Monday, December 28, 2009

Getting Financially Fit for 2010


Nan Jensen, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent
The year 2010 is right around the corner and many of us are considering our resolutions for the year ahead. After two years of recession and the high unemployment rate, it seems that a resolution that includes rethinking where you are financially and where you would like to be should be on the list.
Here are some important priorities to consider for the year ahead.

Develop a spending plan that allows you to live within your means. Simply, spend less than you earn. There are many ways you can budget your money. Buy in bulk (if it’s cheaper), shop sales, cook at home more often, and use coupons if you can. Eat out only on special occasions.
Take small steps to help you get your spending under control. On a weekly basis, try to find a simpler and less expensive way to do the same thing. If you’re going out to lunch with co-workers every day, enjoy lunch out just once a week and brown bag it the rest of the time. Bring your own beverages and snacks to work instead of making daily visits to the vending machine. Adjust the thermostat on the air conditioner in the summer a couple of degrees higher. Think about small things you can do to cut back.

Find a way to track your expenses. Cut and paste the link below into your browser to access an Excel spreadsheet to help you with your plan.

Pay off debt. The average American has more than $9,000 in credit card debt. Then there is the mortgage and a car loan. School loan debt is high among recent graduates. The first step in getting out of debt is to stop borrowing.
If you have debts on more than one credit card, either pay off the card with the highest interest rate first and work your way down to the card with the lowest rate, or pay off the smallest loan first and work your way up to the largest. Power Pay can help.
Remember to make payments on time. Paying on time, over time, is the best way to improve your credit history.

Pay yourself first. Each month, set aside a specific amount of money for savings. It could be $50 or $500. Savings as little as $50 a month can add up over time. See what how the miracle of compounding works at

For more information on getting in good financial shape for the new year join me for a webinar entitled “Get in Good Financial Shape for the New Year” on January 13. Go to the Pinellas County Extension website at and click on the on-line registration button.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Choosing a Financial Planner


By Karen Saley, Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

Securing your financial future can sometimes seem a little complicated. There is a lot of information available to you in books, magazines, classes and of course on the internet that can help you with a financial plan. Still with all that knowledge at your fingertips there are times you may feel you need to talk with a professional. Choosing a reputable financial planner is key when it comes to finding the right person to help you get to where you want to go. Here are some questions you should ask any professional.

  • How many years have you been in practice?
  • What are your qualifications?
  • Will there be a written contract?
  • How do you calculate your fees?
  • How long should the work take to complete?
  • Will you be delegating any of the work?
  • May I have referenced to contact?

There is little regulation of the financial planning industry and many people claiming to be experts simply are not. Interview several financial planners, get references from friends and family and check with professional organizations before you sign on with a financial planner.

For more information:
National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA)

Financial Planning Association (FPA)

Society of Financial Service Professionals

Monday, December 7, 2009

Homebuyer Credit Expanded and Extended


By Karen Saley, Extension Specialist
Now may be a great time to purchase that new home. The $8,000 tax credit that was to expire at the end of December has been extended through April 2010. Here are some of the old and new requirements.

The rules that remain the same:

  • Applies only to homes used as your principal residence.
  • Reduces your tax bill or increases your refund, dollar for dollar.
  • Is fully refundable, meaning the credit will be paid out even if you owe no tax or the credit is more than the tax owed.
The new rules:
  • Under the new law, you must buy, or enter into a binding contract to buy, a home that will be your principal residence on or before April 30, 2010 and close on the home by June 30, 2010.
  • You will have the option of claiming the credit on either your 2009 or 2010 return.
  • Homeowners who buy a replacement home that will be the principal residence may also claim a homebuyer credit of up to $6,500. You must have lived in the same home for any five-consecutive year period during the eight-year period that ended on the date the replacement home is purchased.
  • The new law raises the income limits for people who purchase homes after Nov. 6.
    - The full credit will be available to taxpayers with modified adjusted gross incomes up to $125,000, or $225,000 for joint filers.
    - Those with MAGI between $125,000 and $145,000, or $225,000 and $245,000 for joint filers, are eligible for a reduced credit.
    - Those with higher incomes do not qualify.
For more information click on the link below.,,id=204671,00.html

Monday, November 23, 2009

Protecting Your Credit During the Holidays


By Nan Jensen, Family and Consumer Sciences

As you gear up for Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the holiday shopping season, we’d like to offer you some tips on how you can use your credit cards wisely to keep your spending in check.

Set up a holiday budget. Without a predetermined spending limit, you can easily max out your credit card or charge more than you can afford. Before you hit the mall or the computer, figure out how much you can reasonably spend and keep that amount in mind as you shop. Create a list of all the purchases you will make that are specific to the holidays. Think about who you will be buying for, contributions to holiday parties at work or your child’s school and any extra entertaining you might do at home. You may tend to eat out more when you are shopping, or because you are busier around the holidays, so add those expenditures to your list. If you make charitable contributions around the holidays, add those to your list.

Make a list of people you need to buy things for. Try to think of what you have in mind for each person. If it is not a specific item, then you should think in terms of specific dollar limits. Without setting this in advance, it can be easy to overspend.

Beware of store credit cards that “save you money” on that purchase. Many stores typically offer enticing offers during the holidays by encouraging you to get a store card and save an extra 10% or more on purchases that day. This works only if you pay the balance charged back in a reasonable time frame. With the high interest rates (20%or more) you typically pay on the balances of those cards, that $50 savings on a $500 purchase may not be savings at all if you have to spread the payments out over time.

Don’t max out your credit cards. If you max out your credit card during holiday shopping, this can impact your credit score. According to Fair Isaac, a credit scoring program widely used by credit bureaus, about one-third of your score depends upon your "utilization ratio," or how much of your available credit you actually use. Experts recommend that you keep your balance below 30%, or $300 for every $1000 of available credit.

Keep track of your holiday credit card spending. What good is a budget if you're not keeping up with it? Check your receipts to make sure you're not spending too much.

Don’t fall for the “skip a payment” offer from your credit card company. Credit card issuers commonly make this offer around the holiday season. It can become a problem if you carry a balance on your card. The offer is designed to entice you to skip your payment but the interest would be applied to the full amount for that month. Skipping payments can get very expensive very quickly if your balance and interest rates are high.

Plan to pay off anything you charge on the holidays within 1-2 months at the longest. Considering the holidays come every year, you will never be able to get ahead if you are still paying off debt from last year when you begin holiday spending for this year.

Save those receipts. Make sure to keep them together in one location, as you may need them for returns and exchanges. Check credit and debit card sales and return receipts against your monthly bills and statements. Report any problems to the credit card issuer right away.

Keep an eye on your wallet. Don’t flash any cash you might be carrying. Watch your credit or debit cards during transactions, and get them back as quickly as possible. If your cards are lost or stolen, report the loss or theft immediately to the card issuers. To report your credit card lost or stolen, call the customer service number on your billing statement.

Make a New Year’s resolution. To avoid credit card use, begin setting aside a little money from each paycheck in January in a special account reserved for holiday expenses. Saving just $10 a week will give you a nearly $500 head start when December rolls around. Check to see if your bank or credit union offers special holiday savings accounts, or consider a direct deposit from your paycheck.

Here is a holiday budget sheet to get you started.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Truth About Payday Lending


By Karen Saley, Extension Specialist

With the holidays just around the corner and money being tight for many of us, you may be considering a short-term payday loan. Before you run out and borrow that money let’s look at how these loans work.

You write a personal check payable to the payday lender for the amount you want to borrow, plus the fee you must pay for borrowing. The company gives you the amount of the check less the fee, and agrees to hold the check until the loan is due, usually your next payday. The fees on these loans can be a percentage of the borrowed amount — or they can be based on increments of money borrowed: say, a fee for every $50 or $100 borrowed.

So let’s say you borrow $100.00 and the fee is $15.00. When you get your next paycheck you will need to give the payday lender $115.00. You may be saying to yourself, well that’s not so bad; I borrowed this money at 15%, that’s lower than the interest rate on my credit card. What you need to consider, however, is how long did you borrow the money? A week, two weeks? Then what happens if you can’t pay back the original amount in that time period? You “rollover” the loan and now you have borrowed $115.00 with another $15.00 fee attached. You now owe $130.00 and it has cost you $30.00 to borrow $100.00.

So if you are considering one of these short-term loans to cover holiday expenses you may want to reconsider. Look at other ways to make your holidays special. If, however, you find yourself in a position of not being able to meet your living expenses here are some things to consider before visiting your local payday lender.

~Contact your creditors and discuss the possibility of adjusting your payment amount and/or schedule. Be sure to ask what type of fees may be involved in restructuring your account.
~Contact a reputable credit counseling agency to help you set up a debt repayment plan or help you create a spending plan that fits your circumstances.
~Shop around for a low-cost loan from your credit union or small bank. Remember to ask about interest rates and fees.

Contact to speak with a financial counselor free of charge and for more information about payday lending visit

Thursday, November 5, 2009


By Nan Jensen, Families & Consumers Agent, Pinellas County Extension

Holidays can be stressful even under the best of circumstances. But because of the economy and the high rate of unemployment, holidays this year may be particularly trying. Loss can trigger depression during the holidays.

Here are some strategies to help you deal with the stress during this holiday season.

Focus on what you have rather than what you don’t have.

~ Enjoy the little traditions that evoke positive memories for the holidays: songs, events, rituals, and more.

~ Come up with new holiday traditions – ones that don’t involve much money and that focus on family togetherness. Set aside time to create as a family new and inexpensive holiday decorations and gifts. Enjoy activities such as visiting displays, attending parades, viewing holiday lights or volunteering.

~ Spend your time with people you love and care about.
Take care of yourself-both physically and emotionally.
Your mental health is affected by your physical health, especially at holiday time.
~ Take care of yourself by getting enough sleep and making healthy food choices.

~ If you drink alcohol, limit your daily consumption. The Dietary Guidelines recommend no more than one drink for women and two drinks for men. This will not only save you calories but can help you “manage your mood” as well. Too much alcohol can trigger depression.

~ Exercise is important, too. Walking reduces stress and helps ward off weight gain.

~ Practice relaxation exercises (i.e., stretching, deep breathing, yoga, meditation).
Manage Your Time
~ Schedule your activities in advance. Break projects into small steps so you won't feel overwhelmed.

~ Involve family members in getting the holiday chores done.

~ Don't accept every invitation. Chose the events you want to attend.

~ Don't over-schedule. Leave some time unplanned for you and your family to relax and just be at home with each other.
Watch what you spend.
Overdoing it with credit cards and spending causes stress at the holidays. Try to keep spending under control.
~ Set spending limits for gifts for each person as well as for other items on your holiday list. Then search out the sales and specials to take advantage of the best buys.

~ Pay with cash and leave the credit cards at home. If you plan to use a credit card, select just one to use for your holiday spending. It’s much easier to control your spending on one card than using several cards.

~ If your children ask for something nonessential such as a video game system that does not fit into your budget, be honest with them and tell them you can’t afford it this year.
To help you control your holiday spending, join us on November 18 for a Solutions in 30 webinar entitled “Protect Your Credit during the Holiday Season”.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Avoiding Holiday Debt


By: Karen Saley, Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

I know it’s only October, but it’s not too early to start thinking about holiday gift-giving. As a matter-of-fact many financial experts advise holiday shopping all year long. That’s one way to stay within your budget and reduce holiday stress.

Everyone is feeling the money pinch these days and with the holidays just around the corner that pinch is going to hurt a lot more. Here are a few suggestions to help relieve the pain and let you enjoy the holidays a little bit more.

  • Send email greeting cards instead of spending money on paper cards and postage.
  • Ask your dinner guests to bring a dish and have a potluck holiday dinner. You’ll save money and time and everyone will get to sample some new dishes.
  • Create a holiday budget for gifts. Decide on a total dollar amount you are going to spend then determine how much you will spend on each individual. Remember to include the tax in your total.
  • Shop at discount outlets and closeout stores instead of the malls.
  • Create a coupon book. Coupons can be redeemed for things like cleaning duties, car washing, meal preparation, etc. Everyone likes a helping hand and it’s the gift that keeps giving all year long.
  • If you haven’t started shopping yet, get started. Look for those bargains and grab them while you can.
Keep in mind that the holidays are supposed to be about family and friends, being together and creating memories. Don’t get caught up in the spending trap and enjoy your holiday debt free.

Join us for our free Webinar “Reducing Financial Stress During the Holidays” on December 9, 2009. To register go to:

For more helpful hints on surviving the holiday season click on the links below.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Job hunting-have you reviewed your credit report lately?


Nan Jensen, Family and Consumer Sciences

What does your credit history have to do with your chances of landing a job? More than you would expect, especially in these tough economic times. With unemployment at an all time high, the job competition is very stiff. In this “employer’s market”, many companies are able to take their time and evaluate job candidates with increasing scrutiny. Some companies are basing their search for the right candidates not only on resumes and qualifications but may also be reviewing the credit reports of those potential hires.
There are some stipulations though. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires that an employer must get your permission to look at your credit report. If you don’t get a job because of information in your report, the employer must show you the report and tell you how to get a copy from the consumer reporting company. There is no charge for the report if you request it within 60 days of getting notice that you did not get the job
Since your credit report is a map of your financial history and how you handle finances, some employers view it as an indicator of how well you may handle your job responsibilities. Perhaps you have defaulted on a loan or have unpaid credit accounts. These situations may raise a red flag. If a potential employer asks you to sign paperwork allowing them to review your credit report you may want to discuss any negative information that may be on the report. If you have been unemployed for a long period of time, and unable to pay bills because of reduced income, employers may empathize with you. As long as you are up front and honest about your history, you still have a shot at getting the job.
Request a copy of your credit report. By thoroughly reviewing your report you can identify any problem areas or errors that may be negatively affecting your credit score. The FCRA requires each of the nationwide consumer reporting companies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months. You can order your free annual credit report online at, or by calling 1-877-322-8228.
Also view the free presentation on credit reports and scores at the link below.

Monday, October 12, 2009

What is a Reverse Mortgage?


By Karen Saley, Extension Specialist

A reverse mortgage is a loan secured by your home that lets you receive payments from the lender. As you receive payments, these amounts are added to your loan balance. Generally to obtain a reverse mortgage, you must be a homeowner at least 62 years old.

With health care costs rising and people living longer lives, many older folks are considering reverse mortgages to help them with their financial needs. These types of mortgages may be beneficial to some, but there are some pretty important issues to consider before making the leap.

Interest and fees
Just like any other type of loan, interest and fees are charges with a reverse mortgage. Even when you are no longer receiving payments, interest is charges on any outstanding balance until the loan is paid off.

Taxes and insurance
With a reverse mortgage even though you are no longer making payments on your home loan, you are still responsible for the property taxes and insurance on your home.

With reverse mortgages you generally do not pay back the loan, but keep in mind that when you pass away your heirs will be responsible for the repayment of the loan in order to claim the property. This also applies if you should move out of the home or sell it.

If you find yourself in need of some extra cash you may want to explore other options before taking a reverse mortgage. Selling the home and downsizing or possibly drawing from a retirement fund may be better options depending on your circumstances. Talk to a financial advisor or housing counselor before making the decision.

For more information contact these agencies.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
AARP Foundation, Reverse Mortgage Education Project
National Association of Reverse Mortgage Lenders

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Managing in Tough Times-Dealing with Job Loss

Nan Jensen, Family and Consumer Sciences

You just got word that you are being laid off. Your initial reaction is shock. There is often a period of adjustment and transition that people must go through when dealing with a job loss. People feel and experience a number of emotions. Disbelief and denial, anger, sadness and depression, and eventually acceptance are often the phases people must work through as they deal with a job loss. It can be difficult to navigate this process. You may sometimes feel out of control or overwhelmed by the stress of it all.

Some of the stress that people experience is due to the fear of the unknown. Not knowing what will happen to the retirement plan you have invested in, understanding what your rights and responsibilities are with respect to maintaining health care coverage and wondering how you will deal with the unknown financial challenges ahead are just some of the issues that you may have questions about.

To help you navigate through some of these challenges, the University of Florida, IFAS has developed a website called Managing in Tough Times-Downsized! It has a wealth of information on financial resources, including calculators and worksheets to help you develop a spending plan and answer some of those questions you have about retirement and health insurance.

The website can be found at

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Discount Dining


Karen Saley Extension Specialist, Family and Consumer Sciences

Eating out doesn’t have to be a wallet-buster. Pinching pennies seems to be the theme of the day so here are some ideas that may help you save a few dollars the next time you visit your favorite restaurant.

Look for coupons in the newspapers and online
Don’t feel bad about using them. Restaurants know what their food margins are and what they are able to give away. It’s in their best interest to offer coupons to attract new business.

Skip the beverages and drink water
It’s healthier for you anyway! The average fountain drink costs the establishment around twenty cents, you pay over a dollar and sometimes a lot more. So skip the beverages and pocket the change, and if you pass on the alcohol you’ll save a lot more than just pocket change!

Order appetizers instead of full meals
The size of some meals today is so outrageous that we are consuming two, three or four meals at one sitting. Appetizers are more portion friendly and can be very economical usually costing just a few dollars.

Share your meals
Again, portion sizes are usually much larger than they should be so consider splitting an entrée with your dining partner. Save yourself excess calories and a lot of dough.

Skip the dessert
If you must have that sweet indulgence at the end of the meal, why not have it at home. Buy yourself a little treat from the grocery store at a fraction of the cost and pair it with that two cent cup of coffee you can make yourself.

Be an early bird
Take advantage of the early bird specials. Eating a little earlier in the day can save you twenty to thirty percent and you’ll have the whole evening to go for a nice stroll.

Get it to go
No need to order beverages and you get to keep the tip by ordering your meal to go. Take your delicious meal home, light some candles, put on some music and you’ll feel like you’re at a top-notch restaurant without having to pay the high cost.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Who is Responsible for the Debt?


Nan Jensen, Famiy and Consumer Sciences

An email was sent to me awhile back regarding a question about who is responsible for a deceased relative’s debt. It was a question that I never have had to think about but one that is important to consider, especially in this economy. Certainly for families who have lost a loved one, it is the last thing that they want to deal with during this difficult time.

Surviving relatives are protected by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Under the law, debt collectors are prohibited from using abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices to collect from you. If a debt collector contacts you, have them contact the decedent’s personal representative and certainly don’t give them any of your personal information.

The bottom line is that you are not legally responsible for paying a relative’s debt who is not your spouse. State probate law may limit your obligation to pay your spouse’s debt. For advice in this area, contact an attorney who is familiar with the laws in your state.

The Federal Trade Commission has developed a very helpful publication in a question and answer format about who has responsibility for a dead relative’s debts. For more information check out the FTC publication below.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Job Hunting Tips


By Karen Saley, Extension Specialist

According to the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Florida is hovering around a 10% unemployment rate. Not quite as bad as Michigan’s 15% and not nearly as good as North Dakota’s 4%. For those of you who have found yourself among the ranks of the unemployed, here are a few tips to help you get back in the game.

· Be patient
Keep calm and remind yourself that if you keep trying hard, you will eventually get the job you want.
· Discipline yourself
Carefully plan out how you will use your time and stick to your schedule. Make looking for a job your current job.
· Don't wait for the job to come to you
Don’t simply rely on posting your resume online. Going to a company and talking to people is one of the most effective ways to get a job.
· Look at growing job sectors
Knowing the job market means knowing who is hiring. Research the hot new jobs and current trends.
· Network
Let everyone know that you are available for work. The more people you see, the sooner you will get the job you want.
· Sharpen your skills
Keep your professional skills sharp while job hunting. Take a class to upgrade your knowledge and skills.
· Be Flexible
Be flexible about what you will take, and you may find more opportunities within that job, and it will give you the chance to grow in several directions and not in just one.

For more information about job hunting and other related topics, visit Managing in Tough Times found at

Monday, August 24, 2009

Don't Get Scammed!


By Karen Saley, Extension Specialist

There have always been people in our society more than willing to take advantage of others, and today is no exception. Scams abound and with the new technology we have today it has become increasingly difficult to tell the good guys from the bad guys.

Think you can get some help from the government with your past due mortgage? Looking for a little help restoring you questionable credit? Want to meet a few new friends on a social networking site? Looking for a job? It seems no matter what you are looking for there is someone ready to scam you.

These are just a few of the hundreds of scams being perpetrated on an unsuspecting public.

Government grants scam
Instant credit repair
Cash-for-gold scam
Mystery shopping scam
Social networking scams
Courier cons
Odometer fraud
Free gas card promotion
iPhone purchasing website scam
Twitter Work-at-Home Money-Making Schemes

What can you do to avoid becoming a victim?

If you are signing a contract, read the fine print
Research the company before doing business with them
Don’t respond to emails, phone calls, and mail that you did not initiate
Do not give out personal information in any form
Don’t follow links provided in emails even if they look like legitimate sites

If you do find yourself a victim or potential victim of a scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission at By doing so your report along with hundreds or thousand of other reports can help authorities stop the scam and prosecute the scammers.

Remember…if it’s too good to be true, it most likely is.

Want to learn more? Join Extension Specialist Karen Saley and Jason Ohman from Pinellas County Justice & Consumer Services on September 16th for a 30 minute webinar.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Managing During Tough Times: Meeting Health Insurance Needs


Many people rely on employer group health insurance to help ease the burden of medical costs. As unemployment continues to rise, people are looking for options to maintain health insurance coverage. The Stimulus Bill offers some additional help to people who involuntarily lost or will lose their job between Sept. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2009. Workers that become involuntarily unemployed during this 16-month period are able through COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) to continue the health care coverage they had through an employer. COBRA applies to group plans at companies that employ at least 20 people. The subsidy ends if the employee becomes eligible for Medicare or obtains coverage through a new employer.
Even if employees did not sign up for COBRA when they lost their job, they have 60 days to get the subsidy after being notified by their previous employer of their eligibility. Additional information on the new COBRA subsidy can be found at the link below to the Federal Department of Labor.
Those not eligible for COBRA may be able to convert a group policy to individual coverage. Employers and the insurance companies can explain options.
Investigate buying insurance through another group such as a fraternal or civic organization, professional association or health maintenance organization. Group coverage is almost always cheaper than coverage by individual policies.
Since individual health insurance is very expensive compare several policies for the best coverage. Generally, it is wiser to choose a large deductible in order to lower premium costs. It is better to self insure against routine medical expenses and buy major medical insurance to cover unexpected, costly illnesses or emergencies. Avoid purchasing single disease policies or overlapping coverage.
If you have a high deductible policy—either purchased on your own or through your employer—explore the benefits of setting up a health savings account (HSA). For 2008, in order to qualify to open an HSA, your minimum deductible must be at least $1,100 (self-only coverage) or $2,200 (family coverage). You can tap the HSA to pay out-of-pocket medical interest and can be used in the future. For more information, check the website,

For people without health insurance or those who can no longer pay the premiums for health insurance, there are some limited health services available. Locally, the Pinellas County Health Department would have information about health care programs provided at little or no cost. These include immunization programs, well baby clinics, blood pressure checks and other screening programs. Also, St. Petersburg Free and Clearwater Free Clinic provide some basic medical care as well.
Medicaid is generally available to families who receive government income assistance or to people over age 65 or people who are blind or disabled. Check with the local Health and Human Services Office for current medical assistance programs and income and resource guidelines.
For more information check out the following links below.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Foreclosure: Don't Let It Happen To You


The possibility of losing your home can be a frightening experience. If you find yourself in this position don’t freeze up. Taking action quickly will help you hang onto your home. The first thing you will want to do is ask yourself the following question.

  • What happened to make you miss your mortgage payment (s)?
  • Do you have any documents to back up your explanation for falling behind?
  • Have you tried to resolve the problem? How?
  • Is your problem temporary, long-term, or permanent?
  • What changes in your situation do you see in the short-term, and in the long-term?
  • What other financial issues may be stopping you from getting back on track with your mortgage? What would you like to see happen?
  • Do you want to keep the home?
  • What type of payment arrangement would be realistic for you?
Answering these questions will help you understand your situation more clearly and assist you in communicating your circumstances to your loan servicer.

Avoiding the problem will not make it go away and it could potentially hurt you, so be proactive, diligent, and assertive in your quest to save your home.

Join Pinellas County Extension Specialist, Karen Saley on August 12th to learn more about the foreclosure process, how to avoid scams, and the new government assistance program. For information you can use now, click on the link below.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Getting Organized


by Karen Saley/Extension Specialist

Getting your important papers organized can be a daunting task. It will take a little time and patience but it will be well worth it in the long-run. How do you know if you need to organize your record? Ask yourself these questions.

Do you have easy access to all of your receipts and paid bills for the last six months?
Do you know where your insurance policies are and what they cover?
Do you have a list of people who are your important financial contacts, such as tax advisor, attorney, broker, banker, and human resource officer at work?
If you become incapacitated, how easy would it be for other members of your family to figure out your filing system and gain access to your records?

Keeping good records will come in handy during a crisis, when a major life change takes place, at tax time, or just when you need to review them while establishing your financial goals.

Here are a few ways to keep your records organized.

Make once person the lead in the process
File papers on a regular schedule (once a week, twice a month, etc.)
Have a designated work area

Now you may be asking “which papers do I keep and where do I keep them?”

There are about 40 different types of papers you should consider keeping for a number of years. Some you will want to keep handy in your home files, others you will want to keep in a safe deposit box and still others you may want a copy held by a family member or attorney. Attached is a list of important papers and an example of where or with who may want to store them.

Remember; be persistent in getting your records organized. You will be making life much easier for yourself and anyone who would have to take over for you in an emergency.

Monday, July 6, 2009

What's Your Score?


By: Karen Saley, Extension Specialist

Your FICO score is an important number when it comes to applying for credit. You may be asking “what exactly is a FICO score?” It’s a number that summarizes your credit risk, based on a snapshot of your credit report at a particular point in time. What this means is that your FICO score is constantly changing depending on several factor such as payment history, amounts owed, length of credit history, new credit and types of credit in use. This chart shows what percentage of these factors is considered when calculating your credit score.

A FICO score can range from 300-850 with most of the population falling between 750 and 799. How high or low your score is may determine your ability to secure credit and influence what the interest rate on that credit will be.

Unlike your credit report, which you are entitled to free of charge, there is a fee you must pay to get your FICO score. The cost is about $16.00 and can be purchased through any of the three credit reporting agencies; Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. To obtain a copy of your credit report or FICO score you can click on

Because your FICO score is a direct result of your credit history it is very important that you are aware of and understand the information in your credit report. For more information regarding your credit report and your FICO score visit

Monday, June 22, 2009

New Rules!


By: Karen Saley
Extension Specialist

Have you ever wondered what all that fine print on your credit card statement says? Well, it actually says a lot, and you would be wise to read it. All that verbiage has been a source of frustration for consumers and a source of revenue for the credit card companies.

Contained in all that fine print are the terms and conditions related to your credit card. Unfortunately these terms are written in such a confusing manner that most people have a difficult time understanding them. This has made it very easy for credit card companies to implement some interesting money making strategies.

That will all be changing next year. The Federal Reserve has put a stop to some pretty shady practices on the part of the credit card industry by adopting some new rules that will help protect consumers.

What will the new rules do for consumers?

• Protect consumers from unexpected interest charges, including increases in the rate during the first year after account opening, unless it is stated up-front when the account is opened.

• Prohibit credit card companies from raising interest rates on money already borrowed unless it was borrowed on a variable rate card, or the minimum payment is made more than 30 day late.

• Forbid banks from imposing interest charges using the "two-cycle" billing method. This method charges interest on amounts already repaid.

• Require that consumers receive a reasonable amount of time to make their credit card payments. A late fee cannot be imposed if the bill was mailed less than 21 days before the due date.

• Prohibit the use of payment allocation methods that unfairly maximize interest charges. Payments must be allocated fairly among credit cards with different interest rates.

• Address subprime credit cards by limiting the fees that reduce the amount of available credit.

Remember, these rules will not be put in place until July 1, 2010. In the mean time take a few minutes and read that fine print. The credit card companies will be trying to maximize their profits while they can.

Friday, June 19, 2009

In Debt…Tips to Get Back in the Black


In Debt…Tips to Get Back in the Black

Mortgage payments, car loans, medical expenses…on and on and on…. In today's society, being in debt seems almost inevitable. Not many Americans are able to buy a house or a car outright with cash. Instead, they apply for loans in order to make their major purchases. Before they realize it, many consumers find themselves deeper and deeper in debt.
Circumstances such as job loss or accidental injury can also compound the problem. Since many consumers find themselves unable to keep up with monthly payments. They can incur even more debt from late fees and interest payments. Having debt management issues can make consumers feel helpless and stressed out—factors which can have an effect on other aspects of their lives. The good news is that there are ways to get yourself “out from under”. If you are currently in debt, educating yourself on ways to become debt-free and sticking to those methods is key to living a healthy financial life.

To determine exactly how much you owe to your creditors, check all the billing statements sent to you and then create a spreadsheet that lists balances, interest charges and minimum monthly payments. This can be useful for creating a realistic budget.
Once you determine your debt level, here are some ideas to get your debt under control.

Stop adding more debts. Cut up your credit cards, if they are the main source of debt. For emergencies, keep one credit card with low credit limit and commit to pay the full balance every month.

Develop a spending plan. Creating a budget and sticking to it is a great way to help build good spending habits. By subtracting your expenses from after tax income, you will be able to calculate how much you have left over to pay off your debt.

Save some money. If you begin by evaluating your monthly expenses you can reduce unnecessary spending and use the cash to build an emergency fund for those unexpected expenses. Remember to always pay your bills on time so you can also avoid paying unnecessary fees such as late payment fees in addition to interest charges.

Find extra money. If you have a job, try to increase your current income by looking for assignments that offer over time pay or tasks that will result in a bonus or a higher commission. Securing a part time or second job can also help create extra income.

Talk to your creditors. Contact creditor(s) and explain the situation. A plan may be worked out so that obligations are repaid.

Change your lifestyle. Live below your means and don't charge more than you can afford to repay in full the following month. If your expenses exceed your income and you are using credit cards to enhance your lifestyle, stop. Instead, explore ways to increase household income, reduce expenses, or both.

Doing it yourself. The most desirable option is to set up a debt payment plan and discipline yourself to follow it. Power Pay, a debt management program can help. All you need to run the program is information about each debt. The program will compute how long it will take you to get completely out of debt. If you only make the minimum payments it can take almost a lifetime to get out of heavy debt. Once you have paid off one debt you roll that payment onto another debt thus increasing the payment made on the second debt. This pattern continues until all the money you are paying in a month on debt is going to pay off the last debt. Power Pay will calculate which debt will be in your best interest to pay off first, and provide you with an amortization chart.

Hire debt reduction help. Sometimes it does not seem possible to manage the problem of being financially overextended. If you are unable to solve your financial problems alone, counseling services can help you set up a budget and debt payment plan. Nonprofit financial counseling agencies charge little, if anything, for their services. Military bases and industries often hire people who can help you manage your debts. Housing authorities, credit unions, churches, and universities sometimes provide financial counseling.
However, you need to be careful when selecting a credit counseling service. Here is a helpful link with questions to consider when choosing a credit counselor.

For online tools and worksheets to help you pay down debt and develop a spending plan check out the resources below.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Homebuyer Credit


There’s Still Time

Have you been considering purchasing a new home this year? Well now could be the perfect time to do so. The First-Time Homebuyers Credit that was started in 2008 is still available from the Federal Government until December 1, 2009 and there have been a few beneficial changes.

• The Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2009 expanded the first-time homebuyer credit by increasing the credit amount from $7,000 to $8,000 for homes purchased before the end of this year.

• This year the $8,000 credit does not have to be paid back unless the home ceases to be the taxpayer’s main residence within three years from the date of purchase. If the home is no longer the taxpayer’s main residence, the full amount of the credit received becomes due on the tax return for the year the home ceased being the primary residence.

• The $8,000 credit is fully refundable, meaning the credit will be paid out to eligible taxpayers, even if they owe no tax or the credit is more than the tax owed. This could decrease your tax liability or increase your refund.

With home-loan interest rates declining and the First-Time Homebuyers Credit still available, it just may be the time to consider purchasing that new home.

For more information and full details regarding the Housing and Economic Recover Act and the First-Time Homebuyer Credit click on the link below.,,id=204671,00.html

Friday, May 29, 2009

What's Your Money Personality?


Just like our overall personality, we all have a money personality. We tend to make financial decisions based on our beliefs about money, past experiences, personality styles and family relationships. By doing a little self-analysis you may discover some feelings about money you didn’t know you had.

Research has shown that worrying about money can have consequences ranging from poor sleep patterns to physical aches and pains. If you understand your feelings concerning money, you may begin to break some habits that could ultimately lead to reduced stress and more self-confidence.

If you are in a family and need to share financial decisions with other person, here are a few tips that may reduce some of the tension when communicating about money.

• Listen to what everyone has to say. Make sure you understand their point of view.
• Discuss everyone’s wants and needs. Ideas of what a “need” is can vary greatly, so keep in mind they all need to be respected.
• Identify spending habits that may require change, and be sure to focus on the behavior and not the person.
• Acknowledge that everyone contributes in some way. Just because one person may provide more money to the household, does not give that person the right to decide how it should be spent.

It also helps if you set aside time on a regular basis to sit down and talk about any financial issues affecting the family. Understanding your money personality and communicating with your family can go a long way in creating a harmonious financial life.

To read more about your money personality and how to communicate with family members regarding money issues, and to take a “money personality” quiz, click on the link below.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

How Much Do You Spend?


By James Stevenson, Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

In tough times, it is clear we all have to make certain financial sacrifices to our “fat-times” spending habits. While no one would consider recommending cutting spending on absolute essentials, when times are lean it is necessary to evaluate what expenses really are necessities and what we might have come to merely view as necessities.

In our recent “instant gratification” societal mode, it has been possible to procure goods and services despite the fact that we simply do not have the cash at the moment to afford them. Credit has been handed out by the BUCKETFULL and we are now seeing the results of living beyond our means.

So where do we start in paring down our expenses and getting out of credit debt? First it is important to create a base-line of spending habits. There are two types of household expenses: Fixed Expenses and Flexible Expenses.

Fixed expenses include those that are paid on a regular basis and are essential to the basic operation of your household. These expenses include: utility bills, rent or mortgage, child-care, loan repayments, insurance, etc.

Flexible expenses include those that are more under YOUR control as to amount and frequency of payment. These expenses include: food, entertainment, subscriptions, memberships, clothing, gifts and donations, etc.

While some families see certain items in the flexible category to be life-and-death essentials, in lean times it is necessary to “zoom-out” and look at your financial situation in a broader sense and with a view to your ability to maintain or sustain a level of spending that will not get away from you.

See the link at the end of this post for a handy worksheet that will enable you to find out just where your money is going and how to differentiate between fixed and flexible expenses. It is important to work together as a family to make sure all involved are aware just what “living within our means” really means; and that every household member may have to make some sort of sacrifice for the greater good of financial sustainability.

This newsletter will continue to bring you ideas on how to make the most of less, and as long as there is a feeling of solidarity within your family, the small, shared sacrifices will add up to savings during these tough times.

How Much Do You Spend?
How Much Should We Spend?
Cutting Costs to Live Within Your Income

Monday, April 27, 2009

Summer Camps for the Kids


If you haven’t already enrolled your child (ren) in a summer camp program, it’s not too late. Here are three options to help you with your search:

Pack up the kids and head out this weekend to the largest summer camp expo in the Tampa Bay area.

The Parent Guide ( and the Tampa Yankees Club ( is sponsoring the 12th Annual Summer Camp Expo Saturday, May 2nd at the George M. Steinbrenner Field, located at 1 Steinbrenner Drive, Tampa, FL 33614.The Girl Scouts, KinderCare, Busch Gardens, and Eckerd College are just a few of the organizations that will be there to answer your specific questions.

This event promises a day of family fun. Not only will you have the opportunity to find the summer camp that will meet your family’s needs, the Tampa Yankees will be there to meet and greet, prizes will be given away, and there will be activities for whole family!

If you can’t make it “out to the ball game” take a look at the Tampa Bay Parenting Spring and Summer Camp Guide (
This guide is filled with camp opportunities ranging from sports to performing arts.

Use the Camp resources for families (
This tool allows you to search for a camp by attributes such as cost, cultural focus, and/or activity

With so many options to choose from, you will certainly find the camp that will fit your budget without sacrificing a quality experience for your child.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Are You Leaking Money?


By James Stevenson, Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

According to University of Florida Extension, one of the first steps you need to take when dealing with money issues is to establish a spending plan. This tool will help you live within your means, and identify any “leaks” in spending.

It sounds easy enough, but a surprising number of folks have yet to put pen to paper and figure out where the money goes. To start, make a list of your fixed expenses. These include rent, mortgage, car payment, insurance, etc. Then list variable expenses—the ones that are flexible and often change from month to month; power and water bills, cell phone charges. Take a look at the previous three months’ statements for an average of these expenses and add them to your worksheet. Then have a look at your discretionary expense. Here is where the fun begins. Discretionary expenses are the ones you have total control over, and include expenses like eating out (a biggie,) food, clothing, dry cleaning etc. This is where you will detect leaks.

It is not to say that you will need to live a deprived life, and no one would suggest you eliminate food expenses, but with discretionary spending you will need to give yourself an allowance. See the link at the end of this post for some excellent tips on saving on these expenses.

To adjust fixed expenses, consider working with your providers for the best rate. Can you afford a higher deductible on your insurance? Does your energy provider have a flat-rate program for billing through the year? Can you negotiate with your credit card company for a better interest rate?

When it comes to credit, remember that is money you DO NOT have; it might be tempting, but use credit only for emergencies and only if you can pay the money back quickly. If you have credit debt, get that paid-down as quickly as possible—there is no sense in having a savings account earning 3% interest if you have credit debt racking up 15-20% interest. Use any windfalls to pay down credit cards. It is tax time, so any refund should to straight to the creditors, not to purchase that flat-screen TV!

It will take a few months to get used to your spending plan, but simply starting should give you the feeling of being more in control of your expenses.

See: Cutting Costs to Live Within Your Income from the University of Florida experts.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Don’t Let Financial Challenges Stress Your Marriage


Even in the best of times, developing and sustaining a successful marriage is hard work. One of the top stressors in a marriage is financial hardship. Whether you are newlyweds and have not established a financial plan or if you’ve just finished celebrating your fiftieth wedding anniversary and have not reevaluated your plan lately, it’s never too early or too late to create or adjust your financial plan.

No matter how long you have been married, couples can benefit from scheduling some time to sit and discuss the following topics:

Set Family Goals
Before you can create a plan, you must determine what you want to achieve. Many couples make assumptions about their spouse’s financial expectations. This is an opportunity to make sure that you are on the same page.

Make Decisions on How to Spend
Make sure you understand what type of spenders you are. Are you conservative or a spend thrift?

Establish a Spending Plan
Make a list of your fixed and flexible expenses and discuss how you will address them.

Plan for the Immediate and Distant future
Make a plan for how you will handle unforeseen expenses. Decide when and how you want to retire.

Communication, creating and implementing a written plan, will minimize your stress and help you meet the inevitable challenges that life will bring with confidence.

Money and Marriage: A Spending Plan

Monday, March 23, 2009

Looking for Work in a Tough Market


U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis reported earlier this month that the economy lost 651,000 jobs in February, bringing total job losses over the last six months to more than 3.3 million. That drove the unemployment rate up to 8.1% -- its highest level in 25 years. Read the full news release here. Given these sobering statistics, this certainly qualifies as a “tough market” for job seekers. It is always important to be creative when searching for employment. The following information from the University of Florida can help with this process.

Finding Job Openings
Believe it or not, not everything exists on-line. Although there are plenty of resources on-line, and certainly many people are successful in finding employment via on-line advertising and application, it is important not to overlook other methods or job postings. There are a wide variety of places to look (see the link at the bottom of this post for the complete list) including personal contacts, newspaper classifieds, labor unions and professional associations.

Applying for Jobs
When applying for most jobs, it is important to have a well-constructed resume, a properly-submitted application and to conduct oneself in a professional and encouraging way at interview.

A resume should be no longer than one page. No matter how many wonderful things you have done, have mercy on the person or people that will have to read all the submitted applications. Keep your information brief, truthful and contain all the skills you can bring to the job you are applying for.

For hand-written application forms, remember to use a blue or black pen and your BEST penmanship. Personal and professional references are often required. If you are planning on filling-in an application at the place you hope to work, be sure to have these contacts’ name, address, phone and email.

Congratulations! You’ve have an interview! Now it is important to show your best self to your potential employer. First make sure to do your homework with regards to the organization you hope to work for. On the day of the interview, arrive early, dress smart (no matter how expensive that funky t-shirt was, it is not smart!) do not smoke or chew gum, and be polite and courteous to everyone you encounter. During the interview, use proper English and not slang, make eye contact with all interviewers and remember their names. Good Luck!Resources: Job Tips for Job Seekers

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Company and product listings do not represent endorsement by either: Pinellas County Extension, Pinellas County or the University of Florida / Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.