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Health Insurance Auto-Pilot?

October 21st, 2014

health costsIf you bought health insurance in the new Marketplace last year, you will automatically be reenrolled for the same coverage if you don’t log in to your account at www.healthcare.gov and make a change.  That may seem like the easiest route, but it could backfire.  Here are some reasons for avoiding the “automatic pilot” option:

  • Insurance policies can and do change from year to year.  Deductibles, co-payments and premiums can change, along with specific coverage details such as the list of preferred medications, the coverage of specific procedures, or whether you must meet the deductible before the plan will pay for particular services.   If you automatically renew, there is a chance that you may be caught by surprise.
  • Your health needs may have changed since last year.  Perhaps you chose a bronze plan last year because you didn’t expect many health expenses, but next year looks different because you may need surgery or some other kind of treatment or care.
  • Your income and family composition may have changed since last year.  If you do not log into your account and make adjustments in your profile, then the amount of your advance premium tax credit may be far off-target, causing financial hardship.

Now is the time to start thinking about your coverage options for next year.  If your current plan sends you information about changes in your policy for next year, be sure to study the changes planned.  In addition, think about your family’s health care needs — do you expect next year to be about the same as this year?

The Health Insurance Marketplace opens November 15.  It will remain open until February 15, 2015, but if you want to make changes or enroll in coverage that will be effective on January 1, you will need to log in and select your plan by December 15.

~Barb

Uncategorized

Couples and Money

August 29th, 2014

YMYF-CoupleBankFormThis week I saw a report from a respected source which found that within couples, dishonesty about money is surprisingly common.  A third of those who manage money jointly admitted to hiding financial information from their partner – even hiding bank accounts!

Money management is a central element in any household.  Being straightforward and cooperative with your partner on money management brings at least three benefits:

  • Stronger finances and more progress toward financial goals.
  • Stronger, healthier relationship.
  • Children in the household will learn healthier money attitudes and develop stronger money skills.

Both partners in any couple need to be very aware of the household’s finances, including: how much money do you have, how much do you owe, what are the monthly bills, what insurance coverage you have and why, and where are important papers kept.  This is true even if one partner actually takes care of most financial tasks.  Why?

  • Survival – if something happened to one partner, the other needs to be able to find information and take care of business.
  • Shared power – any time all or most of the power (including power over finances) rests with one partner, the relationship is at risk.

Some strategies that can help you build joint money management and awareness include:

  • Shared financial goals, discussed and written down, then reviewed periodically.
  • Regular meetings (weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly) to plan for upcoming financial decisions and needs.
  • Equal access to account information (printed statements or on-line account access) – for bank and investment accounts and also for credit and debt accounts.

Sometimes people resist sharing all information because one partner gets irritated by certain small spending habits of the other (such as regular coffee purchases, or picking up magazines).  In addition, it can be tedious to keep track and report ever purchase of an ice cream cone or a new pair of socks.  When you think about it, It would be difficult to purchase gifts for each other if all spending must be disclosed!

A nice way to allow each partner some freedom for independent spending is for each to have an allowance.  (did you think allowances were just for kids?  Nope! They can be great for adults too!)  Then each partner has some autonomy, and some financial privacy within limits.

If you manage money with a partner, what can you do to make sure your financial relationship is cooperative and straightforward?

~Barb

Uncategorized

Skills to Pay The Bills

August 5th, 2014

Skills to Pay the bills

The unemployment rate is finally going down.  But you may still be looking for a job.  The U.S. Department of Labor has developed a curriculum with six short videos called Skills to Pay the Bills.

This curriculum was created for youth development professionals to use with youth ages 14 to 21.  It offers an introduction to workplace interpersonal and professional skills, and can be useful in both in-school and out-of-school environments. It can also be helpful to adults of any age.

The program is comprised of modular, hands-on, engaging activities that focus on six key skill areas: communication, enthusiasm and attitude, teamwork, networking, problem solving and critical thinking, and professionalism.  Each skill area provides a short video that captures the topic.  The videos are on YouTube and average around 2 ½ minutes long.  The videos can be accessed by anyone, whether or not they are participating in a structured program.

The full curriculum may be accessed at:  http://www.dol.gov/odep/topics/youth/softskills/

Good luck with your job search.

-Susan

 

 

Consumer Knowledge, Saving, Smart shopping, Uncategorized

Sales Tax Holiday

July 28th, 2014

shopping cartIt’s coming right up – this coming weekend, August 1 & 2!  “It” is Iowa’s annual sales tax holiday on qualifying clothing and footwear purchases. You’ll find all the details here but the key point is that most purchases of clothing and footwear priced under $100 will be exempt from state and local sales tax during that 48-hour period.

It’s a savings of 7% – not something to sneeze at.  In addition, many retailers will advertise discounts for that weekend to increase consumers’ incentive to shop. I’m writing this post to remind readers of the event, and also to remind you to keep it in perspective.  Savings of 7% is not enough reason to buy things you don’t need and would hardly use.  If there are things you need, though, this weekend is a great time to buy them.

The tax holiday is intentionally placed during back-to-school shopping season to make it helpful to consumers.  Before shopping, especially for growing children, it’s smart to take inventory of what you have, finding out what still fits, and what has been worn out or outgrown.  That will help you make a shopping list and prioritize the items you might want to buy.  And of course as you make that list, keep your budget in mind; decide how much you can afford to spend on clothing this weekend or this month.

Here’s what could happen without a good inventory and list:  you might go shopping, make some good purchases, spend the money you had allocated, but then 2 weeks later discover that you still need two pairs of jeans!  To meet that need, you would exceed your planned spending, leaving you short on funds for something else, such as groceries or gas.

Plan ahead, so you can use the annual Sales Tax Holiday to your advantage! ~ Barb

Uncategorized

Visit Your Local Library and Explore Money Concepts For You and Your Child

June 12th, 2014

Now that school is out, take a trip to the local library — use a free local resource to find some children’s books that start the conversation on money for your children.  As an adult, you can pick up some money books too.

Need a few suggestions?

For your preschooler here are few books to try:

  • Curious George At The Laundromat – by Margret ReyimagesW3UIRY2R read to child
  • Just Shopping With Mom –by Mercer Mayer
  • Mrs. Pirate by Nick Sharratt
  • My First Job by Julia Allen
  • Paddy’s Pay Day by Alexandra Day
  • The Berenstain Bears & Mama’s New Job by Stan and Jan Berenstain
  • The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmes by Jan and Stan Berenstain
  • The Berenstain Bears’ Trouble with Money by Jan and Stan Berenstain

For the beginning reader here are a few books:

  • A Bargain For Frances by Russell Hoban
  • A Job For Jenny Archer by Ellen Conford
  • Alexander, Who Used To Be Rich Last Sunday by Judith Viorst
  • Ben Goes Into Business by Marilyn Hirsch
  • Leo and Emily’s Zoo by Franz Brandenberg
  • Not So Fast Songololo by Niki Daly
  • Something Good by Robert Munsch
  • The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

For additional books, the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s “Money on the Bookshelf” has four pages of books by age level.  In addition to a list of children’s books about money, the site also offers tips for teaching about money.   The site is:

http://www.unce.unr.edu/programs/sites/moneybookshelf/

~Susan

 

Consumer Knowledge, Goals, Saving, Spending plans, Uncategorized

Kids and Allowances – Summer is a Good Time to Practice -

June 10th, 2014

kids allowancesUsing money wisely is a basic life skill that your children can learn at an early age. Even if you have little money in your home, look for ways to involve the children in deciding how to spend it. Help your children understand how money is used to pay for goods and services.

Communication is the key. If they are old enough to understand, have a family meeting and talk about your expenses and your income. Ask for their help in deciding how the money is spent.

Money skills are essential to your children’s well-being, so don’t neglect teaching your children about money. They will gain important values and skills which they will need as they grow older.

If possible, consider giving the children an allowance. With an allowance, children can learn to make spending and saving decisions. To determine an allowance for your children, follow these guidelines:

  • Give an allowance as soon as the children are old enough to realize how money is used to pay for things people need or want.
  • Decide which purchases the allowance should cover. Misunderstandings often occur when you don’t talk things out.
  • Make regular saving a part of the allowance.
  • Encourage the children to give to charity.
  • Review each child’s allowance yearly. As children grow older, you may need to increase the amount. It’s a good plan to have children account for how they have used their monthly allowance.

Uncategorized

Use Your Phone Apps When You Shop For Food

May 15th, 2014

cell phone grocery cartAs a grocery shopper, are there standard items you purchase on a regular basis when you shop? Have you thought of putting the “list” in your smartphone?  Your list is always be with you as long as you have your phone.  Or you can share your list with family members, too.   I have a colleague who receives the list for the supermarket run from a family member via cell phone.

It is well documented that the longer you stay in a store, the more you will spend.  If you familiarize yourself with the store then you can write items on your list in the order in which they appear in the store’s layout — so you use the fewest steps and check out as quickly as possible.

Plan your coupon shopping before you enter the store.  A recent article reported that there is 10% redemption of mobile coupons vs. print coupons is redeemed at 1%.  Mobile coupon apps provide you with a large database of coupons when you need them.  Don’t forget to download store-specific apps for exclusive deals.

There is an app that you can download which enables you to scan the barcode of a product to search for available coupons; the app also helps you keep track of your grocery store discount cards and current deals.

If you are like me, you find store Loyalty Discount cards to be a nuisance.  With your smart phone you can store those loyalty cards for quick retrieval. Look for a host app (free) to help manage the cards.

If you have a smart phone, use it to save time and money, and to be organized for your next grocery trip.

~ Susan

Uncategorized

Money Under 30

April 1st, 2014

86521018When you’re in your 20′s, money can be challenging:  student loans to pay off, acquiring furniture and all the “stuff” of living, building up an emergency fund so you can deal with car repairs and other special expenses — in addition to possibly getting married and starting a family.

In the midst of all those potential expenses, however, is this reality: the actions you take in your 20′s will have a HUGE impact on your financial well-being for the rest of your life.  If you can avoid or minimize debt AND get a head start on long-term investing, you’ll reap the benefits for decades.

Money Under 30 is a respected resource focused on the unique challenges and important opportunities faced by younger adults.  It is a commercial site — it comes with advertisements, and as a result it may not be completely non-commercial.  Nevertheless, it’s worth checking out — just take the commercials with a grain of salt.

~Barb

Uncategorized

Lessons Learned The Hard Way

February 18th, 2014

photo Yep!  That is my new wallet.  Waiting for my new credit cards, debit card, driver’s license, insurance cards, work and state ID. Added to my list of lessons-learned-the-hard-way is…don’t leave your purse in your car.  I am very good about locking my car but this particular night, my arms were full and it was below zero and blowing snow. The question is…did I hit the lock button or the unlock button on my key fob?  OR did I not get the door totally closed?  In the future, I will be checking the door rather than assuming I got it locked just by clicking the button.

I spent the better part of a day getting a new driver’s license, closing bank and credit accounts and opening new ones.  I requested an initial fraud alert on  my credit that will last for 90 days. You can reach the three national credit reporting agecies:

  • Equifax at (888) 766-0008,
  • Experian at (866) 397-3742 and
  • TransUnion at (800) 680-7289.

You can also request an initial fraud alert online from

  • Equifax at http://alerts.equifax.com and
  • Experian at http://Experian.com/fraud.

Once you call one credit bureau, it will share your information and pass on the alert to the other two bureaus.

The good news…as my new bank accounts were opened, I was signed up for the Heritage Club (yes, I am that old and still learning lessons the hard way) which gave me free checking and free checks!  ~Brenda

 

Uncategorized

Buying a Home – Part Two

February 13th, 2014

house

Look back to last month’s post for the beginning steps.

Start Shopping for a Home – this is the most exciting part of buying a home, but it can also be discouraging. Use tools: newspapers, real estate listings are useful, but the Multiple Listing Service can be your friend.  It often features pictures and views of the house, and you can sort by size, location, rooms and price.  Realtor.com is another website for screening homes.

When walking through a home, focus on the things you can’t change.  Paint and flooring can be changed, but the size of the home, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and the view can’t be changed.

Make an Offer – Once you have found a house that meets your needs, you are ready to make an offer. Ask your realtor to share comparable sales – similar types of houses in the area that have been sold recently. Those sales can give you an idea of how much to offer to pay for the house you are looking at. Make a reasonable offer, and the seller will be likely to accept it. If it is too low you insult the seller.  Using Zillow.com or Truilia.com, you can see the actual value of neighboring homes. 

If the seller accepts your offer, it is time for the next step: Get a Home Appraisal.  The mortgage lender does this step, in order to make sure the home will be appraised for at least the value you are offering.

Get a Home Inspection. The buyer hires a professional inspector for this job.  They look at visible portions of the roof, foundation, plumbing, electrical, and heating and cooling systems.  From an investment point, this is one of the most important steps to buying a home.  Your purchase agreement should give you a way to back out of the deal, if the home inspector finds a serious problem.  This is called the contingency.  Your offer should be contingent upon a successful inspection. Walk through with the inspector and the completed report.  When I bought my current home, the inspector identified an aged furnace and not all of the outlets were grounded. In addition, a radon test was conducted and it was 3x the approved level.  My offer to buy the house was contingent on having the radon problem mitigated.

Settlement/Closing. The step of actually transferring the property from the former owner to you, the buyer, is called the closing.  Prior to that date, the lender will give you a written estimate of the costs, so you have enough money to cover your closing costs. There is lots of paperwork, and many signatures are required.  The seller gets paid, real estate agents receive their commissions, lender fees are paid, and you get the keys to your new home. Iowa State has a fact sheet on Buying a Home PM1460.

~Susan

Consumer Knowledge, Credit, Goals, Insurance, Uncategorized