A Financial Education Event

Homes – To Buy or Not to Buy?

My husband, Bob and I lived on military bases for the first dozen years of our marriage. When you move eleven times in thirteen years it doesn’t make sense to buy! When we finally settled one place long enough to purchase our first home, we were thrilled and had “imposter syndrome” for the first month or so. We kept waiting for the “real” owners to show up and kick us out of the house! Alas, it was a dream come true and we truly enjoyed that home. Now…I know what some of you are thinking–is that a picture of my house? No, it’s not, it’s just one of the many, many gorgeous homes that are on the market in America. We sold that first home and the next year property values plummeted in the area. Not all Americans are having such good timing in buying and selling.

Last week the average fixed rate mortgage was at its highest since last October , 2007, with a 30 year averaging 6.32%, up from 6.09% but still below last year’s rate of 6.74%. It appears that the rate will continue to creep upward, so if you were thinking of buying a home, now would probably be a good time. It can turn from a buyers market to a sellers market in a relatively short amount of time as those extra properties are purchased and taken off the market.

If you are considering buying a home, shop carefully for lenders and be sure that you negotiate, negotiate, negotiate with the LENDER as well as the SELLER. When discussing closing costs and fees, make sure that you don’t over pay. Here are four key areas to keep in mind when negotiating fees and costs with your lender:

Don’t Pay for Inflated Credit-Report and Courier Fees – Some lenders are charging up to $65 for pulling your credit report. That is unusually high, considering the fact that credit reporting bureaus only charge $6 to $18 per report. Using the same tactics, some lenders charge courier fees for shipping your closing documents for as much as $100, while the majority of overnight express services only charge $22. Tell your lender, up front, that you refuse to pay any more than the going rate for these services.

Don’t Pay for Document Prep and Administration Fees – The origination fee should include these services, so don’t pay them! Ask your lender to waive these fees.

When You Buy A Home: Don’t Pay for Yield Spread Premiums – Lenders increase your interest rate slightly to include origination and other fees so you don’t have to pay them out-of-pocket at closing but some lenders and mortgage brokers are double dipping—by charging both the fees and the higher interest rate. Ask your broker directly if a firm charges you a yield spread premium. If so, you shouldn’t pay any additional fees.

Don’t Pay for Padded Title Insurance Fees – When you are shopping for lenders, look for all the above, plus look out for those who don’t tack on a lot of extra charges for services such as title search and document preparation. Theses can add hundreds of dollars to your closing costs and they really should be included in the price of title insurance, which depending on where you live, can be as high as $6,000.

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

Twice As Stimulating!

The check is in the mail. The check is in the mail. Oops!

Can you remember the check you waited the longest to receive? Maybe it was your college roommate who borrowed $300 and “promised” to repay you within the month–some three years later you’re still waiting. Or, it might be a deadbeat relative who is always wanting to borrow “just the rent money” and amazingly seems to be near homelessness without your check. But the next time you see him, he’s driving a new Mercedes–that’s a check you’re never going to see.

Well, this year, Uncle Sam really DOES have the check in the mail–sometimes twice! Through June 6, the U.S. Treasury had sent 66.6 million payments totaling about $56.8 billion. Altogether, an estimated 130 million payments will be made this year. A hand full of people are getting a SECOND stimulus check in the mail. Don’t take that as God’s way of telling you to put the money down on a new Mercedes!

If that happens to YOU, then don’t think it’s a windfall from a doubly generous Sammy. The IRS will eventually catch their mistake and come back after you for the money. If you get the check, write “void” on the back of it (under the endorsement section) photocopy it for your records and return it to the IRS with a note indicating it was a “erroneous stimulus check.” You should mail it to your regional IRS office where you filed your return http://www.irs.gov/file/content/0,,id=105693,00.html
This isn’t just a matter of being honest, it’s a matter of saving a huge headache in the future when you’ve spent the second check and the IRS is wanting it back post haste!

So much for twice as stimulating!

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

Bush Announces Rebates Checks Go Out Early–The Check is In The Mail!

Apparently, the check is in the mail! We’ve all heard that before. I remember a magazine publisher who took a bunch of the writers to a conference in Fort Worth, TX. Somehow we ended up at Billy Bob’s and I found myself riding a mechanical bull–while wearing a suit and heels! Yee haw! I stayed on the bull longer than anyone and it was a wild ride. However, much to my dismay, the bull ride didn’t end at Billy Bob’s. Several months later, that magazine publisher got behind in their cash dispursements for their writers. They owed me $2500 and kept saying that “the check was in the mail”–right before they announced bankruptcy! What a buncha bull!

But this time, we have the President of the United States telling us that the checks are in the mail.

According to the AP news release, Bush said tax rebates will start going out Monday, earlier than expected, and should help Americans cope with rising food prices and gasoline costs, as well as aid a slumping economy. “Starting Monday, the effects of the stimulus will begin to reach millions of households across our country,” Bush said Friday in remarks on the South Lawn of the White House.

But these checks won’t help most Americans unless they follow three steps found in my 10/10/80 Rule (TM) :

  1. 10% – Give Generously – This may seem like a radical way to start dividing your tax rebate check, but it’s a way to help everyone–including yourself. Giving is the new cool. Look no further than Oprah’s new hit reality show, “The Big Give” or Bill Clinton’s new bestseller, “Giving.” But don’t leave the giving to Oprah and Bill. Here’s your chance to live like a millionaire and give 10% to your community, region or even the world. Buy groceries and give them to the homeless shelter, buy some new socks and underwear for the kids up the street whose dad got laid off work. By giving away the first 10%, you’re helping the economy, helping your neighbors and helping yourself feel good in the fact you can give.
  2. 10% – Save Safely — One of the safest things you can do with this part of your check is to put it in your savings account. Let’s face it, baby, the economy isn’t too stable and you need as big a buffer between you and creditors as possible–this is found by putting away some dough to bake future bread. So save at least 10%, if not more!
  3. 80% – Spend Smartly — Is smartly a word? If it is, then now is the time to behave smartly. This means that you spend it in a way that will s-t-r-e-t-c-h your dollars as far as possible. Buying a big screen TV and paying full price for it, just because you have the money is s-t-u-p-i-d. But buying that big screen TV at a store that offers “low price guarantees” such as Wal-mart, means that you’re paying the least price possible and will have money left over to put toward credit card debt. Just because you have it, doesn’t mean you should fritter it away. Save money and live well at the same time.

So enjoy the rebates, but make that enjoyment last as long as possible by giving it away, putting it away and spending it away–all in a smart way!

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)


4.2 Million Predicted to Lose Health Insurance Benefits

Thinking of having another baby? Why not? We had five in seven years and they are all winners! I love babies–especially when they’re this cute!
But you may want to make sure your health insurance is squared away before you follow up on those family expansion plans. Marketplace Watch released news today that 4.2 milllion people are expected to lose their health insurance this year due to the economy’s impact on businesses. That’s not good news for baby lovers!
However, there are some things you can do to recession proof your insurance needs and make sure your family has the coverage you need:

  • Individual Plans — If you are currently covered under your employer plan and have family members covered under that group policy, then consider moving your spouse (and kids) into an individual health insurance plan instead. This will save loads of money and set up a policy where you could add yourself if the group plan benefits are taken away. The only time you would not want to do this is if family member have a pre-existing condition (like asthma, diabetes, etc) and you do not want it excluded from the policy. Otherwise, you can save hundreds each month by utilizing the benefits of an individual policy.
  • Divide and Conquer — Remember that there is no need for an “all or nothing” approach to health insurance. If you have a family member with a pre-existing condition (see above), then put them on your employer’s group policy and let the other family members go with an individual policy. By dividing your coverage among a couple of different plans, you are paying the least price possible for the most coverage.
  • Only Buy What You Need — Be sure to comparison shop by going to a site such as http://www.progressive.com/ , http://www.netquest.com/ or http://www.ehealthinsurance.com/ . I like this site because you can compare many plans and get a price quote right away (without a sales person calling back.) You can also choose plans that fit your insurance needs. Don’t buy coverage you won’t use. If you’re not going to have babies any time soon, then exclude the maternity coverage. By buying only what you need, you’ll save.
  • Term Life — If you’re healthy, then consider purchasing term life insurance. It is fully portable and you control the premiums by the amount of coverage you buy and the provider you choose. The time to buy life insurance is when you’re healthy and then if the company limits those benefits, you already have a policy in place.
  • Budget for Cobra — If the rumor mill at work is buzzing that health insurance benefits will be cut, start setting aside money for COBRA. This benefit will allow you to keep the current group policy, even if you lose your benefits or your job–but it’s pricey. I recommend that you set up an allotment from your paycheck and start putting a little extra each month into a savings account especially set up for this purpose. This method of recession proofing your insurance needs will help tide you over between insurance providers in the event these benefits go away.

Whether you are one of the millions who lose coverage or not, it’s wise to re-evaluate your insurance needs on a regular basis. There’s nothing worse than paying more than you need to for that baby!

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)


Stimulus Check–How Long Will You Wait?

The good news: I made some money in 2007.

The bad news: I made some money in 2007.

The good news: I gotta pay.

The bad news: I gotta pay. Lots.

A stimulus check? I hope you enjoy yours! But wait a minute, YOU might be waiting a while, too.

On May 2 the IRS expects to make 34 million payments within the first three weeks. Taxpayers who choose direct deposit will get theirs between May 2 and May 16 if everything is in order and they were turned in by April 15th. If you filed via snail mail, then your checks will be mailed starting May 15 and finished by July 11

Direct Deposit Payments:
If the last two digits of your SS# is: It should be sent to bank by:
00 – 20 May 2
21 – 75 May 9
76 – 99 May 16

Paper Check
If the last two digits of your SS # is: Your check should be in the mail by:
00 – 09 May 16
10 – 18 May 23
19 – 25 May 30
26 – 38 June 6
39 – 51 June 13
52 – 63 June 20
64 – 75 June 27
76 – 87 July 4
88 – 99 July 11

My advice for this check?

  • Pay Down Debt
  • Build Up Savings
  • Budget a “splurge” factor while still doing all the above!
  • Spend Wisely (see the tips in this blog for ideas)

Hope at least YOU have a good tax day!

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

Can We Save Money at the Pump and Impact Prices?

A man with a knife in his hand shouted, “The flux capacitor is…” His adoring followers responded: “Fluxing!” Cheers went up from the crowd.

He took the knife and began to sharpen the end of a stick into a fine point, “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father, be prepared to…”

“Die” They shout in hearty reply.

Finally the man put a marshmellow on the stick, put it over the campfire and said, “But we still have a hit record..”
He hears the response, “Yes, you do–the one hit wonders!”

He purposefully picks up a graham cracker, “You’re killing me Smalls. First you take the graham. You stick the chocolate on the graham. Then you roast the mallow. When the mallow’s flaming, you stick it on the chocolate and cover it with the other end. Then….”

The kids yell, “YOU SCARF!”

No, this is not a secret meeting of the deranged and demented, it’s our family sitting around the campfire shouting lines from our favorite movies (the above quotes are from Back to the Future, Princess Bride, That Thing You Do and The Sandlot.) It’s one of those family traditions that make forever memories. But many families’ camping days may be coming to an end this summer because of crazy gas prices and the cost of hauling a trailer to the mountains.

There are emails floating around that tell us 1) buying gas from only certain pro American stations (in order to boycott Middle Eastern oil prices) will bring down the price of gas and 2) ways to save money at the pump by only pumping gas in the morning, don’t buy if there’s a truck delivering gas there, buy the top half of the tank and pump the gas very s-l-o-w-ly.

You’re killing me Smalls!

I checked out these emails at http://www.snopes.com/ and guess what? They are a bunch of horsefeathers! Buying at certain stations will only cost you more money and they do not reduce the price of middle eastern oil–nada, zilch. Following all the rituals for buying your gas can not be proven, either. There are much easier (and painless) options for pruning back prices at the pump:

  • Prices – Go to sites such as http://www.gaspricewatch.com/ and find the cheapest price for gas both at home and enroute.
  • Pace Your Driving – Jackrabbit starts and constant speeding up and slowing down cost precious gas mileage miles. Instead, pace yourself.
  • Pushing It Up! — Will only speed up your fuel consumption. According to the Department of Energy (DOA) it takes a lot of energy for your vehicle to push the air out of the way as you speed down the road. Driving the speed limit of 65 versus 75 can save as much as 15% on fuel consumption because of the energy needed for higher speeds.
  • Puhleeze Give Me Some Air — At speeds of 40 mph or greater, it costs more to leave the windows open (due to drag) than it does to run the air. In a place like Palmdale, CA where the summer temps reach 110 degrees that’s good news!
  • Pitch the Junk! — Take your golf clubs, soccer chairs, Salvation Army book donations and all the other JUNK out of your TRUNK. Otherwise, you’re paying more to haul it.
  • Pressure and Maintain – Make sure you have the correct air pressure and maintain your vehicle with regular tuneups to save another 5%
  • Premium, Schmium — According to AAA, only 5% of vehicles in the US require the premium gas–it does not help your vehicle for you to pay more for it. Buy the regular stuff and have no worries.

By following these tips, you’ll be back on the road as Happy Campers!

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)


Consumer Confidence Lowest in 35 Years–A Bad Thing?

According to today’s latest bulletin, consumer confidence data measures at a 35 year low. That means when boomers were wearing hiphuggers and halter tops, listening to ZZ Top and the Eagles and lamenting the hedonistic value of vacuum cleaners–consumer confidence was as bad as it is now. So it’s the worse it’s ever been for at least two generations of consumers.
We may be in for a Marathon rather than a 50 yard dash when it comes to economic recession. Before you assume that this is a hopeless race for which you are ill prepared, let’s look on the upside of the downside of today’s news.

  • The Stretch – When my husband and I married 20 years and five kids ago, I inherited $40,000 in consumer debt from his divorce. The upside was that I got two great stepdaughters out of the deal. But a total of seven kids to support and lots of debt was not fun for this broker-turned-bride. It was a stretch for me to give up my well paying career and take on the challenges of being a SAHM while trying to pay down debt on my husband’s military salary. But being stretched isn’t a bad thing, it gets us ready for the next phase.
  • Flexibility — One of the ways this business backgrounded mom made ends meet was to become flexible in the way I managed money. I developed a sophisticated method of recognizing ways to save on everything from clothes to corn to cars–and it worked. Flexibility did not include miserly, cheapskate, wierd ways of saving money–like collecting tin foil balls or taking other people’s leftover pizza home at a restaurant (my parents generation did that kind of thing). No, I preferred the savvy savings approach that didn’t embarrass me or my family. I still wear Calvin Klein suits bought at the Nordstrom Rack for the same price as a Jacqueline Smith (disposible) suit other people would purchased at K-mart. (I don’t shop at K-Mart–ever!) But… I do have a Wal-mart brocaded jacket that gets more compliments than my designer suits! It’s all about savvy choices. In today’s economy, there’s a couple of generations of consumers who can step up to the starting line and learn this same kind of “saving money is cool” approach to life.
  • Endurance — What did the easy-credit, low mortgage rates of the past few years do for consumers? Did it make couples stop arguing about money? Did it put their kids through college debt free? Did it improve their quality of life–especially NOW in light of today’s recession? No, it didn’t make life better, it only made it easier to get into debt by having a house that owns you (too much house) or escalating credit card bills that are cushioned with the idea that “my home equity can pay these bills if I get in a pinch.” BAD, real bad. Now that the equity has deteriorated, it’s time to learn the endurance part of running the great race. Learning how to cut back, curb impulse buys, be thoughtful and strategic in your spending and implementing a little-known thing called “self control” in money issues is a good possible outcome for a bad pronouncement. It depends on the choices consumers make at this point in time.
  • Finishing Well — David Bach’s best selling book, “Smart Women Finish Rich” is a must read for all consumers (guys can get in touch with their feminine side and make a buncha money in the process–just look at Tyler Perry). Finishing well, means finishing rich but being rich may not mean having a multi-million dollar home or a self-propagating portfolio. We all know miserable misers who saved themselves into delusional denigration (ever heard of Howard Hughes? Being rich can drive you nuts!) The kind of wealth I think most Americans want is to have a nice home that will be paid for at retirement, put their kids through college debt free and have the ability to pay the bills without worrying about nastygrams from creditors. That’s rich, baby!
  • The Winners Circle — OK, time for true confessions. My husband and I recently competed in the LA Marathon and finished. I didn’t end up in the winners circle, but they create a similar circle for EVERYONE WHO FINISHES. You get a rose, a medal, & a sports massage. So, with my swollen toes, wilting rose, cramping calves and smiling husband, I could say as a forty-something year old mama of many–I finished the Marathon. Just don’t ask me my time. There’s a lot to be said about the finishing the process. If consumers will embrace the economic challenge that a 35 year low in confidence presents, then it can be a good thing. New generations of consumers, who have never had to put on their big girl panties (or big boy underwear) will have to step up and learn a thing or two about managing money and avoiding credit. It can be done and it can be done well so that we have a whole new circle of winners.

Run well, finish well, then celebrate!

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)


Ellie Kay, Featured Expert: Front Page USA Today Story

I’m in Chicago last week, eating at “Bubba Gump Shrimp” in a business meeting. The waiter comes to our table with important issues–trivia questions:

  1. Name the two rock and roll artists that Forrest meets
  2. Name the three Presidents that he met.
  3. Name his three best friends (one female, two males)

So far, I’ve gotten all the questions right and I’m feeling pretty good about life and then my assistant for the trip (Bethany Grace) gets a call from a USA Today reporter. He’s doing a feature cover story on ways Americans are cutting back on “luxury items.” I take the call outside the restaurant (did I mention Chicago was a chilly 5 degrees?) and tried to get out of the “Forrest” frame of mind and into the “Financial Expert” mode.

He said: “So do you think that the American public is headed for a recession.”

I said: “Life is a like box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.”

He said: “Um…people are cutting back on things like Starbucks and Evian water, do you think that’s smart?”

I said: “My mama always said…stupid is as stupid does.”

He said: “That’s fascinating, do you have any thoughts on the perceived peer pressure among people who are saving and those who are not?”

I said: “I just had 19 Dr. Peppers, I have to go….”

After about 30 minutes of this, the poor guy had to either end the interview or end his life. I guess he’s still alive and I must have managed to say something worthwhile as the piece ran with my incredibly Forrest-like wisdom included. For the full article, go to http://www.usatoday.com/money/economy/2008-02-26-consumers-cut-small-luxuries_N.htm?loc=interstitialskip .

As a result of that story breaking today, my offices were contacted by CBS radio and I did a slightly better interview for them than my Bubba Gump shrimp interview. You’ll hear that airing throughout the day as well.

Just remember one more thing, if you follow the tips in this blog, you’ll be able to get where you’re going. You can have your savings and some of your luxury items too–if you cut back the smart way. Just step in my shoes and I’ll take you there because “Mama says they was magic shoes, they could take me anywhere.”

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Ellie Kay

“America’s Family Financial Expert” (R)


Valentines Day

Valentines Day.
Bob gave me a sweet card and a Lladro figurine of a “Bride and Groom Couple” which was beautiful. The male was in a top hat, the female had delicate flowers in her hair. And did I mention they were dogs? Yes. Very cute, it made me howl with laughter when I opened it up, especially since, at that very moment, our dogs were jumping on me and wrestling. fun. fun.

Philip mailed me the sweetest card and signed it “I love my mama.” Bob gave Bethany flowers, a CD and a card and Philip gave her the most wonderful “Sisterfriend Valentine” card, too. I gave the little guys chocolate and a $15 Starbucks gift card. Bethany gave Bob Sees candy.

The little boys did the “Oh, crud! I forgot about mama” routine and then Joshua announced,”Uh, when you can go out to eat, Papa and I are going to take you.” While Jonathan said, “And even BEFORE you gave me this card, I was going to say that I would take you out for a Frap for Valentines.” Yeah, right. I told them that this last minute, oh-crud-I-forgot-so-I’ll-just-think-quick-and-make-something-up-and-hope-she-won’t-notice routine was NOT going to cut it. One day, I told them, when they had wives, they were going to have to have some forethought and at LEAST fill out a card that says, “This card entitles you to a free dinner” or something other than what they did. They smiled sheepishly, hugged me and thanked me for the gifts.

Then there’s Daniel. He had the biggest Valentines Day in the family–a day early. Yes, my baby boy got engaged last night! It was really sweet, he asked everyone’s permission ahead of time (Bob and I, her mom, her dad). Then he took her to their favorite place, the Botanical Gardens in FTW, and at sunset, he walked her over to a fence, got down on one knee and proposed. He said he was nervous and didn’t say what he really wanted to say and he kind of fumbled, but he made it through. She started crying and couldn’t stop. The ring he got her was diamonds and emeralds (her birth stone) and one she picked out. It is beautiful–simple and elegant.

Then they went to eat at the Cheesecake Factory and he gave her my book, The New Bride Guide that I had autographed to her already. On the way home from the restaurant they called me and were punch drunk in love. He was gloating at how suave and clever he was and she was just crying for joy. He’s the one who called and he said, “Well, guess who has been engaged for the last couple of hours?” I guessed correctly. Then I asked to speak to her and let HER tell me how he proposed. She started crying again just retelling the story. I welcomed her to the family, told her she would be a great asset and that we loved her already. I told her that I knew she’d take good care of my baby boy and while he would officially be “hers” now, he will ALWAYS be my baby boy.

When Daniel got back on the phone, he said, “Well, mama, your baby boy did it right!” He was oh, so smug and oh, so happy and just plain drunk on love. But before he hung up he said, “But I’ll always love my mama!”

And so it begins…

Bob’s Million Dollar Bargain

As many of you who have read my books already know, I’m a born saver who married a born spender. I was born six weeks early, on Dec 28th, just in time for my parents to get another income tax deduction. Bob was already working, pulling weeds at the age of seven, but his money never saw the inside of his pocket. Over the years, he’s learned to spend less and I’ve learned to spend more and we’ve come to balance.

Bob’s latest venture is saving money on the ultimate remote control airplane! He says that spending 1.3 million per airplane for jets that are destined to get blown up (without him in them) is a “real bargain” for the government. He even mentioned that I made him promise he wouldn’t fly them for free when he went to the job interview four years ago! For the complete three minute news story and to see what my Beloved does in his free time, just go to:

Happy Flying!

Ellie Kay

“America’s Family Financial Expert” (R)

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