Extension Educator, Consumer Economics
Extension Specialist, Consumer Economics
Extension Educator, Consumer Economics
July 26, 2011
Major storms can be more than an inconvenience – they can also hurt you financially.
Did you lose power during the recent storms? If the power outage resulted in food spoilage or other losses, you may be able to request reimbursement from your utility company. Check claim forms such as the one for Commonwealth Edison for more information.
"Casualty losses" may be deductible on your income taxes, if they are more than $100 greater than your adjusted gross income. According to the IRS, "A casualty loss can result from the damage, destruction or loss of your property from any sudden, unexpected, or unusual event such as a flood, hurricane, tornado, fire, earthquake or even volcanic eruption. A casualty does not include normal wear and tear or progressive deterioration."
The IRS website has a short explanation about casualty losses. You can learn more by referring to Publication 584, Casualty, Disaster, and Theft Loss Workbook (Personal-Use Property) if the loss involved personal-use. For business property, check Publication 584B (PDF), Business Casualty, Disaster, and Theft Loss Workbook.
July 25, 2011
Treasurer offices across the United States have been left holding the bag; the bag with your unclaimed property in it! Each year, millions of dollars of unclaimed or abandoned property is turned over to state treasurer offices across the country. To date, it is estimated that over $32 billion of unclaimed property is waiting to be found. In Illinois, our treasurer's office has been going around the state educating the public and in many cases helping them find their unclaimed money.
I usually go to Illinois' website, CashDash and check to see if I or anyone I know has unclaimed money. Recently, after checking in all the names I may have used, I discovered that I had a missing rebate from a utility company. I also found money for several family members and friends. When I told others about what I had done, some were skeptical and thought that it may be a set up for bill collectors to locate them. So I decided, maybe it would be a good idea to explain what unclaimed or abandoned property means.
Unclaimed property, also referred to as abandoned property, refers to accounts where a financial institution or company has been unable to reach the owner of the property for a year or more. To assist, each state has an unclaimed property statute which prevents your property from going back to the company just because they have lost contact with you. "Companies are required by law to send funds from lost accounts to the state of the owner's last known address. That means you could potentially have unclaimed property in every state that you have resided," according to the unclaimed property website.
Typical unclaimed property might include:
State treasurers' offices and officials have made great strides to locate property owners through public service announcements and awareness campaigns, website efforts, and much more. To aid in this effort, the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) has established a website which makes it easier to search for your unclaimed property by providing a link to state databases all over the country. If you'd like to search for property for yourself or someone you know, visit their website at www.unclaimed.org and at a commercial website that they endorse www.missingmoney.com . Use of both websites is free to the public.
How much does it cost to get unclaimed property returned?
Generally, there are no fees or nominal fees associated with reclaiming your lost property. There are businesses that have been formed around locating lost property. If someone contacts you about paying a fee for the return of your lost property, do not respond to them. If you have lost property, you can visit one of the websites previously mentioned to claim your lost property without paying a fee other than the ones that might be assessed by your state's unclaimed property division.
How can you keep your property from being lost in the future?
Most of the time, property goes unclaimed because the company no longer knows how to locate the appropriate owner. To prevent this from happening to you, you should:
So, has all of this made you think that you may have some missing money out there? If so, visit one or both of the websites mentioned, you might be surprised by what you find. Happy hunting. Until we talk again...
July 13, 2011
Should I still be teaching people how to write checks , use a checkbook register, and to balance their checkbook?
I recently attended an excellent presentation by Brenda Cude, Ph.D.,Professor, Department of Housing and Consumer Economics, University of Georgia, about the concept of financial literacy: what is it and how do we measure it. It was a thought-provoking look at just what it means to be financially literate, such as whether having access to financial products and services is actually a required in order to be financially literate.
Those ideas may help me wrestle with a question I have as a financial educator: what are the basic management skills that a person needs to function in today's world? In the past, critical skills included knowing how to write a check, how to keep an accurate checkbook register, and how to endorse a check. Now, I'm questioning whether those topics have any place in my basic financial management classes.
How do you keep track of the balance in your checking account? I'm betting the majority of you said "I check online." Or maybe you call your bank. But if you carry a smart phone, you may have said "There's an app for that." Maybe you use software or an online service to download all your transactions and keep track.
So, is the checkbook register out-dated? Most transactions are electronic and are processed within hours. Checks are converted into electronic transactions, reducing or eliminating the "float" – the lag of time between when you mail or give the check to the payee and when the amount is deducted from your account.
And what about writing checks? Do I still need to be teaching that? I remember how hard it was for many of us to learn to write numbers out, to translate "$14.25" into "fourteen dollars and twenty-five cents." It's a lot easier to swipe a debit card.
Then there's reconciling your account. (Did you read that sentence and say to yourself, What's she talking about?" If so, that just proves my point.) University of Illinois Extension's award-winning curriculum, All My Money, has always included a final activity about bank accounts that requires you have to do all these things: write checks to pay bills, endorse a check for deposit, use the ATM to deposit the check, keep a checkbook register, and reconcile the register with the bank statement at the end of the month. How many of you even look at your bank statement, much less have a checkbook register to balance it against? I'm a firm believer that we all need to verify all the transactions on the statement by checking it against debit card receipts, ATM deposit receipts, etc. But I'm ready to admit that you can do that without following these more rigid procedures.
We're in the process of revising All My Money, including the lesson on bank accounts. I'd be very interested in your thoughts on the skills that are needed in today's world to successfully manage a checking account. So weigh in by clicking below and submitting a comment.
July 7, 2011
George Dawson grew up around Marshall, Texas on a dirt-poor farm and lived a remarkable life. He died about ten years ago and he was well known for having learned how to read when he was 98 years old. The book Life is So Good tells his story (co-authored by George Dawson and Richard Glaubman) and if you are ever looking for an enjoyable book that is captivating and uplifting you might enjoy reading Dawson's autobiography.
One of the amazing things about George Dawson was that he was filled with gratitude and he enjoyed the simple things of life. It hit me that he carried this attitude and spirit despite the injustices and difficult times he faced growing up as the grandson of a slave in pre-civil rights era East Texas. Dawson's life illustrates the case of a working man of simple faith and deep character. Along with his attitude of gratitude, George Dawson had a straight-forward approach to work, saying in his later years when he supplemented his modest Social Security check with yard work jobs, "A man is supposed to work and take pride in what he does no matter what the work is." He was close to ninety when he stopped doing yard work.
Another striking thing about George Dawson was his approach to money. His philosophy of money centered on being content with what you have and he said "Nothing wrong with planning ahead, but wanting more than you have makes a person worry. " On money management he said "A person only needs to manage what they have. Be a good manager and there is no need to worry." His life involved being able to enjoy each day as it came.Dawson's example is a lesson on contentment and focusing on the important things in life. Take a break and read his life story for an uplifting summer read.
July 5, 2011
I think one of the tricks to using money wisely is to be conscious of where my money goes – how I spend, save and invest it. To be conscious, I need to slow down. This is one of my financial goals for 2011 – and I have "found" money in places I didn't expect it. For example, looking over credit card statements I have found reoccurring charges for services we no longer want (such as online video games no one is still playing, online newspaper subscriptions to newspapers no one is reading, etc.). By canceling these subscriptions, I've saved quite a bit of money! Even $3.99 a month adds up to almost $48 a year, and even more if it continues year after year.
As much as I've tried to slow down with my money, it's hard to change habits. My paycheck is direct deposited. In a recent blog post, A New Financial World, I talk about how technology can help you save time and manage finances more easily. Direct deposit is a good example of how technology has simplified our lives; no more driving to the bank Friday after work and waiting in line to make a deposit.
But, using technology requires learning new good habits ... I have a bad habit of looking at a bill or earnings statement quickly, and saying to myself "this looks about right." The other day I finally (after obviously months of moving too quickly with finances) took a close look at my paycheck earnings statement. (In my defense, I do want to say that I have to log onto a website with a password, and click through several pages before I can see my statement – not a quick task.) Well, it turns out that I have been charged for a parking permit – which I don't have – for several months! What a waste of money! I feel stupid for not noticing this; I obviously still need to work on being conscious of my money.
Here's one more example of why it's important to read our financial papers carefully. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is warning people to watch out for "phone cramming" – the illegal practice of mysterious, unauthorized fees added to people's monthly phone bills. Crammers often try to go undetected by submitting $1.99 or $2.99 charges to tens of thousands of consumers. A recent survey showed that 95% of consumers affected by one cramming company were not aware of the charges. That's a lot of money going down the drain! For more information about phone cramming, read the FCC Cramming Tip Sheet.
What tips do you have to help raise people's consciousness about their money use? Have you ever found expenses on your bills that you didn't want? I'd like to hear about your experiences.