Tax Tips For Parents

W4 Tax Withholding

Having children is a wonderful experience that is priceless in so many ways! But do they cost you a lot!  Fortunately there is some tax help for parents in the form of deductions and claims.  Robert Meighan, vice president at Turbo Tax, has listed some great tax tips for parents:
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Debt Traps College Students Fall Into

College Equation

I could spend all day talking about the financial issues facing college students these days.  However, for today’s post I will take a look at common debt traps that college students fall into:

12 Things Every Teenager Needs To Know About Money (And How To Teach Them)

There Is More Free Money Than You Realize For College

Before Cell Phones - A Quieter Life

This is a guest post from Grant Baldwin, the author of Reality Check, a book about helping students transition into the real world. His new website, BrokePiggy.com, answers questions from teenagers about personal finance, savings, and all things money.

BREAKING NEWS…THIS JUST IN…SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT….

College Is Expensive.

Ok, so I figured you already knew that. I think most of us would probably agree that college is a solid investment that has the potential to pay big returns in the future, but like we already established…

College Is Expensive.

Statistics say that approximately two-thirds of college students have some education debt and that the average student loan debt is around $21,000. The inaccurate perception is that student loan debt is okay, because you are investing in education. But if you graduate from college with several thousand dollars in student loan debt and no way to pay it off, that’s a bad start to the real world.

So how do you graduate with as little debt as possible, or even better, no debt at all?

• FAFSA (Free Application For Federal Student Aid) – This is the single largest source of financial aid available, so you definitely want to fill this form out. The government will use this form to determine your eligibility for things like Pell grants and even some work-study programs.

• Scholarships – This is a numbers game. The more you apply for, the better your chances are of getting some. Think of it this way: if it takes you an hour to apply, and you get a $500 scholarship as a result, that’s a pretty good payday considering how little time you put into it. Last time I checked, McDonald’s wasn’t paying $500 per hour!

• Community College – I highly recommend getting some of your general education classes taken care of at a local community college. You will almost always find it to be much less expensive, and the classes can often transfer to a “better” school that you are interested in attending later.

• Work-Study Programs – Many schools offer the opportunity to have a part-time job on campus to help contribute towards the cost of your education. Check with the financial aid office of the school you’re interested in to see what opportunities are available.

• AP & CLEP Tests – These are two great ways to not only save money but to earn college credit while still in high school. AP (Advanced Placement) and CLEP (College Level Examination Program) are programs that allow you the opportunity to receive college credit for what you already know by earning qualifying scores on various tests.

• Live At Home – Living on your own isn’t cheap. While there is nothing wrong with wanting to leave the nest, spread your wings and fly, the airfare is expensive. You can save literally thousands of dollars by postponing your departure for a little longer.

Can you add any other ideas?

This series “12 Things Every Teenager Needs To Know About Money (And How To Teach Them)” is a community blog experience.  This post is only one of the 12 points in the series so to view the other 11, please visit the list of links below.

  • Money Doesn’t Grow On Trees @ Bargaineering
  • Two Words: Compound Interest @ PoorerThanYou
  • Delay Gratification To Succeed @ GatherLittleByLittle
  • Living On A Budget Isn’t An Option @ TotalCandor
  • Credit Cards Will Steal Your Lunch Money @ Prime Time Money
  • Should You Earn A College Degree? @ TheDigeratiLife
  • Spend Money Based On Needs Not Wants @ MoneyNing
  • Living On Your Own Isn’t Cheap @ Studenomics
  • Taxes Are A Necessary Evil In Life @ MoneySmartLife
  • Do What You Love, Love What You Do @ GenXFinance
  • Don’t Be A Tightwad: Give Generously @ CashMoneyLife
  • This is a guest post from Grant Baldwin, the author of Reality Check, a book about helping students transition into the real world. His new website, BrokePiggy.com, answers questions from teenagers about personal finance, savings, and all things money.

    Creative Commons License photo credit: Sister72

    15 Things To Do With Your Economic Stimulus Check

    The government Stimulus checks started going out on April 28th. If you are expecting one you should start looking for it in May (here’s a post listing the dates).

    So what are you going to do with the extra money? Here are a list of ideas for using your stimulus check:

    • Pay off credit cards – If you have any credit card debt the stimulus check will be a great way knock some of that out! Paying off the debt gives you an instant return in savings of whatever you would have paid in interest fees. Psychologically, you will help in getting the debt monkey off your back.
    • Contribute to a Roth IRA – You can take your money and put it into your Roth IRA. For 2008 the contribution limit is $5000.
    • Start an emergency fund – If you don’t already have some sort of emergency fund (three to six months expenses seems to be the conventional wisdom) then your stimulus check is a good way to start one. Even if you have one you can use the money to increase your fund. A great place to start one is with ING Direct (you can even get a $25 bonus by opening your account with $250).
    • Contribute to a 529 college savings plan – You can use the money to help save for your kid’s education by putting the money in a 529 plan. Not only do you help save for college but you might get a tax break as well depending on your home state’s plan.
    • Pre-pay your mortgage – Take the money and make additional payments to your mortgage. By making additional payments you will own your home faster and pay less in interest. Just make sure the payments go towards the loan principle and not next month’s payment (also check that your lender will accept pre-payments without fees or penalties).
    • Go on vacation – You may have been planning to do this anyway so here is a good way to fund the vacation. Go and do something that will be a great experience for the family that you will all remember.
    • Improve the house – If there’s something you’ve needed to improve on your home, such as a furnace, you can use your stimulus check to pay for it (or at least help). Other options could be new paint job, carpet, furniture, appliances, etc…
    • Car maintenance – Have you been putting off a car repair? Need new brakes? New tires? Your stimulus money can fund it. If your car is about to go kaput your stimulus check could help pay for a new car (or a good new used car).
    • Learn to invest – Do some research and take the money and start investing. Companies such as Sharebuilder and Zecco offer low-fee investing. You have to do your homework with this option but it might be just enough money to start investing but not so much that you will be crazy worrying if you lose it. If you invest through Sharebuilder you can buy partial shares of Berkshire Hathaway B class shares. I hear that Warren Buffett is pretty good at investing.
    • Pay off student loans – If you have high interest student loans then your stimulus check can be a great way to help pay your student loans off. Just like with credit cards paying off your high interest student loans give you the instant return in savings of what you would have paid in interest.
    • Have a nice evening out – Take your spouse out to a really great meal. Get babysitting and go to that great restaurant you wanted to try. Go see that new show that everyone’s talking about. Make an experience you will always remember.
    • Get physically fit – The stimulus check should be enough to pay for a year’s gym membership (or more than a year). Use the stimulus check as a catalyst to get in shape and make your life healthier. Not sure about a gym? Find a class such as yoga or martial arts to join. Not into that? Buy a new bike and go riding. Or get yourself some good running sneakers and running attire. Join your local running club and enter a few small races. You never know, you may one day run a marathon.
    • Go to school – Use your stimulus check to enroll in a college course or two. This can be toward a degree or just continuing education. Hey, you can take a personal finance course. Maybe learn a second language?
    • Do nothing – This is the easiest of them all. Put the money in your savings account and forget about it. You don’t have to spend it or find any particular purpose for it. It doesn’t have to burn a hole in your pocket. One day you might find a good use for it but for now it adds to your savings.

    Personally, we’re closer to the Do Nothing suggestion. Our stimulus check will come via direct deposit right into our ING account. We have no specific plans for the money so it will be added into our savings. Our check may pay parts of many of the suggestions or for none of them. Either way it will earn interest until it finds a home somewhere else.

    Do you have any other ideas for using the economic stimulus check?

    photo by Argenberg

    Best And Worst College 529 Plans From Morningstar

    Morningstar has released their picks for the top five and worst five 529 college-savings plans. To make their choices, Morningstar “focused on diversification, fees, flexibility, and the underlying funds.”Here are the top five:

    – Illinois Bright Start College Savings Program
    – Maryland College Investment Plan
    – Virginia Education Savings Trust
    -Virginia CollegeAmerica 529 Savings Plan (broker sold)
    – Colorado Scholars Choice Savings Program (broker sold)

    The worst five:

    – Ohio Putnam CollegeAdvantage (broker sold)
    – Mississippi Affordable College Savings Program
    – Mississippi Affordable College Savings Advisor Program (broker sold)
    – New York 529 College Savings Program
    – Nebraska AIM College Savings Plan (broker sold)

    I’m a little concerned that New York’s plan is considered one of the worst. Not only do I have two funds under the plan (one for each child) I also said recently that it’s a good plan. The main criticism from Morningstar is that the plan doesn’t have any exposure to international funds so it’s been missing out on international gains and it’s not hedged against US economy downturns. Other wise Morningstar says it’s moderately priced and they like that it’s made up of Vanguard index funds.

    Many people, like myself, contribute to their own state’s plans since it’s likely they get a tax break. But depending on the plan and state you may be better off contributing to another state’s plan.

    The Wall Street Journal suggests the following when considering a 529 plan:

    “• When shopping for a 529 plan, you should consider costs, investment options and asset-allocation strategies.

    Weigh any tax advantages of investing in an in-state plan against the plan’s total costs.

    Look for annual asset-based fees of less than 1% for direct-sold plans and less than about 1.3% for broker-sold plans.

    Compare state plans at www.savingforcollege.com, www.collegesavings.org or www.morningstar.com.”Hopefully Morningstar’s review will prompt the New York 529 plan to consider some international exposure otherwise I may have to look into some of the better plans.

    Do you contribute to a 529 college-savings plan?

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