Archive for April, 2012

Newton Phone Scam Warning

Phone scams have long been with us.  Now there’s a warning about a possible one right here in Newton.

Every year at this time, the Newton Police Memorial Association runs a local telephone campaign to raise funds for student scholarships and other social service causes.

And every year, scam artists mount their own telephone campaigns, warns the Newton Police Department.

Residences who want to donate to the real Newton Police Association should make sure the caller asks for checks made out to “Newton Police Memorial Association.”

For more info, see this article from the Newton Tab.

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Graphic Teaching Tools

Visual guides and comic books are creative formats that can entice young people into learning about financial literacy.

A College Student’s Guide to Credit Cards at CreditDonkey.com is an infographic that helps students think through whether or not they can handle credit, credit card terms, and alternatives such as debit cards or prepaid cards.

Saving the Day is a Marvel Digital Comic featuring Spider-Man and the Avengers which teaches kids about financial terms, spreadsheets and more. The 21-page comic book  is free and can be read online. A Teacher’s Guide and versions in eight different languages are available.

Secured Borrowing Basics

Financial Literacy at the Library welcomed back Julie Soforenko, Community Outreach Coordinator, American Consumer Credit Counseling for a presentation on Financing Fundamentals: Car loans, Home loans and Equity Lines of Credit.

Cars and homes represent the most expensive purchases most people make.  It is important that one’s money matters be in tip-top shape before seeking financing for them.

Julie covered the pros and cons of buying vs. leasing cars.  Monthly payments are generally lower on leases than car loans, but insurance payments can be higher.  Leases often come with restrictions on mileage and on the degree of wear and tear that is acceptable. At the end of the lease term, the vehicle must be returned to the dealer unless a separate purchase option is negotiated.

When borrowing to purchase a car, it is wise to ask the financing company how your personal information such as your social security number will be protected.  Make sure you know all associated costs before signing any documents and avoid loans with a balloon payment or prepayment penalty.

When considering whether to purchase versus rent your next home, Julie advised looking at the following factors:

  • Is this a short-term or long term housing need?
  • Are you looking at a home as an investment or inheritance for your children?
  • Are your savings substantial enough to cover a 20% down payment plus closing costs?
  • Is your income enough to cover property maintenance/repairs, taxes, insurance and association fees?

Julie recommended Renter’s Insurance for those renting a home and suggested that favorable rates may be obtained by combining the policy with your car insurance.

In addition to commercial institutions, home loans are available through several government agencies such as the VA, FHA, HARP (refinancing only) USDA and First Time Home Buyers  programs.

When shopping for a mortgage, it is best to complete your research within 30 days.  Multiple inquires on your credit history for this purpose will not affect your credit report if concluded in a short time frame.  If however, several inquiries are spread out over many months, it will have a negative impact on your credit report.  Remember for a free credit report, visit annualcreditreport.com.

First Time Home Buyers should educate themselves by enrolling in a home buying fundamentals class.

Homeowners aged 62 and older experiencing cash flow problems may want to consider a Reverse Mortgage.  Rather than making monthly payments to a financial institution, under reverse mortgages the bank pays you.  Due to its unique terms and risks, it is required that borrowers consult with a HUD Certified Housing Counselor to become eligible. Read more about reverse mortgages here.

Do not miss the final installment of the FDIC Money Smart Series, Financial Recovery: How to recover financially and rebuild your credit after a financial setback, to be presented by Julie Soforenko on Wednesday, June 20.

Health Care Savings

Even with a generous health insurance policy, medical care can still be a major expense.

A recent article at Kiplinger.com  suggests six ways to curb costs. Number one suggestion:  use generic, not brand-name prescription drugs.

Many common drugs are available in generic versions.  If you order through the mail, you can save even more. Ask your doctor about lower-cost alternatives.

Another good idea – if you are willing to do the paperwork – is to set up a health savings account with your employer.  Decide how much of your pre-tax income you want to put into the account each month, then use the tax-sheltered dollars to pay for medical expenses  such as co-pays and prescription drugs.

To read the whole article,  go to Six Tips to Spend Less on Health Care.

Photo of pill bottle by Auntie P and republished here under a Creative Commons License. Some right reserved.

Watch and Learn

Handling your finances well is often framed as an individual matter.  But, if you understand what the economy is doing, you can fare better financially.

A good place to connect economics to your own money matters is through Paul Solmon’s program on the PBS  News Hour and his companion website, Making Sen$e: Your Guide to the Economy.

Start with the videos for teachersWhat does Goldman Sachs Do? and Are Big Banks Good for the Economy?

View a recent broadcast, The Unemployment Paradox:  Why Job Seekers, Employers Aren’t Connecting to learn more about the job market.

Or take a recent popular quiz, Do You Live in A Bubble? to determine if your socio-economic status and lifestyle separate you from the mainstream of Americans. Based on the book Coming Apart by Charles Murray, it claims that the income and education based enclaves we live in are unhealthy for all of us.

Tax Refund Opportunities

So, you’ve filed your taxes and you’re waiting for your refund.  Now comes the pleasant task of deciding how best to use it.

Many people treat a tax refund as found money, akin to lottery winnings.  But don’t forget that it was money deducted from your paycheck all year long and now you have it back.

If you would prefer more now/less later, ask your personnel department for a W-4 form to lower the number of withholding credits.

The U.S. Treasury wants you to consider buying savings bonds with your refund and  has launched a campaign to encourage people.  Since January 1, 2012, savings bonds are no longer available for purchase at financial institutions.  To purchase bonds, ask your tax preparer or visit Treasurydirect.gov.

Kiplinger.com recommends using this year’s refund to improve your overall finances. Here are 10 suggestions:

  1. lower or pay off credit card debt
  2.  add to your emergency fund
  3. add to your retirement savings
  4.  invest in stocks in your savings outside of retirement funds
  5.  buy flood or personal liability insurance
  6.  fund your child’s education through a 529 account
  7.  open a Roth IRA for your child even if he or she only has small babysitting or yard work income
  8.  save for your vacation now instead of charging it credit cards during your trip
  9. make home improvements that add value to your house
  10.  donate to a non-profit and get a charitable tax deduction.

For details and a W-4 calculator, go to Kiplinger.com or see Ten Smart Uses for your Tax Refund.

April is Financial Literacy Month

In recognition of the 12th annual Financial Literacy Month, the Newton Free Library will hold a series of events for adults and children to “educate patrons about finances and help them make better decisions about their money.”

  • Wednesday, April 18, 7:00 p.m. – Financial Literacy at the Library FDIC Money Smart series with Julie Soforenko. The program titled Financing Fundamentals: Car Loans, Home Loans and Equity Lines of Credit will include lease vs. buy options for cars and homes;  fixed, variable, reverse and second mortgages.
  • Monday, April 23, 7:00 pm, Dr. Kate Levinson will speak about her book Emotional Currency: a Woman’s Guide to Building a Healthy Relationship with Money; an insightful and empowering book that relishes a female viewpoint and a healthy, proactive approach to finances with specific steps for changing attitudes that impede financial success.
  • Wednesday, April 25, 4:00 pm. In a program titled Mixing in Math: Pocket Change, children ages 6 and up will explore math concepts through stories and activities with a focus on learning about different types of coins. (Space is limited. Tickets will be available the morning of the program.)

For more information call the Newton Free Library at 617-796-1360.