The Investor Blog

EQUIFAX SECURITY BREACH – SHOULD I BE CONCERNED?

Posted on September 22nd, 2017 by Paul Winkler | No Comments

Many of you may have heard about the Equifax hack—or perhaps you have even been contacted by Equifax to notify you that you were affected. According to Equifax, the names, social security numbers, birth dates, drivers’ licenses, some credit card information, and credit history of 143 MILLION Americans has been stolen. Considering the size of the over-18 population of the U.S., that’s a better than 50% chance you have been hacked. If you have been hacked, you are 11 times more likely to be a victim of identity fraud. The breach occurred between May and July, the company became aware of the breach on July 29, but did not announce it for well over a month. This means that if your information was compromised, the hackers could have been using it since May of this year! They can use this information to open new accounts in your name, get credit cards in your name and use them, take out loans (for which you are responsible), file for a tax refund, or try to hack into bank and investment accounts. So what should you do about it?

STEPS TO PROTECT YOURSELF

Equifax provided a link on its website to help you check if this hack affects you. Go to https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. Fill in the requested information and it will tell you if the hack affects you. They also plan to send out written notification to the affected persons. Next, get a copy of your credit report. By law, you are entitled to a copy of your credit report annually for free. You can do this at https://www.annualcreditreport.com. If you don’t check your credit report regularly, you really should start doing so. It will tell you new accounts that were opened, accounts that remain unpaid and which affect your credit, and other useful information. If you see that a new account was opened in your name that you did not request, bills unpaid by creditors you are not familiar with, or calls, liens or lawsuits for collection by creditors you don’t know, your information has been compromised—and yes—you are responsible for it, unless you take action to notify the creditors and prove that you did not take out the loan or credit or make the charge.

If you are affected, it may also be beneficial to order a credit freeze, in which case you will need to call all three credit bureaus. However, this will leave you unable to open new lines of credit, such as loans, and it may cost some money directly out-of-pocket. Consumers may place, temporarily lift, or remove a security freeze to an Equifax Credit File by going to http://www.equifax.com/CreditReportAssistance/?/CreditReportAssistance. There is no charge for this (even though originally some people were charged and are to be refunded). To call for a Credit Freeze:

TransUnion: 1-888-909-8872
Equifax: 1-800-349-9960
Experian: 1-888-397-3742

This is a way that you can better control who accesses your credit file. You must release the security freeze to apply for credit. While this is helpful, will this solve the problem? Probably not. This is because if hackers have all of an individual’s personal information, they also have all the information needed to unfreeze an account. Think about the last time you forgot your password or user id and contacted your bank or on line provider to reset your password. What did they ask you for? Probably your social security number (or a part of it), mother’s maiden name, birth date or other information, much of which these hackers now have if you were a victim of this breach.

WHAT IS EQUIFAX OFFERING AND SHOULD I TAKE IT?

Equifax has offered a free service, called TrustedID Premier, to all those affected by the breach, for one year. The service includes (1) copies of your Equifax Credit Report; (2) 3 Bureau Credit File Monitoring, including automated alerts of key changes to your Equifax, Experian and TransUnion credit files, (3) Equifax Credit Report Lock, which allows you to prevent access to your Equifax credit report by third parties, with certain exceptions; (4) Social Security Number Monitoring, which searches suspicious web sites for your Social Security number; and (5) Up to $1 million in ID theft insurance, which helps you pay for certain out-of-pocket expenses in the event you are a victim of identity theft.

Should you wish to enter legal proceedings for claims directly related to the breach, Equifax has waived the arbitration clause specifically for their TrustedID Premier, meaning you will not waive your right to enter legal proceedings. Originally, consumers were required to waive their right to sue and agree to mandatory arbitration. Equifax has reversed this decision and will not enforce it, even if you already signed up and agreed to it. You can also opt out of all arbitration clauses by sending a written notice via mail or overnight delivery service, which states that you are opting out of all arbitration clauses. Timely written notice of opt out must be delivered to Equifax Consumer Services LLC, Attn.: Arbitration Opt-Out, P.O. Box 105496, Atlanta, GA 30348, and must include your name, address, and Equifax User ID, as well as a clear statement that you do not wish to resolve disputes with Equifax through arbitration. If you decided to opt out, I recommend that you send this notice via Certified Mail. Return Receipt Requested or overnight delivery service, so you have a record of delivery.

Should you accept their offer? You may want to consult with your attorney about this. Provided you are not prevented from taking other legal action if you decide to, you may want to consider it. However, the question remains—can you trust a company to protect you when they already failed to protect your data and notify you of the breach in a timely manner? Or might other credit/identity theft services be a better option, even if you have to pay for them? If you decide to use another vendor, be sure to find a service that not only does credit monitoring, but also provides identity protection insurance. I’m reminded of the commercial where the patient in the dentist chair is told he has a cavity and then the dentist walks out and the patient says “Well aren’t you going to fix it?” and the dentist says “I am a dental monitor. I just let you know you have a cavity. You have a cavity.” Credit monitoring without identity theft insurance protection to help you fix issues and pay expenses for losses incurred is like the dentist identifying the cavity but not fixing it. It’s not that helpful.

WHAT ABOUT MY PAUL WINKLER ACCOUNTS?

You might wonder if your accounts with Paul Winkler, Inc. and the financial firms we work with have been affected. This hack has not affected any of our accounts at this point. Paul Winkler Inc. (PWI) and our servicing financial entities have many safety protections in place. First and foremost, your accounts are held at an independent third party custodian. In addition, PWI and the financial firms we work with use security protection on our systems designed to help protect against unauthorized access. PWI does not have discretionary authority on any account which would enable us to enter into your accounts and place trades or take out money without your permission. We also have certain cross checks in place to help further protect your information in case we have reason to believe that a request on your accounts seems irregular. For example, nearly every distribution must be facilitated with a signed LOI, and there is a system in place to follow up on items flagged for potential fraudulent activity. Keeping your money and your confidential information safe is of utmost importance to us.

THE BEST LAID PLANS…

Despite the many precautions we and others take on your behalf, it is impossible to guarantee that somebody has not or will not some day hack any of your accounts on line. Therefore the best thing you can do is be more diligent than ever when it comes to personal accounts and protecting your information. Signing up for the Equifax or other credit/identity theft protection insurance is a start. But even if you do this, it is important for you to consistently monitor bank accounts and credit activity for anything suspicious. Be wary of clicking links via email or social media claiming to originate from Equifax, as thieves are likely try to further capitalize on the event through malware. Make sure you have anti-virus and anti-malware protection on your computer.

Please do whatever is necessary to protect your identity! Take the breach seriously. Your social security number alone being stolen makes it very simple for someone to open a line of credit in your name, putting you in a very bad place for getting loans, a mortgage, a new apartment, a new car, a new house, or even a new job.

Anne Sawasky, Esq.
Chief Compliance Officer
Investor Coach
Business Succession Planning Advisor

3050 Business Park Circle Suite 503 Goodlettsville, TN 37072
Tel: (615) 851-1950 Mobile: (920) 915-5510 anne@paulwinkler.com
This message is intended for the use of the addressee, and may contain privileged or confidential information. If you are not the intended recipient, or the employee or agent responsible for the delivering the message to the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any dissemination, distribution or copying of this communication is strictly prohibited. If you have received this communication in error, please notify us immediately by telephone and return the original message to us at the above address via U.S. Postal Service.
Paul Winkler, Inc. does not provide tax or legal advice. All decisions regarding the tax or legal implications of your investments, or client investments, should be made in consultation with an independent tax advisor or attorney. The views expressed herein are those of the sender only, are not intended to constitute an advertisement for Paul Winkler, Inc., have not been reviewed as firm marketing literature and should not be used or distributed to any other person as such. Firm marketing literature is available on the firm’s website or upon request. Nothing in this email is designed to meet the specific needs of an individual investor or intended to be used as a basis for investment decisions.

The Big Bad Business Owner????

Posted on July 15th, 2017 by wmi-admin | No Comments

You hear a lot in the media about “big business” and how business owners are selfish and do not care about their employees. But is it really true?

I’ve been working directly with business owners for most of my career… helping them with their businesses’ legal issues, helping them buy or sell their business or commercial real estate, and now advising clients on their financial matters. I have seen a consistent theme throughout my career with almost all business owners… they really care about their businesses AND their employees! One of the most common questions I would hear from a business owner who was thinking of selling their business was this: “What will happen to my employees? Will they lose their jobs? I want to make sure they can keep their jobs.” I’ve even seen business owners who were selling their business decide to share some of the profit of the sale with their long time employees, even though they had no legal obligation to do so!

In most cases during the sale of a small to medium sized business, the employees are all retained during a sale. There are two reasons for this. The first is that the business owner tries to make it a part of the deal. The second reason is that usually the bank for the buyer does not want the new buyer to make a lot of changes. They are lending on a known commodity… the experience, the earnings, the face of the current business. Making changes to personnel or changing things that customers see, such as the name of the business, the location, or the employees who get the work done, can create problems and cause a business to lose customers, affecting the bottom line and jeopardizing the bank’s loan and the borrowers’ ability to pay.

The reality is that although the business owners usually try their best to protect employees during a sale, the sad thing is, these things are usually done in confidence and never get in the news, nor are the employees told about this during a sale. They have no idea that their boss really cares about their welfare, has tried to look out for them and protect them during the sales process.

Sometimes business owners get a bad rap. I can attest to the fact that usually, the opposite is the case.

Anne Sawasky
Business Succession Planning Consultant
Investor Coach
Chief Compliance Officer

America From a Philippine Perspective – Need an uplift?

Posted on June 29th, 2017 by Paul Winkler | No Comments

Hello, Everyone. Happy July 4th!

 

Tales about World War II were a big part of my life growing up.  My great grandfather and his youngest son were soldiers, while his other 2 sons were guerillas in the Philippines fighting the Japanese occupation.  They all loved their American comrades and General Douglas MacArthur.  I remember the July 4th just  before  my great grandfather died. He took us to the Leyte Landing site where MacArthur fulfilled his “I shall return” promise.  He wept as he kissed the feet of the  General’s statue.  I will never forget how he always said to be true to your words, and always keep your promises like General MacArthur. As I recall, everytime my grandfather taught us perseverance, GRIT, tenacity and to have a purposeful heart, he referred to it as “MacArthur’s way,” which is the essence of the American heart.

 

And then there was my father, who proclaimed that I must strive to come to America to  live the American Dream. At 10 years old, I started dreaming of America as simply a place where there is an endless supply of “SPAM®, CORNED BEEF, Vienna sausage and TOOTSIE ROLLS®!”.  As I became older, America evolved to become the ultimate destination where FREEDOM abounds–freedom from poverty– the place where I could soar high, and the yardstick was no longer an endless supply of SPAM or Vienna sausage, but endless possibilities.  And oh, the places I’d go!

 

Indeed! Last month, I completed visiting all fifty states after twenty three years of living the American dream.  What better way to express my awe than to feel the scope of wonder called the United States of America. I’ve watched in awe  the endlessly fascinating interplay of colors, shadow and light on the towering rock formation of  Bryce Canyon, listened to the happy prairie dog sound, and smelled the scent of sulfur spewing from the geysers of her oldest national park, Yellowstone. I’ve journeyed through the unutterable gorgeousness of  Carmel’s 17 mile drive,  trying to comprehend the magnificent sunset when traversing its Pacific Coast,  the incomprehensible grandeur of the “Grand Canyon,” the twisting gorges of Zion National Park, the sight of a thousand bison, hundreds of mustangs, and thousands of cute faces of elks staring at me.  With a grateful heart I exclaim “Dear Lord, I love this country!”

 

Fifty states– fifty blessings!  So what’s next? The definition of the American Dream has changed for the 21st century.  To some of you, it’s knowing that you can retire when you want to, and to others it’s having the confidence that you have enough assets to last your lifetime.  My definition of the American Dream has changed too.  It is to help you, my adopted family, get your own version of The American Dream, where you can have a happy retirement and enjoy this great country for many years to come.  The American Dream is real.  Let’s work together to keep it ALIVE!

Arlene Brown, ChFC, CDFA

 

*Advisory services offered through Paul Winkler, Inc. (“PWI”), a   Registered Investment Advisor. PWI does not provide tax or legal advice; please consult your tax or legal advisor regarding your particular situation. This information is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed to be a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any securities.

 

PROPOSED TAX REFORM COULD HELP BUSINESS OWNERS AND WORKERS ALIKE

Posted on June 6th, 2017 by Paul Winkler | No Comments

In April, President Trump released his goals for tax reform.  The House Republicans Blueprint for Tax Reform was published in June 2016 as well.  Although we can’t predict exactly what the future holds, reviewing these two tax proposals can give us an idea of what we might expect.

 

Here is a side by side comparison of the House GOP and president’s proposals, including reforms for both individuals and businesses.

In comparing both proposals, here are some of the highlights:

 

(1)    Both plans reduce the current seven individual income tax rates to three brackets.  However, it is too early to tell what the brackets will be or the tax rates in each bracket.

 

(2)    Most itemized deductions would be eliminated except for mortgage interest and charitable contributions. However, to offset the loss of many of these deductions, the standard deduction would be increased. Of significance to many states with an income tax or high property taxes, this would mean the loss of the deduction for state income taxes and for property taxes for individuals.  It is not clear whether  the remaining deductions would be classified as itemized deductions or may move to “above the line” (i.e., those used to determine adjusted gross income).

 

(3)    Both plans repeal the alternative minimum tax.

 

(4)    Both plans repeal the 3.8 percent net investment income tax which was used to help fund Obamacare.

 

(5)    Both plans call for some form of change in estate taxes, ranging from Trump’s call for the “repeal of the death tax,” while the House Blueprint calls for repeal of the estate and gift tax. However, there are many unanswered questions about what this means.  Will this only affect the estate and generation skipping tax? Will it include the gift tax too? What about the step-up basis of assets at death, which has occurred when assets are included in a gross estate?

 

(6)    The business tax rate would decrease to 15 percent in the president’s plan, and to 20 percent in the House plan.

 

(7)    Of great significance for small business owners, the top tax rate for pass-through businesses (such as partnerships, limited liability companies, S corporations, and sole proprietorships) would decrease from the top income tax bracket to 15 percent in the president’s plan and to 25 percent in the House plan; but just how much the pass-through income could be taxed at the lower rates may hinge on the amount of cash distributions made from the entity.

 

It is not clear when or if tax reform will occur in 2017, but in the news conference unveiling the president’s plan, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnunchin expressed the desire to enact something in 2017. If tax reform only passes by a simple majority in the Senate, similar to the 2001 Tax Act, most provisions would then sunset after 10 years.

 

Anne Ertel-Sawasky, Esq.

Chief Compliance Officer

Business Succession Planning Advisor

Can your business fund your retirement?

Posted on January 13th, 2017 by wmi-admin | No Comments

Often, business owners work their entire lives and put all of their efforts and assets into their businesses.  They rely on it to fund their retirement, at least in large part.  I have worked with business owners for many years assisting them in the sale and acquisition of businesses, and one thing I have found in most cases is that business owners THINK they know the value of their business, but most often they are overestimating its value, based on “country club valuations”—i.e. a value based on what somebody they know told them they received when they sold their business.  This is highly unreliable, because many times these owners may be exaggerating, or perhaps their business is a different type  that is valued differently than their own, or it may be much more profitable than the comparable business, or it may simply be better prepared for the sale than its competitor.

I have seen all too often that a business owner relies on the business to fund his/her retirement, and when I value the business, it is worth  far less than what was expected.  At this point, the owner is ill, burned out, older or for some reason can no longer wait to sell, and they can’t take extra time to improve the business so it can yield a greater sales price.   It is sad and all too common.  A business is only worth what someone will pay for it.  This is why I am so passionate about working with our clients well in advance of the time that they expect to sell.  An owner who values their business five years or more before they plan to sell has a baseline number and can use this as a basis for their personal financial planning to determine what additional funds they may want to put aside to help fund their retirement. Also, if the value is not what they feel they need to retire, we can discuss ways to improve value and get them to their goal.   The old saying “those who fail to plan, plan to fail” is so very true when it comes to business owners relying on the sale of their business to fund their retirement.  It is too important to leave to chance.

Our process is inexpensive and well worth the time and effort, to provide goal setting, suggestions for improving value and financial peace.

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