From my heart: It is a privilege to serve you!

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyIn a Nov. 28 post on the Paradigm Reporting blog, Jan Ballman, FAPR, RPR, CMRS, reflects on how a trip with fellow firm owner Lisa DiMonte, RDR, CMRS, provided lessons on “overdelivering on high expectations.”

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Setting up a home office

Home office setup with a captains chair, desk, computer, etc.; the desk is in front of a wall of windows

© jnyemb

Many reporters and captioners are freelancers or small business owners, which often means working from home at least part of the time. There are many aspects to working from home, but first you need an actual place to work: a home office.

Picking the space

If you have the space, setting up a home office starts with picking the right room. “I have a third bedroom that is a dedicated office space,” said Angeli English, a freelancer in D’Iberville, Miss. “I picked the bedroom with French doors that open to a deck. Makes it very convenient to let our dog go in and out on the patio.”

Depending on the setup of your house, that space might mean a more nontraditional room, like a loft, where Sabrina Trevathan works. Trevathan, RDR, is a freelancer in Rawlins, Wyo.

If you’re in a smaller space and don’t have a whole room to dedicate, look for a good spot somewhere in your bedroom, living area, or other space. “I live in an apartment and the living/dining are one big room,” said Devora Hackner, a freelancer in Brooklyn, N.Y. “There’s a small alcove by the window that is the exact space designed for my desk.”

Legal videographer LaJuana Pruitt, CLVS, in Bradenton, Fla., found a unique opportunity for work space. “I have a side of a building that was a chiropractor’s office that was added to a home. I bought the home first, and when the chiropractor retired, his office became mine,” she explained. “Separate door, bathroom, parking, air conditioner, etc. This building is zoned professional. In 2007, I remodeled the entire building to be an office space. I took out the shower and added another bathroom where the shower was. I added French doors to the front room. The front room is big enough for a large conference table or video studio. I put in a butler’s pantry for a break area.”

After having the physical space picked out, the next step is making sure you have all the equipment, both for doing the job and for running the business.

First, furniture

Every professional interviewed for this article emphasized the need for a comfortable chair. “Invest in the best because you deserve it with how much you sit, and your body will thank you later in life,” said Donna Linton, RMR, a freelancer and captioner in Ashburn, Va. Of course, make sure you have a desk to go along with that chair, and think about what else you will need to store. You can have a simple space with shelves or turn it into your dream work space. “I had [my office] built out by Closest by Design specifically to my needs, i.e., how many computer stations, where the printer would be, cubbies for different size transcript binders, where the paper would be, and where my machine case would fit,” said Linton.

Having the right stuff

The essential equipment is obvious: steno machine, computer, printer. “I’ve transitioned to captioning in the last year, so I have a TV now so if I’m captioning a show that I have on my television, I can watch my captions,” said Tammy McGhee, RMR, a captioner in Bellville, Ohio. Beyond that, think about potential arrangements and additions. For example, Hackner has a “glass desk with a pullout drawer for an external keyboard and mouse” as well as “a docking station that I just hook my laptop up to, and then I work on a beautiful 29-in. monitor.”

Don’t be afraid to try a new configuration if the original setup isn’t working for you. “I ended up rearranging the space three times to get it right!” said English. It may take time to figure out the best way to organize the space. “I definitely learned how to work more efficiently and what supplies I needed to keep within reach,” said Trevathan. “I’ve got awesome storage space in my office; we planned it that way when we added this portion onto our house.”

Since Pruitt has more space, she’s organized the rooms as a more standard office and a production space. “One is my office with the standard equipment. I have a desk, credenza, bookshelves, chair, fax machine, scanner and printer as well as anything I can’t find a place for,” she said. “The other room houses the production room. It contains computers, a robotic printer, DVD recorders, mixers, cameras, tripods, bags, etc.”

Working from home means being able to run a business, so make sure you have all the necessary software and supplies. Consider having a word processing program like Microsoft Word (or the entire Microsoft Office suite) and accounting software like QuickBooks, and of course, make sure you have up-to-date CAT or captioning software with tech support. Think about cloud or digital storage along with physical storage. Pruitt also uses Wondershare and Adobe Premiere for video editing and has projectors, screens, and lighting.

Trevathan lives in a rural area, so she needs to make sure she has access to all the supplies she needs – it’s not easy to just run to the store. These include binding combs, transcript covers, index and exhibit tabs, copy and printer paper, a schedule book, address labels and different sizes of mailing envelopes, and extra toner. Linton has two whiteboard calendars, a speakerphone, and a fireproof safe to store exhibits. And don’t forget the basics like pens, paper clips, a stapler and staples, etc.

The tax element

If you work from home, you may be able to claim your home office on your taxes. “My CPA figured out a percentage of how many square feet my office is and writes off that same portion of my utilities,” said McGhee. Your accountant should have a formula to determine how much the write-off actually is, and don’t forget to ask about additional spaces like an adjoining bathroom, storage space in another part of the house, or any other area that’s designated as work space.

Make it yours

Since you’ll likely be spending lots of time in your home office, think about what would make it a comfortable space for you. “I’ve got my NCRA certificates and notary certificate framed and on the wall,” said Trevathan, along with her family’s schedules. “I wanted to be able to look out the window, so I had the desk location configured that way,” said Linton. “I wanted it sunny, so I painted it yellow.” English uses Longaberger boxes and “pretty stackable boxes with positive sayings on it” as storage, and she also recommends having “pictures of loved ones to remind you to be grateful.”

Pros and cons

The positive aspects of having a home office are pretty clear: “You can work when you need to,” said McGhee, and Pruitt said she “can cook, clean, launder, and have my animals under my feet.” Trevathan likes that she doesn’t “have to go out of the house to go to an office to do my editing and binding.” Linton added: “If I go to sell the home, anyone who doesn’t want an office can easily turn it back into a bedroom. They might even like to use it as a craft room or a homework space for the kids.”

However, having work nearby in a home office is both an advantage (can’t beat the commute) and a disadvantage. “Sometimes you feel like it’s hard to get away from work,” said McGhee. Trevathan echoed this: “I always feel like I need to be working and never leave work. I’ll run upstairs to the office to return a phone call and end up working on transcripts for an hour before I even realize it.” Perhaps English has figured out the trick, however, to maintaining boundaries. “You can walk out and leave the work behind,” she said. Having a dedicated space for work can mean literal help with compartmentalizing, so when you close the door, you leave the work at work.

Nominations sought for 2017 Small Business Awards

jcr-publications_high-resThe Small Business Administration issued a call for nominations on Nov. 15 for its 2017 Small Business Awards. Categories include Small Business Person of the Year, Small Business Development Center Excellence and Innovation Award, Women’s Business Center of Excellence Award, and more.

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Nominations sought for 2016 Small Business Awards

The U.S. Small Business Administration is accepting nominations for its 2016 National Small Business Week Awards, which recognize small business owners that have amazing stories to share. The deadline for nominations is Jan. 11, 2016. The awards recognize seven categories.

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Business tips for freelancers

Freelancer business tipsWhile flexibility and independence are strengths of freelancing, they also introduce complications. Managing personal business affairs while developing professionally and finding a balance between life and work can be challenging. Fortunately, these skills can get better with practice, and experienced court reporters are a great resource for business tips.

Marketing

For a freelancer, the best marketing strategy involves using a variety of cost-productive tools. The first step is to prepare the court reporter’s equivalent of a portfolio. “Prepare a professional one-page resume and be sure it is grammatically correct,” says Christine Phipps, RPR, a freelancer and firm owner from West Palm Beach, Fla. “Also list the writer you use along with the CAT software with version number,” she adds, so firm owners can see the reporter uses up-to-date, reliable technology. Phipps also suggests including a sample excerpt of an ASCII transcript of approximately 20 pages in length, removing any personal details or information that is confidential under HIPAA, along with the steno notes for that section. This portfolio can be emailed to firm owners so they have an idea of what to expect from potential new reporters.

Networking is an important part of a marketing strategy, as well as a great way to improve skills. “You want to make sure you network with other court reporters and firm owners at association events so that you can become known in your local market,” says Kim Neeson, RPR, CRR, CBC, CCP, a freelancer and firm owner from Toronto, Canada. “Participate on a committee of your local association, so people can get to see your competencies firsthand, even if it’s not as a court reporter per se.”

Having a personal connection to a network could also lead to more work. According to the 2014 Firm Owners Economic Benchmark Survey, about 56 percent of court reporting firms’ client base comes from other court reporting firms and colleagues, suggesting that freelancers should make connections to firms in their area even if they aren’t regularly accepting work from that firm.

Phipps agrees, adding that while conventions provide great learning opportunities, their value goes beyond the sessions: “Conventions are about surrounding yourself with people in the field and learning from them.” She emphasizes that volunteering for a local, state, or national association is also a great way to develop professionally. “I have met some amazing, wonderful, brilliant people who have taught me not to look at things in a vacuum. From this, I’ve learned so many tips and tricks that others do that I never could have learned anywhere else,” continues Phipps.

New connections, however, lose their value if they end with the initial conversation. Lisa Migliore Black, a freelancer and firm owner from Louisville, Ky., emphasizes that any marketing materials need to look professional. “It’s better to have no marketing materials than to have something that represents your company poorly or looks like it was thrown together,” she says. If you’re not comfortable with design, for either print or Web, it might be worthwhile to hire someone to help. Alternatively, think more creatively for marketing materials. For example, “many people may dispose of a business card or flyer, but few throw away a pen,” Black says.

Any marketing strategy should at least consider social media, although using social media should be done thoughtfully. For an individual, a social media account on a site like LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter might suffice, or it might be worthwhile setting up a website. But, as Black points out, then the trick is getting traffic to the site. Having a blog can help, says Black, because then there’s content for potential clients to read and to share on social media. But Phipps warns that even though many people use sites like Facebook for more personal reasons, anything that can be seen by the public needs to be professional.

Ultimately, however, the best marketing tactic is providing excellent client service. “Word-of-mouth referrals are more effective for bringing business to the door than any print ad or client testimonial on my website,” says Black. And when you find those clients, “underpromise and overdeliver,” Black advises. Neeson agrees: “The more agency clients request you for your work, the more you build up your business and value to those you serve.”

Finances

The key to managing business finances is organization. Keep records not just on expenses like meals, parking, and office supplies, but also track all income. “Many firms pay via direct deposit, and you are able to get your payroll sheets from within the online office program,” says Phipps. “You should download these and save for your records. I have seen firms that have cut reporters off from their online office access when the reporter no longer works for the firm, and then that information is no longer available.” Then use separate files – whether on the computer or in hard copy – to organize those documents into categories.

Because finances can be tricky, this is another area where it’s a good idea to invest in some help. Bookkeeping software like FreshBooks or QuickBooks can help with tracking income and expenses and, depending on the product, may also help with creating reports and determining quarterly taxes. Many of them include tools on mobile devices as well. An accountant can also help with bookkeeping.

The 2015 Freelancer Survey Report makes it clear that getting paid in a timely manner is a main concern for freelancers, but the situation depends on whether the money comes through a firm or directly from the clients. For freelancers accepting work by firms, it’s crucial to have a clear understanding of the firms’ policies. “If a new firm is contacting you to cover for them, I would do your best to check their references with friends or whatever connections you have available to you to make sure there are no payment issues,” says Phipps. “You should at least have an email confirming the firm’s policy for payment to reporters and what your responsibilities are. If the firm hasn’t paid in the specified time, contact the accounting department.” And, as with all legal issues, make sure to keep all conversations about payment in writing.

For freelancers who are acting as one-person firms and taking work directly from clients, have a payment timeline in place. Thirty days is a common threshold to send a reminder invoice, possibly with a late fee (although this should be clear in the original contract), and call the client to confirm they received the second invoice and understand that payment is expected. For long overdue accounts, the next step may be legal action, which could mean small claims court or a collection attorney. Again, keep a written record of the entire transaction.

Professionalism

The value in attending court reporting events cannot be understated. Conventions are not only a networking tool for marketing; they’re also important for professional development. In industries like court reporting, captioning, and legal video that are always changing, continuing education is crucial to remain a valuable professional, which is why NCRA credentials require continuing education and offers so many methods of earning those CEUs. Conferences and similar events are also great places to get one-on-one advice from colleagues. Interacting with other professionals provides the opportunity to find anything from a solution for a single problem or a long-term mentor and guide. This is especially important when it comes to staying on top of technology; conferences are a great place to meet with vendors and discover new products (or even a few new features) or to find tech-savvy colleagues who are happy to share knowledge, in person or via social media networks.

Events are not the only place to find professional development, however. The Internet can be a great place to find a network of like-minded professionals or resources. The U.S. Small Business Administration offers dozens of articles about starting and running a small business, which is essentially what freelancers are doing. The SBA recommends, for example, freelancers give themselves a regular review just as they would get if they were in a more traditional office. Consider setting specific professional goals throughout the year and using personal reviews to track them. Feedback from clients and firms, which sometimes need to be solicited, can help with developing specific goals.

Work/life balance

One of the trickiest aspects of being a freelancer is finding a balance between professional and personal responsibilities. Unlike other areas like marketing or finances, which have more general tricks, finding the right balance comes down to what works for the individual. First and foremost, set boundaries. “Know how long it takes you to scope and proofread work,” says Phipps. “You should know your limits and be clear with the firms you’re working with on the maximum amount of pages you can take in a week.” And be sure to schedule breaks, both large and small. For large depositions, Black sets a daily page goal and small percentage goals through the day and takes short breaks in between. She also suggests using a tablet to proofread so she can do so while sitting outside or eating a meal. And don’t underestimate the value of a longer break when necessary. “I gave up too many vacations only to realize that it’s just as important to recharge as it is to be present at work,” Neeson says.

Even though proofreading takes time, there are a few ways to make the task more manageable. At the basic level, write clean and know your software. “I made it my mission to always try to write as clean as possible and thereby reduce my scoping and proofreading time,” says Neeson. Black suggests using dead time during the day to scope and proofread. “The biggest efficiency is editing while I’m taking down live testimony. Every correction I make from my writer or on my realtime screen saves me valuable time later.” The right software can make these tasks easier too. Phipps suggests using Connection Magic because then reporters “can invite a scopist into their file to scope and the court reporter can simultaneously proofread at the same time.” Black makes sure to bring a touchscreen laptop on jobs to quick tap the screen and add missing punctuation on-the-job. She also suggests taking advantage of software training sessions, either one-on-one or in a group setting.

In many ways, however, finding a balance comes down to finding help when necessary, whether this is using a trusted scopist or proofreader, delegating household tasks to other family members or to a cleaning service, finding service professionals who are flexible about accommodating last-minute appointments, or prioritizing daily events, like making sure to eat dinner as a family. For freelancers with children, however, sometimes the biggest hurdle to finding a balance is to not feel guilty about missing things here and there.

The same things that make freelancing challenging can also be advantages. Having personal responsibility over marketing and finances also means having a measure of control. This is especially true in marketing since word of mouth still prevails, even in the digital age, and freelancers definitely have control over the quality of their customer service. Some of the same tactics that can increase business development can also help with individual professional development, especially by attending local, state, or national conferences. And while achieving a true balance between work and life is tricky, having a more flexible schedule can help shift responsibilities around when something comes up. The biggest tip for a freelancer, however, is to stay active in a network of like-minded colleagues to continue to share information and support with each other.

 

Megan Rogers is NCRA’s Communications Assurance Specialist. She can be reached at mrogers@ncra.org.

Small businesses: SBA loans can be a viable option for business owners

Photo by: epSos .de

Photo by: epSos .de

Small business owners and entrepreneurs seeking financing to help start a business or expand one should consider the many resources the Small Business Administration offers, including loans that are often more flexible and tied to a lower interest rate than conventional loans.

The SBA recognizes companies with fewer than 500 employees as small businesses and attributes them with generating more than half of the nation’s nonfarm private gross domestic product. In addition, the administration notes that small businesses account for nearly half of all jobs in the private sector.

According to the NCRA, freelance court reporters and captioners comprise approximately 70 percent of its membership. In addition, hundreds of court reporting firms throughout the United States provide an array of services including court reporting, broadcast captioning, assistance to people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing, legal videography, business and corporate reporting, and more.

“When I was looking for a loan to buy a business, I knew that the typical standard loan was available, but I also knew I could get better interest rates and the potential for better terms if I used the SBA,” said NCRA member Cregg Seymour, president of CRC Salomon, Inc., a court reporting firm in Baltimore, Md.

Seymour said he interviewed three different banking representatives when searching for his loan and presented each one the terms and conditions he was looking for. He finally settled on working with an institution that has an internal SBA department.

“My pitch to the bank was that I wanted to establish a relationship because I want to do multiple deals over time. I was actually able to name my terms for the loan, something a lot of people don’t realize. Most people think terms need to be five, 10, or 15 years, but through the SBA you can construct them to have their own life,” Seymour said.

He advises those seeking SBA loans to find a banking institution that does a lot of SBA loans such as one that offers an in-house specialist. He also said borrowers should have patience because they might find more boxes to check to qualify since the SBA is a government-sponsored entity and tends to be more tenacious in regards to due diligence.

According to Melanie Samoska, a business banking relationship manager for a branch of SunTrust Bank in Baltimore, Md., the SBA loan process can be just as easy as qualifying for a conventional loan. She also noted that SBA loans can be a great option for business owners who might have had past bad credit issues since the program offers a lower credit score requirement for certain types of loans. However, she emphasizes, bad credit issues should not be the primary reason to apply for a SBA loan.

“There is a misconception that SBA loans take longer than conventional loans. An SBA non-real-estate loan can close within 60 days if all documentation has been presented in a timely manner. If the SBA loan involves real estate, the loan process from beginning to end will typically take on average 120 days,” Samoska said.

NCRA member Teresa Rider, RPR, CRR, president of Rider & Associates, Inc. in Vancouver, Wash., said that after speaking to several more traditional financial institutions and considering the state of the economy at the time and high interest rates on commercial property loans, she was pointed in the direction of SBA to secure a loan when she was looking to purchase a building.

“The paperwork seemed more tedious and extensive than purchasing residential property which I had gone through in the past. However, the SBA was willing to give me a second loan for improvements that were needed in the office building. This helped me tremendously,” Rider said.

Rider said she would recommend SBA loans to other small business owners but would caution them to understand all aspects of the loan first. While conventional loans require borrowers to have liquidity collateral to place against a loan, the SBA will accept the borrower’s house or even a life insurance policy.

“One of the issues that we encountered was that the lender put a lien on our personal residence. This became troublesome when we wanted to refinance our home,” said Rider.

“The company that held the SBA loan was not willing to lift the lien long enough for us to refinance. It also would have made it difficult to sell our home. In the end, we refinanced the SBA loan on the office instead,” she added.

Whether securing a loan from a conventional lender or SBA, borrowers should do their own due diligence and be sure to weigh the pros and cons of all terms of the loan, including what type of loan product fits their needs the best.

“I found the SBA pretty easy to work with. I have the experience of doing large loans so I went in with the proper expectations. Have your ducks in a row. It is relatively easy to obtain a loan through the SBA if you have good financials, good tax records, and profit and loss information in place to tell a good story,” Seymour said.

“This is a great time for folks to be seeking capital. Banks have private venture groups looking for ways to loan money to good people, and the SBA wants to work with good candidates,” he noted.

What You Need to Do Before October 1 to Comply with the Affordable Care Act

Even if your business is not required to provide health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), you most likely are required to tell your employees about the health insurance exchanges opening October 1.

Although it is still unclear how this notification requirement will be monitored and enforced, penalties for non-compliance will equal $100 per employee per day. All businesses regulated under the Fair Labor Standards Act (meaning all businesses with at least one employee and at least $500,000 in revenue per year) must comply with this notification requirement.

Fortunately, the Department of Labor has made it easy for businesses. DOL offers an overview of a business’s obligations under the ACA, as well as sample templates that can be used or adapted both by businesses that do offer insurance, and those that do not.

For more information and access to even more resources on the notification requirement, see Bloomberg Businessweek’s article here.

 This information was compiled by Miller/Wenhold Capitol Strategies, NCRA’s outside legislative counsel.

Court reporting in the spotlight during National Small Business Week

NCRA applauded the many court reporting firms and freelance court reporting professionals that contribute to the local, state, and national economy in recognition of National Small Business Week, which was June 17-21. The event was sponsored by the Small Business Administration to highlight the impact of entrepreneurs, small business owners, and others from all 50 states and U.S. territories.

The SBA recognizes companies with fewer than 500 employees as small businesses and attributes them with generating more than half of the nation’s nonfarm private Gross Domestic Product. In addition, the administration notes that small businesses account for nearly half of all jobs in the private sector. According to NCRA, approximately 70 percent of its membership is comprised of freelance court reporters and captioners. In addition, hundreds of court reporting firms throughout the United States provide an array of services including court reporting, broadcast captioning, assistance to the deaf and hard-of-hearing, legal videography, business and corporate reporting, and more.

“Success in small business is a huge part of the American Dream, and the SBA is a wonderful resource for small businesses such as court reporting firms, many of which might never have been able to open without the administration’s support,” says NCRA President Nancy Varallo, RDR, CRR, owner of The Varallo Group in Worcester, Mass., a nontraditional agency that offers court reporting, business development, and administrative support services to reporters and reporting firms.

“I was fortunate to leverage an SBA loan in 2012 to make a game-changing acquisition,” says Jan Ballman, RPR, CMRS, president and CEO of Paradigm Reporting and Captioning in Minneapolis, Minn. “The SBA loan program provided the opportunity that led to key funding for growing my business. Its favorable terms proved to be very small-business friendly.”

While the SBA provides valuable financial resources to small businesses, NCRA also works to provide resources of its own to help owners and senior management of court reporting firms succeed by improving their businesses’ bottom lines, says Varallo. Each February, the association hosts its Firm Owners Conference, which offers attendees networking opportunities, as well as educational and informative sessions led by leading business experts. In addition, NCRA’s annual Convention & Expo held each year in August provides court reporters from all segments of the profession with a variety of educational and instructional sessions, numerous networking opportunities, and access to vendors attending to showcase their latest products and services. In October, the association holds an annual Legal Video Conference that offers a two-day seminar and a legal video forum led by some of the best faculty in the profession.

“We are proud to recognize that court reporting firms and freelance court reporting and captioning professionals are part of the vital small business sector of our nation’s economy,” says Jim Cudahy, CEO and executive director of NCRA. “Starting, growing, and succeeding in small business can be very difficult, especially if the right resources are not available. The SBA has a strong history of making success achievable, and court reporting firms are fortunate to have access to its resources.”

Created in 1953 as an independent agency of the government, the SBA has long provided financial aid and council to help grow small businesses and has assisted in protecting the interests of this segment of the market. Today, the agency provides assistance through an extensive network of field offices and partnerships with public and private organizations. The SBA has recognized the efforts and growth of small business in the United States with an annual Small Businesses Week since 1963.

You, Inc. – Health care law update

In an effort to bring our members the most up-to-date information about changes to this nation’s healthcare policy, we wanted to provide an update on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the “Healthcare Bill”). The next round of provisions under the Affordable Care Act (the “Healthcare Bill”), will take effect in October, when qualified individuals and small business employers will be able to access information and enroll in subsidized plans through state-established healthcare exchanges and the Small Business Health Options (SHOP) Program. Coverage by the exchanges and the SHOP program are then set to begin Jan. 1, 2014.

FOR INDIVIDUALS

This latest reform to take effect under the new healthcare system is referred to as the shared responsibility requirement. It calls for all individuals not covered by an employer- sponsored health plan, Medicaid, Medicare, or any other public insurance program,* to secure an approved private insurance policy or pay a penalty. The state-based health insurance exchanges being established will provide a marketplace where individuals can compare policies and premiums, and purchase insurance coverage, in some instances with a government subsidy if eligible.

The individual health insurance exchanges will offer a choice of four levels of benefit packages that differ by the percentage of costs the health plan covers. Under the program, individuals and the self-employed may qualify for specific tax credits and subsidies on a sliding scale, based on income. Coverage will be comprehensive and include doctor appointments, medications, and hospital visits. In addition, individuals will be able to compare price, benefits, quality, and other features of healthcare plans. This increased access to quality, affordable healthcare is also expected to make it easier for independent contractors to purchase and afford health insurance.

For more information about the health care law and its reforms, or about the healthcare exchange in your state, visit www.healthcare.gov.

FOR SMALL BUSINESSES

The SHOP portion of the healthcare act is designed to simplify the process of securing healthcare for employees and provide small business owners with more choices and control over the cost of their policies. Through state-established SHOPs, small business owners will be able to compare and choose the level of coverage they want to offer employees, as well as how much they are willing to contribute towards employee coverage. In addition, the program will also provide access to expanded tax credits for small businesses, which in some instances can cover as much as 50 percent of employer contribution toward premium costs if they are eligible and employ low- to moderate-wage workers. Other tax incentives under the program include the opportunity for a business owner and his or her employees to use pre-tax dollars to make premium payments.

Under the new law, small business owners can either use their existing insurance broker to access the SHOP, or they can access information directly by visiting www. healthcare.gov/marketplace/small-business. (Under the new healthcare system, in general a business is considered small if it has up to 50 employees. In some states, the self-employed with no employees are also considered a small business.)

WHAT COMES NEXT?

Below is a list of additional reforms that will take affect on Jan. 1, 2014, under the new healthcare law. For more information about these other coming changes, visit: http://www.healthcare.gov/law/timeline/.

  • Starting in 2014, if affordable coverage is not available to an individual, he or she will be eligible for an exemption. Americans who earn less than 133 percent of the poverty level (approximately $14,000 for an individual and $29,000 for a family of four) will be eligible to enroll in Medicaid. States will receive 100 percent federal funding for the first three years to support this expanded coverage, phasing to 90 percent federal funding in subsequent years.
  • Starting in 2014, tax credits to help the middle class afford insurance will become available for those with income between 100 percent and 400 percent of the poverty line who are not eligible for other affordable coverage. The tax credit is advanceable, so it can lower premium payments each month, rather than making you wait for tax time. It’s also refundable, so even moderate income families can receive the full benefit of the credit. These individuals may also qualify for reduced cost-sharing (co-payments, co-insurance, and deductibles).
  • Starting in 2014, strong reforms will be implemented that will prohibit insurance companies from refusing to sell coverage or renew policies because of an individual’s pre-existing conditions.
  • Starting in 2014, the second phase of the small business tax credit for qualified small businesses and small non-profit organizations will begin. In this phase, the credit is up to 50 percent of the employer’s contribution to provide health insurance for employees.

* To be eligible for coverage under the new healthcare system, you must live in the United States and be a U.S. citizen or national. Individuals incarcerated are not eligible to participate in the system.