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?

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.

 

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?

Romance Scams

What are some signs that a romance scam could be taking place?

  • a new love living far away requests money or use of your credit card number
  • being asked to sign a document giving a new romantic interest control of your finances
  • a new sweetheart wants you to open a joint bank account with them

While romance scammers usually focus on single, older people, anyone seeking a new relationship is a possible target. These scams can happen in person, but more often through social media, dating websites, smartphone apps. These scams happen when a new love pretends to be interested in you as a way to get your money. In fact, they may not even be who they say they are.

Beware of Cupid’s arrow striking your wallet instead of your heart!  To protect you, friends, and family from romance and other scams, consider these actions:

  • Avoid giving a new friend access to credit cards, bank accounts, or other financial assets.
  • Report crimes or financial exploitation to local law enforcement agencies or to Adult Protective Services (APS); information available at gov.
  • Contact your state attorney general and the Federal Trade Commission to report cases of financial abuse.

For additional information on romance scams, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students create and present possible scam situations to create awareness among various potential victims.
  • Have students create a visual presentation (using computer software or a poster) to communicate actions to avoid scams.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What are common warning signs that may indicate that a possible scam is taking place?
  2. Describe actions that might be taken to avoid various scams and frauds.

Protect Your Social Media Accounts

The Internet has made our lives easier in so many ways. However, you need to know how you can protect your privacy and avoid fraud. Remember, not only can people be defrauded when using the Internet for investing; the fraudsters use information online to send bogus materials, solicit or phish.

Here’s what you can do to protect yourself when using social media:

Privacy Settings: Always check the default privacy settings when opening an account on a social media website.

Biographical Information: Consider customizing your privacy settings to minimize the amount of biographical information others can view on the website.

Account Information: Never give account information, Social Security numbers, bank information or other sensitive financial information on a social media website.

Friends/Contacts:  Decide whether it is appropriate to accept a “friend” or other membership request from a financial service provider, such as a financial adviser or broker-dealer.

Site Features: Familiarize yourself with the functionality of the social media website before broadcasting messages on the site. Who will be able to see your messages — only specified recipients, or all users?

For More Information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to make a list of their social media accounts. How do they protect their accounts from fraudsters?
  • Why do many social media websites require biographical information to open an account?

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to limit the information made available to other social media users?
  2. Is there an obligation to accept a “friend” request of a service provider or anyone you don’t know or do not know well?
  3. Why be extra careful before clicking on a link sent to you even if by a friend?

Teaching Money Skills to Children

Youngsters learn money management attitudes and behaviors by watching family members and others. To help guide their financial literacy development, involve children in the shopping process using these steps:

  1. Have children help in the creation of the shopping list. Sit down together with paper or an app to list what you need. Talk through your list with your kids noting items that are low on in the household as well as things bought regularly. Have children check cabinets and refrigerator to determine things they use.
  2. While making your list, talk about a budget. Explain the need to keep track of how much is spent on groceries so there is enough money for household expenses. Make clear that a grocery list helps make sure you don’t overspend.
  3. Talk while shopping to explain brands you prefer and how sale prices or coupons might affect purchases. Also communicate why you choose certain stores for your shopping.  As you select items explain why you’re buying that one instead of a similar item.  Older children can be asked to comparison shop among different brands.
  4. While shopping, refer back to your budget. This will help you decide to buy an item now or wait until a later time.
  5. Provide explanations of buying choices. To avoid surprises, estimate your total before going to the cash register. Also explain different payment methods, such as a debit card, which subtracts money from your bank account right away.

Discussion of various decision-making elements will help kids learn shopping and money management skills they will need.  Thinking out loud can clarify what you’re doing and why when in the store, paying bills, or shopping online.

For additional information on teaching money skills to children, go to:

Grocery Shopping Tips

Money skills, by age.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students visit stores and explain to friends why they buy certain items and brands.
  • Have students create a visual presentation (using computer software or a poster) to communicate learning experiences for teaching wise buying to others.

 Discussion Questions 

  1. What experiences did you have growing up that helped you learn financial literacy and wise money management skills?
  2. Describe other methods that might be used to teach shopping and money management skills to young people and others who might lack these abilities.

Those Pesky Robocalls

Every day American consumers report tens of thousands of illegal robocalls to the Federal Trade Commission, and now the FTC is helping put that information to work boosting industry efforts to stop unwanted calls before they reach consumers.

Under a new initiative announced by the FTC, when consumers report Do Not Call or robocall violations to the agency, the robocaller phone numbers consumers provide will be released each day to telecommunications carriers and other industry partners that are implementing call-blocking solutions.

Unwanted and illegal robocalls are the FTC’s number-one complaint category, with more than 1.9 million complaints filed in the first five months of 2017 alone. By reporting illegal robocalls, consumers help law enforcement efforts to stop the violators behind these calls. In addition, under the initiative announced today, the FTC is now taking steps to provide more data, more often to help power the industry solutions that block illegal calls.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they have received robocalls and what was their response to such illegal calls?
  • Let students debate the issue of whether robocalls should be outlawed.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is the consumer complaint data so crucial for the FTC to call-blocking solutions?
  2. How will the FTC attempt to stop unwanted robocalls before they reach consumers?

Vending Machines for Cars?

Believe it or not, you can buy a car from a vending machine.  Carvana has created an eight-story high glass structure holding 30 cars. The online auto retailer opened its first vehicle vending machine in Nashville, Tennessee, and also has locations in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio, Texas. Payment, financing, and trade-ins are arranged online.  Free delivery is offered in the areas served.  However, buyers have the option of receiving an oversized Carvana coin to drop in a slot to automatically move the car to the delivery bay ready to drive.

For additional information on Carvana, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students search for a website or app related to car buying services that was not available a few years ago.
  • Have students talk with others about their car buying experiences. Ask students to propose an app or website that would improve car buying activities.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What benefits are associated with this type of motor vehicle buying process?
  2. Describe common mistakes people might make when buying a motor vehicle?

Fraud Victims Vulnerable to Severe Stress, Anxiety and Depression

The FINRA Investor Education Foundation issued a new research report, Non-Traditional Costs of Financial Fraud, which found that nearly two thirds of self-reported financial fraud victims experienced at least one non-financial cost of fraud to a serious degree—including severe stress, anxiety, difficulty sleeping and depression. While the Stanford Financial Fraud Research Center estimates that $50 billion is lost to financial fraud every year, the FINRA Foundation’s innovative research examines the broader psychological and emotional impact of financial fraud.

“Fraud’s effects linger and cause distress well after the scam is over. For the first time, we have data on the deep toll that fraud exerts on its victims, and the results are sobering. This new research underscores the importance of the FINRA Foundation’s work with an array of national, state and local partners to help Americans avoid fraud, and assist consumers who have been defrauded,” said FINRA Foundation President Gerri Walsh.

The research report found that:

  • nearly two thirds (65 percent) reported experiencing at least one type of non-financial cost to a serious degree; and
  • most commonly cited non-financial costs of fraud are severe stress (50 percent), anxiety (44 percent), difficulty sleeping (38 percent) and depression (35 percent).
  •  Beyond the psychological and emotional costs, nearly half of fraud victims reported incurring indirect financial costs associated with the fraud, such as late fees, legal fees and bounced checks. Twenty-nine percent of respondents reported incurring more than $1,000 in indirect costs, and 9 percent declared bankruptcy as a result of the fraud.

Additionally, nearly half of victims blame themselves for the fraud—an indication of the far-reaching effects of financial fraud on the lives of its victims.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to list a few suggestions to protect themselves from financial fraud.
  • Explain how FINRA can assist consumers who have been the victims of financial fraud.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are a few indirect financial costs associated with funds?
  2. Why nearly half of victims blame themselves for being victims of financial fraud?
  3. How and where should you report financial fraud?