Home Inventory Update

While insurance may be the last thing on your mind during the holidays, the start of a new year is the perfect time to review your insurance coverage and update your home inventory list. When you reflect on the last 12 months, especially with the pandemic, you might realize that some of those changes could greatly affect your home insurance needs.  So, try starting a new tradition: update your home inventory list. Here are four good reasons to add an annual insurance review and home inventory update to your list of holiday traditions.

  1. Your new gifts may not be covered.
    Your homeowners insurance will cover most of your big-ticket gifts like a big screen TV, new electronics and expensive jewelry, but only up to your policy limits. That’s why it’s important to maintain a current record of all your belongings. Update your home inventory this holiday season so your coverage limits meet your insurance needs.
  2. A lot can change in a year.
    Think about the new “normal” we’re living in with COVID-19. With many people spending more time in their homes, it is not surprising that home improvement projects have increased in popularity. According to a recent porch.com survey, 76% of homeowners have completed at least one home improvement project since the start of the pandemic. Take photos or a video of your remodeled kitchen or bathroom, gather receipts and add them to your inventory list. When you review coverage at the start of the year, you can ensure your new assets are safeguarded.
  3. It will make filing an insurance claim easier.
    The information you put into the home inventory list can make an insurance claim settlement faster and easier. This is especially crucial for high-value items. Don’t forget to document your attic, basement, closets and other storage areas. Can you imagine trying to compile all this information after a disaster? Without a record of your belongings, remembering everything you own or what you’ve lost can be challenging.
  4. It’s free and easy.
    With today’s technology, it’s never been easier to keep a detailed catalog of your possessions.  Keep your home inventory list in a safe place outside your home or cloud-based storage services like Dropbox or Google Drive. Also, your insurance agent will be happy to review your insurance coverage with you at no cost.

Creating a home inventory doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as standing in the middle of each room and taking a 360-degree video. Tackle this project with your children and show them family keepsakes and their history.

For more insurance information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they rent or own home. Do they have renters or homeowner’s insurance?  Have they prepared a list of their personal belongings?  If not, why?
  • If students don’t have a household inventory, encourage them to prepare a list of their belongings.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to annually review your home insurance needs?
  2. Where should you keep your home inventory list?

DON’T KEEP THESE THINGS IN YOUR WALLET

While no one plans to lose their wallet, you can reduce the trauma of that event. Consumer protection experts recommend not keeping these items in your wallet:

  • your Social Security card; also make sure nothing else in your wallet contains your Social Security number.
  • a list of passwords; keep the list secured at home, and consider use of a password manager.
  • spare keys; a lost wallet with keys and your home address on an ID card is an invitation to burglars.
  • blank checks; while few people write checks, blank checks are risky as a thief has your account number and the bank routing numbers and probably your home address. 
  • your passport or passport card; an identity thief could travel under your name, obtain a copy of your Social Security card, or open a bank account. Whenever traveling on a passport, keep a copy in a safe place.
  • extra credit cards; carry only one or two cards to avoid having to cancel many cards if your wallet is lost or stolen.
  • other items to keep out of your wallet: birth certificate; receipts that could be used to by skilled identity thieves; an old Medicare card with your Social Security number; and gift cards, which could be used by anyone with access to your wallet.

By following these guidelines, you can avoid identity theft, bogus loan applications in your name, and someone opening fraudulent accounts. Also recommended: photocopy the front and back of the items in your wallet to have a record of what is lost or stolen.

For additional information on what not to keep in your wallet, click here:

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students talk to others to determine if they carry any of these items in their wallet.
  • Have students create a checklist of action to take if your wallet is lost or stolen.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What are actions people can take to avoid identity theft?
  2. Describe how technology and apps are replacing traditional wallets. Discuss how these devices might improve security against identity theft.

IRS Dirty Dozen Tax Schemes

Each year, the IRS warns taxpayers about the “Dirty Dozen” tax scams.  Some of these cons show up on the list each year, while others are new. Tax scams are most common during tax season or times of crisis. The COVID pandemic created opportunities to try steal money and information from taxpayers.

Taxpayers are reminded to beware of these ongoing swindles that include:

  • Phishing involves fake emails or websites to obtain personal information. The IRS never initiates contact by email. Do not click on links claiming to be from the IRS. Also be wary of keywords, such as “coronavirus,” “COVID-19,” and “Stimulus.”
  • Fake charities are a reoccurring concern. Criminals often take advantage of natural disasters and other situations, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, to set up a phony charity, and may even claim to be working with the IRS to help victims.
  • Threatening impersonator phone calls claim to be collecting money for the IRS. The scammer uses fear and urgency to demand immediate payment. Senior citizens and their caregivers should be especially alert for this type of fraud.
  • Unscrupulous return preparers, called “ghost” preparers, expose their clients to serious filing mistakes and tax fraud. Ghost preparers do not sign the tax returns they prepare, as required by law. While most tax professionals provide honest service, others should be avoided.
  • Fake payments with repayment demands involve scammers tricking taxpayers into sending them their refund. The criminal steals or obtains personal data to file a bogus tax return. Once the money is in the bank account, the criminal poses as an IRS employee to request that the money be returned immediately, perhaps in the form of gift cards.

Some recent tax scams that have surfaced include

  • Offer-in-compromise mills involves misleading tax debt resolution companies exaggerating their ability to settle tax debts for “pennies on the dollar.” The offer requires that taxpayers meet certain legal requirements. Dishonest businesses enroll unqualified candidates to collect hefty fees from taxpayers already deep in debt.
  • Economic impact payment or refund theft, in which criminals filed false tax returns or bogus information with the IRS to redirect refunds to a wrong address or bank account.
  • Social media scams may use COVID-19 to trick people. The scammer uses information on social media to send emails pretending to be a family member, friend, or co-worker, which can result in tax-related identity theft.
  • Ransomware takes advantage of human and technical weaknesses to infect a computer, network, or server. Invasive software (malware) can track keystrokes and other computer activity. An infected computer can allow access to personal and financial data. Or, a ransom request appears in a pop-up window.

To avoid these scams: (1) be aware of potential cons; (2) check with the IRS or your bank if something is suspicious; (3) keep your computer system and passwords secure, and (4) avoid deals that are “too good to be true.”

For additional information on tax scams, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students describe these situations to other people, and ask them what actions they might take to avoid these scams.
  • Have students create a video or visual presentation to warn others of these potential scams.

Discussion Questions 

  1. Why do some people get taken by tax scams and other frauds?
  2. Describe actions that might be taken to avoid various tax scams.

Managing your bills during COVID-19

COVID-19 has thrown the economy into a tailspin. Many people have been laid off, furloughed, or are working fewer hours. And as wages dry up, bills can pile up.

Debt can be tricky. Here are some ideas about how you can manage your debts and start regaining your financial well being.

  • Gather your bills: Make a list of your monthly bills: rent/mortgage, car payment, utilities, student loans, medical bills, and anything else. Consider how much you need for food, medicine, and other necessities.
  • Ask for help: Many companies have special programs to help people right now. Contact the companies you owe money to and try to work out a new payment plan with lower payments or delayed due dates. Make sure to get any changes in writing.
    • Find out if your state or local government offers programs that will allow you to hold off on paying some bills right now.
    • Trouble paying your mortgage? Here’s some advice on how to manage that problem. If you have a government-backed mortgage, you may be able to delay payment by contacting your servicer.
    • Need additional help? Check out ftc.gov/creditcounselor for tips on how to choose a counselor who really helps you out.
  • Prioritize if you need to: If you still can’t pay everything on time, look at what would happen if you couldn’t pay each bill and decide which bills to pay first. Would you lose your home? Would your car be repossessed? Would your debt go into collection and affect your credit report?
  • Study up: Check out the FTC’s advice on how to cope with debt in the short term, and how to get out of debt when you are able.
  • Watch out for scams: In stressful times, scammers are everywhere. Beware of any company that guarantees that creditors will forgive your debts, or makes you pay up front for help. If you are looking for debt relief, make sure to find help you can trust.

For more information, go to: click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to develop a plan to manage their debts, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Ask students if they should turn to a company that claims to offer assistance in solving debt problems? Why or why not?

Discussion Questions

  1. Why should you avoid waiting until your account is turned over to a debt collector?
  2. What is a constant worry for a debtor who is behind in payments of bills?

ELECTRIC CARS

As technology improves, electric vehicles, also referred to as EVs, are increasing in popularity. The benefits of EV are the result of:

  • being environmentally friendly with no emissions
  • nearly silent engine sound
  • potential tax credits have been available in recent years
  • lower operating costs and maintenance expenses
  • smartphone apps to program charging times and to heat or cool the passenger cabin in advance of driving

Common concerns associated with EVs include:

  • the higher initial cost
  • short driving ranges for some models and in cold weather and on steep inclines
  • slow charging time, which are improved with new technology
  • charging stations may not always be available
  • loss of cargo space for the battery pack
  • lower towing capacities than with a conventional vehicle

The two main EV types are battery electric vehicles (BEVs) only running on electricity, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) that use electricity for a limited distance before switching to a gas-electric hybrid mode. Some models have an onboard generator to create electricity for greater driving distances.

For additional information on electric cars, go to:

Link #1

Link #2

Link #3

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students conduct online research to determine current models, prices, and operating costs of electric cars.
  • Have students conduct an interview with someone who owns an electric car or hybrid to obtain information about the person’s experiences.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What factors should a person consider when buying an electric car?
  2. Describe future developments that might make electric cars more attractive to car buyers.

 

Fill out the FAFSA

For many people, how to pay for a college education is one of the major financial decisions before deciding on a school. There are many different ways to pay for college. Understanding your choices can help you make the right decision for your situation.

Start by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

A critical first step for many prospective students is to complete the FAFSA . FAFSA completion is an important part of the student aid process.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, some states have extended their FAFSA deadlines. . Contact your school’s financial aid office to find out if their priority FAFSA deadline has been extended.

Why fill out the FAFSA?

Filling out the FAFSA is required if you want to apply for federal assistance, including grants, loans and work study. Your eligibility for need-based federal aid, such as Pell Grants and subsidized student loans is determined by your FAFSA submission.

Filling out the FAFSA does not commit you to taking out student loans or accepting the financial aid offered. However, if you do not submit a FAFSA you will not be able to access federal grants or other forms of federal financial aid.

In addition, states typically require students to complete the FAFSA to qualify for state grant programs, and most colleges and universities will not consider awarding any institutional aid, until the FAFSA has been submitted.

Even if you have not finalized your plans for this fall, consider filling out the 2020-2021 FAFSA sooner rather than later, many state and schools award aid on a first-come, first-serve basis and may have established earlier, “priority” deadlines. If you miss a key deadline to complete the FAFSA, you will limit your ability to qualify for state or institutional funding.

For more information:

finaid.org

http://studentaid.ed.gov

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students why it is important to complete the FAFSA form sooner than later?
  • What basic information is needed before beginning the FAFSA application process?

Discussion Questions

  1. Where can you get assistance if you need help in filling out the FAFSA form?
  2. Why is important to take advantage of any scholarships and grants before applying for a federal loan?

Bizarre Money Habits

During difficult times, as well as in other times, saving money is difficult. While high-tech and app methods may work, traditional actions can result in quickly increasing your wealth. These weird-sounding saving habits suggested by millennials include:

 

  • Save a certain denomination of money. People who get paid in cash or receive change suggest saving every five-dollar bill, for example, in an envelope. This money can be used for fun activities, a special dinner, or to add to your long-term savings.
  • Use a jar to control spending. Put a set amount of cash in a decorated jar for lunches, eating out, or other budget item. Having to actually pull money out of the jar will make you more cautious of your spending habits.
  • Skip buying certain items. Avoid coffee, soft drinks, snacks, or other impulse items, and save that amount. These small amounts can add up to larger sums saved. 
  • Make use of recurring payments. If you are paying each month for a car payment, when the vehicle is paid off, keep sending that amount into a savings account.
  • Save in short sprints. For one month, avoid eating away from home and bring lunch to work. This reduced spending can make you more aware of your spending habits and increase amounts saved.
  • Pay for your drinks (or snacks) at home. Every time you have a soft drink, other drink, or snack, “pay” for it be setting aside the “price,” such as $1 for a soft drink or $2 for a bag of chips. These funds will add up for your savings.
  • Visualize your savings goal. Display a photo or other visual as a reminder of items you plan to buy or when saving for holiday gifts or a vacation.
  • Actually, freeze your credit card. Place your credit card in a bag or container of water and place it in the freezer.  This action can help avoid impulse purchases, and you can easily defrost it under warm water when you need to pay for an emergency.

For additional information on unusual money actions, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students talk with others to obtain other ideas that they use to save money.
  • Have students create a video or other visual that might be used to encourage people to spend less and save more.

Discussion Questions 

  1. Why do most people have a difficult time saving money?
  2. Describe personal action that you have used to spend less and save more.

Resources to help you avoid scams during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Scammers are taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to con people into giving up their money. During this time of uncertainty, knowing about possible scams is a good first step toward preventing them.

Beware of these corona-related scams:

Vaccine, cure, air filters, and testing scams

The FTC warned  about an increasing number of scams related to vaccines, test kits, cures or treatments, and air filter systems designed to remove COVID-19 from the air in your home. There is no vaccine for this virus, and there is no cure. If you receive a phone call, email, text message, or letter with claims to sell you any of these items–it’s a scam.

What to do instead: Testing is available  through your local and state governments, but these tests are not delivered to your house.

Fake coronavirus-related charity scams

charity scam is when a thief poses as a real charity or makes up the name of a charity that sounds real to get money from you. Be careful about any charity calling you and asking for donations. Also be wary if you get a call following up on a donation pledge that you don’t remember making–it could be a scam.

What to do instead: If you are able to help financially, visit the website of the organization of your choice to make sure your money is going to the right place.

“Person in need” scams

Scammers could use the circumstances of the coronavirus to pose as a grandchild, relative or friend who claims to be ill, stranded in another state or foreign country, or otherwise in trouble, and ask you to send money. They may ask you to send cash by mail or buy gift cards. These scammers often beg you to keep it a secret and act fast before you ask questions.

What to do instead: Don’t panic! Take a deep breath and get the facts. Hang up and call your grandchild or friend’s phone number to see if the story checks out. You could also call a different friend or relative. Don’t send money unless you’re sure it’s the real person who contacted you.

Scams targeting Social Security benefits

While local Social Security Administration (SSA) offices are closed to the public due to COVID-19 concerns, SSA will not suspend or decrease  Social Security benefit payments or Supplemental Security Income payments due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Scammers may mislead people into believing they need to provide personal information or pay by gift card, wire transfer, internet currency, or by mailing cash to maintain regular benefit payments during this period. Any communication that says SSA will suspend or decrease your benefits due to COVID-19 is a scam, whether you receive it by letter, text, email, or phone call.

What to do instead: Report Social Security scams to the SSA Inspector General online at oig.ssa.gov .

For more information, go to: click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they or their families have received calls from scammers. If so, what was their response?
  • Ask students to prepare a list of actions to take if they receive calls from scammers. Share the list with others.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to do your homework when you donate to a charity? should you donate in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money?  Why or why not?
  2. What should you do if you receive a call, an email, text message, or a letter claiming that an air filter system will remove COVID-19 from the air in your home?
  3. How would you handle any communication which claims that Social Security will suspend or decrease your benefits due to COVID-19 pandemic?

COVID-19 FINANCIAL LESSONS

The finances of many people have been greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Some of these recent financial situations are:

  • Large numbers of households lacked an emergency fund, and were not prepared for unexpected financial difficulties.
  • People who encountered difficulties making their mortgage and rent payments were offered relief and protection options to avoid losing their place of residence.
  • Monthly payments and interest on student loans were suspended until a later date.
  • Consumers lost nearly $80 million as a result of coronavirus-related fraud. Some common scams were offers to receive stimulus checks sooner, fraudulent unemployment claims, threats of utility shutoffs, online shopping and price gouging for high-demand products such as sanitizer and paper goods.
  • COVID-19 surcharges were added by some businesses and restaurants to cover increased cleaning, sanitation, and food costs. Some dentist offices added an “infectious disease” or a “personal protective equipment” charge.
  • A coin shortage resulted from banks and coin-heavy businesses being closed, lower U.S. Mint production, and increased contactless payments. To adapt, stores gave store credit or a free drink or chips when coins were not available for correct change.

For our current and future times of crisis, these money management suggestions are offered:

  1. Learn about federal, state, and local government assistance programs.
  2. Reassess and review your budgeting priorities.
  3. Reduce and avoid debt; contact creditors to discuss revised payment plans.
  4. Start to rebuild your savings cushion.
  5. Use online tools for managing finances and to automate savings and payments.
  6. Increase your awareness of possible frauds and scams.

For additional information on managing money during COVID and future times of crisis, go to:

Link #1

Link #2

Link #3

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students talk to others about the financial difficulties and actions taken in recent months.
  • Have students create a video with suggested actions that a person might take when facing financial difficulties.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What are reasons that people might not prepare for unexpected financial difficulties?
  2. Describe actions you might take to prepare for unexpected financial difficulties.

 

Protecting your credit during the coronavirus pandemic

Your credit reports and scores play an important role in your future financial opportunities. You can use the steps below to manage and protect your credit during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

Get a copy of your credit report

If you haven’t requested your free annual credit reports, you can get copies at AnnualCreditReport.com. Each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies (also known as credit reporting companies) – Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian – allow you to get your report for free once every twelve months. You can request additional reports for a small fee if you’ve already received your free report. Be sure to check your reports for errors and dispute any inaccurate information.

If you can’t make payments, contact your lenders

Many lenders have announced proactive measures to help borrowers impacted by COVID-19. As with other natural disasters and emergencies, they may be willing to provide forbearance, loan extensions, a reduction in interest rates, and/or other flexibilities for repayment. Some lenders are also saying they will not report late payments to credit reporting agencies or waiving late fees for borrowers in forbearance due to this pandemic. If you feel you cannot make payments, contact your lenders to explain your situation and be sure to get confirmation of any agreements in writing.

Credit reporting under the CARES Act

The recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act places special requirements on companies that report your payment information to credit reporting companies. These requirements apply if you are affected by the coronavirus disease pandemic and if your creditor makes an agreement (called an “accommodation” in the Act) with you to defer a payment, make partial payments, forbear a delinquency, modify a loan, or other relief.

How your creditors report your account to credit reporting companies under the CARES Act depends on whether you are current or already delinquent when this agreement is made.

  • If your account is currentand you make an agreement to make a partial payment, skip a payment, or other accommodation, then the creditor is to report to credit reporting companies that you are current on your loan or account.
  • If your account is already delinquentand you make an agreement, then your account will maintain that status during the agreement until you bring the account current.
  • If your account is already delinquent and you make an agreement, and you bring your account current, the creditor must report that you are current on your loan or account.

For more information, go to: click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they have requested their free credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union. If so, did they find any errors?  What did they learn from the credit reports?
  • Encourage students to request their credit reports if they have never obtained one from the credit reporting agencies.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to contact your creditors as soon as possible if you can’t make payments on time? What are the consequences if you don’t?
  2. What are the special requirements that the CARE Act places on companies that report your payment information to credit reporting agencies? Under what circumstances these special requirements apply?