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Online Bill Paying

The internet is becoming more common in households, libraries, and businesses. The advances in new technology and the development of new software everyday has created a great way to save money by utilizing the internet, which is “Online Bill Paying.”

“Online Bill Paying” is a great way to receive, review, pay, and organize all your bills and all in ONE convenient location accessible from almost anywhere. This can eliminate problems with lost bills and payments in the mail. You are also able to pay bills while out of town on business or vacation. It is a great way to stay organized, allowing you to compile all the bills into one location.

MSN Money estimates that 40 million American households will pay bills online by the end of this year alone. This shows that “Online Bill Paying” is becoming more acceptable as
technology grows.

Consider sending a bill out costs two dollars for processing, postage, and envelopes, but a bill can be presented online for 35 to 50 cents. To pay a bill as a consumer it can cost $.75 on up for each bill (depending on what method a bill is paid, overnight mail, check by phone, etc.), though online payments are usually free but some services can cost about 40 cents per bill plus a monthly fee around $6.95.

Most creditors give some type of incentive to use online billing or paperless billing. This in itself makes online bill paying worth your time and effort. If you are not like the average household who has 15+ bills to pay each month, online bill paying may not be right for you, unless the
service is free.

There are different ways to set up online bill paying. The most common is through a local credit union or banking institution, otherwise there are online establishments that cater to online bill paying.

Some of these places are, but not
limited to:

1. www.mycheckfree.com
2. www.paytrust.com
3. www.lowermybills.com

There are numerous businesses that offer this type of service and should not be limited to the ones mentioned above. Pioneer does not endorse any of the mentioned businesses and strongly encourages that you weigh the pros and cons with your individual needs and situations. If you are uncomfortable with using the internet to pay bills, there is software like Microsoft Money or Quicken that can help organize bills and set up reminders to pay them.

 
 

Tips to Cut Down Monthly Home Expenses

Every Wednesday and Sunday the local newspaper is usually stuffed to the brim with coupons and sale ads. The way to get coupons to work for you is to find out which ones to clip and use and which ones to just throw away.

At the same time, a few tips on what you should look for and what to stay away from while taking advantage of using coupons.

Begin by creating a shopping list of all the items you use and buy on a regular basis. Then make a short list of items that you would like to try if the price was right. Now go through your local newspaper and search for coupons that relate to items on your list. Other places that may have coupons can include direct mailer coupon books, savings clubs, or the grocery stores themselves.

Now that you have a list of the items you use and a separate stack of coupons, begin to go through the stack of coupons individually and see if any of them can be used to save money on items you regularly buy. If the coupon items are on the list set it aside, if it is not throw it away. If a coupon is found for an item that you forgot to put on the list and you regularly buy it, keep the coupon. If you do not buy that item on a regular basis just throw the coupon away.

Coupons are just a form of advertising and retailers know how to take advantage by using this type of marketing. The way to make using coupons successful is not to be sold on items that you do not use. The thing to keep in mind is that using a coupon to buy something can only be considered a savings if the item that is being purchased is needed and there is not a cheaper
alternative, like a store brand.

A simple example is if you have a coupon to purchase a can of Green Giant corn and save $.50, but the store brand corn is $.75 cheaper than the name brand before any coupons, the better deal is to purchase the store brand corn.

Other options are store-sponsored savings. This is where the store offers to give you a free card with an account number. Every time you shop in that particular branch of stores, you give them the card or account number during checkout to receive possible discounts. This is sometimes called a paperless coupon requiring some sort of membership sign up or obligation. This is a great way to save money but the trade off is that the store collects the information of what you are buying. If this does not bother you this is a great opportunity to save money while shopping.

Never pay for coupons since it is usually against the retailer’s rules to accept third party coupons. Read the fine print at the bottom. If you pay for coupons you are not saving money. You might actually be spending more. Retailers give coupons away for free in order to promote a certain item.

Some coupons can lead to impulse or needless spending and will hurt your budget. There are not special tricks to using coupons, but in order to benefit from them you must only use the ones that pertain to items that you already buy.

 

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Harmful Money Decisions...

One of the drastic measures that people sometimes make, which tends to be a poor decision, is dipping into their retirement fund to pay off debt. This decision can become very harmful to any type of retirement plan that was previously in place.

No matter if it is a 401(k), IRA, Savings, or Mutual Fund type retirement, dipping into these funds before they mature can cost more than what you borrowed.

As an example, you lost your job and it has been over 4 weeks since you worked. The bills are starting to pile in. It is easy to start to panic if you have never experienced this type of situation. Trying to figure out what to do you fall back on your IRA retirement fund. You have saved up almost $7000 over the last 5 years.

You try and rationalize using the money and think to yourself, “I am young, I can make this money up once I find a new job.” So you convinced yourself to cash out the fund.

You use the $7,000 to payoff all the immediate bills, plus the ones that were not due, just to get them out of the way. Now, for the consequence of what has been done.

First of all, that $7,000, if invested in an account that earned a modest 7% for the next thirty years, would have a value of almost $57,000 after 30 years. This is if nothing was ever put into the account but the $7,000. This is eight times the value of the investment. Even if you do make up the amount down the road, you still lost valuable interest and time.

The next thing is that there can be taxes, penalties, and interest due to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for early withdraws on retirement fund type accounts. This can cost up to half of what was withdrawn.

Retirement funds are meant to be left alone to grow over time and possibly be used for a “real” emergency. Otherwise, the funds are long-term accounts that should not be disturbed.

One of the more common types of borrowing is borrowing from a 401(k) plan. This is because eighty three percent of workers who have a 401(k) account, borrow against them. Another reason is because financial service companies
encourage employers to make loans available. They feel that employees are more apt to contribute to the 401(k) funds if they know that their money is safe, yet they can still get at it if needed.

One bad thing is that the people who do borrow against their retirement fund while they are working, can still fall victim. If they get laid off or possibly fired, they are required to pay back the full amount of the loan with in a matter of weeks.

If unable to pay back the full amount, the IRS considers this action as a withdrawal to the account. Now you owe taxes and fees for dipping into the retirement fund before the age of 59.5.

Once you turn 59.5, you become eligible to make withdraws on the retirement account without incurring any penalties or fees. This is how most retirement funds are designed, to be used later in life.

Some other alternatives so as not to get tied up into using the retirement funds, is to assess the situation in a calm and collected manner no matter how tense it may seem.

Write out a budget of all the bills in one row and all the incoming cash flow in another. Try and figure out if you can consolidate some debt to low interest credit cards that you may have. Contact all your creditors and inform them of your situation and see if they can setup a lower payment plan for that period of time or see if they can defer all of the payment for a month or two.

One car payment deferred for a month can help relieve hundreds of dollars. This will also help protect your credit by taking an active role in working with creditors. Do not wait until you miss a payment or a day before it is due.

If this is a temporary set back, most creditors understand and will work with you to protect you and themselves. There may be fees or incurred interest that needs to be paid, so be sure to ask questions before committing to any suggestions they might offer.

Try not to use any type of retirement fund or savings since this in itself has consequences that can be more costly than paying for some extra interest on a loan or a small late fee.

 

Next Month…



We’ll conclude with examining why,
stretching to purchase a home can be
one of the top three most harmful money decisionsto make when in debt or close to it.

 

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Friends & Family

No matter who you are, sometime during your life a friend or family member will ask to borrow money. This is excluding the occasional change to buy a soda pop or candy bar. Lending money to friends or family can become problematic if guidelines and rules are not set.

To help eliminate some of the problems with lending money to friends and family, try some of the following ideas and suggestions.

To start off, never lend money that you do not have. By stretching your finances to help that special person, you might inadvertently cause financial hardship if something happens that wasn’t expected. You and your family should be your utmost concern.

If you are lending money, do not spend your time worrying about how it is spent unless the loan was to be used for a specific purpose. While you may believe that since the borrower took the loan that the money should not be used for eating out or going to the movies, but it is now their money and there is nothing you can do. So if you cannot agree to this you should not lend money.

Once you agree to lend money be sure to get everything in writing. How much was loaned out, the duration of the loan, payment amount, and if there is any penalty or interest to be paid. It is okay to charge interest to family and friends. Make sure the borrower has the means to pay back the loan.

If need be, use a service like Circle Lending that helps facilitate lending money to friends and family and can set up automatic payments from the borrower’s checking account to yours. There are fees related to this service but it takes the family and friend part out of the lending process and adds some security.

If you lend money and guidelines are set, do not expect special favors for your nice deed. If part of the loan includes yard work to be done or to name their first child after you, make sure that is part of the loan upfront. Otherwise treat them as you normally would.

For large loans (over $10,000) be sure to determine the tax implications, if any, for the loan. If the loan is for anything of value like a car or home, be sure to become a lien holder on the title or mortgage. This will protect you since the item cannot be resold without your permission or knowledge.

If you have to collect the money due to nonpayment, be sure to follow state laws and methods that other lenders use, such as a written notice requesting repayment. Use small claims court if need be in civil law, but this is where problems and strains can occur with the relationship. There are possible tax purposes, like writing off uncollected debts, but a formal request must be made.

There are other options then lending money to friends and family if you are uncomfortable lending money to them. Especially if you are unable to adhere to the above suggestions.

One way is to be a cosigner for a loan from a banking institution. People are more obliged to pay off a third party than a relative or friend. The draw back to this is that you become liable for the debt if it is not paid off by your friend or family.

Another idea is to give the money as a gift, since the alternative to giving the money may be collecting a debt because the loan was not paid back in full. This is a stressful situation that can easily ruin the relationship, even if it is family.

Finally, it is always okay to say “NO,” if you know the friend or family is not responsible or doesn’t intend to pay you back or plans to use the money for ill purposes like gambling. It might be that just maybe your gut tells you, “don’t do it.” Listen to your intuition, it is okay to say no. It could be that you simply cannot afford giving out a loan. Even if your intentions are good with the loan, you must make sure that you set rules and guidelines in order to protect yourself and your relationship with that friend or family member.

Go to: www.circlelending.com. For extra guidance and help.

 
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Top Ten Ways To Teach Kids About Money

  1. As soon as children can count, introduce them to money. Observation and repetition are 2 important ways children learn.
  2. Communicate with children as they grow about your values concerning money, how to save money, how to make it grow, and how to spend it wisely.
  3. Help children learn the differences between needs, wants, and wishes. This will prepare them for making good spending decisions in the future.
  4. Setting goals is fundamental to learning the value of money and saving. Such goal-setting helps children learn to become
    responsible for themselves.
  5. When giving children an allowance, give them the money in denominations that encourage saving. If the amount is $5, give them 5-1-dollar bills and encourage that at least one dollar be set aside in savings.
  6. Keeping good records of money saved, invested, or spent is another important skill young people must learn.
  7. Use regular shopping trips as opportunities to teach children the value of money. Going to the grocery store is often a child's first spending experience.
  8. Allow young people to make spending decisions. Whether good or poor, they will learn from their spending choices. Encourage them to use common sense when buying.
  9. Show children how to evaluate TV, radio, and print ads for products.
  10. Alert children to the dangers of borrowing and paying interest. For instance, paying for a $349 TV over 12 months at 15.9 percent interest means the buyer really pays $33.71 a month or about $404.49. Show them how borrowing and paying interest actually costs money.
 
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Visa Buxx Card

In today’s economy it is essential to learn how to budget, manage money, and shop responsibly. A great way to teach this to teens is by using the Visa Buxx debit card. Since it is never too early to start learning, the Visa Buxx debit card is a great way to teach your teenager how to use credit responsibly and effectively. It also allows the parents to monitor the teen’s spending habits in order to help guide them along.

Visa Buxx is a prepaid credit card that was created especially for teens. This will help teens understand the basics of how credit cards work, while at the same time teaching them how to budget in real life situations. This card can be used wherever Visa cards are accepted.

The benefits for parents are that they have complete control in determining how much money gets “loaded” on the card and how often (weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, etc.). Loading refers to how much is added to the account in terms of money. As an example, parents can set up a direct loading feature to correspond with allowances.

The Visa Buxx has a website where parents can monitor their teen’s spending habits in order to address possible inappropriate spending habits early. It also gives parents the ability to suspend the account at any time for any reason.

This is a great way to prepare for adulthood without some of the adult consequences such as bad credit scores if the card is used in an incorrect manner. Remember, the Visa Buxx card is a prepaid credit card, not a credit card based on credit so the teen can only spend what is on the card. This is a good way to keep money safe while traveling or making sure money isn’t accidentally lost or stolen.

Teens can also take a quiz offered by Visa to show their parents how Visa Buxx can help them. This quiz is graded, but it also is a tutorial that helps with developing key elements to budgeting and spending.

To take the quiz now, go to:
VISA BUXX QUIZ

The only person able to use the card is the person whose name appears on the front of the card. At the same time a second form of identification may be needed when using the card if a merchant asks for it. If you have more than one teen and wish to use Visa Buxx with them too, a separate account must be opened for each teen. Visa Buxx also offers a “Zero Liability” policy that covers lost or stolen cards. That is added security not available with cash.

While Visa Buxx helps teens and parents with establishing a secure financial environment, it can also be used for emergency only funds, buying food for lunch, or educational uses. A parent has the ability to load more money to their teen’s card in a fast manner if an emergency has occurred requiring more funds in a reliable way.

Visa Buxx is offered by many banking institutions that offer Visa credit cards or by Visa directly. For more information on how a Visa Buxx card may be able to help you as a parent teach your teen financial independence, call 1-866-354-9302 at any time or email your questions to visabuxx@visa.com. Refer to the web site at: www.visabuxx.com, for more details and information.

 
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What To Do

Imagine that you are taking a fun and exciting vacation in Hawaii. Everything is going good and memories have been made to last for a lifetime.

One year later you apply for a credit card to get a lower interest rate. Knowing you have good credit you never thought about being rejected, but you ARE. With a response saying, “Too many delinquent accounts are present.” Shocked, you request a copy of your credit report and that is when you find out you have become a victim of identity theft.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says it takes, on average, 12 months for a victim of identity theft to notice the crime. The other sad thing is that it now becomes the burden of the victim to prove that they are innocent. The average cost to the victim is at $1,400 in expenses and $16,000 in lost wages when dealing with the crime of their identity being stolen.

The above scenario actually happened. The man’s name is Gary. What happened is that an emergency ID card, that was stored in his luggage, was stolen by a hotel cleaner. Just with the vague information on this card that had his name, address, blood type, and date of birth, was enough to steal his identity.

It took just over 18 months to fix the damage. During this time he was unable to obtain new credit because of all that was going on.

To avoid this from happening to you try some of the following:

  • Never leave anything accessible that may have important information about yourself or your accounts.
    Shred all old bills and statements.
  • Keep all credit cards and identification cards safe and secure.
  • Never give out information over the phone, fax, or internet if you do not know who you are dealing with.
  • Never give out personal information if someone calls you saying they are from your bank or credit card
    company. Take their name and extension then call them back using the number from your statements.

You can never be too careful. To help fight against identity or credit theft, monitor your credit files to see if there are any changes or charges not made or authorized by you. There are services that offer to do this around the clock but they cost anywhere from $80 to a couple of hundred dollars a year.

One option, if you believe you have become a possible victim of identity theft, is to contact the credit bureaus and have them setup a fraud alert on your credit report. This makes it so that if someone tries to obtain credit using your information at an establishment, the establishment must call a number to verify the identity of the person requesting credit. This phone number will be the one that you give the credit bureaus.

Equifax -
www.equifax.com
For Fraud Alerts, call:
800-525-6285 and write:
P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
TDD: 1-800-255-0056

Experian -
www.experian.com
For Fraud Alerts, call:
888-397-3742 and write:
P.O. Box 9530, Allen, TX 75013
TDD: 1-800-972-0322

Trans Union -
www.transunion.com
For Fraud Alerts, call:
800-680-7289 and write:
Fraud Victim Assistance Division,
P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92634
TDD: 1-877-553-7803

Another scam that has gotten out of control according to the FTC is that a telephone scam artist will call you up and use a scare type tactic saying things about computer hackers accessing your account or that the law has changed and you are now liable for all unauthorized charges to your accounts.

These scam artists will convince you by taking advantage of your fear, lack of knowledge, and uncertainty to convince you to buy some sort of credit loss protection insurance.

Do not fall for this scam. According to the FTC; you can only be held liable for up to $50 for unauthorized credit card charges per credit card account.

You must notify both your credit card company and file a police report for such losses. Be sure to read your credit card agreements for other protections that they may offer.

In short, it is a good idea to monitor your credit files on a regular basis. This is one reason the FTC has allowed people to obtain a free credit report once a year from each of the credit bureaus.

Review your files carefully and call the credit bureau if you have any questions about something on your file or instructions on how to read the file. Never be ashamed if you have been victimized, you are not the only one, just make sure to report it!

 
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