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Consumer Archive

Consumer

H&FF Radio: Student Debt, College Entrepreneurs

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WASHINGTON (4/26/13)--This week Home & Family Finance Radio goes back to school to help young people conquer student debt and make 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:

  • "Smart College Borrowing." Joe Orsolini, president, College Aid Planners Inc., Glen Ellyn, Ill., offers advice about when to borrow for college and whether it makes sense to dip in to retirement savings to pay for a child's education.
  • "Young, Vibrant, and Saddled With Debt." Seth Piccirillo, director of community development for the city of Niagara Falls, N.Y., discusses his city's plan to attract young college graduates by helping them pay their student loans.
  • "Dorm Room Entrepreneurs." Laura Schaefer, a Madison, Wis., freelance writer, shares highlights from a recent story she wrote for MoneyMix, a Credit Union National Association microsite, about young people who launched their own businesses while still in school.
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 more than 95 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 related information, read "Parents: Borrow for Kids' College, Jeopardize Retirement" and "Giving Your Kids an Allowance (Or Not)" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Medigap Helps Pay Out-of-pocket Costs

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DETROIT (4/23/13)--If you're approaching the Medicare enrollment age--65--and enrolling in traditional Medicare parts A and B, now's a good time to focus on Medigap, also known as Medicare Supplement Insurance (The Detroit News April 8).

If you can afford it, Medigap insurance will help you pay for the out-of-pocket costs of Medicare's co-pays, co-insurance, and additional cost-sharing requirements such as deductibles.

The Medigap one-time open-enrollment period, which lasts six months, starts the month you turn 65 and enroll in Medicare Part B. This is the only time you have a guaranteed right to buy any Medigap policy sold in your state, regardless of your health. Once open-enrollment ends, you could be denied coverage or have to pay higher premiums.

Choose from 10 kinds of Medigap plans, depending on your needs and which gaps you'd like to fill. The two most popular plans are F and C, in that order, because they provide the most comprehensive coverage. The two newest options, M and N, are cost-sharing plans with cheaper premiums; these appeal to healthier retirees who don't use as much health care.

All 10 standardized Medigap health plans cover co-insurance for extended hospital stays, doctor visits and outpatient services, and for hospice care.

To choose an appropriate Medigap plan:

  1. Compare premiums. Even though all insurers must offer the same benefits within a specific kind of plan, premiums differ widely. For example, in Plan F, annual premiums for a nonsmoking 65-year-old range from $1,097 to $4,030. As you compare plans, find out how rates are determined: Do all enrollees pay the same regardless of age, with rates increasing because of inflation and other factors? Are premiums based on age when first purchasing the policy? Or do premiums rise as enrollees get older? Investigate the historical rates of increase.
  1. Select benefits. Because you might not be able to switch Medigap policies later, consider your current and future health needs. Decide, for example, if you want coverage for hospital annual deductibles, skilled nursing facility co-insurance, emergency care during foreign travel, at-home recovery care, preventive care Medicare doesn't cover, or charges from doctors who do not participate in the Medicare program.
  1. Check customer service record. Before you buy a plan, check the insurer's customer service performance.
Note that most Medigap policies don't cover long-term care, vision or dental care, hearing aids, eyeglasses, or private-duty nursing.

To learn more, use the online Medigap search tool at medicare.gov; click on the "Supplements & Other Insurance" tab at the top of the page, and then on "How to Compare Medigap Policies."

Or call 800-633-4227 and request a copy of the Medicare and National Association of Insurance Commissioner's guide called "Choosing a Medigap Policy: A Guide to Health Insurance for People With Medicare." The guide also contains information for residents of Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Wisconsin--the three states that offer standardized Medigap plans different from the other states.

For related information, read "How to Calculate Retirement Needs" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

College Debt, Money Anxiety On 300th H&FF Radio

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WASHINGTON (4/19/13)--After six years on the air, Home & Family Finance Radio reaches a milestone this Sunday with the broadcast of its 300th episode. Like the 299 before it, this week's show explores issues close to families' pocketbooks including college debt and financial anxiety.

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:

  • "Students' College-Debt IQ." Paul Gentile, executive vice president of strategic communications and enhancement for the Credit Union National Association, Washington D.C., shares troubling findings from CUNA's survey of 18-year-olds on what they know about their student-loan debt. The short answer--not enough.
  • "Financial Wellness Survey." Shawn Gilfedder, CEO of McGraw Hill FCU, East Windsor, N.J., discusses his credit union's survey exploring how financial stresses affect people's personal lives, including their job performances, and what can be done about it.
  • "Parents, Kids and Money." Stuart Ritter, a certified financial planner from investment firm T. Rowe Price, Baltimore, offers highlights from his firm's recent survey of families and children about their saving and spending habits, which found that more kids think it's easier to gain $1 million by becoming famous than through saving and investing.
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 more than 95 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 related information, read "Parents: Borrow for Kids' College, Jeopardize Retirement" and "Giving Your Kids an Allowance (Or Not)" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Young Adults More Likely To Save Tax Refund

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NEW YORK (4/16/13)--Believe it or not, young adults are more likely to save their tax refunds than people in other age groups. A recent survey by Manilla.com, an account management service, found that 46% of respondents ages 18 to 23 plan to save their refund this year, versus 25% of older respondents. Older respondents were more likely to use refunds to pay off credit card debt or to pay other bills (Manilla.com April 5).

Anyone getting a refund should use the opportunity to improve their financial fitness, encourages Michelle Dosher, managing editor in the Credit Union National Association's business and consumer publishing department. Dosher says consider these options:

  • Pare debt. Make a credit card payment that's higher than your usual payment or, better yet, pay off your card. Pay off part of a student loan, or use your refund as part of a down payment on a new car.
  • Pay bills. Use your refund toward school supplies and tuition.
  • Boost savings. Add your refund to a savings account for future recreation or build your rainy day fund for financial emergencies. Contribute to an IRA now instead of waiting until next year's tax-filing deadline. Save your refund to cover insurance deductibles or add it to your savings for a down payment on a house.
  • Have fun. Enjoy a long weekend somewhere special, become a member of a health club, or enroll in a class to learn a new skill.
  • Do good. Donate to a good cause; get a tax receipt so you can take the charitable deduction if you itemize deductions on your next tax return.
Tax preparation time forces consumers to get organized. For ideas about purging and organizing paperwork, listen to the Home & Family Finance Radio segment, "Spring Clean Your Records," in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

H&FF Radio: De-Cluttering Your Life

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WASHINGTON (4/12/13)--Home & Family Finance Radio catches spring-cleaning fever this week as guests tell you how to de-clutter your home, computer, email inbox--even your mind.

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

  •  "The Psychology of Clutter." Dr. Lise Van Susteren, a Washington D.C. psychiatrist, discusses why people are prone to clutter and why that inclination leads to modern behavior such as friending hundreds of people you barely know on Facebook.
  • "The Clutter Whisperer." Susan Fleischman, a professional organizer and owner of Clutterfree, Chicago, offers advice about how to get organized and rid your home of clutter.
  • "Clutter in the Internet Age." Jennifer Stewart, owner of Organizing by Jennifer, St. Louis, offers strategies for cleaning up your computer, winnowing your email inbox, and better understanding the software you use every day.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at 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 more than 95 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 related information, read "Offering Help for Hoarders" and "Remodel for Comfort, Not Show" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Boost Your House's IQ With Smart-Home Tech

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PHILADELPHIA (4/9/13)--When Disneyland unveiled its modular fiberglass "home of the future" attraction in 1957, it looked almost nothing like the houses lived in by ordinary Americans. Now the increasing popularity of affordable "smart home" technology means your home could be the home of the future--with a few strategic upgrades. These also could help lower utility bills.

Due to the ease of use and lower prices, more people are turning their houses into programmable smart homes where they can control lighting, thermostats, locks, music, and video surveillance from their phones and tablets. Companies that sell and install these technologies are reporting an increase in business (The Philadelphia Inquirer March 16).

The goal of this technology is to offer users greater control over their home's environment, with products such as next-generation thermostats and programmable light switches promising increase energy efficiency and lower utility bills.

The technology has existed for years, but most of these gadgets no longer require you to rewire your house or spend a week immersed in an instruction manual before use. The devices are wireless and at your disposal, accessible from your iPhone even if you're at work or the airport.

Here is a sampling of the latest smart-home gadgets (The New York Times March 27):

  • Nest Learning Thermostat--Founded by one of the creators of the Apple iPhone and iPod, Nest has designed a programmable thermostat you don't have to program. Noting when you manually turn the temperature down or up, after a few days it will make those adjustments on its own. The Nest thermostat is also adjustable via an iPhone app. It has a motion detector that can sense when people are home, and claims it's compatible with all low-voltage heating systems and can save users 20% on their heating and cooling bills. Cost: $249.
  • WeMo Switch--This Wi-Fi-enabled switch from Belkin allows you to control household appliances with an iPhone app. You plug the WeMo switch into any outlet, plug an appliance into the switch, and then you can remotely turn the appliance on and off using the WeMo app. You also can use the app to create a lighting schedule for your lamps; Belkin announced that this summer it will release a wall switch that allows you to do the same thing with a home's hard-wired lights. Cost: $50. A $100 version has motion-sensor capabilities.
  • Philips Hue--These energy-efficient LED light bulbs come with built-in wireless capabilities and allow you to control brightness, set timers, and even control their color via a smartphone app. Cost for a starter pack that includes three bulbs and a base station: $200.
This spring the technology-review blog Gadget Review also surveyed some smart-home technologies, mentioning many included by the Times. It also highlighted Lockitron, a keyless entry device that works with your existing deadbolt (Cost: $180), and GE Nucleus, which communicates with your utility company's smart meter on your home to deliver near real-time energy consumption readouts to your iPhone--information that you can use to slash your energy bills. (Cost: $150).

If you want a comprehensive integration of your lighting, utilities, security, and entertainment controllable through a single interface, numerous companies offer that kind of customization, but it can be expensive. One company, Control 4, said its starter package begins at $1,500, but could exceed $5,000 for bigger projects.

For more information, read "Debunk Energy-Saving Myths" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Financial Literacy Month, Tax Advice On H&FF Radio

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WASHINGTON (4/8/13)--Home & Family Finance Radio Sunday celebrated Financial Literacy Month, a holiday that actually can save you money, and delves into last-gasp tax savings before the April 15 filing deadline.

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

  • "Celebrating Financial Literacy Month." Susan Sharkey, director of the High School Financial Planning Program and the National Endowment for Financial Education, Denver, explained the importance of financial literacy and why setting aside a month to highlight its relevance to consumers' lives is a good idea.
  • "Financial Literacy Can Make You Money." Entrepreneur and author Patrick Bet-David, author of "The Next Perfect Storm" and founder of the financial-education advocacy group People Helping People, Woodland Hills, Calif., shared why he made improving the financial literacy of regular Americans his personal crusade and offered advice on how to earn more money.
  • "Last Second Tax Saving Tips." With the tax deadline a week away, an editor from Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Washington D.C., offered ways to avoid surprises from the expired 2011 tax breaks, as well as discussed money to be saved on medical bills and using one's home to lower the tax bill.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at 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 more than 95 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 related information, read "April Financial Fitness Challenge--Gotta Have It? Check Impulse Spending" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

More Americans Retiring With Debt

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NEW YORK (4/2/13)--Take a debt snapshot of older Americans and the picture looks bleak, but the debt they're carrying isn't what you might expect (The Wall Street Journal March 24).

Recent studies confirm that seniors are headed into retirement carrying higher levels of housing and unsecured debt, and even student loans, threatening their retirement dreams. They are helping adult children and grandchildren cope with unemployment, divorce, and education costs. The one-two punch of the recession and plummeting home values didn't help their already precarious debt situations (The Wall Street Journal March 21).

The latest report from the Employment Benefit Research Institute revealed that for those 75 or older, the percentage with a mortgage or other housing loan was 24% in 2010, up from just 7% in 1992.

New data from the Census Bureau show that more Americans are paying off debt compared with 2000, but those still saddled with debt owe about 40% more (USA Today Mar. 21). The percentage of households with debt fell to 69% in 2011 compared with 74% in 2000, while the median debt load jumped to $70,000. Over the same time period, debt owed by seniors doubled, to a median of $26,000.

April is Financial Literacy Month, which is a good time to proactively start managing your debt:

  • Know what you owe. If you don't, this may be a warning sign you have too much debt.
  • Charge it--responsibly. Only charge as much as you can afford to pay in full when the bill comes due.
  • Power pay your way out of debt. This principle involves listing all your debts and the respective interest rates, then paying off the most expensive debts first while making at least minimum payments on everything else. Don't add new debt in the meantime. Visit powerpay.org.
  • Find extra money to pay off debt faster. Plug spending leaks, establish a budget, adjust your withholding, add extra income, or liquidate some assets. Use some of that extra money to build an emergency fund.
  • Keep your debt-to-income ratio less than 15%. This is your total monthly payments (less mortgage or rent) divided by your after-tax income. If the ratio is between 15% and 25%, use caution. If it's higher than 25%, seek help.
  • Avoid expensive forms of credit. Steer clear of high-cost payday loans, advance fee loans, high-interest debt consolidation and debt-settlement.
  • Don't ignore creditors. Make a good faith effort and call them before they call you. Before you call, know what you can afford to pay, negotiate a repayment plan, but don't agree to any plan you know you cannot afford.
  • Get help. Ask the staff at your credit union about financial counseling, or contact the National Foundation for Credit Counseling at 800-388-2227.
For more information, read "Parents: Borrow for Kids' College, Jeopardize Retirement" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.