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How to Submit a Winning National Small Business Week Award Nomination

For more than 50 years, National Small Business Week has served as our nation’s salute to small business owners, who create two out of every three net new jobs for Americans. Many household names...

Study reveals 14 craziest excuses for calling in sick to work

While many employees use the old-fashioned "not feeling well" excuse to take off work, others have come up with the weirdest excuses in the book, according to a study from CareerBuilder

In its annual survey, CareerBuilder found that more than 35 percent of workers have called in sick when they were feeling fine, and 33 percent of those employers say they have checked to see if an employee was telling the truth.

Here are the 14 craziest excuses employers reported hearing from their workers:

>> Read more trending stories

1. The ozone in the air flattened my tires. 

2. My pressure cooker exploded and scared my sister, so I had to stay home. 

3. I had to attend the funeral of my wife’s cousin’s pet because I am an uncle and pallbearer. 

4. I was blocked in by police raiding my home. 

5. I had to testify against a drug dealer, and the dealer’s friend mugged me. 

6. My roots were showing, and I had to keep my hair appointment because I looked like a mess. 

7. I ate cat food instead of tuna and am deathly ill. 

8. I'm not sick, but my llama is. 

9. I used a hair remover under my arms and had chemical burns.

10. I am bowling the game of my life and can't make it to work. 

11. I am experiencing traumatic stress from a large spider found in my home. 

12. I have better things to do. 

13. I ate too much birthday cake. 

14. A duck bit me.

Read full study at

How Prepare for a Trade Show and Justify Your Budget, PART 2

Before you get start, make sure to read part one here.


Texas jewelry store's 'shotgun wedding sale': Buy a ring, get a gun for free

A Texas jewelry store will hold its annual “Shotgun Wedding Sale” starting Thursday and ending Saturday.

Thacker Jewelry in Lubbock is offering a gift certificate for a shotgun or rifle at local gun store LSG Tactical Arms with each purchase of an engagement ring over $2,000.

>> See the store's Facebook post here

Thacker Jewelry Shotgun Wedding Sale is next Weekend. Free Shotgun or Rifle with purchase of engagement ring over...Posted by Thacker Jewelry on Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Owner Joe Thacker gave some insight on the promotional event, now in its third year:

"The idea, of course, is the wordplay and the old shotgun wedding. Not going back to the negative connotation, playing off of that and it’s been a lot of fun. We had a lot of people participate and this year we’ve even gotten into it more."

You can RSVP for the sale here. If you can’t make it to Texas in time, put this on your calendar for next year.

>> Read more trending stories

(H/T: CNN)

>> Watch a video about the sale

​Final SGWSTalk about getting a Bang for your Buck! Once you watch this Thacker Jewelry video you'll be talking about our famous Shotgun Wedding Sale this weekend! Scoot on in to Thacker Jewelry for this incredible sale! #thacker #shotgunweddingsale #lubbockPosted by Thacker Jewelry on Tuesday, October 25, 2016

3 Ways the Cost of Your Mortgage Can Go Up Before You Close

Getting a mortgage can be a costly endeavor from the onset. You’ve got to worry about getting together a down payment, securing an affordable interest rate and covering closing costs, among other things. What you may not realize is that the total costs of your mortgage can wind up rising before you close on the loan, especially if you don’t plan accordingly. Fees associated with a home loan can change for a slew of reasons, but here are the most common ones to look out for.

1. You Take Your Time Supplying Documentation

When your lenders asks for bank statements, pay stubs or any other form of supporting documentation for your mortgage application, it’s in your best interest to get this paperwork to them as quickly as possible. In fact, aim to do so within the following 24-to-48 hours. Failure to provide documentation in a timely fashion can result in having to take a rate-lock extension, which could drive up the total cost of your loan.

See, an interest-rate lock is only good for a certain period of time, typically for 30 days or, in some cases, as long as 45 days. Essentially, a rate lock locks in the rate you’re going to pay over the life of your mortgage for a certain period of time under certain terms. But, as the market moves, the value of this rate lock to the end investor can go up or down.

As an example, let’s say you lock in a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage at 3.625% with no points on $500,000 loan. As the rate-lock’s 30-day window expires, it is determined you’ll need another 10 days to close. Meanwhile, interest rates changed and are now at 3.875% on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage on that same $500,000 loan. Since rates rose and your lock-in date has passed, it is now more financially advantageous for the end investor to lock in a new loan with a higher interest rate. Depending on the situation, the lender would either re-lock your loan at worst-case market pricing or would allow you to extend your loan, potentially driving your loan fees higher.

2. You’re Derailed By External Factors

External factors can also cause delays in escrow. These can include the seller of the property failing to quickly sign required documentation or home appraisal delays. These delays aren’t your fault, but can still cause you to have to pay more money when extending your interest rate lock. Best to plan accordingly. This means ordering an appraisal upfront when buying a home in order mitigate delays down the line. When refinancing, it’s a good idea to order the appraisal at loan application or to plan for a 45-day escrow timeframe.

3. The Appraisal Doesn’t Go as Planned

Residential real estate appraisers have total and complete authority on the value of your property. Most mortgage companies have a set standard appraisal fee. However, the appraiser has the right to change what they want to charge for the appraisal. For example, if the appraiser has a heavy workload, they may require more money to complete the order. They also may deny the order, resulting in the lender having to find a new appraiser. If you’re on a tight closing deadline, you may have to pay the additional fee to have the appraisal done quickly or within the timeframe stated in your purchase contract.

If your appraisal does not come in at the desired value, changing the loan-to-value ratio on your mortgage, you may also subsequently face higher fees and/or rates than you were expecting based on the prior valuation of the home. Additionally, if the property is missing a carbon dioxide detector, which in some states is required by law, the appraiser must to go back out to the property to sign off on the appraisal following installation, resulting in an additional charge.

The best way to mitigate additional fees is to stay in constant communication with your lender. You can also generally lower the cost of your mortgage by improving your credit, since a good credit score will help you qualify for the best interest rates. You can see where your credit stands by viewing two of your credit scores, updated every 14 days, for free on

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5 Annoying Fees Lurking in the Fine Print of a Business Loan

Taking out a loan is often a necessary action for owners looking to grow a successful business. However, many business owners engaging in the loan hunt don’t realize there are a variety of underlying fees and charges rolled into the final loan, which is why it’s important to get out that magnifying glass and read the business loan small print.

Loans advertised with an annual percentage rate (APR) should give you the total cost of the loan, including the interest rate and other standard fees. However, if the loan is only advertised with an interest rate, or other rate specified by a lender, you’ll likely encounter additional costs. Understanding these extras can help you compare offers from lender to lender; it may also help you vie for a lower loan rate.

Some of these fees are non-negotiable and simply part of the loan agreement. Some of these won’t be included in an APR but will still affect your costs. In any case, it’s important to watch out for these business loan fees before you sign on the dotted line.

1. Origination Fee

This fee is pretty common and is meant to recoup the labor that goes into things like paperwork, verifications, underwriting and any other processes required for the lender to approve your loan and get the money in your hands.

Origination fees are typically charged upfront, with the amount subtracted from your loan before it’s disbursed. These fees are commonly between 1% to 4% of your total loan amount, which might not sound like much but can eat into your capital, big time.

The good news is that in some cases this fee is negotiable. If you have good credit or multiple lenders competing for your business, you’ll likely have more leverage to reduce the fee.

2. Third-Party Fees

Depending on your loan purpose (commercial real estate, for example), you may find fees from third parties — such as appraisers and notaries, as well as for documentation requirements — added to your business loan fees.

Talk to your lender and ask which, if any, of these fees may be included. Due to the nature of these fees, there is no set rate amount, but it’s likely at least some of them can be negotiated or reduced.

Ultimately, these may not seem significant at the time of signing. However, they’re either deducted from your loan or added to your total loan amount, and therefore can increase your costs.

3. Prepayment Penalties

Paying off your loan early might seem appealing, but for lenders, that leads to a potential loss in the interest they anticipated receiving when they disbursed your loan. For that reason, some lenders protect themselves against this loss by charging the borrower a percentage or flat fee if the borrower attempts to pay the loan off early.

The fee varies from lender to lender, but it’s something you should determine early in the application process. It’s likely that once you sign, you’re locked in to whatever repayment or redemption charge was listed in the business loan small print, so your best bet at catching this fee is to inquire upfront and read any and all documentation. Note that because you only incur this fee if you prepay a loan that carries this penalty, an advertised APR typically wouldn’t reflect this cost.

4. Check Processing Fee

Some businesses and lenders may incentivize you to have your loan payments automatically deducted from your account, but others take a different path and will penalize you for not doing so.

Much like the prepayment fee, this will vary in structure and cost, and will not be reflected in an advertised APR. If you prefer to pay by check, ask your lender what, if any, payment-processing fees exist.

5. Guarantee Fee

Loans backed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) will be subject to a guarantee fee, meaning a fee that is charged to the lending bank to guarantee that they’ll recoup some of the cost if the borrower defaults. It’s likely that the bank will pass a portion of the cost along to you, but the amount passed on from the lender to the borrower may vary, according to the SBA website. SBA loans under $150,000 are not subject to this particular fee.

The rate is based on the maturity and the guaranteed loan amount: For loans greater than $150,000 with a maturity of one year or shorter, the fee is 0.25% of the guaranteed amount. Loans between $150,000 and $700,000 with a maturity of over one year are subject to a 3% guarantee fee, and loans exceeding $700,000 have a 3.5% guarantee fee. The good news is that even though interest and fees are determined by the lender, SBA backed loan rates may not exceed the maximums set by the SBA. All of this can be a little difficult to figure out on your own, so be sure to ask your lender for an explanation of how your fee is calculated.

Ultimately, the burden is on the borrower to find out what fees they’ll have to pay, and as such, be sure to read all business loan small print, ask questions, and demand explanations for any fee. If you aren’t sure whether a fee is normal or if you can negotiate it, do your research. In the worst-case scenario, they simply can’t adjust the fees. However, empowering yourself with this information can help you negotiate lower rates and make the best decision if choosing between multiple lenders.

[Editor’s note: Lenders may review your personal credit standing when reviewing your application for a business loan. To get an idea of what they’re looking at and if your credit needs improvement, you can get a free snapshot of your credit report every 14 days on]

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What Does Halloween Have to Do With Insurance Deductibles?

During the Halloween season, pranks like an egged car or a broken window from a smashed pumpkin often become more common. If any of these, or another damaging prank, happens to you, you may want to consider whether or not to make a claim on your auto or homeowner’s insurance policy if your home or car suffers some damage due to Halloween tricks. Here’s a guide to help you decide.

Know How Your Deductible Applies to Halloween Prank Damage

Every homeowner’s insurance and car insurance policy comes with a range of deductible amounts from a few hundred dollars to well over $1,000. That deductible is the portion of the cost of the repair or replacement of your damages you must pay before your insurance policy pays the remainder of any claim (and deductibles generally do not apply to the liability portions of your policies), according to the Insurance Information Institute, an industry-funded consumer education organization. A deductible applies each time you file a claim and is “deducted” from your claim amount so you don’t have actually pay the deductible to the insurance company.

“Because of the way deductibles work, it makes sense to be aware of your deductible amounts for each policy,” Michael Barry, vice president of media relations for the Insurance Information Institute, said. “Then, if you experience damages on Halloween, weigh the cost to repair or replace any damage against that deductible amount you’d need to pay out of pocket and whether that would cause your household financial distress.”

Should You File a Claim?

Even though policies generally cover your home and car for accidents, vandalism and theft damages (the category many Halloween pranks fall under), Barry said if you can financially absorb that amount, it’s usually not worth it to make a claim.

Damages to your home or car that may occur on or near Halloween — like toilet-papered trees or smashed pumpkins — can be more of a messy inconvenience than expensive to repair. When it comes to these smaller damages that may cost less than or slightly above the deductible amount to repair, Barry suggested keeping an emergency savings fund to cover these smaller repair costs yourself instead of making a claim on your insurance policy.

Keeping that insurance deductible amount in an emergency fund can help protect you from resorting to a credit card to cover any out-of-pocket damages and from making small claims that could cause premium rate hikes.

But if the damage is much greater than your deductible — such as a Jack O’ Lantern that causes a house fire, eggs on your car that destroy the paint or a serious burglary — that’s when you may want to resort to your insurance to help you with the repair and replacement costs.

When Making a Claim Can Cause a Rate Hike

According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, car insurance rates can go up after you file a claim, although many insurance companies offer “accident forgiveness” as an additional perk so this doesn’t happen because of one accident. Rate hikes are usually reserved for collision claims or claims involving dangerous behaviors (like drunk driving), according to Barry. Either way, you want to be sure it’s worth it to file a claim for damage to your car from Halloween pranks, as making several claims on your auto insurance policy can raise your risk profile. This is something insurers use when it comes time to set your premiums.

When it comes to homeowner’s insurance, Barry said it’s fairly similar to auto insurance. Homeowners who file more claims may be seen as riskier to insure, so it’s important to keep this in mind during your decision process.

“Several damage claims in a short time period such as a year or two could trigger a rate hike, depending on your risk profile, your insurance company and your claims history with the company,” he said.

If you’re considering switching providers, it’s important to know that your claims are only part of what they may look at to determine your rates. Some providers also review at a version of your credit reports, so it’s a good idea to know where yours stand before shopping around. You can see an overview of your free credit report, updated every 14 days, on

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How Prepare for a Trade Show and Justify Your Budget, PART 1

You’re back in the office after the show. You’ve thanked everyone, collected all the leads–and even collected more leads this year. The show was a success! As you prepare next year’s budget and...

Today’s Headlines: Social Security Benefits Rise — Barely


A Small COLA For Seniors The Social Security Administration recently announced that the cost of living adjustment (COLA) for 2017 benefits would be 0.3% due to the relatively low inflation rate. For the average Social Security recipient, that equates to an extra $4 per month. While the COLA is tiny, it's still an improvement on the zero COLA recipients “enjoyed” for 2016. If COLAs are based on inflation, why would a low COLA cause difficulties for seniors? Three reasons: the time lag in COLAs and current inflation, the way inflation is calculated for Social Security purposes, and concurrent Medicare expenses. All three causes manifest themselves the same way: increased expenses are likely to outpace the meager increase in income. Not All Inflation is the Same By definition, COLAs are backward looking in nature. The amount you receive in the future is based on inflation data from the recent past. That offset in timing works to your advantage if inflation is decreasing, but when the rate of inflation is rising, your check will not go as far. Inflation reflects rising prices — but to capture the effect on seniors, it is important to distinguish which prices are rising. Social Security COLAs are calculated based on the past three-month values of the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, known as the CPI-W. This is derived from the CPI-U that is more reflective of the entire US population. The CPI-W provides a higher weight to transportation costs and thus has been skewed downward by the relative collapse of gas prices compared to other prices. Because seniors spend less on gas compared to items with rising costs, especially medical care expenses, Social Security recipients are likely to receive COLAs that are less reflective of their actual expenses. The experimental CPI-E is weighted toward expenses that are more typical of elderly consumers, and some are advocating its use in calculating Social Security COLAs — but to date, the CPI-W still prevails. At least the law prevents across-the-board cutting of Social Security benefits when the CPI is negative. To arrive at a 0.3% increase, the CPI-W for 2016 was compared to the CPI-W for 2014 in the same time period (recall the zero increase in benefits for 2016, the result of a negative CPI-W when comparing 2014 to 2015). Medicare Mess Some seniors are going to have an even more difficult time making ends meet as their tiny COLA is likely to be gobbled up (and then some) by increased Medicare Part B costs. The 2017 premiums have not been announced yet, and they have been predicted by the Medicare Trustees to be relatively flat — but Social Security recipients will still likely pay more due to a provision called "hold harmless." In general, Part B premiums are automatically deducted from Social Security benefits. The hold harmless provision keeps Part B premiums from rising more than the COLA in their Social Security benefits, essentially preventing a net decrease in Social Security benefits. Because of no COLA in 2016, the component of the premium increases that should have taken place in 2016 will be passed through in 2017 (to the extent allowable by hold harmless). However, about 30% of recipients are not covered by hold harmless because they fall into one of the following categories: they have higher incomes and thus pay more than the 25% share of Part B costs that the average Social Security recipient pays, they are at a poverty level such that their premiums are paid by Medicaid, or it is the first year they have claimed Social Security (and thus have no reference point for a cut). This group ends up picking up the slack for those covered by hold harmless — unless Congress intervenes to hold those increases down, as they did in 2016. The 2016 deal would have similarly held down costs for this 30% of Social Security recipients, but only if there were no COLA. Strangely, for the 30% outside of hold harmless, a small COLA could be worse than no COLA at all. Congress and the White House could intervene again, but let's just say they are more distracted this year than usual. Bad News for Some Non-Recipients Meanwhile, if you are on the other side of the Social Security equation and paying into the system at the maximum rate because of your high earnings, prepare for some bad news. High-earners will be paying more because of a significant change in the Social Security wage base (the value beyond which wages are exempt from Social Security tax). The trigger mechanism for change is an increase in average American wages, with a caveat — the wage base can't be increased in years when there is no Social Security COLA, such as 2016. Thus the wage base increase from $118,500 to $127,200 represents two years of growth in average earnings, resulting in up to an extra $539.40 deducted from an employee's' paycheck (and worse for the self-employed who must pay twice the amount to also cover the employer's portion of the Social Security tax). The same two-year phenomenon works to the advantage of those who are working while drawing early Social Security benefits. The threshold monthly earnings at which a recipient's benefits are reduced have increased by more than 7% ($1,410 per month from ages 62-65 and $3,740 per month at age 66). Given the meager increase in COLAs over the past seven years, with three years of zero COLA (2010, 2011, and 2016), seniors drawing early benefits may need to use this provision and find ways to increase their semi-retirement income to make ends meet. The Takeaway Current recipients of Medicare and Social Security are used to the annual cost-benefit balancing act, and have learned to deal with it as best they can. Those who were fortunate enough to establish a solid retirement plan are not as dependent on Social Security and are able to withstand these changes without major lifestyle ramifications. For those who haven't reached retirement, the message is clear: provide as much for your own retirement as possible and consider your retirement age carefully. If you can afford to do so, delay drawing your Social Security benefits past your full retirement age (66 or 67 depending on your year of birth) and receive an extra 8% per year up to age 70. At the least, try to avoid reducing your benefits by claiming them early. How do you bridge the gap? Build your retirement funds through investing early and taking as much advantage of compound interest and IRAs/401(k)s as possible. Would you rather have an extra morning latte every day of your working life and an extra meal out each week, or a stash of retirement funds that could allow you to avoid making the choice between food and your necessary prescriptions? That choice is up to you. Let the free MoneyTips Retirement Planner help you calculate when you can retire without jeopardizing your lifestyle. Photo ©

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File and Suspend Strategy

Will Social Security be There for Me?

Today’s Headlines: Social Security Benefits Rise — Barely


A Small COLA For Seniors The Social Security Administration recently announced that the cost of living adjustment (COLA) for 2017 benefits would be 0.3% due to the relatively low inflation rate. For the average Social Security recipient, that equates to an extra $4 per month. While the COLA is tiny, it's still an improvement on the zero COLA recipients “enjoyed” for 2016. If COLAs are based on inflation, why would a low COLA cause difficulties for seniors? Three reasons: the time lag in COLAs and current inflation, the way inflation is calculated for Social Security purposes, and concurrent Medicare expenses. All three causes manifest themselves the same way: increased expenses are likely to outpace the meager increase in income. Not All Inflation is the Same By definition, COLAs are backward looking in nature. The amount you receive in the future is based on inflation data from the recent past. That offset in timing works to your advantage...
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