Finance

Future Peace of Mind

National Guard Programs Money Needed for College Save Water and Money Financing the Startup Dream Think Ahead Moroccan-Ivorian Economic Forum Student Loans

Conversations That Can Create Future Peace Of Mind

(NAPSI)—You may be able to save yourself and your loved ones from having to make a difficult decision at a terrible time.

Choosing how to spend your final days is not something to decide in a moment. After all, no one wants to be scrambling for paperwork, evaluating care choices or putting their families through uncertainty.

It’s possible, however, to make those last days some of the best days, but it does require planning, reflection and a willingness to have thoughtful conversations before those final days arrive.

Yet, according to a survey from the California HealthCare Foundation, while 60 percent of people feel it’s “extremely important” to avoid burdening their family with tough medical decisions, 56 percent have not communicated their end-of-life wishes.

Dr. James Mittelberger, Chief Medical Officer at Optum Palliative and Hospice Care, points out that when it comes to end-of-life care, a conversation can make all the difference for many patients and their families.

“These are important conversations, not to be put off until tragedy or a serious illness. By having the conversation with your family early, you can help ensure that your future health care is based on your wishes,” said Dr. Mittelberger. “Talking to your doctor or nurse will be an important part of the process, but it all starts with a conversation with the people you love.”

He offers these tips:

• Consider your loved ones. Honest communication can help families avoid the stress of guessing what a family member would have wanted. You may find that you and your loved ones may see some things differently. That’s okay. Be open with each other and focus on really understanding the views of those you love.

• Think about what is most important to you. As a patient, what are your greatest fears, hopes and goals? Who would you prefer to make decisions on your behalf with your physicians if you could not? How sure are you of your choices? Do you want your chosen proxy to have leeway to change your decisions? Discuss these topics with your loved ones to reach a shared understanding of your desires.

• Make it official. Once you’ve had the conversation, formalize your decisions by putting them in writing. There are several ways. An advance directive can help describe your medical wishes when you no longer can. Special medical orders can be developed with your doctor. Finally, a health care proxy identifies your health care agent—the person you trust to act on your behalf if you are unable to make decisions or communicate your wishes.

• Get help. You can find valuable resources to help you think through these issues and make decisions more manageable at www.optumhospice.com/conversations.

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Soldiers Looking Out For Their Neighbors

(NAPSI)—The Guard is a component of the Army that is composed of men and women who serve their country, state and community on a part-time basis. These Citizen-Soldiers—sons, daughters, students, neighbors—tend to hold civilian jobs or attend college when not serving and training.

Serving Many Roles

The Army National Guard has been used in a variety of fashions since its origin as a Colonial militia force.

Over time, it has evolved from being a “strategic reserve” that was never meant to see combat except in the most dire of circumstances, to a unit in regular use overseas and at home.

In fact, in most situations where there is an emergency here on U.S. soil, the Army National Guard is the military’s first responder.

A Local Resource

Each state, most territories and the District of Columbia have National Guard units, as provided for by the Constitution of the United States. Each unit is a resource that is under the direction of a state’s governor and, as such, serves the needs of its state. This gives governors broad authority in using their Guard units, from helping to protect lives and property during a natural disaster to maintaining peace during civil emergencies.

Often, the presence of Army National Guard units will benefit local communities in indirect ways. For example, nearly all Army National Guard military construction projects are built by local citizens and small businesses. This means adding new jobs to a local economy.

A National Mission

When Guard Soldiers, under the order of the president, are placed under the control of the nation’s military, they serve equally alongside their active-duty counterparts.

Whether it’s to fight in times of war, participate in military exercises with allied forces, man missile defense batteries in Alaska, support Customs and Border Protection, or conduct security patrols at the Super Bowl, Guard Soldiers perform the same jobs, in the same way, as active-duty soldiers.

Currently, the Army National Guard has just under 360,000 Citizen-Soldiers who are ready to protect and serve their local community, state and country at a moment’s notice.

Rewards For Serving

A Guard Soldier is paid for his or her service and that pay level is determined by the rank, job and education level he or she has attained. The higher one goes, the more he or she can expect to make. And the more time they serve, the more they earn.

The Guard offers a wide range of valuable education benefits, which provides an allowance for books and supplies. They are also eligible for Federal Tuition Assistance and state-specific benefits. In addition, Guard members are eligible for health insurance, and life insurance and Veterans Affairs (VA) home loans with minimum or no down payment.

To learn more about National Guard programs, opportunities and benefits, visit the site at www.nationalguard.com.

Brought to you as a community service by this publication and the National Guard.

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Finding The Money Needed For College

(NAPSI)—Young men looking for the money they need to pay for college may want to start their search by checking their Selective Service registration status on the Internet at www.sss.gov.

That’s because young men are required to register with the Selective Service System within 30 days of turning 18—it’s the law.

Fulfilling this obligation can keep a young man eligible to find the money needed for college. Registration with the Selective Service is required in order for a young man to be eligible for Pell Grants, Federal Work-Study, and Guaranteed Student PLUS Loans, as well as federal job training and federal jobs.

Registration takes a minute, by either checking block #22 on the Federal FAFSA Student Aid Application or by going online at www.sss.gov from your smartphone or computer. If you don’t have access to the computer, then pick up a registration form at any U.S. post office.

Some states even require it for a driver’s license. Registration is also required of a young man who wishes to become a citizen.

Failure to register can result in a fine, time in prison or both.

To learn more about registration, visit www.sss.gov.

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These Tips Can Help You Save Water And Money

(NAPSI)—Did you know that homes with automatically timed irrigation systems use about 50 percent more water outdoors than those without them? Your system could be wasting as much as 30,000 gallons of water each year if it is programmed incorrectly, a sprinkler head is pointed in the wrong direction, or you have a leak. Regular sprinkler maintenance could save as much as $120 annually on your water bills!

With winter on its way out, now is the perfect time to get your irrigation system off the snooze button with a little “sprinkler spruce-up” to ensure it is operating efficiently. Maybe your system has been inactive for the long winter, or it may have been damaged during the harsh winter. Before you take your sprinkler system out of hibernation, use a little “water sense” and take four simple steps to get it ready for efficient operation—inspect, connect, direct and select:

• Inspect your irrigation system for clogged, broken or missing sprinkler heads and replace where necessary.

• Connect sprinkler heads tightly to pipes or hoses to prevent water pooling in your landscape and leaks that could drown your favorite plants.

• Direct spray away from your driveway and sidewalk to water only your lawn or plants.

• Select a watering schedule that meets your yard’s minimum needs or, better yet, replace your clock timer with a WaterSense® labeled irrigation controller, which uses local weather data to control your system to water only when needed.

If you’re not the do-it-yourself type, go with a pro—look for an irrigation professional certified through a WaterSense labeled certification program to help maintain your system. And even if you don’t have an automatic irrigation system, you can make your yard more water smart. On your next trip to the nursery, look for plants that are local to your region or labeled “drought tolerant.”

You can learn more about maintaining a water-smart yard, search for a certified irrigation professional, or view a list of WaterSense labeled irrigation controllers by visiting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense website at www.epa.gov/watersense/outdoor.

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Financing The Startup Dream

(NAPSI)—Many entrepreneurial hopefuls don’t know that having difficulty securing financing—or enough financing—doesn’t have to mean the end of their startup dream.

In fact, there are a number of alternative financing options available today.

What You Can Do

One of the fastest-growing options is known as ROBS, or Rollovers as Business Startups. These let prospective business owners leverage their existing retirement assets to finance a business or purchase a franchise, free of tax penalties, all while protecting their personal credit. ROBS can also be used with traditional financing options, such as SBA loans, to supplement or bridge a financing gap.

It’s an increasingly popular idea: Guidant Financial has seen a 72-percent increase in its ROBS business since 2009 and has helped more than 8,500 startups secure the funding they needed over the past 10 years.

Learn More

To learn more, you can call (888) 472-4455 or you can visit guidantfinancial.com.

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How Marriage And Divorce Can Impact Your Taxes

(NAPSI)—When it comes to your taxes, marriage changes everything. From choosing the correct filing status to determining what is and is not taxable, tax time can bring some unwanted stress if you’ve been recently married or divorced.

To help, here are some tips:

• Choose the right filing status. Your filing status determines most of the amounts on your tax return, including tax bracket, exemptions and eligibility for credits and deductions.

Your choice of status ultimately depends on whether you are married or unmarried on the last day of the tax year—generally, December 31. If you are still in the process of going through a divorce, then you are still considered married. The IRS only considers you unmarried if you have a final decree of divorce or separate maintenance at the end of the year.

Unmarried persons generally use the single filing status. However, you can file as head of household if a qualified dependent lives with you.

Married persons can file either jointly or separately. When filing jointly, the income and deductions of both spouses are combined on one return. Filing a joint return means both of you are liable for any tax liability, even if only one of you earned the income.

While filing separate returns relieves you from liability of your spouse’s tax, your tax rate is generally higher and you won’t be allowed to claim certain credits, including the Earned Income Credit and education credits.

DIY tax preparation solutions can help you weigh the benefits and costs for each married filing status. A popular and affordable product, TaxACT Deluxe, prepares a joint vs. separate report that breaks down your return by both statuses to help you choose the most advantageous.

• Not all costs of marriage or divorce are deductible. You cannot deduct the costs of getting married or divorced. You can, however, deduct any legal fees you paid for tax advice related to divorce and any legal fees you paid to receive alimony.

• Know the rules about alimony and child support. Alimony is payment written into the divorce papers for the purpose of supporting the recipient spouse. Child support, on the other hand, is a payment from the noncustodial parent to the custodial parent, intended to give the child a lifestyle similar to what it was before the divorce.

Alimony you receive is taxable income and must be included as income on your tax return. Remember to give your Social Security number to your former spouse to avoid a $50 penalty.

Alimony you pay is deductible, even if you don’t itemize deductions. You must include your former spouse’s Social Security number on your tax return in order to claim the deduction.

• Save time and money now and next year. If your name has changed, remember the names on your tax return must match the names the Social Security Administration has on file. If the information does not match, the IRS will likely reject your return.

Just because your marriage status changes doesn’t mean you can’t do your own taxes. Affordable, and even free, Web products and mobile apps will guide you. Solutions such as TaxACT provide explanations and tips in Life Events, and check your return for errors and missed savings.

It pays to think ahead. Review and adjust your withholding via Form W-4 to prevent a large tax bill next year.

Learn more at www.irs.gov and www.taxact.com/taxinfo. Try TaxACT risk-free at www.taxact.com.

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Morocco: Promoting Cooperation And Stability

(NAPSI)—Development programs that promote a better life for the people in the region continue to be one of the most effective ways to combat extremism.

That was one of the key themes expressed by Morocco's King Mohammed VI this past February and March when he took his message of cooperation, prosperity and security, and Morocco's expertise, on an official visit to neighboring countries in West Africa—Mali, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, and Gabon.

In his keynote speech at the first-ever Moroccan-Ivorian Economic Forum in Côte d'Ivoire's capital, Abidjan, King Mohammed urged Africa to "take its destiny in its own hands" and said that "Africa should learn to trust Africa." He vowed that "a vibrant, developed Africa is not merely a dream for tomorrow; it can be a reality today, provided we take action."

Cooperation Agreements

The many bilateral cooperation agreements, covering a broad range of sectors, signed between Morocco and each of the four countries clearly show that the King meant what he said. More than 80 agreements resulted from the trip—17 in Mali, 26 in Côte d'Ivoire, 21 in Guinea, and 24 in Gabon. Morocco committed with each of the countries to work together on everything from agriculture, manufacturing and finance to housing, education, religion, food security, and health.

There will be joint ventures on fertilizer plants, a flour mill and hospitals; tax-law changes to spur increased trade; construction of affordable housing; and more scholarships for vocational and higher education in Morocco for African students.

Promoting Stability

Varied as they are, the agreements have the same goal: to improve the quality of life of citizens and promote stability and economic success. As Ambassador Michael Battle, U.S. Department of State, put it, "Morocco is setting the pace by showing how African countries which are prosperous can be responsive to African countries which are in the process of becoming prosperous."

Morocco, led by King Mohammed VI and the country's government, financial and civil society leaders, continues to demonstrate that Africans working with Africans to improve people's lives is one of the best ways to ensure stability and stop the spread of extremism and violence in the region, which is in everybody's best interest. Policies such as this are what continue to make Morocco a good partner, to African nations and to the U.S., in both words and in deeds.

This information is conveyed by Beckerman on behalf of the Government of Morocco. Further information is available at the U.S. Department of Justice.

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Got Student Loans? The Unspoken Burden Of Student Loans

(NAPSI)—Shana will graduate this spring with a business degree and a ton of student loan debt. She’s not alone; on average, today’s college graduate will carry nearly $30,000 of debt into the “real” world. Total student loan debt in the U.S. is now more than $1.2 trillion and climbing at a time when the economy isn’t helping much.

Many don’t realize the wide-ranging impact of this debt; it’s not just the students, it’s also their co-signers. And it may be putting families in further financial jeopardy that they aren’t aware of.

In fact, the average American family is already $377,900 short of the amount needed to maintain its standard of living if the primary earner should die, reports Swiss Re, a global reinsurer. This amount represents the “protection gap” and it adds up to a staggering $20 trillion in the U.S. alone.

A student loan payment is one more burden that a financially challenged family doesn’t want to have to face. But it can become a reality, because private lenders don’t forgive a student loan if the borrower should die before the loan is repaid. The co-signer—usually a parent—is then responsible.

April is Financial Literacy Month—a good time to think about securing your financial future. It can be challenging, but you can start by taking a few simple steps to put your family on firmer footing. One of those steps is ensuring a liability—such as a student loan—is taken care of regardless of what happens.

Taking out a life insurance policy and naming the loan co-signer as beneficiary ensures that the loan will be paid off in the event of the student’s/graduate’s death. You can purchase a $100,000 life policy for $8 to $10 a month (the cost of a couple trips to the coffee shop). And the beneficiary can be changed at any time, if necessary.

Admittedly, every penny counts for members of the “millennial” generation--80 million strong—who may be underprepared in this economy.

“Life insurance isn’t top of mind with most millennials,” says Neil Sprackling, president of U.S. Life and Health at Swiss Re. “Understandably, they’re thinking about paying the rent and buying food and clothes, maybe a car. But for a very small investment, they can make sure their student loans are taken care of regardless of what may happen.”

Shana’s loans are with a private lender and are co-signed by her father. She and her parents reviewed the agreement to understand the financial consequences they would face if she were to die before the debt is repaid. It didn’t take them long to realize that a small investment—a policy that costs as little as a few lattes each month—is a great value for the extra peace of mind.

Says Sprackling: “A life insurance policy won’t help you pay your loans now, but it’s a very responsible and thoughtful gift to your family.

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