Archive for March, 2011

Money Smart Week

Did you know April 2-9 is Money Smart Week® @ your library?  A partnership between the American Library Association and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Money Smart Week is  a national initiative to promote personal financial literacy.

What are you doing to mark the occasion? Here are some suggestions:

To learn more about Money Smart Week,  listen to this podcast.

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Choose Your Checking

At our March Financial Literacy at the Library event, Julie Soforenko from American Consumer Credit Counseling advised us that not all checking accounts are the same and to do our homework before establishing a new bank account.  See the filmed event here.

For a guide to choosing the right bank for you, see the list of factors prepared by the Massachusetts Division of Banks.

Julie covered the four basic benefits of checking accounts:

  • Convenience – paying bills (with paper checks or online), easy access to cash through ATMs, direct deposit of  your paycheck.
  • Cost – less expensive than using services like Western Union or a check cashers. See the 2010 Report on Check Casher and Basic Banking Fees from the Mass Department of Consumer Affairs.
  • Budgeting– great money management tool.  Establish separate accounts at the same bank for different purposes (one for necessities such as rent or utilities, one for entertainment, one for savings). Use your monthly statement to review your spending habits.
  • Safety– FDIC insures your bank deposits. Use EDIE the Estimator to calculate your insurance coverage. No worries about your money being stolen or lost to a natural disaster.

Make sure  to ask your  bank representative about the following:

Check Fees:

  • Does this account include free checking? If yes, is there a limit on the number of checks per month that are free?
  • Will the balance on all my accounts be combined to determine minimum balance requirements for check writing fees?

ATMs:

If you rely on  ATMs, then ask:

  • Where and how many ATM locations does your bank have in the area?
  • Is there a transaction fee on the use of ATMs?
  • Is your bank part of a regional network that offers customers free ATM usage? Use this site to search for Surcharge Free ATMs in your area.

Overdraft Fees:

  • Ask yourself if you really need overdraft protection.  The new law requires that customers opt-in for coverage.
  • If you do opt-in, what is the fee per overdrawn item and what is the interest rate charged on overdraft lines of credit?
  • Is there a cancellation fee if I decide later to opt-out?
  • Will the bank offer to automatically transfer funds from my savings account to my checking account to cover any potential overdraft?

A summary of Bank Fees to know:

  • Monthly service fee
  • Per check fee
  • Maximum number of checks per month
  • ATM Fee
  • Return deposit item fee
  • Stop payment fee
  • Monthly paper statement fee (may apply to check image page only)

Read those letters you receive in the mail as they may contain important information on increased fees.  It is worth speaking to your bank representative if you have a question regarding any fee.  Ask the bank how you can avoid paying a particular fee.

To compare checking account services in your area, refer to this survey for the Mass Department of Consumer Affairs or enter your zip code in the comparison tool available on  Bankrate.com.  For information on the Massachusetts Basic Banking program for persons with modest incomes, click here.

College Planning Seminar

On Thursday, March 17, 2011 from 11 am – 12 pm, MEFA ( Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority) is holding an Early College Planning Seminar at its Boston office, 160 Federal St. 4th floor.

Visit the website to RSVP, call 1.800.449.6332 or email amancini@mefa.org with Early College Planning Seminar as the subject.

Check the Calendar for a list of upcoming events.

Sell your Groupons

Do you love a good deal a little too much?

Are you one of the many daily deal site enthusiasts who have purchased way more coupons then you have been able to use?

According to a front page article in today’s Boston Globe, you have plenty of company.

Bargain coupon sites such as Groupon, LivingSocial and BuyWithMe offer great deals for local services.  The catch is you must redeem them before the expiration date, which often arrives too early.

The solution?  Sell your unused coupons at sites like DealsGoRound, CoupRecoup and Lifesta.  Some of the resale sites charge a fee, others are free.

On the bright side, if the vendor is a Massachusetts company, coupons must remain valid for at least seven years, according to the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulations.

Read the whole article.

Photo of coupon by striatic and republished here under a Creative Commons license.  Some rights reserved.

Learn about Money with Suze Orman

Last night was the premiere of the new PBS Series  Suze Orman’s Money Class.

Taped in front of a live audience at the University of Minnesota, financial expert Suze Orman discusses the need to rethink the traditional strategies used to achieve financial goals.

“Orman offers hard-hitting … surprising advice for getting a grip on the most important financial fundamentals: understanding the opportunities and pitfalls of the real estate market, raising financially aware children, borrowing for college and paying off student loans, building a career, saving and investing, planning for retirement, and more”.

The show will be re-broadcast throughout this week.  See excerpts and airing schedule on the WGBH website.  For more viewing options, check all PBS listings here.

National Consumer Protection Week

The week of March 6-12, 2011 has been designated National Consumer Protection Week.

Celebrate by chatting with Marlo Thomas,  Testing your Retirement IQ or Participating in a  Shred Day!

Government agencies and nonprofit groups created a helpful website, ncpw.gov [para la versión en español, hágase clic aquí], where you will find consumer tips, video and free materials as well as a list of local events, (like those above).

Visit the blog to learn what experts are saying about current consumer issues.  See the Consumer Topics section for a list of resources offering practical consumer tips, online protection advice and suggestions on avoiding unwelcome surprises on your wireless service bill.