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Area businesses take on a new look in the snow

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Photos by Jeff Vorva

Snow was piled up high in Evergreen Park at the corner of 95th Street and Pulaski Road. And that was before a second storm hit the next day.

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Vehicles at the Enterprise Car Sales in Worth accumulated a lot of snow during the recent storm.

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A small army of snow blowers were camped in front of J-Tel Lawn and Snow Equipment in Worth on Thursday.

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The AutoZone in Oak Lawn received a little ice and snow during the storm.

What’s your vision of retirement?

When you start out in your career, you’re probably not thinking much about retirement. At this point, your picture of a “retirement lifestyle” may be, at best, hazy, hidden as it is behind a veil of experiences you’ve yet to encounter. But as you move through the years, your view of retirement comes into clearer and closer focus — and this vision will have a big impact on your savings and investment strategies.

Consequently, to create and implement those strategies effectively, you’ll need to define your retirement vision by identifying its various parts. Here are some to consider:

  • Travel — If you’re like many people, you may dream of traveling during your retirement. But what does “travel” mean to you? Do you envision taking a cruise or an international trip every year? Or is your idea of travel just a short jaunt to a popular destination, such as a lake or the mountains or the beach? The difference in costs between global and U.S.-based travel can be enormous, so you’ll need to define your goals and estimate your expenses.
  • Second home — Once you retire, you’ll have to make some housing-related decisions. Should you sell your home and “downsize”? Or do you want to keep your current residence and possibly purchase a second home, such as a condominium, in another part of the country? Obviously, you’ll need to factor in these choices when you think about how to invest before you retire and how to manage your withdrawals from your 401(k), IRA and other accounts during your retirement.
  • Volunteer activities — You might think that your volunteer activities during retirement won’t affect your finances much. But if you are particularly ambitious, and your volunteerism involves travel, renting space, purchasing equipment and so on, you might be looking at some large cash outlays. Furthermore, if you host people at your house, you may be incurring some types of liability risk, which you might need to address through appropriate insurance coverage.
  • Hobbies — During your working years, you may pursue your hobbies always with the thought that you can devote a lot more time to them after you retire. However, expanded hobby activities may involve expanded costs. For example, if you’re good with cars, you might decide to invest in that foreign sports car of which you’ve dreamed. Or, if you’re fascinated by genealogy, perhaps you’ll start traveling to places once inhabited by your ancestors. These types of activities can be expensive, so you’ll have to evaluate your saving, spending and investing habits to determine how to accommodate your increased expenditures on your hobbies.
  • Second career — Many people look forward to retiring from one career so they can start another — opening a small business, consulting or even taking a part-time job. Clearly, if you were to start your own business, some expenses would be involved, so you’ll have to plan for them. Even if you become a consultant or work part time, you could incur various costs, including travel. And, in relation to these types of work, you may also have insurance and health care issues to address.

By identifying the various components of your retirement vision, and estimating their respective costs, you can make those saving, spending and investment choices that can help you work toward your retirement dream.

Scott Johnson, CFP, is a financial advisor with Edward Jones, 8146 W. 111th St., Palos Hills, 974-1965. Edward Jones does not provide legal advice. This article was written by Edward Jones for use by your local Edward Jones financial advisor.

Personal info is exceptionally vulnerable in 2014

TECHNO TALK

If we learned anything this past year, it’s that information we store online is exceptionally vulnerable. Our metadata (the data that describes who we are and what we do) is in the hands of people who are about as successful at protecting it as 1850s bankers were at protecting money in the Old West.

Sure, the metal safe looked strong and secure, but a motived bank robber with a stick of dynamite had all the tools required. In just the past few weeks hackers have had their way with Target Stores, Snapchat and thousands of other “targets of opportunity” that you will never hear about.

How do they do it? Every way you can imagine (and a bunch of ways you can’t).

We can start with the government. It’s not strictly hacking; it’s more like manhandling, but… by now it should be abundantly clear that the NSA has access to everything that it wants to have access to. Everything on your iPhone, your Wi-Fi signal, laptops you bought online, your private cell phone conversations, your email address books… the list goes on and on and on. At this point, anything the NSA wants to know about you, it will know about you.

I’m not making a political statement, nor am I suggesting that there is anything right or wrong with the government having access to virtually everything it wants to have access to. That said, there are all kinds of additional security issues caused by systems that allow certain information to be tracked by some systems, but not by others. To say nothing of the psychological issues caused by the knowledge that when you are connected, your electronic trail is available. And, for all practical purposes, cannot ever be erased.

Add to this, malicious hackers who are interested in profiting from the sale of your information, interested in making a name for themselves or simply trying to make a point about something. There’s nothing anyone can do about this group of hackers or these types of hacks. They are a fact of life in the Information Age. However, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself in 2014.

Target’s Black Friday Breach

Over 40 million credit cards were compromised after a massive attack on Target during the weeks leading up to Christmas. There’s nothing much Target can do to help you at this point. Sure, its CEO is offering free credit monitoring, the company is on the hook for $3.6 billion in fines and banks are capping cash withdrawals after it was announced that yes, the breach compromised PIN numbers, too, even though.

Target initially said they were safe — they’re not safe and you’re on your own.

If you shopped at Target between the middle of November and the middle of December, there’s a good chance your card is compromised. If your bank hasn’t canceled your card already, strongly consider calling up your credit card company and canceling it yourself. Here’s a helpful guide as to what to do if your credit card is stolen. Basically: cancel your card, monitor your statements, create a fraud alert, and move on.

Target’s breach was both better and worse than most other hacks we saw in 2013. It was worse because its repercussions could be of a greater impact than having your Yahoo password stolen, for instance. Having someone gain access to your credit card info could max out your credit cards and destroy your credit score. But it’s better because every financial institution is aware of the breach, and most credit cards have fraud protection, ensuring you won’t be stuck paying for anything you didn’t actually buy.

Target’s breach was also an example of just how helpless we are. All you did was buy Christmas presents, or maybe just some groceries, and suddenly your life became far more complicated and annoying. And, this is just the beginning — expect this kind of thing to happen on a regular basis – truly, nothing can stop it.

Snapchat’s Phone Number Leak

It’s already known that even though Snapchat is designed to make it seem like your snaps (the photos you send your friends and family) disappear once you open them, anyone can actually save them without you even knowing.

Forget a “Screenshot!” alert; you can sneak in through the back door of Snapchat and save anything and everything you receive. While it’s not a hack organized crime would bother with, it’s worth repeating that snaps and every other picture you ever take with a digital camera enter the body of knowledge of mankind and will be seen by everyone in the world. So, “Carlos Danger,” never take a picture of something you don’t want the world to see.

Back to bigger hacks. This past August, Gibson Security published a report that said the coding in Snapchat made it possible for anyone to find out a bunch of information about any account, including your username and phone number. Gibson published a new report about the same thing in December, which Snapchat addressed by saying that it wasn’t an issue. Well, it turns out that Snapchat was wrong and that it was, in fact, an issue. A website called snapchatDB posted SQL/CSV files that contain the username and associated phone number for a “vast majority” of the service’s users — over 4.6 million users, to be precise.

There’s not a lot of text-based private information on Snapchat — you don’t need to fill in too many fields to start texting selfies to your friends. But Snapchat’s user base is mostly teens and tweens, and Kevin Poulsen of Wired Magazine points out the biggest fallout from this leak: possible stalking. How’s that for your first tech life lesson? Don’t have fun with your friends or you might be harassed because bad men want to ruin your day!

What Can We Do?

The most important thing we can do is to remain vigilant. Keep track of everything, and if anything seems suspicious, act on it. Start getting a bunch of weird emails? Can’t log in to an account you should be able to? See some weird pending charges on your credit card statement? Take action!!! YOU are the best defense against the mean, awful, angry world of hacking.

If you suspect your accounts are compromised, change your passwords. Make them as secure as can be. Spending a few extra seconds typing in a password every once in a while is worth it to make your account more difficult to crack. Use the guidelines I laid out. It might seem like a hassle, but keeping unique passwords for every site you use (I know, you probably have accounts for dozens if not hundreds of sites) will keep all your other accounts secure. But it’s (arguably) better than the alternative: having one hacked site force you to change dozens of passwords at once.

If your credit card statement looks funky, call your bank immediately. Dispute any charges, then cancel your card. People can get your credit card information any number of ways; banks (usually) won’t hold that against you. Be proactive, rather than reactive, and make sure you’re protected.

Lastly, and most importantly, keep all of your credit card numbers and the associated contact information for canceling your cards in a place where you can quickly, securely get to them. Using a password wallet or other specialized software will make it much easier to go through the process. “Best practices” says to keep copies of this data in several different places (including on paper) and stored as safely as you store your household cash or jewelry. The goal is to be able to quickly contact every credit provider. That’s all you can do. The hacks we’re seeing now are being done by professionals who simply want to sell your information and defraud the financial institutions you patronize — they don’t care about you personally — it’s strictly business.

When opportunity knocks, open the door

Scott-Johnson---Head  If you’ve been around long-time investors, you’ll probably hear them say, ruefully, “If only I had gotten in on the ground floor of such-and-such computer or social media company, I’d be rich today.”
  That may be true — but is it really relevant to anyone? Do you have to be an early investor of a spectacular company to achieve investment success?
  Not really. Those early investors of the “next big thing” couldn’t have fully anticipated the tremendous results enjoyed by those companies. But these investors all had one thing in common: They were ready, willing and able to look for good opportunities.
  And that’s what you need to do, too. Of course, you may never snag the next big thing, but that’s not the point. If you’re going to be a successful investor, you need to be diligent in your search for new opportunities. And these opportunities don’t need to be brand-new to the financial markets — they can just be new to you.
  For example, when you look at your investment portfolio, do you see the same types of investments? If you own mostly aggressive growth stocks, you have the possibility of gains — but, at the same time, you do risk taking losses, from which it may take years to recover. On the other hand, if you’re “overloaded” with certificates of deposit (CDs) and Treasury bills, you may enjoy protection of principal but at the cost of growth potential, because these investments rarely offer much in the way of returns. In fact, they may not even keep up with inflation, which means that if you own too many of them, you will face purchasing-power risk. To avoid these problems, look for opportunities to broaden your holdings beyond just one or two asset classes.
  Here’s another way to take advantage of opportunities: Don’t take a “time out” from investing. When markets are down, people’s fears drive them to sell investments whose prices have declined — thereby immediately turning “paper” losses into real ones — rather than holding on to quality investment vehicles and waiting for the market to recover. But successful investors are often rewarded when they not only hold on to investments during declines but also increase their holdings by purchasing investments whose prices have fallen — or adding new shares to existing investments — thereby following the first rule of investing: Buy low. When the market rises again, these investors should see the value of their new investments, or the shares of their existing ones, increase in value. (Keep in mind, though, that, when investing in stocks, there are no guarantees; some stocks do lose value and may never recover.)
  Instead of looking for that one great “hit” in the form of an early investment in a skyrocketing stock, you’re better off by seeking good opportunities in the form of new investments that can broaden your existing portfolio or by adding additional shares, at good prices, to your existing investments. These moves are less glitzy and glamorous than getting in on the ground floor of the next big thing — but, in the long run, they may make you look pretty smart indeed.

Scott Johnson, CFP, is a financial advisor with Edward Jones, 8146 W. 111th St., Palos Hills, 974-1965. Edward Jones does not provide legal advice. This article was written by Edward Jones for use by your local Edward Jones financial advisor.

Financial resolutions for the New Year

Scott-Johnson---Head  About 45 percent of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions, according to a survey from the University of Scranton.
  But the same survey shows that only 8 percent of us actually keep our resolutions. Perhaps this low success rate isn’t such a tragedy when our resolutions involve things like losing a little weight or learning a foreign language. But when we make financial resolutions — resolutions that, if achieved, could significantly help us in our pursuit of our important long-term goals — it’s clearly worthwhile to make every effort to follow through.
  So, what sorts of financial resolutions might you consider? Here are a few possibilities:
  • Boost your contributions to your retirement plans. Each year, try to put in a little more to your IRA and your 401(k) or other employer-sponsored retirement plans. These tax-advantaged accounts are good options for your retirement savings strategy.
  • Reduce your debts. It’s not always easy to reduce your debts, but make it a goal to finish 2014 with a smaller debt load than you had going into the new year. The lower your monthly debt payments, the more money you’ll have to invest for retirement, college for your children (or grandchildren) and other important objectives.
  • Build your emergency fund. Work on building an “emergency fund” containing six to 12 months’ worth of living expenses, with the money held in a liquid account that offers a high degree of preservation of principal. Without such a fund, you might be forced to dip into your long-term investments to pay for emergencies, such as a new furnace, a major car repair, and so on. You might not be able to finish creating your emergency fund in one year, but contribute as much as you can afford.
  • Plan for your protection needs. If you don’t already have the proper amounts of life and disability insurance in place, put it on your “To Do” list for 2014. Also, if you haven’t taken steps to protect yourself from the considerable costs of long-term care, such as an extended nursing home stay, consult with your financial professional, who can suggest the appropriate protection or investment vehicles. You may never need such care, but that’s a chance you may not want to take — and the longer you wait, the more expensive your protection options may become.
  • Don’t overreact to market volatility. Too many people head to the investment “sidelines” during market downturns. But if you’re not invested, then you miss any potential market gains— and the biggest gains are often realized at the early stages of the rally.
  • Focus on the long term. You can probably check your investment balance online, which means you can do it every day, or even several times a day — but should you? If you’re following a strategy that’s appropriate for your needs, goals, risk tolerance and time horizon, you’re already doing what you should be doing in the long run. So there’s no need to stress yourself over the short-term movements that show up in your investment statements.
  Do whatever you can to turn these New Year’s resolutions into realities. Your efforts could pay off well beyond 2014.

Scott Johnson, CFP, is a financial advisor with Edward Jones, 8146 W. 111th St., Palos Hills, 974-1965. Edward Jones does not provide legal advice. This article was written by Edward Jones for use by your local Edward Jones financial advisor.