If you believe your child will attend college, it is a good idea to start saving now to help pay for skyrocketing tuition costs. Although opening a savings account in your child’s name is probably the least complicated way to start saving, it can have some drawbacks. A student with a large savings account in his/her name can miss out on financial aid and grants since financial aid is based on income and assets. Additionally, a savings account does not have any tax benefits.
There are, however, a variety of options that have tax benefits and do not greatly impact a child’s ability to receive financial aid. Two of the most popular plans are 529 college plans and Education Savings Accounts. With both plans, the account does not have tax penalties, qualified withdrawals are tax-free, and they have little impact on financial aid. There are limits on how much and for how long you can contribute to the plan as well as restrictions on how the money can be used. Other options for long-term savings are: U.S. Treasury Bonds and custodial accounts. Both have some tax advantages but there are restrictions on how the money can be used and they can impact financial aid. With any savings vehicle, it helps to start saving as early as possible.
It is common knowledge that you shouldn’t download files from an unknown sender. Or if a Nigerian prince emails asking for money, it is a scam. And most people feel that they know how to protect themselves from a becoming a victim of fraud. But criminals are always looking for innovative ways to scam people so it is important to always be on the alert for something suspicious. One new scam that has claimed multiple victims is a phone scam. During the phone call, the scammer will ask seemingly innocent yes or no questions. The person then records you saying “yes” and later makes fraudulent charges to your credit/debit card. When you dispute the charges, the scammer uses the recording of you saying “yes” to defend the charges.
There are also lots of scams that prey on people’s generosity by claiming that they are collecting funds for fallen police officers or firefighters. Scammers can also manipulate caller ID to make it look like they are calling from a different number. So, how can you protect yourself? Be cautious. If something seems fishy, it probably is. Research the company by doing a quick google search. Scammers are almost always in a hurry and may even threaten you. Don’t be pressured by them. Always hang up on robo-calls. Also, don’t ever pay in advance for promises (send $300 now and receive a new car in three weeks) or wire money (there is little theft protection when wiring money). Finally, stay informed. You can sign up to receive scam alerts from the Federal Trade Commission at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/scam-alerts. You can help protect others by reporting scams to the FTC at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#&panel1-1 .
Identity theft is scary and can be extremely costly if you fall victim to it. There are lots of companies that offer identity theft protection. Although these services are beneficial, they can be expensive. Luckily there are many low-cost ways that you can protect yourself from becoming a victim:
- Use strong passwords that include upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.
- Ensure that your electronic devices have updated antivirus software on them.
- Keep financial documents in a secure location.
- Don’t post personal information (i.e., address, mother’s maiden name, birthdate, etc.) on social media. Also, don’t send account information or social security numbers via email or text.
- Don’t give out your debit/credit card information unless absolutely necessary.
- Don’t click on links in emails and beware of email phishing scams. Don’t enter your account information online unless you know you are on a legitimate website.
- Use online banking to receive statements and review your accounts frequently (at least a few times a week) for fraudulent activity.
- Review your credit reports annually. You can request a free credit report from each credit reporting agency each year at annualcreditreport.com. It is a good idea to stagger the reports so that you review one from each bureau every 4 months.
- You can put a fraud alert on your credit report if you notice suspicious activity. You just have to contact one of the three credit bureaus (experian.com, www.equifax.com, www.transunion.com). You can also request a security freeze (for a small fee) on your credit report so that only institutions that you currently do business with can request your credit information.
- Opt out of unsolicited credit offers. You can opt out at www.optoutprescreen.com.
Everyone knows you can save quite a bit of money by using coupons but it can be very time consuming to clip coupons. Here are some less cumbersome ways that you can save money (and time) when shopping.
*When shopping online, use websites like Honey.com. Honey is free to join and automatically searches for the best discount codes for you to use on all your online purchases.
*When planning meals, look up recipes online. Some recipe sites like allrecipes.com will search local ads for sales on the ingredients included in the recipe.
*If you are going to be eating out or buying a specific item, do a google search for discount codes before shopping.
*If you have a product that you use frequently such as a certain type of coffee, write to the company that provides that product. Let them know you are a loyal customer who enjoys their product and ask for free samples or coupons. This is also good to do if there is a new thing you want to try.
*Sign up for emails from sites that search for daily deals like thekrazycouponlady.com, yipit.com, groupon.com, etc.
Getting the best deal may take a little planning ahead but the money saved is worth it!
Here is an interesting article and video discussing how to help your children learn about money management: http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2017/02/22/the-fab-mom-on-2-mistakes-parents-can-avoid-when-teaching-kids-about-money/
The video recommends: 1) Giving kids money for chores they perform rather than providing them with an allowance, 2) Replacing piggy banks with clear jars so kids can see how much money they are saving, and 3) Starting to teach your kids about money by the time they are 7 years old. Kids start forming money management habits by kindergarden or first grade so starting to teach them about money early on is a great plan!
You have probably seen mortgage lenders advertising biweekly mortgage payment programs. These are programs where you send mortgage payments to your bank once every two weeks instead of once a month. (You send half of your monthly amount every two weeks.) It sounds like a great and simple way to save money and even cut a few years off your mortgage but you should be sure to read the fine print. Before deciding to go with a company’s bi-weekly payment plan, be sure that:
- The company will apply the partial payment to your mortgage on the day that it is received.
- The payment plan is for a bi-weekly payment plan (a total of 26 payments per year) and not a bi-monthly plan (a total of 24 payments per year).
- The company is not charging excessively high fees for their bi-weekly payment plan services. If the company wants to charge you for the bi-weekly payment plan, it is probably not worth it.
The real advantage to making bi-weekly payments is that you end up paying 13 full payments a year instead of 12. If the 13th payment goes directly toward your principal amount, then you are lowering the amount that you owe faster and can reduce your 30-year loan by up to 7 years. One way to accomplish the same thing as signing up for a biweekly mortgage payment program is to just send in an extra mortgage payment one time each year—consider doing this before setting up a bi-weekly mortgage payment plan.
It can be the worst feeling when you buy gifts for your loved ones and they wind up being stolen or broken. Here are a few tips to prevent this:
1-If you buy something online, be sure to have it delivered when someone is home so it doesn’t linger on your porch for too long.
2-Don’t leave any shopping bags visible in your car–bury them in your trunk where potential thieves can’t see them.
3-Don’t mention any big purchases on social media or show pictures of any big ticket items there so potential thieves can’t target you.
4-Don’t keep your fragile gifts within reach of children–they like to shake their presents a little too much!