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Identifying Coronavirus Scams

The creators of scams are constantly looking for new ways to confuse and trick people into giving them money or their personal information. With the current COVID-19 pandemic, there seems to be multiple new scams being created each day. Some of these are very sophisticated and can be difficult to identify as scams. In order to keep people informed, The Federal Trade Commission has created a website dedicated to helping people identify, report, and avoid coronavirus scams. You can also sign up to receive alerts about new scams and ways to protect yourself. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also has valuable information on how to protect your finances during the pandemic, avoid scams, and apply for housing assistance. If you are in need of assistance, you can also find legitimate coronavirus assistance programs on the benefits.gov website.

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Resources for Teaching Financial Literacy

Learning about financial literacy can be somewhat dull even for adults. Thus, parents may find it especially difficult to engage children when teaching about budgeting, credit, insurance and saving. However, there are lots of websites and programs with inventive ideas for parents to use. A few websites with lots of free resources are Junior Achievement, EVERFI, and Mymoney.gov. There are also a lot of apps that that have gamified teaching about finances so that kids can have fun playing while learning. Here are a few of the best rated apps:

Many banks and credit unions also have programs designed to help teach teens money management. Be sure to ask your financial institution what type of savings and checking accounts that they offer for teens.

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Deciding Which Debts to Pay First

One way to raise your credit score is to pay off debts. Once you have created a budget and set aside money each month to pay extra towards your debt, it can be daunting trying to decide which bill to pay off first. One way to decide is to pay off the debt with the highest interest rate. For example, paying off a credit card with a 15% interest before paying off a car loan with a 5% interest rate. By doing this, you will pay less in interest for the money borrowed.

Or you can decide to pay off your smallest debt first. If you owe $9,000 on your high interest credit card and $5,000 on your lower interest car loan, you may want to pay off the car loan first. That way, when the car loan is paid off, you can make larger credit card payments by applying the money set aside for the car loan to the credit card payment. Additionally, it may help you stay motivated when you are able to pay off a debt and see that sticking to your budget is helping you become debt free.

If something unexpected happens and you are not able to pay extra one month, do not skip a payment on another bill or make a late payment to make up the difference. Be sure to always make at least the minimum payment on time for all your bills. Missing payments or making late payments will hurt your credit score and you will end up paying more in fees.

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Resources for Creating Wills and Power of Attorneys

Discussing with your family and loved ones your wishes for what happens when you die or are incapacitated is difficult. However, it is important to have those conversations before something happens so that your loved ones know what you want and can carry out your wishes. If you die without having a written will, your estate will be settled according to the laws of your state by an appointed administrator and he or she may not follow your wishes or your heirs’ wishes. Thankfully, writing a will does not have to be extremely complicated. You can hire an attorney to assist you or you can use a do it yourself kit. AARP.org has a series of informative articles about creating wills and web site links to find legal assistance. If you choose to write your own will, just be sure that it complies with the laws of your state. You will want to name an executor or joint executors as well as a guardian for minor children. You can also include a letter specifying who should inherit specific items such as family heirlooms. You should keep your original will signed by you and witnesses in a safe and secure place. It is also a good idea to review and update your will every few years or after any major life event (i.e., birth of a child, marriage, etc.).

When creating your will, it is important to consider designating a power of attorney as well. Depending on the type of power of attorney that you choose, that person will be able to make financial and medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so yourself. ElderLawAnswers.com explains the four different types of power of attorney that are available and gives tips on how to choose which is best for you. The website for the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys also has valuable resources on estate planning, designating power of attorneys, and finding an elder law attorney near you.

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Applying for Benefits

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every part of our daily life and many people have lost jobs and are struggling to make ends meet. Although they may be eligible for unemployment benefits, the application process can be confusing and long. DoNotPay is an app that can help navigate the process of applying for unemployment benefits. According to the article in CNBC, the app will ask a series of questions to gather information in order to complete the application for unemployment benefits in the user’s state and then submit the application during the state’s recommended time. It will also automatically reapply for benefits for the user. It is a subscription service and costs $3 per month but users can apply to have that fee waived.

In addition, the federal government is issuing stimulus payments to qualifying citizens. Over 80 million Americans received their payment on April 15th. If you have not received your payment, you can check the status of the payment using the Get My Payment tool provided by the IRS.

If you are in need of additional assistance for healthcare and food and nutrition needs, Benefits.gov has created a page specifically for finding government programs during the current pandemic. They also offer a benefits finder tool which can help you find information about benefits that you may be eligible to receive.

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Managing Finances in Trying Times

During a crisis, it is difficult to know how to maintain financial security and fight the urge to panic. There are some steps that you can take, however, to make sure you are ready for whatever the future brings.

  • Having a rainy day fund is extremely important. If you are able, continue to contribute to your savings and don’t begin using the funds until it is necessary. If you don’t have savings but are still able to work, deposit what you can into a savings account. Additionally, don’t withdraw your savings from the bank unless you need to use the money.
  • Use online banking. If you haven’t set up an online account yet, you should be able to find information on how to do it on your financial institution’s website. Most banks offer free online bill pay and you can pay all your bills without having to leave your house.
  • Remember that investments in the stock market are for the long haul. It is important to remain calm through the market fluctuations.
  • If you have lost your income or are struggling to make ends meet, do your best not to incur lots of debt (i.e., try not to use credit cards, payday loans or other high-cost loans). There are lots of organizations available to help. Reach out to your local churches, food banks, Red Cross, United Way, Department of Human Services, etc.
  • Finally, don’t make financial decisions based on panic. If you are feeling anxious and are wanting to make a huge financial decision, try to talk to a financial advisor or someone not emotionally involved first.

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Job Search Websites

If you are currently unemployed or just looking to earn extra income, it can be difficult to know where to begin a job search. Networking and making connections at companies is always a great way to get your foot in the door, but if you are looking for a position in a new career or different city or simply do not know a lot of people who work in your area of interest, the internet is the best place to find job openings. Below is a list of some of the top job search sites:

  • Indeed– You can search for jobs by title, keywords, company, or location. You can also post your resume so that companies can find you. They have reviews of companies, so that you can make sure you are applying to a company that would be a good fit for you.
  • Linkedin –You can connect and network with people. You can also search for jobs by type and location. You create your profile and potential employers can search for you based on your skills and interests.
  • Glassdoor– You have access to job search tools, can create a profile, and can read extensive reviews of many companies.
  • CareerBuilder– You can search for jobs and build a profile. You can also get career advice and information on professional development.
  • Monster– You can search for jobs and upload your resume. You can also pay for resume help and find career advice.
  • SimplyHired– You can search and apply for jobs and learn about job markets in a specific location.

Each of the above websites provides lots of good information and has thousands of job postings. And, although most websites do have regulations in place to try and validate job postings, there are always scammers that are able to get around the regulations. If you find a job that sounds too good to be true (i.e., amazing salary with few hours and light workload), it probably is. Before providing personal information to the company, be sure to research and make sure the company is legitimate. Read reviews of the company and look up the company’s website. Look for signs that could indicate that the company is not real. For example, if there are lots of typos or bad grammar on the company’s website or job posting, it is most likely a scam.  If you post your resume publicly on a website, consider not including your personal contact information (companies can contact you through the website). If you post your personal contact information, scammers may contact you with fake job offers to try and get more of your personal information under the guise of setting you up on payroll. Always do your due diligence and trust your instinct. If something doesn’t seem right, don’t provide any more information before you can validate that it is a real company.

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Reviewing and Understanding Your Credit Report

If you have applied for a credit card or loan, you know that your credit score is important, and you should be reviewing your credit report for mistakes. It can be easy to procrastinate, however, especially since credit reports can be difficult to understand. And if you find a mistake, how do you correct it? The Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission has created a blog series that walks you through reading your credit report and how to correct any mistakes you may find including sample letters to send to the credit bureau.

To get started, go to Annualcreditreport.com to request your credit report. Since there are three credit bureaus, you can request a report from all three at once or you can request one from a different bureau at different times throughout the year. To help you remember to request the credit report, put a recurring reminder in your calendar. For example, every January 15th, review your Equifax report, every May 15th, review your Experian report and every September 15th, review your TransUnion report. This way, you are reviewing your credit report more frequently without having to pay fees.

Next, review your report carefully. If you find mistakes, be sure to address them immediately. Although it may seem like a tedious task, once you have done it, you will feel more secure in knowing that your information is correct and be on your way to become more financially stable.

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Must Have Tools for Online Shoppers

Online shopping not only lets you find unique products that may not be available in stores near you, but it is also extremely convenient. You can do all your holiday shopping without leaving your house and have everything delivered directly to your doorstep. However, entering your credit card information along with your name and address on websites can pose a security risk. With the amount of data breaches that happen, it is even risky for those who follow all the recommended online safety tips (i.e., verify the website is secure before entering personal information, use different passwords, have updated virus protection, etc.). How can you keep your information safe and still take advantage of the convenience of online shopping? One way is to use virtual card numbers. Virtual card numbers are linked to your credit card but can only be used at that site. They allow you to shop online without exposing your actual credit card number. If you would like to use a virtual number, contact your bank or credit card company to see if they offer them. They are typically offered through a browser extension that you download. It does an add an extra step to your online shopping (you have to login to your card account to obtain a virtual card number) but the additional security is worth the completing an extra step.

Additionally, if you are an avid online shopper be sure to use these tools to save money on your purchases:

  • Paribus– is an online tool that reviews your online receipts and let’s you know if you the price dropped after you purchased an item. It then helps you get a refund for the price difference. It does require access to your email account. If you are uncomfortable giving an app access to your personal email account, you can set up an email account that you use exclusively for online purchases.
  • Wikibuy and Honey are browser extensions that maintain lists of coupon codes and will try them on your virtual cart before you purchase items to see if any of the codes will save you money.

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Finding Public Assistance Programs

Some people find themselves going deeper and deeper in debt because tragedy strikes (i.e., loss of employment, medical emergency, damage to major appliance or vehicle, etc.) and they are unaware of assistance programs available to them. Instead of applying for aid, they go into debt to cover expenses and some are forced into bankruptcy. This is unfortunate because there are lots of national and local programs available to help people get back on their feet. If you find yourself in a situation where you are having difficulty making ends meet, be sure to research aid programs to see if you qualify. Below is a list of websites and places to help you get started:

  1. Benefits.gov helps you find government assistance programs. You just answer a few basic questions and then select the programs in which you are interested. The website then walks you through a series of questions to see if you qualify for the program.
  2. USA.gov also provides detailed information on different government public assistance programs.
  3. Need Help Paying Bills is a website that provides information on programs that are available to help pay a variety of different types of bills. It gives a basic explanation of each program and information on how to contact the program.
  4. The Salvation Army also provides emergency assistance.
  5. Local churches can sometimes also be a great resource even if you are not a member of the church.
  6. Some hospitals have financial aid programs as well. Their applications are usually long and in-depth but can save you thousands of dollars. If you have large medical bills, contact the hospital’s business office and ask about financial assistance programs.
  7. Your city government. Many cities offer housing assistance among other programs. You can search their website or call their Human Resources office to find out more information. Even if they do not sponsor any programs, they may have information about other local organizations that do.

Even if you do not qualify for any of the above programs, call and talk with your creditors (i.e., hospital, credit card company, mortgage company, etc.) and see if they will work with you to lower payments or skip a payment. Most companies are willing to work with you if you are proactive and make an honest effort to repay your debt.

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