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June 2016 E-Newsletter

Summer Fun that Won't Break the Bank
 

The weather's hot and humid, school is out (or nearly), and you need to plan something fun for the whole family this summer! However, keeping everyone entertained can put a strain on your wallet. Water park excursions, cook-outs and Fourth of July parties can all add up to an expensive summer! Here are a few ideas to keep your budget from exploding this summer:

Research alternative activities. Many towns and cities in Wisconsin offer inexpensive or free activities during the summer. Your city's Chamber of Commerce or Travel & Visitors Bureau will have a full list of movie theater specials, park activities, zoo schedules and outdoor concerts. Many local libraries also have free reading sessions for kids on weekdays during the summer, which can be a nice break from the heat if the rest of your time is spent outdoors.

Create a spending plan. As with any budget, creating a plan for how you will spend your money and when is critical to enjoying a cost-effective summer. One method is to allot each child a specific amount of "fun money" for each week. The kids can then practice good financial habits by determining how they will spend their portion. A spending plan also helps reduce spontaneous purchases that can add up throughout the summer. For example, planning meals the week before a picnic can prevent the potential cost incurred by ordering pizza or fast food during the week.

Fourth of July party tips. Independence Day celebrations are fun for the whole family, but it can be very pricey to feed everyone, especially if you're hosting lots of guests. Consider having this year's event be a pot-luck to bring costs down. You can also make your own decorations rather than buying them. Also, skip the backyard fireworks show. Watch your local newspaper or search the internet for times and locations of public fireworks shows in an area near you. Professional fireworks are safe, free and bigger than anything you can set off on your own.
With a little research, careful planning and some creativity, you can have an exciting and enjoyable summer without squeezing your budget!
 
Source: WBA Consumer Column E-Newsletter

10 Terms Every Homebuyer Should Know


Buying a home is a common undertaking for many Americans, but it's also one of the most complicated — not to mention costly — purchases adults will ever make. It's important to understand these 10 essential terms so you're ready to make smart decisions with your money.

Adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM): A mortgage with an interest rate that can change over time. It typically has a low, fixed initial interest rate and then may adjust regularly either up or down depending on market conditions. It can't exceed a set rate cap.
Closing costs: Are fees when buying a house from both the lender and third parties like inspectors, attorneys, surveyors and title insurance companies. These typically add up to 3%-6% of the total home price, though some of these charges are negotiable.
Down payment: When you're buying a home and financing it with a mortgage, most lenders require you to put down a certain amount of cash up front, usually 5% to 20% of the total price. Your mortgage covers the amount remaining after the down payment.
Escrow: A neutral, third-party account that protects the money of both buyers and sellers until real estate transactions are finalized. For example, if you choose to make a deposit with an offer on a home, it would go into an escrow account first rather than directly to the seller. Once you've bought a home, escrow accounts are also typically used to hold money for homeowners insurance and property taxes until payment is due.
FHA loan: A mortgage offered through the Federal Housing Administration that has less strict credit and down payment requirements compared with conventional loans. It's ideal for people with less-than-stellar credit who aren't able to qualify for conventional financing. The tradeoff: Along with paying monthly mortgage insurance fees, you'll also pay a hefty upfront premium.
Fixed-rate loan: A mortgage with an interest rate that won't change over the course of the loan. The rate may be higher than an ARM, but you'll never have to worry about it increasing.
Interest: Money your lender charges you for cash you borrow, indicated by an annual percentage rate, or APR (for example, 4%). Your interest rate will depend on your credit history and how much you can afford for a down payment.
Principal: The amount of money you borrow. Note that you end up paying significantly more than this amount because of interest.
Private mortgage insurance (PMI): If you don't put 20% of the home's price in a down payment, some lenders require this insurance to lessen their risk. It's typically paid with a monthly fee added to mortgage payments. You can often cancel it once you have a certain amount of equity in the home.
VA loan: Mortgages for qualified current or former members of the U.S. military. These typically offer more favorable interest rates and require low to no down payment. They're offered by financial institutions but backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Home buying can be confusing, but knowing this important lingo will make it easier to navigate the process.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved


7 Tips for Reading College Financial Aid Letters


As told to Parade.com:
This time last year my daughter Annie was fielding a number of college acceptance letters while her father and I were crunching the numbers as we made our way through financial aid offers. Some of them were quite generous, with one college, in essence, offering Annie a 60 percent discount. With another daughter already in college, that number made our heart leap—that is, until we read the fine print.
 
Because this scholarship was a merit scholarship, due to Annie’s great grades and test scores, it came with a merit caveat. In order for Annie to keep that scholarship all four years, she needed to maintain a 3.8 GPA each year. While we don’t doubt our daughter’s academic abilities, we also didn’t think this benchmark was reasonable.
 
As Annie was making her decision, we suggested she think of this 60 percent off scholarship as a one-year deal, and that it shouldn’t sway her decision to attend this college. In the end it did—but in the other direction. She chose to attend a college that didn’t offer as generous a financial aid package but the help she received came with no strings attached.
 
The reason I’m sharing this anecdote now is this: millions of high school seniors need to decide by May 1 where they are going to attend college in the fall. That means that millions of parents and students are weighing financial aid offers, all of which is likely to affect their decision.
 
Because I’m all about getting the biggest bang for your buck—especially when it comes to college tuition—I’ve put together seven tips for reading financial aid offers. I believe this will be required reading for any family sending a student into the world of higher education.
 
1. FAFSA and CSS Profile
Every family, regardless of household income, should complete the FAFSA, which stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and the CSS Profile. The FAFSA is required if your student plans to take out federal loans to help pay for college. The CSS Profile is the private college and university version of the FAFSA and must be completed in addition to the FAFSA in order to receive financial aid. The deadlines for both are usually the same as federal tax return deadlines, but you may still have time to fill yours out. Note: the CSS Profile is not free and the notion of paying to apply for financial aid is infuriating. However, if your child attends a private school, it’s par for the course.

2. Expected Family Contribution
Based on your FAFSA the “Expected Family Contribution” is the amount that the college believes you can afford to pay. Note: what the college says you can afford and what your bank account tells you are often very different. As parents with two children in college, it’s very frustrating to learn that colleges believe my husband and I can afford to pay, in essence, my entire annual salary to cover tuition. College financial aid offices use this EFC when determining the financial aid they offer you, which may or may not give you as much money as you believe you deserve.
 
3. Loans, Grants and Work Study, Oh My!
When it comes to the financial aid letter, you may notice a number of items listed. There are likely to be loans—both federal and private—grants or scholarships and work-study programs. When added up, all these elements may look like a big number. But read closer to determine which the college is actually offering to give your student, not suggesting she get on her own. For example, when my older daughter Jane received her financial aid offer from her college before her freshman year, it included about $5,000 in work study, but that came without a guarantee that she could get a work-study job. While she didn’t end up getting a work-study job, she did find a part-time job but it only pays about $2,000 per year. On the other hand, Jane had no problem qualifying for the federal loan the college financial aid letter suggested. Then it was up to my husband and me to make up the difference.
 
4. Academic Eligibility
When it comes to grants and scholarships, these do not need to be paid back. However, many may come with an academic eligibility requirement, much like the offer Annie received that required her to maintain a 3.8 to keep her scholarship. If your child has received a grant or scholarship offer, make sure you read closely to determine if there is an eligibility clause as well as if the grant or scholarship is for all four years. Many will roll over from freshman to sophomore, sophomore to junior year and junior year to senior year.
 
5. Student Contribution
Even if your family is like mine, with parents paying for college (not all families take this approach), colleges expect students to work, which is both a good thing and bad thing. It’s a good thing, because students should work and learn basic money management. It’s a bad thing, because your financial aid letter may include the expected student contribution from summer jobs or, like in Jane’s case, a work-study gig that never materialized, and have a figure that is simply unreasonable for a student to earn over the summer. Either way we want our daughters to have skin in the game, so to speak, so in addition to taking federal loans each year, we ask that they use their summer earnings to cover their books and other miscellaneous expenses throughout the year.
 
6. Cost of Attendance
When a college provides its cost of attendance, it often includes the cost for books, lab fees and other student services. The good news here is you can often find ways to reduce that number, which can free up cash in your budget. My daughters both invested in Amazon Student Prime accounts to help them get their books on the cheap and fast—free two-day shipping for students. They’ve learned to rent books, which are cheaper than buying, or purchase the e-version of textbooks—also cheaper. All schools want to ensure their students are insured and will include the cost of health insurance in that cost of attendance. However, if you have health insurance, you can usually knock at least $1,000 off the bill, just by having your student provide proof of coverage (i.e. a copy of her insurance card). Also, if your child isn’t taking any lab classes, you can usually negotiate that fee off the bill, too.
 
7. Siblings in College
My daughters are two years apart so we knew that their college time would overlap. Also, once both were in college, we hoped our chances of getting financial aid would increase. That was true with Jane’s college—it bumped up her annual grant from $3,000 to $17,000 once Annie enrolled in college. Annie’s college was a lot stingier, offering just $5,000 and telling us that once Jane graduated we wouldn’t be eligible for any financial aid from them. Each college required our other daughter’s school to fill out paperwork and confirm the cost of attendance. So if you will have children overlapping in college, understand that you may need to fill out additional paperwork with the financial aid office. Or, if the financial aid letter you received does not seem to acknowledge this additional financial hardship, call and point this out. It may not change the offer but it never hurts to ask.
 
Even with all of these details explained, it’s important to understand that every year you have a child in college, you will have to reapply for financial aid, via the college’s own financial aid application (you can find it online) as well as the FAFSA and, if your child is attending a private school, the CSS Profile. You’ll also need to send the college your and your child’s federal tax returns each year as well. Don’t let this annual requirement slip through the cracks or you could get stuck with 100 percent of the tuition bill the next academic year.
 
Source: http://parade.com/471676/leahingram/7-tips-for-reading-college-financial-aid-letters/

Security Q-Tips: Scam of the Week - LinkedIn Email - Change Your Password


The original LinkedIn 2012 data breach turns out to have been much larger than the estimated 6.5 million username and passwords that were stolen. There are really more than 100 million records compromised and LinkedIn is sending emails to these users that they need to change their password.
 
The bad guys however, are jumping on this as well and are sending phishing emails with a fake LinkedIn login page. If you fall for this scam and log in on their fake page, your credentials will be stolen and your LinkedIn account compromised and/or your computer infected with all kinds of malware.
 
If you receive an email that seems to come from LinkedIn, hover over the links and make sure they are legit before you click. Even better, do not click on anything and just go to LinkedIn using your browser and change your password. If you have used your LinkedIn password for other sites, it's time to change those as well!" 
 
Go to www.LinkedIn.com, click Help, (bottom right) and choose Changing Your Password.  In case you want to get another layer of password protection, LinkedIn also offers dual factor authentication by which you can have a one-time numerical code sent to your smartphone each time you need to access your LinkedIn account.
 
Source: http://blog.knowbe4.com/scam-of-the-week-linkedin-email-change-your-password

3 Ways to Keep Your Credit Score Healthy


In 2015, the average American credit score was 695. Even though that's an all-time high average, it is far from the 720 score that is generally considered "good" by most lenders. Maintaining a 720 (or better) credit score is an essential component of fiscal health. A good score means you'll get lower interest rates on everything from credit cards to car loans and mortgages, which means you'll end up paying less for big purchases. In addition, many employers now run a credit check on prospective employees, so a good score can help you get a job, too! Here are three ways you can get your credit score to "good" and keep it there:

Don't "Max Out"
One important factor in determining your credit score is your percentage of debt to credit available. If your credit limit is $10,000 and you charge $9,000, you are using 90 percent of your available credit. This is called "overutilization" and makes creditors nervous because your debt-to-credit ratio is too high. If possible, try to limit your debts to about 30 percent of your total credit limit.

Keep Old Accounts Open
Think before you close that old credit card you never use anymore. The length of your credit history is a significant factor in your credit score. The longer you've had an open line of credit (such as a credit card) and made on-time payments, the better your score will be. Cancelling a credit card that you've had for a long time will shorten your credit history, which could negatively impact your overall credit score. To maximize your score, keep your oldest cards active, even if you don't use them very often. Cancelling a card also reduces your total credit limit, which will raise your debt-to-credit ratio.

Use Different Types of Credit
One part of a credit score that many consumers don't think about enough is the types of credit used. Diversity is essential for a good credit score. If the only type of credit you have is credit cards, consider getting a small installment loan to expand your debt repertoire. Just remember, like any kind of credit, paying on time and in full is key to making this a successful strategy.

The most important thing to remember is to use the credit available to you responsibly. Consider your purchases carefully, and never spend more than you can afford. A good rule of thumb if you're struggling with debt: if you couldn't buy it with cash, don't buy it with credit. Finally, always pay your credit card bills on time, even if you can only pay the minimum amount due. While you should strive to pay off your complete balance each month, making at least the minimum payment on time will keep your credit score in a healthy range.
 
Source: WBA Consumer Column E-Newsletter

439841bc-1766-4cda-a541-ff5fe12b3ebd.jpgCoulee Investment Corner: How to Keep the Identity Thieves Away


The more business we do and information we share online, the more identity theft becomes a growing threat to our financial security. There are ways you can help protect your good name and credit. Here are some tips to help keep you and your family safe.

Monitor Your Accounts
This goes for everything you have financially -- credit cards, banks, brokerages, credit unions -- as well as email and social networking accounts. You should also monitor your phone bills (both cell and landline), as thieves can "piggyback" on your plans.
But above all, be sure to check your monthly financial statements carefully. If you notice something strange -- even if it is just for a small amount -- call the issuing financial institution immediately and report it.
Sometimes identity thieves test, or "phish," stolen account numbers by running a small charge or debit -- often of a dollar or less -- to make sure the account number is legitimate. Most accountholders don't notice the transaction or don't think it's worthwhile to alert their financial institution. That is, until a few weeks or months later when thieves wrack up big credit card purchases or drain a bank account. Bottom line: If you see something "fishy," no matter how small, report it right away.
Vigilance is the word for your email and social media accounts. The more information you share with the world -- say, by posting your birth date to your Facebook profile -- the easier you are making it for thieves to find that information. Check your privacy controls, and keep checking. Facebook for one is notorious for changing its policies with little or no notice. Also check the information your children are sharing online. They are less likely to be aware of privacy concerns and the consequences of sharing sensitive information.
Finally, you should Google yourself periodically to see what type of information about you or your family is publicly available. You may be in for a surprise.
 
Shred Sensitive Documents

You don't have to shred every piece of mail you receive, but anything with account numbers or other personal data should be shredded. You should also be sure to shred certain pieces of junk mail -- especially those unsolicited pre-approved credit card offers that seem to show up in your mailbox on a weekly basis.
You can further reduce or even eliminate these nuisance offers by opting out of the lists aggregated by credit bureaus, who then sell your name to lenders. Go to www.optoutprescreen.com or call 888-567-8688 to get your name off these lists.
 
Check Your Credit Reports
The Fair Credit Reporting Act gives all American consumers the right to access their credit reports from the big three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) for free once a year. Many unscrupulous firms will offer access to these reports for a fee or on a subscription basis. You shouldn't pay anything for this access. To get the reports, go directly to the source: www.annualcreditreport.com.
You can also place a security freeze that will prevent anyone from viewing your credit report who is not affiliated with a company that you already have a financial relationship with or certain government and exempt agencies. You have to visit each credit bureau individually to do so.
Note: Security freezes are not free. Each agency charges a fee for this service, unless you are already the victim of an identity theft.

Required Attribution
Because of the possibility of human or mechanical error by Wealth Management Systems Inc. or its sources, neither Wealth Management Systems Inc. nor its sources guarantees the accuracy, adequacy, completeness or availability of any information and is not responsible for any errors or omissions or for the results obtained from the use of such information. In no event shall Wealth Management Systems Inc. be liable for any indirect, special or consequential damages in connection with subscriber's or others' use of the content.

© 2015 Wealth Management Systems Inc. All rights reserved.
 

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