Entries Tagged as 'Finance'

TGIF and Hooray It’s Done!

Last-minute tax filers

There’s not much to say except TGIF! We finally have a weekend without that tax deadline looming over our heads! As always, the last minutes filers were lighting up the streets of downtown Honolulu. Here on Richards Street, the US Post Office was anticipating a lot!

Mailbox with Tax Sign

Apparently the US Postal Service, like the rest of us, is in a budget crunch and found it more economical to label the boxes rather than having a lot of staff on board for the annual rush of later tax filers.

They were obviously expecting a lot of procrastinators because there were at least five boxes marked for late drops. I remember the year (several years ago) when one of the radio stations (I don’t remember which one) and the US Postal Service were out on the street collecting returns from cars as they drove my with the theme song for that year playing in the background. “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” was the message sent out to everyone that year.

I think this year would would have been a good year to have such an event. Even if you’re stressed, there’s nothing wrong with being forced into a smile. Perhaps next year they should set up another event so we can share the drama as a community and commiserate with each other over the condition of the economy.

We just need to think of a song. Maybe after the new year when we welcome in 2010 we can start taking suggestions for one of our radio darlings to pick up and run with! Perhaps KQMQ   93.1 FM or KIKI   93.9 FM or KRTR   96.3 FM or KCCN   100.3 FM will step up to the plate and make something fun out of something that is otherwise dismal.

Let’s just get past it all and enjoy the weekend and join the hula halaus over on the Big Island of Hawaii for the 2009 Merrie Monarch Festival! For that, we need to venture on over to our ABC affiliate, KITV4!  They’re broadcasting it in high definition and they’ve got an Internet feed going across the globe as well!  Check it out!

Bells Will Be Ringing

Alexander & Baldwin rang the opening bell on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) this morning.  From what I could gather, this was to recognize the movement of their stock from the Nasdaq to the NYSE.  Now when you go to look for their stock, you’ll be looking for them under the ticker symbol, AXB.  I didn’t even know they were traded on the Nasdaq.  Consequently I didn’t know about, or pay attention to, the news that they were moving over. 

That bell on the news this morning triggered this post.  This is now a perfect time for me to talk about Matson!  I’ve been wondering for several days just how I would start talking about Matson.  I have mentioned them before, I have realized how important they are to the State of Hawaii and I have apparently added them to my internal list of companies to watch, endorse and respect.  Their owner?  You got it — Alexander & Baldwin!  I had no idea A&B owned Matson, until I did a little research.  Boy did I feel dumb!  I should have known that.

Let me give you a short recap.  First, I was so concerned about the Falls of Clyde being sunk and then I got excited when I heard that the Friends of the Falls of Clyde was stepping forward to keep the ship from going to a briny grave.  The next worry was money.  I wrote a post about sending emails to Matson, appealing, suggesting, okay begging, for their help.  Of course the Alexander & Baldwin Foundation is their charitable arm.  Like I said, I felt pretty stupid.     

Anyway, a very nice gentleman in Matson’s mainland office not only took the time to forward my emails to A&B, but he actually took the time to call me on the phone and let me know they were not ignoring me.  Suffice it to say, I was amazed and pleasantly surprised to find that an officer of such a large corporation was so patient and quite personable!

Matson barge as seen from the front.

The sound of the horn on this Matson ship was so loud it made me jump right out of my skin!  It also made me jump up and grab my camera!  Just to give you some idea of the physical size of this thing, those little figures just off to the left of the middle of the ship’s deck are people.  This thing is huge!

Matson barge and its containers

My groceries are on that boat — maybe even Thanksgiving dinner!  🙂    I did remind the gentleman from Matson to not forget our Christmas trees this year.  He chuckled and said they wouldn’t forget.  So every time you hear bells ringing this holiday season, think of Matson and the Falls of Clyde. 

Soon they will be moving the Falls of Clyde from her current location (next to the Hawaii Maritime Center adjacent to Aloha Tower) and taking her to dry land.  The intent is to repair the ship and eventually restore her back to the water for all to enjoy.  Maybe our Matson giant above will welcome the Falls of Clyde back into the water with a blast of its large horn.  Wouldn’t that be fun?!?  It wouldn’t exactly be bells but it would certainly leave our ears ringing!   

Tax Season Reaches Drop-Dead Deadline

The 2008 tax season is quickly approaching the absolute deadline for all of those who have put their returns on extension.  If you have not completed your filing, you’ve got ten (10) days left!

If you’re scared and a little worried about what to do at this point,Turbo Tax, the one I always depend on, is still standing by to assist.  I left their little logo on the upper right-hand corner of my blog since April but here’s their article about dealing with the upcoming October 15th deadline.

TurboTax - Do your Taxes for Free - It's EasyTurboTax has come forward again to assist — knowing that people like us are still sitting on things until the last minute.   The best part is that when using TurboTax Online, the eFiling is included for free!

If you’re late or on extension, hurry up! Don’t miss this deadline — nobody needs to be stuck with penalties and interest on top of all the other financial problems we’re trying to deal with!

Is Hawaii Tourism’s Budget Skewed?

Last Friday, September 12th, Mark Niesse, in an Associated Press article, wrote the following:

“Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle on Friday called for the state’s top tourism executive to resign after it was revealed he sent racist and sexist material from his government computer in addition to pornographic e-mails disclosed earlier.

“Hawaii Tourism Authority CEO Rex Johnson forwarded jokes about Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to friends, besides pornographic e-mails that had already been disclosed.

“It’s crystal clear that Rex Johnson needs to resign,” Lingle told reporters. “This e-mail is disgusting. It goes against the very core of who we are as a people, that we’re a place where all people will feel welcome and comfortable.”

“If Johnson doesn’t “have the class to resign” on his own, Lingle said, the board of the Tourism Authority should remove him.

“Johnson was reprimanded and his pay docked last month for using his state e-mail account to relay pornographic material. But the Tourism Board did not disclose the racist and sexist e-mails, which were among 600 obtained by The Honolulu Advertiser in an open-records request.”

I posted a lot of it here, verbatim, just in case the link goes dead, which it will, eventually.  The best part of all this, I write with a sarcastic sneer, actually had me feeling badly for the guy.

The board considered Johnson’s fate for three weeks before deciding to keep him. As punishment, his annual pay was cut by $40,000…”

Wait, it gets better.

 “…or 16 percent to $200,000. His four-year contract was also reduced to one year.”

You’ve got to be kidding!  Heck, cut it by another  $50,000, or even $100,000 and hire me!  You don’t even need to give me a contract!  I’ll be Miss Aloha and give our visitors everything they want for that kind of salary!  Sheesh, I’m obviously underpaid.  Give me a break!

That extra $100,000 could then be added to the “Hawaiian culture” and/or the “natural resources preservation” buckets!  I’ll even stand with the University of Hawaii and the Department of Land and Natural Resources to clean up our streams and trails!  I wonder if I should send the Hawaii Tourism Authority my resume?  With that kind of salary I could buy that Jeep I would love to have and use it for business — to get up those mountains and check those reservoirs, etc.! We do need to clean up around here! 

I guess that I’m just overwhelmed.  Seriously though, I have a lot of thoughts about alternative ways to get people over here.  We can’t just do the usual printing of flyers and hope for the best.  Lingle also said recently that we can’t just go about business as usual.  She’s right.  We need to do something different and we need to do something more.

We need to do something different; we need to step outside of that proverbial box!  There is so much money available and it seems to me that too much of that money is going for administrative costs and a lot of fluff.  I still think I should send them my resume.  Compared to what they’ve been paying, I’m a cheap hire! 

Our local media has, of course, picked up on the story as well.  I just liked the AP article — it made its point quickly. 

To the Hawaii Tourism Authority I say, “hang tough guys, we’ll get through this but you need to do some major brainstorming.  There is so much depending on all that you do!”  We’ve got to make it work!

Lock Yourself Up!

The security of our personal information has always been a high priority but never as high as when the Internet became so popular. We’ve all heard the horror stories and we still have people living in fear of Internet commerce, and other types of financial transfers. I still remember the stories about restaurants and not letting your credit card out of your site for fear someone will lift your information. And on and on it goes.

Many of us have gone the other extreme — we’re too comfortable with our financial transactions, both online and elsewhere. Are we too comfortable? Have we let our guard down too much? How can we protect ourselves and still enjoy the paperless lifestyle we’ve come to enjoy and relish? Well, lifelock seems to think we have become too comfortable but they want us to maintain the lifestyle to which we’ve become accustomed.

This is particularly difficult for Hawaii when we’re all the way across the ocean and have to rely very heavily on paperless transactions. We can’t just drive to that store that has what we want. That realization started me thinking.

While looking through the LifeLock site, I couldn’t help but decide that their CEO, Tod Davis, is a crazy man. He put his social security number online… in big numbers… in the middle of the page! Is he really a crazy man? If he believes in his company that much, then I’d say that is business marketing at its finest!

Anyway, just to skim the surface, here’s what caught my attention — if I lose my purse to another glass-breaking thief at 7-11, here is what LifeLock will do for me:

LifeLock Identity Theft Protection WalletLock

If your wallet is ever lost or stolen:

We’re here to help! Just give us a call and a WalletLock Specialist will help you contact each affected credit card, bank or document issuing company, cancel those accounts and complete the paperwork and steps necessary to replace your lost documents*, including your credit/debit cards, driver’s license, social security card, insurance cards, checkbook – even travelers checks – at no additional cost. You’re even covered overseas. *Pictures, cash and other monies are excluded. Member is responsible for all applicable fees charged by document issuing companies to replace lost or stolen documents.

“Now way?!? Really?”

Did I fall for it? You bet!

**This page is your receipt, please print it and retain it for your records**

Congratulations on becoming a LifeLock member, you are now protected by our $1 Million Total Service Guarantee.

Note: In order for LifeLock to proactively communicate with you regarding account status information and service updates it is very important that you include *@lifelock.com on the “allowed” list in your anti-spam filter for both your e-mail and your internet service provider (ISP). If you have questions about how to do this, please contact your ISP.

Your membership has been processed using the following information:

* You have elected the following membership plan: monthly, which includes a recurring payment of $10.00
* The number of family members protected is: 1

Thank you and welcome to LifeLock!

Okay, so now I’m covered. Hooray! Don’t worry, I picked their site apart, called two of their phone numbers and read their agreements. They’re all working and there are live bodies, corporate offices and all kinds of reassuring things. While they’re not going to cover anyone for not paying their bills on time, we can at least relax and only worry about that part.

Through all of this I couldn’t help but be reminded of that blogger in England whose blog was stolen out from under him recently. Identity theft is an ugly thing! I wish someone would create a program like Lifelock for blogs! I love LifeLock’s ideas and it sounds like a great service. Now if someone could come up with BlogLock, I think I would pay double for that service! I would love to lock my blog up but, for now, I just locked myself up!

Investment Research with a Twist

Buy List LogoWith so many companies turning the management of retirement funds over to their employees, many people are baffled about just how to handle this new duty.

There are a lot of people and websites out there who are offering assistance to people in need of investment guidance but this one has a bit of a twist that I have not seen offered in exactly this way. TheBuyList.com gives investors the opportunity to set up a list of their own stock picks and then compare them to the picks of the professional investors buying assets for various mutual funds, etc.

This site will show you which funds bought a particular stock, how much they bought or sold of that stock and what other securities they bought as well. The idea is that you can compare your decision making to that of those actually involved with the buying and selling of the things your contemplating purchasing. It’s fascinating to look at!

Not only do you get to compare your stock picks with the professionals, you also get to see just which stocks are making up some of the mutual funds you may already own or are looking to purchase. Not all reports are free but, depending on how extensive your portfolio is, you may find their nominal monthly fee to be a very good investment. Only you know what your assets are and just how extensive your own research is.

Do you ever wonder where to invest your funds, retirement or otherwise, and contemplate which stocks to buy? You might want to start some of your research at TheBuyList. Now if they could only add historic prices for these stocks we would have it made!

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Don’t Worry, Be Happy!

Most people in the self-employed world tend to be more conservative about what they deduct in the way of business expenses. (I said most.) It’s good to have someone in the know to share these things and make you feel more comfortable about what you’re doing.

Back in September, Kelly Phillips Erb from Tax Girl wrote a guest post on Problogger.net and offered:

46 Tax Deductions that Bloggers Often Overlook

Figuring out what constitutes income in the blogging world is pretty easy. But what constitutes a proper deduction is another story – and bloggers usually err on the side of not deducting enough (and not the other way around).

Don’t get caught leaving money on the table. Here’s a list of potential deductions that you might have overlooked. Consider:

  1. Monthly Hosting Fees
  2. Annual Domain Costs
  3. Design/Logo Fees…

…Now you have to go here to get the rest of the article and Kelly’s (the Tax Girl’s) disclaimer… and to keep me from being on the wrong end of their ire! Besides, the comments are full of even more useful information and idea sharing!

There are 43 other items on that list so you have to go see it and print it or bookmark it or whatever! These guys don’t need any help from me from a link-love standpoint, but in the interest of my tax-paying, American readers, I’m sending you guys there to see for yourselves!

I thought this was a wonderful post and have been sitting on it since September. It is interesting to note that a lot of these deductible expenses are applicable to just about any line of business, provided they aren’t Blog specific. April 15th is creeping up on us quickly, just like it does every year, so I thought I would do my blog-specific, civic duty. If all else fails, call the IRS and ask them!

Garran, if you’re still there, and anyone else who’s interested, the Tax Girl addresses the AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax) issue as well.

Or, you can do what I do every year — depend on TurboTax! They will walk you through your return (self-employed or not) and answer questions for you and keep you informed about changes in the Tax Laws that may or may not apply to you!

TurboTax is Easy, Free Edition, Fast Refund

The beauty of taking the TurboTax route is that they hold on to your information from year to year so you can refer back to it while you’re there and as you complete your current-year return. My biggest suggestion… DO NOT FORGET YOUR PASSWORD!

They will keep your return, but not your login information. It’s part of their security. If you forget it, it’s gone. So don’t forget it!

Tax Should Be a 4-Letter Word!

For a lot of people, it certainly evokes several of those four-letter words, or phrases (ahem). It was a painful reminder from one of the news channels last night that the IRS is going to started accepting electronic returns the other day, January 11th to be exact. Isn’t that nice of them? Hmmm… I guess that’s for people who don’t work for an employer or those who work for employers very gifted at getting those W-2’s in the mail before January 31st!

While our taxes are due on April 15th (which will sneak up faster than you think), returns for S corporations are due on March 15th! Yikes! It’s more than likely that a lot of the little businesses we blog about are S corporations. If you’ve had self-employment income, i.e. money made outside of your established employer, on a regular basis, then you’re already aware of those nasty self-employment taxes too! I thought self-employment was supposed to be a good thing. Well, according to what I have been reading, S corporations don’t pay as much of that dreaded self-employment tax.

There’s one designed for us. It’s not cheap but it beats the alternative of seeking legal assistance! Besides, my experience with the State tax office is that they are always willing to help you if you are trying to follow the rules and do things correctly. They appreciate that!

I’ll talk more about taxes, I’m sure, as April 15th gets closer.

Prime Rib and Subprime Lending

Well, if you have champagne taste while on a beer salary, you’re bound to find out how the two go hand in hand! There’s good news and then there’s some not-so-good news.

There were loans processors in Honolulu, like Home 123, that used to have offices around town and they used to process loans for borrowers who fell just below the prime level, or worse. Although they themselves did not service the loans, this particular loan processor was affiliated with, or maybe even a division of, New Century Financial Corporation.

New Century Financial was one of the hot topics on the financial radar when they began to slip into the abyss back in March of last year. Eventually New Century went into bankruptcy, relatively recently. What about Home 123? *Poof!* Gone. There was an office of at least ten or so employees, maybe more. They lost their jobs, obviously. The borrowers? Their loans are being serviced by another company acting as a collection agency of sorts and these borrowers will be fine as long as they keep their noses clean.

Did the sub-prime fiasco hit us? Yeah, it did. But, and here comes the good news, some “real” borrowers with only the best of intentions were able to have sub-prime lenders like Home 123 bail them out of financial distress and help them consolidate their debts by making loans to them even though their credit was in the tank.

Of course the interest rates were so exorbitant you might want to call it “bale” since most borrowers in that classification now have their financial hands bound like a “bale” of hay. At least, theoretically anyway, they can now better manage their monthly expenses. Those high-interest, monthly payments are what they are, but it’s still less for those who were dealing with credit card debt!

There are still sub-prime processors around so don’t panic yet. There are also places that will help you find someone who is willing to assist you with managing your finances. And, that includes loans for people with bad credit. You can always check to see if places you run into have a local connection. I know Countrywide has offices in Honolulu and what little I have heard about them has not been negative.

There is one word of caution when dealing with those organizations designed to help you deal with your creditors. If you enlist their assistance, that too will end up on your credit report. So, beware!

The best news? Well, I was told, because I’m nosy and I asked, that some lenders “don’t worry as much about loans made to Hawaii borrowers because Hawaii has a good payback record compared to other states.” Really?!?

As much as this whole thing was and is a terrible mess, and as touchy a topic as it has become, I am so proud of that statement! Okay, so we have people who overspend and we keep getting ourselves into credit-card debt, but at least we try to pay it back to the best of our ability!

I Hate Money!

Money clipart

Or I at least hate needing it! Money should have been a four-letter word! I know we all need it but all it seems to do is get us into trouble! It gets individuals in trouble, it gets politicians in trouble, and it gets businesses in trouble.

We all go through periods in our lives or the life of our business when things just get messed up. Stuff like this can happen. It happens either because the decisions made were not always the best ones, because you’ve lost your job, because you’ve lost your spouse, or just because you’ve temporarily lost your mind.

When it’s time to return to some kind of normalcy with your personal or business finances, consolidation loans are a miracle come true. For some. The problem is that some of these loans do more harm than good.

A borrower may want to borrow money that in reality they cannot safely pay back and risk-taking lenders, like New Century Financial, irresponsibly lend money to people who will never be able to pay them back.

The buzz is out there about problems with sub-prime lenders. I have heard it on the Internet, I have heard it from bloggers whose opinions I respect, and I have seen it in hard-copy publications like Financial Week. It shook me. It does that when drama impacts your own backyard!

Home123, a subsidiary (or something like that) of New Century Financial, has a Honolulu office. They do what any other lender does. They review your request, they review your financial situation, and then they review their ability to assist you with your needs.

New Century’s problem is with those offices that don’t see the big picture. They don’t assess the borrowers ability to pay, they don’t pay attention to the company’s regulations, and their only focus is their commission.

I’m not as caustic about it as my blogger friend, Sauer Kraut, but the extent of the damage and the impact it has already had is far-reaching! It even has the investment managers biting their nails over mortgage-backed securities and it’s giving them second thoughts about investing client monies in these things!

New Century called me the other day to remind me about my payment — not because I was late, but because it was almost due and because they’re, quite obviously, afraid. I was going to say nervous, but I think fear is a more appropriate definition at this point. I let the caller know that he scared me because I thought I forgot or something.

He said they have had a problem with payments being late. “Not yours,” he said quickly so as not to offend, “but many are.” I told him that I doubted there were that many late payments from Honolulu because the Honolulu office of Home123 “knows how to dot their I’s and cross their T’s!” He agreed.

I have it on good authority that the Honolulu office of Home123 has always been careful not to get the borrower or themselves into trouble. From my own experience I have to agree. Yes, I got myself into debt trouble, and they bailed me out!

New Century Financial is terrified (or should be), the Honolulu office of Home123 is going to come through this unscathed (I hope), and I still hate muny! That’s right, M-U-N-Y. It IS a four-letter word!

Since we’re on a rock and safely away from the heart of this mess, the Honolulu office still has its doors open. They may not be able to lend money at the moment, but they’re still there! I’ll update this as I hear more.

841 Bishop Street, Suite 2001
Honolulu, Hawaii 96813