Access ConsumerReports.org free through our website with your Library card and PIN because they have just released their 2016 gift guide. Find the best gadgets for the chef in your life. Find out why you should buy an organic turkey this festive season. Discover how to be a winner on Black Friday. There are many articles, some with intriguing titles such as “Nothing Says You Care Like a Home Blood Pressure Monitor” and “Why Tires Go Flat in Winter.” Lots of interesting stuff!
News from the Reference Desk Category: Consumer
The Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity’s Office of Energy Assistanced has announced that the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) will begin accepting applications for winter heating assistance for seniors and people with disabilities beginning September 1, 2016.
For a complete listing of LIHEAP’s local adminstering agencies and additional information about the program, click here, or call the energy assistance toll-free hotline at 1-877-411-WARM.
Trying to organize your important paperwork and questioning what you need to hold onto and what you can just shred or recycle? Here’s some guidelines as to how long you should keep your documents.
What to Keep for a Limited Time
– Household furnishings paperwork
– Investment purchase confirmations
– Loan documents
– Savings bonds
– Vehicle records
What to Keep for a Year or Less
– Bank records
– Credit-card bills
– Current-year tax records
– Insurance policies
– Investment statements
– Pay stubs
What to Keep for Seven Years
– Federal and State tax returns and supporting documents
What to Never Toss
– Defined-benefit plan documents
– Estate-planning documents
– Life-insurance policies
– Safe-deposit box inventory
Managing one’s personal finances can be hectic and stressful. However, if you own a smartphone, there are several apps out there that can help tidy things up and take a bit of the pressure off. All six of these apps are available for both Android and iOS.
Perhaps the most widely used personal finance app, Intuit’s Mint gives you a real-time, complete look into all of your finances, from bank accounts and credit cards to student loans and 401k. It automatically tracks your spending, categorizes it, and alerts you when/if you approach your budget limit. You can even ask for custom savings tips within the app. Everything is shown in simple, intuitive graphs and charts, making it one of the most popular personal finance apps in the world.
Acorn is an app that helps you invest your spare change in low-cost ETFs. Once you connect your checking and credit card accounts to it, Acorn automatically rounds up every purchase to the next dollar, and invests the difference in a portfolio of your choice. For example, if you spent $2.25 for coffee, it will invest $0.75 for you. Acorn says users invest $30 to $180 a month on average in “round ups” alone. But if you want, you can also invest a lump sum amount up to $30,000.
Level Money calls itself the “mobile money meter.” Once you connect the app to your bank account, it automatically calculates your income and recurring bills, and then suggests what your daily, weekly, and monthly spending should be. It also comes up with the amount you should be saving every month and subtracts that from your monthly budget. You can set up an auto-save amount too, and any cash left unspent from your budget will rollover to your savings account. It tracks your spending in real time, so you can easily see what you’ve spent and how much you can spend within a given period.
Besides offering free credit scores and reports, Credit Karma allows users to monitor their spending patterns by linking to their credit card and bank accounts. Based on that information, Credit Karma recommends better credit card or loan offers that can further improve your finances. Its offering now ranges from auto insurance to mortgages, and users are absolutely loving it. It has over 32 million users worldwide, and just last September, raised an additional $75 million, valuing the company at over $1 billion.
Goodbudget is an app that brings the time-tested envelope budgeting method into your smartphone. The users can create “envelopes” for each of their budget category – think groceries, transportation, shopping, etc. – and pre-determine how much they’re going to allocate in each envelope. Once it’s all set up, users can record and track how much they’re spending from each envelope. It may not be as sophisticated as some of the other apps, but Goodbudget offers a simple way to stick to your budget and keep your spending really disciplined.
Wally is an expense tracking app that shows a complete picture of your expenditures. You can view how much you’ve spent daily, weekly, or monthly, while dividing expenses into separate categories. The best part about the app is that it allows you to simply scan your receipts and it’ll automatically input all the details of your purchase. That way, users don’t have to go through the hassle of typing in every detail of its spending, while the app saves all the receipts.
Read more: HERE
It’s the time of year when many of us make decisions about our employee benefits for the coming year–“open enrollment” season. The Office of Financial Education, a part of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, offers this sound advice:
You can guide your children in finding the financial help they need
The financial world of today isn’t the same world you grew up in. New services and choices are being offered all the time. For your children to navigate the new financial world they’ll face, they need to know when to seek out information and how to evaluate it. Your children need practice making money choices, and they could use your guidance. At this age they may be earning some money of their own. Now, as you make benefits choices for next year, think about including your teenager in your decision-making process. You can help your teenager think about how to use information to make a good decision. If you have benefits fact sheets or Web sites from your employer, sit with your teenager and go through them. Talk through the questions your child has, and ask a few questions of your own:
What is the most important thing to think about for the family’s health care? Why?
Have there been any changes in the family since last year that could make a difference to health care? To insurance? To flexible spending dollars?
What could be the advantages or disadvantages of having benefits deducted from your paycheck, compared to paying the costs on your own?
How trustworthy is the information you receive? How would you look for further information?
You don’t have to do anything you wouldn’t do normally, when you make your benefits choices. Just by showing your teens how you approach enrollment, you’re helping them practice the decision-making process before their own paychecks are at stake. For more ideas, visit www.consumerfinance.gov/parents.
It’s the time of year when many health insurance decisions must be made. If you need assistance in determining the best options, here’s some help:
Medicare Open Enrollment:
The Medicare Open Enrollment period began on Oct. 15 and runs until Dec. 7. The Illinois Dept. on Aging offers assistance through the department’s Senior Health Insurance Program (SHIP.) Their counselors can explain the drug, health, and supplemental plans that are available. The nearest SHIP sites are at Arlington Heights Senior Center (847/253-5532) and Wheeling Township (847/259-7730.) For additional SHIP information, call 800/252-8966 or click here .
The Village of Mount Prospect Human Services Department also offers assistance for Medicare Part D (prescription drugs) enrollment. Call 847/870-5680 to set up an appointment.
Affordable Care Act Marketplace:
The enrollment period for uninsured people to sign up for coverage through the Illinois Marketplace runs from Nov. 15, 2014 to Feb. 15, 2015. If you want your insurance coverage to start on Jan. 1, 2015, you must enroll by Dec. 15, 2014.
The Library is offering several programs to assist those using the Illinois Marketplace. Representatives from Get Covered Illinois will present an overview program,” Affordable Care Act Update,” on Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. The Library will also host two enrollment events with trained navigators from Get Covered Illinois to provide assistance in navigating the site and signing up for insurance. The enrollment events are on Dec. 13, 2014, and Jan. 31, 2015, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. To schedule an appointment, call 847/392-8682 ext. 227. Walk-ins are also welcome.
Summer is almost over, but the need for money smarts will never end! With that in mind, here are a few free, prepackaged programs and curricula selected and compiled by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) designed to help you improve your own financial literacy and develop the best personal strategy for saving, investing and more.
Elementary School Economics
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
Personal finance and economic lessons are paired with popular children’s books. Librarians can read the book to the children and follow the reading with discussions about money decisions, saving, spending, choices, needs and wants and much more. Includes lesson plans and handouts.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
An online learning platform for more than 25 courses about money, financial decisions and economics. Register free to access the full list of courses. Instructors can select courses for their online “classrooms,” hold online discussions with classroom students, view progress, and present poll questions or surveys.
Money Smart for Older Americans
An instructor-led training developed jointly by FDIC and CFPB, this module provides awareness among older adults and their caregivers about how to prevent elder financial exploitation and to encourage advance planning and informed financial decision-making.
Thrive by 5
Credit Union National Association Inc.
Simple activities and other resources that are parent-and-child tested and meant to give you ideas for: Teaching how money works and what it can do, talking about how your family uses money, and modeling good money management.
Summer is finally here, and between planning your holidays and wondering when you should turn on the AC, I bet the last thing you’re thinking about is FINANCIAL LITERACY! However, this is actually the BEST time to start figuring out a plan to keep your life cruising along while planning for the future (ok, actually ANYTIME is a perfect time to work on financial literacy, but why not start now anyway?).
There are many resources that can help, one of which is Feedthepig.org. Assembled by the American Institute of CPAs (and they oughta know!), Feedthepig.org is a great site that offers tips and strategies for putting together a financial plan, including how to create a budget, review your expenses, manage saving, retirement, and student loan debt, and much more. It’s easy to use and fairly straightforward—the real trick, as always, is ACTUALLY DOING IT. Mint.com is another helpful site. Mint pulls all your financial accounts into one place. Set a budget, track your goals, stay on top of your finances. See what’s happening with all your accounts – checking, savings, investments, retirement – at any moment of the day. There’s even a free mobile app to help you stay connected on-the-go. If you’re a student fresh out of college and looking at a mountain (or a molehill) of student loans, you should check out YouCanDealWithIt.com. YouCanDealWithIt.com provides practical and easy-to-understand advice on how to deal with common financial situations facing today’s college students and recent graduates, such as: understanding student aid, including the repayment of student loans, learning effective money management, including setting a budget, and dealing with the dangers of credit cards while enjoying the benefits. In addition to being a resource for students, this website also provides information and tools for parents and college financial aid administrators to help them communicate accurate and effective financial advice to their prospective students, current students, and graduates. So bite the bullet and get started on the road toward better financial literacy today—it may be tough at first, but you’ll be glad you did!
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has recently proposed rules regarding net neutrality or an open internet. They are seeking public comments to assist them in making these very important rules.
From the FCC website:
The FCC has previously concluded that broadband providers have the incentive and ability to act in ways that threaten Internet openness. But today, there are no rules that stop broadband providers from trying to limit Internet openness. That is why the Notice adopted by the FCC today starts with a fundamental question: “What is the right public policy to ensure that the Internet remains open?”
Initial comments to these proposed rules opened on May 15 and will close on July 15. Replies to comments will be open until September 15. Comments (termed “filings”) may be submitted on the FCC website.
For further reading:
American Library Association: Network Neutrality
Consumers Union on FCC Plan for New Net Neutrality Rules
Consumers Union: What is Network Neutrality?
New York Times: FCC Backs Opening Net Neutrality Rules for Debate
Washington Post: FCC Approves Plan to Consider Paid Priority on Internet
Washington Post: ‘Net Neutrality’ Puts FCC at Center of Storm
Washington Post: Why the Death of Net Neutrality Would be a Disaster for Libraries
In 2012, approximately 16.6 million individuals (or 7% of the population) over the age or 16 were victims of identity theft in the United States according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The increasing number of security breaches occurring just in the past few months has made it imperative that consumers take precautions to safeguard their private information and to know where to turn and steps to take if they become victims themselves. The Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Information website has an Identity Theft guide which provides useful and detailed information for victims and tips for those who would like to safeguard their identity. Specific sections (e.g. initial steps to take if you are a victim; what to do later in the process; how to safeguard your identity and different types of identity theft) are presented in an easy to understand format with helpful checklists to simplify the process.