Roth Conversion in 2021?

Roth Conversion in 2021?In 2020, a year when all income brackets benefited from lower tax rates, the stock market took a nosedive at the beginning of the pandemic. For investors sharp enough to see the opportunity, this was an ideal time to convert a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA.

When you conduct a Roth conversion, the assets are taxed at ordinary income tax rates in the year of the conversion. So, the best time to do this is when your current income tax rate is low and when your IRA account balance loses money due to declining market performance. Once you convert the account to a Roth, those assets continue to grow tax free and are no longer subject to taxes when withdrawn later.

If you believe those stocks will rebound, you can direct the traditional and new Roth IRA custodians to move the shares as they are, rather than selling them for cash. Or, if you are converting the entire account and choose to remain with the same brokerage, you can simply instruct the custodian to change the account type. This way you can keep the same investments, pay applicable taxes on the account balance at the time of the conversion, and then never have to pay taxes on future gains.

While the stock market did recover in 2020, many market analysts believe equities are currently overpriced and could experience another correction this year. On top of that, with Democrats now in control of the White House and both houses of Congress, many expect legislation that will increase income taxes, at least among wealthier households.

Therefore, in order to avoid higher taxes on a long-accumulated traditional IRA, 2021 might be a good year to conduct a Roth conversion. The key is to try to time that conversion with a market loss. By conducting a conversion before income taxes increase, you’ll pay a lower rate, and all future earnings can grow tax-free and be distributed tax-free. Bear in mind, too, that a Roth does not mandate required minimum distributions at any age. The full account balance of a Roth has the opportunity to continue growing for the rest of the owner’s life.

A Roth conversion is not the best strategy for everyone. Consider the following scenarios that are not ideal for conversion.

  • An investor under age 59½ will be assessed a penalty on newly converted Roth funds withdrawn in less than five years, so this might not work for an early retiree who needs immediate income.
  • If you expect to be in a lower tax bracket during retirement, you should wait until then to pay taxes on distributions of your traditional IRA. Also, if you think you might relocate to a state with lower or no state income tax during retirement, not converting eliminates state taxes on that money entirely.
  • Watch out for a bump in income taxes on a Roth conversion. You might not want to convert if those assets put you in a higher tax bracket during the year of conversion.
  • Also note that if you convert after age 65, higher income reported that year could increase premiums for Medicare Part B benefits, as well as taxes on Social Security benefits.
  • If the non-spousal IRA beneficiary is likely to remain in a lower tax bracket than the owner, he might as well leave the assets in the traditional IRA. Otherwise, the owner will waste more of his estate’s assets to pay taxes on the conversion.
  • If you don’t have available cash outside the traditional IRA to pay the taxes on the conversion, the money will come out of the account and substantially drop the value. Consider whether or not your investment timeline is long enough to make up for that loss.
  • If your goal is to leave that IRA money to a charity, don’t bother to convert. Qualified charities are exempt from taxes on donations.

If you’re planning to leave a Roth IRA to your heirs, they also enjoy tax-free distributions as long as that Roth was opened and funded for at least five years before you pass away. This is another reason why it might be better to convert to a Roth IRA sooner rather than later.

3 Best Ways to Save for College

Save for CollegeWhat if you could save enough for your child to go to college debt-free? It might sound impossible, but with dedication, hard work, and careful planning, you can do just that. According to Dave Ramsey, American personal finance advisor, here are the top three tax-favored plans to get started.

The Education Savings Account (ESA)

Otherwise known as the Education IRA, this plan allows you to save $2,000 (after tax) per year, per child. Let’s do that math. If you begin saving when your child is born and put away $2,000 a year until they’re 18, you’ll be investing $36,000. Not too shabby. And the good news is that qualified distributions are tax-free, which means you won’t have to pay anything when you withdraw the funds to pay for college. The other upside is, depending on the rate of growth, you’ll earn more than you would in a regular savings account. However, there are some caveats. You can’t contribute if you make more than $110,000 (single) or $220,000 (married filing jointly); the contribution cap is $2,000 a year; and the money must be used by the time your child is 30.

The 529 Plan

If you want to save more for your child’s education or you don’t qualify for the income limits of the ESA, then this might be a better fit because you can contribute up to $300,000, depending on what state you live in. Ramsey recommends you look for a 529 Plan that allows you to choose your investment funds. Also, he says most of the time there aren’t any income restrictions based on your child’s age; however, there are some limits, so choose wisely. This plan also grows tax-free. One thing to note: restrictions may apply if you want to transfer your funds to another child.

The UTMA or UGMA (Uniform Transfer/Gift to Minors Act)

One of the best things about these plans is they’re not just designed to save for education. For example, if your kiddo wants to take a gap year, this can cover living expenses. The account is set up in your child’s name but it’s controlled by a custodian (usually a parent or grandparent). The custodian manages the account until the child is 21 (18 for the UGMA). One of the pluses of this plan is that since the account is owned by the child, the earnings are usually taxed at the child’s rate, which is generally lower than that of the parents. For some people, the savings can be significant. However, there are two important things to know: (1) once your child is of legal age, she can use the funds however she likes (a trip to Europe, a sports car…or college?) and, (2) the beneficiary can’t be changed after selected.

While setting up a college fund is a smart goal, it’s not the only one. Prior to starting down these paths, Ramsey recommends that you consider paying off your mortgage, credit cards, and your own student loans. He also suggests setting up an emergency fund of three to six months and allocating 15 percent of your salary to retirement through a 401(k) and/or a Roth IRA. For more help, he recommends both parents and children read “Debt-Free Degree.” This book walks you through how to go to college without student loans.

Saving for an education might feel completely overwhelming, but if you start early enough, do your homework and create a solid plan, it’s absolutely possible.

Sources

https://www.daveramsey.com/blog/saving-for-college-is-easier-than-you-think

https://www.troweprice.com/personal-investing/accounts/general-investing/ugma-utma.html#:~:text=Because%20money%20placed%20in%20an,this%20savings%20can%20be%20significant.&text=Up%20to%20%241%2C050%20in%20earnings%20tax%2Dfree.&text=Any%20earnings%20over%20%242%2C100%20are%20taxed%20at%20the%20parent’s%20rate

How Cloud Accounting Helps Small Businesses Gain Competitive Edge

Cloud AccountingIn a continuously changing business environment, small businesses have a challenge to keep up. It’s especially expensive to keep pace with ever changing technology. Luckily, with affordable cloud accounting solutions, small businesses can maintain a competitive edge.

What is Cloud Accounting

Cloud accounting involves moving your business books online. Unlike desktop accounting systems, cloud accounting permits you to access accounting software from a web browser without the need to install it on your personal computer.

Companies that offer cloud computing provide their services on remote servers and applications. For a fee, you gain remote access to the services that fit your business needs.

Cloud Accounting Benefits for a Small Business

Here are benefits offered by cloud accounting that enable small businesses to gain a competitive edge:

  • No need to invest in expensive software and hardware
    With cloud accounting, you need only subscribe to a company offering cloud accounting services. This removes the need to purchase the actual software and necessary hardware. It also means there are no extra costs for maintenance, allowing a business to focus on core business activities. 
  • Save on upgrade costs
    Software keeps changing and needs frequent patches and upgrades. This is expensive for a small business running a traditional accounting software, and most end up using outdated software.

    Subscribing to cloud accounting means the service provider takes care of the upgrades, and you have access to new features instantly.

  • No need to hire an in-house accountant or bookkeeper
    If your business is small and running on a tight budget, subscribing to a cloud accounting solution will save you the cost of hiring a person for manual accounting and other bookkeeping processes. By connecting the system with your bank account, the transactions will be updated automatically, thereby saving you time and ensuring accuracy.
  • Easy to scale
    With cloud-based services, you can easily scale your business as it grows by adding to the services you subscribe to. At the same time, if your business is experiencing a slowdown and you need to reduce expenses, you can scale down by reducing the number of subscribed services.
  • Data accessibility
    You can easily access your financial status at any time, unlike when you run a traditional desktop accounting system. This is possible from any device that has an internet connection.
  • Access to various functions, features and support
    Cloud accounting enables a small business to have access to different accounting features and functions, such as project estimates, finance, billing, invoicing, tax summary, and stocks, among others. This is because of the ability to select services depending on the needs of your business and your budget.
  • Enables remote working and collaboration
    Cloud accounting allows for remote working, which is especially important with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and recommendations to work from home. This enhances collaboration with your team and financial advisor because you can all work on the same system at the same time, regardless of your location. The accountant also needs not go through the trouble of importing client data.
  • Financial reports
    Cloud accounting allows for access to regular reports that include insights about the financial state of your business. This enables a business owner to have an up-to-date picture of how the business is performing anytime, whether at home, at work or on the go.
  • Data security
    Data on the cloud is more secure than data stored on a hard drive, which can be accessed if it is stolen. In the case of a natural disaster, your business productivity is not greatly affected because you can still access your data. This is because it’s the responsibility of the cloud provider to ensure data security, make regular backups, scan servers for vulnerabilities and use the latest technology.

Final Words

Cloud accounting enables small businesses to enjoy business efficiency and increased productivity while reducing costs. Businesses of all sizes, even small ones, have to keep up with changing technology. Any business that wants to maintain a competitive edge has the option to do away with traditional accounting desktop software.

Economic Stimulus, Making the Post Office Solvent Again, Gun Control, Voting Rights and Restricting China’s Influence

Gun Control, Voting RightsAmerican Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (HR 1319) – This $1.9 trillion relief bill provides stimulus money to address the continued impact of COVID-19. Provisions include issuing $1,400 checks to taxpayers, increasing the Child Tax Credit up to $3,000 and the dependent care credit to $4,000, and providing funds for schools, small businesses, renters and landlords, increased subsidies for Americans who buy individual health insurance, and $160 billion allocated toward vaccine development and distribution. The bill was introduced by Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) on Jan. 15, first passed in the House on Feb. 27 and in the Senate on March 6, and was signed into law by President Biden on March 11.

SAVE LIVES Act (HR 1276) – This bill was introduced by Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) on Feb. 24. The legislation would authorize the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to furnish a COVID-19 vaccine to veterans ineligible for the VA health care system, who live abroad, and family caregivers of veterans, among others. The bill passed in the House on March 9 and in the Senate on March 17. It has been returned to the House for approval of changes.

USPS Fairness Act (HR 695) – This act would repeal the requirement that the U.S. Postal Service annually prepay future retiree benefits, decades in advance. The current mandate, which was signed into law in 2006, has since threatened the viability of the USPS. While the Post Office generates enough revenue to cover its operating costs, this prepayment of pension and retiree healthcare benefits has pushed its bottom line into the red. The bill was introduced by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) on Feb. 2 and enjoys bipartisan support.

Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021 (HR 1620) – This is a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, a popular law that protects and provides resources for victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence. The bill expired at the end of 2018 after Congress failed to act due to partisan disputes over guns and transgender issues. It was re-introduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) on March 8 and passed in the House on March 17. It is currently under consideration in the Senate.

Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021 (HR 8) – This bill establishes new background check requirements for every firearm sale. It prohibits a firearm transfer between private parties unless a licensed gun dealer, manufacturer or importer first takes possession of the firearm to conduct a background check. The bill was introduced by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) on March 1 and passed in the House on March 11. This bill is currently under review in the Senate.

For the People Act of 2021 (HR 1) – This bill was introduced by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) on Jan. 4 and passed in the House on March 3. It is currently under consideration in the Senate. The purpose of this legislation is to protect and expand voter rights. Specifically, the bill:

  • Expands voter registration (automatic and same-day registration)
  • Increases voting access (vote-by-mail and early voting)
  • Prohibits removing voters from voter rolls
  • Requires states to establish an independent commission to deploy congressional redistricting
  • Establishes provisions related to election security, including sharing intelligence information with state election officials and supporting states in securing their election systems
  • Prohibits campaign spending by foreign nationals, requires additional disclosure of campaign-related fundraising and spending, mandates additional disclaimers in political advertising, and establishes an alternative campaign funding system for certain federal offices
  • Establishes additional conflict-of-interest and ethics provisions for personnel who work in the three branches of government
  • Requires the president, the vice president, and certain candidates for those offices to disclose 10 years of tax returns

CONFUCIUS Act (S 590) – This bill, also referred to as the Concerns Over Nations Funding University Campus Institutes in the United States Act, is designed to mitigate China’s influence on U.S. post-secondary educational institutions that are directly or indirectly funded by the Chinese government. Specifically, educational institutions contracted with Confucius Institutes that also receive federal funding must include provisions in those agreements that prohibit the application of foreign law on those campuses and grant full control over teaching plans, activities, research grants and employment decisions to the U.S. university. The act was introduced by Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) on March 4 and passed in the Senate on the same day. It is currently under consideration in the House.

Four Essential Questions You Should Ask Your Tax Professional This Season Related to COVID-19

Good tax professionals ask the right questions to ensure they understand your situation and can help you to the best extent the law allows. Given the host of pandemic-related tax changes for 2020, it’s good to keep these four questions below in mind. If your tax preparer doesn’t ask these questions in your tax organizer or during a meeting, raise them yourself.

1. Did you receive your stimulus payment?

Not everyone received all the stimulus they were entitled to. As a result, the amount of your stimulus payments needs to be reconciled on your 2020 tax return to calculate if you qualify for the Recovery Rebate Credit.

The way the Recovery Rebate Credit works is that if you qualified for stimulus payments but didn’t receive them, then you’ll receive a credit on your 2020 tax return. On the other hand, if you received too much, there is no impact to your refund or balance due. You can’t lose here, so make sure you discuss your stimulus payments.

2. Did you work remotely? If so, when and where?

As a result of the pandemic, a lot of people worked from home for all or part of the year. If you lived in the same state you worked in, then there’s no cause for concern or further investigation. In situations where workers lived and therefore worked remotely in a different state than they normally would have commuted to when going into the office, then there could be an issue.

If you worked from another state for any part of the year, make sure you ask your tax preparer about this so you can understand the filing requirements in each state and any nexus issues. Just remember that if you are a W-2 employee, it doesn’t matter if you worked from your home, there is no home office deduction unless you’re self-employed.

3. Did you take any distributions from your retirement accounts in 2020 due to COVID-related circumstances?

Typically, early distributions from tax-advantaged retirement accounts such as 401(k) and IRAs are subject to a 10 percent penalty. There are provisions in the law that allowed penalty-free distributions in 2020 under certain circumstances related to COVID-19. Also, the income from distributions is spread over three years, which can further reduce the overall tax rate (unless you elected to tax it all in the year of distribution).

If you took distributions from a retirement account and were impacted by COVID-19, make sure your tax professional is aware of these exceptions; and ask the right questions to see if you qualify for any of the preferential treatment.

4. Are you self-employed and missed work because you were sick with the coronavirus or needed to care for someone who was ill with it?

Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), those who are self-employed can be eligible for sick and family leave credits if they or a family member had coronavirus and couldn’t work between April 1 and Dec. 31, 2020, as a result. If eligible, your tax preparer will file Form 7202 with your Form 1040 to make the claim.

Conclusion

Doing the best as a tax preparer means knowing your client’s situation and circumstances. There’s a good chance your tax professional is already on top of the COVID-19 changes, but it’s good to keep the questions above in mind just in case.

Some Businesses Rely on Line of Credit to Escape Damages Caused by Pandemic

gbAs businesses attempt to work their way through to a post-pandemic world, there are various means to bridge the financial gap. As recommended by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), some companies can use a line of credit to reach international customers or opportunities outside the United States to make up for the damage COVID-19 caused with fewer domestic sales. How can businesses use a line of credit to increase their chance of survival and pivot to profitability as we move through 2021?

According to Debt.org, a business line of credit functions like any other line of credit that uses revolving debt. Businesses use a portion of their line of credit to meet financial obligations and repay based on the lender’s terms. Common lines of credit borrowing limits can range from $1,000 to $250,000 and are generally not secured against the business’ assets, accounts receivables, etc.

As a U.S. Bank study found, via the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), 82 percent of companies that go out of business do so because of inadequate cash flow management. The NFIB and U.S. Bank study explains that an inability to purchase inventory, satisfy employee payroll, on-board workers, or obtain some sort of financing increases the likelihood of a business failing.

However, businesses that are approved for and use a line of credit for meeting payroll, purchasing raw materials and items necessary to keep their business running (including rent or lease payments), greatly increases the business’s chance of survival. So, as revenues and profits shrink, employers can tap their line of credit to increase the chances of surviving.

Business Survivability Considerations

Continuous access to funds allows owners to have greater control over a business’s finances and helps them make better growth-driven decisions. For example, Noam Wasserman, a Harvard Business School professor, explains that oftentimes outside investors force founders out of their company – only half of founders were still the CEO three years after the business’s inception. If a line of credit gives the business enough financial flexibility, then the founders can stay in control.

Another way to leverage a line of credit is highlighted in the SBA export assistance programs due to COVID-19-related losses. Small business owners that export products directly, or indirectly to a third party that does the exporting, may be eligible.

Prior to a company completing a sale to an international client, or for prospecting for new international export markets, businesses can apply for a line of credit or a term note, up to $500,000, under the SBA’s Export Express loan program.

Through the SBA’s Export Working Capital loan program, approved applicants can obtain as much as $5 million in financing or a revolving line of credit related to the firm’s export-related business. This assistance also can help businesses better fulfill export orders as well as provide financial assistance for additional ex-U.S. sales. The financing can assist in keeping international orders through more favorable payment options for their foreign customers.

While there is never a guarantee that a business will survive, today’s companies that take advantage of different lending options, such as a line of credit, have a better chance to set themselves up for the post-COVID-19 recovery.

Sources

https://www.sba.gov/page/coronavirus-covid-19-small-business-guidance-loan-resources

Personal Lines of Credit

Why Do Small Businesses Fail?

https://hbr.org/2008/02/the-founders-dilemma

How Will Surging Oil Prices Impact the Economy in 2021?

smNow that the Keystone XL pipeline is being shut down and southern parts of the United States are experiencing extremely cold weather, how will increasing oil prices impact the economy as the COVID-19 vaccine is being rolled out?

With West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude closing at $58.22 per barrel on Feb. 11, 2021, and likely higher due to the cold snap in the United States, the price of oil is expected to impact the U.S. and global economy.

Consumer Demand

One of the major impacts of increasing oil prices is the rising price of gasoline. With higher oil prices rippling throughout the economy, understanding how it impacts consumers is one way to see how the economy in 2021 is likely to perform.

As the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco points out, there’s a close correlation in pricing between gasoline and crude oil pricing. They point out that WTI and what American consumers pay for gasoline to fill up their car track each other quite closely — as oil prices increase, so do consumer prices for gasoline.

Historic Price Trends in Relation to Today

When it comes to looking at how oil prices impact inflation, looking at historical prices gives helpful insight. In the 1970s, the price of oil increased tenfold, from $3 in 1973 (pre-oil crisis) to more than $30, due to Middle East tensions in 1978-1979 resulting from the Iranian Revolution, according to The Federal Reserve and the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

However, as time progressed beyond the two oil crises of the 1970s, this correlation became weaker. When the 1980s began, so did the association between oil prices and rising inflation. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) explains this rapid increase in the cost of oil drove the consumer price index (CPI), one way to measure inflation, from 41.20 in the beginning of 1972 to 86.30 as 1980 came to a close. As the BLS illustrates how the 1970s experienced high inflation, it took three times as long (24 years) for the CPI to double between 1941-1971.

With the two Oil Shocks passed, the 1980s and the 1990s ushered in a new divergence of how oil prices ultimately impacted what consumers paid for oil and oil-dependent products. This is illustrated by looking at the impact of the Producer Price Index (PPI), or wholesale cost, versus how consumers ultimately felt, or the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

CPI and PPI Data and Oil Prices

Looking at the CPI, especially in the 1990s, statistics from the EIA show that the price per barrel of crude oil went from $14 to $30 in six months. However, data from the BLS shows that CPI started at 134.6 in January 1991, eventually reaching 137.9 in December 1991.

Later, from 1999 to 2005, the EIA’s data shows the price of a barrel of oil jumped from $16.50 to $50. While the price nearly tripled, the BLS’ CPI jumped from 164.30 in January 1999 to 196.80 in December 2005, an increase of 33.5 over nearly six years.   

Looking at the Producer Price Index (PPI) data, per the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, from 1970 to 2017, the correlation was 0.71. For the CPI, during the same time frame, it was only 0.27. The difference between the CPI and PPI, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, is due to the higher proportion of services provided in the United States, which are less oil-reliant for raw materials.

External Factors

With the expected relief payment of $1,400 per individual and additional money allotted for dependents, coupled with continuing vaccinations and the reopening on the U.S. and global economies, there’s much stimulus expected to provide consumers with a financial cushion. However, with the increased spending by the federal government and pressure on the U.S. dollar, only time will tell how the price of crude oil will impact consumer spending and company earnings.

The Impact of COVID on Life Insurance

fpIf someone you know died from COVID-19 and had an existing life insurance policy, there should be no problem receiving the death benefit. The terms of a life insurance contract cannot be changed after purchase, so anyone with a policy before the pandemic will continue to be covered as long as premiums are paid.

However, the life insurance industry is in a quandary right now when it comes to new applicants applying for policies.

Some insurers have placed an age limit on applicants to whom they will sell policies. Travelers who have recently visited countries with a significant outbreak and people currently infected with the virus are generally asked to wait until after they have quarantined or recovered to apply for life insurance. While the coronavirus has had a high fatality rate among people age 65 and older, the death rate has fluctuated among demographics over the past year as the virus spread from metropolitan areas to more rural parts of the country.

With this in mind, now is probably one of the most challenging times to apply for a life insurance policy. In the past, applicants have had to answer standard questions regarding their medical history. Today, most also will have to disclose if they have been treated for COVID-19. Bear in mind that even people who did not become severely ill could suffer medical conditions in the future resulting from the infection. However, it is best to answer that question honestly, because any future claims could be denied if it is found the applicant lied about his or her COVID experience on the application.

As the data continues to be assessed, it is likely that insurers will adjust their terms and rates in response to the recent pandemic. It is possible, in fact quite probable, that data pointing to enduring effects of COVID-19 will be included in life insurance underwriting standards in the future. This could increase premiums for COVID-19 survivors – or result in denial of coverage altogether.

In the past, there were life insurers that sold low-cost, low-payout policies without a medical exam or extensive health questions. But these days, given how quickly the coronavirus can take a life, applicants age 60 and older would be hard-pressed to qualify for one of those “guaranteed issue” policies.

In fact, pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes and asthma – which are highly susceptible to the ravages of the coronavirus – may undergo more scrutiny in the future. While pre-existing conditions are no longer a qualifying issue for health insurance, they are very much a part of the life insurance underwriting process and do increase individual premiums.

There is one silver lining for life insurance applicants: Some insurers have eliminated the normally required physical exam due to social distancing restrictions. Others have opted to postpone the in-person exam but offer immediate temporary coverage with a limited death benefit. A couple of life insurers in Connecticut and Massachusetts even offer a free, three-year term life policy to frontline workers in appreciation for their work during the pandemic. Eligible applicants include in-hospital personnel and first responders who have the greatest risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

Anyone who has lost their income due to the pandemic and is in danger of not being able to pay life insurance premiums should call their carrier to see if there are options to continue coverage. Some companies have agreed to defer premiums for up to 90 days rather than cancel coverage for people likely to find employment soon. It’s a good idea to call and find out rather than miss payments and hope your insurance company chooses not to notice.

5 Cities Rank as Ideal Locations for Remote Workers

tipAccording to the National Bureau of Economic Research, in late spring of 2020 about half of American workers were working from home. Not surprisingly, many researchers believe that this pattern will continue after the pandemic is over. With this in mind, SmartAsset has examined the best cities to work from home in 2021 and evaluated them across seven metrics: percentage of those who worked at home; estimated percentage of those who can work at home; five-year change of percentage of those who worked at home; October 2020 unemployment rate; poverty rate; housing costs as a percentage of earnings; and percentage of residences with two or more bedrooms. Here’s what they learned:

  1. Scottsdale, Arizona. In 2019, Census Bureau data shows that about 18 percent of people worked from home, a 6.7 percent increase from 2014. This sunny city also has the fourth-highest estimated percentage of workforce who can work from home and the third-lowest 2019 poverty rate, which is 6 percent. When you’re not inside at your computer, you can enjoy the desert tranquility of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, restaurants and shops of Old Town Scottsdale, and the largest model train display in North America at McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park.
  2. Raleigh, North Carolina. Even before COVID-19, a large percentage of people worked from home here, much like Scottsdale. In 2019, 10.5 percent of the workforce did so remotely, which is the fourth-highest for this metric. Raleigh also ranks in the top quartile for two other metrics: it has the 18th-lowest October 2020 unemployment rate (5.3 percent) and 21st-lowest poverty rate (10.9 percent). Raleigh is known as the “city of oaks,” which makes it a beautiful place to live. Even better, you can celebrate all four seasons and it’s only a few hours from the mountains. Plus, homes are some of the most affordable in the nation.
  3. Plano, Texas. Just north of Dallas, Plano ranks in the top 10 percent for three metrics: percentage of people who worked from home in 2019 (9.6 percent), estimated percentage of people who are able to work from home (35.44 percent) and 2019 poverty rate (7.5 percent). Also, Plano has the 14th-lowest October 2020 unemployment rate, at 5.2 percent. Best thing about Plano: it has all the restaurants, shops and amenities of Dallas without the traffic. And, there are numerous parks for walking, hiking, biking and swimming.
  4. Gilbert, Arizona. This locale ranks as one of the best places to buy an affordable home. In fact, data from the Census Bureau shows that 96.3 percent of apartments and homes in Gilbert have two or more bedrooms, which is the highest percentage for this metric. Additionally, it has a relatively low poverty rate (4.6 percent). Main attractions include bird watching at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, holiday shows at the Hale Centre Theatre, and delicious produce at the Gilbert Farmer’s Market.
  5. St. Petersburg, Florida. As of October 2020, the greater Pinellas County unemployment rate was just 5.2 percent. That’s 1.5 percentage points below the national average. What’s more, the percentage of people working from home grew by 4.6 percent in St. Petersburg from 2014 to 2019, the third-highest increase in the study. If you love sugar-sand beaches, you’re in luck: there are many to fall in love with. But you can also enjoy cultural outings like a visit to the Dali Museum and the Chihuly Collection.

Some of the other best cities for working remotely include Durham and Charlotte, North Carolina; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Austin, Texas; and Fremont, California. These days, working from home is the rule, rather than the exception it was years ago. In these challenging, uncertain times, it’s nice to know there are places you can thrive.

Sources

https://smartasset.com/checking-account/best-cities-to-work-from-home-2021

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attractions-g31350-Activities-Scottsdale_Arizona.html

https://www.raleighrealtyhomes.com/blog/moving-to-raleigh.html

How AI Chatbots are Transforming Businesses

techWhen a business moves its services online, it runs the risk of losing the close connection it had with customers. This affects customer loyalty and sometimes means lost revenue. Thanks to technology, some businesses have deployed artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots to keep customers engaged in a two-way conversation. 

What is an AI Chatbot?

An AI chatbot is a piece of software powered by artificial intelligence that is placed on websites and other applications to interact with humans.

Chatbots are not a new technology, and it’s worth noting that there is a difference between AI chatbots and flow chatbots. Flow chatbots follow a pre-determined path defined by a developer; AI chatbots are self-trained, meaning they give feedback depending on the information supplied by the customer. They use natural language processing and machine learning technology to turn complex business interactions into simple conversations through text or voice.

This makes AI chatbots smarter because they learn over time.

According to a report by Markets and Markets, the conversational AI market is expected to grow from $4.8 billion in the year 2020 to $13.9 billion by 2025.   

AI Chatbots in Business

AI is no longer reserved for large enterprises only. Small businesses can now leverage conversational chatbots on applications such as Facebook.

The demand for chatbots has been driven by customers who need round-the-clock assistance from businesses. In most cases, businesses are slow to adapt to new technologies – especially because of the related costs. But the many benefits of AI chatbots make it worth adopting. Below are some of the ways that AI chatbots are being used in businesses:

  • Customer inquiries – The bots help reduce customer service workload and can serve customers outside typical working hours. This means there is no need to struggle to manually respond to inquiries as the AI chatbots can be used to automate customer feedback, including in emails. The customers also no longer have to wait a long time to connect with a customer care representative.
  • Personalizing interactions – conversational AI helps personalize interactions relevant to each user. AI chatbots learn the behavior of a client to provide personalized conversations.
  • Data analysis – Businesses have a greater understanding of their clientele once the conversational data is analyzed.
  • Sales representatives – they offer product suggestions for customers who are not sure what they are looking for.
  • Lead qualifying – instant feedback helps keep a prospect interested and eventually turn them into a paying customer.
  • Candidate vetting – Interested applicants converse with the AI chatbot, which then helps to filter for new hires.
  • Free HR staff time – for businesses that have many employees, the conversational chatbots help answer employee questions depending on their job function, geographical location and date. It’s also useful in reminding employees of tasks that need to be completed. This frees time for the HR staff to concentrate on other tasks that help improve job satisfaction and reduce staff turnover.
  • Increased engagement – the ability to answer emails and queries instantly helps keep the customer engaged. This enhances a business brand differentiation.
  • Fast information retrieval – a human can take a long time to retrieve information, especially for an e-commerce or real estate business. AI chatbots easily connect to the database and provide feedback in real-time as they serve as an internal knowledge base.
  •  Integration with other applications – AI chatbots are integrated with robotic process automation, enterprise resource planning or customer relationship management systems to carry out further tasks. Such tasks include booking appointments, filling out forms and making recommendations.
  • Easy scalability – chatbots handle multiple conversations simultaneously. This means that even when a business grows, the bots still handle large volumes of chats without affecting business costs.
  • In digital marketing – businesses are using AI chatbots to support the collection of customer data, new product launches, lead generation, and to increase brand loyalty.

Conclusion

AI technology is continuously progressing and no doubt chatbots will also keep changing.

As with every technology, there are some limitations, such as lack of emotional intelligence that affects the depth and scope of a conversation. This means that there are still complex communications that will require humans.

Nonetheless, having AI chatbots as an additional resource to run a business is a sure way to help boost revenue, improve customer experience, and provide a competitive advantage.

However, before jumping on the bandwagon, it is best to first identify areas in your business where you can deploy AI chatbots.