College Courses that Help Grads Find Jobs

One of the major concerns of young people everywhere is that, once they graduate from college (if they graduate at all) the job market is going to be extremely tough.

It’s a valid concern because it’s already tough and only going to get more difficult in the next few decades. The fact is, the question “what’s your major?” isn’t just a cheesy pickup line that you use in a bar anymore, it’s a vital life question that needs to be answered before any large amount of money is invested into a college education.

In fact, most companies these days don’t even care all that much about what your ‘major’ was in college but are looking instead for a skill set that goes beyond any one curriculum that you might have followed. The ability, for example, to speak in front of a crowd, write a grammatically correct and engaging email or tell the difference between an online ad and a mobile ad  are going to be quite valuable in the future.

“There is absolutely no doubt there is a talent gap when you think about who’s graduating from college today and what many corporations need,” said Chad Oakley, president and chief operating officer of executive search firm Charles Aris Inc. “So many of our clients have significant talent shortages at lower levels of the business.”

What does this mean for high school students heading off to college in the near future? It means that the courses below should definitely be added to their college curriculum once they get there and, if possible, focused on while still in high school.

First off are the STEM classes, science, technology, engineering and math. “Those classes will serve that person well for the rest of their career,” Oakley says.  He also points to the fact that a “big data” analytics course is a particularly smart choice.  ”There is not an industry in the world for which major decisions cannot be made using data,” Oakley said.

Looking for any type of study that can get you into an internship during the summer is an excellent idea as well. Bob Nelson, the author of “1501 Ways to Reward Employees”, says that using internships to seek out talent is one of the ways that management is closing talent gaps. Not only that but the experience that a student will get during most internships can go a long way to getting them hired at a real job once they’ve graduated

Getting a deeper understanding of how businesses work can help a graduate to excel as an employee or, if they desire, build their own successful business. That’s why taking at least a few courses on business and economics is extremely important. Even if they don’t have their own business, the courses they take will help them to better manage their own personal finances.

We mentioned above that the ability to speak in front of the crowd is an asset that companies are looking for and, with that in mind, a great recommendation is to take at least a few theater arts courses in college. These enable a person to become more comfortable speaking in front of groups, something that can translate to the office or boardroom quite nicely. An “improv” class would be a wonderful idea as well as joining the debate team and an introductory course on law and/or ethics.  “Classes like that require you to form an opinion, to write about it, and defend it,” said Oakley—all things that can sharpen critical thinking and presentation skills.

Any type of writing course is also an exceptional idea because, frankly, the average college graduate has absolutely horrible writing skills and they’re vitally important. “We have heard and seen from countless clients that young people today just don’t have good business writing skills,” Oakley said.  We’re not talking about term papers here but courses where the professor actually teaches students how to craft things like email messages, short stories, letters and so forth. (Another option would be to take a grammar course as well.)

Finally there’s leadership studies. “If you’re someone who’s focused on harder kinds of sciences or math, courses and activities that give social skills, that encourage teamwork and that help build creativity and develop creativity are really valuable,” said John Challenger, CEO of outplacement consulting firm Challenger Gray & Christmas. He says that employers want new hires to be able to demonstrate leadership ability as well as the other qualities and skills that we’ve talked about.

So if you have a child that’s college-bound sometime in the next few years, you now have a great idea of the types of courses that they should, if not concentrating on completely, be at least dabbling in a bit in order to be as “well-rounded” as possible. Trust us, it will serve them well once those hard partying… correction, we mean hard studying days of college are over.

Why the Wealthy are Suddenly Fond of Using Pawnshops

While banks everywhere have started frowning on assets that aren’t quite “liquid”, there’s a boom underway in high-end pawnshops. Pawnshops, of course, traditionally cater to people who need cash quickly in order to pay bills like rent, automobile payments and so forth. In New York there are nearly 500 pawnshops and, since 2010, the number has increased by nearly 50%.

Authorities are alarmed, unsurprisingly, and the Consumer Financial Protection Authority said that they are considering more pawnbroker regulations. But these regulations have to do with “regular” pawnshops, not the kind that are regularly starting to pop up to handle wealthy consumers who need more than just $100 bill in their pocket to pay the landlady.

In fact, pawn loans to wealthy consumers is increasing rapidly as wealthier people find the, when they need $10,000, $20,000 or $30,000, they can pawn their high-end collectibles, jewelry, gold and even automobiles in order to get that money, and do it much more quickly and conveniently than having to deal with a bank.

Borro’s Pawnshop, one of the biggest in New York, reports that nearly 60% of their clients these days are being referred from financial advisors and accountants and are small business owners. They need money to pay their payroll, reinvest in their businesses and/or take advantage of special deals on equipment or stock.

“We help fill in the gap when a borrower doesn’t have the assets that a bank wants to see on a loan application,” said Borro’s U.S. general manager, Tom McDermott, noting that clients are often people with assets that are hard to value and can’t readily be converted into cash.

The price that his customers pay is quite steep however, as they charge the highest interest rate allowed by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, 48%.  At your typical bank a small business borrower would pay approximately 5.6%. High interest or not, the fact is that banks have decreased their loans to small business owners by nearly 15% since the financial crisis. With less options, entrepreneurs and small business owners are forced to seek out alternatives for cash sources.

On the positive side, pawn loans can be issued for very short amount of time, don’t involve cumbersome paperwork and, for a business owner with personal credit that isn’t exactly perfect, a pawnbroker can be a much easier, albeit more costly, option. The loan amount that is given by pawnbroker’s is also based on whatever they determine an asset to be worth, normally quite a bit less than market price.

One of those small business owners, Patrick Lieberman, needed approximately $20,000 last year to buy ice cream equipment for a  Cold Stone Creamery outlet. The equipment was on sale and wasn’t going to last long. With no time to go through the involved process of getting a bank loan he instead decided pawn a diamond ring for the money. New York Loan Company, a pawnbroker in New York (surprise) loaned him the money he needed at 4% a month. Lieberman bought the equipment and, after three months, repaid the loan.

Easy, quick and (almost) no questions asked. That’s the reason that wealthier people are seeking out pawnbrokers more and more these days in order to make quick monetary transactions or investments.

Are those Extended Warranties really Worth the Extra Cost?

So let’s say you’re getting ready to buy a new computer, tablet or smart phone. Then, when you get to the register to pay, the cashier asked you if you’d like to purchase an extended warranty. They might call it something different like a “protection plan”, “insurance” or a “service agreement”.

The thing is though that you’re already making a large purchase and, as you sit there listening to their spiel, you wonder to yourself if you should pay even more for coverage that you probably won’t ever need.

James Talaga, Ph.D., says that it all depends. He’s a professor of marketing at La Salle University and he says that, when it comes to extended warranties, you need to look at several factors, including your risk tolerance and whether or not the new device that your purchasing is likely to fail.

Ty Shay, chief marketing officer at warranty company SquareTrade, explains that a traditional extended warranty takes the normal manufacturer warranty and extends it by 1 to 2 years. With this type of extended warranty you’ll be protected against the device failing for what are considered ‘manufacturer reasons’ but “wear and tear” or accidental damage might not be covered.

“We have claims data from tens of thousands of devices, and most of the claims are from accidental damage,”  Shay  went on to say. That’s why, in his opinion, accidental damage coverage might be something you want to include on your new device purchase. (Of course, his company covers accidental damage under its extended warranties so his opinion might be slightly biased.)

Most companies require that you purchase your extended warranty at the exact same time that you purchase the product, although some companies and stores will give you up to 30 days  to add it on. Shay said that “our latest estimate is that 1 in 3 smartphones will break in a two-year period”. What that means for most consumers is that their new cell phone probably won’t last until the end of the contract they just signed.

Smartphones are typically subsidized through the carrier’s two-year service contract. If the phone breaks before two years, consumers are “stuck paying for a repair or replacing it themselves,” at upward of $649 for a new phone, says Shay.

It’s a good idea to fully understand your coverage before you purchase an extended warranty. One great example is AppleCare+, which only covers for two incidents of accidental damage during the period that you’re covered. There’s also a $79 service fee with each claim. A SquareTrade survey in 2012 found that almost 20% of iPhone owners had damaged their iPhone one or more times during the previous year.

Another factor is the cost to repair or replace your smart phone under the extended warranty, which usually is $99 to $199, depending on the model as well as the plan that you have.

Dave Greenbaum, owner of DoctorDave, a computer repair company in Lawrence, Kansas, recommends that his customers purchase extended warranties for laptop computers and tablets, but not for desktops. The reason is that laptops and tablets are more expensive to repair due to the fact that they have smaller, more proprietary parts. He also says that, since they’re carried around a lot more than a desktop computer, there’s a lot bigger chance that they’ll get damaged from jostling, drops or getting banged around. He said that, on average, desktop computers not only fail less frequently but also are a lot less expensive to repair.

Greenbaum does recommend AppleCare for all Apple products however, including desktops, laptops, tablets and the ubiquitous iPhone. The reason is simple; “Apple products are extraordinarily expensive to repair,” he says. One of the values and their extended warranty product is that, when a product is in need of repair, it can be fixed at all of the retail locations that Apple has. Also, their extended warranty includes three years of tech-support.

Three years is plenty for any computer warranty, says Greenbaum, because the average laptop lasts around three years; the desktop averages five. “The other issue is that technology makes it obsolete after that time.”

Lastly, Greenbaum says that if you’re worried about accidental damage, you read the warranty first and purchase an upgraded policy that includes coverage for accidental damage. He says that many companies sell this type of policy for an additional $100 and that, under most extended warranties, accidental damage isn’t covered.

10 Ways to Legally Lower your Taxes

With tax time fast approaching, many Americans are scrambling to get their documentation together and get everything ready for this year’s taxes. Surprisingly, the IRS website has a lot of resources that will help you to not only understand what your taxes deductions and credits are, but tell you about some that you might not even know about.

If you’re loath to go to their website however, below are 10 ways that you can legally lower your tax bill for 2013. Enjoy.

  1. For people who are self-employed or have a side business, one new law that came about in 2013 will allow you to take a direct 50%  “bonus depreciation” for any new equipment purchased in 2013, rather than having to write it off over several years.
  2. Any contributions that you made to your health savings account that were unused in 2013 can now be rolled over indefinitely and also grow tax-free, akin to assets in your retirement account.
  3. One of the best ways to lower your taxes is to contribute as much as possible to your retirement account. Not including a Roth IRA, you can deduct all of the taxable income paid into your retirement account and reduce your total taxable income as well. These funds also grow tax-free until retirement and are one of the best ways to grow a decent sized “nest egg” for your golden years.
  4. A $2000 maximum for the Lifetime Learning Credit for adult education is also available, as well as a 20% deduction of up to $10,000 spent on any post-high school education. This deduction is for anyone who improves their job skills with additional education.
  5. If you can combine a business trip with a vacation, you can deduct your unreimbursed expenses spent on the business part of your trip, including airfare, part of your hotel bill and also a proportionate amount of time that you spend on your business activities.
  6. Do you work at home or have a side business? If so, the home office deduction will allow you to deduct a percentage of your home that is used for your business (Schedule C, 1040). For example, if you use your guest bedroom exclusively for an office and it constitutes one fifth of your living space, you can deduct one fifth of your rent or mortgage as well as your utility fees on your taxes.
  7. If you sold a financial asset in 2013, be sure to add in all of the reinvested dividends as this will increase the cost basis and reduce your capital gains.
  8. If you travel over 100 miles from home to work, and you need to stay away overnight, any hotel or motel bills that you have can be deducted as well as 50% of the cost of any meals. Deducting your mileage costs is possible as well.
  9. Any charitable deductions that you made in 2013 with  payroll deduction (for example, a donation to the United Way) as well as any checks, cash and clothing or goods donations are all deductible. These can actually add up to quite a bit so don’t forget them.
  10. Lastly, for people who are either full-time or part-time self-employed individuals, there are a huge list of tax deductions that you can take. These include business-related vehicle mileage, advertising, website fees, shipping and handling of products, a percentage of your home Internet charges that are used for the business, memberships, business-related travel, professional publications, any office supplies that you purchase and any other expenses that you incur when running your business.

While it’s obviously a good idea to rely on a professional tax preparation service provider to help you prepare your taxes, don’t rely on them 100% to get every deduction that you’re eligible for. If you do a little bit of due diligence on your own you may well find a few deductions that they overlooked and save yourself even more money this year on your taxes.