What to do if you have trouble paying your mortgage

Joe Ohayon talks to nonprofit mortgage counselors

Ohayon participates in a training session at HomeFree-USA, a consumer credit counseling agency in Riverdale, Maryland.

Sometimes life throws us curveballs. Just ask Washington, D.C., resident Sherrie W.

In 2010, a storm destroyed her business and caused her to fall behind on mortgage payments. Sherrie knew she had to do something to keep her home and, after working with Wells Fargo, received a loan modification that reduced her interest rate and monthly payment by hundreds of dollars. This made her mortgage payments more affordable.

Unfortunately, too many people aren’t as proactive as Sherrie in reaching out for help, greatly increasing the likelihood of a negative outcome. So if you’re having trouble paying your mortgage, take these three steps now:

  1. Take initiative to save your home as soon as possible. The sooner you reach out to your mortgage servicer, the more options you’ll have to avoid foreclosure. Far too often, outreach from a company to a homeowner is met with silence. Or, even worse, unscrupulous scammers reach out to homeowners with false promises of mortgage modifications for high fees.

As time passes, the difficult circumstances may become dire. As this happens, opportunities to help keep you in your home fade.

  1. Call your lender or a HUD-approved counselor. Contacting your lender, such as Wells Fargo, or a HUD-approved credit counselor is the most important action you can take. That’s why the work of HUD-approved nonprofits is so vital for homeowners and our country’s housing recovery. In the event Wells Fargo does not have a workshop or physical presence in a community, we work closely with HUD-approved counseling resources across the nation to help homeowners facing problems with their mortgage payments and other credit challenges.
  2. Gather necessary paperwork. Organize all of your home mortgage documents and recent pay stubs — essentially everything you would need to apply for a home loan. Your Wells Fargo home preservation specialist or credit counselor will answer any questions you have.Some of the specific items you should bring with you:
  • A letter explaining your situation.
  • A list of your assets and expenses.
  • Recent paystubs and W-2s for each salaried borrower.

Teaming up

Last year Wells Fargo worked with nonprofit credit counseling agencies to host or participate in 224 home preservation events nationwide. These were attended by 8,003 homeowners seeking to avoid foreclosure. (From 2009 through 2014, we’ve met with more than 46,000 struggling homeowners.)

We’re currently working to assist homeowners through nearly 2,000 nonprofit housing counseling agencies in the U.S. and 6,000 housing counselors certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. These are many of the same nonprofits we’ve supported with $40 million in grants since 2009 to help them aid homeowners.

Our latest outreach effort not only includes working with this expanded network of HUD-approved housing counselors but sponsoring local events across the U.S. with these counseling agencies in our Home Preservation Workshop Hosted by Others program.

Following improvement in the housing market, we shifted our approach away from large home preservation workshops in arenas and other venues and now focus on smaller, more local and regional assistance offered through the counseling agencies and HUD-approved counselors.

But it also reflects our desire to serve those customers who live in communities that didn’t host workshops but wanted face-to-face contact. And this new outreach strategy better serves those who are more comfortable reaching out to a third party instead of Wells Fargo to avoid foreclosure.

The HUD-approved counselors help customers understand the loan modification process, find resources to avoid foreclosure, and address credit challenges that extend beyond mortgage payments.

Our commitment to putting customers first has served us well. Wells Fargo delinquency and foreclosure rates are significantly below the industry average, and less than 1 percent of mortgages serviced by Wells Fargo have gone into foreclosure over the past year. In fact, today more than 94 percent of our customers are current with their mortgage payments.

But while the housing market is improving, we know there will always be people like Sherrie who face financial difficulties. That’s why we’ll continue to reach out to our customers and work with HUD-approved counselors to meet their needs as America’s leading home lender. It’s the right thing to do for our customers and our communities.

Need help?

Wells Fargo customers facing mortgage payment challenges can visit www.wellsfargo.com/homeassist/, call 800-678-7986, or visit a HUD-approved counselor.

About Joe
Ohayon is head of community outreach and mortgage servicing for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage.

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CommunityWINS grants focus on jobs, housing, and more

Coffin talks about CommunityWINS at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting.

Coffin talks about CommunityWINS at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting.

Earlier this year, I was honored to represent Wells Fargo Home Lending to announce our new CommunityWINS grant program at the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C.

An extension of our successful Leading The Way Home® and NeighborhoodLIFT® and CityLIFT® programs, CommunityWINS is available to nonprofits in cities of all sizes across the U.S. through their local mayor and the USCM. These innovative grants will inject $3 million over three years into programs aimed directly at important issues such as workforce development, cleaning up neighborhoods, and renovation of housing.

When Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, California, who is the current president of the USCM, gave his “State of the Cities” address to the gathering, his leadership, passion, and crystal clear vision was very impactful and well received by all in attendance.

Mayor Johnson, who is also known for his previous exploits as an NBA Basketball All-Star, clearly spelled out his belief that the role of leadership at the local level and municipalities is becoming increasingly critical to the continuing revitalization of neighborhoods and communities. He spoke of how local governments need to leverage all resources available at the local level to directly impact critical needs. And he passionately called for their leadership because the future stability and revitalization of their cities is firmly on the plate of each and every mayor.

You can learn more about the CommuntyWINS grant program and/or find application information at www.usmayors.org/communitywins. The application deadline is March 16. USCM members or nonprofits seeking additional information may also contact Gene Lowe at USCM at 202-861-6710 or send an email to CommunityWINS@wellsfargo.com.

His remarks clearly reinforce and confirm that Wells Fargo’s local community efforts are correctly placed and provide the help where it is most needed. CommunityWINS provides direct local funding for selected nonprofit programs while also fostering “best in class” ideas for others to follow.

In addition, we extend our relationship with the USCM, validating the effective work that we have done with them over the past three years and serving as a model to our industry as to what a successful public and private collaboration can look like!

Homeownership, a dream come true

Our alliance with USCM initially focused on foreclosure prevention and property maintenance and care. While we are very proud of our accomplishments, and the housing market is improving, Wells Fargo understands there is more work to be done. Yes, millions of Americans have successfully refinanced their homes and repositioned themselves to be able to make their payments, but there are still many opportunities for us to provide direct support to neighborhoods and homeowners and to ensure that credit opportunities are available for all qualified borrowers.

In 2014, Wells Fargo’s nationwide Homeownership Survey found that 87 percent of Americans view homeownership as an achievement to be proud of and a full 95 percent intend to own a home someday if they don’t already. It’s proof of just how important the community efforts we have been talking about can be to the vast majority of Americans.

It is exciting that we are continuing our collaborative efforts and moving forward with the local assistance needed. We know that as a company we are only successful when the communities we live in and work in are successful; when customers and constituents can afford and sustain home ownership. And we know that with the help of our local governments and nonprofits, we can help make the American dream of homeownership come true for thousands more in coming years.

About Mary
Coffin is head of Wells Fargo Home Lending Customer Excellence and leads a team working with all of Home Lending’s businesses to use customer feedback to improve communications and services and enhance the overall customer experience.

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Four ways to save more for retirement

Gas savings help household budget infographicIn my family, we have five drivers who are always zipping around visiting friends, family, and going to work — so it’s no surprise that we’ve realized a very significant monthly savings with the low prices at the gas pump in recent months.

According to the latest Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index, we aren’t alone. Investors reported saving an average of $108 a month. That’s good news in and of itself but what really pleases me is what people are doing with the savings, and how that can help them save more for retirement: 70 percent are using the money to improve their financial health. Breaking that number down, 37 percent are using it to pay down bills, and 33 percent are saving those extra dollars. Gas savings improve balance sheet graphic

That’s music to my ears, considering that I come to work every day thinking about how to help people prepare for retirement. Investments, diversification, and many other factors are important, too, but none can happen without saving first.

Don’t know where to start? Consider these four steps to jumpstart your retirement savings:

  1. Get started today: It’s never too late or too early to start saving and realize the benefits from compound earnings. Let’s say you began setting aside $50 in a 401(k)-type plan each month beginning at age 25. By age 65, this could grow into more than $125,000! Compare that to saving $100 each month in a 401(k)-type plan beginning at age 45. Although both scenarios equal the same amount contributed in total, in the second scenario, the estimated outcome at age 65 would be just over $52,000.1
  2. Enroll in a 401(k) or company plan: If you have access to a 401(k) plan through work, take advantage of it. If your employer offers a match, try to save at least enough to capture the full match otherwise, you’re leaving money on the table.
  3. Save 10 percent: A general rule of thumb is to strive to save at least 10 percent of your gross salary (which can include your employer’s match). If you need to start lower than that, consider signing up for an automatic contribution increase if your 401(k) plan offers it, which automatically bumps up your contributions to your 401(k) plan by 1 percent annually. It can help ease you into saving a little more each year.
  4. Take financial inventory:  It can be very helpful – and eye-opening – to take inventory of your finances periodically. Take advantage of any spending reports available to you from your bank or credit card company. It’s important to understand your spending patterns to find ways to save more.

Have you noticed where your gas savings are going? What have you done with that extra money? Let others learn from your example by sharing your stories using the comments feature below.First quarter 2015 Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index story infographicAbout Joe
Ready is the director of Institutional Retirement and Trust for Wells Fargo, and he is based in Charlotte, North Carolina. He oversees employer-sponsored retirement plans as well as institutional trust and custody services provided by Wells Fargo, with a mission to help America’s diverse workforce prepare for a better retirement.

1 Based on 7% annual rate of return. This example is for illustration purposes only and is not intended to represent the return of any specific investment. Estimates are based on the assumptions noted, do not guarantee or imply a projection of actual results, and do not include the effect of taxes. Wells Fargo cannot guarantee results under any savings or investing program, including a regular investment program, and cannot guarantee that you will meet your retirement savings goal.
Recordkeeping, trustee, and/or custody services are provided by Wells Fargo Institutional Retirement and Trust, a business unit of Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., a bank affiliate of Wells Fargo & Company. This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute investment, financial, tax, or legal advice. Please contact an investment, financial, tax, or legal advisor regarding your specific situation.
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Small business optimism: Real progress, not just hope

 2015’s positive first-quarter score is the highest since January 2008. Click the image to see the full infographic of the results.

2015’s positive first-quarter score is the highest since January 2008. Click the image to see the full infographic of the results.

The time is right for many small businesses to take off in 2015.

In our latest Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index survey, small business owners reported the highest level of optimism in seven years, underscoring a strengthening economy.

The quarterly small business survey, conducted Jan. 5–9, found a 13-point gain in the overall Small Business Index score, increasing from +58 in November to positive 71 (+71).

The index score, which measures small business optimism, has been climbing steadily during the past two years and is the highest it has been since January 2008 (when it was +83).

Kicking off 2015, business owners said they saw improvement in their businesses in the following areas:

  • Improved revenue. In the January survey, 49 percent of small business owners reported that their revenues increased a little or a lot over the past 12 months, up from 37 percent a year ago. This improvement represents the highest reading on this measure since 2007, when 52 percent of small business owners reported increased revenues in the second quarter.
  • Better cash flow. Business owners saw modest improvements in their cash flow during the past 12 months, with 54 percent rating their company cash flow as very good or somewhat good, compared to 52 percent in the first quarter of 2014.
  • Hiring is up. More business owners increased the number of jobs at their company during the past 12 months (19 percent). Just 11 percent report a decrease in jobs compared to 16 percent in last quarter’s survey.
  • Access to credit. The ability to obtain credit also improved, with more than a third (34 percent) of survey respondents reporting that it was somewhat or very easy to obtain credit during the past 12 months, up from 30 percent in November 2014 and 28 percent a year ago.
Roberto Guerra

Business is booming for Roberto Guerra, owner of barbecue roaster manufacturer La Caja China. He says he plans to add six more employees.

This is significant because it shows that business owners are seeing real improvement in their business operations and finances and are not just hopeful for the future.

With economic fundamentals improving, we hope that this trend continues and results in even stronger small businesses in 2015.

Hopeful for the year ahead

One small business owner, and Wells Fargo customer, who’s hopeful for the year ahead is Roberto Guerra, owner of La Caja China in Miami. Guerra has been in business for 27 years and sells his BBQ roasters in the U.S. and internationally. He employs 12 people and said he is planning to hire about six more employees in the next six months.

Guerra says sales for La Caja China, which has been featured on the Food Network and on Martha Stewart.com, have been increasing since 2013 and remained strong in January, which, he says, signal a great 2015. He’s also applying for a business line of credit to expand his product line to include two new roasters and a smoke box.

“January is a good gauge for my business,” Guerra adds. “With this bad winter, all the guys inside are desperate to go out and go cooking. So we’re expecting to have a great year.”

He also says that the improvement in the economy has helped his business.

“To us, we came out of the bad recession in 2013. That year I grew 22 percent,” Guerra says. “I have a feeling that the economy is really going to take off, and in our field we’re doing fine. The local economy here in Miami is different, but we sell nationally and have really seen things pick up.”

When small businesses are growing, that’s a good sign for our economy. And it tells us that the environment is right to spur even more startups and business growth.  We know that many small businesses in America are still struggling, and we’re continuing to work in our communities to support entrepreneurs.

But with these positive signs of small business optimism, we hope to see even more small businesses across the nation grow, expand, and achieve success.

About Doug
Case leads Wells Fargo’s focus on small business, which includes the Wells Fargo Works for Small BusinessSM website on wellsfargo.com and its research, tools, and other resources for existing and prospective business owners. Wells Fargo is the nation’s leading lender to small businesses in dollars and the leading lender of Small Business Administration 7(a) loans in dollars for five consecutive years, according to government data. Since August 2003, the Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index has surveyed small business owners on current and future perceptions about the financial condition of their businesses.

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The path to build strong credit

Screenshot of Wells Fargo Path to Good Credit Build and Rebuild Credit website One of my favorite parts about my job at Wells Fargo is helping customers understand the important role credit plays in their overall financial health.  Did you know that one of the best ways to build strong credit is to continue using it responsibly?

Understanding and having strong credit is important because without it consumers may have difficulty obtaining things like a mortgage or car loan.  In fact, poor credit can affect routine tasks such as connecting utilities, renting an apartment, and in some states, applying for a job.

The fact is, whether you’re looking to build strong credit as a first-time user, or rebuild it after a challenge, understanding how to manage credit responsibly is an important element in succeeding financially.  Many consumers understand that, too.  In a recent survey, 78 percent of Americans reported wanting to learn more about how to manage money — with 53 percent of respondents wanting to learn more about credit.

To help fulfill this need, we’ve added two new websites to the Path to Good Credit (www.wellsfargo.com/pathtocredit) site launched in late 2014, which joined Wells Fargo’s other online credit management resources. (Read the news release about these new Path to Good Credit additions.)

Available in English and Spanish, these new sites are designed to help consumers learn ways to manage their credit responsibly, no matter what credit stage they’re in:

Our expanded Path to Good Credit family of websites now offers videos, tips, infographics, and quizzes that allow you to test your knowledge about credit.  The sites also address:

  • Why credit is important: Credit plays an important part in meeting your financial goals.  Building good credit can help you unlock the path to getting a car, starting your own business, and buying a home.
  • How to get credit:  There are many types of credit, including credit cards, car loans, student loans, rent, and utilities.  All these types of credit can help you start building a strong credit history.
  • How to build credit:  There are many things you can do to make sure you start using credit wisely, including making payments on time — every time.
  • How to rebuild credit:  To improve your credit score, you need to keep using credit and make good decisions.

We know that each person’s situation is different — some people may be looking to establish credit for the first time, while others may want to rebuild it.  But no matter what stage you find yourself in, you can always work to improve it and build a path to stronger credit.

To see if you’re on the right path to building stronger credit, visit the Path to Good Credit today at www.wellsfargo.com/pathtocredit.

About Gary
Korotzer leads the Wells Fargo Consumer Credit Solutions Marketing team, where he oversees marketing support for multiple lines of business, including Credit Card, Personal Lines and Loans, Direct Auto, Fee-based Services, Rewards, and Student Lending.

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Love and money: 3 tips to talk about credit with your valentine

couple under umbrella togetherChoosing someone you want to spend your life with? Now that’s a big decision — and an emotional one, too. Love can easily blind us to the realities of building a life with someone — like the need to talk about credit and its importance.

While married couples don’t have to apply for a loan together, when you do, lenders look at the credit history of both applicants and may average the two credit scores. If even one of you has a low credit score, it not only could affect the loan amount and interest rate, but also whether you even get the money.

So in honor of Valentine’s Day, and with a host of studies finding that money is the No. 1 cause of marital stress, we suggest you start a conversation with your significant other to discuss your credit histories.

Three tips to ease an uncomfortable discussion

  1. It’s normal to feel uncomfortable talking about money or your credit score. And you’re not alone! According to a recent Wells Fargo survey, 33 percent of married or partnered adults find it hard to talk about money with their spouse or partner. Admit that the conversation may feel awkward — and then have it anyway.
  2. Pick a mutually agreed-upon time to talk. Be open with your significant other. Discuss your spending and savings habits and goals you’d like to achieve together, covering such questions as:
    • What does financial security look like to you?
    • Are you in debt right now? If so, how much?
    • How do you feel about debt?
    • How much do you want to be saving?
    • What sort of financial future do you envision together?
  3. Talk about money, credit, and whether you’re on track to achieve your financial goals, and what those goals are. Your goals shouldn’t differ markedly.

It’s not easy to talk about credit with someone you love. Nevertheless, it’s necessary to be able to develop your financial goals together.

Here’s to happily ever after!

Conversation starters infographic listing tips for talking credit with your valentine

About Gary

Korotzer leads the Wells Fargo Consumer Credit Solutions Marketing team, where he oversees marketing support for multiple lines of business, including Credit Card, Personal Lines and Loans, Direct Auto, Fee-based Services, Rewards and Student Lending.

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Connecting with customers through ATM innovation

Teleflora flower and gift discount on Wells Fargo ATM

From Feb. 9 to 13, Wells Fargo’s more than 12,500 ATMs will feature a 30-percent-off coupon for flowers and other gifts at Teleflora®.

In ATM Banking, our team is constantly working to innovate and deliver an experience that puts our customers first. The latest examples in our long history of innovation:

  • The ability for credit card customers to redeem rewards in the Wells Fargo Rewards® Program at the ATMs (see Wells Fargo customers can now redeem credit card rewards at ATMs, news release, Feb. 4, 2015). Specifically, customers can redeem their rewards across our ATM network for cash (in increments of $20), a deposit to a checking or savings account, or an account credit to a credit card, mortgage, home equity loan, personal loan, or another qualifying Wells Fargo account.
  • A limited-time opportunity to help customers save money while celebrating Valentine’s Day. From Feb. 9 to 13, our ATMs will feature a 30-percent-off coupon for flowers and other gifts at Teleflora,® the national floral online retailer. When selected, the ATM will print a coupon with the Teleflora website address and a discount code that must be used by Feb. 19.

‘We know you’

These are merely the latest innovations, however. For decades, Wells Fargo has been working to drive ATM innovation in ways that make it easier for our customers to conduct transactions and go about their busy lives ― providing a complete customer experience that says, “We know you.”

The result is that today our network of more than 12,500 ATMs includes:

  • Voice instructions for the visually impaired.
  • Menu options in English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Hmong, Russian, and French.
  • Email and text ATM receipts.
  • A network of Envelope-FreeSM ATMs that saves time and thousands of trees.
  • Happy birthday and anniversary wishes.
  • Messages celebrating Teachers of the Year and other local community achievements.
  • A Cash Tracker to tell you how much you’ve withdrawn in a month.
  • A donation feature that can be activated to allow our customers to donate to disaster relief efforts locally, nationally and around the world.

Wells Fargo customers have chosen to bank with us for more than 160 years for one simple reason: We are committed to meeting their financial needs. We know that convenience plays a big role in meeting those needs, which is why we have about 6,200 retail banking stores and more than 12,500 ATMs coast to coast. It’s also why we provide our customers with anytime access to phone banking and a variety of online and mobile options, so access to banking and other financial services is never far away!

We’re proud of all the progress we’ve made in delivering convenient options, and our efforts to improve the customer experience are never done. After all, it’s what we do with the convenient options we offer that really makes a difference.

About Alicia
Moore is head of Wells Fargo ATM Banking and joined the ATM Banking group in 2000. Wells Fargo ATM firsts under her leadership include: first to offer customers email and text receipts, first with voice instructions for the visually impaired, and first to offer rewards redemption for credit card customers.

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4 ways to design 401k plans that connect with your employees

4Q2014 Wells Fargo/Gallup Retirement and Investor Optimism Index results graph

The latest Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index reports a 2-point increase from the previous quarter. Click the image to see the full infographic of the results.

The 401k plan came into existence in the late 1970s and has now, after more than 30 years, become the primary savings tool for retirement. It’s a great tool, but saving for retirement is hardly simple. And boy, did those of us who design, administer, manage, and sponsor plans for employees get a big reminder of that in the most recent Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index study.

When we asked American investors who have not yet retired if they would like to receive more retirement planning advice from their employers, 81 percent said “no!” When we asked, “Who do you most rely on for advice in your 401k plan?” only 22 percent answered the financial firm that runs their plan, and only 11 percent said their company’s benefits department. Thirty-nine percent rely on themselves, friends, and family.

These responses are in line with how employees have viewed their 401k plan for years, and another harsh reminder to our industry that employees rely on others’ advice much more than from the sponsors and administrators who offer and know the most about their plans. (Note: When I refer to advice provided by plan sponsors, I mean the advice tools they make available through their plans.)

As we think about the new year, here are four ways 401k plan administrators and sponsors can show participants we’ve got their backs:

  1. Embrace baby steps.

Any undertaking outside of what’s familiar can be daunting. Think about a health and fitness plan; is it easier to abruptly switch from a junk-food diet to healthy meals, or, to swap out one bad food choice for a healthier option? Then, once that’s mastered, move on to another? We should be offering the same strategy with our 401k education and guidance. When participants in 401k plans Wells Fargo administers view their 401k balances online, for example, they see how close they are to their retirement savings goal, and get recommended next steps like increasing their contribution rate by 1 percent to save even more – with just a simple click.

  1. Keep it simple.

When it comes to saving for retirement, we know that the best way to get started is to participate in an employer-sponsored 401k-type plan. But taking that first step can be difficult, so we need to make it as easy as possible. For example, when we offered simple postcards as a method of enrolling in a 401k plan last year, we saw a 17 percent average increase in enrollment.

Where possible, look for ways to simplify the process and keep it simple, which will go a long way toward increasing the number of those saving in, and benefiting from, these plans.

  1. Make saving and asset allocation automatic.

In our latest study, 75 percent of working Americans told us they favor automatic enrollment in 401k plans, and 66 percent want employers to allow them to automatically increase contributions on a regular basis. Consider automated solutions, such as auto-enroll and auto-contribution-increase to help drive better retirement savings habits.

When automatically enrolled in a plan, participants’ contributions are often put into a target date fund. Target date funds help people by designating a target retirement date and adjusting asset allocations accordingly. As a result, participants’ investments are allocated in a manner that considers their time-horizon to retirement — a critical success factor in retirement saving.

  1. Give participants someone to talk to.

At Wells Fargo, we believe in the power of conversation, which is why we offer 401k plan participants free retirement consultations. These conversations focus on a series of questions that help participants determine where they stand today, and, the retirement savings goal they want to achieve to make it to and through retirement. Not surprisingly, 46 percent take specific actions after these retirement consultations.

Clearly, we have a long way to go. Retirement planning can be confusing, and even understanding the first steps to take can be hard. But by working with plan sponsors to help make it as easy as possible for participants to get the help they need, we know we can make a difference.

4Q2014 Wells Fargo/Gallup Retirement and Investor Optimism Index infographic

About Joe

Ready is the director of Institutional Retirement and Trust for Wells Fargo, and he is based in Charlotte, North Carolina. He oversees employer-sponsored retirement plans as well as institutional trust and custody services provided by Wells Fargo, with a mission to help America’s diverse workforce prepare for a better retirement.

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Small Business Index score heralds business growth in 2015

4Q 2014 Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index results chart

The positive 58 score reported in fourth quarter 2014 is the highest since January 2008. Click the image to see the full infographic of the results.

2015 appears to have the makings of a good year for small business owners.

In our latest Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index survey, small business owners reported the highest level of optimism since 2008 as economic conditions continue to improve.

In a quarterly small business survey, conducted Nov. 10-14, the overall Small Business Index score increased significantly to positive 58 (+58) in November, up from a positive 49 (+49) in July 2014 and up 34 points from a year ago. While below pre-recession levels, the score, which measures small business optimism, is the highest it has been since January 2008 when it was positive 83 (+83).

Heading into 2015, business owners indicated they are more hopeful about the year ahead. They reported positive momentum in several areas, including:

  • Finances: 71 percent said they are expecting their overall financial situation to be very or somewhat good over the next 12 months.
  • Jobs: Hiring is expected to increase over the next 12 months, with 26 percent of small business owners reporting they plan to increase the number of jobs at their companies a little or a lot, compared to just 16 percent at the same time last year.
  • Revenue: 51 percent of small business owners said they expect their company’s revenues to increase a little or a lot over the next 12 months.
Perfit Yoga Wear store in Albuquerque

Perfit Yoga Wear store in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Perfit Yoga Wear, an Albuquerque, New Mexico-based women’s fitness clothing store, is among many businesses planning 2015 expansions.

Co-owners Kane Oueis and Katey Taylor opened the store six months ago and currently employ eight people but said they expect to double or triple that number as they expand into Arizona. And all that growth also means opportunities for promotions for their current staff.

Like many of the approximately 600 small business owners we surveyed, Kane and Katey feel good about where their business is headed in 2015.

Small business owners still face many challenges, but their concerns are less pronounced than in recent years. In fact, 52 percent of business owners surveyed said they are not worried about going out of business, and 58 percent said they aren’t worried at all about not being able to make minimum payments on their credit cards. That’s up more than 15 percentage points from 2011.

The survey data indicates that many of the businesses that survived the recession are financially stronger and stabilizing as the economy continues to improve. That’s a great sign, and one that inspires confidence for the year ahead.

While small business owners are a resilient bunch, they’ve faced a slower recovery from the recession than consumers at large. Plus, nearly a quarter of the business owners surveyed said they need to see further improvements in the economy and greater consumer confidence to feel like their business will thrive in 2015. With real GDP growth forecast to average 3 percent over the next two years, 2015 could be a breakout year for small businesses and the start of a significant rebound.

Perfit Yoga Wear founders Kane Queis and Katey Taylor.

Perfit Yoga Wear founders Kane Queis and Katey Taylor.

At Wells Fargo, we continue to do all we can to support small business owners every day. America’s economy depends on small businesses to succeed financially and to grow and add jobs. We know many challenges remain for small business owners, and we hope the optimism they reported in our survey is followed by opportunities for sales growth, that in turn leads to investments back into their businesses — and their communities — in the coming year.

About Doug

Case is Wells Fargo’s Small Business Segment manager responsible for the strategic direction of Wells Fargo’s focus on small business, which includes the Wells Fargo Works for Small BusinessSM website on wellsfargo.com and its research, tools, and other resources for existing and prospective business owners. Today, Wells Fargo serves approximately 3 million small business customers with annual revenues up to $2 million. Since August 2003, the Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index has surveyed small business owners on current and future perceptions about the financial condition of their businesses.

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Wells Fargo holiday commercial memories

I love the holidays for the focus on sharing and togetherness, and I had such a moment during the all-night shoot filming the scenes with the snowmen, stagecoach and horses as we created “The Stagecoach & The Snowmen” Wells Fargo holiday commercial in 2013.

As the filming progressed and the night wore on, it got colder and colder. To ward off the chill, we huddled next to space heaters and drank hot chocolate. Nearby, the horses nibbled on the carrots, their breath and bells the only sight and sound.

A happy-looking snowman feeds one of the stagecoach horses

A snowman lends a hand to a horse pulling the Wells Fargo stagecoach in a scene from the holiday TV commercial.

We shared laughs, oohs and aahs and stories throughout the night. It was a fun and memorable evening — knowing we had come together to create something special that people hopefully would love. The experience became a new addition to my holiday memory bank.

The storyline of our holiday commercial, back for an encore this year after half a million social media shares of the video and rave reviews in 2013, involves the stagecoach team lending a hand to a broken-down mail truck so children in a nearby town would get their presents in time.

Stagecoach and horses travel through a snowy landscape with tall mountains in the distance.

Some of the scenes in the commercial come from a January 2013 brand video and photo shoot in Wyoming.

Along the way, the horses encounter a family of snowmen who, in another act of giving, lend their carrot noses to give the horses strength for finishing their journey. Our first holiday commercial in nearly a decade, the spot renewed a long Wells Fargo tradition of holiday advertising.

Image shows a stagecoach driver unloading a Christmas tree. The caption reads: Season's Greetings from Wells Fargo Bank

The commercial continues a long tradition of Wells Fargo holiday-themed advertising. This print ad is from 1992.

The commercial reminds me of a famous real-life story of Wells Fargo coming through for its customers. Back in the 1860s, John Valentine, Wells Fargo’s president, was aboard a Wells Fargo stagecoach that got stuck in deep snow near the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

The stagecoach delivers the gifts

The gift delivery scenes were shot at a Disney movie lot near Los Angeles.

Valentine unloaded and shouldered several mail sacks himself, and trudged miles through snow drifts to make sure they got to Wells Fargo’s customers in the closest town — values he codified in The “Expectations for Employee Conduct and Service” he printed in 1888, and that live on today in The Vision & Values of Wells Fargo.

Just like last year, the commercial begins airing on Thanksgiving Day and runs throughout December. That will include an NFL game on Thanksgiving, NBA games on Christmas Day, and other holiday sports, specials, and cooking shows. But there’s also a new Spanish-language version for 2014.

The spot combines action footage of Wells Fargo’s iconic stagecoach from the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming with special-effects snowmen and gift-delivery scenes shot at a movie studio in California.

Image shows a stagecoach driver in western clothing against the sky. The caption reads: Season's Greetings from Wells Fargo Bank

This Wells Fargo holiday TV commercial ran in the 1980s.

The stagecoach driver is Robin Wiltshire of Turtle Ranch in Dubois, Wyoming — a veteran horseman with a long line of movie credits and Wells Fargo work — and also features beautiful American quarter horses.

Everyone has something they particularly like about the commercial, and I certainly heard and read a lot of wonderful comments in 2013. From celebrities to our own team members, you told us you loved the themes of giving and working together and the reminder of the big difference small acts of kindness can make.

Of course, many of you also loved the wintry scenes of the Wells Fargo stagecoach and horses, the snowmen, the little boy and his dog, and the joy in the children’s faces.

My favorite moments are the horse taking the first carrot, and the driver tipping his hat to the snowmen.

Enjoy our holiday commercial encore. Something tells me we won’t go another 10 years before the next one!

See the Wells Fargo Stories website for more coverage. Note: Due to talent rights, the commercial is no longer available for online viewing since it could only be aired and viewed during both holiday seasons.

About Jamie

Moldafsky leads Wells Fargo’s Enterprise Marketing team, which includes advertising, social media, sponsorships, the stagecoach appearance program, and the company’s 11 history museums.

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