Extension Educator, Consumer Economics
Extension Specialist, Consumer Economics
Extension Educator, Consumer Economics
June 28, 2012
As many of you know, I have been writing and teaching about retirement planning for years. It's familiar territory for me. But it was a very different animal when I recently wrestled with my personal decision about whether now was the time for me to retire from the University.
I'm going to spoil the suspense and tell you the ending up front: I am retiring from University of Illinois Extension as of June 30. I hope to continue to do personal finance education, and even to be an occasional guest blogger here on Plan Well – Retire Well. But my duties as Consumer Economics educator will be over at the end of this week.
For this last post, I decided to talk with you about the kinds of information that helped me make this decision. There is much that is uncertain: how investments will perform in the future, how long my husband will continue to work, how much income I will be able to generate from my work as an independent financial educator, and what the future inflation rate will be, to name a few. But there was a lot of other information that was available to me. I tried to make good use of all of it when making this life-changing decision.
I didn't accumulate this knowledge and information overnight. So even if you think retirement is a few years away, start thinking about the information you will need to make an informed decision.
Here are some of the specific things I have done to fully understand my financial situation and how different decisions would change it:
The decision about when to retire is a very individual one. And it isn't all about the finances. I also weighed the burden of a long commute, my desire to do some things that I can no longer do in my current position, and some quirks about my pension plan that meant I should either leave now or be certain I would work another two or three years.
There are many uncertainties, and I have re-evaluated this decision more than once. But at least I know I made an informed decision. Now it's time to move on.
I have thoroughly enjoyed writing for the Plan Well – Retire Well blog. I hope you have enjoyed my posts, and maybe picked up some useful tips along the way. And I hope to be back, at least from time to time, to share the new things I'll be learning.
Thanks for listening.
June 25, 2012
Don't do well under pressure? Find it hard to think about saving money for retirement after the holiday season? Well, then now is the time to plan for taxes!
While it may seem like an odd season to plan for taxes, the summer can be timely. Here are some financial strategies that may help you when you sit down to pay taxes in April 2013 IF you do them now.
Tax Folder for 2012: If you haven't already done so, set-up a file folder for all tax-related information for 2012. Then, when you have a receipt or other paperwork that you want to find in April, you will have a designated place to put it now.
Save Receipts for Charitable Donations: Many of us use the summer to clean out closets, garages and basements. When you donate that "good but not useful to you stuff" to a charitable organization, you may qualify for a tax deduction. Charitable contributions are deductible only if you itemize deductions on Form 1040, Schedule A. You will need written documentation for donations worth $250 or more. See IRS Publication 526, Charitable Contributions for more details.
Tax Credit for Summer Camps: Do you have a child less than 13 years of age and do you work or are looking for work? Then you may qualify for a tax credit for care for your children, including summer camps. The cost of day camp may count as an expense; however, expenses for overnight camps do not qualify.
In fact, whether your childcare provider is a sitter at your home or a daycare facility outside the home, you'll get some tax benefit if you qualify for the credit. The Child and Dependent Care Credit is available for expenses incurred during the summer and throughout the rest of the year. The credit can be up to 35 percent of your qualifying expenses, depending on your income. For more information check out IRS Publication 503, Child and Dependent Care Expenses.
Save for Retirement: I find it easier to think about saving for retirement in the summer than in February! If you do too, now is a good time to consider increasing your contribution to a tax-advantaged savings plan either at work or in an IRA. Increasing your savings for retirement NOW means that you will gain in April at tax-paying time. For more information, view IRA Basics.
For more information about tax publications or questions, visit www.irs.gov or call for forms at 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676.)
June 22, 2012
Last month, I obtained my credit report from two of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies online and wrote about that experience in my May 18 post. Today, I requested the third one by phone so that I could compare that with the online process.
Many financial experts recommend requesting your credit report by phone, and my experience confirmed that thinking. While I had to answer a number of security questions for the online reports, I only had to provide identification information for the phone request.
To order your credit report by phone, call 1-877-322-8228. Even though there are three major credit reporting agencies, you request your report using one, centralized system.
The automated phone request service is in English only. The online request service is also only in English. According to a 2006 news release from Consumers Union (the publisher of Consumer Reports), the credit reporting agencies have taken the position that the law requiring them to provide free annual credit reports did not require them to provide the service in other languages. For individuals who are not fluent in English or who are uncomfortable with automated phone systems, the other option is to complete a printed form and mail it in. At least that way, you can take your time and get someone to help you with the instructions.
The Phone Experience
The phone request system is completed automated. For me, it worked without a hitch. It carefully repeats each piece of information you provide and asks you to confirm whether it understood you correctly. For example, when I had to state and then spell my first name, it captured that information correctly. Of course, my first name is only five letters so it may not be as challenging as a longer name.
I placed the call from my office; if I had called from my home, the process would have been even more streamlined. It begins by telling you that your report(s) will be mailed within 15 days, that you will be asked to enter information it needs to complete the request, and that you should not hang up until instructed to do so. Then the inquiries began. I was asked to say or enter:
The system then "spoke" the last name for the person it had on record at that address, and asked me to confirm if that was correct. The, it "spoke" the first name – which was not me. I was prompted to speak and spell my first name. This was the first item for which I could not enter my responses using the numbers on the phone; I had to speak my response.
There were a few more questions before my request was completed:
While it took several minutes to work my way through the request, the system was easy to understand. If I entered something wrong, it was easy to correct since I was asked to confirm each piece of information before moving on to the next item. The instructions were clearly spoken, although it had a little trouble pronouncing my last name and the name of the town where I live.
This was a very different experience from requesting my credit reports online. It was easier because I did not have to answer any security questions, but someone who hates automated phone systems might be turned off by it.
Whichever way you prefer to check your history, please take advantage of your right to obtain a copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies each year.
June 19, 2012
In January 2012, as part of my ACES in Sierra Leone Study Abroad course, our University of Illinois students worked with World Vision of Sierra Leone to assess their project to develop inland valley rice swamps and farmer groups since the war ended. Sierra Leone suffered a horrific 11 year-long civil war through the 1990s but since 2002 the country has been working to rebuild, heal, and get the economy going.
As a part of the World Vision work in southern Sierra Leone we learned about their use of savings and lending groups to build trust among community members and to build some assets. Even a small amount of funds, on the order of $10, can make a huge difference in the life of a family in rural Sierra Leone. The way the savings and lending groups works is that each week the group has a meeting (a group consists of between 15 and 30 people) and each member contributes about 50 cents per week. The money is deposited into a wooden lock box with three padlocks on it: one controlled by the World Vision development facilitator; one by a teacher; and one by another local leader. This way all three people need to be in the same place for anyone in the group to access the money and no one person can divert the funds without others knowing about it.
Contributing weekly to build savings gives the group members an asset base and it also provides a sort of insurance, like an emergency fund. One group member related about how having access to the fund helped when his wife had an emergency hospitalization. This man said if the group funds were not available he would have had to sell a bag of cocoa at a very low price to a middle-man, thereby losing much of its value. Another person said the funds allowed a low-cost loan that permitted their family to pay school fees. The savings and lending group also helped create group cohesion and the group reported they are building plans to do agricultural businesses together with rice production and marketing.
What are some lessons we can take from the savings and lending group? First, save regularly! Even if it is a little amount. Little bits add up and accumulate into useful amounts. Second, check your insurance. For the savings and lending group members, their funds served first as a kind of insurance for health expenses and other unforeseen expenses. Third, build up your emergency fund. Finance experts recommend having between 3 and 6 months of funds in a readily accessible form saved. Last, check your credit. Make sure you have access to credit in order to make a needed large purchase such as a home or car or to take advantage of a small-business opportunity.
The people in the Sierra Leonean village along the dusty and bumpy road between Segbwema and Kono give us an inspiring example of building financial assets through workable, small steps.
June 11, 2012
College seniors who graduated in 2010 carried an average of $25,250 in student loan debt, according to The Project on Student Debt.
CNN Money reports that the average cost of a wedding is more than $27,000.
And, the average cost of a new car is $30,303, as reported by Forbes.
Let's think about this. What's the worth of each of these items – college education, wedding, and new car – 10 years down the road?
While the current economy has been extremely difficult for young adults looking for work, having a college education does increase a person's odds of finding employment. Nearly half of all recent high school graduates are looking for full-time employment, according to a Rutgers' University study.
In contrast the underemployment rate (including those who would prefer more hours of work or who have given up looking for work) is about 19% for recent young college graduates.
19% underemployment is not good news but it's much better than almost 50%!
College student loan debt has been in the news headlines lately. What are your thoughts about it?