Managing Your Child’s College Finances

September 8, 2008 · Posted in Students · Comments Off 

None of us want to see our child, or ourselves, accumulate mounds of debt from college. At the same time we want our children (or grandchildren) to obtain the best education, and have a positive college experience. Do not make the mistake of risking your financial stability for education when you don’t have to.

Don’t wait until the last minute to start saving for college. College isn’t cheap today. Have you considered what it will be when your child or children finally start? Experts suggest that the annual tuition for public schools will be a whopping $35,000 in 2017. if you want to send your child to an Ivy League school, be prepared to shell out $86,000. The idea of saving now is started sound a little better? Unfortunately less than half the parents that plan to help pay for college have even begun to save. Start the process now.

A 529 college savings plan is perfect for saving for your child’s college education. Most states allow for a tax deduction for moneys put into a 529 and it grows tax free if it’s used for college loans. It is portable and can be used at and qualifying higher learning institution in the US. These plans are also in your name so they do not affect the child’s changes for receiving financial aid. There are several websites that can provide more information on 529 plans.

Most of us can’t actually afford to cover the cost of our child’s education out of our pocket. Try to find a middle ground between your pocketbook and planning to apply to for need based aid. Paying for the college tuition, books, living expenses, and other needs is going to be very overwhelming. Remember that financial aid is based on your families income and assets, the cost of school, and if you do or don’t have other children in college. Be sure to consider everything and don’t count on aid kicking in as much as you might like it to.

Don’t just go haywire with college spending. Budget the money and involve your son or daughter in this process. After mailing tuition payments, covering a credit card, writing checks here and there, you’re going to have a major investment before you realize it. By sitting and down an creating a budget… and sticking to it, you are ensuring that there won’t be and financial bumps along the road. Financial planners are available to help with college planning, and you can usually find planner that specialize in college preparation and budgeting. You can conduct a quick internet search for more information on what you can and can’t afford and how to make it work for your family’s situation.

Understanding a Money Market Account

September 5, 2008 · Posted in Finance, Money · Comments Off 

Money market accounts and money market funds are not the same thing. To understand the difference between both of them, it is best to start at understanding “money market”. Money Market is basically a generic term used to describe the market that banks and other financial establishments lend, borrow and trade money, Certificates of Deposit and other items.

The Money Market Account is basically a premium account, like a high interest savings account. Money Market Accounts are commonly just called an MMA. This Money Market Account shouldn’t be confused with the Money Market Fund. The Money Market Fund is basically an investment strategy that yields larger returns than a premium savings account. A Money market Account (MMA) can be opened very simply at just about any bank. The money kept in a Money Market Account will be invested, but the bank or financial institution does the investing and collects on the returns as well.

The money you invest in an MMA is usually placed into an investment like a CD or Certificate of Deposit, Treasury bill, or other safe financial instrument. These are all lower risk, short term investments. What is your benefit from allowing the financial institution to use your money? You benefit by receiving a premium interest rate that can occasionally be twice as high as a regular passbook account.

Like any other account with a bank, a Money Market Account from the bank is also insured by the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) for up to one hundred thousand dollars. While you can find what seems like a better deal on a Money Market Account offered from a bigger corporation, keep in mind that the FDIC doesn’t insure those account as they do at a bank. If that corporation happens to file bankruptcy, your money is long gone.

Although Money Market Accounts have a decent lower risk investment, you might want to remember that because it is an investment, there are some restrictions. Your money is less liquid that it would be in a regular savings account. Also, Money Market Accounts usually require both a minimum deposit as well as a maintained minimum balance. Interestingly enough, although you are able to make withdrawals from your Money market Account, there is a limit to how many you can make in a month’s time frame. You also can’t withdraw an amount, or combination of amount that would cause the balance in the Money Market Account to fall below the minimum. If you do, there are usually penalties.

How to Eat Well on a Shoestring Budget

September 2, 2008 · Posted in Personal Finance · Comments Off 

With the prices of everything going up, it has become harder to pay bills, and still be able to afford to put food on the table for your family. It’s too easy to run out for fast food every time you have money available. When that happens, there is usually a bill somewhere that doesn’t get paid on time because you have just spent the money to eat out. There are ways to eat well, even if you are holding tightly to a shoestring budget.

Begin with meal planning. This is the best way to stay organized, and not have to decide every night what dinner will be. If you have done this correctly, you will have meals planned for 7 days. These will include breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. There are even websites which show you how to feed a family of 4 from $45 – $70 a week. These are well balanced meals, too, not just all beans and rice. You may be able to afford more than that each week. Once you have figured out your weekly food budget, sit down and plan your meals.

Shopping is the next on your agenda. It is very important to have a list prepared so that you are not tempted to just grab things off the shelf. Discipline yourself to buy only what is on your list. If necessary, do the shopping trip alone, so you are not tempted to give in to requests for food you don’t need, or isn’t on your list.

Coupon clipping is not just for your mother and grandmother. This is a money saving tool that comes in handy, even today, if you do it wisely. When coupons are available to you, first select any that apply to something you already buy. Once those are put aside, you can go through some of the ones which might make a nice “treat” for the family. If the savings is high enough, you can add that to your shopping list. It’s always fun to see just how much you have saved by using coupons when you reach the checkout counter.

After following a good meal plan and food budget, you may find that you have saved enough money for a meal out for the family once or twice a month. As you get better at it, this could even be a once a week treat. You will be very surprised just how well you can eat with a little effort and planning.

Mac Users Get Scammed, Too

August 28, 2008 · Posted in Scams · Comments Off 

There’s no question that the Internet is a great tool and a modern marvel. It’s made our lives much more convenient and given us the means to broaden our horizons personally, culturally and financially. But as with anything, there are pitfalls that can cause you a lot of trouble if you aren’t aware of how to avoid them.

Falling prey to online scams can, at the very least, render your computer nothing more than an expensive doorstop and at the very worst ruin your personal finances completely. A virus can ruin your hard drive, and identity theft can ruin your bank balance.

There is a popular belief floating around out there that Mac users are not susceptible to online threats, and that PC owners are the ones that really have to worry. This is only partly true. PC owners do have to worry, of course, but Mac users are definitely not immune to the dangers out there on the Internet. For example, studies have shown that Mac users fall prey to phishing scams at around the same rate PC users do. This is because Apple’s browser, Safari, has no phishing protection built in like major PC browsers do.

What’s more, since Mac users are often under the mistaken impression that they don’t need to worry about this stuff, they often do not take it upon themselves to acquire additional software that would protect them from phishing, other scams, and viruses. You still need to take care to never open attachments from people you don’t know, and certainly never give out banking information through email. Your financial institution is never going to email you to ask for your password to “check records,” or anything similar. If you get an email like that, you can safely assume it’s a threat and delete it immediately.

Until Safari’s security features catch up with those of the PC, you may consider using an alternate browser like Opera or Firefox, which offer more protection. If you are a Mac owner, never assume that your Mac is safe just by virtue of being a Mac. Doing so can put your financial health at major risk, not to mention your computer’s health, so keep a careful eye on what you and your family do online to protect yourself, and the Internet will remain a modern marvel instead of a costly monster wreaking havoc on your bank account.

Get Some Cash with a Garage Sale

August 25, 2008 · Posted in Money · Comments Off 

Want some extra cash for that boat that you’ve been driving past every time you go into town? Maybe you have your heart set on a band that is going to be doing a concert in your neighboring larger city. What is a fast easy way to get the cash you need to do the things you want? A garage sale! What better way to make some quick money than to have a garage sale. After all, it also cleans out all those things that you don’t use any longer. Garage sales, regardless of your location, have a strong following. People will plan out a full weekend of garage selling. So, know that, if done correctly, you will have customers. A garage sale is also a lot of fun and can bring family and friends together.

Decide where you are going to have the sale. You want a location that is easily accessed. There is nothing worse to a garage sale customer than searching in and out for your location, and then finding that there isn’t anything they are interested in. Stay close to main roads, and make sure that it is a location that allows for easy directions on paper and on the phone.
Now, decide on the items that you are going to be offering in the sale. Go through all of your clothing that you no longer wear, shoes and accessories, furniture, the garage, attic, backyard, and even your office at work. Another great suggestion is to call up other family members and friends to see if they would like to get rid of some things, or if, perhaps, they would like to take part in the garage sale.

Make sure you do plenty of advertising. Take out an ad in the local papers. This should be the news paper as well as shopping papers that allow personal ads. Most of the papers will have a section dedicated to garage sales. Also, search online for sites that allow you to list garage sales. As the market for garage sells continues, it is managing to find its way to the online community.

Lastly, be prepared to have change as most people will be handing you ten and twenty dollar bills. Be prepared for this. Have your space laid out to both look pleasing and full from the road as well as to have a nice easy flow for those walking around the sale.

Understanding Different Types of Savings Accounts

August 25, 2008 · Posted in Money · Comments Off 

Not all savings accounts serve the same purpose. In that same token, not all savings accounts are setup to cost the same to the account holder. Banks have come a long way, and have developed several types of accounts for their customers. Before you decide what account is best for you, you will want to have an understanding of the basic differences of savings accounts.

A lot of savings accounts will get your attention with flashy amazing interest rates, but that doesn’t mean that the account will continue to offer you what you are looking for in your savings account. Following is a look at a few basic savings account types to help you at least to be more prepared to ask appropriate questions to your banker when you are ready to open your next savings account.

How often are you going to putting money into the account? Is this account going to be receiving deposits on a monthly basis, or just here and there? Some accounts require you to pay a minimum amount each month. Some allow you to remove money whenever you want, and others, not at all until a certain amount of time has taken place. There are 401K’s where you can put a maximum amount away each year, and ideally not access it.

How often are you going to take money out? You can get a great rate of interest, but not usually if you plan to have your hands in it all the time. Can you do this? If you want to have access at any time you will probably have to settle for a lower rate of interest.

What will get out of the account? If you can put money in and not touch it, then a 401K is a great choice because you can get a great rate and get tax free interest as well. A regular savings account will reward you for putting money into the account each month, and standard accounts give you flexibility by letting you start with low amounts, and pay in and withdraw cash whenever you want.

Although, you can’t usually get a fixed interest rate forever, you can get a good rate and usually fix it for up to a year. This gives you a reason to get as much into it in the beginning as possible. These accounts usually limit the amount that you can put into them every month. Ideally, you want to find an account that has no limits, and a high fixed rate or longest term for that rate.

Saving Money When Going Back To School

August 24, 2008 · Posted in Money, Students · Comments Off 

There are definitely some costs involved in going back to school. Whether you are a college student, a parent of one child, or a parent of six children, you all have to face the costs, and effort of going back to school. There are school supplies that need to be purchased. School clothes are usually on the list regardless of your age. If you are attending college, be prepared to shell out big bucks for school books. If you are a mother of teenagers, be ready for all the latest in fashion, from manicures, hair cuts, hottest and usually expensive hair care products, and only the coolest accessories. While some of these costs are completely avoidable, others are not. The ones that are, like hot haircuts and cool accessories, don’t have to be as expensive as they usually are.

First of all if you are a college student, forget tuition! The price of books, alone, is enough to make you choke! Here is some great advice. Once you get registered for your classes, take your schedule to the bookstore at your campus. The bookstore can provide you with a list of all the required, as well as suggested books, available for your course. If the list doesn’t come with the book number, you can ask for that as well. With this information, you are able to go home and visit online sites that offer school books from other users at discounted prices.

When it comes to paying for school supplies, be ready to load your shopping cart down. But here is a tip. After you get your list, before going to the store, pull out all of your arts and crafts at home, along with your child’s school supplies from the previous year. You would be surprised with how little you will have to buy after you gather what you already have. What you do have to buy, make a visit the dollar store first. Then, try some of the larger stores.

All kids are going to want to look cool for school. First of all, take advantage of tax free weekends for both supplies and clothing. After that, make a day of “primping” for school. Take your kids to the salon for new hair cuts. Don’t go to the high end salons. Just a regular shampoo and cut is fine. While there, mention to the stylist that you are going to let the children color their hair, and ask for recommendations. Most stylists don’t mind suggesting store bought products. Be careful, and only do this if you’re comfortable with it. Also, run by the store and let your girls get manicures together. Make a party of it to include hair, nails, and face masks. It saves tons on going to get everything done by a professional, and can really help your kids and you bond before school starts.

Prevent Your Rent from Increasing

August 23, 2008 · Posted in Real Estate · Comments Off 

It is not uncommon for a tenants rent to increase by a certain percentage at the end of their lease. Whether you signed a six month lease or even an 18 month lease, rent will usually go up by the end of the lease. More often upon a six month leases’ end, rent will go up less than at the end of an 18 month lease. This isn’t always true, but it is common. If a tenant requests to remain a tenant on a month to month basis, this usually ends up being an even higher monthly increase. There are, however, a few things you can do that might gain you a different outcome. Usually, A++ tenants are hard to come by. If a landlord manages to get a perfect tenant in his property, he will usually bend over backwards to keep them. There have been occasions where a tenant actually goes month to month for several months with no rental increase at all. This is because the landlord was so satisfied with his tenant that he hoped to keep them longer by not increasing rent.

So, what are some of the ways to gain A++ status with your landlord? The first is so simple: pay your rent in advance. Pay at least one to one and a half weeks in advance. This will automatically make you stick out in the landlords mind. You would be surprised how much trouble a landlord goes through to collect rent.

Do repairs for free. They don’t have to be major repairs, but every time a tenant calls the landlord about a leaky faucet, the landlord usually has to pay large amounts to get a repair man out there, unless he covers it himself. Fixing a leaky faucet is simple. If you do fix a lead, replace a door hinge, spackle a hole in the wall, or any other small repair, send a friendly note with your payment. Be sure to include a smiley face, and never ask for compensation.

When you do small projects like these, don’t forget to send it in a note. Ask the landlord, on occasion, if there are some small projects that he would like help with. Ask him if he would like to get paint, so you can do the painting for him. If he has the lawn taken care of, surprise him, and let him know that does not have to pay for this month’s lawn care service, because it was a autumn day, and you took care of it for him.

By the time your lease is up, this landlord will be ready to do what it takes to keep you in the property. While this is not a guaranteed method of keeping your rent low, it sure helps, gives you a great reference, and definitely makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Get Your Car Sold Fast?

August 22, 2008 · Posted in Money · Comments Off 

Too many people decide to sell their vehicles, and not do it the right way. Many things can go wrong when you decide to sell your car. You can list it in the wrong places, not prep it to be sold, or even not have a clue as to how much you should ask. Car buying is very completive, and you are not just competing against other individual sellers, but also hundreds of car lots that have professional sales people to sell the car. To top things off, with the boom of the internet, car buyers are now buying most of their cars online. If they do not purchase the car online, the interest is usually originates online. Read on for some car selling tips that will keep you on top of the game, and get your car sold quickly and easily.

First, and MOST important, don’t plan to sell a messy car. It just isn’t in your best interest. Clean it out. Take a trash bag and get rid of all the things that you don’t need to have in the car. Then place the things that you do need in the car, in an uncluttered, organized way. Dust, wipe, and vacuum the entire thing. Take it to a car wash. If you want to make sure the car looks its best, you can also invest in a detail shop. They do an amazing job that is sometime hard to beat.

When you car is ready for presentation, it’s time to let the world know it is out on the market. You need to advertise this is many ways. The first, and easiest, is the location of the car itself. If you are driving it on a daily basis, that is great, but do make sure you have for sale signs on all four sides of the car. Make sure the signs list all the features of the car (nice and neatly), and also list two good phone numbers, not just one. Make sure that you have researched your price, and it is priced competitively for its condition.

If you plan to park your car to be sold, chose a very busy highway. Ask yourself if there is anywhere you can park it that it might be seen more. If not, then you chose the perfect location.

Now, advertise in the paper. Make sure you get the car in the newspaper as well as the local shopping papers. Be descriptive of the car, and when you are done, ask yourself if you would be intrigued enough to call about it. Again, list two phone numbers.

Overdraft Protection: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

August 21, 2008 · Posted in Money · Comments Off 

“Overdraft protection” is a seemingly benign feature your bank likely provides to you with your checking account. With overdraft protection, if you spend more money than your checking account has funds to cover, the bank will allow the purchase and your account balance then goes into the hole. Consequently, your rent check might not bounce if you don’t have the money to cover it. The bank then charges you an overdraft fee for helping you out.

On the surface, that doesn’t sound too bad. After all, if the check you wrote for the electric bill bounces, then you incur a fee from them, still owe the original amount of the payment, incur a fee from your bank, and run the risk of having the utility shut off for non-payment. With overdraft protection in place, the check will clear and you will only incur the bank’s fee.

In that situation, overdraft protection is useful. If you don’t regularly make a habit of overspending, then the help the protection provides on occasion for accidents like that is worth the fee your bank charges. The problem comes in when you have a debit card attached to your account. Most overdraft fees are charged due to debit card purchases, and the majority of them are for small amounts – meaning the amount you went in the hole is often much less than the fee itself. Banks make money off of you in this way, because they don’t deny your purchases with the debit card, even if they’re just digging you deeper and deeper into the hole without you realizing it.

The average overdraft charge in America is 34 dollars. By your purchases not being denied for insufficient funds, you could theoretically rack up several overdraft fees in one day before you even realize your balance is below zero. Furthermore, if you do not deposit more money right away to get yourself back out of the hole, your bank may also charge you additional fees per day until you do, and it can get very expensive.

Overdraft protection can be very useful, when used sparingly and for emergencies only. To avoid falling into the overdraft trap, make sure you are aware of your bank’s policies and keep a close eye on your bank balance so a 5 dollar latte doesn’t end up costing you 40 dollars. It’s also often possible to opt out of the overdraft program, having your bank be set to deny a purchase if there are insufficient funds. If you don’t want to opt out entirely, you can also often attach another bank account that you can draw from automatically if one runs out of money. A little vigilance will save you from costly mistakes.

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