Personal Finance Tips Delivered Weekly
December 28, 2012
Helping the 'Unbanked' Get Affordable Financial Services
According to a recent survey by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the U.S. Census Bureau, 17 million American adults now live in "unbanked" households, while another 51 million are considered "underbanked." In other words, over 28 percent of households either have no traditional checking or savings accounts (unbanked); or their basic financial needs aren't being met by their bank or credit union so they also rely on alternative lenders like check-cashing services or payday loans (underbanked).
December 21, 2012
Retirement Plan Limits Increase in 2013
Benjamin Franklin once declared, "Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." Although I don't have any updates on the former, where taxes are concerned I do have news.
December 14, 2012
Resolve to Be Financially Secure in 2013
When it comes to making New Year's resolutions, getting into good shape financially ranks right up there with losing weight and eating healthier. All three goals require discipline and planning; and, as you've no doubt experienced, it's not unusual to encounter setbacks along the way.
December 7, 2012
Error on Your Credit Report? Here's Help
If you've ever tried to remove inaccurate of fraudulent information from your credit report and gotten the runaround, take heart: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is now on the case.
November 30, 2012
Understanding 401(k) Fees
If you're like many Americans – 71 percent, according to an AARP survey – you might be under the impression that your 401(k) plan administrator doesn't charge you anything to maintain your account. You'd be wrong.
November 23, 2012
Last-minute ways to trim your taxes
From now until New Year's is probably when you have the least amount of time to spare on mundane financial bookkeeping tasks. But if you can dedicate a few minutes to review your benefits and tax paperwork, you might be able to shave hundreds – or even thousands – of dollars off your 2012 taxes.
November 16, 2012
Cut your holiday expenses
The closer the holidays loom, the less time harried families have to buy gifts, plan seasonal events and make travel arrangements. Unfortunately, when time is at a premium and you're forced to make last-minute decisions, it's usually your budget that suffers.
November 9, 2012
'Tis the season for donating money
Like many other economic measures, charitable donations in the U.S. have yet to bounce back to pre-recession levels. According to Giving USA's Annual Report on Philanthropy, charitable contributions totaled $298.4 billion in 2011 – up 4 percent from 2010, but still 11 percent below 2007 levels.
November 2, 2012
Young adults: Avoid these privacy red flags
Young adults applying for college or preparing to enter the workforce are sometimes shocked to find out that that certain behaviors that were either tolerated or ignored when they were younger now fall under closer scrutiny and could actually hurt their advancement possibilities. Among the biggest culprits are oversharing sensitive personal information in public forums and getting extreme tattoos or body art that may not yet be fully acceptable in certain work environments.
October 26, 2012
Tax breaks, benefits available to military families
As we honor our armed forces this Veterans Day, let's also acknowledge the financial challenges they and their families often face, both while in service and after discharge. Fortunately, service members needn't go it alone: Many tax benefits, social services and financial assistance programs are available to help.
October 19, 2012
Have the 'good debt' vs. 'bad debt' rules changed?
Before the Great Recession of 2008 overturned many long-held financial beliefs, it wasn't uncommon for people to differentiate between "good debt" and "bad debt." The thinking was that certain kinds of debt were worth taking on because you come out ahead in the long run. Buying a home and financing a college education were two notable examples.
October 12, 2012
The ins and outs of ePayments
Are you ordering far fewer checks for your bank account these days? Does a roll of postage stamps seem to last a lot longer? Like most people, you're probably performing many more financial transactions electronically, either by choice or because companies and government agencies have increasingly made it all but mandatory.
October 5, 2012
Get Ready for Medicare Open Enrollment
For senior citizens, the most important decision you will make this fall comes in the form of choosing the most appropriate Medicare coverage options for next year.
September 28, 2012
Money-saving open enrollment tips
Over the next few weeks, millions of Americans will receive their 2013 open enrollment materials. Although it's tempting to simply check "same as last year," that can be a costly mistake – especially if your employer is offering different benefit plans next year or your family or income situation has changed.
September 21, 2012
How to stem the tide of junk mail
Here's more than you ever wanted to know about junk mail: Each year, direct mail creates 10 billion pounds of solid waste in the U.S. and costs local communities more than $1 billion in collection and disposal expenses – not to mention putting you at greater risk for identity theft if you don't shred personalized mailings before tossing.
September 14, 2012
When Seniors Need Financial Assistance
When the last national census was taken in 2010, 48 percent of the population was classified as poor or low-income (earning less than 200 percent of the poverty level). Anyone who's ever tried to live on a low income knows how difficult it can be to make ends meet when cost increases for essentials like healthcare, housing, food and energy outpace their earnings. This can be especially challenging for seniors living on a fixed income.
September 7, 2012
Government Proposes Simplified Mortgage Disclosure Forms
No doubt many wannabe first-time homebuyers have been sitting on the sidelines of the volatile housing market, unsure when or how to enter the game. If that describes you, you're probably fortunate to have missed out on the housing bubble and lax lending standards of a few years ago, when millions of people took out mortgages they couldn't afford – or understand.
August 31, 2012
High School Grads Need to Understand Credit
If you've got a recent high school graduate who's getting ready to head off to college or join the workforce, let me share a few lessons I learned the hard way about managing personal finances that you can pass along to your kids.
August 24, 2012
Social Security Statements Now Available Online
Until last year, Social Security sent taxpayers an annual personalized statement showing a complete record of their taxable earnings as well as estimated retirement, disability and survivor benefits based on those earnings. Unfortunately, budget constraints brought put an end to those yearly mailings.
August 17, 2012
When you should file an amended tax return
If you've ever submitted your tax return only to discover that you overlooked a deduction for which you were eligible (or worse, got a revised W-2 form from your employer after you filed), there is a solution: You can file an amended tax return and claim a bigger refund – or correct your mistake and minimize the interest and penalties the IRS will charge you when they eventually spot the error. In this Practical Money Matters piece, Mr. Alderman explains how and when to file an amended tax return.
August 10, 2012
How to Save on Back-to-School Shopping
On the fun-o-meter, I'd probably rank back-to-school shopping right above getting a flu shot and preparing income taxes. Never mind the hassle of figuring out what our kids need for the coming school year and dragging them to the mall, it's just so expensive.
August 3, 2012
How to stop annoying telemarketing calls
When the Do-Not-Call Implementation Act of 2003 was passed, it was supposed to herald a new era of silence – as in, no more annoying dinner-time telemarketing calls. Based on the number of unsolicited calls our household still receives nearly a decade later, however, I'd say the law has been had only mixed success.
July 27, 2012
What healthcare reform means to you
Much was made of the size and complexity of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act when President Obama signed it into law in 2010. But now that the Supreme Court has upheld much of the act's constitutionality, it's a good time to review key provisions that have already gone live and to plot out what's expected to happen in the next two years.
July 20, 2012
Is the IRS' 'marriage penalty' real?
If your spouse-to-be is considering postponing the wedding because of fears about the so-called "marriage penalty," you two probably have bigger issues than whether you'll have to pay higher taxes as a married couple than when you were single.
July 13, 2012
What happens when you can't pay your medical bills?
It's no secret that health care costs have been spiraling out of control for years. To fight back, your best bet is to be a well-informed consumer: Know the true costs of medical procedures, supplies and medications so you can bargain effectively; carefully anticipate and track medical expenses; and stay on top of your bills.
July 6, 2012
Why You Need a Social Media Will
By most estimates, over half of adult Americans haven't written a will stating how their assets should be distributed after death. Fewer still have bothered to appoint someone to make financial and health care decisions on their behalf should they become incapacitated. And now we can add another necessary, but probably overlooked legal document: a social media will.
June 29, 2012
LGBT couples often face additional financial hurdles
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) couples – and individuals – often face significant financial hurdles compared to their heterosexual counterparts. According to Chris Kollaja, a certified public accountant and partner at A.L. Nella & Company in San Francisco, California, LGBT couples often incur higher costs for everything from income taxes to employee benefits to adoptions because of prevailing laws and tax regulations.
June 22, 2012
How to catch a 'Phish'
Their names may sound funny but their financial consequences are not: "Phishing," "smishing," "vishing" and "pharming" are just a few of the ways criminals gain access to personal information via your computer or smartphone. If you're not careful, identity thieves can use harvested information to open fraudulent bank or credit card accounts, take out loans, rent apartments or even charge medical procedures to your insurance plan.
June 15, 2012
'Innocent Spouse Relief' protects against tax fraud
I'll wager that when most brides and grooms utter the phrase, ":For better or for worse,": the ":worse": they're imagining probably involves situations like getting laid off or a prolonged family illness – not being the victim of tax fraud perpetrated by a current or former spouse.
June 8, 2012
Improving financial literacy, here and abroad
Would you be surprised to learn that parents in many poorer countries often spend considerably more time talking with their children about money management than in wealthier countries like the United States? I was.
June 1, 2012
This Father's Day, teach your kids to manage finances
As parents, we hope we're doing a good job raising our children – teaching them right from wrong, instilling the desire to learn and demonstrating how to manage money responsibly. But what if they see us preaching one behavior while practicing another? What's to stop them from following in our sometimes misguided footsteps?
May 25, 2012
Make your vacation security checklist
With summer vacation right around the corner, you're probably busy planning itineraries, shopping for new bathing suits and finishing up work projects. But before you completely check out, take a few minutes to review a few financial safeguards that could save you a ton of grief and money – and protect your identity.
May 18, 2012
Prepare Your Kids for Summer Job Expenses
High school and college students hoping to find temporary jobs may be in for a tough time this summer – once again – as they compete with older, more experienced workers in a still-struggling economy. But if your kid is fortunate enough to find work, there are a few things he or she – and you – should know about the economic and tax ramifications of temporary employment.
May 11, 2012
Avoid rude rental car surprises
I'm usually a pretty savvy traveler, but a recent car rental mishap reminded me that even when you take every precaution, things still can go awry.
May 04, 2012
For Mother's Day, Discuss Mom's Financial Future
On Mother's Day, children of all ages thank their moms for the many sacrifices made during their childhoods – and well beyond, considering how many adult children still hit up their moms for a loan or free babysitting.
April 27, 2012
How to Avoid Being a Bad Roommate
For many people, having roommates is a natural transition between leaving their parent's house and buying their own home. It can be a great way to trim expenses and save for the future. But if you're not careful, cohabitating can also devolve into constant bickering over finances and dirty dishes.
April 20, 2012
Should You Buy Wedding Insurance?
Disastrous wedding mishaps have long been a comedy staple, probably because so many of us can relate. What bride- or groom-to-be hasn't had nightmares about hurricane-force winds blowing over the reception tent or a drunken cousin falling into the wedding cake?
April 13, 2012
Should you adjust your tax withholding?
Now that tax day has passed, chances are you're either waiting patiently for your 2011 tax refund to arrive, it's already been spent, or you just wrote the U.S. Treasury a check and are in budget-cutting mode.
April 6, 2012
Knowing Which Financial Records to Save, Toss
If the memory of hours spent hunting for and organizing paperwork to file your taxes is still fresh, think about doing some financial spring cleaning so next year's tax preparation won't be such an ordeal.
March 30, 2012
Using Comic Books to Teach Financial Literacy
For decades, millions of kids have faithfully followed the adventures of their favorite comic book superheroes like Spider-Man and the X-Men – sometimes well into adulthood. Although often considered pure escapism, comic books also can serve an educational role – whether it's teaching the principles of science, demonstrating right vs. wrong or even helping kids learn how to read.
March 23, 2012
Put your tax refund to work
If you're among the millions of Americans expecting an income tax refund this year, you've probably already filed your 2011 return and are eagerly awaiting the money. But if you haven't already mentally spent your refund on a guilty pleasure, here are several great ways to better put that money to work for you.
March 16, 2012
Financial impact of adoption
It's hard to think of any act more generous than adopting a child. Many adoptive parents I know tell me it's the most personally rewarding thing they've ever done.
March 9, 2012
A financial to-do list for the recently widowed
Losing your spouse is one of life's most stressful events. Ironically, it's during that time of grief, when you're probably not thinking clearly or focusing on such matters, that you're expected to make many important financial decisions that will impact the rest of your life.
March 2, 2012
Can't Pay Your Taxes? Try These Tips
If you're worried you won't be able to pay your income taxes by this year's April 17 filing date, don't panic; but don't ignore the deadline and certainly don't wait for the IRS to reach out to you first. Acting quickly not only gives you more repayment options, it can also significantly lower penalties you might owe the government.
February 24, 2012
Empty Homes Need Additional Insurance
There are many reasons why someone might leave their home unoccupied for months at a time: Maybe you moved to another state and your old house is languishing on the market; or you can no longer afford your mortgage so you're working out a short sale and couch-surfing at your sister's house; or you struck it rich and are taking a six-month, around-the-world cruise.
February 17, 2012
Can Your Family Afford College?
I'm a firm believer that the more knowledge you acquire, the richer your life will be. But as college tuition and fees continue to skyrocket, students and parents increasingly are asking, "Is a degree really worth the cost?"
February 10, 2012
Financial intervention for your parents?
Sometimes it's hard enough just keeping track of your own finances. But, as many of us have learned, life gets even more complicated when your parents come to you for assistance with their money matters – or worse, when they don't ask for help but really should.
February 3, 2012
Take 'America Saves Week' to heart
After four years of coping with a stagnant economy, probably the last thing you want to hear is how important it is to sock away money for a rainy day – you already know that. But hear me out, just in case.
January 27, 2012
Talking Finances with Your Valentine
As you and your spouse celebrate Valentine's Day over a candle-lit dinner, you may want to avoid romance-killing topics like, "Honey, let's talk about our financial future." But you really should have that conversation sooner rather than later to keep your relationship on a healthy footing.
January 20, 2012
Tax strategies in a tough economy
For most of us, income tax calculations don't change much from year to year. But thanks to the roller coaster economy of the past few years, many people have undergone major life changes that can have a significant impact – good or bad – on their taxable income and how they should file taxes.
January 13, 2012
Beware of mystery shopper scams
Getting paid to go shopping may sound like a dream job, but buyer beware: For each legitimate mystery or secret shopper opportunity, probably hundreds more are scams. In fact, the National Consumers League (NCL) says complaints regarding fraudulent mystery shopper and work-at-home schemes were up nearly 9 percent during the past six months.
January 6, 2012
Women and personal finances
By many measures, women's lives have changed substantially in recent decades. According to a comprehensive government report called "Women in America" (www.whitehouse.gov/data-on-women), although certain social and economic situations for women have improved, when it comes to personal finances, many women still face challenging hurdles.
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