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Government reps lead off HandFF Radio lineup

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WASHINGTON (2/1/08)--The lineup for this Sunday’s H&FF Radio show includes two government representatives discussing questionable credit card practices as well as student loan reform efforts. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. EST on the Radio America Network. The one-hour program devoted to consumer finance issues is brought to you by America's credit unions and their 90 million members, and is presented by CO-OP Network. Sunday’s show, which you also can hear later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:
* “Credit Card Practices: Consumer Concerns,” with Sandra Braunstein, director, Division of Consumer and Community Affairs, Federal Reserve Board, Washington, D.C.; * “Student Loan Reform: The Response from Congress,” with J.D. LaRock, senior education advisor to U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, chairman, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Washington, D.C.; * “Affordable Housing--Stronger Communities,” with Marietta Rodriguez, national director, Home Ownership Programs, NeighborWorks America, Washington, D.C.; * “Use Direct Deposit and Save. February Challenge: Our Listeners’ Best Money Tips,” with Susan Tiffany, director of personal finance information for adults, Credit Union National Association (CUNA), Madison, Wis.; and * Listener Q&A: How to handle errors in your credit report; teach your preschooler about money; develop a spending plan; what to do before you need auto repair.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at CUNA. The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, makers of cheddar cheese; Visa; and WesCorp. For more information, read, “Timing Rules Student Loan Consolidation” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Consumer brief (01/30/2008)

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* SCHAUMBURG, Ill. (1/31/08)--Record-breaking gasoline prices have resulted in substantial changes to our spending behavior, according to research from the Nielsen Company. Based on responses from nearly 26,000 U.S. consumers, the study revealed that shoppers are combining trips and errands (70% said they are doing so), eating out less (41%), and staying home more frequently (39%). These findings come on the heels of a lackluster holiday sales season, despite an increase in online shopping as a way to deal with high prices at the pump. More than one-quarter (27%) of respondents said they’re shopping more frequently at supercenters and big-box stores, and 25% are clipping more coupons. It’s expected that food shoppers also will make up for reduced spending power by buying less expensive grocery brands (Nielsen Jan. 14)…

Get organized now to reduce tax-season stress

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MADISON, Wis. (1/30/08)--April 15 will be here before you know it. If you haven’t already, pull your tax records together and prepare to file (CUNA Center for Personal Finance). Set up a tax file to reduce stress. If you’re a small-business owner, keep personal and business documentation separate. One way to pull records together: Organize by category (About.com):
* Donations. Include receipts for both cash and noncash deductions. For charitable monetary donations, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires proof from your financial institution or written communication from the charity showing the name of the charity and the date and amount of the contribution. Clothing and household items must be in good used condition or better. For deductions greater than $500, include a qualified appraisal of the item with your tax return. * Child care. Include receipts for payments as well as special activities or field trips. * Income. Include your W-2 and 1099s, as well as interest and dividend statements from your financial institution. * Medical. Include receipts for medical out-of-pocket expenses not covered by insurance. * Real estate. Include your mortgage interest statement and tax assessments. * Miscellaneous receipts. Include receipts for deductions that don’t fit in the other categories.
For more help this tax season, watch the video, “Getting Tax Records Organized,” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Troops across globe hear CUNA radio show

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WASHINGTON (1/30/08)--The American Forces Network (AFN) is now airing the Credit Union National Association’s (CUNA) weekly personal finance radio show, Home & Family Finance--giving military personnel around the globe access to informative programming on money matters “presented by America’s credit unions.” Home & Family Finance airs twice on Saturdays at 7 a.m. PT and again at 4 p.m. PT and available to AFN affiliates around the world. AFN falls under the American Forces Radio and Television Service, a part of the U.S. Department of Defense headquartered in Alexandria, Va. It provides stateside radio and TV programming, “a touch of home,” to U.S. service men and women, Department of Defense civilians, and their families serving outside the continental United States, including bases in Europe, the Middle East and the Pacific. “The radio show is top notch, and our goal since first launching it has been to expand its reach to a larger audience,” said CUNA President/CEO Dan Mica. “Given the high priority CUNA and America’s credit unions place on financial education, we are extremely proud the show is going out to so many of our military personnel overseas through the American Forces Network," he said. "We think our men and women in uniform will find great benefit in the wide range of timely and informative personal finance topics the show covers week to week.” Home & Family Finance radio is “presented by America’s credit unions” but is not a promotional program about credit unions. The show offers consumer finance information and advice to a general audience through interviews with an array of financial services experts on such topics as mortgages, savings options, retirement plans, car buying, debt management and more. Last week, for example, the program featured a project director with Consumers Union in New York offering guidance for parents and students on applying for federal student aid, an expert from AARP on the timing of retirement, an Internal Revenue Service spokesman on choosing your tax preparer and Volunteer Income Assistance (VITA) program, the U.S. Deputy Comptroller on payroll cards, and answers to listener emails. CUNA launched the initiative in September 2006 on the Radio America network to further credit unions’ mission of providing financial education and to reinforce the credit union brand as a trusted source for consumer information. Radio America continues to air the one-hour show in 36 U.S. markets, including Washington, DC, Albany, Boston, Memphis and St. Louis. This fall CUNA and Radio America began podcasting the Home & Family Finance show through iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo and other popular podcast library sites as well as on Radio America and CUNA’s own web sites. Radio America began dropping one-minute money tips from the show into its most popular weekday programming that reaches a U.S. audience of more than 4 million. The program is hosted by Paul Berry, a broadcast journalist with more than 30 years of experience. The expansion of the program onto the American Forces Network brings Berry full circle; he first received broadcast training with the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service while stationed in Vietnam. Home & Family Finance radio is produced by CUNA with the support of presenting sponsor CO-OP Financial Services and national sponsors VISA, Wescorp, and Cabot Creamery Cooperative.

Spousal IRAs complicated but worth it

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NEW YORK (1/29/08)--Calling all marrieds, filing jointly: More generous federal guidelines make it easier than you think to save for retirement (SmartMoney.com Jan. 9). Be aware of income limits, including a 2008 increase, which are similar to Roth IRA limits (MarketWatch.com Jan. 16). And it doesn’t matter whether one or both spouses work--chances are pretty good you can find a scenario below that applies to you so you can bump up savings with deductible individual retirement account (IRA) contributions:
* One spouse doesn’t work, and neither spouse participates in a qualified retirement plan. Both spouses can make deductible contributions of up to $5,000 ($6,000 if age 50 or older) to traditional IRAs, regardless of adjusted gross income (AGI). * One spouse doesn’t work, and the working spouse is covered by a qualified retirement plan. As long as the working spouse has sufficient income to cover the contribution, the nonworking spouse can make a deductible IRA contribution of up to $5,000 for 2008, or $6,000 if age 50 or older as of Dec. 31, 2008. There’s a phase-out, though, for couples with AGI between $159,000 and $169,000. * Both spouses work, but neither participates in a qualified retirement plan. In this case, both spouses qualify to make deductible IRA contributions of up to $5,000 ($6,000 if age 50 or older by Dec. 31, 2008) with no cap on AGI. If both contribute the maximum, the couple needs at least $10,000 ($12,000 if both are age 50 or older) of earned income between them. * Both spouses work, and only one participates in a qualified retirement plan. In this case, the spouse who participates can only make deductible IRA contributions for AGI up to $85,000, with phase-out between $85,000 and $105,000. However, in a case where joint income is significantly higher, the nonparticipating spouse has more liberal guidelines, with phase-out between the AGI range of $159,000 and $169,000. * Both spouses work, and both participate in a qualified retirement plan. If the couple’s joint AGI is more than $105,000, neither is eligible to make a deductible IRA contribution that year. If joint AGI is $85,000 or less, both can make $5,000 deductible contributions ($10,000 total, or $12,000 if age 50 or older).
Your credit union IRA specialist can help you sort through these variables. For more information, listen to “Using IRAs Effectively Before Age 59 1/2” in Plan It: Retire Ready Toolkit.

Scam alert Bogus cell phone text messages

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (1/28/08)--Phone phishers--unscrupulous callers who direct victims to a phony Website--have changed their tune: Now they’re using cell phone text messaging to lure you in (news-leader.com Jan. 16). One recent bogus message sent to cell users in southwest Missouri warned recipients that their bank accounts had expired and that they should register at a website. Crooks count on tricking a small percentage of uneducated consumers into releasing their account information, with disastrous consequences. Internet scams--particularly those that originate overseas--are difficult to track down and prosecute. Your best bet is to stay alert and know how to protect yourself. Australian-based SCAMwatch.gov offers tips to stay safe:
* Stay alert. Don’t reply to text messages that come from numbers you don’t recognize or from people who aren’t your contacts. That applies to missed calls, too. * Beware numbers that begin with 1-900. These are premium numbers typically charged at a high rate. You may be charged just for receiving a message from 1-900 numbers via SMS (Short Messaging Service, or text message) or MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service, which extends text messaging to graphics, audio, video, photos or any combination--within size limits). And if you’re asked to reply to these messages by typing “X” and hitting the send button, you may be charged for a text message to a 1-900 number. Immediately call your carrier to complain. * Don’t show interest. Simply replying to a scammer opens the floodgates to receiving similar messages and calls. * Check with friends first. Some text messages sound like they’re from friends, but they’re not. If the message is suspect, ask friends if they called or sent you a text message before you reply.
If you think you’re a victim of a text message scam, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov, or call 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357). For more information, read “International Scams Seek to Steal Your Dollars” and “OMG, It’s an IM Lingo Guide for Parents” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

HandFF Radio Experts talk retirement taxes financial aid

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WASHINGTON (1/25/08)--This Sunday’s H&FF Radio spot features topics for taxpayers, college students, and preretirees, as well as answers to listener questions that will help you get to the bottom of paying down your debt. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. EST on the Radio America Network. The one-hour program devoted to consumer finance issues is brought to you by America's credit unions and their 90 million members, and is presented by CO-OP Network. Sunday’s show, which you also can hear later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:
* “Students and Parents Should Start Applying for Federal Financial Aid Now,” with Michael Wroblewski, project director, consumer education and outreach, Consumers Union, Yonkers, N.Y.; * “Timing Your Retirement,” with Sally Hurme, attorney, Financial Security Unit, AARP, Washington, D.C.; * “Choosing Your Tax Preparer and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA),” with Mark Green, media relations specialist, Internal Revenue Service, Atlanta, Ga.; * “Payroll Cards: Will They Replace Your Paycheck?” with Barry Wides, deputy comptroller, Community Affairs, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Department of the Treasury, Washington, D.C.; and * Listener Q&A: Make the most of your income tax refund; update your beneficiary choices; one secret to build your savings; determine your debt level; best way to pay down credit cards.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at the Credit Union National Association. The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, makers of cheddar cheese; Wescorp; and Visa. For more information, read “Credits and Deductions Save You Tax Dollars” and “Make Up for College Savings Shortfalls” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Consumer brief (01/23/2008)

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* NEW YORK (1/24/08)--Don’t have a hybrid but want to squeeze more miles out of your vehicle’s gas tank? Use common sense, says the experts. Avoid those jack-rabbit starts and other aggressive tactics to boost your fuel efficiency by 31%. Avoid unnecessary idling to improve gas mileage by 19%. And stick to the speed limit--or drive slightly below it--to improve fuel efficiency by 12%. If you’re not being followed, keep your foot off the brake pedal and coast up to red lights--it takes more fuel to accelerate once you’ve stopped. Keep tires pumped to the maximum allowable pressure, rid the trunk of excessive weight, and park so you can pull forward rather than wasting gas backing up (http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com)…

Need a student loan Start filling out forms now

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SAN FRANCISCO (1/23/08)--The deadline for filing student-loan application forms may be February or March, depending on the college, but it pays to get organized and gather required documents now (MarketWatch.com Jan. 10). Here’s what students need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA):
* Social Security number; * Driver’s license; * Current checking/savings statements; * 2007 W-2 forms, plus records of other money earned; * 2007 federal income tax return (if married, your spouse’s return, too); * Parents’ 2007 federal income tax return; * Current mortgage, business, farm, stock, bond, and other investment records; and * For non-U.S. citizens, alien registration or permanent resident card.
To save time, print and fill out the worksheet from the Web, then enter and save data to FAFSA on the Web. The fastest way to submit your application: File electronically using a personal identification number (PIN) as signature. Read the electronic- signature-process requirements carefully at fafsa.ed.gov. No data gets transmitted until you electronically sign and press the send button. Once you transmit the application, you can check the status online, make corrections to a processed form and access other information such as your student aid report. Remember: You don’t have to wait until the deadline to file. You can apply as early as possible after Jan. 1 each year. And you’ll need to file a FAFSA every school year to receive student financial aid.

Cell phones Cut costs preserve service

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YONKERS, N.Y. (1/22/08)--Most of us can’t imagine life without cell phones--practically everyone has one. But, not everyone is happy with cell phone service (Consumer Reports January). According to the Annual Survey of Cell-Phone Service, conducted by Consumer Reports National Research Center, fewer than half of survey respondents actually were completely or very satisfied with the cell service they receive. Another cell phone gripe: the bill. Consumer Reports offers tips to curb the cost:
* Watch your minutes. If you go over the limit in minutes, you’ll pay big bucks. For those times when you know you’ll exceed your limit, ask your provider to temporarily increase your minutes. If you don’t, you could wind up paying overage charges as high as 45 cents a minute. * Use the plan to your advantage. Check plan details for free calls to other plan customers as well as free calling to certain numbers you choose. * Compare packages. When shopping for the best deal, don’t focus on voice minutes alone. Check prices for texting, instant messaging (IM), or sending photos if you’ll use those services. * Control kids’ cell phone use. When you add someone to your plan, be aware of your minutes and theirs as well. Define rules of cell phone use with your kids. Consider options that let you control the numbers your kids can call, text or IM. * Purchase prepaid minutes. If you find you’re left with a lot of unused minutes each month, consider a prepaid cell phone. You generally pay for the phone, but you can prepay for a designated amount of minutes. Prepaid phones work well for people who want a phone for emergencies only or for those who won’t use a lot of minutes. Be careful though--prepaid minutes can expire.
Whether you’re a talker or an IMer, understand the details of your plan. For more information, read “OMG, It's an IM Lingo Guide for Parents,” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

HandFF Radio Is Your TV set ready for digital switch

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WASHINGTON (1/18/08)--This Sunday’s H&FF Radio spot features four consumer experts, including a federal government bureau chief explaining why all TV stations in the U.S. are converting from analog to digital broadcasting, what that means for you, and how you can get $40 coupons that can be applied toward the cost of eligible converter boxes. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. EST on the Radio America Network. The one-hour program devoted to consumer finance issues is brought to you by America's credit unions and their 90 million members, and is presented by CO-OP Network. Sunday’s show, which you also can hear later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:
* “Give Your Wallet a Workout,” with Cate Williams, vice president of financial literacy, Money Management International, Chicago, Ill.; * “Earned Income Tax Credit,” with Jeanette Valencia, earned income tax credit program coordinator, The Legal Aid Society of Orange County, Calif.; * “U.S. Conversion to Digital T.V. & Coupon Program Rollout,” with Catherine Seidel, chief, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau (CGB), Federal Communications Commission, Washington, D.C.; * “Unscrewed: The Consumer’s Guide to Getting What You Paid For,” with Ron Burley, broadcast reporter, author, and consumer activist, Eugene, Ore.; and * Listener E-mail Questions.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, makers of cheddar cheese; and Visa. For more information, read “Is Your TV Set to Go Digital?” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Consumer brief (01/16/2008)

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* SEATTLE (1/17/08)--If reading the fine print isn’t hard enough, try deciphering clauses like this one found on some airline tickets: “NONREF/CHGFEEPLUSFAREDIF/CXL BY FLT TIME OR NONVALUE.” Translation: Make a change to your ticket after the first leg of your trip, and you’ll lose the ticket and be forced to purchase a new one. If you’re like most travelers, you don’t pay attention to restrictions like this until you need to make a change. By that time, it’s too late--for you and your wallet (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com)...

Your parents attitude about money affects you

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SAN DIEGO (1/16/08)--How your parents handled money has a lot to do with how you deal with your own finances, according to Ginita Wall, CPA and co-founder of the Women’s Institute for Financial Education (wife.org). Wall cites some not-so-healthy attitudes about money you might be passing on to your own children:
* Money is love. If parents use money as a way of expressing love (such as extravagant gift-giving or overly generous allowances) rather than using actions and words, children make a connection between money and love. Wall’s advice is to try to treat money as a commodity, like food in your refrigerator. Some will be used today, some saved for later. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean you have to use it all at once. * It’s not “polite” to talk about money. This is a message many people, especially women, heard growing up. Kids need to be educated about the value of money, including how to save and invest. Make money a topic of family conversation--form a family investment club, or research and invest in stocks that are kid-friendly. * Money translates to control. Did you grow up in a family where money was controlled by your parents and you had little to say about how and where it was spent? Or did one parent use money to control the other? Children react to what they see their parents do and say. If you alternate between spending on them and saying “we can’t afford it,” they’ll get a mixed message they don’t understand. Wall recommends setting aside some money each month to spend on your children and giving them the opportunity to figure out how it should be spent. They’ll become savvy consumers who know how to weigh the cost and benefit of future purchases. * Money is a form of reward. If you use money to reward good behavior, kids may not grow up feeling self-fulfilled. They’ll look for the person who will reward them with money so they can feel self worth. They will reward or punish themselves by spending or not spending ... and that can create spending disorders and unmanageable debt. Rather, teach children that money is neither good nor evil. Set a savings target, and make the rest available to spend. Good money management takes discipline, but also provides pleasure. Money itself should not be a goal.
For more information, read, “Credit/Debit Cards, Checking Accounts, Teach Teenagers to Handle Money” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Health club memberships Get fit be smart

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YONKERS, N.Y. (1/15/08)--Like many individuals, you vowed to lose those 10 extra pounds this year. But before agreeing to drop big bucks along with those pounds, don’t be swayed to join the first health club you visit (Consumer Reports February 2008). You can make the most of a health-club membership by doing the following according to the Federal Trade Commission and Consumer Reports:
* Know the history. Find out if others have complained about the fitness center you want to join by contacting your local consumer protection office, state attorney general, or Better Business Bureau. You’ll also find out if your state has laws regulating health-club memberships. * Put on your inspector’s hat. Visit the facility around the same time that you’ll generally be using it. Is it overcrowded? Is it clean? Is it open during convenient times? * Scrutinize that contract. Don’t let fitness center employees con you into signing up right away based on a deal that’s about to expire. Most clubs have some leeway on how long offers are good. Take the contract home and review it. There are two key details to look for:
* Make sure everything the salesperson offered is written in the contract. Know details as far as rate hikes, transferring memberships, and what will happen if you need to cancel your membership because of a move; and * Know payment details. When calculating total costs, don’t forget about finance charges and annual percentage rates--if there are any. Break down the monthly payment to find out what you’re paying weekly—and even monthly.
* Check out options on type of club to join. You might find you like all the extras the big-name facilities offer, or you might decide a community center or work-place gym is all you need. * Inquire about free trials and ask about membership discounts. If you’re a senior citizen or a student you may be eligible for a discounted rate. * Use your membership to your advantage. If possible, use the facility during off-peak hours and sign up with a personal trainer. Leave personal valuable items at home. For health safety, use the alcohol spray or wipes most facilities provide, wash hands frequently, and don’t share towels with others.
For more tips on smart financial choices, visit the “Consumer Protection” section in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Filing too early could be hazardous to your refund

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WASHINGTON (1/14/08)--The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has put us on notice: Filing any of five specific forms for tax year 2007 could result in a delayed refund if you don’t pay attention this year (The Washington Post Dec. 28). The reason behind the warning actually is good news for the estimated 20 million families who would have faced the notorious Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) and an extra $2,000 tax hit on average. Congress applied a patch to the AMT late last year, allowing those potentially affected to claim credits they otherwise would have been denied. That’s the good news. The bad news is that early filers need to sit tight until around mid-February because the timing of the AMT patch came too late for the IRS to amend some tax forms. That means the booklets you receive in the mail in the next few weeks were printed before Congress made the change. It’s recommended you wait until Feb. 11 to send in your tax return--to give the IRS time to finish reprogramming its computers--if you plan to file any of the following forms which weren’t updated in time:
* Form 8863: Education Credits; * Form 5695: Residential Energy Credits; * Schedule 2, Form 1040A: Child and Dependent Care Expenses for Form 1040A Filers; * Form 8396: Mortgage Interest Credit; and * Form 8859: District of Columbia First-Time Homebuyer Credit.
In addition, consider these tips when filing your 2007 tax return:
* If the child- and dependent-care credit is the only one of the five credits you’ll claim, avoid the wait by filing the longer IRS Form 1040. The AMT changes affect this credit only when it’s claimed on Form 1040A (USA Today Jan. 7). * For e-filers who try to file before Feb. 11, if your return contains one of the five credits, the IRS will reject it. Most major preparers, though, will allow you to prepare your return in advance and then the company will e-file it when the IRS starts accepting returns. * If you’re sending in a paper return and you’re eligible for one of the five credits, download updated forms at irs.gov, or call the IRS at 800-829-3676. * The fastest--and safest--way to receive your refund is to file electronically and have the refund direct-deposited. Electronic filers can expect to receive refunds in 10 to 14 days (Dailypress.com Dec. 28). Even if you have to wait until Feb. 11 to file, you should get your refund by the end of February. But if you use snail mail, expect to receive your refund in closer to six weeks. * Taxpayers with adjusted gross income of $54,000 or less can take advantage of the IRS Free File program, available Jan. 11. Make sure you connect to a software provider through the IRS website at irs.gov.
For anyone who counts on a fat refund check each year, now is a good time to re-evaluate your withholding. Stop giving Uncle Sam an interest-free loan. Adjust your withholding so less money is withheld from your paycheck. There are several withholding calculators on the Web, including Kiplinger.com/tools/withholding and irs.gov. For more information, read “Stay Up-to-Date to Claim Deductions, Credits for College Costs” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

HandFF Radio Tax tips from the IRS

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WASHINGTON (1/11/08)--Don’t miss this Sunday’s H&FF Radio spot, featuring a tax specialist from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) highlighting information you need to know before you tackle your 2007 tax return. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. EST on the Radio America Network. The one-hour program devoted to consumer finance issues is brought to you by America's credit unions and their 90 million members, and is presented by CO-OP Network. Sunday’s show, which you also can hear later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:
* “Your Taxes: Good Things to Know,” with Eric Smith, national spokesman, IRS, Washington, D.C.; * “Fast Profits in Hard Times,” with Jordan Goodman, former Money magazine journalist and author of several best-selling books, including “Everyone’s Money Book,” New York; * “When to Use Debit vs. Credit Cards,” with Connie Trudgeon, vice president of operations, CO-OP Network, Ontario, Calif.; * “January Money Management Tip From Our Audience,” with Susan Tiffany, director of personal finance information for adults, Center for Personal Finance, Credit Union National Association (CUNA), Madison, Wis.; and * Listener E-mail Questions.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at CUNA. The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, makers of cheddar cheese; and Visa. For more information, read “Debit Card Debate: Check-Out Line Dilemma Reveals Real Differences” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Consumer brief (01/09/2008)

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* NEW YORK (1/10/08)--If you took out a mortgage or refinanced in 2007, don’t forget to deduct your private-mortgage-insurance (PMI) payments on your taxes, if you’re eligible. Typically, you pay PMI if the equity in your house is less than 20% of the home’s value. If your adjusted gross income (AGI) is $100,000 or less, you’re eligible to deduct PMI payments on your taxes. Deductions are phased out up to AGI of $109,000. Congress recently extended the tax break to 2010 and it applies to your primary residence and one other residence, but not to rentals (http://www.wsj.com Dec. 27)…

Government websites breeding ground for ID theft

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WASHINGTON (1/9/08)--From the girl next door to famous football stars and politicians, finding their Social Security numbers (SSNs)--if you wanted to--isn’t hard (Washingtonpost.com Jan. 2). Criminal and civil cases and land records, available on government websites, often include SSNs. And charging a fee for access to some sites isn’t stopping criminals from obtaining the coveted numbers. Federal courts have banned SSNs from appearing on public documents since 2001, and some states have passed laws or created rules keeping types of personal information from being filed with courts or government agencies. But that doesn’t take care of records filed before the laws and rules took effect. The Federal Trade Commission, Washington, D.C., estimates that 8.3 million Americans were identity theft victims in 2005, the most recent data available. Though you can’t control what’s available in public documents, you can take steps to safeguard your identity, according to the Credit Union National Association's Center for Personal Finance:
* Only give out your SSN when necessary, and only carry your Social Security card in your wallet if you’ll use it that day. * Know whom you’re dealing with in person, on the phone, or over the Internet. If you’re not certain of the reputation, don’t give personal information. * Be suspicious of anyone calling or e-mailing you and asking for personal information. Your financial institution already has this information on file. * Don’t disclose your SSN on checks, as club membership numbers, or as general information. * Order a free credit report once a year from each of the “big three” credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) by visiting annualcreditreport.com or calling 877-322-8228 toll free. * Cross-cut shred papers that you no longer need and that contain personal information.

To shred or not to shred--and when

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YONKERS, N.Y. (1/8/08)—If getting rid of clutter and unnecessary paperwork is tops on your list of things to do this month, make sure you know what you can--and can’t--shred, and when it’s safe to do it (Consumer Reports Money Adviser January).
* Bills. Keep receipts for large purchases, and shred the rest after payment clears your credit union, and after the return or refund period expires. * Credit card receipts. Keep them for one year in case you need to return defective goods, then shred them. * Credit card statements. If they contain tax-related expenses, keep the statements for seven years in case you’re audited by the Internal Revenue Service. Otherwise, keep them for one year and then shred them. * Credit union monthly statements. Keep monthly statements that contain tax-related expenses for seven years. Otherwise, keep them for one year and then shred them. * Investment account statements. Keep year-end statements for seven years, but you can shred monthly or quarterly statements as new ones arrive. * Retirement statements. Keep year-end statements for your 401(k), individual retirement accounts (IRAs), and Keogh plans until you retire or close the account, and keep Form 8606 if you’ve made nondeductible IRA contributions. Shred quarterly statements after you receive your annual summary and verify that everything is correct. * Pay check stubs. Shred the stubs after you receive your annual W-2 and verify that the information is accurate. Keep the last paycheck stub of the year. * Tax records. Keep a copy of all 1040 tax forms permanently. Remember: The IRS has three years to audit your return, but if you underreport your gross income by 25% or more, the IRS has six years to challenge it. And if you file a fraudulent return or don’t file one at all, the IRS can go after you at any time.
One final tip: Cut down on the amount of paper that flows into your home. Register with the Direct Marketing Association at the-dma.org, and opt out of preapproved credit card applications at optoutprescreen.com; you’ll see a dramatic decrease in the number of preapproved credit card offers and other direct mail pieces that fill your mailbox.

Resolve to tackle one financial chore in 2008

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MADISON, Wis. (1/7/08)--Does your list of financial New Year’s resolutions look at lot like last year’s? The solution: Pick just one item to accomplish--particularly one you’ve been meaning to do for a few years--and you’ll be better off in 2008 than you were in 2007 (Credit Union National Association Center for Personal Finance). For most individuals, the list seems daunting. For example, you know you need to:
* Get financial records organized; * Develop a workable spending plan; * Calculate net worth; * Update--or create--a will; * Designate a power of attorney; * Complete health-care directives; * Decide on a guardian for minor children; * Review current insurance coverage; and * Inventory personal belongings.
But according to savingadvice.com (Dec. 27), it’s not as important which chore you choose first as it is to accomplish one so you’re inspired to keep making progress. And while you’re at it, resolve to increase personal savings this year. You may choose to deposit that year-end bonus in a higher-yield share certificate, or set up automatic transfer to savings from each paycheck. Or, establish an IRA (individual retirement account) at the credit union; by contributing a set amount each month and taking advantage of dollar cost averaging, you’re in a better position to ride out the highs and lows of the volatile marketplace. For more information, read “New Year 2008: New Challenge—And Members Are the Experts” and “Experts' Picks: Home-Inventory Software” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

HandFF Radio Tips for a post-holiday debt diet

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WASHINGTON (1/4/08)--This Sunday’s H&FF Radio show is chock-full of money advice as experts answer questions about how to get rid of a credit card hangover, best handle an adjustment to your adjustable rate mortgage (ARM), and distinguish between credit myth and credit reality. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. EST on the Radio America Network. The one-hour program devoted to consumer finance issues is brought to you by America's credit unions and their 90 million members, and is presented by CO-OP Network. Sunday’s show, which you also can hear later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:
* “Five-Step Debt Diet: Trim Your Post-Holiday Credit Card Flab,” with Brad Stroh, founder and co-CEO, Freedom Financial Network LLC, San Mateo, Calif.; * “Your Money and Your Brain: How the New Science of Neuroeconomics Can Help Make You Rich,” with Jason Zweig, senior writer for Money magazine; * “What to Do When You’re Facing an Adjustment to Your ARM,” with Frank Nothaft, chief economist, Freddie Mac, McLean, Va.; * “Credit Myths” with Rick Harper, vice president/director of housing, Consumer Credit Counseling Service, San Francisco, Calif.; and * Listener E-mail Questions.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, makers of cheddar cheese; and Visa. For more information, read “Credit Savvy Is Key to Avoiding Costly Missteps” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Consumer brief (01/02/2008)

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* NEW YORK (1/3/08)--A CNNMoney.com online poll of 5,000 individuals, conducted in November 2007, sought to pin down the top financial goals for 2008. The poll revealed that 33% of respondents resolve to pay down debt, 23% resolve to save for retirement, 11% resolve to build an emergency fund and 11% resolve to buy real estate. However, only one of three respondents feels confident about achieving the top financial resolution, and slightly more than half question whether they’ll have the money to achieve their goal. If you want to increase your chances of keeping your New Year’s resolution and reaching your financial goals, automate it. Set up an automatic transfer now--at the start of the year--from checking to savings, and then sit back and enjoy steady progress toward your 2008 financial goals and resolutions (Money January)…