Budgeting your Income: Which Bills to Pay First

by Guest on September 10, 2012

The average consumer receives multiple monthly bills to pay for services, utilities, credit accounts, and other purchases. Knowing which bills to pay first might be challenging, but it’s certainly good to learn how to prioritize them. Remember, some bills might be for services that you can do without while others could mean losing important things like healthcare coverage, a home, or your car.

In case of a financial emergency, paying the right bills can save you time and money. By learning how to prioritize, you’ll be better prepared for times when money is tight.

Is Mortgage Tax Relief On Its Way Out?

by John Kiernan on September 5, 2012

The Republican National Convention is now behind us and the Democratic version is set to conclude Thursday, and while this might have you thinking there will be an entertainment void in the coming weeks, the truth is that the real fun starts when these idealistic celebrations are in the rear-view mirror.  I’m referring to the beginning of the debate season (though I would have accepted the start of the NFL regular season as well), when we can hear the candidates mix it up and offer retorts to each other’s grandiose claims.

The debates usually give ordinary citizens like you and me a chance to ask the candidates questions as well, and one question that I’m sure a lot of people would like answered is what will become of the mortgage forgiveness tax break that has helped lower the financial burden on so many people since 2007.

Next Man (Or Woman) Up: New Fed Chairman Will Face Long, Hard Road

by John Kiernan on August 29, 2012

federal reserve sealA couple of things occurred to me while watching coverage of the Republican National Convention this week (I’m an Independent, if you’re wondering): 1) What would Will McEvoy make of all this? and 2) The impending election season means forthcoming political turnover, and that could have a significant effect on our finances.

Quickly, I answered that first question for myself (he’d probably yell at everybody) and moved on to my second notion. Soon thereafter I realized that elected officials aren’t the only ones that will have some measure of control over our wallets in the near future. I mean, has anyone thought about the role Ben Bernanke’s successor will play in shaping financial policy as the next chairman of the Federal Reserve, an appointed position.

Do You Know Your Mortgage Credit Score?

by John Kiernan on August 22, 2012

mortgage approvalThere’s a new credit score in town, ladies and gentleman, and it’s just for mortgages. The score is formally called the FICO Mortgage Score Powered by CoreLogic, which brings to mind the mouthful of a name change the Anaheim Angels underwent in 2005 when they became the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but that’s a whole other story.

This new score is said to better predict mortgage applicant risk and is obviously looking to capitalize on the recent memory of the housing crisis and the ensuing Great Recession. It supposedly does so by incorporating information that is not typically included in credit scores, such as rent and utility payments and certain public records.

Checking Accounts for Students & Seniors: Are They Worth It?

by John Kiernan on August 15, 2012

checking accountsWhat’s one thing that young people and the elderly have in common? Some of our more immature readers might answer “diapers,” but if the folks over at the Pew Charitable Trusts had a chance to respond, they’d probably say “bank accounts.” That’s right, certain bank accounts are specifically targeted to students and seniors, and while they’re supposedly tailored to the unique needs of these consumer demographics, a pair of recent Pew studies can help shed some light on whether they’re actually valuable or not.


Should We Be Worried About Corruption & Ineptitude With Student Financial Aid?

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on August 8, 2012

college financial aid Financial literacy in the United States is clearly lacking right now, and what are our institutions of higher learning doing about it? Setting a terrible example and bleeding their most financially vulnerable students of much needed aid money, that’s all.

Don’t believe me? A new report from the US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) confirms the dirty practice. The report, titled The Campus Debit Card Trap, revealed that while the federal government has long mailed students financial aid checks, nearly 900 colleges and universities have struck affinity partnerships with financial institutions in order to tie campus records to bank accounts, effectively turn student IDs into debit cards, and disperse aid to more than 9 million students through these cards. This might sound great in theory, but a closer looks reveals significant drawbacks to the supposed convenience the new system offers.

How High Fees and Conflicts of Interest Are Hurting Your 401(k)

by John Kiernan on August 1, 2012

401k feesWhether you love or hate your job, the freedom to retire is inescapably appealing. In fact, it’s the American Dream – work hard in order to attain the requisite financial freedom to retire to a comfy home with a white picket fence, pursue your interests irrespective of earning potential, and provide for your family. Unfortunately, the changing dynamics of retirement accounts, Social Security, and the economy at large may be making this dream harder to realize, if not turning it into a nightmare for many folks.

Not only does the aging American populous put Social Security in jeopardy, but the increasing reliance on 401(k)s instead of pension plans has also made many Americans’ safety nets less reliable, especially since a lot of people do not fully understand these plans or their true effectiveness.

Upcoming Changes to Gift-Tax Exemption May Cost Your Children Millions

by John Kiernan on July 25, 2012

gift tax exemptionParents, if your children have unexpectedly started cleaning their rooms, adhering to curfews, and making you breakfast in bed, there’s good reason to be suspicious. Kids, start doing those things immediately and casually mention that you saw something on the Web about an upcoming change to the gift tax exemption. This holiday season could result in a lot more value changing hands than usual, which means we can expect a lot more sucking up in the coming months.

All kidding aside, New Year’s marks an important date for the way wealth in the United States is passed down from generation to generation. This is when the federal lifetime gift-tax exemption will revert back from the roughly $5 million threshold now in place thanks to the Tax Relief Act of 2010 to the standard $1 million. In other words, through December 31, 2012 you can give another individual (presumably a loved one) up to $5.12 million without it being taxed, but come New Year’s, amounts over $1 million may be taxed at rates upwards of 50%.

Should Small Business Owners be Worried About Their Money in December 2012?

by John Kiernan on July 18, 2012

FDICThe countdown to December and the date that could alter our future is on. Have you started thinking about what you’ll do if the prognosticators are right? Do you have contingency plans? Will you remove your money from the neighborhood bank? After all, the impending elimination of Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insurance on small business bank accounts is no joke (raise your hand if you thought I was talking about the Mayan prediction that the world will end on 12/12/12).

The fate of FDIC insurance on business accounts has certainly garnered less mainstream attention than the latest, greatest doomsday prediction, but with the more than 27 million small businesses in the United States employing half of all private sector employees, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, it’s certainly significant nonetheless.

How Relationships and Marriage Affect Health, Happiness and Finances

by Guest on July 17, 2012

Recently a study conducted by students at Cornell University showed that people who are in a committed relationship or a marriage are comparatively happier than those who are single, and both of the partners have the highest sense of well being, even if they do not rate themselves as happy. The study, related to happiness and well being, reported that people who are in a live-in relationship are equal to married people in terms of happiness. They are followed by people who are in a steady relationship, and last come those who are in casual relationships. To be very precise, researchers say that it is good to be in a relationship as it keeps both men and women in a happier state of mind. As the relationship between a couple gets stronger day-by-day, they feel better and happier than ever.

It is often said that married people or those who are in a relationship live longer than others. Statistical surveys, conducted in a number of countries throughout the world, prove that people who are married suffer less from disease and illness, and, even if they become ill, they recover sooner than those who are single. Married couples who live under one roof suffer from lower risk rates, for example, from driving, smoking, etc. The rate of suicide and alcoholism is also less. It has been observed that health changes toward the positive frequently take place after marriage. A husband or wife who was vulnerable to frequent health issues earlier suffers less after marriage.

It’s Time to Bring Shadow Banking into the Light

by John Kiernan on July 11, 2012

shadow bankingThey exist in the shadows, operating outside the law and making monumental moves with the fate of society resting in their hands. They are thrust into the headlines only during times of trouble, yet are unquestionably a major part of history. Their importance must not be overlooked by politicians and regulators any longer. No, I’m not referring to the Illuminati, Batman, or even the CIA, but rather the entities that comprise the so-called shadow banking system, which played a significant role in causing the Great Recession and are finally on Washington’s radar.

For those of you who don’t know, the shadow banking system is the collection of financial institutions and investment vehicles that are not subject to the same laws and regulations as traditional banks and bank accounts given that they do not allow you to make deposits. It includes hedge funds, money market funds, and many securities. It’s also common for investment banks to engage in shadow banking practices in order to keep certain transactions off their balance sheets and therefore hidden from regulators and investors alike.

Tips On Getting Home Loans For People With Bad Credit

by Guest on July 9, 2012

Buying a home is not an easy process, especially with the current economic climate. For people with good credit scores, it is however, easier to seal home loan deals compared to those with bad credit. Getting a home loan if you have a bad credit can be almost impossible depending on your credit situation. Fortunately, you can get loans with bad credit provided you are able to convince lenders that you will adhere to the repayment schedule.

Below are some tips on getting home loans for people with bad credit.

Why We Need a Return to Direct Democracy This Independence Day

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on July 3, 2012

athenian-democracyBy now, I think we’re all a little sick of the stagnate politics in Washington, where politicians on both sides of the isle seem unwilling or unable to compromise and appear more concerned with electability and party reputation than the true good of their constituencies. That’s why we as Americans need to get back to the basics – the basics of democracy, that is – and take back a measure of control over the decisions that are made on our behalf. At the end of the day, inefficient decision making leads to wasted money and resources, which is the last thing our wallets need right now.

I’m sure you would have never guessed it, but I am Greek. In fact, I hail from Athens – the birthplace of Democracy. Democracy looked a bit different back in 507 BC, when a wise man by the name of Cleisthenes first introduced a political system called “demokratia,” which translates to “rule by the people.”

How Old is Too Old for Hands-On Financial Management?

by John Kiernan on June 28, 2012

RetirementEver pull up to a stoplight and glance over to see an elderly driver beside you hunched over the steering wheel, peering through goggle-like glasses and express concern over their ability to continue driving safely? Perhaps, but I bet you haven’t given much thought to their ability to manage their finances into old age. That’s a big mistake.

People are becoming increasingly reliant on their 401(k) as a source of retirement income, and while that might not seem like too big of a deal on the face of things, a 401(k) is inherently volatile and requires consistent maintenance in order to provide maximum value. This can prove problematic no matter how old you are.

What to Do if You Lose Your Wallet

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on June 21, 2012

lost walletWait, where is it? Back pocket? Nope. Purse? Not there either. Even a quick sweep of the house comes up empty. You’ve lost your wallet, and the panic is starting to set in. As your mind races through all of the places where you could have left it, you wonder what to do if you can’t find it. That’s a very good question, and one which we should all know the answer to (especially the ADD folks among us)!

When you lose your wallet, it’s not just a folded piece of leather that you’re missing, but also your IDs, debit card, credit card(s), gift cards, cash, health insurance information, family photos, and maybe even your Social Security card. The ramifications of your loss are therefore many, and to be safe you unfortunately have to operate under the assumption that it’s been stolen. That necessitates a sort of lost wallet triage.

Forget Your ATM Card? No Biggie, As Long as You’ve Got Your Phone

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on June 13, 2012

Mobile ATM WithdrawalsAnother layer has been added to the relationship between personal finance and smartphones: Pretty soon, you’ll be able to withdraw cash from ATMs without ever inserting a card.

NCR, a Georgia-based ATM manufacturer, announced on June 11 that it has developed a new service that will allow consumers to make withdrawals via a cell phone application. But don’t worry, you won’t run the risk of “butt-dialing” your local ATM and having your hard-earned money spill out into the streets. The so-called NCR Mobile Cash Withdrawal service requires that you use your phone to log into your mobile banking account in order to authenticate your identity and then scan a barcode on the ATM’s screen to complete a transaction.

Why You Should Think Twice Before Hitting a Toll Road in a Rental Car

by John Kiernan on June 6, 2012

automated toll roadYou know the toll that usually costs around $3? Well, imagine how you’d feel if the price tag suddenly rose to $53. Unfortunately, this is not a hypothetical scenario for many consumers, but rather an all-too-common headache associated with renting a car in the age of automated toll plazas.

Typically, when a driver goes through an automated toll without an EZ-Pass or another similar electronic payment device, the toll’s cameras will snap a picture of the license plate and mail a bill to the registered driver. This is obviously impossible with a rental, however. So when a rental company gets charged, it typically passes the cost on to the driver, along with a hefty surcharge, through a company like the aptly-named Violation Management Services (VMS), which works with Fox Rent a Car.

Get Screwed During Foreclosure? Time is Running Out to Get Even

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on May 30, 2012

independent foreclosure review programIf your home was foreclosed upon during the Great Recession, not only do you have company – there were 6.6 million foreclosures in 2009 and 2010 alone, according to RealtyTrac – but you may also be entitled to compensation under a government program that will run through July 31 (that’s only two months away, so get a move on!).

The Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency are requiring that 27 major lenders let independent consultants review foreclosures that were initiated, pending, or completed between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2010 because (surprise, surprise) these lenders didn’t always do things by the book.

Are Austria & Luxembourg Hurting American Taxpayers?

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on May 23, 2012

austria and luxembourg tax evasionHow do you say “wrench” in German, French, and Luxembourgish because those are the primary languages spoken in Austria and Luxembourg, and a wrench is exactly what these two nations recently threw in European Union plans to increase national budgets by cracking down on tax evaders.

Tax evasion has long been problematic in the EU and around the world due to a combination of the EU’s lack of authority to tax its member states and the secret banking policies that allow foreign nationals to anonymously stash cash in countries like Switzerland with no questions asked. To compensate, the EU in 2005 enacted a law that requires all EU members and a number of non-EU countries to withhold taxes on the interest gleaned from foreign nationals’ savings accounts and then distribute the funds to the account holders’ respective governments. Most countries are also required to share information identifying the individuals behind the accounts, but there are a few notable exceptions, including Switzerland, Austria, and Luxembourg.

How’s a Little Medical Bill Transparency Sound?

by John Kiernan on May 16, 2012

medical expense transparencyImagine entering a restaurant and being told to wait for a table by a surly host, who shrugs off your repeated contention that you have reservations before handing over a questionnaire about your history as a restaurant patron and instructing you to complete it. Then, when you’re finally led into the dining room, you’re given a menu written completely in French that lists a whole bunch of foreign-sounding dishes, but no accompanying prices. You inquire and are told that the bill will be worked out at the end of the meal. Now, is that something you’re likely to put up with?

Of course you would, but not in a restaurant setting. We as Americans reserve such treatment for our doctor’s offices.

Mortgage Rates Hit Record Lows

by John Kiernan on May 9, 2012

Record Low Mortgage RatesIt might just be time to buy that home of your dreams or refinance your existing mortgage. According to a Freddie Mac survey released May 3, average rates for a number of fixed and adjustable rate mortgages hit record lows last week, creating a significant savings opportunity for refinancers and prospective homebuyers who’ve recovered sufficiently from the negative effects of the Great Recession.

Ok, but how much savings are we talking here?

Students with Summer Jobs Shouldn’t Forget the Tax Man

by John Kiernan on May 2, 2012

Taxes for Summer JobsOnce that final bell rings on the last day of school before summer break, the minds of students across the country will immediately shift from history, math, and science to pools, beaches, summer sports leagues and free time. For most, summer jobs will be a means to an end, a way to afford summer fun, and taxes won’t even be on their radar. That’s a dangerous oversight, according to the California Society of CPAs (CalCPA). Understanding the implications of taxes on summer earnings can save student workers both time and money down the road, and the California accountants have a number of tips for how to do so

1.  Understand the IRS forms you fill out

It's Their Fee Party, and Prepaid Card Issuers Will Charge If They Want To

by John Kiernan on April 25, 2012

prepaid card feesThere’s no doubt that prepaid cards are growing in popularity. Only 11% of consumers used them just two years ago, and not only has the number since grown to 15%, but we’re also seeing big-time celebrities like Lil Wayne, Suze Orman, and George Lopez sign up as endorsers, highlighting the growing mainstream appeal of these products. While some of the best prepaid cards can be cheaper to use than a checking account for certain folks, reaching this conclusion can also be quite difficult. In short, prepaid card fees are out of control, and the problem needs to be fixed.

I’m not talking about the cost of these fees, but rather their sheer number and lack of a consistent naming convention. Prepaid card issuers are known for both charging what seems like a million different fees and calling them by different names in order to hide the true cost of their products.

6 Fun Facts about Credit Cards

by John Kiernan on April 18, 2012

6 fun facts about credit cardsWe use credit cards on a daily basis, but how much do we truly know about them? That’s probably not a question you’ve ever given much thought, and even so, you might find it hard to believe that such a small piece of plastic could carry many secrets or surprises. The truth, however, is that while we take the ubiquity of credit cards for granted, they have a rich and complicated history, and many facets of their usage and evolution do offer the kind of interesting tidbits that one could pull out at a cocktail party or game night (‘cause that’d really impress your friends, huh?).

So, without further ado, here are 6 of my favorite credit card nuggets:

5 Ways to Make Your Job Application Stand Out

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on April 12, 2012

Things are looking up for job seekers. According to the Department of Labor, December 2011 marked a three-year high for job postings, and while the numbers dipped slightly in January, they were again on the rise as of February, the latest month for which data is available. Just because employers are hiring doesn’t mean you’re assured of a job, however, so how are you going to differentiate yourself?

If the Great Recession has taught us anything, it’s that competition for jobs can be fierce. Under healthy economic conditions, roughly two people compete for every job opening, yet there were as many as seven candidates for each available position in 2009. Now, with 12.8 million people unemployed and 3.5 million jobs available, there are roughly four people per each open job. And when you consider that most jobseekers apply for a number of different openings at the same time, it’s clear that the competition level is actually exponentially higher than that.

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