Thanks to tax preparation software, more of us are making fewer mistakes on our annual tax returns. But still, just one slip in entering information on your computer could end up costing you, either in the form of a larger tax bill or a smaller refund.
And even if a mistake — either on your computer or paper forms — doesn’t cost you cash, it could delay the receipt of any refund you’re expecting.
To get exactly what you should from the Internal Revenue Service, as quickly as possible, look out for these tax-filing pitfalls. A few are new, thanks to recent law changes. Others are perennial problems taxpayers face each filing season. With a little care, you can avoid them all.
No matter how you decide to prepare your taxes this year mistakes can happen. While tax preparation or allowing someone else to prepare your taxes may cut down on the number and types of errors made, any mishap could cost you. While things can get quite complicated for some when it comes to all things taxes, here are a few simple mistakes Bankrate.com says can make a major difference. So if you haven’t already filed…take heed!
1. Math miscalculations
The most common error on tax returns, year after year, is bad math. Mistakes in arithmetic or in transferring figures from one schedule to another will get you an immediate correction notice. Math mistakes also can reduce your tax refund or result in you owing more tax than you thought.
Using a tax software program to file your return can help reduce math errors. The built-in calculators do the work for you, adding, subtracting and inserting numbers on additional forms as needed. But you still have to make sure your initial numbers are correct. Entering $3,500 when the real figure is $5,300 makes a lot of tax difference. Getting the numbers right is crucial because you can be sure the IRS will be double-checking numerical entries against its copies of your tax statements (W-2, 1099s and the like). When IRS examiners find a discrepancy, they’ll definitely let you know and, in many cases, will correct your mistake and refigure your taxes for you. Don’t give them the chance. Make sure your math entries are right.
2. Filing status errors
Make sure you choose the correct filing status for your situation. You have five options, and each could make a difference in your ultimate tax bill.
If this is the first tax-filing season you’ve been divorced and you now are a single parent, head-of-household probably will be more beneficial. And you’re still married, but you and your spouse are thinking about filing separate tax returns? That works in some cases, but not all.
Make sure you know what each tax-filing status entails, and choose the one that best fits your personal and tax situation.
3. Social Security number oversights
Because the IRS stopped putting taxpayer Social Security numbers on tax package labels in response to privacy concerns, some taxpayers forget to write in their identification numbers. Your tax ID number is crucial because there are so many transactions — income statements, savings account interest, retirement plan contributions — keyed to this number.
The nine-digit sequence also is vital to claim several tax credits, such as the child tax and additional child tax credits as well as ones for educational expenses and dependent care costs.
And make sure the names associated with the Social Security numbers match Social Security Administration records. A difference here also will cause the IRS to kick out or slow down your return.
4. Signature required
Sign and date your return. The IRS won’t process it if it’s missing a John Hancock, and that means on e-filed returns, too. Taxpayers filing electronically must sign the return electronically using a personal identification number, or PIN. To verify your identity, you’ll have to provide the PIN you used last year or your adjusted gross income from your previous year’s tax return.
Your tax software should walk you through the e-signature process, but if you’re still mailing your return, don’t be in such a hurry that you stuff your 1040 in the pre-addressed IRS envelope without signing it. And if it’s a joint filing, you and your spouse must sign.
5. Missing the deadline
Don’t miss the impending April 15 tax deadline. If you owe the IRS and that’s the reason you’re thinking of not filing, that’s a bad idea. If you don’t file a return, you’ll face even stiffer penalties. So send in the paperwork, pay what you can and talk with the IRS or your tax professional about the next steps.
Tired of credit collectors blowing up your phone? Tired of receiving collection letters in the mail? Well, you and a million other people are sick of it. But, the first thing that you have to come to terms with is the reason why you owe so much anyway. Many Americans, especially, engage in overspending and living above their means. We love to “keep up with the Joneses”, show-off the material things to our friends and family, and buy stuff that simply has no value. Overspending is a condition that we all suffer or once suffered from. How do we get help with this problem? Initially, it will take you to make the decision to want to change. Once you have conquered that, you are on your way to living a healthier financial life.
Okay. To get started on your debt-relief process, here are several ways to slash the amount of money you owe. Although these bullet points are not full proof, they will at least put you in the right direction.
- Obtain a copy of your credit report. Americans are given two free copies each year. Then, compile a list of unpaid credit cards and outstanding loans. Add up the balances. The total you end up with is the overall amount you are in debt with.
- Decide which outstanding balances you want to start paying off first. Some people choose the smaller accounts first. Outstanding balances that are low (a couple hundred dollars) is preferred because it will take the shortest time to pay off.
- Contact each credit lender/agency and speak with a representative about a possible payment plan. Before you start paying against the debt, make sure you have a steady income coming in. If you work, see how much you can put in a savings each pay check. After you’ve calculated your monthly household expenses, use the money you have left over to put in the savings. You can use a portion of that savings to pay off the debt or you can set up a separate account to store your “debt-money”.
- Pay more than the minimum monthly fee on your credit cards and loans. It is better to pay more than just the minimum. This will allow you to see your balance decrease much faster than anticipated.
- Transfer debt to a credit company with a lower interest rate. It is smart to consolidate or transfer debt from the card with the 20% or more rate to an account with a lower rate. This is a definite way to adjust your monthly minimum fees, thus giving you an opportunity to pay more against the balance.
- Watch what you buy if you can’t handle the monthly payments! Stay in your lane and learn to minimize your purchases. This will save you much financial grief later on.
Hopefully, these few tips can put your on your path to debt freedom. If you check online, there are many outlets that provide programs to help you sort out your debt (i.e. www.payoff.com). Information is always available. There is no excuse to continue to be in debt.
Good luck on your journey!
No matter what facet of the entertainment business you decide to dive in or any business for that matter, the solidity of your brand will always be what drives your business. Now it’s up to you to decide if your brand drives you toward success or if it takes your mission straight down the drain.
Before you let others brand who you are and what you’re all about because believe me they will…take charge of YOU and who YOU are to them. So when it comes to your brand, before you put any foot forward, take heed to the tips below in an effort to put your best foot forward when it comes to establishing your brand.
Define your brand
What is it that you want to be known for? Be clear about what defines your brand. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to attract media attention or get clients be clear about your mission and goals. Educate yourself and be knowledge about the field you’re embarking upon in an effort to increase your brand’s strength. Be in tune with your vision.
Create Brand Awareness…Network, Network, Network
Networking is one of the best ways to become known and gain more insight into the industry you’re interested in. Connect with other professional in your area of interest.
Of course in this day and age social networking goes without saying. Just make sure that whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn that they all represent your brand. Even if someone Googles you, make sure that the content they find is reflective of how you want them to perceive you and your business. You can also build your online presence with your own website or in some cases you can use a blog format.
In addition to social networking, face to face networking is essential. It helps build trust, credibility and relationships. Attend industry related events and those where people you want to work with will be in attendance. Face to Face networking keeps you current, helps open doors for you and increases your rate of connections. So get out there and get your networking on!
Practice (Implore) the 3 C’s
Clarity, consistency and constancy are key when it comes to your brand. Not only should you be clear and concise about who you are but also about who you are not. Be consistent with promoting your brand across all communication methods you decide to use. Once you’ve stepped out let your presence be constant. Remain visible to your target audience.
hen it comes to building and nurturing your brand, remember it is the belief that you only get one chance to make a first impression. Only under rare circumstances do you get two, so make your brand count the first time around.
Are dreaming of becoming the world’s next groundbreaking singer? Interesting in becoming a celebrity stylist? What about a career in acting? Or maybe you aspire to be a publicist?
No matter what arena you choose, if you’re interested in a career in the entertainment industry, know upfront that the talent or skills you possess are not all you need. In order to maximize your potential you must possess thorough knowledge about what you’re doing and the full scope of the process. So before you jump out there head and/or heart first, take heed of the tips below to make sure you cover your basis.
Define Your Goal
After deciding exactly what it is you truly want to do whether it’s too, sing, act, direct, or model be sure to clearly define your goal. From there you can develop a sound strategy.
Know what tools are at your disposal and figure out how to implement them into your strategy. Gain a clear understanding of the skills required to establish your career and familiarize yourself with every aspect of the business.
Understand How the Money Works
Beyond what you’ll need to invest out of your own pocket to nurture your career and before you do so; make it a priority to understand every financial aspect of the business you’re getting in. Make it your business to learn how the money works and flows from expenses to royalties and advances just to name a few. Gaining this knowledge will help you plan the best strategy for advancing your career and maximizing your income.
Build a Team
While your talent, desire, and level of motivation make stand in a lane all its own, some things just can’t be done alone. So figure out who you’ll need on your team be it a manager, lawyer, and/or publicist and in exactly what capacity you’ll need them. Be mindful of any expenses this may incur.
Network. Network. Network.
Enlarge your territory! Increase your connections. Come up with a strategy that will productively expand both your business and social circles.
Now that we’ve given you the basic fundamental to jumpstarting your career in the entertainment industry, get busy fine tuning an effective strategy tailored to your individual goal. From there you can get on to the business of striving for success.
With the tax season officially in full swing, many of you are rushing to your computers or nearest tax office to get your tax filing in motion. This is especially the case for those that are expecting a refund. Unfortunately, this can make you a prime target for identity thieves and an open money schemes. So if you haven’t filed already and hopefully if you have you were skeptical and careful, there are several things that one needs to ensure when it comes to protecting both your identity and your refund.
While the IRS has beefed up their efforts to protect taxpayers from identity theft, here are some things you need to do help keep your identity and money safe this tax season.
Guard your Social Security number. The IRS warns taxpayers not to carry their Social Security cards or any documents with their Social Security numbers or taxpayer identification numbers on them. And do not give out these numbers just because you’re asked. You will be required to provide your Social Security number in any situation that requires your identity to be verified (such as an application for credit or a license) or about which the IRS must be notified. Otherwise, be sure to ask whether the agency, business or organization has to have the number.
Monitor your mailbox. Make sure you receive all the W-2, 1099 and other tax forms you expect to get. If you fail to receive some, contact the company or financial institution that was supposed to send them to find out if and when they were mailed. If you suspect that any of these forms were stolen from your mailbox, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490 extension 245.
Ignore e-mails from the IRS. The IRS doesn’t send taxpayers e-mails or text messages. So do not reply to e-mails or messages supposedly from the IRS, open any attachments (which could contain viruses) or click on any links (which could take you to a fraudulent site). Forward all suspect e-mails to email@example.com.
Be wary of people claiming to be IRS agents. Don’t reveal any personal information if someone calls and claims to be from the IRS. Instead, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 to see if an agent has a legitimate need to contact you.
Protect your refund. If you file your tax return by mail, use certified mail from the U.S. Postal Service to confirm that your return was received. And opt for direct deposit of tax refunds to avoid lost or stolen checks.
Store sensitive information in a secure place. Store paper tax forms in a locked home safe or safe-deposit box. Electronic forms should be stored on a password-protected or encrypted external drive or disk. Use strong passwords that include upper and lowercase characters, numbers and symbols. Never store tax files or any personal information on a cloud or Internet drive. And use a wiping application before getting rid of old computers that contain past tax information.
Be picky about your preparer. Many fraud rings front as tax-preparation companies and may offer to review returns for inaccuracies, but they can steal your information and redirect your refund, says Adam Levin, founder and chairman of Identity Theft 911. Also be wary of tax services that promise a bigger or faster refund.
Verify the status of a preparer’s license with the Better Business Bureau and IRS Office of Professional Responsibility. E-mail the IRS at firstname.lastname@example.org with the full name of the individual or company and the address.
All in all remember that there is only one you and your identity is the only one you get which makes it worth protecting. So be CAREFUL and not sorry!
If you are all fired up and ready to file your taxes when the tax season officially kicks off on Wednesday, but you just so happen to be one of those that are claiming certain education credits then you’ll have to slow your roll.
The IRS announced yesterday that the filing eligibility for the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit has been delayed until mid-February. The IRS attributes the reason for the delay due to needing to update its processing systems prior to accepting Form 8863 which is used to claim both credits.
Other education benefits such as tuition, fees and student loan interest deductions can be claimed when the tax season begins on January 30th.
If you’re like most people then you’re still reeling from your paycheck shrinking due this year’s increase in payroll tax. While yes you’ve gotten a break for the past two years, every little bit counts and every little bit gone hurts.
Well to hopefully help ease the impact of the gradual decrease in take home funds, here are few ways courtesy of CNBC you may can buffer the loss suffered from the payroll tax hike.
ADJUST YOUR TAX WITHHOLDING
Start with the IRS. Millions of Americans get big income tax refunds every year when they could have extra money each month. That’s money you could use for everyday expenses. Figure out the number of withholding allowances you should claim by using the worksheet on the IRS website at irs.gov.
MAX OUT YOUR 401(K)
If you have a qualified retirement plan at work, contribute the maximum amount to that 401(k). You’ll reduce your taxable wages by the amount you put in. This year, you can save up to $17,500 in a 401(k) — a 3 percent increase from 2012.
SAVE ON INSURANCE
Examine all property and casualty and life insurance policies and compare rates. Ask your insurance agent about ways to lower premiums, and ask about any discounts for loyalty, good driving and bundling multiple polices. Get a second opinion from another agent to make sure you’re getting the best rate.
REFINANCE YOUR MORTGAGE
Rates are still at historic lows, but don’t keep waiting for them to go even lower. Take advantage of low rates now to lower your monthly mortgage payment. Online calculators at sites like BankRate (RATE).com can tell you in a few minutes if you can save money by getting a better rate on your mortgage.
CHECK ALL FEES
Don’t keep paying for things you no longer need — like that Netflix account your rarely use anymore — just because they’re set up as auto-pay. Avoid unnecessary charges by not using out-of-network ATMs. Negotiate with your bank for lower fees on your accounts or change banks.
Other than those there are many more ways you can keep more of your money in your pocket, you’ll just have to look at your finances to see where you could save or cut back. For instance, if you’re a credit card holder, you may want to look into switching to a credit card with a lower rate. Also cutting back on the unnecessary expenses such as that daily trip to Starbucks or breaking bad habits such as smoking can save you quite a few bucks not to mention it’s a plus for your health. Think about it!!!
It’s tax season and everyone is in need of a huge refund check. But some of the biggest mistakes found by the IRS on tax forms are where individuals try to write off things that you simply can’t write off. It may be due to lack of tax education and the IRS policies.
To help familiarize you and prepare you for this tax season, here’s a list of items you should rethink before writing them off:
Spousal and Child Support
Many taxpayers try to deduct these two forms of familial support on their returns. However, alimony is the only type of income paid by one ex-spouse to another that can be deducted.
Unreimbursed Work Expenses
Although self-employed taxpayers can deduct every dollar of work-related expenses, W-2 employees can only deduct unreimbursed expenses in excess of 2% of their adjusted gross incomes – and only those who are able to itemize their deductions.
Above-the-Line Deduction for Roth IRA Contributions
Unlike traditional IRA contributions, there is no deduction for Roth IRA contributions because the income distributed from them is tax-free, whereas traditional IRA and retirement plan distributions are taxable as ordinary income.
529 Plan Contributions
Taxpayers who contribute money to the 529 plan sponsored by their own state can often take a deduction for their contributions up to a certain limit on their state returns. However, there is no federal deduction available for this.
Cash or property donations to any qualified 501(c)(3) organization are deductible, but political parties do not fall into this category. Unfortunately, but that $100 you sent in to get the candidate of your choice elected doesn’t go anywhere on the 1040.
The only time that this can be deducted is for those who either use part of their home for business or for those who own rental properties. Homeowners outside these categories cannot deduct their homeowners’ or rental insurance under any circumstances.
To see more items and get the full scoop, go here!
Without a doubt, saving money is a significant part of your financial well-being. So if you’re already in the habit of saving money then you’re on the right track, if not let’s see if we can help you get there.
The first step is to identify some goals concerning what you hope and plan to achieve when it comes to saving money. Some goals may be short term lasting for only a week, month or a year. These might include saving money for things such as a down payment for a car, a new set of tires or a vacation. Some goals may be more long term like saving for yours or your child’s college education or buying a house. Whatever the case may be, goals give you something to work toward.
Next, in an effort to be successful be sure that your goals are SMART:
Specific – Exactly what you plan to do.
Measurable – You should be able to monitor your progress.
Agreed Upon – If others are involved, this is something everyone agrees should be done.
Realistic – Something that is truly achievable.
Timed – Established beginning and ending dates.
Think about what you want to accomplish and set your ‘smart’ goals. Once you’ve done that, start looking into some ways to save.
The most obvious way to save is to cut your expenses where you can. Easier said than done right? Maybe, but it’s not impossible! Remember, you’re in complete control of this area of your finances. All it takes is determination and discipline, both of which are free.
First things first; put an end to all your needless spending. All of us have been guilty of wasteful spending at some time or another. Ever stopped at a store just to “look around” and ended up spending money on stuff you didn’t plan on buying or probably don’t even need? What about that latte you stop and get every morning on your way to work? Or the five, ten sometimes twenty dollars you spend on junk food or impulsive buys at the grocery store? While it may not seem like much, saving small amounts will add up over time.
In addition to cutting your expenses where feasible, here are a couple of other things you can do to jump start your savings plan:
Establish a savings account.
Savings accounts may not earn much and may seem worthless to have, but it’s a good place to start putting away some money each payday. Once your balance increases, you can then consider investing the money in something that will earn you more money. For now, just get in the habit of saving
Stash your change.
Every day stash the coins you receive after making a purchase in a piggy bank or a jar. When it’s full, dump the coins, roll them in coin wrappers and deposit the money into your savings. You’d be amazed how the money adds up! Immediately start stashing your change again!
A key point to remember is that saving money regularly leads to successful savings! So get your savings in order!
With the holidays fast approaching and the wonderful notion that tis’ the season to be giving, be careful not to get too caught up in all the shopping and festivities and let your guard down when it comes to protecting your identity and assets.
Now more than ever, scam artists are on the prowl…tis’ their season for more taking. So keep your third eye and even a fourth open especially when it comes to shopping online. Just because you can’t see a thief doesn’t mean one is not out there and they just might be sitting on a computer waiting for you to give you all the information they need to get to your stacks.
So if you want to play it safe, according to the CEO of Immunity, a software company, here are 10 threats to be aware of during the holiday season and always.
1. Clickjacking. This popular Facebook scam involves online games that require you to click something that moves across your computer screen. You think you’re clicking on a dancing Santa, but you could instead be clicking on a concealed link that might perform actions such as making your Facebook profile information public or giving scammers access to information stored on your computer. So don’t click on those dancing Santas (or any other game that pops up on your computer or gets passed around on Facebook).
2. Drive-by downloads. This is a term that refers to downloading something that you didn’t realize was a malicious program or a download that occurs without your knowledge. This might happen as you are browsing the Web during the holidays and visit unfamiliar sites with ads that promise deep discounts. If the site isn’t legitimate, the ads probably aren’t, either. Also avoid sites that require you to download a “codec” to view a video, because this is malicious software.
3. Infections from legitimate sites. Now is prime time for hackers to infect sites that get more traffic during the holidays with pop-up ads that have viruses. Aitel recommends installing an ad blocker on your browser, such as the free Adblock Plus, or using Chrome as your browser because it’s harder for hackers to infiltrate.
4. Email phishing. Your inbox might fill up with donation requests or holiday deals over the coming weeks. If these emails come from people or groups you’re not familiar with, delete them; they’re likely attempts to steal your personal information or con you out of big bucks. Also watch out for emails claiming to come from your credit card issuer. You might assume that they’re legitimate if you’ve been using your card frequently to make holiday purchases. But don’t respond to any emails saying that there’s a problem with your card. Instead, call your company directly using the number printed on the back of your card.
5. Text-message phishing (or smishing). Be wary of text messages with donation requests, notices of too-good-to-be-true deals or even gift card offers from major retailers. There’s a good chance that they’re fake. If you respond, you may be prompted to divulge personal information, such as your credit card number.
6. Phony apps. Be wary of the apps you download on your phone or Facebook page. Researchers recently found that Android phones are vulnerable to text message phishing if users download infected apps. Even legitimate apps might ask for too much information. So read the list of permissions an app requests to make sure it’s not asking for information you don’t want to provide.
7. Fake Google results. If you do a Google search for a popular toy your kid wants for Christmas, for example, there’s a good chance that some of the results will be links to fake sites or images that have viruses or malware. That’s because scammers build sites based on popular search terms. When doing your holiday shopping online, stick with sites you know.
8. Forced browsing. This advanced hacker technique is used to steal your passwords when you log into your accounts using a public Wi-Fi connection. (It gets its name from a computer being forced to browse without the user’s knowledge.) So don’t check your accounts online at the coffee shop or other public Wi-Fi spot. Even if you’re just browsing the Web using a public Wi-Fi connection, you can put yourself at risk if you’ve set your browser to save the passwords to your accounts. Hackers can view your browsing history, go to sites you’ve visited and steal passwords without you knowing.
9. Wi-Fi sniffing. This technique allows hackers to see what you’re doing on your computer if you’re using a public Wi-Fi source. If you surf the Web on your smartphone, use your 3G (or 4G) network connection if you can because it is more secure than Wi-Fi. To protect your laptop from hackers, sign up for a personal virtual private network service, such as Private Internet Access, to secure your computer’s Internet connection.
10. Digital profiling. Your digital profile is basically what you say about yourself on social media. And thieves can make use of this information. For example, you shouldn’t announce on Facebook that you’ll be out of town over the holidays. You put your home at risk of a break-in or of being used by criminals as a mailing address to ship illicit packages.
Take heed! Don’t be sorry…BE CAREFUL!!!
Earlier this month we brought you a few fact versus fiction tips when it comes to building better credit. In case you missed it click here. In addition to those tips, there are several more factors to consider when it comes to managing your credit and improving your credit score.
According to Forbes, here are 10 common credit myths that could be hindering your credit’s progress.
1. I haven’t done anything wrong so my credit is fine. Even if you’ve done everything right, your credit could still be in trouble. That’s because 70% of credit reports have errors on them. In the likelihood that you have one of them, you could be paying more in interest than you need to be.
2) If I check my credit report, it will hurt my score. Checking your own report generally doesn’t hurt your score but errors do so don’t let this be an excuse not to do it.
3) I’ve checked my credit report and there are no errors so I don’t have anything to worry about. You actually have 3 credit reports (from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) so if you’ve only checked one, there’s still a chance that errors on one of the others is hurting you.
4) I can check my credit reports for free at freecreditreport.com. First, many sites like this only give you access to one report, which is from Experian in this case. Second, freecreditreport.com ironically isn’t exactly free. It’s one of many copycat sites that charges you a fee to see your credit report and then charges you a monthly fee unless you cancel within a short period of time. Instead, you’ll want to go to annualcreditreport.com, which allows you truly free access to each of your credit reports once every 12 months.
5) I should always make payments on old debts. While it may feel like the right thing to do, the debt collector will be unable to sue you for it if the debt is older than your state’s statute of limitations. However, if you make a payment, it could actually reactivate that time period and give the creditor a chance to file a lawsuit against you. If it’s older than 7 years, it shouldn’t even be on your credit report at all so have it removed and forget about it.
6) I should use a debt settlement company. The first thing debt settlement companies usually do is collect your payments and withhold them from the creditor in order to settle the debt for a lower lump sum payment later. The problem is that until the debt is settled, this strategy could result in a lower credit score, harassing phone calls from creditors, and even a lawsuit against you. If you have debt within your state’s statute of limitations but you can’t afford to pay it back in full, you could avoid the debt management company’s fees by trying to reach a settlement yourself. Just be sure to let them know that you’re considering filing for bankruptcy protection. Another option is to work with a nonprofit credit counselor that can negotiate on your behalf.
7) I should always close a credit card after paying it off. This can actually hurt your credit score in a couple of ways. If it’s a card you’ve had for a while, closing it can reduce your credit history, which is about 15% of your score. Second, if you have any debt, closing a card can increase your debt utilization or the ratio of debt to credit available. Keep in mind that you can always cut up the card and simply not use it.
However, there are also a couple of reasons to close a credit card account. One is a steep annual fee but you can always ask them to switch the card to a no-fee one. In addition, closing a card can help your score if you have too much credit available. To see if this is the case for you, you can see the effect of closing a card and other actions on your score at sites like Credit Karma, Quizzle, and Credit Sesame.
8) Bankruptcy is the end of the world. Yes, it’s painful and can take 7-10 years to be removed from your credit report but many people’s credit scores are practically recovered within just a few years. If you can’t pay your debts, think of bankruptcy as a second chance that’s better than allowing the debt to continue hurting your score.
9) Maintaining a balance on my credit cards will increase my credit score. Opening and using a credit card can increase your score, especially if you’re starting to build or rebuild your credit, but keeping a balance will only increase your interest payments. If anything, the opposite is true since having a lot of debt can hurt your score.
10) I need to pay a company like LifeLock to protect my credit. You can get free daily credit monitoring through Credit Karma. Even better, you can put a security freeze with each credit bureau for at most a nominal fee to help prevent identity thieves from opening an account in your name.
Well there you have it. Remember, be smart…be wise and pay attention when it comes to Your Money & You.
Whether you’re trying to purchase a new home, feeling the urge for a new car or simply trying to get a credit card or a loan, credit can be issue. If you happen to find yourself on the not so good side of things when it comes to your credit score or if you have very little to no credit at all, be sure you know what you’re doing as you try to get your credit on the upper side of the spectrum.
For a few tips, check out the video below to see what Bankrate.com has to say about what’s real and what’s not when it comes to building better credit.
If you’re a credit and/or debit card holder…take heed! No matter how safe you play it, at some point you can be at risk for becoming a victim of credit/debit card fraud. With the continuous advancement of technology, banks and credit card companies are focused on tightening their security reigns and keeping their customers safe. Even so, the identity thieves continue to run rampant and somehow keep managing to find loopholes that allow them access to your money and credit.
Of course we all know the rule of thumb of keeping your card(s) in a safe place, but once you pull them out you need to be sure you’re swiping them in a safe place. So here are a few places and things that you may want to be more mindful of about or steer clear of and why their way puts you at risk.
Privately Owned ATMs
While all ATM owners are held to the same industry standards when it comes to encrypting their data, it’s been found that some of the non-bank corporations are not holding up their end of the deal. So while yes it may be more convenient to swipe some cash from the ATM at your local corner store, the gas station, or if you happen to out at the mall or a bar, getting funds from an ATM that is owned and operated by a reputable financial institution is the safer way to go. Time is money, so spend both wisely.
Non-Secure Online Purchases
Along with today’s convenience of online shopping should come the convenience of knowing that your transaction is safe and secure. So be sure that when you’re making online purchases that you’re doing so from a site with a secure checkout page. Before clicking your money away and possibly your card info with it, check to see if the site’s URL begins with https (the ‘s’ stands for secure) instead of the standard http. If the ‘s’ is not there, beware!
Also avoid making purchases over unsecured wireless networks and from public computers. Doing so puts you at risk for having your data compromised or transmitted into the wrong hands.
Suspicious Card Reader Terminals
When using an ATM, place close attention it. One of thieves’ favorite ways to get you at the ATM is by placing a skimming device over the machine’s original card reader which gives them access to your card’s information. If you notice something strange about it especially when it comes to the card reader terminal, DON’T use that machine and report your suspicions immediately!
While you may have downloaded your choice of mobile security when it comes to protecting your smartphone, don’t be so quick to think you’re in the clear. Just like on your computer, make sure you use reputable sites with a secure checkout page. Also ensure that your phone is using a secure network as opposed to an unsecure wi-fi signal or a public network. If you’re making a purchase from a mobile app, be sure of its validity. Avoid making purchases from apps that store your card information.
Flea Markets & Trade Shows
Since the merchants at flea market and trade show venues use online card terminals or even the old school carbon copy device, there’s no surefire way to ensure that your credit/debit card transaction is secure. Also considering that these merchants come and go, they can be difficult to locate if ever there is a problem with your transaction. So play it safe and use cash!
In addition to steering clear of using your credit/debit card in the manner or places mentioned above, be sure to check your statement regularly for any unfamiliar charges and to cancel your card if it’s ever lost or stolen. In the case that you do fall victim, contact your credit card company immediately and while the process may be a bit tedious, see it through.
Staying on top of all the fraudulent activity that takes place in the world can be virtually impossible. However, staying abreast of as much as you can will increase your chances of keeping your identity and assets safe. Every day in almost any way imaginable somewhere someone somehow finds a way to come up with a scam. Check out the video below to see five of today’s biggest financial scams you definitely need to avoid.
With the federal regulations posed on financial institutions, non-customers may soon find themselves sacrificing an additional $5 with ATM withdrawals. The WallStreet Journal’s Smart Money segment states that J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, for instance, will test $5 and $4 banking fees in the states of Illinois and Texas.
“The reality is that bank revenue is being squeezed by regulatory changes and the banks are going to be accounting for that in other areas,” said Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com.
As you should know, most banks do not charge fees to customers retreiving money from their ATM. But you are charged fees when you use ATMs owned by another bank other than who you bank with.
Rising ATM fees have long been a source of contention between the banking industry and consumer advocates. ATMs generated $7.1 billion in fees last year, according to consulting firm Oliver Wyman. Of that, banks collected roughly $3 billion from charging their customers for using another institution’s ATM. The operator of that ATM often levies another fee on the same customer, called a surcharge. Those surcharges averaged $2.33 in 2010, up from 89 cents in 1998, according to Bankrate.com.
The backlash to these additional fees will be prescedent, of course. In turn, this will only make customers begin to withdraw (from their own bank) more money at a time or begin to use their debit/credit card more often. Whichever method one decides to use, we’re sure it will be a wise one.
To read more, go to: ATM Fees Heading Higher – SmartMoney.com http://www.smartmoney.com/spending/rip-offs/atm-fees-heading-higher-1300301463020/#ixzz1HBMAyv1D
In the first part of our What’s Your Credit Score? post, STACKS Magazine introduced the FICO and explored the description of what it meant. Now let’s go a little further and breakdown the philosophy of the FICO and see how this information can help you achieve your credit score goals.
The FICO score is a system that calculates your score based on several different areas: payment history, amounts owed, length of credit history, new credit, and the types of credit used. The most important category is your payment history. In order to determine why your current score is average or below average, you must first recognize the areas in which you suffer. The details in each category will help you spot those issues and give you further insight on why your credit score is not at it’s highest. Payment History, the following is determined:
- Account payment information on specific types of accounts (credit cards, retail accounts, installment loans, finance company accounts, mortgage, etc.)
- Presence of adverse public records (bankruptcy, judgements, suits, liens, wage attachments, etc.), collection items, and/or delinquency (past due items)
- Severity of delinquency (how long past due)
- Amount past due on delinquent accounts or collection items
- Time since (recency of) past due items (delinquency), adverse public records (if any), or collection items (if any)
- Number of past due items on file
- Number of accounts paid as agreed
While the remaining categories are defined as such…
- Amount owing on accounts
- Amount owing on specific types of accounts
- Lack of a specific type of balance, in some cases
- Number of accounts with balances
- Proportion of credit lines used (proportion of balances to total credit limits on certain types of revolving accounts)
- Proportion of installment loan amounts still owing (proportion of balance to original loan amount on certain types of installment loans)
Length of Credit History
- Time since accounts opened
- Time since accounts opened, by specific type of account
- Time since account activity
- Number of recently opened accounts, and proportion of accounts that are recently opened, by type of account
- Number of recent credit inquiries
- Time since recent account opening(s), by type of account
- Time since credit inquiry(s)
- Re-establishment of positive credit history following past payment problems
Types of Credit Used
- Number of (presence, prevalence, and recent information on) various types of accounts (credit cards, retail accounts, installment loans, mortgage, consumer finance accounts, etc.)
Now do you understand how the FICO scoring system works? If so, then you should understand why creditors, finance companies, and even some job human resource departments take a look at your credit score before approving you for anything. This score is an important lifeline. Without it, positive or negative, your life experiences can be put at a standstill (whether it’s not being able to purchase that new dream home or trying to apply for a small business loan). You need a decent credit score to achieve any of these things.
So get on the move! It’s 2009 and it is time for your financial habits to change. It is time for you to improve your credit score. Stay tuned as we continue to explore the FICO score and ways to maintain that good standing.
STACKS Magazine has provided detailed information and helpful resources for our readers when it comes to their personal finances. Our “Your Money and You” series went in-depth with beneficial information that should have helped you tackle debt management and saving.
Now we’re going to step into another realm of attaining financial success, and that area is called Credit.
According to Wikipedia, Credit is the provision of resources (such as granting a loan) by one party to another party where that second party does not reimburse the first party immediately, thereby generating a debt, and instead arranges either to repay or return those resources (or material(s) of equal value) at a later date. The first party is called a creditor, also known as a lender, while the second party is called a debtor, also known as a borrower.
In this world, where obtaining credit can be a good thing and a scary thing all at the same time, it is important to practice self-discipline. Credit is a devilish little creature that can easily invade your financial status and either ruin it or improve it. It all depends on how you handle your credit and when and where to use it properly.
But before we go to deep, let’s first look at where you stand.
FICO stands for Fair Issac & Company. FICO developed the credit score and the method behind it. FICO scoring is used only to determine the likelihood of credit users paying their bills.
To find out what your credit score is, you can obtain FREE credit reports from either of the nation’s three credit agencies: Equifax (1-800-685-1111), Trans Union (1-800-916-8800) and Experian (1-888-397-3742). Once you find out what your score is, then it’s time to determine whether you are in good standing or not. To do this, you can compare your score to the national score chart.
To start off on this journey to improve your credit score, please take a moment to fill out this FREE credit quiz through Experian/Free Credit Report.com. After you figure out where you stand, then we can move on to learning the ideals of FICO, ways to improve your score, and the right way to maintain the perfect score!
Now that you’ve set some ‘smart’ goals for saving money, let’s talk more about some ways you can save. The two most obvious ways to save are to increase your income if you can and to cut your expenses where you can. Easier said than done right? Maybe, but it’s not impossible!
While it may not be easy to increase your income as quick as you’d like, we encourage you to at least explore your options. Cutting costs though is a different story! You’re in complete control of this area of your finances. All it takes is determination and discipline, both of which are free.
Last week we gave you some valuable tidbits about why saving money is a significant part of your financial well-being. So if you’re not already saving, hopefully our last post gave you a good reason to start. Today we’ll begin looking at ways to save.
The first step is to identify some goals concerning what you hope and plan to achieve when it comes to saving money. Some goals may be short term lasting for only a week, month or a year. These might include saving money for things such as a down payment for a car, a new set of tires or a vacation. Some goals may be more long term like saving for yours or your child’s college education or buying a house. Whatever the case may be, goals give you something to work toward.
In an effort to be successful, your goals should be SMART:
Specific – exactly what you plan to do.
Measurable – you should be able to monitor your progress.
Agreed Upon – everyone involved agrees on what should be done.
Realistic – Something that is truly achievable.
Timed – Established beginning and ending dates.
Have you totally ignored the idea of saving money period? Not quite sure why you should save? Whatever the case may be, know that saving is critical to your financial well-being. So let’s start by looking at some reasons to save just in case you’re not quite sure why you should or just need a little something to get you motivated.
Expect the Unexpected: According to life, the unexpected can and will happen so it’s important to have an emergency fund set aside to cover the expenses. Whether its unexpected car repairs or a sudden job loss, saving for emergencies will help you maintain financial stability should an unexpected expense occur.
A Down Payment: Be it for a house or a car, your negotiating power will be a lot stronger if you have a significant down payment towards your purchase. You’re also more likely to receive better interest rates and more affordable payments.
Education: Maybe you’re thinking about going back to school for that masters or doctorate degree and don’t want to fool with the horror of more schools loans. If you have kids…consider “saving” them the hassle.
Retirement: The sooner you start saving for retirement the better off you’ll be when that time comes. Remember, Social Security (SS) was never truly designed to be a sole source of income in retirement and if you’ve been listening then you also know that the SS program has quite a few funding issues that may or may not be resolved by the time you’re ready to retire.
Understand Interest Rates & Late Fees: Know what the late fees are on all of your debts. Avoid late fees to ensure they’re not adding to your debt, and explore options for lower interest rates. If you can’t make a
payment, call the banks or companies you owe and talk with them about your situation. Most creditors will assist you if you let them know before you miss your payment.
Review Your Budget: Remember to review your budget regularly to make sure you’re not overspending in any area of your finances and to be sure you’re still applying as much money as you can to paying off your debt.
Know your rights (as a debtor): Even though you owe, you still have rights. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is an excellent resource both to help you manage your debts and provide you with valuable information should your debt spin out of control.
In most cases, the best way to pay off your debts is to first tackle the one with the highest interest rate. This method is often recommended by financial experts especially where credit card debt is concerned. It is usually referred to as the ‘high interest’ or ‘crunch’ method. Here’s how it works.
Arrange your list so that the debt with the highest interest rate is at the top and the one with the lowest is at the bottom. Then add up the required minimum payments for all your debts.
In addition to the total of your required minimum payments, decide how much money you can add to this amount. Note: If you’re have difficulty doing this, review your budget again to see if there are some areas you can adjust.
Once you’ve identified the amount you can pay in addition to your required minimum payments, apply that amount to the minimum payment required for your highest interest rate debt. Be sure to continue to pay the minimum balance required for your other debts.
Continue to do this until the first debt is paid off. Now here is where you’ll “crunch”! Take the amount you were paying on that debt and apply it to the minimum payment of your second highest interest rate debt. As before, continue to pay the required minimum payment of the rest of your debts.
Keep “crunching” your payments in the order you’ve listed your debts (from highest to lowest interest rate) until they’re all paid off.
First, let’s look at a few ways you can make your debt management process a little easier.
Don’t get any deeper in debt! Whatever you’re doing, be it hitting the big Macy’s sales every time they have one or copping the latest Air Force 1’s in almost every color…STOP! Think about it; Creating more debt will not help you get out of debt.
As far as credit cards, get rid of the ones you really don’t need. That would probably include all of them except one. Be sure to keep the one with the most affordable terms and use it for emergencies ONLY. Be careful about what you justify as an emergency.
If you can, move your credit card balances with high interest rates to cards with lower interest rates.
Call your credit card companies and request a lower interest rate. While some companies may be quick to do so, some may not, but it’s worth a try. Lower interest rates will definitely help you pay your debts off quicker.
If possible, use your savings to pay down debt. While yes you may be earning 1 to 3% interest on your savings account, you’re paying 10, 15 or 18% interest on credit cards.
Hopefully one or more of these tips will help you get your debt management plan headed in the right direction. Keep in mind, these tips will only work if you actually use them! Later we’ll talk more about some strategies you can use and give you some additional insight into managing your debt. So stay tuned for more on Your Money & You!
The first segment of Your Money & You gave you some insight and tips on tracking your cash flow, creating a monthly budget, and cutting expenses. While these are major steps in gaining control of your finances, the buck doesn’t stop there. Even after creating a sound budget and cutting unnecessary expenses, you may still find yourself with debt that you need to get rid of. So next we’re going to take a look at debt management and see if we can’t help you help yourself.
The first thing you need to do is figure out who and how much you owe. Get a current copy of your credit report and use recent statements from your creditors to make your list. Lay out all your debt and add it up. This may be a little scary for some, but keep it real. The only way you will be successful is if you’re honest with yourself about the depth of the problem. By the time you’re done, you should know:
- how much you owe, and to whom
- how much interest you’re paying on each debt
- what your monthly minimum payments are
Once you can see the full picture, you can then better execute your plan of attack. Next week we’ll start exploring some debt-reduction strategies and give you some insight into managing your debt. Remember it’s time to take control of your money and increase your success rate. So stay tuned for more on Your Money & You!
In the last Your Money & You post, we discussed creating a monthly budget and some things to be mindful of while doing so. In an effort to help you reach your budgeting targets and goals, today we’re going to explore a few ways you can cut back on your expenses and give you a few tips on getting in the habit of budgeting.
While creating your budget, sometimes deciding where to cut expenses can be the hardest part, so here are a few suggestions:
Keep in mind that budgeting is not about hardship, but about reaching your financial goals and increasing your success rate, so make it a habit. Here are a few tips to help you build the budget habit:
- Write it down. If you don’t, you probably won’t stick to it.
- Think Ahead! If you know your situation is going to change — a new baby, new winter clothes, a new job — plan for it.
- Review your budget regularly. A good budget grows with you, so it’s worth re-evaluating. If your circumstances change, your budget should too. For example, if you get a pay raise or your bills increase be sure to make the necessary adjustments to your budget.
Once you have worked out your budget, think about your financial goals and when you want to reach them. Maybe you have a large debt load or have been spending frivolously when you could have been saving towards the future. You can avoid repeating past mistakes by analyzing them carefully and making a conscious decision to make healthier financial choices. Next we’ll take a look at debt management to see if we can help lighten your load. Stay tuned for more on Your Money & You!
Note: If you’re just tuning in, please be sure to read the previous ‘Your Money & You’ posts so that you can do a little catching up and meet us back here.
At this point you should have a pretty good idea of what both your “outgo” and income look like and where you stand in terms of how the two match up. Now it’s time to start creating a monthly budget. Remember this is all about controlling your money instead of letting your money control you. If you’d like to use a worksheet to help track your information…click here.
As I mentioned in ‘Your Money & Your: Tracking Your Cash Flow (Part 2)’, if the end result shows that your income is more than your “outgo” then you’re off to a good start. Start looking at ways you can prioritize the excess to areas of your finances such as savings or paying off debts (we’ll talk more in depth about this later). For example, pay more than the minimum required for credit card payments and if you haven’t already, set aside an emergency fund. This will help keep you out of debt should the unexpected happen – and trust me if it hasn’t already…keep living it will.
Now, if you end up with more “outgo” than you do income, take a look at the areas in which you can make some adjustments. When doing this here are a few things to keep in mind:
Figure out which of your expenses are wants and which are needs. Actual needs are limited: food, shelter, clothing, transportation. Nearly everything else is a want, but even the way we fulfill our needs involves choice.
Review your spending habits. Do you really need the full cable package? Do you pay full price at a convenience store for items you could buy for less on your weekly grocery shopping trips?
Don’t cut all the fun out of your life, just be reasonable.
Learn to moderate!
Now here comes the not so fun part! Adjust as necessary until your monthly budget equals your monthly income. Remember I said this wouldn’t always be easy, so take it slow!
Once you’re on your way, keep track at first weekly, then monthly of where you’re going off budget and make adjustments where necessary. Successful budgeting takes time, discipline and persistence, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t hit your monthly goals at first. In the word’s of the late and great Aaliyah…. “If at first you don’t succeed…dust yourself off and try again.”
Next week we’ll talk a little more about cutting back on some of your expenses and give you a few tips on building the budget habit. Stay tuned for more on Your Money and You!
Once you’ve came of with a monthly total of your income and your “outgo”, it’s time to see where you stand. If the end result shows that your income is more than your “outgo” then you’re off to a good start. Later we’ll talk about how you can prioritize the excess to areas of your finances such as savings or paying off debts. If you end up with more “outgo” than you do income, don’t fret. Just be open to making some changes and adamant about changing your situation.
Now, while it might not sound like the most exciting thing to do, here is where you will create your personal budget. Now for those of you that just freaked out by the mere mention of the word budget…take a deep breath and relax. Take a moment to remind yourself what this is really about. It’s about making ends meet and reaching your financial goals like simply making it to your next paycheck, buying a home, or starting a business. If you’re in it to win it…it won’t be that bad! It’s not a punishment! It’s a stepping stone!
Still not convinced? Then think about it like this…If your outgo is more than your income…then your upkeep will be your downfall!
Now there’s a thought to ponder! Think about it and stay tuned for Your Money & You: Creating a Personal Budget.
Well the time has come! For what you ask? Well as I mentioned in the Your Money & You intro….It’s time to increase your success rate! It’s time to take control of your money! Now before I go any further, let me warn you. This won’t always be easy so we’ll take it slow and it won’t always be fun, so brace yourself! But when all is said and done, the end result will be worth it. Let’s get started!
Before you can take control of your money, first you need to figure out what’s already controlling it. Let me guess….was your first thought these ridiculously high gas prices? If it wasn’t, I’m sure you came up with something. But let’s look a little deeper.
Want to know what draining your finances? Let’s find out!
The first step is to explore your spending habits and figure out where your money goes right now. So grab a pen and a piece of paper or use a spreadsheet, your checkbook, credit card statements and any other items that reflect your expenses. Now, make a list of all of your outgoing expenses. To make this process a little easier here are a few things to consider:
Use common categories such as housing (rent or mortgage, homeowner dues), recurring bills (utilities, cable, credit card minimums, insurance), transportation (car payments, GAS, maintenance, public transportation) and food
Also include categories that fit your life such as school-related expenses (tuition and books), pet care or travel.
Be sure to include those big expenses that may only occur once or twice a year, such as car insurance and taxes.
Don’t forget about some of those “little” things you spend on as you go about your business as usual such as entertainment, hobbies and yes that $5 Latte you buy on your way to work every morning!
Keep it real and be honest with yourself! Remember it is Your Money…who else has to know!
Once you’ve completed the list, you should have a pretty good idea of what your “outgo” looks like. Next we’re going to take a look at our income, put the two together and hopefully help your money and you work some things out. So stay tuned for more on Your Money and You!
Want to know what’s draining your finances? If you said yes, then it’s time to find out!
Struggling to get out of debt? If you said yes, then it’s time to find a way!
Having trouble saving for that rainy day? If you said yes, then it’s time to figure out how!
Tired of your money controlling you? If you said yes, then it’s time for you to take control of your money!
STACKS Magazine wants to help you help yourself! Together we’ll explore the keys to success when it comes to spending, debt management, saving and investing. So stay tuned for more information as we give you tips on financial planning and some simple steps you can use when it comes to YOUR MONEY & YOU! It’s time to increase your success rate!