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Department of Labor Releases Final Rule Regarding Overtime Exemptions under the Fair Labor Standards Act

DOLRecently, the Department of Labor (DOL) released its final regulations making changes to Part 541, governing overtime exemptions under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Here are the key elements of the new regulation that you need to know now:

1. Salary Threshold Changed to $913/week ($47,476 per year)
This threshold doubles the current salary threshold level. While this level is slightly lower than the threshold in the proposed rule, it still encompasses many employees that are currently classified as exempt.

2. Automatic Salary Threshold Increases Every 3 Years (Not Annually) to Maintain Level at 40th Percentile in Lowest-Wage Census Region
Automatically updating the salary threshold, however, does not allow the government to take into account changing economic conditions, specific impact on certain industries, or regional differences. It also denies the public the ability to have input on the threshold as required by the regulatory process.

3. Duties Test is Unchanged
DOL did not make changes to the standard duties test.

4. Effective Date is December 1, 2016.
With the rule going into effect on December 1, 2016, employers should review their current workforce immediately to determine which employees are affected, whether to re-classify those employees, and to execute a communications strategy. Employers should keep in mind the periodic adjustments and set a regular review process.

5. Highly Compensated Employee (HCE) Exemption Is now $134,004 per year
The final rule retains the methodology in the proposed rule setting the threshold at the 90th percentile of full-time salaried workers nationally.


16 Financial Tips for 2016

financial tips2016 is just days away, and that means it’s time to get your finances in order. Many people find it easy to begin the journey during the first week of January, but by March, bad habits begin to resurface. Here are 16 tips that can take your finances to the next level—and help you stay financially strong throughout the entire year.

Take a snapshot.

Having an idea of what you want to do is great, but putting your plan on paper is the key to success. Pull out a pen and calendar and write down your life ambitions, upcoming events and realistic financial goals. This will give you a snapshot of the reasons for tightening your financial belt and will serve as a useful reminder when times get tough.

Hold a Gift Exchange
Did your children receive tons of clothes from your family for Christmas? Before you pop tags, evaluate how many shirts and pants they truly need—then pack up the remaining items and head to the store. Ask if you can exchange the clothing for larger sizes and get the same pieces in sizes your child would wear a year from now. You will save money in the long run without upsetting well-intentioned gift givers.

Use the fireplace.

Energy bills creep up on you during the winter months. The fireplace is the perfect way to offset costs. If you are lucky enough to have a fireplace, put it to good use during the colder months. Come up with creative ways to feel the heat, like having a family game night in the living room by the fireplace.

Lead by example.

Don’t wait until they’re heading off to college—teach your children to be financially savvy at an early age. When they receive cash gifts or an allowance, show them what it’s like to be in the real world by making them save a percentage of their money or “taxing” their money. You can secretly put some in an interest-bearing account and, each year, show them how their money is growing. By the time your kids are ready to leave the nest, they’ll thank you for helping them to create a healthy nest-egg.

Sleep on it.

You’ve heard this piece of advice before, and it’s still relevant: Don’t make impulse purchases during your journey toward financial freedom. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy anything, but you should definitely give yourself time to think about why you are making the purchase and whether it aligns with your financial plan (see Tip #1). Shop around, do your research and revisit your plan to ensure you are making the right decisions.

Do the 52-Week Money Challenge…in reverse.

If you’ve never heard of the 52-Week Money Challenge, you’re missing out. This is a fun, year-long savings plan that will leave you with $1,378 at the end of the year. The plan originally calls for a person to start by saving $1 the first week, $2 the second week and so on—each week, the number continues to increase. But instead, try the challenge in reverse, saving $52 the first week, $51 the second week and so on. You will stay motivated by seeing immediate results—and as the weekly amounts decrease, it becomes easier to continue the challenge.

Start a side business.

Are people always asking you to sing? Earn money singing at weddings. Do you bake the best cookies on the block? Ask friends about catering their next event. Everyone is good at something, and using your talents to make a little extra cash on the side will definitely help you to reach your 2015 financial goals.

Take note of your triple payday.

Most employees have 26 pay periods within a year. This means that two times out of the year, you’ll receive three paychecks in one month instead of just two. Take advantage of these times to attack those nagging bills you could pay off in one payment. Consider your insurance premium—you could pay your entire premium for six months, which would free up more monthly cash during that six-month period. Do it all over again when your extra pay period comes around and you’ll always feel ahead of the financial “game”.

Go for the big freeze.

After you’ve paid your insurance premium, you may have money left over—but don’t spend it on the wrong things. Wholesale warehouse clubs like Costco and BJ’s have more than just 80-count rolls of toilet paper. Take advantage of their bulk-buying deals and put your deep freezer to good use. You can purchase non-perishable items and “freezable” food like meats, frozen vegetables and pasta, split the items into smaller dinner portions and throw them in the deep freezer for future use. Unthaw food as you need it—and save a pretty penny while you’re at it.

Start saving now for next Christmas.

Many banks have savings accounts that automatically deduct a certain amount of money every time you swipe your debit card. The amount is usually up to your discretion—most people opt for $1 deduction for every transaction. Use this fund as a Christmas savings account and decide that whatever amount accumulates by December is the amount you will spend on purchasing Christmas gifts next year.

Review, review, review.

Did you get a new appliance or gadget for Christmas? Did you talk to your agent about your purchase? If your answer is no, you’re making the same mistake many other people make every year. When you purchase big-ticket items and make upgrades to your home, it is very important to speak with your insurance agent regarding changes you may need to make to your insurance policy.

Give your money away.

You can garner major tax deductions if you donate money to 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations. Do your research to make sure an organization meets this classification—you can donate money, clothes, cars and anything else you have. The tax deduction is good, but giving to those in need is even better.

Review employer benefits.

Whether you’ve been with the company for less than a year or more than two decades, it’s important to regularly review your employee benefits package. As your life changes, you may find certain programs beneficial to your lifestyle. Even if you opt out of your company’s benefits, it’s always important to ask questions. Your company saves money when you opt out of some benefit programs and as an incentive, some companies will offer cash if you choose to forgo their benefits package. Schedule some time to speak to your human resources manager and dust off that employee handbook.

Take advantage of online sales.

Many of us do not use up to 40% of the clothing and appliances we have in our homes. Use your closet and cupboards as a gateway to the world of e-commerce. Selling your personal belongings is never easy, but focus on the financial benefits and how great it will be to de-clutter your home. Use notable platforms like eBay and make transactions through a secure merchant like PayPal. Beware of scams and fraud and remember: If an offer seems too good to be true it probably is.

Live a little.

Working hard to reach financial goals is definitely worthwhile. But it’s important to enjoy the fruits of your labor as well. You can have fun while still achieving your financial goals as long as you plan effectively and efficiently. Allot a certain amount of “splurge money” each month or each quarter and enjoy what you spend. This will keep you motivated and remind you of why it is so freeing to be financially sound.

See somebody.

Use Tower Insurance Agency as a resource for reaching your financial goals. May your 2016 be a year of happiness and prosperity!

Is Your Home Ready for Winter?

get ready for winterIs your home ready for winter weather? Many consumers don’t realize that lack of preparation could mean unwelcome home damage and unexpected repair expenses. To help families and businesses protect themselves against winter risks and enjoy the season, Tower Insurance Agency offers tips that can help families prepare for risks and hazards that may come during the winter months.

Snow or ice is the fifth leading cause of homeowners’ insurance claims. Also, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.), the average homeowners’ claim for water damage and freezing is a whopping $5,531. Follow these tips to protect you and your home from serious financial liability:


Prevent Ice Dams

An ice dam is a build-up of ice that blocks water drainage from the roof and the gutters. Ice dams can cause leaks from ceilings and walls that can ultimately lead to mold and other problems. To prevent ice dams, remove leaves, sticks and other debris from gutters or install gutter guards (available in most hardware home stores) that will prevent debris from getting in the gutter and interfering with drainage.

“Watch Out for That Tree!”

Trees and branches weakened by snow, ice and wind can snap and seriously hurt a person on your property as well as cause serious damage to your home or car. Trimming trees and removing dead branches can help prevent serious damage and injuries.

Roof Care and Repair

High winds, snow and ice can damage a roof. Check the structural ability of the roof to sustain unusually heavy weight from the accumulation of snow and ice. After a heavy storm, check for water stains in the attic and on any overhangs. Lastly, repair or replace split or loose shingles and fix any leaks.

Pipe Dreams…and Nightmares

First, the bad news: Frozen or broken water pipes disrupt hundreds of thousands of American lives every winter. You can prevent frozen pipes by following these tips:

  • Keep the inside temperature of your home at 65 degrees or warmer.
  • Wrap heating tape and/or standard insulation around pipes wherever possible.
  • Look for pipes with cracks or leaks —they freeze first.
  • Keep cabinet doors open during cold spells to allow warm air to circulate around pipes (particularly in the kitchen and bathroom).
  • If you’re leaving your home for several days, turn off the water completely and drain the pipes, or keep water dripping through one or two faucets, as moving water prevents freezing. However, if you are leaving your home for an extended period of time, plan to turn the water off. It also helps to have someone check your home every day while you are gone.
  • If your pipes do freeze, quickly shut off the water and immediately call a plumber.

Prevent Personal Injuries

Homeowners are liable for any injuries that occur on their property. Keep kitty litter, sand or rock salt on hand to sprinkle over frozen driveways, walkways or sidewalks. Additionally, ensure that your outdoor steps and guardrails are in good repair to prevent injuries from falls on ice.

Did You Get the New iPhone6? It Could Be Using More of Your Data…

iphone using dataThe latest iPhone OR the update on the iPhone to IOS9 brings some changes.  It adds a program under “Cellular” called “Wi-fi assist”. This lets your phone use your data plan when the wi-fi signal is weak.  Long story short, if you have this turned on, it ends up using more of your data than before.  We suggest you turn this feature off.  Go into “Settings”, then “Cellular”, and scroll all the way down and you will see the button for “Wi-fi assist”. If the button is green, that means this feature is on. To turn it off, just slide the button to the left until it grays out.



5 Illegal & Deadly Driving Habits

distracted-driving-720Breaking traffic laws can have far greater consequences than a simple traffic ticket. Causing an accident due to negligence could kill or seriously injure you, your loved ones and other drivers. Read and share the following information with your friends and family, particularly young drivers.

  1. Texting While Driving – Driving while texting, emailing or using a smartphone is illegal in most U.S. states and Canadian provinces. While the laws may vary based on the age of the driver or the type of device in use, one thing is clear: distracted driving is dangerous. Numerous studies have shown that texting or using your smartphone while driving substantially increases your chance of injury or death. Injuries and deaths caused by distracted drivers have skyrocketed in recent years. Pull safely to the side of the road and stop before texting or using your smartphone.
  2. Not Wearing Your Seatbelt – Many states and provinces have made driving without a seatbelt a citable offence. Make sure you and anyone else riding in your vehicle is buckled up. Young children should be in an age appropriate child car seat or booster. Click here to learn more about which type of car seat is safest for your child.
  3. Aggressive Driving – Aggressive drivers are dangerous. Weaving in and out of traffic, tailgating and cutting off other drivers can lead to accidents and reckless driving charges. Depending on where you live reckless driving may be a criminal offense and could lead to the loss of your license, expensive fines and even jail time.
  4. Excessive Speeding – Excessive speeding does not mean occasionally going a little bit over the speed limit. Excessive speeding often involves driving at dangerous speeds, putting you and others at risk. Many states and provinces have set thresholds for charging speeders with reckless driving. Being caught speeding in excess of the threshold may mean you will receive a reckless driving charge.
  5. Buzzed Driving – It is no surprise that drunk driving is dangerous and illegal, but some drivers think it is all right to have just a few drinks before they drive. Many states and provinces have drastically lowered the blood alcohol level acceptable for driving. In some cases one or two drinks could land you a DUI charge. Even blood alcohol levels below the legal limit can impair your driving and increase your chance of injury or death in an accident. Teens face zero tolerance laws for drunk driving. This means that it is often illegal for anyone under the age of 21 (22 in Canada) to have any measurable amount of alcohol in their system while driving. First offenses of DUI or DWI may land you in jail and leave you with a criminal record. The best way to avoid DUI or DWI accidents and criminal charges is to avoid drinking and driving all together.

Tips to Improve Your Self-Improvement

self-improvement-tipsSelf-improvement. We all want to be better and do better but few of us actually take the time to work on ourselves. That is what this September observance is all about – making the time for you. Sometimes making the time available in itself is tough but if you value yourself and your self-improvement you will do it. Some people schedule time for themselves just like they would schedule an appointment with someone else. Others get up earlier or plan time at the end of the day. Do whatever is easiest for you or it will not work. The most important thing is to be committed to take time for your own personal self-improvement this month.

The next thing is to figure out what you can do to engage in self-improvement. Here are some ideas:

  1. Start by writing in a guided journal. A guided journal has started phrases that you respond to and it is designed to help you explore your thoughts and beliefs so you get a better understanding of what makes you “tick”. Try The Discovery Journal available through lulu. The discipline of writing and reflecting will give you great insight and help you decide what you want to do to make improvements.
  2. Select no more than three areas you want to work on. Three will be more that enough to keep you busy for the month of September. If you want to chose more after that you certainly may do that. Write you choices down and create a goal for each. What do you want to have at the end of the month regarding each of these. Be crystal clear what it will look like and feel like. What will you be doing differently, what will you be saying and thinking?
  3. Check to be sure that each of your goals is aligned with your values and beliefs. If they are not then adjust them so that they are. If you do not do this you will never achieve your goals happily.
  4. Create a visual of each of your goals and put them someplace you will see often to remind you that you are on your way to new behavior. Every time you look at your visual say to yourself, “I am glad I am on my way to being…..” That will become your mantra or affirmation for each of your goals and will help to keep you focused and attract the changes that you want.
  5. Get to work. Set an action plan to accomplish each of your goals and celebrate, celebrate, celebrate when you accomplish them.

Want to Lower Your Risk of Cyber Attack? What Can We Do Together?

cyberThe IT staffing firm, Robert Half Technology, recently surveyed over 2,000 chief information officers from across the U.S. about their cybersecurity plans for 2015. A majority of the CIOs are planning to improve the security of their information in the next year and plan to use several methods to do so.

Topping the list of security strategies is enhanced employee education, with 54 percent of the CIOs reporting their intention to increase training. Other popular strategies include closer scrutiny of firms that have access to company data (45 percent), and hiring additional IT staff members who specialize in security issues (41 percent).

Although a comprehensive approach to system security requires that organizations tackle the issue from multiple fronts, this survey shows a clear focus on employee-centered strategies.

IT experts suggest organizations look for specific skills when hiring system security staff. Quality candidates should have security certifications as well as evidence of how those have contributed to their success. They should be focused on establishing a culture of security within the organization and possess the strong communication skills necessary to effectively implement security measures at all levels of the organization. “Survey: Employee training top priority for CIOs in protecting company information,” (Feb. 13, 2015).

A report released by Symantec and the Ponemon Institute found that two-thirds of the data breaches in 2012 were caused by human error and system glitches.

Education and training is the best offense against human error. The more loss prevention education and training an organization can provide to its employees and contractors, the lower the security risk to the organization. This simple formula holds true for sexual harassment, and it holds true for cyber risks as well.

This is why IT executives are making employee-driven security measures a top priority this year.

Keeping employees up-to-date on the latest risks, and accountable for their actions, will help to decrease human error. This site provides consistent education on cybersecurity issues. Please use this education for yourself, but also for your employees.