The average New Year's resolution involves either bettering your health, improving your finances or kicking a bad habit. But why settle for just one when you can accomplish all three?
December 2010 Archives
Maybe your New Year's resolution is to get organized. Maybe it's to reduce stress and become a happier person. Or, if you're like the many folks hit hard by today's economy, maybe it's to make more money in 2011.
What if I told you that you could actually accomplish all those things - at least to some degree -by making one simple change to your life? It's not a pipedream, say Chicago bankruptcy attorneys. It's what can happen when you take back the reins to your financial future and get out of debt.
If you've got some time off after Christmas, you probably want to kick back and relax, not work. But there's a reason you might want to spend your downtime doing a little post-holiday housekeeping, say Atlanta bankruptcy attorneys.
By clearing out stuff that you don't need and donating it to charity before January 1, you can save money on your taxes - and if you're really lucky, increase your tax refund.
You've heard of spring cleaning, but did you know switching to winter cleaning can save you some money?
With just days to go until the New Year, there's still time to make some charitable donations that can increase the size of the tax refund you receive next year. If you're like most Chicago residents, you're probably feeling a little tapped out financially. But you can still deduct donations from your taxes, even if they aren't monetary.
I don't know about you, but I'm always a little sad once all the Christmas presents have been opened and family and friends have gone home. Fortunately I've discovered a way to keep the holiday spirit around after the holidays: gift cards.
I realize that gift cards are old news by now. In fact, cards are by far the most requested and received Christmas gift, according to the National Retail Federation - probably because people like the freedom to choose their own presents. But the amount of utility we get from gift cards varies wildly depending on how we use them. If you want to get the most bang for your buck, a little planning goes a long way, advise Atlanta bankruptcy attorneys.
What if you could stretch the Christmas magic beyond December 25? It's possible with gift cards.
Not that gift cards are anything new, of course. Americans requested plastic cards more than any other present this year, according to the National Retail Federation. Not surprisingly, when money is tight, most of us would rather have the ability to choose gifts we actually need rather than receive things we may have no use for. But you can get more bang for your buck by using those gift cards strategically, according to Chicago bankruptcy attorneys.
Chances are there's a surprise from your employer on its way to your mailbox, and it's not a Christmas card.
As they seem to do every year, health care premiums are going up in January, note Chicago bankruptcy attorneys. And employers are passing those costs on to us. Sometimes insurers will include a vague reference to costs associated with the federal healthcare reform as explanation for the hike, and sometimes they'll provide no reason at all. But while insurance companies can play it off like no big deal, a 20 percent increase in monthly payments presents a real problem for Americans hoping to get their spending on track for 2011.
Many workers hoping for a bonus from their employers this month received something a lot less pleasant: a memo stating that their health insurance premium will go up next year.
Health insurance companies are raising rates on employers, who are in turn passing the costs on to us. Insurers often place blame on expenses associated with healthcare reform, but the truth is, health costs have increased every January for years. We should be used to it by now - but that doesn't make it any less painful for those of us who are already struggling to pay the bills as it is, say Atlanta bankruptcy attorneys.
Fortunately, we still have some say in the matter.
If you thought the Grinch was a mean one, wait until you hear about Christmas card financial scam artists.
You know those e-cards you get from family, friends and co-workers? The ones that feature pretty winter scenes, Christmas trees you can decorate with a point-and-click of your mouse or creepy dancing elves you can personalize with your own face? Well, now they might feature something else - spyware that can infect your computer and steal your identity, according to Atlanta bankruptcy attorneys.
What better way to cheer yourself up while slogging away at work this week than by clicking on a cute holiday e-card from a dear friend? Just make sure you recognize the e-mail address, say Chicago bankruptcy attorneys.
Identity thieves have caught on to the popular e-card phenomenon. But instead of spreading holiday happiness, they're sending cards containing viruses and malware. So when you click on a card to download a snow scene, you might actually be installing malicious material on your computer - and risking the state of your finances and credit.
We're struggling to scrape together the funds to pay the mortgage, buy groceries and put gas in our tank - so why are so many of us spending money on exercise machines, household cleaners and Snuggies?
Chalk it up to the infomercial phenomenon, say Chicago bankruptcy attorneys. Sales of "As Seen On TV" products are skyrocketing just as families are cutting back everywhere else. Why? Maybe because the products are pitched as a way to buy happiness. You might not be able to afford a nice vacation or new clothes, but for three small payments of $14.95, according to infomercial hosts, you can get rock-hard abs.
If you're barely able to afford paying the mortgage and putting gas in your car, surely you're not going to splurge on stuff you don't even need, right?
Or will you? Americans might be cutting back in most areas, but they're spending more than ever on infomercial products - things like ab machines, spray tan bottles and the infamous Snuggies. So why are we spending our dwindling dollars on "As Seen on TV" merchandise that may not even work? It's all in the sales pitch, say Atlanta bankruptcy attorneys.
How can you help others when you can barely help yourself? It's a question on the minds of many Americans as we pass the Salvation Army red kettle and toss the requests for donations that pile up in the mailbox this holiday season.
But there are ways to give to charity even when times are tough, say Atlanta bankruptcy attorneys. Just ask the nearly two-thirds of Americans who plan to donate before the year is out, despite tough economic times that make paying the mortgage and credit card bills extra difficult. Even though more than 80 percent in a recent survey said they have the same amount or less money than last year, more than 70 percent say they will give the same or more as last year. So how do they do it?
Between the red kettle outside the grocery store, mall clerks asking if you want to give a dollar to fill-in-the-blank cause and the seemingly endless requests for donations in your mailbox, Americans are being faced with charity choices every day.
You might think that we'd ignore them, what with most of us struggling to pay off our own debts and make the house payment. But we're more giving than we realize, say Chicago bankruptcy attorneys. It turns out that nearly two-thirds of Americans say they plan to donate to charity this year, regardless of the economy. And fortunately those donations can do more than make us feel warm and fuzzy inside - they can also help our finances.
It's a temptation many of us face every time we bring in mail from the mailbox: should we use those free 0% interest balance transfer checks that come packaged with credit card offers?
With many Americans now carrying debts of $10,000 or more on cards that charge anywhere from 20% to 35% interest, a low- to no-introductory rate can seem like a godsend - a chance to finally get those high-interest debts under control. But there's more to the story, caution Chicago bankruptcy attorneys.
With most Americans deep in debt, credit card issuers know it's no longer enough to simply send out credit card offers.
Increasingly, they're including 0% interest balance transfer checks with those promotions to sweeten the deal. By filling out a check, you can supposedly transfer your balance from a high-interest credit card - for instance, 25% or more - to an account that charges no interest for an introductory period. At first it sounds like a no-brainer. I mean, who wouldn't want to pay zero-percent interest? But the offer may be too good to be true, warn Atlanta bankruptcy attorneys.
In the classic holiday battle for our hard-earned dollars, consumers seem to have the upper hand over retailers this year.
That's because, for the first time in decades, Christmas shoppers are choosing to spend with cash rather than credit, say Atlanta bankruptcy attorneys. TransUnion reported an 11 percent drop in major credit card use compared to this time last year. And the rate of shoppers using credit during the Black Friday weekend was the lowest in the 27 years since an annual survey began tracking our holiday spending habits. It seems that consumers are finally catching on stores' holiday tricks.
Statistics show that fewer consumers used credit cards for post-Thanksgiving shopping this year than ever before. Use of several major credit cards fell by 11 percent this season from just a year earlier. It seems that we might finally be getting the picture that this year's holiday gifts aren't worth paying for next year...and the year after that, and the year after that.
Not that retailers are going to give up without a fight.
What would you do with an extra $1,000 or more a year? You might be about to find out.
Part of the tax plan between President Obama and Congressional Republicans includes a 2 percent cut in Social Security payroll taxes. So if you're making $60,000 annually, for instance, you'll get to keep an additional $1,200 of your income each year. In the great scheme of things, it might seem like a fairly insignificant amount - but it depends on how you use it, say Atlanta bankruptcy attorneys.
It looks like American workers could be getting a raise next year, albeit a small one.
If the tax agreement between President Obama and legislators passes, one of the provisions will reduce the Social Security payroll tax rate from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent. For someone making $60,000 a year, that's an extra $1,200 in annual take home pay - or the equivalent of another $25 a week. It might not seem like much, but if you're looking for ways to make ends meet, any little bit can help, say Chicago bankruptcy attorneys.
What exactly does Christmas shopping have to do with energy efficiency? A lot, if you want to get a soon-to-expire discount on new appliances.
For the past two years, homeowners have been eligible for an energy tax credit of up to 30 percent, or $1,500, on products from biomass stoves to storm windows to gas-burning fireplaces. With most Americans still short on cash, it's been a great way to save money when upgrading old appliances, say Chicago bankruptcy attorneys. But all that's coming to an end on Dec 31. In order to take advantage of the discount, you need to have the energy-saving device installed and ready to use by that date.
A new washing machine is the really expensive equivalent of getting a pair of socks or underwear for Christmas. It's not fun per se, but it's useful - especially if you can buy said washing machine before Dec. 31.
For the past 24 months, shoppers have been able to get back 30 percent - or up to $1,500 - of the money spent on energy-efficient products like dishwashers, windows, refrigerators and more. It's been an easy way for short-on-cash Americans to upgrade to modern and more environmentally-friendly appliances, say Atlanta bankruptcy attorneys. But it's about to disappear. To get the discount, homeowners must have eligible products installed and ready to go by the last day of 2010.
Freddie Mac is feeling more Santa than Scrooge this season - if for only a brief period of time.
For the third year in a row, the government-backed mortgage giant plans to stop foreclosure evictions between Dec. 20 and Jan. 4. It's good news for seriously delinquent homeowners who might have otherwise lost the roof over their head during the holiday. Unfortunately, say Atlanta bankruptcy attorneys, it won't do anything to stop folks from losing their homes after the start of the New Year.
It looks like even mortgage companies are feeling the holiday spirit this time of year.
Freddie Mac recently announced plans to stop foreclosures from Dec. 20 to Jan. 3 - long enough for folks to stay in their homes during the Christmas season. Fannie Mae has pledged to halt evictions as well. With millions of Americans behind on mortgage payments this time of year, it's a nice gesture. Unfortunately, point out Chicago bankruptcy attorneys, it's also only putting off the inevitable.
Remember when having a million dollars meant you were filthy stinkin' rich? Now it just means you have enough to live modestly - though probably still comfortably - when you retire.
Being a millionaire has lost some of its allure. That's the bad news. The good news? It's still pretty sweet to have a million bucks to draw on in your retirement. And getting there is easier than ever before, say Atlanta bankruptcy attorneys. It just requires that we stop adding to our debt problem and instead start adding to our nest egg.
Once upon a time, having a million dollars when you retired meant you were rich. Nowadays, it merely means you're financially secure - if you manage your money responsibly.
But while a million bucks doesn't stretch quite as far - or buy as much luxury - as it did in our parents' day, the good news is that reaching the million-dollar milestone is more within our grasp than ever before, according to Chicago bankruptcy attorneys. That is, if we stop losing money due to growing debt and start earning it through growing our savings.