A Financial Education Event
 

Financial First Aid Kit – Military Appreciation Month

In honor of military appreciation month, I’d like to highlight our Army son, Joshua. When he was born we started saying, “If he had been our first, he would have been our last.” That little boy had more energy and could get into more scrapes than all our other children combined. When he was eighteen months old, he stripped down to his diaper, took a plastic sword and chased his four older siblings around the house, thus earning the nickname “Conan, the baby barbarian.” By that age, he had also jumped off the top bunkbed (three stitches) and “flown” off our travel trailer (four stitches). Joshua was the reason we purchased a serious first aid kit. He’s now an Army Lt jumping out of airplanes at Fort Benning.

Just as every family needs a good first aid kit for those unexpected accidents, they also need a financial first aid kit, or practical ways to help safeguard their financial future.

  1. An Emergency Savings Account – This account is not an investment account, it doesn’t include IRAs, retirement accounts or CDs. Its purpose is not growth, but safety. These are funds that are accessed in the event of spouse unemployment, emergency home repairs, or unexpected auto repair bills. The best way to build this account is to establish a family budget. Go to your base’s Family Readiness Center to develop a budget for your current season of life. I recommend automatically transferring funds from a paycheck or checking account into a savings account every week. A good guideline is to save three months of living expenses for dual income households or six months for a single income family.
  2. Life & Health Insurance – For life insurance, you will need enough money so that your dependents could invest the money and live modestly on the proceeds. For military members, the best buy is still SGLI, or Servicemember’s Group Life Insurance. Members are automatically insured for the maximum amount of $400,000 unless an election is filed reducing the insurance by $50,000 increments or canceling it entirely.  Family Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (FSGLI) is a program extended to the spouses and dependent children of members insured under the SGLI program. FSGLI provides up to a maximum of $100,000 of insurance coverage for spouses, not to exceed the amount of SGLI the insured member has in force, and $10,000 for dependent children. The rates are inexpensive. If your situation requires additional life insurance or you are transitioning out of the military, look at USAA for the best rates for military members and their families. For health insurance, there’s healthcare.gov where you can find out about open enrollment season and how to get insurance plans changed or updated. Another good place to research a variety of plans is found at eHealthInsurance where you can compare plans. There’s also
  1. A Will –Here’s another easy one, that’s as easy as making an appointment with the JAG or taking advantage of mobile services that are sometimes offered at military conferences such as Yellow Ribbon. The main section of this critical document will assign a guardian for your children. In many states, the surviving spouse may only get one-third to one-half of the assets that were in your sole name. Your children get the rest and if they are minors, a court administrator could handle their money until they become adults. Make sure that the beneficiary designations on any 401(k) plans, IRAs, life insurance and bank accounts are also up to date. Another option is legal zoom, which can prepare a quick will at a low cost.
  2. A Retirement Account –A surprising number of military spouses, or reservists do not take advantage of the terrific tax-deferred accounts offered by their employer, which include 401(k) plans. The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) is a Federal Government-sponsored retirement savings and investment plan and has great rates with low fees for administering the account It’s part of the new Blended Retirement System that is currently in place. This plan offers the similar tax benefits that many private corporations offer their employees under 401(k) plans and they are full portable upon leaving the military. Be sure your current TSP funds are not in the “G” fund for maximum benefit.
  3. A Good Credit Rating – The best way to rebuild good FICO, or credit score, is found in three steps: pay more than your minimum payment (even if it’s only $5/month more), pay a day early rather than a day late (set up automatic transfers from your checking account to your credit card company for minimum payments) and never let your available credit fall to less than 30% of the total credit available (for example, $2000 on a $6000 credit line.)  Each year, get a free copy of your credit report by going to Annual Credit Report or go into the base’s Family Support Center where they can also run a free copy of your report and check your score.
  4. A College Fund for Those Babies!–Select a college savings account that has low fees, a good selection of investments, plus a tax break. One of the many options is a Qualified State Tuition Plan, also known as 529 Plans. Be sure to research your state of record and their plans. These contributions will be tax-deferred and could even be tax-deductible from your state income tax if you are a resident of that state (check with your tax specialist). When the money is withdrawn for college, it is only taxed at the student’s income tax rate. If the child does not go to college, the money can be designated for another beneficiary or removed at a 10% penalty.

 

If you’re a family with a “Conan,” then make sure you have a First Aid Kit on hand. But don’t forget the fact that your family need a Financial First Aid kit as well.

I wanted to issue a special thank you to all our military families who serve, we appreciate you!

Rent-To-Own: Is It Ever A Good Idea?

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You’ve moved into a new place, started a new job and you’re beginning another phase of your life. The only problem is that you don’t have enough furniture for the new place and you realize you’ll also need a washer/dryer.  Then, miraculously, an ad pops up on social media for a place where you can go get name brand appliances and choose from dozens of options on exactly the kind of furniture you need—all for only $21.99 a month! YEA!!!  You’re saved! After all, you have a good job, the monthly payments aren’t going to break you and you deserve to make your new place comfortable, right?

Wait a minute, not so fast.

Is rent-to-own the best option? The answer is:  it depends.

How Does Rent-to-Own Work?

Usually, you’re renting from a well known store, but, in most cases, you’ll have to sign a third party contract. I remember one time when we bought a refrigerator and my husband thought, “Let’s use someone else’s money at 0% interest.”  The only problem was the third party contract indicated that those 0% payments were only for a fixed introductory period, then there were three options. We could buy the item, continue making payments (at 200% APR interest) or return the item to end our lease. We bought it out early, so that we were in the clear and vowed to never buy into this kind of a contract without understanding the fine print first.

 

Rent-to-own also means that if you fall behind on the payments, the leasing company can repossess your leased item and you don’t get any money back. There may be cheaper ways to pay because even if you have bad credit the options of  layaway, sub-prime credit cards or  bad-credit personal loans, which run 36% APR are better than the 200% APR of many rent-to-own programs.

 

When Is Rent-to-Own A Good Idea?

 

Despite the typical APR rates north of 200% for this kind of contract, there may be some anomalies when this option is not a bad thing for your bottom line. In fact, there are some instances, when using a rent-to-own option make sense:

 

  • If the interest rate stays relatively low (less than 3%) during the entire leasing term, and the term is 24 months or less, then you aren’t losing much. But read the fine print.
  • If you believe you’ll have the money to buy the item outright at the end of the low, fixed rate introductory period, then it could be a good way to keep some money in a rainy day account while you save up for the buy out.
  • If you need to diversify your loans to improve your credit score, and you qualify for low interest, then this kind of financial contract could help your credit score. But since diversification of loans only represents 10% of your credit score, it’s not worth paying higher interest rates to diversify.
  • If you are only in a location for a short amount of time (our sons have military training at bases for anywhere from 3 months to 10 months), and your interest rate is low, you could rent and turn the item back in when you move. But make sure the contract allows you to do so. If you must move yourself and your company doesn’t pay for a move, then renting a truck and moving that furniture cross country could cost more than it’s worth.
  • If you have the good credit score amongst your roommates and you all need to get furniture for the main living areas, then you could work a deal where they use your credit (your contribution) and they pay their part of the monthly payments (their contribution). But make sure the interest rates are low for the entire contract and that you trust your roommates enough to make the payments to you (on time) so that you can make the payment. At the end of the lease, you keep the furniture. This option may be more of a hassle than it’s worth. But if you are cash strapped, it might be just what you need.

 

Before You Sign

Let’s say that you’ve decided that Rent-to-own is the route that will work best for your budget and lifestyle. Here is your checklist before you ink that contract, if any of these are not clear are it’s revealed that they are not to your advantage, then think twice about this option. Here’s the list:

  • What are the monthly payments (including all fees)?
  • When are the payments due?
  • What is the total cost to own this item (all payments, interest and fees)?
  • Who insures damaged or theft?
  • If you miss a payment, will it be automatically repossessed?
  • Is the item new or used?

After You Sign

 

Let’s say you already signed a contract before you read this blog. Or, you’ve followed all the advice shared and decide that the contract will be a good option for you. Take these steps to protect yourself:

 

  • Follow the money. Make sure you are keeping your payment records because some rental companies have had problems with giving their customers credit for payments made.
  • Pay on time. Since 35% of your credit score is your credit history, it’s crucial that you make your payments on time or even before they are due. If possible, set up the payments to transfer from your bank account so that you never miss a payment.
  • There’s a chance your debt might be sold to a debt collector Know your rights in this situation as the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires debt collectors from harassing customers, calling them excessively and using abusive or deceptive practices to collect on the debt. 

In the Kay family, we like to live a debt free life and will usually save up to buy furniture or appliances before we would go into debt. This isn’t always possible for American consumers, in which case it’s good to know the nuances of Rent-to-Own for you or those you care about.

What has been YOUR experience with Rent-to-Own?

Smart Money Habits for Millennials (and Their Mamas)

The Kay Family had five babies in seven years. That roughly adds up to 3 kids in diapers at once, 10 years of not sleeping through the night, 4 teenage drivers at the same time, 3 kids in college at once and today, we have 5 millennials in their 20’s simultaneously.

Fun .

But the good news is that they eventually slept, pottied, drove, graduated and even mastered money habits in the journey. Here are the habits we helped teach our millennials to make sure they didn’t have to move home, they could remain financially independent, have a great start for their families, and still buy their mama nice birthday gifts.

Habit #1 – Create and Live By a Spending Plan

Many millennials have heard of the value of creating a budget and even have apps that help. But it’s of little use if they don’t know how to stick to it. Here are my favorite apps to help:

  • Mint Budgeting App – I met the founder of Mint, Aaron Patzer, in a green room, years ago, when we were both going to be on ABC News in NYC. At the time, he was building his success with Mint. I just remember him being (as he says in the video) “full of myself.” Ha! But his budgeting app is probably the best out there because it makes it easy to create a budget. You connect the Mint app to your bank and the app uses your details to help create a personalized budget.
  • PocketGuard Budget App – This app also connects to your bank accounts and shows you what you currently have in your pocket. It tracks your money to show what you are spending and automates where you’re going off budget and where you need to cut back.
  • You Need a Budget – This app’s claim to fame is that it creates a budget you can stick to based on the info provided in your bank accounts and spending habits. It even teaches you what to do if you overspend and how to live on last month’s income. This is the only app that cost money in my list and it’s $50 for the year, but there are hoards of devotees that say this app helped them to finally live on a budget.
  • GoodBudget – Back when dinosaurs roamed the financial space, there was an “envelope system” where you put the money you needed in each envelope labeled with expenses such as gas, food and entertainment. It helped Bob and I get out of 40K in consumer debt in only 2.5 years when we were first married. This app is the digital version of that system, making sure that everyone knows how much is left in the “envelope.”

You might need a money buddy to stay on track, too. Tiffany Aliche, The Budgetnista, talks about her journey on our fun podcast The Money Millhouse and how she went from broke to anything-but-broke through techniques that kept her on track.

Habit #2 – Cook Creatively and Consistently

Money evaporates when you order out for lunch or dinner more than one or two meals a week. Bob took leftover dinners (the

re’s a microwave and fridge at work) for our entire marriage and we calculate that he’s saved $20,000 by doing this! Make Pintrist your pal or watch The Food Network to learn easy ways to create nutritious and tasty meals. Ask for an Instant Pot for your next birthday and make more than you need for dinner so you’ll have leftovers for either lunch or dinner later in the week. Or freeze the leftovers. My daughter lived with roommates for a few years and they would assign different nights for each of them to cook to simplify the work. Cook more and your wallet and your waistline will thank you.

Habit #3 – Care About Your Retirement

When we take our Heroes At Home Financial Event on the road, we teach young service members the miracle of compounding interest with the mantra: start early, start small and stay committed. Be sure to start with funding a Roth IRA and take advantage of your company’s matching portion of your 401(k). Lacey Langford, an Accredited Financial Counselor gave some great tips on a segment called “I Aint Afraid of No Money.”  She discussed retirement planning from her experience in working with the military (but many tips apply to civilians as well.) If you’re military, be sure to go into your Family Readiness Center to discuss the Blended Retirement System and what your options are for your situation. It’s free and a benefit you can use early and often.

Habit #4 – Count the Cost of Debt

The average millennial college grad owes 37K in student loan debt and the average household owes $8500 in credit card debt. Work on minimizing the debt you accrue and pay off the debt you have so that you’ll have the flexibility to move or wait on the right job. One of my sons worked for JC Penney, and they eliminated his entire department. Most employees were freaking out because they had student loan debt, consumer debt and car debt—but not our son. He made a practice of living on less so he wouldn’t accrue debt and he was able to have less worry in the process of finding a new job.

Be sure you also pay attention to your credit score. Rod Griffin, from Experian, came over for a discussion on coffee and credit. He works with us on our tours and he teaches that if you have bad credit, you’ll pay an average of 360K more (over your lifetime) for the use of basic credit, than the person who has a good score. Improve your score by paying on time, paying more than the minimum balance due and make sure you never use more than 30% of your available credit.

Habit #5 – Choose Contentment

This is a tricky habit because it’s a mindset that you choose. There will always be something to spend money on to make you go off budget or get into financial trouble. There’s the new phone, tablet, car, vacay, boyfriend/girlfriend, baby, or a plethora of other reasons to want to spend more and have more. This is where your friends, family and even faith come into play. Coveting what others have or do is a lesson in futility and discontentment. Your friends either contribute to this mindset or they keep you focused on what matters most. If keeping up with their lifestyle is an important platform in your friendship, then you may want to find new friends. Remember that this financial journey is a marathon not a sprint. I’ve always said, “you can have it all—just not at the same time.”

What is one habit you are good at? What is one habit you want to improve upon? Share it with us, a friend or even a money buddy, so that you can be fiscally healthy in 2018 and for a lifetime.

 

Avoiding Last Minute Christmas Panic!

 

So….here’s  some of this year’s Kay Christmas photos, that were a part of our annual photo greeting card. This was mailed the day after Thanksgiving. On Black Friday and Cyber Monday of every year, I get all my shopping done so that we can have a simple holiday–no last minute panic, no stress–just a simple life. But a few Christmases ago, I got talked into having “some work” done in our kitchen that was “a three day job.” I remember stressing to my husband that, with all the college kids coming home for the holidays, I didn’t want my house in a mess. But in accordance with Murphy’s law, most of my kids came home to 6 inches of snow on the ground that completely shut down our desert California town. Plus, I had A MESS OF KITCHEN! Workers couldn’t drive in t
he snow.  With no kitchen, there was no holiday baking, no traditional truffles, nothing but a sense of panic that there was too much to do and not enough time.

Whether you’re still shopping for last minute gifts, prepping your cards, cooking for the big meal or cleaning the house, you can avoid the associated expense and stress that comes with last minute panic by becoming proactive and purposeful in the midst of your panic. Here are some tips to attack the anxiety before it attacks you.

 

  • Simplify – It may have been a tough year economically for your family or you may an uncertain financial future. It’s the ideal time to simplify the holidays by taking a deep breath and thinking about what you do have rather than what you don’t have. I believe that each of us has two kinds of attitudes within us: there is a minimalist as well as a materialist in each of us. It’s time to tap into the minimalist and give the materialist less power in your life. Be sure that you are talking this through with your spouse. Dr. Jennifer Degler has some great ideas to manage these conversations when we interviewed her on The Money Millhouse. The holidays are all about friends and family, they’re really not about spending yourself into oblivion or stressing the small stuff.
  • Strategize – Get the free Christmas Radio app and sit down for a strategy session. At the root of most of our last minute anxiety is a basic lack of control. In order to separate emotional panic from the plan, take charge by implementing a specific strategy for these last few days.
    1. Step One: Take ten minutes to write down what you have left to do (gifts, grocery shopping, cards, baking, cleaning, etc). You could use the Christmas List app for $2.99 or just use the notes on your tablet so that you can share this with appropriate family members that may be impacted. Maybe you don’t really have as much to do as you thought and that, in and of itself, will help eliminate stress.
    2. Step Two: Go back over your list and mark the items as optional or mandatory. Do you really have to paint the bathroom before the guests arrive—optional.  Do you really have to change the sheets in the guest room before your mother-in-law arrives—mandatory.  Do you have to bake those three step chocolate truffles or can you get them at the local bakery–optional.
    3. Step Three: Take the optional items and place them on the bottom of the list. If you get to them—fine, if you don’t fine. This takes off TONS of pressure.
  • Stash the Cash – It’s soooo hard to really stay on budget with only days before Christmas. One tried-and-true way our family has been able to stay on a last minute budget is to get the budget remainder in cash and divide it into specially marked envelopes, for example, “food” and “gifts.” When I’m in the grocery store, I take the food budget envelope and it serves as a visual reminder of what I have left. On one hand, it keeps me from splurging on some treats if I’m running out of cash but on the other hand, it can also allow me to splurge (guilt free) on certain products if I realize that I have money leftover!
  • Split the Efforts – This may come as a news flash but… you don’t have to do everything in order for it to get done right! This is not the time to be Miss Polly Perfectionist. In this step, we need to delegate responsibilities. Assign tasks to different family members and cut your work in half. In fact, you could use this time as an opportunity to teach your teens the value of a dollar. Let them go to the store for you and get the items on your list, asking them to find the best deals. If they are not certain, then they can text you the options (what teen doesn’t love to text?) You can text them back some suggestions and in the process they are learning to evaluate a good deal and a bad deal.
  • Separate – It’s highly likely that you’re going to be charging some last minute expenses on your credit cards. But don’t let those purchases hurt your FICO (Fair Isaac Credit Score) by charging more than 30% on any one card. Check your credit card limits as well as your balances online or by phone and then make certain that you charge on the card that is lowest proportionally. Even if you are able to pay off these credit card bills next month, charges of more than 50% of the available limit on any given card can hurt your FICO. So be strategic by separating those purchases and saving your credit score.
  • SAVE – It used to be that Black Friday was just a day, this year it’s an entire season. It’s truly a buyer’s market amongst retailers and there are last minute deals to be had, especially electronics and clothing. But what if you don’t have time to go and battle the crowds at the store? There’s an easier way to give last minute gifts that simplifies your time, saves you money and keeps you on budget.
    1. Gift certificates (online and physical cards) – If you want to send an online gift certificate to someone, it’s as easy as pointing and clicking. They’ll receive notification in their in-box that you’ve bought them a gift certificate and you can follow up with an e-card alerting them that the notification they will receive from the retailer is not spam. For some great options, go to restaurant.com for discounts on eating out or check out potential deals at amazon.com For a review of codes that can give you a better deal, go to RetailMeNot.
    2. Gifts of Time – Some of the most memorable gifts I’ve ever received are gifts of time. One girlfriend gifted me with a certificate good for lunch at my favorite bistro. My kids have given me handmade “coupons” that are good for doing the dishes, cleaning the living room, babysitting a younger sibling or not back talking me for a week (hey, I’m happy for a day). You could write out your own coupon and give the recipient a card that says, “This card entitles you to dinner and a movie” or “This card can be redeemed for a night out on the town while we babysit your teething twins.” This can be FUN!
  • Share – I’m all about multitasking and getting the most out of my efforts as well as my money. Now is the perfect time to give to charity in a way that also benefits you financially with your taxes. This year, given the current economy and the great material needs in communities why not consider giving the “gift” of a donation in someone’s name? Our favorite non profit organization is Heroes at Home which provides free financial education for military members. Currently, 95% of your donations go directly to programs on base.  Look over your list of people and consider making a donation in their name instead of giving them a material gift. You don’t have to tell them the amount of the gift and you can make one donation in the names of several people—thereby giving an amount that allows you stay within your budget. Furthermore, this kind of gift could be tax-deductible and help you (if you itemize) on your taxes as well. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.

Merry Christmas!
Ellie Kay
www.elliekay.com

Do You Believe in Good Credit?

BGadmin

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

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