December 21, 2010

Last minute gift idea for child: college savings

Give the gift of a college savings account.
"The Utah Educational Savings Plan is offering a $25 bonus for those who open new college savings accounts between Monday, Nov. 29 and Friday, Dec. 24. You must make a contribution of at least $25 and meet other criteria to be eligible for the offer, which is courtesy of Zions Bank…"  Be sure to use the promotion code "1012HOLI" when setting up the account to receive the matching funds. UESP website:
Read Lesley Mitchell’s Salt Lake Tribune column for details on why Utah’s college savings plan is one of the best in the nation:

December 17, 2010

Why you need to scrutinize your credit card bill

Ack! I just spent (wasted?) 2 hours trying to sort out my credit card statement. I knew something had changed because the bill itself looked different. Then I saw the interest charge for $11.77. No way! I always pay my bill in full. Long story short... after 4 phone calls and 2 hours I found out that my bank had sold the credit card payment operation to "Card Services" which collects payments. 

I can no longer pay my bill online from 2 different accounts (I "share" a card with my 85 year old mother). I used to be able to split the charges and pay from separate accounts online. Now "Card Services" will only allow you to link to one account so I have to pay one "share" of the bill by mailed-in check. I easily got the $11.77 deleted from my bill but only because I was vigilant and asked questions. Of course, I could apply for another credit card to keep my bills separate from my mother's but I really don't want to have to deal with another bank, another monthly statement.... I already have 2 credit cards (one is Am Exp which is NOT accepted everywhere but offers cash rebates).

Moral of the story: check your credit card bill each month!

December 14, 2010

Home energy audit

Hey, it's not sexy but one of the best gifts you can give yourself or someone else is a Questar Energy Audit.  I just had Questar Gas home energy audit this morning--WOW!! I learned so much about little (cheap) things we can do to make our home more energy efficient to save money, save energy and cut pollution. It is worth far more than the $25 cost.  I highly recommend the you have the audit guy come to your house. In theory you can do it yourself, but it so worth it to have the auditor check your home in person.  You'll receive good advice and a detailed report listing changes you can make, estimated cost, and estimated payback time. Check it out at:

Women are Not Planning Long-Term for Retirement

While half of women at age 65 will likely live beyond age 85, 92% of female retirees and 89% of female pre-retirees do not plan far enough in the future to cover this 20-year period. A new report from the Society of Actuaries (SOA) highlights these gaps in planning.
Given the fact that women outlive men on average by three or four years, women need to better plan for inflation, outliving assets and the need to cover long-term care costs. For example, the expected average cost of lifetime long-term care services is $29,000 for males and $82,000 for females, in 2000 dollars, which highlights the need for women to better prepare for the risk of incurring long-term care costs in retirement.
"Our study on the impact of retirement risks for women is meant to be a call to action for women to educate themselves on retirement-related risks, better prepare for the long-term and, hopefully, avoid financial shortfalls" said Anna Rappaport, co-author of the report.
The SOA report highlights five key risks affecting women in retirement, including:
  1. Outliving Assets– While men and women have similar planning horizons, women have significantly longer life expectancies.
    • 4 of 10 women over 65 living alone depend solely on Social Security for income.
  2. Loss of Spouse–Because women have longer life expectancies than men and traditionally are younger than their husbands, periods of widowhood of 15 years or more are not uncommon. For many women, the death of a spouse is accompanied by a decline in standard of living.
    • 85% of women over age 85 are widows, compared to 45 percent of men.
  3. Decline in Functional Status–Women are likely to have a longer period of chronic disability and are more likely to need care in a long-term facility or from a paid caregiver.
    • women are more likely than men to have to pay for assistance during the final years of retirement.
  4. Healthcare and Medical Expenses–Health benefit costs may affect women more than men because they often have lower incomes, but not lower health care costs, and are less likely to have employer provided early retiree health benefits.
    • Health care costs for a retired couple both at age 65 in 2010 can amount to $250,000 over their retirement years, not including the cost of long-term care.
  5. Inflation and the Economy–Inflation has a greater impact on women due to their longer life expectancy.
The Womens Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER) co-sponsored the report.

Stop robocalls! National Do Not Call Registry

Tired of getting telemarketing calls, especially those recorded “robocalls”? Then take 3 minutes to register your phone number(s).
“The National Do Not Call Registry gives you a choice about whether to receive telemarketing calls at home. Most telemarketers should not call your number once it has been on the registry for 31 days. If they do, you can file a complaint at this Website. You can register your home or mobile phone for free. Your registration will not expire. Telephone numbers placed on the National Do Not Call Registry will remain on it permanently.”
You need to include an email address and then click on the email link (one for each phone number) in order to complete the process.  It took me less than 3 minutes.
The FTC is cracking down on scams robocalls that promise a reduction in your credit card interest rate. Hang up; it’s a scam.

December 10, 2010

Electronic pickpocketing- check your credit cards

A new twist on credit card theft- a scanner that can pick up the details of your credit card... while the card is in your wallet or purse! Watch this 4.5 minute video from WREG TV news in Memphis. Check your credit cards for the RFID symbol.  Thanks to Smithfield, UT police chief Johnny W. McCoy for sharing this link with my colleague Alena Johnson.,0,6564458.story

Why I Hate Gift Cards

OK. I know gift cards are THE hot gift item this year. They make it easy to give a gift without worrying if it will fit or be the right color. However, the problem is that, unlike cash, a gift card prevents the recipient from saving any of the gift. 

While gift cards are great for the retailers and the economy, they force the recipient to buy something when they might rather enjoy an experience like attending a performance (musical, symphony, ballet, etc.-- support the local performing arts). 

Psychological research confirms that we value experiences more than things (and gift cards are usually for retail stores or restaurants-- while dining out can be an experience, most of us don't need more calories). BUT, most of all, unlike a check or a few crisp bills, gift cards do not allow the recipient to save any of the gift or to donate to charity. 

This is of particular concern when the recipient is a child. A persistent theme through the focus group research I've conducted with women is the desire to teach their children better money management than what they learned. Teaching children the importance of saving and sharing (through donating to a charity that means something to them) should be part of the holiday season. 

With unemployment, underemployment and over-indebtedness plaguing so many families, some adults really could use the money to pay their bills rather than buy another sweater. 

For those who are determined to give gift cards (& for recipients), please check out the advice of the Federal Trade Commission: "FTC Has Gift Card Tips for Holiday Buying" Be aware, that despite the new federal protections, gift cards can still expire, charge inactivity fees, and charge a fee to purchase the card! 

Whether you are the buyer or the recipient of a gift card, check out the FTC's tips. For example: "Avoid online auction sites, because the cards sold there may be counterfeit or may have been obtained fraudulently."

Happy Holidays, 

December 9, 2010

Is it time for your loved one to hang up the car keys?

 "Do you think your older loved-one may be experiencing diminishing driving skills due to the aging process? Are they becoming lost in familiar places, bumping into curbs, mailboxes, or scraping the sides of the garage when they back out? Have they been involved in a minor parking lot fender-bender or do they complain about being honked at? Do they seem easily confused or more forgetful when you talk with them on the phone?

Beyond the emotional challenges, are you concerned about financial and liability issues that could arise from an incident involving the older driver in your family? Have you reviewed your insurance coverage for gaps and premium issues? Is it possible that the older driver in your family could jeopardize not only his or her own financial well-being but also your own?

If so, don't panic; you're certainly not alone. The most important thing to remember is that the time to start addressing your concerns is now, before "concerns" turn into "tragedies".

To help you do that, Keeping Us Safe has released its long awaited workbook titled:
"Beyond Driving with Dignity; The workbook for the families of older drivers".

The workbook employs a very user-friendly, uncomplicated method and is designed to be used in the comfort and confidence of the family's home.

"Beyond Driving with Dignity" was written to help families (or professionals working with families) by providing them with a "roadmap to success" in their quest to overcome the challenges of an older driver's safety.

If driving restrictions or even a complete retirement from driving are deemed appropriate, the "Limit Driving, Not Living" chapter of the workbook helps the family identify and implement alternative means of transportation for the retiring driver.

Keeping Us Safe is a national organization with a primary mission of helping to keep older drivers, safe drivers. In addition to the Beyond Driving with Dignity program mentioned above, Keeping Us Safe also offers two presentations for your group or organization titled:

- A Safe Drive Through the Aging Process (meant for older drivers)
- Adults with Aging Parent Drivers"

(quoted from Institute for Financial Consumer Education)

The workbook costs $25 + S&H from:

But first check the AARP website for their free online resource: Is it time for your loved one to hang up the keys?  AARP’s We Need to Talk online seminar is "Produced by AARP and based on information created jointly by The Hartford and the MIT AgeLab, the seminar provides practical tips and advice on how to recognize when it’s time to limit or stop driving and how to discuss the topic with loved ones. We recommend you complete the three modules in sequence. Each takes approximately 30 minutes to complete."

Earn higher interest at online banks

Online savings accounts are the best option right now for liquidity and rates: FDIC insured, no minimum balance, no monthly fees, no early withdrawal penalty, interest compounded daily, and they pay higher interest rates than money market mutual funds and many other options. Transfer money electronically to a linked account (traditional savings or checking account); limited # of withdrawals/month (often 6). Rates are variable and, at this point, declining but still better than other liquid options.

Some good options and recent interest rates:

Don't forget that all these links should automatically convert to an "https" URL with the little padlock symbol in the lower right corner to ensure the sight is secure.
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