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Showing items by: sitecore\jhorton
Show items per page Now showing items 1-10 of 107 Prev | Next
  • Your survival plan for the government shutdown
    Submitted by: sitecore\jhorton on October 04, 2013

    government shutdown survival plan

    The government shutdown is now in place, and along with it came a good amount of uncertainty, causing many Americans to wonder how they will survive financially.  

    By some estimates, hundreds of thousands of federal employees will work without pay until the shutdown ends, while others may be furloughed indefinitely. Some workers are not adequately prepared to deal with a loss of income, even a short-term one. 

    For those living from paycheck to paycheck or without significant savings, any income interruption is likely to put them over the financial edge and negatively impact credit. 

    For example, consider the statistics below from the 2013 National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) Financial Literacy Survey:  

    • Thirty-three percent of respondents admit to not paying all bills on time; 
    • Thirty-nine percent have zero non-retirement savings; 
    • Thirty-nine percent carry debt over from month to month, and 
    • Sixteen percent have utilized overdraft protection in the last 12 months. 

    “The government shutdown should be a wake-up call for everyone, as very few have absolute job security,” said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC. “Whether due to an unplanned expense or a job loss, no one has ever regretted being financially prepared, and preparation starts with understanding where you stand today.” 

    The NFCC and Money Management International (MMI) advise consumers to take the following steps to put themselves in a better financial position, regardless of what the coming months may hold:  

    • Assess your current financial situation – The NFCC’s new Sharpen Your Financial Focus™ program is the ideal place to start. The program consists of the following three steps, with the consumer free to start with whichever best meets his or her financial needs. Consumers can access the program by visiting SharpenToday.org
      • MyMoneyCheckUp™, MMCU, is the NFCC’s free online financial self-assessment tool, providing consumers with a means of evaluating four key areas of personal finance: budgeting and credit management, saving and investing, planning for retirement, and home equity. After answering a series of topic specific questions, a personalized assessment of the individual’s overall financial health and associated behaviors is generated. With areas of concern identified, the analysis suggests changes that consumers are encouraged to implement in order to become more financially independent. The tool is available in English or Spanish.  
      • A one-on-one financial review with an NFCC Certified Financial Professional to find solutions to any immediate concerns, and address long-term financial stability. 
      • A financial workshop providing a deeper understanding of topics of specific interest to them. 
    • Face the financial facts – After completing the financial discovery step in MMCU, consumers may find the results surprising. Don’t ignore them. Financial problems rarely resolve themselves, particularly in emergency situations. Take action sooner rather than later, as delaying only makes the problem harder to resolve. 
    • Take control – Admittedly, some things are beyond a person’s financial control, but some aren’t. Control what you can by doing the following: o Review the credit report and score, both necessary to fully understand the current financial situation, and provide a framework for next steps. 
      • Create a cash-flow calendar listing all sources of income. Next, plug in the dates all bills are due. This will ensure that bills are paid on time and protect the credit report and score from future damage.
      • Commit to paying down debt, and if necessary, suspend all charging, consistently moving toward solid financial ground. 
      • Reach out to a legitimate credit counseling agency for help creating a survival plan. 

    “If there is a quick resolution to the shutdown, nothing has been lost by implementing the above steps,” continued Cunningham. “If not, consumers will be better prepared to face whatever comes their way financially.” 

    For help navigating the financial strains brought on by the government shutdown, visit SharpenToday.org where financial survival tools can be found.  



  • Annuities and financial rebounding for your family
    Submitted by: sitecore\jhorton on October 03, 2013

    Retirement savings in a mason jar

    Are you saving for retirement? If you answered "no" to that question, you're not alone. 

    A new study from the National Institute on Retirement Security shows only 10 percent of Americans have saved enough money to put them on track to retire. In fact, the balance of the average household’s retirement assets is a shocking $3,000. 

    If you're looking to beef up your retirement savings, one option you may want to consider is an annuity, as they provide stability and low-investment minimums.

    Here's the low-down on what annuities are, what to look for, and how to plan.

    Annuity Basics

    Annuities are popular among investors who want a steady income stream during their retirement years. Investing in an annuity provides regular monthly, quarterly, annual, or lump sum payments. Unlike many investment products, you know what your income is going to be and when you'll receive it.

    Fixed Annuities

    If you're familiar with CD investing, then you already know a little about the foundation of a fixed annuity. Like CDs, fixed annuities guarantee a specific rate of interest for a period of time. You can re-invest your money again after that set time expires, but you typically get a new interest rate, depending on the market.

    If you're worried about having enough money to retire with after sending your kids to college, you can defer the fixed annuity. This allows for an accumulation of interest and potential for a stable income stream. And unlike the high minimum investment of many retirement products, a fixed annuity usually runs just $1,000 to $10,000 for an initial investment.

    Variable Annuities

    When you purchase a variable annuity from an insurance company, they ensure periodic payments to you at an agreed date. Unlike a fixed annuity, variable annuities vary, depending on how the investment option you picked performs. If that sounds overwhelming, it's not. It just means you're investing in mutual funds that invest in stocks, bonds or money markets on your behalf.

    The potential upside to variable annuities is you can opt for periodic payments for life, and they also have a death benefit. If something happened to you, your family would continue receiving payments. And, according to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, you also don't have to pay taxes on variable annuities until you physically withdraw the money.

    Upsides & Downsides

    Annuities have the potential to secure income into your retirement. This is crucial for people who have no idea what the next five years will bring financially, let alone 25 years. Be aware — some investors frown upon annuities because of typically high fees. It may cost roughly 2 to 4 percent a year for the company you invest with to maintain the annuity.

    Selling Annuities

    For those who already have structure payments, you probably opted to forgo a lump sum payment or were told told you had to accept periodic payments over time. The latter may have been true at one point, but now there are other options. During the 1980s, a secondary market was legally created to buy and sell annuity payments and structured settlements. This is good news if you need more money in the short-term, such as if you're buying a house, paying for kids' college tuition or paying for a job relocation. Contact a specialist to discuss your options and long-term financial goals.

  • What hairspray taught me about saving money
    Submitted by: sitecore\jhorton on October 01, 2013
    Applying hairspray at photo shoot

    When it comes to money, the internet can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. 

    Flash sales? Worst enemy. 

    Product research? Best friend. 

    The other day as I was purchasing a bottle of hairspray (don’t judge, I live in Texas!), I was thinking about how much money I had spent on things that I didn't end up liking. I'm not talking about big things, but rather the “small” purchases. Like, hairspray. Or shampoo. Or _____ (you fill in the blank). 

    The thing is, when I walk into a drugstore, I get distracted by pretty bottles and nice labels (and, frankly, anything shiny). And I buy things with the intent of “trying them out” to see if they work. Because this bottle of shampoo is going to be the one to FINALLY make my hair look like that. Yeah, we all know how that story ends.

    So, back to the hairspray purchase, as I was about to purchase the most expensive bottle of hairspray I have ever owned, I didn’t have a single doubt in my mind that this would actually save me money. Why? Because Ifelt like I already knew what I was purchasing. 

    I first read about this particular brand of hairspray on a beauty blog run by a hairstylist (shout-out to Kate over at The Small Things Blog!), but I quickly dismissed the thought of buying “salon-quality” hairspray. I’m very much a drugstore-quality hairspray kind of girl. 

    Bottle-after-bottle of failed hair products later, I finally decided to do a little research, only to find that people love this hairspray. (I mean, LOVE.) So fast forward a year, and here I am asking, “Where have you been all my life?!” to my amazing new hairspray. (Which has replaced a total of three products, ultimately saving me counter space AND money.) 

    So why I am telling you a silly story about hairspray of all things? 

    Because when you’re strapped for cash, you have to REALLY look at where your money is going. And the beauty of the internet is that, odds are, anything you are considering trying has been tried before — and likely blogged, vlogged, tweeted, or pinned. And while hairspray may be completely inconsequential to you, I’d be willing to bet there’s something that you can save money on by doing a little research first. 

    In fact, while it’s not surprising that consumers spend time researching big-ticket items, new research show that consumers are increasingly researching purchases of smaller, everyday items. PricewaterhouseCoopers reports that 73 percent of U.S. consumers research information about clothes, shoes, toys and health and beauty products before buying those items in stores. 

    So the next time you see someone furiously Googling in the hairspray aisle – don’t judge! They’re probably just trying to save a buck. 

    Now it’s your turn! What small purchases could you save money on by doing a little research. Is this something you do already? Share your thoughts by commenting on this post!

  • Things to do before buying a new house
    Submitted by: sitecore\jhorton on September 19, 2013

    Holding keys to new home

    You know that feeling when you lock eyes with a special someone and you know it's just meant to be. Sure, you don't know if you actually have anything in common, but the butterflies in your stomach don't lie!

    Actually, as we all know, those butterflies DO lie. And if you're in the market to buy a home, you should never succumb to this love-at-first-sight syndrome.

    In fact, according to Nick Jabbour, vice president of Nest Seekers International, while it is easy to walk into a home and fall in love, you should visit at least five properties before signing any contracts. After all, the last thing you want is buyer's remorse after investing in a home.

    So what's the solution? Rather than making your decision based solely on emotions (I'll allow you to have a few; I'm not completely heartless), you should gather as much information as possible about each property you visit. 

    To make it easier, we've created a checklist of points you need to know before deciding which house is the best investment.

    How Long Has the Property Been For Sale?

    You should ask your real estate agent how long the home has been on the market. Robert Irwin, author of Tips and Traps When Negotiating Real Estate, says that if a home has been on the market for an extended period without a single offer, the market could be slow or the home may be overpriced.

    Use Comparisons to Determine the Value of the Home

    A real estate agent cannot tell you the amount you should offer on a home. Instead, you should request to see sales that are comparable to the home you are considering.

    Find Out Detailed Information about the Area

    You can find a wealth of information on online about crime statistics, home values and the average income level of an area. Also, take a drive through the neighborhood at different times of the day and night. How far is the home from your place of employment? Is it a feasible commute?

    What Effect Will Moving Have on Your Insurance Needs?

    Because you are moving to a larger, more expensive home, your insurance needs will increase to compensate the additional property. This is something that you need to consider before purchasing the home. One of the best ways to estimate your insurance costs is to use an insurance cost calculator.

    Get a Home Inspection

    Once you are about to make an offer get a home inspection. If the home has already had an inspection, ask to see it and read it carefully. Make notes of anything that concerns you and speak to the owner about it before making your offer.

    Some of the issues a home inspector can spot include problems with:

    • Foundations
    • Plumbing
    • Wiring
    • Roofing
    • Insulation
    • Termite Infestation

    Ask if there is a Homeowners Association (HOA)

    If there is an HOA, you need to request a copy of the rules and regulations. Some HOAs only allow specific types of fencing, shed designs and, if you own an RV, the HOA may not allow you to store it on your property. Be sure to read the rules and regulations thoroughly. You also should inquire as to yearly dues.

    Don't Forget the Final Walk-Through

    On your final walk-through, make sure that the owner has completed any agreed upon repairs. Now is the time to check all the little things:

    • Turn light switches on/off.
    • Flush the toilets.
    • Turn faucets on/off.
    • Open/close all the windows and doors.
    • Test the garage doors.
    • Check appliances.
    • Turn the furnace on.
    • Turn the air conditioner on.
    • Inspect the grounds and look for any missing trees or shrubs. Some owners decide to take certain plants with them.
  • Foreclosure Prevention - What is the Home Affordable Modification Program
    Submitted by: sitecore\jhorton on August 28, 2013

    Offering help for homeowners

    As we have previously announced, Money Management International is participating in a nationwide partnership to help families struggling with their mortgage payments apply for help from the Federal government’s Making Home Affordable Program.

    One of the options available to homeowners who are struggling to pay their mortgage is the Home Affordable Modification Program, also known as HAMP. The following are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about this program:

    What is HAMP?

    HAMP is designed to reduce your mortgage payments, making them more affordable and sustainable over the long term.

    How do I know if I’m elgible?

    You may be eligible if:

    • You are struggling to make your mortgage payments.
    • You are delinquent or in danger of falling behind on your mortgage.
    • You owe up to $729,750 on your primary residence or single unit rental property.
    • You obtained your mortgage on or before January 1, 2009.
    • Your property has not been condemned.
    • You have not been convicted within the last 10 years of crime in connection with a mortgage or real estate transaction.

    How does HAMP work?

    Your mortgage company reviews your request for mortgage assistance to determine if you qualify for HAMP.

    If you qualify, you may start with a three-to-four-month trial period. Be sure to make your payments on time, and continue to pay, even if the trial extends beyond the expected length of time.

    After a successful trial at the new payment level, your mortgage company will offer you a permanent modification. Be sure to understand the details of your agreement and continue to make payments in order to remain in good standing.

    Most HAMP modifications feature lower interest rates and many include some form of principal reduction. In fact, HAMP modifications may save you more than $500 each month.

    How do I apply for HAMP?

    Give us a call at 888.665.9659 to speak with one of our HUD-certified housing counselors. From understanding your options to applying for assistance, we will work with you — free-of-charge — throughout the whole process. You can also visit MMIurl.org/MHAcounseling for more information.

  • Ask MMI: Will my future husband's student loan debt affect my credit?
    Submitted by: sitecore\jhorton on August 19, 2013

    Couple argues about student loan debt

    Ask the Experts: Will my fiance's student debt affect my credit?

    My fiancé has a student loan from almost 10 years ago totaling about $13,000. He has never made any payments on the loan but receives letters from the Department of Education all the time asking for payment in full. I don't want my credit to be messed up because of this but we are not sure where to start. They have never threatened to garnish his wages, but they call all the time. He is under the impression that it is off his credit because it has been over seven years. Also, he thinks that if he starts to make payments then they will report him to the credit bureaus. Can you either dispel or confirm these situations? – Pat

    Pat, 

    I am glad you wrote today, because your future husband’s assumptions are incorrect. 

    The government is steadfast in their determination to collect. The government will withhold tax refunds and garnish wages to repay monies owed. It is only a matter of time. After you marry, this may affect your joint tax refunds. It will most likely remain on his credit report for up to seven years after it is fully paid.

    He should immediately contact the Department of Education or the servicer handling his student loan. Luckily, there are new programs available to help student loan borrowers, so he may qualify to have a portion of the debt forgiven. 

    I applaud your open communication with your future spouse. Too often, this type of issue only surfaces after the wedding, causing unnecessary problems. I encourage you to continue this level good communication throughout your marriage. In fact, we have a free eBook that you and your future hubby may enjoy reading that discusses the topic of love and money in detail. 

    Congratulations on your upcoming wedding!

    Ask the Experts

    Need help understanding your student loans?  Unsure what programs are available to help you pay back your debt and get your finances in order?  MMI now offers student loan counseling.  Our trained counselors can help you understand your options and create a plan to get your student loan debt under control.  Visit our Student Loan Counseling page for more details.

  • NFCC poll: Close to one in five consumers comfortable carrying debt
    Submitted by: sitecore\jhorton on August 14, 2013

    Credit card vs cash video game

    A recent National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) online poll revealed that close to one in five consumers, 18 percent, believe that carrying credit card debt over from month-to-month is a responsible way to manage his or her finances.

    “This data suggests that not only are many Americans are using credit cards to fund a lifestyle their income can’t support, but they are comfortable doing so,” said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC.

    Consumers need to be aware of the consequences associated with continually carrying credit card debt from month to month, some of which are below:

    • Interest on a credit card is typically calculated on an average daily balance. For those who carry a balance over from the previous cycle, interest is not only charged on the unpaid balance, but on any new purchases added to the balance.
    • With interested added onto the balance month after month, consumers end up paying interest on the interest.
    • Carrying a balance has the potential to negatively impact a person’s debt to credit ratio, one of the main components of credit scores.
    • A higher balance decreases the amount of credit available for future purchases. However, there can also be disadvantages to charging too little.

    At the other end of the spectrum, a similar number of respondents, 21 percent, indicated that they do not use credit cards. While this approach to money management can avoid many financial pitfalls, it too has its problems:

    • Although it is possible to pay cash or use a debit card for daily expenses, these types of transactions are usually not reported to the credit bureau. Most people need credit for major purchases such as a house or car, but without a thick and positive credit file, credit may be denied.
    • Without credit cards, people miss out on the convenience of being able to purchase items or pay for services when cash is not readily available.
    • Carrying cash is risky, as the money could be lost or stolen, whereas credit cards often offer consumer protection features including those against loss.
    • Credit cards provide a safety net for emergency situations.

    The majority of poll respondents, 61 percent, believe that paying credit card debt in full each month is the only responsible way to manage personal finances. The benefits associated with this type of behavior far outweigh any disadvantages and include the following:

    • Timely bill payments and a low credit utilization ratio are typically the top weighted elements in credit scoring models. Therefore, this type of behavior could have a positive impact on an individual’s credit scores.
    • The convenience of using credit can be enjoyed without paying any interest or penalties.
    • The entire line of credit remains available for future use.
    • Stress and worries of being over-extended are avoided.

    What about you? Do you rely more heavily on either cash or credit, or do you fall somewhere in the middle? What's your preference? Let us know by leaving a comment!

  • MMI offers help for struggling homeowners
    Submitted by: sitecore\jhorton on August 09, 2013

    Homeownership

    We have some exciting news to share for homeowners who are struggling to make mortgage payments.

    Money Management International is participating in a nationwide partnership to help families struggling with their mortgage payments apply for help from the Federal government’s Making Home Affordable Program. The Making Home Affordable® (MHA) Program is an important part of the Obama Administration’s comprehensive plan to help homeowners get mortgage relief and avoid foreclosure.

    More than one million homeowners nationwide have already benefited from the Making Home Affordable Program, but hundreds of thousands of additional families are still eligible for help. 

    MMI – a housing counseling agency approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) – is working in partnership with the U.S. Department of the Treasury, NeighborWorks America and more than 700 housing counseling agencies across the country to help homeowners apply for the program free-of-charge. 

    Homeowners struggling with their mortgage payments often delay reaching out for help because they feel overwhelmed and unsure of where to turn. Unfortunately, some homeowners have paid to get help only to discover that they have become the victim of a scam. 

    If you are a homeowner struggling with your monthly payments, we offer three pieces of advice: 

    • You don't need to figure this out alone. That's what our HUD-certified counselors are here for. From understanding your options to applying for assistance, we will work with you — free-of-charge — throughout the whole process. In fact, research shows that homeowners who work with a housing counselor are more likely to receive the assistance for which they are eligible. 

    • You shouldn't delay reaching out for help if you are struggling with your mortgage payments. There are more options available today to help families avoid foreclosure than ever before. The Federal government’s Making Home Affordable Program is the first step for many families to access the help they need. 

    • There is never a fee to apply for help. You should beware of anyone who requires a fee for counseling services or for a mortgage modification. 

    To make an appointment with MMI to get free help applying for mortgage aid, simply call 888.665.9659 to speak with a certified housing counselor, or visit MMIurl.org/MHAcounseling for more information.

  • Savvy ways to save on groceries
    Submitted by: sitecore\jhorton on July 31, 2013

    Note: This guest post was written by Tommye White, Sr. Director at Money Management International.

    Grocery shopper saves money

    Even though I like to think of myself as a smart shopper, I am like others when I get to the check-out at the grocery store: shocked that my bill is so high for the small amount of groceries I have in my cart.

    I feel like I do a pretty good job of purchasing the most for the least amount of money, but I have tried the following three things below to push the envelope.

    1. I take a quick look at what I have in my pantry and refrigerator before I go to the store. Many times I find that leftover squash or a bit of chicken that I can use to make a new meal with only one or two purchased ingredients. I just jot down what I have on a piece of paper for reference when I get to the store.
    2. I am starting to buy more frozen vegetables. They are less likely to spoil from my neglect or lack of organization.
    3. I take a few minutes to look over the flyers at the grocery store. They are usually right by the front door and you can snag one and sit outside or find a quiet corner and just scan them. This eliminates the need to purchase newspapers if you would not otherwise read it. I have also signed up for email notifications from my top two stores so that I receive information about specials.

    The good news is I saved about 5 percent of my total grocery bill last week just by being a little savvy.

    I am using the ingredients on hand more, cooking a little more creatively, and have a bit more cash in my wallet.

    Not a bad deal for only a few extra minutes of my time!

    What about you? How do you save money on groceries? Share your tips in the comment section below!


    You may also enjoy reading...

    For extra tips for frugal foodies, download our free Cheap Eats eBook!

     

  • How to budget for baby
    Submitted by: sitecore\jhorton on July 22, 2013

    Budgeting for baby

    Is the buzz about the royal baby giving you some serious baby fever? Not so fast. 

    According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average cost to raise a child until the age of 18 is $234,900 — a number large enough to make anyone feel as though they would have to be royalty in order to raise a child! 

    And when you include the cost to send that same child to college, the figures can be downright scary! 

    However, if there’s one truism I've heard time-and-time again, it’s: if you’re waiting to have a baby until you can afford one, you’ll be waiting forever. Luckily there are steps you can take to ensure you are as prepared as possible for an upcoming bundle of joy. 

    • Take control of your debt — now. If you have credit card debt, now’s the time to take care of it. You’d be shocked at the amount of money you’ll have to save once those monthly payments are out of the picture! If you're looking for a quicker way to pay off your debt — not to mention the potential for lower interest rates! — you may want to consider a debt management plan.  
    • Explore your health coverage options. Checkups alone for baby can cost more than $100 per visit. You may also want to explore adding long-term disability and life insurance coverage to your existing healthcare plan. You should also look into the maternity/paternity leave policies at your workplace. 
    • Plan out the details. Will one of you stay home with the baby? Will you pay for daycare? Making – or at least thinking about – decisions like these will help you create a realistic plan for expanding your family. 
    • Practice living on a “baby budget.” If you are planning to live on one salary, start now. This will give you an opportunity to make the necessary lifestyle changes and cutbacks before your bundle of joy arrives — which will also make for a much easier financial transition. 
    • Get tips from the experts — other moms! No one can give you better advice than people who have been through the experience themselves. So ask your friends and family, or visit message boards and online forums. There are also a lot of mommy bloggers out there who write solely about this topic. One of my favorite blogs is Our Freaking Budget — Joanna and Johnny blog about everything from getting out of debt to planning for and raising their baby girl. 

    What about you? Do you have any advice for new moms or moms-to-be? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment! 

    You may also be interested in:  

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