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When business is booming, many business owners don’t take the time to find out if their organization is running at maximum efficiency. Wasteful practices may abound, but are seldom addressed in the rush to get the product out or job done. Yet, when business slows, the time is there to take stock of business operations, formulate new strategies, and find innovative resources to help improve the efficiency and economy of your business.

Here are some issues to consider when planning to improve your company’s chances of success in the face of changing economic times:

Where can I cut costs?

This may seem like an obvious question, but formulating the right solutions without impairing your operations is seldom easy. Look for large and small ways to economize, without changing vital areas. For example, it may be possible to reduce the number of vehicles used or to conserve energy by turning off equipment when not in use. Now may be a good time to revisit some of your agreements and possibly negotiate a temporary or long-term discount. Consider taking advantage of bargains by buying in bulk or locking in prices for the future.

Are my marketing strategies still relevant?

The marketing approaches your firm used in boom times may be less effective under tighter conditions.

Clients may be more cautious about commissioning projects, and they may want greater reassurances that they are getting quality and value for their money. While it may be a struggle to increase your marketing budget, well-targeted advertising campaigns can go a long way toward bringing in new business. Stepping up your networking efforts, both in person and online, is a low-cost option for attracting new customers and staying in touch with existing clients.

Are my prices right?

Lowering your prices may be a painful but necessary measure in a declining economy. Even if you don’t reduce prices across the board, you may offer discounts or incentives to attract and retain customers. If your customers agree to adjustments in the scope of the work or types of materials used, it may be possible to lower your prices while still maintaining profit margins.

Can I trim my payroll without losing key employees?

Some companies start laying people off at the first signs of an economic slowdown. However, this can prove to be a dangerous overreaction, especially if your business ends up losing its most valuable employees. If you need to reduce payroll costs, consider viable options for doing so without letting good people go, such as offering flexible schedules, time off for training, or reduced hours for employees who want them. If necessary, consider trimming the size of retirement and health benefits, with assurances to employees that benefits will be restored as business improves. 

How can I maximize my cash flow?

When funds are tight, keeping track of cash flow becomes especially important. Check that your invoicing processes are operating efficiently, and that outstanding accounts are managed quickly. As obtaining credit becomes more difficult, meet with your accountant and your banking representative to discuss your credit lines, ways to improve your company’s credit score, and the options available in case of emergency.

Is it time to try new technologies?

Implementing new software and other information technologies, and integrating these programs into your business operations, is a complex and sometimes arduous process. A slower pace can provide your firm’s staff with the time they need to familiarize themselves with IT solutions that can help your business operate more efficiently. When better times return, your firm will continue to benefit from the productivity enhancements. Review your website, ensuring that the information is up-to-date and professionally presented. Investing time in enhancing your online presence will likely pay off during the downturn and as the economy improves.

Adapting to change is never easy. But, neither is running a business.  Rather than focusing on the recession, focus on emerging leaner and more competitive than ever.

Did you make a New Year’s resolution about seven weeks ago? For 2024, many Americans are making the resolution to adopt healthy habits – concerning their bodies, minds and finances.

If you are among the vast majority that want to save more money, then it might be time to get your overall finances in order. There is always more we can do to better the financial picture for ourselves and our families. There is every reason to make 2024 your year to accomplish what you set out to do.

Create a Budget

The centerpiece of any financial resolution – including saving more money – is to create a budget for the entire year. This isn’t as daunting as it sounds. Decide with your partner and family members what the big expenses are for 2024. Will you need to buy a new car? Take a vacation? Fix the roof or replace the air conditioner?

By planning ahead and setting aside money in advance, these expenses don’t hit your pocketbook as hard as they would if there were no plan. A family budget is a great learning opportunity for kids, as well.

Don’t allow mistakes you made in the last 12 months to affect your goals for the coming year. Allow yourself to mentally wipe the slate clean. Use previous stumbling blocks as your new goals for 2024.

Perhaps you had trouble with credit card debt, stress at work or gained a few extra pounds. Involve those challenges into your New Year’s plan. Setup a timeline for paying off debt, schedule time to de-stress and get away from the office, meet with a personal trainer or create a fitness plan that will work best for you.

Don’t forget to write down what you want to achieve and place it somewhere you see it each day. If nothing reminds you of your goals, then it becomes much more challenging to attain them.

Capital gains taxes might sound like a complex financial term reserved for Wall Street tycoons, but in reality, they touch most investors and many homeowners. Whether you're selling stocks, a piece of real estate, or that vintage baseball card collection, understanding capital gains taxes can help you make smarter decisions and keep more money in your pocket.

Understanding Capital Gains

At its core, a capital gain is the profit made from the sale of an investment or real estate. If you buy an asset for $1,000 and later sell it for $1,500, you have a capital gain of $500.

These gains are categorized in two ways:

The Importance of Planning

Why does this distinction between short-term and long-term matter? Because the tax implications can be substantial. For many taxpayers, long-term capital gains are taxed at a more favorable rate than short-term gains. Thus, holding onto an asset for just a bit longer (say, 13 months instead of 11) could lead to a significantly lower tax bill.

A bit of advice from a financial advisor highlights a vital perspective: Always look at the net profit (after taxes) when considering a sale. This underscores the importance of tax planning as an integral part of investment strategy.

Exceptions and Exclusions

There are specific cases where the capital gains tax has exemptions or special rules. A notable example is the sale of your primary residence. If you meet certain requirements, you can exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for married couples filing jointly) of gains from taxes. However, this doesn't apply to rental or second properties.

Strategies to Minimize Capital Gains Taxes

Wait it Out: As mentioned, holding onto investments for more than a year moves them into the long-term category, often resulting in lower taxes.

Tax-Loss Harvesting: This involves selling securities at a loss to offset capital gains in other areas. It can be a strategic move, especially in a down market.

Gift Assets: Instead of selling assets, consider gifting them. While there are limits, this can be a way to transfer value without triggering capital gains taxes.

Maximize Tax-Advantaged Accounts: Utilize accounts like 401(k)s or IRAs, where investments grow tax-free or tax-deferred.

Stay Updated: Tax laws can change. Ensure you're up-to-date with the latest rules and rates.

Be Proactive

While taxes are inevitable, the weight of their impact is, to an extent, under your control. By understanding the nuances of capital gains taxes and making informed decisions, you can optimize your financial outcomes.

Remember, it's not just about what you make, but also what you keep. A proactive approach today can lead to fruitful savings tomorrow.

When should you file your income tax? Generally speaking, the earlier, the better, after January 1st if you expect to get a refund. If you file by the end of February, you should receive your check within six weeks. But, if you delay and file in April when the Internal Revenue Service is inundated by forms from other last minute taxpayers, you could face a long wait for your refund.

If you are in line for a refund, avoid congratulating yourself too enthusiastically. That only means you have given the government free use of money that was rightfully yours. If you want to put those extra dollars to work for you instead of Uncle Sam, simply reduce the amount withheld from your paycheck. You do that by completing a W-4 Form and increasing your number of allowances on it.

Filing an Extension

If you have the money to pay but just cannot complete your tax return by the April 15th deadline, the IRS will extend your day of filing to October 15th (for this year, the deadline is actually April 18th and October 16th). You must, however, send in an extension form – IRS Form 4868 – and an estimated payment of your taxes by April 18th.  Here’s the important thing to remember: the IRS automatically grants an extension to anyone who fills out the form correctly. They don't even ask you why because it doesn’t matter to them

You or your accountant can estimate your income for last year and subtract any deductions and credits you expect to take. Then, by referring to the tax tables in the 1040 instruction booklet, you estimate the amount you owe.

If you underestimate the income tax due, you may have to pay a penalty on your outstanding balance. But, if you send in your return late without having filed for an extension, the IRS will be much less forgiving.

Here is another matter to watch: Even if you file an extension form, you must still make your past year's contribution to your Individual Retirement Account by April 18th.

If you have omitted information, or would like to add information to your tax return after you have filed it, you may prepare amended federal and state returns. Generally, the IRS allows up to three years from the original filing date to amend a return.

What if You Can’t Pay on Time?

According to the IRS, almost one out of fourpeople who owe the government taxes on April 18th cannot pay. What should you do when you discover that you owe the government more than you can possibly pay by the due date?

Experts advise that you should file your tax return on time and send in as much as you can, otherwise you will be faced with paying larger penalties.

First, you might be liable for a fine based on your tax liability each month for late filing. Second, you may be charged annual interest compounded daily. You can generally avoid tax fines by filing a timely extension and paying at least 90 percent of your total tax liability. You still will have to pay interest on any balance due.

The IRS has a number of options available if payment is not made. They can attach your paycheck and seize your bank accounts and home, but they almost never take such drastic action if you earnestly try to pay your debts.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate 

The key is communication. If you do not enclose a check when filing your return, you will eventually receive a letter demanding payment within ten days. The best advice here is: do not ignore this notice: The IRS becomes tougher with every passing day.

Just be sure to telephone or visit the IRS office listed on the delinquency notice. Do that immediately after receiving the first notice instead of waiting for the fourth and final one about three months later. It is wise when meeting with the IRS to take along a professional tax advisor. An advisor often has the ability to get the IRS to agree to better terms than you can.

Once you have finalized your arrangements with the IRS, make a point of preventing it from happening again. If you are a wage-earner, take fewer withholding allowances at work so more money for taxes will be deducted from your pay; if you are self-employed, increase your quarterly estimated tax payments.

As the old saying goes, "the only two sure things in life are death and taxes."

As you enter the workforce and start to earn a regular income, it's easy to get carried away with newfound financial freedom. However, this can often lead to costly money mistakes that can have long-lasting consequences.

Here are some common money mistakes that young professionals often commit.

Overspending and Living Beyond Means

One of the most common money mistakes is overspending and living beyond your means. With a newfound income, it's tempting to indulge in luxury purchases or expensive nights out. However, this can quickly lead to accumulating debt and financial stress. It's important to create a budget and stick to it, limiting your expenses to what you can afford.

Failing to Build an Emergency Fund

Many overlook the importance of building an emergency fund. Unexpected expenses such as car repairs, medical bills, or job loss can quickly drain a bank account, leaving you in a precarious financial situation. It's recommended to have at least 3-6 months' worth of living expenses saved in an emergency fund to provide a cushion during tough times.

Not Investing in Retirement

Retirement may seem far off, but it’s important to start investing early to take advantage of compound interest. Failing to invest in retirement can result in having to work much longer than expected or struggling to make ends meet in later years.

Ignoring Debt Repayment

Student loans, credit card debt, and other loans can accumulate quickly, and ignoring debt repayment can lead to long-term financial struggles. It's important to prioritize debt repayment and pay off high-interest debt as soon as possible to avoid accumulating interest and penalties.

Failing to Protect Your Assets

Many may overlook the importance of protecting their assets, such as their income, health, and property. It’s essential to have insurance coverage to protect against unexpected events such as illness, disability, or property damage.

Impulsive Investing

You may be tempted to jump on investment opportunities without fully understanding the risks involved. It's important to research and understand investment options before committing any money to them.

Not Negotiating Salaries

Many may be hesitant to negotiate their starting salary, but failing to do so can result in leaving money on the table. It's important to research industry standards and come prepared to negotiate a fair salary.

We all need to be mindful of our finances and avoid common money mistakes that can have long-term consequences. By being proactive and careful with your finances, you can set yourself up for a secure financial future.

In today’s business climate, it may be more important than ever for companies to operate at maximum efficiency and with a keen awareness of the potential impact of changes in their industry and the economy. Using a SWOT analysis to take a closer look at your company’s internal operations, as well as its position in the marketplace, may help you avoid costly mistakes, improve your management practices, and refine your long-term strategic goals.

The acronym SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. A SWOT analysis is a strategic planning tool designed to assist an organization in identifying the internal and external factors likely to affect its ability to achieve its objectives. It can also be used to help management formulate ways to enhance processes and prepare for potential challenges. While some businesses regularly conduct these assessments, a SWOT analysis can be especially helpful prior to making a major strategic decision.

To conduct a SWOT analysis, start by evaluating where your company currently stands in each of the four categories.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Under the heading “strengths,” list the areas where your business currently performs exceptionally well or possesses certain competitive advantages. Your company may, for example, have experienced and committed employees, a long history in the community, or products and services that have been shown to be effective. Under the heading “weaknesses,” make a list of areas where your company could show improvement. These weaknesses may include, for example, cash flow problems, high levels of debt, a key employee who is about to retire, or inefficient and aging IT systems.

If you have trouble developing an objective assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, imagine that you are viewing your business from a variety of perspectives, such as that of a client, a vendor, a staff member, or an investor. The comments you have received from others about your business can help you to determine more accurately the areas in which your group excels, as well as those in which improvement is needed.

External Environment

Next, take stock of the external environment by evaluating potential opportunities and threats. When compiling a list of “opportunities,” think about the possibilities, both large and small, for expanding your offerings or creating new funding streams. These may include, for example, partnering with another business, adding new products, or intensifying marketing efforts in a new target demographic. Under the heading “threats,” list all of the outside influences that could prove detrimental, such as downturns in the economy, shifts in client demand, changes in the legal or political landscape, or natural disasters.

Compiling Data to Activate Solutions

After compiling your own SWOT list, convene a meeting of members of your management team, professional advisors, and a representative group of employees. When discussing strengths and weaknesses, focus especially on where your company stands in each of these areas relative to competitors, the company’s capacity to grow and to take on new challenges, and how your company’s strengths and weaknesses make it more vulnerable—or more resilient—in the face of outside threats.

Once you and your team have compiled a thorough SWOT list, this information can be used by the company to streamline practices and formulate new strategies. A SWOT analysis can help your company build upon its current strengths, make plans to improve areas of weakness, and prepare to avert or cope with potential problems.

Besides helping you hone your strategy and strengthen your position in the marketplace, a SWOT analysis can be useful when approaching investors and in improving your relations with board members, employees, and other stakeholders. A thoughtfully prepared inventory of your assets and liabilities, coupled with a strategic plan to act on those findings, can serve as tangible evidence of your management skills and willingness to take the action necessary to ensure that your business continues to meet or exceed its goals. 

As you evaluate the efficacy of your investments with an independent professional, it’s important to revisit two key principles—asset allocation and diversification. Any long-term investment plan will most likely have to weather market “ups” and “downs.” Softer markets often create opportunities for purchasing shares at lower prices, and through dollar cost averaging, you may be able to average a lower cost per share over time.

Maintaining a regular investment program and balancing your portfolio to account for a comfortable risk level are important to the overall success of your financial strategies.

Asset Allocation and Diversification

The main objective of asset allocation is to match the investment characteristics of the various asset categories (equities, bonds, cash, etc.,) to the most important aspects of your personal investment profile—that is, your risk tolerance, your return and liquidity needs, and your time horizon. Asset categories generally react differently to economic fluctuations. Strong Valley financial advisors have the experience and specialized tools to help you analyze your individual risk tolerance.

If you have assembled an unplanned investment medley, you may be unaware of the extent to which your investments are (or are not) consistent with your objectives. Since various investment categories have unique characteristics, they rarely rise or fall at the same time. Consequently, combining different asset classes can help reduce risk and improve a portfolio’s overall return. While there is no set formula for asset allocation, guidelines can help you accomplish certain goals (for example, the need for growth in order to offset the erosion of purchasing power caused by inflation).

Diversification is an investment strategy used to manage risk for your overall portfolio, using techniques such as mixing your holdings to include a variety of stocks (small-cap, mid-cap, and large-cap), mutual funds, international investments, bonds (short- and long-term), and cash. By varying your investments, diversification attempts to minimize the effects a decline in a single holding may have on your entire portfolio.

Dollar Cost Averaging

To maintain a regular investment program, many investors make dollar cost averaging an integral part of their overall savings plan. Using this systematic investing technique, an investor buys more shares when prices are low, and fewer shares when prices are high. This may result in a lower average cost per share than if you were to purchase a constant number of shares at the same periodic intervals or make a single investment.

Dollar cost averaging cannot guarantee a profit or a lower cost per share, nor can it protect against a loss. However, it is a strategy that reinforces the discipline of regular investing and offers a systematic alternative to “market timing.” In order to take full advantage of dollar cost averaging, you need to consider your ability to continue purchases through periods of low price levels.

Expertise from a Professional

Periods of falling prices are a natural part of investing, as are strong market intervals. It is important to regularly review your portfolio with your financial advisor to help ensure your investing strategies remain aligned with your financial objectives.

You might also consider Strong Valley’s comprehensive wealth management services to craft a clear long-term vision and solution for managing every aspect of your financial life, freeing you to focus on living life to the fullest today and free from worry about tomorrow.

*Neither Asset Allocation nor Diversification guarantees a profit or protects against a loss. 

Copyright © 2024 Strong Valley Wealth & Pension, LLC
Investment advice offered through Integrated Partners, doing business as Strong Valley Wealth & Pension, a registered investment advisor. The information on this website has not been approved or verified by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission or by any state securities authority. Registration as an Investment Adviser does not imply a certain level of skill or training. Strong Valley Wealth & Pension, LLC offers some securities through M.S. Howells & Co. Member FINRA/SIPC. M.S. Howells & Co. is not affiliated with Strong Valley Wealth & Pension.
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