Be a quitter in 2014!

Kick off the year by attending the American Lung Association’s Freedom from Smoking® class offered by the Baltimore County Department of Health.

The Freedom From Smoking® class is a FREE seven week program that uses a positive behavior change approach, and helps participants develop their own plan on how to quit. In 60-minute sessions, participants will learn about reducing stress, cravings and withdrawal symptoms, and how to control their weight while resisting the urge to smoke.

 

The class will be held every Tuesday, beginning January 7 from 6 to 7 p.m., and will take place at the Baltimore County Department of Health located at the Drumcastle Government Center – 6401 York Road (First Floor Conference Room) in Baltimore, Maryland.

The Freedom From Smoking® class is free and open to the public. FREE nicotine replacement therapy (patches and gum) and Chantix are available for eligible class participants. Registration is required. To register or receive more information, call the Department of Health at 
410-887-3828.

Financial tips for the New Year

The New Year offers a fresh start, when many of us feel energized, optimistic and open to change. When you set your New Year’s resolutions, consider financial goals too. Set goals that are attainable and measurable. Break each goal into steps, write those steps down, and set deadlines for accomplishing each step. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  1. Pay yourself first. Set a savings goal. You can start with three to five percent of your pay and work up to 10 percent. Set up automatic deposits into a separate account. If your employer offers a 401(k) plan, try to at least contribute up to the match. If your employer doesn’t offer a 401(k), set up an IRA. If you are already contributing to your 401(k) or IRA, consider increasing your contributions to the maximum. In 2014 the maximum amount for a 401(k) is $17,500 and if you are at least 50 you may contribute up to $5,500 more.
  2. Create a budget. This is not as hard as it sounds. If you use your bank’s on-line bill pay, a good place to start is the summary information found right on the website. Your credit card company may also provide you a year-end summary of your spending. You can’t set goals for spending and saving without understanding where your money is currently going. As you look at your spending, think about what you are spending your hard-earned money on— differentiate between wants and needs. Much of our overspending is on little things like a daily latte or eating lunch out every day. Cutting back on these seemingly minor expenditures can have a big impact on your finances.
  3. Pay off credit card debt. This is likely the highest interest rate debt you have. If you have only been paying the minimum, set a goal to pay a certain amount more each month. And through creating a budget and setting savings goals, you should be able to find ways to reduce spending on the “wants” and reduce your use of credit cards. Your ultimate goal should be to charge no more than you can pay off each month.
  4. Prepare a personal net worth statement. This is simply a list of all your assets (home, 401(k) plan, IRAs, bank accounts, life insurance, etc.) and your liabilities (mortgage, auto loans, credit card debt, etc.) Many people are surprised to discover how this simple exercise helps you focus on financial goals.
  5. Review your estate planning documents. Documents that everyone needs include a will, durable power of attorney, medical power of attorney, directive to physicians (living will), and a HIPPA (medical privacy) release. If you have minor children, a will is necessary for naming a guardian in the event you die. The importance of these documents cannot be overemphasized. And review with your closest family members so they know where the documents are in case they are needed in an emergency.
  6. Rebalance your investment portfolio. The asset allocation in your investment portfolio is a road map towards your financial future and should be aligned with your financial goals. Throughout the past year certain asset classes may have performed better than others and your portfolio should be rebalanced back to your target allocation. A financial planner can help you envision your future, determine your financial goals, and devise a strategy for achieving those goals including an appropriate asset allocation.
  7. Review your insurance. Life insurance policies should be reviewed annually to see if they still meet your needs. Similarly review your property and casualty coverage. Depending on your situation, consider an umbrella policy. You should also review your disability coverage, an area people often leave themselves exposed to risk as you are much more likely to become disabled than to die prematurely.
  8. Review your tax plan. Work with your financial advisor to identify opportunities for tax savings. Tax laws change frequently and you should understand how these laws affect you.

Joseph M. Jennings, Jr., CFA, Senior Vice President, Investment Director, PNC Wealth Management has 14 years of wealth management experience. He is a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) charter holder and member of both the CFA Institute and the Baltimore CFA Society. He can be reached at joseph.jennings@pnc.com.

Why We Need Another Civil Rights Movement

Sometimes I feel like I was born in the wrong generation. As a child I would often watch old clips of the Civil Rights Movement and desperately wish I could have participated. The focus and eloquence of Dr. King inspired me. The courage of the children challenged me, and the unity of Black people was something I’d yet to witness in my generation. My soul longed for the days when Black people didn’t sit around and hope for change, but actually fought for it to happen. I was sad I missed the opportunity to be apart of something worthy. I yearned to be apart of another movement. As I got older it dawned on me, that if we ever needed another Civil Rights Movement, we need it now.

photo

http://emmetttillpictures.org/

Emmett Till

The Civil Rights Movement began in 1955 and was birthed out of the death and murder of Emmett Till. Although Till’s death sparked the movement, it was years of racism, injustice, and hate against Blacks in America that came to a head. Enough was enough. Blacks were citizens of America, and wanted equal treatment like everyone else. It was time for schools to be desegregated. The “Whites Only” signs that plagued the South had run its course. It was time for diverse shopping centers, movie theaters, restaurants, etc. I’m sure my Black brothers and sisters were especially motivated by the direct racism they endured during that time. Although we’re not experiencing that type of racism today, the state of Black America needs immediate attention.

Today we are experiencing what I like to call “institutionalized racism”. For example: Back in the day John didn’t have a chance of getting the job he applied for, because he was Black, and the White employers would gladly tell John that truth. However, in today’s times John can send in his resume, go to the interview, have employers smile at him during the entire interview process, but will never get the job due to him being a Black man. What’s worse is the fact that John will never know why he wasn’t hired, or he quite naturally will eventually understand it’s due to racism. Both are detrimental.

Michelle Alexander, author of New Jim Crow Laws writes “People are swept into the criminal justice system-particularly in poor communities of color-at very early ages… typically for fairly minor, non-violent crimes.” The institutionalized racism that’s plaguing Black America can definitely be found in the prison system, but it doesn’t stop there. It’s EVERYWHERE. Public schools fail to properly educate our children, which in return has negatively affected our communities. The lack of resources in our community has resulted in violence and drug use. As I watch the slow demise of our community, I wonder if anyone else recognizes our dire need for another Civil Rights Movement. I wonder if we’ll stop waiting on another Dr. King to surface. King couldn’t do it alone. It took everyday people joining together to form a powerful source that couldn’t be broken. It’s going to take the exact same unity today.

What are we waiting for?

Louis Gossett Jr

Academy Award Winning Actor, Activist, Author

Born May 27, 1936 in Brooklyn, NY, Lou has a flair for projecting quiet authority and has scored well personally in a string of diverse and occasionally challenging roles.

The aspiring actor caught a break at his first Broadway audition for “Take A Giant Step” (1953), where, beating out 400 other candidates, the then 16-year-old landed the lead.

His acting career soon flourished and his work in the stage and film versions of the groundbreaking drama about African-American family life in Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” (1961) proved a watershed. This led to numerous appearances on network series in the 1960s and 70s culminating in 1977, when he picked up an Emmy for his eloquent portrayal of Fiddler in the landmark ABC miniseries “Roots”.

Meanwhile, his big screen reputation grew with critically acclaimed work in such comedies as “The Landlord” (1970) ”The Skin Game”(1971) with James Garner, “Travels with My Aunt” (1972) and the film adaptation of the Tony Award-winning drama “The River Niger” (1975). A riveting performance as a drug-dealing cutthroat stalking Nick Nolte and Jacqueline Bisset in “The Deep” (1977) catapulted him to wider popularity, but the tough by-the-book drill sergeant in “An Officer and a Gentleman” (1982) won him a Best Supporting Oscar that consolidated his place in the Hollywood hierarchy.

Following his Oscar, he made numerous big screen and television appearances ,being singled out for his work as Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in “Sadat”(1983), the sci-fi adventure “Enemy Mine” (1985) where his lizard-like makeup won kudos, and in the action adventure series “Iron Eagle” (1985,1986,1992,1995) which introduced him to a whole new generation of moviegoers.

Still going strong, Lou’s trendsetting bald head and imposing six-foot-four physique served him well in “Diggstown” (1991) where he played a down-and-out boxer, a heroic headmaster in “Toy Soldiers” (1991).

Lou’s well thought out and nuanced performances also managed to give credibility to socially themed projects such as “To Dance with Olivia” (1997), and the critically acclaimed “Jasper, Texas” (2003)

The recipient of every known acting accolade, including multiple Golden Globes, Emmys, and People’s Choice Awards, Lou’s performance has connected him with his fans on a global scale. Organizations such as the NAACP, CARE, and the United States Armed Forces have used his likeness to add validity and integrity to their causes.

Recently, Lou was the new lead on the popular science fiction series “Stargate SG-1” introducing him to a new generation of fans worldwide. Lou has also developed the Eracism Foundation, a nonprofit organization aimed at creating entertainment that helps bring awareness and education to issues such as racism, ignorance, and societal apathy.*

*from www.louisgossett.com

Visit www.louisgossett.com, http://www.eracismfoundation.org/

Tips for managing your year-end taxes

The close of every year seems to bring its own uncertainty from a tax-planning perspective. Last year featured the expiration of certain temporary tax provisions and the commencement of automatic federal government spending cuts. In October the President and Congress temporarily agreed on funding the government and increasing the national debt limit. But these issues may reappear in 2014 and could result in tax law changes that affect income tax and financial planning.

For now, the best approach is to focus on how to limit your exposure to the many new or increased taxes in 2013 and beyond.

Manage higher taxes

Many taxpayers will be faced with higher tax bills in 2013 as a result of:

  • The temporary reduction in the Social Security tax from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent that expired at the end of 2012. This means an increase of $2,000 in taxes for $100,000 of wages.
  • The tax rate on wage income that increased from 35 percent in 2012 to 40.5 percent in 2013. The tax rate on interest income that increased from 35 percent to 43.4 percent and the tax rate on capital gains and dividends that rose from 15 percent to 23.8 percent for high-income taxpayers.
  • The Affordable Care Act, which was passed in 2010, that increased the Medicare tax from 1.45 percent to 2.35 percent for high-income taxpayers starting in 2013

Strategies that can help minimize these taxes:

  • Avoid a transaction, such as selling stock, which would push you into a higher tax bracket.
  • Accelerate any deductions that you control. For example— pay your January mortgage in December to get the interest deduction in 2013.

Note that tax considerations are only one factor when determining whether to buy, hold or sell an investment.

Understand the new investment income tax

The new 3.8 percent tax on investment income was created under the Affordable Care Act and became effective in 2013. The income threshold for this tax is $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for joint filers.

For those affected, there are short-term and long-term strategies that can help minimize this tax burden.

A short-term strategy involves trying to manage your tax position to keep below the threshold for the 3.8 percent tax or to minimize investment income in any year where you will exceed the threshold.

A long-term strategy is to consider investment options that avoid the tax or change the types of investments you hold to include more that are not subject to the tax.

People who think they cannot be affected by high-income thresholds need to understand that the income amounts are not indexed for inflation. Over time, more and more taxpayers will be subject to the tax – even if their real or inflation-adjusted earnings are the same.

Consider converting retirement assets

Recent increasing tax rates created a unique opportunity to accelerate gain and pay taxes at lower rates. Individuals who converted assets from a traditional before-tax IRA to an after-tax Roth likely benefitted.

After-tax Roth IRAs generate tax-free income, subject to you holding the account for five tax years and reaching age 59.5. If you have a traditional 401(k) or IRA, you can convert that asset to a Roth IRA by paying the tax on the gain or before-tax value of the asset. While any conversion tax liability in 2013 will need to be paid with your 2013 income tax return, it may make sense to convert some funds to a Roth IRA and diversify your retirement assets from a tax perspective. In addition to possibly paying tax on the gain at lower rates, a Roth IRA offers other benefits, such as not being subject to age 70.5-required minimum distributions, and limiting the impact of Medicare surcharges and the 3.8 percent investment tax.

Contribute to an IRA

Many individuals do not realize they can contribute to an IRA each year regardless of their income or whether they have a retirement plan at work. The only requirements for making a contribution to an IRA are that you have earned income of at least the amount contributed and you have not reached age 70.5.

While you have until the due date of your income tax return in April of 2014 to make your 2013 IRA contribution, delaying the contribution until then results in you losing some of the opportunity for tax-favored growth. So consider making your 2013 contribution now and your 2014 contribution in January 2014. Depending on your income, you may be able to contribute directly to a Roth IRA and enjoy tax-free growth. Even if you earn too much to contribute directly to a Roth IRA, you can fund a traditional IRA and then convert some or all of the funds to a Roth IRA.

Prudential Financial, its affiliates and their financial professionals do not render tax or legal advice. Please consult with your tax and legal advisors regarding your personal circumstances.

How to travel happy during the holidays

It’s that time of year again. The holiday travel season is officially underway. Arriving at the dinner table to enjoy the family feast is the final destination, but getting there can be a battle.

AAA is reporting that travelers (people traveling 50 miles or more) has decreased slightly this year. However, there will still be millions of people on the highways, railways, and the friendly skies. The key to a timely arrival is preparation and planning.

Despite your mode of travel there are several things that you can do to enhance your travel experience:

Check the Forecast: Many parts of the country are already experiencing winter weather. Snow, high winds and record rainfall can put a damper on travel plans. Stay updated and plan accordingly.

Dress Accordingly: Regarding the weather, wear extra layers. You can always peel them away if you get too warm.

Get Some Rest: Get plenty of shut-eye so that you can be at your personal best during travel.

Leave Early: To avoid traffic and long lines at ticket counters at the airport and AMTRAK.

Use Online Tools To check the status of traffic, delays and cancellations.

Specifically for those that are packing up the vehicle and considering a family road trip, make sure to take these tips into consideration:

Vehicle Maintenance Check-up: Before jumping on the highway, take your car in for service because being stranded on the side of the road is not an option.

First Aid: Place an emergency roadside assistance kit and a First Aid kit in your car; because you just never know.

Fuel: Locate the least expensive gas prices in your area and fill up.

Did you make a decision to catch a flight this year? If you haven’t purchased a ticket yet, don’t stress there is still time to get a great last minute deal.

Travel Websites: Visit different travel sites and compare pricing, baggage fees, connecting flights (if any), travel insurance options and read the small print.

Crowd Control If Possible: Travel on the holiday to avoid long lines and possibly receive a reduced fare.

Pack Light: To avoid baggage fees and to minimize time spent in the airport.

No matter how you decide to get to grandma’s house take your time and plan. Travel can be less stressful if you do your part. Setbacks will occur, prepare for them as best you can. Even if you make it to the dinner table after dinner has been served keep in mind the objectives are to arrive to your destination safely and to enjoy time with your loved ones. Blessed travels!

Stephany DeBerry is a former airline employee and author of “Plane Etiquette, Godly Wisdom for Flying.” She is also the host of Take Off With Stephany, a travel radio program coming to a network near you soon.

Eating well at any age: How to fuel your mind, body and soul

— It’s common knowledge that children should eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, consuming all the nutrients needed to grow up strong. Many adults don’t know that it’s just as crucial to continue those healthy habits throughout adulthood and well into the “golden years.” Regardless of age, we should all make nutritious and sensible choices to promote peak physical and mental performance.

Build strong bones

Experts say the human body begins to lose bone mass at about age 30. That’s why it’s important to get plenty of calcium to keep bones strong, along with vitamin D, to help your body absorb calcium. Good sources of calcium include green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, okra and collard greens. A convenient and delicious way to take in more calcium is to incorporate an Emerald Smoothie into your daily routine. Simply blend pineapple, celery and spinach with soymilk and ice in a Vitamix 7500. This quick and easy concoction will give your diet an extra boost of essential nutrients.

Sharpen the mind

Making wholesome choices helps keep your brain fit. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish like sardines and salmon, as well as flaxseed and walnuts, have been linked to improved cognitive function and reduced risk for certain diseases. Eating fish regularly is one way to get enough omega-3s. If you’re not a seafood fan, numerous types of fish oil capsules are available at drug stores. Avocados also boast omega-3s, as well as monounsaturated fat, which can help lower cholesterol and improve circulation. Avocado provides a rich flavor and texture perfect for nearly any sandwich, as well as dips, smoothies and even desserts.

Antioxidant-rich blueberries are another mind-boosting addition to any diet. Considered a “super food,” these berries contain properties that have been linked to better brain health, improved motor skills and a sharper memory. To increase your berry intake, try a fruit salad for lunch or whip up a fresh berry sorbet for dessert.

Nourish your nervous system

Vitamin B12 is vital to your wellbeing. It can aid your body in producing red blood cells, properly developing nerve cells and preventing anemia. This vitamin can be found naturally in animal products, such as fish, meat and eggs. Steamed clams and lean beef are some of the best sources of Vitamin B12. Those maintaining a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle should consider a supplement or foods specially fortified with B12, including certain breakfast cereals or soy products.

Stay hydrated

Water is essential for your body. It keeps you hydrated, regulates body temperature and flushes waste. As we age, our sense of thirst may not be as effective, causing some older adults to be dehydrated but not feel thirsty. The average adult requires six to eight glasses of water each day, so a good rule of thumb is to have one glass at each meal and at least one glass in between meals.

Almond milk, soymilk and whole-food juices, made by blending whole fruits and vegetables in a high-performance blender like a Vitamix, can also keep you hydrated and satiated. When reaching for a thirst quencher, try to avoid sugary drinks such as soda and processed fruit juice, which add calories without much nutritional value.

Aging is inevitable, however, you can build a stronger body, mind and soul at any phase in life. All it takes is knowledge, motivation and follow-through to keep yourself healthy and full of energy for years to come.

Beverly Johnson

Super Model, Hair Guru, Businesswoman

The first African American supermodel on the cover of American Vogue was Ms. Beverly Johnson. Beverly was attending college Northeastern University in Boston, MA when she tried her hand at modeling. She quickly landed modeling gigs and began working steadily. Johnson would go on to appear on magazine covers and fashion runways all over the world, including her groundbreaking Vogue cover in August 1974.

Johnson’s appearance on the cover changed the beauty ideal in fashion, and by 1975, every major American fashion designer began using African American models. Now Beverly is a considered a pioneer, entrepreneur, and role model for women everywhere.

She is the face and name of The Beverly Johnson Wig and Hair Extension Collection with Amekor Industries. During this period, her line of wigs, extensions and other hair products was the top selling brand in the country.

This is a true testament to Beverly Johnson’s “name recognition” and brand awareness from Multicultural clients with a deep respect for top quality hair products. Many national publications have dubbed her the “Hair Guru.” *

As her hair product line continues to flourish, Beverly will always be known as THE Super Model that paved the way for those that followed her.

*from www.beverlyjohnson.com

Visit www.beverlyjohnson.com or Follow @BeverlyJohnson1

Is It Necessary To Celebrate Black History Month?

“We don’t have a White history month, so why is there a Black history month?” Those exact words rolled off the tongue of my White co-worker, who was oblivious to the fact that he was embarking upon the biggest history lesson of his life. Although his comment was offensive and a bit hurtful, it wasn’t time to take it personal. It was imperative that he being a White male working with Black children in the ghettoes of the South side of Chicago, completely understand why it’s very necessary to celebrate Black History Month. Allow me to school you like I schooled him.

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US Department of Transportation

Garret A. Morgan

We don’t have a White history month, because White history is consciously and subconsciously celebrated all year long. Think about it. Everyday, the media inundates us with European images that inform us of the “true” standard of beauty. When asking the younger generation who invented the stoplight, they stare cluelessly. They haven’t been educated about how a Black man by the name of Garret A. Morgan, invented the stoplight, which totally transformed streets all across the globe. However, every year they are reminded to celebrate Christopher Columbus for his “discovery” of America. The faces of accomplished individuals in the media fail to fully represent African Americans. Of course media highlights the success of certain African Americans, but typically not mainstream media. And although I absolutely LOVE Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the African American historic experience is so much more than one man.

It saddens me to hear the younger generation equate Black History with slavery. Don’t get me wrong, I’m well aware slavery plays a HUGE role in our history, but it’s so much more that isn’t being told. What about our royal history? Why isn’t mass media sharing the historic stories of Black kings and queens in Africa? Or the great contributions of African Americans in this country? Have we forgotten about the Harlem Renaissance Movement that’s responsible for today’s classic African American literature? The first open heart surgery was performed by Daniel Hale Williams, a Black man. Our history is rich, inspiring, and extremely vital to our future. Therefore, it needs to be shared and celebrated.

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National Park Service, Department of the Interior, US Government

Carter G. Woodson

Black History Month began as Negro History Week in 1926. Founded by Historian Carter G. Woodson, he wanted public schools to place a huge emphasis on Black history during the second week of February. Woodson chose that week, due to the fact that it marked the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. In 1976 the U.S. government officially recognized the expansion of Negro History Week, to Black History Month. A week wasn’t sufficient enough to properly fit in the history of Blacks. And to be honest, one month isn’t enough time as well, but it’s a good starting point. It’s a great opportunity to take the family to a museum, watch a few documentaries, and truly discuss Black history in depth. However, the spirit of Black History Month shouldn’t die on February 28th. It should live all year round. To answer my White co-workers question, Black History Month should be celebrated all year, until there is no longer a need to ensure us one month. Until the true history of Black Americans is properly told in public schools. Until countries all over the entire globe recognize the beautiful struggle of Black Americans and join our celebration. Until then, this is why we celebrate Black History Month.

Do you and your family celebrate Black History Month? What are your traditions?