Personal Finance Tips Delivered Weekly
December 26, 2008
Know your tax exemption, deduction options
About the only upside when the cost of living increases is that every year the IRS readjusts personal tax exemptions, standard deduction amounts and retirement account contribution limits. It's not like winning the lottery, but I'll take all the good news I can get.
December 19, 2008
Making financial resolutions in difficult times
Many folks are happy to see 2008 fade into the distance. Between the rollercoaster stock market, tightening credit availability and falling home values, most of us have taken a financial beating.
December 12, 2008
High-deductible medical insurance better than none
An estimated 47 million Americans live without health insurance. Even among those fortunate enough to have coverage, many struggle to pay ever-rising monthly premiums, while still others worry about losing health benefits should they be laid off.
December 05, 2008
Financial responsibilities for the self-employed
One of the fastest growing segments of America's workforce is the self-employed. Being your own boss can be liberating, but it's also hard work: Many bothersome details your employer used to handle become your responsibility – things like finding health insurance, deducting taxes, and setting up retirement savings.
November 28, 2008
These year-end actions can cut taxes
December is the year's busiest month for many people, with holiday-related shopping, socializing and travel cutting into already hectic schedules. It will be tough, but try to set aside some time before year's end to consider taking a few actions that could seriously lower your 2008 tax bill.
November 21, 2008
Helping others when money is tight
During the holiday season, many people reflect on what they can do to help those less fortunate. In 2007, caring Americans gave a record $306.4 billion in charitable donations – which doesn't even include the countless hours spent on volunteer activities.
November 14, 2008
Protecting your pension
If your employer provides a traditional pension plan you are part of a vanishing breed. According to the Department of Labor, only about 20 percent of private sector workers are covered by pensions today, about half the level of 30 years ago.
November 7, 2008
The power of compound interest
Among the most valuable financial wisdom you can teach your kids is how to harness the power of compounding. This life lesson is best learned early because the payoff grows exponentially the sooner you start practicing it.
October 31, 2008
Cut your holiday gift costs
One interesting – albeit non-scientific – way to gauge someone's comfort level with the state of the economy is to ask how much they plan to spend on holiday gifts. In good times, people tend to spend more generously; during rough periods, they scale back.
October 24, 2008
Prepaid cards provide alternative to cash or checks
Tens of millions of Americans don't have access to checking accounts or credit cards, which can make it difficult for them to cash their payroll or government-provided benefit checks, pay bills, withdraw cash and shop online or by phone. It also forces many to carry large amounts of cash and to utilize extremely expensive check-cashing services.
October 17, 2008
Health insurance vital in retirement
If you've already retired or plan to in the near future, it's a good idea to review your health care coverage to make sure it has kept pace with your changing needs. Adequate health insurance is a vital component of overall financial security, especially as we age and require more medical care.
October 10, 2008
Flexible spending accounts cut taxes
In these tough economic times, many people are seeking ways to stretch their buying power. Although cutting back on purchases and avoiding extravagances make sense, another good strategy is to look for ways to trim your tax bill.
October 3, 2008
Start college loan search early
As college costs have escalated in recent years, students increasingly depend on their parents to help foot the bill: According to a recent consumer survey conducted by Visa Inc., nearly a quarter of those who attended college in the past five years cited their parents as the primary source of funding for tuition and room and board, trailed by government grants and government-backed loans (15 percent and 14 percent, respectively).
September 26, 2008
Go green and save green
It's pretty hard to ignore the environmental crisis our world faces today. You've probably already begun altering your behavior in response, whether by recycling, planting trees or simply driving less.
September 19, 2008
Don't forget taxes when planning retirement
When budgeting how much money they'll need for living expenses after retirement, most folks generally include things like housing, medical expenses, transportation – even food and entertainment. But sometimes people forget to factor in taxes, which can have a substantial impact depending on where you live and what your sources for retirement income are.
September 12, 2008
Carefully plan transition from the military
If you're among the hundreds of thousands of people expected to retire or be discharged from the military in the next few years, you're no doubt aware that you'll face many changes – and challenges – upon returning to civilian life. Today's uncertain economic climate makes it all the more important to have a handle on your personal finances and develop a strong game plan.
September 05, 2008
Understanding debit cards
Fifteen years ago, only a few million Americans carried debit cards. Today, more than 80 percent of us use them to withdraw cash, pay bills and make purchases at stores, restaurants and other merchants worldwide.
August 29, 2008
Protect your personal finances during divorce
Divorce is often referred to as the No. 2 most stressful life event, second only to death of a spouse. And no wonder: Besides its obvious emotional impacts, getting divorced can also be a financial nightmare as you're forced to deal with nagging details like separating your finances, acquiring your own health insurance and deciding who will claim the kids as tax deductions.
August 22, 2008
Borrowing from retirement accounts a costly mistake
The current housing crisis and other economic woes are taking their toll on people's wallets. Caught between escalating mortgage payments and rising fuel and food costs, many folks are having difficulty paying their bills. Not so long ago, some people probably would've just taken out a home equity loan, but with property values plummeting, their equity may already be exhausted – not to mention, those loans are now harder to get. Which leads me to cite a disturbing behavior that's on the rise: Tapping long–term retirement savings accounts to pay short–term bills.
August 15, 2008
Share financial 'facts of life' with your freshman
Forget the birds and the bees: One of the most difficult – yet most important – discussions you can have with your children before they head off to college concerns the financial facts of life. Because a few early financial missteps can damage their credit for years to come, it's important to set your kids out on the right path.
August 08, 2008
Trim your back-to-school expenses
It usually bugs me when retailers start hawking events months before they happen – like selling Halloween candy before Labor Day or displaying barbeque grills while it's still freezing outside. But sometimes a little forewarning is a good idea.
August 01, 2008
Why is gas so expensive?
The news at the pump is grim: With the average cost of a gallon of gas well above $4 and rising, people are asking, "What happened?" Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. But here is what government and industry experts say are some key factors that impact fuel prices.
July 25, 2008
Protect yourself from the credit crunch
As the economy continues to falter, many people find themselves trapped in financial limbo: unable to cover their bills (such as adjustable rate mortgages) and not qualified for more favorable interest rates that could help because of lenders' tightening credit standards. Compare that to a few years ago, when just about anyone could secure a mortgage or car loan.
July 21, 2008
Baby boomer strategies for slowing down
Most people in their twenties and thirties are scrambling to get ahead – working long hours to advance their careers, buy a home or start a family.
July 14, 2008
Preplanning your death arrangements
Many people refuse to contemplate their own death, while others take great comfort in planning every funeral detail ahead of time. No matter where you fall in this spectrum, there are several factors you should consider regarding cost, impact on your loved ones and ensuring that your wishes are carried out.
July 7, 2008
Get your financial resolutions back on track
You probably began 2008 with the best intentions: lose a few pounds, reduce debt, start saving for college or retirement. You may have even written New Year's resolutions and started working on them. But you get busy, unexpected expenses come up, and suddenly it's summer.
June 30, 2008
Understanding Social Security
Since its creation in 1935, Social Security has provided countless Americans with a degree of financial stability through its retirement, disability and survivor benefits. While never intended to fully support people when they retire, Social Security provides many retirees with their only safety net against poverty. So naturally, concerns about its solvency make headlines.
June 23, 2008
The high cost of raising kids
I hope you're sitting down. According to an annual study by the USDA, the average cost for a middle–income family to raise a child born in 2007 until age 18 is estimated at a staggering $204,060. And that doesn't even include college costs.
June 16, 2008
Put the brakes on debt
I hope this is one column you'll read and say, "Whew, I'm glad that doesn't apply to me." I'm talking about what can happen when someone's debt spirals out of control and they don't know where to turn next.
June 9, 2008
Seniors: Beware of financial scams
Many people find it increasingly difficult to make ends meet in today's troubled economy, whether because of mortgage woes, high fuel costs, job insecurity or other financial problems. If that weren't bad enough, predatory con artists target these vulnerable folks with increasingly sophisticated scams designed to cheat them just when they can least afford it.
May 30, 2008
Banish summer boredom for your kids
Summer's almost here and you know what that means: warmer days, longer evenings and endless choruses of 'there's nothing to do.' Before you park your kids in front of the TV or at the mall, consider a few activities you can do together that might help bring you closer while also teaching them valuable lessons about managing their personal finances.
May 23, 2008
Vacation planning in a tight economy
Sharply rising gas prices are taking their toll on almost every aspect of our lives, from filling up the gas tank to shelling out more for food and other commodities. If you've started planning your next vacation, you've surely noticed that airfares and other travel–related costs have gone up as well.
May 16, 2008
Marriage is also financial partnership
Nothing erases the glow of a honeymoon faster than money woes. In their haste to live happily ever after, many couples don't do their homework before the ceremony and then are unpleasantly surprised to learn they're starting out their next life chapter deeply in debt – or married to a spouse who has very different financial priorities.
May 9, 2008
Be shrewd when passing along assets
If you’re among the 45 percent of Americans who've already written a will, you may think you've done everything necessary to ensure a smooth transition of your assets to your heirs. Not necessarily.
May 2, 2008
Graduating to 'the real world'
Anyone who's graduated from college understands the relief of leaving behind years of cramming for exams and living on dorm food. With the next chapter of their lives now at hand, this year's grads deserve kudos for successfully negotiating the twists and turns of higher education.
April 25, 2008
Help mom plan for financial security
As Mother's Day approaches, it's worth noting that most women still face significantly more hurdles to achieving financial security than do men, especially at retirement. A few statistics say it all.
April 18, 2008
Spring-clean your financial records
Have you ever wasted precious weekend hours searching for tax-related documents? If the television died, could you locate the warranty to see if it's still covered? Ever forgotten an online account password? These are all good arguments for setting up a proper filing system.
April 11, 2008
Smart uses for your tax refund
Each year, roughly 70 percent of Americans get an income tax refund. Thanks to the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008, beginning in early May most also will receive an additional tax rebate check of up to $600 (up to $1,200 for joint filers) - even those who don't earn enough to owe federal income tax.
April 9, 2008
A financial IQ 'SOS' for Generation Y
Children growing up during the Great Depression watched their parents struggle against extreme hardships. But the "scrimp and save" mentality they learned slowly waned as Baby Boomers and Generation Xers found it easier than their parents to purchase homes, buy cars and go to college.
March 28, 2008
Tax rebates coming down the pike
Start checking your mailbox in early May. That's when more than 130 million Americans should begin receiving big checks from Uncle Sam, thanks to the $168 billion Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 passed by Congress and signed by the president.
March 21, 2008
Get your 'boomerang' kid back on course
If you're a parent looking forward to having an empty nest, you may need to adjust your expectations. Faced with burgeoning student loan balances, high rents and a stagnant job market, increasing numbers of adult children are opting to move back in with their parents to get a financial leg up.
March 14, 2008
Understanding bank fees
Paying bills used to be pretty cut-and-dried: Each month, you'd sit down with your checkbook, write a bunch of checks and drop them in the mail. Once in awhile you might accidentally bounce a check because of a math error - or in hopes that a deposit would clear first. The bank would deny payment; then you'd pay a fee and learn your lesson.
March 7, 2008
Save money on medications
Between skyrocketing prescription drug prices, rising insurance copayments and an aging population, it's not surprising more and more people are having difficulty paying for their medications.
February 29, 2008
Get the jump on taxes
Aside from getting a root canal or visiting the DMV, few activities are more unpleasant than filing income taxes. It gets more complicated every year and what's worse, if you've put off organizing your paperwork until the last minute, you risk missing deadlines and making costly mistakes.
February 22, 2008
Reverse mortgages can help seniors
More and more seniors unable to keep up with escalating living expenses have begun exploring reverse mortgages, where they draw equity from their paid-off homes and continue living there with no monthly payments.
February 15, 2008
If a layoff looms, be prepared
The days when most folks joined a company right out of school and remained until retirement are long gone. Today, people intentionally change jobs numerous times during their lifetimes. Unfortunately, such changes aren't always voluntary, as anyone who's been laid off knows.
February 8, 2008
Renters insurance is a must
If you're a renter and there's an accident or burglary, the landlord's insurance will pick up the tab, right? Not true. Landlords usually only insure the building structure itself, so you're responsible for any lost or damaged possessions. And, if someone falls in your apartment or gets bitten by your dog, guess who they might sue? You.
February 1, 2008
Seniors: Take a bite out of spending
Anyone who’s retired or living on a fixed income knows how difficult it is to keep up with skyrocketing health care, fuel and food costs. And, with today’s longer lifespans, many of us will need to keep our eye on the ball for much longer than our parents’ generation did.
January 25, 2008
Winterize your home to cut energy bills
We’ve all felt first-hand the painful impact that record oil prices have had on home heating and driving expenses this winter. You’ve also likely seen price hikes on just about everything else as fuel-related shipping and manufacturing cost increases get passed along to consumers.
January 18, 2008
Auto enrollment steers more people into 401(k)s
If you've procrastinated about signing up for your company's 401(k) retirement savings plan, you're not alone: About one-third of eligible employees haven't enrolled, even when their employer offers matching contributions and a variety of investment options.
January 11, 2008
Tips for first-time homebuyers
It's no secret that the bubble has fully burst in the real estate market and that millions of homeowners are facing severe financial hardships as home values drop and adjustable mortgage rates shoot upward.
January 04, 2008
Make a will before it's too late
You'd never want to compound your loved ones' misery should you become seriously ill or die, but that's exactly what might happen if you haven't adequately planned for your future care and the distribution of your possessions.
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