March 31, 2012

ID theft potential escalates with Visa & Mastercard data breach

On March 30 Mastercard & Visa announced a data security breach at one of the main companies that processes transactions, exposing customer information.

“The breach occurred at Global Payments, an Atlanta company that helps Visa and MasterCard process transactions for merchants. One bank executive estimated that about one million to three million accounts could be affected. That does not mean that all those cards were used fraudulently, but that credit card information on the cardholders was exposed,” according to The New York Times.

Lax regulation of the payment processing industry is at least partly to blame. Read details at:  Be alert for unauthorized use of your personal info; monitor your account online.  

Learn more about ID theft prevention at April 11 Financial Planning for Women.

March 30, 2012

Investment Portfolio X-Ray

Confused about what investments you own and whether you really are sufficiently diversified? Just because you own a handful of mutual funds doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of overlap.

Morningstar’s Portfolio X-Ray a “sophisticated analytical tool that allows you to dissect your portfolio and gain a clear view of your holdings.  

“You can evaluate your overall asset allocation and sector weightings as well as uncover concentrated positions, view the stock holdings behind your mutual funds, measure performance against benchmarks and industry indexes. Morningstar’s graphical representation of results is easy for even novice investors to understand. And to make your portfolio analysis even easier, Morningstar includes Portfolio X-Ray Interpreter. It provides a plain-English explanation of what the data means and helps you identify areas that might need attention.”

You have to register and set up an account but the tool is free:

Not All Investment Advisers Have Your Best Interests at Heart

Photo-Illustration by Alexander Ho for TIME; Getty Images

A new research study shows that financial advisors tend to give advice that pays them higher fees rather than higher returns for their clients. The researchers sent hundreds of fake clients to financial advisory firms, banks, and brokerages around Boston and found that many advisers actually steered their clients away from more productive investments to less productive ones that produced higher compensation for the advisor! 

Read more:

March 29, 2012

10 Steps to Preparing to Retire

AARP offers a 10-step guide to prepare for retirement. “Ready for Retirement?”  helps you evaluate your health, build your social network, and find new ways to cut expenses.

See all ten “Ready for Retirement?” steps at

10 steps to retirement AARP 2011
  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)

Need Help Saving?

U.S. Department of the Treasury offers a new website to provide information and access to affordable, safe and convenient Treasury savings options to help you take control of your future. You don't need a lot of money to get started. Check out:

April is Financial Literacy Month

Financial Literacy Month is "a time to focus on finances both now and for the future. One of the most important financial issues for any worker and his or her spouse is retirement planning. During Financial Literacy Month, we encourage everyone to give some thought to retirement planning. 
One of the best places to start your retirement planning is with Social Security’s Retirement Estimator at Workers can use the Estimator to test different retirement ages, learn how to maximize retirement benefits by delaying retirement, and find out how working after retirement might affect benefits. 

We also recommend a visit to This government site has a wealth of information from multiple agencies covering virtually every financial issue that Americans may face over the course of a lifetime—from buying a home to financing college to saving for retirement." Source:SSA

March 20, 2012

Need to plan a funeral or cremation, but don't know where to start?

The Funeral Consumers Alliance offers consumer friendly tips including “What you need to know before you go.” FCA is “the only 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting a consumer's right to choose a meaningful, dignified, affordable funeral. We provide education and advocacy to consumers nationwide and are not affiliated with the funeral industry. This website is full of information and advice to help you plan ahead.”

For the environmental activist’s funeral consult How to Go Green: Funerals.

Don't worry about the deceased’s debts; they go to the grave unless someone co-signed. BUT don't be surprised to get calls from debt collectors who try to convince relatives that they owe the debts.

For details read The New York Times article, You’re dead? That won’t stop the debt collector.

And, never fear, there are plenty of recipes for funeral potatoes online.

For Uninsured, Tips to Reduce a Medical Bill

If possible, negotiate with doctor or hospital before obtaining service. But you may be able to negotiate a reduced price after the fact. Learn about negotiating services that can bargain on your behalf. The strategies will apply as well for those with inadequate insurance.

Read additional suggestions in this NY Times Making the most of your money blog by Ann Carrns (March 14, 2012).

Deal with Debt; Avoid Debt Consolidation Loans

75% of Americans owe debt and 51% are worried about how much they owe, according to a survey by the National Endowment for Financial Education. "For cash-strapped consumers, debt consolidation loans might seem like a quick fix to solve their money woes. But they will want to tread carefully, as new NEFE-supported research reveals ads for these loans do not give consumers a full picture of the total costs, and furthermore, these loans may cause consumers to make their financial situations even worse."

Educate yourself about DCLs and lenders in general with this short video:

The New Retirement Resorts

"Forget assisted-living facilities. Some intrepid folks are venturing out to foreign countries, spas and even cruise ships. Here's what you need to know." Read about luxury condos, "fully staffed homes in Costa Rica, backyard bungalows on their children's property, so-called cohousing arrangements, full-time spa living and even serial cruises." How about spending your golden years at a luxury spa? If you think you can't afford it, you haven't priced nursing homes lately. Read this Wall Street Journal article for motivation to boost your retirement investing.

Plan for higher student loan costs

"Interest rates on federally subsidized college loans, lowered when Congress passed the College Cost Reduction and Access Act in 2007, are set to expire June 30, resulting in significantly higher costs for many borrowers. Rates for up to 8 million borrowers will increase to 6.8% from their current 3.4%, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group said." That increase amounts to $2800 more on the average Stafford Loan 10 year repayment plan. Students are graduating with record amounts of debt which now exceeds the total amount owed on credit cards. Private student loans charge a much higher 9-11%. But with growing federal deficits, it's better to raise the rate rather than further cut Pell grants for the lowest income students according to financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz. Plan today for higher repayment costs.
For more info:

March 13, 2012

Free Tax Calculators and Money-Saving Tax Guides

A great resource for tax time and tax planning:
The Life Events Advisor: See how marriage, having a baby, and other big life events can impact your 2011 tax refund.
Tax refund Calculator: How big will your tax refund be? We make it easy to find out how much you’ll get back from Uncle Sam or how much you’ll owe.
W-4 Salary Calculator: See how many withholding allowances you should take to boost your 2011 tax refund—or your take-home pay.
IRA Retirement Calculator: See how much you should contribute to your IRA to get the biggest bang for the buck.

Credit & Debt Webinars

Shopping for Loans
April 26, 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. EDT
Learn how to evaluate loan terms and get the best deal possible when borrowing money.
Register at

Webinars brought to you by University of Florida Extension

March 6, 2012

Buying a New or Used Car?

Don't make a move without reading the April issue of Consumer Reports which rates both new and used vehicles. As part of their expanded coverage of used vehicles, they report that today's 3 year old cars are holding up much better than in previous years as reliability improves. They also document those used vehicles that age gracefully (Toyota Prius) vs. those who show their age quickly (Mini Cooper hatchback). CR identifies the best (Lexus LS) and worst (Jeep Wrangle) of the new cars, as well. They list reliable used cars for every budget so check out their ratings before buying new or used.

March 1, 2012

12 Saving & Investing Tips for 2012

Become a smarter investor in 2012 with these tips from the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC):
Tip #12 Pay off high-interest debt.
#11 Pay yourself first.
#10 Boost your “rainy day” fund.
#9 Help stop affinity fraud in your community.
#8 Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
#7 Take advantage of “free money”
#6 Beware of promises of “guaranteed returns.”
#5 Understand the fees you pay to buy, own, and sell your investments.
#4 Teach your children about good financial habits.
#3 Research investments before handing over any money.
#2 Check the background of your investment professional.
#1 Visit before making your next investment decision.
Details at:
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