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Business Risk Mitigation Strategies: Red Flags and the Fine Art of Vetting Your Vendor

July 6th, 2017

Thank you to our two guest bloggers James Mottola, MS, CISM, CPP, Director of Forensic Investigations
Risk Mitigation Services, Sobel & Co. LLC and  Kim Miller, Ph.D.,  Certified Fraud Examiner, Sobel & Co. LLC for contributing this informative and relevant article!

In order for a business to reduce risk associated with fraud, waste and abuse, it must routinely evaluate the many vendor relationships it relies upon to achieve its financial goals and objectives. Through ongoing evaluative assessments, businesses can identify the risks and benefits of vendor relations to strategically increase value and maintain business continuity.

According to Kroll in their recent Fraud and Risk Report, one out of five companies surveyed had fallen victim to fraud as a result of a vendor relationship, while almost half “felt particularly at risk of threats such as vendor, supplier or procurement fraud.”

Contracting with an outside third party subjects a business to risks with the potential for significant financial and reputational harm. These can take the form of fraud, breach of contract, error, breach of confidentiality, data loss and so on. The risks associated with vendor relationships, however, can be unique and may vary depending on the vendor as well as the service or process outsourced.

The good news is that these risks can be mitigated or reduced through investigative research and assessment which will provide information to support management in the decision making process before there is a problem.

Be on the lookout for these warning signs or “Red Flags“:

 Red Flag: Don’t Knock on My Door

In a recent vendor management engagement, the vendor’s address appeared to be valid. However, a search of the address noted it was a residence owned by a different person than the vendor. A further search of state databases indicated that the company was registered at another address. The address was determined to be a closed down warehouse.

 Red Flag: Sorry, I Can’t Take Your Call Right Now, Please Leave a Message….

Good vendor management consists of verifying all the information, to include the various phone numbers. For instance, are you constantly receiving voice mails and return calls from a “blocked” number?

Red Flag: Who Really Owns the Company?

Vetting the principals is important.  Be sure to ask a few key questions, such as who they are, do they own assets and who are their spouses.  Additional queries should include: Do their social media profiles match their business profiles and why is a company name missing on the business profile of a principal but clearly noted on the social media profile? The details matter! For example, in a recent case, the principal spelled his name differently on different social media profiles.

Red Flag: The Numbers Just Don’t Add Up

In another case, net sales for 2015 were reported at $2.3M. Interesting information and worrisome at the same time when it was revealed that the company was in business for only six months. This became problematic when a search of tax information indicated the business filed a welfare benefit Form 5500 to report their financial condition, investments and operations and depicted $400,000 in assets in 2014 while other documents indicated the company was not actually opened until 2016.

Red Flag: The Pieces Just Don’t Fit

Inconsistent reporting was glaring in the same case cited above where a merger and acquisition was noted in 2015 yet political donations were recorded for a candidate in 2012! A search of patents and trademarks located a result for one of the principals . Again, this was in contrast with information noted on the business profile and social media profile.

 Red Flag: Show Me the Money

In another matter, a search of liens and judgments noted multiple occurrences highlighting possible financial issues.

Red Flag: The Truth is Inconvenient

Searches of residential property may not match other documents provided by the principal of the company. The principal states they have professional licenses and while registration was located, it had expired.

Red Flag: It Is Not What You Know, But Who You Know

In one case, a search of the principal’s business partner indicated a possible criminal history for fraud. In such a circumstance, the principal’s loyalty might be compromised in favor of the partner regarding financial transactions.

 So what do these red flags teach us?

It is important to be proactive, rather than reactive when considering working with any vendor. Whether a company is considering a new vendor or has questions regarding a current vendor’s behavior, an on-going evaluative assessment process can often take only a few hours of investigation in order to avoid many hours of lost time, headaches and costly mistakes. Don’t ignore the waving red flags. Good vendor management, present and future, makes good dollars and good sense.

For more information on this critical topic, please visit www.sobel-cpa.com or call Jim at 973-994-9494 or email james.mottola@sobel-cpa.com or Kim Miller at 908-399-8386 or email  kim.miller@sobel-cpa.com


The Future is Now

July 3rd, 2017

The pace of change is too fast to comprehend.

At a conference that I attended in June for the Association of Accounting Marketing (AAM), Barry Melancon, the CEO of  the Association of International CPAs, shared some interesting and alarming survey results with us. Barry said that when  business owners were asked in a recent survey when they expected robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to be in place in the business community,  the majority replied “in 50 years.”  Considering that much of the futuristic robotic functions are already in place right now, or will be by 2020, the naivety of this response is astounding.

Business owners, senior managers and executive directors who think they have plenty of time to prepare for the inevitability of change in their industries need to think again.

Whether it is driverless trucks, online shopping, books on tablets or a hand held device that is called a “phone” but which is truly a computer (that’s rarely used for making calls anymore), technology is making strides in every sector at unbelievable speeds.  The future is no longer 50 years away – it is already here.  Given that every business will be ‘disrupted’ going forward – from printing and publishing to transportation, manufacturing, distribution, retail and professional services, we will all need to find a way to offer services, experiences and solutions that cannot be delivered by technology.

The human element, along with strong leadership, emotional intelligence and strategic/innovative thinking, is going to play a critical role in the formula for success.

Is your organization –  for profit or nonprofit – ready for the future? Because it is here.  Look inside and outside of your industry for exciting new ideas that can help you differentiate your organization, create a competitive advantage and gain market share.

What changes are you seeing?

Advice for Working From Home – Guest Blogger: Ken Bagner, CPA, MST, CGMA

June 27th, 2017

Do you work from home? If you do, you have lots of company. The IRS indicates that 3.4 million taxpayers claim the home office deduction. You too may be eligible to take a tax deduction for a portion of your housing expenses!

Remember the simple definition for a home office – it is a part of the home that is used exclusively on a regular basis for business. This could be a dedicated room or part of a room or a separate structure.

Define exclusive use: According to the IRS, to qualify under the exclusive use test, you must use a specific area of your home only for your trade or business. The area used for business can be a room or other separately identifiable space. The space does not need to be marked off by a permanent partition.  But you do not meet the requirements of the exclusive use test if you use the area in question both for business and for personal purposes. In fact, there are only two very narrowly defined exceptions to the exclusive rule test:

-Part of the home is used for the storage of inventory or product samples

-Part of the home is used as a daycare facility

Define regular use:  Regular use means that the home office area is used consistently for business purposes, rather than sporadically or occasionally. According to the IRS, “To qualify under the regular use test, you must use a specific area of your home for business on a regular basis. Incidental or occasional business use is not regular use.

Eligibility to deduct home office expenses differs depending on whether you are self-employed or an employee, but in either case, to be eligible to deduct home office expenses, a person must use a part of his or her residence exclusively on a regular basis in one of the following ways:

  1. As the principal place of business for any trade or business,
  2. As a place of business which is used by patients, clients, or customers in meeting or dealing with the individual taxpayer in the normal course of his or her trade or business, or
  3. In the case of a separate structure which is not attached to the residence, the space is used in connection with the person’s trade or business.

In addition, employees have a fourth criterion to meet: the exclusive business use of the home office must be for the convenience of the employer and not “merely appropriate and helpful.” Even though working from home may be appropriate and helpful for the employee, working from home must be for the employer’s convenience in order to be tax-deductible.

What Expenses can be Included in the Home Office Deduction?

Home office expenses are grouped into direct and indirect expenses.

Define direct expense: A direct expense is a cost solely related to the home office and can be deducted in full. Direct expenses benefit only the business part of your home. They include painting or repairs made to the specific area or rooms used for business.

Define indirect expenses: Indirect expenses are expenses which apply to the whole property. Indirect expenses are for keeping up and running your entire home. They benefit both the business and personal parts of your home and include expenses such as rent, insurance, and utilities are deductible based on the business use percentage of the home office.

Expenses related to a home office include:

  • Rent
  • Utilities
  • Property insurance
  • Repairs and maintenance
  • Casualty losses
  • Mortgage interest
  • Property taxes
  • Depreciation

New Changes in Home Office Deduction Calculations for 2014!

Because claiming a tax deduction for a home office used to be co confusing and complicated, a fairly new option was made available in 2014 that eliminates much of the paperwork.

Here is how it works:  If your home office is your primary place business and is used exclusively for work, you can now claim $5 per square foot of the office, up to 300 square feet. The deduction will be capped at $1,500 per year.

However, for those of you who typically claim more than the $1,500 cap allowed under this simplified method, your expenses can still be deducted, as before, by figuring out what percentage the home office space is compared to the whole house or apartment. This percentage is used to determine how much of your indirect expenses can be deducted.

The IRS advises you: To find the business percentage, compare the size of the part of your home that you use for business to your whole house. Use the resulting percentage to figure the business part of the expenses for operating your entire home. You can use any reasonable method to determine the business percentage. The following are two commonly used methods for figuring the percentage.

  1. Divide the area (length multiplied by the width) used for business by the total area of your home.
  2. If the rooms in your home are all about the same size, you can divide the number of rooms used for business by the total number of rooms in your home.”

 Record Keeping is Critical

Documents pertaining to the home office deduction should be kept along with your copy of the tax return. Relevant documentation may include:

  • Measurements of the home office space and the total area of the home;
  • Proof of payment for rent, utilities, repairs, insurance and other expenses claimed as part of the home office deduction;
  • Documents showing that the home office is for the convenience of the employer (for employees);
  • Documents showing that the home office area is used regularly and exclusively for business purposes.

Any questions? Please contact Ken Bagner, Member in Charge of the Sobel & Co. Tax Practice at kenneth.bagner@sobel-cpa.com or 973-994-9494.


Sources researched in the writing of this blog include: www.taxes.about.com; www.money.cnn.com; www.irs.gov.uac/Work-From-Home.

There’s an App for That!

June 22nd, 2017

A special thank you to guest blogger Ellen Marvin, Director of Core Services at Sobel & Co. for this important information:

Everyone knows that no matter what task comes to mind … there’s an app for that. With the proliferation of app technology it can be overwhelming for a business owner to identify the best of class in any given category. That being said, there are some apps that have proven themselves over time in critical categories. This article looks at some of the best expense reporting apps currently available

Expensify is the AICPA recommended solution for electronically tracking expenses and, it has a great tagline: Expense reports that don’t suck! It integrates receipt, mileage tracking, expense reporting and company credit card reconciliation with many small business accounting programs such as QuickBooks® , Intacct® and NetSuite®.  Pricing ranges between $5 – $9 a month depending on the level of approval process and expense classifications needed.

Receipt Bank eliminates the need for data entry by extracting pertinent information from your receipts which can be submitted via the mobile app (take a picture and send!), Dropbox, email, and other options. Receipt Bank has one of the best OCR technologies available, but it does not have a mileage tracking option. However, this can be done via integrated apps or other entry methods and the ability to auto-publish information to accounting programs such as QuickBooks Online® (QBO), Bill.com™, Xero ™, FreshBooks and Sage® One, as well as some others, make this app a top choice. Plans start at $15.00 – $25.00 for single/multi user plans.

Big businesses have used Concur® for years to help manage travel and expense reports and credit card charges. This app also syncs with many of the aforementioned accounting systems. What is nice about Concur is that each user receives a free TripIt® Pro account, thus making Concur a complete travel and expense management solution. Forward travel confirmation emails to your tripit.com address and TripIt® compiles all the details. Once the trip is finished, the user simply clicks to create an expense report from that trip plan. With electronic receipt capture and credit card integrations, this app is a powerful tool for any size business with a lot of travel expenses. Pricing is about $8/user per month.

Some worthy mentions also go to:

MileIQ® – Tracks business and personal mileage via GPS technology while you drive and provides IRS compliant reporting

QBO® Self Employed – Tracks business and personal expenses, has automatic mileage tracking, and can be used in conjunction with full QBO Accounting product.

Tallie – Incredibly strong QuickBooks®(both desktop and online) and Bill.com ™ integration allows for speed and accuracy in expense reporting.

Headlines Depict Drastic Job Loss for Retailers – John Mellage, CPA and Chris Martin, CPA

June 19th, 2017

A John Mellage and Chris Martin at Sobel & CO. note in this blog, the drastic drop off of available jobs in the retail sector is not late breaking news.

Yet, as the trend continues to grow unabated, supported by statistics that increasingly point to the challenges facing the retail industry, we cannot ignore the implications for retailer owners as well as their vendors, customers and the national economic landscape.  Although there is nothing ‘cutting edge’ about this discussion, retailers and their professional advisors like John and Chris at Sobel & Co. must face the challenges.  Similarly, significant changes have rocked manufacturing, publishing, mining and more over the decades and now it is the retailers who will be looking for new strategies and innovative business models. But quoting statistics that sound the alarm bells is probably not an adequate solution to such a complicated concern.

The background

Since 2007, the private sector added 2.4 million new jobs while at the same time retail lost 60,000 jobs, according to an article, “the Silent Crisis of Retail Employment” (authored by Derek Thompson and published two years ago in The Atlantic). Given the astounding impact of the retail world on the US economy over the years, it’s hard to imagine that this is even possible. In fact, the retail industry as a whole has the distinction of being the most important contributor to the economic landscape throughout the second half of the 20th century.  People love to buy ‘stuff’ and retailers have always been delighted to fuel that appetite, offering more and more items on overflowing shelves. But times are changing a bit.

What is driving the latest drop in retail employment?

Based on hundreds of articles written that address this complicated issue, it seems as if there are three main challenges that currently impact shoppers’ buying habits, which in turn, is impacting the curtailing of retail jobs.

The first is need. As we move from a consumer society that has always focused almost solely on the desire for tangible items to one that is trying to manage the costs of the intangible (college tuition, healthcare or insurance, for example!), spending patterns are slowly changing.  Even recognizing this new focus, people still need real “stuff.” But how, when and where are they shopping?

Purchasing patterns are evolving based on the skyrocketing impact of technology. Today’s consumers can shop from anywhere – as long as they have a ‘device’ and an internet connection.  While many people continue to enjoy the shopping experience, there is every expectation that these numbers will diminish going forward. And technology is not only influencing online versus in-store shopping. Technology is also affecting the in-store experience with the introduction of self-service kiosks, iPads and other automated efficiencies that make it difficult to justify having so many customer service employees.

And lastly, there is the issue of cost coupled with convenience to deal with. So while many retailers – large and small – are struggling to hold onto their brick and mortar audience, super retailers are slower to feel the squeeze.  This is the third component that supports the downward spiral of retail job losses.  Those consumers who value convenience and cost can purchase quite literally almost any item they need, from AAA batteries to pet food to toilet paper to shoes and apparel, from super online retailers like Amazon and other internet sellers.

Is there any good news?

Just one month ago, Fox Business featured an article by Anne D’Innocenzio entitled “Retail Store Job Cuts Deepen as More Buyers Migrate Online.”  And although the lead paragraph cites that retail stores are eliminating jobs at the sharpest pace in more than seven years, there remains a silver lining that should be considered.

Retail shopping is not ending as a way of life. It is, however, being conducted according to a new business model.

One change predicted is that some retail stores (especially grocery chains) may shrink as more staples are purchased on line. This shift will require knowledgeable employees who can add value in a boutique environment where shoppers are looking for limited, specialty items. They will be more demanding but may require fewer sales staff to address their needs.

As the retail world continues to evolve into an online platform, some economists suggest that e-commerce is fueling new opportunities just as older, in-store jobs are disappearing.  Michael Mandel, who has earned a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University and served as the  chief economist at BusinessWeek in 2004, estimates that the e-commerce sector has been responsible for 355,000 new jobs, as compared to the 50,000 in-store jobs that have been lost.  So the anticipation is that the jobs and the quality and depth of product knowledge may be altered, but the retail jobs will remain.

The impact of a digital, technology-based world cannot be overlooked. In fact, this computerized environment may present new alternatives – as long as we are able to adapt, be creative and innovative, and embrace change rather than fight it.  Those business leaders with a strategic vision for the future will likely be more successful that those who do not understand that you cannot stop progress.   In his famous white paper entitled, “Marketing Myopia”, Theodore Levitt addressed this very issue decades ago in 1960 in Harvard Business Review, admonishing those who refused to see change coming and who steadfastly held onto the world they were comfortable in. Like those buggy whip manufacturers who were blindsided by the popularity of the automobile, retailers need to do their best to be well positioned for whatever is around the corner!



Special thank you to some websites referred to in this article by John and Chris include:

  • Grocery Stores: The Best of America and the Worst of America by Laurel Dalrymple. May 15, 2017
  • Where Did All the Retail Jobs Go? By Derek Thompson. February 6, 2015
  • The Silent Crisis of Retail Employment. The Atlantic. Derek Thompson. April 18, 2017
  • Retail Store Job Cuts Deepen as More Buyers Migrate Online. By Anne D’Innocenzio. April 8, 2017
  • Bloomberg. The April Jobs Report. Patrick T. Fallon. May 3, 20

What My Dad Taught Me About Sales and Life – by guest blogger Caryn Kopp

June 16th, 2017

When Caryn sent me her latest blog, she began by quoting her father.  Since I had the privilege of working with my own dad for more than two decades, her blog resonated with me, as I too, learned so much from that experience.  Here is what Caryn’s father taught her:

“April marks the one year anniversary of my dad’s passing. I keep thinking about the ways he influenced me over the years. He owned his own business and was in sales for most of his entire career.

One of my favorite stories about him takes place early in his career when he was interviewing for an assistant buyer position at Macy’s—a highly coveted role. Other candidates were being interviewed as well. When he called the decision maker to check in, he was told it could be a few weeks before he heard back.

Instead of saying, “OK, I’ll check back,” or “OK, I’ll wait to hear from you,” he said, “How about if I start Monday at 9 a.m.?” After a short pause, the decision maker said, “OK. See you on Monday.” My Dad started his job at Macy’s the following week.

I’ve used that technique twice in my career when applying for jobs and it worked both times. I’ve used that technique to close sales in my business too.

I told this story at his memorial service a year ago because it characterizes so well the person he was and the influence he had on me. He was a creative problem solver who wasn’t afraid to put it out there and take a chance in the moment.

Lessons I learned from this story:

  1. Don’t give up. There is usually a way through—it just may require a little more creativity to find the answer which works. Too often people give up too soon, sometimes just before the finish line. This paves the way for the competition to come in and close deals.
  2. Assume Close. Using the “assume close” strategy can sometimes catch prospects off guard and yield the results you want. By assuming the next step is inevitable, it just may be inevitable. One well-chosen sentence is sometimes all it takes.
  3. Content + Delivery = Outcome. How a message is delivered—the tonality and the timing—is as important as the content. It’s what you say and how you say it that determines the result.

I encourage you to do something more with this article than simply read it and think fondly of my father. Use the technique for yourself or pass the article to someone you know who would benefit from reading it — job seekers, salespeople, business owners, sales leaders, etc. — so that my Dad’s influence can help others as well.”

I hope you enjoyed Caryn’s insights as much as I did-


Still Waiting for That Introduction?

June 5th, 2017

Caryn Kopp, Chief Door Opener has offered these critical insights:

One of the limitations of LinkedIn introductions is that you are at the mercy of the person doing the introducing. You have no control over how quickly your contact introduces you and you have no control over when you receive a response.

To avoid what can feel like endless waiting you may need to approach the situation differently. Here are a few tips you can use when asking for introductions to prevent the “stall” from happening.

  • Just because your contact is connected to the prospect you want to meet doesn’t mean that your contact knows this person well enough to introduce you effectively. Ask your contact how well he knows the prospect and how comfortable he would feel making the introduction.
  • When asking for an introduction, explain to your mutual contact why connecting will benefit the person you seek to reach. Provide language your contact can easily pass along so that the prospect will look forward to connecting with you.
  • Follow up with your contact if you don’t hear back in a few weeks. You can say, “Knowing how busy you are I thought I’d reach out to see if you have heard back from Bill as to whether direct contact would be OK with him.” This may prompt your contact to make the connection if he or she has not already done so. Remember, people are busy. Just because this is high on your priority list doesn’t mean it is high on your contact’s priority list.

If you’ve followed these tips and still haven’t been able to connect with your prospect, here are some steps you can take to regain control over the situation and meet this person anyway.

  • Make sure the prospect is exactly the right person, and the introduction will truly benefit him or her.
  • Use a LinkedIn InMail to reach the prospect and clearly explain why being connected with you will benefit him or her.
  • If the prospect doesn’t respond to your InMail, you can reach out directly. Research to find the person’s work phone number (you can often find free research tools at many public libraries). You will also need an email address as reaching out by phone and email in combination is very effective. If you can’t find your contact’s email address, find out the email address format for the company (a PR contact email is usually listed on the Press Release section of the prospect company’s website). From there you can guess at your contact’s email address. Confirm the email address by calling the business and asking them to verify that the email address you “have” is correct. Helpful assistants will often correct you if you are just one or two letters off. But, if you ask for the entire email address without saying you have one, they rarely give it to you.
  • Be ready to explain why being connected will benefit the prospect. Be clear on what you are asking him or her to do. If you want a meeting, ask for one.

While stalled introductions can be frustrating you have options to keep the process moving. And remember, when someone asks YOU for an introduction, treat the request with the same level of priority you want someone to treat yours.

Happy Hunting!

Reach Caryn Kopp, Chief Door Opener® at www.koppconsultingusa.com

How Do You Recognize Great Service?

June 2nd, 2017

I want to share an unusual experience I had today at lunch. I met a friend at the Grain House in Bernardsville, and since the weather was so lovely, we requested outside seating.  There were many inside seats as you might imagine, but the patio area was filled. It was right in the middle of the lunch hour and the staff could’ve seated us indoors or offered for us to wait until a table became available outdoors.

Instead, they decided to open up a side patio that they use later in the summer – just for us.  We were, literally,the only ones on the patio throughout that entire  hour!

As you can imagine, we were delighted to have a “private” lunch on a beautiful day, when we could so easily have ended up in the main dining room.  When the hostess seated us, she alerted the server, saying, “I am seating them on the side patio – because they want to be outside – and because we want them to be happy. I am putting them there because I can.”

It was a remarkable experience and one that stands out in an environment when all too often, the “service” part of customer service does not really exist.

And what’s the lesson for you? Ask yourself how you deliverable memorable experiences.

Leadership is the Secret Sauce to Success

May 31st, 2017

I have been contemplating the remarks made by Ashley Stewart  CEO James Rhee at a recent meeting for Association for Corporate Growth NJ.  I have commented on his unique leadership commitment, but it is really the company culture that is so extraordinary.  Social impact is a quickly growing trend that is gaining traction in every industry. Over the weekend I saw a sign for a local  realtor that said, “Do business with someone who gives back.”  Of course I applaud any form of philanthropy and community involvement, but it is one thing to make donations – of time or money – and quite another concept to change the corporate environment to build it around your customer.

Transparency and kindness are often the twin pillars of  leading organizations – and their presence makes all the difference in the world. Instead of doing what is best for you, most convenient for your company, easiest for you to implement – how about turning the tables and genuinely being interested in what the customer/client prefers?  As leaders, do you ask yourself and your  staff if your customers are really engaged with your company? If you are not sure the answer is YES, maybe its time to consider how to change that!

Be sure to read “How I Brought Ashley Stewart Back from Bankruptcy” by James Rhee, published by Harvard Business Review. It is brief and to the point – and worth the investment of your time.

The Importance of Contributing Early to Your Retirement Plan – Joe Zapf, CPA

May 25th, 2017

The Sobel & Co. Business Blog is proud to feature solutions, perspectives and ideas from across a wide variety of services and industries.  This blog, contributed by Sobel & Co. Employee Benefit Plan audit practice team member Joe Zapf, provides some stunning insights into the importance of the employee’s role in growing their retirement plan!

It is amazing to note when auditing retirement plans how frequently we see that many employees either do not contribute to their plans or contribute less than $50 dollars per month.

One of the most important things participants can do is contribute to their plans early! If you wonder why this is true, here is an example for you:

A contribution of $100 per month for any 40 year period will turn into more than $700,000 (at 11% average).  However, if the employee waits 10 years to start contributing, this amount would only be $265,000 – less than half of what could’ve been earned over a 40 year time frame!  Further – if the employee turns that same contribution over forty years into $500 instead of $100 each month, the account balance grows to over $3.5 million! These numbers can be staggering when you think about what you are leaving on the table by not participating in your own retirement plan.    Many employees are not aware of how crucial contributing early is to their plans or how much of a difference a 10 year start can make in their retirement future. 

If companies simply educated their employees on how important it is to begin contributing early, it could make a huge difference 30 or 40 years down the road.  In addition, once time is lost, it can never be completely recovered.  Even excess contributions in the future will not make up for years of lost interest on a participant’s account balance.

Companies that truly care about their employees want them to have a successful retirement. That means they should offer educational tools to the staff throughout the year as well as offering incentives to get them to enroll in the plan early and contribute as much as possible!

Special thank you to Joe Zapf, author of this blog!