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Ohio league Teach teens to start businesses

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WASHINGTON (5/1/09)--Sunday’s H&FF Radio show will include guests from Ohio discussing entrepreneurship among teens, the home mortgage foreclosure mess, and the financial and environmental benefits of going green. 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:
* “Teen Entrepreneurs Starting Businesses,” with Laura Busque, outreach manager, Ohio Credit Union League, Columbus, Ohio; * “Home Mortgage Foreclosures,” with Jim Rokakis, Cuyahoga County Treasurer, Cleveland, Ohio; and * “Go Green--Save Money--Save the Planet!” with Bill Eger, energy manager, Office of Sustainability, City of Cleveland, Ohio.
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 “Hybrid Vehicles: Benefits Beyond Gas Savings” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Your phone bill may contain real pocket change

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PITTSBURGH (4/29/09)--If you’re looking for ways to cut costs, pull out your wireless and land-line phone bills. You may be paying for services you don’t want, don’t need, or didn’t ask for (Post- Gazette April 19). When Rena Crispin’s phone bill spiked, she ignored it for a few months, thinking it was a pro-rated charge for changing her land-line’s package plan. When the bill remained unusually high for another two months, she went online to check details. “I discovered I was paying for five monthly charges I didn’t want, at $5.99 each,” says Crispin, who is a managing editor at Credit Union National Association’s Center for Personal Finance. Because voice service is a fairly cheap commodity, phone service providers are pushing extra services, to the extent that they “inadvertently” can tack them on to your plan when you make changes. In Crispin’s case, when she originally called to change her package plan, her provider did as she requested and set up the new package, which cost less and didn’t include the five services that were in her old plan: three-way calling, speed calling, call forwarding, automatic callback, and repeat dialing. What the provider didn’t tell her was that they continued all five of those services from her original package and billed $5.99 plus tax for each one, in addition to the new package plan. (At Crispin’s request, her provider discontinued the unwanted services and refunded her in full.) Take steps to trim your phone bill:
* Check your statement each month. Go beyond the amount due and look at all the services you’re paying for to see if you still need them. * Watch for mistakes. Small extra charges--which add up over time--may have been added to your statement by mistake. * Check for employee discounts. Do a Google search for your carrier’s name and “employee discount.” AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon offer discounts to employees of companies that use their services. * Review your plan at least once a year. This applies to both land-line and wireless services, no matter how long you’ve had them. You may have signed up for an introductory rate offered only for a limited time, and the price you’re paying now isn’t competitive with other plans. * Calculate your usage. If you signed up for a flat rate of 500 minutes a month but you’re only averaging 150 minutes a month in long distance calling, update your plan. * Evaluate your needs. If you’re paying 10 cents or 20 cents for each text message, depending on how frequently you send and receive them, consider an unlimited text messaging option. * Ask questions. If you have trouble understanding the charges on your bill, call your provider and ask for an explanation of each line item. * Have your call usage analyzed. Upload an electronic copy of your bill to billshrink.com. The free online tool compares your costs against money-saving alternatives and offers several low-cost options.
For more information, read “Cell Phones: Get What You Need” in Googolplex.

Unemployed targeted for work-at-home scams

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WASHINGTON (4/27/09)--With the national unemployment rate at 8.5%--a level not seen since 1983--scam artists capitalize on the vulnerability of job-seekers using new and improved work-at-home scams (U.S. News & World Report Apr. 20). Be on the lookout for some of these more common themes:
* Mystery shopper scams. While legitimate secret shopper services do exist, know the signs of a fraud. First, the scammer sends you a fake check, often thousands of dollars, with instructions to deposit the check in your account. You’re then told to use some of it to make purchases during your mystery shopping, deduct a commission, and send some funds back to cover fees. If you do, you’ll wind up draining money from your own account. Real mystery shopper employers don’t send checks before the work is completed, and you’re never asked to wire money back for fees to the employer. * Advance fee for small business start-up. Con artists convince you to invest a few thousand dollars and promise to provide you with inventory and materials. The materials rarely arrive, and, if they do, they’re completely useless and you’re left thousands in the hole. * Pyramid schemes. In these schemes, you’re hired as a distributor and you invest in promotional materials and product inventories. They offer you more money for recruiting friends and family as distributors. These are get-rich-quick scams that seem profitable as the pyramid builds, but once it crumbles the only people getting rich are the crooks who crafted it.
To protect yourself from these and other scams, the National Consumers League’s Internet Fraud Watch offers these guidelines:
* Know the company you’re dealing with and what it is really offering; * Don’t believe promises of easy and big profits; * Be cautious about any unsolicited e-mail you receive with offers to work at home; * Get references from others about the business and the work; and * Be wary of any “advance payment” checks. Most legitimate businesses pay you after you do the work.
Always check with the Better Business Bureau at bbb.org to determine if the business is legitimate. And remember, if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. For more information, read, “If It Looks Too Good to Be True … Recognizing and Preventing Mail Fraud,” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Money skills program targets military couples

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WASHINGTON (4/24/09)--One segment of Sunday’s H&FF Radio show zeros in on military couples, how one or more deployments can throw finances into a tailspin, and what’s being done to help them through difficult times. 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:
* “Pre-Nuptial Agreements,” with Katherine Stoner, author, educator, attorney, Stoner-Welsh, Pacific Grove, Calif.; * “Divorce: Separating Your Credit While Separating Your Lives,” with Maxine Sweet, vice president of public education, Experian, Allen, Texas; * “Military Couples and Personal Finance,” with Karen Jowers, staff writer, Military Times, Arlington, Va.; and * “Estate Planning,” with Mary Randolph, attorney, author, vice president of editorial, NOLO, Berkeley, Calif.
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,” and listen to “Estate Planning” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Credit card debt skyrockets for college students

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MCLEAN, Va. (4/22/09)--Credit card debt soared to record levels in 2008 for undergraduate students, now faced with a tough economy and rising college costs. Young adults accumulated an average of $3,173 in credit card debt attending the nation’s colleges and universities in 2008 (usatoday.com April 12). While students may use credit to live beyond their means, a recent study revealed that more than 90% of those carrying plastic charged direct education expenses such as tuition, school supplies, and textbooks (Sallie Mae April 2009). No matter how credit card debt is accumulated, students are urged to take control of their finances and avoid spiraling further into debt:
* Commit to cash. Adding more debt is counterproductive to paying off your credit cards. Commit to stop using credit cards for purchases and use cash instead. If you can’t afford to pay for the item with cash, perhaps you can’t afford to buy it. * Pay off most expensive debt first. Identify which credit card has the highest APR (annual percentage rate) and pay as much as possible above the minimum payment while maintaining regular payments on other credit card balances. This strategy will reduce the total amount of interest paid over time for all your accounts. * Stay the course. Don’t let up as balances and minimum payments begin to shrink. Continue paying as much as you can—more than the minimum payment—for the credit card with the highest APR. Do this and you erase the amount owed on that account faster. * Knock out small debts. Having several small recurring debt payments can add up to a large amount. Pay off installment debts with low balances to free up money for credit card payments and get out of debt faster. * Roll over payments. Once you’ve paid off the card with the highest APR, use the same amount to increase your payments on the card with the next highest APR. Continue this cycle until all of your credit cards have a zero balance.
For more information, read “Tough Times Series: Gas, Groceries on Credit a Slippery Slope” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center and “Improving Your FICO Score has Benefits” in MoneyMix: Launch Your Life.

Foreclosures up 24 avoid losing your home

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IRVINE, Calif. (4/20/09)---A report released last week revealed that one of every 159 U.S. housing units received a foreclosure filing during the first quarter of 2009, representing a 9% increase from fourth quarter 2008, and a whopping 24% increase from one year ago (RealtyTrac April 16). The figures for first quarter 2009 were the highest monthly and quarterly totals since RealtyTrac began releasing foreclosure data in January 2005. Thousands of homeowners are in fear of losing their homes during this difficult economic slump, due to higher adjusted monthly payments, layoffs, insufficient emergency funds, excessive debt, toxic mortgages, mortgage rescue scams, and more. Regardless of the reason, if you are vulnerable it’s critical you take action immediately:
* Call your lender--now. Face the problem head-on and take initiative, which shows you’re acting in good faith. The longer you wait to make the call, the harder it will be to develop an action plan to save your home. * Explain your situation. By coming clean, you’ll open discussion about available options, such as a reduction in interest rate, lower monthly payments, or a repayment plan that fits your budget. * Know your rights. Find out the specific foreclosure laws and time frames in your state. Do an Internet search for “state government housing office.” Sift through your loan documents to determine what the lender can do if you don’t make your mortgage payments. * Know how to spot a rescue scam. Con artists use half truths and outright lies to promise a solution, and then fail to deliver. Watch for messages like, “We guarantee to stop your foreclosure,” and “We can save your home, free consultation,” and “We can stop foreclosures this week!” They get your name from public foreclosure notices in newspapers and in public files at local government offices. Be suspicious of unsolicited personalized letters promising speedy relief. * Find legitimate help. Besides contacting your lender, get help from a reputable credit counselor by calling 800-388-2227. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling has a Homeowner Crisis Resource Center at nfcc.org.
For more information, listen to “Rising Rates--Safeguard Your Home by Maintaining Mortgage Payments and Avoiding Foreclosure” and “Find Foreclosure Counseling” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

HandFF Radio experts offer tips for tough times

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WASHINGTON (4/17/09)--Policy experts on Sunday’s H&FF Radio show tackle a range of issues facing families during these tough times: helping military families get--and stay in--their home; helping lower-income families save for a home, education, or small business venture; and helping survivors cope when a spouse dies. 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:
* “Military Homeowner’s Assistance Program,” with Katie Savant, deputy director, government relations, National Military Families Association, Alexandria, Va.; * “Fueling Fair Practices: A Road Map to Improved Public Policy for Used-Car Sales and Financing,” with John Van Alst, attorney, National Consumer Law Center, Boston Mass.; * “Individual Development Accounts (IDA)--A Savings Account for You?” with Leigh Tivol, senior program manager, CFED-Expanding Economic Opportunity, Washington, D.C.; * “Coping With Change When Your Spouse Dies,” with Susan Tiffany, director, personal finance information for adults, Center for Personal Finance, CUNA, Madison, Wis.; and * Your Questions Answered: Money Smart Things to Do With Your Income Tax Refund; Identity Theft; Three Ways to Waste Money on a Car.
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 “Turning Points: Rebuild Your Life After a Life Partner Dies” and “Tough Times Series: Services, Sites Help Veterans Navigate Benefits Maze” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Job-hunting tactics for this recession

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WASHINGTON (4/15/09)--The federal government recently announced that the national unemployment rate was the highest in 25 years (U.S. Department of Labor April 3). The 8.5% rate for March means that two million workers have lost their jobs since New Year’s Day. Worse, these losses come after the disappearance of three million jobs last year. Although the numbers suggest that it’s not exactly a good time to be looking for work, job seekers have an advantage not widely available to previous generations of job seekers. Here, courtesy of the Credit Union National Association’s Center for Personal Finance, are some job-hunting tactics that take advantage of the best job search tool ever:
* Go ahead--advertise yourself online. Sites that allow job-seekers to post searchable resumes are all the rage. They give your “hire me” appeal enormous reach. But the increasing popularity of this approach forces people to go to extremes to stand out--have you shot your “hire me” video yet? By all means, post your resume on as many serious sites as you can. However, that’s only a small part of the Internet’s value to the unemployed. * Reach out online. Many job openings are not advertised. Using personal and professional contacts has always been important for job seekers. Now the Web makes it easy to reach out to any and everyone you know--and through them, their contacts as well--through online social networks. Announce that you’re looking for work and ask them to tell you about any openings that might be a match for your background and skills. Each online group you join will increase the potential flow of job alerts. * Research online. Stay up to date by following your industry’s news online daily. Explore the websites of companies you’re interested in for information to strengthen your applications. Anything that tells you about prospective employers’ product and service lines, competition, and announced plans can help you customize your resume and tailor your cover letter to individual job openings. And when you do get an interview, your research will allow you to talk about your potential value in specific and concrete terms.
Remember, prospective employers are not looking to help you out. They’re looking to help their companies. Your best sales pitch will connect the dots between your skills and experience and a company’s goals, making your hire seem like a good investment. Use the Internet to locate job openings, sharpen your applications, and dazzle interviewers with your command of an employer’s current needs and your ability to fulfill them. For more information, read “Unique Job Benefits Help Employees, Employers” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Tax tip E-file your request for an extension

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WASHINGTON (4/13/09)--If you need more time to complete your tax return, send your extension request electronically by April 15, which will give you until Oct. 15 to file the return, says the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) (April 7). This year, there are no income restrictions for filing your taxes electronically at no cost from your home computer. Use FreeFile or FreeFile Fillable Forms accessible on the IRS website. And both options allow you to e-file a safe, secure and convenient request for an extension to file. Don’t confuse an extension to file with an extension to pay any taxes due. If you owe money to Uncle Sam, you must pay the IRS by the April 15 deadline or you’ll be charged penalties and interest. The IRS estimates that almost 10 million filers will request an extension this year, and 1.9 million of those will be filed electronically. As of April 3, the average refund totaled $2,705, up from $2,436 for the same time period in tax year 2008. To file an extension, use IRS form 4868, Automatic Extension of Time to File. For more information, read “Tax Tips for Tough Economic Times” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Radio guest offers small biz start-up tips

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WASHINGTON (4/10/09)--High unemployment and massive layoffs are steering many Americans toward starting a small business. Do your homework, and think “future” before you take the plunge, according to one of the guests 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:
* “Turning Points--Think ‘Future’ when Starting a Business,” with Susan Tiffany, director, personal finance information for adults, Center for Personal Finance, CUNA, Madison, Wis.; * “Sustainable Home Ownership: Future Role of Government,” with Lisa Ransom, vice president of federal affairs, Center for Responsible Lending, Washington, D.C.; * “Low-Income and Minority Financial Services Concerns,” with Stephanie Bittner, consumer credit counselor, and National Foundation for Credit Counseling’s “Counselor of the Year,” Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Delaware Valley, Philadelphia; and * “Credit Card Reform,” with April Brenslaw, director, consumer regulations, Office of Thrift Supervision, Department of the Treasury, Washington, D.C.
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 “Make the Move to Small-Business Ownership” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

All-electric cars ready to take the road

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WASHINGTON (4/8/09)--Looking for some good economic news? Affordable all-electric cars are being developed for distribution in the U.S. faster than you can say “green energy” (Associated Press via Washington Post March 30). Two family-friendly all-electric cars lead the pack:
* Proton, Malaysia’s national carmaker, is targeting the U.S. and Europe to release an affordable, practical sedan in 2009. Two models are priced between $23,000 (range of 150 miles) and $33,000 (range of 200 miles) (Fast Company March 30). * Th!nk North America has plans to build cars in the U.S. by 2010. Th!nk City has a range of about 110 miles and will be priced less than $25,000. This car will be suitable only for city driving, but sedans are on the way (Gas 2.0 March 16).
The government, manufacturers, and many financial institutions are helping to make all-electric car prices even more attractive with:
* State and federal rebates. Look for individual state government rebates of about $1,000, and federal government rebates for all-electric cars of up to $7,500. But choose your model carefully--the rebate depends on how many of any particular model were sold in the previous year (HybridMile Feb. 5). * State sales tax deduction. The sales tax for any new car, truck, motor home, or motorcycle purchased between Feb. 16, 2009, and Jan. 1, 2010, can be deducted on your 2009 taxes (The Consumerist March 30). * Manufacturer and dealer rebates. Manufacturers and dealers are offering incentives and rebates to stimulate sales (Contra Costa Times March 23). * Competitive financing. Cooperative Center FCU in Berkeley, Calif., is financing 100% of the purchase price of electric cars with fixed interest rates as low as 5%.
When you look at the cost of the car, remember the fuel savings. If gas climbs back to $4 a gallon in the coming years, you could save $15,000 over the life of the car. And that’s after taking into consideration the cost to keep the battery charged (Associated Press via The Columbus Dispatch March 29). For more information, read “Hybrid Vehicles: Benefits Beyond Gas Savings” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Home prices collapse at record levels

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NEW YORK (4/6/09)--A report released last week confirmed bad news for homeowners: Prices in the worst-hit metropolitan areas have plummeted nearly by half, and the worst may not be over (The New York Times April 1). The Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller Home Price Index, considered an authoritative monthly gauge of big-city home prices, focuses on 20 metropolitan cities. The January report released March 31 cites Phoenix home prices down 48.5% from its June 2006 peak. Home prices in Las Vegas, Miami, San Francisco and San Diego have dropped more than 40%. Dallas received the best rating of the cities in the index with a decline of “only” 10.8% from its peak. Nationwide, average home prices were down a record 19% and appear to continue on a downward spiral (DallasNews.com April 1). Real estate professionals urge caution because not all housing markets are severely depressed; some indices may be tilted by an overabundance of foreclosed homes in any one area. When the value of your home declines, typically your equity declines, too. Many families who tapped a home equity line of credit are now upside-down in their mortgages--they owe more than the home is worth. Add to the equation some adjustable-rate mortgages that came due when rates were higher, as well as the depressed economy, and consumers may be facing a record number of foreclosures (RealtyTrac 2009). If you’re facing or worried about the possibility of foreclosure, take immediate action (University of Florida IFAS Extension, March 4):
* Get organized. Create a statement of income and expenses, as well as a list of all obligations you owe. * Seek local help. Your credit union, Housing and Urban Development-approved counselors, or local Cooperative Extension service may offer help developing budgets, action plans, or financial statements. * Contact your lender. Show paperwork detailing a picture of your current financial situation. Discuss options before the situation worsens.
Your lender may offer any number of options to avoid foreclosure:
* Grace period. This option allows you to get caught up on your payments over a certain period of time. * Contract renegotiation. You may be able to change the monthly payment amount or payment schedule. * Payment foregiveness. Your missed payments from the past are forgiven, but you’re expected to make all future payments on time. * Mortgage modification. Your past-due payments are added to your unpaid loan balance, which extends the time it takes to pay off the loan amount, as well as total interest payments. * Special forbearance. The lender may agree to reduce or suspend your regular monthly mortgage payment. Or, you may be required to increase your payments for a period of time to get caught up on past due payments. * Sell your home on your own. * Short sale. The lender may agree to let you sell your home for less than your mortgage balance, but you’ll be required to pay back the difference between what you owe on the original debt and the short-sale proceeds. This option may be better than foreclosure, but remember that you’ll owe income taxes on any amount your lender forgives.
If you abandon your home, you may not qualify for assistance, so talk through all options with your lender or a qualified counselor. Visit hud.gov/foreclosure for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s “Guide to Avoiding Foreclosure.” For more information, read “Touch Times Series: What to Do When Your ARM Is Due” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

HandFF Radio Perfect storm brews for ID theft

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WASHINGTON (4/3/09)--One of the guests on Sunday’s H&FF Radio show warns of dangerous data breaches yet to come and how that translates to a perfect storm brewing for an upsurge in identity theft cases. 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:
* “Perfect Storm for Identity Theft Brewing: Worst Data Breach Yet to Come,” with Adam Levin, founder, Credit.com and former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, Scottsdale, Ariz.; * “MatchSavings.org,” with Janette Klaehn, vice president, communications, World Council of Credit Unions, Madison, Wis.; and * "Your Questions Answered": What’s in the stimulus package for you; credit card repayment solutions.
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 “Identity Theft: Getting Back to Square One” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.