Tuesday, March 2, 2010


3/8/10 -
Karen Saley, Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

Losing a job can be difficult and in this time of unemployment nearing twelve percent in Florida more and more people have to cope with the complexities of being without a job. While each person experiences the loss of a job in different ways there are a few steps we can all take to make moving forward a little easier.

~ Keep a routine. It can be very easy to fall into the trap of wasting the day away and not accomplishing anything. While this may feel good for a short time, the long-term ramifications can be the inability to get motivated again.

~ Take Action. Make a list of things you would like to accomplish to keep you on track. Include everything from household chores, to continuing your education, to refining your job search. Staying busy is the best way to keep moving in the right direction.

~ Reevaluate. With a little bit of down time on your hands, this could be the perfect time to reevaluate your values and goals. As life changes what becomes important can also change so take the time to see if you are still living your dream.

~Don’t do it alone. Losing a job can be very frightening and isolating. Find a trusted friend or family member you can talk with about your concerns. Seek psychological counseling or join a support group to help you through the most difficult issues.

~ Develop a plan. Know where you are financially. Take a look at your emergency fund, your savings and investments, and your debt load. Write a spending plan to help keep your finances under control while you are job hunting. Having a written plan will help you identify areas where you may be able to cut expenses.

Losing a job can be distressing, but with the right frame of mind and a good support system you may well be on your way to having a bigger, better life experience. For more help and resources visit the links below.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Beware of Debt Settlement Traps


As the jobs remain scarce and the bills continue to mount, many families are struggling with their finances and looking for help, sometimes in the wrong places. New tips from Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Consumer Action, and the National Consumer Law Center warn that using a debt settlement company could be a trap that will leave consumers deeper in debt instead of eliminating the debt.
In debt settlement, consumers are instructed to make monthly savings payments, usually to a special bank account, until there is enough to make a lump-sum settlement offer to their creditors. But while consumers are putting money into their accounts, the debt settlement companies are taking their fees out of them. Saving to try to settle one debt can take a year or more, and since consumers typically have multiple debts, the process can take three or four years. However, debt settlement companies usually take out all of their fees, ranging from 14 to 20 percent of the total debt, within the first half of the contract. For debts totaling $20,000, a consumer could pay fees of $2,800 to $4,000 and most of the fees are collected from consumers long before debts are settled. And debt settlement doesn’t eliminate all debt for most consumers.
Using a debt settlement program doesn’t stop debt collection and could make a debt situation worse. In some cases debt settlement companies may not contact the creditors for months and some even tell consumers not to have any contact with their creditors.
The Federal Trade Commission has proposed rules that would stop companies that use telemarketing to sell debt settlement and other types of debt relief services from charging fees before they settle the debts. The FTC proposed rule would also require that debt relief services clearly disclose how long it will take to settle debts and reveal any negative impacts including the fact that not all creditors will make agreements.
Tips for Consumers on How to Get Real Debt Relief
• Try to resolve your debt problems with your creditors directly. You may be able to get your interest rate lowered, late charges forgiven, and your monthly payments reduced.
• Contact a nonprofit credit counseling service for advice. It may be possible to work out a plan through the credit counseling service to pay off the debts over time. To find the nearest nonprofit credit counseling services, consumers can contact the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, www.nfcc.org, 1-800-388-2227 or the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies, www.aiccca.org, 1-866-703-8787.
• Know your rights. Ask your Attorney General’s Office if state law limits the amount or timing of debt settlement fees in your state. Find your state AG at www.naag.org.
• Read the fine print. Walk away if the contract doesn’t contain the promises that were made to you, or if the contract contradicts what you were told.
• Look for services that charge a fee only after the service actually settles your debts.
• Take immediate action if you can’t make your mortgage or car payments. (Debt settlement services don’t usually address mortgage or car debt.) Contact your lender or mortgage servicer immediately to try to work out new payment arrangements. For help regarding your mortgage, call 1-800-569-4287 or go to http://nhl.gov/offices/hsg/sfh/hcc/hcs.cfm to find a local housing counselor certified by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
• Consider bankruptcy. Some people who have too much debt need the fresh start that bankruptcy provides. Get legal advice to see if that is the right choice for you.

The complete tips on debt settlement in English and Spanish are available at: http://www.consumerfed.org/finance/credit_counseling.asp

Monday, February 1, 2010

Teaching Your Children to Save


By Karen Saley, Extension Specialist

With the personal saving rate at an all time low, now is a good time to start teaching your children about the importance of saving.

Be a good role model
Children learn the most by watching what others do. Show your kids that paying bills on time, being a careful spender and being a diligent saver are the skills they will need to establish a secure financial future.

Explain needs and wants
Shopping trips are good opportunities to talk about the difference between needs and wants. It's easy to show examples of “needs” and “wants” instead of just talking about them. You need shoes, but do you need $100 shoes when $20 shoes will do just fine?

Different types of savings
Develop a savings strategy by labeling four containers sharing, spending, short-term saving, and long-term saving. For every dollar that your child receives have them deposit it into these containers in the following way 10 percent in sharing, 30 percent in spending, 30 percent in short-term saving, and 30 percent in long-term saving.

Banking realities
Take your child to a bank and show them how transactions work. Write a check and cash it, make a deposit, show them how an ATM works. Open a savings account for your child and talk about what credit cards are and how they work.

Earning some money
Make a list of all the chores that need to get done around the house, and put a dollar amount next to each chore. Children can then pick and choose which chores they want to do depending on how much money they would like to earn.

Making wise choices
Have your child help you decide what to make for dinner for the family using a specific amount of money. Make your shopping list then go to the grocery store and see if you can purchase what you need with the money you have. If you can’t, talk about what the alternatives would be.

Saving all year long
Discuss with your children ways to save money throughout the year by packing a lunch, recycling clothes with family and friends, or having a garage sale for items they no longer use.

It’s never too early to start teaching children how to handle their money responsibly. The earlier they establish good money management practices, the more secure their financial future will be.

Join us on February 10, 2010 for a webinar entitled "Money Smart Kids." To join go to pinellascountyextension.org and click on webinars.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Free Tax Help!


If you or someone you know earned less than $49,000 in 2009, you may be eligible for up to $5,600 in Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). – and your taxes can be done for free beginning in January.

Many families have their taxes done using their year-end paycheck and sometimes pay more than they should, especially if they want a quick refund. By taking advantage of the free tax preparation, these working families and individuals can keep more of what they earn.

Eligibility requirements for the 2009 EITC are:

~ Families with three or more qualifying children who earn less than $43,279 (or less than $48,279 married filing jointly) are eligible for a credit of up to $5,657.

~ Families with two qualifying children who earn less than $40,295 (or less than $45,295 married filing jointly) are eligible for a credit of up to $5,028.

~ Families with one qualifying child who earn less than $35,463 (or less than $40,463 married filing jointly) are eligible for a credit of up to $3,043.

~ Workers without a qualifying child who earn less than $13,440 (or less than $18,440 married filing jointly) are eligible for a credit of up to $457.

The Child Tax Credit, which is up to $1,000 per qualifying child, is another often overlooked benefit. For tax year 2009, the minimum income threshold needed to qualify for the Additional Child Tax Credit has been reduced from $12,050 to $3,000, so more families will be eligible.

For information on tax site locations and what to bring, check out the following links.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Are You Ready to Own Your Own Home?


By Karen Saley, Extension Specialist

It’s very enticing with the $8,000 tax credit available, the many home-buying incentive programs offered, and the number of discounted properties on hand, to jump into purchasing a home right now. But you may want to slow down, take a breath and look at the realities of home ownership.

Many people have a good idea of what the mortgage's principal and interest will cost every month, but principal and interest are only part of the equation. Property taxes, homeowner insurance mortgage insurance, and homeowners or condo association fees can typically add hundreds of dollars to each monthly payment.

Before you sign on the dotted line it's a good idea to get a rate quote from a couple of insurance companies, check with the county appraisers office to find out what the taxes are on the property , and ask the current owner about any association fees. Remember to include these figures along with any mortgage insurance in your calculations when determining how much monthly payment you can afford.

The Federal Housing Administration recommends that you spend no more than 31 percent of your before-tax income on a monthly house payment, including principal, interest, property taxes, homeowners insurance, mortgage insurance and homeowners or condo association dues. Once your monthly payment begins exceeding that 31 percent you may be in jeopardy of not having enough monthly income to cover the rest of your obligations and save for your future.

So before joining in the American dream of owning a home, do a little homework to ensure that your dream doesn’t turn into a nightmare.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Are You a Saver?


By Karen Saley, Extension Specialist

You’ve probably heard it a million times…pay yourself first. Well I’m going to say it once more. You may think you don’t have any money to save, but I’m here to tell you that if it’s important, and it is, you will find even the smallest amount to set aside. You may be saying “if it’s such a small amount it won’t make a difference in my life so why bother.” It will make a difference because even if you aren’t able to save a substantial amount of money right now just the act of regularly saving will get you into the habit and when the time comes when you are able to save more it will make a great difference. Here are a few suggestions to get you started on your savings plan.

~Start by saving your change then add a dollar a day to that change
~Save every five dollar bill you come across.
~Track your expenses for a month to identify spending leaks.
~Make small sacrifices like that daily cup of coffee and save the money.
~Brown bag lunches can save a bundle.
~Seek out free entertainment
~Get your movies for free from the library
~Live below your means…don’t spend more money than you make!

Think of savings as a monthly expense just like any other bill you have and get in the habit of paying yourself first. Before you know it you will have a nice little nest egg.

For more savings tips along with other financial advice click on the link below

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