A Financial Education Event
 

Before You Say “I Do” – Premarital Financial Counseling

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“Bye, bye!”  I smiled and waved from the front porch, Bob by my side, “Nice to meet you!”

Speaking like a ventriloquist, I continued to wave at my son and his girlfriend,

“I give It less than one week” I told my husband, “two weeks tops.”

Bob smiled, giving his very poor ventriloquist rendition, “I don’t know, she was, ah, very conversational.”

“Yeah,” we turned to walk back in, “and her favorite topic was herself!”

We had just entertained one of our sons and a girl he brought home to meet us. In our family, we are predisposed to like the significant others that our children bring home because our kids have very good judgement. Contrary to popular belief, we aren’t sitting on “no” when it comes to these friendships that could blossom into something more.

One week later, we got a call from our son letting us know that he and the girl were not going to work out.

“Yeah,” our son reported, “I realized that the only thing we had in common was that we both thought she was pretty.”

The Kay whammy had struck again.

“What is the Kay whammy?” you ask.  It’s pretty simple, when our kids bring a special person home to meet our family, they either stay together for life and get married. Or, they break up within two weeks.

We are an intense family and we tend to drive away the faint of heart. But we are also a loving, loud and loquacious family and that attracts the brave hearts.

When it comes to a spouse, our kids look for certain qualities and when they get serious, we ask for a credit report.

I’m kidding.

Not really.

Knowing your future mate’s money habits is a significant part of deciding if they are a “forever” friend or not. Since “money matters” is cited as the #1 reason for divorce in America, it’s important to be on the same page regarding this topic. So far, all of our kids have opted for premarital counseling before the big day and this counseling should include the topic of money management.

Here’s a quick list of the financial topics that should be covered before you say I do.

8 Topics to Cover in Financial Premarital Counseling

Your Family of Origin’s Financial Situation

How did your parents manage money? What did they teach you about money? Chances are good you may manage your finances the way that your family did and this may be different from your significant other’s point of view. Did your parents save, believe in tithing, pay cash for everything or did they live paycheck to paycheck? Hashing out the differences, finding the similarities and developing a new plan for you and your spouse will be topics you cover under this heading.

Your Spend Plan

Do you currently have a budget? Go over both of your current budgets. If you don’t have one, then that is also a discussion point. Decide on what a new budget will look like for you as a couple when you are married. There’s a great app I use called Mint that can be accessed and updated by both parties at any time. This is especially good for military families who are apart but want to keep track of mutual spending.

 Holidays, Birthdays and Vacations

How do you spend money on vacations and holidays? Some families spend so much on Christmas, that it takes until the following May to pay off that debt. Others never take a family vacation. Our family had a low-key Christmas where each child got three modest gifts so the emphasis could stay on the Christ child. Then we went all out on their birthdays where the child was so celebrated that it became a highlight of the year for them. All these different approaches will impact your budget and your relationship.

 Born Spender or Saver?

What is your money personality? You could take the Money Harmony Quiz to see whether you are a born hoarder, spender, money monk, avoider or amasser.  Bob was a born spender, I was a born saver and we made it work nonetheless. But it took a lot of discussion and an action plan to learn to live in harmony with an opposite type of money personality.

 One Checkbook or Two?

Are you each going to keep your own checking account or are you going to combine them? Who will pay for which bill? What about savings accounts and credit cards? Will those be combined or remain separate? Now is a good time to download my free Sixty Minute Money Workout to help you learn how to discuss this topic and others within a time frame that minimizes conflict and maximizes the work you are doing in this area.

 Your Credit History or Debt

You and your significant other need to bring your credit reports to a premarital financial counseling session. Depending on what is there, it may be a wee bit uncomfortable. I married into 40K of consumer debt I didn’t know about and it had a huge impact on our lives together. Your mate may not count student loan debt as debt and you may find out there is an 80K loan that will impact your marriage. You can get a copy of your credit report, once a year, for free at Annual Credit Report and get one for each of the three reporting bureaus at this site. You can also get a copy of your credit score (different from a report) at Credit.com where they will also tell you ways to improve your score. Be prepared to enter your social security number to get this information. Talk about these debts and discuss a repayment plan.

Long Term Financial Priorities

My adult daughter says that life is about investing in experiences, not things. Her priority is travel over a newer car or designer clothes. Her husband’s priorities are slightly different because he’s a born saver. They learned how to discuss these diverse perspectives by doing a Sixty Minute Money Workout so they can get on the same page.  Your mate may want to buy a house as soon as possible and would forgo vacations to make that happen. You may not care that much about home ownership but really want to go home for the holidays. It’s important to discuss topics like housing, retirement, vacation and other long term goals before you get married. I like to say that you can have it all, but not at the same time. Bob and I chose to put our kids in private schools rather than drive new cars. Today, our kids are done with school and we drive the newer cars. We just have to choose the timing on our purchases.

 

Who Does the Math?

Someone is going to need to balance the checkbook, pay the bills and set up the budget. Yes, you should set up your spend plan together, you can even pay the bills together, but that’s usually the exception rather than the norm. One of you may be predisposed to balancing the books better than the other. One of you may actually enjoy paying the bills. In our family, I’m the financial expert and my husband flies jets, so you would think I balance the checkbook. But I also know that my husband needs to be aware of the bottom line because he’s the born spender, so he keeps the books and I review the statements. There needs to be a check and balance. One person should not have absolute control over the couple’s money. Sometimes, he who controls the money controls the house. So it’s important that both partners have access so that there’s no abuse of power.

Which of these topics have you already discussed with your significant other? Which topics still need to be explored? Set a day, time and topic to talk about money with your mate and don’t forget to get the free Sixty Minute Money Workout download.

 

Polite Bargaining – 8 Ways to Negotiate on Everything

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My longtime friend, Edith and I found heaven on earth this past weekend and we were determined to milk it for all it was worth. Milk chocolate that is! We took a day trip to Chocolate World in Hershey, PA from her new house in Mechanicsburg and we racked up the discounts all day. There was a Groupon for four special events: a chocolate tasting, the 4D chocolate experience, a trolley ride and build your own candy bar. We saved 30% on those bundled tickets.

Chocoholics forever 

When we had lunch and bought tons of candy to take to our chocoholic friends and family, we got a military discount. When we left, we were astonished to realize that our 3 hours of free parking had grown to $45 for the 6 hours we were there! When we went to pay, Edith (who has 20+ years of military service) asked for a veteran’s discount and we breezed through the exit with a 100% parking discount. We were on a sugar high and a savings high as well! 

My grandma Laudeman used to quote a Bible verse that has stuck with me throughout my whole life: “you have not because you ask not.”

Even though I was a shy person growing up, I was never shy about parting with less of my hard-earned money if there was a chance I could save some bucks.

So, how do you bargain in every day matters without embarrassing yourself or your family? Consumer Reports says that 89% of those who regularly ask for discounts get a “yes” on that discount at least once. Those are good odds.

Here are 8 tried and true ways that can help you become a polite negotiator.  

Everything Is Fair Game – Almost everything in retail goes on sale at some point, so why not try to create your own sale? A retailer may not want to give the sale to everyone, but they may give you a discount if they are still making a profit. Ask the manager if the item has recently been on sale, if it is going on sale soon or if they can sell it at a discount. One college student in Chicago routinely asks for the “good guy discount” because he’s a good guy and they’ll be a good guy if they give him a discount. If you’re military, use the Scout app to find those discounts. Don’t forget the classic money saver, RetailMeNot for additional savings.

Find Something Wrong – A makeup smudge, a missing button or a slight hole along a seam that is easily repaired are all good reasons for a big discount. Show the sales clerk or manager the damaged area and ask for a 30% discount, you can settle for less, but ask for more since it can’t be sold as brand new.

Do Your Research – Comparison shop online using apps like Amazon which has a barcode scanner that you can use when you’re in a store to immediately find the item on Amazon and check its price. Just choose the camera icon next to the search bar and hold it over a barcode. You can do the same thing with Walmart Savings Catcher, which is a part of their regular app. Show the manager the comparison price and ask if they will match it. Check out Yelp to also get check in discounts and review the vendor.

Use Your Expertise – If you are a geek at an electronics store or at a gaming outlet, talk with the sales person and capitalize on your mutual passion for the products. But don’t be a bore and inundate them with a one-way monologue. Instead, build a rapport with the sales person by asking them questions and letting them be the expert they are. You’ll come across as a qualified buyer who is worthy of a discounted price.

Don’t Be Intimidated by Professionals with Titles – Just because someone is an MD, CPA, or a lawyer doesn’t mean you can’t get a discount. One lady was told her eye surgery was going to be 10K and she didn’t have insurance coverage for the procedure. She told the doctor that it was too much and “could he work with her to get it for less?” He told her that besides the big city practice he had (where she saw him) he also had a smaller office in a neighboring smaller city. If she went to that smaller office, he would reduced his fee to $1000, use the smaller clinic that charged a lot less than the hospital surgery room and they got a discounted rate on the anesthesiologist as well. The new price on the surgery? $2800

Buy Everything in Bulk—Even Services! It’s hard for most vendors to turn down cold, hard, cash. I have learned to negotiate paying for services in advance to save even more. These would be known vendors you work with frequently and trust. At my mail and more store where I have a PO Box, I paid for a year and asked for a deal I saw elsewhere where they offered 2 months for free by paying the full year—he gave it to me in seconds. For haircuts, spa treatments, and massage treatments, I’ll prepay anywhere from 5 to 10 services at a 30% discount. Then we keep up with services as we go along, counting down to the next bulk payment. This works especially well for services you know you will get regularly.

Get Discounts on Existing Service by Mentioning the C Word – Take those sale circulars you get in the mail, are hanging on your door, or you find in the paper and call your existing provider to renegotiate your current service. Whether you are getting cable service, cell phone service, entomology or house cleaning services. Call your current provider, tell them you want to “cancel” or talk to the cancellations department. You’ll likely be transferred to a department that has more authority to offer you freebies to keep your business. If you mention the introductory pricing from one of their competitors, you might not get that exact price, but you could use it as leverage to get deeper discounts on your current service.

Be Willing to Walk Away- Whether you are in a department store or a Turkish bazaar, decide ahead of time what your “comfortable” price is for the goods or service you are negotiating. Decide this ahead of time so you won’t get caught up in the moment. My favorite words, when discussing prices, are: “I don’t feel good about that price.” Then the seller usually tries to find out what price I would feel good about. I’ve often been stopped while walking away with a lower price that will seal the deal. And if I’m not followed out with the promise of a bargain? That’s OK, too, I can feel good about walking away if I don’t get the price that floats my boat!   

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I have a friend who is a newly single mom and her part time job is making phone calls to get discounts on existing payments she must make. We figured she is earning about $50/ per hour for her time investment. She has talked to utility providers, mortgage bankers, insurance companies and the city to get free items such as light bulbs, a/c filters, a refrigerator, a swamp cooler (also installed free), low moisture landscaping and much more. She’s a firm believer in “you have not because you ask not.”

What’s your bargaining story? Let me hear from you!

Quick and Easy Steps to Healthy Finances in the New Year

With the hustle and bustle of the holidays at a close, I remember what it was like to play with the new toys from Christmas long after ringing in the New Year. It was the time of marbles, pick up sticks, and hot wheels racers sets. My favorite toy was a set of Klackers. These came on the market in the late 60s and lasted into the early 70s. They looked like glass, but were actually acrylic balls attached to a string with a ring or small handle attaching the two strings. The object was to get the two balls going up and down and have them “klick” and “klack” against each other. You would build up momentum until they were hitting on the top and bottom in an arc. It was very hard to do at first and when they hit your fingers instead of each other, it was incredibly painful, too. Without fail, every time I played with my Klackers I ended up with bruised and banged fingers. But I kept playing, day after day.
I’m reminded of my Klackers when I look at today’s economy. Consumers have been playing with debt for years and it’s been hurting them—but they just kept playing. In fact, between 1989 and 2001 credit debt nearly tripled from $238 billion to $692 billion and last year it was up to $937 billion. The average debt-laden American especially feels the pinch when the economy is lagging, gas prices are rising, home values are imploding and inflation is rising. But there is hope and a way to not only survive a possible recession—but thrive in the midst of it.

Here are seven basic tips to help you beware and prepare in the new year:

1. Credit Credibility ––The first step, no matter what your financial picture is to improve your FICO (Fair Isaac Credit Scores) as these scores can determine a variety of financial issues including auto insurance premiums, whether you’ll get the promotion or the job (many employers check FICOS), and whether you pay a security deposit for utilities. You can get a free copy of your credit report at credit.com . If you downsize a home or a vehicle, you’ll also need to have an excellent FICO to get the best APR rates. You can improve your FICO in three easy steps:

  • Pay your bills a day early (rather than a day late) by setting up payments online
  • Pay $5 to $10 more than the minimum balance which indicates paying down debt
  • Proportionality: make sure that you don’t have more than 50% of the available credit charged on any one card.

2. Savings Savvy– I get loads of emails every week from people who are cutting hundreds from their household budget by following simple savings tips. From insurance to groceries, there are savvy ways to save at your fingertips. I have a lot of these savings tips on my blog. Start to implement these tips and it will create good discipline that will prepare you for a recession. Use the money saved from these tips to pay down debt and build short term savings.

3. Debt Deal Dilemma: With a slowing economy comes an influx of those who want to “help” prepare you for the worse by consolidating your debt. However, most “for profit” debt counseling companies charge a hefty fee for their services which is usually tacked onto your debt load. Instead, go to the National Consumer Credit Counseling Service and use their free services.

4. Don’t Do Dumb Debt– As things begin to get tight, you might be tempted to get a HELOC (Home Equity Line of Credit) or refinance your home in order to pay consumer debt. Bad idea. This will only deteriorate the equity in your home and chances are really good you’ll be right back in that HUGE boat load of debt by this time next year. The better option is to cut costs, budget, and go to the NFCC.

5. Budget Baby and Learn – If you don’t have a budget, as part of your lifestyle, then yesterday was the day to start. Set one up with online budgeting tools, found at www.elliekay.com. It’s also important to learn how to budget, a great new program that helps military families with their money matters is supported by the Military Family Advisory Network called MilCents and it begins a new (free) course in February.

6. Repurpose Funds: My daughter loves to take antiques and even junk and repurpose it to give it more life (and save money in the process). As you save money in one area, it’s important to redirect it to another area through proactive actions such as writing a check to pay debt or to fund your savings account.

7. Plan With A Purpose – Whenever a “theory” is tested, it must stand up to a “proof” in order to be established as true. You can have all this good stuff on paper, but if you slap down the credit card to pay for a “40% off” killer Marc Jacobs suit, or use debt to fund a vacation–then your plan is only a theory. For it to become REAL, you need to make it part of your daily life. This means you start living with your plan and don’t incur more debt.

Happy Savings and Happy New Year!

Ellie Kay

 

Junk Mail Junkies

Mother’s Day is on Sunday, and I LOVE getting mail from my kids around this time. Even when there isn’t a gift in the mailbox, I just love hearing from my kids! Because, let’s face it, who doesn’t love to get mail? When Joshua was seven years old, he loved to check the mail for me, it was his “job.” He would scour the letters, as most kids do, looking for mail for himself. I would ask my girlfriends to send him a letter, just so he could receive mail! One day, he was bringing in an arm full of junk mail and paused to sort through it, looking for that golden letter. All of the sudden, I heard a huge shout as he ran into the kitchen where I was working.
“Mama!” he was more excited than just getting a letter in his name, “Mama! We won! We won the publisher’s clearinghouse! We won ten MILLION dollars!”

I looked at the junk mail in his hand, saw that it was the usual clever packaging, designed to fool adults with the IQ of a seven-year-old. It was just a chance to be entered into the contest if we bought magazines.

How many of us waste valuable time, energy, and effort going through all the junk in our e-boxes and mailboxes? Not to mention the phone calls that come in the middle of watching the fabulous HBO series on John Adams! If you’re wasting effort in this area, it’s time to stop the madness. Here are a few tips on how to keep the junk mail junkies from poisoning your life:

  • Listless – Get off mailing list by going to the Mail Preference Service registry of the Direct Marketing Association at http://www.dmachoice.org/ and select “Remove my name.” This service is free and takes care of 80% of your problem with junk that arrives in the mail. It’s good for three years at your current address, when you move, change it again.
  • Numberless– To stop telemarketing solicitors, go to the National Do Not Call registry at 1-888-382-1222 or go to http://www.donotcall.gov/ and register all your phone numbers. Don’t forget to register cel phone numbers as well because these numbers are now released to telemarketers and the consumer pays for the call. Telemarketers should not call your number once it has been on the registry for 30 days. If they do, you can file a complaint at this Website.
  • Formless – When you register a product, you are opening yourself up to a whole new realm of junk. Most of these forms are for recalls, so just don’t fill them out, the same goes for contests and sweepstakes–those are like standing on the middle of a wildlife reserve with a piece of meat in your hand and a bunch of hungry lions under the nearby trees–you’re just saying “come and get me!”
  • Creditless – Some of the most dangerous email are the preapproved credit forms you receive–these should be SHREDDED to avoid Identity Theft. If you call 888-567-8688 and give your social security number, you’ll stop the mail and reduce your chance if ID theft.
  • Anonymous-When you sign up for your grocery store card or other frequent buyer programs, you can do so anonymously, without giving vital information. Use a different name, with no address, to protect your privacy.
  • Catalog-less-To opt out of catalogs (a frequent occurrance if you shop online), go to http://www.catalogchoice.org/ and stop the temptation from arriving in your mail.

A word of caution: the only instance in which you will give your social security info in order to opt out of junk is the credit card form. Do not ever release your SS # for any kind of other opt out.

Now, with all that extra time you have, go out and have a cup of coffee with a friend, take the time to enjoy those who enjoy your company because life is too short for high maintenance relationships or junk mail junkies!

Ellie Kay

http://www.elliekay.com/

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

FInancial Pre-Deployment Checklist (part 3)

Do you have your money matters in order for your next deployment?  It’s important to make sure that all aspects of your finances are lined up to be able to give your family and yourself peace of mind while you are deployed. This is the final part of a continuing series. The items on the checklists from last week and from this week will make all the difference in minimizing stress not only for yourself, but for your loved ones as well.

  • Servicemembers Civil Relief Act

In addition to legal protections, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) provides certain financial protections for active duty members of the regular forces,

A servicemember’s protections under the SCRA are not automatic and require that the servicemember requests the protections such as limitation on interest rates, and payment schedules. You will likely have to prove you’re your military service may make an impact on your ability to pay.

All interest rates can be reduced to 6 percent for accounts established before active duty and can include mortgages, car loans, credit cards and even some student loans. This only applies to loans before you became an active duty servicemember, it does not include loans you received after becoming a servicemember.

The SCRA also protects from foreclosures and repossessions and helps with termination of residential leases and auto leases. These are before military service or if you receive PCS orders from CONUS to OCONUS or a deployment for a minimum of 90 days.   

  • Savings Accounts

It’s important to build a personal savings account of  6 to 12 months worth of income

Calculate how much you’ll need by this formula (BAH + ME) x 6 = Goal Savings

Never use PAYDAY LOANS to supplement your savings because in these you pay 200% to 500%. Instead, go to PentagonFoundation.org for a $500 loan with a $3 service charge and no interest for one month. It’s called the ARK (Asset Recovery Kit) program.

The Savings Deposit Program – SDP – While deployed and after 30 days in a combat zone, service members may be eligible to participate in the Savings Deposit Program (SDP).  The program is available to service members during assignments and deployments to specified locations. The SDP pays back a guaranteed 10 percent annual return on investment (2.5.percent.quarterly) on up to $10,000 contributed from un-allotted current pay and allowances. Upon withdrawal, a service member’s contributions to SDP will not be taxed, but the interest earned will be.  Interest continues 3 months after the servicemember is out of the zone.

  • SBP – Survivors Benefit Plan – This program provides monthly payments to the servicemembers elgible beneficiaries in the event they

Cost – no cost while you are activeduty. But during retirement there’s a monthly deduction which can be no more than 6.5 percent of your gross retired pay.

Beneficiaries – spouse, legal child, former spouse (if court ordered), the child must be under 18, if over 18, then in college (up to 22).

  • SGLI Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance

SGLI is a low-cost term life insurance protection policy offered through the Department of Veterans Affairs 
(VA) for servicemembers on active duty. Even though SGLI coverage is automatic, before servicemembers deploy, they should confirm that their beneficiary(ies) designation is up to date.

Servicemembers are automatically covered for the maximum amount of $400,000 unless coverage is declined or elected at a lower amount and this costs $26/month plus $1/month for traumatic for a total of $27.

Family Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (FSGLI) automatically provides life insurance coverage to spouses and dependent children when the service member is covered by SGLI up to $100,000 for the spouse and $10,000 per child unless the servicemember declined the coverage in writing. Coverage amounts for FSGLI cannot exceed the coverage amount selected for the servicemember under SGLI. The cost is very affordable for the spouse such as $5/month for a female 35 or under and it is free for children under 18.

Whether you are single or married, it’s important to check off the above items to make sure you and your family are financially ready for deployment. Thank you for your service please know that America appreciates both you and your family.

Ellie Kay

FInancial Pre-Deployment Checklist (part 2)

 

Are your finances ready for your next deployment?  If you have all your business affairs in order, then you will have less stress on your next deployment because you won’t be worried about the things you didn’t get done. The items on the checklists from our last blog and from this week will make all the difference in minimizing stress not only for yourself, but for your loved ones as well.

  • Budget – If you are married, then set up a budget with your spouse that can be used throughout your deployment. Make sure they know when bills are due and how much is owed for regular payments. If you email me at assistant@elliekay.com and request the “Sixty Minute Money Workout” we will send you a free guide that can help you set up your budget with your spouse or a “money buddy” so that you can establish a budget and discuss financial matters with your mate without arguing. Mint.com has an excellent budgeting app and there’s an interactive, free budgeting tool at elliekay.com as well.

 

  • Will including a Living Will or advanced medical directive. Don’t get so busy that you rely on the laws of the state for which you have residence to administer your estate. Instead, make sure you have a will that not only includes who will have control over your financial assets, but also include where you would like to be buried and if you want cremation or not. We once lost a pilot in a routine training accident in our squadron. His wife was left with a six week old baby girl and she had to face his parents who insisted he be buried in their hometown while she had other ideas of what he wanted. The more specific you are, then less headache your family will have when they are already dealing with tremendous loss.

 

  •  Accounts and Auto Pay Bills – List all accounts (credit card, car, utilities) and any passwords or acct numbers for the person taking care of your bills. If possible, set up these accounts to pay automatically so that you are not late on them and won’t get a hit on your FICO (credit score).
  • Legal Documents – Gather all legal documents such as birth and marriage certificates, deeds, mortgages and automobile titles and put them in one central location so that they are easily accessed by your spouse.
  • Meet with Personal Financial Manager (PFM) from the installation family centers or through MFLC (Military Family Life Counselors) or Military OneSource.com to go over any other financial issues that need to be settled before you deploy.
  • Emergency Financial Assistance   In the event the family may need assistance while the servicemember is deployed, it saves time and headache to take care of this ahead of time. You can pre-Authorize assistance by going to:  http://www.nmcrs.org  (Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society).

Whether you are single or married, it’s important to check off the above items to make sure you are financially ready for deployment. Thank you for your service and a special thanks to those family members who support you as well!

 Ellie Kay

 

 

Financial Pre-Deployment Check List – Part 1

What are the most important financial details to take care of before a deployment?

As a long time wife of a fighter pilot, we lived through a lot of separations and I’m glad we had our financial house in order before he left. Today, we have a Marine who recently deployed and since he is single, there were aspects of this checklist that involve us as well. Whether you are married or single, it’s important to take care of business before you leave the states. This is part one of a three part series and it can make all the difference for family members back at home.

Here’s a checklist to help you get through.

  • Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) Make sure that this info is up-to-date for all family members since this impacts everything from being able to get Tri-Care to keeping a current military ID.  If you do not live in the same household with all your dependants, be sure that you have all the current information (i.e. children who do not live with you or children in college).
  • Military IDs – Make sure they are up-to-date and won’t expire during deployment. This is, once again, true for all your dependants and sometimes the expiration dates are different on the cards than they are on your own military ID, so double check this so that your dependants can have access to everything from the commissary to discounted Disneyland tickets through MWR.
  • Passports –Make sure family members have current valid passports.  If a military member is severely wounded, then parents or spouses would need current passports to come and see them. If you are single, and your parents would be the ones to come see you, then contact them and make sure they have current passports.
  • Record of Emergency Data – If your family needs to be notified of a severe illness or injury, they will be contacted based on the information you have in your emergency data. Are you newly married and your name has changed? What about other changes to your information? We recently decided to go from having a house phone line to only having cell phones. The house phone line was the one in the emergency data information for our single,  Marine son, so we had to make sure that he updated that very important info. Check with your parents and children who are dependants but do not live with you and make sure you make note of any info that has changed.
  • Family Care Plan  – If you are dual military spouse, a single parent or have another family member dependent on you for care, you need to update your family care plan. Your family services center can help you walk through the updates necessary to make sure all your family members are taken care of if you are the sole source of their provision.
  •  Power of Attorney- The person designated in the power of attorney document should be the service member’s spouse, a parent or trusted friend, since it give that person the expressed written permission to act on the service member’s behalf. There are three different kinds of POAs.

A General power of attorney allows for the person to buy, sell, trade or sign for almost any legal act on their behalf. If you and your spouse are having marital issues that may lead to a separation, then it might be better to have the spouse on a specific/limited POA rather than a general POA.

A Specific/limited allows only specific powers for a specific period of time. For example, they can sign your tax documents to file taxes or sell a specific car. This kind of POA is good when you are single and having a parent or trusted friend handle your business affairs.

A Durable POA is the most comprehensive of the three kinds of powers of attorney.  It remains valid even if the servicemember is incapacitated. If you don’t specifically select this while drafting a general POA, then it will automatically end if they are incapacitated. Therefore, if you want a family member to have the POA even if you are incapacitated, this has to be indicated by securing a durable POA before deployment.

Set aside an hour a week before your deployment to start chipping away at this list and be sure to check back next time for part two of this series.

What is your favorite pre-deployment tip? 

Ellie Kay

Keeping to the “B” Word

Families usually have favorite restaurants, movies, and even special songs that reflect the character and tastes of the family. Your budget will be just as unique as your family. It will be based on variable factors, such as your family’s size, geographical location, debt load, and income.

When Bob and I first set up a budget, we realized that both of us wanted to have healthy finances, even though we approached money differently. As you go through the sometimes-painful process of establishing and sticking to a family budget, it is important to make a real commitment to these important issues. We also realized that we didn’t need to go overboard by pinching our pennies so tightly that it strained our relationship and took all the enjoyment out of life. So we allowed for an occasional indulgence, implemented budget-cutting techniques slowly, and modified our plan as needed. As time went on, we fine-tuned some aspects of our budget and then did an annual check-up to make adjustments that allowed the budget to become a part of our lifestyle.

Soldier of Finance

My profession is finances but my passion is helping military families.  But I’m not the only writer whose professions and passions collide. At a #USAA blogger conference held every Fall, I met Jeff Rose, author of Soldier of Finance, where he compares the battles of finance to that of the reality of living in the military. He has great stories about his time in the military, and correlates them directly into the war of Finance.

In a chapter entitled “FRAGO—The Savings Accounts Survival Guide,” Jeff talks about the importance of putting away an emergency fund to be able to pay bills and enable you to live for a period of time if your income were to suddenly stop. Just like life in the military, there are always going to come things that you cannot predict and you must have the means of adjusting your plans on the basis of new contingencies.

The Army calls these midcourse corrections FRAGO, which stands for “Fragmentary Order,” but Jeff calls it “Financial Reserve and Goal Fund.” He suggests that 3 months is ideal, which gives you time to make whatever adjustments are necessary. He warns to also be on the lookout for imposters that make you think you have cash on hand when you do not, which are taken directly from Jeff’s book:

  • Credit Cards: Just because you borrow cash does not mean it comes cheap. When you pay 20% interest on the money you borrow, you are just digging yourself into a deeper hole.
  • HELOCs (Home Equity Line of Credit): Equity in your home is not as good as cash. When you take out a line of credit on your home you could potentially be putting yourself at financial risk because: 1) HELOCs are debt because you are still borrowing money, 2) They may disappear because the rules and availability if HELOCs have changed since 2008, and 3) Because you use your home as collateral, you could lose your home if you aren’t able to make the payment; it’s not worth putting your home at risk.
  • Payday Loans: If you take out a payday loan, you could still have the same problems as a credit card, but worse interest rates. About 200% to 500% worse, to be precise. Don’t get sucked into these vicious cycles.
  • Your Stuff: If you think you can sell your stuff at a pawnshop or consignment store, Jeff recommends to not bank on it. There are other people thinking the exact same thought, and you will be very surprised at what you will actually receive for your “valuable” items.

Jeff gives solid financial advice whether you are soldier or not. It’s great to have friends that love military families as much as I do!

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R) 

 

Prioritize Your Debt – What to do With Unpaid Bills

Recently, on ABC NEWS, I talked about the fact that some parts of the country still have unemployment in the double digits while other employees are facing cutbacks in hours and salaries. More and more people are having a hard time paying their bills in these economically challenging times. If you only have a certain amount of money available and you know you won’t be able to pay all the bills, you need to know that not all bills are created equal. There are certain bills that have greater penalties than others. Today, I want to help you look at how to tackle those unpaid bills as well as grace periods and the variable consequences for not paying bills on time.
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Q. Are people still having a harder time paying their bills? I mean, we hear about new jobs being created and the recession is officially over. Why are some families susceptible to continued financial difficulty?

ELLIE: Obviously, unemployment is a big issue as well as the fact that many workers have had to accept pay cuts or work fewer hours to keep their jobs. With these come a contagion effect in that if you are unemployed or you go part time, there’s additional costs involved such as purchasing health insurance. Even if these workers find new jobs, they still have the residual effect of having less income for many months. In other cases, some may have had homes foreclosed upon and it’s cost them a lot to get established in another place of residence, plus these individuals has tanked their credit ratings—which means that rental property will require a larger down payment. A poor credit score also means these renters have to pay more down to even get basic utilities hooked up to their rental property. All these expenses start to add up and eventually, families are finding that they don’t have enough to pay all the bills.

Q. So if someone is between jobs or had some unexpected expenses such as medical bills, then what bill should they pay first?

ELLIE: When it comes to paying the bills there are always consequences for not paying. However, it’s the severity of the consequences that people need to consider when they are rank ordering which bills they should pay first, second, and so forth. The rule of thumb is to look at how fast your creditors will be likely to move against you. Which brings us to the most important bill and first bill you should always pay—your mortgage. If you fail to pay, the bank can begin foreclosure in as little as three months. Plus, this is the most significant debt you have when it comes to influencing your credit score. And with a poor credit score, the bills will just stack up even more quickly as we know that those who have bad credit have to pay more for deposits, for auto insurance some times and a poor score can even influence whether you get a new job or a job promotion at your existing place of employment. So protect your score and your financial future by paying the mortgage first.

Q. OK, so we understand that the mortgage is the most important bill, what would come second?

ELLIE: The next most important bill to pay is your car loan. Not only because you need a car to go to and from work, but also because as the second most significant loan you have, it will also impact your credit score in a more significant way than a department store charge card or a utility bill will. As for the consequences of not paying, a lender can begin repossess your vehicle if you’re a day late, but in all actuality, most will wait about sixty days. If you are serving in the military in a combat zone, there’s a little more leeway for vehicle repossession, you should contact your base’s financial office if you’re in danger of repossession while on active duty. But for the rest of us, not paying this important bill will cripple your ability to remain gainfully employed as having a vehicle is essential in most cases.
Q. So we’ve paid the mortgage and the car loan, now we pay credit cards, right?
ELLIE: Yes, that’s right. As you know, credit cards payment are very important because if you don’t pay on time, you’ll get hit with late fees. But there are more consequences than just a late fee. You might be faced with a hike in your APR if you’re tardy and then it could spread to other cards as well. You might find your average APR going from 9% on your credit cards to 24% or more in just a month. After about six months of missed payments, credit card companies start to send your account to collections and then you have an entirely new set of headaches to contend with. Concentrate on paying bank cards first such as Visa, Mastercard and American Express. You can even go to www.bankrate.com and look for lower interest rate cards that offer a promotional for transferred balances which can help your overall liability on credit cards. A final option is to go to your local credit union to see about a consolidation loan.
Q. Let’s say you have a little bit of money left, what’s one of the lower priority bills that you can tackle?


ELLIE: The next bill to concentrate on just happened yesterday—taxes. While technically, there is no “grace period” you can ask about an installment plan. The IRS can eventually garnish your wages and seize property or bank accounts. The old saying, “death and taxes are inevitable” exists, it’s because you WILL have to pay that tax bill some day—whether you’re a celebrity dishing on talk shows and making 25 million dollars a picture or whether you dish up ice cream part time at Coldstone making $25 a day!

Q. Thus far, we haven’t mentioned student loan debt, isn’t that an essential bill as well?

ELLIE: Yes, it does seem kind of crazy that student loans haven’t made it into our priority list yet, but I think that it illustrates the fact of how quickly the money goes for more “essential” bills and how there’s often more month left at the end of the paycheck Lenders for student loans will wait about nine months before placing a federal loan in default. As of last July, graduates can opt for a loan program that bases payments on up to 15% of your annual gross income. If you have these kinds of bills, then you can go to www.IBRinfo.org for help in how to pay your student loans more efficiently.

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)
www.elliekay.com