The financial planning section of this publication is really the foundation on which this e-zine was built. Many of us live in the "today" and often worry about tomorrow when it's here - but that's sometimes too late. If there was one piece of advice we would want our readership to come away with, it would go something like this: putting in a little time today to plan for your financial future is an investment in yourself.
When it comes to financial planning, we've subdivided this section into the seven significant financial events or decision you might face in your lifetime:
Buying or Leasing a Car
For most of us, a car provides essential transportation whether it is back and forth to work or a visit to a friend's home. With the average new car costing close to $25,000, spending this kind of money is a pretty significant financial commitment for many. New car dealerships and manufacturers themselves realize that creating options for consumers not only helps sell more cars, but results in higher customer satisfaction.
We've tried to lay out the many of the options you've got when it comes to buying a new car. In fact, leasing a car is increasingly popular and we've explained why. So whether your decision is to buy a new car, buy a used car, or even lease a car, we've covered all of the possible choices you have today.
If you think buying a car is expensive, going to a private college is like buying a new car for four consecutive years! Here we help you through the process from start to finish. We've got lots of helpful information; whether it's choosing a college, applying for a student loan, or understanding the differences between government loans, grants and work study.
We'll explain the difference between private student loans and Stafford loans. We'll also tell you how organizations such as Sallie Mae can help you keep your college loans organized. Finally, if you're already out of school and considering consolidating your student loan, we can help there too.
Buying a Home
For most of us, buying a home is the largest single purchase we will ever make. That's why we offer home buying tips and a four part series dedicated to the first time home buyer. We also realize that as time goes on your individual financial situation may change and you might be considering refinancing an existing mortgage or even buying a second home.
We've also acknowledged the growing need and use of prefabricated homes. If you haven't looked at these homes lately and still have the image of mobile homes of yesterday, we think you'll be pleasantly surprised at what these manufacturers have to offer today.
Owning a credit card can be a wonderfully convenient thing for many consumers. But recent credit card debt statistics point to a growing problem that consumers have keeping their debt under control.
To get you back on track, we'll walk you through all of the options you have to eliminate that credit card debt. We've got a two part series on creating a household budget, and if you considering debt consolidation, we'll explain some of the services offered by that industry such as debt counseling, debt settlement and debt consolidation loans.
In our buying insurance section of this publication our goal is to help you make informed decisions about your insurance needs. This topic is fairly broad and includes articles on life insurance, car insurance and even homeowners insurance (for that expensive home you just bought).
We can help you understand the different kinds of low cost health insurance you might qualify for if you've reached retirement age or can demonstrate financial need. In fact, we've concentrated on helping the senior community with our publications on Medigap insurance and Medicare.
If you're lucky enough to be in one of the higher tax brackets, then you know that finding all of the tax deductions that you qualify for plays an important role in keeping your total tax liability down. Although we've covered specialty tax topics such as capital gains and inheritance taxes, our real focus has been on filing your federal income taxes.
If you're thinking about filing your taxes online using efile providers or can't seem to find a tax form, we can help. If you're looking for more general information concerning things like state tax brackets and sales tax, we've got information that covers all 50 states.
We think that taking the time to plan for you retirement days, even if that's still years away, is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. In fact, if you've got age on your side you can put surprisingly little money aside each year and still wind up with a sizable retirement fund.
In our retirement section, we've focused on the most common retirement plans available including Roth IRAs, Traditional IRAs 401(k) plans and 403(b) plans. We've even got some information on the proposed Roth 401(k). Emphasis in this section has been explaining the rules, in plain English, concerning contributions, limits, hardship withdrawals and rollovers.
Finally, we've supplemented our financial planning section with a financial glossary that helps define some of the more confusing terms you'll encounter in this area. For example, when you're buying a home the real estate agent will talk about closing costs and your attorney will mention a deed. It's nice to know what everyone's talking about when you spending so much money.
We've also defined terms that you'll come across whether you're buying a car, purchasing insurance or applying for a student loan. Our financial dictionary contains 100 of the most common terms you find in these areas.
Student loans are a very important way to fund your college education. Our guide to college loans tries to help you get all the loans you're entitled to. We'll explain to you the process of applying for a federal student loan, and how to work with the financial aid office of the college or university your thinking about attending.
We'll also explain to you the different types of aid that is available such as Stafford Loans, PLUS loans, grants, and work study programs. When you're finished with college, we'll help you decide if you need to work with a student loan repayment company such as Sallie Mae, or if student loan consolidation is the right move for you.
Let us help you start with the basics of choosing the right college, and then provide you with a brief introduction to financial aid for college students. We've covered the fundamentals of scholarships, loans and grants. We've even thrown in an article on student airfare, so you can make it home for the holidays.
Applying for College Loans
If you've never applied for a college loan before, the entire process can seem quite complex. Thanks to the Internet, nearly everything dealing with applications can be completed using online forms.
If you're wondering how long each step in the process will take, when to apply, or where to go for your application, we've explained it all:
Various Types of College Loans
The federal government really wants to make sure that everyone has a chance to go to college, which means most loans are reserved for those students demonstrating the greatest financial need. But that doesn't mean you can't get a loan if you need one, it just means that certain types of loans are based on need.
Direct and Stafford loans are the two most common student loans you'll encounter:
Repaying a Student Loan
Unlike grants and work study programs, student loans are just like personal loans. That means they eventually need to be repaid in full. Fortunately, there are many different repayment options you'll have after graduation.
In fact, you might even be eligible for deferment or forgiveness. There are a number of important programs, and you certainly don't want to miss out on an opportunity to have your student loan forgiven:
Taxes and Student Loans
If you're repaying your student loans, you might be pleasantly surprised to find out that you can usually take a tax deduction for the interest charges. If you're trying to get a feel for the latest interest rates on loans, take a look at the articles below:
Consolidating College Loans
If you're already repaying your loans, then you probably understand that keeping track of all those student loans, and their specific repayment schedules, is not so easy. There are several private and semi-governmental institutions that can help streamline your monthly bills by walking you through the process of consolidating your student loan:
Saving for College
Several years ago, the federal government introduced what are called 529 college savings plans. These plans allow individuals to save for college and, at the same time, often providing them with a tax incentive to do so. Here you'll find a wide array of information dealing with this important investment strategy.
College Loan Legislation
You might be surprised to hear that there has been a loophole in some college loan legislation dating back to the 1980's, which allows private lenders to make some extra cash at the taxpayer's expense. Find out what some of our legislators are trying to do to close those loopholes, and get more money into the hands of students:
Our guide to taxes takes aim at helping you to better understand the federal and state income tax return preparation and refund process. By helping you to better understand how your income taxes are calculated, we hope that you can make better investment decisions. This includes choices such as whether or not to take a long term capital gain on your investments, or if a retirement tax shelter, such as a 401k, IRA, or 403b, is right for you.
We'll cover the fundamentals such as reading tax brackets and tax tables. We'll give you hints to help you figure out if you need to fill out a 1040EZ, 1040A, or if the long form is your best choice. Finally, we'll even cover topics in more detail, ranging from inheritance tax to tax credits and deductions.
Income Tax Return Preparation
This first set of articles is our income tax preparation help section. Here you'll find information on filing electronically with eFile, and where you can go to find tax forms. We'll tell you how to find websites and software that allow you to file your taxes for free.
The IRS really tries to make filing your taxes simple. In fact, they offer several ways for filers to get help, including written explanations, audio explanations over the phone, and even live telephone support. If you're having trouble preparing your tax return, this should be your first stop:
It's never too late or too early to start planning your tax saving strategies. This next series of articles helps you to minimize your overall income taxes by discussing a series of income tax objectives and tactics you may want to adopt.
Tax Deductions, Shelters and Credits
If you're wondering if you have enough tax deductions to beat the standard deduction this year, then this next set of publications can help. Itemized deductions are pretty straightforward, especially for homeowners paying a mortgage and property taxes.
Here we provide you with an explanation for each type of deduction and tax credit offered:
Special Tax Topics
In this section of our tax publication, we take a quick look at several special tax topics. Presently this includes inheritance tax, alternative minimum taxes and capital gains. We'll revisit this topic from time to time and continue to add more of these specialty tax articles:
Sales and Income Tax Basics
Next up are articles that contain some basic, but useful, tax information. If you've been wondering what all those tax items are on your paycheck, take a look at our payroll taxes article. We even have federal tax bracket tables, as well as information for all 50 states.
If you're planning to visit another state, we can even tell you what to expect when it comes to state sales tax:
Real Estate Taxes
Here are several tax articles that deal specifically with real estate. We explain why property taxes are so essential to your county and town. In fact, in our tax lien article, we even explain what can happen if you decide to stop paying your property taxes:
Natural Disasters and Taxes
If you or a friend has been a victim of a natural disaster, then you might want to take a look at our tax relief articles. They spell out exactly the kinds of help you can expect to get, or not get, when a disaster strikes:
It's never too early to start planning for retirement, and our guide to retirement is a good way to get started. We'll talk about the importance of individual retirement accounts, such as the traditional and Roth IRA, and we'll explain all of the eligibility and contribution rules too. This information will allow you to better understand the best choice for your individual situation.
We take the same approach with 403b and 401k plans that we do with IRAs. If you're lucky enough to have an employer that offers a 401k, then we'll give you some tips that will help make sure you're taking full advantage of this great retirement benefit.
It's never too late to get a jump on retirement planning. Whether you've just started your career, or you're getting close to retirement age, we have something to offer you when it comes to planning for retirement.
401k Retirement Plans
In total, we have over a dozen articles dealing with 401k plans. We've covered all of the rules, whether it's related to contribution limits, rollovers, or withdrawals. We've taken all of the information from the IRS, and spelled it out in easy to understand segments.
If your employer offers a 401k plan, and you cannot decide if you want to participate, we'll explain why we think this might be the most valuable retirement benefit offered today:
Roth IRA Retirement Accounts
Everything is relative, and the Roth IRA is a relative newcomer. The tax shelter benefit from these plans is quite unbelievable. If your 401k or 403b plan is fully funded, and you want to put more money away for retirement, then you should give the Roth IRA serious consideration:
Traditional and SIMPLE IRA Accounts
If you're looking for some immediate tax relief, then you might want to think about opening up a traditional IRA. As we did with 401k plans and Roth IRAs, we provide all the information you need, including IRA rollover rules and contribution limits:
We're just getting started with our 403b information. But in the coming years we will continue to add to this section. By the time we're done, we'll have covered the 403b in as much depth as our 401k section.
Special Retirement Topics
Finally, we have a couple of special retirement topics that might be of interest to you. Coverdell ESAs are an often overlooked way to save for college. If you're wondering what the difference is between a Roth and Traditional IRA, we can help you figure out which plan is right for your individual situation:
Our guide to buying insurance aims at providing you with helpful insurance information. We'll talk about the pros and cons of term life insurance versus cash value policies such as universal life. We'll help you find low cost health insurance, and tell you about the ins and outs of the Medicare program.
If you're a homeowner or renter, we'll explain to you what your homeowner's insurance policy covers, and what it excludes. We'll also help you understand what is covered under the different categories of your car insurance policy, so you can make informed decisions that keep your premiums to a minimum.
Affordable health insurance is quickly becoming a mandate for most politicians here in America. Fortunately, there are low-cost health insurance programs offered through every state in the nation. We can tell you where to find this kind of health insurance in your state.
If you're a student in need of health insurance, you'll also be glad to know that many colleges and universities now offer affordable health insurance directly to their students:
Life Insurance Basics
To date, we've provided a wide range of information on the various types of life insurance policies. The offerings in the marketplace today currently include:
If you're over the age of 65, or have a qualifying illness, then we have a wealth of information on Medicare, Medicaid, and supplemental insurance policies. In this first series, we talk about the basics, such as eligibility rules. We also talk about the three most common parts of Medicare, including the newly introduced Medicare Part D (prescription drugs):
Supplemental Health Insurance
If you're looking for more than the standard Medicare insurance coverage, you'll be happy to know that there are many options you have when it comes to supplemental insurance policies. The other nice feature of these policies is that the coverage has been standardized in nearly all states.
If you're thinking about Medicaid insurance and Medicaid planning, we can help you get started by providing an overview of the options you have when it comes to certain Medicaid strategies. This can be an extremely complex topic, since the rules are established at the state level, but here is some good information on how the program is run:
Homeowners Insurance Policies
If you own or rent a home, you need to make sure it's adequately covered by your homeowner's insurance policy. If you rent a home, the owner normally insures the structure itself, but if you have clothing, wall art, or other valuables contained in the home, you need to take a closer look at renters insurance.
Finally, you'd be surprised at how many homes sit near, or in, flood plains. If you read through your existing homeowner's policy, it is very likely that flood insurance is specifically excluded from your coverage. We'll tell you where you can go to get this kind of protection for your home:
Dental and Car Insurance
There is really no magic to this dental and car insurance section. It's a mix right now until we have the time to add more articles in each of these areas. Until then, here are a couple of articles explaining the basics of these types of insurance policies:
Leasing or Buying a Car
When you buy or lease a car, you're normally making a multi-year commitment to the vehicle. Translation: you want to make sure you're buying or leasing a car that provides you with the reliability and service you need. That means that sleek new two-seater just won't do for most families of five.
You're also making a financial commitment when you buy or lease a car. It can be financially painful to sell a brand new car, and terminating a lease can be costly. So the more information you can gather before making a purchase, the greater the chance you'll be happy with the choice that you'll make.
Buying a New Car
If you're looking for reliability and deriving the most long term value from your car, then buying a new car is perhaps your best option. Here we help you figure out how to research cars, and even how to negotiate with dealerships:
New Car Features
Automobile manufacturers continue to improve new cars on the road today. From variable valve timing to advanced transmissions, we'll help explain some of the technologies that make cars easier to drive, and more fuel efficient than ever before.
Leasing a Car
Leasing a car is becoming increasingly popular today for consumers that like the idea of driving a new car every couple of years. Leases also allow you to avoid making a sizable capital (down payment) investment in a depreciating asset.
If you're thinking about leasing your next car, then we can help you get started:
Buying a Used Car
With the growing market for leased cars, we're starting to see many "gently used" cars hitting the market; some even carrying the label "certified used vehicle." If you can find a dependable used car, then buying one might be the most economical purchase decision you can make:
New and Used Car Loans
Not many people walk into a car dealership and pay cash for their new car. With new automobiles averaging close to $30,000, car loans are a "must have" for most of us. If you're looking for new car loan, or might have a credit problem, we can help you work through the process of financing your next car purchase:
Car Safety, Insurance and Accessories
Figuring out what accessories you need or want in a new car is sometimes a difficult decision. Our car accessories articles tell you what features will also provide value when you finally sell the car. Since most states and finance companies mandate car insurance, we threw in some information on that topic too:
The last five articles we've added to this category include:
Our guide to debt consolidation will help you realize the financial freedom you deserve. If you're like many Americans, your credit card debt may be reaching a level where you're not as comfortable as you used to be. We have a lot of information to help you get back on track, and stay that way.
We'll tell you what to watch out for when evaluating a debt consolidator; whether it's a non-profit organization or Christian debt consolidators. If you're looking for a budget, and don't know how to get started, we have an entire series dedicated to that topic. Finally, we'll help you understand what personal bankruptcy is all about, and how to avoid it through the use of counselors and debt consolidation loans.
Credit Cards and Personal Debt
Carrying around a personal credit card can be extremely convenient, sometimes too convenient. If you're one of those persons with a lot of credit card debt, statistics indicate that you're not alone.
If you'd like some pointers on how to get that credit card debt back under control, or you have been thinking about talking to your creditors about a settlement, this is where you want to begin your research:
Debt Elimination Basics
Our debt elimination basics provide you with an overall stepwise process to move from less aggressive forms of debt elimination such as budgeting, to more aggressive forms of debt elimination.
If you're thinking about declaring personal bankruptcy, you're starting at the end of the road. You have a lot more options that you might want to explore first:
Household budgeting is the first step we usually recommend when it comes to getting your personal finances back in shape. Here we teach you the basics of running your home like a business, and a profitable one at that.
There are many helpful tools we provide too, like free budget spreadsheets that you can download:
Debt Counseling and Management
Many times debt starts to build because of a social, emotional, or financial hardship that has befallen a family. It's sometimes difficult to get back on your feet by yourself. That means a good debt counselor can help you with important items like setting up a budget, as well as making sure any outstanding social problems have been addressed:
Debt Consolidation Services
One of the more aggressive steps you can take to get your debt back under control is by using a debt consolidation service. Just be forewarned, there are a lot of companies that prey on people that appear to be in a hopeless situation.
If you've decided to work with a debt consolidator to help you consolidate existing loans, make sure you're getting the best deal. We can give you some pointers on how to find a good one:
For many of us that are juggling multiple loans, a larger consolidation loan makes a lot of sense. It's easier to write one check each month, and larger loans usually benefit from lower interest rates too. Here is a quick look at some of the options you have, including consolidation mortgages as well as loans:
Here is another category of personal loans, several of which are considered non-traditional. The practices of these lenders can be considered greedy at times, and may even be considered predatory when taken to the extreme.
Bankruptcy and Credit Reporting
If you think bankruptcy is the answer to all your problems, then you need to make sure you understand exactly what can happen to your personal property. If you know a friend that declared bankruptcy in the past, then you should know the bankruptcy laws have changed. It's much harder today to have all your debt forgiven, and bankruptcy can hurt your credit rating for years to come:
As the pressure continues in the credit market, companies as well as consumers are fighting back against identity thieves. National policies are pushing companies to protect confidential customer information more proactively. Credit reporting agencies and law enforcement officials are taking steps to lower the likelihood you'll be a victim of identity theft.
Buying a Home
Our guide to buying a home aims at being a great source of information for both the first time home buyer and those thinking about a second home. We'll take you through the entire process: from figuring out how large a mortgage you can afford, right through your closing. We'll explain it all to you in simple terms, which should remove the mystery around buying a home.
We'll talk about the difference between a buyer's and a seller's real estate agent. We'll tell you how you can figure out if that home you're thinking about buying needs a fresh coat of paint or expensive repairs. Finally, don't forget to take a look at our first time home buyers series. We have tips in there that even tell you where you can find information on grants and home buying programs at the federal and local level.
Home Buying Basics
Since a new home is such a big investment, you have a vested interest in doing your best to understand if you're getting a good deal. That means you need to do a little scratching below the surface, and a bit of homework, to make sure your new home will be a happy one. If you think you can leave all this work up to your real estate agent, then this series is a must read:
Buying a Home for the First Time
Our first time home buyer series walks you through the entire process of buying a home. That means we start with a "how to" find the best town, and run right through negotiating with the homeowner. You're about to spend a lot of money, you should be doing all you can to make sure you're going to do it right, or at least minimizing your mistakes:
Home Buying Help
If you've been renting a home or an apartment and you've been wondering if you can ever buy a home to call your very own, this is the series that you should read. There's a government agency (HUD) that has a dream: everyone in America owns their home. Find out what programs exist to help you realize that dream:
Financing Your Home
If you have bad credit, or you've been thinking about refinancing your home, we lay out the options you have in this series of articles. Whether it's a home equity loan, or you're considering remodeling your home, here's some information that can help you understand the financing choices you have:
Prefabricated / Manufactured Homes
The prefabricated housing market is a billion dollar industry. If you're wondering how this market grew so big, then you probably haven't seen the latest lineup of manufactured homes. There're big, safe, and made better than ever. Some are even competing in the luxury home market:
Selling Your Home
Up to this point, most of our information is for those thinking about buying a home. But many of the same people buying homes are also selling a home. Here's an introduction to the process of selling your home, including the concept of house flipping, and a specialty article dealing with relocating a pet:
Safety and Security in a New Home
While owning a new home can be an exciting experience, you're also going to realize that you have an obligation to your loved ones to make sure your home is safe and secure. This series of articles is dedicated to making sure you've done all you can do to make your new home a safe home.
The last five articles we've added to this category include: