A Financial Education Event
 

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

 

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!

 

 

 

Seven Steps to Thrive and Survive Financially

Today, many families are facing the same issues that Bob and I faced when we were first married—paying bills, stretching paychecks, and still trying to maintain a reasonable quality of life. We read in the news that homes are being foreclosed upon in unprecedented numbers across the country. Consumer confidence isn’t very high these days, sub prime rates are fluctuating and wages are remaining relatively constant—which usually means more inflation. Let’s face it, the headlines aren’t all that cheerful in the midst of a recession. If most families aren’t concerned about losing their homes in uncertain times, they’re certainly concerned about rising food and fuel costs, keeping their kids in clothes, or the freedom to go on vacation. But there are answers for those who are willing to do something about it. Here are seven basic tips to help you beware and prepare:

Military Heroes, Money and Me

If time and money were no issue, what could you see yourself doing for the rest of your life? That’s the question we ask in order to discover our passions.

Think about this for a minute and remember this would be something you have to do FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE! What would you do and why? Could you really travel for the rest of your life?  Could you eat chocolate for the duration? Could you go to spas forever? Most of the “splurges” we would indulge in if time and money were no object are not sustainable for the REST OF OUR LIVES.

Here’s my answer:

I’d speak to our military members and their families. I’d give two kinds of presentations:

1) Heroes at Home — The top characteristics of military families that help them not only survive the lifestyle, but thrive in the midst of it. These families would experience humor, hope and healing and walk away feeling that what they do as Heroes at Home has a life and death impact on our world. They would feel they are leaving a meaningful legacy.

2) Money Matters — The number one problem in marriages is money. I would show families how to get out of debt, improve FICOS, teach their kids financial literacy and pay cash for cars. I would give them real world examples from our very real family of kids that graduate from college debt free with 700+ FICOS. This is the message I’d give to families if time and money were no object.

Wait a minute!  This is exactly what I’m doing because my “profession” is finances in which I’m a media veteran, financial expert and spokesperson. But my “passion” is helping military families and it’s what I have the privilege of doing in between my corporate work, speaking and media appearances. In fact, the two often marry such as the recent appearance I had on Fox and Friends talking about sequestration and the loss of tuition assistance for military members. Click through to see the segment. 

Thanks to sponsors like USAA I can give away hundreds of free books to these military audiences so that they can walk away with some tangible military and financial help at their fingertips. I waived my usual honorariums at these events. With additional generous donors like ProFlowers, I’m able to travel to military bases and give away lots of free stuff to our Heroes at Home like several $200 gift certificates for San Diego’s own Shari’s Berries, Red Envelope, Personal Creations and ProFlowers . What do these corporate sponsors get out of the deal? They get the satisfaction of knowing they are making a difference in the lives of people like Shari.

I did a Heroes at Home presentation last month at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD)and there was a woman named Shari* (*name changed) who came up to me after the event. She confessed that she was at the end of her sanity because she was stuck at home with two toddlers while her husband was facing his 3rd deployment in 5 years. She was all of 23 years old.

Shari smiled weakly, “I came out tonight because of the free childcare and to get a break from the kids.”

She wiped away her tears, “I didn’t expect to laugh so much. Isn’t that silly, I don’t know why I’m crying now…But to hear that others feel the same way I do and I have people here who can be a support has changed my outlook. I can’t believe you did it with all those kids of yours.”

“I feel that I know why I’m a military spouse and that it really is worth it after all.” She smiled bravely, “I know what I need to do and you helped me see that.”

“Besides,” she wiped her nose “I won the gift basket door prize.” She laughed and blew her nose into a kleenex.

I got an email from Shari a few weeks later and she’s plugged into a family support group program at MCRD to get the support she needs. She said that night we met was a turning point for her because it gave her hope.

Hope. That’s a powerful word.

I guess you can see why military families are my passion.

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R) 

If you live in the San Diego area, then save the date:

Camp Pendleton – April 19th — Del Mar Beach Resort – 6:00 — Call 760-725-9052 to make reservations for free childcare

We will be giving away free books, and $200 gift certificates from San Diego’s own, Shari’s Berries, plus $200 gift certificates for Red Envelope and Personal Creations plus a $350 gift certificate to ProFlowers.

Pass along this info to your military friends in the area, there are limited spots available for childcare, so they should act now

Black Friday: Fact or Fiction?

The Kay Family, Christmas on the Move, 1995

The Kay family has been waking at the crack of dawn the Friday after Thanksgiving for almost two decades in order to save as much as 50% on our Christmas purchases. But does all that hot chocolate and bleary-eyed effort really pay off? There is a lot of misinformation about this retailers’ dream day, so I’d like to set the record straight on what is fact and what is fiction regarding this special day.

  • Black Friday sales begin on Black Friday.

FICTION:  It seems that the holiday sales begin earlier and earlier each year. We are used to almost bypassing Thanksgiving as a holiday and decorations go out in stores even before Halloween is over. While some stores like, JC Penneys have issued press releases that they will “honor Thanksgiving as a family day” and not open until 6:00 AM on Friday, other stores aren’t sharing the sentiment. For example, some big sales will start on Thanksgiving day, including stores like Sears, Wal-Mart and K-Mart; you’ll find them at Bradsdeals or BlackFriday So if you need an excuse to get away from your annoying sister-in-law and walk off some of that turkey, you may want to do some shopping on Thanksgiving.

  • Getting a store credit card to get a discount will hurt your FICO score & you should never use any credit  card for purchases.

FACT: Every time you open a line of credit, or there’s an inquiry about your credit you run the risk of getting a hit on your Fair Isaac Credit Score, or FICO. So trying to receive that extra 20% off all your purchases and then closing down the account in a couple of months is usually a very bad idea. It’s especially bad if you’re going to buy a new car or a home in the next several months. Plus, if you are someone who is prone to run up your credit cards and not pay off the balance each month, then you’re in for a double whammy. Your best friend may tell you she does this all the time to get the discounts, and all she’s telling you is that she also gets hit on credit score. Give her the facts, and help a sister out!

When it comes to using a credit card, you are are often better off using credit if you know you can pay the balance at the next billing cycle. It will help you in a dispute with an online vendor and can help you earn rewards points to buy other gifts. Check out LowCards for the rewards and cash back conus you might get. Some credit cards have their own extended warranties if you buy that item (think electronics) with the card. They’ll take a one year warranty and double it. Go to Credit.com to find out the details on what your card is offering.

  • Price Matching Doesn’t Apply on Black Friday

FICTION:  Wal-Mart has offered to match competitor’s ads for years, and this year is no exception. Last year, Best Buy, Amazon, and Home Depot got in on the price comping, and this year you can expect even more including
Target.  So bring in the ads to these various stores to get the good deals (some stores will even match online offers), and save those receipts as well. Because if you have an elite credit card, including  or some offered by Citi and Visa, they will offer a price-protection feature where they will refund you the difference if you find a lower price for the item you’ve bought. For example,the  Chase Freedom card refunds up to $500 per eligible purchase and up to $3500 per calendar year and is valid 90 days after purchase.

Black Friday is not the busiest shopping day of the year.

FACT:   According to the International Council of Shopping Centers the busiest shopping day of the year is actually the Saturday before Dec. 25. In fact, only 35% of respondents plan on shopping on BF—which is more good news for you. It won’t be as crowded as you thought!

  • They give away products for free on Black Friday

FICTION: Yeah, right. You may have been dipping into the cider a bit early if you really believe there are free door busters on Black Friday. The most you will get is some cheesy little ornament worth $2.99 given to the first 100 customers. This also means that sleeping outside the store to get something you think is free.

  • The Best prices of the year are found on Black Friday

FACT: Sorta. There is no doubt that some items will never be cheaper than on Black Friday, but other items may be part of a large retailer’s push to get those Saturday-before-Christmas shoppers and may cut their Black Friday prices. You can use a cool tool at Decide.com to help you figure out whether you should buy that item now or later. It uses data to help you decide the best time to buy a certain product.

  • Black Friday deals are worth sleeping on the curb to get

FICTION:  If you really love the great outdoors and want to sleep under the starts to get one of the 3 HDTV deals that Best Buy is offering in your city, then knock yourself out. But really, this year there are more BF deals available online and in the store as well. For example, this year Kohl’s is offering its online shoppers all early bird deals on Nov 21 and all day on Thanksgiving!  So unless you just have a whole lot of free time on your hands, I’d pass on the sleepover.

  • Be careful before you buy because you may not be able to get a full refund on some of your Black Friday purchases

FACT: Retailers sometimes tighten their return policies during the holidays.  I remember one year I got 35% less than what I paid for a camera because of restocking fees that Best Buy charged me. Not fun. Other stores may only give you an in-store refund, so you are locked into spending your refund at that store. So be sure you know the store’s refund policy before you slap down the dough.

  • There are special, “secret” deals online that are not in the circulars.

FACT:   In recent years, on Thanksgiving Day, retailers like Best Buy, Target, and Wal-Mart have advertised extra Black Friday deals that were not listed in their circulars. These “secret” deals are only found online or with the store’s app, so the trick is to find them early so you’ll know about them when you arrive at the store on Friday. Get the Dealnews app to find new listings.

Myth: Cyber Monday offers the same caliber deals online as Black Friday in-store sales. For those of you who’d rather fully digest your Thanksgiving meal and not stand in line starting at 3 a.m. on Black Friday, we understand. Shopping for the best deals can be exhausting, but if you wait until Cyber Monday you may be missing out on some of the highest markdowns of the holiday season.

Happy Savings!

Ellie Kay

 

One Tip To Save Thousands Each Year!

When I was a little girl I was a big fan of Peter Pan (the Lost boy not the peanut butter) and I believed in fairies. I remember making fairy wings with my seven-year-old girlfriend, they were beautiful. We would walk up a few steps in her house’s open circular stairway leading to the second floor. Then we’d jump and “fly” with our wings. Our goal was to jump from the second floor. We kept flying off “one more step” until we were halfway up and got caught by her mom. Drats! Our airborne hopes were “grounded” and we went back to playing Chinese Jump Ropes instead.

If there is one tip you can use that is almost like sprinkling fairy dust over your finances, it would be to improve your FICO (or Fair Issac Credit Score). Currently, a good FICO can make the difference between paying $900 a month in mortgage payments or $1400. It can mean a $395 car payment or a $600 payment. It can mean you pay more in car insurance with a low FICO or you lose the job or the promotion because your employer checked the scores. This list could go on and on, but a better FICO can literally save you thousands of dollars each year—and its so easy to improve your score in three simple steps:

  • Step One: Pay A Day Early Rather Than A Day Late – Late payments can cost you as much as $45 dollars in penalty fees and they are a hit on your FICO as well. Set up an automatic payment online at your credit card provider’s website and you’ll never be late again.
  • Step Two: Pay A Bit More Than The Minimum – By paying as little as $10 more than the minimum balance on your credit card bill, you will improve your score. This shows up on the record as “paying down” your debt and it helps a lot!
  • Step Three: Proportionality Plus – Keep the proportion on your various cards at 50% or below to improve your overall credit picture. This means that if you have a $5000 limit on a particular card, you don’t want to charge more than $2500 on this card. Redistribute the debt on your existing cards to remain at 50% or less and you will truly help your FICO score.

Peter Pan had a score to settle–and you do, too! But you don’t need fairy dust, you’ve got a good FICO to keep your finances flying high!

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

ABC NEWS – Q&A From Military Members & Families

Here’s a “Hero Shot” of hubby Bob and his F-4 Phantom, that he flew up until last year when a jet incident caused him to break his back. Thankfully, he is fully functional, but his injuries will not allow him to fly an ejection seat aircraft. The good news: he’s gainfully employed flying “regular” airplanes and also the Global Hawk UAV (think the high tech airplane on Transformers).

We had a lot of questions when he had that accident and I speak with a lot of military members and their families who have questions about their lives and finances as well. Some of these fine people were on ABC News with me recently for a Q&A. Here’s the recap for you to share with others you know who are in our armed forces. The questions that made it on ABC NEWS won a free copy of their choice of my books! But here are the answers to many more questions.

Q. Is SGLI enough insurance for families or do you need an additional supplemental insurance? From Melody O’Sullivan

ELLIE: SGLI is relatively cheap, term group life insurance that is offered to members of the military on active duty, in the ready reservists, members of the National Guard, members of the Commissioned Corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Public Health Service, cadets and midshipmen of the four service academies, and members of the Reserve Officer Training Corps. The insurance is also offered to spouses as well.
Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance coverage is available in $50,000 increments up to the maximum of $400,000 for members of the military. The price for this insurance is very cheap, so it’s certainly a good value. But is it enough? If you are a young family with only one or two children, then it could be enough. But if you are a more senior servicemember with a lot of family members depending on you, then you might want to buy some term supplemental insurance. Remember that once you leave the military, SGLI is no longer available to you. So if you know you are going to separate in the next couple of years, then it would be a good idea to get a modest supplemental life insurance policy in place.

Q. As a “Key Spouse” how do we encourage other spouses to take advantage of all the benefits the military has to offer? From Starr Vuchetich

ELLIE: Thank you, Starr, for your volunteer work with other spouses, you are to be commended as should ALL our Key Spouses! There’s an old saying that “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Your job, as a key spouse, is a difficult one. You know the benefit of taking advantage of the services and perks available to military families, but others have to decide for themselves. The best thing you can do is to lead those spouses by example and express the benefits you are personally receiving from taking advantage of, such as free childcare for volunteering, free financial counseling, free oil changes (or whatever program your base offers), as well as the many benefits listed at sites such as www.militaryonesource.com or www.ourmilitary.mil

Q. How did you arrange childcare during deployments with very little money and how did you maintain sanity with so many small children on a tight budget?
From Jana Baez

ELLIE: I do remember what an incredible challenge it was when all my kids were so young and my husband was gone for weeks (or months) on end. But the first thing I did was plug into all the “free babysitting” I could get. Go to the Family Support Center and see if they offer free childcare for those who volunteer. I also got on site childcare provided when I attended Army Family Team Building classes, so sometimes you can get a break and learn something, too. Don’t forget the community outside of the base gates, either. There are a number of churches, community centers and MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) groups that try to support military families during deployments by offering free “Mother’s Day Out” programs or onsite classes where childcare is provided. Last, but not least, form a babysitting co-op, where you get tickets for every child you babysit for every hour. You can “redeem” your tickets with other co-op members and it serves as a way to escape for a while as well as a playgroup when you are watching other children.

Q. How does one begin a business without acquiring debt?
From Chana Montgomery

ELLIE: In the case of a military family, you need to start a business that is completely portable and can move with you. It’s important to select a homebased business that requires little initial investment and will still yield an income to keep you in the black. Do your research and talk to a mentor at SCORE.org where you can get free business counseling in your desired field. If you follow your passion, you’ll be far more likely to succeed. Just email assistant@elliekay.com and ask for the “Homemade Business” file, we’ll send it to you for free as it contains all the information you need to be successful in your endeavor.

Q. When you have extra income flowing in, is it better to work on paying off debts or continue paying normal payments and stash the money into savings?
From Emily Haffner

ELLIE: The answer is “both” if you pay even $5 to $10 more on your credit card minimums, you’ll improve your FICO score and begin to pay down that debt. But you also need a safety net in savings just in case your car breaks down and your husband is downrange and not home to fix it. The optimum savings goal is to have 12 months worth of living expenses. But even if you just save up to 3 months (and keep adding to it little by little) you’ll be better prepared for rainy days.

Q. I have three children and I wanted to know if I should apply the new 9-11 GI Bill to the first child (not knowing how long it will be around) or should I split it up among the children.
Stephanie Berg

ELLIE: Because the Post 911 GI bill is relatively new, and because we don’t know how Congress will vote to continue this practice, it may be best to take the money while you can. It’s still important to have your child go to the most affordable school possible, get scholarships and other means of payment. But go ahead and use as much of that GI Bill money as you can to pay what you can on your oldest child’s college. In the meantime, the money you would have put toward his/her college (from your own 529 plan or other savings vehicle) put into another college fund for your other two children.

By funding more on the other two children’s accounts, your money will continue to grow as the market continues to rebound. But in the meantime, you will also be able to take advantage of the current bill. Do not give your first child his/her saved “college money.” Instead, put whatever you have saved toward the other two. You can tell your oldest that his/her college money is coming in the form of the POST 9ll GI bill. Because you don’t want the youngest two to be stuck with student loan debt that the oldest child did not have to accrue.

Q. With limited funds, what should be the priorities for the best use of financial planning? Should I invest in the TSP (Thrift Savings Plan), IRA, life insurance or mutual funds? Major Anthony Smith

ELLIE: Once you’ve paid off your credit cards and funded a 12 month savings account, then you are ready to take your investments to the next level. It will depend on your family size, retirement needs and current income. I do not recommend life insurance as a good investment tool, even though agents may point you toward that route since the commissions are significant. Better to max out your TSP benefit since those funds will still be available to you if you do not make the military your career for a twenty year retirement requirement. It’s also a good idea to get a ROTH IRA or regular IRA. Go to your Airman and Family Readiness center and ask for an appointment with a financial counselor. It’s free advice and the expert there can look at your entire financial picture to help you come up with the best method of investing. Or try the military friendly company, USAA, they help to fund a lot of military events and can offer good advice on mutual funds.

Q. Being that you moved many times during your military career and have many children, how did you present it to the children when you had to PCS (Permanent Change of Station)? From Kristie Fromer

ELLIE: This is the hard part of military life, Kristie, and thank you for your willingness to go through this. One of the advantages of having so many kids is that they were sure to have built in playmates wherever they went! When we told our kids they would have to leave their friends, we allowed them the freedom to grieve and be sad over leaving. But we were also positive about where we were going. We printed out materials about the new base and all the places we could visit and where we would go camping along the way. By focusing on the positive, while allowing them the freedom to express their feelings, we had healthy, adjusted kids and a well bonded family.

Q. If your auto is less than two years old, is it a good time to refinance? We retire in 2011 and will be buying a house wherever my husband starts his second career. Is this wise to do before buying a house? From Lisa McClain

ELLIE: Refinancing a car will cause a hit to your FICO score, but it can be a good idea in order to get you a lower interest rate. I offer two words of caution: 1) refi at least six months before you get a home loan in order to give your credit time to recover and 2) refi with payments that will end at the same time your original loan would have ended (otherwise, you’re just paying interest over a longer period of time.) For example, if you have 3 years left on your car loan. Then refi the loan for 3 years (instead of 4 or 5).

Thank you for your service, military members and your families. Remember three things:

  • America loves you
  • We support you
  • And together we’ll be all right!

Ellie Kay
America’s Military Family Expert (TM)

What Should You Teach Your Three Year Old About Money?

Here we have the world’s cutest four year old, three year old and 7 month old! But what should they be learning about money right now?

So how do you raise a kid that owns his car, debt free, owes no credit card debt and has a 760 FICO score upon graduating from college (no student loan debt) at the tender age of 22? We’ve been able to raise a kid (or two or five) that are financially fit. We still have some at home that we’re working on! But you can raise financially literate kids, too!

It starts with a “Fiscal Report Card” and checking off what they need to know at various ages. Here’s a partial report card you can review and if you want the full version (for free) just email assistant@elliekay.com and put “Fiscal Report Card” in the subject line.

Youngsters

Age 2 to 4
• Picks up toys cheerfully
• Is on a schedule for sleep, play, and work (or school)

Age 4 to 6
• Makes bed in a basic way (not necessarily neat)
• Picks up room regularly
• Brings clothes to hamper
• Knows how to set and clear the table
• Knows how to take out the trash

Middlers

Ages 7 to 10
• Knows how to sort laundry into whites, coloreds and darks
• Can fold laundry and put it in everyone’s room
• Is given an allowance
• Has a savings account at home and at a bank
• Manages a fun kid budget (restaurant, zoo, amusement park, etc)

Ages 11 to 12
• Begins to do additional “jobs” for hire within the home and occasionally for friends or family.
• Has a savings account with at least $200 to $250 in it.
• Is learning the meaning of delayed gratification
• Can save up for half of a larger ticket item they want (bike, skates, video game, etc)
• Is regularly contributing to a community organization either through volunteer hours or donating goods (clothing, toys, money)

Teens

Ages 13 to 15
• Can manage and balance their own checkbook with supervision
• Has enough in savings to take out $200 to $300 to start a mutual fund
• Is able to do outside jobs for hire among approved “employers” in the neighborhood
• Regularly pays for outings (movies, theme parks, etc)
• Is saving for a vehicle
• Is aware of the fact their grades in high school will impact their ability to get into college and earn scholarships for college

Age 16 to 20• Can balance a checkbook without supervision
• Has an additional credit card (on parents account) and can use it responsibly
• Can manage and balance a clothing budget and personal financial budget
• Regularly works inside and outside of the home during breaks from school
• Has paid for 1/3 to 1/2 of the cost of their car
• Maintains a good GPA (or what they are capable of)
• Has a regular volunteer position (hospital, coaching, church involvement, etc)
• Can use social media to learn ways to save money

What are you doing with your kids that is working? Let me hear from you!

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

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