Thursday, December 20, 2007

More Smart Gift Ideas from WISER

WISER's most recent quarterly newsletter, "Understanding Your Money and the Financial Markets," also includes reviews of our favorite financial books. Keep these in mind for the holidays. If you are like many Americans, your New Years' resolution (along with losing weight) is to save more money, and these books have some great advice on how to succeed.

Divorce & Money: How to Make the Best Financial Decisions During Divorce
Violet Woodhouse with Dale Fetherling
In a divorce, money is one of those unavoidable and scary topics, often complicated by emotions. This guide from the legal experts at Nolo can be a level-headed friend when confronting the unfamiliar territory of divorce. Although lawyers themselves, its authors assume their readers want to know as much as they can before approaching an attorney, and presents the facts in a straightforward, practical manner. For trustworthy advice on “the house,” joint accounts, tax issues, alimony, dividing debts, and managing—not ignoring—your emotions, check out Divorce & Money first.

Smart and Simple Financial Strategies for Busy People
Jane Bryant Quinn

Jane Bryant Quinn’s success as the informative and charming Newsweek contributor continues with her latest book. She covers all the bases, but perhaps most helpful is her advice on “Putting Your Whole Financial Life on Cruise Control”— the idea being that money saved automatically is less likely to be spent frivolously (on decorating your basement with the latest exercise equipment, for example). Shifting to “automatic” can save time and money. Quinn’s personal stories of struggling with debt make this an enjoyable and worthwhile read.

The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need
Andrew Tobias

Tobias’s guide is (still) packed with sound advice for the new or average investor, and for most people, the book should live up to its name. His suggestions—from buying in bulk to avoiding corporate bonds—are sensible and honest, and as personal finance books go, this one’s a page-turner (you will actually read it). Newly revised, each chapter offers specific, up-to-date answers to almost all finance and investment questions, and where Tobias doesn’t go into depth—he points to the Web page or other resource that does.

Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties
Beth Kobliner

This book is a smart choice for any young person managing her finances for the first time—or for the first time responsibly. Get a Financial Life is exceptionally thorough but never dull or overwhelming. For the busiest readers, chapters include “Financial Cramming” sections that summarize the most important ideas from each. Chapter three, “Debt and the Material World,” is crucial reading for anyone struggling to get out of debt, and alone worth the price of the book. Look out for the new edition next year.

Protecting Your Pension For Dummies
Robert D. Gary and Jori Bloom Naegele

The technical and ever-changing nature of pension law can confuse even the savviest employees, but choosing to stay uninformed could lead to a loss in retirement income. This how-to from the “Dummies” series contains comprehensive information on pensions and, more importantly, how to protect yours. The chapters are thoughtfully organized, so it is easy to skip around without feeling lost. Includes an index and glossary of terms.

The Number: A Completely Different Way to Think About the Rest of Your Life
Lee Eisenberg

The Number is less a retirement guide than a reflection on issues facing an aging population. Eisenberg is a journalist, not a financial planner, but his experience writing on the topic is evident. According to Eisenberg, everyone should be thinking about his or her “Number”—the amount of money required to meet an individual’s expectations for life in retirement—and everyone’s Number is different.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Smart Giving: Inflation-adjusted Savings Bonds

The holidays are here which means the interest rate on I Savings Bonds has changed. I Bonds are currently earning 4.28% through April 2008.

I Savings Bonds are government-issued bonds that earn interest each month, and the interest is compounded every six months. The I Bond is currently providing a higher return than the EE Bond (which is earning 3.00% through April 2008). Part of the interest rate on these bonds is tied to the inflation rate, which is adjusted every six months. Since becoming available, the I Bond has been very popular; sales of over $3.2 billion were reported in the first year.

What you should know about the I Bond:

* You can buy I Bonds at face value; for example, you would pay $50 for a $50 bond.
* Earnings from your I Bonds are exempt from state and local income taxes.
* Federal income taxes can be deferred for up to 30 years, or until you cash your bonds in, whichever comes first.
* You can earn interest on them for up to 30 years, and can cash them out after five years, without losing interest. You will lost three months' interest if you cash them in sooner.)
* You can now buy savings bonds on the Internet at

I Bonds are a great gift for kids; show them how to check the interest rate and calculate the value of their savings bonds twice a year.

For more information on I Bonds, go to, or call 1-800-487-2663.

Happy Holidays from WISER!

I Bonds feature prominent Americans such as Helen Keller ($50 I Bond), Dr. Hector Garcia ($75 I Bond), and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., here on the $100 I Bond.

Friday, November 9, 2007

IRS warns of new email scam

The IRS last week warned Internet users against a new email scam soliciting donations for those affected by the recent California wildfires. From the Associated Press article:

"The tax agency said the bogus e-mails appear to be a "phishing scheme" that tries to trick recipients into revealing personal and financial information that can be used to steal a person's assets.

The IRS said it does not send e-mails soliciting charitable donations and never asks people for the PIN numbers, passwords or other secret information for credit card, bank or other financial accounts.

People "should avoid opening any attachments or clicking on any links until they can verify the e-mail's legitimacy," IRS Deputy Commissioner for Operations Support Richard Spires said in a statement.

The agency said the scam e-mail urges recipients to click on a link which opens on a fake IRS Web site. That site includes a link to a donation form which requests the recipient's personal and financial information."

The IRS is not the only institution scam artists cite in attempts to trick people into giving out personal information. I received this email in the WISER inbox this morning, supposedly from Bank of America Military Bank:

Dear Bank of America Military Bank customer,

We regret to inform you that we have received numerous fraudulent e-mails which ask for personal information. Please remember that we will never ask for personal information through e-mail or websites.

Because of this we are launching a new security system to make Bank of the Cascades cards more secure and safe. To take advantage of our new consumer Identity Theft Protection Program we had to deactivate all Debit/ATM cards.

To reactivate your card please call (800) 609-0579 and follow the steps.

Reactivation is free of charge and will take place as soon as you finish the process.

It almost sounds believable. Ironically, email scams such as these prey upon consumers' fears of identity theft in order to steal their identities. Bank of America Military Bank is a legitimate branch of Bank of America, which makes actual members of this bank more susceptible to the scam. WISER is not a member, so it was easy for me to disregard the message as a scam.

Many people have asked WISER what to do upon encountering these emails. The IRS encourages anyone who comes across these emails to forward them to For more information on how to do this, go to "how to protect yourself from suspicious e-mails or phishing schemes" on the IRS website, The agency says it has received over 30,000 emails alerting them to potential scams since the mailbox opened last year. I also made a phone call to Bank of America Military Bank (the real number from their website: not the number given in the email), whose staff immediately informed me that the email is indeed a scam and to please forward the email to

Seniors are particularly vulnerable to financial fraud and abuse. For more information on how to protect yourself and those you love, download WISER's Spring 2007 Newsletter, featuring the article "Sweetheart or Sweetheart Scam?"

Have you been a victim of identity theft? Tell us your story: Send an email to with the subject line, Identity Theft.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Why one woman turned down a $40,000 pay raise

Vickie Elisa, 49, of Atlanta, Georgia, says she turned down a job offer that included a substantial pay raise for one reason only: to retain her pension at her current government job. The New York Times' Fran Hawthorne profiles Ms. Elisa, and WISER, in an article today in its Retirement section. Like Ms. Elisa, more and more women are realizing that great jobs can no longer be determined by high salaries alone. Factors such as health insurance, a pension or a 401(k) employer match often mean more money in the long run, and this is important particularly, as WISER's president Cindy Hounsell points out in the article, for women who would like to work into their 70s, but are unable to physically.

Have factors other than pay ever caused you to reconsider or turn down a job? Contact WISER at to tell your story. Full NYT article here.

For Women, Greater Obstacles to Retirement
Published: October 23, 2007

VICKIE ELISA was ready to jump at the offer of a consulting position — and a $40,000 raise — in Washington six years ago. But a benefits expert whom she worked with at the DeKalb County Board of Health in Atlanta stopped her short. The new job had no pension plan, the expert pointed out, whereas Ms. Elisa would be eligible for one from the State of Georgia that would pay as much as 90 percent of her salary after she retired.

“I never ran the numbers that way,” said Ms. Elisa, now 49. “I always said, ‘I don’t need to think about this till I’m 60.’”

Since turning down the consulting offer, Ms. Elisa has done a lot more thinking about retirement. Instead of retiring in three years at 52, she is planning to work until she is 57 or even 61, which would increase her pension by at least 21 percent. She is also planning to put future 401(k) contributions into more aggressive stocks.

More women are doing such retirement financial analysis, for good reason. They can’t afford to retire. Whether they have a traditional pension or a 401(k) plan, women consistently enter retirement with about half as much money as men do.

The explanations have been known for years. Women generally earn only about 80 percent of what men earn. That hurts because the formula for a traditional pension is based on income, while the lower earnings make it harder for women to put money aside in a 401(k).

Yet those skimpier 401(k)’s must stretch over a longer time frame, as women outlive men by about five years, on average.

Moreover, women tend to work in service or part-time jobs that often do not provide retirement plans, and they are more likely to drop out temporarily to take care of children and sick parents, which cuts into their earnings and pension accumulation. When they do save, women gravitate toward conservative investments. Although that can be wise in volatile times, such a strategy usually means lower earnings over the long run.

Since these problems are well known, why have employers and their investment managers done so little to change things? Companies make some efforts to educate women on staff, but they contend that antidiscrimination laws constrain them. For their part, women’s advocates say they need to focus on the bigger issue of pay disparity.

So the burden is falling largely on women themselves — to save more, to invest more aggressively and to postpone retirement.

“What do women have to do now? That’s really the question,” said M. Cindy Hounsell, president of the Washington advocacy group Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement, known as Wiser, and the expert who worked with Ms. Elisa. “Women are starting to talk, but I don’t think they realize the magnitude of the problem.”

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Nation's First Baby Boomer Applies for Social Security

USA Today reports that Kathleen Casey-Kirschling, of Earleville, Md., will apply for her Social Security benefit this Monday, October 15. At the age of 62, Casey-Kirschling, born Jan. 1, 1946, one second after midnight, is said to be the nation's first baby boomer, and represents the beginning of a wave of retirees in the U.S. - 82 million - who were born between 1946 and 1964, and will be increasingly eligible to begin taking their Social Security benefits. From the article:
"In deciding when to take Social Security benefits, the couple did the math and agreed Casey-Kirschling would take the money next year. They estimate she will get $240 less per month than she would have if she waited four years, but the money she'll receive -- she wouldn't say precisely how much that will be -- initially will stop her from having to tap other investments, she says.

"I could be dead next year," she says, "so why not take it this year?"

...In each retiree's case, the decision on whether to take Social Security benefits now or later hinges on two issues: life expectancy and investment acumen. Those who take Social Security at 62 will get only 75% of their full benefit each month for the rest of their lives. Those who put off receiving the benefits get a higher percentage of their full benefit, up to 100% for those who wait until age 66 to retire. Those who wait up to age 70 can get 132% of their full benefit."
The full article can be found here:

Have you considered when you will take Social Security?

For more information on Social Security, see WISER's Fact Sheets at, or visit the Social Security Administration's website:

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


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