Money Smart Week is an annual event sponsored by the Chicago Federal Reserve Board. Educational events and activities are sponsored by a collaboration of individuals and institutions who think financial literacy is pretty important. Events are offered at no charge to the public, with the promise not to turn the event into a sales opportunity. Des Moines was the first community in Iowa to organize Money Smart Week in 2002. The finance conference at the Olmstead Center on the Drake campus will be held on April 20th. The focus this year is investments and building wealth. It looks like a great line up of speakers and presentations. You can register to attend at www.moneysmartconference.com If a trip to Des Moines isn’t possible check for activities scheduled for April 20th through April 27th in your own community by visiting http://www.moneysmartweek.org/. The diverse list includes shred events, youth activities and displays. See you there- Joyce
Credit Card fraud hit a little too close to home yesterday. I received a call regarding a card that I kept in a safe deposit box. It had not been used for several years and cancelling it was on my list of things to do. Someone used it to check into a motel in California. The card is now cancelled.
As unemployment has increased, it has become more difficult to obtain credit. With that in mind, some people may choose to hang on to old cards “just in case” they lose their job and are unable to obtain a new card to use as a safety net. There are pros and cons to this idea.
Some credit card companies charge fees for dormant accounts. No one wants to pay fees on an account they are not even using, so that might lead you to close the account.
As my story shows, unused cards can also put you at risk for fraud. Fraud tends to increase in times of recession. This fraud can go undetected if you do check your statements regularly… especially if you move and forget to notify the company of your new address.
On the flip side, cancelling long-standing credit accounts may reduce the length of your credit history, which damages your credit score. (Having accounts with a long history increases a credit score, since it indicates stability and reliability). In addition, cancelling a card could increase your debt to credit ratio, hurting your credit score even more.
Decisions about old, unused credit card accounts require careful thought. If you are unsure if you have unused accounts, check your credit report. It will also help you spot unfamiliar credit applications and unexplained balances that would indicate that you are a victim of fraud.
Consider closing down unused accounts, especially if you are applying for a loan. If later you decide you need a credit card, you may find a better deal on the market that are available only to new card holders.
Remember that cutting up a credit card is not the same as cancelling it. Cutting it up will stop you from using it but you still need to contact the company and ask them to cancel it. Ask for a confirmation letter as well. Sometimes the account will be left open for a while in case any payments you’ve made haven’t come through yet. Double check a month or two later. ~Brenda
Just the other day I had the opportunity to USE a fire extinguisher for the first time in my life. Thankfully, this opportunity didn’t come because of a “real” fire — it was part of a training we did in our office. I’m grateful, because I’ve always wondered if I would be able to do it. Now if I ever need to use one, I won’t be so afraid.
The trainer also explained the benefits of having a good quality fire extinguisher — one with metal handles rather than plastic, and one that is rechargable. Plastic handles can break, leaving you unable to fight the fire. He said that a good quality fire extinguisher would cost perhaps $50-$60 (depending on size), but that it could last for decades, and that it can be recharged after use for only $10-$12. He also said that for home use we do not need to have them inspected each year, and showed us how to make sure it was still ready to perform when needed.
As I see it, this is one more example of a time when people might choose to spend more up front (invest in quality) in order to make sure they get the results they want. In the long run, that investment pays off because they don’t need to be buying new fire extinguishers every few years in order to feel secure that they have a working one ready to use if needed. It’s also a lot like buying insurance — you hope you won’t need to use it, but you’re really glad to have it!
What investments in safety have you made in your household?
Celebrate: all the ways in which consumers are safer and have stronger rights now, when compared to 50 years ago. This improvement comes from useful laws that have been passed in the last 5 decades and from improved education and information available to consumers.
Be reminded: good laws can only take us so far. We consumers must also be responsible to protect ourselves by avoiding risky situations and unsafe products, shopping wisely, and seeking credible sources of information. As we protect ourselves, we also protect others. By staying informed, reporting problems, and asserting our rights appropriately, we improve the marketplace for everyone.
You’ll find lots of useful consumer information at http://www.ncpw.gov/consumer-topics. What have you done lately to protect yourself as a consumer?
If you’re like me, you have lots of ideas for what you might do with whatever tax refund you may be expecting, but you also know that anytime you receive “extra” money, it’s an opportunity to improve your overall financial situation. That may lead to a long (sometimes difficult) internal conversation about the best use for those funds.
I’m strongly in favor of using at least a part of any tax refund in ways that will help your family in the long run (ex: retirement or college savings, emergency fund, …). Paying off debts and making important purchases are also good options, but I have a couple of cautions about those choices:
1) If you have high-interest debt, paying it off is a good investment. But I strongly recommend that you also take the logical next step: prevent future debt by setting aside a substantial amount of money for emergencies and/or for “periodic expenses.” [These are the predictable, non-emergency expenses that arise once or twice a year – such as back to school expenses, 6-month car insurance bills, birthdays, holidays, etc.]
2) If you use part of your refund to make a special purchase, avoid the temptation to overspend simply because the extra money is available. For example, if you choose to buy a new TV, and might normally buy one for $450, don’t yield to the temptation to buy a $700 TV just because you have the money. Remember that the extra $250 could be used for another goal, such as emergency savings or retirement investment.
Valentine’s Day, like any gift-giving occasion, can be a drain on your budget. But you can give wonderful Valentine gifts without spending much (or any) money at all. I was reminded of this as I watched last night’s episode of Castle on TV. (Yes, I confess I like this show - the combination of mystery-solving and romance hooked me from the start). One partner gave a very expensive gift (with amusing complications); the other partner gave a gift that cost nothing at all, but MEANT a great deal.
I suggest two possible starting places when looking for meaningful gifts:
1) What is important to the recipient — what do they value, what means a lot to them?
2) What is special, unique or valuable about you? (what talents or skills are you known for, what “connects” you to the recipient, what do you wish you had more time to share with the recipient?)
Keep in mind that the gift of your time has great value, and that shared experiences are a great way to bond with your romantic partner. This approach to gift-giving will prevent excess financial drain, and (more importantly) will strengthen your relationship with this important person in your life.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
If being in better control of your ordinary expenses is a goal, you might want to check out ISU Extension’s free on-line independent-study course, called “Take Control of Your Money.” It’s basically a set of tools and information which you can peruse at your own speed, pulling out the information that will be useful to you.
Check it out, at http://www.extension.iastate.edu/families/take-control – and feel free to let us know if you have suggestions for improving it!
There are members of our Family Finance Team at ISU Extension and Outreach who have supported community efforts to organize Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs. The IRS determines operating rules and procedures for volunteers who prepare tax returns. A volunteer must certify every year in order to have protection against liability issues when preparing someone else’s return. Every year, those of us who assist with site operations, complete the tests and polish off the rust from our on-leave knowledge of tax law and rules.
The past several years the IRS has made efforts to encourage individual tax payers to file their own return. The newest venture is to offer freefile, access through the IRS web site to free software to prepare and file your federal and in some situations state tax returns. Certainly the software can do the calculations, but you have to have computer skills, understand IRS definitions, and avoid the natural tendency to edit information you think isn’t important for it to prepare the correct return.
I’d like to hear from you. Are you excited about doing your own tax return? Why or Why not? The IRS has asked and they heard the message “YES”. Did they listen to the right voices—share your thoughts.
To learn more about VITA or freefile visit www.irs.gov. Joyce
I stumbled upon an app called GrocerySmart (aka Grocery Deal). This app, like many, posts a list of sales available at a few local stores and also lists the coupons that are available that match up with the store sale. GrocerySmart also has a rating system (1 – 5 stars) to show what are the REALLY good deals. The nice thing about this feature is you do not have to waste time scrolling through long lists of deals…you can set the settings to show only the 5 star bargains – which greatly shortens the list.
Today when I looked on GrocerySmart, my favorite store had Dial Liquid Soap at $1.27 (regularly $2.95). Now…here is where the shock and awe comes in…On eBay, I could buy 10 $1 ($10) coupons for $2.50. So, if I bought 10 liquid soaps and used my ten $1 coupons I purchased from eBay – the math would look like this…
- Regular price $2.95 x 10 = $29.50
- Sale Price $1.27 x 10 = $12.70
- Minus Coupons $12.70 – $10 ($1 x 10) = $2.70
- Add back the cost paid to eBay $2.70 + $2.50 = $5.20 my cost for the 10 bottles of soap.
The savings is $24.30 for the 10 bottles of liquid soap. This is something we use a lot of, so the time spent (about 15 minutes to find the deal and order the coupons from eBay) was worth it.
I never would have imagined coupons would be a commodity worth buying and selling! ~Brenda
GreenPrint World is a free program you can install on your computer to eliminate wasted pages before printing. The program automatically shows each page you’ve selected to print. Wasted pages will be highlighted in red so you can easily remove them. If you want to print a page marked red, you simply double-click it. You can manually stop pages from printing by double-clicking them as well.
The program installs as a separate printer that you select when printing from any application. You can set the default device that GreenPrint uses when you install the software, and you can change devices once you’re in the program’s Preview screen. You can also customize GreenPrint’s parameters, choosing to strip out all graphics, for example. The program removes most advertisements, but not all, so you may need to manual help it remove more than the program thinks it should.
What greener living ideas do you have to save money?~Brenda