Archive for April, 2011

A Gift for Mother

This Mother’s Day, you may want to follow the advice of Jason Alderman in his recent post on practicalmoneyskills.com.

Rather than the traditional flowers, card or phone call, spend some time with Mom and her finances.  Help her sort out important records so both of you know what they are and where they are.  A thorough review of documents will reveal any missing items and raise questions that can be answered now rather than during a potential crisis when you may need information quickly.

Alderman suggests dividing documents into categories:

Retirement Income 

  • Social Security
  • Pension Plans
  • IRAs and 401(k)
  • Bank Accounts: checking, savings, money market, CDs
  • Stocks, Bonds and Mutual Funds

Outstanding Debts

  • Mortgages, Equity lines of credit and other property loans
  • Car loans or leases
  • Credit Cards
  • Medical Bills
  • Personal loans

Other

  • Insurance Polices: medical, real property, auto, health, long term care
  • Will or Trust
  • Health Care Proxy or Durable Power of Attorney
  • Birth Certificate, Marriage license, Social Security card, Funeral plans, Safe Deposit Box information
  • Contact Information : Lawyer, Doctors, Dentist, Pharmacist, Insurance Agent, Financial Advisor, Banker (All of these Professionals should have your contact information as well).

Resolve to make this an annual review so that all documents are up to date and reflect your Mother’s wishes.

Give yourself the same gift.  Straighten out all your own account information and keep it in a safe place.  Let a family member or someone else you trust know where all your important papers are kept.

Read the full article here.

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April Event

Financial Literacy at the Library hosted a well-received talk last night by Francine Kollias on the history, programs and benefits provided by the  Social Security Administration (SSA).  If you missed the program, you may see the filmed event here.

Having recently celebrated its 75th anniversary, the SSA began as a supplemental retirement program to assist non-working spouses.   Programs have since expanded to include survivors insurance and disability insurance.  Additionally,  SSA administers, but does not fund,  Medicare and Supplemental Security Income programs. Today, Social Security is not just retirement, but a “huge packet of protection”.

Have you received a  Social Security statement in the mail? Do you first look at the estimation of benefits? Instead,  check  your earnings history first to make sure it is correct.  If you see an inaccuracy, it can be corrected within 90 days by submitting the proper documentation such as a W2 or 1099.  Your retirement benefit is the monthly average of your 35 highest earning years , so if there is a  mistake on a low earning year not used to calculate the benefit, do not worry about it.

Advisory:  Due to budget issues, Social Security will no longer be mailing out statements.  Check your earnings history and benefit estimates online.

How do you qualify for retirement benefits?  If you have earned 40 Social Security credits, you qualify for benefits.  One credit is awarded with every $1,120 earned.  A maximum of 4 credits is awarded per year.  The general rule is 10 years of work will qualify you for a retirement benefit.

Do you need to be a U.S. citizen to qualify?  No.

Is there a limit on the amount of income you may earn post-retirement? After full retirement age, there is no earnings limitation.  In fact, should your earnings be higher than your 35 year average, you can actually increase your benefit by working past your full retirement age.

Looking for a convenient, secure and quick financial planning tool?  Use the Retirement Estimator and create “what if” scenarios based on different ages and earnings.

To file for Social Security and Medicare and to get answers to most of your questions, Ms. Kollias urged everyone to visit the secure online website, SocialSecurity.gov.

Social Security ABCs

Do you feel confident in your knowledge of  Social Security programs and benefits?

The Top 25  Social Security Questions are answered in this article from the AARP Bulletin.

Better yet, come to the Newton Free Library on Wednesday, April 20 at 7 pm to hear directly from the expert. Francine Kollias, Metropolitan Affairs Specialist with the Social Security Administration will present a seminar on Social Security Basics.  After the talk, Ms. Kollias will take questions from the audience.

This is a Special Event sponsored by Financial Literacy at the Library, an initiative supported by a grant from  Smart Investing @ your library®, a partnership between the American Library Association and the FINRA Investor Education Foundation.

Due Dates

Don’t panic if you haven’t filed your tax return by April 15.

Because of  this year’s  holiday schedule, the deadline for filing both state and federal tax returns has been extended.

Federal tax returns are due on Monday, April 18 and Massachusetts state tax returns are due on Tuesday April 19.

Email Scam Alert

Be cautious when responding to email requests for personal information even from companies you regularly do business with.

As reported on ABC News and The Boston Globe, a security breach of  email addresses belonging to customers of major corporations puts individuals at risk for phishing scams.

The customer files of Epsilon, a marketing firm in Texas whose clients include Best Buy, L.L. Bean, Walgreens and other big names, were compromised.  Millions of customers and thousands of companies have been affected.

Only names and email addresses were released, but scammers can use those mailing lists to gather personal information such as account numbers and social security numbers from the unsuspecting.

How to protect yourself? Do not respond to any email that requests personal information.  The companies you do business with already have it and would not request it.  This is good advice to always follow, not just during a scam alert.

Blockbuster Cards Expire Soon

Blockbuster has announced that it will no longer accept its own gift cards after April 6, 2011.

After Blockbuster declared bankruptcy on August 23, 2010, it continued to honor gift cards. That agreement will stop on April 7 when the cards will become worthless.  So if you have one, use it now!

For more information on Consumer rights regarding gift cards and gift certificates, click here.

See the complete  Consumer Advisory from the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs & Business Regulation.