December 27, 2011

Credit Report Maintenance

View your credit report, add a 90 day fraud alert to protect against ID theft, and opt out of credit card offers:

I recommend putting a fraud alert on your credit report as a preventive measure against identity theft. The fraud alert needs to be renewed every 90 days. It's a good prevention strategy if you don't anticipate applying for credit in the next 3 months. This is an especially good strategy to help your aging parents protect themselves from ID theft.

“You can add a fraud alert message to your credit report to help protect your credit information. Fraud alert messages notify potential credit grantors to verify your identification before extending credit in your name in case someone is using your information without your consent. We recommend that you review a copy of your personal credit report.” (Experian website)

To save paper and trees as well as protect against ID theft, opt out of mailed credit card offers:

December 20, 2011

Make Money, Not Excuses

A colleague recommended Jean Chatzky’s book Make Money, Not Excuses. “If you want to get rich, you need only do four things:
  1. Make a decent living
  2. Spend less than you make
  3. Invest the money you don’t spend
  4. Protect the financial world you build so that a disaster doesn’t take it all away from you
Sounds easy, I know. So why, then, is it so hard, particularly for women?”

Do yourself a favor and add Jean Chatzky to your reading list for 2012. If your local library doesn’t have Chatzky’s books, request that they order them.

Check out her blog at: The blog post on “financial infidelity” sounds intriguing!

Weathering Tough Economic Times—12 Tips for 2012

"Tough economic times have taken a toll on many Americans over the last couple of years. But making sound financial decisions and saving for the future can help you weather financial storms. The start of a new year is a great time to take stock of your finances, so the FINRA Investor Education Foundation has put together these 12 practical tips that can help keep your finances on course in 2012."

  1. Start a Rainy Day Fund
  2. Handle Credit Cards With Care.
  3. Check Your Credit Report and Score
  4. Shop Around For Financial Products.
  5. Don’t Leave Money on the Table: Contribute to Your 401(k).
  6. Avoid Payday Loans and Other Money Drains.
  7. Don’t Overdraw Your Checking Account or Debit Card.
  8. Do a Background Check on Your Financial Professional.
  9. Keep Your Insurance Coverage Current.
  10. Diversify Your Investments.
  11. Save for College Using Tax-Advantaged Accounts
  12. Find Free, Reliable Financial Education Resources in Your Community: like Financial Planning for Women! (my addition)
For details and links to helpful websites:

December 7, 2011

Future of Health Insurance?

“Companies will seek to protect themselves from unexpected high medical costs by shifting workers toward health plans that involve defined contributions instead of defined benefits, similar to the shift that has happened with retirement benefits, writes Peter Orszag, a former Office of Management and Budget director.”

“Over the next decade, we are likely to see a shift in health insurance in the U.S.: So-called defined-contribution plans will gradually take over the market, shifting the residual risk of incurring high health-care costs from employers to workers.”

“The market today is dominated by ‘defined-benefit’ plans, under which companies determine a set of health-insurance benefits that are provided for employees. These will gradually be replaced by defined-contribution plans, under which companies pay a fixed amount, and employees use the money to buy or help pay for insurance they choose themselves.”

We are moving faster to a YOYO (you’re on your own) economy. Details in Bloomsburg Businessweek

December 6, 2011

Best 5 Ways for Women to Achieve Retirement Security

Best 5 Ways for Women to Achieve Retirement Security
Longevity plus health care costs equals worry for women
1. Communicate and Plan
2. Have a Smart Social Security Plan
3. You First, Kids Second
4. Plan for Health Care Expenses
5. Consider Hiring a Financial Planner
Read more:

No ‘New Normal’ Economy

“Are the latest swings in the economic and financial headlines making you wonder when it will ever stop?” financial writer Jason Zweig asks.

“The short answer is: It will never stop. And what’s been happening isn’t “the new normal”; it’s just the old normal playing out before a new audience.” So get used to the volatility, save and invest more and hold a diversified portfolio. Maybe this article will help put the violent swings in the economy in perspective... or maybe not. But one must admit that the first decade of the 21st century has been a real test of investors' risk tolerance.

Jason Zeweig is one of my favorite financial writers.

Read more at:

December 4, 2011

Give a child a college savings account

This holiday season give a child you love a gift that they will remember for a long time- establish a college savings account. The accounts offer tax savings and are an excellent way to save for college. There is no minimum contribution so no excuses.

Skip the gift cards and toys imported from China. Check out the website of the Utah Educational Savings Plan.

Ruminations on Gift Cards

After reading numerous articles about the pitfalls of gift cards and the estimated $1.9 billion (yes, that’s a b) that are never redeemed, I can't help but wonder why people don't just give cash (or even checks).

It is critical to teach children to save and you'll teach them the exact opposite message by giving a gift card. With cash (or equivalent) parents can encourage their children to save some and even set some money aside for donations. One lament I hear from women is how they wish their children would learn better financial behaviors. Think about what lessons you are teaching your children this holiday season (and I don’t mean just about gift cards).

Secondly, in today's economy many adults need money to pay the rent, mortgage, or utility bill, although it may not be obvious and they may be trying to hide their situation. I guess I'm conservative and old fashioned but I view gift cards as simply a very effective marketing strategy to encourage Americans to spend more than is prudent.

December 3, 2011

Beware of fake IRS emails

My husband received the following email which directed him to click on an attachment. The IRS will NEVER contact you by email. Obviously something nasty was in the attachment. Don't be a victim!

Dear Taxpayer!

You are encouraged to pay a penalty for the failure to file income tax returns prior to January 31, 2011.
Note, IRC [Section 6038(b)(1)] provides for a monetary penalty of $10,000 for each [Form 5471] that is filed after the due date of the income tax return or does not include the complete and accurate information described in [Section 6038(a)].

No penalty will be imposed if the company shows that the late filing was due to reasonable cause.
For more information please refer to attached file.

Internal Revenue Service United States Department of the Treasury.

December 1, 2011

Money Talk: A Financial Guide for Women

Money Talk: A Financial Guide for Women ($23.00; 192 pages; 2009). This workbook teaches women the basics of smart money management.

Money Talk provides answers to questions like: How much do I need to save for retirement?; How much insurance should I have?; How and where should I invest my money?; and How do I create a will? Over 45 worksheets help readers evaluate their personal finances, set goals for financial well-being, and implement a plan to reach those goals.

The book is divided into five sections -- Financial Basics; Are You Covered? Insurance Basics; Investing Basics; Investing for Retirement; and Planning for Future Life Events. Each section includes lessons that demystify important financial concepts and exercises that allow readers to apply the information.

To learn more about the book:

Health Insurance for Uninsured Utahns

Uninsured adults can apply for basic health insurance through Utah's Primary Care Network (PCN). Beyond the annual enrollment fee of $50, the program is free and covers doctor’s visits, emergency room care, prescriptions (birth control included), and some dental and eye care.

Requirements: age 19-64, U.S. citizen or legal resident, no other health insurance, not eligible or Medicaid, and meet income requirements (i.e., Max. $33,525/year for family of four).

Apply online:

Or call 1-888-222-2542 Open enrollment for parents with children: December 10 - 23, 2011.

Retirement Planning Tools from SSA

One of the best ways to begin retirement planning is with the Social Security Administration’s Retirement Planner at The Retirement Estimator at gives you the ability and flexibility to test different retirement ages and learn how to maximize retirement benefits by delaying retirement.

Another great resource is This government site has a wealth of information from multiple agencies covering an array of topics—from buying a home to paying for college.

12 Myths about Bankruptcy

Will you lose your house and retirement savings? When will you be able to borrow money again? Get the facts on these questions and more from I hope you don't need this info but here it is.

November 29, 2011

Early Retirement Scams

Tempted by seminar offers of early retirement? Be careful.

Scam artists know the appeal of retiring early. If you find yourself receiving an invitation to an “early retirement seminar,” be leery because most seminars offer flawed or fraudulent investment pitches.

"To help you spot trouble, the Securities and Exchange Commission, along with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, has published “Early Retirement Seminars 101: Smart Tips for Spotting Retirement Scams.” The guide explains how such ruses work, particularly those that “dangle the prospect of early retirement with little or no reduction in income compared to your working years.” The publication also offers real-life examples of fraudulent pitches and where to turn for help."

Note that these scams are not related to legitimate early retirement packages that may be offered by your company

Source: Glenn Ruffenach's Smart Money blog.

November 28, 2011

Taking Over a Loved One’s Financial Affairs

Join AARP and National Family Caregivers Association on Wednesday, November 30, 2011 at 7 pm ET (5 pm MST) to discuss “When it’s Time to Intervene—Taking Over a Loved One’s Financial Affairs.” This free Webinar will help caregivers and loved ones alike understand:
  • What happens to our bodies as we age.
  • What to assess when evaluating your situation.
  • How to recognize signs that something is wrong.
  • The need to create a plan for the future, and
  • How to get help.
You can register for the Webinar at:

November 26, 2011

Credit Repair: How to Help Yourself

“You see the advertisements in newspapers, on TV, and on the Internet. You hear them on the radio. You get fliers in the mail, and maybe even calls offering credit repair services. They all make the same claims:

'Credit problems? No problem!'

'We can remove bankruptcies, judgments, liens, and bad loans from your credit file forever!'

'We can erase your bad credit — 100% guaranteed.'

'Create a new credit identity — legally.'”

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says, "do yourself a favor and save some money, too. Don’t believe these claims: they’re very likely signs of a scam. Indeed, attorneys at the nation’s consumer protection agency say they’ve never seen a legitimate credit repair operation making those claims. The fact is there’s no quick fix for creditworthiness. You can improve your credit report legitimately, but it takes time, a conscious effort, and sticking to a personal debt repayment plan.”

Learn more from the FTC at:

November 23, 2011

Before you spend all that money on Black Friday...

Will you really "save" money by spending?

Do you really need to give gifts to all the people on your list? Or might you honor them by donating to their favorite charity or with tickets to a play or concert?

Is it time to start teaching your (grand)children about giving (especially on Thanksgiving)?

Do any of us need more clutter in our house? We are getting new floors in our house so all the furniture (and most of the stuff in closets) needed to be moved into the garage or from room to room as the work progressed. As part of the process my husband and I have been getting rid of STUFF! Some will go to Somebody's Attic thrift shop (couch and double bed with frame) but a lot of little stuff will go into the trash where it should have gone long ago.

"It's time to say goodbye to all that stuff" Jane Brody recently wrote in the New York Times. Brody refers to a new book “The Hoarder in You: How to Live a Happier, Healthier, Uncluttered Life” (published Tuesday by Rodale Books) by Robin Zasio, a clinical psychologist and a star of the show “Hoarders.” If you need motivation to clean out excess stuff and to reduce your gift buying, read Brody's article.

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 11, 2011

Age-enhanced photos encourage more retirement savings

When people see what they might look like at age 65, they tend to save about 33% more toward retirement, according to a study published in the Journal of Marketing Research. While many Americans are investing less for retirement due to unemployment, market volatility and financial anxiety, a study suggests that age-enhanced photos can change some people's minds. "When people are exposed to realistic images of their future selves, they are more willing to act in future-oriented manners, such as taking money that could be spent today and saving it for tomorrow," researcher Hal Hershfield says.

Read the study at:

November 6, 2011

Bank Fees & Bank Transfer Day

Did you ditch your bank yesterday? It's not too late to switch to a more consumer-friendly credit union (CU) or community development financial institution. Over the years surveys have repeatedly shown that consumers are better off at CUs than at banks. News reports indicate that 650,000 consumers joined CUs and moved $4.5 billion to these accounts in the past month in response to the proposed $5/month debit card fees. Almost anyone can join a credit union and CUs have been advertising heavily to attract customers. Transferring accounts takes some time and careful monitoring if you have your paycheck automatically deposited and various bills paid automatically. Set up the new account and make sure your auto deposits and payments are transferred over to the new account before you cancel. And then check to be sure these payments are made on time.

One commentator said that the monthly debit card fee at least was upfront and clear as opposed to so many bank and credit card fees that blind-sided consumers. You can be sure that financial institutions (and CUs are not immune from needing to raise revenue, as well) are hard at work in the back room figuring other ways to increase revenues after new federal legislation limited the fee income from debit card transactions. So be sure to read those notices included with your statement.

Check out to comparison shop for checking accounts and other financial products.

November 5, 2011

Great financial website & blog

Check out the Financial Security website and "Squared Away" blog from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. This excellent, research-based information should be the foundation of your education about investing and planning or retirement. I've been following the research reports from the Center for a number of years and they are on the leading edge of consumer (and policy)-oriented research. The "Squared Away" blog is written by a former Boston Globe financial reporter. Although geared to financial planning practitioners, it provides spot-on valuable info for the general public.

November 4, 2011

New Developments affect Student Loans

On October 25, the Obama administration announced its plan to “make college more affordable and to make it even easier for students to repay their federal student loans.”

The new initiative has 3 goals:
  1. Allow borrowers to cap their student loan payments at 10% of discretionary income.
  2. Improve ease of making payments and reduce default risk by consolidating loans
  3. Provide consumers with better information to make college selection decisions
If you or someone you know has student loans or is contemplating taking out loans, check out the details:

November 1, 2011

Want to spend less? Spend cash!

Behavioral finance studies find that adding so-called “felt losses” helps deter poor behavior.

For example, consumers who buy non-essential luxury items or treats with cash are likely to spend a lot less than they would if they used credit or debit cards. We actually feel psychological pain when we pay with cash. Just think how you would feel if you had to pay cash to fill the tank on a large SUV or pickup! Swiping that card, whether debit or credit, is far less painful than parting with cash.

Research confirms that consumers who use credit cards spend more than those who use cash. Further, credit card users are much more likely to spend more than they intended. That’s why every department store offers incentives to sign up for their credit card.

October 27, 2011

Protecting Elder Americans from Financial Abuse

Free advice and guidance on how to protect yourself and your loved ones against investment swindles and financial abuse.

Thursday, November 10, 2011
11 am -8 pm MST (9:00 am - 6:00 pm E)

One out of every five citizens over the age of 65 have been victimized by a financial swindle. Of particular concern are seniors with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) who can perform most daily functions, but have trouble or become confused when it comes to managing their finances.

In collaboration with several national organizations, Kiplinger is coordinating a toll-free nationwide call-in service for individuals seeking advice. From 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday, November 10, members of the Financial Planning Association, National Adult Protective Services Association and health care professionals will answer your questions.

October 13, 2011

Learning to Invest Podcasts

“FINRA’s Investor Podcasts discuss the timely financial issues and information you’ll need to save smarter and weather today's turbulent stock markets. Investor Podcasts will also help you protect your portfolio by reporting trends in investment fraud and other traps investors at all wealth and experience levels should avoid.” Most podcasts are less than 10 minutes.

This podcast series introduces listeners to the first steps and basic concepts of investing.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has a lot more podcasts on topics like: saving for college, retirement, choosing an advisor, money management, annuities & insurance, and more.

September 14, 2011

How to Complain

How to Complain
“Consumer Action has updated its perennial favorite guide How to Complain in honor of our 40th anniversary. The free and comprehensive booklet is designed to help you complain effectively and get results. How to Complain includes advice on how to approach businesses with a complaint; escalating a complaint through customer service or a company’s executive offices; writing emails and letters about your complaint, and documenting your complaint.” 

This is a terrific resource for consumers!

September 7, 2011

Grab & Go Box for disaster preparedness

The east coast hurricanes and Texas wildfires remind us that we are all vulnerable to natural disasters. Here is Utah we live under the threat of a devastating earthquake. If you live in an area prone to natural disasters (who doesn't??) that could require evacuation, consider creating a grab-and-go box

Use a durable, sealed waterproof box or backpack. Put in copies of everything that is in your emergency file, and add other important papers:  (

Note that the list calls for COPIES of important documents. The originals should be kept in a safe deposit box at a financial institution.

Americans Cannot Visualize Financial Dreams

"Financial Professionals Say Americans Cannot Easily Visualize Financial Dreams:  Americans continue to show resilience post-financial crisis, but a new study released by the Principal Financial Group® and conducted by Harris Interactive reveals that many still need help to envision their financial dreams. Only one in 10 financial professionals said their clients find it easy to visualize their financial dreams, according to the study." 
Read more…(

What about you? It's much easier to stay motivate to invest for the future if you have a concrete vision of your goal, whether it be retirement, educational expenses, buying a house or ______ (you fill in the blank).  It helps to find a photo of what you want and post it on your mirror or fridge so you are reminded each day.

August 22, 2011

Elder Rights Resource Booklet

The Utah Elder Rights Resource Booklet
This 28 page resource was written by Jilenne Gunther and published by the Utah Division of Aging and Adult Services. Table of Contents:
  1. Protecting Yourself against Scams and Sales
  2. Knowing Your Consumer Rights
  3. Preventing and Protecting Yourself from Abuse
  4. Caring for Grandchildren
  5. Learning about Benefits
  6. Obtaining Medical Insurance
  7. Finding Housing Options
  8. Organizing Your Assets: Estate Planning
  9. Keeping the Power: End-of-Life Planning
  10. Making Arrangements: Death of a Loved One
  11. Getting Legal Help: Where to Go from Here
The author is willing to speak to groups on any topic in this book. 

Jilenne Gunther
Legal Enforcement Counsel
Utah Division of Aging and Adult Services

How expensive a home should you buy?

Whether you currently own a home or are in the market to buy, some national statistics shed slight on the question of how expensive a home to purchase. 

The traditional rule of thumb has been to spend no more than 2.5 times your annual income on a home. The acronym PITI stands for principal, interest, taxes, and insurance.  So PITI includes your monthly mortgage payment (principal & insurance), property taxes, and HO insurance premium but should also include any homeowner’s association fee and mortgage insurance premium.  It is this total, not just the mortgage payment, that should be 30% of your income or less.  

A recent Wall Street Journal article (8/17/11) reveals:  “For the U.S. as a whole, home prices were around 2.9 times incomes from 1985 to 2000. But during the housing boom, values increased at a much faster rate than incomes. The price-to-income ratio peaked at around 5.1 in 2005. Home prices have since fallen so that on average, nationally, prices are around 3.3 times incomes, or about 14% above the historical trend.” So homeowners can calculate your own ratio and see where you stand.  

Personally I have always bought homes that are well below the ratio so that we have more money for other goals and flexibility so my husband could switch jobs or take time off (a summer in Australia for us) and to allow for possible unemployment and unexpected expenses. It’s clear from these data that far too many Americans exceeded their capacity to pay (encouraged by real estate sales people, mortgage brokers, and media hype) during the housing bubble.

August 18, 2011

Looking on the bright side of stock market woes

With assets losing value it’s hard to find any good news in the investment markets. One exception is that now may be a good time to convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. When you convert you have to pay taxes but with reduces values the amount of taxes will be less.

Read about this strategy in “Market Woes Open Door for Roth Conversions” By Steve Garmhausen

August 16, 2011

Become a Saver!

Are you a Saver? Do you want to get started on building savings and paying down debt?

Visit to learn how you can take action to Build Wealth Not Debt! There are state specific websites as well such as Utah Saves:

August 14, 2011

Financial guidebook for widows

Widowhood can be a devastating life event.  Friends and family members may offer to help but we often feel helpless in providing support. Providing the widow with a copy of this book may be the most valuable help you can offer. 
Kathleen Rehl’s book, Moving Forward on Your Own: A Financial Guidebook for Widows.
Quotes below are from the web page which also provides ordering information for this award winning book:
“A husband’s death is possibly the most devastating event a woman will experience. She may wonder, “Am I going to be able to make it on my own?” She may feel overwhelmed and not know what to do next.
“This guidebook helps widows begin to feel more secure about their financial matters, serving as a catalyst to assist women make progress after a spouse's death. It integrates basic financial information with self-reflective exercises to encourage self-confidence about money issues. Written in an easy-to-understand manner, it's presented in a beautiful format--to help heal a woman's soul while gently focusing on money matters.
“Widows transitioning into their new financial life may use this book on their own or with the guidance of a professional. Grief support group members can use this book together. Or, it may be given as a gift to a family member or friend who is widowed.”

July 17, 2011

10 Steps to Prepare for Retirement

10 steps to retirement from AARP
  1. Define Your Retirement
  2. Take Stock of Your "Assets"

  3. Evaluate Your Health — Now

  4. Determine When to Collect Social Security

  5. Network Through Social Media and Other Methods

  6. Decide How Much You Want (or Need) to Work

  7. Create a Retirement Budget

  8. Find New Ways to Cut Your Expenses (Start Saving More)

  9. Prepare for the Unexpected

  10. Stick to Your Plan (Our Community Can Help)

Read the details at:

Social Security Benefits Calculator- When to claim

Deciding when to claim SS retirement benefits is critical to one's long range financial security and much more complex than most people imagine. It is NOT simply a matter of deciding at what age one will retire and start benefits, especially for someone who is currently married,widowed or divorced. Here is a link to a great tool to explain the options and help decide. 
"AARP announced the launch of its Social Security Benefits Calculator, a unique interactive tool designed to help people make the complex but critical decision of what is the best age to claim Social Security benefits to meet their financial goals. The calculator is part of AARP’s new “Ready for Retirement?” effort, a ten-step approach to envisioning and planning for a secure retirement, which includes creating a budget and preparing for the unexpected."

AARP Press Release AARP Launches Social Security Benefits Calculator
To try out the new AARP Social Security Benefits Calculator, visit

June 29, 2011

Utah in top 5 for Ponzi Schemes

Last year the FBI labeled Utah as one of its top 5 states for Ponzi (pyramid) schemes. Now a new study confirms that Utah is #5 in the nation on the "Ponzi Prosperity Index."

Ponzi schemes promise outrageous investment returns and use money from new investors to pay the initial investors who brag to their friends and family to suck them into the scheme. Does no one remember Bernie Madeoff and his promises of guaranteed, safe returns?? No investment return is guaranteed. The new study shows that religious group members are Ponzi targets about 30% of he time (based on trust of religious leaders and co-worshipers). The elderly and retired people are also prime targets (because that's where the money is).

For at least the past 3 decades The Salt Lake Tribune has been published articles about "affinity group" investment fraud and today's (June 29) paper reminds readers to be very wary of unrealistic promises of safe, high investment returns. Keith Woodwell, director of the Utah Division of Securities is quoted in the article, "I would say it is probably closer to 50 percent of the scams we see in Utah that are marketed based on some type of affinity group." Be skeptical and help educate your friends and family (particularly seniors) about Ponzi schemes and affinity fraud.

Read the details at:

June 21, 2011

So You Think You Know All About Credit Scores... is a new website to educate consumers ahead of new regulations’ poised to dramatically affect borrowers. is an interactive quiz that lets you test their understanding of credit scores and improve your understanding of how your credit scores affects the cost of borrowing money. Compare your score to the national average. After you take the quiz be sure to check out the resources page
While you’re at it, don’t forget to get a free copy of your credit report once a year from each of the three national credit reporting companies at or by calling 1-877-322-8228.
P.S. I teach this stuff and I didn’t score 100%.

Beware Business Credit Card Solicitations

Four U.S. Senators urged the Federal Reserve to crack down on business credit card marketing, because the cards do not come with many of the protections that are standard on basic consumer credit cards. According to the Wall Street Journal the senators want the Fed to require credit card companies to improve disclosures on the business cards and clearly warn consumers that the cards are NOT protected by the latest regulations that have reined in billing practices such as sudden interest-rate hikes. Each month lenders send out 10 million offers to consumers for professional credit cards, according to a study by the Safe Credit Card project at Pew Charitable Trusts, a Washington, D.C.-based consumer-advocacy group. See:
Second point: register to Opt Out of credit card solicitations to cut down on junk mail, wasted trees & paper, and to protect against ID theft from stolen solicitations. Sign up at OptOut Prescreen:

Save up to $1/gallon of gas

I don’t like to promote specific retailers in this blog but I was pleasantly shocked recently when I bought gas at Conoco on 400 North in Logan and saved 90 cents per gallon!! 

I’m used to the old system of saving up to 15 cents/gallon by swiping my Smith’s fresh values reward card when buying gas.  When I shopped at Smith’s yesterday I noticed the sign claiming you can save up to $1/gallon. With the vacation travel season starting, this is a great deal.   

I shop at Smith’s Marketplace because it is close to my home so I can walk, ride my bike, or stop on my way home with the car (saves time and money to shop close to home).  Students in the “Consumer in the Market” class at USU do a comparison shopping project each semester and their studies show there is not a consistently cheapest grocery store in town.

June 12, 2011

Get a Life You Don't Need a Million to Retire Well

Get a Life: You Don't Need a Million to Retire Well
While I'm always encouraging people to invest more for retirement, this is one of my favorite books.  Read a free chapter online at:

"The financial-service industry wants you to believe that in order to avoid financial destitution, you need to put aside huge amounts of money that you -- let's say it together -- "should have begun saving years ago."

Not true, states Ralph Warner, Nolo co-founder and the author of Get a Life. Although a sensible savings plan makes good horse sense, many other actions and decisions will determine whether you enjoy your retirement years.

Get a Life shows you how to beat the anxiety surrounding retirement, and to develop a plan to make your golden years the best of your life by:
  •     developing family relationships
  •     maintaining and creating friendships
  •     improving health
  •     keeping active
  •     developing a robust curiosity for the world
  •     realistically calculating how much money you need and how to secure it
The 5th edition provides the latest research and studies that show physically and mentally active retirees live longer and enjoy happier lives."

May 22, 2011

Social Security Fix-it book

Confused about Social Security? Worried that it won't be there for you? Frustrated with the lack of action by Congress to deal with the looming financing problems? Wondering who to believe?

The non-partisan Center for Retirement Research at Boston College has produced an easy to understand educational tool to clear up the confusion and point the way toward a reasonable solution: "Everything the earnest but overburdened citizen needs to know about the Social Security financing shortfall and the leading proposals for addressing the problem."

Available at:

This colorful, illustrated, easy-to-understand booklet explains the problem (No, SS is NOT going bankrupt!) Decide for yourself (and your multi-generation household) what steps you would like your Congressional representatives to implement to resolve the funding problem before delay makes it worse. Go ahead! Click the link above. I think you will be pleasantly surprised to discover that the problem is solvable.

Natural Disaster Planning and Recovery

It's been almost a month since my last post because my husband and I have been on a 4,000 miles motorcycle trip from N. Utah to Maryland, a trip that will be remembered as the 'natural disaster' tour!

We rode along the Louisiana coast that was devastated by hurricane Rita in 2005 where we saw lots of empty concret pads where homes used to be. A section of beach that used to hold 250 homes now has a dozen, all new since Rita. Although we did not see the worst of the massive Mississippi River flooding, we rode through portions of Louisiana that are now being inundated. I've got photos of prisoners filling sandbags and we stood on a levee watching the water rise in Morgan, LA. 

As we headed north from the Gulf we saw the first examples of tornado damage near Jackson, MS. From there north through Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, N. Carolina and Virginia we viewed extensive tornado damage and passed a number of FEMA disaster recovery stations. Just 150 milies short of our destination we spent two nights in a motel to avoid the severe thunder storms; I was so glad we did as a (thankfully small) tornado struck Frederick County, MD, our destination, that day.

Right now some Utah homeowners are cleaning up after or preparing for the inevitable flooding as our massive snow pack starts to melt. I remember well the flooding of spring 1983 & 84. But our biggest risk for extensive damage in Utah (and other western states) is earthquakes. For actions to take to make your home safer during an earthquake use the search festure of this blog (type: earthquake).

But the purpose of this post is to feature a new resource for disaster recovery, Recovery After Disaster: The Family Financial Toolkit, developed by the University of Minnesota Extension and North Dakota State University Extension Service, in partnership with Lutheran Social Service. The Cooperative Extension Service provides adult education throughout the U.S. This excellent resource is available at:

BUT don't wait until disaster hits to take some important steps. Unit 5 is a good summary of what everyone needs to know about their current financial status. Units 6 & 7, Where will I live? are a good reminder of the need for renters insurance and the portion of HO insurance that pays for you to live elsewhere if your home is not habitable. Do you have a detailed and current home inventory, with photos, to document your possessions? Besides a copy at home, keep a copy in your safe deposit box, and with a relative or friend who lives in a different community. USU Extension's publication Take Charge of Your Money can help you get started.

Now is the time to talk with your homeowners' insurance agent to be sure you have appropriate coverage; remember that HO insurance specifically excludes coverage for lood and earthquakes. You need to purchase separate policies and your agent can help with the process. It seems that no one is immune from natural disasters so don't kid yourself and don't delay.

April 25, 2011

Did you get a big income tax refund?

Three-quarters of taxpayers overpay Uncle Sam; the average federal income tax refund last year was $3,003!  I know that economic psychologists tell us people love to get those refunds of overpaid taxes; they feel like it is a windfall. But it is totally irrational. (I wonder how many tea party-ers over pay their taxes.) If you carry a balance on a credit card, it's crazy to over pay your taxes! Reduce your withholding and direct those funds to paying down that high interest debt faster.  If you don't have a substantial emergency fund, reduce your withholding and set up an automatic deposit to an online savings account as a painless way to save. No Roth IRA? T. Rowe Price will let you start an individual retirement account with as little as $50/month with an automatic investment plan. Unfortunately, too many consumers splurge on consumer purchases with their refund money (note all the advertising to get you to use your refund to buy furniture, TVs, etc.) rather than investing it to secure your future. Nag, nag, nag... don't be a bag lady in your old age!

Adjust your W-4 withholding using the website:,,id=96196,00.html

Taking the mystery out of retirement planning: Focus on women and retirement

“Four in 10 working Americans say they will never be able to afford to retire, a Harris Interactive survey of 1,005 adults for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants found.  In addition, 55% do not know how much they will need to afford retirement, and among those who think they know, they are low-balling the figures. Asked how much they would need for a 20-year retirement starting at age 65, those earning $50,000 to $75,000 gave a median estimate of $250,000.”

Need some help getting motivated and implementing a plan for retirement? View a series of 52 slides with audio produced by the US Dept of Labor in cooperation with the Social Security Administration, the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement,  and others.
You can view the event at:

April 17, 2011

How to conquer killer markets, con artists, and yourself

The little book of safe money: How to conquer killer markets, con artists, and yourself
by Jason Zweig, personal finance columnist at the Wall Street Journal.  I haven't read this yet but Zweig is one of my favorite finance writers. Zweig interprets research in psychology, economics, and neuroscience as they relate to personal finance. 
“This book is the latest in John Wiley's "Little Book Big Profit" series. The purpose of the series is to bring the brightest minds to readers so they can pick and choose from the best investment advice available. The book's 22 chapters live up to this purpose, giving the reader solid, research-based and practical information about investing.”
“Zweig offers three commandments related to investor risk-taking. He follows with the importance of budgeting and reducing debt, realizing that you cannot have both low risk and high yield in the same investment and knowing the six basic rules for keeping cash safe. You'll learn why money market funds don't belong in a retirement account but TIPS do.”  Learn much more from this perceptive writer who can translate complicated research concepts into practical advice.  (quotes from review by CFP® Jon Ford).

Available as an E-audiobook from Logan Library.

Know your retirement personality

“There is more to a successful retirement than finances. Personality can play a big role. Take our 5-step profiler to discover your attitude toward life change, risk and uncertainty as these viewpoints determine how you’ll react to the change from work to retirement. Different personality types react to assorted ways to change. Knowing your personality will help you set realistic retirement goals and plan for the lifestyle that best fits you. Complete our profiler tool and you’ll receive your personality type description along with tools and resources to help you transition into retirement.” This 5 question quiz from Transamerica may shed some light on how you will adapt successfully to the transition from work to retirement, which, of course, is not always from full-time work to full-time leisure.  “Most pre-retirees plan to blend work and play to help smooth their financial transition. A total of 67% plan to work in some capacity as they get older.”

April 14, 2011

Take Control of Your Financial Future: Tips to Think About at Tax Time and Beyond

“During tax filing season, many of us spend a great deal of time focusing on our finances—and we are not always happy with what we see. According to the FINRA Investor Education Foundation's recently released State-by-State Financial Capability Survey, only one in six respondents said they were satisfied with their current financial condition. No matter the season, now is the time to take stock of your finances. Here are five key areas to consider, and links to information to help you get started.”

April Is Financial Literacy Month: Test Your Investing Knowledge

“April is Financial Literacy Month, an opportunity to brush up on your financial knowledge and pass along what you've learned to someone else. Take the FINRA Investor Knowledge Quiz to get started. When you're done, we'll show you the correct answers and provide you with links to more information.”

Have fun!

April 12, 2011

What will you do with your $500?

Utah State University benefit-eligible employees who have been enrolled in the health care plan since July 1, 2010 will soon receive checks for $600 minus “appropriate payroll taxes.”  (I’m estimating about $500 to invest.) The funds are available because “USU’s self-insured health plan has experienced lower than expected claims.” According to USU president Stan Albrecht, “we believe that these lower claims reflect conscious choices about personal health and wellness and the use of our University health plan.  These positive choices have created an opportunity for the University to extend this one-time wellness dividend.”
First, thank Wellness Center director Caroline Shugart for her unrelenting efforts to encourage improved fitness and exercise behaviors! 

Also, this is a good time to re-visit the “Small Steps to Health and Wealth” website, promoted by Financial Planning for Women, to adopt a few more positive behaviors:
Best uses for those funds: pay down credit card debt, fund a Roth IRA, or open a 529 college savings account for your child, grandchild, niece, nephew or whichever child you expect to be caring for you and your money in your old, old age.  

For help in choosing a mutual fund for your IRA go to the FPW website: (review the PowerPoint presentations on Mutual funds, IRAs, and Retirement or go to “college 529 plans.” Right click and use the "Save As" option to download the PPTs to your computer for viewing).

April 10, 2011

Do you live in an historic home in earthquake country?

While dining on sushi in a lovely 1916 brick home last night the topic of the Japanese earthquake came up. When I asked if anyone at the dinner party had earthquake insurance, it was clear the answer was no.  Today's (4/10/11 p. B 1 & 8) Salt Lake Tribune featured an article, "Utahns urged to gird historic homes for quakes." Virtually all of Utah (and much of the west) is earthquake country. It's not a matter of IF but when our big one will hit. Because Japan leads the world in research on building structures to resist damage from earthquakes, most of the buildings would have weathered the quake with mild to moderate damage. However, the massive devastation was due to the tsunami. In addition to buying earthquake insurance, minor structural and interior changes will reduce the damage from a quake. Check out my postings of 3/10/10 and 3/3/11 for basic info on planning for a quake and quake insurance. HO insurance does NOT cover earthquake damage! (You can search my blog for key words to find previous posts about topics of interest.)

However, historic unreinforced masonry buildings need additional structural reinforcement. Thanks to SLT writer Lisa Schencker for these links:

Bracing for the big one: Seismic retrofit of historic houses
Utah Guide for the Seismic Improvement of unreinforced masonry dwellings (lengthy document):

Don't procrastinate. Stay tuned for an update on flood insurance.

April 4, 2011

The Story of Bottled Water

For those of us who remember life without bottled water, it is sad, pathetic, and frustrating when consumers spend money on water packed in a throw away plastic bottle. The bottle is made from petroleum and shipped across the country (wasting more petroleum), and then 80% of the bottles end up in landfills or incinerators. Even worse, much of the supposedly recycled bottles are shipped to developing nations like India (wasting more petroleum in the process) where they add to the pollution problem.

While consumers routinely claim to be immune to advertising, bottled water is a classic example of “manufactured demand,” using scare techniques and images of pure fantasy to entice buyers. Pepsi’s Aquafina and Coke’s Desani are simply filtered tap water sold at 2,000 times the price of tap water! Despite its advertising claims and images of pristine sources, Fiji water is lower quality than Cleveland’s tap water. Imagine paying 2,000 times the price of gas for your car! Yet consumers succumb to this insanity daily.

Logan, UT has some of purest water on the planet coming out of our taps. Don’t be a schmuck! Save your money and the environment; use a steel water bottle. Watch the 8 minute video and kick the bottled water habit:

Even worse, millions of pounds of discarded plastic is floating in the Pacific Ocean forming an ‘island’ at least twice the size of Texas –  from the film Flow.

Beware “spear-phishing” emails

Over the weekend hackers gained access to bank and retail customer email addresses when they breached security at a marketing firm named Epsilon in one of the largest security breaches ever. The theft of bank and retail customer email addresses will likely result in an increase in phishing attacks — e-mails that claim to be from a legitimate business but are designed to steal account numbers or passwords. In traditional phishing attacks, criminals send millions of e-mails that appear to be from a bank or other legitimate business, hoping that some of the recipients will be customers of that business and will respond to directions to “update your account information” and divulge account information.  “A spear-phishing e-mail is far more dangerous because it can include a person’s name and is sent only to people who are known to be customers of a certain business, greatly increasing the likelihood that the targets will be duped” according to The New York Times. Affected companies include: Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, Target, Walgreens, Barclays Bank, US Bancorp, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, L. L. Bean, Home Shopping Network, Best Buy, Walt Disney, TiVo, and the College Board.

So be ultra wary when opening your email.

Guide to saving for college for all income levels

 The best resource on saving for college is Joseph Hurley's website:  The site is crammed with helpful, authoritative information on why to save, how to save, where to invest, how to use the money most efficiently, and even info on matching state funds to help low income families save in 529 (tax advantaged) college savings plans.   

The Utah Educational Savings Plan (UESP) is one of the best plans in the nation (avaialable to non-residents as well as Utah residents). Utah taxpayers can direct their Utah state income tax refund to be deposited into their Utah Educational Savings Plan (UESP) 529 account(s) by simply marking the UESP savings option box (line 46) on their individual Utah state income tax returns.... If it's too late to do this but you received or anticipate a refund, sign your kids, grandkinds, nieces, nephews up for the UESP plan. What better gift than to start their college savings account and encourage them to learn the savings habit?  There is No minimum investment required to open or maintain a Utah Educational Savings Plan college savings account so NO MORE EXCUSES! Save on federal and state taxes.

Think you can't afford to save for your kids' college educations?  UESP will match up to $400 annually on contributions for low income families. See details at Fast Forward Matching Program Put that tax refund to work and start saving today! And ask the grandparents to contribute, too.

How to take money out of 529 (college savings) plans

The April 4 Wall Street Journal explains some of the finer points of the best way to use the money in 529 college savings plans. If, for example, tuition is $10,000 and you are eligible for the $2,500 American Opportunity tax credit (applies to the first $4,000 in tuition), don't withdraw more than $6,000. Who should the check go to? Checks from 529 accounts can be written to the student, the account owner (typically a parent) or the school. The article warns that some schools may reduce financial aid if a student receives funds from a 529 account (according to Joseph Hurley, For spring tuition be sure to pay the expenses in the same tax year as the funds are withdrawn (generally not a problem for fall semester). If someone other than a parent owns the 529 account, and if your child is eligible for financial aid from the school, it may be best to save those 529 funds for the last couple of years of their undergraduate degree to maintain eligibility for aid. Any excess can be used for grad school or by a sibling.

By the way, 529 plans aren't limited to kids. Anyone of any age can save for college tuition (you don't need to sign up to earn a degree). Adults who plan tot go to grad school in the future or just want to take a course or two can benefit from the tax advantages of 529 college savings plans.

Who gets grandma's yellow pie plate? Your guide to passing on personal belongings

"Everyone has personal belongings such as wedding photographs, a baseball glove or a yellow pie plate that contain meaning for them and for other family members. Planning to pass on such items can be challenging, and may lead to family conflict.

"This web site provides people with practical information about the inheritance of personal property. Our goal is improving family decision making through education and research."

March 30, 2011

Small Steps to Health and Wealth™ Online Challenge Begins April 10

This free five-week program to simultaneously improve your health and personal finances will be held from Sunday, April 10, through Saturday, May14.  Prizes will be awarded for participants who report the highest point totals.  The SSHW Challenge is based on the performance of ten recommended practices on a daily basis: five that involve health and nutrition and five that involve financial management. 
The five daily health and nutrition practices are: eat at least 4 cups of fruits and vegetables; get at least 30 minutes of exercise; drink water or unsweetened beverages instead of sugar-sweetened beverages; walk 10,000 or more steps with a pedometer; and learn something new about health and nutrition.
The five daily financial management practices included in the SSHW Challenge are: save a $1 bill (or more) and/or pocket change; invest $5 or more per day (including automated retirement savings plan deposits); track money spent throughout the day; eat lunch prepared at home; and learn something new about personal finance.  The latter activity, for both health and personal finances, can be accomplished by visiting Web sites, attending seminars, or by reading, listening to, or viewing media reports. 
To sign up for the SSHW Challenge, follow the “Challenges” link on the Small Steps to Health and Wealth™ Web site at  Set up a user name and password and download a simple one-page user’s guide with instructions about how to proceed.

Why your kids shouldn't go to Harvard

Regardless of where your kids are thinking about or applying for college, read this enlightening article supported by academic research that will help you reassess how much to go in debt for a college education.
"Why your kids shouldn't go to Harvard" by Marty Nemko

March 22, 2011

Opt Out of Credit Offers

Tired of getting all that junk mail with credit card offers and advertising for pay day loan companies (got one yesterday)? Time to OPT OUT. Actually, besides clogging your mailbox and cutting down forests, pre-screened mailed credit card offers can be used by thieves to steal your identity. Go green and opt out of those offers:
The site gives a balanced view of pros and cons of opting out. An alternative to the website is the toll free phone #: 888-567-8688.

March 21, 2011

12 Common Scams That Target College Kids

But not just college students! We all know that there are plenty of scams out there but we think we are too smart and sophisticated to become a victim. Because college students are among the most high tech, internet savvy consumers and heavy mobile phone users, they are more at risk than those of us who still hold to some of our old-fashioned ways. 

Here’s an example: “Anyone using WiFi on an unsecured network is at risk for identity theft, but because college students more often take their computers to coffee shops, parks, restaurants and other public places to study, they might be at a higher risk for this type of scam.” 

We all know we shouldn’t use public WiFi for banking, shopping, etc. but sometimes we are so used to doing everything on our computers that it’s easy to forget… Oh yeah… I’m not working on my own internet system at home. Oops! Learn about 12 common scams, some targeted at all of us, some to college students. Thanks to Emma Taylor with Accredited Online Colleges for this link:

March 18, 2011

Trial & Heirs: Top 10 Celebrity Estate Planning Mistakes

These mistakes in estate planning are drawn from Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! ( by Andrew W. Mayoras & Danielle B. Mayoras. The Mayoras are both husband-and-wife as well as legacy expert attorneys. (Thanks to Financial Planning Daily.) 
You may not have a multimillion dollar estate, but each of us needs to plan for our inevitable demise and care for those who are dependent on us, and make sure our money goes where we want it to after our death. Don’t procrastinate. A great place to start is at Nolo Press’s website:

March 15, 2011

What to do with bigger paycheck

The Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 temporarily reduces the Social Security portion of the FICA payroll tax from 6.2% to 4.2%, which means an increase of 2% in your pre-tax income. (You should have noticed a larger paycheck this year.) For example, if you earn $50,000 a year, you can expect to see an additional $1,000 in your pay, before income taxes, for 2011.   

This money would have been used for retirement through the Social Security program. Instead of spending it, consider saving more for your own retirement by contributing to a Roth IRA.  Although some employers are encouraging employees to contribute the money to a supplemental retirement account (SRA), a Roth IRA is a better choice for a couple of reasons.   

1) In retirement, all of your defined benefit pension income (URS or other pension) and withdrawals from a defined contribution plan such as a 401(k) or 403(b) (TIAA-CREF, etc.) will be subject to income tax at rates that are very likely to be higher than today’s ultra low tax rates. Income tax rates WILL be higher in the future, despite the current anti-tax rhetoric, due to the large federal deficit and entitlement programs (your SS retirement checks).  Because a Roth IRA is funded with after-tax dollars (you don’t get a tax deduction for your contribution), withdrawals in retirement will be tax-exempt. So it is better to pay income taxes now when rates are low in order to avoid taxes on part of your retirement income (from Roth IRA) in the future.

2) You should invest your retirement savings where the investing costs are lowest AND where you don’t pay a commission to a sales person. Some of the SRAs offered through employers charge commissions and high fees. Vanguard index mutual funds and the Schwab Total Stock market index fund (more diversified than the S&P 500) charge the lowest fees that my students and I have been able to find.  Vanguard requires $3,000 to open an IRA but Schwab lets you start with as little as $100. 

For details and specific suggestions, consult the January/February issue of Money magazine or the link to the Money 70: a list of 70 low cost mutual funds and exchange traded funds (ETFs) along with a clear explanation of the choices. Go for the low expense ratios.  Open a Roth IRA with your SS tax savings and do it NOW!

March 14, 2011

Buying a new or used vehicle?

Start the search for a new or used vehicle with the April issue of Consumer Reports magazine. CR is well known for its impartial reviews of new cars but it's also the best source of info on used vehicles. Check out their list of best and worst used cars.

March 12, 2011

Small Steps to Health and Wealth™

Small Steps to Health and Wealth™ Online Challenge Begins April 10

"Just in time for warm spring weather and more time spent outdoors, the Cooperative Extension system is launching an online Small Steps to Health and Wealth™ (SSHW) Challenge called “Spring 2011 SSHW Challenge.”  This free five-week program will be held from Sunday, April 10, through Saturday, May14.  Prizes will be awarded for participants who report the highest point totals. 

To sign up for the SSHW Challenge, follow the “Challenges” link on the Small Steps to Health and Wealth™ Web site at.  Set up a user name and password and download a simple one-page user’s guide with instructions about how to proceed. Enroll in the Challenge titled “Spring 2011 SSHW Challenge.”

The SSHW Challenge is part of Small Steps to Health and Wealth™, a national Cooperative Extension program developed to motivate Americans to take action to simultaneously improve their health and personal finances.  SSHW was built around a framework of 25 research-based behavior change strategies. 

It has been well documented that, when people monitor their behavior and measure their how they’re doing, they are often inspired to do better and achieve positive results.  Participants in a SSHW Challenge are “on their honor” to report their activities accurately.  If they “cheat” on reporting their points, they are only cheating themselves by not following the recommended daily practices.

The SSHW Challenge is based on the performance of ten recommended practices on a daily basis: five that involve health and nutrition and five that involve financial management. The five daily health and nutrition practices are: eat at least 4 cups of fruits and vegetables; get at least 30 minutes of exercise; drink water or unsweetened beverages instead of sugar-sweetened beverages; walk 10,000 or more steps with a pedometer; and learn something new about health and nutrition.

The five daily financial management practices included in the SSHW Challenge are: save a $1 bill (or more) and/or pocket change; invest $5 or more per day (including automated retirement savings plan deposits); track money spent throughout the day; eat lunch prepared at home; and learn something new about personal finance.  The latter activity, for both health and personal finances, can be accomplished by visiting Web sites, attending seminars, or by reading, listening to, or viewing media reports. 

As participants enter their personal data, they will see their point totals for each day of the week and for each of the ten activities described above.  They’ll also see a bar graph that compares their personal progress to the average scores of everyone else participating in the Challenge.  Daily motivational messages will also be provided to participants.

Doing even one of the ten recommended daily practices is a great way to get started on the path to better health and improved financial security. To sign up for “Spring 2011 SSHW Challenge” visit the SSHW Web site at"

For further information and/or questions contact: Barbara O’Neill, Extension Specialist in Financial Resource Management, Rutgers Cooperative Extension  732-932-9155 (X 250)

March 4, 2011

VITA: Free Tax Preparation

"Earn it.  Keep it.  $ave it." is Utah's statewide coalition for improving family financial stability through the utilization of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), free tax preparation (VITA), and asset building programs.
The VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program was initiated by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to offer free tax preparation for low-to-moderate income households who cannot prepare their own taxes or afford to pay a preparer.

Low-to-moderate income households, whose annual income is under $49,000, may receive free tax preparation assistance.  For eligibility information or to schedule an appointment, dial 2-1-1.

Contact person:
Jodi West
VITA Regional Coordinator/Case Manager
Bear River Association of Governments (BRAG)
170 North Main
Logan, Utah 84321
(435) 752-7242 Ext. 431

March 3, 2011

Are you ready for an earthquake?

Having visited Christchurch, NZ, the news and photos of the recent earthquake are very unsettling. Rather than simply lament the death and devastation, it’s time to prepare for Utah’s inevitable quake.  A terrific resource is: Putting down roots in earthquake country: Your handbook for earthquakes in Utah. Download a copy at:
Other states like California have similar publications with info specific to their state.  See:
There are lots of little, inexpensive things you can do to reduce the damage to your home and reduce potential injuries.  Besides making some changes in your house, you need to plan for the financial effects of a quake. See:
  • p. 18 Your Financial Situation Could Be Affected by a Quake
  • p. 31 A Review of Money Matters: Financial Impacts of Earthquakes
“Following a quake, disaster aid may not be immediately available, so you should plan ahead. If you have prepared a financial disaster recovery plan, you are more likely to recover successfully after a quake.” Financial recovery planning resources are available from resources listed at the end of the booklet.
Contact your homeowners insurance agent to arrange for quake coverage on your most valuable financial asset, your house.  Earthquake damage is NOT covered by regular homeowners insurance.  Like floods, earthquake damage is explicitly excluded .  For info on HO insurance see: Earthquake insurance in Utah:

March 2, 2011

Social Security 101: What's in it for me?

Are you a college student or young worker getting started on your career? Curious what that FICA tax is that comes out of your paycheck? Want to know how Social Security can help young people?  We’ll answer these questions and more during our webinar, “Social Security 101: What’s in it for me?”
Watch the interactive broadcast on Thursday, March 10, 2011 at 3:00 p.m. EST. We'll also share some tips on saving and planning for your financial future.
This webinar will be available on the Social Security website after the initial showing so check it out.

Test your credit score IQ

Credit scores help lenders determine whether to lend to you and, if so, how much to charge (your APR). Credit reports and scores are also used by insurance companies to decide whether to insure you and how much to charge.

Take the interactive credit score quiz and find out how much you know:

February 28, 2011

Debt in Focus Repayment Calculator

“Brought to you by the nation’s credit unions, this free and anonymous service will help bring your debt into focus. After answering a few questions about your income and current debts, a simple financial analysis will provide a wealth of information – debt to income ratios, debt payment schedules, and suggested personal action strategies to help keep your finances moving forward.” This website comes highly recommended by a former student who works as a financial counselor and has used the tool extensively. Try it out:
Before you do, if you haven’t checked your credit report recently, get a free copy of your report from:  This site WILL ask from your Social Security # which is necessary to access your credit report.  This is the only safe, free website for obtaining your free credit report. Remember, you can get one free report each year from each of the three major credit bureaus; spread out your requests over the year to monitor your report for identity theft.
Credit Reports, Credit Scoring and Identity Theft
Learn how creditors decide to grant credit and what interest rate to charge, how to protect yourself from identity theft, and why you need to review your credit report.
FTC credit score brochure (July 2007)
Fair Isaac and Co.
Credit info Center
Credit Scoring module:

Understanding How Insurers Use Credit

“A growing number of personal auto and homeowners insurance companies now use consumer credit information to decide whether to issue policies and what premiums to charge for those policies. This fact sheet is designed to help you understand how your credit information is being used, and how it may affect your insurance purchases.” Source: Utah Insurance Department

February 27, 2011

Income tax time is savings time!

Don’t squander that tax refund! Commit today to save part of your tax refund. With as little as $50, you can save in a safe, guaranteed, accessible, and competitive savings instrument.  Moreover, taxpayers can receive the remainder of their refund (the part not saved in a Savings Bond) through a direct deposit. Details at:
“Generally, there are three big barriers to saving - having money to save, having access to a good product at the right time, and being motivated and encouraged to save.  With this opportunity, two of those obstacles have been removed.   
  • Money to Save: At tax time, many Americans receive large refund checks. In tax year 2007, approximately 100 million Americans received a federal tax refund, totaling over $246 billion. Families who make less than $40,000 a year received more than $120 billion in refunds, averaging $1,780 per filer.   Because some of this is due to over-withholding taxes each paycheck - many Americans have basically been saving all year long! With this option, now they can funnel that year of savings into an actual savings account with interest.
  • Good Product at the Right Time: Savings bonds are a safe, familiar, government-issued savings vehicle that offers an interest return rate in line with Certificates of Deposit (CD) at banks, but CDs usually require a much higher minimum investment, which puts CDs out of reach for many low-income families.  Bonds are also flexible - they can be used towards any savings goal including: education, retirement, or housing.”
Thanks to: Joanna Smith-Ramani, Director of Strategy for the D2D Fund (Doorways to Dreams), a non-profit organization that seeks to expand access to financial services, especially asset building opportunities, for low-income families by creating, testing and deploying innovative financial products and services.

February 21, 2011

Spousanomics: Love, Marriage & Dirty Dishes

“Housework—who does what, when, and how often—is the source of many a recurring marital complaint. Splitting chores 50/50 often seems like the answer, but couples who do often find themselves as resentful and unhappy as couples who set up no plan for dividing the work that makes a house run.”
If this sounds intriguing, check out the website and especially the comments “from the community” at the end.  I recommended that Logan Library buy this book!
“The authors, both accomplished journalists (Szuchman: Wall Street Journal and Anderson: New York Times, where she spent years covering Wall Street and delivered award-winning coverage of Merrill Lynch) decided the time was right for an economics-approach how-to for a successful union for a few reasons. One was a pretty tough first year of marriage for Szuchman, who was surprised it was harder than she thought to merge two lives and that “something as banal as housework could get in the way” of all the fun she heard people were having being married. Another was the prevalence of economic terms suddenly in the national lexicon at the time of the financial meltdown.”
Spousanomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage, and Dirty Dishes.
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