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Keeping the Holidays Cozy and Bright

(NewsUSA) - Natural gas and electricity produced with natural gas are critical sources of energy throughout the year, but especially during the winter months when families need to keep their homes cozy and bright.

Households this winter are expected to use more natural gas because of slightly colder weather projections than last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the statistical agency within the U.S. Department of Energy. The fact that about half the homes in the United States use natural gas for heating highlights the importance of having dependable service.

Williams, which is one the largest natural gas infrastructure companies in the United States, is focused on reliably handling approximately 30 percent of the nation’s natural gas so it is there when consumers need it most.

Making this happen requires a sophisticated infrastructure network that spans the country as well as a dedicated workforce committed to working 24 hours a day, seven days a week to keep the gas flowing. That includes holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Nathan Thee is a senior pipeline controller for Williams in Tulsa, Okla. with more than 10 years of experience. He knows the critical nature of his job means his work shift fluctuates and can require sacrificing time with family on the holidays to perform his job alongside teammates.

Pipeline control is like air traffic control at an airport, except we’re directing gas in pipelines,” said Thee. “We’re in constant communication with processing plants and well operators, making sure gas flow is up and running from the well heads to the plants.”

As a controller, Thee typically monitors several pipelines remotely and directs assets where they need to be so there’s no service interruption to customers. Pipeline controllers are also coordinating with operations employees in the field around the clock with any necessary work or checks they need to ensure system reliability.

Natural gas is most often associated with home heating in the winter, but it is also used to generate most of the electricity used in the United States, according to EIA. Therefore, in the summer months when demand for electricity to run air conditioners increases so does demand for natural gas. To cushion these high-demand periods of winter and summer, the industry stores away huge quantities of natural gas every year. The most common way to store natural gas is in large caverns underground. It can also be stored in smaller quantities in tanks above ground.

The gas is injected into underground storage typically late in the spring or early in fall. These periods are known as the “shoulder months” when natural gas demand declines with the mild weather. Building up gas inventories during these times ensures there is enough supply on hand when the seasons change and demand returns.

As the world moves to a low-carbon future, Williams is well positioned to support the continued replacement of higher-emitting fuels such as coal and heating oil domestically and abroad. According to EIA projections, the displacement of emission-intensive coal with natural gas and renewable energy will allow the U.S. to continue reducing carbon dioxide emissions into 2035.

In addition, natural gas remains an indispensable partner in supporting society’s ambitions to add more renewable energy to the power grid. Natural gas ensures reliable power generation when intermittent wind and solar resources are unavailable. Concurrently, the ability of the U.S. to export liquefied natural gas will also provide other countries with the environmental benefits of replacing more carbon intensive energy sources.

Demand for clean energy is on the rise and natural gas is playing a critical role in moving the world to a low-carbon future. This winter as families depend on the warmth of their homes – and during every season of the year – Williams and its employees will be there to safely and reliably provide the natural gas that is used each day.

To learn more about the benefits of natural gas visit Williams.com.


 


 

Three Money-Saving Cell Phone Plans to Brighten Your Holidays

(NewsUSA) - Inflation got you worried money’s tighter than Santa’s belt?

If you’ve searched everywhere but the couch cushions for extra cash for gifts, switching to one of these no-contract wireless service providers could be just what you need to make the holidays merrier.

1.Total by Verizon

Total by Verizon

This is a great holiday choice to keep you living well on a Scrooge's budget.

Not only do you get access to what’s been rated as America’s most reliable 5G network – just think, no annoying lags while watching videos – but Total by Verizon plans start at just $30 and come with lots of perks.

For the best value, though, check out its $50 Unlimited plan. It includes 5G Nationwide, unlimited data, 10 GB of hotspot data, as well as unlimited talk & text to five countries of your choice and Disney+, the dedicated streaming home for movies and shows from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic.

In other words, you’re getting uncompromising network quality, the latest smartphones and exceptional benefits all while beating the average American cell phone bill. Which, according to JD Power, is $70 per month for a single user.

Think of all that extra cash in your pocket as a much-deserved present to yourself.  

2. Straight Talk Wireless

Straight Talk Wireless

For the practical people on your list, Straight Talk stacks up as a smart, savvy choice.

For starters, Straight Talk offers great smartphones, including a Samsung Galaxy A13 5G, with no contracts or mystery fees at $99.99. Then there's the wide selection of amazingly priced service plans, including the $45 Silver Unlimited plan, which comes with unlimited talk, text and high-speed data – plus 5GB of hotspot data so they can save money while staying connected with loved ones.

3.Tracfone

Tracfone

Whether you’re shopping for yourself or someone else, if you’re in the market for a quality phone with a simple, budget-friendly plan tailored for those who want what they need, when they need it, then it’s hard to beat Tracfone’s unlimited talk and text plans starting at just $15 a month.

Need data? The $30 Unlimited Talk & Text plan gives you 4GB of high-speed data. And $40 monthly gets you Unlimited Talk & Text plus 8GB of high-speed data with Hotspot capability and IDnotify from Experian. So no matter which plan you choose, if you don't use all your data it simply carries over to the next month.

Meaning, you’re in control and pay only for what you need. Period.

How to Make the Most of Your Money During Inflation

(NewsUSA) - Financial inflation, whether you have experienced it before or this is your  first time, can seem frightening, and the rapid rise in prices of gas, groceries and consumer goods in the past year threatens to throw off the best-planned budgets.     

The inflation currently affecting the United States and elsewhere is caused by many factors, including government stimulus, increased consumer demand, COVID-19 and supply chain issues.     

Although you may feel that inflation is spiraling your personal finances out of control, keep in mind that this period will pass. You can weather the storm with some smart money management strategies.     

The first rule of surviving inflation is not to panic, says Joseph Kelly, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM professional. In fact, the best strategy to combat inflation is to focus on financial basics. “Know what you’re spending your money on, have a long-term investment plan and consider ways to reduce your debt,” he explains.     

Try these tips to make the most of your money during tight times:     

• Spend less. It seems obvious, but small savings add up. Some easy ways to get more money back in your budget include seeking less- expensive options for internet and phone service, as well as for homeowners and car insurance. Cut gym memberships, and look for free exercise classes online, at least for now. Look for deals on groceries, and choose store brands or generics. If you drive to work, ask for more opportunities to work from home, or consider public transportation or carpooling.     

Earn more. Depending on the nature of your job, the current environment of remote work makes it possible for many people to add a side business, such as freelance consulting in your area of expertise, or selling things on eBay, Craigslist, Etsy or other online venues. Other options include seasonal or part-time in-person work. Choose somewhere you like to shop, and you may get an employee discount, too.       

• Curb debt. Don’t let inflation lure you into the trap of putting more on credit cards. Instead, try to reduce your debt by consolidating any current credit card debt on one card; this can reduce your overall interest rate while you make payments. Other debt-reduction strategies include paying the card with the highest interest rate first, or the account with the smallest balance first.     

No matter what strategies you use to save money, remember that periods of inflation are temporary. A CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM professional can provide additional guidance and help you stay on track with your short-term and long-term financial goals.

Visit LetsMakeAPlan.org for more information.

Strategic Money Moves for Young Adults

(NewsUSA) -  For young adults starting out, money management can be a challenge. You may be navigating rent, car payments, monthly bills, food and also student loans. Many young adults are looking to refinance student loans to combine multiple debts, maximize interest rates, bring down monthly payments, or pay off faster. There are many benefits to refinancing and many options for lenders that offer refinancing.     

Refinancing your student loans lets you take advantage of the best prices as rates change. Lantern, a loan comparison platform operated by digital personal finance company SoFi, lets you compare rates and find a plan that works for you. When looking to refinance student loans, borrowers should compare lenders and rates to find the best option for their situation. A few tips for anyone looking to refinance this year:     

- Use filters when comparing online. Make a smart decision on refinancing your student loans by comparing multiple options side- by-side using filter on financing options based on lowest or highest payment, lowest or highest APR, and lowest or highest term. The right refinancing strategy can help young adults save thousands of dollars over time.     

- Find advice, useful tips and information through curated financial articles and calculators, comparisons of lenders and products by expert journalists and reviews from others who have used these services to refinance student loans. You’ll also find financial recommendations based on your financial interests and current financial situation.     

Financially savvy young adults also are leading the way in adopting cryptocurrency as a way to generate income streams and invest in the future. The NFT marketplace is a growing opportunity, and those who are early adopters are exploring, collecting, and minting NFTs for profit. NFTs are bought in sold in trading platforms much like you would buy and trade crypto or stocks.     

Some bonus features of the NFT marketplace that appeal to young adults include the convenience of not have to connect to, or withdraw from, a bank account. The NFT marketplace allows users to pay for products via cryptocurrency without additional fees. The FTX exchange is connected to multiple cryptocurrency markets including Bitcoin, Ethereum and Solana.     

Keep these smart strategies in mind to make the most of your money now and to enjoy greater savings and profits in the future.

4 Ways Financial Planners Can Help Small Business Owners Succeed

(NewsUSA) - Small business owners have special financial needs and opportunities. You must navigate unique tax benefits and responsibilities, cash flow analyses, business credit and debt management, succession planning and insurance needs, among other issues.     

It can be difficult to find the time -- and energy -- to research and make decisions about these financial issues on your own when you are already busy managing your business’s day-to-day operations. Working with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional can allow you to focus on your small business needs, while your trusted professional works for you to help you reach your financial goals. CFP® professionals are trained on many key financial topics that impact your personal success, business success and overall financial success.     

Here are four examples of how your small business can benefit from working with a financial planner.     

1. Protect yourself and your business. Financial risks multiply when you become a business owner. Operations could be interrupted because of a disaster, a key person on your team dies or becomes disabled, or property is lost. You could also face costly legal liabilities due to negligence or defective products. CFP® professionals can provide guidance on how to structure your business to mitigate some of these risks, as well as advice on specialized insurance coverage that provides extra protection.     

2. Create a tax plan that maximizes cash flow and minimizes your tax bill. CFP® professionals are trained and experienced in the nuances of tax law. They can help you take advantage of business structure, expense categories and tax credits to reduce your overall income tax.     

3. Establish a succession plan to guide the future sale or transfer of your business to the next generation of management. A CFP® professional can help you develop a strategic plan that covers the mechanics of an ownership change -- such as company valuation, tax implications and insurance issues -- and supports the transition’s long-term success.     

4. Achieve your retirement goals. A CFP® professional can help you determine which qualified or nonqualified retirement planning strategy best fits your needs and long-term goals. They can also help you confirm that your revenues and expenses are correctly recorded and benchmarked in accordance with the retirement plan you choose.     

Find a CFP® professional near you at LetsMakeAPlan.org. You can use the Small Business Planning and Business Succession Planning filters to locate professionals who offer planning services in these areas.     

A sound financial plan, developed with professional expertise, will help you lay the path to a successful future for you and your small business.

Smart Post-Graduation Financial Plans Will Pay Off

(NewsUSA) - College graduates have a lot to think about -- finding a job, finding a place to live and finding a way to manage their finances. Whether you have graduated with or without student loans or other debts, making a financial plan after graduation will pay off later.     Build good financial habits now to make “adulting” more fun. Start with these time-tested tips:     

• Set aside savings. Once you start earning, it’s time to start saving. Many financial planners recommend you save 20% of your income as a savings goal, but even 1% is a great place to start. Don’t let your inability to save 20% scare you off from getting in the savings groove. If you set up automatic savings systems, you can save without even thinking about it. Set up direct deposit so that part of your paycheck goes into a separate savings account, or send part of it directly to an employer 401(k).     

• Spend smart. Think about a budget now so you can reap the benefits later. “Divide your take-home pay into three buckets: 65% to 70% for lifestyle spending and debt service; 10% to 15% for fun, vacation and gifting; and 20% for savings,” advises CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM professional Tom Morris. To help with budgeting, Morris recommends budget apps, such as Mint and You Need A Budget (YNAB).     

• Boost your benefits. Your salary is only part of the financial picture when considering job offers. Be sure to review the employee benefits and take those into consideration. Top benefits include paid time off, health/life/dental/vision insurance and healthcare spending accounts, such as Health Savings Accounts, Flexible Spending Accounts and Health Reimbursement Arrangements. Other benefits that can save you money include relocation reimbursement, long-term or short-term disability insurance, tuition reimbursement, childcare benefits, gym memberships or discounts and wellness programs.     

• Protect yourself. Many young adults think they are invincible, but in today’s uncertain world, it is essential to protect your ability to earn an income. Check out disability insurance, which can help keep you afloat if you have a major health crisis and can’t work. Some employers offer disability insurance, but you might consider getting more. Policies can be complicated, so do your homework or consult a CFP® professional to find the coverage that works for you.     

• Decrease your debts. Most college graduates have some debt that requires consistent payment, whether it is a car loan, student loan or credit card bill. Monthly automatic payments are a great way to make sure you hit your scheduled payments on time to avoid late fees or other penalties.     

Visit LetsMakeAPlan.org for more information about setting strong financial goals after graduation.

Why 529 Savings Plans Could Be an Opportunity You Don’t Want to Miss

(NewsUSA) - The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t change it.  

Neither has the inflation we’re currently experiencing. In fact, if anything, Americans’ belief in the importance of saving for higher education has increased slightly over last year – up from 51 percent to 55 percent – according to the latest Morning Consult survey done with financial services firm Edward Jones.  But here’s the crazy thing:  Even as college costs continue to rise, only 13 percent of respondents said they were taking advantage of 529 Education Savings Plans.

Here's why.

529 Plans are a tax-advantaged way to help save and potentially grow your money.

1. 529 Plans are a tax-advantaged way to help save and potentially grow your money.

Most people use personal savings accounts to try to cover the cost of college, and then hope they’ll be lucky enough to qualify for financial aid or some scholarship.  But the interest earned on such accounts is subject to federal and state taxes – unlike the special treatment afforded these state-sponsored 529 plans, which are exempt from the former and, in many instances, also the latter as long as the money is used for qualified education expenses.

“People are leaving money on the table by not using this attractive and practical way to save,” said Steve Rueschhoff, a principal at Edward Jones.

And that’s not something most people can afford to do.

The average annual cost of attending a private four-year college this year was $51,690, including room and board, according to the College Board. Which almost made the tabs for in-state and out-out-state four-year public colleges seem like a steal at $22,690 and $39,510, respectively.

Tuition and expenses at colleges and universities aren't all they cover

2.Tuition and expenses at colleges and universities aren't all they cover.

Have a kindergartener?    

Eureka!

For those eager to get their kids into private schools, some states’ plans also allow for up to $10,000 per year, per beneficiary, to be applied towards K-12 tuition.

Also covered: everything from computers to registered apprenticeships to student debt repayments.

The burden of funding the account doesn’t have to be yours alone

3.The burden of funding the account doesn’t have to be yours alone.  

Here’s a chance to see just how much little Janie’s or Jimmy’s grandparents really love them.

Not a lot of people realize it, but anyone who wants to save for your child’s education – be it a relative or a friend – can either open a new 529 plan account or gift money to an existing one.

“The federal gift tax exclusion allows a contributor to give up to $16,000 per year, per beneficiary, or $32,000 if they’re giving as a married couple,” explained Rueschhoff.  

And, sure, they could just hand you the cash, but this way they’ll be certain it’s going for its intended purpose.  (See “qualified education expenses” above.)

4. Inflation isn’t making it any easier for people to save

4. Inflation isn’t making it any easier for people to save

Every state’s 529 plan allows for maximum contributions of at least $235,000 per beneficiary, with places like New York and California setting a cap of well more than double that.  (Your accountant can discuss the tax implications with you.)  But even though 45 percent of the 2,220 adults, age 18 to 65, surveyed said they didn’t feel like they were saving enough, only 11 percent planned to increase the amount they sock away for higher education.  Which jibes with reports that Americans have begun cancelling vacations and summer camp for their kids out of concern about the economy.

Still, as Rueschhoff stressed, you shouldn’t be overwhelmed by the potential cost of college.  A financial advisor, like a trusted local one at Edward Jones, can look at your entire financial picture, including what other goals you might be saving for, to be sure your college savings strategy makes sense for your family.  And the firm’s online tools can help provide a broad idea of how much you’ll need by the time your child is ready to enroll.

Lawsuits Being Prepped for Military Camp LeJeune Contamination Victims

(NewsUSA) - Sometimes an egregious wrong gets righted.     

Such appears to be the case for military members and their families who’ve been seeking justice in the courts for exposure to contaminated water that sickened generations at the Camp Lejeune Marine base in North Carolina.     

Public outrage over their treatment heated up after victims’ lawsuits were dismissed in 2016 because of a state statute prohibiting plaintiffs from launching cases if more than 10 years have passed since the contaminating event. But last March the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bipartisan Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 that essentially overrode that legal hurdle  -- “Thirty-four years of people were exposed to toxins in the drinking water,” one congressman raged -- and the Senate seems poised to follow suit.     

Now one of the nation’s most experienced tort law firms, Weitz & Luxenberg, has announced that it’s preparing to file lawsuits against the government in U.S. federal court on their behalf.     

“We believe they deserve compensation, especially because they and their families became sick while serving our country,” said Robin Greenwald, a partner at the firm and co-chair of its Environmental and Consumer Protection Unit. “They drank the water, they bathed in it, and they used it to cook their food.  And that water was contaminated with toxins at concentrations anywhere from 240 to 3,400 times the levels permitted by safety standards.”     

The 156,000-acre Camp Lejeune, with 11 miles of beach capable of supporting amphibious operations, is used for military training purposes primarily by the Marine Corps but also other branches of the armed forces.  Some of the most damning evidence comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s own Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR): “It is ATSDR’s position that exposure from the 1950s through February 1985 to trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, vinyl chloride and other contaminants likely increased the risk of cancers, adverse birth outcomes, and other adverse health effects” for those on the base.   

The Marine Corps first discovered volatile organic compounds in Camp Lejeune’s drinking water in 1982. However, it was already too late for people like now-retired Marine Corps Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, whose 9-year-old daughter Janey died in 1985 after having been diagnosed with leukemia two years earlier.         

“The entire first trimester of (her mother’s) pregnancy was there on the base,” Ensminger told theHill.com on the eve of the bill’s passage. “We’ve got more documented evidence of what happened at Camp Lejeune than they have for Agent Orange.”   

Assuming the Camp Lejeune Justice Act is ultimately signed into law by the president, who would be eligible to file lawsuits?     

Those who lived, worked, or were exposed to drinking water at the base for at least 30 days from August 1, 1953, to December 31, 1987, and subsequently suffered water toxicity-related diseases.  Among the conditions associated with exposure to the chemicals found in the drinking water:       

• Breast, lung, liver, kidney and esophageal cancers     
• Leukemia     
• Cardiac defect     
• Female infertility     
• Miscarriage     
• Parkinson’s disease     
• Non-Hodgkins lymphoma     
• Fatty liver disease   
 • Myelodysplastic syndromes     
• Multiple myeloma     
• Renal toxicity     
• Neurobehavioral effects     
• Scleroderma     

Weitz & Luxenberg encourages those who believe they fit the criteria and have been diagnosed with one or more of those conditions to schedule a free consultation.     

The firm has a stellar track record in handling toxic contamination lawsuits. It won a landmark $423-million settlement against some of nation’s biggest oil companies, for example, in a suit involving the contamination of 153 public water systems with the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether. And Greenwald was co-lead counsel for an $11 billion settlement in 2020 against Monsanto Company on behalf of nearly 100,000 Americans suffering from Non-Hodgkins lymphoma from their exposure to the weed killer Roundup.       

As for Camp Lejeune, the ATSDR has said as many as 1 million military and civilian staff and their families might have been exposed to the contaminated drinking water. The victims who initially stepped forward only to have their cases dismissed in 2016 because of the North Carolina statute -- and they were only a tiny fraction of that number -- had reportedly filed claims totaling nearly $4 billion.

How to Protect Your Aging Parents From Financial Fraud

(NewsUSA) - Today, many adults have elderly parents who live independently. As the number of digital scammers preying on the elderly increases, however, your aging parents are at higher risk of financial fraud.     

“You must be ready to safeguard your parents against the growing threat of digital scammers and become their trusted advocate,” says Laura J. LaTourette, CFP.® Not long ago, LaTourette had to come to the aid of her own mother, who had been targeted by scammers pretending to help upgrade her computer.     

Here are several tips LaTourette offers for protecting your parents’ finances as they age:     

• Talk it over. Sometimes talking about money is tricky, even with close family members. Older adults need to understand that they are at risk for fraud if they don’t have someone to help manage their money as they age. Ask about spending, saving and philanthropic habits, and know who has access to your parents’ account information.     

• Form a team. Enlist other family members if needed, and identify other trusted contacts with whom your parents feel comfortable discussing money matters. If your parents work with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional, set up a meeting to talk about fraud protection and create an elder care plan for your parents.     

• Make safety simple. Set up online account information, and show your parents how they and you can monitor account activity. Set up automatic withdrawals for monthly bills. If your parents still like to review and balance their checking accounts each month, use that as an opportunity to identify anything that looks out of the ordinary.     

• Establish power of attorney. As parents age, they may need someone else to communicate with financial institutions or health care providers. Make sure your parents have an updated power of attorney that lists you and/or any other trusted contacts. The same goes for a medical power of attorney.     

• Shred what you can. Many older adults have financial documents that don’t need to be kept, but because of sensitive information cannot simply be thrown out or recycled. Once you identify old financial documents, either shred them yourself at home or gather boxes of material to take to a community shredding event, which occur periodically in most communities.     

• Check their credit. Be sure to monitor your parents’ credit reports at least once a year; this helps ensure that no one is opening any false accounts using their identities.     

Visit LetsMakeAPlan.org for more information on how to assist your parents in safeguarding their finances as they age.

Reissue: June 15, 2022

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