As most of you know, I am committed to a philosophy of life-long learning. It’s exercise for the brain – learning keeps the mind active, supple, and growing, and the benefits spread throughout all aspects of life.

A friend recommended I check out The Feynman Learning Technique; first, I checked out Feynman – was he someone who might know what he was talking about, or was this just a time-waster?

Well, Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize-winning physicist, a man who was building makeshift fuses and repairing radios at the age of 11, who worked on the Manhattan Project, who mastered multiple disciplines (because the world was too interesting to limit himself to one), traveled the world and taught himself numerous languages, is definitely someone who knew how to learn.

And his learning technique is worth pursuing and worth writing about, in my opinion.

How does it work? There are four steps:

  • Step 1: Contemplate teaching the subject you’ve been applying yourself to – to a 12-year-old. Write your explanation out on a blank sheet of paper, using words and concepts a child that age can comprehend. Because it turns out we often use advanced jargon to disguise our lack of thorough understanding. If you can explain the subject in simple words and concepts, you have it down. If not, you don’t.
  • Step 2: Review what you’ve written, and identify the gaps you’ve left in the explanation (they will be there!). It’s filling in those gaps which solidifies our learning of the subject and its concepts and precepts. Go back to your source material; augment those sources with others on the topic. Remember, it’s wiser to be honest – especially with ourselves – than to pretend we know what we don’t. When we’re honest, we minimize the mistakes we make.
  • Step 3: When you’ve filled in those gaps, organize your notes into a story you can tell from the start to the end. Where your explanation is confusing, make sure you can simplify it – remember, your target student is a sixth-grader. If you can’t, go back to your sources again (Step 2) until you can.
  • Step 4: Now, when you have a clear, coherent, and comprehensible narrative, teach your subject to someone. This step is optional, but why not test yourself and be sure you can convey what you’ve learned? You can tell your narrative to your team, like a presentation. You can ask a friend to dinner, asking for her help – a few minutes to explain the subject to her. You can volunteer to speak at a local school or a retirement home. Whichever you choose, ask for questions and feedback – and revise your explanation in writing to ensure you have addressed every item. Do this for yourself to ensure you have maximized your own understanding.

This technique can also enhance our ability to distinguish those who know what they’re talking about from those who don’t.

When an acquaintance discusses a topic in a way which confuses you, ask them to explain it as if you were 12. If they can do that, it’s likely you can trust their knowledge. If they can’t, smile, thank them, but don’t trust – except in the fact that you’ve supplied them with a tool which will help them learn going forward, if they use it.

Have you used any techniques to promote better learning, more thorough understanding? What were they, and how did they help you?

Please click here to email me directly – I am always looking for ways to improve my learning, and would love to know how you do it.

Until next Wednesday –

Peace,

Eric

On Wednesday, March 17, 2021, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced they would extend the deadline to file an individual income tax return and pay any taxes owed from April 15 to May 17 of this year.

This announcement followed calls from legislators and accountants for a delay, as taxpayers struggle with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The IRS is still processing 2019 tax filings; their backlog is reported to be approximately 24 million returns.

For those filing extensions, the deadline to file your return will remain October 15, 2021, and any tax liabilities must still be paid by May 17.

Note that deadline for estimated tax payments for the first quarter of 2021 has not been extended; these payments are due on April 15, 2021.

State tax filing and payment deadlines are not automatically subject to this delay, and you should check with your CPA to ensure that all your tax returns and payments are filed appropriately and timely.

If you have questions on the extended deadline, your state’s response, if any, or any other questions, please click here to email me directly – I am here to help.

Until next Wednesday –

Peace,

Eric

Today, we are talking estate planning. When your labors have borne abundant fruit, it’s natural to want to hold on to it as long as you can. It’s equally natural to want to provide for your family.

The two impulses, sometimes in conflict, can lead to a reluctance to take the steps to plan ahead. I’ve seen families with a great deal of money find themselves in chaos when a family head dies suddenly, without having done any estate planning.

One good reason to devise and implement an estate plan is so that your family won’t have to deal with a tangle of money matters while they process their enormous grief.

But there are, in 2021, many good reasons to develop your estate plan and put it in place without delay.

For 2021, the estate tax exemption is $11.7 million per person. For married couples, this means you can shelter $23.4 million from estate taxes jointly. At least on paper, you have through 2025 to implement an estate plan, with this large exemption (rising for inflation). Under current statute, for 2026 the exemption is set to revert to $5.49 million per person, representing its prior level of $5 million as adjusted for inflation.

However, on the campaign trail, President Joe Biden expressed a desire to return the estate exemption to $3.5 million per person, and it’s possible he could get this passed through Congress in 2021.

Some states, too, currently suffering declines in revenue due to COVID-19 issues such as business closures and lockdowns, among other things, are considering lowering their own estate tax exemptions where estate taxes are already in place or instituting estate taxes where none currently exist. Washington D.C. has already reduced its estate tax exemption for 2021, from $5.67 million in 2020 to $4 million in 2021 – a significant decline.

When you have assets worth protecting, it’s in your and your family’s best interest to start estate planning now.

Gifting now will remove not only the value of the gifted assets from your estate, but all the appreciation on those assets between the date of your gift and your passing.

There are also other ways of sheltering assets – through vehicles such as family trusts, charitable trusts, and many others.

Given the potential significant changes to the estate exceptions, you should not waste time reviewing your estate plan and documents with both your CPA and your attorney.

And if you don’t already have an estate plan, please consider getting one devised for yourself, and implementing it.

None of us knows what tomorrow will bring, so plan today.

If you have questions on estate planning, and how to best protect your family, your assets, and your legacy, please click here to email me directly – I am here to help.

Until next Wednesday –

Peace,

Eric

Seneca wrote, “There is no more stupefying thing than anger, nothing more bent on its own strength. If successful, none more arrogant, if foiled, none more insane—since it’s not driven back by weariness even in defeat, when fortune removes its adversary it turns its teeth on itself.”

As a person of Irish descent, I know a little bit about anger, and is it really a short-term motivator? Anger can make us feel powerful and impatient for action – and this has to be a good thing, right?

Or is it? Remember that anger is an emotional state, which releases Epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, mainly from the medulla of the adrenal gland into the body, which impedes reasonable thought. Now, acting from such a state, surely, is not a good thing under most circumstances.

If I act out of anger, I’m not rationally arriving at the practical solutions. I’m not calmly addressing a team member’s needs and concerns – in fact, my anger is almost certainly counterproductive.

Anger, in fact, can blind us to the path we need to take to get out of the situation or problem which angered us.

It’s a fuel, all right, but toxic fuel, and if we make that fuel our go-to, we’re going to find ourselves with burned out motors.

Those angry brain chemicals leave a bad taste in the soul. An unwholesome feeling in the heart and mind. It’s akin to hate, and, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

and so is anger.

How do you counter anger, when you feel it looming?

Please click here to email me directly – I’d love to know your strategies.

Until next Wednesday –

Peace,

Eric

The U.S. Senate is expected to begin deliberations on the version of The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 which was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last Saturday, February 17, 2021, as early as today, Wednesday, March 3, 2021. Up to 20 hours of debate and votes on significant amendments are expected (the dreaded vote-a-thon). Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has expressed confidence that the bill will be passed by the Senate this week.

Senator Schumer’s comments came after a virtual meeting among Senate Democrats and President Biden on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, during which the President urged his caucus to be willing to accept some amendments they may not like, and not to hold passage of the bill hostage.

We anticipate that the Senate will pass a bill somewhat different from the House’s submission, which will then require a second vote in the House. Democrats in both chambers are working to get the bill signed by President Biden before March 14, as the proposed relief includes an extension and an increase to the Federal unemployment insurance supplement, which is set to expire on that date.

Highlights include:

  • Stimulus checks – direct payments of up to $1,400 per individual.
  • Federal unemployment assistance – the Federal supplemental payment of $300 per week will be increased to $400, and extended through August 21, 2021. Currently, over 11 million Americans are set to lose these benefits on March 14, 2021.
  • Enhanced Child Tax Credit – the credit is increased – for one year – from its current $2,000 for children under the age of 18 to $3,000, and to $3,600 for children under 6.
  • Education – additional funding for K-12 schools, higher learning institutions, and childcare providers. Some 20% of the K-12 funds are to be directed toward mental health services for children.
  • State and local governmental assistance – to state, local, tribal and territorial governments.
  • COVID-19 vaccines and testing – funds are included for testing, contact tracing and mitigation, the protection of vulnerable demographics, vaccines, and the hiring of additional public health workers.

While the House bill provides for raising the minimum wage to $15 in stages, with the full amount reached in 2025, the Senate is unable to even consider that provision in their version, as the Senate Parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, has ruled it out of bounds.

This is because the Senate, in order to pass the bill swiftly, is using the process of “budget reconciliation,” which sidesteps the filibuster rules and allows a controversial bill to pass with a simple majority vote. However, there are limits as to what measures can be considered when using this process.

Republicans in both House and Senate have objected to a number of the bill’s provisions, focusing on such items as spending on high-speed rail projects, what they consider overly-generous aid to state and local governments, and projects undertaken overseas, among other items.

Polls indicate that Americans, by a large majority (including a majority of Republicans), want the bill passed.

Stay tuned – we expect some Senate fireworks in the coming days!

If you have questions on the proposed legislation or, indeed, any subject, please click here to email us directly.

Until next Wednesday –

Peace,

Eric

We’ve all experienced it – the let-down, when we feel when our expectations aren’t met. When a highly-recommended film, or book, or restaurant disappoints us.

But what are our – possibly unrealistic – expectations actually doing for us? Are they perhaps closing us off to new experiences we might enjoy if we went into them without high expectations, just to find out what they actually are, what they might have to offer us? Are we perhaps suffering, some of the time, from the “I like what I know” syndrome?

That’s a comfort thing, and I’m all for comfort – up to a point. But I wonder where that point tips over into complacency and stagnation – I don’t think any of us likes the idea of stagnating in place.

If our idea of a good restaurant, deep down, is where can we get an excellent burger, and nothing beyond that, we won’t want to try fine dining, not American, French, Italian, Chinese, Thai, etc. Perhaps we line up regularly at Port of Call. But what if we do open ourselves up to the new? Jettison our expectations, and discover what unfamiliar food actually tastes like?

Maybe we won’t like it. Maybe we’ll love it. But we won’t know for certain if we don’t allow ourselves to experience it, freed of our regular habits and false expectations.

If we read a glowing review of a play, a film, a restaurant, a wine, maybe we shouldn’t take that to have universal application. Our tastes may be very different from the reviewer’s, and assuming the reviewer is “right” can lead us into high expectations which may let us in for disappointment. Taste is only taste, it’s neither “right” nor “wrong,” it just is, and we are each entitled to cater to our own.

On the other hand, some of my greatest pleasures have come from visiting a restaurant, hearing a band, reading a book which was entirely unheralded. When I had no expectations at all, having nothing to base them on, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Happy surprises bring their own particular brand of pleasure.

Not that we should have anything against the tried and true, either. I know people who re-read favorite books regularly, and I myself have been known to revisit a film or two I’ve loved. There are certainly favorite restaurants and vacation destinations I frequent.

Still, as someone who has had many transformative experiences when I wasn’t looking for them, I do think we do well to allow ourselves to be open – to let, as the legal maxim has it, res ipsa loquitur – the thing speak for itself.

Perhaps it’s a question of balance – like the old song goes, “make new friends, but keep the old.” I think that balance – the equilibrium between expectation and the comfort we feel when our expectations are met, and keeping our minds open to the new – is something each of us may have to work out for ourselves.

How do you achieve that balance? Please click here to email me directly – I’d love to hear your strategies and stories.

Until next Wednesday –

Peace,

Eric

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives will finalize details on their version of President Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief and stimulus spending package, and could potentially send the bill to the Senate as early as next week.

Unsurprisingly, most of the President’s proposed measures – though not quite all – appear to be included, based upon the various committee approvals.

Highlights

  • Stimulus checks – direct payments of up to $1,400 per individual. Full credit for children as well as adult dependents (who were not eligible for previous stimulus checks). The amount of the checks will decline for those individuals earning over $75,000 and married couples with income above $150,000, phasing out completely at earnings of $100,000 per individual and $200,000 for families.
  • Federal unemployment assistance – both the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (which provides relief for freelancers, independent contractors and gig-economy workers) and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (for more traditional workers) programs will be extended through August 29, 2021 (both are currently set to expire in March). The Federal supplemental payment of $300 per week will be increased to $400.
  • Enhanced Child Tax Credit – a one-year increase, beginning in July of 2021, of the credit from its current $2,000 for children under the age of 18 to $3,000, and to $3,600 for children under 6. For the term of this increase, the credit will be fully refundable, meaning that families with incomes too low to receive the full credit under current provisions will now be eligible for the full benefit. In addition, the credit will be provided monthly, rather than on an annual basis as is currently the case.
  • Education – $130 billion for K-2 schools to upgrade ventilation, reduce the number of students per class for social distancing purposes, purchase personal protective equipment, and hire additional staff, as well as to prevent teachers being laid off. A minimum of 20% of these funds are to be used to mitigate the loss of learning students are currently suffering, through extended school days, summer school, or other provisions. For higher learning institutions, $40 billion is provided, and $39 billion is earmarked for providers of child care.
  • State and local governmental assistance – $350 billion to state, local, tribal and territorial governments.
  • COVID-19 vaccines and testing – $46 billion for testing, contact tracing and mitigation, $25 billion to address health disparities and protect vulnerable segments of the population, $14 billion toward vaccines, and $7.6 billion for hiring an additional 100,000 public health workers (this will almost triple the current number of such workers).
  • $15 per hour Federal minimum wage – to be phased in by 2025. This hourly wage will extend to those currently not covered by the Federal minimum wage provisions, such as those who are tipped, underage, or with certain disabilities.

The last provision listed is the most controversial at present, with two Senate Democrats, Krysten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia already vocal in opposition. This is, of course, significant, as Democrats cannot afford to lose a single Senate vote, given the 50/50 split between the Democrat and Republican senators.

Notably absent is any further provision to help mitigate small businesses’ losses.

The coming debate should be interesting – stay tuned!

If you have questions on the proposed legislation or, indeed, any subject, please click here to email us directly.

Until next Wednesday –

Peace,

Eric

As I’ve noted, my career path to helping people has entailed a significant amount of self-discovery, which, in turn, has made me sensitive and understanding to people’s individuality – to what drives them, what they need and want out of life.

In short, through writing my own story (metaphorically speaking), I learned the importance of each person’s own story. And that is what I need.

To understand your story. It’s not anyone else’s story – you own it, you’ve lived it, it’s yours. And it is what drives you.

One of the first things I like to ask new and prospective clients is, “Why is money important to you?” Quite often, the first thing out of their mouths is a generic tribute to the fact that money is important, period.

Of course it is! But that’s not what I want to know. What I want – and need – to know, in order to help you to the very best of my ability, is why it’s important to you. What does it represent, in your most secret heart?

Does it mean security or adventure? Do your retirement dreams whisper quiet comfort, or the freedom to take on new challenges? Neither one is better than the other – they are both worthy of address – as are all the goals, dreams, and fears my clients share with me.

Did you grow up in hard or easy circumstances? A good number of my clients have encountered hardships at some point in their lives, and this can impact the way you approach life – and money.

Everything you’ve lived through is your story. It is the movie that you star in and direct. Everything you’ve made, from your family to your business to your retirement wealth, is part of your story. I can’t help you plan for the future you long for unless I have a deep understanding of what makes you you, and not someone else.

What I want is to help you plan for the future based upon where you have been, where you are now and where you want to go.

And to do that, I have to know that it all matters.

In my office, you are listened to, you are heard – and you are cared about.

Because you are telling me your story, and your story is worth listening to.

Please click here to email me directly – I’d love to talk with you and hear your own, unique story.

Until next Wednesday –

Peace,

Eric

Last week, lenders nationwide were permitted to begin accepting applications for second-round Paycheck Protection Program Loans (PPP 2 Loans), as authorized by the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA).

There is some $284 billion available in funds for these loans, but remember, the initial $349 billion authorized in 2020 ran out within about two weeks – so don’t hesitate to determine whether you are eligible and, if you are, get your calculations and documentation in order without delay.

PPP Round 2 Loans are capped at $2 million.

Eligibility

Eligibility for a PPP Round 2 Loan requires that:

  • You took a PPP Round 1 Loan, the proceeds of which have already been, or soon will be, exhausted,
  • You have 300 or fewer employees, and
  • You experienced a 25% or greater decline in revenue in 2020 versus 2019, either for any given calendar quarter (you cannot use any three-consecutive-month period you choose) or for the year as a whole.

Note that, if you are simply running a total of your 2020 bank deposits to determine revenue (some cash-basis businesses may be tempted to do this), you must be vigilant in excluding any PPP Round 1 Loan proceeds – it is neither appropriate nor in your interest to include them.

We recommend that you go ahead and run your profit and loss statements, having ensured that PPP Round 1 Loan proceeds are entered into a different account than your ordinary revenue, and use those figures to determine your eligibility for a PPP Round 2 Loan.

Documentation & Calculations

If you are seeking a PPP Round 2 Loan of $150,000 or less, and applying to the same lender you used for your PPP Round 1 Loan, your lender may not require documentation supporting your 2019 or 2020 quarterly revenue figures, but you need to keep them on hand in case they are asked for.

Likewise, for such a loan ($150,000 or less and with the same lender from whom you received the PPP Round 1 Loan), 2019 payroll documentation may not be required to apply for a PPP Round 2 Loan.

But for those seeking larger loans, or applying through a new lender, you may be required to provide:

  • Quarterly revenue for 2020 versus 2019 (profit and loss statements) showing a decline of 25% or greater for at least one quarter of 2020 compared with 2019.
  • Documentation of payroll expenses. The CAA allows you to use either 2019 or 2020 payroll data to determine the amount of the loan you can apply for, so use the year with the higher payroll costs, which gives you a higher loan figure.


Other Potentially Required Documents

Other documentation you may need to provide:

  • Photo ID for owners who own 20% or more of the business.
  • Profit and loss statements for 2020 and 2019.
  • 2019 business tax returns (2020 if available). For partnerships, this means both IRS Form 1065 and Schedule K-1s, for sole proprietors IRS Form 1040 Schedule C.
  • Your Articles of Incorporation.
  • Payroll reports listing gross wages, paid time off, and taxes for all employees for all months of 2020.
  • Form 941 (Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return).
  • Form 944 (Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return).
  • Form 940 (Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment Return).
  • Form W-3 (Transmittal of Wage and Tax Statements).
  • Documentation supporting employer-paid benefits such as health insurance and retirement plan contributions.


While we consider it unlikely that the rules governing PPP Round 2 Loans will change as significantly or as frequently as those governing PPP Round 1 Loans did, we feel some changes are more than likely. You never know.

We will monitor the program, and, of course, report back to you.

Stay tuned!

If you have questions on whether a PPP Round 2 Loan is both available to and beneficial for your business, please click here to email me directly.

Until next Wednesday –

Peace,

Eric

It’s tempting to be busy. “Busy” signals that we’re working. But are those “busy” signals reality? And, even if they are, is merely busying ourselves actually meeting our clients’ needs to the very best of our ability?

I think that, often, we need to step back and ask ourselves whether our “busy” work is producing the solutions our clients want and need, or are we merely doing what’s easiest to do? One of the best ways to determine this is to ask ourselves the hard questions. But it’s also a very good idea to check in frequently with our clients, to ensure we are actually being productive for them, and not merely busy.

If our workplace is a factory line, measuring productivity is an easy matter, and, up to a point, keeping busy will raise our productivity while in the factory. For knowledge-brokers, though, the metrics are much more complicated. We measure productivity via our clients’ satisfaction, our own valuation of the services and solutions we provide, as well as our bottom line.

But we all, factory workers and knowledge-brokers alike, require rest. We all know muscle fatigue, what it feels like, and how, sometimes, without rest our bodies just won’t do what we want of them. The same is true for the brain. A factory worker’s hands need rest, and a knowledge-worker’s brain needs rest, or they won’t be able to reach that deep level of focus which produces their best work.

And right now, I think many of us are experiencing a kind of mental fatigue, after a year of COVID-19 and the crushing Saints’ loss on Sunday, sadly ending their season.

I’ve written extensively on the need for recreative time, vacations, holidays, getaways. But it’s been a while since I’ve written on the perils of fatigue – and they are real. Fatigue impairs memory, concentration, and decision making (bad for knowledge workers!), as well as coordination, reaction time, and muscle strength (bad for physical workers!).

Therefore, in order to continuously produce our best work, we have to avoid the trap of being busy instead of being productive. We have to rest our minds, so they can rejuvenate and refresh themselves. This is not accomplished by reading thick technical tomes, but a well-written yet undemanding novel can fill the bill, for readers. We can take a nap, exercise. Anything which allows our brains to take some time off and kick back.

This isn’t a matter of stress-relief, as important as that is. Resting our minds, daily, is stress-prevention, in addition to promoting our best and deepest work. Sounds like a good combination to me.

How do you like best to rest your brain? What activities (or non-activities) bring you the greatest focus and calmness during the workday?

Please click here to email me directly – I’d love to hear your stories and strategies.

Until next Wednesday –

Peace,

Eric

2021

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