January- February 2018

What's in this issue

Start Out On the Right Foot

There are plenty of things in January that you can plan for and begin to do now to help you have a better 2018.


Taxes are still four months away, but there is a reason you get your W-2s this month. Start getting everything ready now so you don’t have to go into panic mode in April. This will also prevent you from making mistakes that are caused by hurrying through your taxes. Take a big manila envelope and write TAXES ‘18 across it. Place everything that you receive in January in it. Make sure that you store this in a place that you will not forget.


Do you have college students heading back to school for the 2018-2019 school year? If you do fill out your free application for Feral Student Aid (FAFSA). As soon as you get your W-2s you can fill out the information and get it sent in. Again this will ensure that you get your money in time and you don’t have to sit around in September worrying if your application made it there on time.


Depending on your last name, you may have to get your vehicle’s new registration this month or a few months down the road. Why not put that money away right now and not have to worry about it. By taking care of it now you won’t have to worry about forgetting it in a couple of months.


Many people who have insurance will have their deductible reset. Plan accordingly for checkups and visits. Some dental plans provide a certain amount of free cleanings per year and these will also reset in January. Any visits that you were putting off from last year should be planned sooner.


Some of you may have property taxes due at the beginning of the year. These payments may have to be made in full or be added to your mortgage payment already. It can’t hurt for you to contact your mortgage company to find out what you need to do.

Finance. Accounting documents on the table

January is a great time to set your new financial goals. Start by starting a new budget. Review where you have been saving, and take a look at where you have been spending a little more. Within the past year, you may have had some changes in your income. If you already haven’t done so, this would be a good time to adjust your budget accordingly.


Even though you may still be recovering from the holidays, January is a good time to make your 2018 agenda. Getting a head start and being prepared is going to make it easier for you to adjust your budget and keep you on task this year.

Budget Boosters

So you still went a little overboard for the Holidays. That’s OK, we forgive you. But now that you are a little stretched this month, you are going to have to jump-start your finances in order to rebound and get back to a healthy checkbook. Here are some ways you can spend January cutting costs.


First thing you will want to do is quit spending. Avoid all the post holiday sales and the temptation to use those gift cards at the mall. Even with gift cards you may still be tempted to take advantage of some sales. Wait to use those gift cards when you know that your finances are back on the level.


Use any money that you may have received as a gift to help pay bills, even if it was given to you for the intention to buy something nice for yourself. Not having to deal with angry creditors and being able to sleep at night is a lot better gift than a new outfit.

If you used credit cards make sure that you can make the minimum payment and that you pay it on time to avoid more fees. It would be best to make more than the minimum. Many credit card collectors are not very sympathetic towards those whose excuse is that they spent too much for Christmas.


Pay your most important bills first like rent/mortgage, utilities, and car. Other bills you may have to adjust your payments or try to negotiate a better payment plan until you get ahead.


You are going to have to make a special budget for this month, maybe next month also. Write down what you are expecting to bring in for the month. Find out your fixed expenses. You may have to cut back on some things. Tighten up your grocery bill and you may have to skip a night at the movies this month.


Volunteer for any overtime that is being offered at work. Use the extra income to catch up from the previous month’s overspending.


Push back any appointments until next month, unless the appointments are for an infant or sick child. If you had a regular check-up or dental cleaning and visit, you may want to try and reschedule for the next month to save yourself some money. Of course, if you have really good insurance than this is a non-issue.


If the credit card bills are just too overwhelming and you can’t get anywhere with the company’s representative, you may want to contact a Certified Credit Counselor. They may be able to negotiate with your creditors for a lower monthly payment that can help you get back on the right track.


The good news is that Christmas is still 11 months away. Like we have said before, start saving early for Christmas and you won’t have to juggle your first quarter expenses.

Penny Pinchers Club

Are you the type of person that comes up with terrific ways to Pinch Pennies? If so please email us and share your ideas.


After Christmas, many toys go on sale. If I have some leftover holiday money I use it to buy the toys that are on sale. I then have gifts for the many birthdays throughout the year.


-Holly J OK

Refund Anticipation Loans

In the likes of Payday loans and cash advances comes the trend of Refund Anticipation Loans. Sometimes called pay stub RALS or holiday RALS, these are other high-interest short-term loan that is an unnecessary way to borrow money.


Typically they are offered to consumers by tax preparers. They offer you a loan based on the amount of money you are anticipated to receive from your tax return. Why not? It sounds like a good idea. Many of us don’t like to wait for our return, but we do. Why? Because paying a fee to get your own money when it is not necessary is not a smart financial move.


A regular RAL is an advancement of your tax return after you have filed. A holiday or pay-stub RAL can be done before you even receive your W-2 form. They will use your last paycheck to estimate what your return should be. This could be very hazardous if it is not completely accurate. They may actually loan you more money than you will get back from your tax return and then you will have to come up with a way to pay that amount back.


Some companies are even taking advantage of the holiday season and offering this service in November and December. They take your last paycheck and estimate what you will make the rest of the year and figure what your tax return might be. This way you have some money for the holidays.


As you may expect these loans do not come without a price. There is usually a fee charged that is added to the amount it costs for your tax preparation. There are also interest fees and penalties if you don’t pay them as soon as you get your return.


If you get a RAL from one of the main tax preparers you will then have to return to that same company to do your actual tax return. So even if you were planning on doing your own taxes you will have to pay for their services for them to do your taxes for you.


It’s not only tax preparers that are trying to take advantage of your tax return. Many retail stores will let you bring in your taxes and estimate your return. They then let you use that anticipated money to purchase or put a down payment on appliances, furniture, or other products.


Car dealerships have also encouraged people to use there anticipated tax return for a down payment on a new car. If you were planning on using your return to purchase a new appliance or vehicle why don’t you wait until you receive your return and avoid any fees that these businesses will charge you for loaning you the money early.

So you have to ask yourself if it makes sense to pay someone a fee for YOUR money just to get access to it a little sooner.


There are plenty of ways for you to get your tax return sooner without having to pay extra. Employers are required to give you your W-2 by January 31st. You should also have any other tax forms by that time. There is no reason that you should wait until April to get your taxes done.

If you have not done so in the past it is encouraged that you file electronically. There are programs that assist you with your filings and you will be looking at a lot faster return. By visiting the IRS website you can find information about free online filing. They will help you prepare your taxes and file your return electronically. This will save you money if you were planning on going to a professional.


When you file electronically you will have the option of direct deposit. By choosing this option you will receive your return even sooner. It is estimated that your tax return will show up in your account 10-14 days after you file, if not sooner. Besides, wouldn’t you feel more comfortable knowing that your check can’t be lost or delayed in the mail? Two weeks wait time is definitely worth the amount of money you will save instead of choosing a refund anticipation loan.


Like many short-term loans that come with high interest rates, RALS are targeted towards those who are struggling and may feel that they are in need of their return early. It’s these same people who should not be taking out more high interest loans, especially when it is not necessary.


So do not be tempted by the advertising and lure of an early tax return. Remember that it is your money and you deserve to keep all of it.

Strong Commitments

There are many different ways for you to get assistance on those lingering student loan debts. It may not be easy but if you are serious about eliminating your debt then some of these options may be right up your alley. These opportunities will be easier if you are fresh out of school and have not landed your first big job or if you are debating a certain path.


Volunteering your time and energy is not only a good thing for your spirit, but also for your financial future. Dedicated service in the Peace Corps can qualify you for loan forgiveness and deferment. It is possible to reduce your total outstanding balance by 15% each year of service. If you have Perkins loans you may qualify for up to 70% of your loan to be canceled.


If spending long periods of time outside of the country is not a good fit for you why not try the domestic version. Americorps also provides generous assistance with your federal student loans. Each program also provides you with money to accommodate your living expenses.


It is important that you contact your lender to discuss the specifics of the program. Each lender will be different and contain different allowances. You will also want to explore your options for either a deferment or forbearance while you are completing your service. For more information use the links below to find answers to your questions and put you into contact with a representative.


Good news for all of you who received a teacher’s degree. There are programs out there for you that you may qualify for that will forgive a portion of your student loans. Teachers who choose to teach in lower-income schools or communities may qualify for certain amounts cancelled from their loans. Teachers who are specialized in Math and/or Science may also qualify for certain assistance in loan reductions. Many of these options have dates and deadlines and require certain qualifications. It is important to check with both your lender and your particular schools to determine what factors you qualify for.


The armed services have always been proud to advertise their ability to assist you with your financial needs for education. They not only can provide you with money to go towards your education after your service, but have programs for those who choose to enlist after their education.

At the time of this article, the Army’s website advertises that you may be able to pay off up to $65,000 for full-time service and up to $20,000 for enlisting in the Army Reserve. Of course there are certain qualifications and you would be making a very dedicated commitment and is nothing that you want to rush into.


You may also want to check with your employer. Many companies help assist you if you decide to go back to school to further your education, but there are some that will help you pay back some of the loans that you already have out. You could also negotiate it as a part of your salary requirements. If you are on a student loan tiered payback agenda than you might want to find out if you will be receiving raises that will accommodate your gradually rising loan payments.


It is important that you pay your student loans back and on time. Many programs are based on the assumption that you are in good standing with your lender and have not or are currently not in default. There are still plenty of options out there for you if you have not made up your mind yet or you are still looking for employment. Speak with your lender about a deferral or repayment schedule that better fits your current situation.


Student loan debt can feel like a very heavy burden, but making wise decisions and even taking risks that you may not have previously considered can make you feel like you have super human powers.



Questions & Answars

Q: I’m having trouble with figuring out my will. I am thinking about firing a lawyer. Do you have any advice?




A: A lawyer will help ensure that you have everything worried that you might not have done things correctly then you can hire a lawyer. Before you hire a lawyer I would look into some computer software that will walk you through the steps to make your will easy to get done at home. You can plan a couple of hours to get everything finished. You may also want to take an inventory of all of your assets.

If you still have questions shop around for an affordable lawyer who can help you with your needs.

If you do not have a copy of our FREE “Simplified Guide to Financial Life Skills” workbook, contact us and we will ship one to you at – NO COST! –

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Pioneer is not responsible for any advice given in The Pioneer Pilot. Everyone has a different set of circumstances that would determine if an idea or plan is the best one for them. Information provided should not be intended as legal advice.







Step by step instructions provided at NO COST! These sheets are provided to bankruptcy attorneys for a fast easy to follow guide through Pioneer’s Bankruptcy Counseling.

My Financial Journal

Happy New Year! Hopefully everyone has started out on the right foot and didn’t go overboard for the Holidays. Unfortunately I have to write this before Christmas so we won’t know until next month how good (or bad) I did.


So we talked a lot about getting ahead this month. I’m sure the last thing most of you want to do is a bunch of extra work, especially when it comes to looking over your taxes. December is straining enough on most people without having to worry about being the first one on the block to get their taxes done by February.


I know that I for one will not be excited about getting my taxes done. I do know though that it’s a lot easier to get an envelope and throw everything that you think might be needed for doing your taxes in it. Nothing is worse than trying to dig through all of your old mail and bills to try and find your student loan interest forms. So I strongly recommend creating a TAX folder to hold everything. Then give yourself a little break and take a look at it towards the middle of February. Then again as soon as you get everything you need. You can send it in for that hopeful return that is just sitting there waiting for you.

As far as the Refund Anticipation Loans go, I had not previously heard about them until I researched this story. At first, it seemed like a good idea, then you find out how much of your money will have to go to those services. It can be hard after the holidays to wait for that money that can help you out, but it is still a wiser decision to wait the couple extra weeks.


We touched a little on putting some money away for your children’s education. This has been a small debate at my house. I shiver when I think about what tuition will cost in 2024. Sometimes I think that nothing would be better than to be able to fork over the cash to pay for our daughter’s books, classes, and whatnot. On the other hand, I think that having to pay her way through school is a good way for her to appreciate it more and maybe have her take care of her money better. That’s what I did, well everything except taking care of my money better.

My parents never paid for any of my school. Unless you count the numerous times that I called them for gas (food, book, fine, vehicle repair) money or the cash they would always give me before I headed back across the state. Conveniently, there are no receipts or statements for those types of parental transactions. It would make my other debts look puny.


My wife would like to be able to provide the money for her education while I am still on the fence about it. I then look at our situation and think about what else we could use the $500 we spend on paying back student loans for. It would be nice if our daughter didn’t have to worry about that burden when she graduates. Maybe we can reach a happy medium and pay for certain portions while she pays for the rest. That is if college doesn’t cost a quarter of a million dollars by then. (And we want to have two more kids, Whew!)


Well, that’s all the room I have for this month. Besides, I have a daughter who has to start applying for scholarships. Four months old isn’t too early, is it? Until next month, Good luck.    

It's Not to Late to Start Saving

If you didn’t start planning for your retirement the first day you got your first job then congratulations, you are in the majority.


It’s time to start seriously considering your options. If you have been saving for retirement then it is a good time to assess where you stand. More than likely there have been some life changes for you in the past ten years.


If you are in good shape for retirement, then how about some help for your kid’s education. Haven’t thought about it? Well you have a few years left and at the rate, tuition is rising you might want to look into it. If you are lucky, you are 20-30 years away from retirement and even though it may seem like a while, it can sneak up on you. You are robbing yourself of potential earnings the longer you wait to save.


If you have not yet considered a retirement plan then you should definitely speak with someone to get one set up. There are many options to choose from. 401(k)’s, IRA’s, CDs, or even mutual funds can help to ensure that you can have an enjoyable retirement. For more details on these programs, you can refer back to previous issues of the Pioneer Pilot. It is a good idea to check with the Social Security Administration to see where your benefits stand. They will provide you with a free estimate of your anticipated retirement benefits. They will use your employment history and income to determine what you can expect upon retirement at this time. It is a good way to find out how much more you will need to live comfortably in the future. It is a good idea to not plan on just living off of Social Security due to its uncertainties and constant reforming.


You may want to start putting more away for retirement. Depending on your situation it may pay to take a look at your budget to find ways to be able to increase what you are contributing. If you are in or just starting a 401(k), you will want to research how you want your money to be used. You may want to look at more conservative investing since you don’t have as big of a window as you would if you had started sooner.

You may want to start putting more away for retirement. Depending on your situation it may pay to take a look at your budget to find ways to be able to increase what you are contributing. If you are in or just starting a 401(k), you will want to research how you want your money to be used. You may want to look at more conservative investing since you don’t have as big of a window as you would if you had started sooner.


Some of you may have a lock on your retirement and don’t have to worry about your golden years. However if you have children, you may want to consider what you can provide for their future education. It’s no secret that the cost of college rapidly increases each year. Even if you don’t plan on fully funding their education you can put a little away each month to make sure that they have some support.


It is hard to predict what the economy will be like when they are ready to enter the job market, but if it is anything like it is now it may be difficult to pay back student loans right away. There are many recent college grads who are overwhelmed with college debt that could have been avoided with smart planning many years prior to their education.


Social Security Administration –
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

Closet Cleanout

Did you get a bunch of new clothes for Christmas? Maybe you have a few gift cards and are planning on a little shopping spree.



What are you going to do to make room for these new clothes? Perhaps you can clean out your closet and donate some of your older clothes.

You can also hand them down to family friends who have kids your age.



You can also take them to a consignment shop. You won’t make a fortune but will make a couple of bucks and save yourself a lot of room.