A Financial Education Event
 

Credit Card Choices — Big Benefits With Right Choices

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Southwest Airlines is running a credit card offer for qualifying applicants where they will get a companion pass for the rest of this year and all of 2018, plus 40,000 points. My daughter uses credit cards sparingly and her score is in the 800s (on a FICO scale up to 850). She decided to get the card and is thrilled to add her husband a companion to her recent round

trip purchase from Burbank to San Francisco for only $59. Pretty good deal for her. Since I already have a companion pass on a #SWA card, it wouldn’t be a good deal for me.

But not all deals are that good. How do you know which choice is best for your needs?

On my recent trip to #USAA, I learned a lot about the latest offerings in credit cards.

In fact, Yasmin Ghahremani, a writer with USAA, contributes the following information on how to navigate your first rewards card in three easy steps.

Credit cards that offer rewards like airline miles or a percent of cash back on everyday purchases can be a pretty great deal. But with so many different rewards credit cards available, choosing one that’s right for your lifestyle can feel overwhelming. Not only that, are you sure a rewards credit card is a smart financial move?

First off:  rewards credit cards aren’t for everyone. If you’ve never owned a credit card before or have a not-so-great credit score, you may not even qualify for a rewards card in the first place. And because interest rates for rewards cards tend to be higher than most credit cards, if you are the type to miss payments, make minimum payments only, or carry a hefty balance, your best bet is to look for a credit card with a low interest rate.

Once your cash flow and spending habits are more favorable, you can give rewards cards another look–otherwise, the interest you’ll pay on a carried balance will easily outstrip the value of any rewards you’ll receive. “Rewards cards are really best for transactors: those who pay off their balance every month,” says Mikel Van Cleve, Advice Director and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ with USAA

That said, if your credit card hygiene is superb and you make a habit of paying off the balance in full each month, then you’re probably ready for your first rewards card!

1. First, consider the kind of rewards you’d like to earn. If you’re a jet-setter and love to take frequent vacations, travel rewards cards that can earn airline miles, waive luggage fees, grant access to posh airline lounges and more might be right up your alley.

Not the globe-trotting type? Then a cash-back rewards card might be more your style. These essentially give you a small percentage discount (anywhere from 1–5%) on the stuff you’re already buying with your credit card, like groceries, gas, online purchases and more.

Once you’ve identified the type of rewards you’d like to earn…

2. Match your spending habits to your overall rewards card management. Take a look at how much you actually spend in certain categories on an annual basis to pinpoint where you could earn the most rewards. If you’re single and eat out a lot, a card that offers extra cash back for grocery spending might not be the best fit.

Plus, not all rewards cards work the same way: some offer more complex variations, like extra cash-back percentage points for spending in certain categories, such as 3% at supermarkets and 1% on all other kinds of purchases.

Other kinds of rewards cards offer additional percentage points on a rotating calendar for certain types of purchases, with bonus categories changing every quarter. For example: you might earn 5% on groceries one quarter, 5% on gas the next quarter, 5% at restaurants for another quarter, etc.

Complex earning structures may ultimately earn you more, but only if you’re really familiar with your own spending habits and the amount of time you care to spend tracking expenses and managing rewards redemption. Depending on the card you choose, you’ll need to keep up with rotating categories that may require an opt-in action (like visiting a website or filling out a form) every quarter, or you miss out on the perks.

If you don’t want to hassle with that, consider choosing a card with a flat base earning rate. Many credit cards now offer 1.5% or even 2% on every purchase you make. For instance, if the card offers 1% cash back for every dollar you spend on the card and you’ve spent a total of $2,500, you can earn $25 cash back. Even better, you often have a choice on how to spend those rewards, usually via a check, a credit to your statement, or points good towards purchases with other retailers. (Beware the latter as it may encourage you to spend needlessly!) 

3. Examine the fine print of any offers you see. Does the card charge an annual fee that costs as much or more than you will likely earn back via rewards? If you feel pressured to spend more just to get enough rewards to justify the annual fee, that card might be causing you to spend more than you normally might.

Does the card place limits, or “cap” how many rewards you can earn in bonus categories? Some cards allow you to earn 3% on only the first $3,000 a year you spend on groceries, and after that rewards may diminish or disappear entirely. You’ll want to factor those considerations into your decision.

“Make sure you know how the cards you’re considering work, and figure out which one works best for your habits,” advises Van Cleve. “If you do that the rewards can really help you save some money and work toward other goals that you have.”

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.

 

MilCents Helps Build Your Financial Foundation

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Are you ready to understand, manage, plan, and protect your money? I know I’m ready and helping others do the same!

I love creative ways to learn about money that are easy and interactive. That’s why I work in Washington DC on the advisory panel of the Military Family Advisory Network (MFAN).  I am writing to share an exciting update about MilCents — MFAN’s financial education social learning program.

Over the last few months, MFAN has worked with financial education experts to develop five customized program tracks that correspond with stages within the military life cycle.

While our Heroes at Home Financial Event helps families learn in a live show, MilCents goes further online and at your own pace. Stages include: ROTC/Service Academies, actively serving, transitioning military, veteran, and retiree. The customized tracks allow users to get the tailored information they need, when they need it. In addition, they’ve enhanced their monitored social community, added gaming elements, and refreshed all MilCents content — especially the content focused on military retirement. 

Are you confused about the changes to military retirement? Don’t worry — MilCents breaks it down so it’s easy to understand in the retirement section.

BONUS: The first 150 participants to complete MilCents and earn all the program badges will receive a $20 Amazon gift card.

Click here to get started. And make sure to tell your friends and family — learning’s more fun when you’re doing it with others.

There’s also a better way to budget. Take control of your money by joining the @Military Family Advisory Network’s customized online #MilCents financial education program and get help with your spend plan.

To the partners who helped make MilCents possible — thank you. We know this program will continue to help families within our broad military community.

Ellie Kay

Advisory Board Member

Military Family Advisory Network

 

Do You Believe in Good Credit?

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I love a good hero.

When I was a little girl, I saw “Peter Pan.” I fell in love with Tinkerbell for all her spunk and fairy dust, she became my hero. I believed in fairies. I was convinced that if I wished hard enough and focused on happy thoughts, I could fly like Peter and Tink!

My BFF, Nanette Woffard, and I made fairy wings out of panty hose, wire hangers and glitter. We began to exercise our belief by jumping off her circular second story stairway, climbing a step higher each time. We were (five-year-old) girls interrupted when, about step number 8, her mom walked through the room with a load of laundry and discovered our exploits.

Mrs. Woffard encouraged our creativity, but grounded us from flight school. We wallowed our disppointment in homemade chocolate chip cookies and milk.

But I never forgot about my hero and how she could fly.

As a young adult, I met a hero who could fly—for reals (that’s millennial-speak for really and truly).

He flew jets and his wings were hard earned through Air Force pilot training.

We’ve had a fairy tale life so far and raised a passel of Kay kids who also learned to dream, believe and soar to greater opportunities than they thought possible. One of those kids even earned his own set of pilot wings last month. Flying, in life and in dreams, is something we’ve always encouraged.

But there’s nothing that will bring a dream crashing down faster than financial difficulties. That’s why we taught our millennial children how to manage credit and earn great credit scores.

When each of the Kay kids graduates from college, they have a good-to-excellent credit score at the age of only 22. It can be done, but the first step is to understand how credit and credit scores work.

Credit scores impact interest rates, insurance premiums, security deposits, employment and even security clearances. In our Heroes at Home Financial Events, we have various segments. I teach on spend plans and car buying. USAA sends JJ Montanero to speak on saving and investing. But we also have an entire segment on how to develop and maintain good credit in order to keep their security clearances so they can do their jobs.

Gerri Detweiller has been writing in the consumer credit space for years and as one of our speakers, she can attest that credit and debt are themes that bleed into all financial areas. A lot of what I’ve recently learned comes from Rod Griffen a financial educator from Experian, who teaches me the latest nuances in this sometimes complicated space.

What do you believe about credit and are those beliefs fact or fantasy? Here’s a quick quiz for you to gauge how much you know about today’s world of credit.

Answer the following as either FACT or FANTASY:

  1. If I have never had a credit card or debt, then I won’t have a good credit score.
  2. Carrying over a balance on my credit card helps me build good credit scores.
  3. My credit history is the area that has the greatest impact on my score.
  4. If I pay off my balances each month, then I don’t have to worry about Debt Usage or Utilization (the amount of debt to credit available).
  5. If I co-sign a loan for someone else, it will still be their debt and not mine.
  6. I have three credit scores.
  7. I can get a free copy of my credit report at Annual Credit Report for each of the three main credit reporting bureaus.
  8. My credit report and my credit score are both free and they are basically the same.
  9. It’s a smart credit move to repeatedly take advantage of introductory APR rates by opening new credit cards and transferring these balances to the lower APR. Then cancel the cards and you will still have a good score while taking advantage of the lower rates.
  10. If I only have credit cards and student loan debt, then it’s important for me to get a car or motorcycle loan for the expressed purpose of building diversification to help my credit score.

Answers

  1. Fact. No credit history means you haven’t started to positively build your credit score. This means you would have a low score on many of the scoring models.

FIX: Start out with a secured credit card where you can’t charge more than you have secured in the credit card account. You can review cards at Bankrate but read the fine print to know what you are getting. This will establish a history and help you start to develop good credit.

  1. Fantasy. Carrying over a balance only means you’re paying interest every month on the balance you carry—which isn’t a smart credit move. Maintaining a credit card balance doesn’t help to build your credit.

FIX: Pay your credit bills on time, carry lower balances and have credit cards for a longer period of time in order to build positive credit.

  1. Fact.  Credit history accounts for 35% of your score and Debt Usage (Utilization) accounts for 30% of your score.

FIX: Concentrating on these two areas (Credit History and Debt Usage) are the most effective means of helping you build good credit.

  1. Fantasy. Even if you pay off your balances every month, you could take a hit in the Debt Usage area if you charge more than 30% of the available credit at the time that the snapshot of your account is taken. So if you have 10K available on the credit card and you’ve charged 9K in order to get points, you’ll have a 90% utilization record if this account is recorded before you pay the balance when the bill is due.

FIX: If you charge items to get points and your utilization is high, then transfer a payment BEFORE the bill is due. You’ll still get your points, but you get ahead of the Debt Usage scenario.

  1. Fantasy. Once you co-sign, then you are responsible for the debt if the other person doesn’t pay. If they pay, it’s not problem, but if they don’t, you will.  You’ll have to pay off that motorcycle, the remainder of the lease or the credit card, should that person default.

FIX: Don’t co-sign on a loan. We’ve lost friendships and relationships with family members when they tried to take us hostage by trying to force us to co-sign. If the lender determines they won’t take a risk on them without a co-signer, then why would you take the risk?

  1. Fantasy. Rod Griffin from Experian, our Heroes at Home credit educator says he could probably pull 80+ scores on any of his audience members. There are three main credit reporting bureaus, but many credit scoring models.

FIX: To know if you have a good credit score, pay attention to the scoring model. On some scales 750 is a good score and on other scales, it could be average.

  1. Fact. You can and should get your free copy of your credit history from each of the three main reporting bureaus listed at Annual Credit Report. But be careful, you have to opt out of paying for scores, monitoring or other services.

FIX: When you order your free score at this site, don’t ever give your credit card info or you could inadvertently be signing up for a product or service you don’t want. However, you do need to be prepared to give your social security number at this secured site.

  1. Fantasy. A credit history is different from a credit score. The history gives a list of all the various credit accounts/debt you’ve have in your lifetime. The credit score is a number that determines your credit worthiness to lenders. The credit history is free at Annual Credit Report.

FIX: Free credit scores are available at Credit.com and CreditKarma.com. But make sure you are getting the free service and not accidentally signing up for a paid service. You can also check your credit card bill to see if your company provides a free copy of your score. If you are military, get a free score at your Family Readiness Center.

  1. Fantasy. This is a good way to deteriorate your credit score. Lenders can see you are transferring balances and taking advantage of a new card’s APR offer. It can even look like you are floating the note or trying to pay Peter by robbing Paul. When you open and close multiple accounts, you shorten the overall length of your credit history and can ruin your score.

FIX: Pay attention to your credit history and remember that every new card you open shortens the overall credit history length of all your accounts combined. Open new credit accounts sparingly and don’t credit card jump to try and save money.

  1. Fantasy. While it is true that different kinds of loans build diversification in your credit profile, diversification only accounts for 10% of your score. So the idea that you SHOULD go out and buy a car or motorcycle (and finance it) in order to get a better credit score is pretty ludicrous.

FIX: Buy a car or motorcycle because you need one and you can afford it. Make sure you budget to be able to pay the note, insurance and other vehicle ownership expenses.

 

Scoring

10 Correct

 Superstar – You know a lot about credit, so you are probably: 1) in the financial industry or 2) really well informed and good with money or 3) you cheated. If you didn’t cheat, you might even qualify to be one of our superstar speakers at Heroes At Home because you certainly know enough to teach this topic!

 

8-9 Correct 

Excellent – You may be kicking yourself or crying “trick question” because you got almost all the right answers. Nonetheless, even experts can learn a few things about the ever-changing world of credit. Be sure you are giving your mentees up to date advice and pay attention to the nuances of building excellent credit.

 

6-7 Correct

 Good – You have a good working knowledge of credit, but you’re no expert. You’ve believed a few fantasies instead of the facts in some of these areas. Pay attention to the questions you missed and make it a point to readjust your thinking so that you can build even better credit.

 

5 or less Correct

 MEH – You know just enough to be dangerous and you are at the greatest risk of crashing and burning when it comes to credit mistakes. Study the wrong answers and make sure you understand how credit works before you open new lines of credit, cosign a loan or try to get a loan for a new vehicle.

 

 

 

 

 

The Heroes at Home Financial Event Tour Update

We’ve visited JBSA, San Antonio, Lackland AFB, Randolph AFB, Laughlin AFB and the last stop was Sheppard AFB. At every base there are things that are the same: 1) we have a lot of fun presenting financial education to our military audiences 2) everyone wants to win the iPad 3) they are surprised that they can learn and have a good time simultaneously and 4) we are always grateful to USAA for providing for so many aspects of this tour. But

Friends and family at every base!

at every base there are also challenges that our military members face that are unique to that base.

At JBSA there are 11 different units from all branches and consequently we have a “purple” audience with Airmen, soldiers, Marines and sailors in attendance. As a mom with sons in each of these branches, I can still relate to my audiences. At Lackland, which is “out in the middle of nowhere” they were so appreciative that we came “all the way out” to Del Rio, TX, (right by the border) to spend time with them. They were a welcoming audience and have a unique mission of training pilots who will go into all parts of the world, flying different kinds of airplanes. We called them “the little base with a big mission,” they also have big hearts.

This past week, we went to Sheppard AFB and saw yet another demographic of Airmen who are in freshly out of boot camp and in military training for their big world mission. Many are mechanics, but there are all kinds of technical professions trained there as well—60,000 per year. There’s also ENJPT (Euro NATO Jet Pilot Training) where future fighter pilots are trained (about 200 per year).

One of the unique challenges of Airmen at Sheppard is that they are vulnerable

A Full house at Sheppard AFB. Photobombing my fellow speakers Ingrid Bruns from USAA and Bethany Grace our high energy emcee!

financially in two areas: family and love. Some of these young military members are pressured by extended family members to send money back home. We stressed that when you are getting a flight briefing from the flight attendant on a commercial airline, she says, “If the cabin depressurizes, air masks will fall from the upper compartment. If you are traveling with someone who needs assistance, put on your own mask first, then assist them.” That’s the same premise we stressed with our young Airmen, “take care of your own finances first and get financially fit and healthy, then teach your family how to do the same.” From the platform, I stressed the old adage, “You can give a man a fish, and feet him for a day. But you can teach him how to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” Yep! We gave some fishing lessons.

The other thing that slips up Airmen is love. They spend money they don’t have trying to impress a significant other by going out to eat, to movies and even buying them jewelry. Some of the jewelry stores convince these young Airmen to sign on the bottom line and they end up paying for years at 30% interest for a necklace or a ring. At one point, I almost shouted from the stage, “If you don’t remember anything I said today, remember this: NEVER SIGN FOR A LOAN WITHOUT HAVING SOMEONE LOOK IT OVER!” I believe the 1300 trainees in the audience got that point. “There are folks at Airmen and Family Readiness who would be more than happy to review a loan before you sign it.” This tip alone could save them thousands of dollars on auto, jewelry, computer and personal loans.

     One of my favorite aspects of the Heroes at Home Financial Event is reconnecting with friends and family. In San Antonio, my BFF Brenda Taylor was there in the audience. A friend knows a lot about you, a BFF knows enough to blackmail you. Brenda can blackmail me many times over! At Laughlin AFB, my good friend Beth Runkle was not only instrumental in getting the spouses together the night before the financial event, but she also introduced me as well. I love the heroes in the Runkle family! At Sheppard, our longtime friends, BG Pat “Moon” Doherty and his wife Dee Dee were there to welcome us royally. I’d call him the World’s Greatest Fighter Pilot because he did fly me in an F15E Strike Eagle once, but Bob would beg to differ about that designation. These Heroes not only brought me out to Seymour Johnson AFB many “moons” ago, but they were instrumental in bringing this tour to the Air Force!

     But the one audience member on this tour whom I love more than life itself is my son Jonathan, who is a student at ENJPT and was a smiling face that I adore. I removed a slide or two that might prove embarrassing in front of 1300 Airmen and tried really hard to not highlight my son in my presentation or during the tour day. If you want to know if I was successful in this regard, you’ll have to ask Jonathan. Apparently, parents can embarrass their kids without even knowing they are doing that. There was just one time, when I ate a blue mint in the General’s office and then addressed his staff of 55 commanders that might have been a problem. I was told later, my teeth were Air Force Blue.

We may be coming to a base near you, this schedule is constantly changing and we are adding news dates regularly. Contact us at assistant @elliekay.com for more info and continue to Aim High!

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

 

Fantastic Free Financial Help for Military Families

As “America’s Family Financial Expert”® I love to help families learn how to live in financial freedom. As “America’s Military Family Expert” ™ I enjoy traveling to bases around the world assisting our military members in ways they can improve their quality of life. Every now and then, those two worlds come together and I get to talk about Military Finance. In fact, our Heroes at Home Financial Event is geared toward helping military readiness through financial readiness. Recently, I’ve been able to continue that quest by becoming a part of the Military Family Advisory Network (MFAN) advisory board, a like-minded 501(c)(3) that is on a mission to connect military families with the resources they need to thrive.

I’m pleased to announce a new resource that will be coming to military families in October 2015 called MilCents. It is a one-of-a-kind financial literacy program that combines information, online events, social media conversations and free resources into a 10 –week program designed to empower all military families to get their money in gear. As the Heroes at Home tour travels to various bases around the world, we’ve seen wonderful military members who have been asked to leave the service because their finances prevent them from holding a top-secret security clearance. In some cases, the Department of Defense has a million dollars invested in these members in terms of education and military training costs, so saving these valuable human resources is beneficial to the DoD and to the military family at the same time.

While MilCents is not a part of the Heroes at Home Financial Event, it is definitely a program I can get behind because this resource will help you learn skills such as:

  • How to read a Leave and Earnings Statement
  • How to pay down debt
  • How to protect your money and avoid predatory lenders
  • How to get your credit score and learn to improve it
  • How to categorize your spending and saving

McConnell AFB Heroes at Home Financial Event

This fantastic, free financial resource has been provided by the Military Family Advisory Network (MFAN) with support from the Council of Better Business Bureaus’ Military and Veterans Initiative, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Foundation and the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

If you forward this blog to EVERY military family member you know, then you would have done your part to help protect military readiness through financial readiness as a Hero at Home!

Sign up for MilCents at MFAN today!

Financial Readiness and FICO Scores

On our “Heroes at Home Financial Event Tour” in FY15, one of our most loved segments was given by Gerri Detweiller, who wrote the original book on personal Credit. The Department of Defense realizes that financial readiness impacts military readiness. In fact, credit scores (or Fair Isaac Credit Score) follow you from assignment to assignment and don’t just determine if you qualify for an auto or mortgage loan. Your credit score also can also be an indicator of whether you are allowed to stay in the military or whether you are kindly asked to leave. It’s not so much the score itself, but what the score represents—your credit worthiness. If you have too much debt, then you cannot get the security clearances necessary to do your job and this can follow you into the civilian world as well. Even utility companies check these and decide whether you have to pay a deposit based on the score.

According to recent figures provided by FICO, 25.5% of consumers (nearly 43.4 million) now have a credit score of 599 or less, marking them as bad risks for lenders (see the chart). It makes it is unlikely that this group of people will get credit cards, auto loans or mortgages under the tighter lending standards that banks now use.

These credit ratings can also make the difference between whether you are accepted or rejected for a new insurance policy or as a renter and much more. That’s why it’s important to know your number. Furthermore, some employers check these scores, which could be the determining factor in whether you get that new job at the next assignment.

Summary: Why do I need a good FICO score?

A good credit score is invaluable to everyone. Here are the benefits of a good score in a nutshell:

  • Security Clearances — If you are having financial problems, as indicated by a FICO score, then you are a security risk and cannot be allowed to work in certain areas requiring a security clearance.
  • LoansA good credit score helps you qualify for loans and get faster loan approval.
  • Interest Rates Your FICO score oftentimes is the determining factor when it comes time to be assigned an interest rate. A better rating can help you get a better mortgage rate and could even make the difference between becoming a homeowner versus a continued renter.
  • 0% APR Have you ever been tempted by the advertisement on a new car, furniture or a new credit card that offers a special “0% APR”? No wonder so many people get in line for these special deals. Few people realize that these kinds of special offers only go to those who have the top levels in the national distribution of FICO scores. If a good credit score holder acquires too many of these kinds of loans, they’ll deteriorate their score. So reserve these for long term loans such as a new automobile.
  • So Close and Yet so Far Sometimes the difference between qualifying for a great deal and not qualifying for it can be as close as twenty points on your FICO score. You may say: “So what? I don’t qualify for it, I can still qualify for a fairly low interest rate.” But it adds up and matters a great deal. The difference on a $20K car loan at a 0% APR versus a 7% to 8% APR is around $1800 over the course of the loan.
  • Job Applications – There are jobs that require high security clearances and government positions that can be impacted by your score as well as employment in the financial sector.
  • Renting – Some people cannot rent a home or an apartment without a good credit score.
  • Utilities – You can often have your security deposit waived if you have a good FICO.
  • Insurance Rates It could also affect what kind of an insurance premium you will pay. Some auto insurers are using credit data to help determine insurance rates. In fact, ninety-two of the 100 largest personal auto insurance companies in the country use credit data in underwriting new business, according to a study by Conning & Co.

Improve FICO Scores in Three Easy Steps:

  • Pay credit bills a day early rather than a day late – Set this up online using automatic pay so that you’ll never be late again.
  • Pay attention to proportionality — Keep your charges at 50% or less of the available credit, even if you pay off the card at the end of each month. This means that if you have a $5,000 credit limit, you should never charge more than $2500.
  • Pay at least $5 more than the minimum each month – It will show up on your report as paying down your debt which will make your credit score go up!

 For a copy of your FICO score, go to Credit.com and for a free copy of your credit report go to Annual Credit Report and for more help go to your local Airman and Family Readiness Center (or the equivalent in your branch of the service). You can improve your FICO, pay down debt and get fiscally healthy so that you can find the financial freedom that is worth fighting for!

 

 

 

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

Five Top Money Moves for 2013

This month I’ll be on over 25 television and radio stations talking about the Top Five Money Moves for 2013. So look and listen for yours truly in the media. My long time stylist, Ricardo, saw me on a national show and said, “You looked and sounded just like you do when you sit in my chair!”  My daughter, Bethany, was in the salon with me and piped in with, “That’s what happens when you’ve been on television as much as my mom has.” I could have sworn she rolled her eyes when she said it, but she insists she didn’t. I really do loving helping families do money matters smarter and media helps me get the good word out to these people across the country.

According to a recent survey, 40 to 45% of American adults make one or more resolutions each year. Among the top new year’s decisions are resolutions about weight loss, exercise, and money management or/ debt reduction. While a lot of people who make decisions during the new year do break them, research shows that making a decision to change is useful. People who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make resolutions.

If one of your resolutions involve getting fiscally fit, then there are five things individuals, couples and families should do every January, year in and year out, to help their financial picture. These five money moves will help you pay down debt, save more in your emergency fund and be prepared for possible financial setbacks in 2013. They include:

 

1) CUT COSTS ON FIXED EXPENSES – there are some expenses that people rarely check, but they could be missing out on hundreds of dollars of savings.

  • For one thing, it’s important to call your homeowners insurance provider and ask about getting a better rate. Oftentimes, you don’t think about this policy because the bank may cover this premium and you put that renewal to the side—wrong answer. The other biggie in fixed expenses is auto insurance.
  • If you drive less, in safer ways, and during safer times of the day you can save money on your car insurance. If you are military or a military legacy (child of someone who served), be sure to compare prices at USAA for car, home and other benefits to members.
  •  One final, quick tip to cut costs by shopping around, is for groceries. Go to couponmom.com where the site will tell you what’s on sale in your neighborhood, which items have coupons, double coupons and store coupons. Using this layered savings approach in the store helped our large family save $160,000 over the course of twenty  year!  (Yes, you read that right, it’s not a typo).

2) COMPLETE TAXES EARLY & FREE– The sooner you file, the sooner you’ll get your refund.  Even as this year’s tax laws get settled, you can still get your return started online.  I recommend the online TaxACT Free Edition has everything you need to prepare, print and e-file your federal return free.  TaxACT and I have worked together to help American families and specifically military families, because their tax solution guides you step by step through your return and guarantees your biggest refund. It’s fast, easy and even offers free help. Remember that the fastest way to get your refund is to do your taxes online,  e-file and choose direct deposit .  And once you have that refund, put the money to smart use like paying down consumer debt, bolstering your savings or saving to pay cash for your next car. Or, if you are a Kay kid, then you can use it to buy your Mama a really nice present!

3) CATCH UP ON SAVINGS – In money moves one and two, you freed up extra money by cutting costs and getting your refund back early. I recommend that you take a hard look at your emergency fund. If you are a single income family, you should have twelve to fifteen months of living expenses in this fund. If you are a dual income family, you need six to nine months of living expenses. With uncertain employment situations, it’s important that you save for a rainy day. Use 50% of that tax refund and money saved from cutting fixed expenses to help build up your emergency fund. Then every time you save money on expenses, write a check or transfer those funds into this important account. It will become a habit and you’ll build that account up more quickly.

4) CUT OUT DEBT – If you took 50% of the money you gained from steps one and two and put it in your emergency fund—good job! Now it’s time to use the other 50% to pay down credit card debt and get started on the “snowball effect” of getting rid of consumer debt. This snowball plan works by paying off the credit card with the highest rate first. Then you take the payment you would have made on that first card and put it toward the next card on your list, thus doubling up on that payment. Each time you pay off a card, you keep taking what would have been that minimum payments on paid off cards and put them toward the next credit card balance. You will eventually find yourself making triple, quadruple payments and you can see why we call it the “snowball effect,” thus getting ahead of interest charges and paying your debt down more quickly.

5) CARE AND SHARE MORE – This is a good time of the year to map out a strategy to give more and get more out of your giving so that you can itemize your deductions. Go through closets and donate clothing and furniture to IRS- approved charities, but keep track of your donations. Go to the giving arm of the Better Business Bureau to check out the status of charities before you give. Ask charities for receipts. You usually get more for each item than you would selling it at a yard sale.  Remember, monetary donations and certain expenses for volunteering are also deductible.

Happy 2013
Ellie Kay
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