Thursday, October 29, 2009

Personal and Family Finance: The Bluring Line

By Robert Katz

In today's world of finance there is so much emphasis on budgeting for the future and for your family that it makes you ask; is there really a difference between personal and family finance. Right when you get out of college you're told to start saving for old age, start a wedding fund, save for when you have kids, save for your kids college funds, and make sure you have money to take care of your parents and yourself once your old. Now, while some of these may seem like they fall under personal or family finance the two terms are beginning to blur together more and more.

People now and days are much more worried about saving money and budgeting than ever. All these online sites and blogs providing services, software, and articles to help you save more money and budget wisely. Yet, most of these tricks they talk about are good strategies for someone to use for themselves or for a whole family. Different retirement accounts that provide higher tax deductions can help people living alone or with a family. Clipping coupons, using super saver cards, and waiting for sales aren't only strategies families can use to save money but ways for everyone too. All these blog websites are allowing everyone to bring their own unique situation together with others and see where each other are going wrong. This is creating a new trend of not personal or family finance, but country finance. Where people you don't even know and have never seen before from across the country give you tips on how to budget wisely and how it worked for them. In today's economy it is good to see people so concerned with saving their money and that they care that everyone else is saving their money as well. The key to economic prosperity and growth in the US or anywhere is in a large and growing middle class and because of these new trends hopefully we should be heading in that direction.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Solving Financial Woes through Education

Posted by Andrew Lipsitz

One often-overlooked reason for our current financial mess is a lack of education about money and business.

Bankers made mortgages to people who could not afford them. And those who were unable to afford their homes and other desires bought them anyway -- unfortunately, on credit. So far, 21 states now require at least some type of instruction on personal finance, according to Jump Start Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy based in Washington, D.C.

Plus, you can find a lot of free information at a U.S. government Web site available to all families: Or, you can get information by phone at 1-888-MYMONEY. The Web site and phone line are manned by the Financial Literacy and Education Commission, made up of 20 federal agencies.

Help for teachers and parents also is available from the nonprofit Alliance for Investor Education, based in Washington, D.C. Among the alliance's 21 members are state securities regulators, the Security and Exchange Commission and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. The Alliance provides free information at
Newly available to consumers: An interactive game-based financial literacy course, MoneyU, which already is used in public schools and colleges. Available at, the program, designed for young adults between the ages of 17 and 24, teaches skills such as how to compare credit cards and auto loans. It also teaches how to research starting salaries in a chosen field, manage debt, save and file income taxes. The aim of the interactive game is to use smart financial strategies to become a virtual millionaire.

The creator, Griffin Enterprises of Rockville, Md., is offering the game to students for $14.95 through June 1, 2010.
Expect financial literacy to become an even bigger issue in the near future.
The Financial Literacy for Students Act of 2009, introduced by Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., provides grants to states that add banking, credit and taxes into school curriculums for grades six through 12.

Tahira Hira, personal finance professor at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, is particularly interested in seeing fewer college students experience financial distress.
"People need to learn the basic principles so they can make the right purchasing and financial decisions," she said.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

US home prices rise in most major cities in Aug.

Posted by Chris O'Sullivan

Articel by J.W. Elphinstone

NEW YORK (AP) -- Home prices rose for the third straight month in August, data Tuesday showed, a key ingredient for a broad and sustained housing recovery.

The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller home price index of 20 major cities climbed 1 percent from July to a seasonally adjusted reading of 144.5. While prices are down 11.4 percent from August a year ago, the annual declines have slowed since February.

The index showed a widespread turnaround with prices rising month-over-month in 15 metro areas since June. San Francisco, Minneapolis and San Diego led the way.

Prices are at levels not seen since August 2003 and have fallen almost 30 percent from the peak in May 2006.

Low prices and mortgage rates combined with a temporary tax credit for first-time buyers have spurred sales. Home resales climbed more than 9 percent in September, the largest amount in more than 26 years, the National Association of Realtors said last week. Sales figures for newly built homes are due out Wednesday

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Learning How to Save Money on Almost Everything

By: Amy Wingfield

Posted by: Robert Katz

Using Coupons and Networking to Get the Most out of a Dollar

In these tough financial times, families struggle to put food on the table. Many are facing this crisis together by sharing with others what they learn along the way. This has created a phenomenon of coupon blogs and internet sites all devoted to teaching others how to save money.

Major Coupon Networks and Companies

Most people are familiar with the coupon inserts found in the Sunday newspaper. The three main companies that provide these coupons are Smart Source, Red Plum and Proctor & Gamble. All three companies also provide coupons online. Providing printable coupons on the internet makes collecting and sharing coupons with others very simple.

Six years ago, two women, Julie Parrish and Heidi Kennedy, met on an internet chat group that discussed ways to save money on groceries. When that site closed, they joined another group and became group moderators. That site eventually sold. Julie and Heidi were ready create a coupon website of their own. These two women have never met in person. They communicate by means of the telephone and the internet.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

House Considers Antifraud Measures for Home-Buying Credit

Posted by: Zach Lungo

Article by: Martin Vaughn

First-time home buyers seeking to claim an $8,000 tax credit may face steeper documentation requirements if Congress decides to provide more time to claim the expiring credit.
Linda Stiff, Deputy Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, told a House panel Thursday that the IRS supports requiring those trying to claim the credit to submit a settlement statement from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the so-called HUD-1 form, together with their tax return.
Top congressional Democrats support a temporary extension of the credit -- which expires Nov. 30 -- and are now wrestling with how long to extend it and with what safeguards against fraud should be included.
Realtors, mortgage brokers and home builders are lobbying for the credit to be extended, arguing that the real estate sector hasn't yet recovered.
Oversight Subcommittee Chairman John Lewis (D., Ga.) introduced legislation Thursday aimed at blocking would-be fraudsters seeking to cash in on the first-time home-buyer credit.
Independent auditors testifying before the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee Thursday said IRS may have paid tens of thousands of fraudulent and erroneous claims since the start of this year.
For instance, more than 19,000 tax returns were filed claiming the credit for homes that hadn't yet been purchased. The claims, which should have been ineligible but were paid because IRS didn't have proper controls in place, totaled about $139 million, said J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.
IRS has since fixed the problem for tax future returns.
In addition, 582 taxpayers under the age of 18 claimed almost $4 million in first-time home-buyer credits, Mr. George said.
Mr. George said that while there are some instances where a minor might legitimately purchase a home, most of the cases identified by audit appeared to be claims by parents who had purchased a home but were ineligible for the credit because their incomes were too high.
The Lewis bill adds a minimum age of 18 to claim the credit, requires inclusion of the HUD-1 form, and gives IRS authority to look at prior-year returns to determine whether a taxpayer is eligible for the credit.
The credit is available only to first-time home buyers who purchased a primary residence between April 9, 2008, and Nov. 30, 2009, whose income is less than $95,000 for single taxpayers or $170,000 for married couples.
More than 1.4 million households claimed nearly $10 billion in refunds through returns filed in 2009. Hundreds of thousands more are expected to claim the credit when they file returns in 2010.
The IRS has opened criminal investigations in 115 cases of possible fraudulent schemes, involving 8,000 returns, said the IRS's Ms. Stiff. It has selected a total of 106,000 returns for audit based on questions regarding first-time home-buyer tax-credit claims.
"We cannot let fraudulent activity undermine a program that has benefited so many," said Ms. Stiff.
House Democrats would like to have Republican support for an extension of the home-buyer credit. But Rep. Charles Boustany (R., La.) said during Thursday's hearing that GOP support will be conditioned on the extension not adding to the deficit. He said unspent stimulus funds could be redirected to pay for the cost of an extension.

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Surprise 401(k) Performance

Posted by Chris O'Sullivan

During these harsh economic times many investors have experienced some sort of decline in their retirement (401k) accounts. However, recent news out of Vanguard shows that many people may be doing much better than expected. On September 30, 2009, the median account held at Vanguard was up 7% from where it was two years earlier when the markets where at their peak.

The stock market is down around 30% from 2007, but the Dow Jones did recently climb back over 10,000. The key to surviving this downturn was proper diversification of your portfolio. Accounts invested heavily in stocks are more likely to be experiencing greater loses than accounts with a mix of less volatile securities like bonds.

Statistics show that account holders 45 years and older are recognizing greater loses in their retirement accounts. Younger people have fared better thanks to continued contributions. Three-quarters of accounts held by people aged 35 of younger are either even or up from September 2007. Part of this can also be explained by the fact that younger people tend to have less money invested in their accounts.

The key to surviving the economic downturn is making continued contributions to your retirement account. Diversifying your portfolio using stocks from emerging sectors of the market is also important. A diverse mix coupled with continued contributions will allow investors to realize bigger gains when the markets finally do recover.

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Protecting the Family Nest Egg

By Andrew Lipsitz

One of the most important aspects of a sound financial plan for a family is making sure that the family income is well protected in case of an injury, sickness or death. The purchasing of insurance has a few major benefits. When the primary provider for the family gets sick or injured it is extremely important for them to be covered. While income decreases for a family in this situation, a common misconception is that family expenses stay at the same rate. The truth is, family expenses increase as a result due to medical bills and other costs that go along with a sickness or injury. So while income decreases, expenses rise, create a distressed situation for the entire family. Life insurance can be thought of as protection against leaving your family and loved ones with bills to pay off. A claim from a life insurance policy, depending on its size, can cover up to years of income, creating a pillow for the family’s financial situation.

In finding an insurance company, the most important aspects to look for are the company’s financial situation and a company’s claim-paying ability. While the two usually go hand in hand, financial strength does not necessarily mean that their claim-paying ability is on point. In such cases you would usually want to look at the company’s claim-paying history. Another way to determine which company is right for your family is by researching the major rating companies such as Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s ratings.

How much insurance should a family buy to keep them protected? Well, this question remains different for everyone, obviously. The point of insurance is to keep the family living the same lifestyle should the breadwinner become ill or pass away. So, the first step is calculating your spouse’s and your children’s annual expenses, as well as funeral costs, and decide how long of a period you can afford to cover them , since premiums are not cheap. As a rule of thumb, you should posses more insurance earlier in your marriage to cover expenses down the road. Later in life, around retirement, the need for insurance is minimal since you and your spouse have already accumulated a life savings and you are usually no longer paying for children’s expenses.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Family Squabbles in Hyatt IPO

Posted by Andrew Lipsitz

The Pritzker family, which controls Hyatt Hotels Corp., has been feuding on and off for a decade. So it follows that the dynastic squabbling continues as they plan for a Hyatt stock offering that should help reduce the family tensions.

The family in-fighting is a big enough issue that recent revisions to the prospectus for the Hyatt initial public offering include a specific warning about it. The company's initial filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission didn't mention the past family battles.

The amendments, filed as recently as last Thursday, warn that new family disagreements "may arise or continue in the future" and could "disrupt our business." In connection with the Hyatt stock offering, a dispute arose over restrictions on what family members could do with their shares, according to the amendments. As a result, some of the restrictions were loosened. For instance, family members will be able to sell up to 25% of their Hyatt holdings each 12 months, instead of the 20% originally contemplated.

The most recent prospectus amendment says that allowing the Pritzkers to sell their shares more quickly could have a negative affect on Hyatt's stock price. Another apparent bone of contention involves the role of Penny Pritzker as one of Hyatt's "independent" directors. The 50-year-old Ms. Pritzker has been heavily involved in running other family companies, some of which do business with Hyatt. She is also a first cousin of Hyatt's executive chairman, Thomas J. Pritzker, who is one of three trustees of family trusts. Mr. Pritzker, 59, is the only other family member on the board.

Personal Bank Loans for Bad Credit – Credit Union Offers

Posted By: Zach Lungo

Article By: Mike Garner

Getting a personal bank loan for bad credit is something that many Americans are doing to get money to make ends meet. With many Americans using credit unions the question is often asked if a credit union will offer a bad credit personal loan. Each situation is a little bit different but if you currently use a credit union and you are seeking a personal loan the best option is to check their website or call them personally to see what they offer.
Most credit unions offer personal loans but if you have extremely bad credit you might be denied this opportunity. Once again, there is no definite answer until you actually contact your credit union and talk to someone in the know. If you cannot get an answer then by doing a few quick Google searches for credit union personal loans will send you in the right direction.
If you currently use a credit union you know there are a few benefits over a national or regional bank. You will also want these benefits during the loan process. If your personal credit union does not offer bad credit personal loans but others in your area do you might want to contact them. Banks and financial institutions are willing to take the extra step to get a new customer so take advantage of this.
Please be aware that getting a bad credit personal loan may lead to a very high interest rate. If your credit score has dropped over the last few years and your income has not increased some loan companies are going to consider you a great risk as you could default on your loan. With this in mind, expect an interest rate on the high side possibly even in the 20% range if you are a bad credit borrower.
There are many banks and credit unions out there that are more than willing to help you get a personal loan for bad credit. It should not be very difficult to find these businesses as many of them are advertising very hard on the Internet and the television. After a few searches you are likely to find that most of the companies that offer these services will be right at your fingertips.
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Average Family Owes $9,200 in Credit Card Debt

Posted by Chris O'Sullivan

Article by Dave Burge

El Paso Times

Some simple, common-sense steps can go a long way toward helping you get out of credit-card debt, experts say.

First, make a vow to get out of debt and stop using your credit cards.

That may sound easy, but it's often the hardest step, experts say.

"You can't fill up a hole while you're still digging," said Mike Sullivan, director of education for Take Charge America, a national nonprofit credit-counseling and debt-management organization based in Phoenix.

Next, make a strategic plan to tackle the debt you already have.

You should also build up some savings so you don't have to rely on your credit cards in the future when you're hit with unexpected expenses or financial emergencies, experts say.

"Across the United States, (credit-card debt) really is a problem," said Maureen Hankins, director of the El Paso YWCA's Consumer Credit Counseling Service. "Instead of saving money, they're spending their money paying off debt."

The average U.S. family has about $9,200 in credit-card debt, Sullivan said.

According to the Federal Reserve, U.S. revolving debt exceeded $880 billion as of March.

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College Costs at all Time High

Posted by Chris O'Sullivan

Article from CNN Money (Hibah Yousuf):

College costs are higher than ever, according to a new report, putting a degree even further out of reach for many Americans.

Tuition and fees at private 4-year schools rose 4.4% in the current school year to $26,273, according to a survey released by the College Board Tuesday.

Charges at public 4-year universities spiked over 6% for both in-state and out-of state students, to $7,020 and $18,548, respectively.

"We're in a very strong sellers market for higher education," said Pat Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, who noted that the high school graduating class of 2009 was the largest in history.

"Colleges and universities are capitalizing on that more than any other institution in the economy. If you walk around a shopping mall, nobody else is raising prices at the same rate."

Tuition prices are going up at private schools at least in part because those schools have seen their endowments dwindle. Public schools are suffering from a dip in state funding, which declined 5.7% per student this year. (College Cost Finder: Get the latest tuition.)

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Financial Habits that Can Sink a Marriage

By Laura Rowley

Money conflicts can sink a relationship, even in households that aren't struggling financially. A study published in the Journal of Socio-Economics, for example, found that women argue with their significant others about money more than any other topic, including love, children, in-laws, leisure, drinking, chores, other women, and religion.

The first step to avoiding money-fueled strife in your relationship is to recognize your money styles. Psychologist and author Brad Klontz, a therapist specializing in financial issues, says everyone develops unconscious beliefs about money through childhood experience.

"Money scripts," as he calls them, are "only partially true but contextually accurate -- that is, they make total sense in the context from which they arose, but may be inaccurate in other contexts." For example, a woman he knows has been hoarding money for years without her husband's knowledge. She fears being left alone and penniless -- which happened to her in a previous relationship.

"She brought her unresolved hurt from that relationship and the resulting belief that 'you can't trust others around money' into her current relationship where she lives in dishonesty, fearing getting caught," Klontz says. "With therapy, she could have been open about taking care of herself financially in her relationship while being trustworthy herself."

There's Ready and There's Financially Ready...When Having a Baby?

By: Robert Katz

While most people have an age in their head for when they think they want to have a baby, most of them never really considered whether or not they would actually be financially ready when that time comes. Love and wanting to start a family are beautiful things, but you can really ruin them both if you don't think about the costs involved before hand.
According to thousands of moms who took the Baby Centers Exclusive Survey, you'll spend approximately $10,000 in the first year your baby is born. Ten Thousand Dollars!! I read that number and I almost went and got a vasectomy. Yet, the truth is while this may seem like a lot that is the least of your worries. You have to start thinking about life insurance, disability insurance, a will, your tax status, health insurance needs, loss of income from maturnity or paternity leave, the costs of childcare, etc. the list goes on and on. Even worse, on top of all that the expenses just keep growing the older your child gets. Okay, now that I have completely scared the crap out of you, you can calm down now. The real truth is all of this is managable as long as you are prepared with a plan.
I know what your thinking, my parents had me and I turned out fine I don't really need to plan this out that much, they never really did. Well, the problem with that assumption is that, "A 2007 analysis from The Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington, D.C., found that American men have 12 percent less income than their fathers' generation did at the same age...Meanwhile, the cost of housing for families with children shot up 78 percent between 1984 and 2001, says Amelia Warren Tyagi, co-author of The Two-Income Trap and All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan." So, you see that now and days it is even more imperative for the livelyhood of your family that you understand all the expenses involved in having a baby and formulate a well thought out plan. Becoming a parent will be scary enough on its own with out burdening yourself financially in the process.


Designing Your First Budget

Posted by Matthew Maillet

Article by Liz Weston

Angelica Trummell, like millions of other college graduates, is trying to figure out how to make ends meet now that Mom and Dad won't be sending checks every month. It's not that her parents paid for everything. The art-history major worked for the campus bookstore at the University of California, Riverside, and took out $10,000 in student loans to help pay the bills. She also racked up $2,000 in credit card debt. But facing life now that she has to foot the entire bill for rent, food, utilities, insurance and debt payments is more than a little daunting.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Madoff's Ponzi Scheme: Bringing the SEC under fire

By: Zach Lungo

On Wednesday, two victims of ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff filed a lawsuit in the U.S District Court in New York claiming the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) failed to detect Madoff's long-running scam, which stole billions of dollars from thousands of investors. Phyllis Molchatsky and Steven Schneider released a statement through their lawyers office Herrick, Feinstein LLP. They claim, "Through its negligent actions and inactions...the SEC caused Madoff's scheme to continue, perpetuate and expand, eventually in billions in losses by investors, and directly caused (the two) plaintiffs to lose more that $2.4 million." The lawsuit goes on to claim that SEC regulators had "countless opportunities" to stop Madoff's scheme from becoming more volatile and damaging. They feel the SEC is held accountable in some respect for its negligence in not protecting investors. Furthermore, that from 1992 to 2008 the SEC received at least eight complaints or submissions indicating that Madoff was operating a ponzi scheme.
Could this scheme have been foiled in its infancy? Or was its investors blind trust and high yield returns ultimately where the responsibility lies? It is fair to note that as the market stabilized before the recession that these investors were still making double digit returns on investments when others were appreciating relatively average gains from investments. When asked about the suit, SEC spokesman John Heine said, "Based on our initial understanding of the matter, we believe there is no merit to the complaint."
The court filing, filed in the same court where Madoff plead guilty to 11 federal counts, including fraud, and was sentenced in July to 150 years in federal prison. The ponzi scheme he operated, portrayed his investment firm as legitimate when it was nothing more than a front where funds from new investors were used to payoff mature investors that were passed of as legitimate capital gains. Madoff claimed to have $65 billion, however it was later revealed that even this figure was fraudulent and the court appointed trustee, Irving Picard, is still tying to determine how much was actually stolen.
It is all too early to evaluate weather this lawsuit will hold up or if the SEC will be found accountable. Madoff has been forced to forfeit the fruits of his former lifestyle to comply with a $170 billion legal judgment. Many of Madoff's family and relatives including his wife have had separate lawsuits filed against them. It is evident that the Madoff schemers and proceedings are far from over, however pulling in government regulators and other agencies will be an interesting twist in this unfolding tale.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

How To Handle Money in your 20's

Posted by: Matthew Maillet

Article by: MSN Money Staff

Spend the money for a new suit, shoes and a haircut so you're ready for interviews. (See "A survival guide for college grads.")
•Don't spend money for a résumé kit; find a free tutorial online.
•Find out if your university has an alumni chapter nearby. Alumni are a wealth of information and are often eager to help new graduates.
•Be careful about accepting a job in an unrelated field simply because it pays more. This could delay your career progress or trap you in a field that may not make you happy.

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Identity Theft Prevention

By Matthew Maillet

Identity theft is a serious matter that affected over 10 million Americans in 2008 alone (up 22% from the previous year.) Subsequently, the government has taken some positive steps in recent months to slow down this recent trend. For example, laws have been enacted in over 44 states that require companies to disclose details when identities “private data” has been compromised. Efforts like this have backed consumers in the fight against identity thieves.

One preventative approach that has been effective at limiting the monetary damages incurred from identity theft is by being proactive as a consumer. Realizing you have been the victim of identity theft and responding appropriately can limit your total losses. Consumers are more aware of the dangers and have effectively cut down the “average total loss” per theft to less than $500 (Javelin Strategy & Research.) One way to limit your loss is by reporting the crime as soon as possible.

This however has been a problem for many victims. "There are 18,000 or so police departments in the U.S., and some of them won't take police reports (about identity theft)," said identity theft expert Rick Kam, "which puts the victims in a Catch-22." Because of this problem, it is important for Congress to react accordingly. There needs to be a formal “identity theft reporting” measure put in place that provides consumers with protection.

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Swine Flu: Health Risk or Financial Killer?

By Andrew Lipsitz

America’s most talked about epidemic, the H1N1 Virus, also known as the Swine Flu Virus, has affected over 33,000 Americans and has taken about 170 lives. While many American families have been concerning themselves with the health risk related to the virus, many overlook the financial and economic cost of dealing with the flu. Nobody likes to be “kicked while they’re already down,” but the H1N1 Virus does just that.

In one case, the Ramirez family was hit extremely hard by the costs associated with the virus. The father, Dr. Maurice Ramirez, was working with patients infected by the flu when he realized that he had caught it himself. As it turned out, once he got better after missing work for a week, his son caught the virus and his daughter, who was away at college, was sent home after being infected as well. While each of the family members had a quick recovery, by the end of the month, the loss of work hours, the prescription co-payments and the doctor visits had cost the Martinez family about $14,000. While the family was thrilled to have survived the troublesome month, they still had to bear the pain of watching their credit card bills inflate.

All we can do is hope to stay healthy by washing our hands and not sharing water bottles if we want this pandemic to pass. The economic effects worldwide could be disastrous if the virus continues to spread. “Reuters pointed out in 2008 that the IMF said a flu pandemic could cost $3 trillion and cause a 5% drop in global GDP. In other words, it would almost certainly turn the current deep recession into a worldwide depression.” Fortunately, the swine flu virus is only fatal to about .5% of all U.S. citizens who are affected. However, as we have seen, there are still serious financial consequences to only being infected for a week.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Selling Your Life Insurance Policy for Cash

Posted by Chris O'Sullivan

In these harsh financial times, people are looking for cash in unusual places. Some people are even looking to sell their life insurance policies in transactions known as life settlements. Firms such as Life Partners Holdings, Inc. are willing to liquidate your life insurance policy in exchange for the value of the policy upon your death. In essence, you are selling a future payout for a one time, immediate payment.

Firms will buy your policy on behalf of its investors. The firm then acts on behalf of the investors, who have now become the owners of the policy and will pay the premiums until the day you die. Firms collect the benefits upon death and pay a 9-12% return to its investors. Some firms may even buy and repackage the policies for sale to a third party.

A major downside to selling your policy is the high transactions costs. A recent study showed that seniors over the age of 65 who sold their policy received only 20% of the face value. Those looking to sell should be certain that they will not need another policy in the future. These transactions are also taxable, whereas the payouts to your beneficiaries would have been tax free. In conclusion, it is important to shop around just as you would have done when buying the policy in the first place.

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Are Free Credit Scores Actually Free?

Posted by Chris O'Sullivan

Article by Jane Kim (WSJournal)

If you are curious about your credit scores, you may have tried one of the plethora of Web sites and services that offer some free credit information, then lure you into paying for your scores, usually as part of a credit-monitoring package.

Consumers are entitled by law to a free credit report—which is simply a record of your borrowing and repayment history—but the numerical scores derived from these reports will cost you, in part because credit-reporting agencies aren't required by law to provide them for free to consumers along with the reports.

Now, a handful of companies are launching services that give consumers at least a glimpse at their credit scores free of charge. The sites— Inc., Credit Karma Inc.'s and—also offer a window into the key factors that go into calculating your score, what you can do to improve them and how your credit stacks up against others. Last week, for example, launched a free Credit Report Card that shows consumers how they're likely to rate across five credit-scoring models.

All three sites, which have ties to the credit industry, aim to make money through advertising or fees if users sign up for products their partners offer on the site, such as credit-monitoring services, credit cards or mortgages.

As banks clamp down on lending, it's become more critical than ever to know your credit score. Financial institutions use them to determine the granting and pricing of everything from credit and insurance, to cellphone usage and, in some cases, employment.

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The Inside Track on Student Loans

Posted by Matthew Maillet

By Liz Pulliam Weston
MSN Money

Private student loans are harder to get. If you want to borrow more than the federal student loan limits (which range from $5,500 to $7,500 a year for college students, depending on their year and type of loan), you typically would turn to private student loans. These come with variable rates that currently average 11% to 12%. But lenders are demanding higher credit scores plus a co-signer these days. "You used to be able to get a (private student) loan with a 620 FICO score," Kantrowitz said. "These days you need at least a 650 or even a 700."

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Economy Continues to Strain Families, Affecting Both Children and Marriages

Posted by Andrew Lipsitz

Seventy-eight percent of families report that they`ve been affected by theeconomic downturn according to a recent online survey from Disney Aseconomic uncertainty continues parents remain cautious, with forty-eight percentreporting they are concerned about job security and the current job market, upfrom thirty-six percent in 2008. As a result, fifty-three percent of parentshave cut back on overall spending for their children.

Further survey findings include:* 72% of respondents reported reducing or eliminating eating out altogether * 78% of respondents report changing their grocery shopping habits by leveragingadvertised sales, clipping coupons, and buying generic brands * 74% of respondents said they are only purchasing essential items and will bemaking little to no impulse purchases this holiday season * 59% have eliminated or changed vacation plans for a cheaper alternative"A year into the recession, family finance remains a top concern among parentseverywhere. Parents continue to be focused on stretching every dollar," saidEmily Smith, Vice President of the Disney Online Mom and Family Portfolio.

"Weare pleased to offer a range of content on Disney that will helpparents keep their families on track for financial success." To aid parents with the financial concerns during the current economic crisis,Disney has added valuable information to the Finance resource(, which includes content such as tips to making amarriage last through money concerns and advice and tips from Laura Rowley,journalist, finance expert and author of the book "Money and Happiness."

"Financial uncertainty is introducing a lot of stress into the home as parentscontinue to stretch every dollar," said Emily Smith, Vice President of theDisney Online Mom and Family Portfolio. "We are pleased to offer a range ofpractical ideas on Disney that will help parents to keep their familyfinances on track."

Elderly Funds: How to Financially Support Your Aging Parents or Grandparents

By: Robert Katz

It is tough enough to start budgeting money for yourself, then when you get married and have kids, but most don't think about saving money or helping budget for your parents when they get old and can't do it anymore for themselves. Dementia, Alzheimer's, Old age can take it's toll on the memory and seriously effect your financial situation if not realized right away. Many elderly loose 10's to 100's of thousands of dollars in investments they didn't even realize they were making or still had. Legally, it is very hard to know if someone has dementia or is unsuitable to manage their finances and thus brokers liability when recommending risky investments is very low. Also, when is it time to move your parents out of their home and into one. Here are some tips on approaching the subject and how to go about finding the right place.

Financial Advisers have a legal obligation to put their clients financial interests above their own, while Brokers only have to supply evidence and support for their product recommendations outlining the risks, costs and benefits while keeping their customers finances in mind. Money managers are good to make sure bills and financial statements are in order. As you get older switching from a broker to a Financial Adviser and hiring a money manager might be two good ways of preventing forgetfulness, or something more serious, from costing you more than just your memory.

As far as the question on when and how to start thinking about an assisted living facility many people like to consult with a Geriatric Care Manager. They will help determine what is necessary medically for their own personal safety and some options to consider. Check insurance and for long term care policies to see how much cost they will cover and then assess how much care they can afford. An aid to come help out a couple times a week as opposed to moving to an assisted living facility can save money and serve as good preparation for the transition in the future. Being as caring, open, and honest is the best way to help your parents or grandparents with this hard realization that they do need some help.

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The Six Financial Mistakes Couples Make

IF YOU AND YOUR partner are like most couples, chances are, you fight about money. Numerous studies have shown that money is the No. 1 reason why couples argue — and many of the recently divorced say those battles were the main reason why they untied the knot.

While anyone will tell you that talking about money is the first step in resolving problems, talk alone won't do the trick.

In fact, a 2004 study commissioned by SmartMoney magazine and Redbook, another Hearst publication (SmartMoney magazine and are jointly published by Dow Jones and Hearst), found that more than 70% of couples talk about money on a weekly basis. So what's the problem? "Most of us don't know how to talk about money," says Mary Claire Allvine, a certified financial planner (CFP) and co-author of "The Family CFO: The Couple's Business Plan for Love and Money."

"People tend to be emotional and reactive about money, not strategic," she says.

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cost of Keeping Your Family Healthy Soars

Posted by Chris O'Sullivan

We all know rising health care costs are a serious issue in today's economy, but they are about to get worse. U.S. businesses that currently offer their employees health insurance will not be pleased to find out that the average cost of insuring an employee will rise 7% from last year (2009). Average spending per employee is expected to rise to over $10,000, the first time this figure has reached five digits.

Workers will bear the blunt of these price increases due to higher premiums and co-pays. After an 8% increase in cost to employees in 2009, a 10% increase is expected in 2010. Since the year 2000 health care costs have risen 149%, whereas real wages have only gone up 37% over that same time. If reform is not enacted, experts expect the cost of health care costs will rise to $29,000 per employee in the year 2020.

President Obama has recently introduced his plan to reform health care and make it more affordable both for those who are currently paying high premiums, and those who do not have any health insurance. According the Wall Street Journal, as many as 14,000 Americans are losing their health insurance as a result of job cuts. A bill is expected to be signed before the end of the year.

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Getting Married for Health Benefits?

Posted by Chris O'Sullivan

Article by Kevin Sack (NY Times)

It was only last February that Brandy Brady met Ricky Huggins at a Mardi Gras ball here. By April, they had decided to marry.

Ms. Brady says she loves Mr. Huggins, but she worries they are moving too fast. She questions how well they really know each other, and wants to better understand his mood swings.

But Ms. Brady, 38, also finds much to admire in Mr. Huggins, who is three years older. He strikes her as trustworthy and caring. He has a stable job as a plumber and a two-bedroom house. And perhaps above all, said Ms. Brady, who received a kidney transplant last year, "He's got great insurance."

More than romance, the couple readily acknowledge, it is Mr. Huggins's Blue Cross/Blue Shield HMO policy that is driving their rush to the altar.

In a country where insurance is out of reach for many, it is not uncommon for couples to marry, or even to divorce, at least partly so one spouse can obtain or maintain health coverage.

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Financial Lessons Teach Money Management and Value to Kids

By: Robert Katz

In today's economy it is very important to know how to manage your money. Children are a very large reason, for why having a budget is so important. Yet, parents use terms like chores and allowance as an excuse to give their kids the money or things they want. Kids that grow up being handed everything and anything they want doesn't prepare them with a value of money or concept of how to manage their finances. Chores should be established as a job that needs to be done as a member of the household and their allowance is their wage paid based on completion and quality of their job.

Teaching the value of a dollar to a kid is about showing them the relationship between the amount of work they had to do in order to get whatever it is that they want. Eventually they will gain a concept of money's value and learn that it requires hard work and saving to earn the things you want. The idea of saving is one of the hardest things to teach a child, but getting them to think about the long term is essential. Opening up a bank account for your children is a good way to teach them to save a portion of what they earn. Matching an amount that your kid saves is a good way to reinforce the value of saving. Be careful using money as a positive reinforcement to often or else they may lose all intrinsic motivation and value in working hard and just focus on completing the task in order to get the extrinsic monetary reward. The same goes with rewarding good grades in school with money, so try to change it up sometimes by giving pressents, going to the movies, or out to their favorite restaurant. Also, make sure the reward fits the amount of hard work they put in, not on the grade they receive.

When I as 12 my parents opened up a checking and savings account for me to help me save all the money I was given for my BarMitzvah. Yet, they didn't put any restrictions on how much I could spend and went through a large portion of the money very quickly and frivolously. Nevertheless, I learned the value of money and reasons for saving as when I got older my expenses and wants increased exponentially. Teaching kids how to budget and save for the future while hard is a great way to start them on the right path towards financial security when they grow up.

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A Tangled Financial Web: Making Sense out of Online Money-management Tools

By: Jenn Director Knudsen

Jim Taschetta of Burlingame, Calif., promised his 4-year-old daughter a day at the movies. They took in Finding Nemo, ate popcorn and other goodies and spent about $25 for the two-hour outing. Taschetta says parents often worry about how to finance their kids' college educations, but, he asks rhetorically, what about their first 18 years? "You have no idea how expensive it is until you actually have a child," says Taschetta, who also has a 2-year-old.

Taschetta not only is a concerned, budget-minded dad, he's also chief marketing officer of Yodlee, a Redwood Shores, Calif.-based company that helps consumers worldwide find efficient ways to manage money online. He implores parents to get their financial lives in order and to use money-management tools available online to do so. "With fairly little effort, a parent or anyone can get a lot of value out of an online tool," Taschetta says. And he says they don't need to be terribly tech-savvy to do so.

Here are some tips and tools parents can use to track their budgets, set financial goals, view their net worth, pay bills and do other transactions, all through Internet-based applications. These suggestions are by no means exhaustive, but they're a great start to better managing your finances.

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Reward Your Family with a Budget

By Andrew Lipsitz

One of the most rewarding feelings in our lifetime is being a part of a family. Unfortunately, it can be one of the most costly endeavors as well. Husbands go out and buy power tool kits that they will use maybe a few times in their lives, while wives and daughters will purchase a new dress for every formal occasion they take part in. Kids are the worst because they fail to understand the concept of things costing money, and so anything shiny they see at the store must become theirs.

Developing a family budget can help with the grey areas of how much your partner or children can spend in a given period. Keeping track of family credit reports, gathering records and defining a plan of attack incorporated with the family budget goals are the first steps in organizing you family’s budget. Then, based on your family’s annual gross income, or AGI, you should define what your family’s lifestyle is going to be. Questions like, what kind of food should we buy, where can we send our kids to school, and other priorities should be taken down in the budget scheme first. Make sure you are reflecting back on to your previous statements and bills so you understand how much the family spends historically in a given month.

Economizing is another key element of successful family budgeting. Make sure to look at all the different expenses to are paying for and then, just like any business would do, cut back on where you feel you can be saving.

Finally, keep track of your income and monthly expenses so you can evaluate how the plan is working, and then modify you plan accordingly. Using personal finance software can help you to gain a better understanding of spending habits and help you to locate where they can be problematic. These easy to do steps can help you prioritize as a family according to your specific goals, whether they be a vacation to Hawaii every year, or steak dinners every week.

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Cheap Eats, at What Cost?

Posted by Chris O'Sullivan

Feeding your family is becoming cheaper thanks to the fact that many restaurants, especially fast food chains, have been lowering prices on many popular menu items. However, while these prices may be leaving your wallet fat, they are having an adverse effect on many businesses. In an industry full or price wars, profit margins are dipping lower and lower for many industry leaders.

Restaurants such as McDonalds and Subway having been offering discounted menu items in an attempt to attract customers looking for a quick calorie boost. Unfortunately, it is the franchisee's who have to bear the burden of covering the cost associated with these attractive deals. When you factor in overhead costs that include franchise royalties fees as well as the cost of labor, many franchise owners are barely breaking even on.

The double cheeseburger at McDonalds has been offered for a discounted price of $1 for many years now at a profit of 6 cents per burger sold. Essentially this menu item has become something used only to lure customers into the store in hopes that they will purchase more items. At Subway, the "5 Dollar Footlong" promotion has brought down profits to an average of $1.20 per sandwich. Clearly Subway is banking on the notion that many customers will also purchase a drink and chips with their sandwich.

The trend of lowering prices in order to attract more customers has taken over the fast food industry. With so many restaurants trying to offer the lowest prices, it has been a viscous cycle in which many industry leaders are now scratching for profits.


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Know Your Rights If and When Collection Agencies Come A-Knockin'

By: Robert Katz

If you are in debt and get contacted by a debt collection agency, it is not a fun position to be in, but it isn't always in your best interests to just pay them off. When it comes to these agencies the majority of the time they are just trying to screw you in order to make themselves more money. Protect your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) by making sure first that the agency and validate or prove that they have the right to collect this money on behave of who you owe and that they know the correct amount. Knowing your rights in these situations will help keep the collector from keep you on the defensive to take advantage of you.

The most important thing to know is that you are a person with rights. Collection agencies are required to follow specific guidelines under the FDCPA to collect on the debt you owe. While calling you they are not allowed to harass or threaten you in any way, shape or form, so keep record of this if it should happen to you. Question them again to stay on the offensive, and make sure they can prove that you should have to pay them. Another good tip is to never pay over the phone giving credit or debit card information. If you do pay use a money order or some kind of secure payment and make sure to get in writing to delete the trade line so they can't trade your leftover debt to another agency to collect from you. In most cases you shouldn't pay a collection agency and they best way to deal with them is to send them a letter to stop contacting you, make sure to keep a copy. Then they have the right to contact you one more time and after that you can sue them for up to $1,000 per violation. Contact the FDCPA for help or assistance on clearing your debt.

People are always afraid that a collection agency is going to seize their assets or contact their employer to take some of their paycheck each week. The only way either of these can happen is if they were to sue you, and have won the case. This is why knowing your rights is important because a collection agency is not allowed to threaten to sue you if they have no intention to, nor can they pretend to be anyone else, or call your work to ask anything besides where you live, they have no right to talk about the debt you owe. Writing the letter to the agency telling them to stop contacting you, and calling a credit counselor or the FDCPA will save you a lot of hassle.

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