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Consumer Archive

Consumer

Entrepreneurial skills key to future business success

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McLEAN, Va. (9/4/12)--With high student loan debt and a poor job outlook, many young adults are taking the entrepreneurial route to help make ends meet. From snack delivery services to packing and moving assistance, young hustlers are taking advantage of doing for others what others are too lazy to do.

For example, one Georgetown University student's messy room in Washington, D.C., prompted him and a friend to start a dorm room cleaning service that charges a minimum of $39 for each cleaning (USAToday.com, Aug. 28).

Entrepreneurial skills not only can help you pay your way through college or make ends meet until you find a higher paying job, they also could lead you to future small-business success. If you've got the instinct to work for yourself but your business skills need fine-tuning, Myfuture, an Australian career information and exploration service, suggests:

  • Be a better communicator. Ask teachers and counselors for help developing and enhancing communication skills. Attend a communications course--this can be a great first step and a smart way to meet others who share your goals. Good communication skills require good listening skills. If you're hiring employees, good communication will help ensure you hire the right people and help them understand what the job involves.
  • Get more creative. Convergent thinking and divergent thinking are two types of creative thinking: Convergent thinking involves evaluating, analyzing and selecting the best idea. Divergent thinking means coming up with new, diverse and complex ideas. To help amplify these skills, take on new challenges and set goals. Look for new ideas by participating in different activities: Watch a movie that's not your typical style, listen to a different music genre, try exotic foods. Keeping a journal can help your creativity by allowing you to review your ideas, problems, and thoughts each day.
  • Become more resourceful. Resourceful people use their skills and knowledge to find solutions. To beef up your resources, join a professional association and online forums, and subscribe to professional publications. Most important, work in teams to use members' different skills and abilities.
For more information about running a successful small business, watch the new video "Separating Business Records From Personal Records" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Financial tips to weather the storm

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MADISON, Wis. (8/31/12)--If you're in a flood-ravaged community, develop a plan and be familiar with the many resources available to you.

The Treasury Department's Office of Financial Education offers these tips, compiled from a variety of organizations including American Red Cross, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Federal Trade Commission, Internal Revenue Service, and the National Credit Union Administration:

  • Assess the damage. If it's safe to enter the house, make a list and take photographs of damaged items. If possible, gather receipts for affected items.

  • Contact your insurance company. Notify your agent of any loss and ask about making emergency repairs. If you're unable to live in your house, ask if you're eligible for living expenses for motel and food. When dealing with the claims adjuster, take notes in case you need to appeal a settlement offer.
  • Apply for federal government assistance. Register through FEMA at 800-621-3362 or fema.gov. Search federal disaster declarations by state at fema.gov/disasters.
  • Check with the Small Business Adminstration (SBA). As a homeowner, renter, and/or personal-property owner, you may apply to the SBA for a loan to help you recover from a disaster--even if you don't own a business. Call 800-659-2955 or visit sba.gov/services/disasterassistance.
  • Contact creditors. If your employment is disrupted, ask creditors if they will defer loan payments, waive late fees, or temporarily raise your credit limit. To help identify creditors, order your free credit reports at 877-322-8228 or visit annualcreditreport.com.
  • Take stock of your credit cards. If you cannot locate them, call the issuers immediately to report them missing. Be cautious when using them--you may not have the means to repay large balances in the near future. Remember that cash advances typically have higher interest rates than purchases.

  • Avoid scams. Be suspicious of door-to-door contractors asking for work. Get at least three estimates from licensed, bonded contractors and check complaint histories with the Better Business Bureau at bbb.org. Ask for and check references, and never pay the full amount up front. A common practice is to pay no more than 30% initially, with the final payment after the job is done satisfactorily. Get a permit for any work that requires one.
  • Create a budget for the weeks and months ahead. Free food, clothing and furniture may be available from agencies providing relief.

  • Conduct finances online. Use online banking to continue to pay bills and to manage and monitor your accounts.
  • Seek help from online resources. Valuable information and advice about recovering from a flood is available from: American Red Cross; FEMA; and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Use the resource links.
For related information, read "Avoid Buying a Flood-Damaged Used Car" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

HandFF Radio examines investing ROTC opportunities

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WASHINGTON (8/31/12)--Sunday's Home & Family Finance Radio program considers opportunities for investors and Reserve Officers Training Corp. (ROTC) scholarship hopefuls.

The 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:

  • "When's the Best Time to Invest." Michael Farr, president, Farr, Miller & Washington, Washington, D.C., talks about investment preparation.
  • "Risk and Benefits of Online Trading." Trader Jessica Foust, TechMediaNetwork, Salt Lake City, Utah, tells how to determine if online trading is a good fit for you.
  • "ROTC Scholarship Secrets." Lt. Col. Chuck Brewer, Indianapolis, Ind., author of "How to Win ROTC Scholarships," provides details about the ROTC scholarship selection process.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, maker of award-winning cheddar; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve the country worldwide.

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.

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.

For more information, read "Learn to Evaluate Financial Information" and "Paying for Your Child's Higher Education" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Guard against new text scams

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MADISON, Wis. (8/28/12)--New types of fraud--particularly texting scams--are challenging consumers and financial institutions across the country. "Set up security systems on your mobile devices and add your cell phone number to the Do Not Call registry (at donotcall.gov)," advises Ann Davidson, senior consultant, risk management at CUNA Mutual Group.

Fraudsters obtain phone prefixes (such as 354) and use auto-dialers to generate huge lists of phone numbers. The criminals then send fake text messages to the numbers to trick people into entering personal information via a bogus phone line or website: Criminals can use the information to raid responders' financial accounts.

When you receive a text asking for personal information, take a moment to think about whether it's authentic. "Your credit union will never send a text or e-mail asking for personal information--the credit union already has that information," Davidson reminds. "Never give out personal information unless you initiated the contact."

Remember:

  • You can't win if you didn't enter. "You could get a text that says something like, 'You've won a sweepstakes; call this number and leave your name, address, and checking account number so we can transfer your winnings,'" says Davidson. "No one should be asking for your checking account number."
  • Credit union alerts will never ask you for personal information. "You may have signed up to receive a text alert when unusual activity occurs on your account, but if the alert looks suspicious, don't respond," Davidson says. Instead, "call your credit union."
  • Forward possible scam texts to 7726. "Major telecommunications carriers such as AT&T, T–Mobile, and Verizon all use this phone number to collect potential scam messages for investigation," Davidson notes.
If you think you may have given out personal information to a scammer, notify your credit union immediately so its security experts can monitor your accounts.

For more information, read "Crooks Use High-Tech Scams to Commit Fraud" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

School prep college financing on HandFF Radio

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WASHINGTON (8/24/12)--Sunday's Home & Family Finance Radio program covered back-to-school preparation and savings, along with money management recommendations.

The 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:

  • "Get the Most From Your Financial Institution." Luke Reynolds, chief of outreach and program development at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Washington, D.C., discusses how you can build a collaborative relationship with your financial institution's representatives.
  • "Parents Prepare Kids for School and Making the Grade." Becky Pringle, a science teacher from Harrisburg, Pa., and secretary-treasurer of the National Education Association, talks back-to-school prep and school success.
  • "Practice Makes Perfect." Susan Tiffany, certified credit union financial counselor and director of consumer periodicals, Credit Union National Association (CUNA), Madison, Wis., says when you approach big financial changes with a practice phase, you build in time to tweak the details and improve your odds for success.
  • "College Savings Month." Michael Fitzgerald, Iowa state treasurer and chair of the College Savings Plans Network, Lexington, Ky., gives details about this targeted savings initiative.
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; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve the country worldwide.

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.

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.

For more information, read "Two Surveys Show that Americans Need Financial Overhaul" and "529 Savings Increase: Parents Worried About College Costs" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Prepare for employer health insurance changes

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WASHINGTON (8/21/12)--Many large employers nationwide plan to increase health insurance premiums and make other adjustments to costs and incentives in the benefits they provide employees (Kiplinger  Aug. 10).

Take steps to make the most of these anticipated benefit changes in 2013:

  • Extra out-of-pocket expenses. Look for additional costs for deductibles, drug co-payments and other out-of-pocket expenses. When it's time to pick a policy, compare overall costs including premiums, co-insurance rates and deductibles. Make sure your providers and pharmacies participate in your plan.
  • More consumer-directed health plans. These are usually high-deductible plans paired with health savings accounts (HSAs). New in 2013 is the number of employers who will make a high-deductible plan the only option. Most employers will offer larger contributions to HSAs to encourage employees to pick these plans. As you compare plans, factor in your employer's contribution and the participation requirements.
  • Better tools to help you research and compare health costs. Beginning in September, all health plans must provide a standardized, consumer-friendly summary of benefits and coverage--including information about co-payments, deductibles and out-of-pocket limits. And starting in January, the majority of health plans must include online price-transparency tools to help you compare costs. Take advantage of these resources to help you choose providers.
  • More rewards for participating in wellness programs. Employers are increasing incentives for wellness program participation. The larger rewards are worth a second look. In fact, you could be charged more for not participating.
  • Lower flex-spending account (FSA) limits. Employers have been able to set their own FSA limits, but in 2013 they must cap spending account ceilings at $2,500 to comply with the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act. Employers also must provide a summary of benefits during open enrollment and, for your information only, report the cost of health benefits on your 2012 W-2; your benefits still will not be taxable.
For more information, listen to "Health Care Survival Guide" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Jobs for seniors technology are HandFF Radio topics

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WASHINGTON (8/17/12)--Sunday's Home & Family Finance Radio program covered efforts to help seniors connect with jobs, tech giant squabbles, and Capital One's large foreclosure settlement.

The 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:

  • "Work Reimagined." AARP spokesperson Tiffany Lundquist, Washington D.C., relates how workreimagined.org helps connect experienced senior workers and organizations seeking employees.
  • "Samsung vs. Apple: Consumer Impact." Manotti Jenkins, attorney, Valorem Law Group, Chicago, Ill., discusses how the patent infringement case could affect consumers.
  • "Soldiers' Capital One Settlement." Berry talks with listeners about Capital One's $12 million payment for alleged unlawful home foreclosures affecting servicemembers.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, maker of award-winning cheddar; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve the country worldwide.

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.

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.

For more information, read "Finding Life-Changing Apps," and watch "Turning Points: Get Back in the Game After Losing a Job" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Spear phishing tactics convincing insidious

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NEW YORK (8/14/12)--Cybercriminals are tricking more victims with a potent, authentic-looking scam that is highly targeted, contains some personal information, and hooks even the most tech-savvy individuals (Smartmoney.com Aug. 6).

A few years ago, con artists filled inboxes with blast e-mails asking for credit card and account numbers, passwords and other personal information, hoping for a few bites. That was phishing. Now spear phishing has become a more profitable scam.

Instead of sending an e-mail to millions of people randomly, spear phishers target their victims, such as employees of a specific financial institution or business. They want the wealth of information in those computer files--names, addresses, or account numbers. Anyone--or any organization--dealing with customers, clients, members, or patients is a potential target of spear phishers.

Most cybercriminals use social engineering--the practice of manipulating human emotions, interest, or desires to obtain a specific response--to get you to disclose crucial information. They craft the e-mail to make it look like it came from someone you know, and the personal nature of the attack makes it extremely seductive.

In one case a physician and faculty member of a university medical center received an e-mail that looked like it was from his information technology department. He was asked for his computer login information as part of an "upgrade" to the center's computer, and he gave it. What ensued was a gold mine for identity thieves--they had access not only to the doctor's personal information, but also to the personal information of hundreds of his patients.

Other innocent-looking tactics are equally dangerous. You could get an e-mail that appears to come from a co-worker or your human resources department, asking you to add some personal information to a company database. Scammers are getting better at generating legitimate-looking e-mail templates and building the malware needed to infect computers and intercept your communications.

Take steps to avoid being scammed:

  • Don't assume it's legitimate. If you get an e-mail with your name on it from the credit union or any company you do business with and it asks you for personal information, don't take the bait. Confirm its authenticity with a phone call to the listed number.
  • Be suspicious of links. Use extra caution when clicking on any link in an e-mail.
  • Watch out for pop-up messages. If you're visiting a website and get a prompt to update Flash, Java, or Acrobat PDF Reader in order to view content or a video, don't click. Only perform these updates when you see an update prompt while turning on or restarting your computer.
  • Choose "friends" carefully. Social networking sites have made it easier for hackers to gather information about you. Be suspicious of people who attempt to "friend" you or become part of your professional network on any social networking sites.
  • Trust your instinct. If the message contains a sense of urgency, step back. Don't click.
For more information, read "Be Cautiously Sociable on Social Networking Sites" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

HandFF Radio talks credit cards back-to-school expenses

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WASHINGTON (8/10/12)--On Sunday's Home & Family Finance Radio program, listeners heard the latest on credit card surcharges and cards for returning students, and learn about  back-to-school bargains.

The 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:

  • "Best Cards for Back to School." Odysseas Papadimitriou, CEO, Cardhub.com, Arlington, Va., discusses students' wisest card selections.
  • "Seven Ways to Avoid Paying Plastic Surcharges." Andrea Woroch, a nationally recognized consumer expert at Kinoli Inc., Windsor, Colo., reveals ways to beat surcharges and save money through smart shopping.
  • "Back to School Shopping Trends." Trae Bodge, senior editor, Retailmenot.com, Austin, Texas, shares per-child school shopping statistics, advice and details about his organization's online coupons.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, maker of award-winning cheddar; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve the country worldwide.

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.

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.

For more information, read "Senioritis: Expect Big Expenses for High-School Seniors" and watch "Debit vs. Credit" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Baby steps Cutting newborn expenses

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MIAMI, Fla. (8/7/12)--While new Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer probably isn't worrying about how much diapers cost or what she'll pay a nanny, most people in her situation do. Mayer, who landed her new job in July, is six months pregnant (Miami Herald July 27). 

If you had a child in 2011, you can expect to spend about $234,900--$295,560 if you add projected inflation--from birth until age 17, according to an Agriculture Department report released in June.

It's easy to get caught up in a spending frenzy when you're expecting. Here are ways to take control, according to Financial Highway (June 14):

  • Buy diapers and formula in bulk. It's cheaper than buying small packs. Pick up extra when on sale and cut coupons.
  • Resist buying name brand clothes. List clothing items on gift registries and don't focus on newborn sizes; it's nice to have bigger items on hand for your baby to grow into. Seek out family and friends for hand-me-downs and shop thrift stores and garage sales—you even can find new items at these places if you search.
  • Find a safe, but reasonably priced stroller. You'll want the Cadillac of strollers, the one with the double cup holders. But if you do your research, you'll find there are plenty of high-quality strollers with a practical price.
  • Consider a convertible crib. Cribs that convert into toddler beds and, later, to headboards may have a higher price tag, but can save money in the long run.
  • Decorate wisely. Basic is best. Consider buying a comforter and window coverings in neutral colors and adding more colorful items like stuffed animals and a mobile. Little ones grow fast and you won't be using "Winnie the Pooh" forever.
  • Be smart about books. Check out parenting and children's books from your library or rent them on your e-reader tablet. Find more information about parenting on the Internet--for free.
For more information about getting financially prepared for baby, read the Turning Point "Preparing for Baby" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Mortgage madness and social media on HandFF Radio

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WASHINGTON (8/3/12)--Sunday's Home & Family Finance Radio program covered seniors' foreclosure woes, offered hope for underwater homeowners, and talked tweets, check-ins and blogs--that's social media, folks--for college students.

The 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:

  • "Nightmare on Main Street." Susan Reinhard, senior vice president, AARP, Washington D.C., reviews a sobering study about senior home foreclosures.
  • "Hope for Seniors." All is not lost for seniors suffering from problem mortgages--Stuart Vener, a national real estate and mortgage expert with Wilshire Holding Group, Odessa, Fla., shares solutions.
  • "College and Social Media." Steve Nicholls, author of "Social Media in Business," London, reveals what precollege adolescents should know about social media.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, maker of award-winning cheddar; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve the country worldwide.

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.

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.

For more information, read "Find the Path to Home Ownership," "Tough Times Series: Refinancing Your Mortgage" and "Paying for Your Child's Higher Education" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.