Getting Your Finances Right Before the End of the YearBrought to you by KOFE, Knowledge of Financial Education
As the weather gets cooler, prices on consumer goods are still red hot due to inflation. Now is a good time to check in on your finances. If you focus on your income and expenses in the fall, you should be able to make it through the expensive holiday shopping season and start the New Year right.
To help you get started, KOFE has put together this fall financial checkup, so you can focus on all the points that need your attention right now.
Checking your credit reports is always a good idea. Studies show that consumer credit reports often contain errors that can damage their credit score. Start by getting free copies of the 3 big credit companies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) and read through each report carefully. If you find any mistakes on your reports, you should dispute them immediately.If you've used deferment or forbearance on loans and credit cards, you want to make sure your accounts are current. Credit issuers are not allowed to report deferred payments as missed, but mistakes can happen. So, you want to check your credit reports to make sure all the information listed is accurate.
Expenses can change throughout the year, especially in the fall when most kids are headed back to school. This makes fall the perfect time to review your budget and make any adjustments you need before the end of the year.As you look at your budget numbers, consider the following: Are there any expenses you can cut or cut back on so you can free up more money for holiday spending? Are there things you're paying for that you don't use, such as subscription services that you've already binged your way through? Are you able to dedicate money to saving consistently, so you can continue building your emergency fund?
Housing has become one of the most burdensome expenses in anyone's life. Homebuyers are staring record high home prices in the eye; homeowners are dealing with an unheard-of increase in property tax and insurance rates and renters often struggle to meet their monthly payments.
If you are a homeowner...
As a homeowner, housing costs are usually fairly stable. However, with insurance rates and property taxes rising, not to mention record high levels of inflation, many homeowners are seeing higher costs than they anticipated.
The government has introduced several programs, such as the Homeowners Assistance Fund, to help people get back on their feet and help to catch up with past due payments. Recently the U.S. Department of Treasury has updated the guidance mandates to provide additional information on the reimbursement of certain qualified expenses. Make sure to take note of any changes as they could have a big impact on the funds available.
The best way to get informed is to talk to a HUD-certified housing counselor to receive housing stability counseling. Housing stability counseling is free, so if creditors are knocking on your door, make sure you know your options.
If you are a renter...
Traditionally, renting has been seen as the cheaper alternative to buying a home, with less responsibility and shorter commitments. The upward costs associated with owning a home have made renting seem even more attractive over two decades past.
But that doesn't mean renting is cheap by any means, and rental costs have sky-rocketed in many places over the past few years. The average cost of a one-bedroom rental has risen 39% in the last year alone. Coupled with the fact that 16% of low-income renters can't afford to make their full monthly payments, housing stability is becoming harder and harder.
Rental counseling can be a valuable resource. If you need assistance do not hesitate to reach out for help. We can connect you with counselors that are HUD-certified and will work with you to assess your financial situation, create a personalized budget, and much more.
Federal student loans are currently in automatic deferment and interest rates have been suspended. However, that all ends at the end of December 2022, and borrowers need to plan to resume payments in January 2023.
If you are worried you won't be able to make your payments once they start, don't wait to talk to your loan servicers. Ask about enrolling in an income-based repayment plan, which will match your payments to your income. This can mean you may pay nothing and avoid penalties if you are unemployed or underemployed.
It's also worth noting that if you can make payments now, you can pay off a significant portion of your debt. That's because with interest frozen, 100% of every payment you make will go towards paying down the principal debt you owe. That can give you a huge advantage in eliminating some of your student loan balances.
The stock market volatility caused by inflation meant a lot of people's retirement savings took a hit. You may have taken funds out of retirement savings to get through the challenges of this year. If so, you want to set a plan to pay those funds back into your retirement accounts as soon as possible.
Keep in mind that taking funds out of a retirement account means you also lost the growth on that money. So, if possible, you may want to up your contributions.
Even if you didn't withdraw any of your retirement funds, check in on your balances to see if you're on track. If you haven't used your free consultation with your plan advisor yet this year, schedule an appointment to meet with them before the end of the year. That way, you can talk about a strategy for allocating your funds the right way for 2023.
Remember all those great financial resolutions that you had at the beginning of the year? Now is the time to check in on them. The economic uncertainty over the past ten months may have gotten you off track, but there's still time to catch up. Look back at what you had planned for your finances this year. If you haven't made progress, now is the time to recommit to what you wanted to achieve.
If you didn't have any financial goals set for this year, then get started now. Do you want to buy a house or a car next year? Will you have another major purchase in 2023? Then it's time to start saving. If you want to improve your credit, download a free credit monitoring app and start tracking your score.
Insurance is more crucial now than it's ever been. You need to make sure you have adequate health insurance in case something happens. You also need to make sure you have adequate life insurance.
And, with all the storms raging across the country, you need to make sure you have the right insurance for your home, even if you rent. Review your policies to see what's covered and what's not. If you have questions, go to your KOFE portal to access the free coaching session and other financial tools anytime.
The homestead exemption can help you save a nice chunk on your taxes and offer other legal benefits. Following are answers to common questions regarding the homestead exemption.
The homestead exemption is a legal provision in a state's tax laws that reduces the property tax on a home, can protect a home from bankruptcy and provides rights to surviving spouses.A homestead refers to a dwelling that is inhabited by the homeowner. It can be a manufactured home, a condo or a three-story colonial, though the exact criteria will vary by state.
Eligibility requirements for the homestead exemption will vary by state. However, the principal qualifying factor in most states is that the homestead is the primary place of residence for the homeowner. Generally, the homeowner must be able to prove they have lived in the homestead on Jan. 1 of the taxable year to be eligible for an exemption.Some states make a general homestead exemption available to all homeowners who reside in the home. In other states, only senior citizens, surviving spouses of veterans and former military members and/or people with a disability can qualify. There may be income limits for the exemption as well. Other states establish qualifying criteria around the homestead alone. Still others, such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania, don't offer the homestead exemption for tax filers at all.
Most states have established a maximum amount for the exemption, which starts at just $5,000 and goes all the way up to $500,000. In Florida, the homestead exemption can be as high as $50,000, while Texans can write off $25,000 in a homestead exemption for school district taxes.The average homestead exemption amount in the U.S. is approximately $30,000 to $50,000.
Brought to you by KOFE, Knowledge of Financial Education
If you're like most Americans, you've probably noticed your grocery bills climb to crazy heights during the coronavirus pandemic. Over the past 12 months, all of the six major grocery store food group prices increased, according to the November 2021 Consumer Price Index (CPI) from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Prices for meats, poultry, fish and eggs rose 12.8 percent in 2021, with beef prices jumping the most with a 20.9 percent increase. Dairy product prices rose 1.6 percent. Other prices rose too, ranging from a 4.0 percent increase on fruits and vegetables to 5.7 percent for other foods.
Here are nine ways to cut your grocery bill despite rising prices.
That's where having a grocery list helps. Give some thought to your weekly grocery list to avoid making extra trips to the store, which can include impulse purchases that raise the bill.
Teaching your children how to be financially independent will help smooth the transition into adulthood. It will also give them what they need to stay financially stable throughout life.
Here are some tips for raising kids to be financially independent adults.
Another phone call, another scam.
It can sometimes feel like scammers have some kind of competition going to see who can hit you with the most robocalls in a day. In fact, according to Truecaller, scams and robocalls account for 67% of all phone calls in the U.S. Each American will receive an average of 28 of these calls a month. More than just an annoyance, scam calls cost 56 million Americans a financial loss in 2020.
One of the most common scams pulled off over the phone is the auto warranty scam. Here's all you need to know about this scam and how to protect yourself from falling victim:
How the scam plays out
In this ruse, scammers posing as representatives of a car dealer or manufacturer will call to tell you that your auto warranty is about to expire. The scammer will then segue into a pitch for renewing your warranty. During the call, you may be prompted to press a number to stay on the line, and then are asked to provide personal information to continue the process of renewing your warranty. If you follow instructions, you will be playing right into a scam.
How to spot a scam
It is possible for legitimate auto warranty companies to call you about purchasing or renewing a warranty. Look out for these red flags to help you pick out the authentic calls from the scams:
Follow these tips to keep yourself safe from auto warranty scams and similar ruses:
Alert the authorities
If you are targeted by a suspected scammer, you can alert the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) at the FCC Complaint Center. These calls likely violate telemarketing and robocall regulations, and by alerting the FCC, you can help them identify the scammers.
If the call you received involved fraud, you can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov.
Robocalls are incredibly annoying, but getting scammed is more than just an irritating experience. Follow our tips to protect yourself from auto warranty scams and similar ruses.
You probably already know how important your credit score is to lenders. When you apply for credit, your credit score helps lenders determine whether or not you are able to repay the loan based on your past financial performance. With a higher score, you qualify for better interest rates, lower payments, higher credit limits, and more types of credit than you would with a lower score.
Did you also know that your credit score can make it easier to rent an apartment, qualify for a good cell phone plan, and pay less for insurance? A higher score can save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars every year, which can add up to significant savings.
Not only can it hurt you financially, but many employers now check a potential employee's credit as part of the hiring decision. A low credit score could cost you a chance at your dream job.
There are no tricks or quick fixes to getting a good score. However, you can raise your score over time by demonstrating that you consistently manage your credit responsibly. Here are 10 things you can do to improve your credit score: