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HandFF Radio covers financial literacy in 200th broadcast

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WASHINGTON (4/1/11)--Sunday’s H&FF Radio program discusses the importance of financial literacy and offers ideas to help consumers develop everyday financial skills. This Sunday, April 3, will mark the 200th broadcast of H&FF Radio. 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:
* “Biz Kid$: Teaching Kids About Money and Business.” Jeannine Glista, co-creator and executive producer, Public Broadcast System’s “Biz Kid$,” Seattle, discusses how children can learn about money-management skills by starting their own businesses. * “Personal Finance and Our Military.” Pam McClelland, senior policy analyst, Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense, Military Community and Family Policy, Arlington, Va., discusses financial issues facing military personnel and their families. * “Financial Literacy.” Gigi Hyland, board member, National Credit Union Administration, Alexandria, Va., offers suggestions and resources to help you budget, save, and deal with debt.
"Understanding what money is coming in the door and where it's going back out the door is the first step on the journey to financial control," said Hyland. "Achieving financial wellness is a lifelong process of learning how to be financially nimble and plan for life's changing financial needs. It takes work, but it is both interesting and rewarding," said Hyland. 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 “Understand All Your Options for Dealing With Debt” and watch the “How to Help Your Child Earn Money” video in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Adjust withholding now for 2011 tax year

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MADISON, Wis. (3/30/11)--About 100 million Americans continue to overpay their bills. Their tax bills, that is. They withhold too much and get back about $2,200 on average from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) during tax season. For many people, that overpayment is a welcome antidote to holiday overspending or forms the basis of a spring vacation. But it’s also about $200 a month that you are lending the government. Don’t you have better uses for that money than to lend it interest-free to Uncle Sam? The trick is to claim as many allowances as you can, not just exemptions for yourself, your spouse, and your kids. And the IRS has information that will help you get the right number of exemptions. According to Kiplinger Personal Finance magazine (March 7) and AARP (March 9), some 46 million Americans will itemize on their 1040s, claiming nearly $1 trillion worth of deductions. Another 92 million taxpayers will claim about $700 billion worth using standard deductions. Kiplinger and AARP have put together a list of money saving deductions to consider when filing your taxes. Some of these include: state sales taxes … reinvested dividends … charitable contributions … student-loan interest paid by parents … some job-hunting costs … moving expenses to take your first job … health insurance costs for the self-employed … child-care credit … estate tax on income in respect of a decedent … state income tax you paid for 2009 taxes … refinancing points … the American Opportunity Credit (for college tuition if your adjusted gross income is $80,000 or less if single/$160,000 or less if married) … the Making Work Pay credit … credit for energy-saving home improvements …. Combine optimal allowances and maximum deductions, and you won’t be one of those millions of taxpayers paying more than you need to. For more information, read “Seize Tax Refund Opportunity” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

New safety seat advice makes sure kids are safe

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CHICAGO (3/28/11)--The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently established new child safety seat advice for parents (health.yahoo.net March 21). Both organizations recommend that children riding in cars should remain in rear-facing child safety seats until their second birthday, or until they reach the maximum height and weight for the car seat. The new guideline is based on research indicating that children younger than two years of age in rear-facing safety seats are 75% less likely to die or receive serious injury in a crash (aap.org March 21). This updates previous advice from pediatricians that children should be placed in front-facing car seats after their first birthday (chicagotribune.com March 20). The medical group and federal agency also suggest parents use booster seats for older children who’ve outgrown child safety seats until they reach a height--typically 4 feet 9 inches--where a vehicle’s standard shoulder-lap belts fit the child properly (nhtsa.gov March 21). Consider these recommendations--in addition to reviewing the new guidelines--to ensure that child passengers are safe while riding in your vehicle:
* Purchase new. Buying new ensures the car seat or booster seat is damage-free. It is often hard to tell if a secondhand seat has been damaged from misuse or a previous accident. Unseen damage could compromise safety. *Check recalls. Be certain the seat model you own or plan to buy hasn’t been recalled. Check with the National Highway Safety Administration on the Web for a list of booster seat and child safety seat recalls. Contact the manufacturer immediately if you find out that the model you purchased has been recalled. *Consider options. Buying a safety seat that converts into a carrier or booster seat may help you avoid the future expense of multiple safety devices. Remember to check the device’s instructions or contact the manufacturer to make sure the device is approved for double duty. *Proper installation. A child safety seat is only fully effective when correctly installed. Have your seat professionally installed or visit a police or fire station to have your child safety seat checked for proper installation. Some Red Cross chapters perform this safety check as well.
For more vehicle safety news, read “Auto Safety: How Does Your Car Do in New, Tougher Crash Tests?” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

HandFF Radio looks at future of retirement

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WASHINGTON (3/25/11)--Sunday’s Home & Family Finance (H&FF) Radio program examines the future of retirement and ways to shop smart and save on taxes. 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:
* “Retirement Planning in Uncertain Times.” Dr. John Migliaccio, director of research, Met Life Mature Market Institute, Westport, Conn., discusses retirement differences between women and men and how retirement will change in the future. * “Retirement Confidence Survey.” Dr. Craig Copeland, senior research associate, Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), Washington, D.C., reports about EBRI’s recent survey that again shows workers and their families to be “not very” confident in their retirement plans. * “4 Ways to Shop Smarter.” Sue Perry, deputy editor of Shop Smart magazine from the publishers of Consumer Reports, Yonkers, N.Y., reveals ways to use technology to be a better shopper, * “Tax-Savings Tips: Employee Benefits That Save You Money.” Manisha Thakor, personal finance author and founder of the Women's Financial Literacy Initiative, Santa Fe, N.M., encourages taking full advantage of employee benefits for healthcare, dependent care, and flexible spending accounts.
H&FF 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. H&FF 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 H&FF 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 “How to Calculate Your Retirement Needs” and “Your Tax Bracket Tells Just Part of the Story” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

New reverse mortgage rules have downside

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NEW YORK (3/23/11)--Consumers considering a reverse mortgage better know the ins and outs of the product and its providers. Reverse mortgages are meant to provide cash-strapped consumers with a tool to draw upon some of a home’s appreciated value. But with 23% of all homes underwater (owing more than the value of the property), and rules that require surviving spouses to pay the full loan balance to keep the home, the product is drawing renewed criticism (The New York Times March 3). AARP filed a lawsuit against the Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) on March 11. HUD’s rules, AARP contends, are requiring newly widowed people to pay off their loan balances quickly or face foreclosure (AARP.org March 8). This is happening to a small group of people who did not have their names, as well as that of the deceased spouse, on the reverse mortgage documents. HUD rules since 1989 have stated that a borrower or heirs would never owe more than the home was worth at the time of repayment. But HUD “clarified” its policy--AARP says it changed the policy--at the end of 2008 to say an heir must pay the full mortgage balance to keep the home. About 78,000 reverse mortgages were issued in 2010; roughly 660,000 have been issued over the past 20 years. The product’s popularity seemed to be growing, with about three quarters of these loans issued in the past five years. Reverse mortgages still represent 1% of the mortgage market, with the Federal Housing Administration’s Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) program making up more than 90% of all reverse mortgages. High fees and a few shady providers have given this consumer financial tool a black eye in some quarters. A standard HECM loan charges a 2% mortgage insurance premium (MIP) up front on a home’s value (not on the amount borrowed, as with regular mortgages). Additionally, some sketchy providers lured users to take out reverse mortgages and invest the proceeds into questionable annuity products. In answer to complaints about fees and to increase the volume of low-risk loans as a percentage of the insurance pool, a new HECM Saver Loan appeared last fall that basically eliminates the hefty MIP, although the loan carries a higher interest rate and has lower loan ceilings. Here are some things to consider if you’re thinking about a reverse mortgage:
* Consider whether there is another, less costly alternative to a reverse mortgage. You want to consider using this tool as a last resort for cash. * Calculate whether you can afford such a loan. Setup costs can be high, so you effectively pay more if you have to move within a few years of making the loan agreement. * Make sure both spouses are on the reverse mortgage. It’s not a guarantee against a problem, but it won’t hurt. (If your spouse is younger than 62, that makes you ineligible, as a pair, for the reverse mortgage.) * Talk to an independent consultant, perhaps an elder-law attorney, who knows these products and is not selling them. * Make sure you understand how these loans work.
The Dodd-Frank Act requires the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to study reverse mortgages for unfair and deceptive or abusive practices.

Disaster relief tips options warnings

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NEW YORK (3/21/11)--Resist the urge to open your wallet too quickly following disasters, like the ones that have devastated Japan, if you want to direct your charity dollars where they yield the greatest benefit. Take a little time to check out the charity so you give to the good ones and steer clear of the scams. Con artists exploit disasters, setting up shop quickly on the Internet and preying on your desire to provide short-term emergency aid and long-term rebuilding efforts. Watch for these signs of charity scams:
* "Cash, please." Never donate cash if you can help it. Write a check to the charity--not to the person asking for the donation--so you have a record of your donation. Ask for a letter from the charity with donation amount and date for tax purposes. * "We need your account number." Legitimate charities don’t ask for this. * "About 10% goes to the charity, and 90% goes to administrative costs." This is not a good use of your money. You may choose to donate to charities that spend 20% or less of your donation on administrative costs. The less spent on administrative costs, the better, so ask for percentages. If they just say, "80%/20%," persist and ask which of those numbers is for administrative costs. * "We’re a registered charity." Ask for a registration number, then check with the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance at 703-276-0100 or give.org for more information. * "We’re sending you this e-mail request for a donation." Be suspicious--most legitimate charities don’t send e-mail requests unless you’ve donated before. Avoid clicking on links in solicitations for money, even if they appear to come from familiar organizations. * "You don’t need to check us out--we’re legitimate." No legitimate charity will say this. Besides the Wise Giving Alliance, other charity watchdogs include the American Institute of Philanthropy at charitywatch.org, Charity Navigator at charitynavigator.org, and GuideStar at guidestar.org. Or, donate through a local fundraising federation such as the United Way (Consumer Reports Money Adviser February).
Here is a partial list of reputable organizations involved in Japan’s disaster relief efforts (abcnews.go.com March 12 and huffingtonpost.com March 11):
* Doctors Without Borders (doctorswithoutborders.org); * Global Giving (globalgiving.org); text JAPAN or 50555 to donate $10; * International Medical Corps (internationalmedicalcorps.org); text MED or 80888 to donate $10; * Operation USA (opusa.org); * Red Cross (redcross.org); text REDCROSS or 90999 to donate $10; * Salvation Army (salvationarmyusa.org); text QUAKE or 80888 to donate $10; toll-free 800-SAL-ARMY [725-2769]; * Save the Children (savethechildren.org/japanquake); text JAPAN or 20222 to donate or toll-free 800-728-3843; and * World Vision (worldvision.org); text 4JAPAN to 20222; toll-free 888-56-CHILD [24453].
For more information, listen to “Are You Prepared to Survive a Disaster?” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

HandFF Radio Teaching kids about saving and investing

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WASHINGTON (3/18/11)--Sunday’s H&FF Radio program offers guidance for teaching children about managing money. 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:
* “Teach Your Kids the ABCs and 123s of Saving and Investing.” Nicole Covganka, financial planner, The Retirement Planning Group, Riverwoods, Ill., gives suggestions for teaching kids about money management at any age. * “How Rising Gas Prices Will Affect You as Investors and the Choices You Make.” Michael Farr, president and majority owner, Farr, Miller & Washington, Washington, D.C., discusses some of the factors that affect high gas prices. * “Be a Dividend Millionaire: A Proven, Low-Risk Approach That Will Generate Income for the Long Term.” Paul Rubillo, founder and CEO, Dividend.com, Brigantine, N.J., shares his strategy for investing successfully. * “Consumers Unaware of Social Security Tax Holiday in Spite of Larger Paychecks.” Gail Cunningham, vice president of public relations, National Foundation for Credit Counseling, Washington, D.C., discusses survey results revealing that many workers are unaware of the 2011 Social Security tax break that’s leaving more money in paychecks.
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 “Why You Might Want a Small Euro Car” and watch the “Talk With Your Children About Family Finances” video in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Turn mileage on its head choose less-thirsty car

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MADISON, Wis. (3/16/11)--Here we go again: Gas prices are on the rise, with growth at a near-record pace of 33 cents a gallon during the past two weeks (Lundberg Survey Inc. March 6). As a result, fuel-efficiency has once more risen to the top of car-shoppers's concerns. So now is a good time to re-examine the standard measure of efficiency--the good old "miles per gallon" (mpg)--because now there's a better way to tell a sipper from a guzzler, according to editors from the Credit Union National Association's Center for Personal Finance. Consider which of two car buyers will cut fuel costs more: Reggie, who replaces his old 16-mpg Chevy Silverado with a new 25-mpg Ford Fusion? Or Diane, who replaces her old 27-mpg Honda Civic with a new 50-mpg Toyota Prius? If you say Diane, you would be mistaken. Reggie's relatively meager 9 mpg mileage increase represents a greater reduction in fuel consumption than Diane's improvement of 23 mpg. You can't see that easily from the mpg figures. But look what becomes clear when you turn mileage upside down--flipping mpg to gpm--by calculating the gallons of gasoline each car burns to travel 100 miles: 100 divided by miles driven per gallon = gallons used per 100 miles Comparing two cars' fuel consumption in gallons per 100 miles makes it easy to see improvement in gas use. Here's how much more Reggie will save for every 100 miles he drives, at the national average price, according to AAA, of $3.509 for a gallon of regular gasoline:
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And the advantage piles up. For every 10,000 miles driven, Reggie will realize savings of $790 to Diane's $597--a difference of $193. Of course, Reggie would do even better by buying a car like Diane's, but let's not ask too much of him all at once. The fact is that the greatest savings come from even modest improvements in the fuel consumption of the least efficient cars on the road. For different looks at fuel efficiency, read "Why You Might Want a Small Euro Car" and "Cars Are Plugged In and (Almost) Ready to Go" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Keep cost of caring for elderly parents under control

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McLean, Va. (3/14/11)--More than 40% of caregivers spend about $5,000 each year caring for a loved one; many individuals receiving care are parents of baby boomers (USAToday.com, Feb. 28). If you’re a caregiver, here are some ways to help cut costs that won’t compromise quality of care:
* Seek government help--Your local Area Agency on Aging can suggest programs in your state that can help with the financial burden of caregiving. Fifteen states offer a Cash & Counseling program for low-income seniors who are eligible for Medicaid. The program helps seniors pay for in-home daycare, including care that family members provide. * Pay family members for caregiving--More than one-third of caregivers have been forced to quit jobs, take early retirement, or reduce work hours because of their caregiving commitment. Consider paying yourself or another family member out of your parent’s savings for the care you’re providing. This “salary” can help offset lost income. To avoid disputes with other family members, create a contract that outlines the terms of the agreement. * Hire outside help--A survey by the Hartford Group, Hartford, Conn., shows that 80% of boomer caregivers feel moderate to high levels of stress associated with caregiving. Younger boomers, between 45 and 54 years old, appear to be shouldering the greatest burden; half report that they worry about the impact that caregiving has on their jobs. Hiring someone to provide some care allows you to provide better care for your parent when you’re fulfilling your caregiving role. * Claim your parent as a dependent--You may be eligible to claim one or both of your parents as dependents, based on how much support you provide. To do this, your parent’s income, excluding Social Security, must be less than the amount of the personal exemption. For 2010, the personal exemption was $3,650; for 2011 it’s $3,700. You also must provide more than 50% of your parent’s financial support to qualify. For more information, visit irs.gov. * Deduct your parent’s medical expenses--If you can’t claim a parent as a dependent, you might be able to deduct medical expenses. To qualify, you must provide at least 50% of your parent’s financial support; your parent doesn’t have to meet income restrictions. The deduction is limited to medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. Qualified expenses include in-home health care, the cost of a nursing home, dental care and prescription drugs. * Consider your own long-term care--After seeing firsthand what being a caregiver means financially and emotionally, many boomers are making arrangements for their own long-term care. Paying for long-term care insurance policies isn’t easy for families that also are saving for retirement and children’s college expenses. About 20 million middle-age Americans are stuck between conflicting sets of responsibilities, according to stltoday.com: caring for their own kids--and their parents. You also can start preparing for your own long-term care, without draining your money, by drawing up a living will and a health-care proxy.
For more information about caring for elderly parents, read “Generations Live Together to Save Costs, Gain Quality of Life” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Tips for tax season on HandFF Radio

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WASHINGTON (3/11/11)--Sunday’s H&FF Radio program provides advice to help guide you through tax season. 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:
* “Tax Time Doesn’t Have to Be a Taxing Time.” Patricia Seaman, director of marketing and communications, National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE), Denver, discusses the Tax Relief Act of 2010 and explains what you need to know when filing your taxes this year. * “World Council of Credit Unions: Its Mission and Projects.” Pete Crear, chief executive officer, World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU), Madison, Wis., outlines the organization’s goals and describes what makes credit unions cooperatives. * “Inheriting Wealth: Inheritor’s Self-Worth vs. Net Worth.” Myra Salzer, founder, The Wealth Conservancy, Boulder, Colo., covers some of the obstacles inheritors face and discusses the importance of philanthropy as an element of inherited wealth. * “Spring Clean Your Records.” Susan Tiffany, certified credit union financial counselor and director of consumer periodicals, Credit Union National Association (CUNA), Madison, Wis., explains why tax season is the perfect time to get rid of unnecessary paper.
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 “Spring Clean Your Records” and “Make the Most of Unexpected Good Fortune” and watch the “Getting Tax Records Organized” video in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Follow fill-up tips as gas prices rise

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MADISON, Wis. (3/9/11)--You’ve probably felt the sting of climbing gas prices in recent weeks. The national average is $3.38 a gallon--19 cents more than last week and 68 cents more than one year ago, according to the Department of Energy. Fortunately, you can take steps to lessen the financial burden. Use these strategies to save money on gas, even as prices soar.
* Use online tools and apps. Websites like GasBuddy.com compile gas prices in your neighborhood. Type in your ZIP Code to find the station with the lowest price near you. GasBuddy also offers mobile apps for the iPhone, Android devices, and Windows phones (ABCNews.com Feb. 28). * Avoid brand names. Prices often are cheaper at independent stations that are not affiliated with oil companies or gas brands, because they buy gas from more than one company (Bankrate.com Feb. 25). * Don’t fill up near the highway. It’s all about location: Gas stations near freeways or highways often demand higher prices for their convenience. To find a lower price, put some miles between you and the highway before you fill up (WalletPop.com Feb. 25). * Take advantage of reward programs. Some grocery stores partner with chain gas stations to offer fuel discounts to shoppers. And if you belong to membership-based stores, like Costco, you also may be able to find cheaper prices if you fill up at their stations. * Use cash. Find out if any gas stations in your area accept cash only or offer a cheaper price if you pay with cash. You often can find a lower price at these stations than you would at one that charges the same price for paying with cash or a credit card.
For more information, read “Why You Might Want a Small Euro Car” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Be alert for spring break travel scams

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NEW YORK (3/7/11)--Spring break is supposed to be fun; you’re not inclined to spend much time thinking about tourist scams. The fact is, as a tourist, you become a target for scam and rip-off artists. Spend a little time incorporating scam protection into your travel preparations (MainStreet March 1). Look out for several scams. Pick-pocket diversion. These scammers usually work in pairs, with one partner diverting your attention while the other takes your wallet, backpack, or purse. Examples: Some disgusting substance like ketchup or bird dirt splats on your shirt, an old woman or child falls in front of you, or you get a flat tire. What to do: Protect your valuables by keeping your wallet close to you and checking it while you’re helping strangers. Better yet, wear a money belt around your waist. If you really need to carry a purse, get one with a long strap you can cross over your body. If you use a backpack, hide the important stuff in the most interior location, close to your body. Beware: Like a purse, a backpack is easy to snatch if you drape it over one arm or the back of a chair at a restaurant. Razor cut. Do you travel with a large duffel or book bag? One common trick is to target travelers with these containers while they use public transportation. The criminal stands behind you, slices the bottom of your bag with a razor, and steals the bag’s contents as they fall out. What to do: If you must travel with a bag, find one designed to protect against razor cuts. Such bags have a wired braid frame so, even if the bag is cut, the contents are secure. Smash and grab. You don’t have to travel abroad to be a smash and grab victim. Just leave your purse “hidden” on the passenger side of your parked car while you’re running an errand, and you might have the “smash and grab” experience. Thieves look for victims, usually female, who are either driving alone in vehicles or taxis, and wait until they are stuck in traffic. They quickly break the car window, grab the bags or purse, and run. What to do: If driving, leave a half car length in front of you at stop lights so you have room to maneuver if you need to make a quick escape. Use your mirrors to look around at all times. When you’re at a stop light or check point, don’t fiddle with the radio, daydream, or allow yourself to be distracted while waiting. Don’t leave your valuables in plain view in the car, either while parked or driving. Use the trunk or other secure, out of sight places in the vehicle. "You have a flat tire, ma’am." Thieves target expensive-looking foreign cars and rental cars for this, pulling alongside and gesturing to indicate a flat tire. Whether or not you really have a flat, protect yourself. This is a common scam that results in you being robbed. What to do: Make an effort to use a car that resembles local cars. Lock the doors and roll up the windows while driving. Don’t pull over until you’re in a safe, public place. For more help with safe travels, listen to “Keep Credit Cards and Personal Information Safe on Vacation” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Tax ideas to help unemployed

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PRINCETON, N.J. (3/2/11)--Filing tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can be challenging enough for the average tax-payer, but tax season can be full of surprises for the long-term unemployed. Especially since almost 25% of adults in the U.S. incorrectly believe that filing a tax return is unnecessary for the unemployed, according to a recent survey (usatoday.com Feb. 7). Unemployment continues to fluctuate as income tax season approaches. Jobless claims rose to 10% in mid-February, up from 9.8% at the end of January (gallup.com Feb. 17). The newly unemployed join more than 14 million individuals already out of work. Of those, 4.2 million--or 30% of those unemployed through December 2010--have been without a job for a year or longer (moneywatch.bnet.com Feb. 4). Consider these items before filing your return if unemployment affected you during the 2010 tax year:
* Benefits are taxable. All unemployment benefits collected by individuals during 2010 are taxable. This wasn’t the case in 2009, when the economic stimulus package allowed the first $2,400 of unemployment benefits to be subtracted from gross income. * What is deductible. Job hunting costs may be tax deductible as long as your job search is within the same trade or profession, the costs exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income, and you itemize them on your tax return. Examples include mailing résumés to prospective employers, job placement agency fees, and travel related to your job search. Read “Six Tax Benefits for Job Seekers” and “Publication 529” on the IRS website for more details. * Free tax help. Check with your credit union to determine if you qualify for free tax preparation assistance through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program or the Tax Counseling for the Elderly Program. These programs provide certified volunteers to help prepare income tax returns for low- to moderate-income families, military personnel and their families, and those aged 60 and older.
For more information, read “The Tax Consequences of Unemployment” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.