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.

Securing Jobs for Cabinet and Congress Members, Inspector Generals, and Apprentices – and Honoring Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman

congressTo provide for an exception to a limitation against appointment of persons as Secretary of Defense within seven years of relief from active duty as a regular commissioned officer of the Armed Forces (HR 35) – Prior to passage of this bill, a former service member could not be appointed as Secretary of Defense until separation from active duty for at least seven years. This legislation allows someone to be appointed after only four years from active duty as a commissioned officer of a regular component of the Armed Forces. The bill was introduced by Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) on Jan. 15, passed in the House and the Senate on Jan. 22 and signed into law by President Biden on Jan. 22.

Officer Eugene Goodman Congressional Gold Medal Act (S 35) – This act authorizes awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman for his actions to protect the Senate chamber during the Capitol security breach on Jan. 6. It passed in the Senate amid a standing ovation. In addition to Officer Goodman’s recent promotion to acting deputy sergeant-at-arms for the Senate, this medal represents the highest honor Congress can bestow. The act was introduced by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) on Jan. 22, and passed in the Senate on Feb. 12. The House is also considering plans to honor the officer.

National Apprenticeship Act of 2021 (HR 447) – This bill was introduced by Rep. Robert Scott (D-VA) on Jan. 25. The purpose of the legislation is to amend the 1937 National Apprenticeship Act to include youth apprenticeships, and for other purposes. The legislation authorizes the establishment of criteria for quality standards, apprenticeship agreements and acceptable uses for grant funds awarded under this act. The bill passed in the House on Feb. 5 and is currently in the Senate for consideration.

Inspector General Protection Act (HR 23) – This act requires the president to notify Congress any time an inspector general is placed on nonduty status, and to nominate a new inspector general within 210 days after a vacancy occurs. Otherwise, within 30 days after the end of that period, the president must explain to Congress the reasons why there is not yet a formal nomination, with a target date for making that nomination. The bill was introduced by Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) on Jan. 4. It passed in the House on Jan. 5 and is currently under consideration in the Senate.

Regarding consent to assemble outside the seat of government (H.Con.Res. 1) – In light of the disruption of Congressional duties due to the coronavirus, the House passed this concurrent resolution authorizing the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader of the Senate to assemble the House and the Senate outside the District of Columbia whenever the public interest warrants it. Introduced by Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), this bill was both presented and passed in the House on Jan. 4. It is currently under consideration in the Senate.

Congressional Budget Justification Transparency Act of 2021 (HR 22) – This bill was introduced by Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) on Jan. 4 and passed in the House the next day. It would require federal agencies to make budget justification materials accessible to the public on a website managed by the Office of Management and Budget. Available information should include a list of the agencies that submit budget justification materials to Congress and the dates they were submitted, with links to the actual materials. This bill is currently under review in the Senate.

Paying the Price for Vice: The Evolving Landscape of Excise Taxes in America

While excise or vice taxes have long been a part of the American tax landscape related to alcohol and cigarettes, the recent invention of vaping and legalization of marijuana and other substances is changing the landscape.

What Are Excise Taxes?

Excise taxes are taxes on specific types of consumable products such as alcohol or tobacco for one of two reasons. First, as vice taxes in order to raise revenue to cover the costs related to consumption; and second, to deter consumption itself. Unlike other types of consumption taxes such as sales tax, these are specific to certain products.

Do They Change Behavior?

Theoretically, when you increase the price of a product such as alcohol through the addition of excise taxes, demand should go down. While this may be a deterrent and limit demand, excise taxes certainly haven’t proven to be a feasible way to eliminate behaviors. A pack of cigarettes can cost upward of $15 in major cities, but there are still people smoking. It’s a similar situation with drinking and gambling.

It’s All About the Benjamins

While we think of excise taxes as vice taxes today in many respects, the main point isn’t to change behavior – it is to raise revenue. Excise taxes pre-date the United States and were one of the main forms of government funding in America before income tax was created. Alcohol taxation goes back to George Washington’s presidency and incited the infamous Whiskey Rebellions. Cigarette taxes were introduced as a way to pay for the Civil War. In the end, it’s about the money generated as there are easier and more effective ways to regulate behavior.

New Products Equal New Taxes

The legalization of marijuana by states raises the issue of excise taxes on this product. Unlike tobacco, where one of the goals is to decrease consumption, the situation here is more one of legalizing something to raise consumption and generate revenue as a result.

Marijuana taxation is more akin to alcohol in the years following prohibition. In both cases, you have large-scale illegal operations and illicit consumption with the aim of moving them to legitimate status. In this sense, it’s different than other vice taxes. 

Initially, at least, the authorized market will have to operate in parallel with the black market for the same product, limiting the amount of taxes that can be raised when there is still an unregulated and untaxed alternative.

Beyond Marijuana

Aside from marijuana, there are other new products that could be taxed and generate revenue, the most notable being vapor products. While vaping products are not really that new, the market is just growing to a substantial size.

Taxing vaping products is more complicated and problematic. Some consider these products to be just as harmful as cigarettes, while others not so much. There is evidence that nicotine consumed via vaping is less harmful than through smoking cigarettes.

Theoretically then, the government should apply less taxes as a result if the harm and therefore cost to society is less.  The problem with this is that less revenue is raised. As noted before, we come back to the issue that vice taxes are often revenue-raising tools disguised as public safety measures.

Too Successful For Its Own Good

Vice taxes can be too successful, with tobacco as the best example. While people may stop buying cigarettes, they don’t stop consuming cigarettes; instead, they buy them elsewhere.

For example, more than 50 percent of cigarettes consumed in New York are purchased out of state. If you push too far, people will react.

Conclusion

Excise and vice taxes are here to stay. While varying arguments can be made that they benefit society by shaping behaviors, it is undeniable that state, local and the federal government are addicted to the revenue generated.

COVID-19 Vaccination Considerations for Employers

gbLooking at a 2009 letter from the U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employers may be able to require their employees to take the COVID-19 vaccine, with a few exceptions (such as the likelihood of a life-threatening reaction to it). With the COVID-19 vaccine being rolled out, how can employers balance workplace safety, maintain productivity and stay within the law?

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), the early vaccination stages will likely focus on those who are at particular risk of severe and life-threatening complications from COVID-19. This is expected to include elderly individuals, especially those who live in nursing homes. It’s also expected to include frontline healthcare workers who may be exposed to COVID-19 and could expose patients to COVID-19.

Looking to the Past for Guidance on Employer Vaccine Mandates

The natural question for employers is if and how they are able to mandate a COVID-19 vaccination for employees. When it comes to OSHA and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), neither agency has given any actionable guidance on mandating the COVID-19 vaccine.

In light of an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, further government agency direction is likely to follow over the next few months. Until there is more definitive guidance, the most relevant and likely direction is to look back at how the different agencies handled this same question with the H1N1 epidemic.

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

In 2009, the EEOC provided guidance based on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which state that employers are within their right to mandate that workers take the flu shot. However, for workers with disabilities that prevent them from receiving inoculations and for workers objecting to vaccines according to their religious beliefs, their employer must provide a “reasonable accommodation.”

If a reasonable accommodation is available, the employer is responsible for providing it. However, according to the ADA, if a reasonable accommodation is not available; it would create an “undue hardship” for the business; or if the worker would “pose a direct threat” to their coworkers’ well-being and welfare that isn’t able to be reduced via the reasonable accommodation, employers aren’t required to provide that reasonable accommodation.

When it comes to the subjective reasonable accommodation and undue hardship test, the employer must look at the worker’s individual disability, his role and what responsibilities it entails, the type of vaccine being mandated, and the employer’s circumstances. For example, if someone cannot be vaccinated, they may be accommodated by continuing to work remotely, work within the constraints of social distancing guidelines, face masks, etc. However, if the worker’s role requires close contact with others, the ability of the employer to accommodate the employee will be more in question.

Title VII similarly requires business owners who mandate vaccines as a requirement of employment to make reasonable accommodations for workers who assert a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance that prevents the worker from accepting a vaccine. In this case, employers may ask the employee who claims a religious exemption for reliable documentation attesting to the religious objection.

Much like the ADA, Title VII also states that if the reasonable accommodation causes an undue hardship, the employer is not required to make such an accommodation. One distinction for this exception under Title VII is that the undue hardship standard is met when the “more than de minimis cost” to the business is reached. For the ADA’s undue hardship threshold to be met, the accommodation in question must create significant difficulty or expense. For employees who have non-religious beliefs that they explain prevents them from taking a vaccination, this is not covered under Federal Law but might be applicable in certain states.

Looking back to 2009, an OSHA letter stated that businesses can require employees to take a seasonal flu vaccine, with some caveats. One exception is if they have a pre-existing medical condition that can cause grave illness or death, they may qualify for an exemption. As the EEOC suggests, asking and not mandating that employees get vaccinated might garner good results before there’s any pushback from a vaccination mandate.

Businesses can offer vaccines at their place of work, paying for it for every employee who wants it. However, in the course of offering vaccines for workers, logistics must be considered because things are still evolving as the two vaccines (and others) are projected to become more and more available. Employers must consider the time frame of availability for vaccines (depending on the business’ industry, workers’ ages, etc.), pay for time spent on vaccination (potentially if there’s a reaction, etc.), how payment for vaccines will work, delivery and storage of the vaccine, etc.

While the rollout for the COVID-19 vaccine is ongoing, now is the time for employers to determine how they will handle the inoculation with their employees. 

Sources

https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/standardinterpretations/2009-11-09

https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/pandemic-preparedness-workplace-and-americans-disabilities-act

https://www.eeoc.gov/foia/eeoc-informal-discussion-letter-254

How Will the Biden Administration’s China Policy Impact Markets?

smThe Obama and Trump administrations couldn’t have had a more different approach when it came to U.S. relations with China. As the Institute for China-America Studies (ICAS) explains, under the Obama administration, the United States favored a trade and investment approach when dealing with China, while the Trump administration had a national security focus. The ICAS believes the Biden administration will address trade and economic imbalances through a modified approach, including reducing tariffs on imported Chinese goods over time to decrease inflation for American consumers. Another example is maintaining pressure on China to cut government subsidies for competing industries, currency games, and exporting products to the United States at artificially low prices.

While the Obama administration engaged China through trade and investments, it didn’t emphasize engaging the country on the national security side. The Trump administration looked to make American industries independent of Chinese production, especially for rare earth metals, pharmaceutical precursors, etc. With the inauguration of President-elect Biden, the incoming administration is expected to maintain the Trump administration’s quest to give many American industries a fighting chance of survival, albeit how it will be accomplished will likely vary.

The Biden administration is projected to lower tariffs on Chinese imports gradually. This is expected to be done to reduce the tension of the existing trade war. It’s also expected to be done to lower the rate of inflation and help businesses that import input materials from China.

Based on statistics according to the American Action Forum, approximately $57 billion was paid by consumers on an annual basis per 2019 import numbers, due to tariffs instituted by President Trump. This action is likely to increase consumer spending and increase companies’ earnings. However, the Biden administration is still expected to keep other forms of trade pressure on what many believe are unfair trade practices by China.

Biden also is expected to raise the same concerns the Trump administration did regarding Chinese trade and commerce, including China subsidizing its industries, flooding the American market with goods to undercut American producers, and requiring so-called forced technology transfers from U.S. companies.  

However, the trade deficit the U.S. has with China isn’t expected to see much attention. This could negatively impact how much China is ultimately expected to import from the United States.

When it comes to colleges and universities, research-based collaboration, and artistic-based areas, relations are expected to be more friendly. However, when it comes to fighting China’s human rights violations, individuals or business entities might be targeted. Based on Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ proposed Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020, there’s an expectation the Biden administration will keep the pressure on China.

Beginning in 2017, Biden began to discuss plans for America and how some of America’s crucial industries could be more self-sufficient and less reliant on China. Examples include pharmaceutical products, medical equipment, and rare earth minerals.

Potential actions the Biden administration could implement against China include sanctions; U.S. government-sponsored legal action against Chinese firms; and becoming more involved in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and similar organizations. This is seen by some as the U.S. becoming more in-step with Europe to better pressure China in WTO and related disputes. It might also include courting America’s allies in reducing or prohibiting Chinese investment of domestic industries to make it more difficult for Chinese firms to obtain cutting-edge technology.

While there is no way to accurately predict how the Biden administration will treat China, there will likely be continued pushback on China. How these actions will ultimately impact trade and the markets will be seen in the near future.

What To Know About Filing For Bankruptcy

fpAbout one million Americans file for personal bankruptcy each year, with one in 10 households having filed at some point. Given the loss of jobs, reduced income, and the coronavirus recession in 2020, those numbers could increase this year if the economic recovery is not both swift and omnipresent.

There are two main types of personal bankruptcy: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. Chapter 7, which is the more common option, will liquidate the filer’s assets in order to discharge all or a portion of the outstanding debt. People generally choose this route because they are in way over their heads and do not earn enough income to pay their debts in any type of normal time frame.

Chapter 13, on the other hand, provides some immediate breathing room while helping the filer develop a payment plan based on a reduced percentage of the debt. This percentage is determined by how much he makes and what he can feasibly pay each month. While a Chapter 7 bankruptcy remains on your credit report for 10 years, while Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a bit less punitive staying on record for only seven years. As the filer works to pay down his debt and sticks to his plan, his credit score will gradually improve over time. In some cases, the debtor may be able to apply for an FHA, VA, or USDA home loan a year after his bankruptcy filing, or two to four years if applying for a conventional mortgage.

Bankruptcy can provide immediate relief from creditors calling and threatening to evict, foreclose, repossess, shut off, or garnish wages. However, be prepared for some level of pain, such as the bankruptcy court seizing property to be sold to pay your creditors, and/or your credit cards being canceled.

You may see television ads to get debt relief without having to file bankruptcy. Be aware that while these programs may negotiate a debt settlement to something you can better afford, they will not skirt the wrath of the dreaded credit rating agencies. Any time an entity negotiates a reduction in your debt, this will show up as a negative factor on your credit score, and will likely remain that way for many years. A more recent issue that not everyone is aware of is that some employers have started checking the credit reports of job applicants. This makes it all the more difficult to pay off your debt if you can’t get a job because of your past payment history. Your best option is to secure a reliable income before you work with a debt relief agency or file for bankruptcy.

Before entering any type of debt relief program, it’s a good idea to consult with a qualified, non-profit credit counseling agency for a free debt analysis. Don’t go to just anyone; make sure it is a legitimate resource which, by law, is required to serve your best interest. Shady debt counseling vendors are inclined to recommend a debt solution that works out better for the agency than their clients.

If you do decide to file for bankruptcy, be aware that court fees cost about $300, plus lawyer fees tend to run between $1,000 and $3,000 for a Chapter 7 filing and approximately $3,000 to $6,000 for a Chapter 13 filing.

Deciding if a Roth IRA Conversion is For You

tipRoth IRAs can be a powerful tax tool, but they are often misunderstood and misused. Investment income in Roth IRAs compound tax-free and most distributions are tax-free as well. Another benefit is that there are no required minimum distributions (RMDs) throughout the original owner’s life. Long-term Roth distributions are tax-free to the beneficiaries who inherit the IRA as long as they fully distribute the Roth within 10 years of inheriting.

As the annual contribution limits are rather small, most Roth IRA contributions are made by converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. The downside to conversion is that you’ll have to pay tax on the gross amount converted. Considering this can require a substantial cash outlay and that all the Roth IRA benefits are backloaded, deciding to make a conversion can be a difficult call.

Most people aren’t sure it will pay off in the long term and don’t like the idea of paying taxes now instead of in the future. Consequently, too often people try to make a conversion decision through intuition instead of objectively considering the important factors.

It’s best to use a spreadsheet to do an analysis or work with a tax advisor because you will need to consider many factors, including assumptions about tax rates, investment returns, how long you’ll own the accounts, how much you will convert, etc.

Generally, a conversion becomes more advantageous if tax rates increase and this impact is compounded by higher investment returns. Finally, remember that you can leave the Roth to your heirs who can take distributions tax-free.

Roth IRA conversions are not the right option for everyone, but where it’s appropriate the benefits can be substantial.

Standalone 5G Networks: Potential Vulnerabilities that Could Result in Denial of Service for Customers

tech5G networks promise high speeds, lower latency, and more robust security compared to its predecessors – and this has created a lot of buzz. As a result, there is a lot of competition among operators to roll out the network while manufacturers are already producing 5G devices.

The deployment of 5G around the world has also been facilitated by a need for always-connected computers, widespread internet of things (IoT), and dependence on smartphones. All of this is constraining the 4G LTE technology.

With the current uptake in remote working due to COVID-19, 5G is expected to see more deployment.

However, despite the promised benefits, there are varying concerns about the potential vulnerabilities of this network. Since there are various security concerns, this article will highlight those involving the standalone 5G networks.

What is 5G Standalone Network?

5G stands for the fifth generation of networks that are designed to address gaps and errors existing in the architecture of previous generation networks. However, its implementation is through a gradual phasing out of the existing networks.

Note that the 5G network involves two streams, which include the standalone (SA) and non-standalone (NSA). The NSA relies on the existing 4G infrastructure because 5G standards are not fully finalized.

On the other hand, the standalone is a completely new, end-to-end 5G network. To offer ultra-low latency and high capacities, service providers will have to fully implement the standalone 5G infrastructure.

Despite the radical and beneficial transformation promised by 5G networks, there are concerns that it might become a multidimensional cyberattack vulnerability.

Vulnerabilities for Subscribers and Mobile Network Operators

Unlike previous networks, 5G is a software-defined network and involves network function virtualization, which makes it more vulnerable.

The previous networks implement hardware choke points because they are centralized and hardware-based; whereas 5G digital routing lacks inspection and control chokepoints.

This new architecture has seen various research carried out to check its viability. As a result, industry professionals and government officials have already raised concern over the network’s security and overall architecture.

An investigation by global cybersecurity firm Positive Technologies focused on 5G standalone core in terms of its architecture security, the interaction of network elements, as well as subscriber authentication and registration procedures.

The examination revealed that “the stack of technologies in 5G potentially leaves the door open to attacks on subscribers and the operator’s network. Such attacks can be performed from the international roaming network, the operator’s network, or partner networks that provide access to services.”

The vulnerabilities were discovered in two protocols that are, PFCP and HTTP/2, which are used in 5G standalone networks.

Exploitation in Packet Forwarding Control Protocol (PFCP) would result in denial of service. This is because the PFCP is used to manage subscriber connections. A PFCP session includes three procedures: session establishment, modification, and deletion. It’s at this point that denial of service can be carried out by attackers through a session deletion request, a session modification request, or redirection of data through a session modification request.

For the HTTP/2, the Positive Technologies research found that an attacker could obtain the network functions profile and impersonate any network service. This is because the HTTP/2 protocol is responsible for vital network functions that register and store profiles on 5G networks. The attacker then would have access to authentication status, current location, and subscriber settings for network access. It’s also possible that an attacker would be able to delete NF profiles, which could result in a financial loss as well as damage subscriber trust.

If not handled correctly, the 5G standalone network security issues will place critical infrastructures such as hospitals, transport, and utilities at risk.

Solution and Conclusion

According to the report, the vulnerabilities would appear due to misconfigurations. With vendors competing to launch 5G networks, attackers will take advantage of poor configurations.

Therefore, it calls for proper configuration of the architecture to stop these types of attacks. Unfortunately, errors still might occur. To detect configuration errors in the networks, regular security audits should be performed.

It’s also vital that apart from ensuring proper equipment configuration, security monitoring, and enhancing the implementation of firewalls are also top priorities.

In conclusion, 5G’s high speeds, low latency, and high bandwidth will be highly beneficial. However, potential security holes could cost more than the cost of implementing this technology. As a business owner considering the 5G network, do not let your guard down just because the new network promises to address gaps and errors in previous generation networks.