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Make the most of extended payroll tax cut

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SAN FRANCISCO (2/28/12)--Many consumers will continue seeing a few extra dollars in each paycheck through the end of 2012; Congress passed and President Barack Obama has signed a $143 billion measure to extend the payroll tax cuts (SFGate.com  Feb. 22).

But consumers will have difficulty making responsible financial decisions with the modest windfall if they're not aware that the funds are in their paychecks. A recent poll by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling  (NFCC) suggests that 66% of workers did not know that existing payroll tax cuts provided them with fatter checks in 2011 (nfcc.org Feb. 20).

If you are like those workers, you might not be making the most of these dollars and could be spending them in ways that aren't best for you. Here are several ways to put the payroll tax cut dollars to good use:

  • Create a budget. Planning daily, weekly, or monthly budgets will help you identify where you're spending. Once you determine your income for a period, plan how much you'll spend on expenses during that time. Be sure to include funds for unexpected expenses.
  • Cut routine costs. Find ways to cut down on necessary expenses. Unplugging electronics like TVs and gaming systems, turning off lights when you aren't using them, keeping your thermostat at a steady temperature of around 68 degrees, combining trips to save on gas, and buying generic items instead of brand name goods at the grocery store are all ways to reduce the cost of routine expenses.
  • Clip optional spending. Identify which expenses are discretionary and look for ways to trim them. For example, replace going out to dinner with renting a movie, cancel magazine subscriptions, and consider removing cable TV. Reducing your spending a little here and a little there will add up.
For more information about reducing your spending, use the calculator "What's it Worth to Cut Back My Spending" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Caregiving topics discussed on HandFF Radio

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WASHINGTON (2/24/12)--Sunday's Home & Family Finance Radio program provides advice and resources for caregivers.

The show, which also can be heard later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:

  • "The Caregiver's Survival Guide." Nataly Rubinstein, clinical social worker, founder of Alzheimer's Care Consultants Inc., and author, "Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias: The Caregiver's Complete Survival Guide," Miami Beach, Fla., shares strategies for facing the challenges of caregiving.
  • "Caregiving Balance." Steven and Susan Graham, parents of four children and caregivers for Susan's two elderly parents, Easton, Md., explain how they establish balance in their different family roles.
 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, maker of award-winning cheddar; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve the country worldwide.

Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. ET on the Radio America Network. The show also is carried on American Forces Radio 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.

CUNA and Radio America are podcasting Home & Family Finance through iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo, and other popular podcast library sites, as well as on Radio America and CUNA's websites.

For more information, read "Elders Are Easy Targets for Scams" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

America Saves Week Save money build wealth

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PLANT CITY, Fla. (2/21/12)--After years of bad economic news, the last thing you may be thinking about is saving some of your already stretched cash for a rainy day. As you wait for economic recovery, refocus on, or learn, why saving is vital (CU Insight Feb. 14):

  • The job market is volatile and unpredictable.
  • One-third of Americans have no retirement savings.
  • Retirement plan and individual retirement account values are down.
  • Home prices have declined, meaning less equity to draw on in retirement.
  • Health care costs outpace the rate of inflation.
  • Defined benefit pension plans are a thing of the past with most employers.
  • Lawmakers are looking at ways to reduce Social Security and Medicare costs by increasing the minimum retirement age or reducing benefits.
If you don't have at least six to nine month's income put aside for a financial emergency and don't see how you can achieve that goal, you can take smaller steps. Even $500 in your savings account--achieved by a weekly $10 automatic transfer from checking to savings for a year--could make a big difference in a sticky situation.

During America Saves Week, which ends Saturday, take advantage of free resources on AmericaSavesWeek.org to develop, monitor and maintain a budget that helps you save money and build your personal wealth.

Coordinated by America Saves and the America Savings Education Council, America Saves Week targets individuals who want help saving money. The website includes links for organizations, financial institutions, non-profits and governmental institutions, the media, military families, educators and youth groups.

AmericaSavesWeek.org has resources to help you create and commit to a basic savings plan, track those savings, sign up for free quarterly newsletters, receive monthly e-mails containing savings tips and advice from national experts, and more. The people at your credit union can offer strategies and savings options, as well.

And for more help building your saving habit, use the calculator "What's It Worth to Cut Back My Spending?" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

HandFF Radio kicks off America Saves Week

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WASHINGTON (2/17/12)--Sunday's Home & Family Finance Radio program discusses America Saves Week, debit and credit topics, and consumer protection.

The 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:

  • "America Saves Week." Katie Brian, communications manager, Consumer Federation of America, Washington, D.C., offers advice for committing to a successful savings plan during America Saves Week, which begins Sunday and ends Saturday, Feb. 25.
  • "Secured Credit Cards." Susan Tiffany, director, consumer periodicals, Credit Union National Association (CUNA), Madison, Wis., explains how secured credit cards can help those who need to establish creditworthiness.
  • "Credit and Debit Cards: A Way of Life?" Bill Hardekopf, founder, LowCards.com, Birmingham, Ala., shares financial strategies for avoiding credit and debit fees.
  • "What's the FDIC?" Robert Mooney, deputy director, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC), Washington, D.C., highlights consumer resources available through the FDIC, as well as financial protections the agency guarantees.
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, maker of award-winning cheddar; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve the country worldwide.

Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. ET on the Radio America Network. The show also is carried on American Forces Radio 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.

CUNA and Radio America are podcasting Home & Family Finance through iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo, and other popular podcast library sites, as well as on Radio America and CUNA's websites.

For more information, read "Secured Cards Help Establish Creditworthiness" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Scout early for summer camp to save stress money

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McLEAN, Va. (2/14/12)--You still might be shoveling snow, but, for many families, summer camp planning is well under way. With marketing pitches filling your mailbox, camp season is in full swing. You'll have more options to choose from, at varying price points, if you plan ahead (USAToday.com Feb. 6).

About 10 million children attend camp each year. With many families leading already hectic lives, there's been an increase in families asking about and making summer camp plans shortly after the winter holidays, according to the American Camp Association (ACA), Martinsville, Ind.

To help make summer camp a success for your kids--as well as for your entire family--and to help manage costs, consider these suggestions from the Credit Union National Association's (CUNA) Center for Personal Finance:

  • Ask about financial assistance. Camp fees vary and there's a camp for every budget. You can pay from less than $100 a week to more than $800 a week for camps, according to USAToday.com. Price, unfortunately, makes or breaks many families' decisions about particular camps. Ask about price breaks such as sliding scales and sibling discounts. Many camps also provide scholarships.
  • Explore all options. There's also a camp for just about any type of kid. Specialty camps hone skills in sports, music, drama, religion, or other activities. Some camps address the unique needs of certain kids, such as those with autism, diabetes, or cancer. Other camps just offer a variety of experiences day to day to allow children to follow and cultivate their curiosity and imagination.
  • Don't offer to rescue. Discourage "pick-up deals" to rescue homesick kids. It's natural for kids to feel homesick--they will miss you--but one goal of most camps is for kids to learn coping skills. You know your child and probably will know when he or she is ready to spend time away. A sleep-away camp shouldn't be a child's first experience sleeping away from home.
  • Give your kids credit. Don't undermine your children's success by sending mixed messages before they leave for camp. Talk about camp as an awesome experience instead of making them feel guilty for leaving you, or telling kids how lonely you'll be without them.
  •  Visit if you can. Take the time to tour camps the year before you want to enroll your children; nothing beats that first-hand impression.
The ACA recommends asking about:

  • Philosophy and emphasis. Does how the camp handles behavior, discipline, competition, and cooperation mesh with how you handle these issues at home?
  • References. Check the camp's reputation and record, but realize that kids are unique and have different needs and abilities. A good camp for one child might not be a good fit for another, according to CUNA's Center for Personal Finance.
  • Special needs. Is there a nurse on staff? How is medicine stored? Are special foods available for kids with allergies?
  • Camp employees. How well are counselors trained to handle emergencies, deal with safety issues, manage behavior and prevent child abuse? Ask detailed questions about hiring practices. Really try to learn about the type of people working at the camp.
For more information about choosing a summer camp, read "Happy Camping: Scout How Your Kids Will Spend their Summer" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Love marriage and money on HandFF Radio

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WASHINGTON (2/10/12)--Sunday's Home & Family Finance Radio program covers topics related to financial planning for couples, just in time for Valentine's Day.

The show, which also can be heard later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:

  • "The Perfect Heart." Kim Korte, author, "The Perfect Heart: Creating and Maintaining Love/Life Balance," Napa, Calif., explains how to make time to effectively manage relationships.
  • "Unmarried to Each Other." Marshall Miller, co-author, "Unmarried to Each Other: The Essential Guide to Living Together as an Unmarried Couple," Albany, N.Y., provides guidance for cohabiting before or instead of getting married.
  • "He Spent, She Spent." Pamela Yellen, author, "Bank on Yourself: The Life-Changing Secret to Growing and Protecting Your Financial Future," Santa Fe, N.M., discusses common financial disagreements for couples and ways to successfully talk about money with your significant other.
  • "Winter Wedding Planning." Kelley Seizert, co-founder, Ritzy Bee Events, and contributor, "Southern Living Wedding Planner and Keepsake: What to Do Before Saying 'I Do,' " Alexandria, Va., describes how a winter wedding can save you money.
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, maker of award-winning cheddar; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve the country worldwide.

Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. ET on the Radio America Network. The show also is carried on American Forces Radio 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.

CUNA and Radio America are podcasting Home & Family Finance through iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo, and other popular podcast library sites, as well as on Radio America and CUNA's websites.

For more information, read "Stepping Out of Legal Limbo: Key Points for Cohabiters," "Couples and Money: Reconciling a Spender-Saver Marriage," and "Put Your Financial House in Order Before Tying the Knot" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Debit cards Use caution during some transactions

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NORTH PALM BEACH, Fla. (2/7/12)--Your debit card looks like a credit card and feels like a credit card, so it must work exactly like a credit card, right?

The truth is that your debit card and credit card differ in a big way when it comes to fraud. If a thief obtains your credit card or credit card number, you'll most likely notice the unauthorized charges on your bill. You then can report and decline those charges.

However, if a thief obtains your debit card or debit card number, transactions pull funds straight from your checking account. In the case of a fraudulent transaction, you'll need to receive reimbursement for the stolen funds. And depending on the extent of the damage, the time needed to process your reimbursement could leave you in a financial bind.

To avoid debit-card drama, be careful when swiping your debit card for some transactions. Bankrate on its website recommends using extra caution at these locations: 

  • Outdoor ATMs. Thieves often have an easier time affixing skimming devices, which steal your card's information, to isolated, easily accessible outdoor machines. Skimming devices are usually hidden over an ATM's card slot, and can be difficult to spot. If possible, use an ATM inside a financial institution or retail store. If you must use an outdoor ATM, aim for one in a busy, well-lit area, and check the card reader for any components that don't look quite right.
  • Gas station pumps. Like outdoor ATMs, gas station card readers also provide ideal opportunities for skimming. Pumps that aren't monitored closely make it easy for thieves to attach skimming devices or small cameras to a card reader without detection. Before you swipe, examine card readers for anything that looks suspicious.
  • On the Web. Making online purchases with a debit card is risky--your information can be compromised at multiple points in a transaction. Data breaches, unsecured wireless Internet connections, or malicious software on your own computer all could put your data at risk. Opt for your credit card when shopping online--and even then, only buy items from businesses you trust.
  • Restaurants. Handing your debit card over to a restaurant server at the end of a meal also can be risky. A server who disappears to run your card could be privately nabbing your card information, as well. You simply don't know--so it's better to turn to your credit card or cash in this instance.
For more information, read "Crooks Use High-Tech Scams to Commit Fraud," watch "Guard Your Plastic Cards," and listen to "Debit and Credit Card Liability, Protection From Fraud" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Technology topics explored on HandFF Radio

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WASHINGTON (2/3/12)--Sunday's Home & Family Finance Radio program covers platform technology, Internet coupons, online safety and identity theft.

The 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:

  • "The Age of the Platform." Phil Simon, Henderson, Nev., author, "The Age of the Platform: How Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google Have Redefined Business," explains how four leading companies are changing the personal technology market.
  • "Save With Internet Coupons." Stephanie Nelson, The Coupon Mom, Atlanta, reveals how you can save as much as $6,000 a year using online coupons.
  • "How to Avoid Online Fraud." Chris Morran, senior editor, The Consumerist, Philadelphia, offers advice for steering clear of online fraud when researching purchases or shopping online.
  • "The Truth About Identity Theft." Jim Stickley, security expert and author, "The Truth About Identity Theft," San Diego, discusses strategies for protecting your identity from high-tech scams. Stickley is chief technology officer with TraceSecurity, a CUNA Strategic Services provider.
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, maker of award-winning cheddar; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve the country worldwide.

Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. ET on the Radio America Network. The show also is carried on American Forces Radio 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.

CUNA and Radio America are podcasting Home & Family Finance through iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo, and other popular podcast library sites, as well as on Radio America and CUNA's websites.

For more information, read "Shop By the Rules With Coupons" and "Recognize Online Review Fraud" and watch "How to Prevent Identity Theft" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.