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Monthly Archives

August 2016

How to Take Money Out of Your 401(k)

By Employment Resources | No Comments

1608-er-4You saved money in your 401(k), and you want to use it. Your age, employment status and 401(k) account rules factor into how you can take money out of your 401(k) account, though. Know the rules so that you can avoid expensive penalties while accessing the funds you have saved.

When You Are Still Employed by the Sponsoring Company

As long as you’re still employed by the company that sponsored your 401(k), you can take the funds out for three different purposes. Remember that you will be charged interest, and you will have to repay the loan or withdrawal.

  1. 401(k) loans allow you to borrow from your account balance to pay almost any expense. Usually, there’s a limit of $50,000 or half of your vested 401(k) balance.
  2. 401(k) hardship withdrawals allow you to use money in your account for certain expenses. Buy a home or prevent eviction, pay medical expenses, cover higher education costs or relieve severe financial pressure.
  3. 401(k) in-service distribution allows you to take a portion of your vested balance from your account. You must be over 50-1/2 years old and invest the funds into a qualified retirement account if you use this option to gain greater control over your saved funds.

When You’re No Longer Employed at the Sponsoring Company

After you leave the company that sponsored your 401(k), you may access your funds by contacting the plan administrator. The funds are no longer available for you to borrow, but you can withdraw the money and spend, save or roll it into a new retirement account.

  1. A regular withdraw applies if you are over the age of 59-1/2 years. You will pay income tax on the money you withdraw, but there are no penalties. Use the distributions for living expenses or save them for the future.
  2. Early distributions apply to 401(k) funds you withdraw before you’re 59-1/2 years old. You will pay taxes on the money you withdraw and a 10 percent penalty.
  3. Roll over your 401(k) into an IRA. You pay no taxes on the funds, and your money continues to accumulate interest.

When You Are the Beneficiary of a 401(k) Plan

As the beneficiary of a 401(k) plan, you may access the money under certain conditions. The distributions depend on the plan participant’s age and whether or not you’re the spouse of the 401(k) participant.

Your 401(k) is a tool that helps you save for retirement. While you can access the funds, be sure to understand any penalties and tax consequences first. For more information, talk to your 401(k) plan administrator or financial advisor.

The Theory of Electronic Conspiracy

By Cyber Security Awareness | No Comments

1608-cyber-1We’ve all met our share of conspiracy theorists, right? People who insist that everything is part of a sinister plan to keep you ignorant of alien visitors or something. Some of these people come off as total loons, others… make a little more sense than we’d like to admit.

The so-called Theory of Electronic Conspiracy may or may not be a real threat, but it’s an interesting concept, all the same. Here’s how this scheme works:

The Basic Premise

The foundation of this theory is the belief that a New World Order-like secret society has been planning for centuries to achieve global domination, whether through uncontested control, or even global destruction. The plan goes back to well before modern technology existed even in theory, starting with…

  1. Paper Currency

    According to the theory, this began in the Renaissance, when the use of precious metal coins was phased out for paper money. This was just setting us up for…

  2. Virtual Currency

    This means credit cards. Money is no longer tangible and no longer tied to any metal standard, it’s an abstract number based entirely in magnetic strips.

  3. The Internet and eCommerce

    The market goes completely virtual in this phase. When you buy something, no money changes hands, nobody even meets face to face. You punch some passwords into the computer, and your new printer or a DVD of Point Break is delivered to your door a few days later.

  4. Consolidation of Banking Power

    This takes place through international banking fusions, putting a majority of the world’s money into only a few hands.

  5. The eID

    Electronic Identification Cards are the next step, replacing driver’s licenses, state-ID cards and so on with a global standard of credit-card-like ID’s.

  6. THE GREAT WORLDWIDE BLACKOUT!

    This is the big finish line for this group. A blackout on a planetary scale, like at the end of Escape from L.A. This will erase the data from every electronic account on the planet, resulting in chaos and poverty and a return to primitivism and slavery. Blackouts in the US, Canada, the UK and Australia following the September 11, 2001 attacks were mere test runs for the Big Show.

The trick with conspiracy theories like these is that you look at the first four steps and think “Holy cow, those all happened!” Of course, it’s a lot less impressive when you remember that this conspiracy theory didn’t come about until all four steps had already been achieved. Everyone’s Nostradamus when they only have to predict stuff that already happened.

When “Any Knucklehead” Can’t Do It

By Construction Insurance Bulletin | No Comments

1608-con-4You don’t need special training to haul an armful of 2×4’s across the jobsite, and most anyone can manage a hammer and nails, help to pull a rope to lift a wall, or attach hurricane ties to the joints. A lot of the skills that are required on a jobsite are easy enough to pick up as you go. Even the stuff that seems impossible to the greenest gofer on the first day of the job usually sinks in with a little on-site experience.

But, that doesn’t really describe every job on the site, does it? No experienced foreman hands the new guy a box of copper and says “Go install the wiring right quick.” Are there some tasks on the site that demand less training and expertise than their respective unions would like to think? Well, that’s a debate for another day. But it’s hard to deny that there are some jobs that not just any knucklehead can get done.

Masonry

Laying tiles and brick isn’t the most complicated job on the site, but quality masonry is a little more nuanced than slinging cement and gluing bricks together. Stonemasonry, for instance, involves the use of actual stone, and results in a wall that can last for decades with little to no maintenance. Basic brick-laying is something that you can learn in a weekend of apprenticing, but serious stonemasonry demands real training and experience.

Plumbing

Sticking two pipes together isn’t rocket science. You might or might not be able to hook an entire office building up without help, but most anyone who’s worked on a building project can figure out most of the basic tasks involved with plumbing. A big part of what a professional plumber brings to the table is an intimate knowledge of building regulations, safety standards and other laws and guidelines regulating the field. A professional not only ensures that the pipes work just fine, but that you don’t get hit with an order to tear those pipes out of the walls and start over because you failed to file the proper paperwork.

Drywall

You don’t need special licenses or permits to lay down some drywall, but it really isn’t something that any gofer hopping off the back of a truck can handle. It’s not so much that drywall is difficult to do, but that there’s an artistry to it if you don’t want to wind up with big globs of plaster sticking out under the wallpaper. On that note, painting is a task that’s easy to do, and not so easy to do right.

Over time, you’ll learn where each worker’s strengths and weaknesses lie. Not every task requires a special license, but some do demand a little more experience than others.

Driving for a Living: Worth the Cost?

By Business Protection Bulletin | No Comments

Most people who drive passengers for a living do so as independent workers. You look at a taxi company and you might assume that those guys are pulling in an hourly wage from the company itself. In truth, a taxi company usually functions more like a rental agency with the drivers actually leasing the vehicles they drive. A cabbie typically spends the first half of the shift making enough to pay off the rental costs, insurance and associated fees, and then the second half of the shift earning money for themselves.

There’s very good money to be found in delivering passengers to their destinations, but there’s a reason why most people who do it do it full time, or at least regularly enough to be worth the cost. If you’re only going to pick up a passenger now and then, then there’s no reason to get involved with Lyft or Uber or to become a taxi driver. You can make gas money for a road trip by soliciting people on Craigslist to pitch in if they’re going the same way. If you want to drive in a professional capacity, you need to consider the costs that go into that, and whether or not you’re willing to work hard enough to cover them and turn a significant profit.

Insurance Costs

1608-bb-4If you’re delivering passengers, your normal car insurance policy won’t cover you, and you’re going to need to look into uber driver insurance. Some providers won’t even cover Uber drivers simply because there are so many variables when driving passengers where they need to go. If you’re leasing a cab from a company, the company will provide insurance, but depending on how your state’s DMV regulates the industry, you may or may not wind up needing to buy taxi driver insurance for yourself through the company’s taxi cab insurance provider, much like with a rental car.

Rental Fees

Most cab companies do not use a flat fee, but a percentage. This is typically around one third of the taxi driver’s fares for the shift. If you only make, say, $120 for the shift, it can be tough watching that turn to $80 once you drive back onto the lot. A talented cabbie can make hundreds of dollars in a single night, however, and the company does not get a percentage of your tips.

Fuel

Whether driving a cab or picking up Uber passengers, you’re going to burn through a lot more gas than you would otherwise. A typical ten mile cab ride might cost $30, your cut being $20, and the average fuel efficiency for a 2016 model car being around 30 mpg, so we’re looking at maybe $4 to $6 for every $60 you earn. So around 10% of your take-home pay before taxes.

Driving for a living can be fun and rewarding, but it’s difficult to make a worthwhile profit as a part-timer.

Mechanics Insurance: The More The Better

By Business Protection Bulletin | No Comments

1608-bb-3Being an auto mechanic can be tense. If someone brings a toaster in for repairs, you might be out the twenty bucks it costs to replace it. If you make a serious mistake while repairing a car, you’re looking at a slightly bigger insurance claim. People trust you with one of the most important things they own, it’s what they use to get to work, it’s how they pick up their kids, it’s what they ride in to take a vacation. Serious mistakes are relatively few when you’re a professional mechanic, but they can happen. Add to this the fact that you have a team of people working in a noisy, dangerous environment, and it’s no wonder most mechanics insurance packages are pretty robust.

In short, here’s what needs covered:

  • Garage Liability

If you’re running a place of business, then some sort of liability policy is par for course. In a garage, your garage liability coverage will provide protection beyond what commercial property liability can offer. A standard commercial liability policy might come with a lot of catches given the nature of the heavy machinery and dangerous work involved in running a garage.

  • Equipment Breakdown Coverage

Also known as “boiler and machinery” coverage, this type of insurance covers you for everything from burnout and operator error to power surges and mechanical breakdown. We sometimes forget that heavy machinery can actually be quite delicate against certain damages.

  • Garage Keepers Coverage

This is the one that’s going to protect you from a lot of potential lawsuits. Garage keepers coverage is there to ensure that you have a backup plan should something happen to a customer’s vehicle. This is another enhancement to commercial liability. In an office setting, a visitor might pinch their finger in a copy machine. In a garage setting, a malfunctioning ramp could lead to serious axle damage that you don’t want to cover out of pocket.

This is all in addition to the coverage that you would have in any workplace, of course. You need to be protected from things like theft and fire, you need coverage to provide for workers compensation and so on. The above-listed auto mechanics insurance policies simply mean that, even in a workplace as potentially volatile as an auto garage, you, your customers, and your employees will be covered just in case something goes wrong that couldn’t go wrong in an office or a grocery store.

Contingent Cargo Insurance: Your Last Line of Defense

By Business Protection Bulletin | No Comments

1608-bb-2If you want to talk about a big insurance policy, let’s talk about contingent cargo insurance. Freight insurance covers product of an enormous value, and there’s a lot that can go wrong at sea. A car accident that you can walk away from is not likely to cost your insurer more than five figures. A serious problem on the open waters can lead to millions of dollars in losses. A freighter is basically a small town with an engine on it, so you need a heavy-duty policy to cover every trip.

A contingent cargo policy is taken out by freight brokers in order to insure against any claims made by the shipper. Shippers are expected to hold the brokers accountable should there be any significant losses or damages in transit, and will only come into play should the carrier refuse to honor a claim. For instance, if the captain throws a cargo container into the sea in order to, say, pick up speed in order to escape approaching pirates, the carrier is unlikely to honor the claim made by the shipper. In this instance, contingent insurance would then pay the claimant.

Contingent motor cargo insurance isn’t exclusive to maritime transport, of course. Anyone who carries cargo may carry contingent cargo insurance. This means trucking companies, airplanes, trains, even somebody who’s pulling a big enough trailer with their car may carry a contingent cargo policy. Essentially, if you’re carrying more cargo than you cover out of pocket, then a contingency cargo policy may help to keep you in business no matter what goes wrong.

Contingent cargo coverage, of course, only covers the cargo. This type of policy will help to ensure that, should something happen to the cargo, the shipper will be reimbursed without the carrier needing to pay out-of-pocket for damages or losses due to a train accident, a ship sinking or similar disaster. The carrier, driver, captain, train conductor, the company that owns the truck or railroad or ship will still need to cover their own end on every front required within their industry. Contingent cargo plans won’t cover, say, a ship worker whose leg is injured on the trip and is entitled to worker’s compensation. Contingent cargo insurance means that, if none of the other policies that you have in place will cover your cargo losses or damages, then you still have a last line of defense to fall back on.

What Makes Logging Insurance Different From Other Fields?

By Business Protection Bulletin | No Comments

1608-bb-1In some ways, logging insurance is like any other field of insurance for a blue collar workplace. Your big concerns are things like workers comp, general liability, contracting issues and so on. If you work in logging, you’ll encounter a number of factors and complications that you might not have to face erecting one story homes and remodeling office buildings, but generally speaking, if you’re familiar with something like construction insurance, then you’ll have an easy enough time adapting to timber logging insurance.

The key difference is owed to the environment in which your people will be working. A construction site is a relatively controlled environment. The forest brings with it a number of hazards that are trickier to manage and prepare for. Likewise, this environment brings us to the matter of transporting equipment and materials in and out of and through the forest. A construction site is stationary. Once you move your equipment in, most of it is where it’s going to be until the project is finished. A logging team is eventually going to run out of lumber in one area, and they’re going to move on to the next.

Many of the policies and provisions that a logger will buy are the same that a construction company would purchase, but they may be more extensive for the logger, for instance:

  • Pollution. The logging industry is often targeted by environmentalist groups, meaning that without adequate pollution insurance, you’re asking for a scandal.
  • Loading and unloading liability. Your crew is migratory, they’re going to be doing a lot of loading and unloading, meaning that the chances of dropping a toolbox on your foot is multiplied at every stop.
  • Power line damage. Put simply: You’re knocking big trees over. It’s not unheard of for one of them to fall right onto a power line.
  • Fire damage. Your team is creating just as much kindling as they are lumber.
  • Accidental overcut. It happens: Your crew gets a couple of maps mixed up and they wind up chopping wood on someone else’s tract. Accidental overcut insurance protects you from any losses you’d incur over this.

Some mills offer rewards to logging companies that come with a robust logging contractors liability policy and a top-tier workforce simply because it’s safer for everyone involved in the deal when all bases are covered. Logging can be a very rewarding industry, but mistakes can be very expensive without the right coverage.

Workers Comp and Cabin Fever

By Construction Insurance Bulletin | No Comments

1608-con-3Being stuck at home on workers compensation after an injury is easier for some than it is for others. If you’re only working construction in order to pay the bills, and your real passion is daytime TV, then you’re one of the lucky ones. For others, it’s easy to go a little stir-crazy after the first week of reruns, game shows and soap operas.

It’s easy to fill your time with various activities. You can play Xbox all day, you can watch your favorite movies, you can build a model ship or take up Sudoku. It’s not so much a matter of finding something to do, it’s a matter of finding something important to do. For many of us, work isn’t just a way to keep a roof over our heads, it’s a way to contribute something to the world. We take pride in driving by an office building and saying “I installed the A/C ducts in there.” Somehow, putting together a jigsaw puzzle just doesn’t deliver the same sense of gratification.

So it’s not just about filling your time up, keeping your hands busy, it’s about finding a way to make a meaningful contribution, even while temporarily unable to ply your trade. In other words, even if you stay busy, you can still wind up feeling depressed if, at the end of the day, you look at how you’ve been spending your time and you think “Who cares?”

Finding a way to fill your time that is actually meaningful is more challenging than simply filling your time with whatever distractions you can find. A meaningful pastime is…Something that you’re interested in.

  • Something that you’re interested in.

  • Something that makes a difference on some level, and…

  • Something that is accessible.

Something that interests you means that it has to be meaningful to you, first and foremost. Meaningful in a broader sense could be helping a cause that you believe in, or just taking some photographs and entering them in a local contest. As for accessibility, well, if you broke your ankle at work, then this is not the time to volunteer for an AIDS walk.

The frustrations that we encounter when cooped up at home are not just about staying busy. If all we want to do is stay busy, we can buy a pack of cards and play solitaire for eight hours a day. It’s about doing something that enriches your own life, and which returns a feeling that you are contributing something to the world.

Easier said than done, certainly. But just because you’re stuck without work for the time being doesn’t mean that you’re completely out of options.

Identifying (And Saying No To) Dangerous Work

By Construction Insurance Bulletin | No Comments

1608-con-2You’re not going to last very long in the construction business if you turn down any job with even the slightest hint of danger. In building contracts, your whole business is dealing with pneumatic drills and sledgehammers and table saws all day long, oftentimes three stories up in a building with no walls on it. The trick is being able to identify unmanageable, unnecessary danger, and knowing when to say no.

The source of danger doesn’t always come from the nature of the job itself. Roofing a two story home offers the risk of falling and spending the next couple months on worker’s comp, but that risk is relatively slim if you have the right tools, the right people, and the right timeline and budget to do the job safely. On the other, something as simple as building a doghouse can lead to serious injury if you’re trying to rush the job along for a client with unrealistic expectations.

The cornerstones of safety on a job site come down to the following:

  • The time and budget to do the job safely. A client asking you to do a $2,000,000 job for $500,000 could well be the biggest contract a fledgling company has ever been offered, but it may well be the last one they’re ever offered if they wind up understaffed and under-equipped in order to stay within the budget.
  • A crew with the requisite experience to handle the job without incident. Some tasks we learn on the job. Electrical wiring, welding and operating heavy machinery usually aren’t those. Don’t take a job if you don’t have, or can’t get, the people you’ll need to do the dangerous parts.
  • A safe work environment. If you’re hired to install sunlights in a section of a shopping mall and the proprietors refuse to close that section off while you’re working there, an injury is effectively guaranteed. Construction is best conducted in an environment that the construction company is able to control.
  • Proper insurance coverage. Adequate coverage doesn’t ensure that nobody’s going to get hurt, but it does ensure that you’ll be prepared should that happen.

If you don’t have these cornerstones in place, then it really doesn’t matter how well trained your people are in responding to an emergency, because they’re not going to be able to keep up with the emergencies that are taking place no a daily basis.

Handling Lead and Asbestos and Other Hazardous Materials

By Construction Insurance Bulletin | No Comments

1608-con-1If you work in construction, it’s not uncommon to encounter asbestos, lead, and other hazardous materials on a remodeling or deconstruction job. When that does happen, here are the appropriate steps you’re going to want to take:

Clear the Area

If you find asbestos in a home, you’ll want to clear the area right away. Lead exposure can take years to create any lasting damage in the human body, but even mild exposure to asbestos can be dangerous.

Report

As soon as possible, report your findings to the proper authorities. In more cases than not, this will be the EPA. False alarms do happen, it’s not uncommon for some other material to be mistaken for asbestos, but the EPA will typically have some tests conducted in order to determine what it is that you’re dealing with. You’ll also want to let your client know that anyone who has been living or working in the building has potentially been exposed to the hazardous material.

For Asbestos and Other Hazards: Get a Professional

If you’re removing asbestos, you need to be certified, and if you are certified, you still need to report to the proper authorities that you’re going to be taking asbestos out of an old home.

If you would like to get certified to remove asbestos in order to prevent any findings from slowing a construction job down too much, you can get started at the EPA website. https://www.epa.gov/asbestos/training

For Lead: Proceed With Caution

You can remove lead on your own in most states with or without certification, but it can be a tricky process. Make sure that anyone involved in the job is wearing a dust mask, goggles and gloves, and be sure to clear the area to ensure that lead dust doesn’t get on anything. Sweep and clean the area thoroughly when you’re done.

Replace

Asbestos is more troublesome than it’s worth, but it is very good at one thing: preventing fire damage. It is nearly impossible to get the stuff to burn. Following the removal of any hazardous building material, you have to take a moment to consider why it was installed in the first place. Lead pipes are easy enough to replace with PVC, while asbestos removal should be followed up with the installation of something to replace it, like fiber-cement siding.

Finally: You’ll want to keep an eye on the health of yourself and your crew. The real threat is prolonged exposure, and most remodeling jobs are over and done with by the time the effects of exposure to hazardous materials can really be felt, but as always, it’s better to be safe than sorry.