Monday, 12 February 2018

Common tax mistakes to avoid in 2018


(BPT) - Life changes - getting married, having a baby, buying or selling a home, sending a child off to college or retiring - often come with changes to your tax situation. Overlooking these changes when filing your taxes can lead taxpayers to make mistakes that leave money on the table, potentially impacting their refund at a time when the average refund is about $2,800. Here is a list of common tax mistakes to avoid in the 2018 filing season to help ensure you don't miss any deductions or credits that you deserve.

Using the correct filing status

One of the most common mistakes taxpayers make is selecting the wrong filing status. A taxpayer's filing status can affect which credits and deductions they're eligible for, the value of their standard deduction and their tax bracket. One situation that can make choosing a filing status difficult is when more than one filing status seems to fit. For example, if a taxpayer with children is in the process of getting a divorce, they may not be sure if they should file as married filing jointly or married filing separately or, in some instances, whether they qualify to file as head of household. In this case, the taxpayers should run the numbers to see if filing jointly or separately is more to their advantage rather than guessing.

In addition, common clerical errors such as mixing up names, forgetting to include information reported on your W-2, 1099 or other forms, or even making mathematical errors can also affect your tax benefits.

Commonly overlooked credits and deductions

Most taxpayers file their taxes using the standard deduction, but you may be eligible for a variety of itemized deductions that could possibly save you more. Also, you may be eligible for "above-the-line" deductions and tax credits, none of which require you to itemize. And it's important to note that the newly passed tax reform generally does not impact these credits or deductions until you file your 2018 tax return in 2019.

Earned Income Tax Credit for lower-income workers:

Twenty percent of eligible taxpayers, particularly lower-income workers, do not claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Depending on their income and the number of children they have, these taxpayers may be eligible for an EITC of $503 to $6,242. Since eligibility can fluctuate based on financial, marital and parental status, taxpayers can be ineligible one year and eligible the next.

Under the PATH Act, taxpayers who claim the EITC and who file early will have their refunds delayed until mid-February. Despite the delay, taxpayers should file as they normally would to get their refund as soon as possible.

Education credits:

Depending on your academic program, what year the student is in, income and other restrictions, there are federal tax credits that can help offset the costs of higher education for yourself or your dependents. To qualify, you must pay for post-secondary tuition and fees for yourself, your spouse or your dependent. Depending on the criteria, a student may use the American Opportunity Credit of up to $2,500 or the Lifetime Learning Credit of up to $2,000.

Itemizing deductions:

Itemizing can save taxpayers hundreds of dollars, as only one third of taxpayers itemize but millions more should - especially homeowners. Owning a home is often the key that unlocks itemization, but some taxpayers with high state taxes and charitable contributions may also be able to itemize.

Itemizing enables eligible taxpayers to take deductions such as:

* Charitable donations

* Medical expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income

* Personal property taxes

* State income or sales taxes

* Casualty losses such as a fire, hurricane or earthquake

* Mortgage interest payments

Not filing

On average, the IRS announces annually that approximately $1 billion goes unclaimed in federal tax refunds. Taxpayers can claim a refund for up to three years after the filing deadline. So, in addition to filing your 2017 return, keep in mind to file your 2015 return by April 17, 2018. If not, you will lose your 2015 refund. There is no late-filing penalty if a taxpayer is due a refund. Also, even if you are not required to file a return, you may be entitled to a refund.

Taxpayers who want to ensure they get the maximum refund without a delay should visit https://www.hrblock.com/offers/refund-advance/ to see if you are eligible for a Refund Advance, or you can make an appointment with a tax professional.

Here's how the tax reform plan could affect you


(BPT) - With the newly passed tax reform bill, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), now is the time to start thinking about how this will affect you so that you can plan ahead for the outcomes you will start to feel in your paycheck as early as February 2018.

This tax reform affects virtually everyone; however, families, homeowners, residents of high-tax states, the medically uninsured and small businesses will be especially affected. Most taxpayers will experience changes that could reduce or increase their taxes owed. If you're not sure how this may affect you, here is a summary of possibilities.

Families

Like most taxpayers, many families will be affected by the loss of personal and dependent exemptions of $4,050 per person. However, families with income under $200,000 ($400,000 for joint filers) will be eligible for an increased child tax credit of $2,000. Those with income over that amount may be eligible for a smaller credit. This, along with larger standard deductions, may or may not make up for the loss of the personal exemption. Families with dependents over the age of 16 may also qualify for a new family tax credit of $500 for each dependent who does not qualify for the child tax credit.

Homeowners and residents of high-tax states

Homeowners and residents of high-tax states like California, New York and New Jersey, who typically itemize because they have large expenses like real estate taxes and state and local income taxes, may not be able to get the full tax benefit for these expenses, which are capped at $10,000. Some may not find it worthwhile to itemize going forward. Itemizing deductions is only worthwhile if all expenses exceed the standard deduction.

Medically uninsured

Starting in 2019, there will no longer be a penalty for those without health insurance. The penalty, which had become more and more expensive since first implemented in 2014, will not apply to taxpayers without insurance in 2019. Taxpayers who did not have insurance for all of 2017 and do not expect to be insured in 2018 need to make sure to talk to a tax professional, who can help you identify if you qualify for a penalty exemption.

Small-business owners

Some of the largest changes in the tax reform legislation apply to businesses, both large and small. These changes may also affect some rental activities. Corporations will see their top tax rate reduced to 21 percent from the current top rate of 35 percent, starting in 2018. Pass-through entities (LLCs, partnerships and S corporations) and self-employed individuals will be able to deduct 20 percent of their business income, subject to some limits (based on the type of business and income) and phase-outs (based on the partner's/shareholder's total income).

Retirement

Under the current law, taxpayers can reconvert a Roth IRA into a traditional IRA. This allows taxpayers to avoid paying high tax bills on an amount of money that had fallen in value after the conversion. Now, taxpayers will no longer be able to reconvert a Roth IRA to a traditional IRA.

The bottom line is that with this new tax legislation, you're still going to need to get your documents in order and file your taxes, as well as decide if you're going to itemize and what deductions work for your personal situation. This year, it's more important than ever to talk to a tax professional about how this affects you to ensure that your taxes are done right and that you have a clear understanding of how changes that take effect in 2018 will impact how you file in 2019.

To learn more about the tax reform, how it may affect you and what steps you can begin taking to reduce what you owe in 2018, visit www.hrblock.com or make an appointment with a tax professional.

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Hitting the road? Stay connected on the go

(BPT) - Traveling but worried about being disconnected? Don't worry, you aren't alone. In fact, plenty of other road warriors are making sure their devices are packed and ready to go so they won't miss a beat.

Intel(R) recently conducted a survey with YouGov to learn more about the tips and tricks connected road warriors use to keep up with email, entertainment, news and more. According to the survey, connected road warriors (69 percent) admit they always bring their mobile computing device on vacation, and nearly 1 in 3 (32 percent) indicate it makes them nervous to travel without their device.

Regardless of where they are, road warriors continue to demand strong performance and have high expectations for consistent, reliable and accessible connectivity. Seven out of 10 road warriors (71 percent) get frustrated by lagging internet performance and poor connectivity speed. And over half (55 percent) admit that the inability to quickly load pages (emails, web pages, etc.) is a top computing-while-traveling pet peeve.

Whether going to grandma's house, a beach or a ski slope, chances are these road warriors will be looking to connect. Nearly 2 in 3 road warriors (65 percent) admit doing something extreme in order to connect their mobile computing device to the internet. Eight in 10 (81 percent) report they have connected to the internet in an unusual spot. Restaurants (60 percent) are the most commonly reported location, while nearly 4 in 10 share they have connected in a parking lot. Others report connecting at a park, beach, bar, the side of the road or at a rest stop.

While some people may still want to stay on top of work, being connected is about more than getting through your to-do list. Email may still top the list of favorite activities (90 percent) when connecting on the go, but entertainment is also popular. More than half (53 percent) say they mainly connect for entertainment like streaming and gaming.

The good news is that there are plenty of devices available today that offer great performance and great connectivity for computing on the go. The latest Intel(R)-based mobile devices are fast and responsive and come in a range of connectivity options for you to choose - Wi-Fi, tethering or always-on 4G LTE - so you can power through email or get lost in a 4K-resolution movie from a coffee shop, library, beach or grandma's house. Powered by the latest Intel processors, these devices run all of the most popular apps for work and play and connect seamlessly with other devices:

* Samsung Galaxy Book 12 - Currently available via Verizon, this 2-in-1 PC comes with an S Pen and keyboard that connect instantly and never need charging, plus lightning-fast LTE and Wi-Fi connections so you can be creative, productive and connected, no matter where you are.

* Google Pixelbook - Google's high-performance Pixelbook is its thinnest Chromebook ever. It features a built-in Google Assistant, a Pixelbook Pen, amazing battery life and Instant Tethering, which allows people to access their phone's data connection even when without Wi-Fi.

* HP Spectre x360 - The ultra-slim convertible laptop has high-end power, a digital pen, long battery life, increased security features and a 4K display in addition to Wi-Fi connectivity, offering endless versatility.

* Lenovo Yoga 920 - This Wi-Fi-enabled 2-in-1 intuitive convertible laptop offers voice-activated support, a digital pen option, top performance and speed, and a 4K screen. Its Constant Connect feature downloads emails, plays music and receives Skype calls - even in standby mode.

If you're hitting the road this season, consider an always-connected PC so you don't miss a thing!

Deeper than grassroots: Playing field surfacing decisions go beyond looks


(BPT) - Often an afterthought for spectators, the choice of playing surface - natural vs. artificial - is a major decision for sports teams and field managers that goes far beyond aesthetics.

According to Don Follett, director of fields and grounds for the Baltimore Ravens, the decision to transition M&T Bank Stadium back to natural grass at the start of the 2016 season was driven by the players. "A few of our key players asked that we entertain natural grass," said Follett. "Ultimately, we decided that real football should be played on real grass."

Why the fuss over real grass for sports fields? Venues choose one surface versus another for reasons that are highly specific to their situations. The following themes, however, consistently pop up:

Injury considerations

When first introduced, artificial turf had less cushioning and more surface hardness than it does today, affecting the probability and severity of injuries. Today, the installation of artificial turf involves a mix of sand or crumb rubber infill, which absorbs impact energy and provides cushioning. Over time, however, as infill levels decrease from being packed down or migrating, more infill must be added. Additionally, based on some of the research, an athlete's foot is more likely to snag in a synthetic system, which creates more force on the foot, ankle and knee when trying to turn or change directions. Natural grass can be more forgiving when players stop or turn quickly.

While injury rates are not statistically significant between one playing surface and another, given a choice, professional football players tend to favor natural grass fields over artificial turf. In a 2010 survey of NFL players, 69 percent preferred a natural surface.

Health and comfort issues

Natural grass fields have regular growth, watering and mowing cycles, allowing for constant rejuvenation and decomposition of various compounds. The dense root and shoot systems characteristic of healthy turfgrass support a population of soil micro-flora and -fauna. These organisms offer one of the most active biological systems for the degradation of trapped organic chemicals and pesticides. According to Tim Van Loo, president of the Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) and a certified sports field manager, "the soil of natural turfgrass systems includes microbes that break down certain compounds, such as pesticides, potentially noxious organic chemicals and even bacteria from bodily fluids, such as blood and spit." With synthetic fields, regular maintenance - sweeping, dragging, loosening and redistribution of infill, and cleaning - is necessary to keep them in top form.

Turfgrass has the added benefit of contributing to noise and glare reductions.

Playability factors

Artificial fields are cited for enabling more continuous play than their natural counterparts, which may need time to recover between heavy use. With a little pre-planning, turf managers can mitigate most of these challenges and protect the long-term playability of their natural turf fields. "The life of a natural field can be extended by rotating activities between fields, changing the daily location of practice on a field, or moving drills and practices around the field," said Van Loo. Taking care to preserve the quality and coverage of natural turf can also reduce unpredictable ball roll and bounce that may occur with bare, patchy growth.

Likewise, modern drainage systems are mitigating much of the water concern previously associated with natural grass. When asked how the Ravens' field manages heavy rains, Follett explained, "We put in a full sand-based drainage system that percolates at 13 inches an hour; it would take a remarkable amount of rain."

In warmer regions, heat presents a different challenge. Synthetic fields dissipate radiant heat, with surface temperatures regularly exceeding that of natural grass fields by 50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. To ensure player safety, teams must schedule practice and game times to cooler periods of the day or run irrigation systems that cool fields.

Environmental concerns

Fertilizer and pesticides are often associated with natural turf. However, organic options are proving successful and newer environmentally friendly fertilizer applications are available. Additionally, the root and thatch layer in natural turf systems acts as a filter and removes pollutants before they enter surface or groundwater.

If water use is a concern, field managers can take conservation steps. Devices such as rain sensors can help manage irrigation efficiency. Other water-saving options include using drought-resistant species and encouraging deeper root development by allowing grass to grow taller.

With artificial turf, other environmental issues lurk below the surface. Crumb rubber infill comes from shredded tires that contain zinc and other metals. Some fear such elements could escape into the air or leach into water. Additionally, when artificial fields are replaced, the synthetic turf often ends up in landfills.

Economic impacts

The final decision on natural grass or synthetic often comes down to immediate and long-term costs. According to the STMA, a natural field can cost from $0.60 to $5 per square foot, depending on soils and drainage installation, while construction of synthetic systems can run from $4.50 to $10.25 per square foot. Annual natural turf maintenance costs vary based on the facility and climate regions, but annual expenditures average between $20,000 to $30,000 per field and are competitive with synthetic field maintenance and repairs. Based on Follett's experience, while there were initial costs to transition M&T Bank Stadium back to natural turf, "there is not a significant difference in the ongoing maintenance of well-kept artificial turf and grass."

Choosing between natural and artificial turf is not easy. It is a decision every field manager must weigh carefully, evaluating all factors including the perceptions of players and spectators to ensure long-term support for the field.

Buckle up for the new passenger economy


(BPT) - A hundred years ago, few thought that the clunky automobile that broke down so often would ever replace a horse. In the 1970s, people wondered if the personal computer that a few eccentrics were using would have any use beyond storing recipes. It's safe to say that these innovations, along with many of the technologies we now use daily, were once considered impossible dreams.

Right now, the most-talked-about piece of technological innovation that is poised to transform our lives is the autonomous or self-driving car. As self-driving cars gain widespread adoption, analysts are predicting the rise of what is known as the passenger economy - a term coined by Intel - that is expected to be worth $7 trillion by 2050 as validated in a new report by analyst firm Strategy Analytics.

Seven trillion dollars is a lot of money! A decade ago, people couldn't fully imagine the way smartphones would give rise to the app economy. Today we are at the threshold of something equally momentous - that's why entrepreneurs and investors are now beginning to imagine the economic possibilities tied in with autonomous cars.

The following are five big areas of opportunity that will unfold in the passenger economy era.

Time will be on people's side. One of the most obvious benefits of a self-driving car is the amount of time it frees up. Drivers become passengers, and so will be able to concentrate on other tasks. Not only will people be able to work or watch a movie on their way to work, but the commute itself will be shorter, since traffic congestion will become a thing of the past. With smarter analytics, it's estimated that by 2050, the widespread use of autonomous cars will free up over 250 million hours of commute time per year in the most congested cities.Apps were only the beginning. As more people use autonomous cars, companies and entrepreneurs will respond by developing innovative applications that will entertain and provide services to passengers. Just like innovators used smartphones to unlock the sharing economy, there will be opportunities for startups to discover new "car-veniences" that will be expected to generate some $200 billion in revenue.A new world of advertising. From the late '90s, we started seeing new forms of advertising emerge on the web. With self-driving cars, we are poised to see powerful new opportunities that deliver personalized messages to consumers. For instance, algorithms can compute routes and route history to hone in on passengers with specific onboard advertisements from surrounding businesses or attractions. This could be a huge boost to local businesses and will be much more effective than the primitive billboard.Mobility-as-a-service. Imagine ordering take-out, or having your groceries or a package of diapers come to your door via a driverless car. This is something that we're likely to see fairly soon. Shipping and freight companies, local delivery services and internet giants will make use of autonomous vehicles to transport goods across the country. These types of services will likely generate $3 trillion in revenues by 2050.New business models. Today, many companies offer perks such as work-from-home days or the option for people to leave the office to work in a cafe or wherever is most suitable for them. In the not-too-distant future, the workplace will further transform as the commute evolves. The self-driving car will blend with the office, turning the commute into a productive part of the workday. In turn, this will allow people to go home earlier and spend more time with their families.The advent of the passenger economy will contribute to a safer and more efficient world. Those who can imagine and anticipate the coming changes will be in the best position to get the most out of it.

Thoughtful Gifts For Colleagues: 4 Easy Steps to Create Delight

(BPT) - It's that time of year when employees are seeking meaningful and appropriate holiday gifts for their coworkers and clients.

While the process should be fun, because such gifts can inadvertently send unspoken messages to their recipients, making the right choice at the right time can be surprisingly tricky. No one wants to come across as impersonal or lacking in good taste, but it's all too easy to pick something that's too expensive or too impractical to make the statement you're intending to make.

With that thought in mind, consider these guidelines for buying or making gifts for your coworker that are memorable and appropriate.

*Consider practicality. If the present is unlikely to be used or consumed, it's a mismatch and a waste of money. For example, even the rarest or priciest bottle of wine will be unimpressive to a client who doesn't drink. Before buying, attempt to learn something about the recipient's preferences, then picture what he or she will do with the gift once he or she receives it.

*Incorporate name(s). Whenever possible, personalize your selection by adding your boss', colleague's or direct report's name to the gift. Research shows people across many demographics get excited when hearing or seeing their own monikers. Fortunately, Staples offers a wide variety of ideas for quality presents that can be easily personalized for each recipient.

*Don't scrimp on presentation. Nothing ruins a gift faster than uninspired or slipshod packaging that seems like an afterthought. Make sure all of your gifts are presented in attractive, sturdy boxes, baskets and/or bags that add to their overall effect.

Myka Meier, Founder of Beaumont Etiquette and expert authority on business etiquette says of holiday gift-giving in the workplace, "It is important to gift both colleagues and clients during the holiday season, as it is a great relationship building opportunity to establish rapport while showing respect and gratitude." Myka adds, "For colleagues or junior team members, it's typical to spend around $25. For clients or senior team members, such as a boss, often the entire team will chip in for one larger gift so it shows unity and appreciation from the entire team"

Taking care of your employees during the season of giving doesn't need to be difficult or stressful. Check out how Staples can help you find and personalize the perfect gifts and greeting cards.

Don't get hacked! Time to get serious about password safety


Top tips for locking down your online security

(BPT) - We all know hiding your house key under the doormat is a terrible idea, but we do it anyway because it's a convenient backup. When it comes to safeguarding passwords, especially in a family setting, people often choose convenience over safety.

As families manage their digital information and online accounts, many end up opting for that less secure key-under-the-doormat solution. People are already sharing passwords, and their methods of sharing are not always the best. Some 41 percent of adults with online accounts admit to sharing passwords with friends and family, according to an Americans and Cybersecurity survey by Pew Research Center. Yet, 90.8 percent of respondents say they know that having strong passwords helps them better protect their families.

Consider the number of security breaches that continue to make national news:

* In 2016, we learned the Yahoo data breach compromised 1 billion accounts.

* In that same month, we learned 167 million email addresses and passwords were stolen from LinkedIn.

* In September 2017, a security breach at Equifax was reported, exposing Social Security numbers and other personal data of 143 million users, which is nearly half the U.S. population.

Now more than ever, it's clear how important it is to protect our personal information online. According to a Verizon 2017 Data Breach Investigations Report, 81 percent of data breaches involve weak, reused or stolen credentials. That's significantly higher than the 63 percent it was in 2016.

"If you were to dig into the reasons behind these repeated, overly simple, shared passwords, it's actually pretty understandable as to how this happens," according to LastPass Senior Director of Product, Steve Schult. "The average person has some 200-plus logins. If you were to give each its own strong, unique password, that's way too many for one person to keep track of and remember, let alone all the other family members that might also use some of those accounts."

But there's no need to trade security for the convenience of digital access. With a password manager designed for individual or family use, you can create those strong passwords for all the accounts you and your family use, and store them within a secure vault that's accessed by a single master password only you know. These digital lockboxes protect your information under multiple layers of security, making it impossible for digital thieves to hack and access.

If you're debating whether to make the switch to a digital password manager, here's a few ways it can improve your family's online security and help stop the struggle with passwords.

Create rock-solid passwords: Most password managers offer a secure password generator that allows you to set and create a long, strong and unique password for every online account. You can create a password up to 100 characters long, including numbers and symbols. Another way to do it is by using the "passphrase" approach, meaning string together words that create a phrase. Be sure to steer clear of birthdays, anniversaries, street names and other specific personal details that can be found through a simple social media search.

Secure more than just passwords: There's an endless number of passwords and sensitive information you can store in your password manager, including banking logins, passport and license numbers, shopping accounts, email and social media passwords and more. By storing all of this information in your secure vault, you'll always have access to the information whenever and wherever you may need it.

Safely share passwords with family members: One benefit of a password manager that's designed for family use is that it lets you safely and conveniently store passwords and valuable documents in folders for flexible sharing with others in the family. LastPass Families includes unlimited shared folders, which means you can create multiple folders and store an endless number of passwords and share with those in your family. For example, you could put your banking account password into one folder and share access with your spouse, have another folder for your favorite streaming services and securely share access with the whole family. All the while, you can keep your personal accounts private.

Use it as a teaching moment: Have a talk with your kids about how passwords are the keys to our digital lives, and how good password habits help protect everything from personal details to finances. Show them how to build a good password, and how tools like a password manager can create a safe way to access and share accounts. It's an important life skill that will help them protect themselves for years to come.

Plan for the digital afterlife: When there's a death or serious emergency, it turns out that state and federal laws, along with service agreements, can block your family from getting access to your online accounts. With a password manager that allows emergency access, family members can get into your password vault and have access to whatever they need.

If you're interested in learning more about LastPass or LastPass Families, visit LastPass.com.

Growing your business? These 3 financing mistakes can cost you big


(BPT) - Starting a business can be tough. Growing one can be even harder.

Dr. Nacondus Gamble knows this all too well. After her optometry practice, The South Eastern Eye Center, began to establish a reputation for great patient care, Dr. Gamble decided she was ready to expand. So she began looking for business financing to open another location in Georgia. That's when she discovered that many lenders don't share her commitment to high-quality service.

"I called a couple of places, but I just felt like they were taking advantage of me," she said. "It was unnecessarily harsh."

Dr. Gamble ended up borrowing through Funding Circle, an online platform focused exclusively on small business loans. Known for its speed, transparency and customer service, Funding Circle has helped more than 40,000 businesses around the world get financing, says co-founder and U.S. managing director Sam Hodges.

Today there are more options than ever before for businesses looking to grow. While some of these newer options can offer a significant leg up, others can actually end up doing more harm than good.

So how can you get the best deal on a business loan? It helps to watch out for these three common mistakes:


1. Not understanding the true cost of your loan

When shopping for a business loan, it's easy to become overwhelmed by fast-talking salespeople, endless strings of acronyms and confusing terms. If it's unclear how much you'll really pay for financing, that's a good sign you should walk away, Hodges cautions.

A good lender will always be willing to help you calculate the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) and explain all the terms of your loan clearly. They'll also help you understand what fees you can expect over the life of the loan - some lenders sneak in additional hidden fees, concealing them in fine print or confusing legalese, which can significantly inflate the cost.

2. Getting trapped in daily or weekly repayment cycles

Some types of business financing can seem like a godsend for a company in need of fast cash. These providers promise easy approval with quick access to funds. However, that speed can come at a steep price - in many cases, the provider takes a portion of your sales on a daily or weekly basis until the debt is repaid.

Term loans are often the better option, Hodges says. They allow businesses to borrow a set amount of money for a specific purpose, like hiring new staff or stocking up on inventory. The funds are then paid back over a set amount of time, with consistent monthly payments and no surprise fees.

3. Not knowing what you deserve

While many finance providers have your best interests at heart, the truth is that not all do. Some use irresponsible or misleading practices and take advantage of small business owners' need for cash.

After seeing countless small businesses get stuck with credit products they couldn't afford or understand, a coalition of small business advocates, lenders and online credit marketplaces came together to launch the Small Business Borrowers' Bill of Rights. As the first-ever gold standard for responsible business lending, the Bill of Rights outlines the rights and safeguards that small businesses should expect from finance providers.

These include the right to transparent pricing and terms - ensuring business owners can see the cost and terms of any financing being offered in writing and in a form that is clear, complete and easy to compare with other options - and the right to non-abusive products that won't trap you in an expensive cycle of re-borrowing. Before you take out any financing, check if your lender has signed on at ResponsibleBusinessLending.org.

Considering a loan for your business? You should know the five things business lenders typically care about when evaluating your application. To maximize your success, read more at www.Made2DoMore.com.



IMAGE CAPTIONS:
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Caption 1: Dr. Nacondus Gamble, owner of The South Eastern Eye Center, an optometry practice in Georgia, found a business loan through Funding Circle.

Caption 2: Dr. Nacondus Gamble, owner of The South Eastern Eye Center, an optometry practice in Georgia, found a business loan through Funding Circle.

5 tips for working adults returning to college


(BPT) - Most working professionals want to advance their skills, land that promotion and get a raise. However, some 36 million adults face a significant barrier to achieving their goals and aspirations: They still need to complete a significant amount of coursework in order to earn a college degree.

While many of these adults have completed at least some higher education classes, the demands of family life and maintaining a career, along with a lack of financial resources, can both be forces that derail these plans.

Fortunately, the pathways to earning a college degree are evolving, which means a working professional now has more affordable and efficient means to finish the coursework. With a smart strategy, a busy working professional can make that dream of earning a diploma into a reality.

1. Define your goals

Some people know exactly what they want from life and how a college degree will help them fulfill their goals. Others may have more general ambitions related to finishing the degree, but they may need to take time to create a more detailed plan. In either case, before choosing a higher education program, it's important to take time to inventory skills and career experiences. The insights from this exercise can be helpful in charting your course to earning that diploma.

2. Consider your time and explore your financial options

For a working adult, using traditional means to earn a degree isn't always best-suited to the realities of life - not to mention finances. With the demands of family and work encroaching on study and class time, fitting it all in can seem overwhelming.

It's important to take time to research your options, because there may be more flexible and affordable paths to choose from.

One great example is a new program from Kaplan University called ExcelTrack. Students begin with an assessment, which measures what they already know and advises a course of study. Even better, the coursework allows them to focus on what they need to master, not what they already know. They then work through the courses online - which entails participating in seminars, doing practice activities, completing projects that demonstrate what they know and can do - all while taking as much or as little time as they need.

For people who are able to move at a faster pace, the option can be more affordable than the traditional route because they can pay a flat fee for 6 weeks (graduate level) or 10 weeks (undergraduate level), enabling them to take and complete as many courses as they can handle. This makes earning a degree from an accredited university much more affordable and flexible.

3. Get organized

Working toward a degree can be an intense experience for anyone, which is why it's important to create the right environment to focus and study. Start by setting up a study station. Ideally, this is a desk or table that's clean, well-lit and organized with plenty of supplies on hand, and a comfortable chair.

Begin by holding study sessions at different times of the day, while paying attention to energy and productivity levels. Many do their best when they rise an hour or two before their families do, while others come alive in the evening hours. Studying online offers this kind of flexibility so whatever time of day works for you, be sure and stick to your study routine. Before long, your mind will anticipate and expect a study session at certain times of day, which makes it easier to get focused.

4. Get support

With the demands of school and work, now is an appropriate time to seek help from family and friends. Talk to your partner, parents or siblings about taking on child care duties a few days or evenings a week so you can work without interruption. This is an opportune time to give older kids additional responsibilities, such as folding their laundry, starting dinner and packing their own lunches.

Beyond that, consider informing your employer about your college courses and your goals. If your degree is relevant to other work at the company, you might discover they are willing to help. After all, they already have an employee who knows the business, and they will more than likely appreciate your ambition.

5. Keep it in balance

When life gets this hectic, especially when it's consumed with family, work and school, it's easy to burn the candle at both ends, leaving you feeling overextended and burned out. This is why it's important to schedule some down time. Having a break to look forward to can be a powerful motivational tool. Maybe it's a weekly bike ride, or relaxing with a favorite movie. Whatever it is, don't feel guilty about taking this time for yourself.

For more information about earning a degree online from Kaplan University with its new ExcelTrack program, visit kaplanuniversity.edu.

5 ways travel will change in 2018


(BPT) - As international travel gains popularity each year, new destinations are added to bucket lists and new travel gadgets and accessories appear on the market. The way we travel has changed in the past few decades, but that age-old itch to explore and discover new places and experiences remains the same. So how and why are people traveling now? The results of Visa's recently released Global Travel Intentions (GTI) Survey reveal some interesting travel trends - and tips - to keep in mind for 2018.

Simplifying payments abroad - For as long as anyone can remember, a standard part of traveling to a foreign country involved exchanging currency. Carrying cash involves time, planning, anxiety about losing money and often, wondering what to do with leftover cash once you return home. In fact, loss or theft of cash is the number one money concern for travelers while on trips. And 72 percent of people say working to get their hands on foreign currency prior to departure is a waste of time. With more than 46 million merchants accepting Visa around the world, a Visa card is the most important travel accessory you can carry.

TIP: Use your Visa card and pay in local currency for a competitive exchange rate. A whopping 87 percent of travelers have leftover cash after a trip. However, only 29 percent convert it back to currency that can be used at home. Avoid wasting money by sticking to your Visa card and only pulling out cash when needed.

People travel because of culture - Of all the places to go in the world, why is it some people choose one place over another? According to Visa's GTI survey, 41 percent of people cite "rich culture" and "friendly locals" as reasons to pick a destination. Although famous monuments, great museums and spectacular palaces continue to draw in visitors, the people who live in a traveler's destination are hugely important.

TIP: Hang with the locals. Check out fun events such as festivals and concerts to make sure you're not missing the best events in the city you're visiting. And don't forget local flavors of the country's national dishes.

Ideal vacations look a little different to everyone - What do you want to get out of travel? Is it to meet new friends, see something in person you saw on television, or fulfill a longtime dream? When vacationing, 63 percent of travelers are motivated by a combination of reward and achievement. That means to them, an ideal vacation has some combination of relaxation and experiencing new cultures or exotic locations.

TIP: Block out time on your trip to relax and reflect on the experience. It can be easy to plan activities and sights to see, but it's important to rest in between.

People are feeling optimistic about travel - Though they may be excited to get out of their comfort zone, some people have reservations about the safety of traveling to far-off locations, or worry about affording such a trip. However, according to the GTI Survey, people are not letting these factors keep them at home. Globally, only 17 percent of people cited security as a top concern and only 19 percent chose a destination because it fit their budget. What that says is that people are willing and eager to visit their dream destinations.

TIP: Budget your trip accordingly. A better understanding of what you can spend can help keep your mind at ease during travel. According to the GTI Survey, global travelers spend an average of $1,793 per trip. However, if you are following Tip #1, keeping cash transactions to a minimum will help in the budgeting process. While on vacation, look for Visa or PLUS logos at point-of-sale terminals or ATMs to ensure international payment cards are accepted.

Technology is the new travel companion - The traveler's well-folded map and dog-eared guidebook might be a thing of the past. As more travelers adopt digital technology, virtually everything they need to navigate fits right in the palm of their hand. What's more, 88 percent of travelers have online access while abroad and almost half, 44 percent, use ride-sharing apps to get around once they are on the ground.

TIP: Research apps or technology that might be helpful on your travels. Downloading your bank or credit card apps can help track your money while traveling. As technology continues to revolutionize our daily lives, so it will continue changing how we travel.

Staying on top of trends can allow travelers to plan accordingly. By budgeting, planning, avoiding cash and finding out the best ways to track spending, travelers can get the most from their dream travels - and their wallets.

 'Untold Stories of the Desegregation of Baseball' documentary premieres


(BPT) - Did you know, that as a young man, Abraham Lincoln was a formidable wrestler and out of 300 matches, only lost one? Or that Congress voted for our independence from Britain on July 2, 1776, not on the Fourth of July?

Like these facts, there are hundreds of other little-known stories of American history that rarely get told.

For instance, while many know about Jackie Robinson and his struggle to break the color barrier, not everyone realizes that even after he successfully joined the Dodgers, the process of desegregation was far from over.

"It's worth remembering that it's the end of that 1947 season that really marks Robinson's triumph," says filmmaker Gaspar González, who has produced documentaries for PBS, ESPN and others. "He had endured the hatred and racist threats directed at him to not only prove that he belonged in the Major Leagues but to lead the Brooklyn Dodgers to the World Series. Getting through that season - excelling the way he did - ensured that other players of color would follow."

While Robinson opened the doors, what followed was a decades-long struggle to break down America's racial barriers and for the game of baseball to become truly integrated.

It's this untold story that González tells in his new film, "A Long Way from Home: The Untold Story of Baseball's Desegregation," which chronicles the struggles and triumphs of the pioneering black and Afro-Latino players who played minor-league ball in small, remote towns where racial segregation remained a fact of life well into the 1960s. These are the men who, before they could live their dreams, first had to beat Jim Crow and follow Jackie Robinson into white professional baseball.

The 45-minute documentary sheds light on the struggle toward racial equality in baseball, featuring original interviews with James "Mudcat" Grant, Grover "Deacon" Jones, Jimmy Wynn, J.R. Richard, Tony Pérez and Orlando Cepeda. These former MLB stars endured racism on and off the field to pursue their big-league dreams - ultimately playing a significant role in making America's pastime truly open to all.

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of Robinson's trailblazing inaugural season, TV One will show "A Long Way from Home" with an exclusive early preview on video on demand (VOD) of the documentary, available now through Oct. 31. Following its VOD preview, the documentary will be added to TV One's February 2018 broadcast schedule.

Funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, "A Long Way from Home" has enjoyed select screenings in Washington, D.C.; Houston; Miami; and the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. "NEH is proud to support this important project, which we hope will inspire broader conversations about the changing meanings of race, equality and freedom in American civic life and culture," said Margaret Plympton, former acting chair, National Endowment for the Humanities.

To watch the trailer and learn more about the film, visit www.longwayfromhomemovie.com.

Would direct sales work for you?


(BPT) - The Federal Reserve Board discovered in a survey of working Americans that nearly half of U.S. adults don't have enough cash on hand to pay for a $400 emergency. If that's a concern for you, you might be thinking about joining the 44 million Americans who have found ways to make money in addition to their main source of income. Common options include waiting tables, working retail, becoming a rideshare driver and direct selling.

Direct selling, also called direct-to-consumer sales, has been around for over 160 years, and companies like Avon, Tupperware, WorldVentures and Amway have been offering new business opportunities to independent sales representatives since they opened. The direct-sales business is still booming, with a record 20.5 million people involved in the U.S. alone in 2016. The estimated direct retail sales of $35.54 billion in 2016 was the second-highest in direct-selling history.

Is working in direct sales right for you? Benefits of working in the industry can include:

* Flexibility - You determine your schedule, and you choose to work as many - or as few - hours as you want. If you have a knack for direct selling, you could ultimately make it your main source of income.

* Personal growth and development - Take advantage of the tools and training offered by your direct selling company to help you build your business.

* Companionship - Connect with fellow sales representatives and prospective customers, which can lead to lasting relationships.

Passion for travel and financial freedom prompted Wayne Nugent, founder of WorldVentures, to launch his direct sales business in 2005. "We've been changing the way people take vacations for more than a decade, all while helping our independent representatives discover their potential and experience more in life," says Nugent.

The direct seller of travel and leisure club memberships, is just one of many opportunities waiting for you. Whether you decide to go into direct sales, housesitting or part-time bartending, the possibilities for supplemental income are limited only by your imagination.

How you can improve your FICO Score


(BPT) - Anyone who has tried to borrow money to purchase a car, buy a home or open a revolving line of credit may be familiar with the term FICO Score. Most lenders use this scoring model, which essentially determines a person's creditworthiness.

"The FICO Score may seem like a big, daunting mystery, especially since your score can have a huge impact on your ability to borrow money at a competitive rate," said Jim Johnston, of Colorado-based Bellco Credit Union. "The truth is, however, you do have power over your credit score, and there are things you can do to improve it over time."

How FICO Score is calculated

FICO was named for the data analytics company Fair Isaac Co., which created the first credit-scoring system. In general, a credit score breaks down as follows:

* 35 percent is your payment history - Do you pay bills on time?

* 30 percent is the amounts you owe (on loans, credit cards, etc.) - Owing money on different credit accounts is not necessarily bad, especially if you're paying your bills on time every month. FICO considers how many of your accounts have balances, if you're using your entire credit line, and how much of any installment loan you still owe.

* 15 percent is the length of your credit history - Having a long credit history is good, but even if you're young and barely have any credit history (such as credit cards and a car loan), you can still have a high FICO score.

* 10 percent is your credit mix - What is your mix of credit, meaning credit cards, retail accounts, installment loans, mortgage loans, etc.? A good mix of credit, especially with a history of on-time payments, is helpful to your score.

* 10 percent is any new credit - If you've opened numerous credit accounts in a short period, this can have a negative impact. Although closing a credit account still shows up on your credit history, it has no impact on your score.

Tips to improve your score

Repairing your credit takes time, so it's important to be patient. Below are three things you can do.

1. Check your credit report - The first thing you should do is get a free copy of your credit report and make sure there are no errors. If you find an error, you have the right to dispute it with the credit bureau.

2. Get organized - Don't make any more late payments on your credit cards. The best way to do this is to get organized. Set up auto payments through your bank or credit union, or set reminders to make payments before they are due.

3. Pay down your debt - While this is no easy task, it will make a difference. Use your credit report to make a list of all your credit cards and the balances you owe. Pick the credit cards with the highest interest rates, and tackle those balances first. Most importantly, don't add to your debt by continuing to use your credit cards.

Your FICO Score does not take into account annual income, length of employment, or other sources of financial support such as alimony or child support. However, these are things that your bank or credit union can consider when you're borrowing money, so it's not all about the FICO Score.

Knowledge is power. Understand what your FICO Score is, how a good or bad score can impact your life, and if a low FICO Score is holding you back. There's no better time than now to begin to make positive changes to improve your score.

Science-based suggestions for self-confidence


(BPT) - A recent study shows your perception of your own image has a profound effect on how you present yourself to the rest of the world.

Those findings could be empowering since even small changes to your self-care routine can significantly boost your self-confidence.

The study by researchers at the Stanford Graduate School of Business found those who believe in their own attractiveness view themselves as having higher social status. "The finding that your assessment of yourself shapes your view of yourself and others puts power into your hands," the authors note.

Consider how these science-based suggestions may help you put your best foot forward when dealing with everything life throws your way.

* Get moving. Regardless of your fitness goals, the fact is you're likely to feel better physically, emotionally and mentally after you exercise. Research also shows it can improve your self-esteem.

* Ramp up your smile. Scientists say our brains are zapped with an instant mood boost when we smile, and that boost is reinforced when others smile back. Further, whiter teeth can have a direct effect on our social and professional interactions, and they're now easy to achieve through consumer brands like Rembrandt's 1 Week Whitening Kit that can achieve professional-level results at home within a week.

* Let your body language communicate self-respect. Keeping your shoulders pulled back and your body straight and tall communicates confidence to your brain, studies show. Research found the most empowering stance is one in which your arms are held slightly away from your torso, your body is open and your head is up.

* Optimize color in your clothing. The right shade may light up your entire face and have a surprising impact on your mood. "Choosing the color of your office, your clothes or your desktop should not be taken lightly - colors do affect our moods and productivity," states a recent article on Scienceofpeople.com. "When given the choice, picking a color that will work with you and not against you can only help."

* Wear scent strategically. Because our brains link certain smells to positive experiences, research suggests we may be able to ramp up our confidence with scents that remind us of happy times. That's why aromatherapy can help alleviate anxiety, depression and sleeplessness, and improve quality of life for those with chronic health issues, confirms the Mayo Clinic.

Bottom line: When you're taking care of yourself and projecting your best self, you're far more likely to project the confidence you need to deal effectively with life.

"Confidence can make or break a lot of things," advises Lecia Bushak on Medicaldaily.com. "In our extrovert-centric society, confidence can get you a job, a girlfriend, and the courage to say no to people or situations that are toxic to you. Confidence is knowing yourself and taking care of yourself, too."

Make 2018 the year of helping veterans


(BPT) - For many of us, the new year is the perfect time to make resolutions that improve our own lives. What if, this year, your resolutions included giving back to a community that has sacrificed so much for not only you, but our country?

According to the most recent U.S. Census, there are 18.8 million veterans in the U.S. Today, more than 9 million are seeking treatment at their local U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs medical center, and more than 39,000 veterans are homeless on any given night, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Now more than ever, consider lending a hand to those who have selflessly defended our freedom and need our help.

There are many ways to help a veteran in need. Below are a few suggestions on how you can make a difference in a veteran's life this year.

Reach out to a veterans service organization to learn more.

Knowing where to begin can seem daunting, but you don't have to figure it out alone. The American Legion Auxiliary (ALA), The American Legion and Sons of The American Legion are three organizations actively involved in veteran causes with local units across the U.S. They offer community through memberships, organize and hold volunteer events throughout the year and accept monetary donations. As a first step, visit the websites of each organization and look for a unit close to you. Meeting with these organizations or others can kick-start your efforts to get involved with the veteran community.

Tie your passion to your action.

We all have passions that bring us joy. There are many ways that suit your interests to give back while helping veterans in need. For example, do you like to spend time outdoors? A large number of organizations host volunteer activities like cleaning a veterans memorial in the community. Are you more of a people person? Give your time to a local veterans facility to connect with a resident in need of company.

Donate a day of service.

Everyday life can get messy with full-time jobs and commitments. One way to identify free time for charitable activities is to use a day off engaging in community service. "Donate" your Memorial Day to help the ALA distribute handmade poppies that support veterans in local hospitals, visit a veterans facility or deliver a meal or care package.

Give a gift during the giving season.

The holiday season is a time to reflect on what you have and to appreciate the loved ones in your life. This year, extend your thankfulness to the veteran community. On Nov. 27, participate in #GivingTuesday, the global giving movement. Make a monetary donation to an organization that dedicates its efforts to helping veterans. Whether you come together as a family, a company, a community or by yourself, a donation can make a real difference.

Helping a veteran can be a year-long commitment or a one-day activity. To learn more about how to take the first step, visit www.ALAforVeterans.org.

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Help yourself by helping others: Make a commitment to volunteer


(BPT) - Did you know that 35,000 hours of volunteering is the equivalent of working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year with no days off for 17 years?

For American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) member Sarah Brooks, who was recently recognized for volunteering more than 35,000 hours in service to military veterans, those are hours spent offering fellowship, kindness and attention to those who made sacrifices for our freedom. Brooks' decades-long dedication to the military community has helped hundreds of veterans in the Grand Rapids, Michigan, area. The veterans she serves have become her family, her lifeline and a blessing she never thought she would receive.

How did the 91-year-old come to dedicate her life to serving others? "It starts with a hello," Brooks said.

Brooks shares her time between a veterans home, ALA-sponsored events and a veterans rehabilitation center. "A hello can be the bridge to a great interaction and a wonderful memory. In my 59 years of volunteering, I can say I don't have a favorite memory from my volunteer efforts because every day is a new and beautiful experience," Brooks said.

People can give back in many ways, such as donating material items like canned goods and clothes or offering financial support. But giving time is one of the most unselfish actions we can perform. By becoming personally involved with others through volunteering, we have the opportunity to deliver simple acts of kindness that can help others find healing, support and a new beginning. In addition, volunteering has real benefits for the volunteer. It can provide a sense of fulfillment that benefits our minds and bodies. Studies have shown that people who volunteer live longer, healthier and happier lives.

"When I returned home from military service in my early 20s," said Victoria Pridemore, a former truck driver, battalion paralegal and division chief paralegal in the U.S. Army, "I wasn't sure how I could serve my community since I didn't have the means to donate monetary gifts to any organization. I realized I could have an impact on my community just through my actions and donating my time." In 2012, Pridemore founded ALA Unit 1 in Washington, D.C., to help serve veterans and families in that area.

Now serving as president of the American Legion Auxiliary unit, Pridemore, 33, works with local community organizations to plan monthly volunteer events for ALA members and non-members in the area. Their local activities range from cleaning the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall to holding a holiday drive for donations for inpatient veterans to send gifts to their family members. In 2016, ALA Unit 1 helped almost 200 veterans in the D.C. area.

While Sarah Brooks recently received a lifetime achievement award from the ALA for her 59-year commitment to service, Pridemore reminds us that there is no "small" act of kindness and service. "Every give-back moment is an opportunity to have a real impact," she said. "A touch, a smile, just a brief conversation can make a difference in someone's day.

"And, when a group of people do come together for a day of real service, it's so fulfilling," Pridemore said. "That is why I believe so strongly in the ALA's mission 'In the spirit of Service Not Self.'"

Pridemore and Brooks agree that all it takes is a few hours and a heartfelt commitment to caring to help change someone's life. To learn how to get involved and volunteer, visit www.ALAforVeterans.org.

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Creative arts help veterans reclaim their voice


(BPT) - For Angela Walker, music was her first love, her passion and her whole identity. "Once a singer, always a singer," she often says. That was true even after she joined the U.S. Navy in 1985. But what happened next forever changed Walker's perspective on what it means to have a voice.

When she was 26, Walker knew she had a calling to serve and protect her country and its ideals. She served as a naval airman and sang cadence in boot camp while training to work on helicopters. During boot camp, she developed a throat condition and lost her voice. When Walker was medically discharged, she was devastated. On top of that, Walker's illness worsened, and she was later admitted to a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital, where she would meet a therapist who helped change her life.

"One day I met Jessie," Walker recalled. "She played the piano and would encourage patients to sing along with her. She kept at me, until I gave in and sang 'Summertime' by Ella Fitzgerald. In that moment, I found my voice again."

Once Walker began singing again, it was clear she still had talent. So much so that years later, she would become a five-time finalist at the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival (NVCAF), which is open to veterans who participate in their local VA hospital's creative arts therapy programs. Veterans can submit their work in the categories of performing arts, creative writing and visual arts through their therapists for a chance to be selected for the NVCAF. Once selected, veterans from around the country join together for the weeklong event with creative workshops, an art exhibit, meet-and-greet and a live stage show to display their talents.

Today, Walker volunteers at her local VA hospital to help others find their voice, in addition to traveling on tour and singing commercial jingles.

Her story is not that different from many other veterans involved in art therapy programs, which help veterans recover from and cope with physical and emotional disabilities. Creative arts gives them an outlet to express themselves through various forms of art. Often, this form of therapy is the life-saving tool veterans need for rehabilitation.

The NVCAF is co-presented by the VA and the American Legion Auxiliary (ALA), the world's largest women's patriotic service organization and one of the nation's most prominent advocates for veterans' needs. For 17 years, the ALA has partnered with the VA to co-present the festival to celebrate veterans and their talents. Thanks to volunteers from across the country, the ALA assists veterans with art projects and their travel to the NVCAF, assembles displays, and supports publicity, production and materials development during the weeklong event.

Many of the volunteers from ALA units make it a yearly commitment to donate their time to support this program. Sharon Neville helped host the NVCAF in her home state of North Carolina in 2014 and has volunteered at the event multiple times since then.

"This experience is unlike any other," said Neville, who began volunteering in 2013. "This festival is life-changing for all who attend, not just the participants. It's a way for the public to understand a veteran's journey, appreciate it and celebrate it. It's a story that many of us will never know, but we should start listening."

Growing need for ag expertise: Not all high-paid careers are on the farm

(BPT) - (BPT) - As the farming industry faces growing consolidation in the U.S., one might get the impression fewer jobs are now available in agriculture.

In fact, just the opposite is true. Today, one in three people worldwide - more than a billion employees - work in an ag-related industry.

Industry growth and digital innovation combined with retirements are driving significant demand for college grads and other professionals, including those without experience in typical ag-related subjects, and many feature excellent salaries. The USDA and Purdue University predict 57,900 jobs requiring ag skills will become available each year between now and 2020 while only 35,000 grads in food, ag, renewable resources or environment studies will look to fill those jobs each year. Further, the average starting salary in the U.S. for those graduating with bachelor's degrees in agriculture or natural resources was a healthy $54,364 as of winter 2017, a 12 percent increase from 2016.

"People are starting to discover (agriculture) is a pretty good industry to be in," Iowa State College Career Services Director Mike Gaul recently told CNBC. "They realize this sector isn't our traditional what-we-joke 'cows, plows and sows' industry anymore. It's incredibly diverse."

The expectation is that grads with expertise in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and/or the environment will fill 61 percent of all ag-related openings, while employers must seek grads in other majors to fill the 39 percent gap. Notably, women already make up more than half of the higher-ed grads in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and environmental studies.

High school grads considering degrees in agriculture might consider one of these highest-paying ag occupations:

1. C-suite executives: The CEOs, COOs and CFOs at ag startups or established corporations routinely earn $200,000-plus for overseeing company growth and profitability. A bachelor's or master's degree is generally needed in addition to a background in leadership and at least five years' industry experience.

2. Ag lawyers: Because ag is so highly regulated, such professionals may handle issues related to water, land use, pesticides, seeds, the environment, labor/HR, immigration, commerce, intellectual property, mergers/acquisitions, etc. Salaries average out at $160,000. Required: a bachelor's degree followed by a J.D. and completed state bar exam.

3. Ag sales managers: Those skilled in overseeing sales teams are earning an average $125,000-plus annually. Most hold bachelor's degrees in agronomy, crop science, soil science, biology, agricultural business or a related field.

4. Ag scientists: Salaries average out at $120,000. A bachelor's degree is usually sufficient, with in-demand specialties including bioinformatics, animal genetics or the regulatory environment (managing and strategizing a product through the regulatory process).

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5. Ag engineers: Among specialties in demand are environmental, ethanol and mechanical engineers, with average salaries running upwards of $80,000 for those holding bachelor's degrees.

Bottom line: The next generation of ag specialists will be crucial to helping solve the world's most pressing issues.

Agricultural company Syngenta is supporting that cause by bestowing multiple college scholarships to ag students each year, and of course hiring many grads in various majors.

"This is an exciting time in agriculture because we have new tools to develop better seeds and crop protection products, as well as digital solutions to help farmers be more productive," says Ian Jepson, head of trait research and developmental biology at Syngenta. "We encourage students to think about the wide range of challenging and rewarding careers in companies like ours to help develop and deliver what farmers need to feed the world."



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Caption 1: 2015 Syngenta Scholarship Graduate Winner Mitch Roth pursuing a Ph.D. in Genetics at Michigan State University.



Simple ways to give back all year long


(BPT) - The old saying, "It is better to give than receive," is never better illustrated than during the holiday season when gift giving is at its peak. But, how often does the purpose of giving get lost in the rush of shopping and deadlines?

It's easy to forget that there are many ways to give that don't have to rely on a purchase. Just showing someone that they are appreciated can be the most memorable gift of the season. In many ways, it is the gift that keeps on giving. Being appreciated can make a person feel fabulous and in fact can motivate someone to pay it forward. In a time when discourse seems to permeate so many areas of our lives, a small note of appreciation can stand out even more.

At Bigelow Tea, where the company mission is to enrich life's everyday moments, the culture is to remember all who make our lives so much better and show them appreciation. "We try to pay attention all year long, not just during the holidays. The purpose of our company is to create an environment of pride that brings out everyone's desire and ability to make a positive difference every day," says Cindi Bigelow, CEO and third-generation family member.

Bigelow Tea was started by Ruth Campbell Bigelow after the Depression hit. Perhaps it was her brush with the hard times of the Depression that heightened her compassion for others, but her generous spirit built appreciation into the formula for the company's future. In 1963, she adopted a school in Kentucky, where she sent truckloads of books, coats and shoes. She would even buy glasses for kids who needed them so they could read.

Today, Bigelow continues to carry on that tradition with the company's support of the USO and veteran's programs like Ride 2 Recovery, Tea for the Troops and the annual Bigelow Tea Community Challenge, which has contributed $1.5 million back into the community.

There are many simple ways to give back all year long - whether as a parent, a sibling, a corporate executive or a partner. Some of the insights Cindi has learned as a parent and the third-generation business leader include:

* A "good" education should make sure it's teaching young people about values like kindness, niceness and compassion - things that our parents and grandparents practiced so naturally, but are often overlooked today.

* Her father's simple philosophy, as relevant today as yesterday, is to be an inspiration, be honest, be fair, be concerned about others and remember that success has many different definitions.

* It's important to take the extra time for two-way communication. Listening (maybe over a cup of tea) to what others have to say is a good way to make people feel valued and appreciated.

* Always remember that you are a role model that sets the standards for life all around you. What you do, how you act, good times and bad, behind closed doors, in front of other people, sets the tone and inspires others.

To learn more about Bigelow Tea and its corporate responsibility programs, go to bigelowtea.com/responsibility.

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A culture of care helps health care professionals thrive


(BPT) - Is your workplace a nurturing professional environment, or does competition and rank often override camaraderie and support?In order for nurses and other health care staff to do their jobs as best as possible, a culture of care can make a big difference. This means creating a workplace that fosters growth, supports professionals' needs and brings teams closer together. When health care teams feel cared for and supported, they are more inclined to provide their best care of patients and families, which improves outcomes all around.

Chamberlain University president Susan Groenwald, PhD, RN, ANEF, FAAN just released a book that addresses this topic. "Designing & Creating a Culture of Care for Students and Faculty: The Chamberlain University College of Nursing Model" serves as a guide for any organization seeking to make cultural and structural changes to improve student or employee satisfaction, engagement and achievement. The book describes the unique organizational culture - Chamberlain Care - in which students and colleagues thrive, students are cared for in a way that can improve their chances of success, and that provides an advantage in attracting and retaining high-quality and effective health care faculty and staff.

What are the possibilities when an organization takes such big steps toward revolutionizing its culture? Groenwald (2017) provided evidence that enhanced services and support provided to students and faculty improved employee satisfaction, engagement and academic outcomes. Groenwald's theory is that by providing extraordinary care to students and colleagues, they are more likely to provide extraordinary care to patients and family. For example, an independently administered survey of international employee engagement in various industries benchmarked Chamberlain faculty against employees worldwide. Since 2013, Chamberlain's faculty engagement scores have remained above the benchmark for the best U.S. companies and continue to rival benchmark scores for the best companies in the world.1

"While many books and articles have advocated for care and caring in nursing education, what truly distinguishes this text and the work it describes throughout Chamberlain University is its thorough coverage of how caring can be operationalized - and made tangible - in all aspects of an organization's mission, vision, people, processes and practices," said National League for Nursing President Anne L. Bavier, PhD, RN, FAAN, dean and professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovations at the University of Texas at Arlington. "In nursing education, a strong and positive culture that permeates throughout the institution not only helps nursing students stay in school and graduate, but ultimately provides the support needed for them to truly learn and develop the knowledge, skills and values today's nurses truly need," said Groenwald.

To learn more about creating a culture of care and to order the book, visit the National League for Nursing website at http://nln.lww.com.

1  Groenwald, S. (2017). Designing & Creating a Culture of Care for Students and Faculty: The Chamberlain University College of Nursing Model.