved ones with the mental and financial costs of providing care. Read on for more about adding a long-term care policy to your overall wealth portfolio and what to consider along the way.

When a Principal in a Professional Practice Dies

The untimely demise or disability of a professional may result in disintegration of the financial value of a practice from the lack of a formal plan providing for the orderly succession of management and ownership of the business.

By Angel McCall CFP®

Do you have a plan? A buy-sell agreement is a valuable tool for ensuring that the business will continue even after death or disability of an owner.

Although they can be adopted at any time, it is best to decide whether to put a buy-sell agreement in place as early as possible in the life of a business.

A buy-sell agreement sets out the terms under which a professional or business entity may acquire the departing owner's interest.

A formal agreement can create a marketplace for the shares of a closely held business, helps ensure that disabled owners or their survivors will receive adequate compensation, and provides cash to pay estate taxes and settlement costs for surviving heirs, if applicable. In fact, fixing the value of a business or establishing a procedure for valuing it in the future addresses one of the most important issues facing a closely held business. An agreement can also help increase job stability for minority owners and non-owner employees critical to the success of the business.

A buy-sell arrangement can be triggered by a variety of events. In addition to the death, disability, or retirement of an owner, other possible triggers may include an attempt to dissolve the entity, an irresolvable conflict among owners, or an owner's desire to sell his interest.

The structure and funding of an agreement depend on such factors as the number of owners involved, the needs of the business, tax effects, and the preferences of those covered by an agreement. Buy-sell agreements have many potential benefits but are complex arrangements that require the input of legal, tax, and insurance professionals.

Possible Structures and Funding

There are generally two basic types of buy-sell agreements: Cross purchase. Each owner enters into an agreement with every other owner. This approach becomes cumbersome if more than three or four individuals are involved. For example, 64 separate agreements would be required for eight owners. Entity purchase. The business itself enters into an agreement with each owner and is obligated to buy the shares of a departing owner.

A third type, or so-called Hybrid plan, is essentially a combination of the cross purchase and entity purchase. This approach allows the entity and its owners to delay a purchase decision until a triggering event occurs. The entity typically has the first right of refusal for purchasing the shares of a departing owner.

Life insurance is the most popular funding mechanism for buy-sell agreements. Life insurance is unique in that it creates immediate funding in the event of death, while allowing tax-deferred cash to build up over time. In a cross purchase plan, each owner buys and maintains a policy on every other owner in an amount sufficient to cover the beneficiary's ownership interest. In an entity arrangement, the business purchases the insurance policy on each owner and the business is the beneficiary.

Besides life insurance, other less popular but potentially effective funding mechanisms include cash flow, asset sales, loans, sinking funds, and reserves.

Making Sense of Buy-Sell Agreements

Like all business succession matters, buy-sell agreements are complex and require the assistance of qualified legal, tax, and insurance professionals to ensure proper execution and funding.

Like all business succession matters, buy-sell agreements are complex and require the assistance of qualified legal, tax, and insurance professionals to ensure proper execution and funding.

Tax and Estate Planning Considerations

Tax consequences are an essential consideration in determining whether to utilize a buy-sell agreement and how to structure one. This process involves evaluating the benefits and drawbacks of each type of arrangement in relation to the specific situation. For example, a cross purchase agreement offers shareholders a stepped-up basis on stock acquired in a buyout, and there are no alternative minimum tax (AMT) consequences if the business has C corporation status.

On the other hand, the cash value of any life insurance owned by the decedent that insures the life of another owner under a buy-sell agreement is includable in the decedent's estate, which may affect estate taxes. Secondly, federal law precludes using a buy-sell agreement as a discounted giving technique.

An entity purchase plan has tax ramifications for the business itself. While death benefits are received tax free, life insurance cash values and death proceeds may result in corporate AMT. Also, insurance premiums are not a deductible business expense.

As this overview suggests, buy-sell agreements have many potential advantages. Among others, they can reduce conflicts, create a marketplace for shareholdings, and assure clients that the business will continue. However, their complexities must be assessed, and agreements must be carefully crafted to address needs of the business, its owners, and their heirs. Input from qualified insurance, legal, and tax professionals is essential before entering into a buy-sell agreement.

Points to Remember

1. A buy-sell agreement spells out what will be done with -- and funds the transfer of -- the ownership interest in a professional practice or closely held business in the event of the death, disability, or withdrawal of an owner or partner.

2. A buy-sell agreement can reduce disputes among those involved in a business, as well as ensure the continuity of the business, by providing a fair process that protects departing owners, remaining owners, and the business itself.

3. A buy-sell agreement may be structured as a cross purchase, entity purchase, or hybrid purchase plan. The choice of structure depends on the number of owners involved, as well as tax, estate planning, and other concerns specific to each situation.

4. Life insurance is the most popular mechanism for funding a buy-sell agreement. The structure of the agreement determines whether individual owners or the business entity purchase the policies and receive their proceeds.

5. Legal, tax, estate planning, and insurance professionals familiar with buy-sell agreements need to be consulted before deciding whether to employ an agreement and which structure it to use.

Please don’t hesitate to call me to discuss how to best to protect your professional practice.

Download a pdf of this article here.

Hack Proof Your Amazon Account

It's easy to keep hackers out. Just follow this one rule.

By Sean Bailey

Imagine suddenly being alerted that someone is on a wild buying spree right inside your Amazon account? 

It happened recently to a Dallas-area woman named Jonette Ferrier. Hackers had already shipped two game consoles worth more than $1,500 from her account and were ordering more as she watched. 

Jonette immediately cancelled the new orders. But that didn’t stop thieves—they kept buying more. So she changed her password thinking that would end the scam. Nope. 

No matter how many times Jonette deleted an order and changed her password, the thieves kept returning. (More on how the hackers did this, later.) 

She even got Amazon on the phone. They watched the whole cat-and-mouse game right on their computer console. Finally, someone figured out how to halt the theft ring. They told the woman to go into her Amazon Advanced Security Settings and turn on Two-Step Verification. That did the trick. 

 

Cybersecurity rule: Always use two-step verification 

Jonette’s story, told toCBS News,is one of hundreds of “hack reports” Devin Kropp and I have collected over the past four years developing a workshop called “1 Hour to Savvy Cybersecurity” and researching and writing a book calledHack-Proof Your Life Now! (You can order a copy of this book through Angel McCall, CFP®.)

Since the 2013 Target data breach, it has been our mission to help Internet users who are worried about identity theft, alarmed about the possibility of hackers getting into their email and bank accounts, and trying to safeguard their privacy. 

We discovered strategies and tools that people can quickly and easily use to boost their online security. How we do this is by getting people to measure their current “Cybersecurity Score” and then showing them simple, clear, and effective action steps they can take right now to dramatically boost their safety, usually for little or no cost. 

Adding two-step verification on important financial accounts is one of the most important of our new cybersecurity rules. This advanced security feature, also known by other names including “two-factor authentication,” “two-step login,” and “multi-factor authentication,” is something every Internet user should know about. Not only can it keep thieves out of your Amazon account, it can secure your email, banking, and other sensitive online accounts. 

In our bookHack-Proof Your Life Now!we define two-step verification as a “two-stage process to verify your identity when trying to access an online account. It requires ‘something you know’ and ‘something you have.’” 

We’ve all been doing this with our ATM cards for years. You enter the card (something you have). The machine reads it and then asks you for your PIN (something you know). 

For online accounts with two-step verification, it’s similar. You enter your username and password (something you know) and then you enter a code sent to your mobile phone (something you have). It’s simple and highly secure. Now let’s see how to do it on Amazon. 

 

Advanced security settings at Amazon

Start by clicking on Your Account, right under your name on the right side of the navigation bar. 

Then scroll down to Account Settings and click on the first item: Login & Security Settings.

Once you do that, Amazon will ask you to login again and you’ll arrive at Change Account Settings. Scroll down to the bottom and find Advanced Security Settings. Click the gray box to the left that says, “Edit.”

Now you’re on the Advanced Security Settings page of your Amazon account. Look on the left side to see whereyou will see Two-Step Verification. Click the yellow button that says “Get Started.” 

Step 1

Next, you’ll see directions to “Choose how you’ll receive codes.” Your first step is to select “Text message (SMS)” and pick the mobile phone number you want to use. Tell Amazon to send a code to your phone number, and enter it on this page. (If you life in an area with spotty mobile connectivity, go to the bottom and choose Authenticator App. Go to your smartphone app store, download the program and use it as your “thing you have” to complete your two-step login.) 

Step 2 

Once you enter your security code on the Amazon security page, you’ll arrive at “Add backup method.” You are required to choose a second, different phone number as your backup. Tell amazon to send a code to your backup number and enter it on the security page. 

Step 3 

In this last step, Amazon gives you some alternative directions about signing in from certain devices like pads or phones, and, importantly, offers you the alternative to skip codes on your personal devices. 

You probably don’t want to enter a code every time you log in to Amazon from your personal computer or mobile device. No problem. Check the box next to “Don’t require a code on this devise.” When you initially sign in from your other devices, you can do the same. (And of course, you can always add a device or computer that you frequently under the “Devices that don’t require code” area in your Advanced Security Settings page.)

Now just click the yellow box that says “Got it. Turn on Two-Step Verification.” 

Now you’re done. You will see the following screen as confirmation that you have succeeded in setting up Two-Step Verification. 

Congratulations! You’ve just added a major new security feature to your Amazon account. You can shop now assured you’re very safe. It’s a simple, brilliant approach that foils hackers. 

The Mystery of the Changing Password

So how did the hackers know Jonette Ferrier’s Amazon password, even as she changed it?

She probably had a type of malware on her computer known as “key logger,” This kind of software records every keystroke you make and then sends it to the hackers. So each time she changed her password, the hackers could see what she was doing and continue their scam using the new pasasword.

You can reduce the risk of getting infected by key logger in several ways. Of course, it’s good to have antivirus and anti-malware software on y our computers. But one of your best protections against malware is to ensure that you always update your software. Updates close security holes that hackers exploit. It’s the one thing nearly every computer expert in the world does religiously. And you should, too.