Last updateWed, 21 Apr 2021 3pm

Ask the Experts



Betting on Bitcoin

I have a couple of friends who are really into Bitcoin, so I’d heard of it even before it was all over the news this week. But I still don’t think I totally understand what Bitcoin is. It’s a currency with no government behind it, which I get. But if it’s a currency, how are people investing in it? And do they have to pay taxes on it even though it’s not backed by the United States government? Is it a safe thing to invest in? Will it keep going up? My friends want me to buy it, and they each own a ton of it, so I’m in need of some expert help!

You’re familiar, it seems, with investing. Stocks (which are essentially ownership stakes in companies) and bonds (which are essentially shares of rights to loan debt) are perhaps the most familiar investment vehicles, but you can invest in currencies, too.

How does it work? Well, if you’ve ever travelled abroad, you’ve probably exchanged U.S. dollars for foreign currency. And when you did that, you probably saw that there was an “exchange rate”--and probably noticed that that exchange rate wasn’t always the same. Currencies can gain and lose value relative to each other, so it’s possible to change money from US dollars into another currency, wait a while, change it back, and end up with more money than you started with--or, of course, less

Bitcoin is what’s called a cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrencies are digital currencies, and they offer security and privacy features that make them appealing to all sorts of people--for both legitimate and questionable reasons. You’re right to note that Bitcoin isn’t backed by any government. That’s part of its appeal to those who use it for transactions--but also, of course, part of the risk. 

Strategists say that trading cryptocurrency for profit works just like trading regular currencies. But not all currencies are equally volatile, and it’s hard not to notice how quickly the value of Bitcoin has shifted lately. Does that mean you should buy more and enjoy profits as it keeps rising to dizzying peaks, or does it mean you should steer clear (or perhaps even short it) to avoid losing big when it falls? Nobody can tell you for sure, but if you want advice, the only place to get it is a financial advisor. Investments come at all different levels of risk, though, so don’t feel like you have to invest either in Bitcoin or nothing at all. 

Read more ...

Big Buys

I’m set to graduate pretty soon, but I don’t feel totally ready for the real world. One thing that I really don’t think I’m ready for is making big purchases, like buying a car or a house. I try hard to save money when I work over the summer, but I don’t think the budgeting lessons I’ve learned while away from campus for a few months at a time have given me anywhere near the level of knowledge I’ll need to buy a $15,000 car or an even more expensive house! So, experts: any tips?

Sure! You no doubt know that buying a car can often involve taking out a loan, and that buying a home nearly always does. Still, to make a big investment like that, you’ll need some money saved up for a downpayment, a steady income to help you make the loan payments, and a solid grasp of budgeting in order to determine just how much car or home you can afford.

It starts, of course, with saving. You can always stand to have a little cash in your checking account, say the financial experts at Watertown, New York’s Carthage Savings and Loan Association, but once you’re comfortable with your ability to write checks and make regular payments, you should start building a nest egg in a savings account. A savings account will offer you a better interest rate than a checking account, making it easier to build wealth. And the money in a savings account will be easy for you to access, making it a smart choice for short-term savings intended to end up as car or house down payments; longer-term savings may be better off in investments or tax-sheltered retirement funds.

Your savings habits will help you determine how much you should spend on a car or a house. There’s no one right answer for either case, but typically consultants like to recommend at least a 20 percent down payment on a car; houses are trickier, but traditionalists favor 20 percent there as well. And don’t forget about the monthly payments--make sure that your income is enough to handle those.

You say that your summer financial lessons won’t be enough to help you, but that’s not necessarily true. Saving really is as simple as spending less than you earn, so if that’s what you mastered during summers on the job, then you’re all set. From there, it’s just about steady execution and a smart evaluation of your means before you take out a loan. Reputable auto dealers will help you find a loan, say the retailers at Alabaster, Alabama’s Ernest McCarty Ford, so steer clear of the shady low-rate dealers and trust your savings habits to help you get financing from a more reputable source. Your good habits will put you on the path to making these sorts of big purchases safely, so don’t worry!

Read more ...

Building a Business

I want to start my own business when I graduate. I think I have the skills and background to do it, and I think my idea is a good one. But, of course, I’m always looking for great advice! That’s why I’m asking the experts what sort of advice the pros give to people who are thinking about starting a company. Specifically, I’d love to know what people think I can or should do while I’m still in school--I have a couple of years left before I graduate, which I think makes my situation kind of unique relative to a lot of other people who are planning to start businesses in the near future. Thanks in advance for all of your help!

So you’re hoping to start a business--good for you! Striking out on one’s own is as American as it gets, and great businesses built by smart and talented individuals are always in demand. Of course, it won’t be easy: more than half of all businesses fail in their first year. So how can you prepare and make sure that yours isn’t one of them?

You asked what to do while still in college, specifically, so let’s start with the obvious: classes. Plenty of business owners and experts have sung the praises of specific classes over the years, and a few come up repeatedly. Taking good survey courses in marketing and economics is never a bad idea for a future business owner, and some finance and accounting courses are a good idea, too.

Of course, you won’t be good at everything--and that’s okay, say analysts at Acendia, a company that offers digital marketing tips for nonprofits. Having some experience in a marketing course can help you choose the right marketing team to outsource too, so it’s still a good idea to have a basic grasp of everything your company will need--even if some of it is stuff you’ll outsource for later!

In fact, taking classes in different disciplines may help you find the talent you need within your company, too. Now is a great time to network! Actually, anytime is a great time to network, say developers at Solver Teams, a company that connects professionals and innovators across various fields with people who would be unable to accomplish their goals without the proper guidance. But college offers you a unique opportunity to meet others in different disciplines--people it might be helpful to know later on!

Read more ...

Defeating Drunk Driving

I know that drunk driving is a terrible thing to do, and it’s something I would never, ever do myself. For a long time, I assumed that pretty much everyone agreed on that--in fact, I wondered how it was even still a problem. But sometimes when I speak to older folks (even some within my own family), I’m surprised by how accepting they seem to be about the idea of drunk driving.

That may seem depressing, but it actually got me thinking kind of optimistically. If younger people are more serious about preventing drunk driving, we must be headed to a better, safer future in that area, right? So I thought I’d ask the experts: in general, how are we doing in the battle against drunk driving?

Drunk driving is a serious thing indeed--and, unfortunately, it’s still very much a problem in the United States. Drunk driving kills over 10,000 people a year and accounts for 29 percent of all traffic deaths in the US. Those sorts of statistics should be enough to make anyone stop driving drunk, but the sad truth is that many still do: 28.7 million people admitted to driving drunk in 2013.

Still, it would be wrong to ignore how far we’ve come. As recently as a few decades ago, American drunk driving laws were a vague hodgepodge of state regulations, and little was done to educate the population about the dangers of drunk driving. It was advocacy groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) that began to change the situation through activism. They lobbied for tougher laws, helped victims, and raised awareness--and, in fact, they still do all of those things. In 1982, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that states lower their legal limits to .08; between 1983 and 2004, every state did so. The NTSB has since recommended .05 as a new limit. In 1984, the United States raised its drinking age to 21. These days, says management at Joe Canal’s Discount Liquor Outlet of Lawrenceville, the drinking age is something that both the government and retailers take very, very seriously.

Read more ...

Prime Properties

I’m going to graduate next year. That’s starting to feel really soon for me! Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the responsibilities I’ll have as a “real” adult, and I’ve especially been thinking about my living situation. I want to save up and buy a home, but I have a hard time understanding what makes a house valuable. I see really large, nice-looking homes dismissed as “McMansions,” old and poorly maintained homes described optimistically as “fixer-uppers,” and everything in between. Let’s say I wanted to get a house that would really work as an investment and, in the long run, make me money: what would I look for?

There are a lot of very good reasons to consider buying a home instead of renting. The conventional wisdom is pretty straightforward: when you buy a home and pay into a mortgage, your money is going towards an asset that you can then resell or simply enjoy after its fully paid off; rent payments, on the other hand, merely give you a month of living space at a time and do not form any sort of long-term investment.

But let’s be clear: buying a home is considered better because you end up making an investment, and an investment is better than nothing. It’s not necessarily that you should expect to make money on your home--while the real estate market is currently pretty good, it’s worth remembering that some of today’s growth is better viewed as recovery: home prices won’t fully recover from the 2007/2008 housing market crash and recession until 2025, experts predict. In other words, you should probably not view your home as a surefire way to make money! Some pros go so far as to say a house isn’t an investment at all.

Why? Real estate is highly illiquid, for one thing: it’s hard to sell quickly if you need cash. And there are other reasons, too: the size of the investment (you can diversify your stock holdings easily, but it’s not easy to buy lots of homes!), the importance of the property in ways other than its value (are you going to move just so you can cash out a small gain?), and more. Buying a home gives you value that renting would not, but if you lose a small amount or break even when you eventually sell your home, that shouldn’t be a financial disaster for you--if it is, perhaps you’ve placed too much of your net work in your home.

Read more ...

Legal Legwork

I’m interested in attending law school, and apparently this has made me the “go-to” expert on all things legal for my family and friends. I have a friend back home who needs a lawyer, and he asked me how to find the best one. Despite my intentions to enter the legal field myself, I have no idea how to find a good lawyer other than knowing someone who knows someone. I don’t want to tell him I have no idea, but I also don’t want to give bad advice. How does a person go about finding a good lawyer?

Lawyers aren’t like doctors--most people don’t have one they meet with regularly. Your friend sounds like most people. Although you may not be able to recommend a specific lawyer to him, there are some resources you can point him to in order to help him find a lawyer that best fits his specific needs and his budget.

There are a few things your friend should narrow down before he starts looking for a lawyer. First, what kind of legal issue does he have? Most lawyers now have a particular focus for their practice, whether it’s divorce, immigration, workers’ rights, or insurance claims. Bigger law firms may have practice groups within their firms that specialize in certain areas of the law. Once your friend has narrowed down the area of the law he needs help with, he should narrow down the jurisdiction. Lawyers are licensed by state, which means that they usually (with a few exceptions we don’t need to go into here) practice in one state. Your friend should likely focus on finding a lawyer who practices where he lives.

The American Bar Association has a helpful guide on how to choose a lawyer. It also brings up an interesting point, which is that your friend will likely use the Internet to try to find a good lawyer. Many law firms and solo practitioners now have their own websites that describe their legal practice and services and provide information about how to contact them and see if their services are a good fit. Your friend can use a combination of Internet searches and the ABAs lawyer referral directory to narrow down his choices. The state he lives in may also have a referral service.

Read more ...

After the Accident

I was recently involved in a pretty serious car accident. This just happened recently, so I’m still figuring out what to do now. I was unhurt, but my sister--who was a passenger--thinks she has a concussion. My car seems to be totalled, but we’re waiting to hear for sure from the mechanic. The accident wasn’t my fault, so I don’t think I’ll be sued, or anything, but I’m still a little nervous. And, obviously, now I don’t have car, so I can’t really get around when I want to go off campus!

Experts, do you have any tips on what to do after a big car accident?

A car accident is a stressful and upsetting thing. It’s physically dangerous, of course, but it also comes with a host of other issues trailing along, from the financial strain of a ruined car and the frustrations of dealing with an insurance company to the personal trauma of having experienced something so frightening and stressful.

You’ve already been through the initial moments following a car accident, but it’s important to note what to do right after a collision. If possible, you should move the car off to the side of the road--leaving it in traffic could mean risking further collisions. Your first priority is checking for injuries. Call an ambulance for anyone who needs one. Don’t try to move an injured person unless he or she is facing immediate danger, like a risk of explosion. Once you’ve made sure everyone is alright or called an ambulance for anyone who is not, call the police. This is legally required for accidents that are severe enough (laws vary), but it is the safest thing to do in all cases, large and small.

Once the police report is set and immediate injuries are being cared for, your next step is to deal with your insurance company. It’s unfortunate that yours is being unhelpful, because a good insurance company can make the rest of this process quite a bit easier. For instance, they can help provide you with a rental car while yours is in the shop for repairs. You should call your insurance company and ask about this. In the meantime, of course, you can count on car services and taxi services, say the managers at Absolute Taxi in Oneonta, New York--most taxi companies will let you schedule rides in advance and will charge flat rates for longer trips, so call around and see what makes sense for things like work and school commutes.

Read more ...

Demystifying Data

I’m currently in the process of applying for jobs in a lot of different sectors because my focus during school has been on business and entrepreneurship. I’m not much of a tech person. I can use my smartphone and laptop like everyone else, but a lot of these jobs and their websites mention things like “understanding data solutions” and “streamlining web-based services to the cloud for economic flexibility.”

I don’t want to sound like a total amateur if these topics come up in interviews. Even if they don’t ask me about these things, they seem important to understanding costs for businesses. I don’t need a degree in computer science, but can you please translate some of this jargon so I feel better prepared?

Whether you realize it or not, you’ve hit on an incredibly important topic for businesses everywhere. Like you said, not everyone needs to be a computer scientist or a “tech person” to understand the impact that data creation and storage has on businesses. Most businesses store a tremendous amount of data, and that accumulation of so much data comes with very literal costs: data storage, electricity to support data storage, and, depending on the sensitivity of the data, additional costs for security and data compliance. This isn’t a problem that’s going away, either: according to the IDC, the explosion in data and its ubiquity in day-to-day work will force companies to transform in both internal culture and operations. Why is this happening? Studies have shown an estimated 4300 percent increase in annual data production by 2020, and companies have to figure out a way to store and access their data safely and cost-effectively.

But how does this affect you, since you’re applying for entry level jobs and not trying to solve a company’s data problems? In short, understanding of these issues from the outset will allow you to understand some of the conversations happening above your pay grade and help you anticipate some of the decisions managers make. In speaking with data integration developers at Liaison, it’s important to become conversant in the differences between iPaaS and dPaaS cloud integration services so companies can get the most out of their stored data. Your ability to distinguish, in conversation, between companies like Facebook that need massive storage solutions and the company you work for, will likely help you stand out as someone who is keeping tabs on industry trends. As a younger worker, people will be impressed if you can talk a bit about things like colocation security systems, which give businesses the advantage of a scalable solution (e.g., as data needs fluctuate, data storage can change with needs).

Read more ...

Uncool, Uncomfortable

My friends and I live year-round in an off-campus apartment that we really love--except for in one very big way. Our place has all the space we need, is laid out perfectly, and is in a great location, but we don’t have any way to controlling its temperature. I’m not sure how this is possible, but we don’t really have a thermostat, and I can’t seem to control the heaters or find any way to get the A/C on. Sometimes it’s too hot, other times it’s too cold, and honestly, it almost doesn’t matter what season it is: our place seems to be able to be uncomfortable in any weather, and whether it’s too hot or too cold that day is always a surprise. It’s like the place is haunted! What’s going on with this place? Any tips for controlling the temperature without access to any controls?

It certainly sounds like you’re dealing with a very confusing temperature situation in your apartment, and that’s not great. While experts say that it takes very extreme temperatures to have a serious and immediate impact on your health, subtler temperature changes can affect things like mood or productivity. Experts have found that cold rooms (below 68 degree Fahrenheit) lead to more mistakes at work. Problems with the temperature at work can also cause employees to stop working entirely: 29 percent of workers report spending between 10 and 30 minutes a day not working due to temperature issues.

In other words, the poor temperature regulation in your apartment can disrupt your productivity and encourage mistakes in your schoolwork while disrupting your sleep and making you uncomfortable. That’s not good!

There were always going to be some factors in your space’s temperature regulation that were beyond your control. According to Everlast Roofing, Inc.--construction experts who create, among other things, agricultural metal roofing--the materials structure of your walls and roof have a major impact on how well insulated your space is, and therefore how quickly your apartment’s temperature responds to temperature changes outside.

Read more ...

Health and Hospitals

I’m 19 years old, and I’ve never been to a hospital. I mean, I must have been to one when I was born, but I’ve been very lucky in terms of health and injury and stuff. I go to the doctor every once in a while, but I’ve never broken a bone or gotten really, really sick, or anything like that. I know this is all good stuff, but I feel weirdly concerned about it, because I really don’t know anything about hospitals or when I should go to one.

I know this is kind of a weird question, but: when are you supposed to go to the hospital? When do you do that instead of going to your regular doctor? What do I do when I show up--do I just go to the emergency room? Or would I be arriving in an ambulance? Sorry if this is a dumb question.

There are no dumb questions--the experts are here to answer them all! And your question is a good one, because many people may not realize that they aren’t aware of the procedures and decision-making processes they may need to use in the event of an emergency.

The short answer, says administration at New York’s Carthage Hospital, is that you may go to the hospital for a wide variety of reasons. For instance, you may have scheduled surgery, or your doctor may tell you that you need inpatient care at a hospital for an illness or injury. In these cases, medical professionals will tell you why you need to go to the hospital, and where and when to show up.

But there is, of course, one type of situation in which you may head to the hospital without being told: an emergency. In those cases, say practitioners at Richmond University Medical Center’s Staten Island Immediate Care Center, you want to head to the emergency room.

The emergency room is exactly what it sounds like: the place to go to in an emergency. There’s no one definition of a medical emergency, but you’ll most likely know it when you experience it! If you have a painful injury like a broken bone, a dangerous issue like excessive bleeding, or a very sudden illness, you’ll know that you’re in a situation when timely care is of the essence. And when you don’t want to be waiting around, the emergency room is the place to be: American emergency rooms serve 32.2 percent of patients in less than 15 minutes and strive to treat all patients quickly while prioritizing the most dire cases.

Read more ...

Accidents and Attorneys

I was recently involved in a car accident that was definitely not my fault. The other driver seems like a nice enough person, but she made a big mistake, and now I’m dealing with stuff like medical bills (my parents are taking care of a lot of this for me, but I feel bad about it, because they obviously had nothing to do with the accident!). What I’m wondering is: should I consider a lawsuit here to try to get some money to help with the bills? I don’t want to hurt the other driver, but I also don’t want my parents to bear an unfair financial burden. How will I know if I have a case? How much money could I get? Experts, please help!

It sounds as if you’ve been put in a tough position through no fault of your own. It’s natural to want to be compensated by the person who really was at fault. Getting the money you deserve should be a simple thing, right?

Well, not necessarily, say lawyers at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s Thomas, Conrad & Conrad Law Offices. The legal routes available to you after a car crash will vary depending on state laws. For instance, some states are “no-fault states,” meaning they do not allow blame to be assigned for car accidents. In states like New York, only insurance companies can be forced to pay for things like lost income, medical treatments, and other consequences of a car crash.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that you are out of luck in such states--it just means that you need an attorney who can push for your rights against the insurance companies. The legal path to compensation is different, but it still exists. And the only person who can tell you whether or not you have a case, how much money you could be entitled to, and what your state’s laws will allow is an attorney. Your best bet is to consult with one and bring these same questions to them! Bring any documentation you have of the accident--the more the better--and choose an attorney who specializes in this sort of case.

If you have a case and get a good attorney, there’s a chance that you can be compensated for your medical bills, any income you may have lost, and the damage to your car. Hopefully, this will be the last time that you have to go through any of this! While nobody can be sure of being safe at all times on the road, you can take steps to be as careful as possible. Investing in a modern car with superior safety features is always a good idea, say mechanics at Rockaway, New Jersey’s Trend Motors. You can also opt to take a defensive driving course, which will teach you skills and techniques that could help you avoid accidents caused by less careful drivers.

Read more ...

Ask the Experts: Articles By Year

Contact Information

The Outlook
Jules L. Plangere Jr. Center for Communication
and Instructional Technology (CCIT)
Room 260, 2nd floor

The Outlook
Monmouth University
400 Cedar Ave, West Long Branch, New Jersey

Phone: (732) 571-3481 | Fax: (732) 263-5151