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Is that computer on campus covered by insurance

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KANSAS CITY (8/31/09)--Even if your son or daughter already is packed up and shipped off to college, check to make sure he or she is properly insured. Also, understand how this significant move away from home affects your own insurance policies (The Kansas.com Aug. 19). Use this checklist to make sure you and your student are covered:
* Does the student have a copy of health insurance cards? The student should have a plan for obtaining referrals and approvals--if necessary--before visiting a doctor or clinic. If the student will be seeking treatment outside a provider network, your insurer may charge out-of-network prices. Understand the level of benefits that are provided. * Does the student require a student health insurance plan? This may be a good option if she is older than the maximum coverage age, or if she is outside the network service area. Check with the school to see if the college has contracted with an insurer that offers student health insurance plans. If so, expect limited benefits and more exclusions such as treatment for injuries associated with alcohol or drug use. * Does the student need renter’s insurance? Review your homeowner’s insurance policy to see if the computer, other electronics, moped, bicycle, books, furniture and clothing are covered on campus. If not, purchase a renter’s insurance policy immediately. Young renters often mistakenly believe the landlord has insurance to cover theft, fire, tornados, and other disasters. A landlord’s policy does not cover the renter’s personal property. * Do you have a detailed list of the student’s possessions--including serial/model numbers and purchase prices? Consider using photos or videotape. Keep this list and photos in a safe deposit box or fireproof safe off-site, or scan the items and store digitally, and keep a backup at a remote site. It will come in handy if you need to file an insurance claim. Visit knowyourstuff.org. * Have you notified the auto insurer of any changes? Notify the insurer if the vehicle will be kept or garaged at a different location; if you don’t, lack of disclosure could jeopardize a future claim (Insure.com Aug. 19). If the student won’t have a car on campus and won’t be driving your vehicle as often, ask if your rate can be reduced. And ask whether your insurer has discounts for maintaining good grades.
For more information, read “Have ‘the Talk’ Before Students Leave for Campus” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

How new credit card law affects you now

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McLEAN, Va. (8/24/09)--Most of the significant provisions of the new credit card legislation signed into law in May by President Barack Obama don’t kick in until Feb. 2010, but some new provisions kick in now (USA Today Aug. 20). As of Aug. 20, credit card issuers must give you 45 days notice before they change your interest rate or fees. And that notice has to include a brief statement telling you about your right to cancel the account. In addition, credit card issuers and creditors that offer other open-end credit must mail your statement 21 days before the due date, or they won’t be able to count your payment as late. More extensive changes are coming in February, including rate increase restrictions on existing credit card debt, how issuers apply your credit card payments, and how issuers market cards to college students. Be advised, though, that the new law does not require issuers to warn you about rate increases if your payment is 60 days or more late, or about credit-line reductions. A study released Aug. 20 by Fair Isaac reveals that 8.5 million consumers’ credit scores dropped from October 2008 through April as a result of an average reduction of $5,100 in available credit. When a lender lowers your credit limit, your overall use rate increases, thereby lowering your credit score. Your credit score is used to determine your interest rate. For more information, read “FAQ: Credit Scores” in Plan It: Retire Ready Toolkit.

HandFF Radio guest How to get your bucks in a row

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WASHINGTON (8/21/09)--Sunday’s H&FF Radio show includes financial experts offering timely consumer tips including gaining control over household cash flow, spotting a “deal” that really isn’t, outsmarting investment fraud, and buying a used car--with caution. 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:
* “Get Your Bucks in a Row: Gain Control Over Household Cash Flow,” with Sue Perry, deputy editor, ShopSmart magazine, sister publication of Consumer Reports, New York; * “When is a Deal NOT a Deal?” with Madeleine Greene, accredited financial counselor, co-author of “Best Little Money Book,” and retired family and consumer science professor, University of Maryland, College Park; * “Tricks of the Trade: Outsmarting Investment Fraud,” with John Gannon, president, FINRA Investor Education Foundation, Washington, D.C.; * “The Used Car Buyer’s CSI,” with Larry Gamache, director of communications, CARFAX, Centreville, Va.; and * Your Questions Answered: Save money on college textbooks; when to get free credit reports; and overdraft protection 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; 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 the country worldwide. For more information, read “Avoid Falling Prey to a Ponzi Scheme” in Plan It: Retire Ready Toolkit.

Small business Tweet it out

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WASHINGTON (8/19/09)--If you’re a small business owner, you now can get the word out about your business by embracing the same tool job seekers use to connect with potential employers. Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that allows you to drive your brand and communicate with customers in ways you may never have imagined (The Washington Post Aug. 12). Twitter has been around since 2006, but only in the past year have businesses--from Dell to mom and pop--jumped on board. One small business owner opened a mobile food cart in San Francisco, and among his friends in line he noticed a stranger. How had he found the location? Twitter. The young entrepreneur signed up for a Twitter account and now lets his more than 5,400 followers know the location of his mobile cart, as well as the flavors of the day (The New York Times July 22). Today, small businesses outnumber the big ones like Dell, Starbucks and Comcast on Twitter. It’s more useful for small businesses that typically get more than half of their customers through word of mouth. Here’s why:
* No ad budget? Twitter is free. For many small businesses, it’s the sole means of advertising. * No time to set up and maintain a website? Twitter is far easier to set up and update. * Your workspace doesn’t include a computer? You can tweet from your smart phone. * Your customers aren’t on Twitter? Small-town business owners use Twitter’s services to stay connected and get useful business information on taxes, marketing, and start-up tips.
There’s a wealth of information on the Internet for effective twittering. Type “small business” + “twitter” + “tips” in your browser to get started. It takes about three to six months to get a good-sized following. For more information, read “Keep Passwords Strong, Secret and Safe” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Theres still time to find money for college

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McLEAN, Va. (8/17/09)--If you’re in the process of packing up your son or daughter for college and worried about how you’re going to pay for it, here’s good news: There are still sources of funding available (USA Today Aug. 11). The bad news: College prices continue to rise. The average cost of attending a public four-year university for the 2008-2009 school year was $6,585--up 6.4% from the previous year. And if you’re attending a private school, expect an average price tag of $25,143 (collegeboard.com). If you multiply those numbers by four years and figure in inflation, you’re laying a lot of money on the table. Consider these options for financial assistance:
* Federal student loans. This should be the first place you look for loans. To apply for a federal student loan for the 2009-2010 school year, you must submit a federal application for financial aid (FAFSA) by June 30, 2010 at midnight. (Note: the deadlines for your state or college may be different from the federal deadline--check fafsa.ed.gov/before003a.htm for details.) You can receive grants that do not have to be repaid, work-study, or Stafford loans--either subsidized or unsubsidized, or both. Full-time dependent students can receive up to $5,500 in loans their first year, and the amount increases for second- and third-year students. You can find the FAFSA form, as well as more information, at fafsa.ed.gov. * PLUS loans. Parent PLUS loans are federally guaranteed loans carrying a fixed rate of 8.5%--a little higher rate than some private loans, but you won’t have to worry about the interest rate rising. Securing a PLUS loan does not require a high credit score; however, a foreclosure, bankruptcy, or debt more than 90 days overdue could disqualify you. * Private loans. Although many lenders have tightened their standards, private loans are still available for students--after you’ve exhausted all other sources of aid. Credit unions generally offer loans at lower rates than for-profit lenders--ask your credit union loan professionals for more information. Further, a group called Credit Union Student Choice works with more than 80 credit unions to make private loans available for college students. Visit studentchoice.org for details and to view a list of participating credit unions and colleges. * Financial aid. Although most financial aid packages are awarded in the spring, if you have suffered any financial setbacks--such as a job lay-off--you may be able to appeal to the university’s financial aid office. Most colleges can take the current year’s income and assets into consideration.
Your university’s financial aid office also may let you set up an extended-payment plan. With this option, you can pay your tuition bill in monthly installments, instead of one large payment. To set up a plan, you may have to pay a fee of $50 to $100. For more information, read “Tough Times Series: Getting Student Loans During the Credit Crunch” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Young adults Earn and keep your best credit grade

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WASHINGTON (8/14/09)--Unlike high school or college grades, a credit score is a grade you earn and carry with you from youth to old age. Sunday’s H&FF Radio show line-up includes a tutorial for young adult students and workers about all the areas, beyond credit pricing, affected by the three-digit credit score. 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:
* “Earn and Keep Your Best Credit ‘Grade,’” Susan Tiffany, director, personal finance information for adults, CUNA Center for Personal Finance, Madison, Wis.; * “Reduce Debt, Reduce Stress,” Gerri Detweiler, credit expert and author, Credit.com, San Francisco; * “One-Income Household: Disaster Management When One Income Suddenly Disappears,” Susan Reynolds, freelance editor and author, Boston; * “Motorist Assurance Program: Needed Protection for Car Owners, and Get Your Brakes Checked Free During Brake Safety Awareness Week,” Barry Soltz, president, Motorist Assurance Program, Riverwoods, Ill.; and * “Save Money Buying Online With Special Discount Codes,” Barry Boone, CEO, CurrentCodes.com, Tulsa, Okla.
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 the country worldwide. For more information, read “Earn and Keep Your Best Credit ‘Grade’” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Word to the wise taxpayer Beware third-party fraud

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WASHINGTON (8/12/09)--Recent successful federal prosecutions should serve as a warning to all taxpayers: Hiring someone to prepare your tax return does not absolve you of responsibility for its accuracy and truth. Last month the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) made an example of James Otto Price III, a Jacksonville, Fla.-tax preparer who pleaded guilty to claiming a first-time homebuyer tax credit for a client who was not eligible. Price could receive a sentence of up to three years in jail and/or a fine of up to $250,000. “The kicker here is that this guy’s client is not off the hook,” pointed out Jim Hanson, vice president of the Credit Union National Association’s Center for Personal Finance. “Whether you prepare your own tax return or hire someone else to do it, you are personally responsible for the information you provide. And false claims can make you liable for penalties and interest in addition to back taxes.” CUNA’s Center for Personal Finance editors offered these tips for getting sound tax preparation assistance:
* Hire a professional with a proven track record. Look for an enrolled agent, certified public accountant (CPA), or tax attorney. Only these professionals are empowered to represent you before the IRS in all matters, not just audits that they prepared and signed. Another indication of competency is affiliation with a professional organization requiring members to meet continuing education standards and follow a code of ethics. Check with the Better Business Bureau, your state’s board of CPA accountancy, your state’s bar association, or the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility to see if there is any record of problems with tax preparers you’re considering. * Shun preparers who promise to get you a larger refund than their competitors can. Tax returns done correctly should arrive at roughly the same results, no matter who does the calculations. * Review the preparer’s work thoroughly before signing your return. Make sure that your identifying information is correct and that nothing is left blank. Never sign a return before it’s filled in and then sign only in nonerasable ink. * Take advantage of free assistance only from trained volunteers. You can receive free tax preparation assistance through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA, for taxpayers with “low- to moderate-income,” which is generally $49,000 and less), Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE, for those aged 60 or older), and the Armed Forces Tax Council (AFTC, for members of the military and their families). Qualified volunteers with these programs are trained to help taxpayers identify and legitimately claim special credits, such as Earned Income Tax Credit. (Bear in mind that only paid tax preparers are required by law to sign returns that they have worked on.)
For more information, consult these articles at www.irs.gov: “Tips for Choosing a Tax Preparer” and “Free Tax Return Preparation For You by Volunteers.”

Cash for Clunkers to keep on rolling

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WASHINGTON (8/10/09)--Buyer response to the Cash for Clunkers program exceeded expectations--the appropriated $1 billion disappeared in just a few weeks--and legislators have just approved an additional $2 billion to keep the program rolling. The refueled funds are expected to last through Labor Day (Washington Post Aug. 7). Cash for Clunkers, the government-funded Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS), began July 1, and funds were expected to last until Nov. 1. Under the program, consumers can trade in old cars for new--not used--more fuel-efficient models and receive a $3,500 or $4,500 voucher. The value depends on the mileage improvement of the new vehicle. To participate, your trade-in must meet specific requirements. You can find the most detailed requirements at cars.gov, the only official government site for the CARS program. July new-car sales were the highest the industry has seen since August 2008 (msnbc.com Aug. 3). Car dealers, sitting on piles of inventory, are thrilled consumers are reacting to the program. The vouchers offer a good deal to many, but consumer advocates are encouraging potential buyers to think carefully about the costs of owning new car. Ask yourself several questions before buying:
* Can you afford the new-car payments? Because of the recession and high unemployment, some buyers may sign a contract they don’t have the money for. * Will your insurance costs change? Keep in mind that they may go up or down, depending on the new model. * Do you know whether the new car you’re considering is reliable? ConsumerReports.org has a section dedicated to the Cash for Clunkers program. Find a list on its site of “Recommended cars that qualify for a voucher”--models that meet program requirements and also score well in safety and reliability testing. * Are you dealing with a reputable CARS program dealer? Scam artists already have created bogus websites to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers. A site requesting your name, address, account details, Social Security number, or other personal information for voucher registration is likely a fraud. The CARS program requires no pre-registration and will never request information from individual consumers--all transactions go through the dealer (FTC July 28). Find registered dealers in your area using the dealer locator at cars.gov. * What is the trade-in value of your old car? If the trade-in value is more than the CARS voucher amount, take that instead. You cannot receive both the voucher and the trade-in value for your vehicle. Edmunds.com has a list of cars with values less than $4,500--check if your trade-in is on the list. * Have you done your car-buying research? You can find new car-buying advice on ConsumerReports.org and by searching other auto sites, such as Edmunds.com, kbb.com, or JDPower.com. If you decide to make a purchase, gather pricing information before hitting the dealerships. And, see the professionals at your credit union for assistance. They can help you evaluate your financial situation, pre-approve you for a car loan, and answer any questions you may have.
For more information, read “Understand Clunkers Program--Vouchers for Fuel-Friendly Cars” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Tips to deal with frozen or cutback HELOCs

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WASHINGTON (8/7/09)--The Federal Reserve has released a guide to help homeowners deal with home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) that have been frozen or reduced because of the economy. Its "5 Tips for Dealing with a Home Equity Line Freeze or Reduction" explains consumers' rights and lenders' responsibilities when credit lines are reduced. It also provides information for those seeking to have a credit line reinstated. The tips explain that lenders can lawfully reduce or limit a consumer's line of credit regardless of whether the consumer has made timely payments. However, the lender must send a written notice of the action no later than three business days after the action goes into effect. The notice must include information about any other changes to the HELOC. The notice should include specific reasons for the modification ot the HELOC's terms. The most common reasons are a decline the home's value or a change in the borrower's financial circumstances. Understanding why the amount is frozen may help you take steps toward reinstating the original amount. For example: the lender may not be aware of significant home improvements that increase the home's value. If financial circumstances have worsened, look for ways to rebuild the credit rating. Protect your credit history by acting responsibly and contacting the lender immediately if you have questions about a freeze or reduction. Lenders must reinstate the credit privileges when conditions that caused the freeze or reduction no longer exist. The five tips include:
* Read the notice your lender sends you. * Call your lender. * Learn why your lender froze or reduced your HELOC. * Ask your lender how to have your HELOC reinstated. * Remember that your lender can impose fees for reinstating the HELOC.
For more details, use the link.

How new credit card law affects young adults

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WASHINGTON (8/7/09)--Cardholders can expect sweeping changes soon from new credit card legislation, but if you’re a young adult, pay special attention. Sunday’s H&FF Radio show line-up includes a credit card expert who explains why young adults need to understand how the new law affects them. 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:
* “What Young Adults Must Know About the New Credit Card Law,” with Dr. Mary Beth Pinto, marketing professor and credit card researcher, Sam and Irene Black School of Business, Penn State Erie, The Berhend College, Erie, Pa.; * “Sustenance and Hope for Caregivers of Elderly Parents,” with Gloria Barsamian, retired social worker, Burlington, Mass.; * “Cash for Clunkers,” with Ellen Martin, public affairs specialist, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, D.C.; and * Your Questions Answered.
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 “Students Face Credit Card Debt” in Money Mix.

Parents give themselves grade of B-

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BALTIMORE (8/5/09)--Parents gave themselves a B- for their knowledge of the importance of saving, setting goals, smart spending, and investing--not exactly a vote of confidence for such an important set of life skills (troweprice.com July 21). Parents saw room for improvement in their understanding of basic money concepts--and how they could better equip their kids with financial smarts--based on T. Rowe Price’s Parents, Kids & Money Survey, released in July. The nationwide study revealed that 60% of moms and dads thought family financial discussions don’t happen often enough. More than half worry that they could be doing more to raise financially competent children. Stuart Ritter, a financial planner with T. Rowe Price, stated in a client news release from his company that the survey confirms parents want to impart sound financial values to their kids, but don’t always have the tools or feel knowledgeable enough to teach them. While the current economy certainly is a catalyst to encourage parents to have more money conversations with their children, the survey showed that more than half of parents believe they have to reinforce money lessons because their kids quickly forget them. So how can parents keep those money talks fresh and frequent? Ritter suggests using regular occurrences such as receiving birthday money, trips to the grocery store, or balancing a checkbook as ideal times for a teachable moment. Another opportunity is when children ask for more money after their allowance runs out. Using a piggy bank is an easy way to teach kids about money and set a good example about the importance of saving. A majority of parents reported that the decision to take money out is shared, while nearly 30% said that decision is up to the child. T. Rowe Price created a new Family Center at troweprice.com/trowefamilycenter. The center features real-life stories from parents about how they are taking financial lessons they learned at an early age and passing them on to their children. For more information, read “Tough Times Series--Speaking of the Economy…What Do You Tell Your Kids?” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.