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Bill Paying Tips

The busy holiday season is approaching. That means a few hundred more things to do on top of the thousand that we already do every day. Holidays can be overwhelming and make us forgetful, but there is one important chore we must not forget. Paying your bills and making sure they are on time.

Start by getting organized. Have a specific container for all your bills. It can be a file folder, basket, or a simple letter tray. If you have a file folder or bill divider you can separate the bills for a more added convenience. As soon as a bill arrives in the mail put it in your organizer.

Next, you will want to set up a clean and organized place to pay your bills. Make sure it has everything you need; your checkbook, checkbook register, calculator, calendar, pens and pencils, stamps, and anything else you might need to pay bills. If at all possible, designate a place where there is little distraction. It will be less stressful when the kids are not jumping around and yelling when you are trying to write out checks. You are less likely to make any mistakes and keep your checkbook correctly balanced.

Schedule a time each week where you can dedicate yourself to sit down and handle the bills. It will make it much easier if you do a little each week and you are more likely to make your deadlines.

When you open your bill, circle or highlight the due date, and put it in your organizer. Mark your calendar to make the payment at least one week before the bill is due. This will allow for plenty of time to get through the mail. This is more important around the holidays when mail delivery can lag behind due to all the extra packages. Constant late-payments could be recorded on your credit record and hurt your score.

When you are done paying the bill, make a note on the bottom with the date you paid and the check number that was used. If you pay your bill online or over the phone, write down the confirmation number that you are given and record it on the bill statement. File and keep your paid bills in a separate file in case there are any errors or bill disputes. Go through all your past bills once a year and if the payment went through with no problems, then you can shred them.

Another fast and convenient way of paying your bills is with an automatic withdrawal. This will save you time and ensure that your bills will not be paid late. We have also previously discussed online bill paying, which is another easy way to quickly pay bills and save some money and hassle.

Whatever method you choose it is important to stay focused and organized. Habits are hard to break and setting a time each week to take care of your bills is a good one to get hooked on.

 
 

Around this time of year kids start to behave a lot better. Perhaps in hopes of getting that puppy or hamster they have wanted. Here are some pet saving tips and ideas for you to consider if a pet is in your future.

Before buying a pet, research how much it will cost to care for. Take into account the cost of food, medical expenses, toys, accessories, and training time.

Smaller pets such as mice and hamsters are much less expensive to keep than larger pets like dogs. They also require less attention.

Consider adopting a pet from the local animal shelter rather than purchasing from a pet store or breeder. They will be much less expensive and you are saving an animal's life in the process.

Make your own pet toys. Pets are like babies. They're more likely to enjoy the box the toy came in than the toy itself. You've got plenty of interesting, entertaining, and chewable items lying around the house already.

Consider purchasing and installing pet doors. This will reduce the cost of heating your house in winter and cooling it in summer as you won't have to open and close the door for your pet each time he must go out.

Compare prices on pet food. Most brand names come with basically the same ingredients, but their prices can vary greatly. Comparison shopping can save you a significant amount of money. Purchasing food in bulk, when possible, at warehouse and discount pet stores can save you money. Be sure to compare these prices against sales at local stores that can sometimes be even better. Consider making your own pet food. There are a number of books that have recipes you can find at your local library, or you can go online into many pet specific sites and discussion groups to learn how to do this. Always feed your pet the correct amount of food. Overfeeding pets is common, which not only costs extra in terms of money for food, but also in health and vet costs.

Get the proper treatments, shots, and vaccinations for your pet when they are recommended. Failing to do so will likely cost you hundreds of dollars in later medical expenses. When pet ailments occur, take care of them right away to help prevent costlier treatment in the long run. Vet prices can vary quite dramatically. Take the time to call and compare local vet prices. Choosing your vet solely on the lowest prices, however, should be avoided. You want a vet that you can trust with your pet's life if an emergency situation does come about. The best way to find a trustworthy vet at a reasonable price is to ask your friends and neighbors who have pets. If your pet is a former stray, let your vet know. Some give discounts when treating former stray animals.

Learn to groom your pet yourself. Your local library or the Internet will have information on how to properly groom your pet. Although certain pets need special grooming care, most pets you can groom yourself and save the expense of paying a professional.

You can’t put a price on the joy a pet can bring, but a few of these tips can help you save.

 

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Charity Choices

With the holidays coming up and the tragic events of this past year, many people are reaching into their own pockets to help those in need. Unfortunately, there are many people who will take advantage of this generosity with charity scams. Solicitations can come in many forms, whether it’s telemarketing, door-to-door, a booth at the mall, or e-mail. It is important to investigate to insure that your caring donation will reach those truly in need.

The number one rule to donating to charity is NEVER give your credit card number, bank account number or any other personal financial information to a charity until you find out all the information about them. Ask them for an address to mail the payment, and have them send you more information. A legitimate charity would be happy to send you more information. Your donation will be just as important to them in a couple of weeks than if you donate right away. It is also important to avoid sending cash. It can be lost or stolen, and it is easier to record if you make a payment by check. Ask for a receipt with the charities’ name on it. Some donations can be tax-deductible with accurate records. You will need to itemize your donations and meet with a tax consultant to determine what is deductible.

You will want to ask for the name, address, and phone number of the charity, and whether or not it is registered. Verify with the charity office that there is a drive going on or if they are currently trying to solicit donations through the means that you have seen. Many people will use a similar name of a more popular and legitimate organization. Many organizations that nationally solicit and are legitimate are listed alphabetically at the Better Business Bureau’s website (www.give.org/reports/index.asp). It is important to check, because in the wake of a tragedy many new charities will pop-up overnight, claiming to help aid victims. Even new groups with the best intentions, may not know the proper procedures to get your money where it needs to go to best aid in relief efforts.

Do not feel obligated to have to donate a large amount or even the suggested amount that a solicitor may ask for. Even a small amount will be appreciated. Do not let a solicitor “guilt” you into making a donation. Do not put your finances in jeopardy by giving too much. If donations do not fit into your budget then do not give. The best way to donate is to plan on making a yearly or monthly donation and have it figured into a part of your budget. This way you can research and choose an organization that you trust, and you can turn down any other donations, guilt free.

There are other ways you can help that doesn’t always have to involve money. Donate some old toys or clothes that are still in good condition. These items are best used if donated to a local charity, as national charities prefer money contributions. This way they can purchase the specific items that are needed, and in some cases donated goods can cost the charity group more money to ship. Another donation that doesn’t cost a cent is blood. Donating blood saves lives everyday and is in constant need.

If you are concerned that your donation will not stay in your own community, contact your local branch and ask how you can make a donation that stays and helps people specifically in your community.

It is important to ask what percentage of your donation is used to support the cause and what percentage is used to cover administrative costs. If you feel that a charity is not using enough of your donation on the cause, then you may want to choose to donate to a different organization.

Many legitimate charities need donations everyday of the year, not just when there is a disaster. We encourage everyone to skip a night out eating and make a contribution to help someone in need. We guarantee that it will be appreciated and you will be rewarded with a feeling of self pride.

If you have any concerns or complaints about an organization, you can contact the Better Business Bureau or the Federal Trade Commission.

Better Business Bureau
BBB Wise Giving Alliance
4200 Wilson Blvd., Suite 800
Arlington, VA 22203
www.give.org/inquire/complaint.asp

FTC
www.ftc.gov/charityfraud
toll-free 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-653-426)

 

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A Safe Investment

Savings bonds are a safe way to invest some money for the future. A bond is a piece of paper that shows a person has agreed to loan money to the U.S. Government. The money you give to the government helps pay bills and programs that the United States runs. The government then pays you back with interest. Interest paid on these bonds is exempt from state and local income taxes.

There are two primary types of bonds; “I” bonds and “EE” bonds. With “EE” bonds you buy the bonds at half the face value and they gain interest over time. (For example a $100 bond will cost $50.) You can also buy them electronically online for face value. It will mature to the face value at 20 years but can still continue to gain interest for ten more years for a total of 30 years. “I” bonds are issued at face value and will also gain interest over time.

If you are a U.S. citizen and over 18 years old you can buy savings bonds. You can buy Series “EE” Bonds and Series “I” Bonds from most banks or credit unions where you live. You will fill out the purchase form and the bank will send them to the Treasury and you will receive the bonds in the mail a few weeks later. Some employers will allow you to purchase bonds through a payroll deduction. You can also go online and setup an account and buy savings bonds through the treasury department (www.treasurydirect.gov). Bonds bought online are bought at face value. (Ex. $100 bond costs $100 to purchase)

Series “EE” and “I” Bonds come in denominations of $50; $75; $100; $200; $500; $1,000; $5,000; and $10,000. You can buy up to $30,000 of Series “EE” and “I” bonds per person in a calendar year.

At the time of purchase, a bond can be registered to a single person (“single ownership”), registered to two people (“co-ownership”), or can be registered to a primary owner and a beneficiary (“beneficiary”). In co-ownership either of the named individuals can do whatever they like with the bond without consent of the other person. With a beneficiary registered bond, the primary owner controls the bond, and ownership passes to the beneficiary if the primary owner dies.

With “EE” and “I” Bonds you have the choice to declare the gained interest each year or defer it until you cash it in. Savings bonds can be cashed in at many banks and credit unions. Call your banking institution ahead of time and ask if you will have to bring in any documentation. You can also redeem your bonds through the mail, on the web, or at a local branch of the Federal Reserve Bank. You can cash in bonds anytime after 12 months of the issue date. “I” Bonds cashed within the first five years are subject to a penalty of three months worth of interest. This is to encourage long-term investing.

The main difference between “I” bonds and “EE” bonds are the rate. “I” bonds have a fixed base rate and earn additional interest based on the current inflation rate, which is calculated each month. (The current rate at time of publication for an “I” bond was a fixed base rate at 1.20% and a composite rate of 4.80%.) The interest rate for an “EE” bond is good for 20 years. The Treasury can set a new rate for the last 10 years of the bond’s 30-year life. (The current rate at time of publication for an “EE” bond was 3.50% for 20 years).

If your Savings Bonds are lost, stolen, mutilated, or destroyed they can be replaced. You need to contact the Department of Treasury and provide them with as much information possible. Have a copy of the serial numbers, the issue dates, denominations of the bonds, and know the name and social security number of the owner of the bonds. The more information you can provide the faster they will be able to replace your bonds.

Bonds make great gifts for children. A bond can be bought when a child is born and will grow with the child. They can also be purchased for birthdays, weddings, graduations, or any other special holidays. Check with your banking institution on what type of bonds they can help you with.

Helpful Resources:

www.savingsbonds.gov
Official site for US Savings Bonds. Has a lot of useful information.

www.publicdebt.treas.gov
Includes information on savings bonds and branches of the Federal Reserve Bank.

www.savings-bonds-alert.com
Provides information on how best to invest in savings bonds and to help you understand better.

savingsbonds.gov/sav/savwizar.htm
A free downloadable program to help you manage your own Savings Bond inventory.

 
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Holiday Spending

Teaching your child how to save and pay for their own holiday spending will teach them an important lesson in money management.

As it gets closer to Christmas remind your child to start saving money so they can buy gifts for someone, whether it is a brother or sister, grandparents, the family pet, or for mom and dad.

Pick a day that you are going to take them shopping. Have your child write down how much money they have and what amount they want to spend on each person.

Look through holiday ads and have your child find things that they can afford. Explain to them if they decide to spend more on one person, then they will have to spend less on someone else, unless they have earned extra money.

A good place to take your child to shop is a dollar store. They will be able to find something for everyone there.

Continue to do this year-round for birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.

Your child will feel a sense of pride when he/she sees the recipient open up a gift that they saved, planned, and bought using their own money. Teaching your child to budget ahead of time will prevent them from falling into the holiday overspending that many of us are guilty of.

 
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Career Fair (pt. 2)

Continuing from last month, we will now give you the materials you will need to have a career fair activity at home. Another good idea would be to have your child invite friends over for a weekend and have a variety of jobs and life circumstances so they can see the differences.

Materials:
20 index cards (cut in half)
tax forms
checkbook register
photocopies of blank checks
list of taxes
list of variable housing costs
list of utility costs

Use half of the index cards and put a different job with its monthly income on each card. Fold them and put them into a hat for the kids to draw out of. Use some of the other cards for the number of children. (Ex. 1 boy 1 girl, cost per month $795). Use the rest of the cards for different types of marital status, different luxuries, housing, and any extra expenses. Make sure to put the cost of the items on each card.

Resources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics
www.bls.gov
www.salary.com
These will help you find salaries for a variety of jobs.

www.financial-education-icfe.org
www.connectingwithkids.com/tipsheet/2003/131_jul02/cost.html
These sites include other money topics to discuss with your child.

Have the children draw an occupation card from the hat. This will determine their monthly wage. Then have them draw from the other random cards to determine family size and marital status. Based on their selection, have them choose a suitable form of housing that they can afford.

Use the photo-copied checks to have the kids write out their monthly bills and have them record it with the checkbook register. Discuss and ask them ways that they could save money. Share with them your budget strategy and the bills you have to pay. If there is more than one child participating have them compare notes. You will find that some scenarios are easier to manage than other ones.

If the kids have extra income after they have paid all of their commitments than they may want to choose from the luxury list. (include luxury items for all income levels.) You can explain that smart budgeting and a good income can allow you such luxuries. Also stress that a certain amount should be going to savings each paycheck. Teach them that they may choose to buy a luxury item, like a big stereo, but if something happened and they didn’t have savings, then you can easily be in trouble.

This “game” can be played more than once as you could get different scenarios each time. There are no limitations on what to include. You can have kids keep drawing cards that have setbacks or promotions that will effect there income and living situations.

Use your imagination and some of your own experiences, but have fun. Your children may already have a good start with handling there finances now, this just gives them the idea of the magnitude of bills and responsibilities that are headed their way.


 
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Credit Report Errors

?Your credit report is your personal identity on paper. You can be accepted or denied for loans or a job, without ever meeting someone, just based on your credit report. So if there was a significant error on your report you would want it corrected as soon as possible, wouldn’t you?

You want to periodically check your credit report for many reasons. You will want to make sure that all your information is accurate, complete, and up-to-date. There may be good credit that is not on there, or a negative mark that is a mistake but is going to adversely effect your credit rating. You may have been a victim of identity theft, and the effects will show up on your report.

Unfortunately, many people do not realize there may be something wrong with their credit report until they are abruptly denied some form of credit. The first thing you will want to do is get a copy of your credit report. You can receive one free copy from each of the three credit bureaus per year (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). There are a few steps you can take to get the mistakes removed.

If you do find a mistake on your credit report, you need to remain professional and not panic. Don’t call the creditor and start yelling and screaming, even if the person on the other end of the line is being rude. There might be a chance that you may have to make a legal case to clear your name, so all actions you take should be mature. The more polite you are, the more the other party will be willing to help you.
Document all your phone calls with the creditor and reporting agency. Write down the date and time, with who you spoke to, and important details of your conversation. This will make it easier to defend yourself and you will not have to try and remember everything and everyone you spoke with.

You will want to send the creditor and consumer reporting company, in writing, what information you think is inaccurate. Include copies (NOT originals) of documents that support your position. In addition to providing your complete name and address, your letter should clearly identify each item in your report that you dispute, state the facts, explain why you dispute the information, and request that it be removed or corrected. You may want to enclose a copy of your report with the items in question circled. Send your letter by certified mail, “return receipt requested,” so you can document that the consumer reporting company received the letter. Keep copies of your dispute letter and enclosures. When writing the letters, don’t write “To Whom it May Concern.” Write to a person you have been dealing with and their supervisor. If that does not work, keep working up the ladder of command until you get a response and a result you are satisfied with. Just remember to be professional.

If you get the creditor to agree to fix the problem, make sure you get a confirmation letter. Ask for a copy of the universal data form (UDF). It’s the document that your creditor gives to the credit bureaus to update your report. It tells the credit bureau what is being changed, whether it is a balance update, a payment history change, an update of current status, or deletion due to an error. If they will not send you the UDF then ask for a letter confirming that the credit bureaus were notified of all changes.

In some instances there may be credit that you want reported that is not on your report. You may have some creditors that do not regularly report to the credit bureaus. In this case you will want to contact the consumer reporting company and ask them to add this information. Although they are not required to do so, many companies will add verifiable accounts for a fee.

Now that you have the option to obtain free reports, it is important to do so. It will be the best way for you to monitor your credit, to catch errors, and repair them before you are caught off guard.

Useful Phone numbers and addresses

Federal Trade Commission
1-877-382-4357, www.ftc.gov

Equifax
P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
(800) 685 - 1111

Experian
P.O. Box 2104
Allen, TX 75013-0949
(888) 397 - 3742

Trans Union Corp.
760 W. Sproul Rd.
Springfield, PA 19064-0390
(800) 888 - 4213

 
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Are you preparing yourself to wake up at four A.M. the morning after Thanksgiving so you can get all the “Door Buster” sales?

If you are, you will be among the many who kick off the Christmas shopping season. It has been dubbed the busiest shopping day of the year, but it is actually the fourth or fifth busiest in dollars. The Saturday before Christmas has been generally ranked as the busiest day for shopping. Nothing like last-minute shopping.

Here is a Shopping Survival Guide to get you through the hectic times.

Set limits: Determine how much you are going to spend for gifts. Make a list of everyone you are buying for and the amount you are going to spend on each of them. Like we mentioned in Tiny Tikes, if you want to spend more on one person that means you will have to spend less on another.

Plan ahead and know which stores you are going to go to.

Do not go beyond your budget. Extravagant gifts are not worth a year’s worth of debt.

Just because it’s a great deal does not mean you have to buy it. So a DVD player is $20, but you don’t know anyone who needs one. Don’t buy it.

Don’t wait until the last minute. There are more people vying for fewer items. You may miss out on good deals and be stuck buying things that are out of your budget range.

Shop for some items online. There is a good selection, no lines, and no fighting for a parking spot. Many stores have online specials or coupons you can print out. Just watch out for shipping charges and make sure to order with plenty of time to get it through the mail.

Save your receipts. Most stores offer gift receipts. This will solve any size or duplicate gift issues.

It may not be as fun as shopping, but gift cards are a great idea. You set a specific amount and don’t have to worry about over-spending on a person.

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