Thursday, January 29, 2009

Help for Homeowners

If you are facing foreclosure or are late on your mortgage payments there is help for you.

The Federal Reserve has created a program to help homeowners. The program promises to: reduce the amount owed on your mortgage loan, reduce the interest rate or lengthen the term of your loan.

The program will apply to mortgage assets that are currently held by the Federal government due to the bailout of Bear Stearns and AIG.

To qualify for the program a homeowner must be at least 60 days late on their mortgage payment.

For more information contact the Federal Reserve.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The New Credit Score

With all of the worry regarding the recession, job loss, rising prices of food and medical costs, we know have something else to worry about. Currently we have 2 types of credit scores, the FICO credit score and the Vantage credit score, However, Fair Isaac sued the three credit bureaus in 2006, accusing them of unfair and uncompetitive practices that it said harmed the FICO brand regarding use of the Vantage score.

Starting in late January or early February 2009 a new credit score will replace the current FICO credit score called the FICO 08. The FICO 08 will have the same range of 300 to 850 as the current (classic) FICO score.

The new FICO 08 will be used by TransUnion in late January 2009. Equifax will begin using the new FICO 08 in spring 2009. Experian has not announced when the new score will be used Equifax because it is waiting for the lawsuit filed by Fair Isaac to be resolved.

Fair Isaac insists the new credit score formula was created as a result of a demand by consumers due to increasing defaults on mortgage payments and late payments to creditors. The FICO 08 claims to provide a better way of analyzing consumer risk and that the product will be used by most lenders to grant credit and to set interest rates and other loan terms. FICO scores are also factored into credit decisions by insurance underwriters, cell phone, and utility companies and are sometimes used by employers to evaluate prospective employees.

Fair Isaac says most consumers will see a slight increase in their FICO 08 scores compared with their current FICO score numbers, but others will see a drop in their score. Fair Isaac says the new formula will do a better job of predicting consumers who are a good risk and who are a bad risk, especially among consumers: with bad credit or short credit histories, who are actively seeking credit or who are listed as authorized users ("piggybacked" on others' good credit).

Fair Isaac said FICO 08 will be less harmful to those who have had a single serious credit setback, such as a charge-off or repossession, as long as their other active credit accounts are all in good standing. Having a "moderate amount" of credit inquiries on your credit reports won't be as harmful to consumers under the new formula. No one knows what is considered a "moderate amount". However, consumers with several delinquent accounts may experience a drop in their credit score.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Warning: You May Pay for Not Using Your Credit Card

Due to the bailout and current recession we have been experiencing for the past year or so many banks and financial institutions are afraid of losing more money. As a result, they are changing the rules and implementing new guidelines for credit card holders. If you haven't used a credit card in the past 6 to 12 months you are at risk for having your account closed or your credit limit reduced. If your limit is reduced or the account is closed this will lower your credit score. If doesn't matter what your previous payment history was or what your credit score is.

Some credit card companies that are practicing this are: Citibank, HSBC, Chase, Capitol One and Washington Mutual. Many credit card companies are doing this without notifying customers. If you have been a victim of this check your credit card disclosure agreement. If you don't have a copy asked the credit card company to send you a copy. Read it carefully. If it is not mentioned in your credit card disclosure agreement then call the company and complain. Here are 5 ways to reduce your changes of having your limit reduced or your credit card account closed.

1. Order a copy of your credit report from If you have already received a copy within the past 12 months you can still order a copy from the website but you will have to pay a small fee of $6 per report from each credit bureau: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.

2. Check your balances. Review your credit card accounts and pay down debt on the cards with the highest balances to prevent the accounts from being closed or the limits reduced. For accounts that have not been used in a while and that have a larger limit, buy something cheap like milk and bread or a pair of socks and pay the bill off right away. Do this every 3 months to show activity on the accounts. Don't worry about credit cards with balances less than $1,000 or new accounts opened within the past 24 months because they won't impact your credit score as much if they are closed.

3. Ditch the small potatoes. You may want to close any credit card accounts that haven't been used in 1 to 2 years that have a limit of $500 or less and have a zero balance. If you have more than one credit card in this category only close one of these types of accounts every year. This will prevent your credit score from being impacted as much. This will prevent the credit card companies from closing your account and reporting this on your credit report. In some cases, credit card companies will report "closed by creditor", "account closed by credit grantor", "closed at creditor's request" or something similar. This greatly lowers your credit score.

4. Negotiate. If you have an account that has been closed and you use your credit card to make ends meet or pay for basic necessities I would recommend calling the credit card company and letting them know that you need your credit card. They should be sympathetic and re-open your account if it was closed or increase your limit if it was reduced. If that does not work call back and ask to speak to a supervisor. Follow-up all correspondence in writing. If that fails file a complaint against the credit card company with the Better Business Bureau and Federal Trade Commission.

5. Find extra money. Sell new and unused items on eBay or Craigslist. Get a part-time job and find ways to reduce expenses to get extra money to pay for basic necessities to make up for the loss of using a credit card that was closed or the limit was reduced.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Bankruptcy Filings Increased in 2008

Due to the financial woes the country has experienced for the past few years personal bankruptcy filings remain high. At the end of September bankruptcy filing rose 30%. From July through September 2008 bankruptcy filings rose 35% or equaled to 292,291 filings.

Personal bankruptcy filings in 2008 totaled approximately 1.1 million and increased 31% from 2007. Older Americans have also filed for personal bankruptcy due to the rising costs of food, gas, and medical costs. According to AARP, personal bankruptcy filings among Americans age 65 or older grew by 125%. The bankruptcy rate of Americans aged 75 to 84 jumped 433.3%. Bankruptcy should be a last resort. Here are 5 ways to prevent filing for bankruptcy.

1. Live below your means. Keep debt to 15% or less of your monthly income. Save 10% of your monthly income, housing costs should be no more than 30% of your monthly income, transportation costs 28% and other expenses 17% to ensure you keep a balanced monthly budget.

2. Downsize. Get a cheaper car or home or buy a condo to save money on housing and transportation costs.

3. Enjoy retirement. You should be debt free and mortgage free during your retirement. If you are not you need to make a plan to move towards being debt free during your retirement.

4. Change your diet. If you are spending hundreds of dollars a month on medical costs and prescriptions it is time to change your diet. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Eliminate junk food, fast food, fried foods and sweets. Eat balanced meals and don't overeat. Try to eat 3 meals a day and eat your largest meal at lunch. Don't eat after 7pm. Start exercising. Contact a nutritionist or get a referral from your doctor to develop a plan to shed those extra pounds.

5. Get help. Contact a financial advisor to map out a plan to help you pay off your debt and enjoy your retirement years.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

9 Quick Ways to Save Money in 2009

Many Americans baulk at the words "budget", "cut back", "spending plan", "reduce expenses", or "save" and other terms that are used to help Americans change their spending habits. However, these words are not the enemy, your spending habits are. These words are very helpful and if followed can begin to change your financial situation over a short period of time.

The recession should be a wake-up call to all Americans aged 18 and over that now is the time to change those bad spending habits and plan for the future. We must use the advice of our parents, grand-parents and great-parents such as "a penny saved is a penny earned", "save your money for a rainy day", "better safe than sorry" and many others sayings.

I have talked to thousands of people across the country and many times when I talk some who is 50 and older they are not experiencing a financial crisis, they have one credit card or no credit cards, are not in debt or have small amounts of debt, have a savings account and a retirement account and are puzzled as to why so many Americans who are employed are struggling to pay their bills. If you fit into that category here are 9 quick ways to save money in 2009.

1. Ditch the Starbucks. Trade in your Starbucks for coffee at home. On average a cup of Starbucks costs $5.25 a cup. If you drink 5 cups a week you are spending on average $26.25. On average one bag or canister of coffee from the grocery store costs $5.76 which can last anywhere from one week to three weeks depending on how many cups you drink a day.

2. Drink tap. Trade bottled water for tap water. Use a filter to remove particles from the tap water.

3. Cancel all memberships. Cancel any memberships you currently have and request a full or partial refund. In you have a gym membership cancel the membership and exercise at home with a video tape or take low cost classes at a local YMCA or community center.

4. Cancel subscriptions. Cancel all magazine and newspaper subscriptions. To keep up with current events listen to the radio or watch the news.

5. Downsize. Move to a cheaper apartment, condo or home. Trade in your car for a used car with a cheaper note. Trade in designer clothes for cheaper brands like Gap or Old Navy.

6. Get a roommate. Rent out a room in your home or apartment. Sleep in the basement or on a couch to rent out a room if you only have one bedroom. Use the extra money to pay down debt or create a savings account.

7. Skip the pampering. Skip the hairdresser and barber or reduce visits by half each month. Skip the spa or nail salon for those facials, manicures and pedicures. Try doing them at home yourself to save money.

8. Reduce car expenses. Buy the cheapest gas possible for your car. Carpool and get regularly scheduled maintenance on your car to make it last longer. Keep you car for at least 5-10 years to save money.

9. Slash your grocery bill. Skip the steak and potatoes and pork chops. Fix more casseroles, soups, stews and other comfort foods to save money on grocery bill costs. You can also eat sandwiches for lunch or dinner, eat tuna, hot dogs, bologna, breakfast food, Ramen noodles, cup 'o noodles and other cheap buys to slash your grocery bill.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Jobless Rates Reach All Time Highs

In December 2008, the country's jobless rate increased to 7.2% or 11.1 million Americans who were unemployed. This was the highest level in the past 16 years. Employers were nervous about the economy and as a result eliminated 524,000 jobs in the month of December 2008.

In Massachusetts the jobless rate increased to 6.9% with 16,800 employees losing their jobs. In California, the jobless rate increased to 9.3% which marked a 14 year high for the state with 78,200 employees losing their jobs. In North Carolina, the jobless rate increased to 8.7% which was the highest in the past 25 years. In December, 396,846 people were unemployed. In Connecticut the jobless rate increased to 7.1% with 11,500 employees losing their jobs and was the worse since 1991. In Washington (state) the jobless rate increased to 7.1% with 251,700 employees losing their jobs.

These figures also coincide with the foreclosure rates of these states. As of December 2008: California had 89,449 foreclosures (highest in the country), Massachusetts had 3,919 (ranked 15th), North Carolina 2,274 (22nd), Connecticut had 2,060 (25th), and Washington had 2,769 (21st).

To reduce the impact of a job loss, be the best employee you can be: arrive to work on time every day, cancel vacation, "mental health days", and other scheduled time off. Ask for extra assignments, reduce your lunch hour to 30 minutes and spend the other 30 minutes looking for a part-time job or doing research to take a course or training class to increase your skills.

Spend time with senior employees at your job and learn all you can from them, but be sure to remind them that they are the senior staff on the job and you are only there to learn from them and not take their job. Reduce your expenses by bringing your lunch to work or carpool with co-workers to save money. Make at least one sacrifice to save money and reduce your expenses to pay down debt and create an emergency fund to cover bill for at least 8-12 months.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

How Banks are Helping Customers Pay Down Debt

Due to the bailout and current recession many businesses have gone bankrupt and closed their doors forever or have downsized such as Lehman Brothers, Circuit City, Linens 'N Things, Steve & Barry's, Sharper Image, KB Toys, Mervyns to name a few.

Some companies are so desperate for revenue that they are offering incentives to help customers pay back debt like Citibank which offers to match a percentage of credit card payments made over the minimum monthly payment if the customer agrees to pay off a percentage of their credit card balances quicker. However, Citibank does have a cap on the match up to $550 and the customer has to agree to stop using their credit card during participation in the matching program.

If you are struggling to pay back debt contact your creditor right away to negotiate. Try setting up a payment plan; ask for late fees, over-the-limit-fees or other penalties waived, a reduced interest rate or a reduced minimum monthly payment. If the creditor refuses to work with you call back and ask to speak to a supervisor. If that fails file a complaint against the company with your state Better Business Bureau, Consumer Affairs office, Attorney General's Office or the Federal Trade Commission. Be sure to follow-up all phone calls with a letter.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Be Thankful

According to the Department of Labor, the jobless rate increased to 7.2% or approximately 11 million Americans that are currently unemployed. In December 2008, 2.6 million jobs were eliminated. In addition, employers reduced hours, benefits and perks. Many employees now have to do the work of 2 to 3 employees due to layoffs for the same or reduced pay. It seems no industry is immune to the layoffs.

The largest layoffs occurred in the construction, manufacturing, temporary services and retail industries. The government and health care industry were the only industries that actually created jobs.

Some private sector employees gave no notice to employees who came into work one day and were laid off the same day.

If you have delayed furthering your education, now is the time to go back to school or gain at least one other skill to make yourself more marketable to a potential employer. You should have at least 2 skills that you can list on your resume to become more appealing to hiring companies.

If you still have food, clothing and a roof over your head, be thankful. It may be a cold winter and many people are homeless and jobless which will make this winter season even harder.

To help ease the pain of a layoff:

1. Start saving every dime, quarter, nickel, penny, and dollars you can.

2. Reduce all your expenses – eat Ramen Noodles, oodles & noodles, tuna fish, bologna, hot dogs, breakfast food, etc. for dinner to save money on groceries.

3. Modify your tax withholding for six months to get extra money to pay down debt and pay for monthly expenses. After June 30, 2009 change your tax withholding back to your original deductions to prevent owing taxes at the end of the year.

4. If you are currently contributing to a 401K, halt contributions for 3-6
months to get extra money to pay down debt and start a savings account.

5. Prepare for the worst by creating an emergency fund to cover bills and monthly expenses for 8-12 months.

6. Keep up to date with the employment trends and news. This will help you to know when to start applying for jobs. Polish your resume and keep it up-to-date so when a job becomes available you can apply for it.

7. Lower your job expectations. You may have to take a significantly lower pay cut to get hired. When you do get hired learn everything about your job, take training classes and be a model employee. This will help you to get promoted at a faster rate and increase your salary.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

New Year’s Resolutions for a Recession

Here are 7 tips help you survive the recession in 2009 and develop good money management skills so if another crisis occurs you will not feel the pain as much as you did in 2008.

1. Admission. Admit you are in debt and stop charging! Face reality and make a plan to get out of debt. You can’t get out of debt doing the same things you did in 2008. You have to make a change. If you are in a lot of debt then you need to make some drastic changes. If you drive an expensive car consider selling your car and buying a used car with a smaller payment or no payment at all. Negotiate with creditors to setup payment plans to pay off debt.

2. You are Not the Jones. Don’t live above your means. Buy needs instead of buying wants. Don’t impulse shop or buy something based on how you feel (sad, happy, angry, mad, depressed). Shopping doesn’t make you feel better, it is a temporary feeling, when you get your credit card bill those happy feelings go away quickly. Find ways to reduce expenses to help pay down your debts. Catch public transportation or carpool to work. Buy items or sale, buy used instead of new, use coupons, or shop at wholesales or thrift stores.

3. Be Responsible. Because of the bailout things have changed and creditors are looking for any reason to identify someone as risk. It doesn’t matter what your previous payment history has been. Only use your credit card for emergencies only. Don't use your credit card to purchase gas, food or other everyday items. Keep credit card balances at 30% or below the credit limit. Pay balances off at the end of the month.

4. Track Spending. Write a list of all of your total monthly expenses including debt and write down your total monthly income (net). If you have any money left over use that to pay down your debts. If you do not have any money left over look at the areas where you can reduce expenses. Use paper and pen, and a tool like Microsoft Money or Quicken or use the envelope method.

5. Save. Save. Save. I cannot emphasize this enough. Create an emergency fund with enough to cover at least 6-8 months worth of bills. This will prevent you from getting into debt. For long-term goals begin planning for retirement or increase your allotment for retirement. You should save at least 10-20% each month towards retirement.

6. Education. Further your education by taking training classes, get a college degree or an advanced degree to increase your skills set and salary. Plan to take at least one training course every year during your career to stay current with industry standards and technology advances.

7. Financial Planning. Get health, life and disability insurance. Also, create a will even if you don’t feel you have anything of value, but someone else might be eyeing something you possess. Your will can ensure that all your possession are distributed properly to your heirs. You should also consider getting a trust. Store copies of your financial and insurance papers in a fireproof and waterproof safe. Make copies of all of your credit cards, insurance papers, mortgage and creditors bills and store in your safe.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Beware of Cash Strapped Cities

Many cities around the county are finding other ways to generate revenue for their cities at residents and visitors expense. Many cities are installing more speed cameras and handing out record numbers of speeding tickets and parking tickets due to budget cutbacks. These changes are happening pretty quickly so one day you may drive through an area and be fine, the next day you may get a ticket. Some cities that are raking in the cash are: Baskin Louisiana, Boston Massachusetts, and New York City. States that are raking in the cash are North Carolina, Colorado, Detroit and Arizona. Here are 5 ways to prevent being a victim of cash strapped cities.

1. Slow down. Drive the speed limit at all times especially when out-of-town.

2. Know the limit. Know the speed limit in all areas where you live, work and drive to prevent getting a speeding ticket.

3. Stop at caution. Don’t drive through the yellow caution light. In times past you could drive through the yellow caution light and make it through an intersection before getting snagged by a red light camera. These cameras are more sophisticated now and some are on a hair trigger. In addition, the price of a ticket has increased, you could get slapped with a $50 to $200 ticket for speeding depending or going through a red light.

4. Be polite. If you are pulled over for speeding or given a parking ticket be polite with the police officer and everyone you communicate with regarding the ticket. Being polite will go a long way and may help to get the ticket cost reduced or get lesser penalties.

5. Don’t be aggressive. If you are an aggressive driver now is the time to change your ways. Cameras are available on nationwide highways that ticket aggressive drivers.

These habits may also cause an increase in your car insurance or being dropped by your insurance for repeated offenses. Make a change in your driving habits in 2009; it will save you a lot of money and headaches.