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30 Minutes To Smarter Money

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Tips on budgeting money, managing credit, and finding ways to save.

Tips on budgeting money, managing credit, and finding ways to save.


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    • 1. 30 Minutes to Smarter Money Management The Money Minute is your weekly email update offering smart ways to help you manage money and credit. 30 Minutes to Smarter Money Management recaps our 30 best ideas from 2006 in an easy-to-find format. Click on any topic at the left to see how to start saving money. Remember to watch your email box every week for our next update. If you are not currently receiving The Money Minute contact us to have your name added to our email distribution list. Start >
    • 2. Beyond credit reports… You may not know that you have the right to obtain one free copy of each of your specialty reports every year. “Specialty consumer reporting agencies” track your insurance claims, residential and tenant history, check writing history, and employment history.   Not everyone needs to obtain every free specialty report—and you may not even have a report with each specialty bureau.  If you haven’t rented property in seven years, you may not be listed with a tenant registry; if you’ve never bounced a check, you won’t be listed in TeleCheck, or ChexSystems.  Credit experts do recommend you view your specialty report before shopping for insurance, opening a new checking account, or renting a home.  < Back Forward >
    • 3. Be Credit Card Debt Free Forever! The latest scam making the email rounds this day is the secret “legal” way any consumer can make credit card debt go away. Here’s the truth: we all are obligated to pay all our debts in full, to all of our creditors. If there were a way to abolish debt, don’t you think the media would run this story nonstop in all the newspapers, talk shows, and newscasts on the planet? Consumers who are financially stressed might wonder “Why not?” and buy into at least a little of the debt-free-forever hype. Here’s why: it’s bad advice, and it’s not free. The people who claim to know the secret to abolishing debt, are willing to share that information with you—for a price. Save yourself time, hassle, and money. Track your spending, pay your bills when due, and work to build wealth not debt over the months and years of your life. < Back Forward >
    • 4. Power pay your debt away If you’re like most Americans, you’re carrying a balance on your credit cards and loans.  In terms of credit card debt alone , Floridians owe a total of $49.2 Billion —which averages out to a debt of $2,894 for every man, woman, and child living in the Sunshine State.   Are you ready to make a financial commitment to yourself to be done with debt?  We have a great resource to help.  Power Pay is a program developed by a university extension service that will customize a debt repayment plan for you.  Power Pay gives you step-by-step instructions on how to compute your debt, pay it off, and see how much money you can save in the process .  Google “Power Pay” to learn more about this debt payment system. < Back Forward >
    • 5. The credit card rewards war The business of credit gets more competitive every day.  Creditors now are likely to try to win your business—not to mention your loyalty—by tying a reward or cash-back incentive to their card.  Before you trade in your old fee-free low interest rate card for the jazzy rewards plus version, ask yourself a few questions: Do I usually carry a balance on my credit card?  If the answer is yes then a rewards card with a higher interest rate is no reward for you.   Am I a heavy spender?  If the answer is no, then a rewards card might not do you any good.  If you do open a rewards card, make sure that your bonus points have a very long shelf life.   Will a rewards card make me stupid?  Don’t blind yourself to money-saving deals that are not affiliated with your rewards card.  Continue to bargain shop and compare prices.  Make the card earn your loyalty by offering the best deals, PLUS a reward. < Back Forward >
    • 6. Letter perfect credit Move over, FICO.  The three major credit bureaus are introducing their own credit scoring system that grades consumers’ creditworthiness on a scale of A through F (just like high school). The system, known as Vantage Score, weighs many of the same factors as FICO does.  Vantage Score is launching a campaign to explain how it computes your credit grade.  They even offer up some credit scenarios and show you what effect your actions have on your credit score.   A word of caution about Vantage (and FICO, too):  credit scoring models reward the consumer for the wise use of credit.  This means that going $20K into debt buying a car could raise your score, and closing a zero balance account can cost you a few credit points.   Don’t use your credit score as a basis for managing your money.  Pay yourself first, then your bills.  And close those unused accounts, if only to reduce your temptation to spend.  < Back Forward >
    • 7. Pay now or pay more later During the holiday season, it may seem like creditors are trying to help you overspend. Many lenders waive December’s payment for customers in good standing. Before you decide to spend now and pay later, know what this could really cost you: Taking a pass on your car payment : The interest due on December’s payment continues to accrue during the months or years it is deferred. Depending on your financing terms, this approach could add hundreds of dollars to your total debt, and delay your pay-off date for up to 6 more months. Putting off credit card payments : Many credit card issuers will increase your limit and allow you a no-pay option. Don’t skip payments and pile on more debt just because you can! Stay in control of your finances and enjoy a less-stressed holiday season. < Back Forward >
    • 8. Credit hours & identity years How likely is it that you could become a victim of identity theft this year?  According to the experts, all ID theft victims have at least two things in common: (1) They’re either alive or dead; and (2) Somebody, somewhere, has personal data about them on file. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that each ID theft victim will spend about 175 hours researching the crime and clearing their name.  Do the math and you’ll see that this year’s victims will spend a cumulative 1.75 billion hours or 72,916,666 days or 19,971 years trying to rebuild a secure financial life. Measure your own understanding of identity theft by clicking on any of the links below: www.onguardonline.gov/quiz/index.html www.bbbonline.org/idtheft/safetyQuiz  (this also features a Spanish language version of the quiz) www.ou.edu/oupd/idtheftquiz.htm < Back Forward >
    • 9. Today’s debt vs. tomorrow’s wealth What do you think would give the greater financial benefit:  paying ahead on your mortgage, or investing in a tax-deferred retirement account like a 401(k) or IRA?  A recent study concluded that mortgage pre-payments are not the most financially advantageous choice for many families.  Investing in a tax-deferred retirement account not only builds wealth, it also gives you an immediate tax savings .  Yet many mortgage holders prefer to pre-pay rather than to invest.  This is because people often hate debt more than they like to invest.  Our advice: do both.  Ask your mortgage holder if you can split your monthly payment into two, and make one payment early in the month and the next at mid month.  This will accelerate your payoff date without tying up extra cash.  Then, put as much as you can into a 401(k) and/or an IRA.  You’ll pay off your mortgage faster, earn a tax break, and maybe qualify for matching funds from your employer. < Back Forward >
    • 10. Smart Saving Web surfers will find a virtual plethora of savings opportunities online 24/7.  To protect your privacy (and to prevent you from falling into a spam nightmare) we recommend sites that allow you to coupon surf without having to give up your personal data.  Here are two good places to start:   Cool Savings – find coupons from a variety of merchants and manufacturers Boodle – find and print grocery coupons for stores in your local area   Remember the cardinal rule of savings:  you don’t save a cent when you buy things that are not in your budget!  Be aware that merchants may have policies about what kinds of Internet coupons they accept.  So make your shopping list, find your coupons, then shop—and save—smartly! < Back Forward >
    • 11. Energy savings on call Our thanks go out to Stacey Burger of Boys & Girls Clubs of Miami who provided this great information: We’re all paying more for energy in the form of surcharges and fuel costs.  But there is one thing you can do to lower your electricity bill:  put your major appliances On Call.   FPL’s Residential On Call program can help you save $5-$10 per month on your electric bill.  Here’s how it works:  by agreeing to go “on call” you allow FPL to occasionally cycle off major appliances for short periods of time, when electrical demand is peaking.  Most customers don’t even notice when their appliances are cycled off.  We bet you will notice the credit on your electric bill every month, though.   As with all programs, there are requirements and restrictions.  To learn more about On Call, go to http://www.fpl.com/residential/savings/residential_on_call.shtml .  If the program is right for you, you’ll start saving now, and all year long. < Back Forward >
    • 12. Don’t be fuel-ish What’s the difference between a Dodge Ram 1500 and a Toyota Tacoma?  About $2700 a year, in gas alone.  That’s become the Tacoma is one of the most fuel efficient trucks you can buy, and the Ram 1500 is the biggest gas guzzler in its class.  Whether you’re looking to buy a new set of wheels, or trying to figure out what you can do to get the most mileage out of your current vehicle, visit www.fueleconomy.gov .  The section on Gas Mileage Tips not only explains what you need to do to get the most from every drop of gas, it also tells you how much you can save if you follow their recommendations.  Bookmark this page, and share it with everyone you know. < Back Forward >
    • 13. Avoid the “stupidity” tax Have you ever gotten a $15 parking ticket because your meter ran out a few minutes before you got back to your car?  That was your stupid tax for the day.  How much could you save by planning ahead a bit?  (Example:  putting an extra quarter in the meter or remembering to bring your lunch).  How many things are you paying for that you could get for free?  (Example:  movie rentals vs. free DVDs at your library).  Think about it, and you’ll find ways to keep your money in your pocket.  And that’s definitely smart ! < Back Forward >
    • 14. Blogs are big business A new generation of computer geeks is making real money from the virtual world.  Weblogs (or blogs )—those online “diaries” that publish ideas, feedback, rants and raves about various topics—are becoming real gold mines for some owners.   Readers find blogs through email or word-of-mouth referrals and check back often to see the latest updates.  Advertisers know the blogs that cater to their target clientele, so many sponsors buy ads on blog sites.  A blogger with a strong following can earn up to $1 million a year in ad revenues. Best of all, it can cost little to start up and maintain a blog.  Visit www.money.cnn.com/2006/08/21/technology/bloggingdollars0822.biz2/index.htm to see how others are turning blogs into real wealth. < Back Forward >
    • 15. Super size your Internet search Many of the best information-oriented sites (newspapers, trade journals, online encyclopedias, etc.) won’t show up in a standard web search because the information in those sites is password protected for fee-paying subscribers.  You can gain access to members-only information from over 300 websites with the NetPass from Congoo.  NetPass is free for the downloading, and also includes Congoo’s own web search tool bar to help you reach those formerly unreachable sites.  A couple of disclaimers:  you won’t get unlimited access to every pay-per-view site.  Most sites allow NetPass users anywhere from 4-15 free downloads per month.  Also, the only usage Congoo tracks is the number of free articles you’ve accessed.  You can learn more about Congoo and download your free NetPass at www.congoo.com . < Back Forward >
    • 16. FREE MONEY! Have you ever had to put down a deposit to get utility service in a new home?  If you’re like most of us, you may have forgotten that money once you resettled elsewhere.  What you may not know is that your funds may still be on deposit, in your name.  Your mission: claim your money .    The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) maintains a national database of unclaimed property records. There is no cost to search for unclaimed property.  Go to NAUPA’s website and enter your name and your state of residency.  A listing of all unclaimed property in your name appears.  If you find property you believe to be yours, click on that item and a pop up window tells you how to begin filing your claim.  Go to www.missingmoney.com and see what could be waiting for you! < Back Forward >
    • 17. ‘ B’ is for backup Do you store personal records on your home computer?  Do you have a way to protect or recover this priceless data if your system is damaged in a hurricane or other natural disaster?  Carbonite.com, provides data backup for computer systems.  The offer excludes backup of music and videos, but allows an unlimited amount of other data storage.  This means your family photos, Christmas mailing lists, bank records, insurance details, resumes, and other personal treasures can make it through any hurricane season safely, no matter what Mother Nature rains down on us. For details, log on to www.carbonite.com . < Back Forward >
    • 18. A Bumper Crop of Trouble
      • CNETNews.com is warning consumers that this holiday season is shaping up to be the Year of the Spammer. It is estimated that about 90% of all email messages sent between Thanksgiving and New Year will be unsolicited, or spam. Don’t fall victim to any schemes this year. Be wary of all email messages you receive that offer:
      • Gift suggestions – these often come from not-so-legitimate vendors. Many are just looking for your bank or credit card information.
      • Electronic greeting cards – sure, they’re cute, but many contain malicious code that installs spy ware onto your hard drive. Don’t open any e-cards, even if you know the sender.
      • Order confirmations – be suspicious of any emails asking for additional information for a previous purchase. If you did just purchase something, and you got a confirmation from the seller, you’re fine. So you can ignore any after-the-fact messages.
      < Back Forward >
    • 19. Debit card disaster When is a dollar meal NOT a dollar deal?  When the cashier charges you $4,334.33 instead of $4.33.  It sounds far-fetched, but customers at a fast food drive-through window actually paid over 4 grand for a few burgers after the cashier mistakenly entered the charge of $4.33 twice into her cash register.   The employee did not catch the error until she hit “Enter”.  The customer, who paid with a debit card, had his checking account emptied in a nanosecond.  This was a legitimate mistake, and yes, the customer did get his money back.  But it took three days and a lot of effort to untangle the mess.  The moral of the story is this:  NEVER pay with a debit card if you cannot see, and approve, the final dollar amount of the transaction.  < Back Forward >
    • 20. If it seems too good to be true… American consumers are bombarded with thousands of advertisements from TV, radio, print, and Internet sources each day.  Some ads convey product information.  Others make claims so enticing that we want to buy the item to see for ourselves.   Before you part with your hard-earned cash to buy the next miracle product, do a little detective work to see what the real scoop is.  In some cases, the ads are accurate, but not completely truthful.  For example, a $21,000 car can be bought for $9,500—if you make a $9,000 down payment.  A miracle diet drink claim fizzled flatter than day-old soda when investigators asked for scientific proof.  Get the full details about these ads, along with hundreds of others, online at www.mouseprint.org .  And make it a policy to keep your mind open and your purse closed until you have all the facts on a product. < Back Forward >
    • 21. Money back: rebate or just bait? Retail analysts acknowledge that 40% of mail-in rebates never reach the consumer, either because the rebate form was never claimed, or because it was denied. Consumer advocacy groups have taken up the cause of these no-money-back offers, and retailers are responding.  Several major retailers have announced they will stop offering rebates and instead will lower product prices.  But the 40% factor (the amount of rebate offers that go unclaimed by consumers) means that a $100 rebate really only costs the manufacturer $60.  Bottom line:  find the best deals by comparing in-store purchase prices without regard to rebates or other incentives.  Shop smart and keep your money in your pocket up front, rather than waiting for a check that may—or may not—ever make its way to your mailbox. < Back Forward >
    • 22. Paper or plastic? The humble vending machine is being re-tooled to accept not just your nickels and dimes, but also your Visa, MasterCard, and American Express.  Retailers have noted that consumers spend twice as much on impulse purchases when they pay with plastic, as compared to parting with real cash.  You can now buy iPods and personal electronics from vending machines in upscale retail shops   Maintain your financial control by making a promise to yourself not to use credit for any purchase less than, say, $10. Never use credit for an impulse buy.  Contrary to what the ads say, you can leave home without your plastic.  Just be sure not to leave your common sense behind, too.  < Back Forward >
    • 23. Grocery shopping bonanza Clipping coupons from the Sunday paper is a great way to save on groceries.  But have you ever noticed that the manufacturer coupons in this week’s paper usually don’t match what’s in the grocery store sale flyers?  The key to buying food at the cheapest price is to clip and stack your coupons.  Plan your week’s meals around the sale flyers, write out your shopping list then search your stack for coupons.  The combination of a sale price + a discount coupon will do wonders to help lower your food bill. A final reminder:  using a coupon to buy something that’s not on your list does NOT save you money—it costs you! < Back Forward >
    • 24. Odds & Ends If you habitually find yourself juggling more month than money, you might want to take a long look at the things you spend money on “just because”.  Now, I’m not talking about stockpiling household supplies—those are prudent necessities.  I’m talking about the pair of jeans that you didn’t need but were on sale and you just couldn’t resist.  Or the extra time you went out to dinner last month because you had a 2-for-1 coupon, so it really seemed like a freebie.  You can break the cycle of “zombie” spending by taking control of your finances and buying what you need, when you need it, and when you can afford it — NOT when a merchant wants to sell it to you! < Back Forward >
    • 25. Cell phone switcheroo According to the Cellular Telephone Industry of America (CTIA) the average cell user gets a new phone every 18 months.  You can clean out your junk drawers and turn those old phones in for cash or a tax deduction.: Collective Good ( www.collectivegood.com ) collects used cell phones, PDAs, and pagers and donates them to designated charities.  You select a charity, send in your old phone, and then receive a form confirming your donation and tax deduction.  Drop off your old cell phone at any police station in Dade or Broward Counties.  Your phone will be reprogrammed for emergency-only use and distributed to a family in distress. . www.CellForCash.com pays between $15-$60 for used cell phones.  Check out their website for details, cash back, and shipping information. Before your cell phone leaves your hands , protect your privacy by performing a hard reset on your phone.  Instructions for resetting the phone are in your owner’s manual.  If you've lost your manual, go to www.wirelessrecycling.com for details on how to reset many popular cell phone models. < Back Forward >
    • 26. Getting real Trying to get hold of a real person through a toll-free number can be an exercise in futility.  We know the people are there—but how can we find them to ask one quick question?   The Get Human movement helps callers to get quality customer telephone service.  Their website is a popular go-to source for info on how to reach a real human being by telephone at dozens of corporations and government offices.  For example, to reach someone at the US Federal Trade Commission, call their toll-free number, ignore the pre-recorded instructions, and press 450 at every prompt.  You’ll bypass the auto-system and get to a real person. The Get Human website has shortcuts like this for hundreds of organizations online at http://www.gethuman.com/us/ .   < Back Forward >
    • 27. Scammers target senior citizens The growing ranks of this country’s senior population is apparently too big a target for scammers to ignore, and federal regulators are taking note.  The SEC held a summit to report on the approaches scammers use.  Thus far, regulators have identified 13 different “social persuasion tactics” that lure in victims.   Financial fraudsters usually make their initial contact by telephone, and tend to pose as authority figures to gain instant credibility.  Seniors are advised to listen for evidence of “social persuasion” in any telephone sales call.  Limit your exposure to social persuasion by explaining to anyone who calls for money that you do not make financial decisions over the telephone—and hang up if the caller insists you take immediate action. < Back Forward >
    • 28. Driving into debt Is your daily commute worth the cost?  How much could you save by carpooling, taking public transportation, or telecommuting a few days a week?  Click on to www.commutesolutions.org/calc.htm to get an idea of the true cost of owning your car.  (Beware: the answer will probably shock you.)  Once you know what you’re really paying, it’s time to ask yourself if your current vehicle is worth the cost, or if it’s just driving you into Debtsville. < Back Forward >
    • 29. These “auto” help you save gas Lighten your load .  Every 100 pounds of cargo in your trunk costs you up to 5% in fuel efficiency.  Stop using your trunk as an auxiliary closet and you’ll be able to go further on a tank of gas. Pump up the pressure .  Make sure your tires are inflated to the proper pressure recommended by the manufacturer.  Under inflated tires not only drink more gas, but they also increase your risk of a blowout.  Save gas and the cost of a new tire by making sure you’re not riding on the rims! Easy does it .  City driving eats more gas than highway driving.  Ease into your starts and stops to help you go further on a tank.  And when you are on the open road, enjoy the ride and keep your speed around 65 mph for your best gas mileage.  Driving at 70-75 mph costs you 5 mpg more than 65.  And your fuel efficiency decreases another 5mpg for every 10 mph increase in your speed.   You’re also less likely to get a traffic ticket (which could save you another $100 or more). < Back Home >