Tip of the Week

Looking to learn more about the specifics of personal finances, budgeting, and having money conversations? Browse our recent posts to learn more about the kinds of situations we can help with. 
 

RENT: What happens after evictions protections end?

If you live in a property covered by the CARES Act, the soonest landlords can ask you to leave is July 25, and the soonest they can file an eviction to force you to leave is August 24. THIS PART IS ESSENTIAL: The protections under the CARES Act only apply to properties that receive federal funds or are financed under a federal program like Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. If you live in a multifamily property with five or more units, there’s a tool by the National Low Income Housing Coalition that’s designed to tell you if the property where you live is covered under the CARES Act. Just enter you zip code and scroll through the list of properties looking for yours. There are other online tools that can help connect you to other resources. 211.org connects those in need of help with essential community services. Recently it has ...

10 Warning Signs of Too Much Debt

 You spend more than 20 percent of your monthly take-home (net) income on consumer debt. (Credit cards, loans, etc.) You don't know how much money you actually owe.  You miss payments or pay them late. You have been refused credit. You have overdrawn your checking account more than three times in the past year. You borrow to pay off other debts. You only make the minimum payment on bills. Debt collectors are calling. You borrow from retirement accounts or use credit cards to pay monthly bills. You have to take an extra job just to pay your bills. Do YOU have any of these signs? Your credit counselors can help! Let's talk about it...

Savings. Do it now. It’s never too early…or too late.

No matter your stage of life, it's important to have savings. Special purchase? Save. College education? Save. First home? Save. Retirement? Save. Emergency fund? SAVE. CREATE A BUDGET. You must evaluate how much money you take in and how much money you spend to take control of your financial life. List your income from all sources. List your "fixed" expenses - the ones that are the same each month. Think rent, car payments, etc. List your expenses that vary - entertainment, recreation, clothing, etc. Write down ALL your expenses (even if seem insignificant) to help you track your spending patterns, identify necessary expenses, and prioritize the rest. PAY YOURSELF FIRST. This means automatically making a savings contribution or investment with your income before it even reaches your wallet. Consider a payroll savings plan where a certain amount goes directly into your savings account each payday. (One of the easiest ways ...

Stop the Cycle of Debt. Seriously.

SO you've paid off your debts. You're FINALLY free! Now what? The WORST thing you could do it successfully pay down your card balances, only to find yourself in debt again months or years later. Change the way you handle your finances and they way you think about money in order to keep yourself out of trouble. **If you haven't set up a budget for yourself yet, this is a MUST DO step. It will help you keep track of your spending each month so you know where every dollar is going. By using a budget, you will drastically reduce your chances of falling back into debt. Paper & pen, ledger style, spreadsheet, or even great apps on your phone...there are all kinds of budget options. USE CASH ONLY FOR NON-ESSENTIALS Cut up those cards to avoid further temptation. Consumers spend more with a credit card than with a debit ...

Good Debt v. Bad Debt: The Rules Have Changed

You've heard of the old adage...there is good debt and there is bad debt, right? Well, like most things, that theory is more complicated nowadays! There are "new rules" to consider when examining good debt versus bad debt. Let's take a look at educational debt. This used to be considered "good" debt and still is referenced as sometimes necessary. However, the thinking behind taking on educational debt used to be this: Consider if you will have the ability to turn that bachelor's degree into an income that outweighs the loans. Then that is good debt? Not necessarily. The NEW rule is that you shouldn't borrow more (in total) than you expect to earn in the first year on the job. This is premised on the notion that with salary increases over time,  you should be able to keep up with interest in your debt and pay off the loans within ...

ID theft can happen to anyone

An acquaintance recently shared this story with me: Ken, I have read your articles on identity theft in the past and have taken many of the precautions you have suggested. I take a great deal of pride in knowing about all of the precautions, and said "it could never happen to me, I am too careful." I would like to tell your readers to take identity theft seriously. Recently, I was shopping for a television, Internet, phone and cellular service that would meet my needs and hopefully save some money. One of the providers offered me a special promotional package that gave me more for less and saved me approximately $30 a month. I think you would agree this deal was too good to pass up. Again, being a smart consumer, I put the service on my credit card so I could get the reward points from the credit card ...

Some deals are worth waffling on

August 1, 2010 Have you ever noticed how easy it is to rationalize your spending habits? There is nothing like something free, reduced, on sale or marked with a clearance sign to get the old shopping adrenalin going. I was walking through a store the other day, and as a good consumer, and following my own advice, I was checking out the sale and clearance aisles in the store. As I browsed the shelves of bargains, I found one of those things I couldn't live without, a waffle maker. Up to that point in my life owning a waffle maker had never crossed my mind, and I would have never considered purchasing one at full price. But this hidden jewel was too good to pass up. It was the display model, without the box or manual for only $9. I was going to save 80 percent; that's right 80 percent. ...

Saving is tough, but it can be done

Dear Ken: You keep talking about saving for emergencies. But my wife and I are having a hard time making ends meet. We know we should save, but it is almost impossible. Do you have any special tricks that might work? A: Saving in tough times, or for that matter, saving anytime is tough. There are two basic rules of saving — spend less than you earn and have a reason to save. Part of the problem is the perception that we have to make a huge sacrifice to save. When times are tough, the temptation is to cut back on saving and focus on surviving. However, when people start thinking about ways to save and start cutting back a little in several areas, they find they can save more. Here are a couple of thoughts for you to ponder. First, get the entire family involved in the process.Let everyone ...

Having the 'money talk' with spouse

June is just around the corner, wedding bells are i n the air and I can "feel the love." If there was one thing I could share with newlyweds, it would be that sometime between "Yes, I will marry you," and "I do," you need to have the "money talk." Couples don't fight over love. They fight over money. They fight because they can't balance the checkbook or one of them makes a major purchase without talking to the other person. Whether the issues are big or small, money will affect your marriage. Here are the four things you need to include in the money discussion that will give you some insight into how money will flow through your marriage. • Assets and liabilities. Take a look at what you both have and what you both owe. Assets are bank accounts, investments, cars, houses, and all of the other "stuff." ...

Foreclosure purchase not always a deal

Dear Ken: I read your column on buying a home. What do you think about buying a foreclosure home? Answer: There's a myth that all foreclosures are deals because they can be purchased for pennies on the dollar. But not all foreclosures are deals and steals.  Foreclosures often are purchased below market value, but the reduction in purchase price may only be 10- to 15-percent of the market value of the home. That savings should be considered against some of the risks. Basically, there are three ways to buy a foreclosure property: >> 1) pre-foreclosure sales; >> 2) foreclosure auctions or sheriff's sales; and >> 3) from the lender after the foreclosure sale. In a pre-foreclosure sale, you buy the property from the owner before it goes to auction or sheriff's sale. Sometimes this may be at a discounted price or may be a short sale (a sale for less ...

Ways to alleviate debt stress

Dear Ken: We are in a financial crisis. My husband is a carpenter and in the last year and a half work has been hard to come by. I am currently working at a factory job and have had my hours reduced. We are having a hard time making all of the payments on our credit cards, medical bills and mortgage. We have used up our retirement savings and have had to use credit cards to survive. The stress is getting to us, and we don't know where to turn. Where do we go to get help? A: I guess our agency is still one of the best-kept secrets in the county. What you need to do is contact our agency for a financial assessment. The process is quite simple and non-intimidating. You call the office, we send you a simple worksheet and when it is completed you call for ...

How prepared are you for the unexpected?

Are you ready? Not too long ago, I was with my mother in the hospital. We were there because my father had some serious health concerns and we were considering the options facing the family. I was amazed at how well my mother and father had planned in case something would happen to either one or both of them. I know that we are all going to die sometime. Our financial planning is important, and the details are worth spending a little time and consideration on. If something such as death or serious illness hits, are we ready, or are our spouses or survivors ready to take care of the financial matters? All too often I have seen a spouse or survivor in a total quandary in these circumstances. Here are a few things you might not have thought of or considered in getting it together. First, do you know ...

Build a 'bridge' to a happier retirement

I was talking to a friend the other day and he made the observation that a lot of people our age are starting to look old. I had to agree with him and shared that I had noticed that he and I were aging much better than a lot of our other friends. He was considering retirement, but thinks he would still like to keep working. I shared that I had read an article about staying young. The article pointed out that if you want to stay healthy after retirement, you need to keep working. That is exciting to me — a not so successful "recovering workaholic." The research and findings were from a study done at the University of Maryland. The researchers found that people who transition from full-time employment to full-time retirement with part-time work, experienced fewer major diseases and functioned better day-to-day then those who totally quit ...

Getting out of debt takes family effort

Dear Ken: My wife and I would like to get out of debt. We are stressing out about our money situation. We are sick of fighting over money and really would like to work our way out of debt. What do we have to do? A: I am glad to hear that you have accepted the fact that it needs to be a family effort. Debt and spending habits can cause a lot of stress and strain on marital and family relationships. The question is: Are you are ready and willing to change your lifestyle and spending habits to get out of debt? If you are, you are going to have to change some basic attitudes and habits. The entire family must be involved, not just you and your wife. Relief is called " positive cash flow." All you need to do is spend less than you earn. So if ...

Credit card bailout program does not exist

Dear Ken: I saw an ad on TV last night and also on the Internet that there is a government bailout program for people with credit card debt of more than $10,000. It would allow us to pay off our debts for 60 percent of what we owe. What do you know about this program? A: There is no bailout for consumers with credit card debt of any amount. What you saw is a scam known as debt settlement and it will ruin your credit score. Last week, I worked with two different individuals who paid thousands of dollars to one of these groups. The groups provided absolutely no service and the individuals are ending up in the legal system with judgments being filed against them. The "credit card bailout" ads are very careful not to say they are government programs. The ads only imply there is help. In many ...

Scams strike good people

You have heard the saying, "Bad things happen to good people." Last week I heard of two people who were scammed by being good people. It happened in Madison, just outside a credit union. On two different occasions, a man approached a credit union member, asking each of them for help to cash a personal check. He explained that he and his family were stranded in Madison on their way back to New Jersey, and he needed to cash a check for gas and food so they could get back home. He said that because he didn't have an account at the credit union or an ATM card, the credit union wouldn't cash the check for him. So the man asked both people if he could make a personal check payable to them. Both people could cash the checks and keep $10 for their trouble, give him the rest of ...

Use your tax refund wisely

Dear Ken: I just finished my federal and state taxes, and I am getting a nice tax refund of more than $3,500. What would you suggest I do with it? A: First, take a deep breath. If you are like most people, you already have plans for that refund, and you should know that by asking me there probably won't be anything fun you will get for your money. With that said, I would suggest looking at your personal financial situation and what options you have available. Then take a look at your financial goals. If you don't have any goals, now would be a good time to consider some. Here are a couple of questions and suggestions for you. Do you have any savings for an emergency? If not, that should be a primary consideration. A possible $500 to $2,000 in a savings account will take a lot of ...

No shortage of mistakes in money matters

Someone asked me the other day what makes me qualified to give advice on money matters. I replied that I have seen a lot of people make some simple money mistakes. In most cases, poor decisions are because of personal stress and not understanding the consequences of our actions. Here are some of the most common mistakes I have seen people make when it comes to dealing with their financial situations: > Not talking to your spouse and family. When situations change or financial decisions have to be made, talk to everyone that is going to be affected by your decision. Buying a new car, losing or quitting a job, reductions in household income affect everyone. Get everyone involved so you are all on the same page. > Living off credit. Many people think they are doing OK without a budget, but use their credit cards for gas, clothes, and ...