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Economy hurts helps teens

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CHICAGO (4/1/09)--The economy is handing teenagers a mixed bag these days: Adults fill most job openings, but volunteer opportunities likely will open doors to some future jobs. Adults are getting the open food service, retail and customer service jobs that teenagers traditionally hold as unemployment figures climb for both age groups (ChicagoTribune.com Mar. 21). That’s bad news for teens competing for fewer jobs that typically draw hundreds of applicants for minimum-wage positions. Employers have become more selective, opting to hire an experienced adult worker who needs a job to support a family. That’s a contributing factor in the increase in teen unemployment to 21.6% (38% for African-American teens) in February, a 17-year record high, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. School guidance counselors advise that, although the chance for employment may seem bleak, teenagers be persistent and thorough when applying for a job:
* Make sure your application is complete and legible; * Follow up with a phone call or a second visit to ask about the status of the application and likelihood of an interview; and * When you get an interview, dress appropriately and remember to turn off your cell phone.
The economy may limit job opportunities for teenagers, but that hasn’t stopped them from supporting charitable causes. According to a recent Harris Interactive poll by the Federal Way, Wash.-based charity World Vision, more teenagers volunteer (56%) than work part time (30%) (BusinessWeek.com Feb. 23). More than 80% of parents or guardians say their teenagers volunteer themselves, recruit friends and others to help, donate cash, or don a button or T-shirt to support a cause. Volunteer service is required on many college application forms. And volunteering can be an excellent way to learn a skill, develop teamwork experience, and decide on a career. Many credit unions have volunteer youth advisory boards that provide feedback on financial products, services and educational events for teens. Contact your credit union and ask about volunteer opportunities for teenagers. For more information, read “Investing More Than Money” in Money Mix: Launch Your Life.

Be on guard for tax-related ID theft

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SAN FRANCISCO (3/30/09)--Tax documents are teeming with personal information for crooks to capture and use to compromise your identity. Whether you file taxes electronically or prefer traditional pen and paper, take steps to prevent personal data from reaching the wrong hands (MarketWatch March 24). While millions of taxpayers safely file with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) every year, the security of your personal information is never guaranteed. Thieves can capture data in a number of ways, including swiping tax papers from your mailbox, hacking in to your computer, or confiscating your information from a tax preparer who unknowingly--or intentionally--leaks your information. Also, the upsurge in online filing--up 20% from last year--can give crooks easier access to personal information unless you take the proper precautions. However you file, you can help protect yourself by taking the proper precautions: Filing electronically:
* Don’t file-share. File-sharing software that has access to your hard drive can share anything stored on it—including your tax return and other sensitive documents. Also, downloads from file-sharing sites may be infected with keylogging viruses or malware, detailing your every stroke to thieves. * Secure your computer. Install a firewall and update anti-virus and anti-spyware software often. * Create strong passwords. Use a combination of capital and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols when creating passwords to download your W2 forms, 1099s, and other personal tax documents from your employer. Don't save these passwords in your web browser (smallbiztechnology March 16). Better yet, think of a sentence you won’t forget, and create a password from that sentence; for example, “My #1 dog is a Lab the color of night,” becomes “M#1diaLtcon.” You won’t need to write down the password as long as you remember the sentence.
Using a tax preparer:
* Check out the preparer's reputation. Check with the Better Business Bureau (bbb.org) to ensure you are working with a reputable tax preparation firm. * Ask about security policies. How many people have access to your information? Do they encrypt electronic transmissions? How do they keep data safe?
Pen-and-paper filer:
* Cover your tracks. When making photocopies of any financial document, be sure the copier does not save images in memory. Shred any documents used in tax preparation you no longer need. * Secure your mail. Don’t let tax documents sit in your unlocked mailbox. Instead, mail your tax return from a secure location such as the post office or an official U.S. Postal Service collection box.
For more information, read “How to Be ‘Spywary’: It’s More Software Than You Bargained For” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Radio guest explains RMD waiver for 2009

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WASHINGTON (3/27/09)--Retirees taking a required minimum distribution (RMD) from tax-deferred retirement plans get a break for 2009--if they want it, and only if they proactively request it. CUNA Mutual Group’s compliance manager explains the benefits as well as the rules for requesting an RMD suspension on Sunday’s H&FF Radio show. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. EDT 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. The Credit Union National Association (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. 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:
* “Landscape Your Home to Save Energy and Money,” with Michael Weishan, former host of America’s oldest and most popular gardening TV show, PBS’s Victory Garden, Southborough, Mass.; * “Check Your Car’s History Before You Buy,” with Maxine Sweet, vice president of public education, Experian, Allen, Texas; * “2009 Required Minimum Distribution Waiver--What It Is and Why You Should Care?” with Dennis Zuehlke, compliance manager, CUNA Mutual Group, Madison, Wis.; and * Your Questions Answered: Co-signing for a loan; routine vehicle expenses; appealing property tax assessments.
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; Western Corporate FCU (WesCorp) and its member credit unions; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve the country worldwide. For more information, read “Nest Egg Withdrawal Rules Change--But Only for 2009” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Young adults stung by bankruptcies

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WASHINGTON (3/25/09)--The nation’s youngest adults--many of whom admit they wish they’d learned to manage their money before leaving home--are among an increasing number of individuals filing for bankruptcy in these tough economic times. During 2008, bankruptcy filings in U.S. courts increased 30% over fiscal year 2007 (uscourts.gov March 17). Compared with the same period in 2008, bankruptcy filings have increased 33% in the first quarter of fiscal year 2009 (uscourts.gov March 5). And despite bankruptcy filings by adults of all ages, more than 25% of filers since 1991 are between ages 18 and 34, according to the report, “Generations of Struggle” (AARP June 2008). Take steps to get your spending under control and avoid bankruptcy:
* Chop credit card spending. Stop using credit cards until your finances are back on track. Pay with cash or a debit/check card. Keep track of what you spend--particularly with debit purchases--by writing down the amounts or keeping receipts. That way you won’t withdraw more money than you have in your account. * Trim unnecessary “wants.” Identify monthly expenses that aren’t necessary for survival and eliminate them or cut back. For example, replace going out to dinner with renting a movie, cancel some magazine subscriptions, and consider downgrading or cancelling cable TV. * Snip variable expenses. Find ways to cut back on necessary expenses. Unplug electronics when not in use, turn off lights when you leave the room, keep your thermostat at or below 68 degrees, combine trips to save on gasoline, and buy generic items instead of brand name goods at the grocery store. Find more energy-saving ideas at the Department of Energy’s Energy Savers Web site: eere.energy.gov/consumer/tips/.
For more information, read “Tough Times Series: When Times Are Tough We Can Help” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Laid-off workers urged to explore insurance options

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NEW YORK (3/23/09)--A pink slip doesn’t have to mean you or your family go without health insurance. There are options--if you act quickly (CNNMoney.com March 18). Since the recession began, about 4.4 million workers have been laid off, and the average worker remains unemployed for about five months (CNNMoney.com March 16). Even if you haven’t received a pink slip, it’s a good idea to prepare for the possibility. Take swift action to make sure your health coverage doesn’t lapse:
* Get answers. Ask exactly when your current health coverage expires. * Get on a working family member’s plan. If your spouse or another working family member has insurance, this may be the least expensive option for health coverage, and you don’t have to wait for an open enrollment period. * Sign up for COBRA. If you can’t get on another working family member’s plan, this government mandate gives you the right to choose to continue coverage under your employer’s group plan for a limited time. A typical monthly COBRA premium is $300 for individual coverage and $1,000 for family coverage. But the new stimulus package signed by President Barack Obama provides assistance--through Dec. 31, 2009--to pay about 65% of your premium cost for COBRA. * Sign up the kids for a CHIP plan. If the COBRA plan is too expensive, put your children on the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Check on state income requirements. Recent legislation extends the program to cover an additional three million children, to 11 million children. And some states allow adults to enroll in SCHIP program, too, depending on household income. * Ask about your flexible spending account. Some companies allow you to use your account balance for a short time after you’ve been laid off. * Take advantage of prescription assistance. Organizations such as Partnership for Prescription Assistance may be able to arrange for discounts of as much as 20% off your prescription drug costs if you lose your income. * Negotiate with your physician. Many doctors are giving patients a price break during these tough economic times (CNNHealth.com Feb. 5). It pays to ask.
For more information, read “Tough Times Series: Steps Before, During Layoff Make It Easier to Cope” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Predatory loans breaches Protect yourself fight back

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WASHINGTON (3/20/09)--H&FF Radio show guests focus their financial tips on three timely topics this Sunday: fighting back against predatory companies, protecting yourself from data breaches, and saving money despite fluctuating income. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. EDT 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. The Credit Union National Association (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. 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:
* “Predatory Companies: How to Avoid Them, How to Fight Back,” with Ron Burley, author, consumer advocate, AARP columnist, Eugene, Ore. * “Data Breaches: What You Can Do to Protect Your Personal and Financial Information,” with Scott Mitic, CEO, TrustedID, San Mateo, Calif. * “How to Save on a Fluctuating Income,” with Ethan Ewing, president, Bills.com, San Mateo, Calif.; * Listener Q&A.
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; Western Corporate FCU (WesCorp) and its member credit unions; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve our country worldwide. For more information, read “Crooks Use High-Tech Scams to Commit Fraud” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Refund loans cost taxpayers and Treasury

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MADISON, Wis. (3/18/09)--At a time when most consumers are scrambling to find extra cash each month, many of them also are expecting sizable tax refunds. Syndicated financial columnist Humberto Cruz points out that the average 2008 refund topped $2,400--the equivalent of $200 a month (Tribune Media Services March 8). A National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) and Consumer Federation of America (CFA) study indicates that many taxpayers in need of fast refunds apply for refund anticipation loans (RALs), at a high cost to themselves and, surprisingly, even to the U.S. Treasury. CFA reports that the effective interest rate for an RAL can range from about 50% annual percentage rate (APR) to nearly 500% APR. Most taxpayers could have a refund in less than 14 days--without the pricey loan. For 2007 tax filings (for tax year 2006), one of 15 tax returns involved an RAL, according to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) data for the latest year available and analyzed by NCLC and CFA. Nearly two-thirds of RAL recipients are earned income tax credit (EITC) recipients, although they make up only 17% of taxpayers. The loan fees, combined with the influx of spendable money coming to recipients, motivate “fringe tax preparers” as diverse as payday lenders, beauty salons, and liquor stores. As one consequence, a 2008 IRS study revealed that RAL returns are 27% to 36% more noncompliant than returns without a loan product, compromising the integrity of tax administration. Taxpayers have several better options:
* Claim your tax refund in each paycheck; file an amended W-4 with your employer to have less money withheld each payday. * Divert that extra cash to automated bill payments to pay down debt and/or to your savings account to build your emergency fund. * Pass on the unnecessary refund loan. Instead, e-file and you’ll have your refund in just a few days. * If you must have refund money for an urgent need, talk to a credit union loan officer about a fairly priced short-term loan.
For more information, read “Don’t Miss Out on Tax Breaks” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Fed reports 4Q personal saving rate spike

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WASHINGTON (3/16/09)--It took a worldwide economic crisis, but U.S. consumers have finally become serious about saving again, socking away 3.2% of disposable personal income in fourth quarter 2008, according to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors (Mar. 12). This is the highest quarterly saving percentage since 2001. Since then, the personal saving rate even went negative for one quarter. “At times like this, I take whatever silver linings I can find,” said David Mancl, director of the Office of Financial Literacy for the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions and a member of the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy. “We Americans have neglected saving recently. And when our incomes haven’t kept up with our desires, we’ve borrowed to keep spending. I’m glad to see people setting money aside again, no matter what their motives, because saving increases your future opportunities, giving you more choice, more security, and more flexibility.” Mancl’s advice is founded on bedrock principles of personal finance. But while many experts say that only renewed consumer spending will revitalize the troubled economy, consumer confusion is justified from conflicting messages. Here’s how the Credit Union National Association’s Center for Personal Finance resolves the apparent contradiction:
* Saving is a survival skill. Families with no financial reserves cannot respond to emergencies or take advantage of opportunities. They have no margin for error if job loss or illness reduces household income. At a minimum, you should build a liquid emergency fund equal to at least six months’ expenses. You also should save for periodic predictable expenses such as insurance payments. Finally, you should save for big goals such as education, housing, and transportation. * Saving cuts the cost of credit. Borrowing for big-ticket items is a necessity of modern life. But the bigger the down payment you amass before you buy, the smaller your loan, your monthly payment, and your total financing cost. * There are safe, productive ways to invest your savings. Deposit insurance from the federal government’s National Credit Union Administration insures money in credit union deposit accounts up to $250,000 or more, depending on how it’s distributed. Diligent investors can find other investments that are increasing in value, even in today’s market. * There are productive ways to spend. If you have adequate reserves, a secure source of income, and a budget, there’s nothing wrong with going shopping. Eager retailers are now offering ample discounts, and smart consumers are seizing the day.
For more information, read “Tough Times Series: Gen X: Ditch Your Debt and Become Smart Savers” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Survival kit Tips on taxes energy and job loss

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WASHINGTON (3/13/09)--Today’s economy calls for an arsenal of personal finance tools and knowledge. Sunday’s H&FF Radio show hosts guests with timely tips about how to: save money with low-cost landscaping, take advantage of energy saving and vehicle-buying tax incentives, and keep your cool when faced with the dreaded pink slip. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. EST 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. The Credit Union National Association (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. 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:
* “Energy Saving Tax Incentives in New Economic Stimulus Bill,” with Ronnie Kweller, deputy director, communications, Alliance to Save Energy, Washington, D.C.; * “Landscape Your Home to Save Energy and Money,” with Lani Macrae, energy star director of communications, Department of Energy, Washington, D.C.; * “Will Vehicle-Buying Tax Incentives Get You Back in the Showroom?” with Eric Hoffman, spokesman, Americans Well-Informed on Automobile Retailing (AWARE), Washington, D.C.; * “Keep Your Head When Facing Job Loss,” with Susan Tiffany, director of personal finance information for adults, Credit Union National Association’s Center for Personal Finance; and * “Listener Q&A: Smarter shopping saves money; provisions in existing tax law can help you save on your 2008 return; and one elder’s thoughts on identity theft.
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; Western Corporate FCU, also known as WesCorp, and its member credit unions; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve the country worldwide. For more information, read “Don’t Miss Out on Tax Breaks” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Excessive Internet use harmful to teens

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ROCKVILLE, Md. (3/11/09)--Parents face daunting challenges when guiding their children’s study and work habits. Today, when you can carry the Internet in your pocket, a virtual smorgasbord of online activities is tempting. While recent studies indicate that teenage social networking leads to higher quality friendships that buffer them from stress, there’s more to the story (Science Daily March 3). A 24/7 Internet connection easily can overstimulate and overstress young minds. The result is interference with important relationships, sleep patterns and grade point averages. Clinical psychologist Dr. Maressa Hecht Orzack, director and founder of the Computer Addiction Study Center at Harvard's McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., compares excessive Internet activity to drug use. Rena Crispin, managing editor of the Credit Union National Association’s Googolplex offers parents guidelines for raising children to be teenagers with healthy Internet habits:
* Make Internet use a family affair. Place your computer in a common area where you can monitor activity. While your youngsters are still children, ask them to teach you the games they play and share their favorite websites. That way, you’ll establish your authority to monitor their online activity later. * Set house rules. Decide on the number of hours per day your children and teenagers are allowed online. (Don’t count legitimate online homework against the recreational limit.) And don’t merely forbid them to go online. Be alert for new ways to engage them in a variety of fun offline activities. * Resist using the Internet as a babysitter. Avoid using it to keep young children occupied while you do housework. Instead, involve your kids with housework sometimes, and be firm about giving them “alone time” to play and dream at other times. Consider bartering non-Internet play dates with other families, giving both sets of parents regular free time. * Seek help. The National Cyber Security Alliance at staysafeonline.org and Computer Addiction Services at computeraddition.com offer valuable tips.
For more information, read “Keep Kids Safe Online” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Steer clear of foreclosure rescue scams

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WASHINGTON (3/9/09)--With one of five mortgages underwater--where mortgage debt is greater than what the home is worth--more families are struggling to avoid foreclosures. But foreclosure isn’t the only reason people are losing their homes: Reports of foreclosure rescue scams are on the rise. Victims are targeted via the Internet, phone, direct mail and door-to-door solicitation (Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, March 5). Scam artists use public information--foreclosure filings--to zero in on unsuspecting victims. In one reported case, a desperate homeowner signed a contract with Foreclosure Solutions for $695, and then paid another $1,400, which supposedly was being forwarded to the lender (CBS News.com Feb. 19). Instead of forwarding the mortgage payment to the lender, Foreclosure Solutions allegedly pocketed the money. The victim discovered the scam a few days before her home was to be auctioned off. The Federal Reserve offers tips to spot a phony pitch:
* Be suspicious of “guarantees.” If someone promises to take care of everything and insists, “Don’t worry, we do this all the time,” don’t just back away--run in the other direction. * Don’t rely on someone else to contact your lender or servicer. If someone approaches you and offers to negotiate with your lender on your behalf, or offers to send your payments to your lender, just say no. Don’t hand over a mortgage payment to a stranger, no matter how convincing the person sounds. * Take time to read what you sign. If someone is in a hurry to get your signature, the person probably doesn’t want you to read the fine print. But the fine print may mean the difference between keeping your home and losing it. * Consider high up-front fees a red flag. You shouldn’t have to pay hundreds--or thousands--of dollars for housing assistance. Most reputable counselors provide free or low-cost counseling services.
If you think you’ve been the victim of a foreclosure rescue scam, contact your state and local consumer protection agencies immediately. Visit the Consumer Action website at consumeraction.gov/state.shtml for the nearest office. For more information, listen to “Find Foreclosure Counseling” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Credit card breaches--too little too late

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WASHINGTON (3/6/09)--One guest on Sunday’s H&FF radio show explains what you need to know about credit card breaches and how you may be affected. Other guests focus on the ways military support centers help families with finances, how to spot a fake -check scam, and why getting an “excellent” credit score is harder than ever. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. EST 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. The Credit Union National Association (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. 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:
* “Mission of the Department of Veteran Affairs Center for Women Veterans,” with Major General (USAF, retired) Irene Trowell-Harris, director, Center for Women Veterans, U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, Washington, D.C.; * “Avoid Fake-Check Scams,” with Susan Grant, director of consumer protection, Consumer Federation of America, Washington, D.C.; * “Military Couples and Money,” with Katie Savant, National Military Families Association, Alexandria, Va.; * “Getting an Excellent Credit Score Just Got Harder Than Ever,” with John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at Credit.com and contributor, CNBC’s “On the Money,” Atlanta; and * “Credit Card Breaches--Too Little Too Late,” with Adam Levin, former New Jersey director of consumer protection, and founder/chairman, Identity Theft 911, Scottsdale, Ariz.
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; Western Corporate FCU, also known as WesCorp, and its member credit unions; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve our country worldwide. For more information, read “Tough Times Series: Services, Sites Help Veterans Navigate Benefits Maze” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Teenagers Start looking now for summer jobs

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MADISON, Wis. (3/4/09)--The new federal stimulus package includes $1.2 billion to create up to one million summer jobs for youth. But even with that boost, there may not be enough jobs. Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, Boston, predicts in “Out With the Young and In With the Old: U.S. Labor Markets 2000-2008 and the Case for an Immediate Jobs Creation Program for Teens and Young Adults” (December) that teenage employment will dip to about 30% this summer, down from 32.5% last summer. Sum’s report is based on the Current Population Survey, a national household survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. So what’s a teenager to do? Start early and be prepared. One job site designed by teenagers to help other teenagers is Myfirstpaycheck.com. It includes resources such as an interactive resume builder and these tips for job seekers:
* Visit your high school guidance office. Ask counselors to help you complete job applications and obtain references. Take names, addresses and phone numbers to your meeting. * Look locally. Watch for help-wanted signs or ask if a company intends to hire summer help. Remember to check with summer camps, amusement parks, and other seasonal businesses. * Visit online sites. Go toMyfirstpaycheck.com and search other teen job sites to see what’s available. Some sites require registration, but be on guard if you’re asked for a name or phone number. Make sure the URL has an “s” (https://) if you’re supplying personal information. * Make your job search known. Tell everyone--family, friends, coaches, teachers--that you’re looking for a job and what your interests are. Sometimes the best connections are right next door. Many adults credit their networks for finding out about job openings and getting that first interview. * Create a resume. If you’ve never had a “real” job, don’t hesitate to include babysitting, pet care, lawn mowing and other paid activities, along with volunteering and school activities. Prospective employers are likely to be impressed with your professional approach to a job search.
For more information, read, “Tough Times Series--Speaking of the Economy…What Do You Tell Your Kids?” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.