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Many people in rural areas can benefit from EITC


From IRS.gov

The IRS wants taxpayers living in rural communities to be aware of the earned income tax credit and correctly claim it if they qualify. Many qualified individuals and families who live in rural areas don’t claim the EITC. There are many reasons for this. They may:

• Think they are ineligible.

• Not know about the credit.

• Not think they made enough money to qualify.

• Worry about paying for tax preparation services.

The average household income in many small towns and rural areas is below the national average. Because of this, many of these taxpayers may qualify for EITC. Here are some things that people living in these areas should remember about the credit and how it can benefit them:

• Because it’s a refundable tax credit, those who qualify and claim the credit could pay less federal tax, pay no tax or even get a tax refund.

• An eligible taxpayer must have earned income from employment or owning a business or farm and meet basic rules.

• To get the credit, taxpayers must file a tax return, even if they don’t owe any tax or aren’t required to file.

• Single workers without a qualifying child who earn less than $15,010 may qualify for a smaller amount of the credit.

• There are special rules for individuals receiving disability benefits and for members of the military.

• The IRS recommends using the EITC Assistant on IRS.gov to determine eligibility and estimate the amount of credit.

Qualified taxpayers should consider claiming the EITC by filing electronically, which they can do:

• Through a qualified tax professional.

• Using free community tax help sites.

• Themselves, with IRS Free File.

By law, the IRS cannot issue refunds before mid-February for tax returns that claim the EITC or the additional child tax credit. The law requires the IRS to hold the entire refund — even the portion not associated with the EITC or ACTC.  The IRS expects the earliest EITC/ACTC related refunds to be available in taxpayer bank accounts or on debit cards starting Feb. 27, 2018, if these taxpayers choose direct deposit and there are no other issues with their tax return.

Posted in Tax TimeComments (0)

Beware IRS impersonation scams 

As tax season begins, the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office is receiving numerous reports of telephone calls from thieves who pretend to be from the IRS. Although these scams take many different forms, the most common scams are phone calls and emails from thieves who use the IRS name, logo or a fake website to try to steal your money. They may try to steal your identity too. 

Be wary if you get an out-of-the-blue phone call or automated message from someone who claims to be from the IRS. Sometimes they say you owe money and must pay right away. Other times they say you are owed a refund and ask for your bank account information over the phone. Don’t fall for it. Here are several tips that will help you avoid becoming a scam victim. 

The real IRS will NOT: 

  • Call you to demand immediate payment. The IRS will not call you if you owe taxes without first sending you a bill in the mail. 
  • Demand tax payment and not allow you to question or appeal the amount you owe. 
  • Require that you pay your taxes a certain way. For example, demand that you pay with a prepaid debit card. 
  • Ask for your credit or debit card numbers over the phone. 
  • Threaten to bring in local police or other agencies to arrest you without paying. 
  • Threaten you with a lawsuit. 

If you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to think that you do: 

  • Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. Use TIGTA’s “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page to report the incident. 
  • You should also report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your report. 

If you think you may owe taxes: 

  • Ask for a call back number and an employee badge number. 
  • Call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS employees can help you. 

Email Scams: 

In most cases, an IRS phishing scam is an unsolicited, bogus email that claims to come from the IRS. These scams often use fake refunds, phony tax bills, or threats of an audit. Many scammers even use what appears to be an official IRS logo at the top of their email. Some emails link to sham websites that look real. Don’t be fooled! The scammer’s goal is to lure victims to give up their personal and financial information. If they get what they’re after, they use it to steal a victim’s money and their identity. 

If you get a phishing email, the IRS offers this advice: 

  • Don’t reply to the message. 
  • Don’t give out your personal or financial information. 
  • Forward the email to phishing@irs.gov. Then delete it. 

Don’t open any attachments or click on any links. They may have malicious code that will infect your computer. 

Posted in News, Tax TimeComments (0)

Five reasons to pursue a cybersecurity career in 2018 

Cybersecurity is a growing—and well-paid—field for those with proper training.

(NAPS)—Cybersecurity, as an industry, is one of the highest-paying, fastest-growing and most in demand in the U.S., yet there are not enough skilled professionals in the pipeline to fill open positions, leading to a sizable skills gap. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) finds that the demand for information security analysts who can prevent data breaches is expected to be very high over the next decade. From 2016–2026, BLS projects employment to grow 28 percent, with 28,400 additional jobs added by 2026. 

Despite the growing need, a University of Phoenix College of Information Systems and Technology survey found that only 18 percent of the 2,016 U.S. adults surveyed were interested in pursuing a cybersecurity education or profession. Cybersecurity can be a rewarding career, especially for those who want to help organizations or be part of a dynamic industry. 

Maurice Gibson, assistant dean at University of Phoenix, shares five reasons to pursue a cybersecurity career in 2018.

Cybersecurity Careers Are Here to Stay

With the rise of technology comes increases in cybercrime, according to data from Cybersecurity Ventures2. Gibson believes technology has converged with nearly all industries, meaning more companies will need trained professionals to combat hackers in the future. In fact, LinkedIn listed network information security as the sixth most in-demand skill for today’s digitally advanced working world3. Cybersecurity spending is expected to exceed $1 trillion between 2017 and 2021, finds Cybersecurity Ventures, driving the need for more qualified professionals.

Job Opportunities Across Nearly All Industries

As technology converges with business, Gibson says nearly all companies will soon become tech companies, providing cybersecurity professionals with myriad job opportunities across numerous industries. Cybersecurity jobs are no longer shoehorned into only the government, finance or technology industries. From retail and health care to media and start-ups, cybersecurity professionals may have the option to choose an industry they most want to work in.

Competition for Jobs Remains Low

With more open jobs than people to fill them, competition continues to remain low in the cybersecurity workforce. The BLS projects employment of information security analysts to grow 28 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. Gibson says individuals seeking a growing career with plenty of job opportunities should look no further than cybersecurity. 

Near Top in Compensation

For many Americans, a good salary is vital for job satisfaction. Glassdoor found that nearly 70 percent of people say that compensation is among their top considerations when pursuing a job. High salaries is another reason to pursue these careers, according to Gibson. BLS reports the median annual wage of an information security analyst is $92,600. Salaries can even exceed six figures in top markets as companies compete for skilled professionals. 

Skill Set Is Transferable to a Number of Industries

With a deficit of skilled cybersecurity professionals in today’s workforce, IT employees may be expected to help manage system security and infrastructure. For this reason, Gibson suggests that having cybersecurity experience can help when changing careers. He says many of the IT skill sets that cybersecurity professionals possess—such as coding, systems administration and data analytics—can be useful résumé additions for just about any job in the tech industry. 

Posted in Business, FeaturedComments (0)

Make time for marketing

If you operate a home-based business, there are more demands on your time than time to go around. But there’s one business activity you can’t afford to defer if you want to stay in business: marketing.

For any small business, marketing has many facets, and it’s a more complex proposition than just selling what you’re already offering customers. Marketing is the set of activities that attracts customers to your product. In a home-based business, that’s not going to be signs in front of your house and a parade of customers coming through your doors every day. The challenge is to adapt sound marketing techniques to your business’s unique circumstances and offerings. And that takes time.

Here are six tips for making time for marketing:

1.   Convince yourself that marketing is worth the time. When you don’t think a task will contribute to your bottom line, it’s easy to go on to the next item on your to-do list. If marketing is outside your so-called comfort zone, examine why you feel that way.

2.   Have a marketing plan. Invariably, a good plan is at the heart of personal productivity. Examine your business goals and determine how marketing can help fulfill them. As a new business owner, you may need a crash course in marketing. If so, that becomes part of your plan.

3.   Be open to new ideas. How are competing businesses getting noticed by customers? If they’re using techniques or media you never considered, take time to study and learn about new approaches. Experiment with marketing ideas that are low cost and low risk.

4.   Dedicate the time. By reserving the time, you’re less likely to procrastinate. Once you’re committed to marketing, block out time for it just as you would any other important task. Whether the task is market research or cold calling, know what you want to accomplish-in that period of time, and anticipate the distractions that are most likely to interfere.

5.   Stay connected. Take time to be at meetings and other gatherings of your professional and community groups. Yes, this presence takes time away from other business  activities, but it keeps you in front of prospective customers and creates opportunities for you to sell yourself as well as your business. A home-based business is especially likely to benefit from this exposure.

6.   Celebrate your marketing successes. Pay attention to when your marketing pays off. You’ll discover that as effective marketing leads to better exposure and more sales, it becomes easier to justify the time you spend to promote your services.

“Work smarter, not harder” is an expression that applies to marketing as well as other facets of entrepreneurship. Make time for marketing, use that time wisely, and you’ll hone your competitive edge. 

For more insights on making a home-based business succeed, contact SCORE “Counselors to America’s Small Business.” For the SCORE chapter nearest you, call 1-800-634-0245, or find a counselor online at www.score.org.

All SCORE counseling is offered as a free and confidential community service. There are 389 SCORE chapters around the country assisting entrepreneurs. While counseling is always free-of-charge, local SCORE chapters also offer small business workshops and seminars for modest fees.

To learn more about SCORE and its counseling services, call 1-616-771-0305, or email your questions to the Grand Rapids Chapter of SCORE  at www.scoregr.org.

These articles are provided by:

Free and Confidential Counseling

SCORE, 111 Pearl Street NW

Grand Rapids, MI 49503

(616) 771-0305   www.scoregrandrapids.org

E-mail:  score@grandrapids.org

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Lions Club raises funds for special library equipment

The Cedar Springs Lion Club presented a check to Cedar Springs Library Director Donna Clark earlier this month after a two-year fundraising project to help those with hearing and sight problems use library services. Courtesy photo.

Those with hearing and sight issues will soon have an easier time using equipment at the Cedar Springs Library, thanks to the Cedar Springs Lions Club. Lions Club treasurer Sue Norton presented a check for $7,078.00 to Library Director Donna Clark, at the annual Lions Club Christmas Party December 5. The money will be used to help purchase equipment for those who are sight and hearing impaired. 

The CS Lions held several activities to collect funds for this project including a Euchre Party and a Painting Party with local artist Andrea Lucas. They hosted several Poker rooms in Grand Rapids, and a Cedar Springs Brewery community share evening. The club has also been holding a Million Penny Mission for the past 2 years. You may have noticed the yellow jugs at several businesses around town.

With two years of activities, the Club was able to present the check at the annual Christmas party.

Items to be purchased include ZoomText with speech, Freedom Scientific Topaz EZ 24” Video Magnifier with HD Camera, EyePal Solo OCR Reader, Freedom Scientific Ruby 7 Portable Video Magnifier, Hand Held PowerMag Set 3.5x – 10.75, large print keyboard, and large screen monitor. This equipment will make Cedar Springs Library one of few libraries that can offer this service equipment to the public. 

Look for the collection jugs and join the Cedar Springs Lions Club for more activities in the Cedar Springs area. Follow their activities and pictures from the events on the Cedar Springs Lions Club Facebook page. 

Posted in Business, FeaturedComments (0)



There’s a new family fun center in Howard City, and it has a little something for everyone. Matrisha and Jeff Brown opened GamePoint, located at 201 E. Edgerton, Howard City, in September. They have fun activities such as air hockey, skeeball, pool, wall writing, basketball shootout, PS3 games, Wii games, VR, karaoke, and more. They also provide drinks and snacks, and have a room you can rent especially for birthday parties. 

They charge a one-time fee at the door, then all activities are free. “We are always adding new things to our business at the suggestion of our customers,” said the Browns. In the future they hope to organize special events, holiday activities, sell used gaming merchandise, and give prizes out to those who win a game. 

GamePoint is open every other Thursday and Friday noon to 8 p.m. and every other Saturday and Sunday noon to 8 p.m.

Posted in Business BitsComments (0)

Four ways leaders can help company’s culture thrive


Some employees just aren’t into their jobs.

In fact, that may be true for most of them. The Gallup organization, which regularly measures employee engagement across the country, reports that just 32 percent of employees say they are enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace. 

It doesn’t have to be that way, though, says Kerry Alison Wekelo, author of Culture Infusion: 9 Principles to Create and Maintain a Thriving Organizational Culture (www.kerryalison.com). With the right approach, she says, business leaders can improve their corporate culture and motivate employees to perform at their highest capacity.

“Successful leaders are the ones who intentionally use their behavior as a positive example,” Wekelo says. “If you expect employees to work overtime for important deadlines, for example, they are much more inclined to do their best if you also stay and work the overtime.”

To really get those employees engaged, a leader also must commit to supporting the growth of people and not just systems, products or processes, says Wekelo, who is managing director of human resources and operations for Actualize Consulting.

Here are four ways she says leaders can do that:

  • Insist on a healthy work/life balance. Work and home used to have clearer boundaries, but these days work is always a mouse click or text message away. That can make it tough for both employees and corporate leaders to balance their lives, but Wekelo insists it’s important that they do. “When your life is well balanced, you will be more satisfied, more motivated, happier and healthier.” To achieve that balance, she says, you need to learn to say no; to set boundaries, such as declining to take work calls after 9 p.m.; and to handle issues as they come up so that you aren’t thinking about them after you go home. Leaders should practice this themselves and then help their companies facilitate it for employees.
  • Practice effective communication. Communication isn’t just about what you say, it’s how well you listen, Wekelo says. “You want to be an active listener,” she says. “That means you not only hear the words the other person is saying, but you try to understand the complete message that’s being sent.” To achieve that, you should practice empathy, focus your attention, show you are listening through both verbal and non-verbal responses, suspend judgment, ask questions and verify that you correctly understand the other person’s message.
  • Focus on your people. If employees are happy, customers will have a better experience, Wekelo says. Three key factors to achieving that, she says, are hiring the right people, providing a robust and generous benefits package, and prioritizing wellness efforts that encourage employees to exercise and eat right.
  • Regularly conduct employee surveys. It’s important to ask employees about what’s working and what’s not working. “But remember that surveys that only gather information are not useful,” Wekelo says. “To make them effective, your organization must also provide detailed results back to your team and create an implementation plan that includes some of your employees’ ideas.”

“Although every person is different, we universally do well with leaders who focus on appreciation, respect and trust, and who empower teams to add value to the company,” Wekelo says. “Exceptional leaders know how to motivate employees, retain quality talent and cultivate job satisfaction.”

Kerry Alison Wekelo (www.kerryalison.com) is managing director of human resources and operations for Actualize Consulting. She also is author of Culture Infusion: 9 Principles to Create and Maintain a Thriving Organizational Culture. Among her other accomplishments, Wekelo is a yoga teacher, life coach, award-winning author of children’s books, and the founder of Zendoway, a company that encourages holistic wellness.


Posted in BusinessComments (0)

Read between the lines of your balance sheet



For newcomers to business, a balance sheet may appear at first to be a complex and confusing collection of numbers. However, this financial statement contains valuable information for assessing the health of your company and making decisions on which direction to take.

A balance sheet is like a snapshot of your company at a single moment in time. The balance sheet shows how the capital within your business is distributed over the various accounts. A surplus of assets over liabilities indicates profitability. If the statement shows more liabilities than assets, however, your company is at a loss position—not necessarily cause for alarm, depending on the longer trend. For example, a business may have a month with high expenses and a net loss that may be more than offset by five months of profitability. On the other hand, three consecutive losing months should prompt the owner to make serious decisions about how to overcome the negative cash position.

Compare balance sheets over a period of time for the big picture of your assets and liabilities. By comparing these on an item-by-item basis, you can spot trends that will affect your firm’s overall financial health. For example, larger quantities of merchandise on hand from one period to another may reflect a decision to buy ahead because of continuing inflation. Receivables may show a continuing upward trend when collection of outstanding accounts exceeds 30 days. Debts may run higher when the firm expands or makes capital improvements.

Much like the balance sheet, the profit and loss statement (or operating statement) totals the result of operations over a selected time period. This statement will show sales volume, cost incurred and the amount of profit or loss. Comparing the monthly or quarterly profit and loss statements can be revealing. Why was there a lower gross profit for several quarters? Did price cuts decrease per sale profitability? Was a higher proportion of sales spent on operating costs such as personnel, rent or insurance?  Are overhead costs increasing routinely?

Do not rely solely on your accountant for advice and guidance in understanding your balance sheet. As the decision-maker for your company, you need a clear understanding of how to read, interpret and act on financial information. For assistance, contact SCORE, “Counselors to America’s Small Business.” 

SCORE is a nonprofit organization having more than 35 volunteer counselors in Grand Rapids who provide free and confidential  business  advice to veteran entrepreneurs and those just starting out. For the Grand Rapids Chapter office of SCORE, call 1-616/771-0305, or find a counselor online at www.scoregr.org. Rockford Chamber of Commerce 1-616/866-2000.

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BUSINESS BIT: West Michigan Collision

West Michigan Collision employees, friends and family at recent ribbon cutting to celebrate expansion: (From L to R) Kim Neveau, Jason Behrendt, Rick Ross, owner John Ross, Joe Smith, Kealan Lydell, Bruce Kwekle (BDD Construction) and Elizabeth Ross.

If you are looking for an auto shop to fix your car, you might want to check out West Michigan Collision. The business, located at 4595 14 Mile Rd, was established in 2012. Owner John Ross recently added four stalls to the service repair shop, and a state-of-the-art Hunter Hawkeye Elite alignment machine, which they say is the largest in the area.

They service all domestic and foreign vehicles in both mechanical and collision repair. They offer electronic engine diagnostics and repair, suspension, brakes, tires, and more. They repair cars, trucks, RVs, boats, motorcycles, etc.

They say their business is unique because it has the latest equipment, certified technicians including ICAR Platinum in the collision shop, and an ASE Master mechanic in the service shop. They also offer free loaner cars for overnight repairs. The labor is rate is only $59/hour.

They feel that part of their edge over the competition includes having affordable rates, being honest and dependable, and guaranteeing all work 100 percent. 

They are also working on becoming certified in aluminum repair.

You can give them a call at 616-696-9699 and check them out today. Hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and by appointment on Saturday. 

Posted in Business, FeaturedComments (0)

Milk plant planned for Greenville


by Paul W. Jackson, Michigan Farm Bureau

A Greenville property has been purchased by Foremost Farms for a dairy processing facility.

Foremost, a dairy cooperative based in Wisconsin, announced its plan Nov. 9 for a plant to “receive up to six million pounds of raw milk per day,” depending on pending “approvals of necessary local and state incentives and support, including a long-term wastewater treatment solution.”

“This facility is planned to be operational in 12-to-14 months and would receive up to six million pounds of raw milk per day,” Foremost said in a press release. “Foremost Farms would initially process milk solids for internal use in farmer-owned production facilities in the Upper Midwest, and for sales to customers and to strategic alliance partners.”

The 96-acre property is currently vacant, Foremost indicated in the press release.

“It is our goal to continue to work with our strategic partners/alliances like we have established in the region with Michigan Milk Producers Association at Constantine, Mich., to maximize dairy farmer investments, stabilize the regional milk market and add value for all producers in this market,” said Foremost CEO Michael Doyle. “Foremost Farms’ executive management and board of directors plans to strategically build this facility in Greenville in order to control our own destiny in Michigan and unify our seven-state membership. All of our members produce high-quality milk, and this facility is part of the plan to optimize that value today and into the future.”

What about cheese?

Whether the announcement slows plans for a cheese plant envisioned by Michigan Milk Producers (MMPA), Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), Foremost and Glanbia, one thing is expected: if the Foremost plant is built, it will absorb nearly all of Michigan’s current milk overproduction.

By taking another 6 million pounds per day of milk from Michigan dairy farms, the planned plant will certainly help farmers, and not just Foremost members, said Chris Wolf, professor of agriculture economics and dairy expert with Michigan State University.

“More processing means less dumping and less distressed sales,” he said. “And we know that Greenville is close to a lot of milk in Clinton, Ionia and Gratiot counties, and it’s not too far from the highway,” he said. “I wouldn’t advise anyone to begin adding cows, but this plant could take a lot of excess milk. Our milk production growth is slowing, but we’re still growing at about 3 percent above national growth. I think this plant is very good news as long as it doesn’t mean something bad for the cheese facility. If we keep growing in milk production, one plant may not make much difference, but it’s good to take the portfolio approach and have multiple things to address the overproduction.” Ken Nobis, president of the MMPA, agreed.

“We will need more than just a cheese plant in Michigan,” he said. “This announcement by Foremost does not put that in jeopardy, but when you have multiple entities involved in building something, that doesn’t shorten the decision-making process. The cheese plant is moving forward, even if there is one less entity involved. It just takes time.”

While dairy farmers will need to exercise some patience while the Foremost plant and a cheese plant moves forward, there is hope for a better future in dairying, said Chuck Courtade, director of customer relations with DFA.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel now,” he said. “I just hope the farmers can hang on during these low prices.”

Courtade said when both the raw milk plant and a cheese plant are up and running, dairymen could expect a pay increase.

“If the excess capacity is gone, it would reduce some deductions of their milk checks,” he said. “If more milk stays here, we might get closer to the federal marketing order price.”

It’s been a long wait, but between Foremost’s announcement and the apparent commitment to a cheese plant in the near future, farmers, and especially Foremost suppliers, are anticipating better times that are nearer than they thought just a few months ago.

“Between the two plants, we should be able to even handle some normal growth,” Courtade said.

Among the things that remain unclear is whether the cheese plant will have Foremost involvement.

“I can’t speak to the joint venture (cheese plant), but I can say that this (raw milk plant) is a totally separate facility, a totally different project,” said Laura Mihm, spokesperson for Foremost. “The Greenville property we closed on is about 27 miles from the epicenter of our members. But we are still talking with our strategic alliance about something in the future. We’re always willing to work with others. That’s the cooperative spirit.”

Mihm would not rule out that co-op’s continued involvement with a cheese plant in Michigan, but she said for now, Foremost is excited for its new unilateral Michigan venture.

“We are incredibly energized by this,” she said.

Reprinted by permission. This article originally appeared on Nov. 10, 2017 at https://www.michfb.com/MI/Farm_News/Content/Markets_and_Weather/Milk_plant_planned_for_Greenville/

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