March – April 2020

What's in this issue

Prom Night

Spring will be here shortly, and with the spring months comes a big event in a teenager’s life, and that would be the Prom. Prom also means coming up with the money for this traditional formal event. This can put a strain on a family budget and cause tension between kids and parents. The following are a few ways parents and kids can save money and still make it a memorable and fun evening.


Start by planning ahead. Discuss with your parents and your date how much you want to spend and who will pay for what things. This will help split some of the costs so one person is not stuck paying for everything.


Here are some fun alternatives that will save you money. Instead of going to a salon, have a bunch of your friends do your hair and makeup or do it yourself. You can also save money by going to a cosmetology academy to have a student get you ready.


You can save on a dress by borrowing one from a friend or renting one. Renting can also be expensive, if you look around you may find a dress that is cheaper than a rental. Maybe you or a family member can make a dress or alter an existing one. Many consignment shops and online stores feature new dresses at a quarter of the price.


For guys, unless you know someone you can borrow a tuxedo from, you are probably going to have to rent one. Ask around for the best price and negotiate. Go with a few other friends and ask for a group discount. If your date isn’t concerned about a tuxedo you can save by wearing a nice suit and tie.


You can save on a dress by borrowing one from a friend or renting one. Renting can also be expensive, if you look around you may find a dress that is cheaper than a rental. Maybe you or a family member can make a dress or alter an existing one. Many consignment shops and online stores feature new dresses at a quarter of the price.


For guys, unless you know someone you can borrow a tuxedo from, you are probably going to have to rent one. Ask around for the best price and negotiate. Go with a few other friends and ask for a group discount. If your date isn’t concerned about a tuxedo you can save by wearing a nice suit and tie.


Man hugging his dancing wife at party

Transportation to the prom is important as well. Limousines are a popular choice but are expensive and overdone. Perhaps you know somebody with a classic car or a new luxury vehicle. Though they may not let you borrow that car, they may not mind escorting you to the front doors in style. If you do choose a limo, get as many people as the limo will fit, that way the cost is split between more than one person.


If you bring your own camera, more than likely you will capture more memorable photos than the boring ones that cost extra money.

Parents that are helping with costs may want to set limits and guidelines to how much they want to spend. If the child is working and is willing to pay for extra expenses then they should feel free to do so.

Budget Boosters

While the snow begins to melt and most of us begin to thaw out, others will make a plan to do a little spring-cleaning. Your finances are also a great place that can use a little sprucing up in order to avoid a stockpile of paid bills and junk mail.


The first thing that you will want to have is a storage unit that can hold the stuff that you need to hang on to. A filing box can help you organize and is pretty cheap to come by. Buy a package or two of hanging filing folders and you are in business.


Take your folders and label them in a way that you know will help you stay organized. You could organize by the month or have a folder for each bill that you make payments on. You can label folders as paid and unpaid if you like. You may find that it is easier to be more detailed in your folders while others can get by with more general categories. The point is to keep what you need, get rid of what you don’t, and reduce the paper mess.

You will want to have a place where all of your current bills can go. This way they don’t get lost and can be paid on time each month.


Go through any piled-up bills, statements, and any other mail. File them accordingly based on how you choose to set up your files. Only keep the minimal things that you need. Make sure you throw away any junk mail and shred any items that contain any personal information.


Only keep canceled checks, paid utility bills, credit card statements, etc., for one year. The exception to this is if any of the receipts, checks, or statements are needed to support past filing for state and federal taxes.


Income tax records and federal tax records will need to be kept for seven years as this is the time the IRS has to audit past returns. This is the same with all receipts and statements that support these records. After the seven years have passed, it is okay to dispose of the old records.


Try and keep up with it daily and get rid of any junk mail as it comes in or at least places it in a folder that you can go through weekly. The more you stay on top of things the more you will stay organized and can avoid spending too much time cleaning up next time.


Remember, these items should be kept in an accessible, safe, and secure place:

  • Birth Certificates
  • Social Security Cards
  • Marriage License
  • Deeds/Titles
  • Contracts – Mortgage Papers
  • Home Improvement Receipts
  • Wills or Power of Attorney
  • Veteran’s Papers
  • Transcripts, etc
  • Family Health Records
  • Warranties and Manuals
  • Large Purchase Receipts
  • Insurance Policies
  • Credit Card Information

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.


I get my hair cut at a local beauty academy. They do an excellent job, but since they are still learning the price is much lower than going to a salon. I have also learned that if you get a lot of hair cut off you can donate it to charity that makes wigs for cancer patients (locks of love) and get your hair cut for free. So you are getting a free haircut and helping someone out.


-Harper J. CO

A Chilling Way to Protect Your Identity

People are continuously trying to find ways to protect themselves from identity theft. As of November of last year there is another option consumers can use to guard themselves. It is called a credit or security freeze and it is now available through the three major credit bureaus.


Before November of last year there were only a handful of states that had laws that would allow consumers to put a freeze on their credit. Now the option is available to all consumer’s credit reports from TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. Each state has different fees and regulations in regards to a security freeze and you will need to search for your states details. You can go online to any of the credit bureaus websites to find your states specific details.


Generally you will need to contact the credit bureau in which you want to activate the freeze. They will then put a freeze on your report and give you a PIN in which you can remove the freeze with. Once your report is frozen all third parties who are not exempt under law will not be allowed access to your credit reports without your approval.


This is obviously a good way to prevent anyone from gaining access to your report, but it will also hinder the times when your credit report needs to be legitimately reviewed. So if you are trying to apply for a loan or credit it will be delayed until you can lift the freeze.


There are many other times when your credit may need to be checked and can be delayed. This can include renting an apartment or house, applying for insurance, applying for a mortgage, buying a cell phone, setting up utility services, making purchases on the internet, or even applying for a job.

So if you are considering a security freeze on your credit report make sure you plan accordingly so you or anyone else doesn’t need access to your report. It’s not that you can’t remove the freeze from your account it just takes time and costs you money every time you want to “thaw” your account. In the event that you want to permanently remove the security freeze you will have to do it in writing and that can take you quite awhile to take effect.


In order to freeze your TransUnion credit report you need to send a freeze request via mail. You will then receive your PIN, which you use to regulate the freeze. You can lift the freeze temporarily by writing them or calling them. A permanent remove requires you to write them.


An Experian security freeze also requires a written request to activate but you can instantly lift it online, over the phone, or through the mail by using your PIN. You will need to request a permanent removal in writing.


As with the previous two, Equifax requires written notice to freeze your file. Equifax has a toll-free number you can call to remove or lift the freeze.


The main concern for the credit freeze is the cost of temporarily lifting or reactivating the security freezes. The amount is generally around $10 for each time you want to lift the freeze and $10 to request or remove a freeze. Victims of previous identity theft may receive the security freeze service for free. Some states may also offer this service for free or cheaper rates for those over the age of 65. It’s important to check with your state’s specific details in regards to fees.


Protecting your credit and identity is important in preventing major setbacks to your finances. A credit freeze may be a good way to assist you if you feel that you can properly plan for legitimate credit checks. If you know that you will need to have your credit reviewed you may want to look at other ways to protect your identity as the fees and lost time of lifting freezes can cause you other problems.

Truths & Misconceptions

(This information is not to be taken as tax advice. If you have any questions or concerns you should contact a certified tax advisor.)


Owning a home has always been a part of the American Dream while paying taxes can often be a nightmare. There are a number of misconceptions when it comes to how your home can provide you with a number of tax breaks. Hopefully this will help clear up some of the confusion.


The biggest misconception that homeowners have is that any improvements that they make on their home can be written off on their taxes. This is simply not true. Whether you put on a new roof or remodeled your bathroom, you will not receive any tax breaks from the government.


However, you may want to explore the opportunities to install environment-friendly devices, such as solar panels or certain appliances. You may also be able to deduct improvements that needed to be made due to a health reasons. This could include installing handicap-accessible ramps and lifts, or special air circulating systems. There have been tax breaks for certain items but what is and isn’t allowed changes every year so you will want to research it before you try and claim it.


Other things such as Neighborhood Association fees and property insurance are also not deductible and are your responsibility.


You can usually deduct the interest you pay on your home mortgage. You mortgage interest is considered any interest you pay on a loan secured by your main home or second home. The loans that are included are your mortgage, second mortgage, home equity line of credit, or a home equity loan.

You may receive a reduced or no deduction if your mortgage is more than the fair market value of your home or your mortgage is more than $1 million ($500,000 if you’re married and filing separately from your spouse). Also, if you have a home equity loan that is more than $100,000 ($50,000 if you’re married and filing separately) than you may see a reduced deduction. The details for housing interest deductions can be found in IRS Publication 936: Home Mortgage Interest Deduction.


You may have a secondary residence or vacation home. Mortgage interest on a second home is fully deductible. Even if the vacation home isn’t technically a home you may still be in luck.


The IRS will consider all of these homes: a house, condominium, mobile home, boat, recreational vehicle (RV), or property that has sleeping, cooking, and toilet facilities. If you claim any of these as a secondary residence you may have to prove that you lived there at least 14 days in order to receive the interest deduction.

As you can imagine there are a lot more details to each of these tax situations, and we cannot feature all the specifics, as we do not have the amount of space needed to include them. So we encourage you to use this information to help you ask your tax professional more specific questions that may help you receive a higher return.


There may not be as many tax benefits for owning a home as you may have thought, but the breaks you can get are good and there are plenty of other benefits that comes with being a homeowner.

It's Back!

Everyone that submits a correct answer will receive a complimentary gift! Simply e-mail your answers to us at:

Please make sure that the subject line reads: Read & Win Contest, and the Newsletter Issue date)

  1. How much can a single person expect to receive from the Economic Stimulus rebate?
  2. Can you deduct home repairs from your taxes?
  3. Name 1 of the three credit agencies where you can request a credit freeze? 

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! –

Pioneer Credit Counseling Clients receive The Pioneer Pilot for FREE. If you are not a client of Pioneer Credit Counseling, and would like a subscription to our monthly newsletter discounted to only $30 per year (a $60 per year value), please send a check or money order to:


Pioneer Credit Counseling

Attn: Newsletter Subscription

PO Box 6860

Rapid City, SD 57709



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

Hello everyone and happy March.


You know how I usually admit to not following the advice that I give to you all with the best of intentions? Well, SURPRISE! I did it again. This time I have to admit that when it comes to organization my wife and I are not the best at it. Each month we pay bills and after a couple of months we have a basketful of paid statements and junk mail. The bad part is when a new bill gets shuffled into the old pile too much time is spent trying to find it.


We have a very nice filing box filled with folders just waiting to be used. Problem is they are crammed with a few years full of old bills that we have yet to go through and get rid of. A lot of it is my fault as I worry that something will comeback to haunt us and I will need to show proof somehow. Even if that were to happen it would take me a few days sorting through the piles to find the proof needed.

Then there are things that really don’t fit in a category but I swear that I will take a look at it at a later time and don’t throw it away. The truth is if I would just throw it away in the first place I would forget about it and it wouldn’t bother me. Instead I look at it each month and put it into a pile until I can re-pile it the month after that.


Needless to say that we need to do a little spring cleaning and get rid of a bunch of papers that we don’t need anymore and make room for the things we legitimately need to save for the year.


It’s the middle of February and my wife and I have yet found the time to sit down and file our taxes. I long for the days where I could take 10-15 minutes to file my return over the phone. But know I can expect it to be at least an hour to sit down and figure out all the new things that we have to include.

With both my wife and I paying on student loans and her continuing to take Masters classes it can become a bit confusing. I’m sure we will make it through it all right as we have in the past. We just need a little more time and to concentrate on not making mistakes and as some of you may know that can be hard with a toddler running around.


Like we have done in the past we will likely file our return online through one of the major tax preparing programs. Even though it takes us a little longer these days I still stand by this software as the easiest way to file our return. The other great part about it is that we can receive our return in less than 10 days with direct deposit. We have contemplated using a professional tax preparer but our return is still basic enough that we don’t have that many questions that can’t be answered through the software we use. We are confident enough to do our own and save some money from not having to pay a professional.


As far as what we are planning on using our return on is still in question. We will probably pad our summer savings a little as my wife doesn’t have any summer employment arrangements and we will need to use the savings to help us pay bills. We are also trying to figure out how we should use the extra tax rebate that the government will start handing out in May.


There are some minor home improvements that need to be made and we could always add some to our savings. We were a little skeptical when it came to the tax rebate and I guess we still are a little. Until we receive the rebate we probably won’t plan on it or add it to our budget until we know how much we receive.


I guess I shouldn’t make plans for our tax refund either. Sure, I can assume we will receive a refund but I shouldn’t rely on it until I know for sure that it’s coming. Many of us probably plan on receiving a refund and make arrangements to use the money to pay off something or even just help catch up on bills. That can be dangerous though, as you may not receive as much as you planned or any refund at all. This can be devastating if you were expecting it. So, don’t spend the money before you have it in hand.


I hope that everyone has either finished their return or will be done soon. Until next month, good luck and have fun.