There’s No Free Lunch and Most Workers Don’t Want One Anyway

Brandpoint  |  2016-03-08

(BPT) - You’ve probably heard the popular adage that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” underscoring the idea that it is impossible to get something for nothing. Yet most Americans wouldn’t want a free lunch anyway, recent research shows.

Only one in five (18 percent) American workers prefer free lunches as one of their top three employee benefits of choice, according to the 2015 MassMutual Generations@Work Study. Instead, 47 percent of workers age 18 and older prefer more vacation time, 44 percent opt for better 401(k) matches, and 40 percent like free health care coverage, according to the study.

What benefits workers prefer largely depends upon their gender and generation, the study finds, complicating benefit decisions for employers.

“Given the varied preferences for employee benefits, the takeaway for employers is to offer as broad a menu of benefits as possible. They should also consider offering new or expanded benefits on a voluntary or employee-paid basis,” says Elaine Sarsynski, executive vice president of MassMutual Retirement Services and Worksite Insurance.

Half of all baby boomers surveyed and 48 percent of millennials say their benefit of choice is more vacation days, according to the study. Nearly half of Gen Xers (47 percent) prefer better 401(k) matches, the survey found, with more vacation days coming in a close second (44 percent).

After more time off, boomers express preferences for financial benefits. Forty-three percent of boomers want better 401(k) matches, 38 percent appreciate free health care coverage, and 24 percent want more investment choices for their retirement savings, according to the study. Four in 10 (43 percent) prefer expanded health care benefits.

Breaking with boomers, millennials like flexible work schedules (43 percent) and reimbursements for education and tuition (30 percent). But many Xers join their boomer colleagues in wanting better 401(k) matches, most likely a reflection that few Xers have access to pensions and that many boomers have not saved enough for retirement, according to Sarsynski.

Men’s benefits of choice are more vacation time (50 percent), better 401(k) matches (43 percent) and flexible work schedules (39 percent), MassMutual’s study finds. Women’s preferences are spread between more vacation (44 percent), better 401(k) matches and flexible work schedules (40 percent), expanded health care choices (37 percent) and free gym memberships (31 percent).

Workers should make the most of the benefits their employer currently provides and suggest other benefits that companies might make available on a voluntary basis, Sarsynski said. She recommends workers take inventory of their benefits and prioritize their importance based on personal financial needs:

  • Make sure you have health care coverage unless you are already protected by a spouse’s medical plan.

  • Protection benefits such as life insurance and disability insurance rank next in importance, especially if you are married, have children or other people depend upon your ability to earn a living.

  • Defer as much of your income as you can afford for retirement as early as possible. The sooner you start saving, the longer the power of compound earnings will have to work and boost your savings power. Make sure you contribute enough to your employer’s 401(k) or other retirement plan to qualify for any matching contributions.

  • Use your vacation time as it’s important to get a meaningful break from your job.

The research was conducted on MassMutual’s behalf by KRC Research as part of an employee benefits education initiative. The study focused on 1,517 working Americans who were at least age 18 in a wide variety of jobs and industries.


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The ABCs of ACA -- Advice for Business Owners in 2016

NewsUSA  |  2016-02-18

(NewsUSA) - Sponsored News - Health care reform is continuing to change how businesses offer health insurance coverage, and there are several regulations to remember throughout the year. As of Jan. 1, 2016, a new phase of regulations is now in effect as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Business owners have to be sure they are using the necessary tools to remain compliant and meet ACA reporting requirements, which include the administrative work that comes along with health care reform. Below are a few tips from Aflac, the leading provider of voluntary insurance at the worksite in the United States, for business owners and human resources representatives to keep in mind to stay on track all year:

  1. Remember that the Employer Shared Responsibility requirement is now in effect. This means employers with at least 50 full-time equivalent employees are required to offer affordable health coverage that pays at least 60 percent of the cost of covered benefits for employees and their dependents. If employers do not comply, they may be penalized if one or more of its full-time employees receive a premium tax credit for purchasing individual coverage on one of the public health insurance exchanges.

  2. Learn who needs coverage. Applicable large employers with 50 or more employees, including equivalents, are required to provide coverage to full-time employees who work at least 30 hours a week, as well as dependents under the age of 26. However, businesses are not required to offer coverage to part-time employees or the spouses of part-time or full-time employees.

  3. Adhere to IRS reporting requirements for employers. Applicable large employers and businesses with self-funded health plans are required to report information regarding the health coverage of employees to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

It's important for business owners to keep track of any changes in employment status for each employee, provide ppropriate health coverage and report necessary information to the IRS. There are many resources to help businesses stay on track with requirements. A good place to start is with your local broker and insurance agent or by visiting aflac.com/health-care-reform.


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5 Tax Tips for Small Business Owners

Brandpoint  |  2016-02-17

(BPT) - Starting a business can be intimidating, but with a solid business plan and guidance from the small business community of experts, it can also be incredibly rewarding. Whether you own a local restaurant or an online Etsy shop, one of the biggest things to get used to as a new small business owner is filing taxes for the first time. If you're filing a business return, hiring an experienced professional tax preparer can help you avoid making common mistakes that can impact the success of your small business.

To get the most from your deductions, here are five tips for small business owners to keep in mind this tax season:

  1. What tax deductions can I claim? Even if the expenses were incurred during the previous calendar year, the IRS allows businesses to deduct up to $5,000 worth of certain start-up expenses in the year the business began (subject to limitations). In addition to these costs, corporations and partnerships are allowed to deduct up to $5,000 of their organizational costs in their first year of operation.

  2. Is my car mileage deductible? If you use your home as a place of business and consider it your principal place of business, car owners are typically allowed to deduct mileage costs from their home to business-related stops.

  3. Can I deduct business travel expenses? When you are traveling away from your usual business location, you may be able to deduct ordinary and necessary expenses related to your work. These expenses include transportation costs, lodging, dry cleaning or laundry, tips, baggage charges and business equipment usage expenses such as fax machines or phones. Meals can be deducted if the trip is overnight but there is a 50 percent limitation on these deductions.

  4. Are personal care and clothing expenses deductible? No, the IRS has a very strict rule against personal clothing being deducted even if they are bought for business use and only worn at work.

  5. How does the Affordable Care Act (ACA) affect my taxes and deductions? The Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Marketplace allows for small business to purchase health insurance for their employees. If you pay at least half of your employee's premiums and have less than 25 full-time and equivalent employees with an average annual wage of less than $50,000 ($51,600 for 2016), you may be eligible for the small business health care tax credit. See the calculator at healthcare.gov.

Tax preparation is not one-size-fits all, and navigating credits and deductions makes them even trickier - especially for small business owners and individuals with more complicated tax situations. Filing a business return for the first time can be a daunting task, but it doesn't have to be. A new offering is launching this year called Block Advisors that specializes in personalized tax preparation, tax planning, small business taxes and year-round support. For small business owners, Block Advisors also provides back-end needs like payroll and bookkeeping. Visit blockadvisors.com for more information or to find your nearest location.


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Entrepreneurs Find Opportunity After the Military in Key Cities

Brandpoint  |  2016-02-10

(BPT) - John Lentini carefully considered his career options after leaving the Navy. He decided to leverage the leadership skills fostered in the military by starting a business in Asheville, North Carolina, specializing in search-engine optimization.

“I had the infrastructure to do it, and there wasn’t a lot of competition,” says Lentini, owner of AshevilleSEO.org. “In Asheville, people like to support local things.”

Lentini’s example supports the findings in a recent list that named Asheville as the best place in the United States for veteran entrepreneurs.

Military transition experts with USAA and an initiative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation called Hiring Our Heroes commissioned the list. They worked with researchers from Sperling’s BestPlaces and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University to come up with a list of 10 metro areas with a strong veteran-owned and small business environment.

They analyzed more than 400 metropolitan areas by criteria such as veteran-owned businesses per capita, small businesses per capita and overall economic stability. Cities in Florida and North Carolina dominated the list.

“This list identifies the top places for those veterans who want to use their discipline and determination to start and grow a small business,” says Eric Eversole, vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and president of Hiring Our Heroes.

Geographic location choices are very important for service members entering the civilian workforce, especially those wanting to start their own business, Eversole says.

That’s certainly the case for Brian McCarthy, CEO of Always Home, a real estate company specializing in concierge services for landlords and absentee homeowners. Always Home is based in Sarasota, Florida, which ranks No. 2 on the list of Best Places for Veteran Entrepreneurs.

“We have about 70,000 veterans in Sarasota County and surrounding areas, including 14,000 military officers,” says McCarthy, who served in the Navy. “It’s very veteran friendly with lots of activities for veterans. When you have that type of support, it makes it easy.”

This list provides a snapshot of places where starting a small business could make sense. For instance, it excludes areas with a median cost of living of more than 20 percent above the national average.

It also aligns with the post-separation help service members learn about through the military transition assistance program from the U.S. Department of Defense. USAA also offers the military separation assessment tool to help give veterans a starting point from which to plan their next steps.

Lentini, the Asheville business owner, gives simple advice whenever he meets with others transitioning away from military life.

“Use whatever resources you can get your hands on,” Lentini says. “And don’t be shy about telling customers you’re a veteran. It helps.”

The full entrepreneurship list includes:

  1. Asheville, North Carolina
  2. Sarasota, Florida
  3. West Palm Beach, Florida
  4. Staunton, Virginia
  5. Prescott, Arizona
  6. Wilmington, North Carolina
  7. Missoula, Montana
  8. Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
  9. Oklahoma City
  10. Fort Walton Beach, Florida

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(BPT) - More than half a million new businesses emerge onto the scene over the course of each month, according to Forbes Entrepreneurs. But even more businesses shut down than start up. Whether you’re a new business owner or an employee looking to take your career to the next level, it’s definitely a competitive environment. How can you differentiate yourself from the millions of others?

Developing a purpose and setting goals to accomplish that purpose is the key to success,” says Per Wickstrom, founder of Best Drug Rehabilitation and successful business leader. “As an individual, you have a unique and fresh perspective, so it’s important to let that shine through.”

Wickstrom offers his proven tips for setting yourself apart from the rest to reach your business and career goals:

Give back to the community
Never underestimate the power of giving back to your surrounding community. The local community is what helps your business grow, and giving back is immensely rewarding and valuable. From volunteer days to donation drives, there are hundreds of ways for you and your business to give back to the community.

Tell your unique story
All successful people have role models and mentors from which they draw inspiration and knowledge, but it’s important to continue to develop your own individual style and viewpoint. How did you get where you are today? Don’t be afraid to be your dynamic and complex self.

Continue to learn
Commit to learning something new each and every day. To be innovating and create new products and services, you need to stay on top of the trends and news in your industry. Keep an open mind and always be ready to absorb as much information as you can. Being flexible and adaptable are some of the most valuable assets.

Learn from your mistakes
Of course you’ll never make it to the top without learning from your many mistakes along the way. There are very few “overnight successes” in the world, and it’s likely you’ll spend years working towards your greatest accomplishments. When you experience a setback, don’t let it overwhelm your rational thinking. Instead, let it fuel your motivation on the road to achieving your goals.

Keep productivity top of mind
When collaborating with others, meetings can be both incredibly productive or a complete waste of time. Keep your meetings and brainstorm sessions compelling and energetic without letting them run too long. Put away your smartphone and other devices to focus on the task at hand.

Focus on your passion
Successful entrepreneurs and business leaders are not successful because they let money drive them. Instead, they focus on their passion and spend time working on a vision that pulls them forward. While this involves a bit of risk, every successful person must take that leap in order to develop their goals and dreams. When you visualize your success, it means you believe what you want is more than possible.

For anyone seeking validation that rehabilitation works, Per Wickstrom’s success is more than enough evidence. For more information and influential tips on success, visit perwickstom.com.


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3 Tips for Evaluating What Your Business Is Worth

Brandpoint  |  2016-02-02

(BPT) - Financial and business education is a critical pathway for the future of America’s small business community.

To start with, business owners should ask themselves: “What is the true value of my business?” It’s an important question because the value of your business will have a big impact on both the professional and personal aspects of your life, including the well-being of your family, employees and possibly even the community in which your business in located.

The 2015 Business Owner Perspectives study commissioned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual) revealed about half of business owners say they’ve had their businesses valued in the past three years, yet one out of three says they’ve done the valuations themselves. When business owners value the business themselves, they can significantly over or under value their business.

Knowing your business’ true value gives you a more realistic perspective and allows you to put effective strategies into place for future growth, business continuation, succession planning, and retirement planning.

Here are three tips for evaluating what your business is worth.

  1. Times to know the value of your business. Because of constant change in the economic, competitive and regulatory landscape in which so many businesses exist today, it’s a good idea to review the value of your business on a regular basis. Doing this will allow you to have a firm grasp on the business’s current value and track its growth over an extended period of time. With this knowledge, you could consider adjusting your business plans to focus more on the drivers of value, or simply be in a better position to take advantage of opportunities. In addition to measuring business health and preparing it for sale at some immediate or future date, there are other considerations in knowing what your business is worth, including funding a buy-sell agreement, retirement income planning and estate tax planning.

  2. Turn to a credentialed valuation expert. A proper business valuation is not a “rule of thumb” or a figure agreed to with a handshake; it’s thoughtfully crafted by a credentialed appraiser after thorough research and is documented in writing. Credentials to look for include: Certified Valuation Analyst (CVA), Accredited Senior Appraiser (ASA) or Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV).

  3. Fund any potential "value gaps." Once you know the value of your business, it’s common for there to be a discrepancy between what you thought the business was worth and what you need the business to be worth. The good news is proper planning can help reduce potential “value gaps” created by an owner’s over- or under-estimation of the business’s value. For example, having assets outside the business, such as qualified plans and other investments, can help reduce the value gap in your retirement plan. In addition, insurance products, such as life insurance and disability income insurance, can help address the value gap created if a business goes into forced liquidation following the death or disability of an owner.

Take the next step. Talk to a qualified financial professional about where your business is now and where you'd like it to be in the future, and to find financial solutions that can help you reach your goals.


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Search for Benefits Packages That Go Above and Beyond the Usual

NewsUSA  |  2016-01-21

(NewsUSA) - Sponsored News - As health care costs continue to shift to consumers, it’s important to consider benefits packages that provide more holistic support outside the usual health, dental and vision policies. Consumers should be aware that there are plans available today that will aid in their overall well-being, which includes physical, mental and financial health.

Luckily, many employers see the need for robust benefits offerings, with some incorporating new solutions to meet increased employee demand for more from their benefits provider. In fact, 34 percent of employers surveyed in a Towers Watson study indicated they already offer more customization with voluntary benefits. Companies like Aflac are expanding services, ranging from credit monitoring to supplemental accident benefits to helping provide employees and their families with financial protection.

As consumers select benefits options provided by their employer, here are three additional services to look for that go above and beyond a typical benefits offering:

  • Fraud protection: According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, by the middle of 2015, there were a total of 424 data breaches, compromising millions of consumers’ personal and financial information. It’s no secret that the move toward mobile technology and digital transactions has left consumers vulnerable, so benefits that include services to help protect employees’ personal and ?nancial information should be viewed as a must-have option in employer-sponsored packages.

  • Telemedicine: A Towers Watson survey showed that almost half of employers offer telemedicine, and by 2018 that number is expected to rise to 90 percent. Companies are starting to connect consumers to highly qualified health care professionals who can evaluate common conditions and provide personalized treatment remotely, offering a low-cost and convenient option, as opposed to a hospital visit.

  • Benefits management support: According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), medical debts account for 52 percent of debt collection actions that appear on consumer credit reports. Not to mention, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 1 in 3 Americans struggle to pay medical bills. Companies are beginning to offer administrative support to help negotiate employees’ unpaid medical bills. Consumers who are concerned about being able to pay for their medical expenses should investigate these options further, as it could help them protect their financial future.

With more health care responsibility falling on consumers, now is the perfect time to search for and demand more from employer benefits packages. For more about the value-added services Aflac is offering, visit: aflac.com/aflac-business-solutions.


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