You know Gray Hair; you know Gray Water. But do you know Grey Charges?

February 24th, 2015

IMG_0011Gray hair may be on your head or your hair dresser only knows.

Gray Water is wastewater from wash hand basins, showers and baths or discharge from laundry, dishwashers and kitchen sinks that are recycled on-site for flushing toilets.

Grey Charges appears on a credit card statement that you can’t figure out.  One in four people are victims of these charges. Here are some of the following types:

  • Unintended subscriptions – you thought you made a one-time purchase, but it was really a subscription.
  • Zombie fees – membership fees that you had cancelled, but the fees will not stop.
  • Unwanted auto-renewals – monthly, quarterly or yearly basis.
  • Free trial to pay – when a free trial is over the seller converts it to a paid subscription.
  • Negative option – you bought one product, but did not realize that you were buying others at the same time.
  • Cost creep – price continues to go up.

To protect yourself from grey charges:

  • Before you buy, read the terms of service. Disclosures about fees may be hidden or near the end, so take the time to read the entire document.
  • Mark your calendar as a reminder to cancel free trials by a set date.
  • Read your credit card statement closely. Pay attention to the name s of companies and charges for small amounts.
  • Contact the seller to have the grey charges removed.
  • Dispute the charges with your credit card company in writing.

~Susan

Consumer Knowledge, Credit, Saving, Smart shopping

America Saves Week – Time to Start Saving

February 22nd, 2015

America Saves is a national campaign involving more than 1,000 non-profit, government, and corporate groups that encourages individuals and families to save money and build personal wealth. Consumer Federation of America is comprised of over 270 consumer education, advocacy, and cooperative organizations dedicated to advancing the consumer interest.

February 23 – 28, 2015 is an annual opportunity for organizations to promote good savings behavior and a chance for individuals to assess their own saving status. The Week 125183558is coordinated by America Saves and the American Savings Education Council. Started in 2007, the Week is an annual opportunity to promote good savings behavior and a chance for individuals to assess their own saving status. Thousands of organizations participate in the Week, reaching millions of people.

The 2014 Annual National Survey Assessing Household Savings (released during ASW) revealed that while most Americans are meeting immediate financial needs, they are worse off than several years ago.

  • One-third of Americans feel prepared for their long term financial future.
  • 68 percent reported that they are spending less than their income and saving the difference. It was 73 Percent in 2010.
  • Nearly two-thirds of respondents (64%) said that they “have sufficient emergency savings to pay for unexpected expenses like car repairs or a doctor visit.” It was 71 percent in 2010.
  • 76 percent said that they are reducing their consumer debt, or are consumer debt-free. It was 79 percent in 2010.

With more encouragement and support, more Americans can be persuaded to:

  • Set a Goal.
  • Make a Plan.
  • Save Automatically.

Savings isn’t something you do once a year. It’s important to save, or to establish goals for saving, but the role that savings plays in helping us achieve our individual needs and goals, America Saves Week is a great time to revisit goals – and to start saving, or start saving more.

~Susan

 

Goals, Saving, Uncategorized

Breaking news: Health Enrollment Extended for those with Penalties

February 20th, 2015

HI Marketplace logoPeople who didn’t really understand the requirement to have health insurance until they file their tax return and discover they owe a penalty have now been offered a second chance! If people file their 2014 tax return, discover the penalty, and realize that they wish they had health insurance in place for 2015, they are allowed to take advantage of a “Special Enrollment Period,” even though regular open enrollment ended February 15.

 

Officials  announced today that this group of taxpayers can take advantage of a special enrollment period through April 30.  Since the fee for not having insurance will be higher on the 2015 return, even those who owe only a small penalty on their 2014 return would be wise to explore their options.

Go to www.healthcare.gov or call 800-318-2596 to enroll.  Or to find someone who can help you through the enrollment process go to https://www.getcoveredamerica.org/connector/  

I hope many folks take advantage of this extended opportunity.

~Barb

Consumer Knowledge, Insurance

Proof of Health Insurance

February 19th, 2015

tax-sign-sm-15457-53DG-1804x2712During this first tax-filing season since the requirement to carry health coverage has been in place, lots of taxpayers are worried about proving they have health insurance. This year there is no need to submit proof with your return, but it is wise to place some type of documentation with your tax return before you file it away at the end of the season.  Doing so will ease your worries if the IRS ever needs to follow up with you for more information.

If you purchase insurance individually, you may have the greatest need to maintain documentation that shows how many months of the year you were covered, the type of coverage, and premiums paid.  Those who are covered through an employer plan or a public program such as Medicare may have an easier task, but should also keep some type of documentation.  You should keep these – as you do other tax records – generally for three years after you file your tax return.

In future years, showing proof of health coverage may become more important, so we might as well start off on the right track with our 2014 tax files. To find other tax-related information about the health care law, visit irs.gov/aca.

~Barb

Consumer Knowledge, Insurance ,

“Addicted” to Tax Refunds?

February 17th, 2015

Tax-cash-sm-15495-46DG-1804x2712Getting a large tax refund is common for moderate-income families, thanks to tax credits that are designed to provide a boost for families with children.  Many families use those tax refunds to make important purchases, or they save them for “periodic” expenses – predictable expenses that come once or twice a year, such as back-to-school costs, holiday costs, 6-month car insurance payments, or day care costs during the summer when children are out of school.

Those can be good things – smart ways to use a tax refund.  But what happens when the tax refund disappears?

  • The child tax credit disappears when children turn 17.
  • The Earned Income Credit disappears when children are out of school or turn 24, whichever comes first.
  • Even the benefit of claiming kids as dependents disappears, hopefully, at some point.

The “disappearing tax refund” does not mean that bills will disappear.  Holidays and six-month car insurance bills will still come.  If you have gotten in the habit of using your tax refund to cover those expenses, you may find yourself in a jam, unable to cover key expenses.

As our children grow older, it’s important that we reduce our dependence on big tax refunds, because we know they won’t continue forever.  One way to break that addiction is to begin a regular saving habit long before the tax refund fades away.  If you start small, saving $20/month at first, and gradually increasing the amount over a few years, you may find that it’s easier than you expected!

Of all possible addictions, the tax refund addiction is far from the worst.  Even so, taking steps now to gradually break the addiction can help you avoid suffering from withdrawal symptoms down the road.

~Barb

Uncategorized

The TV is Listening!

February 12th, 2015

tvNews flash: if you have a “smart” TV it could be giving others access to your personal conversations. That was the message my husband gleaned from his smart phone news service app.  He raised the question because our TV is the guilty brand. “No problem”, I replied, “it’s not a smart TV.”

Still…. his question led me to explore the TV’s capacity to connect through the modem at the house; I discovered the connection would need an additional part from the satellite service — a part that we don’t have at this time — so for now we’re protected. I know they can collect data from the phone line connection, but voice isn’t an option.

The news reported that voice signals picked up are sent to a third party that takes your verbal commands and changes them into text controlling the TV. This voice-activation service is activated by the TV owner; if you did so, you may not have taken the time to read the fine print that explained what personal rights you were giving up for the convenience. There is the possibility that the voice conversations, just like Facebook posts and other social media, then become public information that can be accessed for legal issues. Maybe that’s why the manufacture is making the public announcement — I doubt it’s a way to boost sales.

If your wireless world has been expanding at home you might want to review a video giving you tips on how to set up your wireless network to provide more privacy, at http://www.onguardonline.gov/media/video-0009-wireless-security . The video focuses on security for your laptop or tablet, but your “smart” TV would be operating through that same system. It might be helpful to review your wireless modem settings, and possibly make some adjustments, at least until more information is made available from the television manufacturers about additional safe guards.  You’ll want to stay tuned in as new information arises, so you can make an informed decision about whether the convenience of verbal access to the TV is superior to using the remote control or the hidden buttons on the side of the TV.  Just think: those used to be dials you had to cross the room to turn!

Joyce

 

Consumer Knowledge

Education Credits: Changes from the IRS

February 11th, 2015

 

Students enrolled in post-secondary education receive a Form 1098T showing qualified tuition and fee expenses as well as the amount of scholarship and grant financial aid income they received in that calendar year.  This form is a key in claiming the American Opportunity Credit, a valuable tax credit which can be claimed based on up to $4,000 in qualified education expenses. Up until now, the method to determine what expenses could be used toward the American Opportunity Credit was to subtract:  (Tuition & fees) – (Scholarships & Grants) = Eligible Expenses.  Since many students receive substantial scholarships and grants, it was often difficult to find many expenses that were eligible for the American Opportunity Credit.

A new interpretation by the IRS allows an individual to claim all or part of Pell Grant dollars and any non-restricted scholarships (i.e. those that do not specifically state they must be used for tuition) as taxable income. In so doing, they indicate that they did not spend those funds on tuition, but rather on room and board or other expenses; this enables them to claim that they paid tuition and fees (all or part) with other funds, and therefore makes those payments qualified expenses for purposes of the education credit.

The American Opportunity Credit can result in a $2,500 tax credit; $1,500 to reduce tax liability and $1000 in additional refund dollars. Two details make this a decision to consider, rather than an automatic reaction.

  • Any return that requests the credit based on this new method of computation will likely be held by the IRS for payment until confirmation is received from the education institution that the claim is accurate, resulting in an automatic delay in refunds.
  • The added income will also have an impact on the state and federal income taxes the filer will be obligated to pay.

If you usually pay a professional to prepare your return, you’ll need to provide them with a detailed sheet about the financial aid received for the tax year, tuition paid and receipts for books. If you prepare your own return be sure to look at the options:

  1. Apply for the credit if eligible
  2. If you aren’t eligible for the credit based on the 1098T information; determine if there are allowable funds that can be claimed for income and evaluate the refundable amounts, credits and impact on your state return.
  3. Using the qualified expenses as an adjustment to income

Check with your tax professional for details. Accurate determination of qualified expenses, taxable grant and scholarship dollars, and application of non-taxable scholarships to tuition must be completed.

Joyce

Consumer Knowledge

Retire On The Money You Make As A Kid

February 5th, 2015

teenworking.2I have had a lot of jobs in my life…mowed and shoveled snow for everyone on our block; baby sat; cleaned house for an elderly neighbor. Then came the high school jobs with W-2’s: the local Dime Store, DQ, corn de-tasseling, waiting tables at a restaurant, and working in a greenhouse. Most of that money went into savings for college. Occasionally I bought a “want” – a sewing machine and a 10-speed bike with handbrakes.

I have no idea how much money I made between the ages of 16 and 21, but had I known…

A child who has a job that earns enough money to contribute $4000 each year to a Roth IRA from age 16 to 21, will have $2,045,042 at the age of 65…TAX-FREE! (Assuming the Roth IRA earns 10% per year) That’s if they never add another penny to the account after age 21.

So, what does $4000 a year look like to a kid? That is $333 a month. The average Waitress, Dishwasher, or Cashier makes between $8 and $9 an hour. At $8, the kid needs to work 42 hours a month…about 10 hours a week.

The money you put into a Roth is not tax deductible but a child’s low tax bracket still makes this a good retirement plan. Think about the youth in your life: how much money do they make each month and where does THAT money go?  ~Brenda

Goals, Saving

Changes in Mail Services

February 3rd, 2015

mailboxJanuary 9 was the last day my small town Post Office was open for an eight-hour day. Our Saturdays did not change; still 8:00 to 9:15 AM. If I need to weigh a package or buy stamps during the week, I need to make it to the window between 7:30 and 11:30 AM, which was a bit of a challenge since I am on the road to work by 7:30 AM.

I had bookmarked a web page that lists all the apps made by or for the U.S. Government. Their list had grown since I had checked last, and…sure enough…there is now a Postal App. The app allows you to order free supplies (shipping boxes, envelopes and stamps); schedule a pickup; calculate the cost based on weight, size and priority; look up zip codes and ask to have your mail held while you are gone on vacation. When I click on PRICES, I can calculate the cost to mail my package, pay for postage with a credit card, print out the postage on paper, tape it to my package, and put the package in my mailbox. If the package is too big, I can SCHEDULE A PICKUP or drop it in the big blue mailbox outside of the Post Office.

Rural delivery has not changed…mail will still be delivered 6 days a week. Even though I live in town, I can receive rural delivery by sticking a mailbox on the street in front of our home. Between the USPS Mobile App and mail delivery to my box as the Postman heads out of town on his rural deliveries, I may never set foot in a Post Office ever again.

How have you had to make adjustments due to changes with your local Postal Service? ~Brenda

Consumer Knowledge, Smart shopping

How Do You Save Money?

January 29th, 2015

BusinessWoman-QThere are lots of ways to save money – which method works best for you?  In a recent survey, America Saves* gained information on people’s preferred way to save.

Survey participants were 1220 America Savers  – these are people who set a savings goal through America Saves between January 2011 and January 2014.  The findings provide insight into the savings attitudes and behaviors of America Savers.

Where are you saving your money?

The survey found that 34% of respondents used a traditional bank savings account.  30% use credit union savings account.  Thirteen per cent reported using a safe place at home. Of the key savers, 70% used an automatic method and 39% selected direct deposit payroll.  Only 31% used automatic electronic fund transfer.  One of the best ways to save is automatic savings methods because your can set it and forget it.

What are Your Savings Goals?

The most common goal was retirement, with 34.1% saving for retirement.

Most reported multiple goals – only 15% had just one goal.  Thirty-one percent of respondents selected three goals; 22% selected four to five goals and 24% selected two goals.

*Data gathered from Consumer Federation of America and America Saves Survey 2014.

~Susan

 

Saving