The Credit Repair Organizations Act

The Credit Repair Organization Act (CROA) makes it illegal for credit repair companies to lie about what they can do for you, and to charge you before they’ve performed their services.  The CROA is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission and requires credit repair companies to explain:

  • your legal rights in a written contract that also details the services they’ll perform,
  • your three day right to cancel without with any charge,
  • how long will it take to get results,
  • the total cost you will pay, and
  • any guarantees.

What if a credit repair company you hired doesn’t live up to its promises?  You have some options.  You can:

  • sue them in federal court for your actual losses or for what you paid them, whichever is more,
  • seek punitive damages—money to punish the company for violating the law,
  • join other people in a class action lawsuit against the company, and if you win, the company has to pay your attorney’s fees.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to make a list of major provisions of the Credit Repair Organization Act.
  • Ask students if there is a time limit on reporting negative information about criminal convictions.

Discussion Questions

  1. Where and how can you report credit repair frauds?
  2. Can the FTC resolve individual credit disputes? If not, why should you file the complaint with the FTC?

IRS: Protect Yourself Online

The Internal Revenue Service, the states and the tax industry urge taxpayers to take steps to protect themselves online in the fight against identity theft.  Scammers, hackers and identity thieves are stealing taxpayers’ personal information and ultimately their money.  But, there are simple steps you can take to help protect yourselves, like keeping computer software up-to-date and being cautious about giving out your personal information.

Here are some best practices you can follow to protect your tax and financial information, click here.

  1. Understand and Use Security Software. Security software helps protect computers against the digital threats that are prevalent online.  The operating system will include security software from well-known companies or Internet providers.
  2. Allow Security Software to Update Automatically. Set security software to update automatically.  Malware–malicious software—evolves constantly, and your security software suite updates routinely to keep pace.
  3. Look for the “S.” When shopping or banking online, always ensure that the site uses encryption to protect your information.  Look for “https” at the beginning of the web address.
  4. Use Strong Passwords. Use passwords of eight or more characters, mixing letters, numbers and special characters.  Don’t use your name, birthdate or common words.
  5. Secure Wireless Networks. A wireless network sends a signal through the air that allows it to connect to the Internet.  If your home or business Wi-Fi is unsecure, it also allows any computer within range to access your wireless and potentially steal information from your computer.
  6. Be Cautious When Using Public Wireless Networks. Public Wi-Fi hotspots are convenient but often not secured.
  7. Avoid E-mail Phishing Attempts. Never reply to an emails, text or pop-up messages asking for personal, tax or financial information.  Never click on links even if they seem to be from organizations you trust.  Instead, go directly to the organization’s website.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students which best practices they follow to protect their tax and financial information. Make a list and share it with other students.
  • Ask students to make a list of essential software tools available to them for keeping their financial/tax information secure.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why it might be prudent to purchase security software programs from well-known companies or Internet providers?
  2. Where should you keep your passwords list and why?

How to Get the Best Mortgage Rate

“Finding the right mortgage (and how to get the best mortgage rate can be a confusing process–especially for first time home-buyers.”

Buying a home is a huge financial commitment.  In this article, Deborah Kearns discusses the following six questions that can help you decide which is the right mortgage for you.

  1. Should I get a fixed- or adjustable-rate mortgage?
  2. Should I pay for points?
  3. How much should I expect to pay in closing costs?
  4. Do I qualify for any special programs?
  5. How much can and should I put down?
  6. Any other insights on how to get the best mortgage rate?

Each question provides detailed information to help you answer the question and find the right home mortgage financing needed to purchase the home of your dreams.

For more information, click here. 

Teaching Suggestions

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

  • Help students understand the importance of purchasing a home they can afford after all other home ownership costs–taxes, utilities, repairs, etc. are considered.
  • Stress the necessity of “shopping” for a home mortgage and comparing both term of the mortgage and the effect of interest rates on total financing costs.

Discussion Questions

  1. What factors affect the cost of financing a home that you would like to purchase?
  2. How important is good credit when purchasing a home? Does it really make a difference if you have a good credit score or a bad credit score?  Explain your answer.
  3. What steps can you take to make sure that you are getting the lowest interest rate when you finance your home?

The Single Best Question to Ask in a Job Interview

“What did you do to prepare for this interview?”

According to CNBC contributor and author Suzy Welch, the above question is the most important question that a manager can ask and the best question a prospective employee can answer.  She explains she has asked this question for years and is always surprised at the answers she gets from prospective employees–answers that are the good, the bad, and the ugly.  One answer stands out.  When asked what she did to prepare for the job interview as my personal assistant, the applicant answered, I’ve been stalking you for three days.  Welch loved the answer because stalking  involved reading virtually everything she could find written about Welch plus reading and scanning everything I’ve ever written online and in print.

Not all answers display the passion that a job applicant should have.  For example, one applicant answered, “Well I drove here last night with my boyfriend so I wouldn’t get lost today.”  Not an answer that would demonstrate the kind of passion and curiosity and most importantly, the resourcefulness Welch was looking for.

For more information, click here

Teaching Suggestions

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

  • Stress the importance of doing some detective work when preparing for a job interview.
  • Point out there are many websites that can help job applicants prepare for a job interview.

Discussion Questions

  1. Assume you unemployed and have scheduled a job interview with a human resources manager for a bank teller position at a local Bank of America branch. What would you do to prepare for your interview?
  2. What traits or skills do you have that would make the bank want to hire you for this position? How can you tell or illustrate your traits and skills during the interview process?

New Service at Social Security

In December 2016, Social Security launched a new service for my Social Security account holders where they can check on the status of an application for benefits or an appeal filed with Social Security.  The service provides detailed information about retirement, disability, survivors, Medicare, and Supplemental Security Income claims and appeals filed either online at socialsecuarity.gov or with a Social Security employee.

The ability to check your application status is available online to everyone who has or opens a secure my Social Security.  You can open an account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.  The service provides important information about your claim or appeal including

  • date of filing,
  • current claim location,
  • scheduled hearing date and time, and
  • claim or appeal decision.

If you are unable to open a my Social Security account you can still call 1-800-772-1213 to check your claim status by using the automated system using the confirmation number you received when you filed your claim.

For more information click here.

Teaching Suggestions

You may want to use the information in this blog and the original article to

  • Stress the importance of learning about my Social Security and other services provided by the Social Security Administration.
  • Encourage students to visit the Social Security website and open a my Social Security account.

Discussion Questions

  1. What might be some advantages of opening my Social Security account?
  2. What might be some drawbacks to open my Social Security account?
  3. Can hackers get into your my Social Security account?

Smart Money Moves for January

With a new year, many people hope to get a fresh start with changes in their financial planning activities. To do so, the following actions are suggested:

  • Maintain or increase the amount of money in your emergency fund.
  • Pay off high-interest credit cards and other expensive loan accounts.
  • Set goals that will contribute to long-term financial security.
  • Review your cash flow (spending and income) from the previous year in an effort to increase saving by avoiding unnecessary payments.
  • Merge various banking, investment, and retirement accounts into one low-cost account.
  • Determine if changes are needed in your estate plan.
  • Increase your retirement account contributions.
  • Revise your tax withholding, as needed

For additional information on January money moves, click here.

 

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students talk to various people about which actions they believe to be most valuable for long-term financial security.
  • Have students create a brief presentation describing the value of one of these suggested money actions.

Discussion Questions 

  1. Describe the January money actions that you consider to be most valuable for long-term financial security.
  1. What are some other money moves that you would recommend?

5 Things You Need to Know About Dow 20,000

“The Dow’s ongoing flirtation with the 20,000 market milestone is the talk of Wall Street.”

The 120-year-old Dow Jones Industrial Average consists of 30-blue chip stocks that make up arguably the world’s best-known stock index.  At the time of this article and this blog post, the average is trading at near record levels and threatening the break the 20,000 mark.  So how important is breaking the 20,000 barrier?  Consider the following five questions.

  1. Why, with the Dow so Close to 20,000, can’t it get over the hump?
  2. Is Dow 20,000 a big deal?
  3. Does a new milestone mark a new stage of the bull run we’ve seen?
  4. Will Dow 20,000 improve the mood of investors?
  5. Is Dow 20,000 a reason to buy?

Adam Shell, in this USA Today article, provides some answers to the above 5 questions that can help investors keep a more balanced perspective on what a Dow 20,000 really means for both individual investors and the economy.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

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

  • With so much in the news about the stock market, record high values, a possible correction or pullback in market values, the Federal Reserve’s interest rate changes, and other economic factors, you may want to use this article and this blog post to explain why the Dow Jones Industrial Average is just one of many factors that affect investors, the market, and the economy.

Discussion Questions

  1. Since the Dow Jones Industrial Average is in record territory, is this a good time to invest in the stock market? Explain your answer.
  2. At the time you answer this question, what is the current Dow Jones Industrial Average? Has it gone up or down in the last six months, and what affect has the change had on the stock market and the economy?

Learning How Money Works

 Many people grow up without learning how money works, which usually results in difficulties.  Studies reveal that less than one-fourth of millennials have basic financial knowledge.

A vital starting point in the learning process is admitting that you don’t know.  For example, most people do not know that credit scores show if a person has paid his or her bills on time and how much has been borrowed.  Most people are not aware that credit reports often contain incorrect information, or how to check for errors.

Credit card rewards may seem like a good deal but only is you pay your bill on time every month.  If you don’t, late fees and interest charges can more than outweigh any reward point benefits.

These are just two areas on which many young people, as well as others, lack a basic understanding. However, a wide variety of sources are available to add to your knowledge.

For additional information on learning how money works, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students conduct research to determine the financial knowledge among various age groups.
  • Have students create a video presentation with suggestions for improving financial knowledge.

Discussion Questions 

  1. Why are people often not informed on basic money topics?
  2. What are the most common topics that on which many people lack basic financial knowledge?

A Summary Instead of a Career Objective

Since the career objective presented on most resumes is too general and unfocused, hiring managers recommend a career summary. When developing a resume summary, consider the following actions:

  1. Plan a clear direction that emphasizes the skills and experience directly related to your career area. Communicate results and accomplishments that highlight your strengths.
  2. Research the industry to obtain an understanding of the trends and career competencies you will encounter.
  3. Develop phrasing that communicates the value you can add to an organization.

A resume summary can be appropriate for highlighting your work history and when transitioning careers. This resume feature also allows you to clearly communicate your personal brand.

For additional information on career summaries, click here.

 

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students search online for sample career summaries for industries of interest to them.
  • Have students create a career summary that reflects their current competencies and experiences.

Discussion Questions 

  1. Why are career objectives discouraged on resumes?
  2. What actions might be taken to develop an effective career summary?

Social Security Retirement Estimator

How the Retirement Estimator Works

The Retirement Estimator provides estimate based on your actual Social Security earnings record.  Social Security can’t provide your actual benefit amount until you apply for benefits, they will be adjusted for cost-of-living increases.  And that amount may differ from estimates provided because:

  • Your earnings may increase or decrease in the future.
  • After you start receiving benefits, they will be adjusted for cost-of-living increases.
  • Your estimated benefits are based on current law. The law governing benefit may change because, by 2034, the payroll taxes collected will be enough to pay only about 79 cents for each dollar of scheduled benefits.
  • Your benefit amount may be affected by military service, railroad employment or pensions earned through work on which you did not pay Social Security tax.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to gather the information they will need to calculate their retirement benefit.
  • Help students understand that their social security benefits will be reduced if they retire before their retirement age.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is it better if you wait until your retirement age to collect social security benefits?
  2. What might be the consequences if you decide to work after you retire?