Fireworks!

Congratulations Iowa, you can now legally purchase and use consumer grade fireworks for 4th of July and New Year celebrations! In Missouri, consumer fireworks have been legal during my entire lifetime. My children and grandchildren have enjoyed the best of two worlds. Learning how to safely use fireworks during visits to family 4th of July gatherings in Missouri and, when the calendar worked out, coming home to Iowa to attend a hometown display. That’s my son when he was allowed to light his first bottle rocket, with adult supervision! The Iowa Fire Marshal offers safety tips and rules for use. So far no one has shared my Dad’s classic, “Make sure you don’t catch the wheat field on fire!”

If you are operating on a tight budget, fireworks can be an expensive addition. Determine how much you can spend before shopping and leave children at home or prepare them ahead of time with instructions not to ask for everything!  Our family has worked out a shared responsibility plan. My brother and sister purchase night time fountains and rockets and I am in charge of daytime tanks, poppers, and frogs that never jump! Neighbors always enjoyed our choices.

We’ve learned that bigger isn’t always better. Smaller versions of fountains will produce a display that is just as attractive, but may last for a shorter time. Sometimes the extra cost was to purchase a taller cardboard tube. Multiple tubes also have a greater chance of having a faulty fuse and only half the display is fired. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s an expensive disappointment.  If you can check out prices at several locations you’ll find they do vary. Don’t be fooled by the large DISCOUNT or Buy 1 Get 1 Free sales, common marketing for fireworks stands.  If you know the salesperson, ask for tips and their recommendations, many times they have sampled the inventory and can guide you to better choices.

Public firework displays in your hometown are the best way to save a July budget!  Safety first everyone, and enjoy the holiday!

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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“Dollar” Stores

Joyce and I have both referenced, in the past, our concern for the elderly not having access to quality food in the small rural communities we live in. It is understandable that a business would not choose to locate in a small community because foot traffic, which they depend on for success, would be limited. For this reason, I was quite surprised to see a “dollar” store being built in one of the small towns in my county. It happens to be in the town my son lives in. He is quite excited about its arrival and now sees no reason to ever have to go beyond the perimeter of the big city located 15 miles down the road.

I had not been in a “dollar” store for quite a while because my past experience told me they were full of trinkets and stuff I didn’t need or want, so I was surprised by my son’s reaction.  His favorite store (located on the near edge of the big city) carries auto, mechanical and construction tools and supplies; why would he be interested in a “dollar” store?  It turns out he sees it as a way to get everything else!

It appears that “dollar” stores have reinvented themselves. When I visited their web site, I found they now carry a lot of basic groceries…coffee, cereal, toilet paper, flour, cold and allergy medicine, shampoo, diapers…you get the drift. Though everything in the store is not available for a dollar, their prices are cheaper than those in the big-city stores…partly because they are not name-brand products. And, not only that, they also offer digital coupons and online shopping.

The arrival of this “dollar” store to this small rural community is a step in the right direction toward serving the needs of the elderly who find transportation a barrier to basic grocery needs. It does give access to canned fruits and vegetables, but, as far as I can see, it still does not bring quality, unprocessed meat any closer to their homes. I will be curious to see if people in the other 4 or 5 small communities surrounding the “dollar” store find ways to shop there. The drive would be closer and less intimidating than driving to the big 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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What Draws You In While Surfing And Shopping On The Web?

Are you drawn in by emails from e-commerce sites in your inbox urging you to click and spend?  Or by ads you encounter while surfing? Are there ways to resist the temptation?

A CreditCards.com survey found that five in six Americans admit to impulse buying, with an increasing number of those purchases occurring online.  One in three Americans admit they have made impulse buys in the past three months using a computer, tablet or smartphone.

Retailers use analytics to track our preferences and show us digital ads that match our preferences; this strategy increases the amount of temptation we face online.  If you find yourself occasionally falling victim to online shopping madness, here are six tips to stop the shopping madness!

Block the Promotions – Unsubscribe from online retail email lists and delete shopping apps from your phone, tablet, and laptop.  The less you see, the less inclined you are to spend.

Do not Store your Credit Card information on a Shopping Site – Yes it is easier, you loss control of your information on another companies site. If you have to plug in credit card information, you might think twice before the purchase.

Shop with a Purpose – Shop only when you know exactly what you need.  Make a list, and before for you hit the buy button wait at least 30 minutes – or sleep on the decision.

Look for a Different Kind of Emotional Lift – Replace retail therapy with different types of experiences that make you feel good.  Volunteer, go to the gym, or call a friend to improve your mood.

Shopper, Know Thyself – When do you shop?  Identify when you are most likely to shop and shut off the computer during those times.

Get Help – About 6% of the U.S. population suffers from”compulsive buying disorder.” For those with this serious shopping problem, places to seek help include Debtors Anonymous, books, or a professional therapist.

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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College saving: more than money

I can personally testify to the financial benefit of saving for my children’s education: I started monthly automatic transfers into their college savings accounts when they were young, and at the same time helped them establish a habit of saving a portion of their allowance each month.  My daughters reaped the financial benefits of that saving during college, and continue to benefit as young adults without school loans to repay.

I didn’t know it, but my children benefited in other ways — yours can, too.  Here’s why: children who have savings that is specifically set aside for their education and career goals actually make greater academic progress than children who do not, all other things being equal.  They do better in school, are more likely to finish high school, and are more likely to attend and complete an educational program after high school.

Even though I didn’t know about this research back then, it makes sense to me.  Having a savings account means we’re thinking about the future. It creates a vision for steps beyond high school.  It builds hope and a belief that they can do it, and is a motivator. Having a vision for the future is extremely powerful.

Having savings doesn’t guarantee school success, of course, but it makes it more likely. The benefit of savings is especially strong for children in lower-income families. Research also shows that even small savings makes a difference – even amounts less than $500 have an impact.  Only a small part of the benefit comes from the actual monetary value in the account; most of the benefit results from expanding young people’s vision for their future.

Think of the children in your life. Over the summer, families may be purposeful about encouraging library visits or enrolling children in learning-oriented camps.  Those are great ideas. But it turns out those aren’t the only ways to boost academics!  Build your child’s vision for the future by starting or adding to an education savings account in his or her name. Get them involved too!

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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Fiduciary Standards

If I retire today, I have access to accumulated funds in an employer managed retirement fund. I can transfer the money to a private IRA and put it under the management of a financial advisor I select. I could also purchase an annuity; a contract that is offered by an insurance company that operates similar to a pension and would pay me regular monthly income.

I won’t be given a detailed sheet explaining the commissions or fees collected as a result of my choices. I’ll have to trust the guidance provided by the financial advisors I consult and accept that there will be fair compensation for their knowledge and work completed on my behalf.

Today, financial advisors who sell “retirement” classified products must follow the “suitability” standard. They can recommend financial products they reasonably believe are appropriate based on the client’s financial needs, objectives and unique circumstances. A key distinction in terms of loyalty is also important, they can place the interests of their employer and themselves first, not necessarily the client served. It can result in recommendations for products that have higher commissions and fees.

In June, these same financial advisors will be placed under a stricter “fiduciary” standard. The Department of Labor’s definition of a fiduciary demands that advisors act in the best interests of their clients, and to put their clients’ interests above their own. It states that all fees and commissions must be clearly disclosed in dollar form to clients. The advisors are bound legally and ethically to the standard.

The rule change has faced several challenges, but the June 9, 2017 implementation has been announced with a transition period that ends on January 1, 2018. Consumers should see improved disclosure and will have greater control over the fees they pay for retirement-focused financial products.

To learn more visit: http://www.investopedia.com/updates/dol-fiduciary-rule/

 

 

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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Do As I Say, Not As I Do

I am sure there are many that have heard me say, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”  We are all looking for a good deal. So, how do we know when a good deal is too good to be true?

I was looking for a piece of technology that usually sells for a little more than $400.  I found a used one for sale on-line, and I looked up reviews for that product. There were some who did not like this item because the feature they wanted came with a monthly fee. Because of this one reason, several had returned the item for a full refund. I was not interested in those features so the thought of picking up a used one for less cost was appealing.

RED FLAG #1: BUT, is buying a used one for $50 (when new is $400) too good to be true?

I checked the reviews of this particular seller…he had a 4 out of 5 star rating. There were no complaints against him as a seller. He was located in Georgia (not overseas). But still…could it be too good to be true? I decided to order it.

RED FLAG #2:  As soon as I placed the order, I received confirmation and notice that I would receive my order in THREE WEEKS. (In the past, this online company’s policy was that refunds would not be issued after 3 weeks)

Just as I was about to cancel the order, I received an email telling me my package had shipped, along with information on how to track my package. It included the little graphic from the US Postage Service showing the progress my package was making.  I was relieved and did not cancel my order … but in the back of my mind I still had concern that it was too good to be true.

Over the next three weeks, I continued to check on the progress my package was making through the LINK PROVIDED BY THE ONLINE COMPANY. I assumed the link took me to the tracking system inside the US Postal Service. Three weeks came and went and there still was no package. I checked at the post office and there was no record of the package. AHHHH! I went to the online company to file a complaint and found 12 other people had also filed complaints for the same item.

The good news…the online company gave a full refund.

I am truly amazed by the sophisticated schemes scammers are creating to prey on the trusting. I thought I had put in the due diligence (checked ratings, reviews, address of seller, etc.) but still…IF IT SOUNDS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE…it probably is.

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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Does Debt Technically Have an Expiration Date?

If you answered YES, you are correct – but be cautious in how you use that information.    

The statute of limitations on debt is the legal length of time during which creditor can sue a borrower for repayment of debt; the clock starts ticking at the time when the borrower breaches the contract.  It varies from state to state and by type of debt.  In Iowa, debt expires in 5-10 years, depending upon the type of account; the statute of limitations on court judgments, on the other hand, is 20 years.

It is a mistake to conclude that the statute of limitations is a solution to your money woes.   Here are a couple of reasons why:

  1. Expiration dates have nothing to do with how long an unpaid debt appears on your credit report – that time limit is 7 years.  One way to check on your outstanding accounts is to pull your credit report (free) from AnnualCreditReport.com.  Typically, any negative credit items in the last 24 months of your credit history will have the greatest impact on your credit score and ability to get a loan.
  2. In some situations creditors or debt collectors have successfully sued to recoup an unpaid balance, even after the statute of limitations has expired.  This may be especially likely if you do not appear in court to defend yourself.

Even if the statute of limitations has expired, a debt collector may still contact you to try to collect on the debt. However, if you give a written notice for the debt collector not to contact you, the law prohibits them from doing so.

If you have an old debt, should you pay?  Paying off the debt will remove the unpaid balance from your credit report, so paying the debt may improve your credit history.  However, it’s wise to be cautious, especially if you cannot pay the bill in full; if you make a partial payment on an old debt, you may “restart the clock” on the statute of limitations.  In that case, the creditor would again be legally entitled to take you to court to collect on the debt.

If you have relocated to a different state, but you have a debt in the former state, you may need to consult a consumer law attorney to find out which state’s statute of limitations will apply.  Other sources of legal information related to debt collection include reputable Consumer Credit Counseling agencies, the Iowa Concern Hotline (800-447-1985) or Iowa Legal Aid  (or Legal Aid in another state).

It is wise to be aware that debts have statutes of limitations; it is also wise to remember that outstanding debt appears on your credit history for at least 7 years.

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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Garden Time

This weekend I’m going to do some planting.  I’m not a great gardener.

Just a couple weeks ago I listened to a co-worker (a horticulture specialist) answer some questions about problems people have with their tomatoes.  And I cringed when I heard her mention something I frequently do: crowd my tomato plants closer together than they should be. Overcrowding is a problem because, with less space for air to flow between plants and keep the leaves dry, it opens the door for growth of organisms that cause disease.

I already knew that overcrowding tomatoes was a mistake.  But in spite of that, I often yielded to the temptation to try to squeeze in a couple more tomato plants.  (My co-worker reminded me that if I want more plants than I have room for in my garden, I can always grow some in containers.)

To get the most benefit from the time and money I put into my garden this weekend, I will do well to follow research-based information on gardening.  Fortunately I have access (and so do you) to wonderful information about gardening through Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.  In addition to a vast library of on-line information, we also have a Horticulture Hot Line (515-294-3108), where experts can answer your specific questions.

When it comes to gardening, it isn’t always smart to follow my instincts — in past years my instinct to squeeze in extra plants has probably resulted in fewer tomatoes.  That concept is true in money management too — our instincts are not always our best guide.  We’ll do better to invest time in clearly thought-out goal-setting and planning, and then use tested tools and strategies to help us follow those plans.

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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How Would Tax Law Changes Impact You?

Everyone is subject to tax laws, so we all have a reason to pay attention to proposals that are being discussed in Washington DC. When changes are introduced, it’s human nature for proponents to emphasize the positive and omit details that might disappoint.  As citizens and consumers, it is wise for us to look beyond the “selling points” and examine the details.

One proposal is to raise the standard deduction and eliminate personal exemptions. Analysis of the proposal by a respected non-partisan organization points out that the move would benefit single individuals and couples, but not large families. It remains to be seen if changes in child care credits will equalize the loss of additional personal exemptions.

Changes in tax rates also have hidden impacts. Analysis once again raises the question of where the income breaks will occur. Using the current tax table, adjusted gross income between $15,000 and $19,625 is taxed at 10%; under the proposed changes, that group would see an increase to 12%.

When deciding on a traditional versus Roth retirement account, one factor individuals consider is whether they expect their taxes to be higher or lower during retirement. If you currently pay taxes in the highest tax brackets, there is a good chance you will see a reduction in tax rate after you retire. Analysis indicates that under the proposed changes, a similar reduction may not be experienced by individuals in the middle or lower income brackets.

We will need more details before we can determine how proposed tax law changes may impact us; in the meantime you can learn what experts in the field predict at the Tax Policy Center.

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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Living Independently following Graduation

Graduation from high school and college is a milestone event for many families in May. Parents might feel that their role as a financial provider is nearing it’s end, but recent data indicates that youth are living at home longer.

Reasons for this trend extend beyond financial reasons. The Boston Federal Reserve report includes a willingness on the part of parents to be more supportive and a trend toward larger homes as additional factors.

Being supportive can extend beyond putting a roof over a young person’s head and food in the refrigerator. It can include teaching the value of setting aside funds earned today for the future.

MyRA  might be a place to start. If a student is employed part-time or in a temporary summer job, they can save in this Roth account which is low risk and pays a higher return than a pass book savings account.  Because it is a retirement account, it isn’t a factor in determination of student financial aid and the rules make it less likely to be raided for spur of the moment expenses. You are expected to leave the money in the account for five years before making a withdrawal of contributions, a time frame that might work well for a high school graduate who intends to earn a college degree and might need a cash reserve when they reach the next milestone.  Introduction to retirement savings also makes sense for a generation that is less likely to see benefits from pensions and social security. Learn more at MyRa.gov

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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