Monday, March 31, 2008

Survey: Gens X and Y admit savings shortfall

WASHINGTON (3/31/08)--Members of Generations X and Y, despite saying they know they need to save for retirement and believe they can achieve important financial goals, report that they know more about making their iPods work than they do about making their money work for them (AARP March 19).

A report released this month by the American Savings Education Council and the Divided We Fail group (AARP, Business Roundtable, National Federation of Independent Business, and the Service Employees International Union) revealed a disconnect between what young adults know and what they practice.

Even though 86% know they should be more prepared for financial emergencies, 40% report that they're more knowledgeable about their iPods than they are about filing taxes (26%), buying a house (21%), investing outside their employer (15%), and saving for retirement (15%).

The report, "Preparing for Their Future: A Look at the Financial State of Gen X and Gen Y," indicates that young adults still aren't aligning actions with financial values and goals. The report serves as a wake-up call to these generations, as well as to older generations who need to educate Gen Xers and Gen Yers about the importance of starting to save early (American Savings Education Council March 19).

Other findings:

Nearly three out of five (57%) young adult respondents described themselves as "financially independent."

Only half of Gen Yers (52%) and Gen Xers (48%) save money regularly.

Only 9% say they feel very satisfied with their current financial situation.

Eight out of ten (83%) report having some type of non-mortgage debt, 65% have credit card debt, 48% have a car loan, 31% have student loans, 27% have medical debt, and 22% have some other type of non-mortgage debt.

More than one out of ten (11%) respondents say they have a home equity loan.

For this study, Gen X was defined as those born between 1968 and 1979, and Gen Y includes those born between 1980 and 1988.

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Friday, March 28, 2008

CU heavily damaged in explosion, firefighter killed

WESTCHESTER, Calif. (3/28/08)--An explosion Wednesday afternoon at an intersection near Los Angeles International Airport killed one firefighter and critically injured another, and caused significant damage to Water and Power Community CU.

No credit union employees or members were hurt in the explosion. The cause of the explosion and the specific extent of the damages are yet to be determined, Linda Heidtke, marketing director at the Westchester-based credit union, told News Now.

"We had had two credit union members and three staff members in the building at the time of the explosion," Heidtke said. "No one was hurt. However, the branch will be closed for some time.

"Our members are being directed to two of our nearby branches or to the shared branching system of the Credit Union Service Center system for their banking needs," she added.

Water and Power implemented its business continuity plan in the aftermath of the explosion and "it worked beautifully," Heidtke said. "Our call center was flooded with phone calls, but we were able to get word out about the explosion to our members on our website and were able to e-blast a message to our members."

Water and Power CU and the Los Angeles Firemen's CU have established a memorial fund through the Fire Family Foundation, a 501(c) 3 foundation, to honor Firefighter Brent A. Lovrien, the Los Angeles firefighter who lost his life.

"Our deepest sympathy goes out to the Lovrien family and the Los Angeles firefighters of Station 95. Their heroism saved the lives of our Westchester branch employees," Carl Stewart, Water and Power president/CEO, said in a press release issued by the credit union.

"We are forever grateful to Brent Lovrien, to firefighter Anthony Guzman, who remains hospitalized, and to the rest of the L.A. firefighters and police who came to our aid," he added.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Beware crooks filing phony tax returns

NEW YORK (3/26/08)--One of the most serious problems facing taxpayers has nothing to do with calculations or complicated forms. An increasing number of complaints involves a form of identity theft, and it's throwing taxpayer victims for a loop (ABC News March 17).

Although the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received 20,782 complaints about tax refund fraud in 2007, the IRS is sure those numbers significantly understate the size of the problem because it's difficult to track (The Wall Street Journal March 12).

This form of ID theft occurs when a scam artist files a phony tax return--in your name, with your Social Security number and other personal information--in an attempt to collect a fraudulent refund.

In one case reported by The Wall Street Journal (March 12), a woman was notified by her bank that she had been rejected for a refund anticipation loan--yet she hadn't applied for one and hadn't even filed her tax returns yet. Another woman was asked by H&R Block Inc. to bring in some paperwork that she'd accidentally taken with her from its office two days earlier. After informing the agent that she hadn't been to the office and hadn't filed her taxes, she discovered that a crook had filed a tax return in her name and already pocketed a $4,005 instant loan.

In other cases, phony returns have been filed using children's Social Security numbers.

Take precautions to guard against tax refund ID theft:
  • Check out tax preparers. Make sure you hand over sensitive information only to people you trust after checking credentials carefully.
  • Choose passwords carefully. Don't use your birthday--it's on your tax form and easily can be lifted by crooks--or the word "password." Make sure all forms you print are password-protected.
  • Download forms with caution. If you download tax forms from the IRS website or tax documents from your employer, create a strong password--a combination of numbers, symbols, and upper and lower case letters.
  • Use caution with photocopiers. Some copiers store images of copies in memory. If so, personal information that's been copied may be compromised.
  • Ensure e-mails are encrypted. If you send tax documents to your accountant, make sure the information you send is scrambled--or encrypted--to prevent others from gaining access to sensitive information.
  • Use a secure mailbox. Mail your tax return from a secure location like a post office or a U.S. Postal Service collection box.
  • Beware fake calls. Phony calls or e-mails have one goal: to get you to hand over personal information or financial data. Remember that the IRS will never call you or send unsolicited e-mail asking for personal information.
  • Check your child's credit report. Go to and type "Letter Form 120" in the search box. Scroll down to Letter Form 120 Requesting a Child's Credit Report. If the child has no credit report, breathe a sigh of relief, because that means a crook hasn't set up fraudulent accounts in the child's name.

Report suspicious activity to the IRS at (click Taxpayer Advocate at the bottom of the page) and to the FTC at

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Best defense on ID theft: Go digital, detect quickly

SAN FRANCISCO (3/24/08)--The longer you wait to report identity theft, the more it costs you, warn authors of Javelin's 2008 Identity Fraud Survey Report ( March 17).

Victims who reported identity theft or fraud within one day spent an average of $428, compared with $1,207 for victims who wait up to five months, according to the report--the nation's longest-running study of identity theft, now in its fourth consecutive year.

Despite a 12% decline in the number of reported thefts from 2006, fraud is still a major concern. And despite the growing incidence of reported data breaches, identity thieves more often obtain your personal information primarily from traditional methods--theft of personal belongings and phony phone calls--rather than from online fraud ( Feb. 11).

Take precautions now to reduce your risk of becoming a victim:
  • Go digital. By paying bills online, you reduce the risk that checks and statements containing personal information may be stolen by identity thieves. And have your paycheck deposited electronically into your account.
  • Monitor accounts online and frequently. Use credit union and other financial institutions'websites to check for signs of fraud, and report suspicious or unauthorized activity immediately. Consumers with 24/7 access to account activity are most likely to uncover fraud the fastest.
  • Install and update security software. Make sure you have a firewall, antispyware, antivirus software, and browser security software on your home computer.
  • Never give personal information to callers. Don't respond to phone messages that prompt you to call another telephone number about your account. Similarly, don't send account information via e-mail messages--they're not secure. Use contact information you already have for the financial institutions with which you do business.
  • Order your free credit reports. A regular review of your credit file may detect unauthorized accounts or other fraudulent activity. Go to to order one free report per year from Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.
  • Shred it. Get rid of sensitive papers and statements you no longer need that contain personal information.

Finally, change a few daily habits. Mail bills from a locked mailbox; secure sensitive mobile data stored on a laptop, PDA (personal data assistant) or phone; and don't carry your Social Security card in your wallet unless you need it for a specific purpose on that given day. A stolen wallet that contains a Social Security card--as well as your address and other forms of identification--is like handing over your identity to a thief.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Bill limiting CUs' growth passes Kansas Senate

TOPEKA, Kan. (3/21/08)--The Kansas Senate Wednesday approved a bill that would limit state-chartered credit unions' field of membership by a vote of 35 to 2.

The bill, Substitute for SB 535, would limit the geographic area served by credit unions and create new regulatory standards for branching, mergers and field-of-membership changes.

"We'll have credit unions that will not be able to expand in a way they could have before," said Marla Marsh, Kansas Credit Union Association president/CEO.

Credit unions immediately affected by the legislation include:
Boeing Wichita CU, Wichita;
Credit Union 1 of Kansas, Topeka;
Credit Unions United, Topeka;
Education CU, Topeka;
Golden Plains CU, Garden City;
Hutchinson CU, Hutchinson;
Kansas Super Chief CU, Topeka;
Medical Community CU, Wichita; and
Mid-American CU, Wichita.

The bill has been extensively amended and approved by the Senate Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee to reflect language agreed upon by the Kansas Credit Union Association. It was introduced by the Kansas Bankers Association.

The association does not support or oppose the legislation, but said it will provide a long-term standard for interpreting the Kansas field-of-membership statute.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Keesler FCU hit by cell phone text scam

BILOXI, Miss. (2/27/08)--A cell phone text-message scam was targeted against Keesler FCU on Saturday, the credit union announced Tuesday.

The cell phone text messages and faxes were broadcast to members and nonmembers in an attempt to get credit, debit or ATM card information, the Biloxi, Miss.-based credit union said.

The messages appeared to come from the $1.5 billion credit union and requested that the recipient respond to the communication with the card number, personal identification number or other personal information.

Keesler recently was also a victim of another e-mail phishing scam, according to Sharon Seanor, vice president of marketing at the credit union.

"These fraudulent attempts were very sophisticated. They attempted to create a sense or urgency or panic, so that the recipient would be tricked to respond. For example, in this case, the scammers indicated that the recipient's bill service had expired," Seanor said.

The credit union immediately posted a warning on its website and notified a local television station, which aired a story about the scam.

The credit union said it would continue to educate members about how to avoid falling victim to fraudulent activity. "We will never initiate any communication to obtain account information, since we already have that information on file," said the release.

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Shootout at CU in California, employee injured

SANTA FE SPRINGS, Calif. (2/8/08)--A female employee of a credit union in California received a minor head injury when three men posing as delivery men Wednesday robbed the credit union and later fired gunshots at a pursuing security guard.

It was the second incident in which gunshots were fired during a credit union robbery within a month (News Now Jan. 22).

One of the suspects was later arrested at a nearby freeway ( and Whittier Daily News Feb. 6).

Four men arrived at Vons Employees FCU, located on the grounds of a Vons distribution center, at about 10 a.m. in a red Buick LeSabre. Three of the men went inside while the fourth drove away.

The men demanded cash, and one pushed back against the door, which shoved a teller into the wall, Donna Young, executive vice president, told the newspaper. The teller was taken to the hospital and released with a small cut.

The three men fled in a Chrysler PT Cruiser. A security guard gave chase but the three pointed guns at him and began firing. The security guard didn't return fire and fled.
This was the first robbery at the credit union, which has six branches. Sante Fe Springs location is its smallest branch.

Last month in Michigan, Devarence Damon Kimbrough, 22, of Elkhart, Ill., was shot by a security guard during an exchange of five shots at Berrien Teachers CU in Niles, Mich., on Jan. 18. Kimbrough later died (News Now Jan. 23).

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CUs need measured response to any recession

WASHINGTON (2/4/08)—-While the onset of a recession likely means "it's not going to be pretty" for credit unions, the downturn in the economy deserves a disciplined response from credit unions, according to a new analysis prepared by the Credit Union National Association's (CUNA) economic team.

The trio said gloomier economic conditions do not necessarily translate into tighter credit standards, higher rates and fees, lower dividends, cutting back services or laying off employees just to keep net income from falling for a year or two.

That's because most credit unions now "have very strong balance sheets and near-record high capital levels," states the report, prepared by CUNA Chief Economist Bill Hampel with senior economists Mike Schenk and Steve Rick.

In the face of the developing recession "the appropriate course of action for most credit unions is therefore to let the capital cushion do its work: temporarily let net income fall as a result of the loan losses."

The CUNA report, "The U.S. Mortgage Crisis/Causes, Effects and Outlook Including Suggested Credit Union Responses," points out that a recession's impact on credit unions means:
  • Faster saving and asset growth;
  • Significant increases in loan delinquencies and losses;
  • Substantial downward pressure on net income; and
  • Falling net worth ratios.

These factors will certainly snatch the attention of boards and senior management, notes the report.

"But, in this case, we urge caution in your response," the economists write. They note that the downturn is neither the fault of credit unions, individually or as a group, and not likely to be very long term.

"In many cases, the appropriate actions needed to deal with these challenges will be modest," the report states.

Importantly, however, the report warns against credit unions taking actions that are too strong in response to the recession's impact.

"It is imperative to avoid doing unnecessary harm to the credit union that would result from trying to maintain net income in the current environment," the report states. "The best response to a decline in net income caused by rising loan losses may be to adjust your budget and then carefully let it happen."

The report advises that credit unions "keep an even keel and let capital absorb much of the short-term dislocation," thus giving credit unions the opportunity to show their members and the public "the unique and substantial benefits of the cooperative structure."

"There will be a rise in disgruntled bank customers in the coming year. This may help overcome their inertia in considering another financial institution," the report states.

In analyzing the current economic situation, the report points out that credit unions are largely "collateral damage" of a subprime mortgage debacle, which largely did not originate with credit unions.

"This has had two effects on credit unions: First, some members with toxic mortgage loans from other lenders are finding it difficult to pay their credit union loans. Second, the broader economic slowdown that is spreading from the subprime mortgage mess is causing other members to have economic difficulty, and therefore fall behind on their loans."

The report estimates that the duration of the problem affecting credit unions should be about three years: One year of a recession, followed by a two-year recovery to reach the economic level of activity that occurred before the recession set in. "Of course, in some regions of the country the recession will be more severe, and in others less so."

More specifically, under that scenario, the report suggests that credit unions may expect:

  • Rising loan losses and falling net incomes in 2008;
  • Flattening (but still high) loan losses and stable (but still low) net income in 2009; and
  • Falling loan losses and improving net income in 2010.

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NCUA report wants data on membership, compensation

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (2/27/08)--Credit unions would be required to collect and report membership profile data under recommendations released yesterday by the National Credit Union Administration's (NCUA) Outreach Task Force. The group also recommended increased disclosure of senior management compensation at federal and corporate credit unions.

The proposals were among the 12 allocated to four areas:
Membership profile and financial services;
Senior executive officer compensation;
Low-income definition; and
NCUA outreach.

NCUA Board Member Gigi Hyland chairs the task force, which was created in November 2006 to review recommendations from the Member Service Assessment Pilot Program (MSAP) on credit unions' mission. NCUA staff members comprise the task force.

During 2007, the task force conducted six town meetings across the United States to collect credit union input.

The 85-page report concludes that membership profile information should be collected via NCUA's Automated Integrated Regulatory Examination Software (AIRES) and reported aggregately. Federal credit unions could access their own reports, said the task force.

The group also concluded that financial services data should be collected through the 5300 Call Report and should be published aggregately. The task force did not advocate that the agency monitor members' use of any services.

The task force also highlighted federal credit union executive management compensation. It pointed out that increased transparency of executive compensation would improve "accountability and be more consistent with the prevailing public policy."

The NCUA report did not recommend that individual senior executive compensation information should be provided to the public, although it did recommend that individual compensation information be disclosed to members annually.

The task force also recommended that NCUA broaden its efforts to include all federally insured credit unions and to encourage greater involvement by the regional agency offices in implementing outreach policies.

For any of the recommendations to be adopted, the NCUA board must first consider public comments before it takes action. The board indicated no timeline to begin the process, according to Credit Union National Association (CUNA) Deputy General Counsel Mary Dunn, who was briefed by the agency early Tuesday.

CUNA President/CEO Dan Mica expressed concern about any new regulatory burdens being imposed on credit unions, "given that credit unions are the most regulated of all financial institutions."

"Our Governmental Affairs Committee is meeting in town at week's end, and the Outreach Task Force report will be a major point of consideration," said Mica. "In fact, Board Member Hyland will be on hand to discuss the report's recommendations with our group. Further, as our Governmental Affairs Conference gets underway next week, we are certain that the task force's report will be discussed widely among the delegates."

"Over the course of the GAC, and likely for the next several months, we look forward to the discussion--and debate--over the report, and the merits of the recommendations," said the CUNA leader.

NCUA also will share the report's findings with key offices on Capitol Hill, according to Dunn.
Use the resource links below for a complete CUNA summary of the report and additional details from NCUA.

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BSA compliance: Where is the Sect 326 list?

WASHINGTON (2/8/08)— Credit union personnel keeping track of compliance requirements associated with the USA Patriot Act probably wonder what ever became of an elusive list named by the act., according to the Credit Union National Association's (CUNA's) Compliance Challenge.

Section 326 of the USA Patriot Act requires institutions to check "a list of known or suspected terrorists or terrorist organizations issued by any Federal government agency and designated as such by Treasury in consultation with the Federal functional regulators."

But did the federal government ever issue a "Section 326 List"?

"To date, no such list has been issued," says Valerie Moss CUNA's director of compliance information

"For the time being, credit unions need to check any lists issued by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and respond to the Financial Crime Enforcement Network's (FinCEN) 314(a) requests for information."

CUNA will let credit unions know if the elusive 326 List ever appears, she adds.

Use the resource link below for more on this and other compliance topics.

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Woman arrested after depositing meth in ATM

BREMERTON, Wash. (2/13/08)--An 18-year-old member of Kitsap CU mistakenly deposited a bag of methamphetamine into her account at an ATM at the credit union, according to court documents filed in Kitsap County Superior Court.

An employee of the $688.5 million asset, Bremerton, Wash.-based credit union told police a bag containing suspected methamphetamine was found in the woman's deposit envelope (Kitsap Sun Feb. 11).

The woman admitted to using meth when contacted by police, and said she may have accidentally put the bag containing the drug into her deposit envelope when she reached into her pants pocket to get cash, police documents indicated.

After the bag tested positive for meth, police arrested her Thursday. She was charged Friday with one count of possession of meth.

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CUs can attract Gen Y with 'Second Life'

MADISON, Wis. (2/5/08)--Credit unions soon may be able to attract members of Generation Y by appealing to their second lives.

Scott Moriarty, vice president of lending for Virginia CU, Richmond, Va., and a Filene Research Institute i3 member, is working with fellow i3 members to create a credit union island using Second Life, a social networking application and virtual world that allows users to create avatars, or residents of the virtual world.

Other i3 members involved with the project include Lesley Carrell, Fibre FCU, Longview, Wash.; Dave Brooke, Point Lima CU, San Diego; Steve Koenen, Altra FCU, La Crosse, Wis.; and Linda Armyn, Bethpage (N.Y.) FCU.

Second Life is a three-dimensional, advanced social networking environment where avatars interact with their surrounding environment and communicate with others through instant messaging.

The project is "an attempt to leverage an emerging technology in the Internet called 3-D Internet," Moriarty said in an interview with Filene Chief Innovation Officer Denise Gabel. "We wanted to develop an environment where financial literacy can be gained more effectively for younger generations."

Credit unions can create virtual credit union branches through Second Life to enhance users' financial education. "It allows credit unions to get their feet wet in an environment that's relatively safe," Moriarty said.

Avatars can visit the branches and use currency--called Linden Dollars, which are backed by U.S. currency--to make purchases and see the effects of their financial decisions.

Credit unions interested in pursuing the three-dimensional program need to have an open mind for technology, as most information technology filters block Second Life, Moriarty said.

The credit union island project has three phases. The team is developing the game and working with Ohio University students to ensure it will allow users to learn about finances in a short period.

After Phase One is complete, the prototype will undergo testing in Phase Two, which Moriarty estimated would be in December. Phase Three will focus on making the island easily available to credit unions.

Some large corporations, such as Toyota, have used the environment to test new products. Instead of using traditional marketing, Moriarty said, credit unions should aim to provide service and build affinity.

"It's an experience you can create and derive on your own," he said.

For more information, use the links.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Use prom to teach teens to budget

MADISON, Wis. (3/19/08)--Spring prom is a rite of passage with lifelong memories for teenagers who participate. But if you're not careful, that memory's price tag could cost a wallet--or a suitcase--full of money, says the Credit Union National Association's Center for Personal Finance.

Researchers at North Dakota State University Extension estimated last year that the total spent on prom-related items in the U.S. was $4 billion (NDSU Magazine Spring 2007).

Debra Pankow, assistant professor of child development and family science at North Dakota State University, has studied the social and economic impact of proms for the past seven years. She suggests prom as an opportunity for parents to introduce a budgeting lesson for their children, making it a memorable experience while ensuring that a large credit card bill doesn't become a prom souvenir.

The first step is to decide--with your child--on a spending plan. Determine how much you will contribute and what your teenager is expected to pay for each item, including easily overlooked expenses like accessories and photographs. Pankow says parents can help their teenagers have a memorable night without overspending, which is a valuable lesson for their future.

These strategies can help save money on prom expenses:

Carpool with other couples and split the cost of gasoline.

Borrow a dress or tux, rent one from a formalwear store, or buy from a consignment or thrift shop.

Do your own hair and makeup or visit a local cosmetology school instead of an expensive salon.
Use accessories you already have or borrow from a friend.

Hold a dinner party or barbeque instead of dining out.

Ask a friend or relative to take pictures rather than paying for a portrait at the dance.

For more information, read "Planning for the Prom" in Googolplex.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Youth Week theme chosen: 'Got Green? Grow It at Your CU'

MADISON, Wis. (9/7/07)--The Credit Union National Association's (CUNA) 2008 National Credit Union Youth Week theme has been chosen, and it will concentrate on going and saving the "green."

This year's theme, "Got Green? Grow It at Your CU" was selected from ideas sent by staff of more than 50 credit unions. "Got Green" is a variation of "Save the Green," a theme suggested by Jennifer Millar from Desert Energy CU in Tucson, Ariz., in 2006.

The themes were voted on by nearly 500 credit union staff members. The top themes were then presented to 26 youth, who chose "Got Green" as their favorite.

Youth Week 2008 is scheduled to take place April 20 to April 26, with Earth Day falling on April 22. Because Earth Day will take place during Youth Week, participants will be encouraged to build good savings habits and change current habits to protect the environment. Small, simple changes will be highlighted, according to Joanne Sepich, National Youth Week coordinator at CUNA.

Tips to be offered include:

Replacing an incandescent light bulb when it burns out with a compact fluorescent light bulb;

Biking or walking instead of riding in a car;

Donating a used toy instead of throwing it away;

Putting the computer monitor to "sleep" when not in use; and

Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables instead of processed foods.

Along with National Credit Union Youth Week is the National Youth Saving Challenge, which provides credit unions an opportunity to bring youth to the credit union to open new accounts or make deposits in existing ones.

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Are you holding an invalid gift card?

SAN FRANCISCO (3/12/08--Waiting for the right moment to spend that gift card in your wallet? That moment may have passed if the card is from a retailer going through bankruptcy ( March 3).

Sharper Image is one example. The retailer is under Chapter 11 bankruptcy and has stopped accepting gift cards until further notice.

With the number of retail bankruptcies expected to jump to the highest level since 1991, those other gift cards in your wallet may become void as well ( Mar. 3).

What can you do to prevent that birthday or holiday gift from turning into a worthless piece of plastic? These tips may help you recoup your losses:

Use them quickly. Take a trip to the mall and use that gift card as soon as possible. If you wait too long, you run the risk of a retailer deciding not to honor the card, or the card could lose value, depending on the store's gift card policy.

Read the fine print. Whether giving or receiving, check out the back of the gift card or go to the company's website for the gift card policy. It should tell you how you can redeem the card and whether there are conditions that may reduce the card's value.

Contact the competition. If you're stuck with a card that the original business won't honor, contact the competition and ask for a special exception. For example, Brookstone stores are offering 25% off Brookstone merchandise if a customer presents a Sharper Image gift card of any value. The competition sees it as a way to gain customers; consumers see it as a way to get something for their seemingly worthless gift card.

Hang on to it. If all else fails, keep the card in a safe place and hope that the retailer will begin honoring gift cards again soon. A retailer coming back from Chapter 11 bankruptcy will be eager to drum up business to keep the company afloat.

For more information, listen to "Gift Card Do's and Don'ts" radio segment in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

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Understand risks, costs of 401(k) hardship withdrawal

McLEAN, Va. (3/17/08)--Homeowners facing foreclosure are raiding retirement funds to stay afloat, often without understanding the severe financial consequences of their actions (USA Today March 11).

Typically, you can't get your hands on 401(k) monies unless you retire, leave the company, or become disabled. Some companies, though, permit hardship withdrawals if you have an immediate financial need, including the purchase of a home. These withdrawals require that you pay taxes and penalties--usually in the year you take the money out--on the money withdrawn.

Another option is to borrow against your 401(k); you pay interest on the loan, but the interest goes back into your account.

Recent reports document a disturbing trend. A survey by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies revealed that 18% of workers had outstanding 401(k) loans in 2007, up from 11% in 2006 ( March 7). Fidelity Investments and T. Rowe Price Group also reported increases in loans and hardship withdrawals in 2007.

Based on a sampling of hardship withdrawal applications filed in January, Merrill Lynch found that the primary reason for the request was to prevent foreclosure or eviction. And Principal Financial received 245 calls in January from participants asking about hardship withdrawals, compared with 45 similar calls in January 2007.

Although a hardship withdrawal or loan against your retirement account appears as a seemingly quick solution to financial problems, using a 401(k) like a piggy bank has long-term--and expensive--implications.

Contributions may be barred. About 85% of employers won't let you make 401(k) contributions for six months following a hardship withdrawal.

Funds withdrawn for financial hardship lose benefits of compounding. As a result, your nest egg will be smaller when you retire.

Withdrawals before age 59 1/2 incur penalties. On top of the taxes owed, you'll pay a 10% early withdrawal penalty on retirement funds.

Job loss means immediate payback of loan. If you lose or change your job, the loan against your 401(k) is due in full before you leave, or you'll face taxes and potential penalties. If you can't pay the loan back in time--sometimes within 60 days--it's considered a withdrawal and subject to taxes and penalties.

Loans can't be rolled over to a new employer. Unlike 401(k) accounts, which usually can be rolled over into a new employer's plan without penalties, loans against your 401(k) cannot.
Another loan, another payment. If you're already experiencing financial difficulty, you're just adding to your debt payments.

For more information, read, "401(k) Distribution Options for Retirees" in Plan It: Retire Ready Toolkit.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Tax reminders for final five-week stretch

MADISON, Wis. (3/10/08)--With five weeks to go before the April 15 tax filing deadline, don't overlook free help, Web resources, and e-filing benefits, says the Credit Union National Association.

If you haven't yet filed, there's still plenty of time to make sure you send in an accurate form and get a speedy refund if you're entitled to one:

Pick up the phone. For questions about your federal tax return, call the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Tax Help Line at 800-829-1040 from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (local time) on weekdays.

Note that Alaska and Hawaii follow Pacific Time. To order tax forms, call 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676). To check the status of your return, call 800-829-1954. For recorded messages on more than 100 tax topics, call 800-829-4477. Individuals with hearing impairments can call 800-829-4059 to ask questions or order forms.

Use online valuation guides. To help you figure the tax value of any donated goods, use the fair market value range in the Salvation Army's valuation guide at Or, search online for the Goodwill guide to donating for your state. Tax law now requires that donated items must be in good or better condition. Some tax prep software provides valuation help.

File electronically. If you're expecting a refund, e-filing clearly is the preferred method ( March 3). Of the 46.9 million returns filed by Feb. 22, roughly 38 million were filed electronically--5% more than those filed by the same time last year. The benefits include fewer errors, greater tax accuracy, and faster refunds. Best of all: It's safe and secure.

Use Free-File, if eligible. If your adjusted gross income (AGI) is $54,000 or less, you can file your federal return for free via the IRS Free File program. There are several options, so read each one carefully to make sure you qualify. And always access the Free-File program from the website.

Opt for direct deposit. Of the 46.9 million taxpayers who had filed their 2007 returns by Feb. 22, about 33 million opted for direct deposit (Internal Revenue Service March 3). The average refund was $2,708, up 2% from the same time last year.

Use split refund. You can direct your refund to as many as three accounts, including an individual retirement account.

Stick with .gov. Don't become a victim of tax scams that mimic legitimate websites. If the purported IRS website you're viewing ends in .com, .net, .org, or any designation other than .gov, don't use it.

For more information, watch the video "Getting Tax Records Organized" in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

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Friday, March 7, 2008

It's Good to Know: Emergency Numbers to Keep in Your Cellphone

In an emergency, you don't want to be digging around to find the right phone number to call for help. So store the following numbers in your cellphone for easy and quick access:
  • Lost or stolen credit card hotline(s)
  • Car insurance claims hotline
  • Health insurance provider
  • Local locksmith
  • Local towing service
  • Your doctor(s)

(Source: Marc and Angel and Lifehacker)

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Small sacrifices help in unstable environment

DULLES, Va. (3/5/08)--When the economy is booming, small luxuries almost seem like necessities--like that daily cappuccino or that soda from the vending machine. But in today's economic environment, many consumers are cutting back (AOL News Feb. 27).

One Wisconsin man used to stop at a local convenience store each morning and buy coffee for his 5 a.m. commute to work. Now he fills a thermos and takes it along for the drive.

His wife, who used to pick up a sandwich during lunch-hour errands, is being more conscientious about packing her lunch.

The couple has invested in a membership at a local wholesaler to take advantage of discounts on cases of Gatorade. Their 10-year-old son, an avid hockey player, used to ask for a Gatorade from the rink concession stand several times a week. Now, he's content to throw a bottle from home in his bag and drink it after practice.

In a time of belt-tightening, there are many ways to cut back:

Rent movies. A night at the cinema easily can cost $40 for two people--after stocking up on buttery popcorn, large sodas, and peanut clusters. Instead, rent a movie and stay in. Pop corn in the microwave.

Get a library card. Instead of running to the bookstore to buy your favorite author's newest release, reserve it at the library. You also can rent movies there.

Cook dinner at home. If you're itching for a night out, consider cooking your main meal at home and going out for dessert. You'll still have the social enjoyment--but at a fraction of the cost.

Double your recipe. When you make a home-cooked meal, make enough for leftovers for the next several days. Or, freeze half so you're not running to the grocery store as much.

Use coupons and "savers" cards. Comb the Sunday paper for coupons and take advantage of grocery store savers cards. The woman mentioned earlier saved $30 last week and bought only the things she needed--except for a half-gallon of ice cream. Check for online coupons from the stores you regularly shop, too.

Drink tap water. At $1.25 a pop, purchasing bottled water adds up. Fill a cup with ice and get water from a faucet. That's probably all that was available when you were a kid--you'll survive.

For more information, read "Live Simply to Reap Savings" in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

courtesy of

Monday, March 3, 2008

NCPW focuses on financial facts of life

MADISON, Wis. (3/3/08)—This week is the 10th annual National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW), with organizers promoting the theme of financial literacy as a sound investment in your future.

These questions are pertinent to all ages:

Do I get a good grade when it comes to the financial facts of life? If yes, you make smart decisions when shopping for a mortgage or other loan, reconciling statements, choosing retirement plans, comparing insurance policies and even when paying for everyday purchases. If you don't get an "A" when it comes to the financial facts of life, you may be wasting money on expensive alternatives, paying for services you don't need or want, or making yourself vulnerable to identity theft or other forms of fraud.

How can I boost my financial IQ? The Federal Trade Commission recommends you visit and click "consumer info." You'll find an array of resources to help you make well-informed decisions--saving for an emergency or unplanned expense, investing for your retirement, and everything between. Your credit union is another solid resource for personal finance education.

What's my best line of defense? Educate yourself. Take time to develop a spending plan, learn how to manage your money wisely, shop around for everything from purchases to insurance policies, and know the signs of a rip-off.

Current economic woes require some belt-tightening and a lot of financial finesse. Make smart decisions now, and you'll have a solid financial foundation in the coming months and years.

courtesy of