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HandFF Radio IRAs fraud-proofing kids managing money

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WASHINGTON (12/30/09)--Sunday's Home & Family Finance Radio program describes how to convert to a Roth IRA, what to tell kids about privacy and fraud, steps to trim holiday debt, and small moves that add up to big financial changes. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. ET on the Radio America Network. The show also is carried on American Forces Radio Network. The one-hour program devoted to consumer finance issues is brought to you by America's Credit Unions and their 90 million members, and is presented by CO-OP Network. The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) and Radio America are podcasting Home & Family Finance through iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo, and other popular podcast library sites, as well as on Radio America and CUNA's websites. Sunday's show, which you also can hear later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:
* “Converting to a Roth IRA,” with Mary Kay Foss, CPA and director, Greenstein, Rogoff, Olsen & Co. LLP, Danville, Calif.; * “You Are Here: Educating Kids About Privacy and Fraud,” with Jennifer Leach, consumer education specialist, Division of Consumer and Business Education, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, D.C.; * “The 6-Step Debt Diet: Trim Your Post-Holiday Card Flab,” with Andrew Housser, co-founder and co-CEO, Freedom Debt Relief, LLC, San Mateo, Calif.; and * “Be Bold, Think Small: Make Small Moves that Add Up to Big Progress When Making Financial Changes,” with Susan Tiffany, director of consumer periodicals, CUNA, Madison, Wis.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at CUNA. The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, maker of award-winning cheddar; Western Corporate FCU (WesCorp) and its member credit unions; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve our country worldwide. For more information, read "Avoid Conversion Confusion With Roth IRAs” and “Crooks Use High-Tech Scams to Commit Fraud” and view the “Talk With Your Children About Family Finances” video in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Save energy moneyand reduce footprint

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McLEAN, Va. (12/28/09)--So you’re probably not one of those folks participating in the “furnace abstinence” contest in New Jersey. Nonetheless, people across the nation are doing all they can to save energy and money--and to reduce their carbon footprint. (USA Today Dec. 14). There are many ways to control energy costs, according to Alliant Energy’s PowerHouse TV, an educational program designed to help you improve the energy efficiency, safety, and comfort of your home. They include:
* Do an energy audit. This simple survey--that you complete online--analyzes your appliances and insulation, home’s structure and family lifestyle. Some utility companies offer a free audit for customers. The U.S. Department of Energy offers one as well (http://hes.lbl.gov/). * Vacuum vents and registers. And don’t let draperies and furniture block air flow. Plastic deflectors help direct air under tables and chairs. * Install a programmable thermostat. By setting back the temp 10 degrees for eight hours each night, you can lower your heating bill by about 10%. * Turn it down while you’re gone. If you’re heading on vacation, set the thermostat to 55 degrees. You’ll save energy, but won’t have to worry about pipes freezing. * Let the sun shine in. Close blinds and curtains at night to keep cold air out; open them during the day to let the sun warm rooms. * Throw a rug. If you have tile or hardwood floors, use throw rugs to keep your toes warm. * Hire an inspector. An annual furnace tune-up can help reduce heating costs by 5%, and forestall carbon monoxide dangers as well. * Don’t close registers in unused rooms. If you have a forced-air furnace, it’s designed to heat a specific square footage and can’t sense a closed register--it continues working at the same pace. Cold air from unheated rooms can get into the rest of your house, minimizing how well your insulation and weatherizing works. * Change air filters. Check your filter every month, especially during heavy use months, according to energystar.gov. At a minimum, change filters every three months. Dirty filters slow down air flow, making the system work harder. Clean filters help prevent dirt and dust buildup.
These precautions not only can save you energy and money, they can also extend the life of your furnace. To learn about the life expectancy of this and other appliances, read “Longevity on the Home Front: How Long Will That Furnace Last?” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

HandFF Radio advises on charity giving spending plans

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WASHINGTON (12/23/09)--Sunday's H&FF Radio program helps consumers make wise charitable giving decisions, assist young adult children with their money challenges, and create realistic spending plans. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. ET on the Radio America Network. The show also is carried on American Forces Radio Network. The one-hour program devoted to consumer finance issues is brought to you by America's credit unions and their 90 million members, and is presented by CO-OP Network. The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) and Radio America are podcasting Home & Family Finance through iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo, and other popular podcast library sites, as well as on Radio America and CUNA's websites. Sunday's show, which you also can hear later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:
* “Develop a New Year’s Spending Plan,” with Cate Williams, vice president, financial literacy, Money Management International, Chicago; * “Key Money Problems for College Students and Young Gen Y’ers: How Family Can Help,” with Paul Goebel, director, Student Money Management Center, University of North Texas, Denton, Texas; * “The ‘Step-Down Principle’ of Reducing Expenses,” with Alena Johnson, accredited financial counselor, teacher at Utah State University (USU), and co-director of USU’s financial counseling center, Logan, Utah; and * “Charitable Giving: Checking Up on Charities,” with Samantha Paxson, vice president, marketing, CO-OP Financial Services, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at CUNA. The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, maker of award-winning cheddar; Western Corporate FCU (WesCorp) and its member credit unions; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve our country worldwide. For more information, read "December Financial Fitness Challenge--Get Ready to Change,” and “Postcollege Life Requires Financial Transition” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Is this a good time for a HELOC

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MADISON, Wis. (12/21/09)--Even though home values have dropped across the country, unemployment is extraordinarily high, and consumers in general are heavily in debt, many people have a need for more credit. If you’re in a position to borrow, consider a loan based on your home equity--the difference between what your house is worth and what you still owe on your mortgage. You could take on a conventional second mortgage or you could enter into a revolving credit agreement with no set term, known as a home equity line of credit (HELOC). A HELOC works almost like a credit card to enable you to convert some of the value of your homeownership into cash. Interest rates for HELOCs usually are much lower than regular credit card rates, especially if you have more than a 20% ownership stake in your house. At this time, HELOC rates are favorable, down to the 5% range in some parts of the country (bankrate.com Dec. 15). Credit unions offering this kind of loan usually have better rates than other lenders. As an added bonus, the interest expense for some uses of HELOC funds is tax deductible. But be careful. Just as with your first mortgage, you’ll have to pledge your house as collateral on a HELOC. You don’t want to increase your risk of losing your home unless the added debt is worth it and you have stable employment. Here’s some advice from the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) Center for Personal Finance about using a HELOC wisely:
* Put additional debt to good use. Using a HELOC for prudent home improvements such as a new roof, or for education, or to consolidate more expensive loans can significantly improve your net worth. In contrast, borrowing for vacation or daily expenses or to build a home theater can jeopardize your long-term financial health. * Avoid going all in on a HELOC. Lenders aren’t likely to advance a line of credit equal to 100% of your home’s equity, but beware of the temptation to indulge too deeply. Remember that home equity can represent a great deal of your future retirement nest egg’s value. * Manage your HELOC use. Make all payments for loans and other obligations such as utility bills on time to maintain a clean credit report and solid credit score. Keep your total monthly debt payments, excluding a first mortgage and credit card balances, paid off monthly, to no more than a 20% of your take-home pay. Watch the economy--as it gets stronger, interest rates in general will rise, pulling your HELOC’s variable rate up as well.

Spending 10 economic forecast on HandFF Radio

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WASHINGTON (12/18/09)--Sunday’s H&FF Radio program provides guidance for starting the new year debt-free and previews the economic forecast for the coming months. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. ET on the Radio America Network. The show also is carried on American Forces Radio Network. The one-hour program devoted to consumer finance issues is brought to you by America's credit unions and their 90 million members, and is presented by CO-OP Network. The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) and Radio America are podcasting Home & Family Finance through iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo, and other popular podcast library sites, as well as on Radio America and CUNA's websites. Sunday's show, which you also can hear later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:
* “Avoid the January Debt Hangover,” with Adam Levin, chairman and founder, Credit.com, San Francisco; * “2010 Economic Forecast,” with Mike Schenk, vice president, economics and statistics, CUNA, Madison, Wis.; and * “Stopping Overspending,” with April Benson, Ph.D., psychologist, New York.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at CUNA. The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, maker of award-winning cheddar; Western Corporate FCU (WesCorp) and its member credit unions; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve our country worldwide. For more information, read "Tough Times Series: Speaking of the Economy…What Do You Tell Your Kids?” and “Smart Spending Puts Holiday Shoppers in Control of Cart” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Think again about co-signing

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NEW YORK (12/16/09)--Credit card companies continue to tighten card requirements, even to requiring a co-signer. Before you sign for family and friends, know what you’re liable for on the card (TheStreet.comDec. 4). Like many prospective co-signers, you may not realize that:
* The debt may be yours. Think about it: A card issuer wouldn’t ask for a co-signer if it thought it could collect from the cardholder. If the cardholder can’t or won’t pay, you’re next in line. * Your credit score could drop. Suppose you co-sign for your college-age daughter and she can’t make the payments. Her credit rating--and yours--is affected. And, that ding on your credit report could mean that your own loan application is denied. * You could be sued. Say you sign off on a credit card for a friend and he ends up with thousands of dollars of debt. The credit card company takes him--and you--to court to collect. You have to reveal all your assets and risk losing them to pay for purchases you didn’t make.
Co-signing on a credit card isn’t always a bad thing, according to editors in the Credit Union National Association's center for personal finance. It’s often used as a way to teach money management to responsible teenagers, especially when you provide the child with education about how to use the card and place limits on how much can be spent. Some cards issuers even provide notices to parents when their kids approach the limits. Co-signing for people outside your immediate family can be a tough call. “Just say no” could be the best policy. Explaining the financial risks may be the best way to express why you won’t be a co-signer. That keeps emotion out of the conversation and maintains harmony in the relationship. Whether it’s your kid, Uncle Marvin, or your best friend Suzie asking you to co-sign for a credit card, CUNA’s editors recommend that you--and the co-signer--discuss the “fine print” details before you pick up the pen. For more information, view the “Tough Times Series: Managing Credit Card Debt” and “Credit Cards on Campus” videos in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Flexible spending account deadline draws near

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NEW YORK (12/14/09)—Dec. 31 marks the eve of a new year. It’s also the deadline for many with medical flexible spending accounts (FSA) to spend funds allocated in 2009 (online.wsj.com Dec. 6). FSAs are provided by employers and enable workers to set aside pretax dollars for qualifying out-of-pocket medical expenses and purchases. You must use FSA money before the deadline or forfeit the balance. FSA plans vary, so it’s important to review what you can use the funds for and confirm the deadline for your plan; some extend 2009 allocations into 2010. There are several practical ways to use your funds, even at the last minute. Here are some suggestions from USA Today personal finance writer, Sandra Block: (usatoday.com Dec. 1).
* Prescriptions. Do you receive your prescriptions through the mail? You may be able to use your FSA to order an advance supply. * Flu shots. Haven’t had your flu shot? Now is a great time to get it if you have to visit a doctor or clinic and cough up a co-pay to receive one. Use your FSA to cover the expense of your co-payment. * Smoking cessation. Typically, you can use your FSA dollars for items, such as special gum and nicotine, designed to help you quit tobacco. * Sunscreen. It may be winter but, depending on where you live or if you’re planning a trip to a sunny location, sunscreen may be an excellent use of your FSA. Check what SPF level your plan requires for the sunscreen to be an eligible expense.

HandFF Radio offers info on foreclosures and donations

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WASHINGTON (12/11/09)--Sunday's H&FF Radio program describes what to ask before donating to a charity and how financial counseling helps homeowners avoid foreclosure. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. ET on the Radio America Network. The show also is carried on American Forces Radio Network. The one-hour program devoted to consumer finance issues is brought to you by America's credit unions and their 90 million members, and is presented by CO-OP Network. The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) and Radio America are podcasting Home & Family Finance through iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo, and other popular podcast library sites, as well as on Radio America and CUNA's websites. Sunday's show, which you also can hear later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:
* “It’s a Wrap! Do-It-Yourself Cheap, Yet Chic, Holiday Gift Wrapping,” with Sue Perry, deputy editor, ShopSmart, from the publisher of Consumer Reports, Yonkers, N.Y.; * “Homeowners 60% More Likely to Avoid Foreclosure With Foreclosure Counseling” with Steve Wade, CEO, NeighborWorks America, Washington, D.C.; * “Military Homeowners Assistance Program (HAP),” with Arty Arteaga, executive director, Defense Credit Union Council, Washington, D.C.; and * “Five Questions to Ask Before Donating to a Charity,” with Bennett Weiner, CEO, Council of Better Business Bureaus Wise Giving Alliance, Arlington, Va.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at CUNA. The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, maker of award-winning cheddar; Western Corporate FCU (WesCorp) and its member credit unions; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve our country worldwide. For more information, read "New Hope and Help for Struggling Homeowners” and “Online Tool Makes Tracking Deductions a Snap” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Too much debt Who you gonna call

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SILVER SPRING, Md . (12/9/09)--Are you one of the 13 million Americans who carry a credit card balance of $10,000 or more from month to month? Or one of the 58 million who admit to not paying their bills on time (National Foundation for Credit Counseling Nov. 20)? Or do you simply worry about what you owe and wish you could get a handle on your debts? A new law won’t automatically ease your concerns, but it will point you toward help. Beginning on Feb. 22, 2010, your credit card issuer will be required to include a toll-free phone number on your statements for information about credit counseling. “Nonprofit counselors offer their services to the public at no charge because they receive their funding from financial institutions,” explained Philip Heckman of the Credit Union National Association’s Center for Personal Finance. “Lenders don’t do this for charity. They do it in the belief that when borrowers learn to manage credit--whether motivated by desperation or mere discomfort--they become less likely to default on their loans.” Certified credit counselors can help you with more than relief from current debt troubles. They also can show you money management and financial planning skills that can head off problems in the future. “Look for affiliation with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling,” Heckman said. “Many credit unions have certified counselors on staff. Because you’re a member-owner, your credit union is keenly interested in your financial security.”

Recession uprooting more young adults

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (12/7/09)--In the past year, 13% of parents with adult children reported that one of their daughters or sons moved back home, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in late October. With the recession leaving a rising number of young adults unemployed or on reduced salaries, many are facing major changes--moving home, finding a roommate, putting life on hold, or returning to school. While everyone has been touched by the recession, it has been especially rough on young adults. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that only 46% of 16- to 24-year-olds are currently employed. This is the lowest percentage since the government began collecting this data in 1948. Record unemployment has sent many young adults back to their parents’ homes. The survey cites that one of 10 adults ages 18 to 34 moved back home due to the poor economy. Of those living with parents, about half are employed at least part-time. Moving back home can be stressful for both parent and adult child. Setting ground rules--such as rent payment, chores and responsibilities, and privacy expectations--can ease the transition. As an alternative to moving home, others have found a roommate. About one fourth of those ages 18 to 24 reported moving in with a roommate due to the recession. Those ages 25 to 34 were less likely to share a room, but more likely to postpone a major change. “I don’t.” More than a fifth of those ages 25 to 34 postponed getting married as a result of the recession. Likewise 15% in this age group delayed starting a family. With January fast approaching, now is a good time to re-evaluate current debt spending with an eye on forecasting a budget for 2010. Home & Family Finance Resource Center’s “Getting Married” Turning Point offers suggestions for merging financial lives and keeping down wedding costs. Often college enrollment increases during a recession. Hence, it comes as no surprise that the share of 18- to 24-year-olds attending college (either four-year or two-year) hit an all-time high in October 2008 (the most recent date for which data were available). Fueled by high unemployment and increasing high-school graduation rates, 2009 enrollments may reach a new peak. Those attaining additional skills or certifications may find themselves better qualified applicants as they search for employment in 2010 and later.

HandFF Radio shares insight on elder fraud holiday spending

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WASHINGTON (12/4/09)--Sunday's H&FF Radio program gives advice about elder financial fraud, gift cards, what to do if you’re at risk of foreclosure, and budgeting for--and how to enjoy--the holidays with little or no cash. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. EST on the Radio America Network. The show also is carried on American Forces Radio Network. The one-hour program devoted to consumer finance issues is brought to you by America's credit unions and their 90 million members, and is presented by CO-OP Network. The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) and Radio America are podcasting Home & Family Finance through iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo, and other popular podcast library sites, as well as on Radio America and CUNA's websites. Sunday's show, which you also can hear later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:
* "'Free Lunch' Financial Fraud Targets Elderly," with Andres Castillo, financial security expert for AARP and head of the national Free Lunch Monitor Program, AARP, Washington, D.C.; * "Home Foreclosures Continue to Soar: What to Do If You Are at Risk," with Gerri Detweiler, national personal finance expert and co-author of Debt Collection Answers, Sarasota, Fla.; * "Survey Shows Consumers Misunderstand Gift Cards," with Elizabeth Owen, president, National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators, Nashville, Tenn.; and * "Capture the Spirit of the Holidays with Little or No Cash" and "Free Holiday Planner Helps Budget, Track and Adjust Spending," with Karen McCall, founder/CEO, Financial Recovery Institute, San Rafael, Calif.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at CUNA. The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, maker of award-winning cheddar; Western Corporate FCU (WesCorp) and its member credit unions; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve our country worldwide. For more information, read "New Hope and Help for Struggling Homeowners” and “Read Fine Print to Avoid Subscribing to a Scam” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Senior abuse part of financial reform package

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MADISON, Wis. (12/2/09)--States could get as much as $500,000 each to investigate and prosecute people engaging in fraud against seniors under provisions of financial reform legislation making its way through Congress. The bills set aside $8 million for states to bulk up senior protection, with sales of annuities getting special attention. “The proposed tougher oversight of annuities is poised to make a big leap forward because it’s hitching a ride on high-profile regulatory reform legislation--a top priority of the Obama administration,” reports CNN/Money (Nov. 16). Annual sales of fixed annuities jumped 50% in 2008 to $190.3 billion, according to the Insurance Information Institute; sales are running at more than $164 billion this year. While many types of annuities are useful for seniors, many are also complex and confusing. Fixed and equity-indexed annuities are regulated by state insurance agencies; the Securities and Exchange Commission regulates variable annuities. Financial exploitation of seniors is one of the top three classes of elder abuse in the country, according to a November report in Credit Union Magazine. Elder financial abuse is reported to cost at least $2.6 billion a year, and trusted professionals represent nearly one out of every five perpetrators of elder abuse. Here are some tips when considering the purchase of an annuity, from the office of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson:
* Avoid solicitations. Be on guard against telemarketers who “cold-call” you with “investment tips” or send unsolicited mailings. * Be careful of “seminars.” Some unscrupulous agents advertise estate planning or wealth management seminars, when their goal is to sell seniors deferred annuities, which may be inappropriate for their financial circumstances. * Review the terms. A legitimate professional selling you an appropriate investment will understand that you want to take your time making the right decision. * Avoid high-pressure sales pitches. Beware of agents who contact you repeatedly, offer you a “limited time offer,” show up at your home without an appointment, or won’t meet you if family members are present. * Beware of bonuses. Some companies offer bonuses to entice investors. Often, benefits may be offset by high fees and restrictions. * Long-term consequences. How long must you keep the money in the annuity before you are paid income on it? Will the annuity allow you to gain access to the money when you need it? What “surrender charges” or penalties apply if you need access to your money early?