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!

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.

 

Red, White and Scammed – My Video Blog!

How do you avoid being a part of a scam?  Whether it comes to those trying to take advantage of our military with the “REd Cross Scam” or those who are confused about whether a Fixed Indexed Annuity is a good deal. This Video Log that I just finished in conjunction with my education work for the IALC (Indexed Annuity Leadership Counsel) has the answers you are looking for in whether a good deal is in fact, good or whether it is fiction!
Yep! See the post live here

How do YOU recognize a scam?

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R) 

 

Recession Proof Retirement

Last month, the National Institute on Retirement Security unveiled the findings of a new research report, The Retirement Savings Crisis: Is it Worse Than We Think? Of note, the report found that

  • The average working household has virtually no retirement savings.
  • When all households are included— not just households with retirement accounts—the median retirement account balance is $3,000 for all working-age households and $12,000 for near-retirement households.
  • Two-thirds of working households age 55-64 with at least one earner have retirement savings less than one times their annual income, which is far below what they will need to maintain their standard of living in retirement.

There are a few things you can do to recession proof your retirement. I have been working with the Indexed Annuity Leadership Council, a not for profit group that helps educate consumers. I’ve been working as a spokesperson to help consumers plan for retirement. For my full blog on recession proof retirement, click here and enjoy!

What are some of the ways YOU are planning for retirement?

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

 

Raiders of the Lost 401(k) – Loans? Withdrawals? Good or Bad?

Ellie was on ABC News and KLOVE discussing the attack facing 401(k) accounts.

The 401(k), which has long been known as the ticket to retirement for millions of Americans is under attack from within and has taken a hit in recent years. In the second quarter of this year, a record 2.2% of participants in 401(k) plans took hardship withdrawals from their savings, which is up 2% from the same figures available a year ago. What is the long term impact of raiding your 401(k)?

Q. The news about early withdrawals on 401(k) plans is worrisome and yet thousands of participants are making these decisions in increasing numbers. Why do you think people are taking the early withdrawal?

ELLIE: I think that it is worrisome when you are borrowing on tomorrow’s retirement to handle today’s financial issues. But I think that the vast majority of those who are taking this money out are doing it to pay their bills. Some have had their hours cut or maybe a spouse has lost their jobs. Others have seen their kids college fund shrink to where they cannot afford to pay tuition for this year and they’re raiding their 401(k)s to pay that hefty bill. It’s just a sign of the hard economic times in which we are living. Our parents’ generation tended to work for someone who gave them a pension check for the rest of their lives. This means that current workers may not have been raised with the mindset that they control their own pensions and need to make funding their own retirements a priority. There’s an alarming trend that involves looking at 401(k) accounts as “now” money when it’s really “later” money, that really must be saved for later.

Q. Aren’t there certain stipulations associated with a 401(k) hardship withdrawal? How easy is it to get?

ELLIE: I think that the increased percentage of those who qualify for an early withdrawal indicate the financial strain that many families are facing because this kind of withdrawal is not easy to get. Under IRS guidelines, 401(k) administrators can grant hardship withdrawals only for specific reasons, including tuition payments, the purchase of a primary residence, unreimbursed medical bills and prevention of foreclosure.

Q. The IRS has guidelines for hardship withdrawals, can companies also impose additional limits on their employees?

ELLIE: Yes, and in most cases the company rules are even tougher than the IRS. So if that number of Americans managed to actually secure a 401(k) hardship withdrawal, then it is a huge indicator of how the financial difficulty that many Americans are currently experiencing in our present economy.

Q. Of all the reasons you mentioned for taking a withdrawal, what is the number one reason that participants are raiding their 401(k)?

ELLIE: The number one reason is to pay the mortgage in the face of a foreclosure. In the second quarter, nearly 10% of households with a mortgage were at least one payment behind on their loans, this is according to the Mortgage Bankers Association report that came out last week. Families who feel they may lose their homes often believe they have no choice but to tap their retirement savings. But many of those families have not yet exhausted all their resources. If it’s a short term problem, then talk with your mortgage lenders and see if they will suspend or lower your payments over the next three to six months until you are back on your feet again. They can also go to MakingHomeAffordable.gov, which is a federal government website with the goal of helping families by providing free HUD-approved counselors who can help you modify your mortgage. These are far better options than raiding your retirement fund.

Q. What about those families who are tapping into their 401(k) to pay tuition, you say this is a very bad money move, why?

ELLIE: As a mom with three kids who have graduated from college, two kids in college and two more headed toward college, I believe I can speak to the importance of getting that college degree. That having been said, I still think that those families who pay for tuition with their retirement dollars have their priorities wrong. There are other ways to pay for college, including taking a year off and working, going to a junior college for a couple of years, getting funds through an internship or work/study program or even getting a loan. You can get a loan to fund college but you can’t get a loan to fund your retirement. I never think it’s wise to borrow on your own future to pay for your child’s short term goal.

Q. What are some of the taxes and other penalties that arise when you take a hardship withdrawal?

ELLIE: These taxes and penalties are the main reason I say that it’s not a good idea to raid your 401(k) and one of the primary reasons is that, depending on your tax bracket, you could end up giving a third or more of your money to the IRS. You’ll have to pay income taxes on the entire amount of your withdrawal, at your ordinary income rate. And if you’re under 591/2, you’ll also have to pay a 10% early withdrawal penalty. Since the average age of those who took the hardship withdrawal in the second quarter was between the ages of 35 and 55, this tells us that most workers who took the cash are paying the penalty!

Q. You also say that there is an intrinsic “opportunity cost” that arises at the time of withdrawal, what is this cost?

ELLIE: When you take a hardship withdrawal, you’re prohibited from contributing to your 401(K) PLAN FOR SIX MONTHS! That means you’ll miss out on any investment gains you could hae earned by contributing during that period. You’ll also miss out on the company match, which is a guaranteed return on your investment and depending on the match, it’s usually much more than what you can earn in the market if you made your own investment. For example, if your company matches 50% of what you put into the account, you just won’t find another investment out there where you would get a 50% return on the money you put into that investment. So there’s a double jeopardy penalty associated with early withdrawal. You’ll pay for it now and you’ll pay for it later—then at retirement, you’ll pay for it all over again because you won’t have that money in the account.

Q. What about the fact that you can deplete an asset that is off limit to creditors, how does this impact a participant?

ELLIE: While raiding an account to avoid bankruptcy or foreclosure is a well intentioned money move, it’s also foolish because if you end up in bankruptcy anyway, then you’ve passed up the benefit you have in the fact that most retirement accounts are protected under bankruptcy laws in most states. And when it comes to 401(k) accounts specifically, it’s important to know that when filing for bankruptcy protection, creditors will go after your assets to repay your debts but federal law protects your 401(k) from creditors.

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

College Debt – Ellie Answers Your Questions!


One of Yahoo’s most popular videos was yours truly on ABC NEWS NOW earlier this month answering your questions about college grads as well as debt!

Here’s the scoop:

Q. Our daughter just graduated from UCLA and we’re very proud of her. But even though she has a prestigious degree, she still hasn’t been able to locate work. Should we allow her to move in with us until she finds employment?

Bill and Carol from Quartz Hills, CA via facebook
Ellie: This is a tough one! As a mom of kids in this age group, I know it’s a fine line between enabling and empowering and it’s definitely one of those individual decisions. What may be right for a particular child may not be right for another one. I think you ought to support her emotionally and psychologically, letting her know you believe in her. You can also offer to help with resumes or job research. But I would make the offer to have her move in with you as a last resort only. Furthermore, if she does move in with you, it’s important to sit down ahead of time, come up with a responsibility/income agreement and have both parties subscribe to the guidelines.

Q. My husband and I have a son who graduated last year and could not find work, so he moved in with us until he could find employment. He found a modest job, and is not making very much money. He decided that continuing to live with us would be a better financial option than paying rent on a limited income. I love my son, and he’s only 23 right now, but I’m afraid of a “Failure to Launch” syndrome and I need to know what you would advise me to do.

Allana from Lancaster, PA via online contact form
ELLIE: OK, the Failure to Launch syndrome, it’s every parent’s nightmare. We finally have an empty nest, then boomerang children come back to inhabit a place where they no longer naturally fit. I think, Allana, that it is imperative that you and your husband develop an comprehensive exit strategy for junior. Make sure this plan requires that he pays room and board with you, that he develop a clear budget and make himself accountable to you (while he’s living at home) and then be clear about D-day. The day he will depart. Be loving but firm. Remember that the decisions you are implementing with him today will be the precedence you set for tomorrow. You and you alone, enable the boomerang effect, yet you also have the power to put a stop to that boomerang before it’s ever launched. Then you won’t have a “Failure to Launch.”
Q: I am a 26 year old single girl with a bachelor’s degree but not yet a Master’s. I am working with children in a library setting currently and am considering various Master’s programs. (Library Science included). I would have to take out loans for the program though, and I am not sure that taking on that debt would be a wise thing, even though it would lead to a professional job. What is your advice for women around my age who eventually want to marry and have a family and do not want the burden of school debt? I have read some of your books and very much appreciate your insights and time.

Jen Crouse submitted via Online Contact Form
Ellie: It’s admirable that you desire to go back to college for a master’s while you are still in your twenties and your work with children sounds very gratifying. Ellie usually recommends no more than 10K in student loan debt for any program (bachelors or masters). Instead, you could look into some of the following:
Step 1
Apply for a scholarship.
There are merit based graduate school scholarships out there so go to www.salliemae.com which lists almost 2 million scholarships. Talk to the admissions office at the college or university at which you’d like to apply. They can give you advice on applying for their own scholarships (if they have them) or point you to the appropriate federal and/or state scholarship programs.
Step 2
Look into a fellowship or assistantship
. Many colleges and universities offer programs that enable you to get a master’s degree while doing research or assisting professors in the department in which you wish to study. This is a viable option that also enhances your hands-on experience in your chosen field.
Step 3
Talk to your employer.
Many employers are willing to foot the bill for a master’s degree, especially an MBA (Master of Business Administration). Talk to someone in your company’s Human Resources department to get more information. Or another option is to talk to a military recruiter to join the guard or reserves. The Army, Air Force and Navy will pay up to $65,000 in student loan debts if you qualify for the program.

Q. My husband and I want to help with our son’s college expenses (he graduates in two years) and we don’t want him to be straddled with huge student loans. Several of our friends and other family members have said, “Just take out a second mortgage or use the equity in your home to pay for college.” What do you think about that?

McKenzie Thomas from Stanford, CA
Ellie: I believe that you should never borrow on your own future to pay for your child’s future. In any discussion of college costs, it’s important to keep priorities straight. Your kid’s education shouldn’t cost you your retirement. This means it’s not a wise idea to take out a home equity loan, an equity line of credit or refinance your mortgage in order to pay for school. This would reduce the amount of equity in your home, increase the risk of possible foreclosure and incur costs in interest charges that may cost more if the term on the new mortgage is greater than the remaining term on the existing mortgage.

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Q. My son-in-law just graduated with his Masters Degree in Education. They have had a hard time while he’s been in school and don’t have the best credit scores. They’ve asked us to co-sign on a new automobile loan and we are reluctant. What do you think about co-signing for loans?

Amanda from Wichita, KS via Ellie Kay’s blog
Ellie: Since you son-in-law needs a co-signer, it means their credit is so risky that no lender will give him money on his own credit history. The question is: why should you? Even though it may come across as “helping a family member out” it’s still a business transaction and when you set the precedence of co-signing on a loan—be prepared to do it again and again. If not for the same person, then for another friend who may say, “well, you did it for Daniel, why not me?” You have to assume you will be the one repaying the loan & you won’t have the associated asset, so it can’t possibly be a good business move.

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

The Road to Financial Heckie-Fire

Here’s one of my favorite picks taken a few years ago with the “Pastor to Presidents,” Billy Graham. He’s an amazing man of integrity and in the business of keeping people out of hell.

They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. When it comes to your finances, some of these well meaning money moves can actually become major slip-ups that only compound existing financial difficulties. While parts of the economy are looking better, unemployment remains at a rate of 9.7% and this means that many families are dealing with weeks of unpaid leave. Still others are trying to recover what they lost in their investments, home equity and in the stock market. Recently on ABC NEWS NOW, I shared with the host, Tanya Rivero, some advice on how to stay out of the bad place. Here are some things to avoid:

Q. Ellie, one of the primary money sources that some families are using to avoid bankruptcy is to raid their 401 (k), which, you say is a major misstep. Why is this so problematic?

ELLIE: Our parents’ generation tended to work for someone who gave them a pension check for the rest of their lives. This means that current workers may not have been raised with the mindset that they control their own pensions and need to make funding their own retirements a priority. There’s an alarming trend that involves looking at 401(k) accounts as “now” money when it’s really “later” money, that really must be saved for later. While raiding an IRA to avoid bankruptcy is a well intentioned money move, it’s also foolish because if you end up in bankruptcy anyway, then you’ve passed up the benefit you have in the fact that retirement accounts are protected under bankruptcy laws in most states.

Q. For twelve million Americans, their homes are worth less than they owe, which leads us to the next major money misstep that has become more common in the past two years and that is walking out on a mortgage. What are some other options available to families that feel this is their only option?

ELLIE: I would say that half of the people who walked away from mortgages didn’t have to take that path and probably didn’t consider all their options. Providing you still have some income to pay on a house where you owe more than it is worth, the first step homeowners should take is to decide whether their mortgage issue is a short term or longer term problem. For example, if you just got laid off and have no savings or small savings, but the job market in your town is such that you can probably get some part time or full time work to keep money coming in, then you have a short term problem. On the other hand, a long-term problem means you’ve been unemployed, you’ve wiped out your savings and you don’t see a way back into the job market.
The sooner you recognize the fact that it’s a long term problem, the sooner you can put your best food forward to sell your home in a short sale and move into a smaller, less expensive place. That way, you can preserve your capital for a better time.
If it’s a short term problem, then talk with your mortgage lenders and see if they will suspend or lower your payments over the next three to six months until you are employed again. You can go to MakingHomeAffordable.gov, which is a federal government website with the goal of helping families by providing free HUD-approved counselors who can help you modify your mortgage.

Q. In every newspaper and on television, we see advertisements for credit counseling agencies that will eliminate your debt. But you say that debt wipeout scams are a major problem. How can we tell the scam from the real deal?

ELLIE: It can really be confusing because they sometimes advertise as debt consolidation companies, but you need to be extremely cautious because I would say the majority of those advertisements are misleading at best and a scam at worst. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Instead, go to the NFCC.org with is the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. This is a non-profit and free service that you can trust.

Q. An alarming number of Americans, some 19 million of them, have also resorted to payday loans in order to make ends meet. How do these loans work and are they ever a good idea?

ELLIE: These are high interest loans that have an average interest rate of between 390% and 520%. They are marketed as short-term cash advances to help meet emergency expenses between paychecks. But the problem, besides, the interest rate, is that it becomes a repeated pattern and consumers become trapped in this kind of borrowing. Avoid these at all costs, and if you have young adult children, especially those in the military, educate them on the dangers of payday loans since these companies tend to flourish near military bases.

Q. Credit card usage has dipped more than 13% in February and yet almost 15% of American families still owe more than 40% of their income in consumer debt, according to the Federal Reserve. Ellie, you say that another major misstep is ignoring the card balance.

ELLIE: Yes, Tanya, while it’s commendable that credit card usage has declined, it’s still an issue when the credit card is used as a means to spend more than you can afford. This is a strategic error that can lead to financial hell as consumers ignore the balance. The new government mandated box on your credit card bill will show you how long it will take to pay off your balance if you pay only the minimum and how much interest you pay to carry a balance. Pay attention to these numbers, instead of ignoring them, and ask yourself if you can afford that item before you put it on your credit card. Behavior modification doesn’t happen overnight, but eventually, you can begin the climb toward getting out of debt.

Q. One final area that we’ll look at today has to do with trying to fool Uncle Sam. Ellie, you say that this money misstep can cost taxpayers big bucks if they are caught and that there is a difference between mistakes and intent—what is the difference?

ELLIE: It’s really pretty simple. Everyone will make a mistake here and there can be accidental errors on the tax returns of the most honest kind of people. But some folks are looking to save money by “accidentally” misrepresenting large amounts of money. We see them in the news—whether you’re a celebrity or a politician, you still have to pay your taxes. By signing the box on your tax form that you believe everything to be accurate and true on your form, you open yourself up to significant liability. If you’re audited and they can prove that the misrepresentation is intentional, then not only are there penalties involved, but you could also be charged with federal fraud. So pay those taxes, even if you have an extension and call the IRS to set up payments if you cannot pay all you owe.

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

Americans Lose Confidence in Ability to Retire –Ellie on Neil Cavuto (Fox News)

A recent report said that only 13% of Americans believe they will be able to retire in comfort due to the current recession throwing them a curveball. I know that a lot of people are pessimistic right now. But it’s not the time to panic, but be purposeful instead!
Gone are the days when we can trust the company, social security or Uncle Sugar to fund our retirement–but it doesn’t mean we’re without resources! I went on Neil Cavuto this week to talk about ways we can take charge of our own retirement and regain hope that we WILL be able to still have the gold in those golden years!

**PARTICIPATE – take advantage of 401(k)s in your company while you can, maxing out the matching portion. Yes, the market stinks, but the matching portion is FREE MONEY and even a 25% match is better than anything you’re going to see in today’s market.

**PRIORITIZE – start to be more agrressive in taking charge of your retirement by fully funding ROTH or traditional IRAs, including catchup funds if you qualify. Or, if you or your spouse own a homebased business, then fund a SEP (Simplified Employee Pension) IRA. Not only will it help you fund retirement tomorrow, but it will give you a significant tax break today!

**PURSUE – look at alternate sources for retirement funding such as HSAs (health savings accounts) that are tax favored, can be rolled over each year & are available at retirement. This would be a supplemental fund for retirement, not a primary. It basically works like this: you buy a high deductible insurance policy (and save tons on insurance), then you put the amount of your deductible into an HSA. So if a family had a $2500 deductible, they can put that amount into this account every year. If they don’t use it on medical related expenses, then it will continue to rollover and grow until retirement. Go to http://www.ehealthinsurance.com/ for more info.

**PROJECT – what will you really need for retirement? Reevaluate & simplify to streamline your retirement needs, downsizing as necessary. By having an accurate estimation of your expectations and adjusting them to meet your projected income, then you can still retire, but maybe just do some things differently. Go to my tool center for a cool calculator that will help estimate what you’ll need at retirement.

**PROTECT – learm to guard your retirement from people & projects that would deteriorate your funds. Even well meaning folks can mess you up big time. For example, now is NOT the time to loan your Uncle Harry $50K for his dream of starting an Emu farm! As parents to seven kids, my hubby and I know that bailing kids out of consumer debt or trying to fix their financial problems could also leave use vulnerable to a deterioriated retirement fund. So we set the precedence with the older ones by refusing to co-sign, bailout or fund anything that has to do with consumer debt. When it comes to giving friends or family long term loans, investing in speculative businesses, etc–JUST SAY NO!

Happy Retirement,
Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)