Saturday, May 31, 2014

25 Things you're probably doing wrong.

1. Washing your hands.
This seems like a no-brainer – you get your hands wet, soap up, rub them together, and wash them off, right?  Not so fast, as it’s estimated that only 5% of Americans wash their hands correctly.

How do we mess it up?  Common sense says that the more soap lather you use, the better, but the opposite is actually the case.  Soaps produce chemicals call surfactants, which reduce surface tension on water and carry dirt and oils and crud away.  They also create aerated bubbles – so lather should come from washing your hands sufficiently – not lathering up and then washing them.

Furthermore, antibacterial soaps probably aren’t the best to use.  They emit a chemical called triclosan, which can cause antibiotic resistance and hormone alteration, and research now shows that antibacterial soaps don’t help you from getting sick or get cleaner.

2. Shaving at the wrong time and the wrong way.
Shave is extremely irritating to the skin, so shave at night, not in the morning if possible so your skin has time to recover.  Preparation is key, with the right combination of hot water, steam, and products or creams.  Use a brush to get the hairs to stand up.  Also, it’s a complete fallacy that your hair grows back thicker when you shave.  

3. Using the wrong plunger.
You know that wood-handled plunger that you’ve been using in the bathroom toilet (and probably making a mess?)  Those are actually intended for use in unclogging the kitchen sink.  The toilet plunger specifically has an extra piece of rubber on the bottom to form a vacuum seal between the toilet bowl and the plunger.  Buy two different plungers – but be sure to label them!

4. Brushing your teeth too soon after eating.
Many of us run to the bathroom to brush our teeth as quickly as possible after eating or drinking something sweet or acidic.  But if you brush directly after ingesting something acidic, the brushing can push the acid deeper into your enamel, not remove it!  So wait 30 minutes until you brush, and use a fluoride rinse if you want to do a quick clean instead.

5. Trying to make perfectly round eggs.
Instead of cracking eggs right into the pan and watching them spread out all over the place, cut a ring from the middle of an onion and place it in the pan, first.  Then, crack the egg right in the center – it will keep the egg perfectly round (and add a little flavor!)  You can also take a piece of bread and cut a hole in the center with the open end of a drinking glass and put that in the pan with the egg in the middle.  Toast included!

6. Shampooing your hair too often.
Even if you take a shower or two a day, you shouldn’t shampoo more than a few times a week.  Excessive cleaning of the hair will strip away essential oils in your hair called sebum, and actually make it appear greasier.

By the way, stop taking such excessively long, hot showers as well – they dry your skin and remove good bacteria.

7. Making a BLT that doesn’t fall apart.
Homemade bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches are probably the best thing on the planet – but the downside is a big mess.  It’s also hard to cook the bacon evenly enough, and it slides or falls out of the sandwich too easily.  So take 4 or 6 pieces of bacon and weave them into a grid, like a tick-tack-toe board, and then place them in the pan.  Perfectly cooked bacon that’s easy to grab and put in your sandwich – and won’t fall out!

8. Chilling a bottle or can quickly.
There’s nothing worse than wanting to drink an icy beverage but it’s still just lukewarm.  Ok, there are worse things, but we have an easy fix for this.  Up until now, you’ve been placing the can or bottle in the freezer and waiting and waiting…But place a wet paper towel or napkin around the outside of it before putting it in the freezer – it will turn super cold within 15 minutes.

9. Drinking a can of soda with a straw.
Instead of dropping the straw in the opening and have to fish around for it, put it through the opening of the soda can’s tab for perfect placement!

10. Preventing blisters when you work out.
Too often, we stack on extra pairs of socks or put Band-Aids on our feet when going on a big hike or run, trying to prevent blisters.  But the best way to do this is actually to spray or roll on deodorant on your feet.  Blisters are caused by friction and perspiration increased friction greatly, making you more prone to blisters – not less.  By the way, the army uses this trick to great success.

11. Eating out of Chinese food containers.
Chinese food taken To Go is so yummy, sometimes we can’t help but open up the top of the container and start eating right when we get home – or even in the car.  But those containers were meant to open up and fold out so you can use them as a plate.

12. Finding a stud in the wall.
I love this one!  In the past, when I’ve looked for a wooden stud behind my wall to hang a photo or a mirror or something, I’ve resorted to knocking around and trying to hear the sound difference (never works for me,) randomly making holes in the wall (big mess,) or trying to use a electronic stud finder (not smart enough to use it right.)  But all I had to do was tie a refrigerator magnet to a string, hold it against the wall, and swing the magnet.  The magnet will move toward the nails or crews used to hold the drywall into the screw, and voila!  No mess and no fuss you just found your stud!

13. Cleaning your microwave.
I know you want to put on the rubber kitchen gloves and take chemical sprays and a sponge and paper towels to the inside of your microwave to clean it, but there’s a better way.  Mix a half-cup of water with half a cup of distilled vinegar in a microwave-safe bowl.  Put it in there and zap it for a few minutes.  The water will come to a boil and the steam will cover every surface.  Once it cools down, open up the door and wipe it down once – everything will be loose and easily cleaned.  You can also add a few orange, lemon, or lime slices to make it smell better.

14. Opening plastic packaging.
These days, just about everything we buy comes sealed in plastic packaging.  It’s so tough to get this off, especially trying to rip it with bare hands, that it inspired a hilarious Seinfeld episode!  Originally designed to thwart shoplifters, this plastic packaging – known as clamshell – actually causes more than 6,000 injuries every year to people trying to remove it!  So instead of trying to open it with a knife, scissors, or your bare hands, just take out the can opener and go along the outside edge – easy and safe!

15. Perfectly peel a boiled egg.
Instead of hacking away at the shell of a hardboiled egg until it’s unrecognizable, add one teaspoon of baking soda to the water you boil it in, and the shell will practically fall off in one piece as you start peeling it.

16. Detecting when someone is lying to you.
An old wives tale is that people look up and to the right when they’re lying, but that’s not true – different people access information from different parts of their brain and look in that direction, accordingly.  Instead, pay attention to their word count.  Rarely will someone lying give a one word or short answer – their inclination will be to talk too much.  Called the “Pinocchio Effect,” their word count will grow and their sentences more complex when they lie.  Interestingly, they also swear more and use fewer “I” statements, caused by cognitive overload.  

17.  Relaxing after dinner.
I don’t know about you, but when I eat a good dinner all I want to do is relax on the couch, watch TV, or even chug some coffee if I have something to do.  But studies show the healthiest thing you can do after any big meal is to take a walk – it helps digestion and neutralizes the blood sugar surge, reducing the risk of cardio vascular disease and weight gain

18. Putting your laptop in your lap.
Maybe they should have named laptops, “tabletops,” or something similar, because putting your computer in your lap, or on a couch, bed, etc. can do serious damage to it.  Laptops cool off with proper ventilation, and when you place it on a soft or flexible surface, you inhibit that ventilation.  It can heat up quickly and cause long-term damage to the machine as if you left it in the sun.

19. Breaking in a new pair of shoes.
We all love new shoes – we just hate the first few days wearing them, as they’re uncomfortable like medieval torture devices.  So to break them in, put on a pair of thick socks and put them on at home.  Then, run the hair dryer over the, heating up the spots that are uncomfortable or hurt, wiggling your toes and moving your feet around at all times.  They’ll stretch out and soften in no time!

20. Lifting lighter weights to lose pounds.
The common mistake is to start lifting lighter weight but doing more repetitions when we want to get “cut” or lean.  But heavier weights shock your muscles more and burn far more calories, which is what truly causes weight loss.

21. Low-intensity cycling, running, or other exercise to lose weight.
Likewise, we often think that long boughts of cardio are the only way to burn fat and lose weight, but this just isn’t true.  Your body quickly acclimates to workouts that are the same base, low-grade intensity like an easy jog or slow cycle.  But your metabolism won’t super charge and burn more calories like with higher intensity interval training, even for shorter durations.  

22. Not splitting your direct deposit.
Everyone knows they should save once you get your paycheck, but it's too easy to make excuses not to, especially when our paycheck comes via direct deposit right into our bank account.  But most people don't know they you can split your direct deposit, automatically allocating a portion of it to a savings account.

23. Looking at a computer or phone screen before going to sleep.
It’s estimated that about two thirds of Americans don’t get enough sleep or have problems with insomnia or other sleep disorders, and one of the main contributors to that is blue screens, or artificial light from computers.  In fact, exposure to artificial light before going to bed increases alertness and suppresses the release of melatonin, a sleep-promoting hormone.  Basically, the blue light in the spectrum released from any artificial light acts as an alarm clock to our brains, and computers and phones have the most blue light (surprisingly, the light from television isn’t as bad for you as you think.)

24. Reading before you go to sleep in unnatural light.
Also, the bulbs from reading lamps emit the same blue light, which may deter sleep.  So put away your electronics an hour or two before bed but also replace your reading light with a specialty red light bulb, which is easier on your eyes and brain than harsh blue light.

25. Leaving your smart phone plugged in all night.
Most smart phones run on lithium-ion batteries, which don’t need to be 100% (or anywhere near) for full function.  But when we leave our phones plugged in all night they will actually over charge, causing the battery to lose effectiveness, faster.  It could also be damaging to the screen and the software to have your phone on 24-7, so turn it off at night and possibly even let the battery go to 0% and shut off before recharging once a month or so to recalibrate it.

Monday, May 26, 2014

20 Surefire ways to muck up your credit score.

1. Pay late.
Even missing a bill’s due date by a few days may trigger a 30-day later reporting, which will damage your score and take a lonnnnnng time to come off your credit report.

2. Not pay at all.
Of course if missing one payment is bad, not making it at all magnifies the damage to your credit.  A 90-day late is where things get really serious and your score may sink like a stone.

3. Max out cards.
One of the determining factors of your score is the ratio of available credit to your balances.  So if you max out your cards, even if they are in paid on time, your score could be affected.

4. Have an account charged off.
Generally after a 90-day late, the next step is that the credit card company/bank, etc. charges off the debt, sending it to a third party for collections.  This further damages your score.

5. Be a cosigner for someone who doesn’t pay.
If you cosign for someone else’s loan, whether it’s a car or an apartment lease or an installment loan, you are jut as responsible for paying the debt as they are!  That means you better make sure they are paying on time because if they slip up, your credit will be affected – and you may not even realize it.

6. File bankruptcy.
Filing a Chapter 7 or 13 Bankruptcy is one of the most damaging events to someone’s credit score.

7. Foreclose on your home.
The other is foreclosure, which hurts your score for a prolonged period and in some ways is more damaging that Bankruptcy.

8. Get a judgment against you.
If you don’t pay your debt obligations, your lender or third-part collection agencies may take you to court, trying to secure a judgment for the amount you owe (plus late fees, penalties, and court costs.)  

9. Apply for new credit like wildfire.
If you start filling out credit card and loan applications frequently in a short period, it signals financial desperation and risk to the credit scoring algorithms, and your score will go down accordingly.

10. Have no mix between credit and installment.
Remember that your credit score is calculation based on a mix of different types of credit – mortgage, installment, revolving, credit cards, etc. so make sure to overload on just one type.

11. Close old credit cards in good standing.
By cancelling a well-seasoned credit card or credit line that was in good standing, you’ve just effectively erased a positive track record of paying on time, so your score will go down as that’s taken out of the equation.

12. Rent a car with a debit card.
When you rent a card with your bank card, not credit card, they run a hard credit check to make sure you’re a good risk, which could lower your score.

13. Take payday loans, cash advances, or finance through rent-a-centers.
All credit is not created equal, and when you take out loans that are deemed risky or on the lower strata of the economic spectrum, it could hurt your score.

14. Finance a major purchase.
Additionally, when you finance furniture, boat, timeshare, or other big purchases outside of the big three – house, car, credit cards – it signals some risk to the credit bureaus.

15. Try to get slick with balance transfers.
Too many people try to outthink the credit card companies, taking out 0% interest or cash-back offers and moving balances around to stay one step ahead.  That works…until it doesn’t work, and at some point it always doesn’t work, leaving you with a big mess.

16. Get a new cell phone.
Of course we need a new phone from time to time, but be aware that many of the cell phone companies run a hard credit check when you apply, which could hurt your score.

17. Open an account at a credit union
Likewise, credit unions run hard credit checks when you open a new account.  We love credit unions for their service and great rates, but inquire if they’ll be running a hard credit check before you get started.

18. Not using your credit at all.
If you don’t use it, there is no established good payment history for the credit bureaus to judge you by!

19. Close cards with available credit. 
When you do this, you mess up your ratio of debt owed versus available credit, which could negatively affect your score.

20. Dispute credit cards.
This may come as a surprise, but even disputing an account on your credit report may lower your score, at least temporarily.  That’s because when it’s in dispute, the bureaus will remove it from consideration in their algorithms, which may erase a positive history, throw your debt-to-available credit out of whack, etc.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

10 Steps to establish business credit (and why you should.)

In a recent survey of business owners and entrepreneurs, fewer than 10% understood the logistics of business credit, or even knew it existed.  Establishing credit for your business can open up loans, lines, better rates, new partnerships to leverage, and help you bypass your competition.  But Business is credit is a totally different animal.  For instance, scoring ranges from 0-100, with 75 or more considered a great score, online the 300-850 model of personal credit.   

Not having credit for your business doesn’t just hurt you in terms of opportunity cost – it could be damaging to your business and cause great harm to your personal finances we well.  

The worst mistake a business owner can make is to not separate their business credit from their personal credit.  If something goes awry with your personal finances your business will be vulnerable to liability and recourse.  The corollary is also true – if your business is sued or goes through a financial problem, creditors and courts will be able to come after you, personally.  Shielding yourself from liability is a good enough reason to establish credit for your business but there’s another imperative – not having credit for your business can hurt your personal score.

Why is that?  Most people average 11 debt obligations and 1 inquiry per year on their personal credit reports.  However business owners tend to have more debt obligations and many more inquiries when their personal and business credit is comingled.  In fact, it usually doubles the number of inquiries and credit lines.  This is seen as a major red flag to the credit bureaus and your personal score will sink.

Here is everything you need to know about establishing business credit:

1. Incorporate.
The most important step to separating your business from your personal affairs is setting it up as a legal entity.  Some business owners file under a sole proprietorship or partnership, but those are not legal entities and offer no protection.  Instead, file as an S Corp, C Corp, or Limited Liability Company (LLC.)  Your tax professional should be able to tell you more and help you set these up.

2. Register.
It’s easy to register with the major business credit bureaus so they will acknowledge your new business formation.  They are Dun & Bradstreet, Experian Business, Equifax Business, and Business Credit USA.  You can find instructions on their websites.

3. Get your statements and plan in order.
Write up a comprehensive, professional business plan and make sure your financial accounting is airtight.  When it comes to opening new lines of credit or other business dealings, banks will want to see this paperwork.

4. EIN number.
Once you’ve formed your business entity, request an EIN number from the IRS.  This will replace the social security number you used when your business was really just you.

5. DUNS number.
Dun & Bradstreet is the largest register of business credit information so it’s wise to apply for a DUNS number.  By having one, Dun & Bradstreet will create a profile on your business and open up reporting to many other entities.

6. Open bank accounts.
Now that you have an EIN, proper legal entity, and financial documents in order, it’s time to head to your bank and open up a checking and savings account.  The savings account plays a big role so don’t forget about that one.  

7. Apply for commercial credit lines.
To effectively build your business credit score, start by asking each of your vendors and service providers to put your bills in the name of the business, using the EIN and DUNS number.  This incudes your phones, Internet, bottled water, cleaning, crews, sub contractors, etc.  It would be best if they did this without a credit check or personal guarantee.

8. Get a loan.
Even though your business credit hasn’t been built up sufficiently to obtain a loan yet, you will be able to take out a small, secured loan in the name of the business using your savings account as collateral.  This is a stepping-stone to establishing a great business credit profile.

9. Pay on time.
Of course you need to make all of these payments on time, as well as file appropriate IRS forms to be in compliance so your new business credits score will grow.

10. Help reporting.
Unlike personal credit, businesses aren’t mandated to report your information to the business credit bureaus, so it’s wise to help them along.  Do this by contacting the bureaus and providing documentation that you have accounts in good standing under your business credit, not personal.  

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Confessions of an identity thief.

Hey, you!  Yeah, I’m talking to you!  The guy sitting there in Starbucks checking his bank balance on his iPad.  Or the nice old lady waiting for her social security check to be delivered to her mailbox.  Or even the family who doesn’t shred their junk mail before tossing it out.  I’m going to let you in on a little secret – I’m going to steal your identity and then steal a lot of your money, and there are so many ways I can do it you’d be amazed.  In fact, me and my fellow identity theft friends steal about a gazillion dollars each year, and it’s getting easier – not harder – thanks to technology.  I’m feeling generous today so I’m going to share my secrets with you (and chances are you still won’t protect yourself.)  Game on! 

1. Simple theft.
I can steal your identity the old fashioned way by simply burglarizing your documents.  I see opportunities everywhere  - I can slip an arm through a car window when you leave it down on a hot day, check to see if your doors are unlocked, sneak into your house, or even grab your computer when you go to the bathroom at Starbucks.  Don’t get next to me on a crowded bus or street corner, because I’ll pickpocket your wallet without you feeling a thing! 

2. Employer information.
Your employer has so much of your data and is SO careless with it.  I can easily steal files, flash drives, and other records to get your social security number, address, work history, medical information, other valuable data.  I don’t have to break in to do this – I can hack into your employer’s electronic files or even bribe the disgruntled janitor to let me in.

3. Change of address.
One of my favorite tactics is to submit a change of address form with the post office.  I can do this easily and anonymously by filling out a simple card.  After that, all of your mail will be sent to MY new address, usually a P.O. Box under a false name so I won’t get busted if you call the police. 

4. Phishing.
For my technically savvy identity theft friends, phishing scams are popular.  They send you spam emails or set up pop up messages to appear as you browse the web, all asking for your personal information or logins and passwords. 

5. Social Media.
You may not realize it, but social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, etc. are goldmines for us identity thieves.  By taking bits and pieces of your personal information we can assemble a data profile that includes just about everything but your social security number.  You also aren’t aware that your photos tell so much about your life (car license plate numbers, address on your home, when you’re out of town and where, etc.)  When all else fails, you’d be shocked what public records reveal online!

6. Mail.
Back in the day, we’d just drive around nice neighborhoods after the postman made his rounds and grab your mail right out of your box.  Apartment building mailboxes were the best because we could jimmy them open late at night and get everyone’s mail!  These days, I have identity thief friends who even put out fake mailboxes!

7. Trash.
Dumpster diving for your discarded documents, mail, and financial records is messy but profitable!  By the way, thanks for only ripping up your credit card statement in half and thinking you shredded it!  haha       

8. Call somebody.
You’d be amazed how much information I can get on you just be calling up your financial institutions, friends, employers, and credit agencies and pretend to be your landlord or employer verifying information.  People are almost always too lazy to ask for verificiation!

9. Over your shoulder.
You know how you enter your password in the ATM machine and don’t really cover it up because you’re not worried about the people in line behind you?  Yeah, I love that.  I can easily see your password and some times even video it on my cell phone to watch it later just to be sure.  Oh, and I do the same thing when you’re on your smart phone, iPad, or computer in public!

10. Phony call centers.
I can call people all day claiming to be their bank, credit card company, or credit reporting agency.  I tell them there’s been some strange activity on their account (am I lying?!) and ask them to confirm personal information like passwords or social security numbers so I could freeze their account.  Then I call their credit card company and have some fun! 

11. Cloned cards. 
Do you realize how easy it is for me to make my own credit card?  I can press a duplicate in minutes with special foils and laminators, burning your name and card number onto blank cards that I buy online. 

12. Order checks.
This is too easy!  Once I have some of your basic information, I call your bank or credit card company and request an order of new checks.  I can either divert the mail or just pluck them out of your box!  Let’s spend some of your money!

13. Skimming.
No matter how smart you think your bank is, we’re smarter – always one step ahead.  We install plastic devices to regular ATM machines that allow us to register all of your bank information once you insert your card, called skimmers.  Sometimes we even put up a completely fake ATM machine for a few days before moving it to the next location before the heat is on.

14. Public Wi-Fi connections.
I have to thank you from the bottom of my heart for login in to your bank or credit card’s site to check your balance, or even checking your email with a public Wi-Fi connection.  It’s so easy to hack in and see exactly what you’re doing! 

15. My lovely assistant – the cashier.
Even when you use your credit card at legitimate stores, the cashier can be in on the act.  If they turn their back to you or take a little too long fumbling around behind the counter, they might be scanning your card into a handheld skimming terminal to harvest your information.  Or they can simply take a picture of the front and back of your card with their cell phone.  

Monday, May 5, 2014

The frightening truth about identity theft.

Let me paint you a picture.  You’re sitting at Starbucks and pull up your laptop and log in with their Wi-Fi to check email.  BOOM!  Your bank account information was just stolen.

Or you get a few credit card offers and other junk mail you don’t want so you rip it in half and throw it in the trash.  POW!  Someone just took out 5 credit cards in your name and maxed them.

Even scarier, you just go to your local store and buy a pair of jeans.  SHAZAM!  Just by that act, they record sensitive financial information in their database – your name, address, credit card numbers, and anything else they can gather, which is easy pickings for hackers. 

In fact, identity theft and crimes of financial and data theft are more prevalent than ever in the United States, where approximately 15 million people have their identities used fraudulently each year.  The bill on that theft is upwards of $50 billion dollars every year.  That’s three times more than the combined $14 billion in losses from all other types of consumer theft (burglary, motor vehicle theft, property theft, etc.) combined.  It takes a lot of time and often money to clear up the mess identity thieves leave behind.  Their credit report and score will be compromised, which can set off a domino effect of raising interest rates and even insurance premiums.  Debt collectors start calling and sending mail, or even taking them to court.  Some people get lucky and they’re able to clear their good name in a few weeks, but for others it becomes a nightmare that lasts years.

Just last year, more than 16 million people saw their identities compromised or stolen, which equals an astounding 7% of all adults in the U.S.A.  The financial toll to those people is high.  On average, each identity theft victim suffers direct losses of $9,650, up from just $3,500 a few years ago. 

Of course we have to be careful of where we log in, how we store and use our passwords and financial information, and even how we discard our mail, but what’s truly frightening is that we put ourselves at risk just by being consumers.  Stores and businesses are in the practice of data mining, or collecting every shred of information on their customers and the public, used for marketing purposes and to anticipate and control buying behaviors.  And we’re not even talking about governmental databases yet.  But these massive databases of your information are rich targets for hackers and thieves from all over the world.  About 100 million Americans have their personal information put at risk of identity theft each year from government or corporate databases. 

Unfortunately, the bad guys are pretty smart and technologically savvy these days Identity thieves used to dumpster dive for your mail, but now they have elaborate phishing and vishing computer scams.   They used to pickpocket your wallet, now they set up elaborate networks of botnets and malware that hijack your computer without being detected.  They used to set up phony call centers, now they hack right into those corporate and government databases that hold hundreds of millions of consumers’ personal and financial information. 

These days, they’re not just after your credit cards and bank accounts – identity theft has expanded to fraud involving cell phone service, cable TV, your power, gas, and water utilities, internet payment services, mortgages, medical insurance, auto financing, and government benefits.  There’s even a growing trend of thieves using your identity to obtain employment (and then stealing from the inside,) and evading arrest using your identity as a cover. 

So the big question is: who is there to protect you?  If you’re counting on bank and corporate protocols to keep your data secure, you might be sadly disappointed.  Only about 45% of data theft was discovered by financial institutions, who notified their compromised consumers.  If their information was used to open new, fraudulent accounts, the financial institution sounded the alarm only 15% of the time.   21% of victims were alerted to the malfeasance when an outside company or agency reach out, and 13% found out when they received unpaid bills in the mail.  

Once identity theft occurs, it’s difficult to trace the source of the leak.  Only 32% of identity theft victims ever find out how and where their information was stolen. 

What can consumers do to protect themselves? 

They should check their own credit reports at least three times a year, when consumers are entitled to free annual copies of their credit reports from the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

They should use secure wifi when pulling up sensitive information online, use online security measures and strong passwords.

Shredding mail before you throw it away, and verify every email and phone call before you offering any information. 

But the best way to protect yourself is to use a great credit report monitoring and protection service, like those offered by Blue Water Credit.