Personal Finance Tips Delivered Weekly
December 27, 2013
What If Your Car Gets Totaled?
Each year, auto insurance companies declare millions of vehicles to be "totaled," meaning it's not worth the cost to repair them. It doesn't matter whether the car was damaged in a collision, during a flood or after a thief's joyride went bad.
December 20, 2013
Do Your Homework Before Buying a Timeshare
Full disclosure: I've always been somewhat skeptical of timeshares. I understand the appeal of having a guaranteed vacation home in an area you love and being able to swap your unit for a place halfway around the world.
December 13, 2013
Why Was Your Credit Card Transaction Denied?
We've all had these moments: You're at a romantic restaurant and the evening went great. But just as you and your date are readying to leave, an embarrassed waiter appears and whispers, "I'm afraid your card has been denied." So much for romance.
December 06, 2013
Who's Afraid of the Alternative Minimum Tax?
Year after year, Congress keeps kicking meaningful income tax reform down the road. Consequently, taxpayers continue to be stuck with an archaic, overly complicated mess that pleases no one – except perhaps some tax accountants who charge by the hour.
November 29, 2013
Over 70 ½? Don't Forget Mandatory IRA Withdrawals
With final holiday preparations looming, the last thing anyone wants to think about is next April's tax bill. But if you're over 70 ½ and have any tax-deferred retirement accounts (like an IRA), put down the wrapping paper and listen up: IRS rules say that, with few exceptions, you must take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your accounts by December 31 of each year – and pay taxes on them – or face severe financial penalties.
November 22, 2013
Watch Out for Potholes in Your Car Insurance
Would you be surprised to learn that if your laptop gets stolen during a car break-in, your automobile insurance probably won't reimburse you for the loss? Don't be.
November 15, 2013
Don't Let Cyber Grinches Ruin Your Holidays
I'm usually in too much of a Thanksgiving food coma to hit the sales on Black Friday, but millions of other Americans somehow find the energy. Last year, 89 million people took advantage of Black Friday sales (57 million of them online), while an estimated 247 million shopped throughout the four-day weekend, as stores increasingly have opened their doors on Thanksgiving itself.
November 08, 2013
Understanding the 'Kiddie Tax'
For something whose nickname sounds so innocent, the "kiddie tax" certainly can wreak havoc on unprepared taxpayers' yearly returns.
November 01, 2013
Choosing the Right Home Alarm System
Although I take a certain amount of comfort from statistics that show major declines in most types of crime throughout the U.S., I also know that burglaries have increased in areas surrounding my neighborhood over the last few years.
October 25, 2013
GI Bill Eases College Costs for Military Families
As Veteran's Day approaches, this is a good time to remind our active duty service members and veterans about the many education assistance benefits available to them through the G.I. Bill and other government programs.
October 18, 2013
Don't Ignore Tax Deduction for Moving Expenses
Whether you're relocating across town or across the country, moving is expensive. By the time you've paid to have your household goods packed and moved, cancelled and reconnected utilities and racked up storage fees, you could easily be out thousands of dollars.
October 11, 2013
Don't Leave Tax Breaks on the Table
If someone told you there's a way for you to potentially save hundreds – if not thousands – of dollars on your income taxes by simply spending a few minutes reviewing your benefits and tax paperwork, would you think it sounds like a late-night TV marketing scam? It's not.
October 04, 2013
Reevaluate Your Benefits Needs During Open Enrollment
If you're among the 170 million Americans who receive health insurance through an employer-provided plan, you'll probably receive your 2014 open enrollment materials shortly. Although it's a pain to wade through all that information, simply opting for your current coverage could be a costly mistake. Here's why.
September 27, 2013
Lower Income? Don't Pass up the Saver's Credit
In 2002, Congress passed legislation to create an income tax credit designed to encourage lower- and middle-income people to save money for retirement. The saver's credit, worth up to $1,000 a year for individuals ($2,000 for couples filing jointly), rewards people for contributing to an IRA or 401(k) plan.
September 20, 2013
Seniors: Be on High Alert for Scams
I look forward to the day when we no longer need to warn senior citizens about scams designed to separate them from their hard-earned money. I'm not holding my breath, however.
September 13, 2013
Don't Dawdle on Student Loan Search
Millions of young Americans recently began their senior year of high school. If your kid is among them, he or she is probably busy juggling homework, extracurricular activities and maybe a part-time job – all while trying to savor the last official year of childhood and simultaneously prepare for impending adulthood.
September 6, 2013
How to Survive an IRS Audit
Few events inspire more dread than an IRS tax audit. Even if you're confident you've accounted for every cent of income and only taken legitimate deductions, it's hard not to worry what a close examination of your tax returns might uncover – not to mention the time spent tracking down old records.
August 30, 2013
Beware of the Pitfalls of Public Wi-Fi
Ever notice how many people walk down the street completely engrossed in their smartphones and tablets? I fully expect to see one of them to walk into a light post one day.
August 23, 2013
Traffic Tickets Can Ruin More Than Your Day
We all know that sinking feeling when you get pulled over for a traffic violation. If you're lucky, you might just get a "fix-it" ticket for a broken tail light. But what if it was a more serious offense, like speeding or reckless driving? Depending on your driving record, you could get slapped with a sizeable penalty or even a jail sentence – and your insurance rates will almost certainly go up.
August 16, 2013
Honoring Grandparents Who Raise Their Grandkids
In 1978, Congress passed legislation proclaiming the first Sunday after Labor Day as National Grandparents Day. Presidents since Jimmy Carter have issued proclamations urging citizens to, in the words of President Barack Obama, "honor those who have helped shape the character of our nation, and thank these role models for their immeasurable acts of love, care and understanding."
August 9, 2013
Should You Become Executor of Someone's Estate?
One of the most important decisions you'll make when writing your will is determining who should be named executor of your estate. Even if you're just leaving behind household goods and a small savings account, someone – whether appointed by you or the state court – must settle your affairs.
August 2, 2013
Coping with Expensive Kids' Extracurricular Activities
When budgeting for back-to-school expenses, parents generally include routine fare like clothes, school supplies and maybe a new backpack. But if your kids participate in extracurricular activities, whether it's sports, music lessons or art classes, you could be on the hook for hundreds – or even thousands – of dollars in additional expenses throughout the year if you're not careful.
July 26, 2013
Steer Clear of Auto Repair Scams
If you feel frustrated or intimidated whenever you take your car in for repairs, you're not alone. According to the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau, auto repair fraud consistently ranks among the top consumer complaints they receive.
July 19, 2013
How to Replace Important Documents
If your wallet has ever been lost or stolen, you know what a pain it is to replace your driver's license. That goes double when other vital documents like your, passport, birth certificate or car registration are misplaced or destroyed in a natural disaster. Without the proper ID, you can't start a new job, buy a house, apply for insurance or a host of other common transactions.
July 12, 2013
Protect Yourself Against Credit Discrimination
Have you ever been turned down for a credit card and wondered why? Or gotten approved for a car loan or mortgage but suddenly the interest rate and fees are much higher than in the initial quote?
July 5, 2013
Retiring Soon? Don't Forget Tax Implications
If your retirement is not far off, you've probably already started to estimate what your living expenses will be after the regular paychecks stop. Most would-be retirees remember to include routine expenses like housing (rent or mortgage), medical bills and prescriptions, insurance premiums, transportation – even food and entertainment.
June 28, 2013
Don't Get 'Spoofed' by Rogue Callers
When caller ID first arrived on the scene it seemed like a godsend to many people: Now you could easily identify who was on the line and ignore unwanted calls, whether from telemarketers, an ex-boyfriend or an unfriendly collection agency.
June 21, 2013
How to Dispute a Credit Card Charge
Have you ever ordered something online that was delivered damaged ' or never arrived at all? Or been double-billed by a merchant? Or spotted a charge on your credit card statement you didn't make? Most of us have.
June 14, 2013
What to Do When a Loved One Dies
Whether it's expected or accidental, the death of a loved one can shake you to the core. The last thing you want is to have to interrupt grieving to deal with mundane tasks, but unfortunately there are many actions that must be done on behalf of the deceased. Some must be taken immediately, while with others you can take your time and reflect on the best path to follow.
June 7, 2013
Your Financial Life After Graduation
To the millions of college and high school seniors who recently graduated (and to their parents, who weathered the ups and downs of reaching that summit): congratulations on a job well done. After the celebration dies down, you'll no doubt be eager to embark on life's next chapter, whether it's finding a job, preparing for college or enrolling in military or community service.
May 31, 2013
Credit Access for Stay-at-Home Spouses and Partners Expanded
One of the pitfalls of Congress passing complicated, sweeping legislation is that sometimes provisions designed to protect one group unexpectedly create hardships for others. That's what happened with 2009's Credit Card Accountability Responsibility Disclosure (CARD) Act, which was hailed as legislation that would protect consumers from misleading credit practices.
May 24, 2013
Leasing a Car on the Cheap
My trusty Volvo wagon served our family well for 13 years, but after 106,000 miles it finally gave up the ghost. My wife just completed graduate school so we weren't ready to commit to a new car payment. I rented a car at first, but at $500 a month, that soon got old.
May 17, 2013
Avoiding Hidden Flight, Hotel Fees
The last few years have been tough economically for many people. Unemployment fears combined with plunging home, stock and retirement account values caused many to forgo big vacations – even though stressful times are when we most need to recharge our batteries.
May 10, 2013
Improving Women's Financial Literacy, Worldwide
Are the 70 percent of the developing world's adult population with no formal bank account doomed to a life of economic uncertainty and financial illiteracy? If a woman's culture dictates that she should always put her family's financial needs ahead of her own, can she learn to set aside money for her own retirement without feeling guilty?
May 3, 2013
Trim Your Wedding Costs
Weddings have always been big business, but I was shocked to see how expensive they've become in the 17 years since my wife and I got married. According to the annual Real Weddings Study, the average wedding in the U.S. now costs $28,427, and that doesn't even count the honeymoon.
April 26 2013
Share Your Money Before You Die
Now that the long-debated estate tax rules have finally been settled, let's get real: Despite all the hoopla raised, most people probably would never be impacted whether the lifetime estate tax threshold had stayed at $5.12 million or reverted to $1 million. In the end, it actually went up a bit to $5.25 million for 2013.
April 19, 2013
Should you 'Freeze' Your Credit Reports?
Although the odds of having your identity stolen remain quite low, anyone who's ever been had their bank or credit card account compromised knows what a pain it can be to unravel the mess. Sometimes enterprising hackers just need your Social Security number, address and date of birth to start opening new accounts in your name.
April 12, 2013
Before You Rent, Do Your Homework
Maybe you're a college student looking to rent your first apartment; or a downsizing homeowner reentering the rental market for the first time in decades. Whatever your situation, there are many precautions you should take before renting any property. The last thing you want is to be saddled with a 12-month lease you can't afford or to be stuck in a neighborhood you've come to detest.
April 5, 2013
How Financially Literate Are You?
I'm not sure whether it was intentional or merely a coincidence that several years ago Congress proclaimed April to be Financial Literacy Month. April is also the month when millions of Americans grimly write a check to the IRS and resolve to do a better job managing their money; and when millions of others squander their tax refund without realizing why receiving overly large refunds isn't sound financial management.
March 29, 2013
Are Your Parents Spending Your Inheritance?
Most people who grew up during the Great Depression and World War II learned to scrimp and save as a matter of necessity. Many also gained financial security during subsequent decades when pension plans were more common, homeownership became the norm and government programs like Social Security and Medicare expanded. For a time, it seemed their Baby Boomer children stood to inherit amounts unheard of for previous generations.
March 22, 2013
Insurance You Can Probably Do Without
I'm a big believer in having the appropriate amount of insurance, especially when it comes to your health and personal liability. But if money is tight and you want to get the most bang for your buck, there are a few types of insurance you can probably do without – or that may duplicate coverage you already have elsewhere.
March 15, 2013
Maximize Your Disabled Child's Government Aid
Parents of special needs children have enough on their plates just tending to the health, educational and emotional needs of their kids – not to mention often having to cope with drastically lowered income because of reduced work hours or having to pay someone else for childcare. So it's not surprising that many of these parents haven't had time to hatch a long-term financial plan in case their kids need care after they're not around.
March 8, 2013
Avoiding Post-Disaster Scam Artists
Have you ever turned on the light in a dark basement and shuddered as cockroaches scurried away? I get that same sense of revulsion whenever I hear about unscrupulous swindlers taking advantage of the victims of natural and manmade disasters.
March 1, 2013
Tax Deadlines Are Real
Congress could well debate the debt ceiling, tax reform and other important economic issues until the cows come home, but one thing's for sure: If you don't pay your income taxes – or at least file for an extension – by April 15, you could be in for a world of financial hurt.
February 22, 2013
Prepare Now for Natural Disasters
Natural disasters are inevitable, unpreventable and often come without warning. No part of the world seems to be spared, whether it's a hurricane, earthquake, tornado, drought or flood. Even though such catastrophes can't always be predicted, their likely aftermaths often can, including property loss, power or water service disruption, scarcity of food and supplies or overtaxed relief organizations.
February 15, 2013
Should You Hire a Tax Preparer?
The U.S. tax code grows more complicated every year and currently spans thousands of pages – even government experts can't agree exactly how long it is. So it's not surprising that millions of Americans hire professional tax preparers to complete their returns.
February 8, 2013
When Retiring Together Doesn't Make Sense
Back when people from my parents' generation were first planning their lives together, most married couples looked forward to working hard for a few decades, buying a house, raising a family and then retiring together while they still had enough money and energy to travel and pursue favorite hobbies.
February 1, 2013
Must-have Insurance Plans
Many people adopt a "penny wise, pound foolish" mentality when it comes to buying insurance. When trying to lower expenses, some will drop or reduce needed coverage, gambling that they won't become seriously ill, suffer a car accident or fall victim to a fire or other catastrophe. But all it takes is one serious uncovered (or under-covered) incident to potentially wipe you out financially.
January 25, 2013
Avoiding Tax Refund Identity Fraud
Many people file their income tax returns as early in the year as possible. Some are eager to claim their tax refund right away, while others are simply following their New Year's resolution not to procrastinate until midnight, April 15.
January 18, 2013
With Investments, Diversifying Is Key
Ever wonder why Mom and Pop stores sell wildly unrelated products side by side, like umbrellas and sunglasses, or Halloween candy and screwdrivers? Customers probably would never buy these items on the same shopping trip, right?
January 11, 2013
Keeping Funeral Costs Affordable
Anyone who's put a loved one to rest knows that death is not cheap. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the average adult funeral cost $6,560 in 2009 (their most current data). That doesn't include such common add-ons as a cemetery plot, headstone, flowers, obituaries and limousine, which can add thousands to the bill.
January 4, 2013
Avoid These Home-seller Mistakes
Now that the housing market has finally begun to stabilize and interest rates remain at historically low levels, more and more homebuyers and sellers are dipping their toes back in the water.
December 28, 2012
Helping the 'Unbanked' Get Affordable Financial Services
According to a recent survey by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the U.S. Census Bureau, 17 million American adults now live in "unbanked" households, while another 51 million are considered "underbanked." In other words, over 28 percent of households either have no traditional checking or savings accounts (unbanked); or their basic financial needs aren't being met by their bank or credit union so they also rely on alternative lenders like check-cashing services or payday loans (underbanked).
Email to a friend