Aging Safely – Self or Others

While we’re all aging, some of us are further along in the process than others! But even you’re still very young, you probably have people you care about who might be labeled an “older adult.” With age comes certain privileges and freedoms, but we also have to acknowledge that aging also brings cognitive changes as well as physical changes. This is true even for those with no cognitive impairment or dementia – everyone’s brain changes as they age.

This cognitive aging can lead to “diminished financial capacity” – a term used to describe a decline in a person’s ability to manage money and financial assets to serve his or her best interests, including the inability to understand the consequences of investment decisions. Some errors that occur due to diminished financial capacity may be minor, like forgetting to pay a bill, but serious errors that threaten our financial security are possible.

Happily, there are steps we can take to protect ourselves and those we care about. These steps include:

  • keeping important documents organized and easy to find;
  • providing names of “trusted contacts” to your financial professionals;
  • creating (or updating) a power of attorney;
  • and more.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) provides a practical breakdown of steps that will protect you as you age, and also steps to help you assist an older friend or relative you are concerned about: Planning for diminished capacity and illness. None of us likes to think about possible future problems, but if something happens, we know we’ll be glad we did!

NOTE: People of all ages can be injured in accidents or suffer illness that diminishes ability to manage finances and make decisions. The steps outlined by the CFPB are appropriate for adults of all ages to consider.

For more details about cognitive aging and how it affects different types of mental functioning differently, see a trio of articles from The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, starting with Cognitive Aging: A Primer.

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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College Students and Money: A few more things

This is the fifth and final in a series this week about financial issues faced by students in college and trade school.

The list of financial topics that are important to students and other young adults is potentially endless, so please don’t assume that I’ve covered everything this week. Whether we are age 20 or age 60, we always need to keep learning about finances, because the financial world keeps changing – and our needs keep changing too. I’m wrapping up this series with brief notes about three more issues I see as critical for students.

Organizing Important Documents. Keeping important documents in a safe place where you can find them easily if needed is a critical skill to learn. And it is important for all key documents, whether they are paper documents, or electronic documents. Examples of important documents include:

  • Financial records of all types – financial aid papers, loan papers, receipts for major payments (tuition, rent),
  • Documentation of required educational costs, because you may be eligible for tax benefits,
  • Legal contracts (e.g. lease, cell phone plan contract) and documentation of pre-existing damage in a rental unit or dorm room,
  • Tax documents, including prior-year tax returns and documents, along with current-year W-2 forms and any other income records, as well as other year-end tax forms received.

I will not pretend this is a comprehensive list. General rule: if you think it might be important, keep it, at least until you can ask someone trustworthy about it. And I don’t mean just keeping it all laying around your room. We want these documents in a safe place where you can find them. That means they should be enclosed (in a box, or an envelope, or a designated drawer), and ideally they would be sorted into groups or sections or folders so you don’t need to look through all 500 documents to find the one you need. On your computer, you need a folder for important documents, probably with several sub-folders.

Protecting Personal Information. This means never giving out key personal information (social security number, birthdate, financial account numbers, and more) without making sure the person who is asking has a good legal reason to need the information. You will generally need to give your social security number for financial accounts, formal academic records, and medical records.

Additionally, only give that information to people when you know for sure they are who they say they are. That means if you receive a phone call and the caller says they are from your bank, don’t assume it is safe. When people call you, there is no way for you to know who they really are. Instead, use the number you already have on file for your bank and call them. Make caution your middle name when it comes to key personal information.

More: What to Consider When Sharing Your Data (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau)

Using Credit Cards Wisely. We could write a whole series on credit cards – and you can search the MoneyTip$ blog for other articles – but I want to focus on three main points:

  • College is an opportunity to build credit. You can do that by getting credit card and using it. College is a time when credit cards want you as a customer – later in your life, it may be more difficult to obtain credit. So go ahead and open one or two credit card accounts, avoiding cards with annual fees. Then use them. It is only by using your credit cards and paying the bills promptly that you create something extremely valuable: a solid credit history.
  • Surprise credit card bills can kick off a downward financial spiral. Therefore, keep tabs on how much you have charged to your card since the last bill. Keep a record on your phone, or on your whiteboard, or in a notebook or your checkbook – it doesn’t matter where you keep the record. Just make sure you’re prepared for the bill when it comes.
  • Credit is generally free if you pay the bill in full each month. Assuming your card has a grace period and no annual fee, you will pay no interest at all on your purchases if you pay the entire balance before the due date each month. Sure, the bill says you only need to pay $25, but as soon as you carry a balance forward to next month, you start accruing interest on every purchase you make.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, right? These three habits – organizing documents, protecting personal information, and using credit wisely – will dramatically reduce the number of financial “bumps in the road” you’ll experience during college and throughout the rest of your life. You’ll never regret building these helpful financial habits.

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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Weighing the Cost

Airplane and Tornado

Last week a tornado ran for a half-mile through one of our fields, flattening a 200-yard wide strip of corn. What are the chances of that happening? It is a first for us in the 45 years we have farmed. This week, aerial applicators are spraying for aphids and white mold that are threatening north central Iowa soybeans. What are the chances of that happening?  Almost every year that it is wet.

Nearly every day, my husband is inspecting crops or livestock or grain in a bin, to ensure his investment of time, labor and money is insured or protected against accidents, extreme temperatures, weather, disease, mold or pests. The decision to spray, plant, vaccinate, buy, sell or insure is not made once and forgotten about.  He is always weighing the cost of action or inaction against the return on his investment.

The same is true for me on the home front. We purchased a used camper three years ago with the expectation we would use it for five year. Our decision to NOT insure the camper was based on how much five years of insurance would cost compared to the amount we paid for the camper.  The amount we saved in NOT purchasing insurance could easily replace the camper should something happen to it.  Basically, we SELF-INSURED the camper.

The same thought process is used for our vehicles. The nice, fully insured, used car we purchase for me to drive for work will eventually becomes the “farm” vehicle which we carry minimal insurance on. There is a very little chance of my husband having an accident driving down gravel roads between fields, whereas the number of miles I drive on highways for work greatly increases the chances I may have an accident and need to replace my car.

The Money Talk workbook discusses financial basics, insurance, investing, retirement planning, and planning for life events. This practical, clearly written guidebook is available through Iowa State University Extension should you like to learn more about financial basics including Insurance.

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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Free Children’s Stories about Money

When you have children in your life, you want the best for them, and that includes building the financial skills they will need as adults. Even very young children can learn about money and build values and attitudes related to its use. In fact, they are learning from everything they observe – whether positive or negative. We, as the adults in their world, have the opportunity to provide experiences that contribute to positive learning – information, skills, and attitudes that will help them function effectively in our world.

Stories are a wonderful way to introduce concepts, start discussions, and trigger learning. The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has created a set of five stories that introduce financial concepts including Saving, Careers, Borrowing, and more.  Each story is about 8-10 pages; they are available for free download as pdf documents, but they can ALSO be ordered (FREE!) in print – in batches of 25. That’s perfect for classroom teachers and child care providers, but even parents can order 25 copies of each story, and then make sets and give them away to their children’s friends. In addition to “plain” pdf and print versions, each story is available in .ePub format, with animations. Note: I confess I did not download an app for viewing .ePub files, so I cannot share details with you about those, but I have no doubt children would enjoy them!

The stories feature characters known as “money monsters,” who are “a group of creatures who are new to our universe. That means they need to learn about many important things like school, friendship, and financial literacy.” Each character has a name, including Foozil, Gibbins, and Oodle. The stories are probably most suitable for children ages 5-10.

On the “Money Monsters” home page, you’ll find a link to financial education activities – the CFPB has over 200 lesson plans for use in K-12 classrooms. In addition, there is a specific link to “storytime activities,” leading to the eleven lesson plans that connect to the Money Monsters stories. Even if you do not have a classroom, you might find some of these lesson plans interesting – they offer suggestions for how to follow up on the concepts in the story to help your child(ren) expand their learning and thinking.

One final note: if you order printed copies of the stories, you will notice that there are also Money Monster stickers and bookmarks! If you are a teacher or work with youth groups, browsing all the youth financial education publications might be of interest to you!

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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At Risk of Eviction? Seek Help Now!

Because of COVID-19, an “eviction moratorium” has been in place in the U.S. for over a year. That has meant that renters could NOT be evicted for non-payment of rent. That moratorium ends July 31. If you (or someone you know) have gotten behind on rent OR utilities because of financial hardships related to the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be eligible for financial assistance to protect your family.  Applications will end when the available funds are used up; NOW is the time to apply! NOTE: Des Moines and Polk County residents apply through a separate portal.

Eligibility. To be eligible, all of these qualifications must be met:

  • You have past-due rent or utility bills that were incurred after March 13, 2020.
  • You are below income guidelines. These guidelines vary from county to county, and are based on family size as well. Example – for families of two, the income limit ranges from $46,000 to $63,800 depending on the county you live in. Use the Adjusted Gross Income figure from your tax return to check your eligibility.
  • Someone in your household has been unemployed OR you have had reduction in income or other financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • You are at risk of homelessness or housing instability. You can use a past-due rent or utility notice or an eviction notice to show this.

Tips. As part of an application for rent assistance, your landlord must certify that you are behind on rent and must agree to the terms of the program. Be prepared to contact your landlord and explain that you are applying for help to get caught up with rent. Reminder: most landlords will be happy to help, because it means they will get paid – the payments will go directly to them.

The Housing Recovery Helpline is available to answer questions about the program or the application at 855-300-5885 or  515-348-8813.

If you are threatened with eviction, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau outlines steps to take. In addition, Iowa Legal Aid may be able to help you. Information about applying for Legal Aid assistance is found here. The Iowa Concern Hotline from ISU Extension and Outreach is another source of legal information – they do not represent clients, but they can help you identify steps you can take to protect your rights. Call them at 800-447-1985.

Not a Renter, but need help? Assistance for homeowners who are at imminent risk of foreclosure is also available through the Iowa Finance Authority, with the same income guidelines.

Please consider sharing this information with others who might need it.

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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Negotiating For Remote Work

Is Remote Work for You? 

Do you feel limited by the lack of career opportunities in your rural community? Are your skills being underutilized in your current position? Are the only job opportunities miles away from your hometown? Remote work or telecommuting allows you to work from anywhere without leaving your community! Register before July 28 to participate in the August Remote Work Certificate course. The course begins August 2.

I participated in the Remote Work Certificate course in November of 2019 because the idea of not having to travel for work in the winter appealed to me. A year later, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach became an affiliate member of the Remote Online Initiative of Utah State University…all before we fully knew the impact COVID was going to have on Iowa.

Remote work is challenging. Team work is especially difficult when teams are not in the same physical location. It affects communication, brainstorming, and problem-solving and Supervisors need to adjust how they manage their remote teams. To date, 18 Human Sciences Extension and Outreach specialists at Iowa State University have completed this professional development course, assisting with their transition to a remote workplace. The educational programming in Family Life, Nutrition and Finance did not slow when we were all sent home to work.

With approximately a fourth of the FY20 program year affected by COVID-19 and the Derecho, Human Sciences Extension and Outreach provided educational information and programs in nutrition and wellness, family life, and family finance across the state, resulting in over 93,000 direct contacts. 5,284 participants attended online mental health/stress related offerings.

Nationwide, the drive to get employees back into offices is clashing with workers who’ve embraced remote work as the new normal. The pandemic may be winding down, but that does not mean all will return to full-time commuting and packed office buildings. The greatest accidental experiment in the history of labor has lessons to teach us about productivity, flexibility, and even reversing the brain drain.

Currently, employers are facing pressure to adjust their workplace policies, if just to reflect shifting attitudes toward remote work among other tech giants. There has never been a more opportune time to negotiate remote or flexible work arrangements with your boss. In this online workshop, Dr. Paul Hill, Extension professor with Utah State University, will present the evidence-based steps to help you prepare for successful negotiation for remote or flexible work arrangements with your boss. Register to join Dr. Hill on Wednesday, July 21 at 1 PM CDT for this free webinar at Negotiating Your Remote Work Arrangements Tickets, Wed, Jul 21, 2021 at 12:00 PM | Eventbrite.

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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Attention Parents! New Child Tax Credit Features

The American Rescue Plan Act, a huge federal COVID recovery bill passed in March, did more than provide for $1400 stimulus payments. One of its provisions will soon begin impacting millions of American families with children: advance payment of the expanded child tax credit. Those affected should:

  • Plan now for best use of extra funds.
  • Make a point to pay attention to IRS updates on this topic over the next several weeks.
  • Watch their mail – the IRS has begun this week to mail a general information letter to all families it believes to be eligible. In July, they will mail individualized letters specific to each household, telling what to expect.

Expanded Credit. The Child Tax Credit was formerly $2,000 per child; it was unavailable to families with no income, and the amount was limited for families with very low income. For 2021 only:

  • Families with children who will still be under age 18 at the end of the year (born after December 31 2003) are eligible for the full amount of the credit, even if they had no or low income.
  • The amount of the annual credit is increased to $3,000 for most children, and to $3,600 for children under 6 (born after Dec 31 2015).

NOTE: the expanded credit is available to families with incomes below $75,000 (single); $112,500 (head of household); or $150,000 (married-joint). Families with higher incomes will still receive the $2,000 child tax credit under the previously-existing rules.

Advance Payment. Instead of waiting until tax time next February, eligible families will begin receiving monthly advance payments for part of the Child Tax Credit. This means that beginning about July 15 through December, families will receive monthly payments from the IRS equal to $250 per child. The amount will be $300 for younger children eligible for the $3,600 credit. These advance payments will equate to half of the total tax credit; the remainder will be paid as part of the household’s tax refund next spring.

Consider focusing on family stability. Before making special purchases, families may wish to use the funds to get current and/or stay current on all household expenses (rent, utilities, child care, etc). Building a savings cushion also promotes stability: 1) providing funds in case of unexpected expenses such as car repair or appliance replacement; AND/OR 2) covering upcoming expected costs such as back-to-school, holidays, or property taxes. A savings cushion to cover extra expenses can prevent financial setbacks, promote family stability, and reduce financial stress.

Paying off debt is also a good use of extra funds, especially debts with high interest rates. HOWEVER, it is often wise to build a savings cushion even before all debt is paid off. Without that savings, every unexpected expense simply creates more debt and more stress.

Watch for Updates! The IRS will base payments on information from 2020 tax returns. If your situation changes, you will be able to let them know of changes through one or more on-line portals they will create in the near future (similar to the “Check Your Refund” portal, or the “Get My Payment” portal used for stimulus payments). The portal(s) will allow families to enter information such as: bank information for direct deposit; a new child in your household; updated mailing address. The portal will also allow you to decline the advance payments and choose to receive the entire amount with your tax refund after the year is over.

The IRS reference page for the advance child tax credit is here.

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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Get Help Paying the Internet Bill

In a new program from the Federal Communications Commission, qualifying households are eligible for a temporary monthly discount on their broadband internet service; in most cases, the discount is $50/month. The income guidelines are low, so only a fraction of Americans will qualify, but if someone you know is eligible, that $50/month could make a huge difference to their family.

You may qualify if any one of the following applies to you:

  • People with incomes below 135% of the poverty level. That’s about $17,000/year for a single person, or $35,000/year for a family of four.
  • You are eligible for Food Assistance, Medicaid, Free or Reduced School Lunch, or Lifeline benefits.
  • You participate in certain tribal programs, including BIA General Assistance, Tribal Head Start, Tribal TANF, or emergency food distribution.
  • You are a student receiving a Pell Grant.
  • Your household has lost significant amount of income due to pandemic-related job loss. NOTE: this qualification includes people with incomes well above the 135% poverty threshold.

The funding is temporary, and will end when the program runs out of money OR six months after the US Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the COVID public health emergency. Apply now in order to take advantage of this opportunity.

To Apply: Go to https://getemergencybroadband.org/ where you will find all the details and the on-line application form.

Source: Consumer Action, which offers this information in Spanish.
The Federal Communications Commission offers pdf fact sheets in Arabic, Amharic, Burmese, Chinese-Traditional, Chinese-Simplified, French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Somali, Tagalog, and Vietnamese as part of their outreach toolkit.

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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Remote Work

Over the past year, many Iowans have experienced working remotely. Their experiences have convinced them – and their employers – that remote work can continue to be a viable option, with or without a pandemic. Over the past year, many Iowans have experienced working remotely. Their experiences have convinced them – and their employers – that remote work can continue to be a viable option, with or without a pandemic.

Remote work is likely here to stay. Having the skills to be successful in remote work can open employment possibilities for Iowans no matter where they live. Iowans can gain these skills through the Remote Work Certificate. ISU Extension and Outreach offers the virtual course in partnership with Utah State University Extension. The four-week course is open to adult learners and requires approximately 30 hours to complete. Participants work at their own pace but must participate in four weekly virtual workshops and submit weekly assignments. The course simulates remote work. Participants work independently on the assignments and meet as a group each week for one-hour via Zoom to practice technology, etiquette and virtual small-group work. Participants are divided into work groups made up of individuals across the U.S. to complete a project.

Participants must have broadband internet access, a Web camera and microphone, and basic computer proficiency. The course registration fee is $249 and upon completion participants receive a Remote Work Certificate. A new session begins each month, except in July and December. Upcoming sessions are listed and registration information is available on the Human Sciences Extension and Outreach website at https://www.extension.iastate.edu/humansciences/remote-work.

Five human sciences specialists coordinate the course and provide support for participants. At the end of the four-week course, participants who would like one-on-one assistance in setting career goals, identifying gaps in skills and finding opportunities for remote work can schedule time with a specialist. Participants take the course for many reasons. Some are preparing for remote employment. Some are transitioning from an on-site job to remote work. Others are looking for professional development and are investing in themselves. Remote work can provide self-employed entrepreneurs with flexibility and access to a larger pool of contract work to select from as they build their business.

The course also is appropriate for high school seniors who want to enter the workforce upon graduation. Many already possess the necessary technology skills, and the course can add the experience of remote work that may appeal to potential employers. Other students will find remote work valuable as they pay their way through college. By working remotely, they won’t have to find a different job when they return home during semester breaks. ~Brenda Schmitt

Photo credit: insta_photos/stock.adobe.com

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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