Cyber Security: Part Two

This is my second blog on cyber security. It’s important to remember that it CAN happen to you and that anyone who uses the internet for any type of personal or financial business is subject to hackers.

  1. DO keep your software up to date. Software companies constantly improve and update against security threats.


  1. DO use good password management:
  • Use long passwords – 20 characters or more is recommended (use a variety of capital letters, symbols and numbers)
  • Use a strong mix of characters, and never use the same password for multiple sites
  • Update your passwords periodically, at least once every 6 months (90 days is better)


  1. Be careful what you click! Avoid visiting unknown sites (clicking on ads or pop ups) and never download software from untrusted sources.


  1. Protect your sensitive data; DON’T keep social security numbers, credit card information, bank passwords or account numbers on your mobile devices or devices you use on public networks.


  1. Install and use anti-virus software from trusted sources.


  1. Back up your data to an external hard drive (best) or trusted cloud services.


  1. Monitor your accounts for suspicious activity.


  1. Be careful about what you share on social media sites.

Cyber Security: Part One

I recently attended an information security update seminar and wanted to share with you a few things I learned.

When it comes to compromising security to your financial accounts or other personal records, hackers have a new and very effective way to obtain your information. They actually get you to send it right over to them. This is called phishing (say fishing) and it’s easy to spot these attempts to compromise your online security if you know what to look for.

Phishing is defined as the fraudulent practice of sending emails purporting to be from reputable companies in order to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers.

Attackers are getting very clever about infecting your computer system, stealing your logon credentials or even transferring funds by engaging you through personalized email, mobile apps and any social media you might use.

What you should look for:

  1. Text messages from unknown numbers (DELETE them)
  2. Text messages that try to get you on the phone with someone (if this seems like an important message from your bank or other business, call the institution from a verified number, on your credit card, from your files, etc. DO NOT RETURN the call to a number provided in the text or email)
  3. Emails that seem credible but are asking you to click on a link to update password or other personal information (DO NOT CLICK!)

Assume all of these types of messages are fraudulent:

  • Emails, text messages from a vendor requesting you change bank accounts
  • Emails, text messages clearly labeled from the company president
  • Emails, text messages requests to set up a new vendor (this is for businesses)
  • Emails, requests from senior management to immediately wire refund money to a customer (this is for businesses)

These types of attempts to steal your information are sent more often in the middle of the week (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday) than any other day.


Rising Health Care Costs and What to do About It

It’s not great news for business owners or households around healthcare costs.

A recent report by Kaiser/HRET Employer Health Benefits forecasts that the average family health care plan will cost $18,142, up 3.4% from 2015.

A recent story went on to share that overall workers are paying more for healthcare deductibles with single coverage health insurance plan carriers paying $1000 or more in deductibles costs. This represents a 31% increase from 2011.

The big news in 2016 was that Americans are paying more for insurance, pharmaceuticals and doctor appointments. The increased costs late in 2016 represented the biggest increase since 1984.

Until lawmakers and the health industry can work together to create a plan to slow down increasing costs and charges, businesses and individuals will need to plan the best they can for healthcare.

Now is a good time to plan for the year ahead. Our office is happy to meet and discuss strategies for your household or your business. Give us a call.

Fall Planning Could Mean Saving Money Later

We all have heard of spring cleaning but I want to encourage you to take a little time this fall to do some fall planning that could make a big difference for your 2016 taxes. A quick check in with your CPA can make sure you are taking advantage of all opportunities to minimize your tax bill. You may want to fine tune charitable contribution planning, retirement investment or other business investments that could positively impact your 2016 tax return AND your company or organization’s bottom line this year. Our team is constantly reviewing tax code and opportunities to make sure you can take maximum allowable expenses. Is some instances there are additional write offs available after you hit your maximum. There are also opportunities around health benefits and office equipment. Taking time now to review your expenses to date around business travel, Bank, ATM, credit card fees, professional development, books, workshops, conferences, association memberships will save time and hopefully money during tax season.

Our office is always ready to meet with you and review your current financials to help forecast for next year’s tax return, it’s one of the benefits of having a CPA as your business partner.

CPA’s and Realtors: A Match Made in Heaven

As a CPA, I work with all kinds of business clients helping with both tax preparation, tax planning and identifying how to maximize tax benefits. Over the years, we have also had great success in working with real estate agents and their business planning.

A solid business plan will include a strategy around taxes keeping you in compliance and in good financial health. A CPA can demystify the current rules and guidelines for state and federal taxes. When you are working in a commission only industry and not enjoying an employer handling details around tax withholding it’s a great benefit to have someone provide insight about the best way to make sure you don’t get caught by surprise. If you are in business for yourself, you are an independent contractor and have the ability to claim business deductions on your tax return but this will involve planning and the tracking of allowable expenses.

We also work with our clients to analyze their overall financial picture. A financial review will offer insight to monthly expenses and opportunities for business deductions. We have helped figure out reserve accounts and know how to find ways to save on future obligations. There are a myriad of business discounts afforded to you as a realtor from car insurance, to office tools, technology and marketing services. We can offer decades of experience in helping you develop a solid financial business plan. It’s true that taking the time to write a plan and then following it is not always the most exciting part of owning your own business, however it is the critical component to your business that every successful realtor will tell you to include in your business.

Our firm has helped to navigate and align all the components of planning your business structure (sole proprietorship, LLC, etc.) to your internal processes of budgeting and planning (startup costs, operational costs, stabilizing your personal income and more). CPA’s can help you plan for cash flow bringing stability and growth to your business. Invite your CPA to help you develop your real estate business plan. You will soon realize it’s one of the most important and affordable investments you can make.

2016 Finance Planning – 3 Challenges to Local Fire and Water Districts

Just because you cannot control Mother Nature or bureaucratic red tape doesn’t mean you cannot control your fiscal planning. A CPA just might be the secret to helping you manage through the current conditions in the state of California.

Challenge #1 The Drought

It goes without saying, California needs water! Thankfully this year we are seeing storm systems pass through but we are a long way from being out of a drought. Through my audit work this year, I saw the tough realities of the drought, cost of water, reduced revenues, crops that cannot be planted because there is not enough water. These are all actual factors that must be worked through in order to successfully financially manage local services. Our firm works closely with its small district clients all year long. We work together to forecast best and worst case, looking at all the financial angles for the district to create a workable and successful plan.

Challenge #2 Benefits and Pensions

In 1999 Governor Davis was informed by CalPERS that increases in income would not pose any problems for the long term when it came to retirement, pensions and benefits. Well, looking in the rear view mirror, we know that revenue has not kept up and now tough discussions have become the norm across the state.

Many special districts have had to take on long term debt and issue bonds to cover current benefits. Adding pressure to the situation is the strength of the labor unions and their need to continue benefits at the same level for their members. All of this ends up in a very serious discussion about government being able to fund nothing other than benefits and no longer be able to fund basic public infrastructure like parks and potholes.

The media often exacerbates the situation by accusing government of being secret organizations, behaving in a non-transparent manner and behaving in an unregulated manner.

And sometimes it’s true. Some cities are paying outrageous salaries but what is more often the case is that for every city out of bounds on salary, there is a dozen small communities trying to make things work with volunteer elected officials working for the public good with no health or pension benefits. Adding complexity to the matter is sometimes state oversight is involved adding costs to the bottom line.

Challenge #3 LAFCo (Local Agency Formation Commission)

The broad goals of the Commission’s directive in 1963 to ensure the orderly formation of local governmental agencies and consolidate services was a great goal at the time but the recent work to further consolidate has the potential to ruin a true democratic process making it difficult for people to get involved through service by getting involved in boards and commissions. There are looming discussions around fire departments and other first responder services like ambulances. The consolidations and planning obviously impact the finances of special districts.

There is HOPE!

A beginning point to solve all of these challenges is financial reporting. Financial reporting should not be an annual event, it should occur all year long. There should be quarterly reviews. Boards should have regular access to accurate financial statements that include a discussion about the current rates and service costs, cash on hand in the bank, pending costs of benefits and infrastructure upgrades. Many of our counties have overwhelming challenges in front of them but the first step to solving them is by confronting the true financial picture. It boils down to the simple principles of planning and not being afraid to tackle the issues.

CPA’s are a great resource to give insight to the true financial picture and offer ideas and fresh perspectives.