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The 10 Wealth For Life Principles

by Mark Courts on 04/20/19

I will live within my means.
I will maximize my income potential through education and training
I will effectively manage my budget, credit, debt and tax obligations
I will save at least 10% of my income
I will use home ownership as a foundation for building wealth
I will devise an investment plan for my retirement needs and children's education
I will ensure that my entire family adheres to sensible money management principles
I will support the creation and growth of minority-owned businesses
I will guarantee my wealth is passed on to future generations through proper insurance and estate planning
I will strengthen my community through philanthropy

African American Small Business Ownership Up 400%

by Mark Courts on 04/16/19

Wow! African American Small Business Ownership Up 400% in a Year, Survey Reveals

Why Patronize Black Owned Businesses?

by Mark Courts on 04/05/19

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are approximately 2.6 million black-owned businesses in this country. While the growth is encouraging, receipts for all minority-owned firms are still well below the receipts for white-owned firms. A huge problem is that despite a collective buying power of $1.3 Trillion dollars, very little of that money stays in Black communities or is spent on Black-owned businesses.

Research has found that a dollar circulates in Asian communities for approximately 30 days, in Jewish communities 20 days, in white communities 17 days, and in Hispanic communities 7 days. In contrast, a dollar circulates in the Black community only six hours.

Furthermore, just 2 cents of every dollar an African-American spends in this country goes to Black-owned businesses.  In her book, "Our Black Year: One Family's Quest to Buy Black in America's Racially Divided Economy", Maggie Anderson recounts her experiences patronizing black-owned businesses while highlighting the challenges many black businesses face (black businesses lag behind all other businesses in every measure of success).

Research has found that if higher-income Black consumers spend at least $1 out of every $10 with Black-owned businesses, it would generate one million jobs for African Americans.

Knowing how much of an impact supporting black business can make, how do we go about supporting them?

Well, the North Texas Black Business Directory wants to provide some increased visibility into the often overlooked options available in the Black Business community. Our goal is to be an easily accessible place to find Black owned businesses that offer products and services you need.

I hope you will help us and join us in showcasing the various options available throughout the Black community.

The Entrepreneur's Creed

by Mark Courts on 03/16/19

I ran across this article in 2011 shortly after President Obama gave his State of the Union address and I was preparing to launch my first official venture into entrepreneurship. I saved this article and forgot all about it until I ran across it today. Enjoy it and I hope it motivates and brings out the entrepreneur in you.

President Obama & The Entrepreneur's Creed

President Obama's State of the Union address last week gave a big shout-out to entrepreneurs and innovation. As someone who served in Washington and has been an entrepreneur ever since -- minus a brief stint with a large media company -- I found that his message really resonated and was an important acknowledgment of the contribution we entrepreneurs have made and will continue to make in revitalizing our economy.

Each time I've started a company, I've learned a little more about what it means to be an entrepreneur. I've also learned -- as those of you with a similar hankering for start-ups will agree -- that uncharted territory is just that: uncharted. And there is no hard and fast formula for success in an entrepreneurial life. 

But there is something I've come to think of as the Entrepreneur's Creed, which has helped me to navigate some fairly choppy waters. Here it is, for your edification and amusement:

The Entrepreneur's Creed

1.     Never say die. Never give up on your vision  -- there's always a way to make it reality. Tenacity is the single most fundamental requirement for any aspiring entrepreneur.  

2.     Play to win; don't play not to lose.  Successful entrepreneurs play to win, while big, entrenched, innovation-unfriendly companies play not to lose. Don't be afraid to make mistakes - as any investor worth his capital will tell you, we learn more from failure than we do from success.

3.     Subscribe to the hourglass theory. Start out wide, with a number of possible go-to-market strategies. Then focus and execute. You can expand again when you have built up momentum with your customer base and established your credibility in the marketplace.  

4.     Expect to tack your way across the water. The path to success isn't always linear. Tack your way to goals by moving forward, feeling the marketplace, soliciting customer feedback, refining your offering, reacting to new competitors, and making course-corrections as needed. Many a large company stays in the harbor with its spit-shined yacht. Your boat may not look as pretty leaving the port, but at least you'll sail. 

5.     Always define the room as round. In any discussion, any negotiation, there's always a solution. Regardless of your relationship with the party on the other side of the table and the topic of conversation, as long as the room is round, you'll never get boxed into a corner, and neither will your partner. 

6.     People, people, people. In real estate, they say, only three things matter: "location, location, and location." When you're building a business, it's all about people. Find people who always show up ready to drive the business. You might have a grade-A idea, but try to execute with a B team and your idea will get demoted. On the other hand, match a B idea with an A team and you'll get grade-A results every time.  

7.     Hire people smarter than yourself. Recruit and retain a team of people who know more about what they do than you know. Business is like basketball: Every team member has must play well individually and together in order for the team to win. This applies to investors, board members, and advisors, too.

8.     Use the R-U-N strategy to develop a customer-focused organization.  Retain customers by providing excellent service; make an effort to Upsell existing customers; and keep building the business by bringing in New customers. (Many monopolies forget this last point, and just keep taking new orders from old customers.)  

9.     Work hard and play hard, but make sure you work in order to play. No matter how much of yourself you put into your work, always make time for family, friends, and outside interests. (One of my proudest moments? Building a treehouse with my two adolescent sons  --12 feet off the ground, with a finished roof, porch, windows, bunk beds, and pulley systems - on time and under budget!) 

10.  It's not about the destination, but the journey. Remember Odysseus on his odyssey.  He learned that hard way that while it's great to have goals, it's better to enjoy the ride. 

These guiding principles work for me now and have in the past. I'm sure many of you have your own creeds. But as my favorite former president, T-Rex, urged, "The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena."

10 Easy End of Year Tax Tips to Increase Your Tax Refund

by Mark Courts on 11/26/18

This article comes from the Turbo Tax blog. I hope you find it helpful.

The article below is up to date based on the latest tax laws. It is accurate for your 2018 taxes, which you will file by the April 2019 deadline. Learn more about tax reform here.

It's hard to believe that we are in the last quarter of the year! With 2018 coming to an end, now is a great time to make some easy and smart tax moves to help lower your tax bill and increase your tax refund come tax time.

Here are 10 quick and easy end of year tax tips you have time to take advantage of before the year ends:

1. Get organized: Sooner rather than later! It's never too early to gather receipts for tax deductible expenses and sources of income. Doing it now will help you ensure you're not forgetting anything significant and help you see a better snapshot of your finances ahead of the new year.

2. Defer bonuses: If your hard work paid off this year and you are expecting a year-end bonus, this extra money in your pocket may bump you up to another tax bracket and increase how much taxes you owe. If you can hold off on seeing any extra income this year, do it! See if your boss will pay you your bonus in January. You will still receive it close to year-end, but you won't have to pay taxes on it when you file your 2018 taxes. TurboTax TaxCaster can help you see where you stand with and without this income.

3. Accelerate deductions & defer income: There are a handful of tax deductions that are recognized in the year in which you pay them. For example, if you own a home and get a mortgage interest deduction, and if you make an extra mortgage payment on December 31, you can claim that additional tax deduction on this year's taxes. This lets you take the deduction immediately rather than wait an additional 12 months when you do your taxes for next year. Before using this strategy be aware that under the new tax law, if you purchased a new home after December 15, 2017, you can deduct the mortgage interest you paid based on a home loan up to $750,000 instead of $1,000,000 for homeowners who purchased before that date.

4. Donate to charity: The holiday season is coming, which is a great time to clean out your closet and household goods to give to those in need. You can help someone in need and reap the benefits of a tax deduction for non-cash and monetary donations donated to a qualified charitable organization if you can itemize your tax deductions.

If you volunteer at a qualified charitable organization, don't forget that you can deduct your mileage (14 cents of every mile) driven for charitable service. TurboTax ItsDeductible will accurately value and track your yearly-donated goods and mileage for volunteering. Make these donations count on your taxes by donating by December 31st. Even if you make a donation by credit card, you do not have to pay it off in 2018 to receive the tax deduction.

5. Take a class: Taking a course to advance your career and build your business is also a great way to boost your tax refund. Paying for next quarter's tuition by December 31 may give you a valuable tax credit up to $2,000 with the Lifetime Learning Credit.

6. Maximize your retirement: Another great way to reduce your taxable income while building your nest egg is to make a contribution to your retirement savings account. Whether you contribute to a 401(k) or a Traditional IRA, you can take a dollar for dollar reduction in your income and also save for the future. Additionally, if you are self-employed and contribute to SEP IRAs, you can deduct up to 25% of compensation or $55,000 for 2018.

7. Spend your FSA: If you have a Flexible Spending Account and have money left, get caught up on your doctor's visits. The old "use it or lose it" rule may not still apply, but if you have unused money in your FSA account on December 31, you may only be able to carry over up to $500 into your 2018 FSA or your plan may limit the amount of time to 2 1/2 months after the end of the plan year to use your funds.

8. Buy low, sell low: Chances are you have a few investments in your portfolio that have gone down in value, but did you know you can recognize your losses and use them to offset investment winners? To do this, you need to sell the losing investments and offset your losses against your gains recognized. If your losses exceed your gains, you can apply $3,000 of that against your regular income. Any extra will then be passed to the next tax year.

9. Estimate your household income for Marketplace Insurance: Are you applying for a subsidy or discounted insurance in the Health Insurance Marketplace this open enrollment season, which is from November 1st to December 15th for 2019 Marketplace insurance? If so, you will have to project your 2019 household income and family size when you apply. Start looking into any changes that may take place in 2019  (growing your family, job promotion, heading into retirement, etc.). These changes may affect the amount of subsidy you are given to help you pay for health insurance.

10. Increase your Marketplace Premium Tax Credit: If you received assistance for Marketplace insurance in the form of an Advanced Premium Tax Credit, one smart move you can make is to lower your adjustable gross income by contributing to your retirement plan, which may increase the premium tax credit you're eligible for when you file your 2018 taxes.

Don't worry about knowing these tax laws. TurboTax will ask you simple questions about you and give you the tax deductions and credits you are eligible for based on your answers.

If you have questions, you can connect live via one-way video, on demand, to a TurboTax Live CPA or Enrolled Agent to get your tax questions answered.  A TurboTax Live CPA or Enrolled Agent can even review, sign, and file your return.

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