Flu Prevention and the Gym Member

Health officials’ warning this month of a potentially harsh flu season should be a red flag to avid aerobic-bunnies and gym-jocks alike. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warn that the flu is transmitted when flu virus in the air is inhaled after an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks. Transmission also occurs when a person touches a surface that has flu virus on it and then touches his or her nose or mouth. Those familiar with the typical health club milieu, then, can easily liken a workout in the gym to sitting in a veritable Petry dish…

Heavy-breathing members on closely-placed cardiovascular machines and in crowded group fitness classes, hundreds of kinds of shared equipment from dumbbells and weight plates to public restrooms and the corner water fountain provide countless opportunities for contact with the flu virus. So, short of ditching our fitness goals until mid-Spring, it would do us well to learn more about the flu, it’s prevention, and what we can do about it.

What is the flu?

The flu, or influenza, is a contagious disease caused by the influenza virus. It attacks the respiratory tract in humans (nose, throat, and lungs). The flu is different from a cold; it usually comes on suddenly and may include these symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Tiredness (can be extreme)
  • Dry cough
  • Sore Throat
  • Nasal congestion
  • Body aches

About 10% to 20% of U.S. residents will get the flu each year. Among these persons infected, an average of 36,000 will die, and 114,000 will be hospitalized. Although the CDC claims it is not possible to accurately predict the severity of the flu season, this year’s early incidence of Type A flu strain is historically associated with a more severe flu season, including higher numbers of related hospitalizations and deaths. To make the outlook more grim, an epidemiological assessment by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) already reports “widespread” influenza activity in over 10 U.S. states.

Who is at risk?

Although anyone can get the flu, including individuals who are healthy, there are various groups who are at higher risk for complications. These high risk groups include:

  • persons aged > 50 years;
  • residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities that house persons of any age who have long-term illnesses;
  • adults and children > 6 months of age who have chronic heart or lung conditions, including asthma;
  • adults and children > 6 months of age who need regular medical care or had to be in a hospital because of metabolic diseases (like diabetes), chronic kidney disease, or weakened immune system (including immune system problems caused by medicine or by infection with human immunodeficiency virus [HIV/AIDS]);
  • children and teenagers (aged 6 months to 18 years) who are on long-term aspirin therapy and therefore could develop Reye Syndrome after the flu; and
  • women who will be more than 3 months pregnant during the flu season.

How to Prevent Getting the Flu

Health officials are encouraging people, particularly those in high-risk groups to obtain a flu shot. The CDC states that an annual flu shot is the best way to reduce the chances that you will get the flu.

The best time to get a flu shot is from October through November, although you can still benefit from getting the vaccine after November, even if the flu is present in your community. Be aware that it takes about two weeks after the vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body to provide protection.

Obtaining the vaccine does not guarantee a flu-free season, however. Influenza viruses are constantly changing, and vaccine effectiveness depends on the match between vaccine strains and circulating viruses and the age and health status of the person getting the shot. Although the strain in this year’s flu vaccine is different from the circulating strain, the CDC states that studies indicate that the vaccine should provide some cross-protection against the circulating A strain.

Some people resist getting the flu shot because of the belief that they will get severe side effects, or even the flu itself, from the vaccine. The viruses in the vaccine are inactivated, so you cannot get the flu from a flu shot. Certain side effects are possible, such as soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given, fever (low grade), and aches.

Chances that the shot will cause serious harm, or death, is very small and allergic reactions to the vaccine, though possible, are rare, states the CDC. Most people who get the vaccine have no serious problems with it. However, the following groups should not get a flu shot before talking with their doctor:

  • People with an allergy to hens’ eggs.
  • People who have had a severe reaction to a flu shot in the past.
  • People who have developed Guillian-Barre Syndrome in the 6 weeks following a flu shot.

Since obtaining vaccination doesn’t necessarily guarantee immunity against the flu, it is wise to add common sense to our prevention efforts while we are busy pumping iron at the health club. Old fashioned hand-hygiene can go a long way in helping to prevent flu transmission. Although you don’t want to spend your entire workout running to the restroom to wash your hands after every set, it’s certainly advisable to make sure your hands are clean before and after the workout. Refrain from touching your nose and mouth during the workout to avoid obtaining the virus. Use of hand-antiseptics which include alcohol can also help to prevent transmission of the flu virus.

What to do if you get the flu

So what if you obtain a flu shot, practice stellar hand-hygiene and manage to contract the flu anyway? Since it is impossible to tell if you have the flu based on symptoms alone, visit your doctor. Tests can be performed in the first few days of the illness to determine the diagnosis. Since influenza is caused by a virus, antibiotics won’t work to cure it. You need to rest, drink plenty of fluids, avoid using alcohol and tobacco, and possibly take medication to relieve symptoms.

The CDC warns never to give aspirin to children or teenagers who have flu-like symptoms, particularly fever, without speaking to your doctor. Doing so can cause a rare but serious illness called Reye syndrome.

By all accounts, we may be in store for a particularly harsh flu season this year. Take precaution to reduce the likelihood of getting the flu, particularly if you are an avid gym-goer. Preventative measures may not only help to avoid the flu, but also interrupting hard earned progress on your fitness goals.

For more information about the flu, it’s transmission, prevention and treatment, check out the CDC website at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/diseases/flu/

SEIS the Tax-Free Investment Opportunity for UK Investors

Enterprise Investment Schemes

An EIS is an investment vehicle that provides funds and capital to small businesses that, due to the tightening of the credit market, cannot otherwise get financing from traditional sources. An EIS is an unquoted company that is not on a stock exchange and is most likely managed by a venture capital firm. These firms manage the investment objectives to protect investors and maximize investment returns. A good firm will have been involved in venture capital investing for a number of years and be able to provide a solid track record of protecting principle and securing returns. Firms operate their EISes differently, some offering investments into single companies while others operate EIS funds in which you could invest into a fund of multiple companies, therefore diversifying your risk.

The benefit of tax protection that EISes offer has resulted in an increased demand among wealthier investors, with EIS being utilized as a strategic tool within their portfolios. The UK government increased tax relief from 20% to 30% and the annual investment amount has been increased from £500,000 to £1,000,000. With the added benefit that the investment is exempt from capital gains tax and inheritance tax, EIS is increasingly the perfect vehicle for certain investors. More and more EISes have become essential within many investment portfolios as an integral tax relief tactic.

Seed Enterprise Investment Schemes

Not quite as large as the EIS, the SEIS provides a similar benefit and experience. The main difference being the investment amount allowed annually which currently stands at a maximum of £100,000, but offers an unprecedented 50% tax relief on the investment’s gains and value. However this 50% is only applicable if the SEIS continues to comply with the SEIS rules and providing the investment is left for a minimum of three years. After three years the investor can sell their stake, incurring no capital gains tax against profit realized. Furthermore, loss relief applies to any losses incurred.

As of 2014, the upfront tax relief for the highest tax bracket investors equates to a 64% tax break and, when combined with a loss relief tax break of a further potential of 22.5%, equates to a total of 86.5% tax relief. The downside tax protection of almost 90% is unprecedented amongst all other investment vehicles and provides significant tactical value to certain investors.

Careful Consideration

As with any investment decision, you need to be careful in your consideration when choosing to use EIS or SEIS for your portfolio. You should be considering these tax relief options in your portfolio after you have exhausted other forms of tax mitigation. The first two that should be utilized are your pension and annual Individual Savings Account (ISA) allowance. These primary tax savings vehicles provide secure investment vehicles; ISAs offer amazing investment flexibility not available through EIS or SEIS. Another option includes VCTs – Venture Capital Trusts – which have similar strategic benefits to EIS or SEIS but are limited to £200,000 per year.

In deciding on further tax mitigation, you need to consider the portion of your portfolio that these tactical investments would make up. Conventional wisdom dictates that you should not put more than 20% of your holdings into risky opportunities, but that 20% could realistically be surpassed with correct use of the right investment vehicles. If you are hedging your portfolio against a known event that will increase your capital gains taxes or inheritance taxes, EIS and SEIS would be a viable way to mitigate those taxes in a given year. In this way you could max out your contributions to these two tactical strategies in order to mitigate the known tax implications from another portion of your investment portfolio. It is these considerations that you should be aware of before deciding on a specific EIS or SEIS company.

Another concern that you should be aware of is the fact that EISes and SEISes are essentially “locked-in” products. You need to be able to leave the investments locked in for a period of at least three years (and in some cases longer) in order to access the tax relief benefits – managers will generally look for an exit in or around year 4, but an exit could realistically take longer and is subject to market conditions. In this way, many EIS and SEIS companies are illiquid and the secondary market for selling EIS/SEIS shares is therefore small. Taking the long view on these investments should be a natural consideration.

Choosing the Right EIS/SEIS

When deciding on the right company to invest for the purpose of tax mitigation, not all EIS/SEIS companies are the same. Choosing a company should not be done on impulse and requires effective due diligence to ensure that their investment philosophy is in line with your own. At the time of consideration, ask all the same questions of the company as you would when investing in any stock. By ensuring the company has a solid and proven track record of investments, open reporting functions that promote transparency and an investment philosophy you agree with, you can feel comfortable with your investment.

By considering an EIS/SEIS investment you are considering an investment option that has a real potential for investment loss. It can be the right option for those looking for a high risk option with an effective tax mitigation strategy as a small portion of their overall portfolio. EIS and SEIS investments can also be an excellent way for investors to dabble in venture capital investing without having to put up too much capital.

For more information please visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-enterprise-investment-scheme-introduction

https://www.gov.uk/seed-enterprise-investment-scheme-background

Is Out-Of-State Real Estate Investing Right for You?

Have you made up your mind to start investing in real estate, but you’re torn in deciding where to invest?

Are you thinking about making a local investment, but wondering if an out-of-state investment might be better?

This is one of the first of many choices you’ll have to make when you decide to invest in real estate: the simple question of where you should invest your hard-earned dollars. While there are definite benefits to investing in your area, there are also some potentially profit-limiting downsides.

That’s not to say investing in outside areas doesn’t have its own pros and cons. Let’s take a look at both and see why out-of-state real estate investing might be a profitable option you have not yet explored.

Investing Locally

This is the most obvious choice for many real estate investors, but is it really right for you?

If you choose to buy a property local to you, you’ll rest easier about your investment since you know the market. First, you know your competition. You might know the names of professionals you can trust and you’ll have an intimate understanding of what the cost of living is for that area and how to make things more affordable.

Second, if you like to be hands-on, it will be much easier for you since you’re right there. If you want to see the property, it’s just a short drive away. If you want to talk to the property manager face-to-face, you just put it on your calendar for the end of the day.

Drawbacks to Local Investments

On the other hand, investing solely local can narrow your options. Not every market has the inventory of good investment opportunities that you can avail yourself of if you invest out-of-state. The local inventory of available properties may or may not be big enough or well-suited for investment opportunities.

You also run into the problem of whether your local market is the one you want. The recession made a huge impact on housing markets throughout the country and some areas have recovered at different paces than others. You might find yourself out-priced in your current market, but even if you aren’t, you might not be able to see a favorable future where you’re at.

Investing Out-of-State

If you decide to invest out-of-state, you can greatly increase your options. You can literally choose any location, any market and invest in properties there. Whether you want to invest in Florida vacation homes and coastal villas or homes in the suburbs of Detroit, the sky’s the limit. You can make your investment fit your price point and interests.

By investing out-of-state, you can put your money to work in markets with high ROI. You pick and choose which markets you’re interested in, and which ones are rising stars in the real estate investment scene, ignoring your own market’s changes.

Investing out-of-state also allows you to scale based on your needs. For many would-be investors, their local market is priced too extravagantly to make real estate investment prudent. The cost of living in a different state, just a few borders east or west, might be considerably lower. That means you can snatch up excellent properties at a much lower cost than you might in your own market.

Even better, you can snag those investment deals on excellent properties that would go for three to four times as much, if not more, in your own local market. Your purchasing power becomes much stronger in other markets, because everything’s relative.

Challenges of Out-of-State Investments

There are still some challenges to these remote investments. First of all, you have to learn who you can trust and maintain the peace of mind that comes from having easy local access to your investment. You also have to be able to trust that the property you’re investing in is what it’s advertised as.

The property is also more difficult to visit if you like to be hands on. You might have to fly out to visit the property, which some people enjoy but others are seriously bothered by. If you are the type of investor who prefers the more passive turn-key approach, this is an excellent opportunity.

Finally, the market won’t be what you’re used to. Nothing will be quite the same as being there and immersing yourself in the market, but you can learn and study. You just have to rely on someone else to have knowledge of the nuances of the market.

Doing Out-of-State Right

There is a solution to all of the challenges of real estate investing outside your state. When you find a reputable, proven company to handle your turn-key real estate transaction, you have someone you can count on to know the market you’re investing in. Here are the main reasons you should find a partner to work with you on your out-of-state investments.

  • They can keep a more educated eye on the market, since they know all of the nuances of that area.
  • They’ll serve as your presence near your investment, keeping everything on track, so you don’t have to make numerous trips to the property.
  • If the turn-key real estate investment firm is reputable, they want you to succeed. This means they’ll do anything they can to make sure you do succeed.

The question becomes, whom can you trust? You want to make sure you engage in a partnership with a firm who is reputable, knowledgeable and engaged in your market. Referrals from other investors are key, so be on the lookout for like-minded people who have been there and done that.

You should also investigate what the turn-key operation offers you, and what their fee or cut of your profit is. Ideally, you’ll want a partner who can help you throughout your investment lifecycle, from acquiring the property to managing it.

Getting Started

We’ve gone over the benefits and drawbacks of out-of-state investing, so now the decision is yours to make. Do you still want to invest locally or have you realized that the time is ripe to diversify your portfolio and invest in out-of-state properties? The benefits of out-of-state real estate investment are huge and the drawbacks can easily be mitigated by partnering with someone in the area in which you’re investing.

Even Beginners Can Make Money Investing in Mutual Funds

Even if you don’t really understand stocks and bonds and the markets they trade in, you and other beginners can make money investing in mutual funds once you get a handle on the mutual funds universe. Here we take the mystery out of investing for beginners.

News flash: Tens of millions of Americans make money investing in mutual funds without knowing what they are doing. Caution: They also lose money unnecessarily and they are not investing as beginners, because they have been doing it for years. Let’s look at what you really need to know to make money investing on a more consistent basis while avoiding serious losses.

Mutual funds were created and promoted as the average investor’s vehicle for investing money in stocks and bonds. That’s just what they are – packages of investments managed for investors by professional money managers. They make investing for beginners simple. You simply open an account, and put your money down with instructions as to how much to invest in which funds. Example: You send in $10,000 to buy shares of ABC Stock Fund. Soon you will own shares in that fund and will own a very small part of a very large portfolio of stocks. The number of shares you will own will depend on the share price at the time your purchase order is processed.

Whether or not you make money investing in mutual funds without taking much risk depends on which funds you invest money in and how you go about it. There are basically three traditional fund alternatives: stock (diversified), bond, and money market funds. You should invest in ALL THREE TYPES if your goal is to consistently make money investing in mutual funds. You also need to understand asset allocation, so you can tailor your total mutual fund portfolio to fit your risk profile. And remember, investing for beginners need not be difficult.

Diversified stock funds are the riskiest of the three and they are your growth engine for earning higher returns. They invest your money in a broad spectrum of stocks representing a number of different industries. This makes investing for beginners simple compared to picking your own stocks. You make money investing here primarily through price appreciation (the fund share price going up) and through dividends. The major risk: share prices fluctuate and can fall significantly when the stock market falls. One year you can make 20%, 30% or more; and you can also lose that much. Over the long term, investors have averaged about 10% a year. Notice I said LONG TERM.

Bond funds invest your money in bonds, which are debt securities that pay interest. Their primary objective is not growth, but rather to earn higher interest for investors than they could earn from safe investments like bank CDs. Traditionally, you make money investing in these mutual funds primarily through the dividends they pay you from the interest they earn. Normally they pay considerably higher dividends than stock funds do, but similar to stock funds their share price fluctuates (usually much less). You can profit from higher share prices, but you can also lose money here. They are considered to be safer investments than stock funds, but bond funds are not necessarily safe investments.

Money market funds invest your money in high-quality short-term debt instruments (IOUs) and pay current interest rates in the form of dividends. Unlike the other two mutual funds, their share price is pegged at $1 and does not fluctuate by design. As interest rates go up the dividend increases, and as rates fall so does the dividend. You make money investing in these mutual funds only through the dividends paid. These mutual funds are considered to be safe investments, and can be used as a cash reserve awaiting bigger opportunities.

To make money investing in mutual funds without worrying your head off you should invest in all three to have a balanced investment portfolio. Here’s what I mean by balance and why it is so important to investing for beginners. Holding either stock or bond funds involves the risk of losing money. If you invest in both this will lower your overall risk. Reason: oftentimes losses in one are offset by gains in the other. Money market funds add flexibility and a cushion of risk to your overall portfolio of mutual funds. The more safety you want the more you allocate to money market funds.

An example of investing for beginners follows. You invest $10,000 equally allocated to the three basic fund types. A couple of years later you see that the stock fund is worth quite a bit more than the other two. The good news is that stocks performed very well. The bad news is that a major decline in stock prices could wipe out your profits and more. To keep things in balance, rebalance once a year so that you are back to equal amounts in each fund. This is very important if you want to make money investing in mutual funds on a consistent basis without unpleasant surprises every few years.

Investing for beginners is not about getting rich quick and neither are mutual funds. If you want to grow your money for a long term goal (like retirement) this article was written for you. You can make money investing in mutual funds without much effort or worry once you get a handle on the basics.