Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Despite Falling Oil Prices, Inflation Remains

Now that oil prices are tumbling, will consumers see prices fall on other goods? It would seem logical that higher prices related to energy prices would drop when energy prices do. But unfortunately, for many goods and services, that may not be the case.

The bad news is that higher prices may be here to stay. Gas and energy prices, which rose to new highs were responsible for the increase in everything from the price of eggs to meat prices, and those prices may not come down if profits don't return to their previous level.

Many companies raised prices but still saw profit margins decrease. In many cases, companies didn't raise prices until it was do or die on the profit line. Therefore, even when oil prices drop, the new, higher prices on goods may remain.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Salaries Not Keeping Pace with Inflation

Americans' salaries are not keeping up with inflation according to this article at Consumer Affairs.com. As the cost of living rises at a faster pace than the average American worker's salary, he experiences the actual effects of a loss of income.

Pay raises of 3.8 per cent are simply not going to keep pace with the 5.5 percent rise in consumer prices and tight budgets have forced companies to freeze wages in some cases.

But getting a raise is not impossible, if you are worth it to the company. Employers can't afford to raise wages for all employees, but often will reward top employees they can't afford to lose.

The bottom line? If you want a raise, you are going to have to work for it.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Feds Seize Mortgage Companies

The big news of course is the Federal government's takeover of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The two companies are the largest providers of money for home mortgages in the US.

The US Treasury has pledged up to $200 billion to help offset losses suffered as a result of bad mortgages. The operation of the companies will be handled for now by the FHA.

It is hoped that the move will help to stabilize the housing market which has been in decline over that last several years. Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Paulson, said that a simple equity investment in the companies was deemed to not be enough to rescue them or stabilize the market. Paulson said the risk of doing nothing was worse than the burden of the responsibility for billions of dollars in loans made by private lenders.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Visa Lobbies Against Proposed Changes

How do credit card companies spend their money? Well according to this story, Visa spent $1.5 million lobbying against proposed changes in laws regarding penalties and fees that credit card issuers can charge.

As Congress has taken up the review of legislation to protect consumers against unfair increases on interest rates, and limiting the penalties they can charge customeres, Visa has been lobbying heavily to prevent such legislation from passing.

They also lobbied against legislation that would limit the fees that credit card companies could charge merchants for processing credit card purchases.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Pennsylvania to Require Licensing of Payday Lenders

There are federal laws regarding payday lenders and the interest they can charge. But it isn't just interest you have to be aware of, there are fees involved, expecially when loans are extended beyond the first payment due date.

Pennsylvania has decided to deal with the growth of payday lenders by passing a licensing requirement for lenders operating in that state. Pennsylvania lawmakers felt that online lenders could circumvent the laws of the state and that this is a way to make sure that laws intended to protect consumers were complied with.

The law will require lenders to obtain a license from the Department of Banking by February 1, 2009 or face potential fines and penalties.

The PA Department of Banking interprets the state's Consumer Discount Company Act to apply to any company that lends to Pennsylvania consumers and not just those companies with a physical address in the state.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Work At Home Scams

Everyone wants to make money in their spare time and most dream of working from home to accomplish that goal. While there are genuine opportunities to make money from home, not all work-at-home employment is equal and some is not even for real.

We've all seen the ads that promise big income for little investment. The jobs that promise us more free time and greater control over our lives. Usually the ads or emails declare something along the line of "Work From Home Stuffing Envelopes!". Sounds like easy money, and it can be - if you are the scammer who places the ad.

Envelope-stuffing scams are pretty basic. You pay a small fee to get started. What you receive, however, will be instructions on how to send the same envelope-stuffing ad out to others in bulk emailings. The only money you may earn comes from others who fall for the scheme. Congratulations, you've become a scammer too.

Let's face it, unsolicited email offers are not likely to result in legitimate employment. Although there are real jobs you can do from home, envelope-stuffing is one of the oldest scams, dating back well before email when the ads were found in the back of tabloids and magazines. It's tried and true and still entices enough people to make it worthwhile for the scammer.

Make your work at home the task of deleting these email schemes as soon as they hit your inbox.

Friday, June 20, 2008

My Found Money, Part Two

Just a little update on my found money. I got some claim paperwork from the state on one of my claims. I have to fill in my social security number and attach some proof of identity. I also noted the type of abandoned property and the amount.

Where the computer obviously read $42.00 and listed it as being under $100 value, the claim form actually states that the property is 42.0000 book entry shares in a major corporation. I checked the stock quote today and the entire sum is well over $2400.

Now, it will take up to 12 weeks to get my claim fully processed and issued to me, but I am hoping the stock will go up and not down during that time.

Again, you don't know what's out there until you look. Check your state's home website for information on locating and claiming abandoned property listed under your name.
It's well worth your while.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Some Receive Duplicate Stimulus Checks

Still waiting for your stimulus payment? While some are not yet mailed to anxious taxpayers, others have received duplicate checks totaling twice the amount for which they were qualified.

If you receive a second check from the IRS, do not cash it and hope they won't figure it out. The money must be returned. If you receive a second direct deposit, contact your bank or financial institution.

In some cases, taxpayers may receive a second check that is not a duplicate if they had not properly claimed their dependents. The IRS has in some cases issued two checks once discovering that the taxpayer was due a stimulus payment for a child or children.

Haven't received your check yet? Well the IRS is still mailing them out and will be until mid-July. If there was any difficulty processing a direct deposit, you will get a paper check instead and this will delay your payment.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Online Debt Relief - NetDebt

If you are like millions of Americans who need debt relief, you may also be confused about where to go for debt help and embarrassed to ask. Nearly everyone knows that there are ways to consolidate debt or get a Debt Settlement, but unless you are familiar with the process, you may not know where to turn to get the solid debt advice you need to successfully negotiate debt settlements and consolidations.

NetDebt.com provides debt help and advice through a process that is conducted completely online. You don't have to attend counseling sessions that may be part of other types of debt help programs. NetDebt can fit neatly into your busy schedule. They have live counselors available for when you need them. Using their Debt Settlement Calculator will show you just how much you could save. Just answer a few questions about your debt situation and NetDebt will show you the savings that using the program could save you on your overall debt burden.

Ignoring the situation and ducking bill collectors won't help you, but getting reliable debt advice and debt counseling could put you back on the road to financial health.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Finding Found Money

There's no pleasanter surprise than "found" money. I got a call today from a relative who was searching a database in my state for abandoned property and came across two items in my name. I searched myself, made a claim and now await to hear of my good fortune.

Abandoned property is any financial asset with no activity for a specific period of time. In my state it's three years. This could include money in savings or checking accounts, unpaid wages, commissions, stocks, uncashed dividends and many other types of unclaimed or "abandoned" financial assets.

This money gets turned over to the state for safekeeping. The state may or may not publish this information in local newspapers, but not if the amount is a small one.

One way to find out if you have any abandoned property in the form of unclaimed money, you can go to a website like www.missingmoney.com or try a search on your state's website. Usually you can make a claim online but may have to provide some additional documentation to receive your payment.

Both of my claims are for under $100 but I don't know exactly how much either is. Hey, it's found money, so it's all good. The point is that I wouldn't even know about it and therefore, wouldn't have even one penny of it if I hadn't checked for it. So, you have nothing to lose, and much to gain for just a few minutes time.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Teens Using Credit to Buy Gas

What do teens with credit cards use them to purchase? Well it seems that almost 70% of teens now use credit cards to buy gas, an amazing jump from only 51.9% in 2007.

Teens use credit cards to purchase gas more often than they do clothes, which had previously had been their number one expenditure.

The information was gathered in a poll from Junior Achievement and The Allstate Foundation. Other findings of the poll show that 10.4% of teens now use a credit card, but 13% of teen cardholders say that the bill is paid by their parents.

So although more teens are getting hit by high gas prices, it seems that it may still be Mom and Dad footing the bill in too many cases.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Inflation Races Ahead of COLA for Seniors

Rising gas and food prices are hitting senior citizens hardest, and the COLA increases in Social Security benefits are just not keeping up with inflation. That's the conclusion of a study conducted by the Senior Citizens League.

According to the study, expenses for seniors have risen 88% since 2000 while benefits have increased a mere 24%, effectively reducing the buying power of seniors by 51%. The group states that the actual cost of living for seniors has risen almost four times faster than the cost of living adjustments in their Social Security.

With 1.2 million supporters, The Senior Citizens League is one of the nation’s largest nonpartisan seniors groups. Its mission is to promote and assist members and supporters, to educate and alert senior citizens about their rights and freedoms as U.S. Citizens, and to protect and defend the benefits senior citizens have earned and paid for.

Read more at www.seniorsleague.org

Saturday, May 3, 2008

What Will You Do with Your Tax Rebate?

The Federal Tax Rebates are getting set to start rolling out to taxpayers on May 9 and will continue for months until all have been paid out. So, what should we do with this windfall?

The intention of course, is to stimulate the economy by giving people "mad money" to spend and a great number of these rebates will probably be spent that way.

Some families will need them just to cover bills and make ends meet. But if you aren't in the position where you have to use the money to cover overdue bills and if you can restrain yourself long enough to stay away from the electronics store and that new TV, here's a better idea.

How about paying down some credit card debt? Doing so will benefit you financially over the long run by lowering your interest payments and giving you more disposable income. Pay an extra mortgage payment and bring your principal down.

You could invest in your IRA or put it into mutual funds. There are dozens of ways to utilize the money to better your financial picture for now and for the future.

So put down the flyer from the computer store and stop dreaming of that new flat-screen TV. Make choices that invest in your financial health and welfare.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Wire Transfer Scams Abound

We've all received those emails from high ranking government officials in foreign countries, usually African nations, that promise us a large sum of money for helping to "transfer" funds out of their country. This email scam often claims the sender is a member of displaced royalty or a former government administration.

But the scammers don't really know the person they are sending the email to, thousands of them go out per day. One scammer sent an email to someone on the staff of the Florida Attorney General. Big mistake.

The AG's office followed up with the scammer, who promised more information that would convince the recipient of his honesty, but were unable to secure any such information.

It's a good time to simply reiterate the ways to avoid email and wire transfer scams:

* don't send money to anyone you don't personally know
* don't accept checks or wire transfers
* don't wire back to the sender any "overpayment" - the check is usually fraudulent - it will bounce and you will never recover the money that you wired back
* if you are selling an item, accept only cash - if you take a check, be sure it has cleared before shipping the item
* confirm the identity of anyone with whom you do business
* never send money at the request of a stranger
* don't let the prospect of easy money hinder your critical thinking, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Personal Check Security

Life is more complicated than it used to be. Your checks have to have certain information - your name, the name of your financial institution, your account number and the ABA routing number - but are you putting too much information on them?

Security experts now recommend leaving off information like your phone number because it makes it easier to steal your identity. It seems easier to have it printed on the check, since many retailers will ask for it, but that convenience could leave you open to possible fraud.

Here are some security features that you can get on printed checks:

Void Pantographs: This is an invisible Void that only appears if the check is photocopied or scanned.

Chemical Voids: Again, this is invisible until eradication chemicals are applied to the paper, then either the word Void will become visible or the paper will show a stain, making the check unalterable.

Erasure Protection: The paper will show a stain if anyone tries to erase the writing on the check.

Watermarks : Watermarks can only be viewed by holding the check at a specific angle and cannot be reproduced by a scanner or copier.

Invisible fibers and security ink: These are only visible under black light, and are very difficult to reproduce.

Save That Refund

What are you going to do with your tax refund? Before you start planning trips to tropical islands or buying a shiny new car, consider what financial situations have been pressing on you in the past year.

Do you have credit card debt? As fees and interest pile up, do you always pay the minimum payment? Consider using part or all of your tax refund to pay down your credit card account. You will save money in the long run, and have that payment you normally make to the credit card to use for other expenses, or for saving.

Speaking of saving, do you save enough? Everyone needs at least three months worth of expenses set aside in savings in case of emergency. Your emergency fund should cover everything from rent to dry cleaning bills, any regular expense, for at least three months in case of illness or the loss of a job. Consider using your tax refund to bolster your savings account, whether it's for your emergency fund, college tuition or retirement.

Is it wrong to have a little fun with your refund? Not necessarily, but make sure that the bulk of it goes to accomplish something useful that will give you more financial peace of mind throughout the coming year. Then buy yourself some nice treat on your wish list.

The best advice? If you're getting a large refund, it is time to review your tax situation and witholding. Having the IRS hold your money for you is not the best solution. Better to put that money in an savings account where it will accrue interest or invest it in your 401K or IRA.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Credit Card Companies Oppose House Bill

Credit card companies are opposing a House bill that is aimed at making life easier for consumers who hold credit card accounts. The bill's goals are to stop arbitrary interest rate increases, as well as hikes in fees and penalties for customers who don't pay on time or have changes in their credit ratings.

The card companies say they prefer a Federal Reserve plan that would require lenders to more clearly elucidate the terms of their credit agreements. They warn that the House bill would limit business and cause everyone to pay higher rates if lenders were not allowed to reprice the risk based on the borrower's credit history.

Many consumers have found their interest rates being increased because of a late payment on another debt that is not related to the credit card. Protecting consumers from this practice of penalizing the consumer with higher rates on a debt for which they have not been late in payment or defaulted on was partly the reason that the House bill was drafted.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Consumer Confidence Down - Credit Spending Up

Although personal income rose slower than inflation in January, credit card spending rose for the second straight month with consumers spending twice as much on credit cards as the month previous.

With the collapse of the subprime mortgages, consumers who are finding it hard to qualify for loans are seeking alternate financing routes, using credit cards to span the financial gaps.

Many see the trend of consumers turning to credit cards to make ends meet as the first herald of a coming recession in the economy.

With bad news in the jobs sector and on Wall Street, consumer confidence sank to 33.1 last week, down from 48.5 in February.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Credit Card Scam at Disney World

Credit card scams are multiplying faster than we can get the word out about them, and apparently nothing is sacred to a scammer, not even Disney World.

Several guests at Disney World received phone calls regarding Disney tickets at cut-rate prices, purportedly from a Disney employee. In each case, their credit cards were charged for staggering amounts, $1500.00 in this case, for a total of $11,000 amongst the cards compromised.

Disney did the right thing and returned all the money to their customer's credit cards, but this is just another instance in which something that seems safe, could be a scam.

Always guard your credit card numbers and don't give them out over the phone unless you know for sure who is on the other end.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Not For Profit Debt Help

Getting into financial trouble and debt is easy, but staying out of debt and handling finances well is not as difficult as you may think. It all starts with a good financial plan and learning how to curb the debt you have while not incurring any further debt. You need to take a long, hard look at your current situation and take positive action to change it for the better.

In some cases, you can negotiate better terms with creditors on your own. Unfortunately, when late notices and demands start to roll in, people can panic, make unwise decisions and actually get themselves in deeper than they were. They will do almost anything to stop those collection calls, but it's important that they take the right steps.

If you are in that situation, now is when you need good solid advice and debt help to deal with your bills. Taking effective action can curb interest rates and penalties if you know how to go about it. Find out if debt consolidation is for you and what type of debt-repayment plans are available.

There are lots of companies out there that offer debt services but they are not all equal and some may even be scams. Companies that charge upfront fees or closing fees for debt consolidation may be running a scam or in some cases, charging illegal fees. When looking for debt help, check for companies that say they offer not for profit debt help. Check the Internet for information about the company, ask friends who have used debt management companies and check with the Better Business Bureau to make sure there are no complaints listed against them.

Financial health starts with solid planning, a budget and a determination to stay out of debt and live within your means. But if you get into trouble, there is help available. Be wise in choosing a debt management company and make a plan for your financial future.

IRS Declares Woman Dead

If you have been worrying about filing your taxes, here's one problem you probably don't have to deal with (but perhaps wish you did).

Laura Todd can't file her taxes because the IRS thinks she's dead. Although that sounds like a pretty good situation to be in at tax time to anyone who owes, Laura has found that being dead off and on for the last eight years hasn't been a lot of fun. In fact, it's caused her to have her health insurance cancelled and her tax refunds delayed. Laura isn't really dead - never has been - but due to an error in the Social Security Administration, she keeps going on the rolls of the deceased.

The really disturbing fact revealed in this news story is that in the last two years, the IRS has had to resurrect 23,000 people from the dead, and it is stated that it's impossible for them to tell who is alive and who has passed on.

Friday, February 8, 2008

How to Make a Budget

Creating a budget is the first and most important step to good personal financial planning. Budgeting helps you track where your money comes from, and most importantly, where it's going. In a few easy steps, you can tailor a budget that gives you control over your money and your future.

You can purchase budgeting software if you prefer, but the existing spreadsheet software already available on your computer will produce a good result, so there's no need to incur extra expense. You can also use one of the many budget worksheets available for you to download free on the internet. In a pinch, use a notebook and pencil.

For personal and household budgets, working with a monthly time period is usually best, as most bills come due monthly.

Ready to start? Here we go!


*Income - Collect paystubs, W2s, bank statements and documentation pertaining to any other source of income such as loan proceeds or child support. If your income regularly includes commissions or other variables, taking an average over at least three months is best.

Time to gather up the bills. Rent or mortgage and car payments will remain the same from month to month but for bills that vary depending on usage, such as utilities, take an average. 12 months is optimal, but a three month average should yield a workable number.


Now it's time to plug in the numbers. When listing income, add all sources of income together for your monthly total. It is usually best to use net income, since this is the amount you actually have to spend. List expenses separately by category. The more specific the category, the easier it will be to track each expense. For instance, don't list "Utilities", break it down into phone, electric, etc.

Here is a list of some common categories of expenses. You should add items or delete items on this list as necessary to reflect your personal expenses.

* Rent or Mortgage payments
* Food - don't forget to include eating out and school lunches as well as groceries in this category
* Utilities - Heat, Phone, Electricity, Cable or Satellite TV, Internet service provider, Water and Sewer bills
* Transportation - car payments, fuel, average maintenance costs and insurance premiums
* Clothing - include costs of cleaning as well as purchase of new and replacement items
* Medical - include any insurance premiums that you pay directly, direct payments for medical services, co-pays, prescription drugs, eye exams and eyeglasses or contact lenses
* Entertainment - include expenses like movie tickets, going out with friends or dating
* Miscellaneous - include regular expenses that don't fit into other categories - track all debit card and cash transactions for at least a week for items you purchase at coffee shops and convenience stores, etc.
* Savings

One of the benefits of using a budget is that you may be able to identify unnecessary expenses or adjust some services to reduce bills. Scrutinize each bill for ways to save. Simply canceling premium channels or changing to basic service can pare down that cable bill. Money saved in one category can be transferred to another, such as savings.

Increasing your savings is an important goal of budgeting. Everyone should have three months of expenses saved for emergencies such as job loss or serious illness. After making your budget you will know your savings target for that emergency fund.

Do Not Call Registry Now Permanent

The Do Not Call Registry is now permanent, thanks to the Do Not Call Improvement Act of 2007 that passed Congress this week. Previously, the FTC required that you re-register after five years or they would drop your number from the list. This act makes registration permanent, with no renewal necessary.

Telemarketers are not allowed by law to call consumers who have registered their phone numbers with the Do Not Call Registry and face heavy fines if they do. Signing up will prevent you from receiving calls from telemarketers, solicitors and scammers.

The legislation also requires that the FTC review the Do Not Call list for invalid or disconnected numbers, so that the list stays up-to-date.

If you are signed up for the "Do Not Call" list, you are now permanently registered. If you haven't registered yet, you can do so at the registry website.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Scamsters Increase In Uncertain Market

The North American Securities Administrators Association is warning investors to be more cautious and beware of scammers who proliferate in times of uncertainty in the market. Those nearing retirement are especially at risk for being targeted by scammers.

Scamsters follow the news and often prey on investors’ fear to promote bogus investments with promises of high return and little or no risk,” said NASAA President and North Dakota Securities Commissioner Karen Tyler.

Tyler also said investors nearing retirement are particularly at risk of being targeted by phony investment schemes promising high returns to make up for losses in retirement accounts. “We are concerned that investors may allow uncertainty over current market conditions to lead them into fraudulent investment schemes that could weaken or devastate their financial position, potentially wiping out the retirement security they worked so hard to build. A hasty decision often can make a bad situation worse.”

Tyler gave these recommendations to investors:

* Hang up on aggressive cold callers and delete unsolicited e-mail messages promoting investments opportunities with little or no risk.
* Contact their state or provincial securities regulator to check that both the seller and the investment are licensed and registered. If they aren’t, don’t invest. Contact information is available on the NASAA website here.
* Request written information about any investment; carefully review it or ask your financial adviser to evaluate it.
* Use common sense. Get-rich-quick promises are usually signs of investment fraud.
* If you suspect you’ve been scammed, report it to your state or provincial securities regulator. Your call could help others from losing money.

Tyler also cautioned that financial professionals do not generally advise clients to make changes to investment portfolios in times of market volatility.

Read the press release

How to Teach Kids About Money

Should you force your child to save? You should if you want to teach them fiscal responsibility say the experts.

Just seeing you handling money responsibly isn't enough to teach kids how to handle it themselves. By making them save a portion of every allowance or money they receive, you teach them a lesson about finances and also build a good savings for them that they can use when they go to college.

That concept and other ideas, including how to introduce your children to credit cards is covered in this article, where experts in personal finance discuss ways to make your kids more aware of the right ways to handle money.

It's good reading and full of good, solid advice. I recommend it.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

FICO Scoring Changes - Some are Good

The way your credit score is calculated is changing, and some of the changes could be to your benefit.

Fair Isaac Co,. the creator of the FICO score, has devised a new system that most CRAs will be using by spring. Under the new system, you will not be penalized for the occasional late payment as much as you have been in the past. The realization is that everyone sometimes misses a payment and the focus will be more on who is likely to default or not on a loan or a credit account.

Applications for new credit won't have the same impact either. Under the present system, having too many new applications for credit which cause an inquiry on your credit report have been marked against you. These will lose some of their importance and cast much less of a cloud under the new system.

Because credit scores are becoming increasingly important when someone wants to open a line of credit, take out a mortgage or loan or simply apply for a credit card, the new changes will improve scores for those with good payment histories and no delinquencies.
The new system will, however, further penalize those will recurring missed payments or overdue accounts.

Susquehanna Bank Issues Email Scam Alert

Susquehanna Bank, based in Pennsylvania, has issued a scam alert to all of its customers. Customers have been receiving phishing emails that purport to come from the bank but are really attempts to secure the customers personal and confidential information. The bank also warns that clicking on any links may compromise your computer's security. Here's the news release from their website:

Susquehanna Bank is warning consumers about a phishing scam in which fraudulent emails claim that the customer’s account has been suspended and they must go to a website to update their information so it can be unlocked. These are not legitimate emails from the bank, and consumers should not click on any links in these emails or respond with any confidential financial or other information. The emails are part of a phishing scam, in which criminals try to trick people into divulging their confidential information. Clicking on a link could expose a computer to malicious software that could track keystrokes, potentially giving the scammers private information such as account passwords. If you receive a suspicious email, you can notify us by emailing reportfraud@susquehanna.net.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Home Prices Down - Refinances UP

The prices for existing homes are dropping and the market is slumping, but mortgage applications are up. With the recent drop in the interest rate, people are rushing to refinance and take advantage of locking in a lower rate. But fewer seem to be rushing to purchase a home.

Refinance applications were up 92% from November, but purchase applications only 7%. The drop in interest rate has certainly sent people shopping for a better deal on their existing mortgages or trying to get out of ARM mortgages where the interest rate is about to increase.

The decline in housing inventory and house prices isn't generating a rise in sales, however, with most buyers willing to wait, expecting prices to drop lower.

Credit is a bit tighter and conditions for a loan stricter, but if you have equity in your house and are locked into a bad mortgage with a high rate or in an ARM about to balloon, this may be the right time for you to consider a refinance option.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

New Networking Site - OnlyAlumni.com

Social networking sites are hugely popular these days, with new ones cropping up from time to time to fill some particular niche that has somehow been overlooked. OnlyAlumni.com hopes to fill this void for college alumni who may be looking to connect with former fellow students and keep up on the news and events at their alma mater.

Each college or university has its own group page for members. Each page has subheadings for news and events. Finding your particular group is fairly easy as all groups are listed alphabetically. Therefore, Michigan State Alumni group is easy enough to find by scrolling the list and clicking on it takes you directly to the group page. You can create your account or sign into an existing account right there to view information on Michigan State University and the members of the group.

You don't have to wait until you graduate to join, it's an excellent way to connect to fellow students as well as keep up with the news on campus. For instance, if you attend Kent State University in Ohio, you can check out local events as well as post your own events, photos and messages. Did you study abroad on a Semester at Sea? There's a group for you, too.

The site is easily navigable and could be a very useful tool for both social networking and making business contacts as there are also numerous groups for employees of various companies. Making connections between former fellow alumni and prospective business opportunities can only be a good thing in terms of your career.

The site has a lot of potential and at this time is only lacking in membership. But all good things were once new and buzz about the site will swell the membership ranks in time, I am sure. OnlyAlumni.com is definitely worth a look for anyone interested in keeping up with the latest at their alma mater or looking to make worthwhile business connections.

New Scam Targets Seniors

Scam artists are targeting seniors with a new ploy that involves Social Security. The scammer calls the victim and tells them they will be receiving a new Social Security card, and in some cases, a new free medical card. The victim is asked for a lot of information and buried in that maze of questions are such things as social security numbers and bank account information.

This new identity theft scam works because people believe they will need their new cards to continue receiving benefits or could miss out on the free medical benefits that the promised card offers.

Agencies of the federal government do not ask for sensitive personal information over the phone. Anyone receiving a call like this should hang up and contact the Social Security Administration. Never give out SS numbers or bank account numbers over the phone unless you are absolutely sure of the identity of the party to whom you are speaking.


Friday, January 18, 2008

Deducting Job Search Expenses

If you searched for a new job in 2007, you can deduct certain of your expenses when you file your tax return, even if you didn't get a new job. You cannot deduct the expenses if you are looking for a new job in a new occupation, had a substantial lapse of time between your last job and your job search or if you were looking for a job for the first time.

You can deduct these types of fees:

* Résumé - you can deduct the cost of preparing and mailing résumés to prospective employers

* Employment agencies - you can deduct the fee if you engaged the services of an employment agency in your job search in the same occupation

* Travel expenses - If you traveled to an area to look for a new job you can deduct your travel expenses to the area and back. If you spent any of that time on personal pursuits outside of your job search, you can still deduct the portion of the travel expenses related to the job search.

Remember, these deductions only apply if you are searching for a job in the same occupation as your present job or most recent job. For more information on expenses you may be entitled to claim as deductions, refer to the IRS website.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Review Credit Debt - New Year's Resolution

It's a new year and that's a great time to review your financial standing. Get out your credit card statements, look at your rates, fees, balances and decide if you could get a better deal. There are still some good credit card deals out there. Would a 0% interest balance transfer consolidate some balances and save you money? Don't jump into offers and if your credit card accounts are already outstanding deals, don't give them up to save a few pennies now, you could end up paying more later in interest and fees.

Reviewing your credit obligations can also help you devise a plan and strategy for paying down debt and cleaning up any accounts that cost you in interest over small balances. Think about paying off those balances with the highest interest first. Use balance transfers to save interest only if the interest rate doesn't go up astronomically after a short period. Read all the fine print and make a plan to eliminate the debts that are draining your budget in 2008.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Credit Card Benefits

Pulling out a credit card to make a purchase is not always a financial sin. Credit cards offer some protections that may help you in certain situations. For instance, if you dispute a charge on your bill because the merchant didn't deliver or the product was defective. If trying to work the situation out with the merchant doesn't solve the problem, contact your credit card company and file a dispute on the charge. You won't be responsible for the disputed charge until after the credit card company has contacted the merchant and you are satisfied. You may get the charge cleared if the dispute is settled in your favor.

Many credit cards offer other useful benefits, such as coverage for the insurance deductible on a rented car. Rental companies always ask for a credit card when hiring out vehicles, so read through your account details and see if any of your cards offer you this protection. If so, that's the card to use.

It's always a good idea to read the fine print to find out what penalties and interest the card company can charge and what changes they are allowed to make. But while you're doing that, don't forget to look for the benefits as well, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Credit Card Lenders See Share Prices Drop

The rise in credit card defaults is beginning to affect the price of shares of credit card companies. After Capitol One, a major lender, predicted another large loss due to credit default in 2008, shares fell by 32 cents according to CNN.Money.

Shares of American Express and Discover Financial Services also fell, American Express losing 30 cents to drop to $48.79.

CIBC World Markets analyst Meredith Whitney said that up until now consumers have prioritized credit card payments, and the loss in the credit card sector is new to investors.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Christmas Debt Burdens Consumers

The Christmas season left many consumers a little dazed and on average, about $1600 further into credit card debt. What's more, many consumers used more than one credit card, dividing purchases amongst two, three or four cards - leaving them without a clear idea of the amount of debt they incurred.

Getting out of that debt could now take them years, just for this Christmas's shopping alone.

The worst thing to do is to allow yourself to slip up on payments. Some credit card interest rates will go up with just one late payment, making your purchases that much more costly and lengthening the time it will take you to pay them off.

The best advice? Make tightening your belt your New Year's Resolution. Shave and slice the money to cover your credit card debts out of every other household budget category possible.

It may be time to look for a 0% balance transfer card, or consult debt consolidation services.

Now that the season is past, take time to examine your credit card statements, work out a plan to pay off the debt on each and stick to it. Meanwhile, don't use your credit cards to make up for money you just cut out of your budget, in fact, don't use them at all. It's time for a moratorium on spending until you are clear of debt.

Monday, January 7, 2008

ToonUp Your Training Program

We all know that training seminars are necessary but too often employees attending training sessions lose interest because they don't feel engaged. That's when the snooze factor sets in. No matter how important your message is, employees who are watching the clock, doodling and daydreaming, are not going to receive the full benefits of the training experience. Employees themselves would rather not attend long and boring sessions but come to life when the presentation is engaging and interesting.

So, how do you present key concepts in a way that will both impart the important points of your training program and hold your employees attention, ensuring that they understand the message and that it will be retained? One company has a fun and unique way for you to communicate, train and motivate employees using animated software. Their animated cartoons called "ToonUps" can effectively get your message across while entertaining trainees abd capturing their attention.

Is there a better way to communicate than through educational entertainment? In addition to the ToonUps videos, they even have ToonUp Quizzes online that employees can take to ascertain their understanding and retention of important points and topics covered in the training. These quizzes feature the same animated ToonUps as well as facts, jokes, trivia and much more to make the learning experience pleasurable.

MaraStar covers a wide variety of topics of interest to both small business and large corporations. Videos for the sales staff focusing on sales tips or skills, videos for use by the Human Resources department on everything from Diversity to Punctuality and Absenteeism, as well as the basic points on office professionalism. Their video training library also contains ToonUps aimed at improving customer service and for call center training.

Remember, unless your message is communicated effectively, motivating and inspiring your employee, you are wasting both your time and your employee's time. MaraStar Communications gives you one way to make sure they're listening.

Free File 2007 Through IRS

Taxpayers with an adjusted gross income of $54,000 or less are eligible to use the Free File alternative through the IRS website. Free File is provided by "for profit" tax preparation companies but for those who qualify, it is free to prepare and file your taxes online through the Free File program.

In 2007, responding to critics of RALs, the IRS banned refund anticipation loans from its Free File program. However, the IRS promises fast refunds within 10 days of filing if the taxpayer chooses direct deposit.

If your adjusted gross income is less than $54,000 and you plan to use the Free File program, you must do it through the IRS website.

Those who do not qualify for Free File because their income exceeds $54,00 may still use the e-file option.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Gunman Lets Victim Keep Credit Card

This is a story of someone being unbelievably smart, unbelievably courageous or unbelievably foolish. Whichever it was, he was also unbelievably lucky.

A Chicago man who was standing outside a store waiting for his family, found himself with a gun pressed to his head by a man asking for his wallet. Despite the fact that his life was in danger from the gunman, the victim asked if he might remove two items from the wallet before handing it over - an ID card and one credit card. The gunman obliged him and the victim removed the cards before giving the robber his wallet. The robber fled with a wallet containing other credit cards and about $150 in cash.

I don't know why the man wanted one credit card in particular, but let's hope that it was the card with the highest available balance and that all the others were already maxed out.