Friday, October 31, 2008

It's Official: November Proclaimed National Family Caregivers Month

The White House just released a proclamation from President Bush that officially recognizes November as National Family Caregivers Month! You can read the proclamation below or check it out here:

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 29, 2008

National Family Caregivers Month, 2008
A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

During National Family Caregivers Month we recognize and celebrate the many individuals throughout our country who work each day to ensure a better quality of life for their family members. Through their selfless action, these caregivers provide their loved ones support and comfort as they age, combat illness, or suffer from disability.

Our Nation is compassionate, and we believe in the sanctity of life at all stages. Through tireless efforts and inspiring deeds, many Americans care for loved ones in need. By acting as in-home care providers, people across our Nation are helping to ensure that their family members are provided with love, comfort, and security. My Administration has worked to offer caregivers support and training. In 2006, I signed the Lifespan Respite Care Act of 2006, which established a program to help family caregivers get access to affordable and high-quality respite care. In addition, the National Family Caregiver Support Program encourages cooperation among government agencies and other organizations that support and work with family caregivers.

National Family Caregivers Month is an opportunity to recognize those who serve a cause greater than self and contribute to the well-being of their loved ones. Family caregivers are soldiers in America's armies of compassion and set an inspiring example for their fellow citizens.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim November 2008 as National Family Caregivers Month. I encourage all Americans to honor the selfless service of caregivers who support their loved ones in need.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-ninth day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand eight, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-third.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Trick or Treat: Financial Scams

Happy (almost) Halloween! Scam artists know how to manipulate language or offer "perks" to lure even the wisest saver into their financial scams. So how do you know if what their offering is a trick or a treat? Compare what they're saying to the list of phrases in our "Too Good to be True" Checklist!

“Too Good to be True” Checklist:

Phrases and Promises that Probably Mean “It’s Too Good to Be True”

Here’s a check list of phrases that scam artists use and offers they make. Next time you hear one of these you can just say, “Sorry, I know it’s too good to be true.”

  • “We’ll give you a free lunch and teach you how to invest your money.”

Don’t let a free lunch and some well-dressed, well-spoken sales persons pressure you. Don’t purchase financial products that you don’t understand or need.

  • “I’m a ‘Senior Certified Financial Planner’ and I have some wonderful investment products for a person just your age.”

Watch out for people using educational titles to convince you imply that they have been “certified” as experts in financial matters affecting seniors. There is no such designation.

  • “You’ve just won $10,000. If you give me your bank account number, we can put in right in the bank for you.” Never give out any account numbers to anyone over the phone or to anyone you don’t know.
  • “We can erase your bad credit score.” You can take steps to pay down your debt and get your finances back under control, but it will not be easy and it won’t be accomplished in a day. So, don’t pay someone who says that it can. They are probably trying to sell you a high interest loan.
  • “The IRS has made an error in your taxes and will refund the money if you fill in your Social Security number on the attached form.” This request may come in an official-looking envelope, but think about it, obviously the IRS already knows your Social Security number. Don’t fall for this one.

Be Suspicious of Urgent Demands:

  • “You must decide right now.”
  • “Just sign here.”
  • “All you have to do is give me your credit card number to confirm.”
  • “Give me your Social Security number and we will correct the error.”
  • “You will regret it if you don’t accept this offer right now.”
  • “Give me the cash up front.”

Annuities and Risk: An Annuities Q & A

In the current economic climate, we're all concerned about our retirement security and our investments, such as annuities. Brokers and agents say they're receiving a flood of calls about the security of annuities, and that many customers are considering cashing out their variable annuities. This drastic action can be unnecessarily costly: you may have to pay surrender charges as high as 10%, and if you're younger than 59 and a half, you will be responsible for various tax liabilities and penalties. This morning's Wall Street Journal offered the following
Q &A on annuities in the article "Are Annuities at Risk Now? Some Answers:"

Are Annuities at Risk Now? Some Answers
Tuesday October 28, 11:08 pm ET
By M.P. McQueen

Q: How do annuities work?

A: Annuities are tax-deferred insurance contracts bought once, or with a series of payments, that offer the owners either a lump sum or a series of payouts after an accumulation period. Unlike other retirement vehicles such as an individual retirement account or a 401(k), annuities have no legal limits on tax-deferred contributions.

Q: What's the difference between fixed and variable annuities?

A: Fixed annuities earn a guaranteed interest rate during a certain period. They are backed by assets in an insurance company's general account, usually bonds. Fixed annuities depend entirely on the financial soundness of insurers, which are regulated primarily by state insurance departments.

Variable annuities can also come with guaranteed benefits, such as a death benefit and a minimum return, riders for which the buyers generally pay extra. In other ways, though, they're quite different: A portion of deposits go to the insurance company to cover administrative costs and guaranteed benefits; the rest is invested in a portfolio of mutual fund-like investments. These accounts are separate from the rest of the insurance contract and belong to the annuity owner, so they're not as vulnerable to the insurer's fate.

Variable annuities, however, are more exposed to market risks. If annuity owners' investments perform well, there's the potential upside of a bigger payout. But if they do poorly, as many have recently, income falls, too. Investors can shift their fund holdings, however, to lower-volatility choices such as bond funds.

Q: How have annuities been affected by recent market conditions?

A: Many variable annuities have gone through the same gut-churning volatility as mutual funds in general. Partly as a result, while sales fixed annuities rose 39% in the first six months of 2008 from a year earlier, sales of variable annuities overall declined 6% in the same period, according to LIMRA International.

Q: Should I be worried if the share price of my insurer declines?

A: Not necessarily. In some cases, analysts say, publicly traded insurance companies' stock prices have plunged partly because of their efforts to raise capital. And while raising capital can dilute existing shares, it also improves an insurer's ability to pay claims. Hence, a decline in the stock value of a company doesn't always spell immediate trouble for annuities or life-insurance policies.

Q: Should I worry if the financial-strength rating of my insurer declines?

A: Possibly. Financial-strength ratings, supplied by rating agencies, are an evaluation of the ability of a company to make good on its guarantees. A slip from an excellent financial-strength rating from one of the five agencies -- Fitch Inc., A.M. Best Co., Moody's Investors Service, Standard & Poor's or -- to a slightly lower rating that is still in the secure range isn't cause for alarm, experts say. But multiple downgrades are a good reason to keep an eye on the company.

Through Sept. 30, 6.5% of the life/annuity and health-insurance companies followed by rating agency A.M. Best had been downgraded, though most remained in the "secure" range, meaning they are still regarded as financially sound.

Of course, buyers of new annuities should only buy from top-rated companies, consumer advocates say. You can find information on financial strength of companies licensed in your state by linking to your state's insurance department, at, the Web site of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

Q: What happens when a company founders?

A: State regulators usually monitor struggling companies and work with them to try to get additional capital -- or to sell the company to a stronger insurer that can make good on all of its claims. State receivers, who include the state insurance commissioner of the company's home state, often help find other insurers to take over the annuities from the troubled company. Annuity owners then make payments to the new company and collect payouts from it. Otherwise the terms of the annuity usually remain the same.

Q: What happens if no insurer wants to take over the annuity contracts of a failed insurer?

A: If an insurer is declared insolvent by a court and is liquidated, state laws require companies to pay annuity (and insurance policy) owners first and in full before paying claims of other creditors. State guaranty associations -- funded by other insurers -- then make good on the annuities and policies. Death benefits, for instance, are often protected up to $300,000. Cash values are often protected to a maximum of $100,000. (See, the National Organization of Life and Health Insurance Guaranty Associations, for state-by-state terms.)

With variable annuities, as with fixed contracts, the associations protect the death benefits, guaranteed minimums, and other contract guarantees. But investment account losses because of market declines generally aren't covered.

Q: What are my options if my insurer is at risk of insolvency?

A: Regulators and consumer groups warn that annuity owners, especially those who bought contracts recently, often stand to lose more when rashly surrendering an annuity than they would risk from the insurance company's failure. That's because the guaranty funds protect their money up to legal limits, while surrender charges and other penalties can take a chunk of an annuity's balance.

For more information on annuities, visit the WISER website and check out our section on annuities, featuring a variety of articles and reports on annuities.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Class of 2009 Woes: Applying For Jobs During an Economic Slump

The class of 2009 is nearly halfway finished with their last year at college and seniors everywhere are beginning to consider their plans for the future (if not battling the debilitating condition that is senioritis). Some students have already begun their job searches with unadulterated excitement; others have tried to force the idea of real jobs and real responsibilities out of their minds. Whether you are one of the ambitious or one of the fearful, one thing is for certain: job prospects are not as favorable as they used to be.

According to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, employers plan to hire 1.3% more graduates next year than in 2008. Two months ago, the same survey projected a 6.1% increase in hiring. According to Cari Tuna of the Wall Street Journal, this sharp decrease in projections is “in response to the slowing economy and financial-sector turmoil.” With such financial firms as Lehman Brothers Holdings, Inc. in bankruptcy protection, beefing up employment will most likely take a back seat to more pressing concerns.

A sharp diminishment in employee hiring is not the only obstacle facing the class of 2009. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 1, 585,000 students will receive bachelor’s degrees this year, up 41,000 from 2008, inevitably raising the stakes in terms of job competition. Salary projections also appear dismal, as career counselors predict that salaries for entry-level positions will either “hold level or decline” in 2009.

All of these inauspicious projections for the class of 2009 are further complicated by the characteristics of what Ron Alsop, author of “The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millenial Generation is Shaking up the Workplace,” refers to as the “millennial generation.” According to Alsop, those born between 1980 and 2001 “were coddled by their parents and nurtured with a strong sense of entitlement.” Many employers worry that this generation’s outlook will lead to “high-maintenance rookies” in the workplace.

According to a survey by, more than 85% of hiring managers and human-resource executives believe that “millenials have a stronger sense of entitlement than older workers.” While these postulations may seem offensive to an individual in the millennial demographic, experts generally agree that these characteristics were bred by doting parents. Natalie Griffith, manager of human-resource programs at Eaton Corporation, says “It’s not necessarily arrogance; it’s simply their mindset.”

If you are one of the “millenials” of the class of 2009, don’t become too discouraged by these generational perceptions. After all, according to Alsop, “the grumbling baby-boomer managers are the same indulgent parents who produced the millennial generation.” In respect to the economic slump and decreased career prospects, there is some good news: while finance, retail, construction and manufacturing fields are experiencing lower rates of hiring, other areas such as public service, health care, education, technology and accounting have maintained their demand for new employees.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Social Security: What's New?

As the seasons change, Social Security is undergoing a few changes as well. These past two weeks have featured two exciting changes in Social Security, including an increased COLA and today's announcement of the new Compassionate Allowances Initiative:
  • Last week, Social Security announced that Social Security and Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries will receive a 5.8 percent benefit increase in 2009. The 5.8 percent increase is the largest since 1982. The 5.8 percent Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits that over 50 million Social Security beneficiaries receive in January 2009. These benefits are based on a raise in the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), which increased 5.8 percent this year. To understand how the COLA will impact your benefits, check out this Fact Sheet from Social Security.
  • Today, Social Security announced the national roll-out of its Compassionate Allowances initiative. This initiative will make it faster and easier for disability applications to be processed for people with specific cancers and rare diseases. The 50 conditions that apply are listed here, and Social Security will continue to add more conditions to this list. According to Commissioner Astrue, "The launch of Compassionate Allowances is another step to ensuring Americans with disabilities, especially those with certain cancers and rare diseases, get the benefits they need quickly."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Young Women and Savings: Save Early, Finish Strong

As a young woman, it's easy not to save for retirement. Student loan payments, rent, and that pesky college credit card debt all have to be paid off monthly, while retirement seems like something that is light years away. "Sure," you think, "I'll save for it, once the loans are paid off, next month's rent is taken care of, oh and after that vacation next summer..."

There will always be other expenses that seem more urgent than saving for retirement. In the next few years, you may finish paying off those loans, but replace them with graduate school tuition or a mortgage, and it will still feel easier to put off saving for another time. When it comes to retirement savings, the earlier you start, the more impact your savings will have on your future retirement security. If you put aside $500.00 a year from age 22-30 you'll save $4,500 dollars. Okay, so that doesn't seem like enough to retire on--but wait! If you put that money in a tax-deferred retirement plan at an average rate of return of 6%, you'll come out with $63, 918 dollars.

The point is, you don't have to save a ton at this point in your life, but it is important to make sure that you're saving. Here are a few tips for young workers to get you started from the National Save for Retirement week website:

  • Start now: Most people join the workforce soon after they graduate from high school or college, but research shows that many neglect to save for retirement. According to a survey conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 41 percent of workers between the ages of 45 and 54, have less than $25,000 in total savings and investments.Thirty-nine percent of workers aged 55 and older also total savings of less than $25,000.
  • It all adds up. Skip one trip to the corner deli each week or forgo that $5 bucket of popcorn at the movies. It’s a simple way to free up a little extra money every week. Even $5 to $10 a week makes a big difference, if you start now. Starting early could give you 20-30 years of opportunity for investment earning, which can really add up over time.
  • Pay yourself first. Be sure to take advantage of your employer-sponsored retirement plans. One advantage of saving through your employer-sponsored retirement plan, is that the money goes to savings before you have a chance to spend it. An added benefit is that you are saving pre-tax, which means you get the full dollar benefit of the money you save and reduce your taxable income at the same time.
Need help creating a budget? Download WISER's Budget Worksheet to help you budget your money. You may also want to consider having a percentage of your paycheck put directly into a savings account or retirement plan. For more savings tips, read WISER Women: Keep Track of Your Spending.

Monday, October 20, 2008

National Save for Retirement Week: 3 Ways You Can Celebrate

It's that time of year again. The air is growing cooler, Halloween is approaching in all its candy coated glory, and soon the holiday season will be upon us. Before you get swept up in the upcoming winter holiday spirit, take some time to celebrate a week dedicated to protecting your financial future. October 19th kicked off the beginning of National Save for Retirement Week! This week represents the first Congressional effort to encourage Americans to save more for retirement. By retirement age, women are twice as likely as men to be poor and millions will confront their older years with scarce if any savings. Give yourself the ultimate gift, before the holidays wear on your wallet, by starting a savings plan now. Here are three tips to help you get in the National Retirement Week spirit:

1. Join a Savers Club:
The American Savings Education Council (ASEC) has local chapters throughout the country that can assist you in meeting your savings needs through free events, tips, newsletters and club meetings. The DC Saves chapter features testimonials from other Savers on their website as well as targeted savings plans that can help you get out of debt, save for a home, or create an
emergency fund. Visit ASEC's website to find a chapter near you or for more savings tips.

2. Try a Retirement Savings Calculator:
ICMARC has created a page filled with retirement calculators and worksheets in honor of Retirement Savings Week. WISER features a retirement calculator on the WISER website which is accompanied by a Retirement Calculators fact sheet that can help you get started with your retirement savings plan. For more retirement calculators, read "Retirement Calculators: Predicting Your Future Income" or visit the FINRA website for an additional retirement calculator resource.

3. Learn About the Saver's Credit: The Saver's Credit is a non-refundable tax credit that's eligible for tax-payers who set aside part of their pre-tax income in employer sponsored retirement plans and traditional and Roth IRAs. Are you eligible? Learn more here.

Want More? Check back Thursday for a special National Save for Retirement week post from our Young Woman's Financial Planning Guide series!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Gaining Insight: The Financial Crisis on Wall Street

The United States Senate Committee on Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs met yesterday, October 16, to discuss the current financial crisis plaguing the country. The hearing, entitled, “Turmoil in the U.S. Credit Markets: The Genesis of the Current Economic Crisis,” was headed by Senator Dodd of Connecticut, featuring such speakers as Arthur Levitt, Jr, Senior Advisor of the Carlyle Group and Marc H. Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League. Speakers offered insight on the “deeply serious and destructive market crisis” and their views on the best course of action in the present and possible preventable measures for the future.

In outlining the various factors leading up to this financial dilemma, manypanelists cited the importance of consumer education. As analysts, Congress members and government officials scramble to assess the effects of the current financial turmoil, take care to look into your financial situation and become informed about smart practices. One way to do this is to be wary of shoddy lending practices when you find yourself in the market for a loan. Predatory lending is just one example of unsavory lending. These lenders target low-income and minority neighborhoods and make false promises about easy access to credit.

Some Warning Signs of Predatory Lending:

-High-pressure and/or misleading marketing sales and efforts;

-Excessive fees and interest rates at levels well beyond what is needed to cover risk and make a reasonable profit;

-Large prepayment penalties that trap borrowers in an unaffordable loan;

-Aggressive or abusive collection practices.

It is important to note that predatory loans, while they are made to subprime borrowers, are not subprime loans. Predatory lenders use marketing tactics, collection practices and loan terms that are intended to deceive and exploit. For more information, view WISER’s Predatory Lending fact sheet on the WISER website.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

401(k) Tips for Today's Economy

Recently, WISER has received a bevy of questions about 401(k)s. A reader from Baltimore wrote in wondering "What do I do in this economy? Do I leave my 401(k) untouched, do I pull everything out, or can I switch to different investments?" A recent caller from California lamented that "All of the headlines are so overwhelming. I'm trying to just keep saving and stick to a budget, but the newspaper puts me in a panic every morning. What do I do if my 401(k) investments keep suffering?"

WISER's non-profit status coupled with a lack of information on the details of either of our friends' financial situations makes it impossible to answer these specific questions. We sat down with WISER senior policy analyst Laurel Beedon to talk about a few rules of thumb that everyone can follow when it comes to taking care of their 401(k) during these troubling economic times.

Don't Keep all Your Eggs in One Basket!
Make sure that you are still contributing to a savings account outside of your 401(k) so that you have another source of retirement income. Consider investing in bonds, which are low-risk. " A bond is a loan, a stock is a chance," says Beedon. For more information on bonds, visit the WISER website and read our fact sheet: "US Savings Bonds."You can also learn more by visiting the US Treasury website at

Spread Your Risk
Find out more about the administrator of you 401(k). Where is your money now? Are there ways that it could be spread out? Make sure you have your money in a range of different funds so that if you suffer a blow to one of your investments, it doesn't have to impact all of your investments.

Stay Aware
Review your investments every six months. Consider seeking guidance from a financial planner. BE CAREFUL: Always ask how your planner is based. Commission-Based Financial Planners earn commissions on the investments they sell. They may have a bias for investments that will pay them commissions. Some commission-based planners also charge a fee. Look for a certified financial planner (CFP). You can call the Institute of Certified Financial Planners at 1-888-806-7526 or visit the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards website at

Get Rid of Your Credit Card Debt
Paying more than the monthly minimum on your credit is a great investment. If you're concerned about your future finances, take care of your present debt so that you can save more for later. If possible, pay your credit card bill as soon as you receive it, especially if you are carrying over a balance, to reduce your interest charges and remember to pay off the credit card with the highest interest rate first.

Look into Savings Alternatives
Find out about options to supplement your savings plan. One option, depending on your present life circumstances and financial situation, may be annuities.
  • Annuities:

Immediate: This is a straight-life annuity that pays a fixed amount for as long as you live. Another option is to get guaranteed payments for a certain number of years, for example, “life or 10 years certain,” and if you die sooner, your beneficiary receives the payments.

Deferred: This is an investment product that accumulates money until a future payment. Most annuity articles and advertisements seem to be talking about deferred annuities.

There are several types, including:

  • Fixed – based on interest rate that is initially fixed and then may vary.
  • Equity-indexed – based on the stock market, with a guaranteed minimum rate.
  • Variable – based on accounts invested in stocks and bonds.

You may decide that the best way is to use a combination of both of these by managing your own retirement fund until the time seems right to convert some of your fund into an annuity. For more information, visit WISER's website and check out our publications and fact sheets on annuities.

Why Women Are Poor in Retirement

This post by WISER president Cindy Hounsell was featured on the National Council for Research on Women's blog, "The Real Deal," in honor of Blog Action Day-08: Poverty.

By Cindy Hounsell President of the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement

As the candidates get ready for their debate tonight, there are a few things I would like to tell them.

First, Social Security is intended to replace approximately 40 percent of an average earner’s wages, but many women rely on it as their primary or only source of retirement income. This is one of the major reasons why so many women are poor or near poor.

Second, in theory, women should be saving more money than men because they live longer and will need money to support themselves for about three to four more years than men on average and pay for higher expenses for health care and prescription drugs. Yet, in reality they are not able to save the vast amounts that are needed. As a result, millions of women are vulnerable to outliving their assets and facing the real possibility of poverty.

My hope is that public policymakers will adopt changes to prevent poverty in old age such as providing caregiver credits, improving and expanding the saver’s tax credit, developing a better system of financing and providing long-term care and considering the needs of older women who spend much of their income on health related expenses. In the meantime, women need to make the most of the existing system and make the best financial decisions toward securing their futures.

Some basic and troublesome facts about women and retirement security—information the candidates need to hear:

• Two-thirds of working women earn less than $30,000 a year.
• Nearly half of all women work in low-paying jobs without retirement plans or 401 (k)s.
• Women earn on average 78 cents for every dollar earned by men.
• Working women pay a steep price for unequal pay. The typical 25 year old woman with a college degree in 1984, who is now in her mid 40s, has lost a total of $440,743 in wages over her lifetime.
• Median earnings of full-time women workers in 2007 were $31,928 compared to $39,832 for men. The gap for minority women is even larger: median earnings for African American women in 2007 were $26,988; for Latino women, earnings were $22,880.

Work Status
• Women are more likely than men to work part-time. Part-time employment is associated with lower wages and fewer opportunities for retirement benefits.
• Over a lifetime, women will spend 27 years in the workforce, compared to almost 40 years for men.

Life Expectancy
• Today, an average woman’s life expectancy at birth is 80.4 years, compared to 75.2 years for men. If a woman lives to age 65, she can expect to live until the age of 85 ― about three years longer than a 65-year-old man.

Marital Status
• Between the ages 75–84, only 34 percent of women are married with their spouse present. For women aged 85 and older, only 13 percent are married with their spouse present. In contrast, 70 percent of men aged 75–84 and 56 percent aged 85 and older are married with a spouse present.
• With the death of a spouse, women often experience a steep drop in income. When a widow loses a spouse she also stands to lose a significant amount of income from her spouse’s pension and even from Social Security.
• Many widows face poverty for the first time in their lives.

Retirement Income
• The median income for retired women is $13,764 compared to men’s income of $23,322 or 59 percent of what retired men are receiving.
• The poverty rate for women age 65 and over is 12 percent. Single women in this age group are at much higher risk of poverty. Over 20 percent of single white women are living in poverty; the rate is double for single African American and Hispanic women.

In light of these facts, any national discussion about cutbacks in the Social Security and Medicare programs should not just be focused on reducing the deficit but balanced with the actual delivery of income and benefits and the implications on the lives of older women. Women traditionally spend their money on taking care of their families throughout their working lives.

Let’s hope our candidates and policymakers remember this as they create our future policies.

For more information on NCRW, check out their Real Deal blog .

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Importance of Professional and Financial Independence for Young Women

According to Linda Lewis Griffith, marriage and family therapist, young women are faced with a barrage of decisions between the ages of 18 and 24, ranging from those that are career-related to those that are financially-related. To complicate matters, these life events generally coincide with the advent of serious romantic relations, marriage and child rearing. Although these matters of the heart can certainly be thrilling, they can also prove distracting.

During her time as a therapist, Griffith has dealt with “many well-intentioned females [who] have curtailed their plans and futures when a man came into their lives.” The fog of romance may cause women to drastically alter their goals for their careers and education. According to Griffith, in some cases, their “lives go terribly awry when Mr. Right turns out to be oh-so-wrong.” When relationships fizzle, these women may be left unemployed or without financial prospects.

The recent Sex and the City movie touted female financial independence through the powerful and self-sufficient characters of Samantha Jones and Miranda Hobbs. However, financial help for women who suddenly find themselves boyfriendless and jobless would appear fairly bleak if the best resource for advice was through the silver screen. Janet Hanson felt the same way when she decided to create 85 broads, a “network of trailblazing, visionary women who aspire to use their talent and leadership savvy to affect professional, educational, economic, and cultural change for all women globally.”

Hanson was gainfully employed at Goldman and Sachs on Wall Street as the firm’s first female sales manager and, subsequently, vice president. Deciding to take on the position of take-home mom, Hanson quit after 14 years at the firm and found herself in a “horrible sense of disconnection.” She decided to establish a network for women, utilizing the mantra that “The only way to shatter the so-called glass ceiling is to stand on each other’s shoulders.”

85 broads is composed of women who “are passionate about using their intellectual capital to effect change globally.” Although the network was originally made up of current and former Goldman Sachs women professionals, it is now open to women students and alumnae of American universities. 85 broads has implemented mentoring initiatives with these campuses to provide young women with financial and career advice.

If you are a young woman juggling the demands of both career/financial decisions and domestic concerns , remember that there is such a thing as a work/life balance. Don't forget your own goals or dreams, and find ways to protect yourself financially if you are sharing a financial life with a partner. Visit the WISER website to find fact sheets that can offer you insight on managing your financial responsibilities in a way that will allow you to avoid depending on your partner. To learn more about 85 broads, you can visit

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

What's Ahead: WISER Celebrates National Family Caregivers Month!

The Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement, along with numerous national organizations, major corporations and community-based groups around the country, will celebrate National Family Caregivers Month (NFC Month) in November to thank and support our nation’s family caregivers.

According to the National Family Caregivers Association (NFCA), in any given year over 50 million people provide some level of caregiving services. Those services are valued at more than $306 billion dollars a year. Family caregivers provide more than 80% of all home care services. Of today’s family caregivers, 40% provide some level of nursing support. American businesses can lose as much as $34 billion each year due to employees’ need to care for loved ones 50 years of age or older.

WISER works to provide low and moderate income women (aged 18 to 65) with basic financial information aimed at helping them take financial control over their lives. Millions of women face difficult decisions every day while juggling jobs and caregiving responsibilities: 61% of family caregivers are women. WISER’s commitment to supporting family caregivers led to the publication of “Financial Steps for Caregivers: What You Need to Know About Money and Retirement,” a retirement and financial planning guide developed to specifically address the needs of family caregivers.

NFC Month is organized each year by the National Family Caregivers Association, a grass roots organization whose mission is to improve the overall quality of life of family caregivers and their loved ones. "This year we are encouraging people to speak up during NFC month." said Suzanne Mintz, NFCA president and co-founder. "One of the most important attributes on being an advocate for your loved one is the willingness and the ability to speak up and keep your eye on the ultimate goal: protecting not only the health and safety of your loved ones by for yourself as well."

To learn more about WISER or NFC Month, contact WISER at or visit our website at Call NFCA at (800) 896-3650 or visit

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Student Loan Management: The Freshman $15,000 +

College students can agree on a number of negative aspects of university life. Students may complain about the inordinate amount of school work they face, threatening the time usually devoted to such crucial activities as playing video games, going out and facebook “research.” Other top concerns may include the pesky weight gain associated with 2 am pizza runs and the crippling inability to do one’s own laundry.

These concerns, however, appear insignificant when compared to more serious financial issues that attending college may raise. In a time when tuition rates have risen 35% in the past five years, many students and their families find that they have drained their college savings (if they had any to begin with) and must rely on seeking an alternative method of payment: the student loan.

According to the 2003-2004 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS), two thirds of 4-year undergraduate students will graduate with some debt with an average of $19, 237. If one decides to attend graduate or professional school, the additional debt can range between $27,000 to $114,000. For a recent graduate entering the workforce, the payments on such balances can seem daunting.

Fortunately, there are some ways to ensure that you are choosing the smartest route when financing your education. The following tips can help you become more knowledgeable about student loans and best practices:

1) Fill out the FAFSA: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid Form (FAFSA), is instrumental in figuring out whether you and your family qualify for financial assistance. Using financial information regarding a student and his/her family, this document determines the expected contribution of a family and whether or not they qualify for federal assistance. Many colleges also use the FAFSA to determine any non-federal aid they may award a student.

2) Opt for Federal first: Acquiring federal loans may be your best bet loan-wise. Interest rates do not change and are not affected by your credit score. They also come with guaranteed borrower protections that can assist you during unemployment or financial strife. With Perkins and Subsidized Stafford loans, the governments pays your interest while you’re in school. Perkins loans offer interest rates at 5% (fixed) and Subsidized Stafford loans offer interest rates at no more than 6.8%. Unsubsidized Stafford loans are another option that do not cover your interest while you attend school, but do retain federal borrower protections and a fixed rate of no more than 6.8%.

3) Shop around for private lenders: If your family’s contribution and any federal aid fail to make the cut when paying for tuition, you may have to use private loans to cover the rest of the cost. According to Lynnette Khalfani, personal finance expert, it is imperative for students and their families to search for lenders that offer few or no loan origination fees and lower interest rates. To assist you in this process, you can visit such websites as the Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project run by the National Consumer Law Center at

Monday, October 6, 2008

Debt Warning Signs: How to Spot Debt and What to Do About It

If more than one or two of these warning signs describe you, you may have too much debt:
  • I'm not sure how much I owe.
  • I can only pay the minimum amounts due on my credit cards and other bills each month.
  • The total amount of money I owe isn't getting any smaller.
  • I often pay my bills late.
  • I am borrowing from one credit card to pay another credit card.
  • I put off going to the doctor or dentist because I cannot afford it now.
  • I spend more than I earn.
  • I would have financial problems right away if I lost my job or missed a paycheck.

There are plenty of things you can do to start reducing your debt. Living in debt doesn't have to be permanent, but you will need a plan to tackle your payments:

  1. Get help from a nonprofit financial counseling agency: Check to see if your local state university (Extension Service) offers a free debt management service. They can help you set up a repayment plan and write to your creditors.
  2. Cut way back on your credit card use: Leave your card at home. Don't use it to pay for extras that you can't afford.
  3. Get help from a non-profit financial counseling agency: Check to see if your local state university has a free debt management service. They can help you set up a repayment plan and write to your creditors.
  4. Try one-on-one credit counseling: Contact the National Foundation for Consumer Credit online at or by phone at 800-388-2227.
How do I improve my poor credit history?
  • Look at how much you owe.
  • Prepare a realistic budget. See how much you can pay off each month.
  • Contact the companies you owe money to and work out a payment schedule.
  • Consider using savings, selling assets or getting another job, at least for a while.
  • Consider getting a secured credit card to rebuild your credit, but be sure you understand what will happen if you cannot make those payments.
  • Be sure to take the steps listed to maintaining good credit.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Building A Credit History Responsibly & Avoiding Plastic Debt

College is a time for revelations. Some will choose political affiliations, others will fall in love and most will learn rather quickly that registering for classes before noon is a recipe for disaster. As these young men and women embark on their post-secondary years, there is one realization that trumps all others: They are broke.

Sure, you have a meal plan furnished by your parents, but you soon realize that it’s not so easy to finance late nights out and “accidental” shopping sprees. Unfortunately for most college students, the solution to this problem does not lie in acquiring part-time employment or even cutting back on the extra expenditures. In reality, the modern solution has become the credit card, leading many young people today into premature debt and financial chaos.

According to Jim Pavia, editor of InvestmentNews, “Studies show that college students seem to be living in some sort of suspended reality or state of denial about their financial circumstances.” If you combine this notion with the marketing tactics employed by credit card companies, you reach a pretty scary conclusion: a college freshman is offered eight credit cards in his or her first semester and at graduation time will have an average of 6 credit cards.

Many financial professionals cite a vicious cycle in which students max out multiple credit cards, often with “expenses that are unrelated to education.” These expenses add up and the figures show it: 25% of college students graduate with over $5,000 in credit card debt. According to Anna Maria Andriotis of the Wall Street Journal, all it takes is “one reckless night of spending and one late payment [to] leave students with overwhelming debt and a damaged credit score – which could hurt their chances of landing a job or an apartment after college.”

It is apparent that college students are not using credit wisely, but that is not to say that they should not be using credit at all. When graduating, a sound credit history will be required when leasing an apartment or buying a car. As with most things, the key is to practice responsible money management. Here are some tips that may help you avoid damaging your future financial prospects:

1. Go Without the Free Swag: Many credit card companies offer gifts or special offers in hopes that you will sign up for a card. According to a survey by, this often works: 4 out of 10 consumers sign up for a credit card to receive a free gift or special offer. When thinking about signing up for a card, visit websites such as to compare offers. That free I-Pod will not do you much good when you find yourself struggling with debt on an entry-level salary.

2. Watch Your Credit Limit: Most credit card companies will afford you a limit between $500 and $2000. According to Steven Katz, Director of Consumer Education at, maintaining a balance that is less than half of your available credit should help you preserve a solid credit score. While it is preferable that you pay your bill in full each month, you should at least adhere to this rule of thumb.

3. Beware of penalties: Perhaps the easiest way to get sucked into the cycle of credit card debt is the penalties that are written in the fine print of your credit card contract. Late payments can cause your interest rate to increase dramatically. Some credit card companies even practice “universal default.” The inclusion of this clause in your contract allows your creditor to penalize you for any late payments made on cards that you have with other lenders. For these reasons, it is absolutely imperative that you read the fine print and also avoid making late payments.

4. Be Smart: The above tips are specific ways in which you can guard against credit card woes. However, it is ultimately up to you to practice responsible behavior. College is an exciting time and many young people make impulsive decisions regardless of the financial implications. Having fun is important, but in moderation. Enjoy the last years of your youth but take care to safeguard your credit history for the future