Personal Finance Hacks

Hacks – skills and shortcuts – are used in many life settings.  For personal finance, here are some tips that can help stop money leakages:

  • Only use credit cards with financial advantages, such as cashback; always pay off credit card balances on time.
  • Making weekly payments, instead of monthly, helps to save interest and reduces the amount owed faster.
  • Pay off loans/debts with the highest interest rates first.
  • You might consider paying off a debt with another loan if the new loan has a much lower interest rate.
  • When shopping online, leave the item in the cart for several days or weeks; the price may be lower or you may decide you don’t really need the item.
  • Consider bulk purchases with friends to qualify for free shipping.
  • Take advantage of seasonal sales.
  • Unsubscribe from email offers.
  • Avoid household clutter to save time and money.
  • Cook your own meals; online videos and recipes offer fast, easy meals.
  • Talk to others for investment advice.

For additional information on personal finance hacks, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students tell their personal experience with tech, travel, or personal finance hacks.
  • Have students create a video to dramatize various personal finance hacks.

Discussion Questions 

  1. How would you decide if a personal hack will be of value to you?
  2. Describe actions that might be used to communicate personal finance hacks to others.

Avoid Tax Refund Advances

Each year, more than 1.5 million taxpayers obtain refund anticipation loans (RALs).  This year, the number may be higher as a result of the government shutdown.  While, RALs provide faster access to your money, they come with high fees and should only be used as a last resort.  These “cash advances” are a potential for scams; before using these loans, take these actions:

  • Assess the cost. While some national tax chains promote this service as a “free” cash advance, fees may apply for applying for the advance, checking your credit, and transferring the money to you. Costs for your refund advance check range from $29 to $65.  If your refund is on a prepaid debit card, there will likely be additional fees.
  • Beware of loan terms based on timing. Additional charges may occur if your refund is delayed.
  • Compare other options. Seek less expensive, small-dollar, short-term loans from a community bank or credit union, or a zero-percent credit card. A $35 charge to defer a $350 tax preparation fee for two weeks has an APR of 174 percent.
  • To avoid late fees for bills, contact your creditors. Utility companies and medical providers may offer no-cost extensions or no-cost payment plans.

Always be sure you are doing business with a reputable tax preparer. Check credentials and references. Avoid tax preparers who charge fees based your refund amount, or who deposit your refund in their bank account. Another fraudulent activity is filing false information to increase the amount of the refund.

For additional information on tax refund advances, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students search online for costs for refund anticipation loans.
  • Have students prepare a video presentation on avoiding refund anticipation loans.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What advice would you give a person planning to obtain a refund anticipation loan?
  2. How might community organizations and government agencies assist people who are considering a refund anticipation loan?

Deceptive Stem Cell Therapy

People spend billions of dollars each year on health-related products and treatments that don’t deliver. People who buy them are cheated out of their money, their time, and even their health.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports  that California-based Regenerative Medical Group, Telehealth Medical Group, and Dr. Bryn Jarald Henderson, the founder of both companies, sold false hope at high prices.

These companies and Dr. Henderson used social media and websites to promote stem cell therapy for all kinds of health issues affecting older adults and children. Supposedly, it could treat and cure diseases and health conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, autism, dementia, depression, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, heart disease, macular degeneration, chronic kidney disease, osteoarthritis, and stroke. Dr. Gunderson  charged up to $15,000 for their initial stem cell therapy and up to $8,000 for follow-up treatments.

But, according to the FTC, these claims were not backed up by any scientific studies and, in fact, no studies have established that stem cells cure, treat, or reduce the severity of diseases or health conditions in humans. With the exception of a few FDA-approved treatments, stem cell therapy is still largely experimental.

Are you — or someone you know — thinking about stem cell therapy?  If so,

  • Be skeptical about amazing health claims.
  • Don’t trust a website just because it looks professional, uses medical terms, or has success stories from “real people.”
  • Talk to your health care professional before you consider any medical treatment.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  •  Help students understand that health information, whether online or in print, should come from a trusted source.
  • Let students make a list of the richest and most reliable sources of health information and share it with the class.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to seek a second or even third opinion from a qualified health care provider before trying experimental medical procedures?
  2. What can the FTC and other federal/state governmental agencies do to prevent such businesses to make deceptive treatments.

Motivation for Saving

While you might think that saving for college, retirement, or buying home are the reasons Americans save, according to a recent survey, travel was reported as the top priority.  In a study of 2,500 adult Americans representing varied demographic, geographic, economic, and social groups, 45 percent of respondents set aside money for traveling.  This was especially true among younger respondents, who prefer travel experiences over savings to buy a home.

After travel, the main priorities for saving by Americans are:

  • for an emergency fund (37 percent)
  • for retirement (30 percent)
  • to buy a house (21 percent)
  • to buy a car, truck or motorcycle (20 percent)

For additional information on saving priorities, check out these two resources:

Article #1

Article #2

 

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students conduct a survey among people they know to determine the main reasons for saving.
  • Have students talk to others to obtain ideas for building a person’s savings account.

 Discussion Questions 

  1. What do you believe are reasons people prefer saving for travel over other financial goals?
  2. Describe other actions that might be taken to motivate people to build their savings?

Fake healthcare plans

If you’re looking online for health insurance, there are lots of results that seem to offer good choices. But dishonest companies are literally counting on you being confused by all those choices. So, before you sign up and pay, take steps to know you’re getting exactly what the plan advertised. Otherwise, fake “coverage” can leave you exposed to substandard benefits and costly payments.

For example, according to the Federal Trade Commission, a Florida-based company, Simple Health Plans, LLC, allegedly tricked consumers into believing its plans offer comprehensive coverage and are compliant with Affordable Care Act (ACA) standards. The company allegedly lured people in through lead-generation sites, using logos of well-known health insurance providers to make itself look credible. Simple Health asked for personal information on the site, followed up with phone calls, and pitched what it said were affordable, comprehensive, ACA-qualified plans with low or no co-pays or deductibles.

But once consumers signed up — often at premiums as high as hundreds of dollars per month — the FTC says they did not get anywhere near the full coverage Simple Health promised, and the benefits were not ACA-qualified.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they or any of their friends and relatives have received sham health insurance plans calls. If so, how did they handle such calls?
  • Help students understand that two best-known and legitimate sources of the government health insurance are Medicare and Medicaid.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are some ways to protect yourself against false health care plans?
  2. Why is it important to learn the difference between health insurance and medical insurance discount plans?

Participatory Learning Activities

Engaging students in an active learning environment is vital for long-term personal financial success. Various participatory learning activities (PLAs) can be adapted to the classroom and other learning settings.  To better connect student to a meaningful learning experience, consider these PLAs:

  • Brainstorming – Ask students to generate a list of possible actions for a specific personal finance decision. Encourage many ideas. List all the ideas without discussion. Many times unlikely or silly responses can result in an innovative idea.
  • Community surveys – Have students create survey questions related to various personal finance topics and decisions.  Collect the questions and have a few students edit the submissions to create a brief survey instrument. Next, have each student in the class administer the survey to 5 or 10 people.  Summarize and discuss the data that is collected.
  • Describing visual images – Select some photographs related to personal financial situations.  Working in small groups, have the students describe what they believe is happening in the picture.  Then, list questions you would ask others about the picture.  Finally, recommend actions that might be taken to address the financial situations in the pictures.
  • Interview – Have students interview financial experts or acquaintances to obtain insights into various personal finance topics. Students should prepare open-ended questions in advance, and be prepared to use follow-up questions to better engage the person being interviewed. Encourage students to practice with other student before doing their actual interviews.
  • Skits or plays – Working in small groups, have students select a financial situation or decision.  Create a story that communicates the situation to the audience.  Next, present a short skit or role-play on the subject.  Ask the audience to comment on possible actions that might be taken for the situation presented. This skit might also be presented as a mime, without words. Have the audience guess what they believe is happening in the skit that is presented.
  • Systematic walk – Have students walk in a business area to determine the types of financial services, stores, and other organizations that might enhance their knowledge. If appropriate, encourage students to talk with employees and customers to gain further insights.
  • Time line – Have students prepare a time line of major financial events in their lives.  In addition to past events, have student forecast various future events.

For additional information on participatory learning activities, click here.

Additional participatory learning activities

Project based learning for the Personal Finance Classroom

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to suggest ideas to enhance their involvement in the learning process.
  • Conduct online research to obtain additional information on participatory learning activities.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What are potential benefits of participatory learning?
  2. What concerns might be associated with participatory learning?
  3. What participatory learning activities have you used?

 

Spoofed calls-It’s time to hang up!

If you get a call that looks like it’s from the Social Security Administration (SSA), think twice. Scammers are spoofing SSA’s 1-800 customer service number to try to get your personal information. Spoofing means that scammers can call from anywhere, but they make your caller ID show a different number – often one that looks legitimate. Here are few things you should know about these fake SSA calls.

These scam calls are happening across the nation, according to SSA: Your phone rings. Your caller ID shows that it’s the SSA calling from 1-800-772-1213. The caller says he works for the Social Security Administration and needs your personal information – like your Social Security number – to increase your benefits payments. (Or he threatens to cut off your benefits if you don’t give the information.) But it’s not really the Social Security Administration calling. Yes, it is the SSA’s real phone number, but the scammers on the phone are spoofing the number to make the call look real.

What can you do if you get one of these calls? Hang up. Remember:

  • SSA will not threaten you. Real SSA employees will never threaten you to get personal information. They also won’t promise to increase your benefits in exchange for information. If they do, it’s a scam.
  • If you have any doubt, hang up and call SSA directly. Call 1-800-772-1213 – that really is the phone number for the Social Security Administration. If you dial that number, you know who you’re getting. But remember that you can’t trust caller ID. If a call comes in from that number, you can’t be sure it’s really SSA calling.
  • If you get a spoofed call, report it. If someone calls, claiming to be from SSA and asking for information like your Social Security number, report it to SSA’s Office of Inspector General at 1-800-269-0271 or https://oig.ssa.gov/report. You can also report these calls to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

For more information,click here.

Teaching Suggestions

You may want to use this blog post and the original article to

  • Help students understand that real SSA employees will never threaten you and get personal information.
  • Ask students if they or any of their friends or relatives have received a spoofed SSA call (calls)?

Discussion Questions

  1. If you are worried about a call from someone who claims to be from the SSA, what would you do?
  2. What can federal, state and local consumer protection agencies and telecommunication industry do to stop spoofed calls?

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.