Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Boosting your Productivity with iCloud

If you are one of the 85 million people in the US who owns an iPhone, then you know that iCloud is great for syncing between devices and storing backups of records kept on your device. If your office uses apple products for business, the cloud can do much more than hang on to that important presentation. Check out these ways the cloud can make your office more productive:

1. Share documents and files across Macs with iClouDrive
Apple has made it even more simple for you to get share files with its free iClouDrive app. This application makes it easy by creating a folder that syncs with the iCloud in your office. It then makes a copy of this folder on your desktop and continuously pushes information to that folder. As long as you are signed into the iCloud account, the data shows up in both places.

2. Integrate with compatible iOS and Mac apps
It can be somewhat time consuming to try and access information from a work desktop when you're on the go. Some applications solve this problem by allowing you to store your projects on the cloud to make it accessible from multiple devices. In some applications you can even stop working a specific spot and move to a different device and it will pick up right where you left off!

3. Collaborate using iWork and iCloud 
iWork for iCloud makes it possible to collaborate on a project by allowing its users to create, edit and save updates by simply logging in to their iCloud accounts. Apple is now offering their iWork suite for free, making it even easier to collaborate with multiple employees or at multiple locations.

Do you use iCloud for your office? Leave your tips in the comments section!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Guest Blog: 5 Simple Steps to Saving Money and Getting Financially Healthy

We all want financial health but achieving it can sometimes be daunting to get started. But, pushing yourself to move forward with a plan can pay off big. There are many things you can do, but keeping it simple can help jump start the process and give you some definite objectives that are both reachable and easy to put in motion. Because financial health has such a positive impact on our daily lives taking the steps towards your goals should be a very important priority. 

To help, here are five easy steps to get you going: 

Begin with a Budget
Budgets get you thinking about your money and help you take control of spending. First, identify how you’re spending your money now. You might be surprised to see that morning cup of coffee is costing you over a $1,000 a year when it would cost pennies to make it at home. Second, decide what you could live just fine without, and what is necessary like your mortgage payment and groceries. Use available websites or apps to help. Set a goal to spend no more than 80-90% of your total income with 10-20% left to save. 

Pay Off Credit-Card Debts
Tackling your credit-card bills can be daunting, but it’s necessary for financial health. Begin by making a list of your credit cards as an extension of your budgeting process above. Then, set a plan to pay off the one with the highest interest rate first, regardless of the amount owed on the card. Once done, move onto the second card and so on, but continue making at least the minimum payment on the other cards as well. If you are able, try to transfer balances from high interest rate cards to lower rated ones.

You should also be checking your credit report at least once a year and checking for any inaccuracies, identity theft, etc. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you are entitled to a free credit report every year at annualcreditreport.com. If there are inaccurate items on your credit report, you can use our Free Credit Report Dispute Kit to make sure you get them items corrected and protect your rights.

Build Your Emergency Savings Fund
Because you never know what the future holds, it is important to build a financial cushion or emergency savings fund in cased you lose your income or have an unforeseen expenditure. Credit cards should not be the fall-back since using them for life expenses can end up costing you much more in the long run. Begin by saving 5 – 10% of your income until you have at least 3 – 6 months’ worth of basic living expenses set aside. A low impact way to get there is by saving a tax refund, a bonus, or the difference in income from a recent raise.

Target Your Savings 
A great way to help you save is to take the thinking about it out of it. Have a portion of your paycheck direct deposited into your savings account each pay period. You are less likely to spend it if you never see it in your regular account. Instead of having your entire paycheck deposited to your checking account, have 5-10% put directly into your savings account.

Save for Retirement
It is never too early to start saving for retirement and permanent financial health. If you have access to a 401K plan with a company match, it’s an easy choice to participate and make sure you are getting the full benefit. Start by setting aside 3% of your salary to the 401K. This deduction is pre-tax so you will hardly notice, plus, it will reduce the amount of taxable income you are bringing home. Increase your savings by just one percentage point a year until you get to 10% and you’ll hardly feel a pinch. It’s also good to start saving your emergency fund before your retirement fund because if you get stuck and need to use some of the money, you will be taxed on the withdrawals and may even be hit with penalties. If you’re self-employed or your company does not provide retirement benefits, opt for an individual retirement account (IRA). For specific advise on your particular financial situation, you should consult with a reputable financial planning professional to help you make the most of your money.

Start moving towards financial health using these steps and an overall savings plan that works for you. As with any positive step forward, soon you will begin to feel the benefits and greater peace of mind. 

Culik Law is a Massachusetts Attorney / Law Firm. The post is not intended as legal advice.

Culik Law is a BBB Accredited Business located in Woburn, MA. They have been Accredited since 2010.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Guest Blog: Can A Creditor Take My Social Security Benefits?

If you receive Social Security Benefits, in almost all instances creditors are not allowed to take these funds to pay a past-due debt. Under federal law, Social Security benefits may only be garnished in order to collect debts owed to the federal government (like taxes or student loans) or past due alimony/child support. No other creditors can force you to pay them directly from your benefits.

The protected status of Social Security benefits also extends to your bank account, but you must be able to prove that they money in your account came from Social Security. This is referred to as “tracing.” If you can “trace” your money back to your Social Security benefits, then those funds are also exempt from collection.

The intent of these federal rights is to protect elderly individuals from overzealous creditors. Actively defending collection lawsuits in state court is often the best way to assert these rights. 

However, debt collectors are aware of these rights, and their business models often seem to rely on default judgments. Because they cannot collect from your Social Security benefits directly, they often convince people establish monthly payment plans with them. These payment plans often allow creditors to receive more than they would otherwise be allowed to collect under law.

Even if you are fully judgment-proof, a bankruptcy filing may be also desired in order to ensure a stop to all collection calls, letters, lawsuits, etc.

In bankruptcy, the protected status of your Social Security benefits remains intact. Income from Social Security is not counted for purposes of determining Chapter 7 eligibility. Similarly, in a Chapter 13 context, Social Security benefits need not be counted in the calculation of your monthly plan payment. And courts have made clear that the exercise of these federal rights does not create any good faith issues.

If you receive Social Security and have debt collectors contacting you for payment, please contact us today for a free consultation. You may be able to fully protect your income. 

Culik Law is a Massachusetts Attorney / Law Firm. The post is not intended as legal advice.

Culik Law is a BBB Accredited Business located in Woburn, MA. They have been Accredited since 2010.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Balancing Act: Three Ways to Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

A recent study released by Ranstand.com showed that employees in the United States are having a really difficult time maintaining their work-life balance. This research revealed that 42% of employees feel like they are required to check with work while on vacation and about a fourth feel guilty about taking vacation in the first place. 

Unfortunately, The guilt that employees feel isn't restricted to vacation. The report also highlights the 45% of workers that feel obligated to respond to emails at home and that 47% still try to work when out sick. Technology has made it significantly easier to be available 24/7 and harder to leave your work in the office. Establishing these habits can take a serious toll on your work ethic, health, and relationships. Check out these ideas for maintaining a healthy work-life balance:

Schedule your downtime
Make it a point to schedule time to spend with your family and friends and to relax during your week. This gives your something to help you manage your time and give you something to look forward to. Try blocking off time to be "hands-off" with your loved ones or time on the golf course with a friend until it becomes a habit.

Pay attention to your health

Don't ignore your health! Make it a habit to be mindful of your physical, emotional, and mental health. Regular exercise, adequate sleep, and proper nutrition are essential to productivity and it can get very easy to slack off in these areas as you assume more responsibility in your career. Scheduling fun workout classes and preparing healthier meals ahead of time are some ways to actively

Say no!
Sometimes maintaining your work-life balance means saying no. While this seems easier said than done it is important to be able to clearly communicate your boundaries. If you are already have too much on your plate taking on another task can only decrease productivity. Don't feel the need to say yes even if you happen to have the time you should still evaluate if this task fits within your priorities.

How have you worked towards achieving a work-life balance? Comment below!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Breaking Down Barriers: Is an Open Office Space Better For Your Business?

Recently, there has been a huge debate about the open office work space and if there are any benefits to renovating your office to fit this format. For tech and creative companies, the campus-like atmosphere is often necessary for the collaborative efforts that occur. Accounting and finance firms benefit from the privacy that a cubicle provides when dealing with the exchange of certain types of information. Despite the fact that many companies report a noticeable and positive change in their employees; it might be worth considering the pros and cons before you go knocking down that wall between the sales floor and the break room.

Open spaces are designed with the intent of improving communication among employees and allowing for transparency with management. While they are often more cost effective they are also created under the assumption that everyone in the company will work best under these conditions. People who tend to work better with fewer distractions or aren't as outgoing might have difficulty being productive in this kind of environment. In theory, you could just pop in headphones and listen to your favorite music while you work, but this is a temporary fix for the larger issue of accommodating for everyone in the office. Open office plans also completely eliminate privacy in an office, making it difficult to share sensitive material and hold private conversations.There is also the issue of space for personal belongings which can be a serious problem if the space isn't designed with larger groups in mind.

Overall, it is important to think about what kind of environment you are trying to foster when considering the floor plan for your business. Companies that thrive on teamwork based projects need open spaces for everyone to have consistent communication. Other companies aren't necessarily tapping into their employees greatest strengths by creating a work area that is full of potential distractions. Companies have had to take this into consideration and modify their floor plans to include private work space that can be reserved for more private conversations or work that requires a little more focus. It is also important to remember that quality matters just as much as quantity. While there are several benefits to the open office floor plan there are also several serious setbacks. Developing a solid compromise between the two might be the best way to encourage productivity for your employees.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

New Launch: Google My Business

In a blog post last week, Google announced the launch of a new platform, Google My Business. It's primary function is to connect businesses with consumers, according to Google. While you've certainly heard of Google+, Google Places and Google Adwords, this new platform is a one-stop-shop for all things Google (well, almost).

Besides adding photos, videos and updating your business information, Google My Business offers a way for you keep up with your Google Reviews and has integration with Google Adwords Express. 

One of the most important features that we find most helpful is the custom insights tool. Through them, you can view:

  • Visibility: How many times your page and content has been viewed.
  • Engagement: How many times social actions were taken such as +1s, comments and shares.
  • Audience: Get information on new followers, where they are located and their gender.
Some reports can be filtered by lifetime view or segmented out by 7, 30 or 90 days for you to see how your pages are performing over time.

For those who manage most everything on the go, Google My Business has also developed an Android app and an iOS app will be launching soon. 

New businesses who are looking to their list their company with Google will be directed to Google My Business. Existing Google+ Business Pages and Google for Places users will be rolled over to the new platform as well. 

What do you think of Google My Business? Will you be using it?

Image courtesy of Google My Business.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Three Best Practices for Social Media

Social media is the most unique way for a business to engage with consumers to date. Recent statistics released by FastCompany.com reveal that the world of social media is expanding faster than anyone could have predicted. It may seem impossible to get a firm grasp on social media when two new people join LinkedIn every second and Facebook boasts over 1.15 Billion users; but rest assured it's possible! OPEN Forum- an interactive blog sponsored by American Express - compiled a list of best practices to make the more of social media. BBB picked a few to highlight here:
  • Ask conversation-starter questions: It's no secret that people love to use open communication to share their thoughts and opinions online. Use this as an opportunity expand your consumer reach by posting industry related questions on Facebook and Twitter to drive consumers to your product or service.
  • Avoid syndicated messages: sharing the same message on every social media channel results in it losing it genuine intention. If you need to communicate the same point across several different channels, think about changing the language to make it relevant for the outlet. Try using a combination of hashtags and photos for Twitter and leave more descriptive language for Facebook and LinkedIn
  • Follow the one-in-seven-rule: This rule is formed behind the idea that only one of every social media posts will work to efficiently promote your business. Take advantage of this statistic by using the other six posts to share content that is related to your product or service. Try sharing relevant articles, blog posts, etc. to help keep your network engaged.
What are some of your best practices for social media? Comment below!