(BPT) - If you had to grade your financial literacy, what would it be? Are you an A+ saver, investor and planner, or do you think you could do better? If you grade yourself average at best, you’re not alone.
When asked to grade their own financial literacy, more than half of Americans say they’d earn a “C” or lower, according to new data from Prudential Financial. This isn’t surprising, considering data from Prudential’s Financial Wellness Census shows less than half of Americans are on track to meet their financial goals, including planning for retirement.
“Regardless of where you are on your family’s financial wellness journey, the best way forward is through financial literacy,” says Prudential Advisors President Brad Hearn. “Researching, educating yourself and getting advice from a financial professional can help you make the best decisions based on your life stage, risk tolerance and goals.”
Hearn says each family’s situation and goals are unique, and things like life stage and personal preference will impact how they choose to prepare for their financial future. To get started, here are five financial wellness basics every family should master:
Set up an emergency fund
Life is a series of experiences, and sometimes the unexpected can hit your finances hard. Whether it’s a car breaking down, your AC unit on the fritz or even losing a job, it’s important to be prepared for emergencies. If you don’t already have an emergency fund, start saving a little each month until you reach your goal. A good rule of thumb is to have three months’ worth of expenses saved in an emergency fund. So, if your monthly expenses are $2,500, you should have $7,500 saved.
Create a budget
Saving for college? A new car? How about starting that emergency fund? Whatever your family’s financial goals are, it’s important to have a plan in place that helps you achieve those goals. Budget to manage day-to-day expenses, and include in that budget a commitment to save for bigger milestones. For tips on getting started, do some research. There’s no shortage of advice, whether you decide to go it alone or consider using the help of a professional financial advisor.
Plan for the unimaginable
If you have people who count on you for financial support or caregiving, you should have life insurance. A life insurance policy can help give your family financial peace of mind should the worst happen. There is no rule as to how much life insurance you need, but important things to consider are your annual income, mortgage debt, potential college costs for kids and other future financial obligations.
Save for retirement
According to Prudential data, of Americans who have retirement savings and debt, nearly one-quarter have more in total debt than in retirement savings (23%), while 15% of Americans say that they have no debt, but also have nothing saved for retirement. Planning for retirement is something that should start as soon as possible. If your work offers any type of matching program, make sure to take advantage. If you don’t, you’re essentially leaving free money on the table.
Seek professional advice
Retirement, life insurance and savings can be confusing. Information overload is partly to blame. According to Prudential data, two-thirds of Americans agree that the list of things they need to learn to successfully manage their finances keeps growing, not shrinking. That’s where financial literacy programs and professional financial advice can play a key role. Nearly two-thirds of Americans don’t have a financial advisor. They say they cannot afford one (42%) or don’t believe their financial situation warrants needing an advisor’s help (26%). The reality is that advice is more within reach than ever before — and it’s not just for the wealthy. A financial professional can help at various stages in life and work with you to create a strategy based on your timeline, risk tolerance and goals.
“Financial wellness isn’t always a matter of having more money,” says Hearn. “Instead, it’s a journey that takes a combination of proactive effort, dedication and professional guidance.”
Prudential Advisors is a brand name of The Prudential Insurance Company of America and its subsidiaries. Life insurance is issued by The Prudential Insurance Company of America, Newark, NJ and its affiliates.
Regardless of income or wealth, the road to financial health – how you are able to manage your day-to-day financial life while building for the future – can be a lifelong journey. What you do today can build toward or detract from your long-term resilience and ability to pursue opportunities. These questions can serve as a starting point to take inventory of your financial health.
Planning for the Future
Taking inventory of your financial health
(Family Features) Only 28% of Americans are financially healthy, according to the U.S. Financial Health Pulse. Most others will have difficulty reaching long-term financial goals and are more vulnerable to the threat of financial shocks, such as car trouble, unforeseen medical bills or job loss.
Regardless of income or wealth, the road to financial health – how you are able to manage your day-to-day financial life while building for the future – can be a lifelong journey. What you do today can build toward or detract from your long-term resilience and ability to pursue opportunities. Whether you want to take that dream vacation, prepare for retirement or save for college, financial health takes effort to build.
“An overwhelming majority of the country is experiencing financial challenges that have lasting effects on people’s lives, on their ability to weather the inevitable ups and downs and on their chances to pursue their dreams,” said Jennifer Tescher, CEO of the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI), the nation’s authority on consumer financial health. “Each year, CFSI and MetLife Foundation join forces on #FinHealthMatters Day to highlight the importance of financial health, especially for the 180 million people who are financially vulnerable.”
Photo courtesy of Getty ImagesSOURCE:
Center for Financial Services Innovation
Don’t fall victim to the financial risks and mental stresses associated with owning a home. Appliances have set lifespans, breakdowns are inevitable and repairs and replacements are costly. Make sure your home is covered, so you and your wallet can rest assured that your home is taken care of.
(BPT) - Nobody bats an eyelash when it comes to buying homeowner's insurance, but many homeowners don’t apply that same logic to planning for home repairs — not what might happen, but what will happen.
Only a fraction of the 120 million U.S. households today are protected by a home services plan, also known as a home warranty.
That number is growing, as homeowners recognize the value of coverage when appliances go on the fritz, hot water heaters run cold in the middle of winter or a leaky faucet drives up their water bill. Perhaps one reason more homeowners don’t have home service plans is because they think they are covered through their homeowner's insurance policy.
Homeowner's insurance doesn’t protect you from the natural home aging process.
Insurance kicks in when damage occurs from an outside force, like a busted sewer line or roof damage due to a major storm. While insurance covers you when Mother Nature strikes, it doesn’t protect you from the natural wear and tear that your home’s major systems and appliances go through during the aging process. Understanding how home service plans work and how they fit into your financial and risk-planning strategy allows you to be prepared for covered breakdowns, without breaking the bank.
Let’s start at the beginning. What is a home service plan?
Home service plans typically cover the repair or replacement of major home appliances, including refrigerators, washers, dryers, ovens or cooktops, and components of major systems like plumbing, HVAC and electrical.
When your air conditioning system breaks, or your washer or dryer stops spinning, you want the confidence of having a home services plan in place that will help protect your budget.
This is where the true value of a home service plan comes in. Home service providers such as American Home Shield accept service requests and assign professionals to diagnose the problem and offer a solution through its vast network of skilled and trusted contractors, which includes more than 15,000 licensed and qualified pros throughout all 50 states.
What’s the bottom line?
With a home service plan, you won’t pay the full cost of repairing or replacing items covered by your plan. Regardless of age, make or model, your contract helps cover the repair or replacement of items covered in your plan. For example, if your refrigerator malfunctions, your service provider will connect you to a quality contractor to diagnose and repair the problem. This can help reduce the hassle of repairing it yourself and help protect your budget.
Think about your home’s future (and yours).
Service plans can come in handy when selling a home. The appeal speaks for itself: When buyers are making that final decision around one of the biggest investments in their lives, having a home service plan in place gives the new homeowner confidence that the home’s systems and appliances are protected, and they won’t bear the entire financial impact of repairing or replacing it if it breaks down.
The choice seems obvious: Don’t fall victim to the financial risks and mental stresses associated with owning a home. Appliances have set lifespans, breakdowns are inevitable and repairs and replacements are costly. Make sure your home is covered, so you and your wallet can rest assured that your home is taken care of.
Managing all of life’s demands on limited funds can feel like a never-ending chore. Every family’s budget is unique, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to saving money. However, establishing priorities and looking for ways to make small cuts can add up.
How to Help Your Family Budget
(Family Features) Managing all of life’s demands on limited funds can feel like a never-ending chore. Every family’s budget is unique, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to saving money. However, establishing priorities and looking for ways to make small cuts can add up.
Many people turn to creating a personalized budget or a spending schedule to help keep track of their expenses. Planning payments on a monthly basis can sometimes be helpful when it comes to setting an appropriate family budget, anticipating short-term expenses and planning ahead for long-term payments.
However, creating a personalized budget is not always enough. Some companies also offer discount and incentive programs for particular customers, so it’s best to do some research when planning your next month’s budget and take advantage of available programs.
For example, Amazon offers a discounted Prime membership for $5.99 per month for customers receiving government assistance. This offer is already available to Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cardholders and now Medicaid recipients also qualify. Members have access to a wide selection of more than 100 million items, video and music streaming services, low prices on select items and fast, convenient delivery options, which can ultimately help save both time and money.
In addition to fast, free shipping on millions of items, these benefits come at no additional cost to Prime members:
To help make your budget more manageable, take a close look at your bills, ongoing purchases and opportunities to save where possible.
Find more information to help balance your budget at amazon.com/qualify.
Photo courtesy of Getty ImagesSOURCE:
With tax season in full swing, take time to consider how to get the most out of your tax return, which includes finding all the credits and deductions available to you. These often-overlooked tax breaks could potentially save you hundreds – maybe even thousands – of dollars if you itemize deductions.
Don’t Overpay Your Taxes
Commonly overlooked credits and deductions
(Family Features) With tax season in full swing, take time to consider how to get the most out of your tax return, which includes finding all the credits and deductions available to you. While many taxpayers claim common deductions, such as home mortgage interest and self-employment expenses, there are additional tax deductions that can lessen your final tax bill or increase your refund. These often-overlooked tax breaks could potentially save you hundreds - maybe even thousands - of dollars if you itemize deductions.
To start, get to know the difference between tax credits and tax deductions. Tax credits reduce the amount you owe in taxes. In some circumstances, tax credits allow a refundable credit, meaning you may not only reduce the amount you owe to $0, but you can also get money back. Deductions, on the other hand, simply reduce your taxable income. Both can have a potentially significant impact on your taxes and are often worth the extra effort to include on your return.
Some commonly overlooked credits include:
1. Child and Dependent Care Credit
2. Earned Income Tax Credit
3. Saver's Credit or the Retirement Savings Contributions Credit
Some tax deductions that allow you to reduce your taxable income include:
1. Moving Expenses
2. Tax-Preparation Fees
3. New Moms
4. Career Corner
5. Wedding Bells
6. Medical Fitness
7. Road Warriors
If you're getting a refund, you typically want it as soon as possible, but that isn't always an option, especially if you are one of the millions of Americans who claim either the Earned Income Tax Credit or Additional Child Tax Credit. You could access up to $3,200 with a no-fee Refund Advance loan at zero percent annual percentage rate (APR), offered by MetaBank, at participating Jackson Hewitt locations. Terms apply, visit JacksonHewitt.com for details.
Did You Know?
1. The IRS, as well as many states, allows taxpayers to catch up on missed credits or deductions, offering a three-year window for filing an amended tax return. You can secure unclaimed credits and deductions by filing amended tax returns to avoid losing any unclaimed funds from as far back as 2014.
2. With locations across the United States, including kiosks in 3,000 Walmart stores, the tax professionals at Jackson Hewitt make it easy to stop in when it's most convenient for you.
3. If you are a single parent, you can file as Head of Household instead of Single. This filing status can provide better deduction options and a lower tax rate schedule.
Photos courtesy of Getty Images (Woman looking at computer, Man sitting on the floor with papers)SOURCE:
(BPT) - More than any other demographic group, African-Americans perceive homeownership as an integral component of the American Dream, and a way to build security and wealth for their families, according to a recent survey.
The poll by Ipsos Public Affairs, conducted on behalf of Wells Fargo, found that 90 percent of African-Americans said homeownership would be a dream come true, and more than half were considering buying a home within the next two years.
However, African-Americans currently have the lowest rate of homeownership among ethnic minorities - just 42 percent, or 20 points short of the national rate, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. African-Americans are expected to represent the third largest segment among new households (renters and owners) in the U.S. by 2024.
"Americans of every demographic aspire to homeownership, but this survey indicates African-Americans place high value on the emotional and financial benefits of owning a home," says Brad Blackwell, executive vice president and head of housing policy and homeownership growth strategies for Wells Fargo. "Unfortunately, myths about down payments and credit often deter people from inquiring about loan options."
Barriers, real and imagined
Like many Americans, African-Americans want to own homes, but are often challenged by factual and perceived barriers. Real barriers include tight credit markets, lack of affordable inventory in many areas and underemployment or unemployment.
Perceived barriers are directly related to a lack of experience with the homebuying process. For example, in the Wells Fargo survey, nearly half of African-Americans believed a 20 percent down payment is necessary to buy a home. However, many home loans permit down payments of less than 20 percent. Some are as low as 3 percent.
Mortgage approval is not contingent on full-time employment, either. Homebuyers need only be able to demonstrate their ability to repay their mortgage loan, regardless of whether their income comes from a full-time or part-time job. However, 54 percent of African-Americans believed homebuyers must have full-time jobs in order to qualify for a mortgage. In some loan programs, income from others who will live in the home, such as family members or renters, can also be considered.
The survey also highlighted the possibility that some credit education could help aspiring African-American homebuyers. Eighteen percent weren't sure what constitutes a good credit score, 35 percent didn't know what minimum score they would need to qualify for a mortgage, and 20 percent didn't know their own credit score range. While lenders do consider credit scores in making mortgage decisions, credit scores are only one factor, and minimum credit scores vary based on the type of mortgage and loan amount. Homebuyer education and credit counseling could provide key information about the elements of a good credit score or how to develop a good credit profile.
Improving African-American homeownership
"Just 5 percent of homeowners are African-American, according to the National Association of Realtors," Blackwell says. "African-Americans and other minority groups should have equal access to the wealth- and stability-building benefits of homeownership. In an effort to positively impact the homeownership rate among African-Americans, Wells Fargo has committed to providing education, counseling, a more diverse sales team, and mortgages to African-Americans."
Wells Fargo recently announced plans to lend a projected $60 billion to qualified African-American consumers with the goal of increasing the number of African-American homeowners by at least 250,000 by 2027. They'll also hire more African-American mortgage consultants in an effort to make their mortgage workforce more closely aligned with the populations they serve. Finally, Wells Fargo will provide $15 million to support educational initiatives and counseling for African-American homebuyers.
Meanwhile, if you want to purchase a home, you can maximize your chances of getting approved for a mortgage with several important steps, including:
* Monitor your credit - Your credit report and score can affect your ability to qualify for a mortgage, how much you can borrow, and the interest rate and terms you'll be offered. Review your credit report and score at least once a year. You can get an annual free credit report from all three national credit bureaus at www.annualcreditreport.com.
* Control other debt - Debt-to-income (DTI) ratio is an important factor lenders consider in mortgage applications. This ratio compares your total monthly debt to your monthly income. Keep your DTI below 36 percent by paying down credit cards, auto loans and student debt.
* Save - Even though you don't always need 20 percent down in order to qualify for a mortgage, having savings can still positively affect the mortgage process. Some financing programs allow qualified homebuyers to secure a mortgage with as little as 3 percent. Or, you may qualify for programs that benefit veterans if you've served in the military.
* Be able to prove income - Although you don't need a high income to qualify for a mortgage, you will need to be able to document your income with W2s, tax returns and other paperwork.
* Build up an emergency fund - Unexpected expenses are a reality of homeownership. An emergency fund can help you cover costs such as repairing a leaky roof or replacing a broken-down appliance. Lenders are also likely to view you as more financially responsible if you have six months' worth of expenses saved up.
To learn more about homebuying and to find a mortgage professional near you, visit www.wellsfargo.com.
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