Tax and Financial News for July 2017
Yes, You Can Lower Your Property Taxes
You can pay off your mortgage, never again seeing a bill from the bank for principal or interest, but you can never pay off your property taxes. Property taxes also, unfortunately, only seem to go one way – UP! You’ll never be able to get rid of your property taxes completely, but you can take steps to lower them or reduce increases.
Understanding how you can fight to lower your property taxes can be extremely valuable, especially if you live in a high property tax state. According to wallethub.com, the 10 states with the highest property taxes (ranked with the last being the most expensive) are:
- Rhode Island
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
Hawaii came in as the least expensive with an average effective real estate tax rate of 0.27 percent, which translates into $483 in annual taxes on a $179,000 home. At the other end of the spectrum, New Jersey comes in with an effective rate of 2.35 percent and $4,206 in annual property taxes on a $179,000 home. Obviously, different states have different relative housing costs, so a $179,000 home often is not an equivalent house. To put it in perspective, the median home price in Texas (46th most expensive) is $136,000 and comes with $2,578 in annual property taxes, whereas New Jersey (most expensive) has a median home price of $315,900 and comes with an annual property tax bill of $7,410.
Property taxes are higher in some places versus others depending on how much of the local tax burden (particularly schools) falls on homeowners versus the business tax base. Regardless of your situation, you’re probably ready to read about what you can do to potentially lower your property taxes. Here are three things you can do:
1. Take every exemption you’re allowed
Often, states, counties or municipalities give out tax exemptions for a primary residence. Sometimes they are general and referred to as a homeownership or homestead exemption. Other times, they are available for only certain classes of people, such as senior citizens.
Learn what exemptions are offered where you live and make sure they are factored into your annual assessment or property tax bill. Sometimes you can go back retroactively for a few years to claim the exemption. This won’t always be allowed, but it’s worth a try if you discover you’ve missed out on an exemption. In any case, make sure you get it going forward.
2. Understand how your property value assessment and appeals process works
Dates and time periods for assessment changes and appeals vary depending on where you live. Often, reassessments are performed every three to five years. Other times, towns will render assessments on new construction or reassessments if you’ve made significant additions to your house (which is also a reason they require you to get building permits – so they know you’ve improved your property).
After an assessment or reassessment is issued, you have only so long to contest any changes through the appeals process. Approximately six to seven weeks is a typical time frame in many states – and the clock starts ticking from the time the notice is mailed. Check your municipal or county assessor’s website or call their office to find out the specifics for where you live.
3. Ensure your home is compared to similar properties
Professional appeals experts know they need support when challenging an assessment. You don’t win an appeal by simply showing up and claiming your assessment isn’t fair – you need to find comparable homes with lower assessments to prove your case.
Luckily, assessed values are pubic record and you can find out nearly everything you need to know by going online (although in some places records have not been digitized yet). You’ll need to look for homes of similar size, age, amenities and tax classification that are paying lower taxes.
When it comes to lowering your property taxes, the government is not here to help. You can hire a professional appeal expert or do it yourself; but no matter what, you need to be proactive.
General Business News for July 2017
Is Selling a Product or Service More Effective than Selling an Experience?
With the advent of the Internet, and especially social media, the difference between marketing a product or service to customers versus creating an experience can be a long-term challenge for business owners.
Defining Customer Experience Versus Product/Service Focus
When focusing on the product or service alone, it can often encapsulate a single touchpoint where a customer learns about the product or service through a sales call or product advertisement.
In contrast, through near-instantaneous interactions, the Internet and social media allow the customers’ voices to be heard. Coupled with traditional touchpoints or ways the business interacts with customers, businesses have the ability to create an experience around their product or service for each customer. This is accomplished by listening to their customers to understand their desires and goals with a product or service.
Using Social Media to Create a Positive Customer Experience
Being proactive on social media by monitoring and reaching out to customers who use a product or service can resonate well. A simple thank-you note sent via social media or a one-time discount toward a future order can make customers feel valued because the company recognized their patronage. Other examples include having polls incorporated into social media platforms to demonstrate that customers’ opinions are considered for current and future product and services.
Social media is effective in customers’ eyes because it demonstrates a business’ commitment to customer questions and complaints. Developing a dedicated team for answering questions and complaints, along with responding to and keeping users attune to their issue’s status can establish trust. Other considerations include how complaints are addressed. For example, when are refunds or replacements given? When user issues cannot be immediately addressed, establishing and informing consumers of time-frames and what channels of communication will be used (phone, email, etc.) is another example of creating a complete experience.
Engaging Customers at Every Stage
To complement a social media strategy, creating a targeted and timed strategy is another way to produce a positive customer experience. Initial steps can include online seminars describing common challenges faced by small businesses owners and how the product or service will help solve the problem. Other touchpoints that follow can include giving interested customers one or two chapters to preview the full product or giving case studies to prospective clients to show how the program helped other customers solve similar problems.
Once a purchase is made, support can be offered to purchasers and can be modified depending on the exact product. Support options might take the form of a 60-day course evaluation and in-person consulting opportunities to complement a self-guided course. Additional follow-ups can include coupons or opportunities for customers to attend peer-to-peer meetings where the product’s principles can be reinforced and commonly faced issues can be discussed with like-minded professionals.
While emphasizing the benefits of a product or service are still essential, the information age allows for a greater opportunity to deliver a complete experience for consumers, not just isolated points of contact with a company.
What’s New in Technology for July 2017
Automakers & Cybersecurity Pros Collaborate to Tackle Growing Threat
Over the past three or four years, Internet-connected vehicles have become the norm. Accordingly, cybercrooks have turned their attention to cars and trucks, looking for ways to gain access to vehicular navigational systems and to hack into drivers’ smart phones and iPads. Last year, recognizing the ever-increasing potential for breaches, automakers in the United States joined forces to battle the threat, tapping the expertise of some of the nation’s leading Internet security experts. Here’s an update on what these efforts have yielded.
- Self-driving vehicles have opened up a whole new area of concern. White-hat hackers have shown – in controlled situations – how vehicles could be hijacked to harm their occupants or generate mayhem on a busy highway. These security specialists have demonstrated how vehicles – especially the new breed of semi-autonomous or driverless vehicles – might be tracked and manipulated remotely by cybercrooks. The demonstrations have shown how cybercrooks could take control of a vehicle’s headlights, navigation, speed, windshield wipers, blinkers and radio. In some instances, hackers can remotely take control of brakes and/or steering.
- So far, no vehicle has been hacked into by a cybercriminal, but security experts and researchers have shown automakers how it could happen, and car manufacturers have taken the threat seriously. Cars with advanced connectivity – which includes prototype driverless or semi-autonomous vehicles – are potentially more vulnerable. Twenty years ago, the average car had about 1 million lines of code; today, cars can have 10 million lines of code, or about as much as a modern aircraft. Automakers have already felt the financial sting of this new cyberthreat. Major manufacturers are busy recruiting white-hat hackers to identify potential issues. For example, Fiat Chrysler recalled 1.4 million Jeep Cherokees after white-hat hackers exposed vulnerabilities in the vehicle’s IT circuitry.
- There is strength in industrywide initiatives. Nearly all automakers based in the United States banded together last year in an industrywide effort – the Automotive Information Sharing and Analysis Center – to develop best practices to combat potential cyberthreats, to develop secure hardware and software, and to draw up guidelines on how to respond to hacking incidents. The industry group’s membership is responsible for about 98 percent of the vehicles on U.S. roads.
- The challenge to strengthen cybersecurity in vehicles extends beyond car manufacturers. The notable gig economy transport company, Uber, as well as Didi, a Chinese company like Uber, have both been on the forefront of research to develop safer software and hardware and uncover potential security issues. The possible motivations for hackers to hijack vehicles are many and go beyond compromising highway safety. Smart phones and/or other portable computers that are linked to vehicles’ dashboard technology also present a potential entry point into other data centers housing confidential business and personal data.
Savvy consumers will recognize that the vehicles we drive are now a big part of the Internet of Things, and will take measures to shore up security on any personal devices they connect to their dashboards. Automakers will need to be constantly proactive to identify vulnerabilities in computers installed in new model vehicles.