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Feedback-265x300Knowing what your customers or clients think of your business is the only way that you can hone your skills and perfect your business. But most people are very slow to give feedback. For some reason most people don’t take the time to review a business online, and when they do it is usually because they had such a negative experience that they want to warn others away. The saying goes: do a great job and a happy customer will tell 3 people; do a terrible job and an unhappy customer will tell 20.

So how do you get customers to actually give you feedback? There are a few ways to do so.

 

Have Them Complete a Survey

There are so many different ways to survey people. You can go old school and have them fill out a card before they leave your store or office. They simply write down their thoughts, or select from your multiple choice responses.

The problem you run into, however, is that most people don’t want to give negative feedback right in front of you. Even if there is a secure deposit box, they feel that you might open it as soon as they are out the door. To combat this, you can have the cards come with pre-paid postage. They can drop the card in the mail when they get home.

Instead of worrying about all of that, however, you can direct them to fill out a survey online. There are numerous free survey resources like SurveyMonkey and Freeonlinesurveys.com. You may end up with a lower response rate since people will forget to take the survey as soon as they are out the door.

Let Them Review You on Social Media

Creating a Facebook page is completely free. All it takes is a little bit of time to set it all up. It is a fantastic way to keep your clients and customers engaged, keep them coming back for more, and illicit a response.

Facebook has a way for everyone to rate your business. They can give you 1 to 5 stars, and leave comments. Even if they don’t want to rate the business, they can always leave comments and questions on the page. It’s an easy way to interact with customers, and they can give feedback from the comfort of their own home.

Sign Up for a Yelp Account

Your business should be on Yelp. Around the country this site is where people go when they want to know if they should utilize a business. Here’s the thing: even if you don’t create a business page, someone can do it for you.

Your business can be reviewed on Yelp without you even signing up for Yelp. If this has happened, you can claim the Yelp listing and take over management. But those reviews are going to stick around. If they’re negative, you should work on making things right. A bad review that has been remedied is worth much more than a good review.

Comment Cards

Similar to the survey idea, you should have a place where your customers and clients can fill out comments. Most people would like to give feedback if given the opportunity. This one is simple and straightforward. Leave comment cards near the door, so as people are leaving they can fill on out and drop it in the box.

Ask For Feedback

There’s no reason that you can’t just straight up ask your clients and customers for feedback. Before they leave ask if they are happy with the service. Ask if there is anything that you can do to make things better. Ask them if they would be likely to refer a friend, and if not, what you can do differently to encourage them to refer a friend.

When asked in person, people will sugar coat things. They don’t want to hurt your feelings, and would rather tell you a half truth than something they think you don’t want to hear. For instance, when asked, “What did you think?” a client may respond, “Your office is very nice.” Instead of saying that they thought your service was lousy.

Practical Taxes is Here to Help

As a full service accounting firm in Billings, Montana, we aren’t really in the business of supplying surveys. But we can help you make sure that your business is running smoothly. We offer everything from tax preparation, to payroll services, to business consultation. By taking those worries off your plate, you can focus on the driving force behind your business: the customer. 406-894-2050.

winchester-mystery-house-cali-1547880-300x225We hear terms like Middle Class, Lower Class, Poor, Upper Class, 1%, and more almost every day. While many people have their idea of what socioeconomic status they fall into, there are actually preset definitions of how much you have to make in order to be in a particular bracket. The Pew Charitable Trusts defines middle class as those making 67-200% of the state’s median income.

 

What Makes Middle Class in Montana?

Most of us understand that the wages in Montana are near the bottom of the list. While we aren’t quite as low as some states (mostly southern states have lower median incomes), we still come in about 36th. According to recent data (from 2013), the median household income in Montana is $46,972. This accounts for families with one wage earner, two earners, and no earners. It averages all of those out to determine that number.

Using the definition set forth from Pew, that middle class is defined as 67-200% of the median household income of $46,972; we can arrive at what it takes to be middle class in Montana. It’s surprisingly lower than you would think.

Middle Class in Montana is defined as a household making between $31,316 and $93,944 per year.

For some those number may seem like good incomes; for others those numbers, especially the lower one, are absurdly low.

The Lower End of Middle Class

Let’s take a look at that lower number: $31,316. A household that brings in just this much is considered to be middle class. That is a shockingly low number.

Household income is defined as the total income of all working people in a household: including earnings, investment income, and government subsidies. Let’s suppose there are two wage earners in the household, no subsidies, and 2 children.

According to this data, a family of 4 would be earning $7.52 per hour each, and trying to support 4 people. Out of those wages (which are less than minimum wage) they have to feed, clothe, provide daycare, and all other household expenses. That is something that is really not feasible; and definitely wouldn’t be considered by many to be middle class.

Where Most Americans Fall

Despite these seemingly low wages, this is where the majority of Americans fall. Here is how that breaks down:

Poverty Class: Household income up to $24,000 – 15%
Middle Class: Household income between $24,001 and $100,000 – 69%
Upper Class: Household income between $100,001 and $250,000 – 15%
One Percent: Household income over $250,001 – 1%

Depending on geographic location, which source you look at, and a variety of other factors, these numbers can change a little bit. But taking strictly average, for a family of 4, we find that about 84% of Americans earn less than $100,000 annually.

How You Can Change Your Class Structure

The good news is that you are not stuck in one class! There are a lot of social factors that come into play, but nobody is stuck making a lower wage than he or she believes they deserve. If you want to move yourself up the socioeconomic ranks, here is how to do it.

Start Saving – There are few people that can get by without savings.

Start Investing – You need to plan for the long term. Investing is the only way to build sufficient wealth.

Start Earning – You aren’t stuck at just your low paying job. Side incomes make up a good portion of many people’s earnings.

Start Cutting – Trim the fat on your expenses. Negotiate interest rates, cut the cable, skip the latte. Dow whatever it takes.

Practical Taxes Can Help

No, we can’t give you a better paying job. But we can help with your taxes, or help you start a side business. We offer a variety of services including tax preparation, online payroll, business consulting, and much more. If you are serious about moving to the next class level, just get in touch by calling 406-894-2050.

But remember, more money doesn’t mean happier. It’s all about quality of life.

cfpb-logo-300x225The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a government organization that was implemented by the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, has a ton of great information to help the consumer avoid becoming the victim of fraud. That is great as long as people know where to go to get the information that they need. But most people have not been well educated, and they can become the victim of financial fraud even though they take great care to protect themselves. Fortunately the CFPB does more than just provide information.

 

The CFPB is There For You

The CFPB is a resource for the people. Since the financial industry is so big, including investments, savings, loans, credit cards, and mortgages, there was a surprising lack of oversight. The idea was to regulate the entire financial services industry with one organization. While their role has changed a little over the years, the CFPB is still there to help the little guy.

Since finances are so big, and intrinsically involve so much money, there is also a lot of fraud and scamming that occurs. There will always be unscrupulous people who would rather swindle hard working people out of their money instead of working hard themselves. The CFPB was designed to help put a stop to financial fraud.

But it isn’t just scam artists that are being hunted down by the bureau. Big companies have a way of bilking their clients out of money as well. Credit cards with hidden fees, savings with unnecessary complications, loans with outrageous interest rates, and similar products exist. When a consumer feels that he or she has been swindled, they can turn to the CFPB for advocacy.

How the CFPB Works

When a person has a complaint about a financial services company, they can fill out the form on the complaint page of the bureau’s website. If you have a complaint, there are likely others that are in your situation that have also complained.

The CFPB will then launch an investigation to determine the validity of your complaint. They will look into the company that is being alleged of taking advantage of you, and determine if they need to have sanctions put in place.

But the ultimate goal is to have educated consumers and not entitled consumers. This department seeks to make sure that every American knows what they are getting into before signing up for anything. This helps to reduce their workload, take the stress of the individual, and keep the unscrupulous companies at bay.

Paying special attention to those that are at risk, such as Older Americans, Service members and Veterans, and Students, the CFPB has special programs designed just for those people. Every American deserves to have an advocate; those who have more needs deserve a stronger advocate.

Practical Taxes

As your accountant and payroll specialist in Billings, Montana, we strive to make your experience nothing but extraordinary. If you ever have a complaint about our services, we would urge you to contact us first for resolution. Our goal is to make you happy with our service!

We are a full service accounting firm, we do everything from tax preparation, to payroll services, to bank remediation. If you are a business owner we have consultation services available, and we can help you register your new business! Give us a call at 406-894-2050 to learn more.

IRA-150x150Financial security has different meanings for different people.  Some feel it is having enough money saved up that they never have to work again.  Others feel it is having a job where they know they are never in danger of losing that job and being forced into unemployment.  Still others feel it is having a good cushion in the event that they do lose their job, they don’t have to worry about finding something new immediately.  Regardless of the definition, almost everyone will have to accumulate wealth outside of a savings account.  They need to invest their money so that it can grow fast enough to live on after they retire.   Those investments, no matter how they are done, come with fees.  Make sure you understand the fees associated with investments before you choose to invest your money.

Investment Fees: Sales Charges

Most investments will come with a sales charge.  This is an upfront charge that is taken off the top of any investment that you make.  Legally the sales charge cannot be greater than 8.5%, and if a fund is charging this top rate, they have to make sure that the investor knows about the charge (and that it is justifiable to charge such a large expense).  Most actively managed funds charge a fee of around 5.75%.

This means that if you invest $1,000, that full $1,000 is not going to be put into your account.  Instead, the fund company will take $57.50 off the top.  This pays for their services, the costs associated with owning the fund, and it pays the commission that will go to your broker.  There are ways around these fees.

Investing in index funds, there are many of them out there, will avoid the initial sales charge and also the larger expense ratio (discussed below).  The tradeoff for these lower fees, however, is that your investments will do just worse than the stock market does.  A good actively managed mutual fund will actually recoup those fees and more (the trick is to find a good actively managed fund).

The other way to avoid mutual fund sales charges is to invest a large sum of money.  All mutual funds have breakpoints.  When these investment markers are met, the sales charges drop.  Usually you have to invest $1 million before you are able to eliminate charges all together.

Investment Fees: Expense Ratios

In order to hold on to your money, the mutual fund needs to charge an ongoing expense.  These are called expense ratios.  They are a part of every mutual fund out there, and there is no way to get around them.  However, there are things to look for so you don’t end up paying more than you need to.

Actively managed mutual funds have a higher expense than those that are not managed.  The difference is that in an actively managed fund, a team of investment advisors are constantly looking at the stocks and bonds in a fund, and moving them around as needed.  In a fund that is not managed, there is a set of stocks and bonds and you get a portion accordingly; they aren’t bought and sold based on how well they are doing.

There are two theories when it comes to expenses.  Some say that the higher expenses paid to an actively managed fund are justified because the managers get a better rate of return.  Others say that most managers aren’t good enough to pick the right stocks and bonds, and there is no sense in paying them.

If you want to avoid expense ratios, stick with an index funds.  Most of those have ongoing expenses of about .1% to .2%.  If you want an actively managed fund, try to avoid funds with expenses greater than 1% (some go as high as 2.5%). 

Don’t worry; you don’t have to write a check for the fees.  They are taken out automatically (as a lowered rate of return).

Investment Fees: Financial Advisor Fees

Just like any other profession, a financial advisor needs to be paid for his or her work.  There are two ways to do this depending on the type of account.

Some advisors act as brokers.  They will sell you the investments that are appropriate to your situation.  These advisors are paid a commission.  This commission pays them for the work they did at the time of the sale, and legally they sold you the investment that was appropriate at the time of the sale.  After that, it is up to you to come back and visit with them to make sure it is still appropriate.

Others choose to collect their fee as an advisor fee.  This is done two ways.  They can charge a fee to develop a plan for you (and then usually you don’t pay commissions if you use them to implement the plan).  Or they can charge a fee that is ongoing.  The industry average is a 1% advisor fee that is in addition to the expense ratio that you are already paying (upfront sales charges are waived in most advisory accounts).

When you pay an advisory fee, the idea there is that you get ongoing advice.  So if one fund isn’t doing well, or it doesn’t fit your goals any longer, then there is an ongoing duty to let you know.

When you have an advisory account, you can deduct these fees off of your yearly taxes.

Practical Taxes Can Help

We aren’t investment advisors, so we can’t help you buy and sell your funds.  But we can help with the tax deductions and making sure that you using the proper accounts to meet your tax goals.  When it comes tax time, we will prepare your taxes to make sure you get as big of a refund as possible (and then suggest that you use that refund to invest in your future).  Of course as payroll services experts in Billings, Montana, we can also help with your business needs.  Call us today at 406-894-2050. to learn more about how we can help you.

 

The internet is littered with money tips. Just type it into Google and you will see that everyone has an opinion. Some are absolute rubbish, others are great, and some only apply to those who have a substantial income already. For the rest of us, however, we need some tips on how to save money doing the things that we are already doing. We don’t want to spend 3 hours making our own toilet paper in an effort to save a dollar, but we do want to trim the fat off the areas where we are wasting money. Your Billings, MT payroll services expert lays out 5 ways that you can cut costs without drastically changing your lifestyle.

Make Meal Plans

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SONY DSC

For some reason planning meals is hard. We all fall guilty to this, so there are a few ways that we can save a lot of time, and a lot of money, with a little planning ahead.

Making a meal plan is the easiest way to make sure that you stick to your shopping list. Each week buy only what is on your meal plan list, and avoid those impulse buys. This will help you spend less, have less food waste, and streamline your day.

Sometimes that’s a little too much, you are a busy professional after-all. You can sign up for a service, like that provided by emeals.com, for just a few dollars per month. It will give you the recipes, the shopping list, and help make life simpler.

Cut Your Utility Bill

Payroll Billings, MontanaYou’re not going to become rich slashing your utility bill. But you will feel better with extra money in your bank account, and you will be helping the environment.

The easiest way to cut your bills is to upgrade your appliances. But that can be expensive. So start smaller. Upgrade your old incandescent light bulbs to CFL’s. Many people saw an immediate savings of $10 to $20 per month when they upgraded. If you already use CFL’s, make the switch to LED’s. They’re a bit pricey still, at about $5-$10 per bulb. But they last longer, use even less electricity, and have more functionality than a CFL.

Use Your Calendar

Business Planning Billings, MontanaIf you work for yourself, then you know the need to maximize your time. If you follow our blog, then you may remember some posts on the subject (like Eliminate, Delegate, Simplify).

The truth is that many people seem to neglect their calendar. They have a basic idea of what they need to get done during the day, but they tend to just haphazardly prioritize. Instead, fill that calendar up. Mark down that for the first hour of the day you will respond to emails. Then close your email system until the last hour of the day when you follow up. Set a specific time limit for each task, and when the time is up, you move on. Doing so will help you get more done, and ultimately make more money.

 Trip Planning

Money TipsPlanning out your trip in advance, especially for a longer vacation, can mean a difference of hundreds of dollars. It will allow you to negotiate rates, find the best deals, and take advantage of freebies going on.

But trip planning doesn’t have to be a big ordeal. In fact, it can be as simple as maximizing your time while running errands. You will save gas, have more free time, be less likely to make impulse buys, and let you relax more. Schedule your errands on your calendar, and make a route so you hit each store in succession.

 

Practical Taxes

Here at Practical Taxes, we know that you want to save the most money. Follow these money tips, and when tax season comes around next year, you can save money by letting us prepare your taxes for you. No need to spend a ton of money at a seasonal preparer when you can have a professional that is available all year round helps you with your taxes. Give us a call at 406-894-2050 to learn how we can help you.