IDAs: A Great Way for Low-Income Families to Start a Nest Egg

Most people have probably heard about IRAs (Investment Retirement Accounts), which are special savings accounts allowing people to save for retirement and earn a tax advantage while they save.  But there’s also a savings vehicle out there specifically designed to assist low-income individuals save money: the IDA, or Individual Development Account.  The first IDA was established in 1993 by the state of Iowa and since then, 33 states have laws governing the operations of IDAs.  States, non-profit and for-profit organizations may all administer IDAs.

An IDA is a savings account whereby the investor (who is low-income) deposits a certain amount of money in the account and the account administrator matches the deposit dollar for dollar (or in some states, up to five or six dollars per dollar!).  The money for the matching comes mostly from the U.S. government and partly from banks.  This is a great savings option because you can deposit a small amount, for example–$200, and get a match of anywhere from $200 to $1200.

To qualify to open an IDA, your income must be below a certain amount, and you must have assets of generally less than $5,000.  Withdrawals must be made to achieve a certain goal such as buy a home, pay for education, repair a home, buy a car or start a small business.  Usually there’s a one to three year probation period during which you can’t withdraw the matched funds.

To find an IDA program near you, go to http://cfed.org/programs/idas/directory_search/.

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The Emotional Stress of Bankruptcy

Going through bankruptcy can be challenging because it requires work (e.g., completing paperwork, meeting with your attorney, meeting with the trustee, etc.), and money (e.g., paying the filing fees, paying for your attorney, etc.).  But most people don’t really consider how emotionally stressful the experience can be as well.  Filing bankruptcy is often a last resort for people because they are ashamed of declaring bankruptcy.  They may be afraid that their family or friends may find out and look negatively upon it.  It helps to take comfort in the fact that millions of people have filed bankruptcy—maybe including people you know. 

In addition, some of the most common causes of bankruptcy are: job loss, divorce, and large medical expenses.  These types of events can happen to anyone and sometimes there is very little that can be done to prevent them from occurring. 

It’s helpful to view bankruptcy as a stepping stone toward achieving a more financially stable life and not to let it affect your own self-esteem or feelings of self-worth.  Joining a support group for people also going through the process or seeing a licensed therapist can help achieve this goal.  

-A. Geving, Ph.D.

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Spending Wisely on Pets

According to U.S. News, (http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/05/22/americans-spend-61-billion-on-pets-annually) Americans spend an average of $61 billion each year on their pets, which winds up being about $500 per household per year.  Since so many households spend so much money on their furry (feathery, and scaly) little friends, it’s helpful to discuss how to spend this money wisely and save money where you can.  Here are a few ways to save:

1)      Consider buying a mixed-breed pet.  With dogs especially, pure-breds often get sicker more frequently and require more health care. 

2)      Trade pet-sitting services.  If you need someone to watch your dog or feed your fish while you’re away for a short while, ask friends and family if they will do it at no cost.  In return, offer to watch their pet while they are gone.

3)      Do the math before buying pet insurance.  Think about how much you usually spend each year on pet healthcare, and if the annual premiums are less, consider buying it.  If not, consider setting some money aside each year in case of an emergency rather than buying the insurance.

4)      If you need to buy medicine for your pet, shop around.  Buying meds at the vet’s office is often more expensive than buying them online or at a pharmacy.

5)      Buy pet food in bulk. Buying large amounts of pet food at one time from Costco or Amazon can often save you a lot of money.

6)      Go in for preventative care.  By taking your pet in every so often for a check-up and vaccinations, you can prevent them from getting sick later on.  

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Keeping Watch Over Your Credit Cards

As you probably know, this past year, many Target customers had their Target credit or debit card information stolen due to a security breach.  Target asked customers to report any unauthorized card expenses to them so they could reimburse their customers for these charges, and the company provided one free year of credit report monitoring to any customer who wanted to sign up. 

It looks like a similar security breach may have occurred recently at the DMV.  The DMV is now investigating the situation.  (For more information, visit kpcc.org’s website at: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2014/03/24/36614/dmv-investigating-possible-credit-card-data-breach/)

Since this seems to happen frequently, what are some things you can do?  First, monitor your credit.  Annualcreditreport.com can provide you with one free credit report per year.  Be sure to review your report annually and check for anything inaccurate.  If you see any errors, report them to the credit bureau to ensure they are corrected.  Second, consider signing up for an ID theft monitoring service.  For a small monthly fee, these companies will alert you immediately if something occurs that might be due to identity theft.  Third, be diligent about protecting your credit card information: destroy unused or unwanted cards, don’t leave cards in vehicles where they can be stolen, and don’t provide card numbers to any companies who call you or email you unless you know what the transaction is for.  Lastly, ensure you have a method for paying for things in case your card information does get stolen.   It happens far too frequently to not have a back-up plan.  

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A Helpful Article: Don’t Leave Money on the Table

Earlier this month, I read a very helpful article describing some possible ways you could save money that most people don’t consider.  The article is available here: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304302704579332291392874138.  Some helpful tips from the article are: 1) you can save money from buying mass-transit passes from a pre-tax account, 2) buying a car at the end of the month rather than earlier in the month can save you $500 to $2000 off the sticker price, and 3) it can save you money to check in once a year with your car insurance and homeowner’s insurance companies to see if they can offer a better price and/or policies that fit you better.

-Allison G.

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Some Advice from Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett was recently in the news again.  Quicken Loans is offering a $1 billion prize to anyone who can successfully choose every winner in this year’s men’s NCAA basketball tournament.  Warren Buffett decided to insure Quicken in the event that an individual wins the prize.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the odds of successfully picking every winner are
between 1 in 150 million and 1 in 9 million trillion.  In other words, this
is an incredible long shot, and it is unlikely that anyone will win the $1
billion.

However, Warren Buffett did provide some helpful advice to those of us not winning the prize.  He said that the best thing that anyone can do to improve their financial situation is to start saving money as early as possible.  So, even if it’s only $100 a month, start putting it away as soon as possible!  

-Chad G.

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When to Ask for Discounts

There’s almost no situation where asking for a discount is a poor idea…but here are some where you surely should:

1) If you’re visiting a tourist attraction. If you are a military veteran, federal government employee, or American Automobile Association (AAA) member, you’re likely to get some sort of discount at many attractions and hotels.

2) If you’re buying a floor sample. All floor samples should have reduced prices because sitting out on the floor makes them experience some wear and tear.  Also, clothing or home goods that are “imperfect” should be sold at discounted prices.

3) If you’re at a flea market.  Vendors at flea markets expect customers to bargain for the best price.

4) If you’re traveling to another country.  In many other cultures, vendors expect their customers to negotiate for the best price, no matter what they are buying.  

5) If you have kids. Most places provide discounts for kids and ones that don’t may be willing to do so if you ask.  Restaurants almost always have inexpensive kids’ meals and many of them offer “kids eat free” nights.  

So ask for a discount the next time you are out buying something–it never hurts to ask!

-Allison G.

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