Small businesses have struggled to find funding: Not anymore

(BPT) – In business, dreams are easy. Finding the money to make them happen, however, can be difficult.

Even established, successful businesses can get turned away for loans at banks. This was the case for Sole Bicycles, a popular maker of stylish, high-performance bikes based in Venice Beach, California.

With the busy summer season approaching, they sought a bank loan to expand inventory. The last thing they expected was to be rejected more than 20 times over the following two years.

“No bank was willing to work with us, and we missed opportunities as a result,” said Sole president Jimmy Standley.

His experience is all too common. According to the Federal Reserve’s latest Small Business Credit Survey, nearly one in two small businesses say they struggle to get the funding they need.

Fortunately, over the past few years a new option has grown to fill that gap. Online lending platforms connect businesses looking to borrow with investors looking to lend. It’s a fundamentally different business model than banks, said Sam Hodges, co-founder of one such platform, Funding Circle.

He explained that the lending platforms use technology to connect credit supply directly with demand, making it easier and faster for businesses to get affordable loans. Funds come from a community of individual and institutional investors.

“It’s not uncommon for businesses to wait weeks to hear back from banks after applying for a loan — just to be denied,” Hodges said. “Once we have everything we need, we’re able to make a decision in as little as 24 hours.”

When borrowing online, buyer beware

When considering an online lending platform, it’s important to look carefully at what you’re being offered, Hodges said.

He warned that borrowers should beware of lenders who promise approval virtually instantly, without taking the time to learn about how much each applicant can really afford. Loans from these lenders can come with murky terms and upwards of 70 percent annual percentage rates (APRs). Additionally, these lenders may take payments directly out of your sales daily or weekly until the debt is repaid — which could drastically reduce your cash flow.

“Term loans are the better option for established businesses looking to borrow a set amount of money for a specific purpose and pay it back over time,” Hodges said. “These are ordinary Main Street businesses across America simply looking to open a new location, hire more staff, stock up on inventory or refinance debt.”

This includes Standley at Sole Bicycles, who ended up applying for a second Funding Circle loan as his company continued to grow.

Thinking about applying for a loan? There are five things business lenders typically care about. Read more at www.Made2DoMore.com.

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3 steps to help freelancers and gig economy workers avoid a tax blunder

(BPT) – More and more people are earning extra cash by freelancing in the sharing economy. That may mean writing on the side, playing music on the weekends, driving for ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft or selling handmade jewelry on Etsy. No matter how the money flows in, gig economy earners must be aware of the related tax obligations and potential pitfalls.

“While it’s easier now than ever to earn extra cash, it’s important for freelancers and independent contractors to get smart about their tax responsibilities,” said Mark Jaeger, director of Tax Development for TaxAct, a leading provider of affordable do-it-yourself tax software. “Gig economy earners must remember they are responsible for paying federal and state income tax on any income earned. And, they’re also subject to self-employment tax, to cover Social Security and Medicare taxes.”

If you’re one of the 55 million Americans who chooses to freelance, it can be difficult to correctly calculate and report to the IRS how much tax you owe. In fact, a recent survey conducted by the National Association of Enrolled Agents found that, “independent contractors participating in the gig economy were cited as among those most at risk of failing to accurately report all of their income.”

Taxpayers who miscalculate taxes owed are likely to get a form called a CP2000 from the IRS. According to the agency, that form means, “the income and/or payment information the IRS has on file doesn’t match the information on your tax return.” That could result in issues with your tax bill.

Jaeger said the best way for gig economy workers to avoid a tax misstep is to be diligent and plan ahead now. He provided the following tips to help freelancers get on track so they’re ready to tackle taxes head-on this tax season.

1. Get organized

Whether you work full time and earn a little extra cash from a side hustle or you’re a full-time contractor, meticulous record-keeping is a must. One option is to keep track of all business expenses and related receipts in one large folder. Jaeger recommends taking that one step further by categorizing receipts into specific folders — for example, one folder for mileage and maintenance records, a second for rent or dues if you lease a workspace, and a third for office equipment and business-related equipment. Once a quarter, as you determine what you’ll owe for quarterly tax payments, make note of which of those receipts are deductible.

2. Keep track of your income

When you’re freelancing, you’re your own accounting department. Not only are you responsible for generating invoices and collecting payment, you must also keep track of all income earned and accurately report it to the IRS. That can get complicated when multiple income streams are at play.

For example, gig economy workers who make money freelancing for multiple clients while also moonlighting as an Uber or Lyft driver should track all income and expenses separately. That means keeping accurate records of any money paid directly by clients and keeping track of income reported on documents such as Forms 1099-MISC and 1099-K. These forms are issued when self-employment income exceeds $600 (1099-MISC) and when a contractor is paid through credit- and debit-card payment processors (1099-K). Come tax time, fill out a Schedule C for every company or client who has paid you to report all of the income you earned.

3. Make estimated tax payments

The IRS requires independent contractors to file and pay taxes on a quarterly basis, even if you anticipate getting a refund at the end of the tax year. Use a tax calculator to help determine whether you should make estimated tax payments. You can also use Worksheet 2.1 in IRS Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals, to figure out whether you must pay estimated tax. Whatever method you choose, make sure you calculate adjusted gross income, taxable income, taxes, deductions and credits.

As a rule of thumb, if you will owe at least $1,000 in taxes, you should plan to pay estimated taxes during the current tax year. Jaeger added, “If you owe estimated quarterly payments but don’t pay them in full, you could face an underpayment penalty by the IRS.”

Earning extra money from your freelance work or side gig may not make you feel like you’re self-employed, but in the eyes of the IRS, you are. By planning ahead, getting organized and doing your own taxes with an affordable online option such as TaxAct, you can avoid tax missteps and stay focused on what matters most: earning income on your own terms!

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Seeking a small business loan? What you should know

(BPT) – Small businesses still struggle to obtain credit; nearly half of those who applied for credit in 2016 didn’t get all the funding they sought, and 17 percent of those who didn’t apply for financing skipped it because they didn’t think they could get what they needed, according to the Federal Reserve Banks’ Small Business Credit Survey. However, a growing number of small businesses are turning to alternative sources of financing.

“The process for accessing and receiving funding can be slow and cumbersome and alternative forms of lending are greatly helping to improve the availability of financing for small business owners,” says Jacqueline Reses, head of Square Capital. “Ensuring that the financial system is more inclusive and addresses the needs of small business owners who may have been previously underserved by traditional lenders is paramount.”

The Federal Reserve study has shown steadily increasing numbers of small businesses, with annual revenues of less than $1 million, seeking financing through non-traditional sources such as online lenders. In 2014, just 18 percent applied to online lenders, while in 2016, 21 percent did.

As the alternative lending industry continues to grow, small business owners should keep five points in mind when evaluating loan offers, Reses says:

Total payback amount of a loan

Knowing how much a loan is going to cost isn’t always easy. For a small business owner, being able to see exactly how much you will need to repay and accounting for that in your budget is crucial, and you should always look for transparency. Total payback amount is the dollar value that represents all costs, so business owners know exactly what they will owe over the life of the loan. Businesses should look for this when they assess loan offers. Assessing offers solely on other metrics like APR may not always provide a fair or easy comparison.

Repayment Method

The ease of repayment is also important to consider and there are some unique options available to small businesses looking for flexibility when it comes to repayment. With Square Capital for example, a fixed repayment amount is automatically deducted from the business’s daily card sales processed through Square until the loan is repaid, enabling the business to pay more when things are busy and less if things slow down. Businesses also have the opportunity to repay early and without penalty at any time before the end of the loan term.

Speed

Traditional small business loans can take weeks to process from the time you collect all the paperwork to apply, to the time you actually get approved, to when you see the money in your account. Yet, according to the Fed’s survey, the majority of small businesses that applied for credit in 2016 did so in situations where time was a factor; 64 percent wanted to expand their business or take advantage of a new opportunity, and 45 percent needed the money to cover operating expenses.

While some funding sources have a reputation for being faster to approve, getting the money can still take time small business owners don’t have. Others have been able to tackle both of those challenges. For example, Square Capital can see the health of a small business based on its sales and transaction data, allowing it to evaluate the business’s stability and actual ability to repay over time. With this unique insight, it can assess eligibility for a loan and deliver offers right to the small business owner. From there, an application takes as little as a few clicks to complete and once approved, funds are deposited as quickly as the next business day.

Affordability

Business owners may know how much they need, but be less aware of what size loan they can afford. It’s important to accept a loan offer that your business can repay within a reasonable time period while also helping it grow.

Square Capital’s ability to use unique data to assess the eligibility of a business for a loan also enables it to provide access to loan offers tailored to a business’s cash flow, reducing the risk of businesses borrowing more than they can afford to repay. Loans are sized based on a reasonable projected payback period so that a small business can use its funds to grow and not be stuck in debt for extended time periods.

Trust

Before applying for credit from any lender, it’s important to do your research. Know how they present their offers, look for transparency and flexibility that puts the borrower first and understand customer satisfaction and lender dependability. Working with a trusted brand is important to many small business owners and should be to you as well.

While online lenders are opening up access to the financing small businesses need to run and grow, it’s important to do your homework and carefully determine which financial partner best meets the needs of your business. To learn more about small business loans through Square Capital, visit www.squareup.com/capital.

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Finding success in direct sales

(BPT) – What’s better than being your own boss, setting your own hours, determining your own salary and having an office wherever you happen to be? It’s a Utopian idea that is reality for tens of thousands of people working independently in direct sales worldwide. But getting there isn’t easy. It takes grit to abandon the familiar grind and build a business — especially in direct sales.

Just ask Wayne Nugent, founder and chief visionary officer of WorldVentures(TM), the leading direct seller of travel and leisure club memberships. He got his start as a direct salesman and, after more than two decades in the business, he has seen it all. In that time, the industry has faced many challenges largely due to a minority of companies recruiting representatives, charging them large upfront fees and persuading them to purchase large volumes of nonreturnable inventory with little or no tangible value. Though many reputable companies exist today, mere mention of direct sales, multilevel marketing or network marketing can stir memories of the pyramid schemes and shattered dreams that made headlines in the past.

Nugent contends you can’t paint all network marketing companies with the same broad stroke. He created his company in 2005 to help people find fun, freedom and fulfillment through affordable travel with family and friends. The company’s success is based on the principle of work-life balance, a philosophy Nugent is spreading through a growing network of representatives who — in his words — Make a living … Living!(TM)

“I have a creation goal,” says Nugent, who also serves on the board of WorldVentures Foundation(TM), a nonprofit that supports sustainable programs for children in need worldwide. “If we get somebody making a little extra money per month, it gives them some financial breathing room. If they’ll pursue that with some consistency, and it’s fun, we can get them making more. At that point, they’re feeling abundant. So now, guess what they do? They give back. Network marketing makes this possible.”

On the move

According to the latest figures from the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations, global direct sales grew 7.7 percent in 2015, reaching a record $183.7 billion. The industry’s potential is particularly appealing to millennials now entering the workforce. These individuals born between 1977 and 2000 have witnessed their parents lose jobs despite devotion to their employers, then struggle to find work regardless of their education and experience. As a result, millennials embrace entrepreneurship as an alternate path to financial freedom.

The direct-to-consumer model has been leveraged successfully to sell goods and services in the cosmetics, household wares, nutrition, travel and technology industries for more than half a century. Growth and longevity aside, there are several reasons to consider a career in direct sales, including:

  1. Entrepreneurial freedom: You can be your own boss — with virtually no overhead costs. It’s recommended that you keep your day job at first and work your business part time. If you finesse it just right, you can ultimately be on your own full time.
  2. Unlimited earnings potential: Unlike in the corporate world, where your rise in rank may hinge on anything from your talent and tenure to your temperament, direct selling allows you to determine your worth. No salary caps here. Set a financial goal, then go for it.
  3. Personal development: Direct-sales companies are big on helping you become your best self. This ensures you become a more effective entrepreneur, and promotes continued company growth. From books and videos to conferences and one-on-one coaching, you’ll have the tools you need to tap your full potential.
  4. Continuous training: You are your own boss without being on your own. Much like personal development coaching, career training is always accessible. No more filling out a training request and waiting for your boss to approve it based on budget. Everything you need to know to be successful in your business is at your fingertips. Ongoing support is available through sales, product and marketing tools such as websites, back offices, print collateral and more.
  5. Camaraderie: There’s nothing like connecting with people who share your vision. As the saying goes, “Iron sharpens iron.” By joining a direct-sales organization, you will align yourself with like-minded people who can identify with your struggles and support your success.

After you’ve taken the leap and joined a direct-selling organization, what’s next? You’ve probably heard it so much that it sounds cliché, but staying around the campfire is key. Partnering with others and plugging into the trainings can mean the difference between mediocrity and meteoric success.

Whether you want to earn supplemental income or replace your current salary, Nugent says, “If you lean in and give 100 percent, this industry has the power to support all aspects of your well-being — financial, physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual.”

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Self-employed? Tips to help you navigate the mortgage process

(BPT) – Sponsored ad content by Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc.

When you’re self-employed, you often work harder than anyone else you know. That’s what it takes to be your own boss. While rewarding, it comes with a lot of added responsibility. This is especially true when applying for a mortgage.

“Self-employment can complicate the mortgage process for one very simple but critically important reason,” says Eric Hamilton, president of Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance. “Lenders need to know you will have the income to afford a loan payment. This sometimes requires people who are self-employed to provide more detailed information and paperwork than those who are traditionally employed.”

Proof of income

It’s not only good business sense for lenders to know a borrower can afford a mortgage before they make a loan, federal law also requires they do so. The evaluation process typically requires fewer steps for people who aren’t self-employed — those who get a salary for working for another person or company. The lender will review the applicant’s total income, existing debt, credit history and score, as well as other factors, and base the decision on that information.

However, when you’re self-employed, proving your income can be more complex. About 10 percent of people working in America are self-employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). If you’re among those 15 million people, it can be more difficult for you to document your income and prove you can afford to pay back the amount you’re asking to borrow.

“Lenders may ask self-employed applicants to complete a 4506T form, which allows the lender to look at the applicant’s tax documents, including recent income filings,” Hamilton says. “They will also likely request a professionally prepared profit-and-loss statement and balance sheet for the business to show you have steady income throughout the year between tax-filing times.”

Improving your chances of approval

Fortunately, if you’re self-employed, you can take steps to be better prepared when beginning the mortgage application process. Hamilton and the team at Vanderbilt, which specializes in financing mortgages for manufactured homes, offer some tips:

* Before you apply for a loan, pay off as much debt as possible. Mortgage lenders will consider your debt-to-income ratio, which compares your total income to the total amount you owe.

* Save up a substantial down payment.

* Work to improve your credit score by paying all bills on time and reducing your debt. Payment history and credit-utilization ratio (the total credit you have available compared to the amount you’re actually using) are important factors in determining your credit scores.

“Being prepared before you start a mortgage application and getting your finances in order can help make the mortgage process go much smoother,” Hamilton says. “The mortgage application process is just one step on your journey to home ownership, but it’s an important one.”

To learn more about mortgages for manufactured homes, visit www.VMF.com.

All loans subject to credit approval.

Sponsored ad content by Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc.

NMLS Disclosure

Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc., 500 Alcoa Trail, Maryville, TN 37804, 865-380-3000, NMLS #1561, (http://www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org/), AZ Lic. #BK-0902616, Loans made or arranged pursuant to a California Finance Lenders Law license, GA Residential Mortgage (Lic. #6911), Illinois Residential Mortgage Licensee, Licensed by the NH Banking Department, MT Lic. #1561, Licensed by PA Dept. of Banking.

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2017 looking bright for small business owners

(BPT) – The year 2017 is still in its infancy, but research shows small business owners feel this year could be one of the best in recent memory.

A new survey, commissioned by Staples and conducted by Wakefield Research, found that 85 percent of small business owners surveyed reported feeling “optimistic” about the small business climate in 2017. That’s good news for the owners as well as for their communities, because for many, this optimism is motivating owners to put earned revenue directly back into their businesses and employees.

According to the research, 97 percent of respondents said they plan to increase investment in their companies this year, while 67 percent plan to hire new employees. Those fresh hires also appear to be in line for better benefits, as 72 percent of small business owners report they plan to increase staff compensation in 2017.

“We conducted this survey to better understand the pulse of small business owners and to further identify those priority product and service areas in which we can help our customers achieve success in 2017,” says Frank P. Bifulco Jr., chief marketing officer, Staples.

The survey included 502 small business owners across the country. For purposes of the research, small businesses were defined as companies that had 10 or fewer full-time employees.

While the research found that small business owners are optimistic about 2017, it also provides a favorable outlook for the years ahead. In fact, many small business owners report they hope to make small business ownership a family tradition. Ninety-one percent of those surveyed said they would encourage their children to start their own business, and 93 percent said they felt running their own business was the best kind of job satisfaction there was.

Finding the tools to support small businesses

For small business owners across the country, optimism can often be directly tied to market success and having the proper tools to support future growth. Staples Print and Marketing Services offers a comprehensive suite of services, providing everything from business cards and logo design to marketing materials and signage.

Small business owners can find additional support materials online by visiting Staples.com and the Staples Small Businesses Hub. The Hub is a resource that offers expert tips, information and industry advice – everything a small business owner needs to grow their business in 2017 and feel even more optimistic in the years to come.

To learn more about how Staples can support the initiatives in your small business, visit Staples.com.

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