Volunteers Needed

1040What are you doing in February, March and April? If you don’t have plans to dip your toes in the warm sand of a tropical beach I have a suggestion for you.  Find a local VITA program and volunteer to help.

VITA is the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program supported by the IRS. A volunteer prepares returns for clients who have incomes at or below $54,000. If you like solving puzzles, then you would also enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to complete a tax return. Each one is different and because families don’t always fall into the Mom, Pop, and two kids definition, it can be challenging. Rewards come in the “thank you’s” and hand shakes of clients who have additional tax refund dollars to pay for other life expenses.

Training is available to help you certify. The IRS grants you exemption from liability for omissions or errors as long as you prepare returns within the scope of your certification. You can and should recommend a client take their return to a paid professional when it’s out of scope!

Volunteers also serve as greeters who schedule appointments and make sure the necessary tax documents and identification have been brought to the site.

A tropical island would be fun in the cold days of February, but you can generate a warm feeling inside by helping others.  To volunteer visit this IRS site: https://www.research.net/r/vitatcesignup

Joyce

Joyce Lash

Joyce Lash

Joyce Lash is a Human Sciences Specialist in Family Finance who wants to keep you ahead of the curve on financial information.

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Pokémon Go free

Pokemon GoTwice this week, the topic of conducting a time study was discussed. The first was a friend needing to provide proof to her employer that addition help needed to be hired. The second was to decide whether the time and energy spent on a specific enterprise yielded enough return for the dollar spent, to justify continuing that activity.

During a recent youth event, I was amazed at the amount of time the kids spent on their smart phone.  As I looked through the photos of the event, I was disappointed to see nothing but the tops of their heads…they were all looking down at their phones. The planners of this event spent a lot of time and consideration into ensuring the actives were engaging and thought stimulating and until all the phones were collected and stored for the evening, there was no stimulating dialog occurring among the group.

Often times, the thing that annoys me most in others, is the exact thing that I am guilty of. This made me stop and think about the value I put on my time. When Pokémon Go first came out, it was a novelty that I admit to wasting some time on. Now, I only play that game when I am getting my daily walk. It occurred to me that prior to Pokémon Go, I listened to music or just enjoyed nature as I walked. Besides helping with weight management, my daily walk is a stress reliever. I can feel my blood pressure drop and my muscles relax as I walk taking in the sunrise or listening to my favorite instrumental music. During my last walk I tried to pay attention to those same physical conditions as I played Pokémon Go during my walk. The walk may have been entertaining but it was NOT relaxing or stress relieving. I think the best use of my time when walking is to be unplugged…Pokémon free.  

Brenda Schmitt

Brenda Schmitt

A Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Family Finance Field Specialist helping North Central Iowans make the most of their money.

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Find Your Phone – Protect Your ID

smartphone

I went to a meeting on Monday and silenced my work phone.  It is a “dumb” phone…just a basic flip phone which serves my needs perfectly and is the most cost-effective choice for the job. I like the fact that it is small and sleek.  I can tuck it into my purse, computer case, or a box of materials being transported. On Wednesday, I picked up my phone to make a call and noticed that I had 3 messages waiting for me on my phone.  I HAD FORGOTTEN TO TAKE THE PHONE OFF SILENT MODE!

Today, I just spent 15 minutes looking for that phone…in the nooks and crannies of my car, in my purse, in pockets…then it occurred to me to call it and see if I could hear it.  Sure enough, it was less than 2 feet away in a bag of program materials.  I don’t remember putting it there.  Thank heavens I had remembered to take it off SILENT MODE after yesterday’s meeting. Should I REALLY lose that phone, I am in no real danger of having my identity stolen…other than a list of phone numbers called, received and those in my address book, there is nothing of any real interest to a thief.

On the other hand, losing my personal phone, which is an Android phone, WOULD be a big deal. A thief could access names, addresses, phone numbers, birthdays, anniversary days, my schedule, probably my shopping and internet habits and much more. Unlike the “dumb” phone, I can easily find the Smart Phone even if it is on silent mode. Google.com/android/devicemanager is an online tool that helps me find my Android phone even if it is on SILENT mode. By selecting RING, my phone will ring loud enough that I can hear it buried deep in my purse, in another room under a pillow. If the phone truly is lost, this online tool will let you LOCK the phone or ERASE it remotely.  If the phone is dead, this tool will tell you where and when it was last located. Apple products have a similar online tool available as well. Check out find my iPhone.

Smart phones are expensive, portable, resalable, and concealable making them tempting and easy items to steal. The fact that it contains personal information makes it a high demand item to thieves. Educate yourself on how best to protect this asset. Check out Consumer Reports’ tips for smart phone owners: 5 Steps to Protect Your Smart Phone From Theft or Loss or watch their short video.

Brenda Schmitt

Brenda Schmitt

A Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Family Finance Field Specialist helping North Central Iowans make the most of their money.

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Tap Your Local Resources – A Short Getaway

logo_funThe fall gets busy, but you may want to take your family on a mini-vacation or day trip. It could be in the area or a short road trip. Whatever you decide, think of all the possibilities.

  • Visit a local museum with a packed lunch and top off the day with ice cream
  • Go hiking or visit your favorite bike trail
  • Tailgate and take in a college football game
  • A nearby national park visit during the 100th anniversary
  • Go to a zoo or petting zoo
  • Presidential Library and Museum   (my preference is Abraham Lincoln in Springfield IL)
  • Take in the tastes and sights of visiting an apple orchard – fresh pressed cider and cider donuts
  • As the colors turn, leaf peeping – driving through the countryside can be fun
  • Disc golf, putt-putt golf, boating and tennis can involve the family
  • Family cookout or picnic followed with a walk
  • Historic reenactments can share the history past

For the adults only –

  • Visit a vineyard or Octoberfest celebration
  • Spend time at a local spa

Try one of these activities with friends and family.

Susan Taylor

Susan Taylor

Resources are important whether you are looking to rent your first apartment, pay your bills, buy your first home or send your child to college. There are many ways to save money to reach your goals, and hopefully ISU Money Tip$ will be one of them. I enjoy traveling, needlework and am a novice gardener.

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Sending Your Children to College

Young woman leaving for college and familyI have two good friends that are sending their first-born children to college. Are the college bound students ready to manage money on their own?

Their parents probably don’t want to sit down and give “the money talk” just before delivering the student to college. It is better to talk over time about earning, spending and investing. The gradual approach is more powerful.  Helping students to experience spending money and planning for expenses will strengthen their money skills.

Everyone makes mistakes using money – share a few of your experiences from college or trade school and your first job.

Understanding who is paying for which expenses – Perhaps parents will cover textbooks and school related costs, and the student will be responsible for entertainment and gasoline if they have a car. Or perhaps you divide expenses differently.  The key is that the division should be clear. When I was in college, I had a small part-time job cleaning professors’ homes that gave me a little spending money.  It’s usually wise for students to limit the number of work hours outside of class to prevent work from affecting their school experience and success.

Each student is unique. You know your student better than anyone else does.  If they have already been careful with money, you may not need to set limits.  On the other hand, if they overspent during high school, you may want to give a limit on what they can spend.  You could use a prepaid card, but there are reloading fees.  You may want to look into overdraft protection for your child’s checking account, too.

What happens when your child gets in trouble financially? If your kids get in trouble financially, you are almost certain to bail them out.  By encouraging your kids to be responsible and catching any problems early, you can fix the problem before it gets out of control.  To make this possible, you will want to maintain an open dialogue with your student about money.

Susan Taylor

Susan Taylor

Resources are important whether you are looking to rent your first apartment, pay your bills, buy your first home or send your child to college. There are many ways to save money to reach your goals, and hopefully ISU Money Tip$ will be one of them. I enjoy traveling, needlework and am a novice gardener.

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Home Insurance Check-up

 

Weather has sure been in the news lately – nationally, and also locally. It’s a sobering reminder of the importance of having insurance on your home and possessions – whether you are a renter or an owner. Regularly reviewing your coverage, probably with your insurance agent, is a key to ensuring you have the coverage you need.

 

Some questions to consider:

  • Homeowners: is your coverage high enough to replace your buildings? Building costs increase, and inadequate coverage can be a rude awakening following a disaster.
  • Owners and renters: is your personal property coverage adequate? Look at your total coverage limit and compare that realistically to what it would cost to replace everything you own. In addition, consider whether you own any uniquely valuable items or collections. Standard policies have a maximum limit for certain categories, such as jewelry, antiques, electronics, musical instruments or tools, but additional coverage can be added at your request.
  • Liability coverage protects you in case you are at fault for an injury or other loss. Do you have enough coverage to protect your assets in case of a lawsuit?  If not, you may be able to increase your liability coverage on your home insurance and/or purchase an additional umbrella liability policy.
  • Review which perils are covered by your policy and which are excluded. No policy covers everything (for example, acts of war are not covered), but it’s important to make sure you are aware of and comfortable with any exclusions. If not, you may be able to expand your coverage. See our post for information about flood insurance.

After reviewing your coverage, another key step in protecting yourself in case of disaster is to update your home inventory; photos or video recordings are generally recommended.  A good inventory equips you to identify what was lost, so that your insurance can replace it.

Check out our Money Mechanics: Home Insurance publication for more information.

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan's goal as a Family Finance program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is to help people use their money according to THEIR priorities. She provides information and tools, and then encourages folks to focus on what they control: their own decisions about what to do with the money they have.

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Financing a Car Purchase

car moneyThis past week I was reminded of how different a simple financial transaction can be depending on what you are buying, how much you are spending, and your personal history of using credit. I was helping an individual find and buy a used car. Advertising would lead you to believe that there are plenty of good used cars to select from and financing is affordable.

We took advantage of the resources available on the web to comparison shop. My personal lesson in how the experience can be different began after a suitable choice was found, test driven and selected. It included the following key points:

  • High mileage vehicles face limited financing options. The vehicle we found had an odometer reading just over 100,000, was in excellent condition with a history of excellent maintenance.  The dealership told us only one bank they worked with would offer financing for high mileage vehicles and your credit history had to be excellent.
  • The cost of the vehicle must be sufficient to justify writing the loan. The vehicle was priced right compared to what online sources reported for its make and mileage. When an offer was made to put some money down to lower the monthly cost, a warning was given that we couldn’t. If the amount financed dropped too low, financing wasn’t available. There was no money to be made for writing the loan.
  • Interest rates are higher for older vehicles with high mileage and you are limited on how long you can finance. Okay, so we already knew this part; we had already visited with the local bank to determine financing options available through them, and they identified the same issue.

Transportation is a key part of being able to get to work and meet family needs, especially in rural communities where public transportation is non-existent. After my shopping experience, I understand more clearly the barriers families face in obtaining reliable transportation that is affordable. To learn more about the issue and possible steps to address the problems with affordable transportation read this study.

Joyce

Joyce Lash

Joyce Lash

Joyce Lash is a Human Sciences Specialist in Family Finance who wants to keep you ahead of the curve on financial information.

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Generational Poverty

student“The nut does not fall far from the tree” … “Like Father, Like Son” … “A chip off the old block.”  These expressions tell us that we are connected to our parents and all the generations that precede us. The good news is… we are not only the sum of our genetics.

I have had the privilege of knowing a young man who is Hispanic and hearing impaired since being his elementary school sign language interpreter. He grew up in foster homes after 5th grade. Despite the examples set by his parents, he has grown into a loving, kind, consistent and dedicated parent. Because of his hearing impairment, he has never held a job that would provide much more than minimum wage and benefits, yet he manages his money well and has provided a good home for his two children.

So where did he learn the skills of parenting and managing money? Why is he focused on his kids doing well in school so they can go to college, even though he never wanted or expected the same for himself?  He learned from the people that surrounded his life…mentors.  His first foster-mom was his teacher…a woman he lovingly calls g’ma is a retired nurse and neighbor…his elementary school bus driver and his wife belong to his church and invite him to supper and to celebrate birthdays and holidays…and I like to think that I, his interpreter, along with my husband who provides him a job on the farm when he is laid off, have made a difference.

According to Dr. Donna M. Beegle, the author of The Poverty Training, there are 5 research-based practices that help move people out of poverty.

  1. Focus on what they do know and what skills they do have.
  2. Tell them what is good about them. This will help them develop resiliency.
  3. Help them grow their assets, both internally (conflict resolution skills, sense of purpose, etc.) and externally (adult relationships, caring schools, etc.).  
  4. Develop a trusting relationship with them and help them know the right people to encourage education.
  5. Understand (without judgment) what motivates their actions.

Want to make a difference and break the poverty cycle for someone in your community? Consider participating in the November Juntos facilitation training in Iowa City.

Brenda Schmitt

Brenda Schmitt

A Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Family Finance Field Specialist helping North Central Iowans make the most of their money.

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Maybe After A Million Words

words“Maybe after a million words.” That’s a quote from Anne Sullivan in the movie, The Miracle Worker. The movie is about Helen Keller and the governess, Anne Sullivan, who helped Helen learn to communicate through sign language. In the scene Anne Sullivan is explaining to Helen’s mother that signing is like “baby gibberish” and that children do not understand language in the beginning but somehow learn it if they hear it often enough. Anne Sullivan predicted that Helen would be able to communicate, “…. maybe after a million words.”

That’s a lot of words!

I mention this because I believe financial literacy is like any other language and like any other language we need to hear it often to understand it. Young children learn best by observing and mimicking adults. Our children may not understand the concept of credit, money, or savings but they are very good observers and they learn from us. This process is called financial socialization and research by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau indicates that children form personal financial habits as early as preschool and these attitudes often carry into adulthood.

So how can we help our children learn appropriate financial behaviors?

Parents are often the biggest and most positive influence of the financial socialization of their children. They can help their children by providing opportunities to learn and interact with money. Have children create shopping lists and help them to comparison shop and select grocery items. Include children in family financial decisions, planning, and saving for goals such as vacation and college education. You don’t have to have a lot of money, in fact children often learn best when choices are limited and they can observe the difference between needs and wants.

Consider reading to your child about money topics. Some good choices are; The Berenstain Bears’ Trouble With Money, (Stan & Jan Berenstain), or A Bargain for Frances, (Russell Hoban)

mary w kayak

A great resource for families and libraries is the Money as You Grow Book Club guide which provides several family activities and more reading suggestions. Also, childcare providers can learn about hands on lessons and receive Childcare training credit by joining us for “Munchkins & Moolah: Teaching Preschoolers to Share, Save and Spend” classes.

Mary M. Weinand is a Human Sciences Family Finance specialist who works with individuals to help strengthen their ability to make informed judgments and make effective decisions regarding the use and management of money.

Mary likes to save for rainy days but carries an inflatable kayak in the trunk of her car for the sunny ones!

 

Brenda Schmitt

Brenda Schmitt

A Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Family Finance Field Specialist helping North Central Iowans make the most of their money.

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Grab and Go Box

School bag. Flat style design - vector, line icon.

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My sister lives in Texas, where it is Hurricane Season. In the Midwest, we can have floods, tornadoes and severe winds. After the Katrina Hurricane, southern state Extension colleagues put together instructions for making a “Grab and Go Box.”  If you had a moment’s notice, would you be able to grab your necessary papers before leaving?  We have weather issues too.  Are you prepared?

Place papers in sealed waterproof plastic bags and store in a durable, sealed portable box. Store the box/backpack at home in a secure easily accessible location. If you need to leave your home, – grab the box and take it with you.  Keep the box with you at all times.

Things to include in your Grab and Go Box are:

  • Cash or traveler’s checks and roll of quarters (ATMs might be down)
  • Emergency phone numbers for: doctors, pharmacies, financial advisors, clergy, repair contractors, family
  • Copies of prescriptions – for medications and eye wear
  • Medical reports – children’s immunization records, health and dental insurance cards
  • Insurance policies – auto, flood, renters/homeowners – showing the policy numbers and contact numbers
  • Copies of deeds, titles, wills/trusts, durable power of attorney, healthcare directives, stock and bonds certificates, recent investment statements, home inventory, birth, death, adoption and marriage certificates, passports, employee benefit documents, last year’s state and federal tax returns.
  • Backup copies of computer financial records
  • Computer user names and passwords
  • Keys to safe deposit box
  • Irreplaceable personal photos
  • List of Numbers – social security, bank accounts, loan, credit card(s), driver’s license and investment account
  • List of debts obligations –due dates and contact information

Having an out of state contact can be helpful so you can let family and friends know you are okay.  When my sister evacuated from Hurricane Rita, my family was grateful that she called me about her whereabouts during her travels.

Susan Taylor

Susan Taylor

Resources are important whether you are looking to rent your first apartment, pay your bills, buy your first home or send your child to college. There are many ways to save money to reach your goals, and hopefully ISU Money Tip$ will be one of them. I enjoy traveling, needlework and am a novice gardener.

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