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It’s Time For A Vacation

How desperate are you for a vacation?  New research shows that some Americans would put their finances in jeopardy to go away.

Twelve percent of Americans are willing to forego paying their bills to be able to go on vacation, and four percent are even willing to skip a mortgage or rent payment, according to a recent consumer survey conducted on behalf of Tripping.com, a vacation rental search engine that aggregates listings from HomeAway, HouseTrip, FlipKey, and other travel sites.

 “It definitely surprised us to hear that people would skip out on important financial responsibilities, such as a mortgage, in order to finance their vacations,” said Jen O’Neal, founder and CEO of Tripping.com.

J.D. Roth, founder and editor of the personal finance blog GetRichSlowly.org and the author of Your Money: The Missing Manual, believes it’s important to spend money on what you’re passionate about while at the same time cutting back on the things you don’t care about. But he says he would never advocate not paying your bills. “That sounds like misplaced priorities.”

The survey, which was conducted among 1,500 American adults in early January 2015, honed in on what prevents people from taking their ideal vacation as well as what they’re willing to sacrifice in order to travel.

Across all age segments, financial security—or the lack of it—was cited as the number one obstacle to taking a vacation.

Yet differences emerge when you look at responses across the range of age groups. For example, when asked what was preventing them from taking their ideal vacation, older millennials age 24-34 cited the cost of accommodations and transportation as top obstacles, while adults age 45-54 cited the lack of financial security and lack of time off.

Unsurprisingly, 35 to 44 year olds—a segment made up of many parents with younger children—felt most strongly that children and pets restricted their travel plans.

When asked what they would be willing to sacrifice in order to take their ideal vacation, more than half of respondents chose a vice, such as alcohol, cigarettes or coffee, or said they would be willing to downgrade their personal technology.

Yet, again, the survey responses revealed differences among age groups. Younger millennials age 18-24 were more willing than other segments to lie to their employers to get time off work, while adults age 45 to 54 year olds were more likely than other segments to be willing to forego paying their mortgage or rent.

“Human nature tends to favor immediate pleasures over long-term gains. So it’s understandable that some people may choose to make an extravagant purchase over taking care of their financial responsibilities,” said O’Neal. “Unfortunately, they don’t always realize that doing so may risk their credit and can seriously impact their ability in the future to buy a home, get a loan, and so on.” 

The results suggest that many Americans are not managing to save for vacations. “At different times, we’ve spoken with Tripping.com users to understand how they finance their vacations,” said O’Neal. “Our take is that people want to save for a vacation but life gets in the way; it’s difficult to save when so much of their budget necessarily goes towards housing, transportation, and education.

“Rather than risking your personal credit to finance that trip to Hawaii, look for travel options to make your trip more affordable options, such as a vacation rental, so you won’t need to worry about bill collectors calling when you get back from your relaxing vacation,” suggested O’Neal.

Roth counsels that financing a vacation you can’t afford by not paying your bills is a very slippery slope. “That kind of thing is what leads people into debt,” said Roth.

“I feel like most people in the United States are focused on the present. They live within their means. They’re not saving a whole bunch but they’re also not falling behind. But when people get into debt, they’re basically chasing the past.”

Written By Suzanne Rowan Kelleher –  family vacations expert at About.com.

For Your Financial Well Being

We often hear that Americans need to save more money or plan better for retirement, but what does it mean to be financially healthy? Personal finance can be a difficult subject to discuss since everybody’s financial situation is different — hence the word “personal.” However, new research shows that there is just a handful of elements needed to establish your financial well-being.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently polled people across the country to hear what they had to say about financial well-being. While savings and income levels play a significant part, they are not always the most important elements. In short, financial well-being can be defined as a state of being wherein a person can fully meet current and ongoing financial obligations, can feel secure in their financial future, and is able to make choices that allow enjoyment of life.

Let’s take a look at the four most important elements of your financial health in detail.


  1. Feeling in Control

 People typically like control over their own lives. Those who have high levels on financial health feel in control of their daily and monthly finances. This means they have enough money to pay their bills on time, and generally do not have to worry about having enough money to get by. Interestingly, this is not necessarily about having a lot of money, but rather managing the money you already have in an efficient manner. This aspect of financial well-being was mentioned most frequently during the qualitative interviews conducted by the CFPB.


  1. Capacity to Absorb Financial Shocks

 Life is full of expensive surprises. The ability to absorb the monetary shock of an unexpected mechanic bill or job layoff is a crucial element of your financial health. Americans possessing this trait typical have a safety net of savings, insurance, or at least family members to help stop a financial shock from turning into a longer-lasting setback. Unfortunately, many Americans do not have their own rainy-day fund.

According to a recent survey from Bankrate, only 38% of Americans have enough money in their savings accounts to pay for life’s little surprises, such as a $500 car repair or a $1,000 emergency room visit. If a financial emergency arises, 22% plan to cover the bill by reducing spending elsewhere, 16% say they will borrow money from family and friends, and 12% expect credit cards to fill the hole — potentially leading to even bigger problems down the road.

The ability to use savings for unexpected expenses improves with age, education, and income, but still leaves much to be desired. Only 44% of senior citizens have enough savings, compared with 33% of millennials. Meanwhile, 52% of college graduates have enough savings to cover financial emergencies, compared to 32% of those without a college degree. A convincing majority of 62% is only seen with households making at least $75,000 per year.


  1. On Track to Meet Goals

 Tony Robbins once said, “Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.” In addition to helping us reach milestones, measurable and attainable goals aid in building high financial well-being. The CFPB finds that consumers who set goals and remain on track to accomplish them have a higher sense of financial health. Whether these goals were part of a formal financial plan was irrelevant. Simply having a goal to work toward boasts financial well-being. Think of this as moving toward financial freedom and rewarding your future self.

Failure to plan leads to a lack of savings. Research from HSBC reveals that people with a financial plan in place save the most money for retirement. Not including money put towards mortgage payments or home improvements, people with no financial planning save an average of $77 per month. Those with some kind of informal planning such as “my own thoughts” or “my own approximate calculation” save an average of $335 per month.

If you need help creating a financial plan, there is no shame in seeking professional assistance from a qualified adviser you trust. Savers in the HSBC study who had a financial plan in place with a professional adviser had accumulated $203,228 in retirement savings, compared to only $98,005 among those without a financial adviser.


  1. Flexibility to Make Choices

 No matter how well you plan, life has a funny way of surprising you. Consumers with high levels of well-being have the financial freedom to make choices that allow them to enjoy life, whatever that means to them. Whether that is taking a family vacation, going out to eat, or working less to spend more time with family, these consumers have the financial flexibility to do what they value and what makes them happy. The CFPB describes this as having financial freedom in the present.

While the best things in life are often free, having a large amount of debt can restrict your flexibility. After all, borrowing today represents a loan from your future production. More debt means more interest payments, which translates to more work and less freedom to do what you really want. Sadly, the average American will pay an estimated $279,002 over their lifetime in interest payments.

Applying the CFPB’s financial well-being framework to your own financial life will help you feel more satisfied with the decisions you make. When you face a financial choice or task, consider how your actions might affect financial security and financial freedom, today and in the future.
Article from Personal Finance Cheat Sheet – Eric McWhinnie

Avoid Fraud During the Holidays

WASHINGTON, DC (December 22, 2014) – To help consumers avoid fraud this holiday season, and every season, the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) released a list of helpful tips to keep their personal information out of the hands of criminals. Hackers will stop at nothing to get the personal information and card data of millions of Americans.

“With the immense number of data breaches that occurred at retailers in 2014, and a grim forecast for 2015, it’s essential to arm consumers with tips they need to protect themselves,” said CUNA President and CEO Jim Nussle. “Knowing how to protect yourself from hackers, and what to do if you get hacked, can help you keep your hard-earned money and give you piece of mind.”

CUNA is the country’s largest credit union advocacy organization, representing our nation’s state and federal credit unions, with over 100 million memberships. CUNA site www.stopthedatabreaches.com contains a list of helpful ways for consumers to remain vigilant and protect their personal data when shopping in retail stores and online, including:

  • Don’t respond to email, text or telephone calls asking for personal or financial information
  • Frequently review account activity and immediately report unauthorized transactions
  • Place an initial fraud alert with credit bureaus if fraud has occurred
  • Enroll and opt-in for transaction monitoring
  • Use card on/off switches (if available)
  • Enroll in Verified by VISA / MasterCard Secure Code

In 2014 there have been over 744 data security breaches, a 24.8 percent increase over 2013 which saw 596 breaches.  In fact, a recent poll conducted by The Wall Street Journal and NBC News found that nearly half of all Americans have been notified by a credit card company, financial institution or retailer that their credit card information had possibly been stolen as part of a data breach. Staples announced just last week that it has suffered a breach which affected 1.16 million customers. In the case of a data breach at a retailer like Staples, credit unions are limited by law in disclosing many of the circumstances of the breach and often they are not able to disclose the merchant responsible – yet the credit union is left to clean up the mess when a retail data breach occurs by informing its members of the breach, protecting their members from fraudulent charges and reissuing new credit and debit cards.

Credit Card Tips To Consider

Some people agree that using a credit card to pay for day-to-day purchases is a smart idea, if you have control over your spending habits. After all, credit is safe, convenient and rewarding. Plus, if you’re responsible, you’ll also be building a solid credit score with every swipe.

But are you really making the most of your plastic experience? Here are 5 credit card tips everyone should know:


  1. Balance alerts can help you keep your spending in check

Keeping a watch on how much you’re spending with your credit card is easier than ever before. Most issuers allow you to set up balance alerts so that you’ll receive a text and/or an email whenever your total spending hits a certain threshold that you’ve set.

Sign up for this service so that you’ll get a notice when your credit utilization ratio is approaching the 30% mark – this way, you’ll know to make a payment before you jeopardize your credit score.


  1. Spending analysis tools make sticking to your budget a cinch

One of the most underrated online banking features offered by most credit card issuers these days is the spending analysis tool. This allows you to see a breakdown of how much you’re spending with your card in different categories (restaurants, travel, general merchandise, etc.). You can usually choose to view this on a per-month basis or take a look at your spending patterns over time.

Be sure to look around for this tool the next time you log into your card’s online banking platform. It can provide some helpful insights into where you’re doing a good job sticking to your budget, and where you might need to cut back.


  1. Mid-cycle payments could improve your credit score

Every month, your credit card issuer sends a report about your account to the three major credit bureaus. Included on this report is your balance, which is used to calculate your credit utilization ratio.

However, this data isn’t necessarily sent over after you’ve made your monthly payment – it could be reported at any point in your billing cycle. If you tend to charge a lot to your card each month, getting into the habit of making a payment mid-cycle will keep your credit utilization ratio low. This, in turn, will help 30% of your credit score determined by amounts owed.


  1. Moving your due date could help you avoid missing a payment

Missing a credit card payment is bad news for your FICO credit score, since 35% of it is determined by your history with making on-time bill payments. If your credit card billing due date comes at an inconvenient time during the month, consider switching it. You can usually do this online or by placing a call to your issuer. This one simple move could go far toward preserving your good credit.


5. APR promotions could save you big bucks on interest

If you’ve gotten into some credit card debt or need to make a big purchase that you don’t have the cash to cover, capitalizing on a credit card APR promotion could be just the ticket. By picking a card that’s offering a long 0% rate on purchases or balance transfers, you can dodge the sky-high finance charges that would come with using your usual card.

Just watch out for balance transfer fees, and be sure to make your payments on time. If you don’t, your deal might get canceled and you could end up paying interest after all.


Source – Nerd Wallet Finance

By Lindsay Konsko on November 17, 2014 | posted in Hacks and Deals


10 Mistakes to Avoid – When Trying To Save Money

Addressing the issue of saving money is the most fundamental, yet neglected, aspect of personal finance in the U.S. today. According to a 2012 survey by Credit Donkey, almost 50 percent of Americans don’t have more than $500 in their emergency savings accounts , which not only puts a kink in savers’ finances in the event of an unforeseen expense, but also creates undue stress for failing to prepare a safety net adequately.

So, in our latest Money Mistakes series, we highlight the top 10 money mistakes Americans make when it comes to saving money.


Not budgeting

There are a number of philosophies on the best approach to take when budgeting your money; but at times, the thought of sitting down with statements, bills, and an expense sheet is just too stressful. This mind-set is an easy trap to fall victim to, but is one of the worst money mistakes to make if you want to grow your savings fund.

Hope A. Rising of Clearwater, Fla., learned this lesson the hard way. “Rather than make savings a part of my life I ‘lived for the moment’ and now have virtually no savings for emergencies,” Rising said. “For example, my car recently broke down and I had to borrow money to have it fixed, rather than just being able to take the money out of the bank.”


Saving too little

It’s commendable that about half of Credit Donkey’s survey participants had saved up some cash; but often, individuals don’t save enough money to carry themselves through a challenging and sudden financial crisis. A common recommendation when it comes to the appropriate amount to save in a nest egg is about three months’ salary, or six months worth of expenses (i.e. mortgage, auto loan, utility bills, gas, etc.).

For instance, the average American in 2013 made $42,693 before taxes. Take away about 25 percent of that income for taxes, and the average person walks away with $32,020 annually. Three months of net income (the ideal emergency fund amount) is about $8,000 to help keep you comfortably afloat in an emergency.


Not setting specific goals

Determining what exactly you’re saving for, and when you need to save by, is a helpful motivational guide to follow. It acts as a constant reminder of what you’re working toward, and lets you know when your efforts have been successful.

Examples of this include saving money for a down payment on a car in the next six months, or getting more specific like committing to saving $200 per month for the next six months, to achieve this goal.


Failing to track spending

Creating a budget is the start of the savings process and setting a goal is the end of it, but there has to be a quantitative way to follow your progression in the time between. Tools such as Mint.com  or even a simple spreadsheet are great ways to avoid this money mistake.


Living paycheck to paycheck

When budgeting your spending allowance, don’t stretch your money to the last dollar. Not allowing yourself about a $100 per month buffer sets you up for disaster, as small, seemingly harmless purchases quickly add up.


Overdrawing an account

Overdrawing a checking account is usually the result of making one of these other money mistakes, but expensive overdraft fees are a cost you have complete control over. A $35 overdraft fee might not sting now, but as more pile up on your account statement, the damage can become apparent in a short period of time.

Simply put, overdrawing is a money waster and an entirely avoidable circumstance if you stay diligent with your savings plan.


Claiming the wrong tax withholding

Claiming the lowest withholding allowance when it comes to your federal taxes is a mistake that Americans commonly make. When you do so, the government takes away more income taxes throughout the year, and you’re left with a fat tax return check.

Don’t let this windfall fool you — what you’re doing is essentially giving Uncle Sam an interest-free loan and getting nothing back in return. Instead, you can claim the withholding allowance you rightfully qualify for, and use the extra cash in each paycheck to grow your savings fund in a high-interest savings account.


Signing up for low deductibles

One way to increase the amount of cash you can save each month is to lower your premium and raise your deductible for auto and health insurance. This means you assume more risk up front by paying a lower monthly premium, with the expectation to pay more out of pocket in the event you have to file a claim (which should be no problem if you’ve saved that emergency fund).


According to the Insurance Information Institute, increasing your deductible from $200 to $1,000 can lower collision and comprehensive coverage premiums by at least 40 percent.


Buying name brands

More customers are employing frugal tactics like passing on branded products in lieu of a generic version. Similarly, retailers have caught onto the fact that shoppers are looking for a frugal alternative in today’s challenging economic times.

That’s not to say you should never splurge on a brand that’s worth it, but most generics are the same product as their pricier counterparts. Look for generic products on the lower shelves of grocer’s aisles.



One of the worst money mistakes you can make is procrastinating on getting started with your savings plan, since achieving a savings goal can take longer than you might expect. Paying $500 per month toward an emergency fund at the income outlined in mistake No. 2, for example, would take the average American 16 months to save up three months’ income.


The article 10 Huge Mistakes to Avoid When Trying to Save Money originally appeared on Fool.com.



Beef – Is It Still – What’s For Dinner?

WASHINGTON — Grocery shoppers facing sticker shock at the supermarket for beef, pork and other meats should get ready to pay even more in 2014, the federal government said Thursday, with high prices unlikely to ease any time soon.

Estimates for the growth in retail prices for meats, many of which are sitting at record highs because of drought and diseases across the country, were increased by the Agriculture Department in August. The department now expects meat prices to rise 6.5% in 2014, up from 5.5% forecast a month earlier, and well ahead of the 20-year average increase of 2.9%. The beef and veal category was revised upward to 8.5% this year, with pork slated to jump 8%. Poultry was unchanged at 3.5%.

“We weren’t so much surprised that we had to raise (beef prices) as we were that demand has remained high for beef,” said Annemarie Kuhns, an economist with USDA’s Economic Research Service who compiles the report. “Typically, you see a bit of consumer push-back that would ease the demand for the limited supply.” The increase in meat prices, she said, was the result of small herd sizes and continued demand for meat by U.S. consumers.

This year alone, food prices across the United States are forecast to jump 3%, nearly in line with the historical average of 2.6% during the past two decades. USDA said despite the surge in meats, overall food prices are being kept in check by lower-than-normal increases in breads, cereals and other packaged goods.

Beef and veal prices have soared as a result of the lingering impact of a widespread drought in 2012 and dry conditions currently affecting cattle producing states of Texas and Oklahoma. Cattle inventories have decreased in recent months to their lowest level since 1951. As a result, consumers paid an average of $4 a pound for 100% ground beef in August, up 55 cents from the same month in 2013, according to the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Sunshine Foods, which operates 14 stores in South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota, has raised prices on 80% ground beef by $1 during the past year to $3.99 a pound. Darin Hill, who oversees meat purchases for the regional grocer, said consumers initially shunned high beef prices and shifted their money to pork and chicken that were comparatively cheaper. While beef sales at Sunshine are down about 20% from September 2013, consumers have shown signs of coming back to the popular meat.

“People just kind of get adjusted to the pricing,” Hill said. “They always come back to beef.”

Meanwhile, the pork industry has been decimated by the fast-moving porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus that has ravaged hog farms in 31 states, including Iowa, killing an estimated 8 million pigs, or about 10% of the U.S. herd. The reduction has pushed up prices for bacon, ham and other hog products. Center cut pork chops, for example, sold for about $4.35 a pound in August, an increase of 21% during the last year.

Meat prices are not expected to fall anytime soon, but as livestock herds expand, producers are expected to benefit from a multi-year low in grain prices. Eventually, consumers will, too.

“From a consumer standpoint, cheap grain makes cheaper livestock,” said Don Roose, president of U.S. Commodities in West Des Moines. “That’s the catalyst, that’s the game-changer.”

The cattle market is not expected to experience a noticeable increase in herd sizes for about two years, while hogs could take nine months to improve if the industry does not see the PED worsen during the winter. That means it could be several months before consumers see a drop in prices for these meats. Poultry can get to market much faster, in just a few months, allowing chicken supplies to rebound more rapidly.

“It looks like meat supplies are on the rise, it’s just a matter of how quickly,” Roose said.

Meat prices are expected to jump 3.5% in 2015, assuming normal weather conditions. Overall, food prices are expected to increase an average of 2.5% next year. Severe weather events could push food costs higher than the current forecasts, the government said.


By Christopher Doering, USATODAY

And Yet Another Data Breach…

ATLANTA, September 8, 2014 – The Home Depot®, the world’s largest home improvement retailer, today confirmed that its payment data systems have been breached, which could potentially impact customers using payment cards at its U.S. and Canadian stores. There is no evidence that the breach has impacted stores in Mexico or customers who shopped online at HomeDepot.com.

While the company continues to determine the full scope, scale and impact of the breach, there is no evidence that debit PIN numbers were compromised.

Home Depot’s investigation is focused on April forward, and the company has taken aggressive steps to address the malware and protect customer data. The Home Depot is offering free identity protection services, including credit monitoring, to any customer who used a payment card at a Home Depot store in 2014, from April on. Customers who wish to take advantage of these services can learn more at http://www.homedepot.com or by calling 1-800-HOMEDEPOT (800-466-3337).

“We apologize for the frustration and anxiety this causes our customers, and I want to thank them for their patience and support as we work through this issue,” said Frank Blake, chairman and CEO. “We owe it to our customers to alert them that we now have enough evidence to confirm that a breach has indeed occurred. It’s important to emphasize that no customers will be responsible for fraudulent charges to their accounts.”

The investigation began on Tuesday morning, September 2, immediately after the company received reports from its banking partners and law enforcement that criminals may have hacked its payment data systems.

Since then, the company’s internal IT security team has been working around the clock with leading IT security firms, its banking partners and the Secret Service to rapidly gather facts and provide information to customers.

Responding to the increasing threat of cyber-attacks on the retail industry, The Home Depot previously confirmed it will roll out EMV “Chip and PIN” to all U.S. stores by the end of this year, well in advance of the October 2015 deadline established by the payments industry.


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