Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Another Cell Phone Option

The latest prepaid cell phone developed by Walmart is the Straight Talk phone. The Straight Talk has no 3G coverage and runs the same as EDGE or less. The phone is powered through America Movil's TracFone Wireless and provides nationwide coverage.

The phone does not require a contract, provides 1,000 minutes, 1,000 text messages and 30MB of data starting at $30 per month. The cost of the phones start at $30 and go up to $45 a month for unlimited minutes, text messages and unlimited data. A great feature is that 411 calls are free. The phones run on the Verizon network.

The Straight Talk phone will provide competition for other prepaid phone providers such as MetroPCS that offers unlimited minutes, text messages for $45 per month. Cricket offers the same for $40 a month. PlatinumTel offers unlimited minutes, text messages for $50 per month and includes roaming. Page Plus offers $30 monthly plan with 1200 minutes, 1200 text messages and 50MB of data - for unlimited minutes, unlimited text and 20MB data you pay $39.95, you can roam but have to pay roaming fees. Virgin Mobile offers unlimited minutes for $49.99 per month but charges another $10 for unlimited text messages.

Since prepaid phones are so inexpensive you may not have some of the same luxuries as the traditional cell phones such as loss coverage and insurance, so if you loss or damage your phone you will have to purchase another one. Here are 4 tips to help when you shopping for a prepaid cell phone.

1. Selection. Cell phone selection is limited for prepaid cell phones so if you want a fancy cell phone you will have to go with one of the big cell phone providers.

2. Research. Do your homework before purchasing a prepaid cell phone. All plans are not the same, some plans require you to renew your minutes every month and you lose minutes that are not used.

3. Know what you want. Before you go shopping write down all the features you would like for your phone. Look at your old cell phones bills for the past 2 months to see how many calls you made and/or received, and how much data you used and how many text messages you made and/or received to help you determine which prepaid plan is right for you.

4. Read. Make sure you read the fine print and the cell phone agreement in full before leaving the store.

If you only need basic cell phone service and a phone in case or emergencies a prepaid cell phone is definitely the right option for you.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

IRA Changes in 2010

To plan for retirement you should begin contributing to an IRA when you begin working your first job. However, it is never too early to plan for retirement; you can open an account prior to 18 years old.

You should contribute 10-20% of your total monthly income to savings and retirement to ensure you have enough money to cover your monthly expenses during your retirement years. When you retire you will need at least 60% of your yearly salary to cover your monthly expenses.

An Individual Retirement Account (IRA) or traditional IRA is a personal savings plan which allows you to put money aside for retirement and provides tax benefits. You may eligible to deduct a portion or all of your contributions to your IRA and may be eligible for a tax credit equal to a percentage of your contribution.

Money in your IRA is not taxed until the money is distributed to you. IRA's cannot be owned jointly. To contribute to an IRA you must be under age 70 1/2 at the end of the tax year.

A Roth IRA is personal savings plan that follows the same rules of a traditional IRA but you cannot deduct contributions to a Roth IRA. However, the initial contribution is taxed but future distributions are tax free.

Contributions can be made to your Roth IRA after you reach age 70½ and you can leave money in your Roth IRA as long as you live. There are limits on the amount that can be contributed yearly to a Roth IRA.

Starting in 2010, you can convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. Anyone can convert as much of their qualifying retirement accounts into a Roth IRA as they like. For conversions in 2010, conversion taxes can be spread over two years: 2010 and 2011.

For conversions after 2010, taxpayers will have to pay the full tax due. Married couples filing a separate return can now convert or rollover amounts to a Roth IRA. Contributions can be made to your Roth IRA regardless of your age. Once you're 59 1/2, funds can be withdrawn whenever you like.

Talk to a financial advisor before you make any changes to your IRA to ensure conversion to a Roth IRA is the best decision for you.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bank Closures Continue

I received a letter in the mail on Saturday from the FDIC stating that my bank, Amtrust Bank had been taken over by the FDIC on December 4, 2009 and as of January 1, 2010 my mortgage loan would be serviced by another bank.

Amtrust Bank was founded in 1889 and headquartered in Ohio. AmTrust Bank was the second largest thrift in the U.S., a subsidiary of New York Community Bancorp, Inc (NYCB). AmTrust Bank had 29 branches in northeast Ohio, 25 branches in Southern Florida, and 12 branches in Phoenix Arizona, 124 branches in New York and 53 branches in New Jersey totaling 243 branch offices. AmTrust bank had approximately $42 billion in assets.

As a personal finance expert and coach I assumed I was immune from my mortgage company closing. Amtrust was a bank for boasted of customers with good credit; they provided large loans to investors and other companies. They had a good track record and financial reports, and they had been in business for over 120 years - yet they too fall into the trap of greed and profit and lost their focus. They have been added to the list of FDIC bank closures which totals 140 so far in 2009.

If you are a customer of Amtrust visit their website or contact the FDIC to get more information about your account. Here are 10 tips to help you if your bank has closed or gone bankrupt.

1. Call the FDIC or visit their website to get information about your bank if it was FDIC insured.

2. Check with your bank to get the status of any outstanding checks written to your old bank.

3. Contact the new bank to ask about the status of your account and verify your account balance and standing.

4. Always have at least $100 in cash on hand in the event your bank closes and you are not allowed to access your account.

5. Don't wait until the last minute to pay bills, pay bills at least 7-10 days before the due date.

6. Have multiple bank accounts (checking and savings) so if a problem occurs with one account you can access the other account and still conduct transactions if needed.

7. Do business with FDIC insured banks only.

8. Consider opening an account with a credit union.

9. Look at the bank or mortgage company's financial history for the past five years. If the company revenue has been steadily declining you might want to consider switching banks.

10. Perform bank transactions early in the morning. This ensures your deposit will be applied the same day. Don't wait until the last minute to make transactions; this increases the chance that your transaction may not be applied to your account the same day and may cause a check to bounce.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Don't Go Shopping When You're Bored

Don't use weather conditions, laziness, an argument, revenge, unemployment, lack of imagination or lack of a plan as a reason to go shopping. If you are bored that last thing you should do is going shopping because you will end up spending money that you may not have and buy things that you probably don't need simply because you don't know what to do with your bored self.

Shopping when you are bored can lead to bad spending habits. It can cause you to go into debt, become an impulse shopper by shopping based on how you feel – happy, sad, depressed, bored, etc., and can cause you to influence your family and friends to follow in your footsteps.

Shopping provides temporary instant gratification that quickly fades away after a few minutes. However, some people feel that shopping makes them feel better. It can provide a temporary feeling of happiness but when you receive the credit card bill the next month the happiness quickly fades away and reality sets in.

When shopping online beware of the websites that provide sales to lure shoppers who are bored. The Ink Wood Books website had an "I'm Bored Sale", www.inkwoodbooks.com/event/24-reasons-holiday-shopping-inkwoodtodays-special-im-bored-sale.

If you feel you absolutely must go shopping when you feel bored take along an unwilling person such as a spouse or boyfriend. This will make the shopping experience unpleasant for you because and will hopefully prevent you from spending money or cause you to spend less money than you anticipated and hopefully get you out of the mall quicker.

Here is a list of twelve things to do when you are bored that will help improve your financial life.

1. Hire a financial advisor
2. Set financial goals for the next 3-5 years
3. Create a weekly or monthly budget or spending plan
4. Setup a debt payoff plan to pay down debt
5. Create an emergency fund to cover bills for 9-12 months
6. Keep track of how often you use your credit card instead of paying with cash
7. Sign up for your employer 401(k) plan if you haven't already done so
8. Contribute 10-20% each month towards savings and investing
9. Read a self-help book on personal finance or investing
10. Watch a personal finance or investing show on tv
11. Subscribe to a personal finance magazine, newsletter or blog
12. Each month do one thing to improve your spending habits

Thursday, December 17, 2009

2009 Tax Tips

It's seems as though 2009 has flown by. It just seemed like New Year's Day now we are approaching 2010. Unfortunately we are also approaching tax season. A lot of the laws from last year have changed so be sure to read the instructions when filing your 2009 taxes.

Many Americans miss out on deductions because they take the easy route and just use the standard deductions. If you do your taxes yourself or hire a tax professional to do your taxes use the standard deduction and itemize to see which method gives you a bigger return. Last year many Americans had refunds they did not receive including some who had an incorrect address on file. The IRS setup a section on their website for unclaimed tax refunds.

Here are 7 Tips to Save Money on Your Taxes.

1. Charity. If you buy food, drinks or supplies for a fundraiser or charitable event you can write-off the money you spent including the mileage costs. You can deduct $.14 per mile.

2. State Sales Tax. If you live in a state that does not charge state taxes you can either deduct state and local sales taxes or state and local income taxes but you cannot deduct both. If you choose sales tax remember to include all items eligible for sales tax. Check the IRS website sales tax tables for your state.

3. Refinance. Don't forget to include your refinance costs in your taxes this year. When you refinance you have to deduct the mortgage points over the life of the loan so it's better to refinance for less time than your original loan. If you previously had a 30 year loan refinance to 20 years or less. This equals to deducting 1/20th of the points a year if it’s a 20-year mortgage. It equals out to $20 a year for each $1,000 of mortgage points you paid.

4. Reinvested Dividends (DRIP). Reinvested dividends cannot be deducted on your taxes but you can subtract the amount from your total taxable income which can save you money because it reduces your taxable capital gains.

5. Property Tax. In 2009 property tax laws changes. Now homeowners who take the standard deduction can include up to $500 for single filers and up to $1,000 for married filers towards property taxes. You have to file a Schedule L to claim the property tax.

6. Casualty Loss. If you claim the standard deduction you can add casualty loss to your standard deduction amount if the loss occurred in an area that was declared as a disaster area by the President. You will have to file a Schedule L with your tax return to include the loss.

7. Estate Tax. If you inherited an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) from an estate that was subject to estate taxes you can get an income tax deduction for the amount of estate tax paid on the IRA you received, i.e. if you inherited a $100,000 IRA, and the money included in the estate added $45,000 to the estate tax bill – you can deduct the $45,000 on your tax returns as you withdraw the money from the IRA. If you withdraw $50,000 in one year, you can claim a $22,500 itemized deduction on Schedule A which saves you money.

Your goal for 2010 should be to get out of debt and improve your financial life. Good luck!

Monday, December 14, 2009

2009 Tax Organizing Tips

There are great tax estimator tools to help you estimate if you will get a refund or owe money on your taxes. Some great tools are on the IRS, H&R Block, Turbo Tax and Quicken websites. The IRS website also has several tools such as the withholding calculator to determine if you are taking too much or too little out of your paycheck.

If you owe money on your taxes you can make payment arrangements via email, by phone or online at the irs.gov website. One of the reasons many Americans end up owing taxes is because they are not organized – they throw away or misplace receipts and miss out on eligible deductions and tax credits. This year start preparing early to file your taxes, don't wait until the last minute. Here are 7 tips to help you get organized to file your taxes.

1. Gather all receipts, monthly and quarterly statements, medical bills, student loans, credit card statements, etc. and store in one easy to find location.

2. Use a software package like Quicken or Quick Books to record all of your deductions. If you don't have this software then you can use an Excel spreadsheet with these basic column headings: Item, Date Purchased or Sold, Cost, Quantity, Total Cost. If you don't have the Excel software program just use a plain old pencil and paper.

3. Identify all items that can be used as itemized deductions and put them in one pile. Determine if the standard deduction for your tax bracket is greater than your itemized deductions. (The list of items you gathered in step 2 and verified against the IRS tax form instruction manual as items that can be itemized). Check to see if the standard deduction is greater than using the itemized deduction, if not (standard deduction is less than itemized deduction), use the worksheet included with your tax booklet to calculate your itemized deductions.

4. To save money file your taxes electronically. You will receive your refund in approximately two weeks from the date of filing.

5. Don't get a tax refund loan (rapid refund) or refund anticipation loan. This is a waste of time and money. You have to pay a fee to get the refund loan which usually has high interest rates and associated fees.

6. If you salary is less than $52,000 or less you can file your taxes electronically for free.

7. Be cautious when purchasing a tax preparation software. Research the credibility of the company and verify if the software provides automatic updates to the IRS tax laws contained in the software. Go to the Better Business Bureau website to check out the company's history and see if anyone has filed a compliant against the company.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Don't Miss Out on the 2009 Tax Credits

The American Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 passed on February 17, 2009 provide tons of tax credits on 2009 and some in 2010 for taxpayers. Don't miss out on these tax credits that can help reduce your taxes and get you a bigger tax refund. Here are 10 Tax Credits for Individuals in 2009.

1. First-Time Homebuyer Credit Expands. Homebuyers who has not owed a home in the past 3 years and purchase in 2009 can get a credit of up to $8,000 with no payback requirement. New legislation extends and expands this credit. If you purchased a home (went to settlement) before 11/7/09 the credit is phased out for those with incomes of $75,000 or above. If you purchased your home after 11/6/09 you can get an additional $6,500 for long who owed a home for at least 5 of 8 years leading up to the purchase. The credit is phased out for those with incomes of $125,000 or more.

2. New Car Purchase. Taxpayers who buy certain new vehicles in 2009 (after 2/16/09 and before 12/31/09) can deduct the state and local sales taxes they paid or other taxes and fees they paid in states that have no sales tax.

3. American Opportunity Credit. The credit modifies the existing Hope Credit for tax years 2009 and is available to taxpayers with higher incomes and those who owe no tax. It adds required course materials as a qualifying expense and allows the credit to be claimed for four post-secondary education years. The credit is phased out for those with incomes above $80,000.

4. Earned Income Tax Credit. Enhanced Credits for Tax Years 2009, 2010. Find details on the earned income tax credit and the additional child tax credit.

5. Child Care Credit. If you pay child care expenses using a Flexible Spending Account or similar feature through your employer and spend more than $5,000 during the year the additional money spent will quality you for the credit up to $1,000.

6. Making Work Pay Credit. Due to changes in the tax withholding tables many Americans took home bigger paychecks this year. The credit is up to $400 for individuals and up to $800 for married couples.

7. Unemployment Benefits. You can claim up to $2,400 in unemployment benefits.

8. Economic Recovery Payment. If you are a recipient of Social Security, Disability, Veterans or Railroad Retirees benefits you may be eligible to receive a one-time payment of $250.

9. Special Credit for Government Retirees. Certain government retirees who receive a pension from work and are not covered by social security may be eligible to receive a one-time payment of $250.

10. Energy Credit. Increases the energy tax credit for homeowners who make energy efficient improvements to their existing homes. The credit rate for 2009 increases to 30% of all qualifying improvements and raises the maximum credit limit to $1,500 for improvements made in 2009.

For more information visit the IRS website.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

All Free Credit Reports Are Not the Same

Not all free credit report websites are the same and many of the websites are confusing to consumers. Several of the websites use advertising tricks such as similar website names or misspelled websites to catch innocent consumers who end up being charged for a service they did not realize they purchased and these companies have made millions of dollars by doing so.

A search on the internet for the phase "annual credit report" returned 38,400 results. A search on the internet for the phrase "free credit report" returned 8,849,000 results. Some of the most popular free credit reports websites are: www.freetriplescore.com, www.freeannualcreditreports.org, www.FreeCreditReportsInstantly.com, www.creditreport.com and www.creditscorecowboy.com. www.freetriplecreditreport.com; www.freecreditreport.com and www.consumerinfo.com are both owned by Experian.

Many of the free credit report websites offer a free trial but require a credit card. The websites may also offer credit monitoring services for a fee. However these services can be received for free if you have been a victim of identity theft.

With some of the companies, once you sign up for the free trial it is difficult to cancel the service and you may continue to be charged two to three months after cancellation. Not all free credit report websites are the same. Here are 10 tips to help you order your free credit report.

1. Make sure you correctly spell the website name.

2. Don't order credit reports from websites that ask for a credit card.

3. Don't order credit reports from websites that have tons of advertisements.

4. Don't order credit reports from websites that forward you to another website.

5. Don't order credit reports from websites that are not secure, they will have either an https or shttp on the page when you enter your personal information.

6. Don't respond to advertisements in the mail, on television, on the internet or by phone asking you to order a free credit report.

7. Make sure the website has a link to the annualcreditreport.com website.

8. Read the Terms & Conditions and Privacy before ordering your free credit report.

9. Select the box to opt-out of their marketing list or read the Privacy Policy to get instructions on how to opt-out.

10. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission against the company if you received a service you feel you did order, if you feel advertising tricks were used when ordering your credit report or are not happy with the services or products you ordered.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Free Resources to Help Those Unemployed

It can be frustrating trying to find help and resources when you have lost your job. Your main focus is trying to figure out how you will pay your bills, explain the layoff to your family and how to keep your sanity instead of being depressed or resorting to drugs or alcohol.

The key to surviving unemployment is to set goals that can help you gain employment again. Let everyone you met or know that you are looking for a job. Eliminate the negative thoughts and negative people in your life. Don't give up hope. If you believe you will find a job you will. Here are some free resources to help those who are currently unemployed or will become umemployed in the near future.

Career Services
1. Jewish Social Service Agency (JSSA) – mental health services, home health & hospice care, career services, adoption services, etc., 301-816-2683

2. Career Service One Stop, servicelocator.org

Vocational Counseling & Job Placement
Contact your local YMCA at ymca.net/maps/ for services for divorced, separated, widows and disabled including educational & vocational counseling, job aptitude testing, resume writing, job placement assistance, life skills, computer classes, additional programs for women and families

Women's Clothing for Interviews
Dress for success locations in 30 cities in the U.S., dressforsuccess.org (click on locations)

Men's Clothing for Interviews
Career Gear locations in the U.S, careergear.org that provides clothing, career counseling and workshops with offices in NY, DC, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Miami, New Haven, CT

Job Training for the Elderly
1. Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), Office of Special Targeted Programs, Employment & Training Administration, 202-219-5500 or 877-872-5627 – the program provides training and employment assistance and transition support

2. Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA), 877-872-5627 (877-US2-JOBS) – provides counseling and training and places elderly in part-time and full-time positions

Free Computer Training – check with your local libraries or visit
1. servicelocator.org/, click on Education and Training to find computer training

2. intelligentedu.com/cat1.html (scroll to the middle of the page), intelligentedu.com/blogs/index.html

Free Computers
1. freebyte.com/free_computers/

2. freecycle.org

3. California, Yellow Network Coalition, ync.org

4. Dallas, Texas, Texas Center for the Physically Impaired (TCPI), handicapability.org/computers.html, provides computers, free of charge, (with a $100 donation) to the visually impaired

5. Raymond, Ohio, Student PC's, studentpcsonline.com/ computer repair and used computers for handicapped children

6. St. Louis, Missouri, WITS, witsinc.org/Free%20Computers.html, provides free computers to children and the elderly.

Special Government Projects for Retirees Senior Environment Program (SEE)
1. American Association of Retired Persons, 202-434-6153

2. National Association for Hispanic Elderly, 213-487-1922

3. National Caucus and Center on Black Aging, 202-637-8400

4. National Council of Senior Citizens, 202-347-8800

5. National Council on Aging, 202-479-1200

6. National Pacific and Asian Resource Center on Aging, 206-448-0313

7. U.S. Forest Service, Dept. of Agriculture, Human Resource Programs (SCSEP program), 703-235-8855

Journeyman (Apprenticeship) Jobs
Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training, Dept of Labor, 202-219-5921 or 202-693-2700, with offices in each state, doleta.gov/indvi/apprent.htm

Free Money for Re-training or additional training under the Economic Dislocation and Worker Adjustment Assistance Act (Dislocated Workers), (202) 693-3500 - provides retraining and assistance for employees including those who worked for the Dept of Defense, Dept of Energy and Defense contactors.

Unit Coordinators by State, doleta.gov/layoff/rapid_coord.cfm, doleta.gov/layoff/workers.cfm

Training for Veterans, Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS), 202-693-4701

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

7 Quick Holiday Shopping Tips

Americans accumulate the largest amount of debt during the holiday season. If you don't have the cash to buy gifts be honest with yourself. Admitting that you have a problem living above your means is the first step to addressing the problem and overcoming it.

Being in debt is no fun and makes you feel lousy. If you go into debt every year during the holidays – now is the time to stop. Repeating the same mistake over and over again and expecting a different result is defined by Webster's dictionary as "insanity".

Don't let the media, advertisements or other make you feel guilty for not buying a gift or for buying an inexpensive gift. If you are low on cash and can't afford to guy gifts this holiday season here are some 7 quick tips to help you save money.

1. Buy Christmas gifts during store sales.

2. Visit local vendors, you can probably haggle to good a good deal on the same items you find in the department store.

3. If you are good with arts & craft, think of creative gifts to give that you can make yourself.

4. Visit the dollar store to look for children's gifts.

5. If you have to buy gifts for several family members suggest a "Secret Santa" or exchange names so only one person has to buy a gift for one person and set a limit on the amount spent. Don't buy gifts on Christmas Eve or the day before Christmas Eve. Selection is limited and lines at the register are longer.

6. Shop online, some companies waive shipping and handling fees during the holiday season.

7. Don't wait until the last minute. Out of desperation you may make bad choices and spend more spend than you have to.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Think Before You Spend

The holiday season has arrived and everyone is getting ready to spend money. Department stores are luring consumers to the stores with early hour sales. Don't get caught up in the holiday shopping frenzy. Think before you spend. If you don't have the cash don't flash – don't use your credit card to buy holiday gifts.

If you have the money after the holiday season and have paid all of your bills and creditors, buy gifts the day after Christmas. Department stores have great deals the day after Christmas and you may even get better deals than those offered during the Black Friday sales.

Many people have lost sight of what the holidays are all about. The holidays are not about buying or getting gifts - it is about spending time with your family and being thankful for what you have – not for what you don't have.

January and February have the highest number of bankruptcies and divorces and finances are one of the main reasons for divorce. Ask yourself these questions before you start shopping for gifts this holiday season.

1. Do have to charge your Christmas or holiday gifts this year?

2. Did it take you 6 months or more to pay off your debts from Christmas or holiday shopping last year?

3. Did you buy too many expensive gifts or more than you should have?

4. Are you buying expensive gifts to impress someone or to "keep up with the Jones"?

5. Are you ashamed that if you buy a gift that costs $20 people will think you are cheap, poor or broke?

6. Why do you feel the need to spend money that you don't have?

7. Will buying gifts this holiday season help or hurt your financial situation?

8. Do you make your own choices to spend money or do you let others influence you, i.e. media, friends, relatives, your children, spouse, advertisements, etc.?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Don't Become A Victim This Holiday Season

The media and nationwide police departments are warning consumers to use caution and common sense when shopping during this holiday season. The Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah holiday seasons are one of the highest crime periods of the year.

With the 10.2% unemployment rate and many Americans only working part-time or minimum wage this holiday season thieves are more desperate than ever. This may be one of the worst crime periods we have seen in a long time.

There have been reports of thieves stealing gas, stealing groceries out of the trunk or cars, snatch and grab where a purse is stolen out of a locked car, increases in shoplifting, and more. Here are 16 tips to reduce your chances of being a victim of theft this holiday season.

1. Don't carry extra credit cards in your wallet. Only carry the credit cards you know you are going to use when shopping.

2. Lock all the doors and windows at your home when you are at home and away from home.

3. Get in your car quickly, don't linger. Lock your doors as soon as you get in the car.

4. If you are a single woman and hire a professional to fix something in your home, call a friend or relative to let them know you are getting work done in your home. Put away any valuables and personally identifying information.

5. Don't discuss your salary, where you live or where you go shopping. You make spark the interest of a potential criminal or actual criminal.

6. Do not leave your child or pet alone in a locked car.

7. Don't leave anything in your car. Thieves are breaking into cars and stealing whatever they find, CD's, clothes, etc.

8. Don't use the ATM in a secluded, poorly lit area or at night.

9. Buy gas during the daytime.

10. Be on guard when riding in taxis, many drivers get robbed during the holidays.

11. If you feel someone is following you try to walk towards a lighted area or near other people. If that's not possible call a friend or family member from your cell phone. If you are attacked they can call the police and locate you. Use a headset when talking to keep your hands free.

12. Don't park near a van or truck.

13. Leave the mall before it closes. If not, get a mall security guard to walk you to your car.

14. Don't go shopping at night but if you have to go shopping with a friend or two.

15. Tear up boxes that contained expensive gifts and put them in a separate trash bag to deter thieves that may go through your trash.

16. When walking, shopping or driving use your Bluetooth for your cell phone. Talking on your cell phone without a Bluetooth is very distracting and thieves wait for the perfect opportunity to rob you while you are distracted.

Monday, November 23, 2009

6 Tips to Help Ease a Layoff

Basic life necessities seem even more expensive when you are employed. The unemployment rate is 10.2% and will probably increase before it decreases. Some experts say the worst is yet to come. For those umemployed – that is not good news.

I have been unemployed twice and it was not a good feeling. The first time I got about a three week notice that my position was being eliminated and was totally unprepared, I was in debt up to my eyeballs and was renting a room from one of my friend's parent's home. I did not have a car and had no savings. I was completely lost, embarrassed, angry and felt dejected.

I did not tell anyone that I was unemployed and kept pretending to go to work. I would return phone calls in the evening around the same time I would normally return phone calls. Luckily I was single with no children. It got so bad that I did not have even one dollar to buy groceries or catch the bus to go to an interview. I finally broke down and told my godmother that I had no food and that same day she brought my some food. I thank God for her; I probably would have starved to death because of my pride.

My second unemployment we had heard rumors but weren't sure if the rumors were true. We were notified the night before that some of us would be let go. Luckily I learned from the first layoff and paid off all of my debt and the only bill I had was my mortgage. I also had an emergency fund to cover all of my bills for 4 months. I applied for unemployment which was only enough to cover my utilities but every little bit helped. I mention this because if you do not work enough years for an employer and are laid off you will not be eligible for unemployment benefits and laws vary state by state.

Here are 6 tips to ease the pain of a layoff:

1. Plan for the worst. Create "what if" scenarios and develop a plan for each, i.e. if you lose your job how will you pay your bills, if you get sick. etc.

2. Create an emergency fund. Save enough money to cover your bills for 9-12 months. Start small and work your way up if you have little or no savings.

3. Pay down debt. In the event that you are laid off and don't have any savings or have used all of your savings you can use your credit card in case of emergencies. If you credit cards are maxed you don't have this option.

4. Create a support network. Having support during a financial crisis is one of the best ways to get through it. Talk to friends, relatives, other laid off co-workers, your pastor, a counselor, social worker, or other person you trust to get advice and support.

5. Further your education. If you do not have a college degree, one option is to go back to school and obtain your degree. If you already have your degree you may consider going back to get your masters degree. If you experience a financial crisis in the future you can always go to your local college and teach a few courses as an adjunct professor.

6. Contact social agencies. Contact your county, local or state government social agencies to obtain free help for those unemployed, dol.gov

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Small Victory for Identity Theft Victims

Choice Point also known as National Safety Alliance Corporation or Equi Search Services is a data collection company located in Atlanta, Georgia. Choice Point merged with LexisNexis Risk Solutions in the fall of 2008.

Choice Point combines personal data obtained from various public and private databases and sales the information to the government and the private sector industries. The company maintains over 17 billion records for individuals and businesses. It sells the data to approximately 100,000 clients which include 7,000 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

The company stores consumer transactions that are regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) which includes: insurance underwriting services, tenant screening, pre-employment screening, consumer record reporting and title insurance finances.

The company also provides marketing services, contracts with local and federal law enforcement agencies, data and authentication solutions, litigation and debt collection support to law firms, software and technology services and databases of personal information which contain names, addresses, SSN's, credit reports, and other personal information.

In 2000, the State of Pennsylvania terminated a contract with ChoicePoint, claiming that the company illegally sold consumers' personal information. ChoicePoint paid $1.37 million fine. In 2002, another identity theft scam resulted in $1 million in fraud. In 2005, a security breach was identified when identify thieves stole personal information of approximately 163,000 Americans. The company claimed that it would stop selling personal consumer information including SSN and driver's license number except for matters related to law enforcement.

Congress members rebuked the company for the security breaches. The company eventually reached an agreement with approximately 20 state attorneys general to notify individuals in the affected states that their data had been stolen. In January 2006 ChoicePoint was fined $15 million by the FTC, $10 million in civil penalties and another $5 million to compensate victims of the security breach. ChoicePoint was also required to implement better secure measures to protect personal information.

In 2008, the company turned off a key electronic security tool used to monitor access to one of its database and it took four months to detect the tool was turned off. The incident violated the 2006 court order maintaining that the company institute a comprehensive security program to protect consumer information. The FTC modified the court order and the company now has to report to the FTC every 2 months for the next two years on how consumer information is protected. Here are 5 tips to help ensure your personal information is protected.

1. Write your congressman and demand stronger security measures to protect consumer information and force companies to help consumers quicker when they become victims of identity theft.

2. Get a copy of your credit report from annualcreditreport.com at least once a year and review each line to ensure all information is correct. Dispute any errors and provide any supporting documentation.

3. Limit the amount of information you provide. Don't enter or store your personal information on your cell phones, PDA's, or in an unsecure place such as work, your purse or wallet. Don't enter your personal information in contests or on the internet.

4. When doing business with a company ask questions about their security measures and ask what measures are in place if a security breach occurs.

5. If you become a victim of identity theft due to a company security breach, consider closing your account and take your business to another company.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

President Obama Gives Hope for Homebuyers and Unemployed

On November 6, 2009, President Obama signed a $24 billion economic stimulus bill which will provide additional unemployment benefits and give tax credits to prospective homebuyers. The bill also includes tax cuts for struggling businesses. The bill was implemented because of the 10.2% unemployment rate which is the highest since 1983. This results in the 4th unemployment benefit extension in the past 18 months.

According to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, approximately one third of the 15 million people unemployment have been out of work for at least six months.

The bill will provide another 14 weeks of benefits to those unemployed who have exhausted their benefits or will exhaust them by the end of the year. Unemployed residents who live in states where the jobless rate is 8.5% or higher will get an additional six weeks including Idaho, Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, Arizona, Mississippi, Ohio, Illinois, Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, South Carolina, Nevada, Rhode Island, California, Florida, and Georgia.

Presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs stated "But I believe -- I think most would tell you -- that the (unemployment) rate is more likely than not to get a little worse before it gets better".

The additional 20 weeks (14 plus six for high states) could provide a maximum of 99 weeks to those residents who live in high unemployment rate states.

The bill will extend the $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit which was going to expire at the end of November 2009 but has been extended to June 2010 provided a homebuyer signs a contract by the end of April 2010. The program will also provide a $6,500 tax credit for existing homeowners who buy a new home after living in their current residence for at least five years.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Fannie Mae Still Asking for Help

The latest request from Fannie Mae is for an additional $15 billion from the government because of losses in the third quarter which it claims is due to homeowners falling behind on their mortgage payments and the ever increasing unemployment rate. The default rate increased to 4.7% and is even higher in Florida and Nevada, with over 11% of the mortgage loans in default.

"There is significant uncertainty regarding the future of our business, including whether we will continue to exist, and we expect this uncertainty to continue," Fannie Mae said.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guarantee approximately 31 million mortgage loans or about half of the mortgages in the U.S.

Fannie Mae lowered the requirements for borrowers prior to the recession by offering high risk loans which are now defaulting including homeowners with good credit.
This is the fourth request by Fannie Mae for government aid which now totals $60 billion in aid so far.

Fannie Mae stated that it would allow some homeowners who are facing foreclosure to rent their homes for a year to help reduce the number of homeowners losing their homes.

This new program is called the "Deed for Lease" program and will allow homeowners to transfer their deed title to Fannie Mae by signing a one-year lease which includes potential month-to-month extensions after the one year period.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What the CIT Bankruptcy Means for You

CIT, the 100 year old and 5th largest bank in the U.S. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Nov. 1, blaming losses on subprime mortgages and decreasing credit markets. CIT listed $71 billion in assets and $64.9 billion in liabilities.

CIT funds approximately 1 million businesses such as Dunkin’ Brands Inc. didn’t include CIT Bank in bankruptcy filing. The CIT bankruptcy is the one of largest bankruptcies in the U.S.

The government has input billions of dollars into CIT including giving $2.3 billion last fall. Citigroup received $45 billion in loans from the government, which now owns a 34% interest in the bank. Citigroup plans to sell some of its assets including its interest in Smith Barney.

CIT customers should be nervous because as a customer you don't know what the future holds for CIT. The company assures its customers that it will be business as usual and that customers should not take their business elsewhere because of the bankruptcy. Unfortunately, if most of their customers leave CIT will not be able to survive.

CIT 2,000 vendors that supply merchandise to 300,000 stores. According to analysts approximately 60% of the apparel industry depends on CIT for financing so the bankruptcy will cause a domino effect for businesses and customers who shop at their stores.

As my grandmother used to say "never have all your eggs in one basket". If you have all of your money in CIT I recommend moving at least some of it to a more stable bank like PNC, BB&T or a credit union.

No one knows the future of CIT but my guess is it will collapse like the other companies such as Lehman Brother and Washington Mutual.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Unemployment Jumps to 10.2%

Although expert state the recession has ended Americans are still feeling the effects in a bad way. The current unemployment rate has reaches 10.2% and hasn't reached above 10% since September 1982 and June 1983. Part-time workers increased the figure to 17.5%.

In Michigan the unemployment rate is 15.3%, in Nevada 13.3%, in Rhode Island 13.3%, in California 12.2%, in Florida 11% and in Georgia 10.1%. In the depression of 1929, 13 million people were unemployed. In 2009, 15.7 million Americans are unemployed.

Today, unfortunately more Americans lack health insurance due to the high costs of medical care and unemployment.

If you work in an unstable economy consider going back to school or moving to a more profitable sector like Information Technology, Healthcare, Government or the Military. If you work as a consultant or contractor and find difficulty getting employment consider applying for a local, state or federal government job which provides more stability and decent benefits including health insurance.
Today more people are in debt because of the economy, unemployment and lack of health care.

On average Americans have approximately $45,000 in debt including credit cards, loan and mortgages. Americans are also saving less which resulted in accumulating more debt and a continual increase in bankruptcy and foreclosure filings.

According to a government surveys suggest that if you get laid off, it's more likely to be for good. On average, those currently unemployed have been out of work about half a year.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

A Sad Day for Book Lovers

Borders Group Inc. which is the second largest U.S. bookstore chain announced that it will close more of its Waldenbooks stores in January to focus more on its profitable stores. The chain plans to close 200 Waldenbooks and Borders Express stores and slash 1,500 jobs in January 2010. The closing will any Borders superstores or any of its mall kiosks or mall stores.

In 2008, Borders closed 112 stores in 2008. Borders is trying to catch up to competitor Barnes & Noble who has already closed some of its small stores. Barnes & Noble also announced that it will close its remaining 50 B. Dalton stores by the end of January 2010.

Borders gift cards purchased are valid as long as the stores remain open and can be used at any Borders, Waldenbooks or Borders.com.

I have visited many bookstores and also prefer Borders as my first choice when shopping for book because there promise to keep you in line for no more than 3 minutes. I love the cafes and cozy feel where you can browse books and decide on which selection you wish to purchase. My second choice is Barnes & Noble but unfortunately the closes bookstore to my residence is Borders.

Whatever bookstore you favor the future of their success depends on you - so if you are a lover of books and have extra money in your budget buy a book at Borders or Barnes & Noble either at the store on online through their website.

Reading a book is much cheaper than going to a movie, concert or show or going out to eat. The key is to do everything in moderation.

Monday, November 02, 2009

7 Tips to Help Parents During the Holidays

It's the thought that counts - not how much you spend. Many people have lost site of what the holidays are all about. The holidays are about spending time with your family and friends, reflecting on the past year, and thinking about things you would like to change in the New Year. Here are 7 tips on how to navigate your finances during the holidays.

1. Lower expectations. Many times children's expectations for holiday gifts are obtained from friends, classmates or from watching television. Be realistic - let your children know your financial situation and their price limit for holidays gifts. If they can only get one big gift or one toy let them know as soon as possible. Teach your children that receiving several gifts doesn't mean a better holiday experience; spending time with family is more important than the number of gifts they receive. If your children still believe in Santa, buy several small gifts from the dollar store (gifts that actually cost a dollar). That way they will still believe in Santa and save you money.

2. Be Strong. Don't give in to "puppy dog eyes", whining or complaining from your children. Stay firm with your decision about gifts for the holidays. Giving in to your children sets unrealistic expectations and does not prepare them for the disappointments that occur in the real world.

3. Set a spending limit. Set a spending limit for your holiday shopping including groceries, gifts, etc. This will reduce your chances of going into debt and relieve the stress of having to buying things that are not in your budget. Don't go into debt trying to buy gifts for your children. Do they really need a new desktop or laptop or can they use the one they have until next year.

4. Volunteer. If you children refuse to accept that they cannot get the gifts they want for the holidays take them to a shelter or sign them up to volunteer to help the homeless or sick children to help them change their perspective about life and what's really important. Other children and families have less than they do and they should be appreciative of whatever they have.

5. Follow Traditions. If you family has inexpensive traditions follow them this year to save money such as baking cookies, donating used toys, or going through the neighborhood caroling. This will get your children in the holiday spirit, keep them active and distract them from spending time thinking about all the gifts they want for the holidays.

6. Unexpected Gifts. If you children decide to give gifts to their babysitter, teachers or new friends - don't be alarmed. Be creative and bake deserts or make gifts if you are good with arts and crafts.

7. Consult with your ex. Talk with your ex-spouse to make sure your children are not asking for the same gifts and are not trying to use guilt and as a way to get more gifts from both parents because you are divorced.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Can the CARD Act Stop Creditor Tricks to Keep You in Debt

Credit card companies use hundreds of tricks and gimmicks to keep consumers in debt. According to R.K. Hammer, the credit card penalty fees revenue will reach $20.5 billion in. Credit cards generate more than $2.5 trillion a year. The credit card industry is one of the largest fraud industries in the country. Here are some common traps credit card companies use to keep consumers in debt.

1. The minimum payment trap keeps consumers in debt and in most cases is not enough to cover the interest and finance charges that accrue each month which is why when you send in a payment your balance either doesn't go down or only goes down by a few dollars.

2. No maximum interest rate for credit cards and is not government regulated. Interest rates are regulated by each state.

3. High late fees are charged either when payments are sent after the due date or sent on the due date although the payment was received on time.

4. Credit card monitoring and credit card insurance. There is no need to purchase credit card insurance because there are so many stipulations when signing up for the insurance that it is to your advantage live below your means to pay down debt.

5. Some credit card term change as the wind blows and makes it difficult for consumers to keep up with the changes.

6. The credit card agreement or disclosure is created using fine print to make it difficult for most consumers to read and those who try to read it get frustrated because of the fine print. However, this document is very important and should be read because it tells you all of the restrictions and guidelines for using the credit card.

7. The payment address or due date may change as a way to confuse consumers so their payment arrives late and they get charged a late fee.

The CARD Act of 2009 will eliminate many of these creditor tricks but the credit card companies will still find ways to work around the law to make money. It is best that you read everything you receive from your credit card company, ask questions and know your rights as a consumer. You can find information on the ftc.gov/credit site.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Want a 79.9% Credit Card Interest Rate

There is no federal limit on credit card interest rates so consumers can be charged any rate. Credit card interest rates are usually between 6-36%. Unfortunately, the CARD Act of 2009 that goes into effect in February 2010 will not address this issue that has been plaguing consumers for years. According to NBC San Diego, the First Premier Bank also known as Premier Bank is offering some consumers a pre-approved credit card with a 79.9% interest rate.

The card also requires additional fees such as an account setup fee, program fee, monthly servicing fee and additional card fee which total an additional $199 a month without making any purchases. The credit card offers a limit of $250. The fees are charged on the first month's bill leaving only a $51 remaining balance.

Credit card interest rates are regulated by each state and as we can see interest rates can be any rate a credit card company desires.

Previously the highest interest rates I knew of were 32-36% by a former client of mine. I thought that was insane but 79.9% beats that by a landslide.

This is a real example of why consumers need to repair their credit, pay down their debt and increase their credit score so they won't ever receive these types of pre-approved offers in the mail.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Have You Considered Moving to Detroit

Many Americans are losing their homes to foreclosures and many states are losing tax revenue. Some states are begging for homebuyers. Michigan has had 119,134 foreclosures so far in 2009. However, compared to California's 841,947 or Florida's 484,635 it doesn't seem so bad.

Detroit had 9,000 home up for auction in their tax sale last week for properties with unpaid taxes in 2006 with more homes in 2007 and 2008. Unfortunately, there are only a small number of buyers, even though the minimum bid was a mere $500.

Since 2007, the total number of Detroit properties in tax foreclosure has more than tripled and may continue to increase. Detroit currently has a $300 million budget deficit.

Bidding on homes at an auction takes skill and money. The average person usually doesn't have enough money to bid against investors and usually becomes frustrated after attending just one auction. Investors can go anywhere in the country and buy properties at several venues. However, there are only a few venues where average residents can purchase foreclosed homes or homes that owe unpaid taxes.

Cities and states should have auction for non-investors only. This will increase the turnouts to the events and help those who want to become homeowners find a low priced home. Once residents start returning to abandoned neighborhoods it creates a ripple effect: crime decreases, residents take pride in their neighborhoods, tax revenues increase for the city, property values increase, and community outreach programs can be developed to help residents of the community.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Medical Bankruptcy Act

The Medical Bankruptcy Fairness Act of 2009 is a bill that would amend title 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code (Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005) sponsored by Sen. Whitehouse which would: 1) provide protection for homeowners with medical debt, 2) restore bankruptcy protection for individuals experiencing financial distress who serve as caregivers to injured, ill, or disabled family members, 3) and to become exempt from taking the bankruptcy means test for those whose financial problems were caused by serious medical issues.

If the bill is passed it would waive the “means test” and credit counseling requirements for those who to wish file bankruptcy at a by hearing Sen. Russ Feingold (D-W.I.). Without health care reform, a family’s yearly health insurance payments could exceed $30,000 by the end of the 2020. Forty-seven million Americans are uninsured including 9 million children.

A recent study shows that based on the effects of the recession alone approximately seven million Americans will lose their health insurance coverage between 2008 and 2010. Researchers at the Urban Institute estimate that if unemployment reaches 10%, another six million Americans will lose their health insurance coverage. Employee spending on health insurance coverage has increased 128% between 1999 and 2008.

Economists have found that increasing health care costs show a connection with decreases in health insurance coverage. National studies show that the main reason many people are uninsured is due to the high costs of health insurance. According to the National Coalition on Health Care, a recent study found that 62% of all bankruptcies filed in 2007 were linked to medical expenses. Those who filed for bankruptcy, almost 80% had health insurance coverage.

A married couple lost their son to a fatal medical disease, in addition lost their home and their retirement income trying to pay medical bills related to their son's medical disease. Although they had health insurance, their health insurance company refused to cover all of their son's medical costs. They borrowed to file for bankruptcy. This is a clear example of why we need health care reform. Even if you don't support the president and don't support all of the features of the health care reform bill you must provide support to overhaul the current health care industry.

We are the only developed country that provides health insurance but have the largest number of deaths due to lack of medical insurance or lack of appropriate medical care.

The constitution states that "We the people of the United States… promote the generate welfare, and secure the blessing of liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…"

General welfare includes health care which as a country we are lacking in. How can health insurance companies claim that they will provide care for a patient yet deny them insurance because of a pre-existing, non-treatable or terminal condition. Health care is not about treating only healthy people, health care includes treating non-healthy people so they can become healthy.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Most banks that fail are taken over by the FDIC but not all. The FDIC provides information to customers about their accounts and loans and contact information regarding bank failures. Although the recession has ended the banking industry is still feeling the effects. Since January 1, 2009, ninety-nine banks have failed. A total of 24 banks failed in July 2009, 15 in August 2009 and 11 in September 2009.

The latest bank failure was the San Joaquin Bank in Bakersfield, CA on October 16, 2009. All deposit accounts were transferred to Citizens Business Bank, Ontario, CA. On Monday, October 19, 2009, the former San Joaquin Bank locations will reopen as branches of Citizens Business Bank.

Other banks that closed in October 2009 were Southern Colorado National Bank in Pueblo, CO; Jennings State Bank, Spring Grove, MN and Warren Bank, Warren, MI.

When a bank fails the FDIC acts as the insurer of the bank’s deposits and pays insurance to the depositors up to the insurance limit. The FDIC also acts as the receiver of the failed bank and sells or collects the assets of the failed bank and settles its debts.

The total amount insured per depositor per bank is $250,000 which includes principal and accrued interest on the account. The types of deposits insured are: savings, checking, NOW account, money market deposit accounts and certificate of deposits.

Any person or business is entitled to FDIC insurance on a deposit. The depositor does not have to be a U.S. citizen or a resident of the United States. This is why many foreign investors are able to deposit money in U.S. banks and why many of the foreign depositors were angry about the banking industry failure.

If a bank fails the FDIC notifies each depositor in writing. If a failed bank is acquired by another bank, the new bank notifies the depositors of the change.

I moved most of my accounts to my credit union. I prefer credit unions and am much happier with the customer service I receive. Consider moving at least part of your money to a credit union account so in the event your bank does fail in the future you will still be able to access cash quickly.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Is Bank of America Good for Consumers

Although Bank of America was applauded for cutting costs and has been known for keep salaries moderate, it has been a forerunner in charging customers outrageous banking fees. Bank of America was the first bank to increase its ATM charges to $3. Their credit card minimum payment structure makes it easy for consumers to exceed their credit card limits and then get charged a 30% interest rate (universal default). Unfortunately most consumers were not aware that they had the option to opt-out of rate increases.

Bank of America has been slow in offering loan modifications for its customers. Although Bank of America made billions of dollars from late payment and other fees it still required a government bailout. What did they do with all that money if they were supposedly so frugal and cost contentious?

Bank of America has to pay $33 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission to settle charges that the bank misled investors with false claims of not being involved in the Merrill Lynch bonus payments.

The financial stability of a bank cannot be sustained when bank executives continue to earn millions of dollars each year in salaries and bonuses. Greed has caused many bank executives to forget the reason why they were hired – to help their customers and at the same time figure out how to make a profit. Executives are more concerned about maintaining their lifestyle than ensuring that they retain their customers. Maybe one day they will wake up and smell the Starbucks.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The New Soda Tax

The Senate Finance Committee is considering imposing a new tax on soda and other naturally sweetened drinks to help pay for the Health Care Reform. The committee states the taxes would slow sales of unhealthy products that contribute to rising medical costs.

Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that "obesity is a growing problem and taxpayers pay for half the cost through Medicare and Medicaid and soft drinks are the single largest contributor. A penny-an-ounce tax could reduce consumption by more than 10% and raise $100 billion over 10 years".

Early this year, a public uproar forced Governor Paterson of New York to abandon his plan for an 18% state tax on soda and other sugary drinks. Last year a proposal caused Maine voters to halt a plan that would impose a tax on soda. Arkansas, Missouri and California have considered the idea in the past.

This fall, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom will introduce legislation that would charge a fee to retailers that sell sugary drinks. Mayor Newsom legislation would charge grocery stores but would not affect restaurants that serve sodas.

A September study released by UCLA showed a link between soda and obesity and found that: adults who drink at least one soft drink a day are 27% more likely to be obese than those who don't, soda consumption is fueling California's $41 billion annual obesity problem, 41% of children ages 2-11 drink at least one soda every day, 62% of teens 12-17 drink at least one soda every day, 39 pounds of sugar are consumed in a year if you drink one soda a day and 17 teaspoons of sugar is contained in a 20-ounce serving of soda.

President Obama has said he is open to the idea of a tax on soda and other sugary drinks. "I actually think it’s an idea that we should be exploring,” President Obama said in a recent interview. “There’s no doubt that our kids drink way too much soda."

Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest stated that "soft drinks are the only food or beverage that has been shown to increase the risk of overweight and obesity, which, in turn, increase the risk of diabetes, stroke, and many other health problems".

Health care reform is expected to cost as much as $1 trillion over the next ten years. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that a three-cent tax on soda would generate $24 billion over the next four years.

According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition a 12 ounce soda has 150 calories and 40-50 grams of high fructose sugars equal to 10 teaspoons of sugar. Think twice before buying your next soda.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Recent Law Updates That May Affect You

In 2009, there have been many updates by Congress to existing laws that affect Americans. Some laws that have been updated in 2009 are: credit card laws, teen driver's laws, cell phone laws and DUI (driving under the influence) laws. Check your state's website or contact your state representative to find out how the updates to these laws affect you. Here are some updates to these laws for Maryland residents.

The updates to the Teen Driver Laws in the state of Maryland are:

1. The minimum age a teen can obtain a provisional driver's license or driver's license requires fingerprinting and a criminal history records (background check) check and authorizes a driver improvement program for young drivers.

2. A learner's permit can be issued to a teen who is 15 years and 9 months of age.

3. A provisional driver's license can be issued to a teen who 16 years and 6 months of age.

4. A driver's license can be issued to a teen who is 17 years and 9 months.

The updates to the DUI Laws in the state of Maryland as of October 1, 2009:

1. The Motor Vehicle Administration will suspend the driver's license of a person who has been convicted of drunk driving within a specified time period after a previous drunk driving conviction but does allow a restricted license upon request to a person who participates in the Administration's Ignition Interlock System Program. The program uses an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) that is installed on the driver's dashboard which tests for alcohol on a driver's breath. The driver has to blow into a small handheld alcohol sensor. The driver's car will not start if the breath alcohol level is above a certain level usually .02 to .04.

2. Any person who is convicted of a DUI violation is subject to a fine of not more than $500 or imprisonment for not more than 2 months or both.

Congress is changing the way you drive. The updates to the cell phone laws in the state of Maryland are:

1. An individual cannot write or send a text message while operating a motor vehicle or in the travel portion of the roadway. If you are convicted of a misdemeanor of the new text messaging law you will receive a fine of up to $500. However, the new law does not apply to emergency situations for texting 911 or global positioning systems (GPS).

2. The cell phone laws also prohibits drivers including those with a driver's license or provisional drivers license under the age of 18 from using a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle. This also includes usage of hands free devices.

3. The law can only be enforced as a secondary offense and a driver must be pulled over for another primary violation such as speeding or running a red light to be ticketed for the cell phone violation.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Financial Tips for Women

For every dollar a woman earns she is paid only 60% of what a male counterpart is paid. Many women who are single parents struggled greatly during this most recent recession. Many women had to get part-time jobs, go without eating or make other sacrifices to make ends meet and take care of their families. Many women have gone through various personal crises and now have to find a way to get themselves out of their crisis. Here are some financial tips for women in different stages of their life.

Single Mothers

1. Reduce spending
2. Pay bills online
3. Use direct deposit for paychecks
4. Purchase life insurance
5. Start a retirement account
6. Create a will
7. Don't tap into your retirement to pay off debt
8. Develop a support network to get advice, support and encouragement

Domestic Violence Victims
1. Reduce spending
2. Open a savings account and open a checking account with overdraft protection
3. Pay bills online
4. Use direct deposit for paychecks
5. Update beneficiary paperwork for insurance
6. Open one new account in your name
7. Close any joint accounts and cancel the cards
8. Purchase life insurance
9. Remove your name as an authorized user from accounts

Divorced Women

1. Start a savings account
2. Open a new checking account with overdraft protection
3. Pay bills online
4. Update beneficiary paperwork for insurance
5. Open one new account in your name
6. Close any joint accounts and cancel the cards
7. Remove your name as authorized user from all applicable accounts
8. Start a retirement account
9. Create a will

1. Notify companies of your spouse's death
2. Don't fall for money scams
3. Pay your bills on time
4. Look for financial paperwork
5. Research tax laws
6. Determine if your spouse had a life insurance policy, trust, will, etc.
7. Remove your spouse's name from joint accounts
8. Open a new account in your name

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Has the Recession Ended

The unemployment rate is now 9.8%. Several banks and financial institutions went out of business. Over two million foreclosures and counting. Over one million personal bankruptcies as of September 2009 and counting.

This is the longest recession in the history of the country which lasted for 18 months. The next longest recession lasted 16 months. The recession officially ended in June 2009. Some signs that the recession ended are:

1. Shares price began to increase
2. For the past two months there have been less employee layoffs and unemployment filings
3. Some businesses are getting stronger
4. There was a slight increase in sales of manufactured products
5. The Americans savings rate is positive
6. Economic issues developed in other countries
7. Value of the dollar has begun to increase
8. The price of gas is going down

The recession is over but if you find yourself still having financial troubles that is a sign that you have to change the way you think about money and you have to change your spending habits by living well below your means. Here are a few ways to help you live below your means and ensure that you are able to survive a future financial crisis:

1. Bring your lunch to work
2. Pay down debt
3. Create a budget or spending plan
4. Reduce spending
5. Create an emergency fund

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

New Guidelines for College Students and Credit Cards

There have been several bills proposed in the past to combat the unfair and deceptive practices of credit card companies soliciting college students to obtain credit. The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 signed by President Obama on May 22, 2009 goes into effect on February 22, 2010.

The law states that no credit card may be issued to a consumer who is not 21, unless the consumer has submitted a written application to the card issuer: (1) by providing the signature of the parent, legal guardian, spouse, or any other individual over the age of 21 who can repay debt incurred by the consumer; (2) submission by the consumer of financial information indicating an independent means of repaying any obligation; or (3) completion of a financial literacy or financial education course designed for young consumers.

The law will ensure the following for students under 21:
1. Students under 21 will require a co-signer or proof of repaying credit card debt. Previously, a college student only needed a mailing address and their signature to get approved for a credit card.

2. College students will no longer receive from iPods, iPhones, car rides, CD/DVDs, food or other gifts in exchange for a free credit card. No more freebies or knickknacks on-campus.

3. Prescreened offers cannot be sent to students under 21 and credit card limits cannot be increased without the permission of the co-signer.

4. Colleges and universities and alumni organizations will have to annually disclose the terms of any marketing or promotional agreements they make with credit card companies. Schools often receive millions of dollars from credit card companies in exchange for soliciting credit cards to college students. Credit card companies also must file annual reports with the Federal Reserve Board detailing all marketing, promotional agreements with colleges and universities, alumni associations and school-related foundations.

5. The law encourages colleges and universities to adopt policies that restrict credit card marketing on their campuses. The law also encourages the colleges to require credit and debt management seminars as a part of new student orientation programs.

This is a huge step for college students and consumers under age 21. When I went to college I was bombarded by credit card companies on campus and signed up for a credit cad in exchange for a free t-shirt.

I had no income and was only 17 but was approved for my first credit card and by the time I was 21 I had 13 credit cards. This law will greatly help other college students who made or will make the same mistakes I did while in college. This will also help college students better manage their finances and be more accountable for their spending so when they graduate they will owe less money in credit card debt and hopefully be in a better financial situation.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Is Cash for Gold a Scam

On the rare occasions when I watch television I always see this commercial from a company called Cash for Gold with the saying - Trade in your unused gold for cash. The commercial shows several people who turned in gold and received money usually a few hundred dollars. I went to the company's website and did some research. The company sends you a kit to mail your gold in a pre-paid envelope insured via UPS. Payment is based on the weight and karat of the gold and the daily price of gold. You can receive a check in a few days.

If you recently participated in the Cash for Gold program and had a few ounces of gold you would have at least $2,000-$3,000 considering the current price of gold is $1,004.00 per ounce.

One couple participated in the "Cash for Gold" program and mailed in a two 18K gold diamond wedding rings and received a total of $67 although their local pawn shop offered between $300-$350. If the rings were 1/4 of an ounce in total weight they should have received at least $250.

A good friend told me you always have to find out a company's motive. Cash for Gold's motive is to make money so you will never get the full price you should be getting for selling your gold because they want to make as much money off of each customer as possible.

There are several ways you can be scammed by this company and similar companies: the company offers you less money for your gold than what it is really worth, the company claims the karat of your gold is less than what it really is, i.e. your gold is 18 karat but the company tells you it is 10 karat or they tell you the weight of your gold is less than what it really is.

Due to the recession several fraudulent companies were started and have scammed Americans out of millions of dollars. Don't be a victim. Here are 4 tips to protect yourself if you do business with Cash for Gold or similar companies.

1. Take a picture of your gold before mailing it and record the karat that is inscribed on the inside of the jewelry.

2. Weigh your gold at a jeweler and ask them to verify the karat, weight and price before mailing it in and get it in writing. Compare with the information provided by Cash for Gold.

3. Beware of fraudulent checks. Ask the company to send you a money order instead of a check. This reduces your chances of cashing a fraudulent check and the company having access to your bank account.

4. If you feel you were a victim of a scam report the incident to the Better Business Bureau, Federal Trade Commission, FBI and US Postal Service.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Check out my interview in the October issue of Essence Magazine

Check out my recent interview in the October issue of Essence Magazine.

I discuss tips on how couples can survive a financial crisis.

Monday, September 21, 2009

8 Ways for Single Parents to Save Money

In 2006, according to the US Census Bureau, there were approximately 14 million single parents in the United States. Eight three percent of single parents are mothers and 30.3 percent of all single parents receive public assistance.

Child care subsidies and public health insurance can help with closing the gap between low income and what it takes to make ends meet. Not all low-income families receive the benefits for which they are financially eligible. Families who receive multiple work supports can lose assistance before they reach self-sufficiency. Single parents often struggle with buying basic necessities and paying bills and usually live paycheck to paycheck.

As a single parent you have to cover all the household expenses and when a financial crisis occurs it can be devastating to your family. Develop a support system to help you through this difficult time and develop a plan to reduce your expenses to pay off debts and pay for basic necessities. Here are 8 ways for single parents to save money:

1. Downsize. Buy or trade in your current car for a used car with a cheaper note. This will either eliminate your car note or save you $50 to $200 a month on your car payment.

2. Buy Generic. Buy everything generic: household items, clothing, prescriptions, toiletries, dry goods, canned goods, paper products, etc. This will save you on average $10 to $50 a month.

3. Buy Washable Clothes. Buy clothes that do not require dry cleaning. This will save you on average $50 to $150 a month.

4. Personal Care. Do you own hair and nails and buy your makeup from the drugstore such as CVS or Riteaid. Watch, style and cut your child's hair. This will save you on average $40 to $100 a month.

5. Shop at Discount Stores. Buy household items in bulk such as paper products, cleaning supplies at discount stores such as Target, Walmart, Costco, etc. This will save you on average $10 to $50 a month.

6. Reduce expenses. Reduce or cancel your cable plan, cell phone or internet service or get the cheapest plan available. This will save you $20 to $100 a month.

7. Buy groceries at superstores. Buy your groceries at superstores or wholesale stores such as Walmart, Costco, Sam's Club, etc. Buy nuts, grains, spices, legumes at wholesale or health food stores. This will save you $30 to $200 a month on processing costs charged at regular grocery stores.

8. Fun with Kids. Check your local library or newspaper to find free activities that you can do to with your kids. This will save anywhere from $10 to $100 a month.

Friday, September 18, 2009

5 Tips When Dating During a Financial Crisis

The recession has impacted several areas of American life. It has caused families to spend less money, downsize or downgrade their lifestyle, generate multiple streams of income and be more accountable with their spending including money spent on entertainment. Many sources say dating is recession proof but only for those who have lived below their means. For those who still continue to live off of their credit cards or live above their means dating has changed. Many daters are making cutbacks in their dating life when spending money on their dates.

Men who spend lots of money on their dates have been forced to rethink their approach to win a woman's heart. Money is not a measure of love and one should not fall in love with someone because of the things they can get or because of the lifestyle they can live.

Men have made cutbacks when dating due to the recession. Some men no longer offer kind gestures of sending a dozen roses on a frequent basis or offer to go to dinner a movie. You may just get movie or dinner but probably not at a fancy restaurant. Men have begun to be more creative in how to save money or show their dates they are interested. Instead of going out to eat a man may suggest cooking dinner at his house, or having lunch in a park. Unfortunately some men how gone too far and have no idea what it means to be a gentleman and be frugal.

I was talking to a friend recently who told me that she met a guy online and he stated he didn't want to waste time by chatting on email and really wanted to meet her. At first she was flattered until her date said he wanted to meet her (for the first time) in the parking lot at a neighborhood Safeway grocery store later that night. My friend was speechless. Needless to say she didn't go out on a date with that guy but that is an example of how some men make poor decisions when making cutbacks on dating during a financial crisis.

Here are 5 tips to follow when dating during a recession or other financial crisis:
1. Be honest

2. Don't change plans you made with your date on the way to pick her up discuss plan changes prior to meeting

3. If you suspect your date feels uncomfortable or is short on cash offer to split the bill. Sometimes men are afraid to admit they are having financial problems.

4. If you don't have money or your funds are limited due to the recession be honest with your date, she will understand but don't mislead her by saying you want to take her out and met her at a grocery store, parking lot or hotel. If you tell her you want to see her be specific about where you want to meet, i.e. at her house, at your house, a Starbucks, bookstore, park, etc.

5. If you are running late call before the time you were supposed to arrive or meet to let your date know and inform your date the time you will arrive.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

8 Check Fraud Prevention Tips

The internet has allowed for an increase in identity theft and has resulted in many crimes being conducted on unsuspecting victims. The average number of fraudulent checks written daily is approximately 1.4 million or $27.3 million worth of fraudulent checks written everyday. According American Bankers Association Deposit Account Fraud Survey Report in 2006, attempted check fraud at banks was estimated at $12.2 billion.

There are many types of check fraud that occur every year. One such crime is check fraud. Check fraud includes check theft, check washing, counterfeit checks, and taking over a someone's checking account.

Check washing is a crime where thieves erase the ink on a check with chemicals usually found in common household cleaning products. The victim's check information is erased chemically or electronically which allows a thief to rewrite the amount of the check and the name of the payee. Check washing is very successful because many banks accept the check at face value due to the legitimacy of the signature.

A valid check is prepared for check washing by placing a protective seal over the signature line usually using a low adhesive tape or sticker. The check is held with tongs and placed in a pan usually containing acetone (nail polish remover), paint thinner or bleach. The solution dissolves standard ballpoint pen ink. Once the ink has dissolved completely from the check it is hung up to air dry. Here are 8 tips to reduce your checks from being check washed.

1. Don't leave outgoing mail in an unlocked mailbox especially on holidays and the weekends. Drop off outgoing mail in a regularly visited collection box or take it directly to the post office.

2. Don't leave post office boxes full, empty them frequently especially on the weekends.

3. Pick up newly ordered checks directly from your bank or have them delivered by postal mail.

4. Shred canceled checks.

5. Check bank statements immediately after receiving them.

6. Print a return address on all outgoing mail that contains a check. A forged signature can be traced.

7. Do not leave blank spaces on the payee or amount lines.

8. Use a blank water-based or gel pen. Use gel pens when writing checks to pay bills.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Upcoming Events

Visit me at these upcoming events.

September 2009
September 15, 2009, Interview with News Channel 8, Washington, DC, noon, news8.net
September 19, 2009, Panelist, Wisdom, Wealth and Wellness Program, Reginald Lewis Museum, 830 East Pratt Street, Baltimore, MD, 9:00-3:00pm
September 20, 2009, Montgomery County Financial Fair, Silver Spring, 12-3pm
September 25, 2009, Booksiging, Walden Books, CNN Center, One CNN Center, Atlanta, GA 2-4pm

October 2009
October 5-6, 2009, Financial Literacy Forum, Washington, DC, 8am-noon
October 21, 2009, Financial Seminar, Thurgood Marshall Center, Washington, DC, 7-9pm
October 28, 2009, National Savings Forum, Washington, DC, noon-3pm

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Another Option for Money - Peer to Peer

Due to the recession many Americans are searching for various ways to get extra money to make ends meet, get out of debt, or buy items that they need or want. Many Americans now have bad credit because they got behind on their bills due to sickness, unemployment, reduction in hours or living above their means. Unfortunately because of their bad credit they can no longer go to traditional banks and get a loan or get approved for credit. Another option is peer to peer lending, social lending or person to person lending. Borrowers and lenders transact business without using a traditional bank over the internet.

Peer to peer loans can be obtained from several companies such as: Prosper (formerly Circle One), Zopa, Virgin Money, Lending Club that is available on Facebook, eBay's Microplace that provides (loans to people in other countries and PeerMint that provides loan to people in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

They offer products similar to banks such as: are real estate loans, personal loans, business loans, debt consolidation, loans to pay off credit card debt and more. The average loan amount approved is $7,000. The lenders make money on loan origination fees instead of interest payments so they constantly need repeat or new users. Americans make 6 million peer to peer loans a year.

Loans are based on collateral, credit score and personal assets. Owning property and having equity in a property can be used as collateral for a loan. Your credit score has to be at least 620. Your chances of approval are also better if you have some money in the bank. If you default on the loan you lose your equity and/or your money in the bank.

There are two main types of lending models used: marketplace and the family or friend model. The marketplace model enables lenders to located borrowers and vice-versa. This model connects borrowers with lenders where the lender that is willing to provide the lowest interest rate wins the borrower's loan. The family and friend model is based on borrowers and lenders who already have a business relationship or business co-workers who formalize a personal loan.

Many of the sites password protect their data and are PCI compliant. If a lender suspects that one of their loans belongs to a person who has committed ID theft, they will work with law enforcement authorities to track down and prosecute anyone who has committed identity theft. However, there are risks to the lenders and borrowers both in terms of loan defaults and fraud.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Hope for Job Seekers

A credit score or FICO score developed by the Fair Isaac Company is used to determine if a consumer will pay their bills on time. It is using by most business when considering approval for a loan, credit card or service provided. A credit score is calculated using five main factors. Payment history accounts for 35% of your credit score, the total amount of debt owed accounts for 30%, the length of credit history (how long you have had credit) accounts for 15%, new credit (if you have opened any new accounts within the past 24 months) accounts for 10% and types of credit (revolving or installment) accounts for 10%.

Many employers use credit scores as a factor in hiring applicants but must have the applicant's permission before pulling their credit report and/or credit score. If you have bad credit you may not be hired for a job or may lose your job after being hired. In many cases potential applicants have bad credit due to a layoff, illness, medical bills or unfortunate circumstances but does not necessarily mean they can be bribed or will not be honest hard-working employee on a job.

For those of you who feel that using your credit as a factor in hiring is unfair you will be happy to know that Wisconsin State representative Kim Hixson recently authored a bill to have credit scores added to the list of discriminatory assessments in addition to race, gender, age, and disability which is prohibited under the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972.

The bill called Assembly Bill 367 would remove individual credit history as a factor in hiring unless it was related to the job for which the applicant applied such as those who seek employment in the financial industries.

Contact your state representative and ask them to support representative Hixson's Assembly Bill 367. This will be one less thing for job seekers to worry about.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

A Victory for Mortgage Borrowers

Many Americans shopping for a home experience obstacles such as: lenders or mortgage companies losing paperwork, administrative delays, unexpected errors on credit reports, unexpected fees and settlements costs, predatory lending, and unethical and deceptive practices. Buying a home is one of the most frustrating, scary and stressful processes in life. As the saying goes "only the strong survive" and only the strong are able to handle the pressure that is felt when trying to purchase a home.

The amount of paperwork provided to potential homeowners at settlement ranges on average from 30-70 pages of documents that must be read and signed. Although many homeowners neglect to read the paperwork which can hurt them in the future. Even if you take the time to read the paperwork, all of the technical jargon used is difficult to understand and it takes a lawyer to help you decipher the jargon.

Well, help is here. The Federal Reserve board implemented new rules that prohibit deceptive lending practices involving loans that are made on or after October 1, 2009 but unfortunately does not help those who were misled during the past two years.

The new rules require that disclosures must be provided in a timely manner, ensuring accurate appraisals are provided which will prevent a potential homeowner from borrowing too much money or overpaying for a home, handling of loan payments in a timely manner to prevent unnecessary late fees (in some instances borrowers are charged late fees although their payments were received on time), and inform borrowers about deducting late payment fees from their monthly mortgage payment.

Lenders will continue to be required to provide early disclosures to borrowers for loans to purchase a primary residence but will also have to provide early disclosures for refinances and home equity loans.
Additional protections include protecting subprime loan borrowers from receiving expensive mortgages by ensuring early disclosures of mortgage terms and costs and to verify the borrower's income, assets and other debts when offering a subprime loan.

A minimum of seven business days must pass between when a lender delivers the early disclosures to a borrower and closing. The borrower must receive a corrected disclosure at least three business days before the loan closing if the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) increases by a certain amount above what was previously disclosed to the borrower.

Starting October 1, 2009, Federal rules will ban several deceptive or misleading advertising practices. The rule prohibits any advertisement from indicating that a rate or payment is "fixed" when it can change. The new rule also requires advertisements to show all interest rates or payment amounts with equal spacing and in close proximity to any low promotional rate or payment.

Starting January 1, 2010, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will require lenders and mortgage brokers to use the same form to provide good faith estimates of settlement costs and disclosures. It will also include changes to HUD's Uniform Settlement Statement (HUD-1 form) that will make it easier for borrowers to compare estimated costs to actual costs. HUD's rules will limit how much actual costs can increase above the estimates and hopes the new rules will each homeowner approximately $700 at closing.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Cash for Clunkers for Babies

The "Cash for Clunkers" Program developed by the Obama administration temporarily increased sales for auto dealers by pouring 3 billion dollars into the program. It was such a hit other industries are copying the idea. If you are thinking of having a baby or have one on the way, Toys "R" Us has stated a "Cash for Cribs" program which began on August 28, 2009 and ends on September 20, 2009. The program is available at all and Toys "R" Us and Babies "R" Us stores in the U.S.

According to Consumer Reports the average cost of a baby crib ranges from $100-$450+, the average cost of a stroller ranges from $50-$700, the average cost of a car seat ranges from $30-$300, the average cost of a high chair ranges from $70-$250+. Purchasing just these items for a newborn can add up to $1,700 and bout would cost you $1,020 after using the program. If you can save money on these items why not. Many studies report that buying used baby items and furniture are a risk and used items are not as stable as new items and can cause injury to a newborn baby.

The "Cash for Cribs" program applies to cribs, strollers, car seats, high chairs, bassinets, travel systems, and play yards. All you have to do is trade in a used item and you receive 20% off on any new purchase of baby item on the store's list (only certain items qualify for the discount). Currently there appears to be no limit on how many items you can trade in. Several manufacturers are participating in the program.

Also, less than 30% of all recalled products are turned in. This is a great way for consumers to turn in recalled items or trade in used items. Visit the Consumer Product and Safety Commission website for more information on product recalls and how to sign up for email alerts.

Friday, August 28, 2009

What Ben Bernanke and I Have in Common

Ben Bernanke and I have one thing in common; we were both victims of identity theft. His wife's purse was stolen last August which contained her checkbook, id and credit card and social security card. My purse was stolen last month and contained my driver's license, credit card, checkcard, checkbook and health insurance card. If the Federal Reserve Chairman was a victim of identity theft, what hope is there for the rest of us?

As a personal finance expert and financial planner I did everything I was supposed to do to protect myself from being a victim of identity theft. I checked my balances on a weekly sometimes daily basis; I verified my receipts with my monthly bank statements; I immediately called my bank when I found an error; paid cash for most items; only shopped at one website for online shopping; shred all my personal financial information; checked my credit report twice a year; did not sign up for recurring bill payments or automatic payment deduction, and did not sign up for online banking. Unfortunately with all of that I still became a victim. What does a customer do when they play by the rules and their bank turns against them?

Due to the recession, I thought surely banks are most concerned about keeping their existing customers and would be more willing to provide exceptional customer service. Boy was I wrong! I trusted my bank which shall remain nameless. I had been a customer since 1994 and stuck with them through hundreds of management changes, mergers, etc. I followed all of their guidelines for opening and maintaining my bank accounts which consisted of one personal checking and one business checking account.

However, when I became a victim of identity theft, all of that didn't matter, instead my bank treated me like a second class citizen, like they were not concerned, I should just suck it up and deal with it. I was in shock and appalled at the poor customer service I received. I called my bank for 3 weeks trying to get the stolen money credited bank to my account which was caused by a teller who ignored my account restriction and ignored bank policies for dealing with identity theft victims. The teller processed fraudulent checks on my account which prevented me from accessing the money in my account; I was unable to write checks to pay my bills which by this time were all late including my mortgage.

I had a separate online savings account which was linked to my checking account. I took money out of that account but had to wait several days to receive a check in the mail. I had to get money orders to pay all of my bills. I had other accounts at my local credit union but rarely used those accounts and had to reactivate those account. All of these things take time. Unfortunately my bills collector didn't want to hear that. In the past 13 years I have never paid my bills late except on a few rare occasions due to traveling. My bills are usually paid on time or before the due date.

After calling the President's Office of the bank I was finally able to get the money credited back to my account. I spoke with an executive assistant and began asking questions and she started getting a little snippy with me. Here I thought she would be really pleasant and would want to help me. Needless to say, the President's Office was not happy that a customer had called their office to complain and by 4pm that day I received a call from the Loss Management Department to inform me that the money was credited back to my account effective that day and the caller asked me what else I needed them to do. By this time I had already begun to file complaints against the bank with every state and federal agencies possible. I called my local news station, informed all my friends and associates, filed a complaint with the FTC, BBB and other agencies.

Here are 10 tips to follow if you are a victim of identity theft:
1. Contact your bank as soon as you become aware of the identity theft. You only have a limited amount of time to report the incident.

2. Immediately fill a police report. This will be helpful when contacting the credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion as well as when contacting all companies you do business with as proof of your claim of identity theft.

3. Place a fraud alert on your Experian, Equifax and TransUnion credit reports.

4. File a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, Federal Trade Commission, your state's Consumer Affairs or Attorney General's Office. If your complaint is against a particular bank branch fill a complaint with the FDIC and your state's banking authority.

5. If you SSN was stolen or comprised, contact the Social Security Administration to put a fraud alert on your SSN. Also, place an alert on your driver's license.

6. File a postal alert with the post office which can be online.

7. If you are a victim of check fraud, don't take no for an answer from your bank, demand that your bank credit the money back to your account within 24 hours. They can offer what is called a "provisional credit" until their investigation is complete. Ask to speak to a supervisor if you cannot get your requests resolved. Continue up the chain until you reach someone who will help you. If that fails write a letter to the President of your bank.

8. Reduce the usage of online banking, pay for more items with cash and use your debit/checkcard less often. It is easier to get money credited back to your account when using a credit card than when using a debit/checkcard.

9. Request a copy of the investigation findings from the police department and your bank.

I used to be a big proponent of opening a savings and/or checking account. I truly better that it was better to have your money in a bank than at home in a shoe box. I am starting to rethink that belief.