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SEE ALSO this Brabec Bulletin on the Web: "It's a Crazy World Out There

How go Get the Most Interest from a Money Market Account

With CDs paying so poorly now, I wondered what my money market options might be. I don’t like tying up chunks of my savings for three to five years when the rates could start going up before that. I was happy to turn up this website on NerdWallet.com, which indicates the interest rate being paid by various financial institutions (currently $.05 to $1.01 for deposits of at least $2,500).

Retail Stores and Shopping Mall Closures

I was surprised to learn how many shopping malls have been closed in the recent past—so many that there is now a website called DeadMalls.com that lists all the closed malls by state. Although no major malls have closed in my area, many of the "mini malls" that have always populated this area have so many vacancies now that they're like the old ghost towns of the West.

"Approximately a billion square feet of retail space is sitting vacant in the United States," reports the McAlvany Intelligence Advisor. Its April 2014 issue listed some of the major retail stores already closed and those expected to close soon.

EXAMPLES: Radio Shack (has closed more than a thousand stores); Staples (is planning to close 225 stores); J.C. Penny (will be closing another 33 stores); Sears (has closed some 300 stores since 2010; expects to soon shutter another 500 Sears and Kmart locations). Every store closing eliminates untold numbers of jobs, but Macy's offers an example: When it soon closes five of its stores, 2,500 more jobs will be gone.

If you fear for your job, be sure to read the article at right about starting a business of your own that can be operated at or from home base.

 

"People are always blaming their circumstances. I don't believe in circum-stances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can't find them, make them."

- George Bernard Shaw

LibraOffice Free Word Processing Program—As Good as MS Word?

I’ve been debating what new word processing program I would buy when I had to move to a new computer system. After checking out Microsoft Office 2013, I had decided that I’d probably buy that. But then I stumbled across LibreOffice, which was being discussed by writers who are doing eBooks and using this software with success. It is described on its website as a "powerful office suite that offers a clean interface and powerful tools that lets one unleash their creativity and grow their productivity. LibreOffice embeds several applications that make it the most powerful Free & Open Source Office suite on the market—available in many languages too."

This software comes with Writer, the word processor; Calc, the spreadsheet application; Impress, the presentation engine; Draw, the drawing and flowcharting application; Base, a database and database front end; and Math for editing mathematics. Get details here.

This wiki page, which is constantly being updated, offers an amazing comparison of LibreOffice 4.2 with Microsoft Office 2013.

 

Positioning Yourself for Success

"The will to prepare to win is more important than the will to win. Preparing usually means doing those kind of things that failures don't like to do. It means studying and learning. It means reading books, going to seminars. It means not being afraid to corner experts and ask foolish questions."

 - Robert G. Allen

 

The Coming World of "Internet Smart Things"

I try to stay abreast of changing technology inasmuch as I plan to be active on the Web for several years to come, but I’m having a hard time coming to grips with how different our personal and business lives are going to be a decade (or less) from now.

My latest technology lesson came from an interesting article on  WebsiteCompass.com, which explains that in the coming years, more and more objects will be equipped with sensors that will enable them to join the digital conversation.

We are told that our toaster will communicate with the refrigerator, which will communicate with our smart phone, which will communicate with the air controls in our home, which will all automatically adjust based on our habits and activities. Cars will be equipped to keep us safer, outdoor sensors will help make the air cleaner . . . and that's just the beginning.

This is being called "The Smart Revolution," also known as the "Internet of Things" or "IoT." By 2020, it has been estimated that there will be 50 billion Internet-connected objects, more than seven times the number of people on the planet. Mindboggling, yes?

Click here to read the complete article.

 

 

 

 

 

Barbara Brabec's popular tax strategies
eBook for Schedule C filers.

 

Copyright © 2014 by Barbara Brabec. All Rights Reserved.

Tips and Strategies
for Living and Working
More Safely and Profitably
in Today's Unsettling Times

A Special Edition of THE BRABEC BULLETIN on the Web

~ Published  May 22, 2014 ~

In today's constantly changing high-tech world, every day of working on the Web and just plain living is a new learning experience for most of us. This special Bulletin, too long to be published as one of my email Bulletins to my subscriber list, discusses several important things I've learned recently from personal experience and diligent research. - Barbara Brabec

TABLE OF CONTENTS

How to Lower or Eliminate Business Checking Account Fees
Starting a Homebased Business Could "Save Your Bacon"
How Long Can You Safely Work on an XP Computer?
What You Might Not Know about Skype and Internet Explorer
Fake Better Business Bureau Complaint Emails
How to Prevent Cell Phone Theft & Back Up Your Smart Phone
The "Heartbleed" Hit List (Internet Security Breach)
A Relaxing Musical Interlude

Sidebar Articles

How to Get the Most Interest from a Money Market Account
Retail Stores and Shopping Mall Closures
LibraOffice Free Word Processing Program
The Coming World of "Internet Smart Things"

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How to Lower or Eliminate
Business Checking Account Fees

WANT TO KNOW HOW I just got a free business checking account and avoided being hit with banking fees of $144/year? Read on. While what works for me will work for only certain types of businesses, yours might be one of them, and I'm sure you have better things to do with $144-$180 than give it to your bank for services you may not really need.

With all the recent increases in checking account fees and requirements, it has become increasingly difficult to find free or low-fee checking accounts. Most business checking accounts will now incur a monthly fee of between $4.95 to $15/month, but what you may find surprising is that not every small business actually needs a "business" checking account to operate legally. All the IRS cares about is that business owners do not commingle (mix together) business income and expenses with personal income and expenses. Banks have their own rules about this, as explained below.

When I first opened a business checking account in Naperville, Illinois in the mid-80s, I had a free business checking account in a savings and loan institution that paid interest on the balance. When S&L Associations began to die out and my bank was bought by another (sometime in the early 2000s), my account status changed from a completely free checking account to one that would no longer pay interest but would still be free of service charges if I kept a minimum of $500 in the account. When that bank was bought by PNC bank a few years later, that "rule" held true until early this year, when I was notified that I could have a free business checking account only if I kept a minimum of $1,500 in the account. Otherwise, I’d have a pay a $12/month service fee. (I was surprised then to learn that other banks in my area were charging up to $15/month.)

That was all it took to force me to look for a money-saving alternative since I couldn't justify throwing away $144 to $180/year for banking services I no longer really need. Because I now pay most of my business bills online, I write no more than three or four checks a month. And except for an occasional client I trust to pay me by check, all my income is now deposited to my checking account electronically. In short, the traditional business checking accounts we all needed years ago because of the volume of checks we deposited and wrote are simply not needed by many business owners today who work from home and sell services or products online.

A visit to my local bank and a discussion with my personal banker resulted in the perfect solution for me. All I needed to do was to open a free personal checking account with them and dub that account number as one of my "business" accounts. I was told that the bank doesn’t care how many electronic deposits are made into that account or how many checks I write. Their only "rule" is that I cannot cash or deposit any checks made out to a name other than the personal name I used to open the account. (While they allowed me to open the account with a check drawn on my Barbara Brabec Productions bank account, later when I wanted to move the rest of the money in that account to the new account, I had a choice of getting a cashier’s check or taking the money in cash.)

What I really like about having a personal "business" checking account is that I can access my account online and also get paper statements, something few business checking account holders can get now. I found it especially interesting when my banker told me that her daughter, an artist and designer, was doing business through a separate personal checking account in this bank. So . . . if you are a service provider, writer, eBook publisher, artist, designer, musician, or anyone else who generates income payable to your personal name, you can easily dump your high-fee business checking account and open a separate FREE checking account in your personal name and continue to run all your business income and expenses through that account. (Even if you use your business name on your website, you could simply ask your clients or customers to make checks payable to your personal name.)

If this kind of banking arrangement doesn’t work for you, you may still be able to cut your banking expenses by visiting this Web page to see which of 179 banks in the nation has the lowest checking account fees. (Be sure to select "big banks" before you type in your zip code for the results.)

NOTE: I found two banks in my area (U.S. Bank and Fifth Third Bank) offering free business checking for between 150-250 transactions a month, so you might want to begin your search at one of these banks. I’ve had a personal "business" checking account with U.S. Bank for several years, one I opened just to handle income and expenses related to my sideline business of selling used books and CDs on Amazon, which I've been doing with considerable success since 2008. No service charges have ever been made for the various electronic deposits and debit card charges I’ve made for postage when shipping books I’ve sold. (Another great advantage of this particular checking account is that when I opened it, I was offered a big discount on the largest safety deposit box the bank has.)

If You're a Job Holder,
Starting a Homebased Business
Could "Save Your Bacon"

AFTER WRITING THE SIDEBAR at left about all the retail stores and malls closing across the country, and knowing how many companies have downsized in the past couple of years to eliminate as many employees as possible—and realizing how many more jobs will be lost in the next couple of years—I found myself wondering how any job holder today can sleep at night with job security now being a thing of the past. 

I've been self-employed for most of my life and I've seen many recessions come and go, but what we're seeing now in America is unprecedented, and what's happening in the economy is leading to things none of us really wants to think about. But I see something else coming now that I've witnessed twice in the past, first in the 70s and again in the mid-90: an explosion in the number of businesses being started at home. In the nineties, I was speaking across the country and in Canada about the many opportunities individuals had to start businesses at home. The Internet was just heating up then, but by the turn of the century, millions of individuals had started successful and life-changing businesses at home with a website to promote and sell products and services. In my books at that time, I was interviewing and sharing the sage advice of hundreds of these home-business and website owners and experts in the field, all of which made my books best-sellers unlike any others at the time. It's heartwarming to me today to see that most of these business diversified in one way or another and are still doing well on the Web today, proving the value of their information and experience.

I regret that all my home-business books are now a decade old and thus out of date where computer technology and marketing on the Web is concerned, but these books sold hundreds of thousands of copies and changed as many lives because readers were motivated to follow in my footsteps and that of the many business owners whose advice I shared in those books. Technology and Web marketing aside, my various home-business books (and especially my "Homemade Money Duo) contain a wealth of timeless information and guidance on how to legally start and successfully manage, expand, and diversify a business based at home, both on and off the Web. And the good news is that you can obtain these print books for pennies on Amazon and maybe for free in your local library if they're still on the shelves. I don't make any money from the sale of used copies of my books others are selling, and I won't be updating my Homemade Money books, but that's no reason for you not to glean them now for information you can use. Trust me when I say that a single idea or suggestion in one of my "old books" could easily change your life, or at least your attitude about your self-employment options.

If you have a job that you think might not be good for the long run, I urge you to explore your potential as an entrepreneur; or at least ask yourself what life skills, knowledge, experience, and know-how you possess that might translate into a part- or full-time business you could run from home base with a website to promote and sell your products and services. Understand that there is a world of prospective customers and clients waiting for you on the Web and plenty of current books and blogs to help you learn how to successfully market and sell on the web once you use my books to get started.

And remember this: Even though as many as a quarter of the country's previous job holders are now unemployed or soon will be, the REST still have jobs, and they and a growing number of very affluent individuals have a lot of money to spend on products and services YOU might offer.

I remain high on the idea of self-employment because it has always worked for me. Although it amazes me at times, individuals with jobs or discretionary income continue to find their way to my website, enabling me to help them realize their dreams of being a published author as I also generate supplementary income for myself at an age when it would be impossible for me to find any kind of job I could physically handle. The skills and know-how I've acquired throughout my life literally guarantee me income on the Web for as long as I care to work and am willing to keep learning what I need to know to stay up on changing technology. I'll bet many job-holders reading this Bulletin also have valuable skills and know-how that could be turned into a business at home. The big challenge here is how to one's employee mindset into that of an entrepreneur.

How Long Can You Safely Work
on an XP Computer?

HIGH ON MY LIST OF CONCERNS this year was the problem I faced when Microsoft ended its support of XP computers on April 14: How to work safely on the Web on a computer hackers are reportedly gleefully looking forward to attacking. If you use an XP computer, be sure to read my special article on this topic.

I spent a great deal of time agonizing over my choices, none of which seemed workable to me. But in the end, through diligent Web research and consultations with a computer expert, I came up with a plan that I believe will work for me, at least for another year or more, by which time I hope to have the time, money, and desire to once again upgrade to yet another version of Windows that, as always, will surely be released before all the "bugs" have been worked out. (Just look at Win8, which they're still trying to fix.)

What You Might Not Know About Skype
and Internet Explorer

WHEN I BEGAN TO DEAL WITH the problems associated with Microsoft’s end of support for XP computers—and especially the vulnerability of all versions of Internet Explorer—I thought the smartest thing to do was simply to uninstall this browser from my computer. I stopped using it months ago, but had kept it only for use in previewing new pages on my website and comparing them to what I see with Mozilla’s Firefox browser (which I love).

But I got a surprise the first time I tried to Skype after that because it simply wouldn't open. When I began to trouble-shoot the problem, I was surprised to learn that the only way Skype connects to the Internet is through Internet Explorer. So, not knowing what else to do then, I downloaded IE 8 again (later versions won’t work on the XP) and later installed Microsoft’s latest security patch (sent after its formal end of support on April 14), so I could Skype on the XP for the time being. But IE will quickly deteriorate, so I'm nervous about doing this for long. I keep Skype updated, but I have no idea if hackers will be able to slip past my firewall and get to my XP computer through Skype.

For computer users who haven't been paying attention, regardless of the computer system you have, you should realize that all versions of Internet Explorer are vulnerable to hackers now, and if you're smart, you'll do all your web surfing and especially financial transactions using Chrome, now considered to be the safest browser, with Mozilla Firefox a close second.

Fake Better Business Bureau Complaint Emails

I HAVE TO ADMIT . . . I was a bit concerned when I got the first email from the Better Business Bureau early in May saying one of my customers had registered a complaint about their dealings with me. Highly unlikely, I thought, in view of the kind of clients I have and all the glowing client testimonials I've received. But then I noticed the zip file attached to the message, which was a big giveaway. A lot of people must click on these attachments, however, because this phishing scam has been going on since 2011, according to Snopes.com. This web page hasn't been updated since 2012, but Cicso.com has been issuing regular "threat alerts" ever since. If you haven’t received one of these messages yet and it gets past your anti-virus checker, just automatically mark it as junk mail when you see it and permanently delete it from your computer.

How to Prevent Cell Phone Theft
and Back up Your Smart Phone

ONE OF AMERICA'S FASTEST-GROWING CRIMES is cell phone theft. If you have a cell or smart phone, one of your first concerns should be to take steps to prevent thieves from stealing your phone and the sensitive information it contains. This article on the American Family Insurance website discusses what you can do to minimize your risk.

Just as important, you need to learn how to back up the content on your phone. I am always surprised when someone pulls out their fancy "smart phone" and I ask them if they've backed up all the data on it, and they tell me they haven't thought about this before or tried to learn how to do it.

I have no need for a smart phone, but if I had one, my first concern would be learning how to back up everything on it. There are many articles on the web for how to do this, but a quick search brought up this one on Gismodo that you might want to read.

When someone grabs your expensive smart phone out of your hand—which is more common than you may realize—or you drop it in the lake or otherwise lose it, don't say I didn't warn you.

The "Heartbleed" Hit List:
The Greatest Internet Security Breach in History

AS A LIFELOCK MEMBER, I got a message from them on April 15 that linked me to all the major places on the Web that had been affected by "Heartbleed," called the "greatest Internet security breach in history." Several websites related to my work were on the list, and I immediately changed my passwords on them, as advised by Lifelock.

According to this article, "Survey: Heartbleed Spooks 39 Percent of Web Surfers," many computer users were still uninformed on May 1 about the seriousness of this computer bug, which involved a key piece of security technology used by more than a half-million websites. Local news broadcasts and many websites alerted computer users to immediately change their passwords to prevent hackers from accessing important information on their computer, but many clearly did not do this.

By now, I’m sure all the affected sites have done whatever they needed to do to close this security leak, but this is just another example of why you need to pay close attention to what’s happening on the Web. You should change your most important passwords regularly and make sure you have an excellent anti-virus and firewall on your computer, particularly if you have an XP computer.

Now, a Relaxing Musical Interlude

IF YOU HAVE THREE MINUTES now, click here for a mesmerizing musical break guaranteed to reduce your stress level. In this video, you'll be taken to a forest in Japan to see and listen to an enormous "xylophone instrument" play Bach's Cantata 147. Designed in 2011 by Drill Inc., it was an ad for Docomo's (Japanese telecoms giant) new Touch Wood SH-08C phone, which is made of wood from trees chopped down in Japan's overgrown forests. (If you don't have Adobe Flash on your computer, link to this video with the Chrome browser, which has the flash player built it.)

This unique instrument features row upon row of wooden "keys," each of which plays a different note. A single wooden ball is released from the top and you can watch it as it rolls down the step-like keys playing Bach's familiar "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" as it progresses with hollow, xylophonic plunks. At certain intervals the ball dominos into other balls, which travel down an offshoot of the enormous instrument to play a different sequence of notes which temporarily adds depth to the overall piece. During the musical presentation, you see the beautiful surrounding forest and a deer grazing. Incredibly relaxing.

For me, life without music wouldn't be worth living, and as an old marimba player, I enjoy watching this video when I'm in need of a break from the intense writing, editing, and website work I'm always doing.

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If you wish to comment on anything discussed in this issue of THE BRABEC BULLETIN, drop me an email. This isn't a blog where readers can add comments, but I'd be happy to publish your remarks below.

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