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HandFF Radio offers info to boost money IQ GI benefits (05/27/2010)

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WASHINGTON (5/28/10)--Sunday's H&FF Radio program looks at boosting your financial IQ, finding quick money solutions, and transferring GI benefits. This is a rebroadcast of the H&FF Radio program that first aired Feb. 7. 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 Complete Idiot’s Guide to Boosting Your Financial IQ," with Ken Clark, certified financial planner, Little Rock, Ark. Clark describes ways to boost your wealth by becoming smarter about money matters. * "30-Minute Money Solutions." Christine Benz, director of personal finance, Morningstar Inc., Chicago, offers ways to solve financial challenges in record time. * "Transferring GI Benefits," with Kim Lankford, contributing editor of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine and columnist for Kiplinger.com and "Ask Kim," Washington, D.C. Lankford describes the importance of understanding GI benefits.
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; 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. 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 “Services, Sites Help Veterans Navigate Benefits Maze,” and view the “Use Direct Deposit and Automatic Transfers to Simplify Finances” video in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Save a few pennies on summer fun

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MADISON, Wis. (5/26/10)--Whether your summer adventures take you to the local beach or to another continent, consumer editors from the Credit Union National Association’s Center for Personal Finance offer a few ways to save on holiday fun. The advice:
* Eat lunch out, dinner in. Picnicking is a classic way to save money and time when stomachs start to rumble. Check the deli or to-go section of a grocery store for a quick and fun meal. Save even more by making lunch your main meal out. Many restaurants offer nearly as much food at special rates before 4 p.m. on weekdays as they do for dinners. * Get cash back to avoid ATM fees. When you’re away from home base without a credit union surcharge-free ATM handy, consider using your debit card to get cash back when you make a purchase. Most grocery and many discount stores will oblige. * Use your flex spending account (FSA) dollars. FSAs let you use pre-tax dollars to cover many health care expenses. Sunscreen with high SPFs, Band-Aids, poison ivy lotion, and allergy medicine are just a few of the over-the-counter items eligible this year, but not in 2011, so stock up. * Duck into a matinee to escape the heat. If sunny and 95° loses its charm by the third day, enjoy a cool break mid-afternoon at the movies. Theaters typically hike up the AC but drop down the price for screenings before evening. * Stay home. Just imagine the benefits of vacationing in your home town. No hours on the road stuck in traffic or long security lines at airports. Make a list of the best features in the area and consider treating yourself like a tourist. Eat out or bring meals home to make the break from cooking and cleanup complete.
For more ideas about saving money on your summer vacation, see “Find Good Travel Deals Even in a Bum Economy” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Facebooks use of personal data concerns FTC consumers

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NEW YORK (5/24/10)--The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is examining how social networks like Facebook use personal data from user profiles. The FTC has received complaints from privacy groups concerned about how Facebook displays user information (Online.WSJ.com May 19). Users of the popular social media website are becoming increasingly concerned about personal information security thanks to recent developments, including privacy bugs, changes to profile privacy settings and the increased connectivity between Facebook profiles and other sites across the Web (CNN.com May 13). Consumers with Facebook profiles can prevent their personal information from getting into the wrong hands. Here are five ideas from ConsumerReports.org to help Facebook users protect their privacy:
* Learn privacy controls. Visit the Facebook “guide to privacy” page to learn the different settings and how to alter them for your profile. You’ll also find information about recent privacy feature changes and updates. * Block search engines. Uncheck the public search option located in your Facebook profile privacy settings. This prevents potential criminals from using Web search engines to find your profile. * Use a unique password. A password unique to your Facebook profile, containing at least eight characters, will help protect your personal information. A strong password combines symbols and numbers between upper- and lower-case letters of a word. For example a variation of a password with the word “tree”: t1R9e8e! * Hide your birth date. Prevent those you don’t know from learning your birthday and birth year. Thieves can use this to gather and misuse sensitive information, including financial details. * Omit contact info. Withhold your address, phone numbers, and any e-mail addresses linked to financial accounts from your Facebook profile. Crooks can use that information to steal your identity. Don’t worry; friends will be able to contact you through messages on Facebook.

HandFF Radio reviews auto buying airline deals small biz strategies

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WASHINGTON (5/21/10)--Sunday's H&FF Radio provides ideas about better money management, small businesses strategies for hard times, ways to get deals on airline tickets and find the best hotels, and how to finance a car. This week’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:
* "Give Yourself Credit: Tips for Improved Money Management." Sanyika Callaway Boyce, financial fitness coach, lecturer and author, of the Financial Fitness Institute, South Plainfield, N.J., offers advice about how to organize your documents, set realistic financial goals, ask for help from creditors, and ways to keep an active watch on your money. * "Save Your Small Business: 10 Crucial Strategies to Survive Hard Times or Close Down and Move On." Jake Warner, attorney and executive chairman, Nolo, Berkeley, Calif., provides information for struggling small business owners. * "Hidden Airline Deals, and the Best and Worst Hotels." Sue Perry, deputy editor, ShopSmart, from the publisher of Consumer Reports, Yonkers, N.Y., reveals how to land really cheap seats, and hotels to consider--and to avoid. * "Auto Financing 101." Jack Gillis, director of public affairs at Consumer Federation of America, author of "The Car Book," and principal of Jack Gillis & Associates, Washington, D.C., covers three transactions--negotiating the price, finding the trade-in value and financing the purchase--and discusses the order in which to conduct them.
For more information, read “Hiring Expert Help to Buy a Car” and “Find Good Travel Deals Even in a Bum Economy” and view the “Financing Your Small Business” video in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center. 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 Radio 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.

Boost curb appeal to help sell home

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McLEAN, Va. (5/19/10)--The home buyer tax credit has expired and home prices are expected to fall--leading to even more seller competition in today’s housing market (USAToday.com May 12). If you’re trying to sell your house, boosting its curb appeal can help make--or break--a sale. Tackling outdoor projects may seem daunting, but starting with these tasks can help make your yard look fresh and inviting, according to CNNMoney.com. Mulch. A fresh layer of mulch provides visual contrast and makes foliage and flowers more eye-catching. Mulch also keeps water in the soil and provides nutrients as it breaks down, keeping your plants healthier all year long. For a large project, you’ll need more than a few bags of mulch from your neighborhood home center. Consider having a local landscape supply company deliver mulch to your home instead. Since this mulch will be local, there’ll be less chance that it will introduce invasive diseases or insects into your garden. Bagged mulch often comes from hundreds of miles away. Using a garden spade, cut a clean edge around your beds then use a wheelbarrow, pitch fork, and rake to lay at least a two-inch thick mulch bed. Seal decks and fences. All outdoor woodwork needs protection from elements. Seal with stain. Paint requires first scraping and sanding every time you need to refresh the area. Invest in premium oil-based stain--it will soak into the wood and minimize prep work for your next coat. Purchase stain that contains UV (ultraviolet) blockers to prevent sun damage to the wood. Before staining, use a wood cleaner and a soft-bristled brush to remove dirt and mildew, or use a power washer, which you can rent for about $50 to $100 per day. Touch up paint. Peeling paint makes your house look neglected and lets UV light damage wood siding--making more paint come off and leading to a more extensive, expensive project. It’s tempting to skimp and buy cheaper paint ($15 to $20 a gallon). Instead, splurge and purchase a more expensive paint ($30 to $45 a gallon). The high-quality pigments and binders in top-of-the-line paint make it last five or more years longer than economy products. Use water-based paint--it’s easier to use and more environmentally friendly than oil-based products. But purchase oil-based primer to make the paint stick better. If your house exterior has more than just a few spots that need touching up, you probably need a full-blown paint job. House painters typically won’t do touchups unless they’re fixing a previous paint job of their own. A handyman can help with touch-up painting. Doing these jobs yourself can save money. If working outdoors isn’t your forte, find a handyman to do these jobs at a reasonable cost. Once you complete the bigger projects, make sure to mow and edge the lawn on a regular basis, trim hedges, and plant flowers. If your yard doesn’t look well-maintained, buyers will assume your home isn’t either and drive on by. To learn more, read “You Can Sell Your House--Even in a Down Market” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Base school decisions on your teens career plan

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MADISON, Wis. (5/17/10)--After 12 years, most high school graduates could be excused for hoping they’ve seen the last of compulsory education. But, with changes in the global demand for skilled labor, young adults are feeling forced to look beyond secondary education. During the 12-month recessionary period starting July 2008, when overall employment declined by 5.3%, the number of jobs for workers with advanced degrees actually grew by 1.5% (WANTED Technologies March). But, of course, post-secondary education is not compulsory, or in some cases even desirable. The Credit Union National Association's (CUNA) Center for Personal Finance editors offer these planning steps to help your teenager find the best path to a career:
* Self assess. Taking a good, hard look at personal interests and strengths is essential to making the right educational and career choices. Barbara Cooke, M.A., author of “Parent’s Guide to College and Careers: How to Help, Not Hover,” encourages parents to help their teenagers examine their skills, values, and personality preferences by asking: Where are my skills used in the economy? What additional education or work experience would I need to get the job I really want? The federal government’s online Occupational Outlook Handbook can be an excellent resource for this step. * Consider all options. Perhaps a four-year college education followed by a graduate degree is not the way to go for your child. There are plenty of other roads to fulfilling and financially rewarding careers, including military service, technical schools, and apprenticeships. * "Try out" a profession. One way is through an entry-level internship, such as the one Rachel described for CUNA’s online youth magazine Googolplex. Her internship gave her an overview of the entire graphic design field. "I learned much more about what goes on in the design world," she said, "from how clients are handled and the making of proposals to the actual design work and programs used. It's good to know what you want to do, but I think it is even more important to know and understand all of your options." * Delay a decision. For some, the best decision a high school graduate can make is to put off a commitment for a while. A “gap year” after high school can be a time of maturation, reflection and growth that eases the transition to college and the world of work. Many students use a gap year to clarify interests and establish focus before going on to school.
"You're building a resume before you hit college," Holly Bull, president of The Center for Interim Programs, LLC, a New Jersey-based consulting firm, told CUNA’s Home & Family Finance magazine. "I've had students who have taught in schools, acquired language fluency, got experience in business...this is a very practical accrual of skills and recommendations and references that can actually help them get jobs down the line." Getting insight and experience can be just as useful as academic knowledge. Said Cooke, “Even though the word on the street is that a master’s degree is the new bachelor’s degree, most young people need to figure out an initial career path and get some entry-level work experience before signing on for more student loan debt.”

HandFF Radio presents fraud mortgage protection options

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WASHINGTON (5/14/10)--Sunday's H&FF Radio presents answers and options for consumers concerned about financial scams, homeowners unable to keep up with mortgage payments, and credit card users who need to know the new rules. This broadcast was taped live at the Georgia Credit Union Affiliates annual conference held May 7 in Savannah. 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. 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:
* "Financial Fraud, Scams, and How to Protect Yourself." Kathy Igou, vice president, risk management, Georgia's Own Credit Union, Atlanta, covers the biggest fraud threats, how bad guys are getting so much confidential information, and three things consumers can do to protect themselves. * "Key Points About Mortgages." Richard Reeve, certified counselor, Consumer Credit Counseling Service, Savannah, Ga., discusses late or missed mortgage payment do’s and don’ts, ads for loan modification offers, and what to do if you no longer can afford your home. * "The CARD Act: New Rules for Credit Card Issuers. How will these affect you?" Skye Tyler, education coordinator, Consumer Credit Counseling Service, Savannah, Ga., provides information about retroactive interest rate increases, minimum monthly payments, overlimit and other fees.
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. For more information, read “Crooks Use High-Tech Scams to Commit Fraud” and view the “Tough Times Series: Refinancing Your Mortgage” and “Guard Your Plastic Cards” videos in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Home buyer tax credits Military gets extra year

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BALTIMORE (5/12/10)--Although the $8,000 federal tax credit for first-time home buyers ended April 30, members of the military and certain other federal employees have another year to take advantage of this housewarming gift from Uncle Sam (BaltimoreSun.com April 30). Congress approved the extension to accommodate service members who may have missed the window of opportunity to claim the tax credit due to being posted overseas (Atlantarealestateforum.com April 26). Although this is great news for military families, understand and follow the rules:
* Who qualifies? You must be a member of the uniformed services of the U.S. military, a member of the Foreign Service of the U.S., or an employee of the intelligence community. In addition, you must have served on official extended duty--outside the U.S.--for 90 days or more at any time after Dec. 31, 2008 and before May 1, 2010. Only one spouse is required to be overseas to qualify for the extension, according to the Internal Revenue Service. * What is the deadline? You must sign a sales contract by April 30, 2011, and you must settle and close on the home by June 30, 2011. * Does this apply to a vacation or second home? No. The tax credit applies only to a principal residence in the U.S. * Is the extension only for first-time home buyers? No; qualified service members may take advantage of the $6,500 repeat home buyer tax credit. * Will I lose the credit if I sell the house within a few years? If you have to sell your house because you received government orders for extended duty service, the requirement to repay the credit for moving out of the house within three years is waived.
For more information, visit federalhousingtaxcredit.com and search for “military.”

IDAs have helped some avoid foreclosure says study

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WASHINGTON (5/10/10)--Individual development accounts (IDAs) have helped some consumers avoid foreclosure, according to a joint study released in April and sponsored by the Corporation for Enterprise Development and the Urban Institute, with support from NeighborhoodWorks America and the Ford Foundation. "Weathering the Storm: Have IDAs helped low-income homebuyers avoid foreclosure" tracked more than 800 homebuyers in 17 states who used IDAs to purchase homes between 1999 and 2007. When compared with other homebuyers purchasing homes in the same communities over the same period, IDA homebuyers generally obtained preferable mortgage loan terms and were two to three times less likely to have lost their homes to foreclosure. While 32% of the homebuyers in the study were white, 40% black, and 20% Hispanic, three-quarters of the participants were women. Only 3.1% (25 out of 803) entered foreclosure by April of 2009, less than one-half to one-third of the foreclosure rates among other low- and moderate-income homebuyers, the study says. The study adds that IDA participation may reduce foreclosures by improving the loan terms obtained by IDA homebuyers, may improve understanding about the commitment because of an IDA educational requirement, and may provide homebuyers with more time to repair their credit histories or build their savings. Credit Union National Association center for personal finance (CPF) editors explain that an IDA is a matched savings account that enables low-income American families to save, build assets and enter the financial mainstream. “IDAs supplement the savings of low-income households with matching funds drawn from a variety of private and public sources. Participants' savings are usually matched at a 1:3 or 1:2 rate,” says CPF Vice President Jim Hanson. Individual and matching deposits are never co-mingled; matching dollars are kept in a separate, parallel account. When the IDA accountholder has accumulated enough savings and matching funds to purchase the asset (usually over two to four years) and has completed a required financial education course, payments from the IDA are made directly to the asset provider to complete the asset purchase. Since Congress passed the Assets for Independence Act in 1998, more than 6,000 individuals have used IDA funds to help finance a home. And beyond mortgages, more than 50,000 people have participated in more than 500 IDA programs nationwide. For more housing information, read “Pay Off Your Mortgage: Sooner or Later?” and view the “Refinancing Your Mortgage” video in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

HandFF Radio updates foreclosures collection laws

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WASHINGTON (5/7/10)--Sunday's H&FF Radio covers the difference in pay and benefits between union and non-union immigrant workers, options and rights consumers have with debt collection, the latest government foreclosure initiatives for lenders and mortgage companies, and new survey results about money management. 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. 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:
* "Unions and Upward Mobility for Immigrant Workers." John Schmitt, senior economist, Center for Economic and Policy Research, Washington, D.C., discusses how immigrant workers in unions are likely to earn more than their nonunion counterparts, and to have health insurance benefits and pension plans. * "Use Debt-Collection Laws to Protect Your Rights." Gerri Detweiler, consumer debt expert and co-author of "Debt Collection Answers," Sarasota, Fla., describes the options consumers have when they believe their legal rights have been violated. * "Can Washington Stem the Tide of Foreclosures? II" Deborah Goldberg, director, Hurricane Relief Project, National Fair Housing Alliance, Washington, D.C., provides updates on government directives put into action by mortgage companies and other lenders. * "Survey Reveals Silver Lining to Financial Crisis." Gail Cunningham, vice president, public relations, National Foundation for Credit Counseling, Wichita Falls, Texas, covers data about spending, saving, acceptable reasons for defaulting on a mortgage, where to turn for financial advice, and more.
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. For more information, read “New Hope and Help for Struggling Homeowners” and “Debt Settlement Sets a Costly Trap” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Include Fluffy and Fido in your budget

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MADISON, Wis. (5/5/10)--Many pet owners consider a cat or dog part of the family, yet haven’t included the cost of ownership in the household budget. An animal can live with you for many years. Consumer Reports Money Blog (April 19) and the Credit Union National Association's (CUNA) Center for Personal Finance recommend that pet lovers prepare for the price tag attached to obtaining and caring for an animal. Whether you purchase from a breeder or adopt from a shelter, you can expect to spend anywhere from less than $100 to more than $1,000 to acquire your new best friend. Even if you get a pet for free, there are significant costs for feeding and vet bills. To ensure that Fido or Fluffy is well cared for, include these items in your budget:
* Basic supplies include food bowls, leashes, collars, nail trimmers, brushes, ID tags, cages and carriers, and litter boxes. You typically purchase these items once or twice during a pet’s lifetime. Costs will vary by type and size of animal, and often can be obtained for less at discount stores. You’ll pay more for longer lasting, quality tools; ask established pet owners when it’s worth spending more. Plan to replenish disposable items such as litter and dog waste bags monthly, unless you buy in bulk. * Food and treat costs will vary with the size, age, and health of your pet. Feeding a cat can cost as little as $4 a week, while a large dog can eat $25 worth of kibble. Based on your veterinarian’s recommendation, determine the daily amount of food required and how much it costs per month to provide your pet. * Medical care is another guaranteed expense. Spaying or neutering is a one-time cost. A yearly checkup, including routine shots, is standard for dogs and cats. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), it costs an average of $150 for veterinary care every year for a cat and $400 to $780 for a dog, again depending on size, age, and health. Pet insurance can help cover some bills; shop around for rates and read the fine print about what’s actually covered. * Services such as grooming, obedience training, dog walking, and boarding when you’re out of town are additional expenses to account for in your budget. Get references from friends and your vet; contact providers in your area to compare one-time and recurring costs. Remember to include any local licensing fees.
Check out the ASPCA’s estimated pet-ownership costs, not just for dogs and cats but rabbits, guinea pigs, other small mammals, birds, and fish. These are average costs, and may be higher or lower in your community.