How to Increase Your Pension: A Guide to Getting a Better Pension When You Retire

old man

The recession has meant that two million people in the UK have had to delay their retirement plans because they will not have the amount of money they expected to. So what can those approaching retirement do to protect their savings and get a better pension?

Should Individuals Rely on the State Pension?

Anyone relying on the state pension in retirement is likely to be very disappointed. This tax year the full basic state pension is £95.25 per week for a single person, and £152.30 per week for a couple. Given increased life expectancy, many experts predict that the state pension may not even be around in years to come. Therefore a pension from a job, or a private pension, is a necessity.

How Much Should You Save?

Most people are probably not saving enough. Those people who save 10% of their salary – an average amount – from age 25 to 65 can expect to receive only about a quarter of their final salary on retirement.

For those who have a final salary pension scheme things look better, but most people are unlikely to be in such a scheme for their entire working life, so will need to supplement it with a private pension.

Top Ups – the Way to Get More Money From a Pension

There are no restrictions on the number of private pension plans a person can take out, as long as total contributions do not exceed earnings or the annual £245,000 allowance, whichever is higher. This means that a pension can be topped up by making additional contributions or by opening another pension plan. Those who belong to final salary pension schemes may be able to buy ‘added years’, which will increase pension entitlement later on.

Making Good Losses During the Recession

Those coming up for retirement may find it advantageous to make last minute additional contributions, as the tax relief on these will boost a pension fund’s value. For example, if a higher rate taxpayer were to contribute £8,000, this could end up as a net cost of £6,000 for a £10,000 pension contribution!

Getting a Better Annuity

When someone comes to actually take their private pension, it is important not to just go for the pension offered by one’s pension provider. The new pensioner should always exercise his or her ‘open market option’, which means shopping around to find the best annuity rates. This can make a great deal of difference over a lifetime.

Whatever age a person is in, careful pension planning and saving can make a great deal of difference to a comfortable retirement and one which is something of a struggle. This is especially the case in the current economic climate.

A Guide to Getting Debt Advice: Debt Management Advice Can be the First Step to Debt Consolidation

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One of the worst things about debt is that it has the habit of growing of its own accord once it gets past a certain stage. An individual with debt problems may take the decision to stop spending. They may try to get their finances under control. But this may not be enough to stop debt growth in many cases. The only really effective way to do this is to get some impartial debt advice and to find a way to take control of debts rather than to allow them to remain in charge.

Accepting Debt Advice is the First Step to Eliminating Debt

One of the biggest causes of serious debt problems comes from fear and embarrassment. An individual that can no longer cope financially is likely to hide their problems away rather than to seek out debt advice. Being in debt is still viewed by many people as something to be ashamed of even though it is relatively commonplace nowadays.

Most consumers, however, don’t know what to do to get themselves out of debt. They may simply choose to ignore the situation but this approach will make things worse. Their debts will continue to grow and their situation will continue to get worse. Things can be a lot easier if people accept that they need debt advice and they try to get help as quickly as they can.

Talking to a Specialist Debt Advice Bureau May Help

Some people will make a start by trying to sort out their own problems. This is “doable” and there are many tools and debt advice sites that can be useful. Many will, for example, use an online debt calculator to try and help them assess if a debt consolidation solution is a good route to take. Others may use budgeting software to do much the same job.

Many people who have serious debt problems or who don’t feel confident of finding their own solutions will take a different approach. They may, for example, opt instead to talk to a debt management specialist to get some free and impartial advice. Agencies that could be helpful here include:

  • The Citizens Advice Bureau
  • CCCS (The Consumer Credit Counseling Service)
  • Payplan

There are many other websites, companies and individual specialists that a consumer can also choose to talk to. Most will offer free and impartial debt advice and a 100% confidential service. Some will also be able to help individuals to manage a debt management solution once they have chosen it. So, actively seeking debt advice can relieve some of the stresses of being in financial difficulties and can actually help individuals to get out of debt.

Understand Foreclosure Vs. Bankruptcy Options: How Chapter 7, Chapter 13 and Enforcement of Mortgage Liens Differ

bankruptcy

The long-term impact of foreclosure vs. bankruptcy deserves deliberate examination before reaching a decision. Filing Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 may only temporarily prevent the loss of a home. When complying with all rules and making payments, homeowners may retain their home permanently. Allowing the enforcement of lien without filing Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 guarantees home loss and may create tax liability.

Effect of Foreclosure Vs. Bankruptcy in Chapter 7 Liquidation Cases

When facing imminent foreclosure, filing Chapter 7 immediately empowers the automatic stay provided by 11 U.S.C. Section 362. The automatic stay prohibits creditors to collect amounts owed, enforce liens, and contact debtors. However, foreclosure vs. bankruptcy rights change.

The act of filing invokes the automatic stay even though a creditor may not receive actual notice for days. When considering foreclosure vs. bankruptcy under Chapter 7, bear in mind that creditors must eventually receive all past due and future mortgage payments. If payments are not made, the court can and will allow the collection of mortgage debts and enforcement of liens to resume.

The change in a creditor’s rights in foreclosure vs. bankruptcy may be temporary. Chapter 7 may prevent enforcement of a lien for 30 to 60 days. In practice, following court procedures frequently requires one or two months before courts entertain motions to lift an automatic stay. This time may allow a debtor time to catch up mortgage payments when no longer paying other debts.

Impact of Foreclosure Vs. Bankruptcy in Chapter 13 Payment Plans

Filing Chapter 13 also invokes an automatic stay. Thereafter, a debtor may include past due mortgage payments in a proposed plan for repayment. A plan for repayment may propose up to 60 months to catch up past due amounts. All future mortgage payments must be made on time beginning the day a case is filed. In practice, Chapter 13 trustees collect one payment from debtors for proportional distribution among creditors.

Debtors who fail to make regular plan payments to a Chapter 13 trustee are at risk and the foreclosure vs. bankruptcy dilemma continues. Similar to a Chapter 7 case, creditors may request termination of the stay or case dismissal. Courts routinely grant these requests when payments are late.

Allowing Foreclosure to Proceed Without Filing Bankruptcy

A homeowner that allows foreclosure to proceed rather than filing bankruptcy may be liable for imputed income. Mortgage lenders that enforce liens frequently receive less than the total debt owed, legal costs and administrative fees.

Unpaid amounts become a deficiency balance that remains payable by the former homeowner. Thereafter, many lenders charge off deficiency balances and claim a tax deduction. The IRS considers a mortgage lender’s loss as income received by a borrower and may then assess non-dischargeable tax liability.

Best Foreclosure vs. Bankruptcy Strategies

Filing bankruptcy may allow debtors to keep their homes when making future payments or alternatively surrender homes without future payment obligation of any kind. The consequences of foreclosure vs. bankruptcy may transform a portion of a mortgage debt into priority tax liability that must be paid despite filing Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 later.

Pros and Cons of Renting an Apartment

The following is a guest post from Nigerian real estate developer Michael Chudi Ejekam.

Advantages of Renting an Apartment

  • Flexibility. Although there is a commitment when renting a property, it’s easier to move to a new place than it is for a homeowner. Falling house prices can make it very hard to sell. Many homeowners have to reduce their prices further in order to move house.
  • Low deposit. Most landlords require 2 to 3 months rent as a down payment. First-time home buyers will be expected to pay down at least 5% to 10% of the amount they wish to borrow. This figure will rise to as much as 20% for a bad credit mortgage deal.
  • Repairs. Any maintenance and repairs aren’t the responsibility of the tenant. The landlord is legally obliged to carry our repairs within a reasonable period of time.
  • Building insurance. Although the tenant remains responsible for taking out contents insurance to protect personal possessions, it is up to the landlord to insure the building and its structure.
  • House price fluctuations. There aren’t any concerns about negative equity and mortgage foreclosure during periods of economic instability.

Disadvantages of Renting an Apartment

  • No investment return. Landlords offer rental properties because they are seeking long term capital appreciation. The tenant is funding an investment for someone else. Although prices fluctuate, property values will be a lot higher 20-years from now.
  • Notice. Provided that notice is given within the legal guidelines, the tenant has no choice but to vacate the premises on the date that is specified. This can be very unsettling and stressful.
  • Decorating. There is minimal scope in-terms of developing the look and feel of a property. Some rental properties haven’t been redecorated in years.
  • Bad credit. Would-be tenants with adverse credit, such as defaults, delinquent accounts and bankruptcies, will find it harder to rent an apartment. Letting agencies will normally perform a credit check before letting a room or house.
  • Uncaring landlord. A bad landlord can make the tenant’s life a misery. Although there are laws in-place to help, it will take a lot longer to get repairs and problems resolved.
  • Raising a house deposit. The cost of apartment rental could leave little disposable income to set-aside for a deposit on a house. This problem will be exacerbated when house prices are rising as an even larger deposit is needed to get a foot on the property ladder.

Apartment Rental vs Buying an Apartment

Due to the potential for long term capital appreciation, buying a house should be a long term priority for most families. However, there is no point in buying when the future is uncertain, property prices are falling or if finances are already stretched. Renting an apartment gives people flexibility with respect to moving between states, family commitments and future career opportunities.

Choosing the Best Debt Management Solution: How to Reduce Interest Rates to Eliminate Credit Card Debt

Solution

Credit card holders have many options for debt management. The cardholder may have fallen behind on payments or may just want to save money with a lower interest rate. These credit consolidation tips will help get credit card debt under control.

Manage Debt and Reduce Interest Rates by Paying on Time

The most basic rule of debt management is to pay at least the minimum amount on credit cards on time. There is no room for error when paying credit card bills. Triple check the numbers when paying bills online to be sure that at least the minimum payment is made. Mail payments at least a week before they are due.

Credit card companies are not as forgiving of late payments as a utility company might be. A payment that is just one day late may not effect the consumer’s credit score, but it could make his or her interest rate jump significantly. In an emergency, the fees involved in making a payment over the phone on the payment due date should be accepted rather than let the payment go even one day late.

Negotiate Directly With Creditors to Reduce Interest Rates

Creditors are often willing to reduce interest rates, especially if the cardholder has a good track record with the creditor. All the consumer has to do is call and ask. When calling to negotiate, point out the number of years with the creditor and a history of on time payments.

Join a Cardholder’s Debt Management Program

This solution is a good option whether or not the cardholder is in good standing with the creditor. Call and inform the creditor of financial hardships which may affect ability to make the minimum payment on time. Rather than let the account go into collections, the creditor may enroll the account into it’s own debt management program, which will lower interest rates and a reduce the minimum monthly payment.

Generally, the cardholder must agree to stop using the card while in the program. The drawback of this solution is that most programs offered by creditors are only available for a limited time, usually six months to one year.

Enroll in a Private Non-Profit Credit Consolidation Program

Finding a legitimate debt management program can be useful for improving finances. The firm will negotiate with creditors to get very reasonable interest rates. Then debt will be consolidated into one monthly payment, which the company will disperse amongst the creditors. Credit will not be damaged and interest rates will remain low as long as the cardholder pays on time each month.

This solution contains several drawbacks. Most consolidation companies require clients to pay off debt in four to six years. Therefore, monthly payments may be higher than the creditor’s current minimum payment. The cardholder will not be allowed to incur any other credit card debt while in the program.

Consumers often have a difficult time with debt management due to high interest rates on credit cards. High interest rates can be avoided by paying on time. Cardholders can also work with creditors to negotiate lower interest rates or enroll in a private credit consolidation program to manage debt.

Green Business Grows Jobs and Communities: New Zealand Enterprise Leads in Economic Development

Green Business Grows Jobs

A local effort to provide environment-focused employment in the Far North has grown into a diversified, innovative business.

The Community Business and Environment Centre (CBEC) with offices in Kaitaia and Whangarei, is a region-building business that, rather than fading away after an initial burst of enthusiasm, has gone from strength to strength.

Established in 1989, and now an Employment Service and local Economic Development Agency, CBEC is a major employer in New Zealand’s Far North region, and is engaged in joint ventures and consultancy services around the country. The enterprise has become a significant provider and in some cases, industry leader in services ranging from recycling and waste, to landscaping and environmental education, to the management of facilities such as swimming pools.

Business is increasingly accepted as playing an important role in the development of sustainable and healthy communities. The Canadian Centre for Community Renewal has observed that the increase in skills, experience, wealth and influence in a region resulting from successful business is critical, and can help focus attention on the future. Such an outcome may be particularly important in challenging economic times.

Sustainable Development, Building Communities

What is unusual about an enterprise as diversified as CBEC is its focus on activities “required by the community… but of marginal profitability”. An example is the soon-to-be-launched Busabout Kaitaia, a bio-fuel minibus service targeting especially the needs of low income and elderly people in the large and sparsely populated Far North. CBEC has also been involved for more than 12 years in works projects, which have provided employment while developing public parks and assisting civil defence initiatives.

Recycling and Environmental Education

CBEC is perhaps best known for its efforts to establish local waste reduction and recycle initiatives, in part through joint ventures with partners such as Te Runanga o Te Rarawa (the leadership council of the major Maori iwi in the target area).

The current economic climate has resulted in a significant downturn in the world market for recycling (for example, an Associated Press article Recycling Goes from Boom to Bust describes job and service cutbacks at recycling centres in America), but CBEC has worked at keeping its recycling saleable by focusing on quality. This involves procedures such as hand-sorting plastic and aluminium on collection trucks rather than at the plant, with the result that there is less contamination of the final product.

Local Solutions to Climate Change

A key advantage of a regional enterprise (rather, than, for example, a multinational corporation) undertaking waste reduction and recycling services is the educational value for the community. Such a focus on local solutions to environmental challenges is a significant aspect of the approach of organisations such as Transition Towns, which stress the importance of communities developing pragmatic responses, optimism and resilience.

CBEC was the establishment entity of the Far North Environment Centre Trust, which has partnered with Transition Towns and other bodies to promote public awareness of the environment and develop responses to ecological challenges in the region.

Forming a Limited Liability Company: Limited Liability and Tax Advantages Characterize the LLC

Forming a Limited Liability Company

The LLC is similar to a partnership in that it offers pass-through taxation, but unlike the general partnership, the LLC features limited personal liability.

The limited liability company became a popular form of business organization when the IRS ruled that LLCs could be taxed the same as partnerships. Now, all 50 U.S. states recognize the LLC. Most states allow single-member LLCs. As authors Baldwin and Whiteside note in their book Introduction to Business Organizations, the LLC “offers its members an attractive combination of limited personal liability and favorable federal tax treatment.”

LLC Features Limited Personal Liability and Pass-through Tax Treatment

The LLC offers full protection for all LLC members for any business liability, whether it arises in tort or in contract. In other words, members in an LLC do not risk their personal assets by investing in the business. Additionally, there is no “double taxation” as with the typical corporate form. Profits of the business are taxed only once, as income to the members. This is similar to the single taxation afforded by the sole proprietorship and the S-corporation.

Setting up a LLC is Accomplished by Filing Articles of Organization

One sets up a limited liability company by filing articles of organization with the appropriate state agency. These are similar to articles of incorporation one must file to create a corporation. State statutes specify the information that one must include in the articles of organization. According to Baldwin and Whiteside, in most states, the articles must contain at least the following:

  • The name of the LLC.
  • The LLC’s duration and purpose.
  • The name and address of the LLC’s registered agent.
  • A statement that the LLC will be managed by managers or by members. (A “member” is synonymous with owner or shareholder in the corporate form, and with partner in a partnership.)
  • The name and address of each manager, if applicable, or each member.
  • The name and address of each organizer. (An “organizer” is similar to an incorporator in the corporate form.)

How Does the LLC Compare to the Limited Liability Partnership?

Both LLCs and LLPs offer protection from personal liability and pass-through taxation; however, only “full shield” states offer full protection from liability for LLP partners for both wrongful acts of co-partners and contractual obligations. By contrast, the LLC features full protection from personal liability for all LLC members, whether the liability arises in tort or contract.

LLCs may be managed by appointed managers who are not members of the LLC, while LLPs are usually co-managed by all the partners. This might be an advantage to a business owner who would prefer to bring in outside expertise to run the business. Additionally, most states permit a single-member LLC. This makes the LLC an attractive option for someone who wants to go into business alone. An LLP, by contrast, requires at least two partners.

Determining Whether the LLC is the Best Choice for One’s Business

There are some obvious advantages to the limited liability company as a form of business organization. Nevertheless, anyone considering launching a business should do careful research into the various forms of business entities available, and should consult with a business attorney and a tax professional before deciding to set up a LLC.

Small Wind Turbines For Business And Industry: Electricity Generators Mounted Near Or On Buildings Supply Power

Small Wind Turbines For Business And Industry

Wind turbines on towers and rooftops can save energy costs by generating electricity for buildings from houses and farms to industrial plants and commercial facilities.

Small wind turbines suitable for supplying electric power to residential, commercial, industrial and institutional buildings can save electricity costs. They can also slow the rate at which new generating stations need to be constructed.

Small turbines have either of two basic constructions:

  • Horizontal-axis wind turbines (HAWTs) are the more common of the two, having propeller-like blades.
  • Vertical-axis wind turbines (VAWTs) have blades mounted on vertical shafts.

Both types can be mounted on towers or poles or on the roofs or walls of buildings.

The sizes range widely:

  • Generators producing 100 watts (W), for charging batteries — a typical low-power device can generate 12V or 24V for charging lead-acid batteries and for powering energy-saving devices such as lamps, low-voltage refrigerators, televisions and consumer electronics. An inverter can convert the DC power to 110V or 230V AC for large appliances.
  • Models for up to 50 kilowatts (kW) can be connected to a utility power grid and used singly or in banks for powering residences or facilities such as commercial buildings, industrial premises and farms.

Larger turbines capable of generating 110 or 230 V are for use where the power authority allows connection to the utility grid:

  • When wind is sufficient to generate power, all electricity is generated by the turbine and none is drawn from the grid;
  • When the wind generator produces more power than is consumed by the building or facility, the excess can be fed on to the utility grid to earn revenue from the utility;
  • When wind is insufficient, power is drawn from the utility grid.

Horizontal-Axis Wind Turbines

Horizontal models generally have 3 or 5-blade rotors mounted on horizontal shafts, similar to aircraft. They are similar to the large wind turbines that are becoming familiar sights in some countries and are used to feed energy to utility grids.

Recent design advances have resulted in blade shapes that reduce noise and vibration. Although there is some disagreement among manufacturers, HAWTs generally tend to have a higher efficiency of power output for wind speed than VAWTs. The minimum wind speed for the HAWTs researched for this article is 3.5m/s (8mph) compared to 4.5m/s (10mph) for a VAWT.

Vertical Axis Wind Turbines

VAWTs use different shaped blades. Early types had bow-shaped blades attached top and bottom to a shaft.

Some recently-developed VAWTs use S-shaped blades. One manufacturer has shaped the blades into a spiral. It is for battery-charging applications.

Another has three bow-shaped blades formed into a triple helix.

Because the VAWT shaft is vertical the gearing can all be at ground level. There is no need for the gearing at the top of a mast of most HAWTs to convert horizontal shaft rotation to a vertical shaft driving a generator at ground level. However, at least one manufacturer produces HAWTs that have no gearing.

A VAWT can be quieter. One manufacturer claims noise is 2 deciBels (dB) only 2 metres distant from its generator. HAWTs produce 35 dB to 50 dB; 35 dB is the sound level in a library, according to the Noise Abatement Society; 50 dB is the noise level in an office.

VAWTs are unaffected by changes in wind direction, whereas HAWTs pivot with the wind. VAWTs are less affected by turbulence than HAWTs. The triple-helix VAWT in particular is claimed to be more suitable than HAWTs for use on urban buildings where it can perform more efficiently in turbulent wind conditions.

Wind Power Output

Manufacturers offer assistance through their websites for assessment of wind conditions at proposed sites.

One HAWT develops 1.5kW at 31 mph (14 m/s) and can deliver an annual power of 2000kWh (kilowatt-hours). Another delivers 5000 kWh per year with an average wind speed of 12.5 mph (5.6 m/s).

The triple-helix VAWT model develops a peak power of 7kW. It can deliver 7000 to 10,000kWh per annum, equivalent, says its UK manufacturer, of 10% of the energy required by a 600 square metre office building.

Payback Of Wind Power Costs

Both HAWTs and VAWTs can reduce the power drawn from the power utility to provide electricity for a building. Many can also generate excess power that can be sold to a utility.

Payback depends on the saving over the local power utility rate. A typical figure is 5 years.

3 Make-or-Break Items for Business Proposals: Strategies That Can Set Contract Bids Up for Success – or Failure

Business Proposals

A business proposal should always include all the elements that are asked for in the Request for Proposal, formal or not. However, there are three things that should be considered for inclusion every time a proposal is written, because each of them can improve – or detract from – the proposal’s chances. Testimonials, samples, and graphics can enhance understanding of the information that’s being presented and establish expertise or credibility, but they can also make a proposal seem unprofessional or overly glitzy. Don’t write a proposal that relies on tricks alone to sell the business’s services. Use these elements to enhance value, rather than distract from weaknesses in the business proposal.

Testimonials

Any company that has a track record in its field should not be afraid to ask for a written testimonial to include in future proposals. In fact, a good salesman will make asking for referrals and testimonials part of the sales process. If your clients are eager to help but unsure what to write, provide a draft and ask them to suggest changes before signing it.

Testimonials can be included as an appendix to a business proposal, or quotes from them can be placed in relevant sections of the text. One or two well-written testimonials will make your point better than a dozen gushing letters will. Remember to include the client’s full name and company – letters can be more easily faked if names are replaced with initials.

Samples

Providing samples of the business’s work in the field can be the best way to show that the company understands the project, and is qualified to complete it. Samples establish clear levels of competency, enhancing credibility in those core areas. A caution about providing samples: if the business’s best work in the field won’t make it look good, nothing will doom its chances faster. To the discerning business customer, a lack of experience is preferable to a track record of subpar performance.

Graphics

Pictures are worth a thousand words, but leave out graphics that don’t have something obvious to add to the proposal. Use illustrations if they will make explaining or proving something easier, but don’t waste the client’s time by asking him or her to wade through piles of graphs that don’t demonstrate anything of interest. A properly designed chart or well-labeled schematic can tell a potential client at a glance if this proposal’s going to make the cut. Cluttering up a proposal with charts that don’t track meaningful data, or don’t have any clear basis for predictions, can cause clients to reach for the next proposal in the stack.

Testimonials, samples, and graphs can enhance any business proposal if the data backing them up demonstrate a business ready to tackle the project.

Conducting Effective Business Meetings: Simple Strategy for a Successful Team Meeting

Team Meeting

Guidelines for how to conduct and participate in effective business meetings.

How well business meetings go is often a barometer of how good a team is. Meetings that consistently run poorly, with aimless discussion, no clear agenda, no sense of progress or accomplishments can dampen the enthusiasm and commitment of team members.

Teams that conduct efficient meetings with clear agenda and an orderly process of discussion and decision-making build a sense of achievement and mutuality. Individuals may complete discrete or difficult standalone tasks or work with team members on projects outside the meeting setting, however, when it comes to making critical decisions and solving big problems, the team meeting is the place – be it staff, managers, or corporate meetings.

How do good teams run meetings? Whether the team has a daily, weekly or quarterly meeting, there are some clear steps to take to make the meeting work.

An Effective Meeting Needs an Agenda

The agenda is a list of what the team will be talking about. The reason an agenda is important is that it serves to focus attention as well as provides as indicator of how much progress the meeting is making. Spending 90 percent of the meeting on the first agenda item is obviously not a terrific progress.

What does an effective agenda look like? Here are some common and important agenda items to consider:

  1. At the start of the meeting, announcements should be made of current update information that team members need to know, if need be.
  2. Then each team member can report progress on processes or projects. A progress report consists of results, problems, assistance needed, ideas to consider, and the next scheduled plans.
  3. Other agenda items are problems the team as a whole has to consider. Some examples are: If there are overall results falling short, what the team can do? If the team is not working effectively with another team, what ideas can close the gap? Problem solving often leads to making decisions.
  4. Finally, the team members have to plan and revisit the tasks to be accomplished before the next scheduled meeting.

Three Basic Tips to Remember about Business Meetings:

  • Think good meetings: It they are efficiently run, it indicates the team is working well.
  • Use the agenda as the engine of the meeting: With an agenda, the team knows where it is at and where it is going. Without any agenda, there is no focus.
  • Ensure participation: What really makes team meetings work is inclusion and contribution from team members. The more team members speak up at meetings and offer their opinions, the higher the quality of decisions will be made.

Knowing these basic guidelines will enable the team to get the most out of business meetings.