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Protecting Water, Music and Intellectual Property

America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 (S. 3021) – This bill authorizes water pollution control activities as well as conservation and development of water and related resources to facilitate improvements to the rivers and harbors of the United States. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) on June 7 and signed into law by the President on Oct. 23.

Orrin G. Hatch-Bob Goodlatte Music Modernization Act (H.R. 1551) – This bill was introduced by Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC) on March 15, 2017 and signed into law by the President on Oct. 11. It represents one of the most significant legislative reforms to U.S. copyright law over the past 20 years by updating licensing agreements to include digital reproduction and distribution. The bill establishes a blanket statutory licensing system on a song-by-song basis administered by a nonprofit mechanical licensing collective. This entity is charged with collecting and distributing royalties, identifying songs and their owners for payment, and maintaining a comprehensive, publicly accessible database for music ownership information for both pre- and post-1972 sound recordings.

Patient Right to Know Drug Prices Act (S. 2554) – Introduced by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), this bill is designed to end the practice of insurers and pharmacy benefit managers instituting “gag order” agreements with pharmacists. It has been a practice to prevent pharmacists from informing customers whether it would cost less for a drug if they use their health insurance or pay fully out of pocket. Many times, a consumer would actually save money by paying out of pocket . This legislation formally bans the practice of pharmacy gag clauses at the federal level. The bill was first introduced on March 14 and signed into law on Oct. 10.

Know the Lowest Price Act of 2018 (S. 2553) – Sponsored by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), this bill is similar to S. 2554 in that it also prohibits Medicare Part D plans from restricting pharmacies from informing individuals regarding the prices for certain drugs and biologicals. The bill was introduced on March 14 and was signed into law by the President on Oct. 10.

Justice Served Act of 2018 (H.R. 4854) – This legislation increases the capacity of prosecutors to address the backlog of violent crime cases involving suspects identified through DNA evidence. The Department of Justice must allocate a specified percentage of grant funds for such purpose, including at least 5 percent for grants to prosecute cold cases involving violent crime. The bill was introduced by Rep. John Carter (R-TX) on Jan. 19 and enacted on Oct. 9.

Small Business Innovation Protection Act of 2017 (S. 791) – This bill directs the Small Business Administration and the United States Patent and Trademark Office to leverage existing outreach programs to educate more small businesses on intellectual property and domestic/international patent protections. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) on March 30, 2017 and signed into law by the President on Oct. 9.

Protecting Religiously Affiliated Institutions Act of 2018 (S. 994) – This bill was introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) on May 1, 2017 and signed into law by the President on Sept. 28. The bill amends the federal criminal code to broaden the scope of defacing, damaging or destroying religious real property to include threatening such acts. The legislation also establishes criminal penalties of a fine, a prison term of up to five years or both.

Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act of 2017 (S. 97) – Sponsored by Sen. Michael Crapo (S-ID), this bill enables civilian research and development of advanced nuclear energy technologies by private and public institutions. In addition, the DOE is directed to study the need for a new test reactor to support research and development of advanced reactor systems and, if so, construct such a facility by 2025. The bill was introduced on Jan. 11, 2017 and was signed into law by the President on Sept. 28.

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Beware: Malware Installed in Fake Software Updates

In our current environment of hacks, breaches and viruses, it’s standard operating procedure to install all software updates as soon as you receive them. Unfortunately, this practice has created a new opportunity for scammers to sneak in malware.

Recent cases have involved fake Flash updates. When prompted to update to a new version of Flash, a cryptocurrency miner called XMRig also is installed. Unlike other types of malware, this strategy actually installs the new Flash update so the user might not detect unusual activity. Meanwhile, XMRig works undetected in the background to use the computer’s resources to generate a popular privacy-focused cryptocurrency called Monero.

Malicious cryptomining, also known as cryptojacking, is the act of hijacking another computer’s CPU/GPU processing power. Cryptomining requires a constant internet connection and consumes loads of electricity, causing a computer to overheat to the point of damage and data loss. That’s why cybercriminals target other computers for immoral purposes. By concealing a cryptomining application within a common upgrade, the hacker can continue to use the hijacked computer’s resources without the owner’s knowledge.

Security Pitfalls

This strategy reveals the importance of staying on top of software and computing issues, and recognizing that not all security apps are effective. Some are even complete frauds, designed only to infiltrate your system – so it’s very important to vet any ad-blockers or other downloads before installing them.

In some cases, the security software can create vulnerabilities, doing your computer more damage than good. For example, applications might require access to your personal information to function, such as browser history, personal files and unique identifiers. The software may need some of this information to run properly, but it also could be culling more data than necessary for the purpose of selling a profile of you as a user.

Also be aware that not all security tools are equal. Some might detect and block different strains of malware, but not all of them. This can give you a false sense of security that your computer is safe when it is still vulnerable. A study conducted in 2017 revealed that it was not all that difficult for a seasoned software designer to create malware that could bypass 95 percent of antivirus tools for Android.

While virtual private networks (VPNs) are designed to establish a secure connection through a remote server, another study found that nearly one-fifth of mobile VPN apps did not encrypt user traffic at all.

Recognize that the app industry is not highly regulated, so security software available in app stores may not work as well as their developers claim. They could have limited application and are not be updated regularly to prevent infiltration by hijackers. Or, a cybercriminal may even purchase the software and have access to its users in order to harvest personal information or disseminate malware through future updates.

To help protect your electronic devices from malware and other cyber breaches, consider the following tips.

  • Download apps and updates from well-known app stores, which do a better job of vetting developers.
  • Don’t go crazy installing every cool app you see. Stick to a few that you use most often.
  • If you get a notification to download a new update, go to the website to verify and install from there.
  • Be the most diligent about keeping your operating system updated.
  • Don’t click on links from untrusted sources.

Finally, choose an antivirus software from a well-known vendor. Read its product description and online reviews. Be sure you understand what it does as well as what it doesn’t do. Also consider what type of permissions it requests and whether or not they make sense. Once installed, be sure to keep the software updated as required.

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Top 5 Latest Tech Advances That Help Heal Our World

As much as we lament how fast things change in the tech world, there is an upside when it comes to treating diseases and chronic conditions. Here are some of the coolest new devices showing how impressive it can be when technology and medicine intersect.

Getting a Foothold on Diabetes. The body’s extremities are most vulnerable to the effects of diabetes – especially the feet. If improperly treated, peripheral nerves and blood vessels can become damaged, causing ulcers, which can become infected and sometimes result in amputations, if not death. Siren© has developed high-tech socks with embedded sensors woven into the company’s Neurofabric™. These sensors continuously monitor the temperature at the bottom of the feet, which can be an indicator that the body is fighting an infection. Measurements are sent to the person’s smart phone, which alerts Siren’s customer service department that then calls or texts the user.

Seeing for the Blind. Created by AT&T, Aira glasses are a lifesaver. When a seeing-impaired person puts on these glasses, they’re connected to agents via microphone who see what the user sees in real time, so they talk them through what’s around them. These agents become visual interpreters, aka “seeing-eye people” and help users accomplish a wide range of daily tasks –everything from crossing busy streets to recognizing faces to traveling the world.

Treating Cancer with Robots. No, it’s not science fiction. The CyberKnife System® is very real. As the only fully robotic radiation delivery system, this miraculous surgical aid uses real-time imaging to deliver a maximum dose of radiation directly to the tumor from many different angles with sub-millimeter precision. It does this by tracking and adjusting for tumor or patient movement during the treatment, which minimizes radiation to healthy organs and tissues.

Scratching the Spread of Infection. Moms the world over have warned against scratching after a bug bite. This advice has some truth and relevance: Recent studies have found a direct connection between scratching, inflammation and the rapid replication of infections. Given the rise of mosquito-borne viruses like zika, dengue and malaria that are making their way into the United States, you’ll want to check out Bite Helper™. This ingenious device neutralizes the itch and irritation of insect bites with Thermo-Pulse Technology™, which delivers heat and vibration to the bite area. This increases blood flow and circulation, relieving the itch and desire to scratch, potentially containing the spread of the disease.

Rehabbing After a Stroke. Upon first glance, the Rapael Neofect© smart glove looks like a robot skeleton from the Lego movie. However, this incredible invention uses a variety of sensors to guide a stroke victim’s rehabilitation for hand and wrist injuries. Using wireless technology, the glove connects to the Rapael app you install on a computer, which guides a patient through repetitive movements to engage specific muscles and tendons. But here’s the thing: it makes the work less tedious and, in some cases, fun. The app projects games involving exercises that are actually everyday tasks like chopping vegetables, pouring a glass of wine or even throwing darts. The secret? Data from the sensors feed through a software algorithm that customizes the game play for the patient’s needs, similar to the way Netflix’s algorithm customizes a viewer’s TV show and movie recommendations.

Sources

https://aira.io/how-it-works

https://www.asco.org/research-progress/reports-studies/clinical-cancer-advances-2018/advances-cancer-treatment

https://www.cyberknife.com/technology

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170731164018.htm

https://www.asme.org/engineering-topics/articles/bioengineering/top-5-advances-medical-technology

https://www.asme.org/engineering-topics/articles/bioengineering/5-innovative-medical-technologies-2018-part-1

https://www.asme.org/engineering-topics/articles/bioengineering/5-innovative-medical-technologies-2018-part-2

https://www.neofect.com/en/product/pegboard/

https://www.neofect.com/en/product/rapael

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Advantages of Single Premium Whole Life Policy

A Single Premium Whole Life (SPWL) insurance policy works just like it sounds – you purchase the contract with one premium upfront. For folks who haven’t carried life insurance since the kids moved out of the house and their term life policy ended, SPWL offers some flexible financial planning options.

First of all, rather than taking a sizeable chunk of savings to purchase a policy, it’s a good option if you come into a windfall, such as an inheritance. This way you can take a lump sum and convert it into your own legacy for your children.

However, you can tap money from the account if you need to. Part of the initial premium goes into a cash account, which is available for either withdrawals or a policy loan. This account earns interest, so the longer you leave it alone, the larger it will grow. If at some point you need emergency funds and wish you had that inheritance back, much if not all of it is available for your use.

Here’s a sample illustration of how SPWL works. Premium: $100,000

Policy Year Cash Value Available Guaranteed Death Benefit
1 $77,282 $212,314
5 $89,809 $212,314
10 $106,582 $212,314
15 $123,567 $212,314
20 $139,703 $212,314
25 $155,839 $212,314
30 $169,639 $212,314

As you can see in the accompanying table, you would have access to much of that initial premium right away, and the equivalent amount within 10 years.

Benefits

As you get older, you might find you have expensive medical bills or need caregiving assistance. Not only is your cash value available for these expenses, but if you have significant needs, you can borrow against the death benefit. While this reduces the amount your heirs will receive upon your death, they’d probably rather you use that money than rely on them to pay your bills.

Another huge benefit for people living on a fixed income during retirement is that by purchasing the policy with an initial lump sum, you aren’t burdened with ongoing premiums. Since the policy is purchased in full, there is no risk of future default.

Tax Status

The death benefit from a single premium whole life policy is not subject to income taxes for the beneficiaries, but it could be subject to estate taxes on large estates. The cash value account grows tax-deferred; however, SPWL is classified as a Modified Endowment Contract (MEC) because it is paid via a lump sum premium and therefore exceeds IRS limits for how much you pay into a life insurance policy all at once. This means that any money withdrawn or borrowed from the policy is considered “last- in first out,” so capital gains are taxed. Also, withdrawals and policy loans made before age 59½ may be subject to an early withdrawal penalty.

Many of today’s SPWL policies feature long-term care benefits and/or riders. These enable tax-free access to the death benefit due to a qualifying event, such as a terminal illness in which the policyholder becomes unable to perform two or more activities of daily living and needs long-term care.

Be aware that accelerated death benefits and long-term care riders are subject to underwriting approval, so it’s important to purchase a policy while you are still young and healthy. As always, contact a professional to make the best decision for your circumstances.

Posted in Blog, Financial Planning | Leave a comment

How Will the Markets be Impacted by Trade in 2019?

With talks of changing existing trade deals by then candidate Donald Trump now a reality with President Trump, America has taken a different path for international trade. Seeing mixed results during negotiations, global and domestic stock markets have been shaken and are subject to ongoing volatility. Today, foreign trade talks are in flux, and it’s unknown how different deals will affect the stock market in 2019.

Impact for U.S. Automakers’ Trade with South Korea

In the five years since the Korea Free Trade Agreement has been in effect, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) explains that the entire trade deficit grew to $9.8 billion in 2017, up 57 percent from $6.3 billion. Looking at goods only, America’s trade deficit with Korea grew by three-quarters during the same time frame, from $13.2 billion to $23.1 billion.

When it comes to trade with the Republic of Korea, recent negotiations have opened up additional export opportunities for U.S. automakers to maintain some domestic advantage, along with additional export opportunities to the Republic of Korea. Existing U.S. tariffs of 25 percent imposed upon South Korean trucks will last until 2041, instead of the original date of 2021. Other benefits from the renegotiation include South Korea allowing the doubling of American car imports to 50,000 annually.  

Negotiating the New NAFTA With Mexico and Canada    

The USTR also reported finalized negotiations as part of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), mandating that three-quarters of auto parts be produced in North America, including the United States. The deal also requires that 40 percent to 45 percent of auto parts be produced by workers making at least $16 per hour, increasing the likelihood that production is within the United States. 

The renegotiating of NAFTA with Canada has preserved many existing tariffs, including that all food and agricultural products with zero tariffs under the North American Free Trade Agreement remain so. Furthermore, the USMCA has established additional markets and “new tariff rate quotes” for American products.

The new agreement is focused specifically on providing American producers of eggs, dairy and poultry with increased market access in Canada in exchange for Canadian agricultural producers having access to expanded markets in the United States for their dairy products, as well as peanut and processed peanut products, and sugar and sugar-containing products.

While negotiations with Canada and Mexico have opened more markets and promoted higher wages for workers within and outside America, the USMCA is still awaiting congressional approval. This new agreement has generated optimism for increased exports, higher profitability for businesses, and higher wages for workers that may stimulate consumer spending. However, there is less optimistic news when it comes to negotiating with China.  

The USTR imposed $200 billion in tariffs of 10 percent on Chinese goods on September 24 of this year, which are scheduled to rise further to 25 percent on January 1, 2019, yielding total tariffs on Chinese goods at more than $250 billion. The impasse in trade talks shows that tariffs can hurt both consumers and businesses using higher-priced commodities on the other end, regardless of the trade partner.

One example is that while car manufacturers may benefit from increased export opportunities in the case of South Korea, with increased costs for labor and materials such as steel or aluminum, the increased opportunity of exports could be offset by having to increase costs for consumers or lower profit margins. Thus, the unpredictability of trade can negatively impact consumer spending and confidence, along with business earnings expectations, giving investors pause.

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How to Create an Effective Landing Page

When it comes to online advertising, there are many ways to reach new and existing customers for new product or service offerings. One approach is to create a landing page that emphasizes a unique or significant product launch. According to Forbes and Wordstream, the right type of landing page can increase leads by as much as 220 percent more compared to above-the-fold calls to action. Since this type of marketing is so effective, what are some attributes of an effective landing page?

Why the Need for Landing Pages

Landing pages are not used for every product – only unique product launches. This is because setting up landing pages is laborious, requiring a unique set of colors, customized content, and special offers. There’s also the additional coordinating of details to ensure the unique website is built correctly and that it’s explained to visitors.

Understanding a Landing Page

Simply defined, a landing page is similar to a website, but it stands by itself to focus on a sole product or service. Some landing pages feature an e-book, whitepaper, webinar or video that describes the product more in depth. This is combined with fields to capture a customer’s contact information to help sales staff follow up with visitors to develop them into a new customer.

Additional parts of an effective landing page may include an intriguing headline, a short description of the product or service offered, and brief customer testimonials. Prompting viewers to inquire or purchase the product or service with a limited time offer or quantity available also can be very helpful.

Encouraging a Desire to Sign Up

When it comes to getting more visitors to sign up on a landing page, people often are turned off by lengthy sign-up forms that ask numerous questions in exchange for an e-book that they won’t read. A more effective way to get sign-ups is to enable visitors to enroll through their existing Facebook or Twitter account. By facilitating registration this way, businesses have a prime opportunity to ask visitors to follow them on social media, establishing an online link with new customers. A business can then develop and build a relationship with visitors by giving them helpful information via social media posts and tweets. For example, an accounting firm may offer tax preparation tips.

Making it Mobile Friendly

Another detail to consider when designing a landing page is how it’s structured and how it will be viewed. Fonts should be easy to read and specific words and phrases clickable. Note that according to Google, 53 percent of visitors leave if a mobile website takes more than three seconds to load. You should also consider including images that are professional looking, but not so large that they make website slow to load.

Emphasizing Video

According to Forbes magazine via HubSpot, there’s an 80 percent increase in customer-to-sales conversions when video is used on a landing page, with the same percentage of customers reporting a greater likelihood of remembering the video. Videos also are more likely to be shared with a viewer’s contacts and promote better brand recognition because the information can be both seen and heard, unlike text. Businesses also receive greater search engine optimization in keyword searches when they include a video component on a landing page.

Sources

10 Marketing, Web Design & Branding Statistics To Help You Prioritize Business Growth Initiatives

33 CRO & Landing Page Optimization Stats to Fuel Your Strategy (Forbes)

Video Marketing: The Future Of Content Marketing

Optimize your landing pages to drive conversions: Google Best Practices

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IRS Releases New Projected 2019 Tax Rates, Brackets and More

Bloomberg recently released projected tax rates, brackets and other numbers that apply to the 2019 tax year (the IRS will release the official numbers later this year). Note, these are NOT the numbers that apply to the 2018 taxes you file in 2019, but to the income and activity that occurs during the 2019 tax year that starts January 1, 2019.

A big part of the IRS’s consideration in formulating 2019 numbers is the inflation index. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) replaced the normal Consumer Price Index with chained CPI. Chained CPI doesn’t simply measure the change in prices, it measures consumer responses to high prices, effectively creating a smaller inflation adjustment. In any case, inflation adjustments are a critical component (and often the main driver) in year-to-year tax bracket, exemptions and eligibility thresholds.

With an understanding of what underpins the 2019 adjustments (in addition to the impact of the new tax legislation), let’s look at the changes.

Tax Brackets

The increasing CPI means brackets are being pushed upward – albeit slightly – giving us these projected tax brackets for 2019.

Individual Taxpayers
Taxable Income Tax Due
$ – to $9,700 10% of Taxable Income
$9,701 to $39,475 $970 plus 12% of the amount over $ 9,700
$39,476 to $ 84,200 $4,543 plus 22% of the amount over $39,475
$84,201 to $160,725 $14,383 plus 24% of the amount over $84,200
$160,726 to $204,100 $32,749 plus 32% of the amount over $160,725
$204,101 to $510,300 $46,629 plus 35% of the amount over $204,100
$510,301 and higher $153,799 plus 37% of the amount over $510,300
Married Filing Jointly
Taxable Income Tax Due
$ – to $19,400 10% of Taxable Income
$19,401 to $78,950 $1,940 plus 12% of the amount over $19,400
$ 78,951 to $168,400 $9,086 plus 22% of the amount over $78,950
$168,401 to $321,450 $28,765 plus 24% of the amount over $168,400
$321,451 to $408,200 $65,497 plus 32% of the amount over $321,450
$408,201 to $612,350 $93,257 plus 35% of the amount over $408,200
$612,351 and higher $164,710 plus 37% of the amount over $612,350
Married Filing Separately
Taxable Income Tax Due
$ – to $9,700 10% of Taxable Income
$9,701 to $39,475 $970 plus 12% of the amount over $ 9,700
$39,476 to $ 84,200 $4,543 plus 22% of the amount over $39,475
$84,201 to $160,725 $14,383 plus 24% of the amount over $84,200
$160,726 to $204,100 $32,749 plus 32% of the amount over $160,725
$204,101 to $306,175 $46,629 plus 35% of the amount over $204,100
$306,175 and higher $82,355 plus 37% of the amount over $306,175
Head of Household
Taxable Income Tax Due
$ – to $13,850 10% of Taxable Income
$13,851 to $52,850 $1,385 plus 12% of the amount over $13,850
$52,851 to $84,200 $6,065 plus 22% of the amount over $52,850
$84,201 to $160,700 $12,962 plus 24% of the amount over $84,200
$160,701 to $204,100 $31,322 plus 32% of the amount over $160,700
$204,101 to $510,300 $45,210 plus 35% of the amount over $204,100
$510,301 and higher $152,380 plus 37% of the amount over $510,300
Trusts & Estates
Taxable Income Tax Due
$ – to $2,600 10% of Taxable Income
$2,601 to $9,300 $260 plus 12% of the amount over $2,600
$9,301 to $12,750 $1,868 plus 22% of the amount over $9,300
$12,751 and higher $3,076 plus 37% of the amount over $12,750

Personal Exemption Amounts

Personal exemptions are eliminated under the TCJA, so there is no adjustment any longer. The deduction for a qualifying relative is a similar type of item to the personal exemptions and is expected to be between $4,150 and $4,200 for 2019.

Standard Deduction

Standard Deductions
Filing Status Standard Deduction Amount
Single $12,200
Married Filing Jointly & Surving Spouse $24,400
Married Filing Separately $12,200
Head of Household $18,350

In combination with eliminating personal exemptions, the TCJA approximately doubled the standard deduction for most taxpayers in 2018. With inflation figures where they currently stand, projections are as follows for 2019:

Certain taxpayers receive additional standard deductions; for example, the aged (65 or older) or the blind will be $1,300 in 2019 for married filing jointly and $1,650 if neither married nor a surviving spouse.

Capital Gains

There is no change in capital gains rates for 2019; break points between brackets do change, with the maximum zero and 15 percent rate amounts as follows: 

Capital Gains
Filing Status Maximum Zero Amounts Maximum 15% Rate Amount
Single $39,350 $434,550
Married Filing Jointly & Surving Spouse $78,750 $488,850
Married Filing Separately $9,350 $244,400
Head of Household $52,750 $461,700
Trusts & Estates $2,650 $12,950

Section 199A Deduction (aka the Pass-Through Deduction)

Under the TCJA, sole proprietors and owners of pass-through entities are allowed up to a 20 percent deduction on qualified business income. To qualify for the deduction, a certain threshold must be met, and phased-in limitations are applicable. They are projected to be as follows for 2019:

Section 199A Deduction (aka the Pass-Through Deduction)
Filing Status Threshold Amount Phased-In Amount
Married Filing Jointly $321,450 $421,450
Married Filing Separately $160,725 $210,725
All Other Taxpayers $160,700 $210,700

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)

AMT exemptions are also subject to adjustment for inflation and are projected to be as follows:

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) Exemptions
Filing Status Exemption Amount
Single $71,700
Married Filing Jointly & Surving Spouse $111,700
Married Filing Separately $55,850
Trusts & Estates $25,000

Don’t forget, these are only projected changes. The IRS will release the official numbers later this year.

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