September 2011  
Real Bookkeeping. Virtual Assistance.
Volume 8 Issue 8  www.offassist.com

School's in Session

It's September and you all know what that means, right? It means a conga line of work at home professionals shaking their groove thing outside the schools as we watch our little distractions... I mean darlings, enter the hallowed halls of learning (and get the heck out of our offices!). Me? I have my office back, and since Tom is a teacher, it is ~almost~ too quiet around here. Note the almost.

In all seriousness, I will miss Tom and kiddos -- one of the reason I work at home is so I can hang out with my family (*cough* sneak out to the pool *cough*) -- but at the same time I relish a return to a normal work schedule and the increased productivity that Autumn brings.  Now if it would only bring some cooler temps to Austin!

This year I'm more stoked than usual thanks to some new clients coming onboard, a cool conference I'm headed to in October, and my finally-not-top-secret-anymore project launch (check out this month's spotlight for more info). It's quite an exciting time here at OffAssist and we're loving it!

What plans do you have for your business this Fall?

In this issue...


Easy Green for your Home Office
By Denise Aday

It’s easy and economical to create a more eco-friendly home office by using the good old Three Rs: Reduce, Re-Use and Recycle.

Stop Energy Vampires - Even in off or standby mode, most electronics continue to consume power. If “vampire” power costs the average homeowner $100 per year, can you imagine what it costs those with a fully-equipped home office? Use power strips and turn them off when you leave. Buy one with surge protection and a couple of outlets that remain always on (ex. for an Internet router). Some even have a remote so there’s no bending or reaching. Unplug chargers, as these “wall warts” also continue to draw power when not in use.

Standby, Sleep or Shut Down - The EPA recommends setting computers to enter system standby or hibernate after 15 to 60 minutes of inactivity. To save even more, set monitors to enter sleep mode after 5 to 20 minutes. The lower the setting, the more energy saved. While you’re at it, ditch screen-savers, which can prevent sleep mode. Graphic intensive ones can double your computer’s power use! Shutting down when the workday is done saves even more, though not significantly more than using sleep mode.

Adjust the Thermostat - If comfortable just a couple of degrees cooler or warmer, depending on the season, you’ll save loads of energy -- reducing your bill and your carbon footprint.

Energy Efficient Lighting - Let in as much natural daylight as possible without increasing heating or cooling needs. Unplug unnecessary fixtures and switch the rest to compact fluorescent lighting (CFLs) or LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes). LEDs are the most efficient and long-lasting, but most costly to purchase. CFLs cost quite a bit less than LEDs initially and are still four times as efficient as incandescent bulbs. Choose the lowest wattage needed for sufficient task lighting. Note: CFLs do contain a small amount of mercury (on average 4-5 mg), though many times less than the old glass thermometers (about 500 mg). CFLs do not give off mercury when intact, but must be cleaned up and disposed off properly. They will save even more mercury from being released into the atmosphere from coal-fired power plants.

Energy Star Label - Look for this when replacing bulbs and electronics. It’s the U.S. government-backed symbol for energy efficiency. Save money and protect the environment.

Batteries - Eliminate the need wherever possible and use rechargeables for the rest. Remember that batteries are toxic waste and dispose of properly.

Insulation - Seal air leaks around windows, doors, electrical outlets and switch plates.

Go (Almost) Paperless - Store documents digitally, printing only when you must on both sides of recycled paper. Buy the highest percentage of post-consumer recycled content you can find, processed chlorine-free. Look for the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification label. The cost in comparison to non-recycled paper has come way down. Re-use misprinted, draft or scrap paper. Use backs of envelopes as scratch paper. Recycle again when used up.

Cardboard - Store or re-ship in boxes and flat-rate envelopes received in good shape. Recycle when spent.

E-Waste - Always recycle old electronics. Check Earth911.com for how and where.

Green Organizing - Re-purpose bins, cups and other containers from around the house to hold office supplies instead of buying new.

For even more tips for a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle and a greener home and office visit Certified Eco-Consultant, Denise Aday’s website at FindingECO.com

QuickBooks Tip

Printing your check register

Q: Is there a way to print my check register so I can see it on paper?

A: Yes. When you are in the check register view screen there’s an option at the top to “Print.” Select that then you can choose the date range you want to print. If you have checks coded to multiple accounts be sure to check the box “print splits detail” so you can view all the expense accounts. It’s a good idea to do a print preview first; you might need to change the orientation of your report. The default is usually portrait, if you need to see more detail choose landscape.

Note: Check with your accounting professional before doing this to be sure that's how they'd like it done. YMMV!

Humor

What do you call an accountant without a spreadsheet?

Lost.

 
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Tax Deadlines

September 15
- Employers Make Monthly Payroll tax deposit on the 15th of each month
- Partnership Returns Due- FINAL DEADLINE
- Corporate Returns Due- FINAL DEADLINE
- S Corporate Returns Due- FINAL DEADLINE
- Estate & Trusts Returns - Final Deadline; Bankruptcy fillings use the same form
- Individuals, Farmers & Fishermen Pay 3rd Quarter Estimated Tax Payment
- Corporations - 3rd Quarter Estimate Tax payment Due
- Estates & Trusts 3rd Estimated Tax Payment
- Deadline for Corporations and Partnerships to fund SEP-IRAs for previous year

September 30
- Last day to establish SIMPLE plans for current year
- Time for businesses to consider setting up retirement plans

October 17
- Personal Returns due - Nonresident, US income, etc. - FINAL DEADLINE
- Personal Returns due - Easy - Final Deadline
- Personal Returns due - Not Itemizing - Final Deadline
- Deadline for Schedule C filer to fund SEP-IRAs for previous year
- Net Operating Loss - Eligible Small Business carry back loss
- US Gift and Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax Return - Final Deadline
- Employers Make Monthly Payroll tax deposit on the 15th of each month
- Employers File Annual Return for Employee Benefits Plan 5500
- Employers File Annual Return for Employee Benefits Plan 5500-EZ

October 31
- 3rd Quarter Payroll Taxes Due
- Employer's Deposit Federal Unemployment (FUTA)
- 3rd Quarter Federal Excise Tax Return & Payment Voucher - Form 720

Tech Talk With Tom...

Passwords

Boy, am I tired of websites telling me my password is not “strong” enough. Or, how about when they require you to create a password that is so complex that the only way to remember it is to write it down? When every browser has to have a built in “Remember Password” function, just how secure is even the more complex password?

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a password that is so strong that it would take a dedicated hacker over 300 years to crack, yet, is easy for you to remember? Amazingly enough, this is so easy to do that I wish I could take all the credit for it!

Ok, so a little background: Hackers will mostly try to hack your computer in two ways: 1.) trying dictionary words and 2.) random character generation.

Let’s use and example: Fred decided to use his favorite fruits as his password. He really loves grapes, apples, and bananas. In the case of, "grapes," or, "apples." (both 6 characters long), a hacker would have access to his account in about 30 seconds. "Bananas," is a little better…taking a grand total of 13 minutes for the hacker to gain access. This is assuming the hacker went the random character route. If he’d used a dictionary scanner, access would have been almost instant.

Example 2: Fred decided to get more complex after reading stories of hackers on the web. His bank had specific requirements, so he decided to use those for the rest of his passwords. His new password: 7OnmBwe1 (8 characters, a mix of capitals, lower-case, and numerals). To put it lightly, there are 218 trillion combinations possible. Seems pretty “strong”, right? Well, one hacker with one computer would take 253 days to break that. I would say that is pretty good, but we can do better and STILL be able to remember it!

The key to strong, easily remembered password is combinations. If you use random length words and string them together, you can create a password that will take over 300 years to crack and yet you'll still be able to remember it with ease! The key is to create a nonsense phrase that will create a picture in your mind. Once you have that picture you are set.

Check out some of these:

  • iceredbanana (302 years)
  • spellmintysix (over 300 years)
  • keyboardfleesfire (over a trillion years)
  • radiowarpathatjumper (63.1 trillion years)

Of course, this won’t help you for websites that require a specific formula for a strong password. For those, you’ll have to continue using your preferred method for keeping those passwords handy but safe. But, for those other sites, the ones that give you the freedom to choose, you now have a handy method for not only creating a secure password, but also remembering it!

Bonus tip from our editor, Dy Larson:  For sites that require you to use alphanumeric passwords, pick a letter that can be easily substituted with a number (0 for O, 1 for I or L, 3 for E, 4 for A, 5 for S, etc.) and use the number everywhere you have that letter, making the above:

  • ic3r3dbanana
  • spellm1ntys1x
  • keyboardflee5fire
  • ra4iow4rp4th4tjumper

Tom Beauchamp is the marketing and tech expert behind OffAssist. He can be reached at tom@offassist.com.

Spotlight On...

Spotlight: Virtual Assistance League

Yes, we admit it, we're tooting our own horn.  Sorta.

This month, Candy and Lanel started something, something we thing is going to be great: Virtual Assistance League (VAL for lazy typists). It's a place for new and veteran VAs to learn new things, build relationships within the field, and build their businesses. The soft launch was Friday, September 2, and the big opening day shindig was September 12th (which might have something to do with why the newsletter is a bit late this month).

There are other (many great!) virtual assistant organizations out there. We think what separates VAL from the pack is that the emphasis is on people and relationships, not skills, certifications, or background. Well, that and it is designed to be FUN. Networking is vital, as is learning from your colleagues, but so is being yourself.Would you rather go to a meeting or go to a meeting where everyone has to wear funny hats while discussing the meeting topic (as well as why they chose the hat they're wearing)?

Thanks to our Web 2.0 world, relationship management is now a far cry from the stuffy kind of communication and management taught to MBAs. VAL is meant to be fun for everyone.

If you want to learn more about what's kept us so busy?  Check out the website. Feeling sociable? You can find VAL on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.

Have you nursed a secret longing to be in the spotlight, center-stage, all eyes on you?

If you would like to be featured in the OffAssist spotlight column, and have not been featured in the past twelve months, contact Patty@OffAssist.com and we'll see if we can put you in the limelight.

Fine print: We do reserve the right not to feature anyone and a request is not a guarantee that you will make it into the newsletter. Also, if your news, announcement, etc. is time sensitive or tied to a specific date, please let Patty know in your email.


Have an article you'd like to write for our monthly newsletter or want to be spotlighted? Have a QuickBooks question or something you'd like to see in the Tech Tip?

Email candy@offassist.com.

The OffAssist newsletter is made possible by the copywriting/editing skills of Ink Think VA, and the coding talents of Time Is Of The Es-Cents.