Saturday, December 31, 2011

Say No to New Year's Resolutions

Everyone tries to make a New Year’s Resolution including myself. Somewhere around February we forget about that New Year’s Resolution and go back to whatever it was we were doing before the New Year. This year I am saying no to New Year’s Resolutions. This year I am creating a goals list of all the things I want to accomplish in 2012 with a target date and action steps for each. Your goals should include at a minimum health, finances, family, career, spirituality and relationships

This year make a decision to make at least one permanent change to become better in one area of your life. The key is to keep moving forward and practice that habit every day. Don’t beat yourself up too much if you forget to practice your new habit. If you forget one day, don’t worry, tomorrow is available for you to get back on track. Don’t look at your goals as negative; view them as positive things to improve your life.

Ask friends or relatives to provide support and encouragement for your new goals. Purchase self-help motivation books or practice meditation or positive affirmations to help strengthen your confidence to ensure you achieve your goals.

Look at the big picture and how your goals will help you, your family or your overall life. Examine the long-terms benefits of your goals and focus on the benefits to increase your motivation.

Don’t make unrealistic goals, however believe in yourself and write down all of your dreams and goals. If you believe you can achieve a goal you will. The only thing stopping your from achieving your goal is you. Wishing you much success in 2012!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

End of Year Tax Deductions

On December 23, 2011, President Obama signed the Social Security Payroll Tax Holiday extension through February 29, 2012. The payroll tax temporarily extends the 2% payroll tax cut for employees, reducing their Social Security tax withholding rate from 6.2% to 4.2% of wages paid through February 29, 2012 for those who make $110,100 or less. This also prevents many Americans from losing their unemployment benefits.

Medicare will continue paying doctors at the current rate through February 29, 2012. The reduced Social Security withholding will have no effect on employees’ future Social Security benefits. Congress reconvenes in January 2012 to determine if the payroll tax holiday will be extended. If not, employees will pay the 6.2% social security tax for the remainder of 2012.

Some people dread the end of the year because it is a reminder that you have to file your taxes. However, if you file taxes you are one of the lucky ones who has a job whether you like it or not or whether it pays enough, you have one. That is a blessing. Over 9 million people are still unemployed.

Before you prepare to file your taxes gather all of your receipts and write down all of your expenses for the year. This will be difficult if you can’t find your receipts or don’t have all of them. If that is the case then estimate your expenses. If you hire a tax preparer having receipts and documentation will be very helpful and will reduce your chances or getting audited because you have proof of your spending.

If you know you will owe taxes for 2011 request an extension no later than April 16, 2012 or setup a payment plan. There are tons of tax credits and deductions you can claim for 2011. Here are 33 ways to reduce your taxable income and increase your chances of getting a refund.

1. Uniforms, job supplies.
2. Tax preparation fees.
3. Job related training.
4. Job search expenses.
5. Home office business expenses.
6. Mortgage refinance fees.
7. Charitable donations (cash and non-cash).
8. State Sales Tax.
9. Property and estate tax deductions.
10. Foreclosure tax relief.
11. Casualty Loss (Disaster Area).
12. Reinvested Dividends (DRIP).
13. Mileage Deduction.
14. Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).
15. Energy Credit.
16. Car Credit.
17. Home Buyer Credit for Military Personnel.
18. Capital Gains.
19. Child Tax Credit.
20. American Opportunity Tax Credit.
21. Personal Exemption Phase Out.
22. Increases in Standard Deductions.
23. Marriage Penalty Relief.
24. Dependent Care Credit.
25. Adoption Tax Credit and Adoption Assistance Programs.
26. Coverdell Account.
27. Student Loan Interest Deduction.
28. Above the Line Deductions for School Teachers.
29. Business Incentives and Credits.

Monday, December 26, 2011

How to Get In Debt

Most Americans have had or currently have at least one bad spending habit. Bad spending habits are just that habits and habit can be broken. It takes 23 days to develop a habit. Habits can be good or bad. Habits that are bad should be broken.

You should always try to become a better at everything you do and this includes breaking bad financial habits and replacing them with good ones. Stop doing at least one of these things to help you get out of debt and say no to debt. Then gradually make another step a habit and keep repeating. The following is a list of some things that can lead to being in debt.

1. No Budget
2. No Health Insurance
3. No Savings or Emergency Fund
4. Stop overextending yourself at Christmas
5. Stop Living Above Your Means
6. Don’t use credit cards for everyday purchases
7. Don’t use credit instead pay with cash
8. Stop Impulse Shopping
9. Avoid Cash Advances/Pay Day Loans
10. “Robbing Peter to Pay Paul" – using money for one bill to pay another bill and still having one bill unpaid
11. Balance Transfers - using credit cards to pay off other debt
12. No retirement account
13. Borrowing from your 401K
14. Co-signing for a loan
15. Having a joint account with someone other than a spouse
16. Deferring student loans or filing forbearance
17. Getting student loans for more than the cost of your college tuition
18. Using check cashing businesses or a liquor store to cash paychecks
19. Doing business with "bad credit no problem" companies
20. Not contacting companies regarding delinquent accounts
21. Repeating the same financial mistakes over and over

Avoiding these bad spending habits can help you say no to debt and say yes to savings and being debt free. Say yes to having a better financial life. Money can generate wealth or generate debt, you make the choice.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Is Skip a Payment a Bad Idea?

I received my December credit card monthly statement and the minimum monthly amount due displayed zero. I read further down the statement and noticed there was a note that offered me the option of skipping my December monthly payment. This is a trick. Don’t fall for it. You have to ask yourself, why are they offering me this? Is it because I am a good customer. No! It is because they want to make more money.

The Skip a Payment option is usually offered by mortgage or credit card companies at the end of each year. It can be difficult to resist this temptation. The offer usually comes during the holiday season when most families are struggling to make end meet or need extra money to buy holiday gifts.

Here’s the trick. If you didn't charge anything else on your credit card for the rest of the month, you would still owe more money due to the accrued interest added in at the end of the month on what you already owed. Some companies charge a fee for using the skip a payment option which is added to the total balance.

Using a skip a payment option, your January statement you require you to pay two months’ worth of interest plus whatever items you purchase in January. Skipping a payment reinforces bad spending habits. It seems easy and convenient but costs you more in the long run. The longer it takes to pay off a credit card bill, the more interest and finance charges accrue and the more debt you owe. The only one benefiting is the credit card company. If you are offered a "skip a payment" option here are some things to consider:

1. Avoid using it more than once
2. Don't use it if your credit card balance is 50% or above the credit limit
3. Avoid using it as a solution to a financial problem
4. Only use it if you cannot afford to make the minimum monthly payment and will end up missing a payment
5. Don’t use it if your credit card is maxed out or you are close to maxing out your credit card because the missed payment may put your over the limit and cause you to be charged an over-the-limit fee or late fee
6. Don’t use it as an excuse to buy something
7. It does not lower your credit score
8. You must be in good standing with the company

I am sending in my payment for my December statement. Stop making credit card companies rich. Remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

Monday, December 19, 2011

10 Tips for Holiday Shopping

Each year Americans accumulate the largest amount of debt during the holiday season. If you don't have money to buy holidays gifts be honest with yourself, don’t go into debt to please someone else. January and February have the highest number of bankruptcies and divorces filed.

Christmas is not about how much money you spend or about giving gifts, it is about celebrating the birth of Christ and spending time with family and friends. Most times people buy holiday gifts for someone they don’t like or buy gifts that are returned. Don’t go into debt again. If you spent money you don’t have, take the gifts back to the store and save yourself the heartache of getting a big credit card bill in January. Here are 10 tips for holiday shopping.

1. Buy gifts during store sales. You can save anywhere from 20-70% off the original price.
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 and 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" so only one person has to buy a gift for one person and set a limit on the amount spent.
6. Avoid buying gifts on Christmas Eve or the day before Christmas Eve. Selection is limited and lines at the register are longer. Out of desperation you may make bad choices and spend more spend than you have to.
7. Shop online, some companies waive shipping and handling fees during the holiday season.
8. Spend less money on gifts this year than you did the previous year.
9. If you have money after the holiday season and have paid all of your bills, 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.
10. Make getting out of debt one of your new year's resolutions.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Limit for No Signature Purchases Increases Again

You may have noticed recently merchants are allowing credit card or debit card purchases under $50 to be approved without a signature and in some cases without providing a receipt. I previously used my check card for most purchases but recently started using cash more often.

I went to the grocery store today and was shocked to learn that my debit card purchase which was under $50 did not require my signature. I looked puzzled and the cashier told me that I didn’t need to sign for purchases under $50. This left me feeling uncomfortable.

Merchants should post a sign in the stores informing consumers that purchases under $50 do not require a signature, include this in the consumer disclosure agreement and post it in an easily accessible section on their website.

Credit card and debit card companies feel that no-signature transactions speed up checkout and encourage consumers to make more purchases. However, this only put consumers at a higher risk for identity theft which could go undetected and cost a consumer from $50 up to thousands of dollars.

American Express has a No Signature program that allows certain merchants to process credit card transactions without a signature for purchases of $25 or less. HSBC has a Premier MasterCard with PayPass that uses Tap and Go technology with no signature required for purchase under $50. PayPass will work with Google Wallet and the Android application that makes your phone a wallet. Subway will begin accepting the MasterCard contactless payments at some of its locations by the end of the March 2012. For purchases under $50 no signature will be required. I discussed the contactless feature in my March 3, 2007 blog post, “Why You Shouldn’t Get a Contact Less Credit Card.

Merchants claims it meets customer needs but I disagree. My need is to use my credit card or debit card and feel safe knowing that my transaction is secure and I have proof that I made the transaction if the need arises in the future. Without a signature the process to investigate will take longer and the consumer suffers the most. Without a signature the cashier cannot verify the signature on the back of the card with the receipt signature. If a consumer loses their wallet or leaves their credit card or debit card at a store, transactions will add up quickly. Merchants claim that there has been no increase in fraud since using the no signature programs but I find that hard to believe. The FTC received over 1.3 million complaints regarding identity theft.

Chargebacks (money paid back to a consumer for a fraudulent charge) can cost a merchant up to $25 per transaction and for a $25 purchase a merchant barely breaks even. So to ensure merchants continue to make money the limit has been increased to $50. Here are 6 ways to protect yourself against No Signature programs:

1. Use cash more often.
2. Ask for a receipt.
3. Use a credit card or debit card for purchases over $50.
4. Verify your monthly statements and verify your account balances at least once a week.
5. Contact companies where you shop and express your opinion about their No Signature program.
6. Ask for a signature comparison if you are a victim of fraud.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Are CDs A Good Savings Option

Certificate of Deposits (CDs) are available at most banks and credit unions. Some banks offer high interest rates for CDs than checking accounts such as Doral Bank, Discover Bank and MetLife Bank. Most CDs require a minimum balance of $1,000. A few banks require lower minimum balances such as Astoria Federal Savings and Citizens Trust banks however, they offer lower interest rates.

Banks make money with deposits from customers for savings and checking accounts, CDs, money market accounts, etc. and use that money to offer loans to individuals or businesses.

When you commit to a savings period of months or years, the bank loans your money since you don’t need it right away. Customers benefit from opening a CD account by earning more money from a higher interest rate. Customers who need to quickly access money do not benefit from opening a CD account. The pros of opening a CD account are:

1. The higher your deposit the higher interest rate you qualify for.
2. FDIC or NCUA insured.
3. Easy to open with usually a small amount, i.e. $500.
4. Offer different terms and interest rates.
5. Receive 100% of your initial investment plus interest earned.
6. Fixed interest rate.
7. Low to no risk.
8. You know how much you will earn.
9. Maturity periods range from 3 months to 5 years or longer.
10. Offers multiple savings methods such as laddering, step up and bump up.
11. Variable CDs have an interest rate that is tied to the stock indexes, if the indexes rise your interest rate increases.

The cons of opening a CD account are:
1. Interest rates may change.
2. If you need your money before the CD matures you will have to pay a penalty fee.
3. If you withdraw money before the CD matures your interest rate may be reduced.
4. Treated as a taxable investment so you pay taxes when the CD matures. You will pay federal, state and local taxes when the CD matures. For longer term CDs with higher interest rates you could pay more in taxes.
5. Interest rate may not keep up with inflation.
6. Earns less than the stock market.
7. Is not an investment vehicle.
8. If you choose a longer maturity and higher interest rate for a variable CD, you will lose access to funds and alternative uses of funds.
9. Interest rates are usually lower than a checking account but higher than a savings account.
10. You can’t make transactions.
11. You have to wait a specific time period to earn interest on your money.

Comparison shop to find the best deal for you at sites like

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Should You Help Adult Children Financially

According to NEFE: 50% of parents are providing housing, 48% are helping with living expenses, 29% of giving money and 28% are helping with medical bills. Moving back home is the only affordable option for many adults. Some adult children are moving back home due to unemployment, debt or divorce.

It is important to clarify expectations when helping adult children financially. Parents should make it clear to their children what they expect and set a time frame to move out or stop financial dependence. Some parents don’t want to see their children suffer but in some cases parents are hindering instead of helping their children. This is especially true if children mismanage their money or make bad life decisions.

Show and give adult children effective tools to improve their financial situation. Parents have to be cautious and prevent taking on their children’s problems and making them their own. Parents also have to take care of themselves first before they can help their children. Here are 14 ways for parents to financially support adult children.

1. See where you are. Determine if you can afford to help financially, if not, provide your children with other alternatives.
2. Charge rent. If you are not a position to incur the extra costs charge rent enough to cover groceries and increased utility usage to prevent going into debt and getting behind on your bills.
3. Pay yourself first. Pay your bills first to keep a roof over your head. If you have any additional money left over you can use a portion of that to help your children.
4. Set rules. Set ground rules for how your household is run and discuss them.
5. Save. Continue to save money while you are helping your children.
6. Don’t dip. Don’t dip into your retirement or take out a loan to help children. Don’t co-sign for a loan or open joint credit card accounts.
7. Debt. Don’t go further into debt helping your children.
8. Give advice. Give advice on how to manage finances and deal with problems.
9. Be supportive. Be as supportive as possible and try to see your children’s point of view.
10. Provide resources. Provide resources such as social organizations that can help.
11. Set a limit. Set a limit on how much you will help and stick to it.
12. Loaning. If you loan money to your children, don’t expect to get it back. If you want to get the money back write a formal letter stating the terms of the loan and when the loan must be paid back.
13. Move out. Set a date when your children have to move out and don’t change it.
14. Don’t give money. Don’t give money directly. If your children need money to pay bills send the money directly to the company. If your children need spending they should find ways to generate income.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

When Will They Learn

The NBA locked has ended. The day after the NBA lockout ended, some NBA players were partying at nightclubs and some were partying before the lockout ended. Some NBA players were experiencing financial issues during the lockout. Those who weren’t, partying is just a slap in the face to players struggling to pay their bills. No matter what your financial status, nothing last forever so it’s best to plan ahead and plan for the future. The NBA will probably experience another lockout so players you better be prepared. Here are 8 tips on how to lose your NBA salary:

1. Buy more than 1 car with a price tag of $300,000 or more.
2. Spend money on women, sneakers for everyone in your old neighborhood, buy drinks for everyone in the club or buy clothes for all your friends on a regular basis.
3. Blame everyone else except yourself for your financial problems.
4. Let someone else sign your checks.
5. Buy a home the size of Texas.
6. Spend your yearly salary in three montha.
7. Buy a plane, jet, yacht or something else equally as expensive.
8. Hire underhanded staff who steal all of your money.

Some NBA players make millions a year, some make over $200,000 a year which is enough to prevent filing for bankruptcy and more than enough to be considered above middle class. Unfortunately, many NBA players don’t know how to manage their money and don’t take the time to learn how. Many live paycheck to paycheck like some Americans, except their paycheck is larger. Here are 12 financial tips to ensure that you don’t file for bankruptcy, lose your home to foreclosure or have to work at Regency Furniture Showroom.

1. Create a support network. Hire an accountant, lawyer and financial advisor. Develop a great relationship with a banker and loan officer.
2. Learn about finances. Take a personal finance course, reach a book on personal finance or watch a television show to learn the basics about finances: learn how to invest, how to make your money grow, how to read financial statements, etc.
3. Know your worth. Know your net worth every year. Subtract your total liabilities from your total assets to determine your net worth. If the value is negative, you need to adjust your spending.
4. Reconcile. Reconcile your financial statements monthly but no less than every 3 months. Verify your account to ensure there are no errors and verify all your money is accounted for.
5. Set a signing limit. Set a signing limit for someone on your staff to sign checks for you if you don’t want to sign checks for small amounts. However, the advice Bill Cosby gave to Oprah was to sign your own checks and Oprah said she still signs most of hers.
6. Reduce spending. Reduce monthly expenses by 30% – 50%. Try to live off 60-70% of your yearly salary and save the rest of the money.
7. Unexpected. Create an emergency fund that has enough money to cover all of your monthly expenses for 9-12 months including child support.
8. Grow your money: Invest at least 20% of your monthly income after taxes, start a business or invest in a profitable business to grow your money.
9. Branding. Get as many endorsements as possible; create a website or blog or social media profile, create a logo, slogan, nickname or motto to establish a brand. Once you establish a brand it opens the doors to many other opportunities for generating income.
10. Get sponsors. Instead of throwing parties and paying for them yourself, get sponsors to pay for a portion or pay for the entire party. You can also have sponsor product giveaways for attendees. This saves you money and helps promote the sponsor’s products.
11. Inner Circle. Surround yourself with friends who having good spending habits who can provide advice on how to manage your money and help your money grow.
12. Think about tomorrow. Don’t live your life day to day, think about how you want to live your life in the next 5 - 10 years: where do you want to live, what lifestyle do you want to have, how will you earn money when your career is over, how will you pay child support, etc.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

How to Get an A Plus Credit Score

Many Americans have bad credit but more people have received bad credit ratings due to the recession. Bad credit can prevent you from getting hired for a job, or getting approved for a loan or credit card. You may be provided explanations of why you have bad credit but still may not understand what it means. One of the major factors in understanding your credit report and your credit score are the reason codes listed on your report. Some reason codes that may appear on your credit report are:

• Length of credit history – how long you have had credit, either a loan or credit card.
• Too many inquiries – you have had more than 1 or 2 companies pull your credit report within the last 24 months which lowers your credit score. You should have no more than 1 inquiry every 12 months if needed.
• Too many new accounts – you are considered a risk because you opened more than 1-2 new accounts within the last 24 months which lowers your credit score.
• Account balances too high – your credit cards are maxed out or the balances on your credit cards are above 50% of the credit card limit.
• Number of revolving and installment accounts – you need to have a mix of revolving (credit cards, line of credit) and installment accounts (loans).
• Recent delinquency – you had one or more accounts that were paid late in the past 0-3 years.

Your credit score consists of 5 factors which determines if you have good or bad credit: your payment history (35%), the total amount of debt owed (30%), length of your credit history (15%), new credit (10%), and the types of credit used (10%). A credit score ranges from 300-850 with 850 being the highest score. Your credit score is viewed as an indication of your trustworthiness and your ability to pay your bills on time.

Common myths about your credit score: paying a late account automatically increases your credit score, ignoring older accounts means you no longer have to pay them, if an account that is 7 years old is removed from your credit report you don’t have to pay it, medical bills don’t have to be paid, only loans and credit cards are reported on your credit report, and if you pull your credit report yourself this lowers your credit score. Here are 8 ways to get an “A” plus credit score.

1. Order your credit report and credit score from the 3 major credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion online at or by phone at 877-322-8228. If you find any errors on your credit report dispute the information online for a quicker turnaround time. Mail any supporting documentation.
2. Pay off collection accounts, judgments, and tax liens as soon as possible. Each account paid can increase your credit score by 20-25 points.
3. Prior to paying a delinquent debt ask the company to remove it from your credit report. It is easier to negotiate prior to sending in your payment.
4. If you have been 30 days or more late on a credit card bill get current. Getting current on your credit card bills can increase your credit score by 20-30 points.
5. If your credit card balance is 50% or more over the credit card limit send your payment so that it arrives 5 to 7 days before the due date. This will ensure the most recent balance is updated to the credit bureaus each month.
6. Negotiate. Ask creditors to settle an account for 50%-70% of the total amount owed. In exchange for payment ask the creditor to remove the account from your credit report and request a confirmation letter stating the account will be removed prior to making a payment. If the creditor refuses ask the creditor to report the account as “paid” or “paid in full” on your credit report.
7. Pay balances in full at the end of each month.
8. Call your credit card company and tell them you would like to increase your credit score and ask them for some tips.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Is Rewards Checking Right for You

Rewards checking accounts could be found at nearly any bank but not anymore. Only a few banks offer rewards checking accounts. Some banks have restricted their rewards checking accounts to new customers who are state residents. Banks make money with rewards checking accounts when customers spend a lot of money using their debit cards. Rewards checking accounts benefit savers. Spenders with low balances don’t reap the benefit. The pros of having a rewards checking account are:

1. FDIC or NCUA insured.
2. Can make purchases.
3. Can get an account with no fees or minimums.
4. Easier to obtain than a credit card.
5. Avoid finance, interest charges and late fees.
6. Multiple ways to earn points.
7. When making online purchases use your check card as a credit card to qualify for points.
8. Can use as a credit card instead of debit card for increased security protection.
9. Requirements: setup direct deposit, use online statements and/or banking, use a minimum number of times per month, login to your account at least once a month, may only earn interest on a portion of your deposit, transactions must post to your account no later than the qualification period.
10. Returning goods or canceling services treated the same as cash.
11. You don't have to carry cash, a checkbook or traveler's checks with you.

The cons of using a rewards checking account are:
1. You have to qualify.
2. Some merchants don’t require a signature for purchases under $50 or $25.
3. Using as a debit card for online purchases, paying bills or making a charitable donation may cause you to be ineligible for rewards.
4. ATM transactions may not earn rewards.
5. May require signature based transactions.
6. Interest rates may vary depending on the economy.
7. Some banks may charge a fee for using a check card as a debit card.
8. Some banks process debit charges although insufficient funds are in the account.
9. May not be accepted by some merchants unless it has a Visa or MasterCard logo.
10. May place a hold on your debit card for more than the cost of the purchase.
11. Provides less protection for purchases but you may dispute unauthorized charges or other mistakes within 60 days.

Comparison shop to find the best account for you using sites like

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Promising Help for Airline Travelers

The cost to fly increases every year. What airlines fail to realize is that with every price increase, the number of passengers decreases. Everyone recognizes the high cost of gas but what is the justification for charging $100 for an oversized bag, $9 for a bag of peanuts or charging up to $150 for a child traveling alone. It would help me and possibly other travelers if the airlines explained why they charge the additional fees and how they determine the various prices.

Airlines began charging for baggage when rising fuel prices started to rise in 2005 and reached an all-time high in 2008 when the recession occurred. Airlines complained that they were not making enough money which is why they had to start charging customers additional fees. I wonder if their executives took a reduced salary to help minimize the profit loss. Not!

Some airlines allow you to travel with your first bag for free but few and far in between. Here is a breakdown of the top airline baggage fees: AirTran 1st bag $20, Southwest 1st bag free, American 1st bag $25, Delta 1st bag $25, JetBlue 1st bag free, United 1st bag $25 and US Airways 1st bag $25. Airlines charge for meals, oversized bags, baggage, traveling with a pet and an unaccompanied minor fee just to name a few. Traveling fees can range from $3- $584 in addition to airfare.

Senator Mary Landrieu has introduced a bill that would allow all passengers no matter what seating to check one bag for free. Senator Landrieu stated, “Many airlines consider checking a bag not to be a right, but a privilege — and one with a hefty fee attached,” and stated her legislation would “guarantee passengers one checked bag without the financial burden of paying a fee, or the headache of trying to fit everything into a carry-on.”

The bill would allow airline passengers to check one bag for free and prohibit fees for regular sized carry-on baggage. The bill would require that airlines tell passengers about restrictions on weight, size and number of bags prior to arriving at the airport. It would also mandate that airlines make public their fees for all types of baggage and for preferred seating.

As travel fees continue to increase, passengers will continue to find ways to carry on as much baggage as possible to save money. Eventually the fees charged by the airlines will backfire on them and they will be forced to lower their prices or go out of business. During the Thanksgiving holiday more passengers rode Amtrak and Greyhound or drove instead of flying. Here are 10 tips for saving money when flying:

1. Dates. Fly before a holiday and return after a holiday. Consider flying on a Tuesday or Wednesday during non-holiday periods. Traveling during Christmas and New Year’s is more expensive than traveling during Thanksgiving.
2. Read. Sign up for frequent flyer programs and credit card or checking rewards program that offer airline points. Read the terms and look for partners that offer miles.
3. Delay. Consider purchasing a flight with a layover to earn more miles and get a cheaper fare.
4. Earn Miles. If you don’t fly enough to use your miles some programs allow you to cash in your miles for subscriptions, gift cards or donations.
5. Trade. Ask about trading your frequent flyer miles for another airline’s frequent flyer miles using sites like
6. Buy. You can buy frequent flyer miles to boost your account balance.
7. Borrow. If you know a friend or family member that is not using their frequent flyer miles they can share their frequent flyer miles with you through the airline or through
8. Sell. You can sell your frequent flyer miles at sites like
9. Weekend. Consider staying over on a Saturday night. This will save you money on airfare on hotel costs.
10. Early. Book your flight months in advance and sign up for flight alerts. Comparison shop to find the best deal.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Don't Be a Victim This Holiday Season

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

The unemployment rate is at 9.0%. Other Americans are only working part-time or minimum wage this holiday season people and thieves are more desperate than ever. Just today I went to the grocery store. A man bought a newspaper and then robbed the store.

Thieves are stealing gas, groceries out of the trunk of cars, performing snatch and grab where a purse is stolen out of a locked car, stealing grocery carts full of groceries when the customer walks to get their car; checking for unlocked car doors, apartment and homes doors or windows, stealing packages from UPS or FedEx and more.

Don’t be a victim this holiday season. It is better to be safe than sorry. Don’t think you are immune. Always be aware of your surroundings. Here are 26 tips to reduce your chances of being a victim this holiday season.

1. Lock all the doors and windows at your home when you are at home and away from home.
2. Get in your car quickly, don't linger. Lock your doors as soon as you get in the car.
3. 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. Don’t answer questions that indicate you live alone. Put away any valuables and personally identifying information.
4. 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.
5. Do not leave your child or pet alone in a locked car.
6. Don't leave anything in your car. Thieves are breaking into cars and stealing whatever they find, CD's, clothes, etc.
7. Don't use the ATM in a secluded, poorly lit area or at night.
8. Buy gas during the daytime.
9. Be on guard when riding in taxis, many drivers get robbed during the holidays.
10. 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.
11. Don't park near a van or truck this obstructs your vision especially at night.
12. Leave the mall before gets dark. Get a mall security guard to walk you to your car.
13. Don't go shopping when it’s dark but if you have to, go shopping with a friend or two.
14. Tear up boxes that contained expensive gifts and put them in a separate trash bag to deter thieves that may go through your trash.
15. When walking, shopping or driving use your Bluetooth. Talking without a Bluetooth is very distracting and thieves wait for the perfect opportunity to rob you while you are distracted.
16. If you are getting a package delivered have it delivered to a neighbor’s house.
17. If you order checks have them delivered to your bank.
18. If you go out of town use a timer on your lights. You can also have a friend or relative house sit while you are out of town.
19. If you go out of town, hold your mail at your local post office.
20. Don't carry your social security card or birth certificate card in your wallet.
21. Don't carry your checkbook unless you know you will write a check that day.
22. Only carry cash and possibly one credit card or your debit card.
23. If you come home when it's dark outside talk on your cell phone until you get in the house and lock the door.
24. If you are getting groceries out of your car close the car. When walking in your house lock your screen door behind you. Someone could walk in behind you without you knowing.
25. Avoid taking your trash out at night.
26. Don't fall for helping someone scams where someone asks you to walk away from your car to help someone.

Be safe this holiday!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Reduce Spending for Holiday Meals

During the holidays it is so easy to spend money with all the advertisers, family and friends asking you to buy this or buy that. Resist the temptation to spend money that you don’t have, buy more than you need, or buy something you probably will not use simply because it is on sale. Many times items that are on sale are not really a bargain. Do comparison shopping to see if you can find the item for a cheaper price at another store or online. Here are 9 ways to save money shopping for meals this holiday season:

1. Plan ahead. Don't wait until the day before the holiday to go shopping. Lines at the register are longer and the selection of items is limited. Try shopping at least a week in advance or early in the morning.
2. Menu. Create a menu ahead of time and stick to it. Consider low cost items for the menu such as potato salad, salads, sweet potatoes, casseroles, etc.
3. Budget. Create a food budget and don’t go over your budget.
4. Local shopping. Visit local vendors to purchase meats, fruits and vegetables which will be much cheaper than the grocery store.
5. Ask for help. If you are having breakfast, brunch or dinner at your house ask friends and family to bring a dish to help cut downs on costs.
6. Coupons. Use coupons. Shop at stores that offer double coupons.
7. Shopping List. Use a shopping list and stick to it.
8. Return. If you realize you bought too much of one item return it to the store for a refund.
9. Leftovers. Freeze leftovers or take to work for lunch.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Watch Out for Layaway Tricks and Gimmicks

Layaway programs became popular during the Great Depression. Layaway was used as a form of payment prior to credit cards. Layaway allowed consumers to purchase an item and pay for the item in installments. Once the item was paid in full, the consumer received the item.

As credit became available layaway programs became more popular with those who did not have access to credit – low-income shoppers. Layaway programs were phased out in the 1990s and most were completely eliminated.

Senator Charles Schumer is pushing that retailers inform consumers that layaway plans can actually cost a consumer more than using a credit card. Senator Schumer states that the cost of a layaway with a $5 fee can equal 40% interest over 2 months. Senator Schumer says if retailers don’t comply he will ask the Federal Trade Commission to determine if the practice is deceptive and misleading.

Senator Schumer said, “The holiday season is supposed to be about giving and not taking, but these layaway programs are taking advantage of people and charging them outrageous interest rates, under the guise of making it easier and more affordable to shop.”

Layaway is not a reason to spend more money than you should. Layaway requires you to be responsible shopper. Don’t go overboard this holiday season because of layaway. If you don’t have the money to buy something that means you can’t afford to buy it and don’t need it. You have to ask yourself why are stores bringing back layaway. Is it to help consumers? Wrong! Layaway was brought back so stores can make more money.

Some shoppers may feel the pressure of the holidays and may see layaway as a good option due to commercials and ease of the programs but don’t consider the hidden costs. Wal-Mart terminated its Christmas layaway program in 2006 but is bringing it back this holiday season. Some stores offer layaway for free year round in addition to the holiday shopping season. Some stores that offer layaway are: Wal-Mart, Sears, Best Buy, Kmart, TJMaxx, Burlington Coat Factory and Toys R Us. Here are 8 advantages of using layaway:

1. No interest.
2. Pay for items in installments over a period of time.
3. May be able to purchase items on sale.
4. No set payment schedule.
5. Purchase received when paid in full.
6. Easier and more convenient.
7. The fees and terms never change.
8. Doesn’t require a credit card or debit card.

Here are 13 disadvantages of using layaway:
1. Enrollment fee or service fee can range from $5 to 5% of the total purchase price.
2. Downpayments can range from 5 to 10% the total cost of the items.
3. Requires minimum purchase.
4. May have to pay the full cost of items instead of the sale price.
5. If an item goes on sale, you may not eligible to get the items at the new sales price.
6. If you miss a payment, your purchase may be canceled and you may lose any money paid or may be able to get store credit or a gift card.
7. Payments only accepted in person at the store.
8. Only available on certain items.
9. You have a certain amount of time to pay for the purchase usually 2 to 3 months.
10. Spend more in gas costs and mileage going to the store to make payments.
11. You may miss out on other sales such as Black Friday.
12. If the store goes out of business or files bankruptcy you lose your purchase and your money.
13. Online sites may require additional fees.

If you're unable to complete the payments by the due date, you have to pay a cancellation fee and/or restocking fee of $10 to $15. You may get back any money you paid on the items or lose all of your money depending on the store.

You don’t pay an interest rate using layaway but you do pay interest. You pay more for the purchase than if you just paid with cash. For example, if you put $300 worth of items in layaway, you will have to pay a service fee of $15 (5%) and another $30 (10%) for the down payment. The down payment is applied to your balance but the service fee is not. You will end up paying a total of $345 ($15 + $30) for your purchase or an additional 15% of the original cost of the item.

If you have to cancel your purchase you will pay $10-$15 so you will lose $25 - $30 (8.33 – 10%) of the cost of the item. Make sure you shop with a reputable name brand company.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Dangers of Mobile Banking

Over 230 million Americans use smartphones everyday but many are unaware of the dangers of using mobile banking. Smartphones have the potential to pose a real security threat. All smartphones should include good security software to allow users to block malware and locate a phone if lost. Users who access personal information or download applications are at greater risk.

Mobile banking also known as M-banking, mbanking or SMS banking allow customers to check balances, and perform account transactions using their smartphones. Some experts feel that Wells Fargo and Bank of America’s mobile banking services provide strong security and offer multiple downloadable applications. Mobile banking services vary based on the type of phone you are using, the cell phone plan and technology the bank is using.

There are several advantages to using mobile banking such as: easy access, many applications for smartphones, easy control of your money, availability 24/7 anywhere, anytime and no fees. Disadvantages to mobile banking is that mobile banking provides fewer services that internet banking and increases security risks.

Many big cities such as New York and Washington DC using mobile payments to allow drivers to pay for parking meters. Drivers register online and can pay for the parking and select the time they wish to purchase using an application or text message with the meter number.

Unfortunately mobile payments increases the chances of a driver getting a ticket as soon as the meter expires versus with traditional parking meters drivers may get lucky and get a few extra minutes on an expired parking meter.

BlackBerry software and core applications are digitally signed to ensure integrity preventing the smartphone functionality from being directly accessed by other applications. However, this does not mean that blackberry is immune to viruses or security risks.

iPhones do not provide security software because the iPhone does not share applications; the risk of spreading a virus from phone to phone is very low. If an iPhone has been altered or changed in any way this increases the chance of a security risk. This can cause the iPhone to download and run unauthorized software which can slow your system down and may lead to identity theft. However, this does not mean that iPhones are immune to viruses or security risks.

The Android software has less virus attacks because most of the viruses are written to attack Windows based programs. However Android is not immune to viruses. Here are the top 9 virus protection software for smartphones:

1. ESET Mobile Antivirus is only available for the Windows Mobile platform.
2. BullGuard Mobile Antivirus is available for pocket PCs and smartphones.
3. F-Secure Mobile Security Business is available on Windows Mobile and Symbian platforms.
4. Kapersky Mobile Security provides the same level of protection you would get on a computer.
5. McAfee Mobile Security for Enterprise antivirus anti-spyware software operates on any Windows Mobile based device.
6. Trend Micro Mobile Security is a package of Windows Mobile and Symbian antivirus software.
7. Norton Smartphone Security provides the same level of protection you would get on a computer. Norton Mobile Security Lite offers virus protection for smartphones and blackberries.
8. McAfee offer virus protection for smartphones and blackberries.
9. AVG offers virus protection for Androids.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Why You Should Give to Charities

Do you donate to charity? Do you know why you donate to a specific charity? Do you make anonymous contributions or like to receive recognition? Whom do you give to, and why? Do you donate to small charities or larger ones? Do you donate only to tax deductible charities?

Google executive Sheryl Sandburg states that less than 1/3 of the money that individuals gave to nonprofits in 2005 reached the poor. A study by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University showed that only 8% of charitable donations provide basic necessities, food and shelter. Sandberg names two possible explanations for this “charity gap”: (1) It is easier to give to those in our own communities than to the truly economically disadvantaged who are outside our immediate circles of relationships; and (2) donors do not fully understand where their contributions are going.

Sandburg encourages Americans to consider the disconnect between their desires to do help the poor and the destination of their money. Americans donate the most to religious groups, education, foundations, health care organizations, human services and arts and humanity groups.

The US average for donating to charities is 2% or $76. The wealthy spend 3% of their monthly spending towards charity. Most charitable states are: Delaware, Washington, DC , Kansas, Oklahoma is the top state, and Washington. The United States is in the lower half of the top 20 of all countries that donate to charities. Approximately 86% of professional athletes donate to charities.

People give based on their identity: who they are and how they view themselves. The degree to which identities are flexible, involve a willingness to act, and help make sense of the world has significant implications determining whether and how much people give.

Individuals who donate to charity may deduct contributions on their federal tax returns. Contributions must be made to legitimate charity to receive a deduction; contributions to a specific person may not be deducted. Keep careful records of money given through bank records or written communication from the charity, which includes the name of the organization, the date a contribution was given, and the amount.

For a deduction of $250 or more, individuals need written confirmation from the charity proving that the donation was contributed and if the charity provided any goods or services in exchange for the donation. Donating to charities provides a way for you to help others. You can donate to charities in several ways: through money, non-cash donations or time. Now more than ever charities need your help. There are so many people suffering in the United States and across the world but they need your help. Here are 6 questions to consider when donating to charities:

1. Is the charity recognized as a non-profit by the IRS? It’s necessary in order to write the donation off.
2. What percentage of my donation will go to the charities? Should be 75%+
3. How long have they been in operation? 5+ years, a proven track record is key
4. Have you been reducing services? If yes, that could be a red flag.
5. Do you have a year’s worth of operating capital? If yes, then it shows staying power.
6. Remember to get and store your receipt!

Here are 4 tips on donating to charities:
1. Charitable Organization. The organization must be recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit organization. Verify status by checking and
2. Keep receipts. If you donate a cash gift greater than $250, the charity must acknowledge the gift in writing. If less, you’ll need a receipt, canceled check, or credit card statement. If you do payroll deduction, you need the pay stub or W-2 and they’ll provide acknowledgement saying this deduction was a charitable contribution. For non-cash gifts, request a receipt with the name and location of the nonprofit, date of the donation, and description of the item.
3. Give appreciated assets. Appreciated assets include stocks and real estate. By donating an appreciated asset, you can get the tax deduction based on the current value, not the lower value of the property when it was obtained.
4. Volunteer work deduction. Out-of-pocket expenses related to the volunteer work, can be deducted.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

How A Tragedy Can Turn Into A Nightmare

The death of Rapper Heavy D reminded us that tomorrow is not promised. It also provides valuable lessons that if your finances are not in order a sudden tragedy can turn into a nightmare. Sudden tragedies are personal life events that occur and can affect your financial security and well-being. Additional sources of income can change without warning.

Many families are caught off guard when a family member dies unexpectedly and struggle trying to mourn for their loved one and handle financial payments and funeral arrangements. Keeping your finances in order and providing important information to your family relieves a burden on them when a death occurs and makes the healing and mourning process easier.

If your parents, spouse or children refuse to talk about your death, get a neutral party such as an insurance provider to talk to them. To help prevent a sudden tragedy from turning into a financial nightmare follow these 18 tips.

1. Will. Create a will and update it at least one a year or if you experience a serious health change or life event change.
2. Lawyer. Establish a power of attorney which allows a person provides a written authorization to act on another person's behalf.
3. Health care proxy. Advance directives or health care proxies identify a person's wishes and preferences for medical treatments. When a patient is incapable of making medical decisions, a health-care proxy can act on the patient's behalf to make decisions consistent with the patient's will.
4. Trust. A trust manages the distribution of a person's assets by transferring it to other people. Trusts can be used to shield assets from estate taxes.
5. Advance Arrangements. If you are dying you can make advance arrangements or prepay for your funeral. Let your family know your wishes. Consider bundling services or prepaying for items if you know your wishes will not change or you don’t plan on moving to another state. This also spreads out the costs over a period of time which reduces the financial burden. The risk of prepaying for services is that the company may go out of business before the time of death.
6. Instructions. Leave instructions with your spouse, child or close friend and the executor of your estate such as: location of important papers, account numbers, list of assets and debt with balance, monthly payment and due date; contact information for your lawyer, financial advisor, doctor, your wishes for funeral arrangements, etc.
7. Beneficiary. Ensure beneficiary information is reviewed yearly on all insurance and financial documents, accounts, benefits, will or when a life change occur such as marriage, divorce, birth of a child, etc. Provide your beneficiaries with information to access your accounts including usernames and passwords, and contact information for your service providers.
8. Store. Keep a copy of all financial and important documents in one location: social security card, insurance policies, birth certificate, deeds, marriage certificate, passport, driver’s license, stock certificates, retirement and bank statements, tax returns, car title, etc. Make at least 5 copies of each document and store in different locations. Buy a waterproof and fireproof safe and store a copy of all important documents in the safe.
9. Be aware. If your spouse handles all of the finances become knowledgeable about the finances too.
10. Update. Update the deceased person’s assets or joint accounts to the survivor’s name.
11. Debt. Don’t pay any debt of a deceased person until you verify with a lawyer.
12. Taxes. Hire a tax preparer or accountant to prepare your taxes. The tax preparer will be knowledgeable about laws that affect beneficiaries and estates.
13. Comparison Shop. Get estimates of various services needed so you make create a budget for those expenses if you don’t have the money upfront. The average cost of a funeral can range from $2,000 to $10,000. Ensure your insurance policy at a minimum covers the funeral arrangements.
14. Burial Fund. You can create a burial fund to cover the cost of funeral arrangements which will be an extra source of funds that can cover unexpected costs. The fund should also have enough money to cover monthly expenses for 3-6 months. The ideal option is for 9-12 months.
15. Supplemental insurance. Consider purchasing supplemental insurance is Medicare does not cover all of your services or if you are not eligible for Medicare.
16. Long-term insurance. Consider purchasing long-term care and disability insurance as early as possible to save money on the cost and reduce the cost of future medical expenses.
17. Medical. Obtain copies of your medical records each year.
18. Primary Contact. Designate a family member as your primary contact to keep in touch with family, friends, employer, and service providers.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Balance Transfers Impact Credit Scores

Repost from

Need money for a small home remodeling job, or to make much needed car repairs? Or do you simply want to use a zero percent balance transfer offer to pay down high-interest credit card debt?

Th_balance-transferBefore you apply for that new balance transfer card, make sure you know the ins and outs of how balance transfers impact FICO scores so you can minimize potential disadvantages.

Taking out a balance transfer may lower your FICO score in the short-term. But it can also help boost your score over time. Here are the three ways in which taking out a balance transfer will impact your credit score.

1. Opening a new account will shorten the average length of your credit history. Any time you open a new credit card, it will shorten the average length of your overall credit history.

“About 15 percent of your FICO score takes into account the length of your credit history,” says Kim McGrigg, Community and Media Relations Manager at Money Management International. “Part of that average is all your accounts, so when you open a new account, obviously it affects the average length of credit history. If you close the old credit account, it will impact scores even more.”

The good news is that the impact on credit scores from opening a new account is small and relatively short-lived, as long as you follow good credit management practices on the new account. The key is to keep that old account open and use the card occasionally so it’s still active.

2. Credit inquiries will ding your FICO score.
Each time you apply for credit, a lender will check your credit history to determine if you’re a good credit risk. This will show up on your credit report as a “hard inquiry,” which can lower your score.

According to FICO, one credit inquiry every once in a while will have minimal impact, shaving as little as four to eight points off credit scores, and the effect, again, is relatively short-lived. However, frequent credit inquiries affect FICO scores proportionately more and the impact lasts longer.

3. Your credit utilization rate will suffer or improve, depending on how you use your balance transfer. Next to paying bills on time, your credit utilization rate, or debt-to-credit ratio, is one of the most important components of your FICO score. It makes up a full 30 percent of scores.

And when you take advantage of a balance transfer offer, it can hurt or help your credit utilization rate, depending on how you use the loan.

For example, if you open a zero percent APR balance transfer credit card in order to fund a small home remodeling project or large purchase that you plan to pay off gradually, your debt-to-credit utilization will increase, lowering your score. The impact may be blunted by the fact that your overall credit limit will also increase. However, if the loan is large enough, your score will still be negatively impacted until you pay down the loan.

On the other hand, if you take out a balance transfer to pay off existing high-interest debt on another credit card, your overall utilization will decrease. The amount of debt that you have will stay the same, but with the new credit card, you will have a greater overall credit limit, so the total debt-to-credit utilization will improve.

In addition, your within-card utilization may also improve, which help boost your score. For example, let’s say you apply for a new balance transfer credit card and get a card with a $10,000 limit. If you transfer $5,400 from a card with a $6,000 credit limit to a card with a $10,000 limit, you will lower your overall credit utilization — and you will lower the within-card utilization as well (from 90 percent utilization to 50 percent).

Your credit score may be temporarily dinged by opening a new account. However, because credit utilization accounts for a full 30 percent of your score and opening new accounts only affects 10 percent of your score, the overall impact will still be positive.

However, with that said, be aware that having extra credit available could also turn out to be a credit score liability if you’re not careful, warns McGrigg, especially if you keep your old account open and active.

“It’s true that if you don’t close the old account, you might actually have a chance to improve scores,” says McGrigg. “However, that’s only true if you don’t charge the account right up again. For many people, having an account with a zero balance is too tempting, and they might end up twice as much in debt as before.”

It’s also important that you don’t get complacent, warn experts. Transferring your debt to a lower interest balance transfer card may be a step in the right direction — but there’s still more work to be done.

“So many people think that [by] moving to a better account with a better interest rate, their problems are solved,” warns credit repair expert and financial literacy advocate Harrine Freeman, “But they’re really just moving money. Don’t get fooled by tricks and gimmicks. You don’t know what will happen in another year; you could move, you could lose your job. It’s best to just pay your debt the old-fashioned way.”


Thursday, November 03, 2011

$10 Million Gone Wrong

The Kim Kardashian wedding is an example of how one can waste money. It is estimated that her wedding cost $10 million. This is an example of $10 million gone wrong! It is reported that Kim Kardashian and her husband Kris Humphries received wedding gifts and some products and services free of charge. Other vendors provided discounted products and services.

It is reported that Kim Kardashian and her hubby earned over $18 million for their wedding: $100,000 from vacation photos in Mexico, $15 from E! for the wedding special, $2.5 million for wedding photos according to In Touch Weekly senior editor Dorothy Cascerceri. Kim Kardashian was also paid $1.5 million dollar deal for exclusive rights to wedding photos $50,000 for her bachelorette party at Club Tao in Las Vegas.

Kim Kardashian and Kim Humphries spent: $2 million for her engagement ring, $750,000 for snacks, $150,000 for hair and makeup, $200,000 for her wedding band and $2 million for flower arrangements.

Kim Kardashian borrowed jewelry worth $10 million – earrings valued at $5 million and a headpiece valued at $2.5 million. Kim received 3 free Vera Wang gowns valued at $60,000, Lehr and Black wedding invitations for free valued at $10,000 and a cake from Hansen’s Cake for free valued at $6,000.

Many believe the wedding was a publicity stunt. Time will only tell the real story. This wedding has caused several different reactions and anger among some due to the price tag.

If the companies that worked on Kim Kardashians wedding hired unemployed workers for at least 50% of the staff, what a difference it could have made in hundreds of lives. The average cost of a wedding $27,900. The average cost of three months of marriage counseling is $1,200. Had they gone to marriage counseling, they could have saved $10 million.

Events like this are a disappointment to the 14 million people unemployed, 8.8 million part-time employees; 3.5 million homeless Americans, 35.9 million Americans living in poverty and over 45 million Americans do not have health insurance.

This wedding is a good example of how not to spend money even if you can afford it. No matter what type of event you have you should always find a cheaper price. The truly wealthy spend money that they won’t miss. The rich spend money but have to continue to work to earn more money. Since most Americans are neither, it is best to spend less than you earn, comparison shop to find the cheapest price to stretch your money and only buy things that will have a lasting value instead of things that depreciate quickly and have no value like expensive weddings.

Here are 9 ways to save money on a wedding:
1. Date. Schedule the wedding during off-peak times such as October, November or January through March. Choose a weekend such as Friday or Sunday night. Saturdays are the most expensive.
2. Venue. Choose a non-traditional venue such as an outdoor garden, restaurant, home, or event hall.
3. Dress. Purchase the dress during sales, at consignment shops, designer or sample sales, eBay, or a consider a used gown.
4. Reception. Consider having a reception during the day. Brunch or lunch is cheaper than dinner. Select inexpensive options such as chicken or pasta. Don’t provide more than 2 options for guests to help keep costs low.
5. Drinks. Offer a cash bar or limited bar to keep costs low.
6. Cake. Choose a smaller cake just enough for invited guests; keep the design simple to save money.
7. Flowers. Spend money on your bouquet but choose seasonal or local flowers and keep arrangements simple.
8. Photographer. Get referrals from friends or family or look for inexpensive packages. Spend money on the most important pictures and consider hiring an intern and student for additional pictures.
9. Invitations. You can create your own invitations and get them printed at FedEx Kinkos or hire someone with calligraphy skills or an art or graphic design student.

You can have a nice wedding for less than $20,000. If you are in debt, have bad credit or the balance in your savings account is less than the cost of your wedding, consider changing your spending habits and your values regarding money. You don’t won’t to end up like Kim Kardashian spending lots of money with nothing to show for it.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Breakdown of The Americans Jobs Act

The Americans Jobs Act was submitted to Congress to help spur the economy and create jobs for millions of Americans but Congress did not approve it. The Americans jobs act has 5 key components: tax cuts to help small businesses grow, rebuilding and modernizing America, help unemployed Americans, tax cuts for employees and families and funding of the act through the long-term deficit reduction plan.

The Act would lower veteran unemployment. A new Returning Heroes Tax Credit up to $5,600 would be available for veterans who have been unemployed at least 6 months. A Wounded Warriors Tax Credit up to $9,600 would increase the tax credit for firms that hire veterans with service related disabilities that have been unemployed for at least 6 months.

The Act would extend unemployment insurance for 6 million unemployed Americans and provide services to help them become employed. The Act would also provide tax credits to employers that hire long-term unemployed. The Act would also provide support for summer and year round employment for youth and provide training to youth and adults. The Act would also work to eliminate discrimination against the unemployed.

Public Service Employees
The Act would prevent up to 280,000 teacher layoffs due to state and local budget reductions and keep police officers and firefighters employed. The Act would expand wireless internet services for police, fire fighters, and emergency services personnel.

Foreclosed Properties
The Act would rrehabilitate hundreds of thousands of foreclosed and vacant properties across the country; support banks to buy, hold and redevelop distressed properties and establish property maintenance programs for previously vacant and abandoned properties.

Small Businesses
The Americans Jobs Act would provide tax cuts to help small businesses who provide 90% of the jobs in the economy. The tax cuts would be available regardless of size or type of business. A 50% reduction in payroll tax would be available to small employers on their first $5 million in payroll reducing the tax to 3.1% in 2012. The payroll tax cut is believed to be one of the most effective ways to create jobs and reduce costs for small businesses.

The Act would help small business startups and existing businesses expand and accelerate government payments to small contractors. A one-stop online site would be created that small businesses could use to access government programs and services to help them compete globally. The Act would delay the Bush Administration’s 3% withholding of payments made to contractors.

The Act would temporarily increase the limit on SBA guaranteed surety bonds from $2 to $5 million to help small businesses compete for and win bids on infrastructure projects. The Act would also work with the Securities and Exchange Commission to reduce regulations that address costs incurred by small businesses complying with the Sarbanes-Oxley auditing requirements.

The Act would extend the 100% expensing provision that rewards companies for making investments by allowing them to deduct the full value (bonus depreciation) of investments such as wireless, energy efficient, technology improvements and other advances through 2012.

The Act will reform the patent system and allow small businesses to get their ideas to market faster to help grow the economy and provide innovative solutions. The Act would repair and modernize classrooms and hire laid off teachers. It would also repair and modernize roads, railways and airports.

What is the reason Congress didn’t want to approve this Act or at least a part of it? Write your congressman to ask them to help the President improve the economy or develop their own bills to help improve the economy.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Life Raft for Student Loans

Starting on July 1, 2014 the federal Income-Based Repayment (IBR) program would allow existing student loan borrowers to reduce their monthly student loan payments from 15% to 10% of their income.

President Obama recently developed a proposal called “Pay As You Earn” is a revision of the current IBR program that will help recent graduates can reduce student loan payments to 10% of their income starting in 2012 and would assistance more than 1.6 million people. The “Pay As You Earn” will also make it easier to participate in the program and work to educate student loan borrowers on the program.

The IBR is a repayment plan that caps your required monthly student loan payments on the major types of federal student loans at an amount based on income, family size, and state residence and if the IBR payment is lower than your current student loan payment. If you are married and file jointly, your spouse’s income is considered for eligibility in the IBR program.

All Stafford, PLUS, and Consolidation Loans available through the Direct Loan or Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) programs are eligible. Loans currently in default and Parent PLUS Loans are not eligible. The program may increase the length of the loan repayment and accrue additional interest over the life of the loan. The program is most helpful for recent graduates or those who make a modest income.

Student loan borrowers with multiple student loans are being encouraged by the Department of Education to consolidate their FFEL loans into the Direct Loan program. The terms and conditions of the loans would remain the same, and starting in January 2012, would allow borrowers to make only one monthly payment.

Borrowers who take advantage of consolidation may be eligible to receive up to a 0.5% reduction on their interest rate: a 0.25% interest rate reduction on consolidated FFEL loans and 0.25% interest rate reduction on the entire consolidated FFEL and Direct Loan balance.

Contact your student loan servicer to find out how to sign up for the IBR program. Provide your feedback to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Department of Education on the new “Know Before You Owe” project to create a financial aid disclosure form to help current and prospective college students better understand the type and amount of aid they qualify for and compare financial aid packages offered by different colleges which would outline their total estimated student loan debt, monthly loan payments after graduation and additional costs not covered by federal student aid.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How to Save Money on Insurance

Many consumers hate getting insurance because you feel like you rarely need to use it and is only need just in case something happens. For that reason, many consumers don’t purchase insurance. But, when that unexpected event happens, the cost of not having insurance can range up to the thousands.

Insurance is a form of protection against loss, damage or theft. Insurance should not be used as a form of investment or to get extra money. Insurance should provide enough to reimburse for loss or damages. Three benefits to having insurance are:

a. Can be used to reimburse for a loss that occurs
b. Protects against harm to something or someone
c. Saves you money in the future

There are several types of insurance available: life, health, auto, fire, home, dental, flood, disability (short-term and long-term), earthquake, umbrella policies and many more. The three most important types of insurance everyone should have are: disability, life, car and health.

Disability insurance is used if you have a short-term or long-term medical condition that prevents you from working and ensures that you continue to receive a paycheck, usually at least 60% of your current salary. Life insurance is used if a family member dies and should be enough to at least cover the costs of the burial. Health insurance reduces costs if you require medical treatment, preventive care or prescription medicine. Car insurance should be enough to cover the cost if you hit someone or if someone who is uninsured hits you.

If your employer does not provide health, life or disability insurance you can purchase insurance on your own. Comparison shop to find the best rate and services that you need. You can contact the Better Business Bureau or search their website for a company's reliability report. You can also comparison shop online with companies such Bankrate or Progressive.

Get a free analysis of your existing insurance coverage to see if you have enough or too little coverage. Many consumers have more coverage than needed. Many consumers get the coverage suggested by their insurance agent and don’t bother to answer questions or comparison shop. Here are some tips on how to save money on insurance.

Car Insurance
1. Comparison shop
2. Increase deductible
3. Only buy what you need
4. Ask for discounts
5. Keep a good driving record
6. Drive a car with money saving features
7. Drop collision or comprehensive
8. Keep good credit
9. Ask for an annual review to make any necessary adjustments

Homeowners Insurance
1. Comparison shop
2. Increase deductible
3. Only get enough for rebuilding costs not the value
4. Make your home disaster proof or resistant
5. Make your home secure
6. Ask for discounts
7. Keep good credit
8. Ask for an annual review to make any necessary adjustments
9. Pay insurance yourself instead of the mortgage company

Renter’s insurance
1. Comparison shop
2. Increase deductible
3. Only get enough for replacement costs not the value
4. Make your rental secure
5. Ask for discounts
6. Keep good credit
7. Ask for an annual review to make any necessary adjustments
8. Choose a good location
9. Reputation of company

Life Insurance
1. Comparison shop
2. Get coverage based on your needs not based on your wants
3. Get term life until you 60 or over then switch to whole life
4. Improve your health and ask for a reevaluation if you are in a high rate/risk policy
5. Ask for discounts
6. Keep good credit
7. Ask for an annual review to make any necessary adjustments
8. Purchase insurance with no fees
9. Pay annually or quarterly

Health Insurance
1. Comparison shop
2. Exercise, improve your eating habits and improve your health. Ask for a reevaluation if you are in a high rate/risk policy
3. Ask for an annual review to make any necessary adjustments
4. Keep good credit
5. Ask for discounts or reduced rates
6. Purchase through your employer
7. Get standard coverage at a minimum
8. Use health clinics
9. Purchase generic prescription drugs

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Domestic Violence - Do You Know the Signs

Domestic Violence comes in many forms: physical, sexual, financial, emotional (verbal) or threats or violence. Domestic violence also includes behavior that can intimidate, hurt, humiliate, injure, blame, scare or harass someone. If you have been a victim get professional help via a counselor, therapist, pastor or psychiatrist.

Domestic violence can have a tremendous impact on your life and the life of your children. Getting help is the only way gain strength to prevent being abused again. Every 9 seconds a woman is assaulted. Most domestic violence cases are never reported to the police. Women ages 20-24 are at the greatest risk for domestic violence.

If you are someone you know has been a victim of domestic violence encourage them to leave their current situation and get help. Here are some financial tips to help former or current victims of domestic violence. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline these are signs of domestic violence.

Emotional Abuse:

• Calls you names, insults you or continually criticizes you.
• Does not trust you and acts jealous or possessive.
• Tries to isolate you from family or friends.
• Monitors where you go, who you call and who you spend time with.
• Watches your time, how you long it takes you to go somewhere and come back.
• Does not want you to work.
• Controls finances or refuses to share money.
• Punishes you by withholding affection.
• Expects you to ask permission to do something.
• Threatens to hurt you, the children, your family or your pets.
• Humiliates you in any way.
• Yells at you and then later apologizes.

Physical Abuse:
• Damages property when angry (throws objects, punches walls, kicked doors, etc.).
• Pushed, slapped, bitten, kicked or chokes you.
• Abandoned you in a dangerous or unfamiliar place.
• Scared you by driving recklessly.
• Used a weapon to threaten or hurt you.
• Forced you to leave your home.
• Trapped you in your home or kept you from leaving.
• Prevented you from calling police or seeking medical attention.
• Hurt your children.
• Used physical force in sexual situations.

Sexual Abuse:
• Views women as objects and believes in rigid gender roles.
• Accuses you of cheating or is often jealous of your outside relationships.
• Wants you to dress in a sexual way.
• Insults you in sexual ways or calls you sexual names.
• Has ever forced or manipulated you into to having sex or performing sexual acts.
• Held you down during sex.
• Demanded sex when you were sick, tired or after beating you.
• Hurt you with weapons or objects during sex.
• Involved other people in sexual activities with you.
• Ignored your feelings regarding sex.

Here are 13 financial tips to help you get back on you recover.

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
10. Start a retirement account
11. Create a will
12. Develop a support network to get advice, support and encouragement
13. Seek professional help

Here are 8 resources to help you get out of your current situation.
1. or call 800-799-7233
4. Berry, D.B. (1995) Domestic Violence Sourcebook. Los Angeles: RGA Publishing Groups, Inc.
5. Brewster, S. (2000) To Be An Anchor in the Storm: A Guide for Families and Friends of Abused Women. Seattle: Seal Press.
6. Browne, A. (1989) When Battered Women Kill. New York: Free Press.
7. Brownmiller, S. (1993) Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape. New York: Random House.
8. Davies, J., Lyon, E. & Monti-Catania, D. (1998) Safety Planning with Battered Women: Complex Lives/Difficult Choices. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Retirement Tips

This is National Retirement Week. Have you saved enough for your retirement? If not, why? There are many ways to plan for retirement. Whatever method you choose it is a known fact that unless you are born in a wealthy family you will have to save for retirement. If you retire at age 65 you could live another 10-20 years which means you will need on average $1,000,000 to $1,600,000 depending on your salary.

This translates into contributing to a retirement account for a minimum of 20 years depending on your salary but more likely for 25 to 30 years or more on a consistent basis. The key to planning for retirement is to start planning as soon as your get your first job, planning early eliminates the need to play catch-up in your later years in life.

However, it is never too late to plan for retirement. No matter what your age you should put some money aside for your retirement even if you have to get a job after retirement which is better than having no money saved at all. Many people do not save enough and end up having to work well past their desired retirement age or have to get part-time jobs because social security is not enough to cover all of their expenses. Don't panic and get overwhelmed by the media, fear, anxiety and nervousness of those around you. Don’t let emotions cause you to make bad decisions. If it sounds too good to be true it is. Don’t let someone invest money for you that is not a licensed financial advisor.

How to Save for Retirement:
1. CDs/Bonds/Mutual Funds
2. Pay down debt
3. Contribute extra to your 401(k) or other retirement account
4. The motto is "buy low, sell high" is truly appropriate during an economic crisis. This is a great time to buy stocks or to invest in a mutual fund. When the market bounces back you will achieve great gains.
5. Sign up for matching employer contributions (free money)
6. Increase retirement contributions with each salary increase
7. Save at least 10-20% towards retirement
8. Scale back expenses within at least 1 to 5 years prior to your retirement date
9. Don't depend on your spouse's retirement account because your spouse may not have saved enough money for retirement
10. Review allocations yearly to make any necessary adjustments. Check your statement for any errors and notify your financial planner immediately.

Diversify at a minimum:
Pre-retirement invest 60% stocks, 40% bonds/cash; near retirement (5-10 years) invest 40% stocks, 60% bonds/cash; during retirement invest 20% stocks, 80% bonds/cash.

What to invest in:
1. Invest in emerging market funds (foreign markets)
2. Equities (mutual funds) or other items that return a dividend or capital gains
3. Pharmaceuticals
4. Oil and petroleum
5. Commodities (corn, soy, wheat, coffee beans, petroleum, copper, coal, salt, sugar, soy beans, aluminum, rice, gold, silver, palladium, platinum, electricity, gas, oil, etc.) when the prices are low.
6. Real estate, if the home’s value is low it can continue to decrease but over a long period of time you will gain equity and can make a profit
7. Defensive stocks don’t depend on economic prosperity such as the food and beverage industry, manufacturing companies such as Philip Morris, Proctor & Gamble and alcohol and tobacco
8. Under-priced stocks (offer price is lower than price of the first trade, however they carry a higher risk factor because they may not rise in the future) – IPO’s, airline stocks, small cap stocks, etc.
9. Utility stocks – water, gas, electric, telephone companies
10. Green technology and green energy stocks for long-term gains such as Canon, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Nike, Whole Foods, Google, etc.
11. Invest in Dividend Reinvestment Plan (DRIPs) to offset any losses you may have experienced or use it as an easy way to start investing.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The New Credit Score - Help or Hurt

Many consumers have been plagued with the never ending changing rules for calculating credit scores, it seems as soon as consumers understand the system it changes. Once again the FICO company is changing the credit score rules.

Due to the recession or one small transaction many consumers are on the line between good and bad credit, one small slip up could plunge their score in the bad credit zone, one debt payoff could boost their score to good credit and save them in interest and fees.

The new FICO8 credit score can potentially help consumers obtain higher credit scores or lower scores for others, some consumers score will not be affected at all. The FICO score ranges from 300-850, 850 being the highest score. FICO updates its scoring model every 2-3 years.

FICO claims the new scoring model is more precise because it considers more types of consumers. FICO8 rates people who have missed payments on small debts under $100 easier which could help millions of consumers improve their credit scores. These types of accounts will not have the same impact as a missed mortgage or credit card payment. The FICO 8 considers people with high credit utilization rates (credit card balances) to be higher risks than under the previous FICO model.

Major lenders have been slow to switch to the new scoring model. Three years after the actual release, most major lenders still have yet to adopt it and is absent in the mortgage industry.

In June 2011, Citibank implemented the new FICO8 credit scoring model. Bank of America is in the process of implementing the FICO8 scoring model. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac continue to use the older FICO credit scoring model.

Almost half of consumers have FICO8 scores that are close to their scores from the previous version of the FICO score. The main ways to maintain a good credit score under the FICO8 model are: pay your bills on time, keep credit card balances low, and open a new credit account only when you need it.

The FICO8 will look at high credit card balances differently and maxed out credit cards will lower credit scores more. Isolated late payments will weigh less heavily on your credit score. Multiple late payments will weigh more and decrease your credit score. Authorized credit card accounts will be included when calculating your credit score. The FICO8 score will ignore collection accounts with balances less than $100. The five major actions that can greatly lower your credit score are: maxed out credit cards, foreclosure, bankruptcy, 30 day or more late payments, debt settlement or loan modification.

FICO says the new score will help consumers. We will just have to wait and see.