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Protect Your Child's ID

It's hard to believe, but the new trend in identity theft has to do with your children. Thieves are using the Social Security numbers of infants and young children. Your child's financial future can be ruined before they even learn to walk. There are some things that may alert you, as well as some steps that you can take to prevent this from happening to you.

It's important that you take action on any suspicious activity. It could be disastrous if a stolen identity is not discovered until your son or daughter needs credit. Many years can pass until you find out that someone else has been abusing your child's credit and if you don't catch it right away it can be a nightmare.

If your child is receiving any mail from creditors or collection agencies you should be suspicious. They may also receive credit report information or even tax papers. If you suspect that something is wrong, contact the credit reporting agencies. You will have to provide them with any pertinent information that is requested. You should then receive a response in regards to your child's credit.

There may be some times that you do get mail with your child's name on it. This can happen if you have accounts open in your child's name. It's not unusual for creditors to get lists from banks that may contain your child's name. It never hurts though to be cautious and still make sure there is not suspicious activity involving your child's information.

You will want to take the same precautions with your child's identity that you use with your own.

You don't want to carry around their Social Security card. Make sure that it’s stored in a secure place. You will also want to shred any papers that contain their Social Security number once you have no more use for them. Make sure you inform your older kids to not give out any of that information to anyone, especially on the Internet. They also want to avoid posting any other private information like phone number, address, or full name.

If you do have accounts in your child's name make sure that you are the only one that has access to them and request that a photo ID be shown to receive any information. You can also set up passwords to help insure your security.

If you have the feeling that your child's identity has been stolen it is important that you get a hold of the FTC and file a complaint right away. You can file a complaint online at www.ftc.gov or by calling 1-877-438-4338.


 

   
 
 

Many people think their pets like they would treat their children, and why not, they're loving creatures that provide us with daily companionship. The costs of being a pet owner can really add up. Everything from shots, food, toys, and even insurance can take a toll on your income. Here are some things that will help you save when it comes to your precious pet.

It seems that a new trend is to buy clothes for your small pet and dress them up. This can add up fast and become a costly habit and is generally unnecessary. If you do want to dress up your pets try making your own clothes from materials or from knitting.

Did you know that the Red Cross offers tips and classes on Pet First Aid? By learning how to do some of the smaller things yourself you can save in unnecessary veterinarian bills. Check with your local Red Cross chapter to find out more information.

One of the first things that you will want to do is spay or neuter your pet. A pregnant pet can add a lot of extra expenses and many animal shelters are overcrowded. Spay and neutering also helps lower the risk of certain cancers in dogs. It will also help calm down your animals and prevent them from having to mark their territory. This is most common with dogs.

However, if you have a purebred and the knowledge it takes to professionally breed your animal then you may be able to make some extra money.

What about insurance? Is it a wise expense in the long run? Like all insurance, you may never have to use it if you are lucky. Many people care for there animals like any other member of the family. It used to be if there was a significant problem with your pet that it would have to be put down. But nowadays there are many more medical procedures that will help extend the life of your pet. They are expensive however, and that's where insurance could benefit.

It's important to shop around for the best coverage. You may want to ask your veterinarian if there is a specific company that they accept or could recommend.

If you decide to choose insurance for your pets make sure that you read all of the disclosures first. There may be some conditions that are excluded from the plan and you may have to meet the deductible, the same as you would with your own insurance. It may also be difficult to get insurance for an older pet.

Some insurance policies come with plans that will cover the cost of having to put your pet down if there is no further medical assistance available.

Your pet is just as much a part of your family as anyone else and it is important to look out for their well being. Making wise choices will be best for your pet as well as prevent you from having to extinguish your savings.


     

 

 

 

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Energy Efficient Products

Can the cost of a new appliance be justified by the fact that it is more efficient to run than your older one? Perhaps the old adage “If it ain't broke, don't fix it,” can cost you a considerable amount on your bills annually.

If you have outdated major appliances chances are that you are wasting plenty of nickels and dimes on utility costs that will certainly add up over time.

By choosing to replace some of your appliances for more energy efficient ones you will be saving yourself in the long run. It may be hard to purchase a new appliance if the one you currently have is still working. Many stores are offering special discounts on their energy efficient appliances to help promote the products. The government has been encouraging the country to be more conservative with energy use, so they have given breaks to suppliers who carry energy efficient products and those savings are being passed on to the customer.

There are also tax breaks for those who are looking to improve their home with better energy use. You will want to refer to the resources below to find out what improvements you can make that may get you the tax credit. When looking for new appliances its important to look for Energy Star qualified products.

You don't have to go out and replace all of your appliances at once. Start to look at what would be the best one to replace and begin to save up for it.

Another quick tip is to replace your regular incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent ones. The initial price is more but they can last up to 10 times longer and uses only 2/3 the amount of energy with the same amount of illumination. Again, don't go out and replace all of your bulbs at once. Do one or two at a time as they burn out.

How about more efficient vehicles? Hybrid cars are becoming more popular and many wonder if the cost is worth it in the long run. The first thing you will notice about a hybrid vehicle is that it costs more than their traditional gas powered cousins. It is usually around $3,000 or so more. Currently there is a tax credit given to those who buy hybrid vehicles that helps offset that cost. Some states also include a state tax break on purchases of hybrid vehicles.

There may also be a few breaks in insurance. Some insurance companies are offering discounts for those people who own or drive hybrid vehicles. Insurance costs will still be based on a number of certain individual characteristics and personal driving record. It is important that you speak with your insurance company before you consider any vehicle purchase.

There are a lot of fears that come with new technology and many people may be hesitant to buy a car without the traditional maintenance concerns. It appears that from early testing that many hybrid vehicles require less maintenance. There are still the same requirements for servicing your engine, but there is no extra service required for a hybrid.

Then there is the main reason why most people are influenced into buying a hybrid and that is for better gas mileage. Rising gas prices have driven many to buy these vehicles that claim to get up to 50 mile per gallon (mpg). However, many cars don't reach that number due to the fact that most people drive under different conditions which causes many differences in gas conservation. Still though, the hybrid vehicles do offer better mileage than the traditional gas fueled vehicle, just not as much as advertised.

The initial costs of replacing any appliance can be expensive but in the long run you have to consider if you are willing to let that money go to waste along with the extra energy you are using.

 

 

 

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TAXES 2007

Here are some new tax changes that may benefit you and some important reminders to help you during the tax season.

There is a tax service provided by the IRS and the Free File Alliance LLC. This service is available for taxpayers whose Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) is $52,000 or less in 2006. This is a great opportunity for many people to e-file their tax returns for free. It is similar to certain tax software and can save you some money compared to going to a professional tax preparation service.

You will have to go to the IRS website and follow the links and instructions. You will be sent to a commercial site that will assist you in the preparation. Make sure that you read and follow the instructions thoroughly so you are not charged any fees.

Another new tax credit is the Telephone Excise Tax Refund. This is a credit you can claim on long-distance telephone service. If you paid long-distance excise taxes for service between February 28, 2003, and August 1, 2006, then you are eligible for the excise tax refund. You have two options to claim. You can claim the standard amount, which is the easier choice, or you can claim an actual amount, which could mean more money for you. This claim is found directly on your tax form.

There is another credit that we have touched on in other stories, including one this month. There is currently a tax credit for those who purchase Hybrid cars. Qualifying vehicles purchased on or after January 1, 2006, will be eligible for a tax credit ranging from $400 to $3,400 based on fuel economy.

The hybrid car tax credit is actually a combination of two separate tax credits. The math is complicated, and fortunately you won't have to calculate it. The car manufacturers and the IRS will certify the tax credit amount of qualifying vehicles. Here are a few qualifications for the hybrid tax credit.

1. The vehicle must have been purchased in 2006, not leased.
2. The vehicle must have been bought new and not used.
3. The vehicle must be used for your own personal or business use and not bought with the intention of re-selling it.

There is a current phase out on the hybrid tax credit so you should act quickly if you are someone that purchased a hybrid vehicle.

The IRS is also getting stricter when it comes to claiming donations. Instead of just a receipt for donation documentation you will need a bank record from the charity with details including the group's name, date and the amount of the gift. You may also not be able to claim credit on donated items that had little to no value. For example you can't donate a bunch of used clothes and then try and claim them for the original amount they were bought for.

There are a number of things that can make the tax season stressful. Take advantage of the time you have now to educate yourself and prepare. Use the references below to assist you with any questions or concerns you may have.

 

Resources:

www.taxes.about.com
www.bankrate.com

IRS
WEB: www.irs.gov
PHONE: 1-800-829-1040, (M-F 7am - 10pm)
1-800-829-4477 - This number lets you check the status of your tax return. You will have to allow some time after you file.
MAIL: Check on the website for mailing information for your specific region.

Pioneer Pilot:
Vol. 3 Issue 2 February 2006 - Tips and strategies for preparing your taxes.
Vol. 3 Issue 3, March 2006 - Last minute tips and information about audits.

All articles can be found online at www.pioneercredit.com or you can request a specific article by sending your request to
nathana@pioneercredit.com or calling 1-800-888-1596.

 

 

 
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February is here and love is in the air. Oh yeah, I was going to tell you how the holidays went. Well I would be lying if I said that we got through them without any scratches. We had to travel this year so those were some extra expenses that we didn't have last year. As you can imagine gas was the major cost for that trip. We had predetermined limits set for gifts and stayed in range for those.

I went over my spending budget for my wife by $10 due to a personal error. I am not the biggest fan of the mall, especially when it is overcrowded during the holidays. I went shopping one evening (about a week before Christmas) and was not feeling well at all so I tried to hit only the stores I needed to and had a good game plan going. On my last stop I bought a sweater for my wife. I debated between two and went with the one that was $10 cheaper. Problem was that they did not have it in her size besides the one that was on the mannequin. So the helpful attendant kindly retrieved the one from the mannequin and I had a nice gift for my wife and I could go home and get some rest. On my way home I was adding up what I had spent total and realized I was $10 over. I then realized that I did not get the sale price on the sweater since it was on the mannequin and the tag was not updated to the sale price. Unlike a good thrift wise consumer I choose the comfort of home over trying to find another parking spot and waiting in line to get it corrected.

As far as the holiday hangover went, we had to tighten up the budget a little for January and used a little Christmas money to help with the bills. So in all not awful, but we could have probably done a little better.

We discussed a little on cost effectiveness this month with appliances and cars. There was another thing that we did not mention that I am sure a lot of people have debated about. I know that I have. That would be the cost of higher education. My wife is currently getting her Master's Degree and has to pay for her credits. She is only going part time, which means she takes about a class a semester. Not too bad for a full-time mom as well as a full time teacher. Well, since she is only taking one class at a time there isn't much tuition assistance offered. A 3-credit class costs around $400 (this is actually a very decent price) and it is a considerable amount from our monthly income.

So we wondered if she should maybe put it off until we can afford her to take classes. We still have enough to pay all of our bills and buy groceries and such, but will definitely have to keep a close eye on all purchases. This is where you have to determine if the initial cost is worth the long-term benefits. In this case I strongly believe that the money is worth it and if we have it we should take advantage of it.

I am one that has some strong opinions on the price of school in relation to the available job market once you graduate. My wife and I dedicate a significant amount of our monthly income to pay back student loans as it is, so at first I didn't know if it was worth it. By her taking classes now she has already seen the benefits in her wage as a teacher and they will only get better. So it is the smarter decision to not put off her pursuit of her degree.

I hope that February is full of love and joy for you and that you remember it is about cherishing your loved ones and not forking out a mortgage payment for a diamond. Until next month, good luck and have fun.

 

 
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VULNERABLE TIME

Adults and kids are not the only ones that should keep an eye on their identity.

With teens starting to open accounts and get jobs they are at a huge risk of being violated.

Make sure that you discuss with them about disclosing information and make sure they know their Social Security number and keep their card in a safe place.

Show them how to organize statements and read a credit report.

Being organized and alert is the first step in preventing someone else from taking advantage of your credit.

 
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Retirement Saving in your 40's

If you're in your 40’s and don't have anything set aside for retirement, it's not too late. There are still plenty of things that you can do to insure that you will be able to retire someday. It may be a different and more aggressive approach but it can still get you there.

You need to first find out how much you need. Some experts suggest that you will need 80% annually of what you are currently making. There are other things that you will want to consider. Will you still be making a house payment when you retire, or maybe you are planning to downsize your living conditions? It is a good goal to try and have your house paid off by the time that you retire.

For most people it is what most of their monthly income is committed to, so without that payment you will have more to live off of. If you are not going to have your house paid off you may consider moving into a smaller home or even an apartment that is more affordable.

Find out where you stand already. You will want to get a hold of your Social Security statement. You receive a statement each year. You can also request one by going to the Social Security Office's website. This statement will provide you with a good estimate of what you can expect when you choose to retire.

You will now want to take your first estimate of how much you will need and subtract how much you can expect from Social Security. The number you get will be your goal for what you need to save when you retire.

Make sure you take advantage of any company sponsored 401(k) plans, especially if they offer matching contributions. Even if they don't match 100% every little bit is a considerable help.

Look into any pension plans that you are currently on or can expect from a previous job. It may not be a lot but it can help you with your figures.

You may want to take into consideration what you plan to do for your retirement. Obviously if there are certain activities you want to do, it will require more money. Some folks like to travel the country while others are content spending it on the porch or taking up a hobby.

There are others who may never fully retire and partake in some type of part-time job that they enjoy after their retirement. This will allow you to adjust for that anticipated money.

However, your plans to work after retirement may change due to unforeseen circumstances beyond your control. Besides, if you plan accordingly and then decide that you want to get a job that will just be extra money for you.

It's ok if you started late and there is no reason to panic. It is important to come up with a good plan and dedicate more time to fulfill it. It may be a good idea to speak with a professional that can get you on a program that will help you boost your savings by using a more aggressive approach.

Resources:
Social Security Administration -
WEB: www.socialsecurity.gov
PHONE: 1-800-772-1213, (M-F 7am - 7pm)
MAIL: Social Security Administration
Office of Public Inquires
Windsor Park Building
6401 Security Blvd.
Baltimore, MD 21235

Pioneer Pilot:
401(k) - Vol. 2 Issue 12 December 2005
IRA’s - Vol. 3 Issue 6, June 2006
529 College Plans - Vol. 3 Issue 7, July 2006
CD’s - Vol. 3 Issue 8, August 2006
Mutual Funds - Vol. 3 Issue 9, September 2006

All articles can be found online at www.pioneercredit.com or you can request a specific article by sending your request to
nathana@pioneercredit.com or calling 1-800-888-1596.

 
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