Weighed down by debt? How to ease the load

If you’re overwhelmed by debt, it’s crucial to find a solution.

FDIC Consumer News offers a few tips.

  • Contact your lender immediately if you think you won’t be able to make a loan payment.
  • Reputable credit counseling organizations can help you develop a personalized plan to solve a variety of money problems. 
  • Be very careful of “debt settlement” companies that claim they can reduce what you owe for a fee.
  • Avoid scams.
  • Remember that you have rights when it comes to debt collection.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they know anyone who has had financial difficulties and how they resolved their problem.
  • Ask students to review the main provisions of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and how the law protects consumers from unfair debt collectors.

 Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it critical to contact your mortgage lender immediately if you think you can’t make a loan payment on time?
  2. In what ways reputable credit counseling organizations can help you develop a personalized plan to solve financial problems?
  3. What are the warning signs of possible fraud by a debt settlement company or credit counselor?

U.S. Financial Health Pulse

Despite a strong economy, millions of Americans face financial struggles. These difficulties include lower household net worth, increased loan defaults, and high levels of credit card debt. These are the findings in the recent report, U.S. Financial Health Pulse, published by the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI), in partnership with Omidyar Network, the Metlife Foundation, and AARP. 

The report assesses various financial health indicators that include income, bill payment, spending, saving, debt load, insurance, retirement planning and credit scores. When combined, these factors provide a composite view of the spending, saving, borrowing, and financial planning activities of Americans.

Some of the findings of the 2018 baseline report include:

  • 17 percent of American are viewed as financially vulnerable, 55 percent financially coping, and 28 percent financially healthy.
  • 47 percent of respondents reported spending that equals or exceeds their income.
  • 36 percent are unable to pay all of their bills on time.
  • 30 percent say they have more debt than is manageable.

U.S. Financial Health Pulse is intended to guide financial institutions, government agencies, and community organization in developing educational programs and financial products to better serve the needs of Americans. This study will be conducted each year to determine changes in America’s financial health.

For additional information on U.S. Financial Health Pulse and to view the report, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students talk to friends to determine which of the financial health indicators they believe to be most important.
  • Have students create a survey instrument to measure various financial health indicators.

 Discussion Questions 

  1. What are the benefits of measuring financial health in our society?
  2. Describe actions that might be taken by business, government, and community organizations to address the financial difficulties faced by people.

GIG Economy Retirement Planning

As more and more people work as freelancers, independent contractors, and sharing economy workers, concerns grow regarding retirement for this group. A recent study revealed that very few full-time gig economy workers have an adequate retirement plan. Relying on Social Security is probably not enough since those funds will not likely cover retirement living expenses.

Most gig economy workers are one-person businesses, many with limited financial literacy.  As a result, they do not properly plan for retirement savings.  Self-employed individuals also face the challenge of volatile income streams. And, they lack employer-provided benefits, such as health and disability insurance, unemployment benefits, and paid time off. In addition, these gig economy workers are responsible for paying 100 percent of their Social Security and Medicare taxes through self-employment tax.

Some advantages of gig economy workers are:

  • deducting most business-related expenses, reducing their taxable income.
  • access to Simplified Employee Pensions (SEPs) that allow self-employed people to contribute to a tax-deferred retirement fund.
  • the ability to supplement their retirement income as they may continue to work part-time with customers and clients in their later years.

While gig workers face several financial challenges, programs are surfacing to help the self-employed save for retirement and achieve better long-term financial security. These include:

  • Open Multiple Employer Plans (MEPs) or Pooled Employer Plans (PEPs) that let employers combine resources for independent workers to purchase group health and disability insurance.
  • A proposed Portable Benefits for Independent Workers Pilot Program Act to establish a fund through the U.S. Department of Labor.
  • Several states are creating automatic-enrollment IRAs involving government-facilitated programs administered by private financial firms.

For additional information on retirement planning in the gig economy, go to:

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students talk to a freelancer or independent contractor to obtain information about their financial planning activities.
  • Have students create a financial plan with recommendations for a freelancer or independent contractor.

 Discussion Questions 

  1. What do you believe are the benefits and drawbacks for gig economy workers?
  2. Describe actions you would recommend to self-employed individuals for improved personal financial security.

 

Why Buy When You Can Rent?

While car ownership has been a cultural milestone in our society, this tradition is diminishing with a trend toward renting or borrowing rather than owning. This situation is partially related to fewer teenagers opting to obtain a driver’s license. Also, fewer young people are buying homes, giving preference to the flexibility of renting.

The owning of “stuff” is shifting toward “decluttering” and choosing instead to rent items as needed. A strong belief that overconsumption is putting our planet at risk is driving the rise of the sharing economy. In addition, there is a growing trust to value exchanging items with “real people” rather than buying from major companies.

In addition to Zipcar, which rents vehicles by the hour, other rental business models include:

  • Ann Taylor’s Infinite Style service that allows a person, for a $95 monthly fee, to rent up to three garments at a time.
  • SnapGoods rents cameras, power tools and home appliances, such as blenders.
  • Frankfurt airport has a service that allows travelers to store winter coats when flying to warmer climates. Other businesses are considering a service to rent cold weather clothing to travelers arriving from tropical areas.
  • Since about one-third of new vehicles are leased, Cadillac created the “Book By Cadillac” program allowing a person to exchange up to 18 vehicles a year.

The many empty stores in malls create opportunities for “swap meets” and “rental fairs” for various products, using these spaces to also build connections in the local community.

For additional information on renting instead of buying, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students locate examples of sharing economy businesses and rental companies in your community and online.
  • Have students talk to others to obtain ideas for new types of rental businesses.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What do you believe are the benefits and drawbacks of renting instead of owning?
  2. Describe actions that might be taken to determine needs and ideas for rental businesses in a community.

 

Holiday Spending Spreadsheet

The joy of the holiday season can be overpowered with shopping stress and financial difficulties. To avoid this situation, consider this approach:

  1. In mid-to-late November, create a spreadsheet to manage your holiday spending. Categories might include gifts for family and friends, donations to charity, holiday meals along with other items such as shipping, wrapping paper, decorations, parties, and travel.
  2. Enter realistic amounts that you are able to spend for the various people on your gift list and for the other categories.
  3. Monitor your actual spending, attempting to stay within your budget.
  4. Based on this year’s experiences, adjust categories and amounts for the 2019 holiday season.

The spreadsheet might include columns for name/item, budgeted amount, actual amount, difference, and notes for future reference.  Starting earlier in the year, consider   setting aside holiday money to avoid taking away funds from your normal budget. You might also consider using credit card and other reward points for gifts.

For additional information on a holiday spending spreadsheet, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students create a spreadsheet that might be used to monitor holiday spending.
  • Have students talk to others to obtain ideas for not overspending during the holiday season.

Discussion Questions 

  1. How would you make use of a spreadsheet for holiday spending?
  2. Describe actions that might be taken to monitor and control holiday spending.

 

Retirement Planning and Saving: Mistakes to Avoid

Millions of working Americans find it’s a challenge just to pay for their house, car, insurance, child care and other expenses each month. So how can people even think about setting aside money for their retirement 20, 30 or even 40 years away? We can’t predict the future, but we can help you learn from the past. Here’s a list of common mistakes and miscalculations on the road to financial security — wrong turns we want you to avoid.

Saving too little.  How much of your money should go to retirement savings?

When in doubt, perhaps the simplest approach is to try to put 10 to 20 percent of your income each year into money toward your retirement. Regular, automatic savings programs also help make it “painless” to set money aside.

Starting too late. The sooner you begin saving, even with relatively small amounts contributed year after year, the faster you can develop a solid retirement fund. Through the magic of compound interest, a little bit of money saved over a long period can grow to be a lot of money.

Not diversifying enough. Putting all your (nest) eggs in one basket can be a problem if the approach you take doesn’t perform well or actually loses money. Consider a mix of savings and investments that might perform reasonably well under any economic or market conditions.

Not doing your homework. A wrong move can cost you thousands of dollars in taxes, fees, penalties or bad investments. Learn as much as you can about planning and saving for retirement.

Falling for retirement rip-offs. If you get a call, letter or visit from someone peddling financial products with features that seem too good to be true, trust your instincts.  If you think you’ve been approached by a con artist or you’ve been victimized by someone offering a financial product or service, report it to the Federal Trade Commission (visit ftc.gov/complaint or call toll-free 1-877-FTC-HELP). If the scam is internet-related, send an email to the federal government’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if anyone has started to save for retirement. What was their motivation to start early?
  • Ask students to prepare and share a list of resources that can be used to learn more about retirement planning and investing for retirement.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to start early and save for retirement even when you are in your 20’s?
  2. What should you do if a financial product and its features seem too good to be true?
  3. How even a little bit of money saved over a long period of time can grow to be a lot of money at retirement?

Free Credit Freezes

Security freezes, also known as credit freezes, restrict access to your credit file, making it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. Starting September 21, 2018, you can freeze and unfreeze your credit file for free. You also can get a free freeze for your children who are under 16. And if you are someone’s guardian, conservator or have a valid power of attorney, you can get a free freeze for that person, too.

How will these freezes work? Contact all three of the nationwide credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. If you request a freeze online or by phone, the agency must place the freeze within one business day. If you request a lift of the freeze, the agency must lift it within one hour. If you make your request by mail, the agency must place or lift the freeze within three business days after it gets your request. You also can lift the freeze temporarily without a fee.

Don’t confuse freezes with locks. They work in a similar way, but locks may have monthly fees. If you want a free freeze guaranteed by federal law, then opt for a freeze, not a lock.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if anyone has already placed a credit freeze or a fraud alert. If so, what has been their experience?
  • Encourage students to place a credit freeze since it is now free to freeze or unfreeze their credit file.

Discussion Questions

  1. What might be the advantages or disadvantages of placing a credit freeze?
  2. What can you do if a credit reporting agency is not placing a credit freeze or fraud alert properly?

Protect Your Identity

According to its last Consumer Sentinel report, the Federal Trade Commission received 371,061 identity theft complaints in 2017, down from 399,222 the previous year.  That’s good news, but the 2018 Identity Fraud Study issued by Javelin Strategy & Research tells a darker tale.  Based on random survey of Americans, it revealed that there was an 8 percent increase in identity fraud (the fraudulent use of someone’s personal information) from 2016 to 2017, and losses rose from $16.2 to $16.8 billion.  Javelin also notes that while the chip cards have cut down on fraud terminals or by cloning devices, the drop has been more than offset in online theft and fraud.

For More Information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if anyone has his/her identity stolen. If so, what has been their experience?
  • Ask students to prepare and then share a list of steps that they can take to reduce chances of becoming identity theft victims?

Discussion Questions

  1. How can you detect if you are a possible victim of an identity theft?
  2. If you become a victim of identity theft, what steps must you take immediately?

Receipt Savings Trick

It’s possible to add $500 or $1,000 to your savings with a simple action. Clark.com suggests using store receipts to save for the future. Many retailers display a “You Saved” amount on a receipt for items on sale and store discounts. By putting this amount in a savings account you can avoid spending the “saved” money on other items.

Collecting receipts in an envelope or box, or scanning them to an app, can also help analyze buying habits to make wiser purchases in the future and not make as many trips to the store. This action can result in an extra amount each month added to your savings. This money can be added to your emergency fund or retirement account.

For additional information on the receipt savings trick, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students locate examples of receipts that show “amount saved.”
  • Have students talk to others to obtain ideas for methods for building a person’s savings account.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What do you believe are the benefits and drawbacks of using this system?
  2. Describe other actions that might be taken to motivate you and others to build your savings?

Banking Activities of the Future

As you walk into your bank, you are met by a video teller. These robo-banks allow you to connect with financial specialists based on your needs through a virtual concierge and videoconferencing. These banking staff members are located hundreds and thousands of miles away.  Banks benefit from these actions with fewer branches and fewer employees covering customers in many geographic settings.

Other actions being taken by banks and other financial institutions to better serve customers include:

  • A variety of services to enhance the banking experience, such as offering co-working spaces for customers who work remotely.
  • Payment systems in the athletes’ Olympic pins to complete purchases transactions at the 2018 Winter Games.
  • Customers can pay with a facial recognition scan in some retail settings.
  • Financial services offered through Alexa (Amazon), Siri (Apple), and Google Assistant allowing bank and credit card customers to check their balances, pay bills, and send money.

For additional information on technology banking trends, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students talk to two or three others to obtain their ideas about: (a) future banking technology, and (b) the setting and services of the bank branch of the future.
  • Have students create a presentation or video that communicates future banking activities.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What technology services do you desire from a bank for your financial services?
  2. Describe actions banks might take to better serve the needs of customers.