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Cover your new college student with proper insurance

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WASHINGTON (7/31/12)--Parents of new college students are likely having a whirlwind summer. Between shopping for dorm furniture and attending new-student orientation weekends, it's a challenge to prepare for the big move-in day.

Don't wait until you're waving goodbye to your new freshman to consider whether he or she will be financially protected at school. Cover your bases now by evaluating your insurance plans and ensuring that your child has the right coverage for life at college (Kiplinger Magazine August).

Assess your student's options for:

  • Homeowners insurance. If your student will live in a dorm, your policy will likely cover his or her possessions there. Be aware that your insurer may cap college coverage at 10% of the possessions limit on your policy. Look into renters insurance if your student will be living in an off-campus apartment--these policies are often inexpensive.
  • Auto insurance. Students attending college more than 100 miles away from home without a car can mean big savings for parents. Insurers likely will reduce your premium, but you still can preserve coverage for when they are home for breaks. If your student takes a car to campus, your premium could change depending on the school's location.
  • Health insurance. Skip the school's student health plan if possible--these plans often charge high fees and offer limited care options. Most insurance plans provide coverage for children until they turn 26, so your son or daughter can remain on your policy.
If your child attends college out of state, this option can be tricky for parents with a regional plan and small physicians' network. Contact your insurance company before your student heads off to school to find out which benefits will be available on campus. If the coverage won't be sufficient, look into individual health plans through national providers or a high-deductible policy combined with a health savings account.

For more information, read "What Do You Mean That's Not Covered? FAQs About Homeowners Insurance" and "Review Insurance to Ensure Proper Coverage" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

HandFF Radio Back-to-school advice for college students

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WASHINGTON (7/27/12)--Sunday's Home & Family Finance Radio program covers college financial topics, including costs of attendance, prepaid-card options, and access to credit score information.

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:

  • "Cost and Value of College Education." John Buhrmann, financial analyst, Country Financial Services, Bloomington, Ill., discusses college costs and resulting debt.
  • "Prepaid for College?" John Kiernan, CardHub.com, Arlington, Va., shares pros and cons of using prepaid cards to cover college expenses.
  • "Credit Score Ignorance." Gail Cunningham, vice president of membership and public relations, National Foundation for Credit Counseling, Washington, D.C., provides tips for taking advantage of free credit score information.
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 "Accurate Credit Report Does You Good" and "Private Student Loans Can Help Fill the Gap," and watch the "Getting a Student Loan" and "Build Your Best Credit Score" videos in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Smart car shoppers can drive a bargain

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NEW YORK (7/24/12)--Even though auto makers have less incentive now to cut new-car prices than in previous years, there are deals to be had if you look--and shop--carefully (Smartmoney.com July 9).

There are several reasons that bargains are harder to come by. Consumer demand is high; sales are up 15% over last year, with Chrysler Group and General Motors reporting sales increases of 20% and 16% respectively. Ford Motor sales are up 7%. Auto makers have been increasing production, slowly, which means rising sales are keeping pace with what dealers have on lots. Absent excess inventory, don't expect huge price cuts.

A smart shopper still can find bargains:

  • Favorable financing. Credit is more available and financing deals are enticing. Check first with the credit union and get preapproved for a loan before visiting the car lot.
  • Attractive leases. With used-car values at relatively high levels, manufacturers tend to drop lease prices because they factor in a vehicle's expected resale price. Know your rights and responsibilities before leasing. Visit the Federal Reserve website for more. (See the resource link).
  • Model redesigns. If price is more important to you than style, shop for cars that are due for redesigns in the 2013 model year, such as Chevrolet Malibu and Impala. You'll have more room to negotiate the best deal.
If you're in the market for a used car, don't expect huge savings. It's expected that used-car prices will continue to remain relatively high through the end of the year, despite a slight decline in the past few months because of higher inventories, falling gas prices and competitive manufacturer incentives for new cars (USNews.rankingsandreviews.com June 19).

For more information, read "Intriguing New Small Cars for 2012" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

HandFF Radio addresses jobs for returning veterans

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WASHINGTON (7/20/12)--Sunday's Home & Family Finance Radio program provided advice to help military veterans return to the work force.

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:

  • "Coming Home Jobless." Dennis May, hiring manager, Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington, D.C., and Susan Fallon, vice president of business development, Monster, New York, describe the job market for returning veterans and strategies for getting veterans back into the work force.
  • "Back to Work." Ed Tobon, director of recruiting, Ryder, Miami, offers guidance for veterans looking for employment upon returning home.
  • "Finding Success." Wade Franklin, U.S. Navy veteran and franchise store owner, United Parcel Service of America, Clarendon, Va., discusses his own experience making the transition from a career in military service to a new opportunity as a small-business owner.
  • "Serving Veterans." David McIntyre, president, TriWest Healthcare Alliance, Phoenix, shares information about helpful services for the military community.
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 "Database Will Track Financial Scams Targeting Military" and "Get Back in the Game After Losing a Job," and listen to "Personal Finance and Our Military" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Define your retirement before you set the date

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NEW YORK (7/17/12)--A new study from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College indicates that Americans approaching retirement will be working longer than their parents (SmartMoney July 9).

But, before you decide on the date of your retirement, take some time to define the look of your retirement. To help you envision it, think about the intangible benefits you get from work--such as routine, camaraderie, a sense of fulfillment and being needed. What will it take to stay engaged and energized once that's gone?

Having this picture in mind makes it easier to decide on your retirement date. As you do, avoid the five common mistakes rookie retirees often make:

1.  Working longer than you need to. If you're financially ready to retire, you might think that an extra year will pad your earnings and give you more security. As you do your calculations remember that one more year of work is also one year closer to the inevitable deterioration of your mind and body.

2.  Retiring debt without doing the math. In a perfect world, you'll retire debt-free. This is a sensible goal, but take care. Today's interest rates are ultra-low. When you retire and have less earned income, will you be able to qualify for a new loan if you should need one--and at such great terms? Some preretirees are doing the previously unthinkable: obtaining and cashing out a new fixed-rate long-term mortgage for as much as the lender will allow. Parking the extra cash gained from such a refinance into a safe account provides a cushion for future expenses and emergencies.

3.  Putting off Social Security benefits to age 70. Conventional wisdom says this is usually the best choice, but think through the ramifications:

  • You must live to age 80 or so for the larger Social Security benefit to make up for all the postponed payments. Estimate how long you will live by visiting ssa.gov and searching "Life Expectancy Calculator." Check out a few other online calculators to get an accurate picture.
  • Waiting to take Social Security means no monthly checks for the duration. Are you prepared for this change--after earning a regular paycheck for about 40 years? A Social Security check provides regular, predictable payments that help smooth your transition into retirement.
  • Unless you have other, sufficient income, living off of savings instead of Social Security means having less money to leave your heirs, for your own emergencies, or to invest if the opportunity arises.
4.  Being too frugal. Make sure you haven't set yourself up to have more money than time left to enjoy it. If traveling is important to you, will you have the eyes, ears, mind, and knees to enjoy the trips? Likewise, before you undertake expensive home improvements, make sure they're going to benefit you, not just some future owner.

5.  Thinking you need to leave a lot to the kids. our descendants will appreciate any money you leave them, but, if you live to your mid-to-late 80s, your children will be at least middle aged and your grandchildren could be adults. Consider the value of giving them money now, when they probably really need it and when you'll be able to watch them enjoy it.

For more information, read "Four Key Steps to 'No-Regrets' Retirement" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

HandFF Radio talks productivity cashless future travel

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WASHINGTON (7/13/12)--Sunday's Home & Family Finance Radio program anticipated the end of money--and told how to find more of it.

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:

  • "Personal Productivity Secrets." Maura Thomas, Austin, Texas, a 20-year personal productivity leader, and founder and chief trainer of Regain Your Time.com, talks about managing the details of life and work.
  • "The End of Money." David Wolman, Portland, Ore., is a contributing editor at Wired and author of "The End of Money," described by one reviewer as "a tidy history of money and its discontents, [as well as] a travel story." In the book and in this conversation, Wolman considers the future of cash and how it will affect your wallet.
  • "Find More Money." Susan Tiffany, certified credit union financial counselor and director of consumer periodicals, Credit Union National Association (CUNA), Madison, Wis., suggests ways to discover money in your budget for saving and paying off debt.
  • "Too Late to Travel and Save This Summer?" Susan Tanzman, owner and president of Martin's Travel and Tours, Los Angeles, offers ideas for cost-effective summer travel.
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 the "July Financial Fitness Challenge—Find More Money" and "Make Tracks: Traveling by Train for Your Next Trip" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Use caution buying foreclosed house

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McLEAN, Va. (7/10/12)--Average U.S. mortgage rates last week stayed at the lowest level since long-term mortgages began in the 1950s. The historic rates have helped with a modest housing recovery (USAToday.com June 26).

With myriad houses for sale, some options will be in foreclosure. You might be able to land a good deal by purchasing a foreclosed home, but money saved on home price isn't everything. If you're not careful, you could dish out more than you budgeted for in remodeling and home repairs. A foreclosure sale is very different from a regular house sale.

Take care if you're thinking about buying a foreclosed property:

  • Hire a good inspector. Just as you'd make the sale of a "regular" house conditional on a thorough home inspection, do the same with foreclosed properties. An inspection will cost several hundred dollars but is well worth it. Although the sale may be "as is," you'll learn what you're up against. If possible, be there to accompany the inspector.
  • Estimate repair costs. Use the inspector's written report to get accurate estimates from contractors bidding on major repair work. Once you know how much money you'll have to sink into repairs to bring the foreclosed house up to par, you'll be able to make an educated decision about whether buying a particular foreclosed house is worth it.
  • Be true to yourself. You might be handy, but be realistic about how much touch-up work you can manage. Even people with home improvement backgrounds could be taking on too much with foreclosed properties. Just having time to complete the needed work can be a deciding factor.
  • Find an agent specializing in foreclosures. Real estate agents specializing in foreclosures often have relationships with the lenders listing the properties. They also may know of listings that haven't been made public yet, according to Bankrate.com.
  • Get preapproved at your credit union. Whether you're purchasing a foreclosed home or another type of property, your credit union lender can help by approving you for financing in advance.
For more information, read "Know When to Buy a House" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

HandFF Radio profiles first Peace Corps director Title 9

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WASHINGTON (7/6/12)--Sunday's Home & Family Finance Radio program featured two well-known guests from the political realm.

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:

  • "A Good Man." Mark Shriver, author, "A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver," Bethesda, Md., discusses his best-selling book about his father, Robert Sargent Shriver, Jr., creator of the Peace Corps.
  • "Title 9." Birch Bayh, former U.S. senator from Indiana, now living in Easton, Md., explains how he became known as the father of Title 9--which forbids sex discrimination in all university student services and academic programs--what it meant to his career and how he believes the law has affected women in the U.S.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at the Credot 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.

Leasing popularity rebounds

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MADISON, Wis. (7/3/12)--New car sales for 2013 are expected to increase 30% (moneyland.time.com June 18).  Since most people can't afford to pay cash for a car, most of those consumers will be deciding whether to buy or lease. Almost 20% of today's buyers choose to lease a car rather than take out a loan (kndo.com May 30).

When you lease, you are paying for use of the car. The leasing fee is determined by a set number of miles and/or a period of time. After your lease ends, you turn the car back in and have to make new transportation arrangements.

When you take out a car loan, you make monthly payments until you've paid for the car. These monthly payments are usually larger than monthly lease payments, but you have equity in the vehicle.

According to Livonia, Mich.-based credit union Catholic Vantage Financial, here are some things to consider when evaluating a new car and how to finance it:

  • Driving predictability. If it's hard to know how often and how far you are driving, leasing probably isn't the best option for you. If you drive more than the miles you paid for, you will be assessed a mileage penalty.
  • Financial standing. Owning might not be right for you if you have a bad credit score or if you will struggle to make higher monthly payments.
  • Repairs. Repairs and maintenance are necessary expenses on any car. Look at your finances and decide if you can afford to fix a car on top of your monthly payments.
  • Changing needs. If you're considering starting a family, leasing a fancy sports car isn't practical. Instead, think about investing in a family-friendly SUV. Match the vehicle you select to your lifestyle and driving needs.
  • Personal preference. If you like to change up your style frequently, look into leasing. If you prefer to own your car and the equity that comes with it, buying could be the better option.
Your credit union loan officer can help you evaluate a dealer's finance or lease offer and discuss alternatives. And if you want more information or need help deciding which financing method is better for you, check out the Home & Family Finance Resource Center calculator "Should I Purchase or Lease" and listen to "Auto Financing 101."