12-21-2017 Columns

Are you a snowbird? Protect your finances while you’re gone

 Winter is (just about) officially here – but you may soon be leaving it behind if you’re a snowbird. When you go, though, you’ll want to keep your financial situation from getting caught out in the cold.

These are a few suggestions you may want to consider:

Protect your home. If you’re like many people, your home is your biggest investment, so you’ll want to protect it while you’re away. You’re probably already familiar with the steps you should take, such as informing your neighbors that you’ll be gone, stopping your newspapers, forwarding your mail, using a timer to turn lights on and off, and so on. And these days, with smart phones and advanced security systems, you can look in on your home whenever you like.

Notify your bank. Recognizing the prevalence of identity theft, the fraud departments of many banks are getting more aggressive in spotting and denying unusual charges. Consequently, you’ll want to give your bank your temporary address and contact information before you leave. By doing so, you can reduce the risk of your account being frozen temporarily if your financial institution can’t reach you with questions about charges from an unexpected location. You might also find it useful to open a bank account at your snowbird site.

Gather your tax forms. If you’re gone most of the winter, you may bump up against the tax-filing deadline, which, in 2018, is April 17. So, to allow yourself enough time to prepare your taxes or to have them prepared by a professional, gather your tax information before you leave. Make sure you’ve got all your investment-related forms, such as your 1099-INT (for interest income) and your 1099-DIV (for taxable capital gains and dividends).

Track your investments. You can probably track the progress of your investments online, and it’s a good idea to do so, just as you would at your permanent residence. Even if you’re only gone a couple of months, you may need to make some investment moves, such as “maxing out” on your IRA, so stay on top of your accounts and contact your investment professional, as needed. As always, though, don’t overreact to sudden market swings – ideally, you’ve got long-term strategies in place that can serve your needs in most investment environments. In any case, it also wouldn’t hurt to notify your financial professional that you’ll be away for a while, even if you typically only see him or her a couple of times a year.

Arrange for bill payments. If you handle most of your bills online or through auto-pay, you won’t have to worry about missing a payment while you’re gone. Still, if you take care of some bills the old-fashion way, with checks, envelopes and stamps, you may want to give yourself some sort of reminder of when these payments are due.

Be careful on social media. To be on the safe side, you may not want to trumpet your extended time away from home on Facebook or other social media platforms. It’s sad but true that identity thieves watch for information like this.

In all likelihood, you’ll enjoy being a snowbird – and by making the above moves, you’ll have less financial baggage to deal with when you take off.

This article was written by Edward Jones for use by your local Edward Jones Financial Advisor.

Safe disposal of Rx drugs

 During a time when many people will be welcoming friends and family into their homes for the holidays, Berrien County residents are reminded to sort through their medicine cabinets and properly dispose of old or unwanted medications. Sadly, more than 70% of young people abusing prescription pain relievers get them through friends or family, a statistic that includes raiding the family medicine cabinet.

Berrien County residents are encouraged to dispose of their unused, expired, and unwanted medications properly by using the MedReturn drug collection drop-off locations around Berrien County. In addition to MedReturn drug collection drop-off boxes within Lakeland Health Pharmacies in St. Joseph and Niles, Walgreens has also installed safe medication disposal kiosks at their St. Joseph and Niles locations. There are also safe and secure drug collection drop-off boxes in Niles, Coloma, Harbert, Buchanan, Watervliet, Berrien Springs, and New Buffalo.

This makes properly disposing of excess and expired drugs everyone’s responsibility as well as a matter of public and environmental safety. Within the past year, more than 2,500 lbs. of unwanted and expired medications were collected from the various drop-off locations in Berrien County. It is one of the best things our community can do to reduce the supply of drugs that can potentially harm teens and adults.

The Berrien County Health Department is committed to providing a safe, secure and environmentally friendly way to help law enforcement agencies and Berrien County communities collect unwanted or expired household medication, including prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs and unused pharmaceuticals. The collection sites are open during normal business hours. Medications can be dropped off with no questions asked. The medications can be placed in a sealable plastic bag or can be disposed of in their original containers. A full list of the drug collection locations is available at www.bchdmi.org.

Tax Reform a historic opportunity

 Last week, I was one of nine House lawmakers named to the House-Senate Conference Committee to iron out differences between the House and Senate tax bills. As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy, I was primarily tasked with negotiating energy provisions related to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). I’m proud to announce that we did our jobs, and H.R. 1, the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act, is to be voted on this week by both the House and the Senate.

This historic piece of legislation will reform our tax code, delivering more jobs, fairer taxes, and bigger paychecks for all Americans. The Tax Cuts & Jobs Act overhauls the American tax code to deliver historic tax relief for workers, families, and job creators. It will also revitalize our economy. By lowering taxes across the board, eliminating costly special-interest tax breaks, and modernizing our international tax system, the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act will help create more jobs, increase paychecks, and make the tax code simpler and fairer for Americans of all walks of life. With this bill, the typical family of four earning the medium family income of $73,000 will receive a tax cut of $2,059.

I remain confident that we can deliver this historic tax reform and relief this year and look forward to working with colleagues in the House and the Senate and with the administration to deliver results for families and businesses in Michigan and across the country.

To learn more about this and other important legislative issues, please visit my website: upton.house.gov or call my offices in Kalamazoo (269-385-0039), St. Joseph/Benton Harbor (269-982-1986), or Washington, D.C. (202-225-3761).

Students and victims deserve better

 I am consistently going to bat in Lansing for the higher education system in our state. We truly have fifteen unique public universities that place Michigan on the map when it comes to educating and training the next generation.

But being their strongest advocate also means I am responsible for holding them accountable when the time comes. For Michigan State University, our state’s largest school, that time is now.

Michigan State University has demonstrated an unacceptable inability to provide justice for victims of sexual assault on its campus. Their handling of the Dr. Nassar case has lacked not only transparency, but accountability. The one hundred and twenty plus victims of Dr. Nassar deserve better. The many others who have experienced sexual assault on their campus deserve better. And the tens of thousands of students who will attend their institution and trust it as their home deserve better.

As legislators, we need to identify ways to make sure victims know and understand the disclosure process when they are ready to share, and we need to make sure our public institutions are ready to listen and respond with the right services when that time comes. Additionally, we must also look into how our universities conduct their reviews to ensure there is a uniform and thorough process at each school. Victims deserve a clear, easy to use, and responsive system.

In my role as Chair, I will use every resource at my disposal make sure of that. I plan to hold hearings, get answers, and find solutions to prevent this kind of negligence. No matter what changes take place, students must be the focus of any reform, and my hope is to implement improved policies as part of this spring’s annual state budget process.

As always, residents can contact my office with any state or local issues by calling (517) 373-1403, emailing KimLaSata@House.mi.gov or visiting my website at www.RepLaSata.com.