Products to improve your home in 2 hours or less

(BPT) – The words home improvement usually conjure up images of major undertakings like tiling your bathroom or kitchen or tearing down a wall, taking hours and hours to complete the project. The fact is there are some meaningful home improvements you can do that can be accomplished in under two hours.

First, have you ever wished your home had more daylight? Maybe you want to bring in daylight to a small place like a closet or laundry room. Or maybe you have a room with a window but still not enough light. One solution is a daylighting system from Solatube. This product can be installed in under two hours and floods the interior with natural light. For more information, visit www.solatube.com/residential.

Concerned about security? Installing a Ring doorbell takes just a few minutes and you can monitor visitors at your front door on your smartphone through an app. This is a way to add some security to your home. You can be anywhere with your phone but answer your front door and see who’s there. They have no idea where you are, home or otherwise. For information, visit https://ring.com/.

Indoor air quality can be poor. The upstairs can often be hotter than the downstairs. Air can be humid and wet. House odors from cooking, pets, etc., can hang around. A Whole House Fan is quiet (with a light white noise) and can be installed without reframing. When you open the windows with the whole house fan on, it strips out the heat from the home as well as the unwelcome smells. In summer months it keeps the house cooler and eliminates stale air in the winter. For information, visit http://www.solatube.com/whole-house-fans.

Another product that installs quickly is an upgraded bathroom fan. It comes with a variety of options such as heaters and lights. An upgraded bathroom fan can dramatically reduce bathroom humidity and odors and run more quietly. For information, visit https://na.panasonic.com/us/home-living-solutions/ventilation-indoor-air-quality.

An easy home improvement project is to swap out light bulbs for LEDs. Even CFL bulbs can’t hold a candle to LED bulbs, which, while more expensive, last up to 20 years or more. One source for LED bulbs is 1000 Bulbs, www.1000bulbs.com.

This gives you an idea of some ways to spruce up your home in under two hours. But the changes will be long-lasting!

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5 reasons to use a financial professional

(BPT) – True or false: You need to be wealthy to use a financial professional. It’s a common misconception, but in fact there are financial professionals that can help at various stages in life, whether you’re just starting out or nearing retirement. It can be a huge benefit to sit down with one to discuss options, investments, savings and retirement.

No matter where you are in your life — new to the workforce, starting a family, in your big earning years or nearing retirement — some guidance from a financial professional can give you the road map toward a financial future.

Here are some of the top reasons for seeing a financial professional.

You don’t have much saved for retirement …

More than half of Americans have less than $10,000 saved for retirement, according to the American Payroll Association. But even if you’re flirting with 50 and don’t have much saved, it’s not too late to start building wealth for your future. A financial professional will assess your situation and help develop a financial strategy with the goal of a comfortable retirement in mind.

… or you do, and you’re nearly ready to retire

Saving for retirement and knowing how to use that money wisely in retirement are two different animals. A financial professional can help you build a strategy that aims to use your retirement savings, help it grow and help it last.

Your parents are aging or ill

Caring for an aging or ill parent is tough emotionally, and ambiguity or strife around finances only makes it worse. Elder care is an expensive business, and how best to use Mom and Dad’s money to make sure they get the best care possible can be a complicated quagmire, especially if siblings are at odds about what to do. Sitting down with a financial professional is a great way to sort this all out with a neutral third party whose focus is most appropriately using the funds that are available.

You’re going through a life transition

Getting married, divorced, starting a family or dealing with a death in the family can affect your finances as well as your emotions. When you’re about to walk down the aisle, for example, nobody wants to think about budgets and bills, but financial disagreements can be one of the top causes of marital problems. A session with a financial professional can be a preemptive strike against future money troubles.

You want to start investing

Finding a financial professional who understands your situation, and can help design solutions for your day-to-day financial concerns, can go a long way toward building financial peace of mind, according to Salene Hitchcock-Gear, president of Prudential Advisors. You might be tempted to DIY, but a financial professional can work with you to create a strategy based on your timeline, risk tolerance and goals.

Bottom line? You don’t need to be a millionaire to benefit from the services of a financial professional, but working with one just might put you on the road to setting and achieving your financial goals. If you want more information about building a financial future for yourself and your family, visit Prudential at www.prudentialadvisors.com.

“Prudential Advisors” is a brand name of The Prudential Insurance Company of America and its subsidiaries located in Newark, New Jersey.

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5 tips when buying a car for a teen

(BPT) – With graduation season and summer break upon us, many parents may be on the hunt for a new car for their graduate. Memorial Day deals offer some of the best incentives of the year, so it’s crucial to know how to navigate what can be an overwhelming and exhausting process.

“USAA helps members find, finance and insure vehicles that are right for their personal needs and financial goals,” says Heather Pollard, vice president of Auto Experience at USAA. “We want to avoid you ever having to regret your purchase decision, or worse, lead to financial hardships where you can no longer afford to keep your vehicle.”

If you are one of the millions of Americans looking to buy a car, here are the five things you need to know before you step foot on a dealer’s lot.

Know what you can afford.

The first and most important question to answer before launching into the car-buying process is “how much can I afford?” Figuring this out will help you determine whether you are in the market for a new or used vehicle. A good starting point is to use 15-18 percent of your take-home pay as a gauge for your total vehicle budget including the loan, insurance, gas and maintenance.

Next decision, how will you pay for it? There are numerous ways to manage the financial burden for purchasing a new car, including taking out a loan. If you have decided to go the loan route, determine how much you can afford in monthly payments. Banks or another financial institution might offer lower interest rates than a car dealer. Aim to pay off the loan within three to five years.

“Get pre-approved for an auto loan amount and interest rate so you know where you stand before you begin shopping,” says Renée Horne, vice president of Consumer Lending at USAA Bank. “Look for low loan rates and flexible terms to fit your budget needs versus being steered by dealers into a decision solely based on monthly payment, which often results in paying more in interest for the overall loan term.”

Another idea is to sell or trade in your new graduate’s current vehicle. If you plan to do this, factor in the cash value of that car and then add your planned down payment, typically 15-20 percent. You can use online tools such as USAA’s Auto Loan Calculator to get an estimate of what the end price tag will be.

Determine the total cost of ownership.

It is important to understand the total cost of ownership before surprising your graduate with the car of their dreams. Everything from gas to auto insurance will be an extra expense added on to the monthly cost for a new or used car and something everyone in the family needs to consider.

When receiving an auto insurance quote, note that collision and comprehensive coverage generally cost less for used cars. If purchasing an older car, consider getting pricing for Extended Vehicle Protection coverage before you go to the dealer.

Keep an open mind.

Once you have established what you can afford and the total cost of ownership, it is time to discover what features and styles you or your teen want in a car. Prioritize a list of the features you would like to see. For the teen in your life, safety is usually at the top. Next, assess how much they will be using this car and what for. Are they commuting to school or a job? Remember to keep an open mind and be flexible — stay open to two or three models that would meet your teen driver’s needs and your or their budget.

Do your research.

Everyone can agree that dealerships can be overwhelming and intimidating. Research your market first. Try the USAA Car Buying Service to see what’s out there and find vehicles that come with exclusive member discounts.

If you are looking into the used car market, always run a background check. You can get a vehicle history report from Carfax, which can help verify ownership history, mileage and accident history. Also, make sure the used vehicle has never been salvaged by entering the vehicle identification number into the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s system.

Go for a test drive.

After picking out a few of your top favorites, it is time to see how the car operates on the real road. Hit the highway to properly gauge a car’s performance, and inspect the car for mileage, tread, etc. If possible, run the car by a trusted mechanic for an under-the-hood inspection to forecast longevity and maintenance needs. Remember, factory warranties usually transfer depending on the mileage.

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Why small businesses need to think big this summer hiring season

(BPT) – Finding great employees hasn’t been easy for small businesses lately. And this summer, the competition could heat up even more.

Thanks to a healthy economy, unemployment levels are low across the country. Many companies will be adding even more jobs as the weather warms up — especially those in seasonal industries such as tourism and hospitality, and other professions that are weather-dependent. While some of these positions may be filled by new graduates, this year employers can expect a fight for top candidates in any role.

Small businesses in particular will feel the brunt of the hiring squeeze, as they often can’t match the compensation and benefits offered by their larger competitors. This forces them to get creative to attract and retain the best.

One way many businesses get a leg up on their competition is with a small-business loan. Companies like Funding Circle offer working capital loans that allow businesses to get fast, affordable financing to expand their teams and achieve their goals.

Here are three more tips that can help small businesses gain an edge this summer:

Hire strategically

What are the different seasonal roles you need? While many businesses will be hiring for customer-facing positions, don’t stop your planning there. It may be worth taking the time to ensure your systems, website and marketing campaigns are up to snuff too as you head into a summer rush. With today’s gig economy, it’s easier than ever to hire high-quality, professional seasonal employees like web designers, marketing managers and accountants on an independent contractor basis.

You should also be creative about how you find the right candidates. Online, think carefully about the job description you post. It shouldn’t just be a list of responsibilities, but a chance to market your company to your future hire. Offline, get your current employees to help with the search by offering a recruiting bonus. And rethink your preconceptions about what work actually needs to be performed onsite — roles like administrative support, marketing and bookkeeping can now be done remotely with ease, which can widen your talent pool and be more appealing to prospective applicants.

Do everything by the book

Before making any job offers, acquaint yourself with state and federal fair hiring practices and job discrimination laws — and know how to implement them. If you have questions about any employment laws related to seasonal employees, talk to a lawyer.

Second, make sure you’re correctly classifying your seasonal employees according to state and federal laws (think: part-time vs. full-time, or contractor vs. employee). You could end up facing problems down the road, like being held liable for payroll taxes, if you’ve misclassified any workers.

It’s also important to make sure you get all employment agreements in writing. A lack of written contracts, including work for hire or consulting agreements, is a common small-business mistake, and a little effort upfront can save you a lot of headaches later.

Build your employer brand

Right now, the best candidates can afford to be picky about where they work. Every employer, big and small, has a reputation, and yours can either be a secret weapon or an Achilles’ heel in your hunt for new staff.

Your employer brand encompasses all the ways your business is perceived by staff and applicants alike. This can be shaped by everything from the interview process to the perks you offer, your policies, working conditions, company values, culture and more. Ensure that you’re consistently communicating that your business is a great place to work, even if only for the summer. When done right, you’ll get good employees to come to you rather than the other way around.

For more tips and information about small business loans, visit FundingCircle.com.

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The new tax law: What you need to know now

(BPT) – With the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 having been signed into law, here are some of the things you should be thinking about as tax season approaches, according to Robert Fishbein, vice president and corporate counsel, Prudential Financial Inc.

2017 tax returns

The new tax law is generally effective starting in 2018, which means that your 2017 income tax return is largely unaffected. However, there may be actions you can take now to benefit from the change. For example, assuming you are eligible, you could fund a traditional IRA before the due date of your tax return; the income exclusion may be more valuable under higher 2017 tax rates.

Lower tax rates and new withholding

The hallmark of the new tax law is lower marginal tax rates for individuals. The IRS has issued withholding tables employers started using in February to reflect these lower rates. While this could mean lower tax withholding and more take-home pay, you should evaluate your personal income tax position to determine if you will pay more or less under the new law and adjust your withholding accordingly.

If you make estimated tax payments, you should also estimate your tax liability under the new tax law and make necessary adjustments to your quarterly tax payments.

Assuming your withholding or estimated tax payments need no adjustment may create an unpleasant surprise if you are under-withheld and owe penalty tax and interest when you file your 2018 income tax return.

Higher standard deduction

The new higher standard deduction of $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for married couples will greatly reduce the number of taxpayers that itemize deductions. If you did not itemize in 2016, and your tax position is similar now, you will probably not itemize in 2017. The increased standard deduction, combined with lower marginal rates, may mean your tax liability will go down.

If you itemized in 2016, compare your total itemized amount to the new standard deduction. If less, and assuming a similar tax position in 2017, you will likely no longer need to itemize.

For many, this provision will turn out to be the greatest simplification aspect of the new tax law, since they no longer must track itemized deductions or complete multiple associated forms.

No personal exemptions

Some taxpayers will need to look more closely to determine if they will pay less or even more. The new law eliminates personal exemptions and reduces deductible items, such as limiting the total deduction for state and local income taxes to $10,000, reducing the amount of deductible mortgage interest and eliminating the deduction for interest paid on a home equity line of credit. Therefore, if you itemized deductions in 2017 and your deductions were greater than the applicable standard deduction, you will have to consider what deductions are available in 2018 and estimate your tax liability.

In states with higher income taxes and property taxes, it is possible that the loss of itemized deductions will be greater than the benefit of lower rates and your tax liability could increase.

Increased child and dependent credits

The new law increases the child tax credit for children under 17 to $2,000. The income limits to phase out the credit are also significantly increased so more taxpayers will be eligible. In addition, there is a $500 credit for other qualifying dependents. Depending on your tax bracket, this could be better or worse than getting an exemption for each dependent.

Increased AMT exemption

Adding one more layer of complexity to your 2018 planning is the new tax law’s modification of the Alternative Minimum Tax or AMT. The AMT is a parallel tax system that requires you to calculate your income tax under the normal rules and then again under AMT rules, paying the higher of the two. The new tax law increases the AMT exemption, or the amount you can earn and not be subject to this alternative tax. If you have been subject to AMT in the past, you should review the new increased exemption and whether that will change.

The bottom line

The bottom line for most is whether they will pay more or less income tax in 2018 than in 2017. While it is likely many will pay less, you need to consider all the above before you know how you will be impacted by the new tax law.

Please consult your legal or tax advisor concerning your particular circumstances. The Prudential Insurance Company of America, Newark NJ and its affiliates.

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4 ways hardscapes can add value to your home

(BPT) – Outdoor hardscape projects add resale value to a home as well as bring extra enjoyment to homeowners while they are living in the home, according to the “Remodeling Impact Report: Outdoor Features” by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP).

The report confirms that investing in landscaping and hardscaping is a win-win, whether you plan to stay in your home or prepare it for market.

“This report validates that outdoor remodeling and landscaping improvements are a necessity when it comes to improving your home’s resale value,” said Missy Henriksen, NALP vice president of public affairs. “Homeowners working with a landscape professional to embark on renovations — whether that means enhancing their turf and growing a lush lawn, overhauling their entire landscape, or incorporating new features like patios or exterior fireplaces — can rest assured that they are making a smart, worthwhile investment.”

Curb appeal

Real estate agents suggest that a home’s first impression is paramount when preparing it for sale. Simple updates such as adding retaining wall units or paving stone edging around gardens add value and curb appeal. More ambitious projects like a front paving stone entrance with patio and a seat wall or two add major curb appeal plus the enjoyment factor from adding a beautiful, functional front yard.

Varying hardscape colors and textures in the front outdoor living space lends maximum visual appeal. Hardscapes also can make routine maintenance easier, such as creating a tree ring from retaining wall units and surrounding it with pavers to reduce the need for trimming after mowing.

Making unusable space usable

A family in Maple Grove, Minnesota, had a hill behind their home that sloped down to a pond. They knew that excavating would be required and contacted Villa Landscapes in St. Paul to help them decide how best to make use of the space.

“The Versa-Lok Standard retaining wall system was perfect for retaining the soil behind the garage when we excavated to create their outdoor living space,” said Lonny Sekeres, a designer with Villa Landscapes. “There are no voids in the units to backfill, and the top-down pinning system made the installation easy. By back-splitting the retaining wall units, we easily created matching freestanding seat walls around the fire feature area too. Plus, the same unit was used to create columns that provide a base for a pergola while giving a nice definition to the outdoor living space.”

Prevent erosion

Damage to your property can devalue a home plus create major headaches. Retaining wall systems are essential in preventing erosion, controlling grade changes in a yard, and preventing damage to the landscape, and in certain environments, even damage to your home.

One homeowner in Apple Valley, Minnesota, had a steep, unusable backyard that sloped toward the home’s foundation. Over the years, water damage to the foundation occurred.

“The negative flow caused water damage, a leaky foundation and the accumulation of dirt that had been eroding down the slope for years,” said Paul Devine, owner and principal of Devine Design Hardscapes in Rosemount, Minnesota. “There was no flat, usable area at the base of the hill, and the client had never been able to grow grass because of constant erosion. The Versa-Lok wall design created a positive flow away from the home’s foundation, steps to the top of the hill, and a flat, usable area for a backyard.”

Devine created a tiered retaining wall design with ample space for perennials and a staggered staircase with landings that feature seat walls for resting.

Safety and privacy

Seat walls can add a measure of privacy and protection against the elements, and energy-efficient landscape lighting can be installed along patios, paver walkways and under retaining wall caps for nighttime ambiance and functionality. Landscape professionals can suggest how adding these and other hardscape elements can increase value and offer measures of safety and privacy.

In the end, investing in your home’s landscape with hardscapes is a long-term win-win, no matter how long you stay in your home or if you are preparing it for sale. Says Henriksen: “Further, that investment is coupled with the immediate happiness received by beautiful landscaping and the long-term enjoyment of outdoor living spaces, which are priceless.”

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Cash clever: Be too smart for these tax-time phone scams

(BPT) – If a smooth-talking phone caller has ever tried to cheat you out of your hard-earned money, you’re far from alone. Further, such scams tend to be rampant at tax time.

An estimated one in 10 Americans lost money in phone scams between April 2016 and April 2017, says a recent Harris Poll, parting with an average $430 per person for a national total of $9.5 billion. That marks a 56 percent monetary increase over the previous year; that’s partly because such fraud has become easier for criminals as technology has enabled both number-finding and robo-dialing, and Americans are more likely to answer unknown calls on their ever-present mobile phones.

Many fraudsters see tax time as an ideal time to prey on people facing uncertainty or anxiety about getting their tax returns right, which is why they may call and impersonate IRS officials threatening arrest, deportation, eviction or license revocation if taxes are not paid immediately by using a money transfer, loading a prepaid card or purchasing a gift card. Remember, though, that the IRS almost always resolves issues by mail, not phone. It will never request payment without sending a bill first; will allow questions or appeals about your bill; won’t direct you to use specific payment methods; won’t ask for your credit or debit card numbers by phone and won’t threaten arrest or similar consequences.

A consumer’s greatest weapon in fighting fraud is education and awareness. While fraudsters can often be clever, knowing some of their strategies can be the first step toward protecting yourself from their tactics.

“The tax return season is upon us, and scammers are posing as Internal Revenue Service (IRS) representatives, demanding victims send money to avoid arrest or deportation,” advises Lee Buchmann, Western Union director of anti-fraud operations. “Do not send a money transfer to anyone who asks you to send them money to pay taxes. The IRS does not contact consumers to demand payment for taxes through money transfer or prepaid cards.” More descriptions of scams that use tax season as a lure are available at IRS.gov.

The Western Union Consumer Protection Center (www.wu.com/fraudawareness) offers specific information about protecting yourself from fraud based on your country of residence. Stay informed and follow their updates on Facebook and Twitter. If you believe you are a victim of fraud, call the Western Union Fraud Hotline at 1-800-448-1492.

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March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month: Know When to Stop Before You Start

(BPT) – The bright lights. The energy and laughter that fills the room. Casinos are fun and exciting to the vast majority of people but for some, they can be problematic.

Casinos are a form of entertainment, so how do you ensure what’s meant to be a fun and leisurely activity continues to be a positive experience? Time spent at a casino should be a planned and budgeted entertainment option — like you would approach an evening out for dinner or a sporting event. There are preventative measures that can be taken to help ensure that an experience at a casino remains a fun one.

Leading experts in the field of gambling research maintain that it starts with being an informed consumer who understands the realities of gaming. “Being informed means understanding your thoughts about the next big win, beating the odds, and finding the hot machine or deck of cards,” said Dr. James Whelan of the University of Memphis. “Misunderstanding these thoughts about chance can lead to harmful mistakes and excessive losses of money. Informed consumers know that setting limits on how much you spend and how long you play is the best way to not let these thoughts result in you losing more than you can afford.”

Here’s what everyone should keep in mind before their next casino visit.

Betting on a winning streak

It’s always exciting to hit a jackpot, but winning streaks are highly uncommon and beyond anyone’s control. Each spin of the wheel or roll of the dice is an independent event, which means that the chances of a specific outcome aren’t influenced by previous outcomes. So rolling snake eyes once makes you no more (or less) likely to roll snake eyes again.

The chances of beating the odds

Casino games are designed with a house advantage. Mathematically, the house advantage is a measure of how much the house expects to win, expressed as a percentage of the player’s wager. For example, in a wager with a house advantage of 5 percent, the player will lose, on average over time, $5 for every $100 wagered. Because the odds always favor the house, the longer or faster a person plays a casino game, the more the person should expect to lose even in skill­-based or hybrid games. In the same way, the more a person wagers, the more the person should expect to lose.

Believing in superstitions

It might be fun to imagine that rubbing a rabbit’s foot improves a player’s chances of hitting a jackpot, but the reality is that this “magical thinking” has no impact whatsoever. Cheating aside, there’s nothing a player can do — no ritual or lucky charm — to influence the outcome of any casino game. Superstitions can’t determine whether a player wins or loses because every casino game — whether it’s blackjack, craps or a slot machine — is based on randomness, or on chance.

Lisa Arroyo has worked at Harrah’s Joliet Casino in Illinois for the past 25 years. Like everyone who works at a Caesars Entertainment property, Arroyo thinks about gambling as a fun activity you pay for, like going to the movies or to a theater performance.

Arroyo has heard customers laughing and having fun playing blackjack — and she has also heard customers make troubling statements that have caused her concern. “We definitely don’t want people to come in and spend more than what they have budgeted. We want our guests to simply have fun and gamble responsibly. If someone makes a statement or series of statements that concern us, we will have a discussion with the patron and inform them of responsible gaming options and alternatives if needed.”

Gambling responsibly?

Is responsible gaming an oxymoron? Not at all. Arroyo wants gambling to be a choice made for the right reasons. She is one of the advocates of Caesars Entertainment’s Responsible Gaming program, the first hospitality gambling program of its kind to formally train employees on the importance of Responsible Gaming.

The premise of the program involves Arroyo and her colleagues across Caesars’ global network of properties, called Responsible Gaming (RG) Ambassadors, who are celebrating their 15th year of assisting casino guests who may not be gambling responsibly. If comments or statements are made that are concerning to any employee, that concern is brought to the attention of the RG Ambassador who will sit down with the guest to address the reported concern, offer problem gambling program assistance and help resources, and answer questions. “We just let them know that if they feel like they might have a problem, we’re here to answer questions and help,” said Arroyo.

She informs people who express they might have a gambling problem to ask themselves some of the following questions.

* Do I lose time from work due to gambling?

* Is gambling making my home life unhappy?

* Have I ever felt remorse after gambling?

* Do I ever gamble to get money to help pay debts or to otherwise solve financial difficulties?

* Does gambling cause a decrease in my ambition or efficiency?

* Do I ever gamble longer than I had planned?

Caesars Entertainment wants everyone who plays at its casinos to be there for the right reason — to simply have fun. For the past 25 years, Caesars has been committed to promoting responsible gaming and has provided assistance to guests who may not be gambling responsibly. This year, Caesars’ Responsible Gaming Ambassador Program is celebrating its 15th anniversary with 815 Responsible Gaming Ambassadors that may assist guests with problem gambling help resources.

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The Merchant Bill of Rights seeks to level the playing field for small businesses

(BPT) – Consumers who make just a few purchases each day may not think much about the companies that process their credit card. But for a small or mid-sized business, processors who aren’t transparent about the costs they pass on can add up to an expensive headache. Heartland is celebrating 10 years of the Merchant Bill of Rights as an industry standard to promote fair card processing practices.

Its purpose: to enable merchants who don’t have the resources of large purchasing organizations to effectively manage their costs, determine which processor best meets their needs and realize significant savings.

1. The right to know the fee of every card transaction, who is charging it, and if there are surcharges and bill-backs.

Owners or operators of a small or mid-sized business deserve — and should expect — competitive pricing and the best value for payments processing including credit, debit and prepaid card processing.

Many processors and their middlemen hide arbitrary charges — often classified as “surcharges” — without disclosing them to merchants. These charges are pure profit to processors and their middlemen, making transactions that are already expensive even more costly.

2. The right to know the markup of major credit card fee increases and reductions.

Credit card companies typically adjust interchange rate categories and fees semi-annually in April and October. When rates go up, many processors seize the opportunity to inflate them even more and then deceptively blame the increase on the card brands.

3. The right to know all transaction middlemen, and have reasonable equipment costs.

The chain of events that begins when a merchant swipes a customer’s card is fairly straightforward. At minimum, it requires four essential entities to process the transaction: a bank, a credit card brand, a telephone or internet connection and a processor.

When big companies buy equipment, they often solicit proposals from multiple equipment manufacturers to drive the best deal. Owners of a small or mid-sized business may not have the time or resources to shop around for a payment device, and oftentimes turn to their processor for guidance. However, they may not be getting the deal they’ve bargained for — and most likely don’t know it.

4. The right to real-time, dedicated, live service 24/7/365.

Service and support are critical factors in implementing and maintaining a card acceptance program. Unlike national merchants, small local businesses may lack the resources needed to ensure proper training, ongoing support and the best available rates.

With most Americans relying on credit and debit cards for their purchases, one minor problem that prevents or delays the processing of transactions at the point of sale can have devastating effects. Combine the ripple effect of customer dissatisfaction with lost revenue, and it’s easy to see why live customer support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year is mission critical for all merchants.

5. The right to encrypted card numbers, secure transactions and real-time fraud and transaction monitoring.

Credit and debit card fraud costs American businesses billions of dollars every year. Thieves work overtime to find ways to steal from merchants. Often disgruntled or dishonest employees — even some customers — are masters at making money the illegal way, and not getting caught.

For more information, to share stories about dishonest business practices or scams, or to ask a question, visit MerchantBillofRights.org.

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Simple ways to save on your pet’s medical costs

(BPT) – Pet parents know that there’s nothing like the love of furry family members. Keeping your pets healthy is a priority because you want them to live as long as possible. However, health care costs for pets are expensive, and if you are dealing with additional expenses such as prescriptions for chronic conditions, it can become a burden to your budget.

Fortunately, there are several things pet owners can do proactively to keep pets healthy and save money on health care costs.

Invest in preventative care

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is just as applicable to pets as it is to their human caregivers. One of the most important things a pet parent can do to ensure the ongoing health of any animal is to bring them in for annual checkups whether they are experiencing health issues or not.

During wellness checkups, veterinarians can screen for a variety of health conditions. They provide insight on diseases, age-related concerns, dental health, nutritional considerations and so much more. Plus you’re able to provide your pet with important vaccinations. Regular checkups help vets identify problems sooner rather than later, and this can translate to more affordable health care costs to pet parents in the long run.

Get an Inside Rx Pets prescription card

Costs for managing your pet’s health can be a bear with pet owners spending more than $8 billion on prescription and over-the-counter medications annually. The Inside Rx Pets program offers savings on commonly prescribed medications such as insulin and antibiotics, as well as seizure, glaucoma and anti-inflammatory drugs. The Inside Rx Pets savings card is not insurance; it is a savings card you can use for certain human medications that may be prescribed for your pet. A complete list of the medications with which you can use the Inside Rx Pet card, as well as pricing information and other details, can be found at https://InsideRx.com/Pets.

Benefiting from these discounts is easy for pet parents: If your pet’s veterinarian writes a prescription for an applicable medication, simply download the free discount card from the Inside Rx Pets website and present it with the prescription at one of the 40,000 participating pharmacies located across the U.S. that fill prescriptions for animals. These include national chains such as Kroger Family of Pharmacies, CVS and Walgreens (yes, the same pharmacies you go to for your own medications).

Exercise and focus on nutrition

Obesity is a growing concern for many pets. Poor nutrition paired with limited exercise causes pets to put on additional weight. This weight can put them at higher risk for health concerns like diabetes, osteoarthritis and ligament injuries. These health concerns not only risk the quality of life for Fluffy or Fido, but also can deeply impact your pocketbook.

Pets, just like humans, require exercise and proper nutrition to stay healthy and feel their best. Whether that’s letting your rabbit out of the cage to run or going on a walk with your dog, be sure to make regular exercise a part of your fur family’s routine. If you’re unsure what is appropriate for your pet, call your veterinarian or bring it up at a wellness visit. They’ll be delighted you reached out for more information to keep your pet healthy.

Start an emergency fund

Choosing between a pet and an unexpected health expense is something no one wants to experience. Being prepared can make a big difference when facing difficult decisions, so it’s wise to have savings set aside in case of a rainy day.

Some people are starting pet health savings accounts (HSAs) that are similar to the accounts that people hold for themselves to pay for medical expenses. Whether you choose that path or a traditional savings account, when you have an emergency fund you won’t have to worry about any unexpected expenses, so you can simply focus on getting your pet well again.

Being proactive is important for keeping your pets healthy for many years. From scheduling annual wellness visits to taking advantage of the Inside Rx Pets discount card, there are many easy actions pet parents can take today to reduce costs so furry family members stay well.

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