Yup, it’s that time of year again

After the holiday eating and shopping orgies, many of us start to think about our behaviors. We resolve to make changes in the coming New Year. We promise ourselves we will do things lik

  1. eat more healthy food
  2. exercise more  and
  3.  get our financial act together.

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I admire women and men who make these resolutions. They  know there are problems They even know what the problems are. And they know how to fix them. They start to eat better, exercise more and maybe even pull out a piece of paper, or go online to start to develop a budget.

But most do not stick to this discipline.

Well, they are human, after all. They, like me, yield to the temptations of dessert, if not the other pressures of daily life. They are imperfect like me and maybe you.

What’s a human to do?

Hire someone. Get a professional to guide you and keep you ON TRACK. That professional nutritionist, trainer or financial advisor has the knowledge and experience to start you off right. S/he will explain the basics and then help you implement them–by telling to you focus on your core and/or your bottom line.

You are more likely to take her/his advice and become more disciplined. S/he will give you easy steps to take. And since you feel accountable to someone besides your (sweetly imperfectly human) self, you are more likely to stay ON TRACK and achieve some of the goals you have set for yourself during the next year.

Try it. You will be glad you did

 

But, if you need a little nudge, here’s  a stimulus. It is a free quiz developed by a University. (Yes it is from New Jersey, imperfect at it is. Those of us from N.J.–like Jon Stewart and me– really do have something to offer.)

So click on this link to take the absolutely FREE quiz. Then re-read this post and see if it is time to call a professional and really make a change for the better. 

Mistakes?

Sally Krawcheck wrote a great piece recently. I have to bring her wisdom to you.

She begins with a few  “misjudgments” we women might make. Now I am sure each of you is….perfect. But just in case you are a bit more human, and so may occasionally err (like I do), I thought I would list a few here.

This list starts with a few the mistakes that wives/partners often make. One or two might seem a  little “retro.” Read them anyway, making sure you have not done these things, because you trust a partner too much, or  think you do not have enough time, or will never face a crisis like divorce or the death of a partner.

1. Letting your husband or partner manage the money, without getting involved.

2.  Signing a joint tax return without reading it.  

As a woman in the 21st century, you need to know how much money you hold as an individual, how much he/she holds and how much you both hold jointly in accounts. You need to know where the money is stashed, how it is managed, and if it is managed or mismanaged. You also need to be able to discern whether your partner is hiding money or misdeeds from your  (like maintaining “another woman” or engaging in some nefarious and illegal activity) and doing so with your money and risking your good name.

You also need to know how much money your partner/husband earns. That dollar amount is written right there on the front page of the the tax return, and the W-2 slips that you need to provide to the IRS. If your partner earns a substantial amount, you need to concern yourself with the ways in which this money is spent or retained to increase your joint financial security. Does your partner/spouse share income with you? Do you each hold accounts in your names, and/or joint accounts? Or does he (or she) hold it all in his/her name?  Are there provisions made for loss, such as a death? Are there steps taken to make sure you will not be left penniless? And if you  have children, what has been done to provide for them, as heirs or orphans.

This becomes important whether you are dependent upon your partner for an income, or if you both earn a living. You need to make good decisions about the income you both earn. Why? In the 21st century, one of you is likely to lose a job, at some point–due to corporate restructuring, downsizing, mergers & acquisitions, etc. So you need to deploy your income while you each work to make sure you have an emergency fund (to tide you through job losses). And you  have to make certain you are saving enough cash from each paycheck and investing it in case of a long term loss of income, a disability or loss of your partner.

Let me offer you a third one on her insightful list. 

3. Making decisions about staying at home, versus retaining employment after you have children (or care for an ill parent, in-law etc.) without calculating the long term impact on your career and your family’s income, is a lapse.

Why consider this? Once you leave the workforce you are less likely to return to a position of equal status and income.  History has shown that women’s income is often only 77% of that of a man. Some argue that this lower pay is a function of our movement out of and back into the workforce. So, why not think this decision through, with the aid of a spreadsheet? Run some scenarios about the dates of your  return to the workforce. Make sure you calculate best case and worst case scenarios and then run a scenario for something in between these two.

These are just 3 of the “The Top 10 Financial Mistakes Women Make” according to Ms. Krawchek. I promise to offer you a few more in subsequent posts.

Fraud? Did she say Fraud?

I love the fact that FINRA has created a set of tools to help you, and me, find fraud and fight it.

FINRA’s Fraud Center

FINRA provides a set of tools and explanations as  part of its campaign to  protect investors.

The idea is simple. If you know more, you will be able to fight off fraudsters. So take a look at this site.

And if you are brave, check out the thing they call the  “fraud meter.” It measures how susceptible you are to fraud. Go ahead and take the test.
Scam Meter Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt (anything but your pride)

Now, if this teaches you something, share it with your friends. Host a party and show a video that helps you and your friends protect yourselves from con artists. This show aired on PBS, so it is a good one. And you can get it for free. So start popping the popcorn and dust off your couch. And get your friends in to watch the show. Then discuss the issues among yourselves.

You will be glad you did.

Oh, and tell them Hot Flash Financial sent you.

Getting a job after you get hot flashes

Today’s job market is tough. Unemployment rates are coming down, but hiring is still slow.

We realize that our economy is recovering from a banking system meltdown.  When banks get an economy in trouble, it takes the economy a very long time to return to normal. Companies resist hiring until they think they will sell more of their products.

With that said, the job market for us older, more experienced candidates may be recovering more slowly than for other demographics.

Why?

Well there are lots of reasons. One of them is summed up in this video.
Spoof video of job interview with more mature job candidate

 

Let me know what you think of the point made here. Send your comments to this email address: HotFlashFinances@gmail.com.

I would love to hear from you.

 

Would you like some more money?

You might be able to get some more money—as a tax refund. And, get a trained tax preparer to help you  prepare your 2012 return, for free!

How? 

You have to file a tax return and ask for special tax breaks, called  tax credits offered by the IRS. These include the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. There is an additional one called the  Credit for the Elderly or Disabled.

 

Who can help you prepare this complicated tax form?

  1. The  VITA program of the IRS (IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) offers tax help to people who make $50,000 or less. If you qualify, you can probably get more money back through your tax refund. The IRS trains volunteers to review your paperwork, and help you figure out if you qualify for any of these credits. Then they help you prepare a return, and file (or send it in) electronically. So you get your refund faster!!!
  2. VITA has a  sister program, called  TCE (Tax Counseling for the Elderly) for people who are 60 years old, plus. TCE offers great answers to questions about pensions, and retirement. The IRS certified volunteers are often retired themselves.

 

This is probably your next question.

When can I get this help so I can get this money?

As soon as you have all of your paperwork together, and make an appointment, or show up. Do it early, so you can file early and get your refund money back really quickly. Maybe in as little as 10 days!!!!

Of course you will have to bring paperwork so that the volunteer tax preparers can do a good job.  There is a list of the paperwork at the end of the blog. It’s the usual stuff-proof of id, social security numbers, official forms that tell how much you made last year (W-2, or maybe W 2G or different types of 1099s). But look at the list below.

 

Where can I get this done for me?

Find a site near you so you can get personal help from a trained volunteer. You can meet these tax preparers in your community. They set up neighborhood libraries, schools, and other locations. For

  1. VITA click the link here Find a Location for Free Tax Prep or call 1(800) 906-9887.
  2. TCE  (AARP Tax Aid) click the link here  TCE or call 1(888)227-7669.

Hurry!  Unless of course, you don’t need the money.

———————–

 Here’s the list of paperwork you will need to bring to the VITA or TCE sites, so the tax preparer can file everything carefully and follow all legal procedures.

  • Proof of identification – Picture ID
  • Social Security Cards for you, your spouse and dependents or a Social Security Number verification letter issued by the Social Security Administration or
    • Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) assignment letter for you, your spouse and dependents
    • Proof of foreign status, if applying for an ITIN
  • Birth dates for you, your spouse and dependents on the tax return
  • Wage and earning statement(s) Form W-2, W-2G, 1099-R, 1099-Misc from all employers
  • Interest and dividend statements from banks (Forms 1099)
  • A copy of last year’s federal and state returns if available
  • Proof of bank account routing numbers and account numbers for Direct Deposit, such as a blank check—so you can get your refund sent right to your checking account
  • Total paid for daycare provider and the daycare provider’s tax identifying number (the provider’s Social Security Number or the provider’s business Employer Identification Number) if appropriate
  • To file taxes electronically on a married-filing-joint tax return, both spouses must be present to sign the required forms.

A new tradition

Let’s start a new “tradition.”  (Humor me. I was trained as an anthropologist. We anthropologists  love rituals.) Let’s call it a Hot Flash Financial Tradition.

What is this tradition? First it, is a ritual that occurs around new years. How do you do it?  Every year, you revise your List of Assets to reflect the December 31, 2012 balances. After you have the year end balances, you add up the total. Then do the really smart, Hot Flash Financial thing– Celebrate what you did right. And use your new List of Assets to make some decisions to improve your financial security next year.

If you have not developed your own personal List of Assets, create your first one today. (Go to the Tools Tab and select List of Assets.)  You take the same steps as someone who has a List of Assets.

Here are the steps you can use to follow the ritual. Go on-line to access every one of your retirement accounts, as well as investment and savings accounts. If you already  created your list of assets, add a column and mark it December 31, 2012. Input the dollar values for the last day of the year for every one of your account balances.  Then add the dollar values all up to get a Total. Now, do what comes naturally. Find out if your retirement account balances are higher than last year.

The next part of the  Hot Flash Financial Tradition is crucial: figure out what you did right! Also figure out what needs to be improved.

What you did right:

  • If you added more money to your retirement accounts, the total should be higher.
  • If you were invested  in stocks (or stock mutual funds) your balances may be as much as 10% -13% higher. (The S & P 500 booked a 13% increase over last year, 2012. If you invested a portion of your portfolio in Bonds, you may not be as high. But you got stability or less crazy fluctuations in your account values. Why? you reduced your risk by investing in bonds. Reducing risk has a cost. But it also has a strong plus–it allows you to sleep better at night.)

This is the most fun of this ritual. Pat yourself on the back and celebrate what you did right!!!!!

If you added money to your retirement account, but the increase did not meet your expectations, figure out why.

What you could improve in the future:

  • Did you add enough money to your retirement account  to make the total budge?
  •  Are there other reasons for the shortfall in your expectations about your retirement account balances, and your overall Hot Flash Stash of Cash?
    • Did you decide to save for the future, but you deposited that money into a savings account instead of your retirement investment account(s)? A savings account probably gave you about 1% return in 2012  By contrast, the stock market gave about 10%-13% in the same year. Did you make the right decision, saving in a savings account rather than a retirement account? What will you do in the next 12 months? Invest in your retirement account or in a savings account?
    • Savings accounts are nice. They reduce the risk that you will lose the money you deposited. But remember there is a “risk-return” trade off. If you take on more risk–investing in the stock market, you are likely to get more return. (In this case, the return in 2012 [and most years] would have been positive, although the market did move up and down a lot during the year. While the dollar amounts fluctuated, over the long term, in this case a year,  you were ahead.) If you take less risk–investing in a savings account–you are likely to get a lower return. Lower risk is often correlated (as we say in the biz) with lower return.

Your handy- dandy List of Assets becomes a really important reference point.  It also enables you, no actually empowers you to make some important decisions and improve your financial security. Your decisions can increase the number of things you do that are right over the next few years. So you can celebrate more. 

After celebrating, take a closer look at your List of Assets to figure out what you can do to increase your own, personal financial security in the coming 12 months.

Since we can’t shut up, we will suggest you do 2 things.

  1. Increase the amount of money you deposit in your retirement account. Increase it by 1%. And, if you can, work toward increasing your contributions, over the next year or 2 or 3, to deposit the maximum legally allowed.
  2. Decide if you are comfortable with a bit more risk. If so, invest a greater portion of your retirement savings  in the stock and bond markets, for the long term. If not, stick with savings accounts.

Make this  Hot Flash Financial tradition, your tradition  every first week in January. That way, you have more control. You have the knowledge of what you have done well. And you can take the steps you need to take to improve your financial security over the long term.

New Years Resolution

Here at Hot Flash, we love New Years Resolutions.

Allow us to suggest one for 2013- Live within your means.

Or, since we are entering a year that ends in unlucky 13, we can rephrase this resolution in terms of luck.

It is  unlucky to live above your means. (So every time your write the numbers 13, you have a reminder, nudge, or prompt to remember your resolution to live within, or even below, your means.)

So what does that really imply?

Your “take home pay” is the focus. It is your limit, your “means.” So you can spend only the amount of money that you bring “home” in your paycheck. Not a dime more. (And you can NOT cheat by charging something on your credit card(s). Unless, of course, you pay off the total balance due when the  bill comes.)

You must be thinking…… that is so………….un-American…..so impossible.

But is it?

Hmmm. It is tough for Baby Boomers to hear this, but……………your parents probably lived within their means. (And they probably saved some money while they were doing it……. Just sayin’)

Why would you do this?

If you start to develop the skill of living within your means, you will have a more sustainable life style.

That is probably not such a bad idea, given the fact that you are likely to live longer than your parents.

So how about it?  Resolve to live “within your means.” Test yourself, and see how you do.

Here’s a short take home quiz. Find it if you can you live within your means, at least as long as you followed your diet last year? Or as long as you committed yourself to exercise every day?

Now, this in Hot Flash Financial talking to you. S0 if you try, and find out that you are not exactly perfect, use laughter as a weapon. Tell us your funny story. Share it with us at hotflashfinancial@gmail.com.

That way you can join us–Hot Flash Mamas–as we imperfectly march toward the next phase in our lives.

Help a friend?

Do you have a sense of humor? Do your friends? Do your friends have a sense of humor about their own behavior?

Well, here is a new sweepstakes with a great idea, Help your friends. That is, help one of your friends who has some trouble with her/his finances, especially spending.

Now, the page introducing “Help a friend” clarifies that we all make mistakes and waste money. But, the one you “help” would merit, as they say,” an Olympian gold medal in money squandering.” So, the argument on the site goes, do your friend a favor and enter this friend into this sweepstakes. (At the same time you enter yourself into the sweepstakes). If you win, you get…… money.

There are videos associated with this program, and they tend to feature young, college age folks discussing the varied ways they spend money on “stuff” –memorial swords that are probably plastic, ugly designer jeans, myriad internet purchases, parties, taking a girlfriend to the “Jersey Shore” …………You get the point.

I decided to see how this works. So I pressed the HELP A FRIEND BUTTON and sent the email to myself. (I chose not to send a photo to post on the FACEBOOK  page of the site. It would show my friend posing with at least one incriminating impulsive purchase.)

I did receive an email. The email is well worded and raises some really good issues to consider. When I clicked on the  link, I was really pleased with the quiz that you can can take. It raises “your consciousness” on some spending habits that can be problematic. The  site itself has wonderful tools, such as calculators that help you budget, pay off debt, etc.

Now, I am a big great fan of NEFE—the National Endowment for Financial Education that created the site, and the Help a Friend sweepstakes. And I am a great fan of using humor to make a point.  And this Help A Friend Campaign uses humor to accomplish an important goal, help friends who waste money.

What I don’t know, is how my friends would respond. I mean, how would this work with “women of a certain age and distinction?” Would my friends be offended if I entered them into this sweepstakes? Or would they take it in stride, see that you can use humor to make some important points, and change your behavior?

What do you think?

Has someone stolen your identity?

If someone steals your identity, he can get your tax refund and have it mailed to his house. Really. He can get into your bank accounts and siphon out money. He can use your credit card account numbers and run up a big bill. He can mess with your credit score. And his  stealing, putting your name on bill and then a collection agency’s call list, can keep you from getting more credit or even a job.

(Now for the giggle part of the Hot Financial take on this issue.

No, identity thieves never steal your wrinkles, gray hair, love handles, nor muffin tops. Nope. They want your money. And if they masquerade as you, using your account numbers, they can get some moolah. Why mug you in a dark alley? It is so much less fuss and bother for an identity thief to just input your information into a computer, pretend he is you, and take money out of your accounts.

These identity theft efforts are even harder to catch than those old emails from   so-called “Nigerian princes.”)

Note to readers: this indented section  is designed to encourage you to LOL. So note the little smiley face here   🙂

Identity theft is serious. It could really put a crimp in your financial security and your future. So click on this government site  FTC Identity Theft  (you can trust it) to get some important and free copies.

There are 3 brochures on the basics :

  1. One on the basics called “What to do know and what to do.”
  2. One to help you protect your children.
  3. And the last one is for you, if you suspect their is a problem or you are “in crisis” it is called “What to do if your identity is, in fact, stolen.”

 

Take action. This is important. Hot Flash Financial Important!!

 

OH AND COMMENT BELOW.

DID YOU WRESTLE WITH AN IDENTITY THIEF? WHAT HAPPENED?

DO  YOU SUSPECT YOU MAY BE VULNERABLE TO IDENTITY THEFT? TAKE ACTION.

 

(TO PROTECT YOURSELF–DO NOT TELL US YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER, OR ANY ACCOUNT NUMBERS WHEN YOU RESPOND.)

So,…………why not consider saving more money?

How can you do this?  

HERE ARE SOME EASY STEPS TO FOLLOW:

1. SET A GOAL FOR YOURSELF.  It can include adding to a savings account, or reducing your over all debt. Did you know that –in the past year, 1 in 6 American Savers selected paying off consumer debts as their goal?  

2. MAKE A PLAN that you can FOLLOW.  If you want an easy one, that does not take much of your time— increase your contributions to your retirement account. Go On-Line and change your contribution level, by a certain amount of dollars or a percentage (like 1%).  You will be in very good company if you increase your retirement savings:  44% of those who reported having a retirement savings goal made a change to their retirement plans.

If you feel you can do more than one thing, and want some guidance,  click on our site.

  • Select the ASK & ANSWER button and look at the drop down menu. Select Extra money? Is she kidding? and also read about Trade Offs.
  • There is more for you, if you would like.  Select the  ACT button and look at the drop down menu and select Build you Stash.

3.  LEARN A FEW GOOD SAVINGS TRICKS.

  • Think carefully about what  you will do with your tax refund.  Did you know you can use your #tax refund to buy US Savings Bonds? It’s an easy, safe way to diversify your savings.    Check out the Tweets at   #ASW2012           http://ow.ly/8IUNX
  • Join @AmericaSaves for tips, news, and advice to help you save. Reach your savings goals.  Follow #ASW2012  on Twitter, or go to http://ow.ly/8dnzz