$2.5M to train teachers to teach kids about money

Source: $2.5M to train teachers to teach kids about money, clarionledger.com

A little more than a year ago, Forbes magazine announced a disturbing statistic: Nearly two-thirds of Americans couldn’t pass a simple financial test consisting of basic questions about handling their financial affairs. For example, if asked to calculate the interest if you borrowed $1,000 for a year at 20 percent, not even four in 10 could correctly answer $200.

These findings served as a wake-up call, especially in a society in which so many decisions have to be made about money. Without adequate financial knowledge, adults are prone to make bad financial decisions, be potential victims of scams and crooks, and even face health consequences. Here in Mississippi, concerned government agencies and organizations have been pushing for years to ramp up financial education for our students.

Groups such as the Mississippi Council on Economic Education have been working for years to train teachers, sometimes in collaboration with public and private agencies such as the office of State Treasurer Lynn Fitch. The council also runs successful financial literacy programs such as the Stock Market Game, a competitive game to teach investing skills to students. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I became a fan of the Mississippi Council on Economic Education while serving on its board a few years ago.)

 But last week, those efforts got a much-needed jolt in the form of new partners and $2.5 million in cash, coming from an unlikely source: companies that violated consumer protection laws and a settlement with the nation’s three major credit bureaus. The two-year Making Sense of Your Dollars and ₵ents program will include the Mississippi Council on Economic Education, Fitch, Attorney General Jim Hood and the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

The initiative will focus on training teachers at every level of K-12 education; providing incentives to teachers and schools to incorporate financial education into their students’ studies; supporting teachers with “innovative in-classroom and out-of-classroom learning experiences for their students,” building a financial wellness network and implementing financial coaching through community leaders to meet individual needs.

 In a news release, Fitch applauded the Mississippi Council on Economic Education’s work and predicted the new program will boost existing efforts. “Together, we have trained more than 1,200 teachers in just three years, who can not only teach financial education curriculum but also incorporate these lessons into classes of all types and for all ages,” she said. “This exciting new initiative with the attorney general will help expand on these efforts to bring this important life skill into even more classrooms across Mississippi.”

Hood noted his agency deals with Mississippians who have been the victims of financial fraud and scams and believes some of those cases could have been prevented. “In fact,” he said, “this program is funded by settlements from banks and credit rating agencies who have caused extreme financial burden to Mississippians through their deceptive practices. We are proud to be teaming up with Treasurer Fitch, MCEE, and Mississippi State Extension Services to be a part of the solution to our state’s financial literacy problem.”

For its part, the MSU Extension Service will be helping train community leaders as they seek to develop their local economies, and helping them implement financial education in their local educational systems.

Teachers wanting to implement financial education in their classrooms can apply for free training through the program for the next two years, and the program will provide curriculum and continuing education. (To find out more, visit www.mscee.org.)

“MCEE is so thankful for the opportunity to work with both Treasurer Fitch and General Hood on the mission of creating Mississippi citizens who are financially literate,” said MCEE President Selena Swartzfager.


Protecting seniors against financial exploitation

via Protect seniors against financial abuse, clarionledger.com

PDF: Protect Seniors against financial abuse

Financial exploitation of seniors is heartbreaking and tragic, and it happens every day. Occasionally, you’ll read about it in the news or see it mentioned on social media, but these reports usually are about large-scale crimes. Most incidents happen outside the glare of the public spotlight.

Financial exploitation robs seniors of the financial resources on which they depend to live. Increasingly, older Americans are targeted with scams, too-good-to-be-true sales pitches, outrageous fines and fees, theft of their bank accounts and credit cards by people they trusted and even victimization by their own caregivers. A retirement nest egg, accumulated over decades, can be gone in minutes and with it the hope of a happy retirement.

Earlier this month, the Mississippi attorney general’s office announced the sentencing of a 54-year-old Laurel woman after she pleaded guilty to three counts of exploitation of a vulnerable person. Lisa Byrd Mozingo, who was employed as a caregiver to an elderly person, was accused of transferring the victim’s money into her own account and using the victim’s power of attorney to buy cars, silver coins and other items. In all, the damage totaled more than $100,000. Under the plea deal, Mozingo will serve 10 years in prison (with an additional 10 years suspended, plus five years’ supervision) and will have to pay back the money and perform community service.

According to a 2011 MetLife study, an estimated $2.9 billion is lost annually to scams explicitly targeting seniors. It’s one of the most common forms of abuse committed against seniors, notes the American Bankers Association Foundation. And most experts agree that elder financial abuse is under-reported; some experts believe that only one case in 44 is ever reported to authorities.

The problem is twofold: First, seniors hold a lot of the money in the U.S. economy, making it a tempting target for those who would seek to get their hands on it. Secondly, as many seniors age, they become less able to make good financial decisions, and in some cases suffer from dementia or other cognitive issues.

“Older Americans currently hold more than two-thirds of all U.S. deposits, making them highly susceptible to scams, exploitation and abuse,” said Corey Carlisle, bankers foundation executive director. “It’s critical that seniors and their loved ones recognize the signs of financial abuse before it’s too late and get help immediately if they think they’ve been victimized.”

The financial industry is stepping up with tools to help combat elder financial abuse. Last year, the North American Securities Administrators Association started requiring financial advisers to report suspected financial abuses to states’ securities regulators and adult protective services departments. At the federal level, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission will in February begin requiring its broker-dealer members to add a trusted backup contact person for all accounts and to allow members to put temporary holds on fund disbursements when financial exploitation is suspected. And the Investor Protection Trust is training physicians and attorneys to be on the lookout for warning signs of financial vulnerability.

These are all steps in the right direction, but they can’t solve the problem on their own. As the old adage goes, the best defense is a good offense. If you’re a senior, or are responsible for helping a loved one make financial decisions, there are some things you can do to reduce the risk of financial exploitation. The bankers foundation suggests these actions:

First, plan ahead. Talk to someone at your financial institution, an attorney or financial adviser about the best options for you in managing your money and assets.

Choose someone you trust to act as your agent. You may need to look beyond your family members; tragically, a substantial percentage of financial exploitation is committed by relatives of the victim.

Never give personal information, including your Social Security, account number or other financial information to anyone over the phone unless you initiated the call and the other party is trusted.

Stay alert to common fraud schemes. There are many scams targeting seniors, and they know how to get past your defenses. In the past, I’ve written about the “grandparent scam,” in which a scammer purporting to be a grandchild calls you and says they urgently need your help. And seniors are targeted every day with travel scams, pitches for products and investments and scary warnings that the IRS or Social Security or law enforcement is coming after you if you don’t pay up.

Never rush into a financial decision. Ask for details in writing and consult with a financial adviser or attorney before signing any document you don’t understand.

Check references and credentials before hiring anyone. Don’t allow workers to have access to information about your finances and make sure to lock up your checkbook, account statements and other sensitive information when others will be in your home.

Pay with checks and credit cards instead of cash to keep a paper trail.

You have the right not to be threatened or intimidated. If you believe you are a victim of elder financial abuse, contact your local Adult Protective Services, tell someone at your bank or call your local police for help.

Millennials shooting for financial independence

via Millennials shooting for financial independence, clarionledger.com

PDF: Millennial Financial 1Millennial Financial 2

Perhaps more than any generation in history, millennials have been the subject of intense scrutiny. The millennial generation (loosely defined as people born between the 1980s and early 2000s) has been studied endlessly, stereotyped mercilessly and subjected to low expectations. While some of the common beliefs about millennials are probably true, many are likely not.

In an article in Forbes magazine in September, writer Caroline Beaton identified six prevailing myths about millennials that should be retired. Among them, Beaton suggested, are that they can’t live without their parents; that they’re chronically unemployed; that they’re lazy; that they’re sex-crazed marriage-phobes; that they’re born entrepreneurs; and that they shun the traditional workplace and just want to work from home.

Statistics, however, don’t seem to bear out all those preconceptions. In fact, most millennials are a lot more like previous generations than we previously thought. For example, research has indicated that, while millennials are living at home much longer, a lot of those are in college and many are living in college dorms (which are counted as “home” by the U.S. Census Bureau). Another example: While you wouldn’t have to look far to support a belief that millennials are lazy, look closer and you’ll find millennials putting their noses to the proverbial grindstone as they start their careers, some working longer hours than even their parents.


And in one area, many millennials are holding themselves to standards of financial independence that exceed their parents’ expectations. Bankrate.com commissioned a study of millennial attitudes about when they should be expected to become financially independent. When asked the age someone should be able to pay their cellphone bill, buy a car and cover their housing costs, millennials were more likely to give a much lower age than their parents.

For example, a majority of millennials think they should be expected to pay for their own housing at age 22, pay for their own car at 20 ½ and pay their own cell phone bill at 18 ½. In all three cases, millennials’ average response is about a year and a half earlier than what their parents feel is appropriate, noted the study’s authors.

“Millennials are often stereotyped as being entitled,” said financial columnist Sarah Berger, the “cashlorette” (cash+bachelorette, get it?) at Bankrate.com. “It’s refreshing to see that millennials really do have high expectations of gaining financial independence and getting off their parents’ payroll.”

There were a few regional and political differences. Republicans, on average, believe someone should be able to afford their own car a few months prior to their 20th birthday. That’s almost three years earlier than the average Democrat’s response. As for when they should be responsible for their own cellphone bills, the average answer from millennials was 18, while their parents felt their kids should pay their own cellphone bills around age 20.

Midwestern parents in general favored closing the “bank of Mom and Dad” for housing costs at 22 ½, two years earlier than for Northeastern parents (24 ½). Southern parents were at the lower end of the scale, saying they planned to help with housing until the age of 23.

But these are really just statistics. Individual results may vary, as each child is different and unique. I know parents whose kids left the financial “nest” just after high school, while others are still paying most of their kids’ bills well after they’ve left college. Some of that is probably due to the parents’ unwillingness to cut the apron strings, but the situation is often more complicated than it would appear at first glance. Most parents I know are generous to a fault with their kids (even to the point of enabling their continued dependence).

This seems clear: We parents are likely to bear the fruit of what we sowed when our kids were growing up, plus a generous helping of whatever unique traits God gave them. They learn our habits — good and bad — from watching us, but what they do with that knowledge is as unique as they are. As with any generation, this one will have its share of successes, its share of failures, times they’ll make us proud and times they’ll disappoint us. Chances are, they’ll one day have similar concerns about their own kids’ generation, and maybe they’ll realize we gave them our best.

Partner’s finances can be dating dilemma

via Partner’s finances can be dating dilemma, clarionledger.com

PDF: Dating Finances 1

PDF: Dating Finances 2

If you were dating someone and found out they had a lot of debt or were not very good at managing their money, would that affect how you felt about continuing your relationship with them? While many romantic-minded people would doubtless say they’d follow their heart and not their head in making such judgments, it’s evident growing numbers of people are giving it some thought.

In a recent study by Bankrate.com, 42 percent of Americans surveyed said that knowing someone’s credit score could have an impact on whether they wanted to date that person. While that’s well-short of a majority, the numbers are growing; it’s up a few percentage points from last year’s study that asked the same question. It appears that financial security is growing as a concern for people seeking long-term relationships, and especially marriage.

In general, about 13 percent of people surveyed said knowing the credit score would have a major impact, with about 20 percent of women and 7 percent of men saying it was a crucial factor. Said another way, the credit score was nearly three times as important to women as it was to men. On the other side of the coin, about one in five respondents said they’d never consider it to be an important factor in choosing a partner.

Deciding when to ask for such information (or when to reveal it) can be tricky. Money is a delicate subject for most people, and discussing finances is especially difficult for those with a complicated financial history or those with a lot of money. Most people would consider it “tacky” (as my mom would put it) to ask your date to produce a credit report on the first date or before even agreeing to go out, but if such knowledge is important to you, it’s a good idea to get the issue behind you in the first few months.

“It’s probably not a great idea to ask for someone’s financial history on the first date,” said Mike Cetera, credit card analyst at Bankrate.com. “However, it’s better to know if a potential partner has a history of bad financial decisions before the relationship goes too far, especially if you plan on making large purchases together or sharing bank accounts.”

And, romantic hearts beware; while a credit score might tell you how much debt a person has and their payment history, it’s rarely a reliable indicator of character or integrity. Many people’s low credit scores are the result of uncontrollable life events such as health issues or unemployment, past behavior that’s now changed, or even mistakes made by credit reporting agencies. Without going deeper, most people would consider it shallow to dump an otherwise-delightful partner because they’d been late a few times with their credit card payment years ago.

Of course, when it comes to marriage, financial habits become a lot more important. Deciding to spend the rest of your life together means you’re going to be making a lot of decisions together, and it also means (in most cases) your own history will be forever linked with your spouse’s. (Bankrate’s study noted that 77 percent of married or partnered couples say they use joint bank accounts.) If you’ve carefully tended your own financial garden as a single person, getting married to a financial slob could mean that both of you are going to have to get used to a lot of changes.

Ultimately, honesty is the best policy when it comes to finances in a relationship. Many relationships have been destroyed because of disputes about money, so it’s important to make sure both parties are open and honest about their financial habits, resources and attitudes about spending and saving. Choosing when to ask about (or reveal) crucial financial information depends on the relationship and the people involved but should never be purposefully concealed or distorted. As Shakespeare put it in “All’s Well that Ends Well”: “No legacy is so rich as honesty.”

Women less prepared for retirement than men


Photo: CNBC

From Women less prepared for retirement than men, clarionledger.com

PDF: Women retirement men

If you were to ask a person in their middle 20s about their plans for retirement, most would probably shrug their shoulders and tell you they’d given it little thought. Even many people in their 40s (while most would have thought about it) wouldn’t really have a good idea about how they planned to finance their dreams once they leave the workforce. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of us just aren’t very good at planning for the future.

But we should be. As lifespans increase and people stay in the workforce longer, people will need to have some way to finance their lifestyle in retirement. Most retirement planning experts agree that good planning can help you overcome rising prices, economic uncertainties, and taxes. Women are at special risk for several reasons, not the least of which is because, statistically, they can expect to live longer than the men in their lives.

study this month by Transamerica’s Center for Retirement Studies  points out a number of trends and highlights the need for women to get more involved and proactive about their retirement plans.

“Today’s women are better educated and enjoy career opportunities that our grandmothers’ generation could only dream about,” noted TCRS President Catherine Collinson. “Nevertheless, women continue to encounter challenges including lower pay, time out of the workforce for parenting or caregiving, and longer life expectancies that all contribute to unique challenges in adequately saving for retirement.”

Among the most alarming findings from the study: only about 10 percent of women are “very confident” in their ability to fully retire with a comfortable lifestyle, about half of the rate for men asked the same question. A poorly planned retirement can lead to an inability to deal with the unexpected circumstances — health conditions, sudden unemployment or unforeseen expenses — that could send you into a financial tailspin.

 While about seven in 10 working women say they are participating in some type of retirement savings plan (such as a 401(k) or an employee-sponsored IRA, they probably started saving later than their male counterparts. On average, women who are investing in an employee plan started doing so at 28, compared to 26 for their male coworkers. Two years might not seem like a lot, but it adds up over time, thanks to interest and compounding. Many financial experts with whom I’ve consulted over the years advise young people to start saving for retirement as soon as they enter the workforce.
Another issue: too little savings. On average, women in the survey reported a median household retirement savings of about $34,000, with two-thirds saying they don’t know what they’ll do if they’re forced into retirement sooner than expected. When asked what amount of savings would be adequate, the average respondent said she’d like to have at least $500,000 in the bank. And while many women say they’ll count on Social Security for a portion of their income in retirement, most worry that it won’t be available to them by the time they retire.

“The facts are startling and clear. Women must begin taking greater control and gain an understanding of their true retirement outlook,” Collinson said. “By confronting challenges head-on, women can acquire essential knowledge about how to achieve financial security and create plans that can help mitigate risks and steer them on a course for financial security and a more positive outlook for their retirement ambitions.”

Here are a few of the suggestions contained in the Transamerica report; more suggestions and a report summary may be found at http://bit.ly/2nX3ILo:

  • Start saving on a regular, consistent basis. Even a few dollars can add up over years, thanks to interest and compounding.
  • Participate in any retirement plan offered through your employer. Many offer matching contributions and other benefits, which can significantly increase your investment.
  • Get educated about retirement investing, including learning about how to make your retirement savings last longer, and learn about the best (and worst) times to start drawing Social Security.
  • Get help. Seek the assistance of a qualified financial planner to take a look at your goals and devise a strategy to make it happen. Agingcare.com has some great advice on how to find a good financial adviser at http://bit.ly/2nGYqrb.

Teaching your kids to save

Money, savings, bank.

Stock Photo

via Moak: Teaching your kids to save, clarionledger.com

In our kids’ busy lives, there are a lot of things to distract their attention. Perhaps more so than at any time in history, most children are constantly busy, their lives programmed to the hilt. With their companions now not neighborhood friends, but the ever-present smartphone, TV and computer, few kids today will grow up knowing the simple joy of having carefree summer days, or knowing the peace that comes with finding a quiet place.

This comes at a time when our national financial system is desperately in need of people who know how to save money for future needs, while learning to manage their money in a responsible way. After the major financial upheavals of the past decade, economists point out that many Americans just don’t put money away for the future like they once did.

FITCH: Financial literacy paves road to prosperity

So, how can parents help their kids learn the value of putting away money for a rainy day, or to delay purchases until they can afford to pay for them, rather than relying on credit?

Most experts say it requires a great deal of time and attention, and modeling healthy financial behaviors for our children. One good resource I’ve found is a program called Teach Children to Save (TCTS), a program of the American Bankers’ Association that culminates on April 29. It’s timely, since April is National Financial Capability Month.

MOAK: Are you financially literate?

Teach Children to Save, now in its 20th year, helps train local banks across the nation to conduct financial literacy training in their local communities, focusing on teaching kids the benefits of savings. The program is sponsored by Fiserv, which provides technology products to financial institutions, and is administered by the ABA Foundation.

“Bankers see the benefit of a strong financial education first-hand, so it’s critical we do our part in equipping the next generation with the money skills necessary for a financially fit future,” noted Corey Carlisle, executive director of the ABA Foundation. Carlisle reports the program expects to reach about 430,000 students, and more than 245,000 volunteers have reached more than 8.2 million students since it began.

Local banks in more than 33 Mississippi communities will be participating in this year’s program, including several banks which have adopted the program statewide. (A list may be found athttp://www.aba.com/aba/mem/TCTSProgramParticipationList_new.asp#M). Volunteers are given materials and training to equip them to go into local classrooms, youth centers, after-school programs and other venues. Using their real-world knowledge and professional skills, the program encourages young people to start good financial habits.

“We’re proud to work with the ABA Foundation and our nation’s banks to bring financial education to thousands of students,” said Mark Ernst, chief operating officer of Fiserv. “Teach Children to Save and the Book Award Program are foundational programs for helping to promote reading and good financial habits among today’s youth.”

To find out if TCTS is being provided in your community, or to help schedule a presentation to a local group, call your bank branch.

Are you financially literate?


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via Moak: Are you financially literate?, clarionledger.com

PDF: Are you financially literate

Would you consider yourself financially literate? While most of us would probably answer yes,  it’s likely that we would overestimate our own financial prowess. Today’s financial landscape is a complicated one. Most consumers face a bewildering array of choices, ranging from the simple (choosing one brand of soup over another) to complex (deciding how to invest your retirement savings).

While some organizations, such as the Mississippi Council on Economic Education, are doing a great job with getting financial literacy training into our schools, many young people still find themselves graduating high school or college without learning even rudimentary skills like comparing prices, buying insurance or understanding how the Law of Compounding can help or hurt you.

LYNN FITCH: Financial literacy paves road to prosperity

The stakes are high. Even making a simple mistake, such as not paying your credit card bill on time or overdrawing your checking account, can upset your carefully loaded financial apple cart.  Since April is Financial Capability Month, I decided to investigate a tool I had seen previously on the website Wallethub.com. The Wallet Literacy Quiz (https://wallethub.com/wallet-literacy-score/) will take you a few minutes, but IT casts a wide net to gauge just how well you understand the basics. I took the test, which doesn’t require any registration, cost or login.

Before I answered any of the 30 questions, the quiz asked me to assess my Financial Literacy level. I gave myself a B, because I have never really considered math — or money management — my strong point, yet I have gained a good deal of knowledge over the years through my work. It turned out I scored an A-minus, which was actually a little better than I’d thought I’d do.

Here are a few highlights:

Credit Scores. The quiz asks you to rank which of these five things are most important when credit bureaus calculate your credit scores:

  • Credit inquiries and amounts owed.
  • Payment history and amounts owed.
  • Types of credit in use and payment history.
  • Length of credit history and amounts owed.

I correctly answered payment history and amounts owed. When credit bureaus calculate your credit scores, they look at all of these pieces of information, but the largest contributing factor (almost a third of the total score) is how diligent you have been about paying your bills, and how much you owe (measured against your available credit).

MOAK: Credit scores influential, but misunderstood

Interest Rates/Compounding. The question was: “If you put $100 in a savings account with an interest rate of 5 percent per year and left the money in the account for five years, how much would you have in the account at the end of the fifth year?” For a math-challenged person like me, this one took me back to the anxious days of high school pop quizzes (sweaty palms and all). However, I correctly deduced that the answer would be “more than $125,” because of compounding. Basically, if no interest went into the total against which interest was compounded, it would be $125 ($100 principal, plus $25 interest). However, that’s not how it works. The total amount would be more than $125 ($127.63, to be exact), because the interest goes back into the principal, and future interest builds the principal.

Car Insurance. (I got a big red “X” on this one; shhh…please don’t tell my insurance agent). If there is an area that needs more public education, it’s this one. Many people — excluding insurance agents — would be mystified if you asked them the difference between “comprehensive” and “collision” coverage on an auto policy. Here is how it went: Which type of car insurance coverage will pay for damage to your car from an accident that you cause? I incorrectly guessed “liability,” when the answer was “collision.” According to Wallethub, “Collision insurance covers your car if it is damaged or destroyed in an accident. Types of covered accidents typically include hitting another car or hitting a stationary object (like a bridge or a tree). Collision insurance may also cover damage to your car if someone or something else hits it while it is parked.” Liability covers damages to another person (or their property) resulting from an accident you cause. Obviously, I should have read the question more carefully.

These are just three of the questions on the quiz. I’d urge everyone to go and see how well you do. It might help you identify areas in which you might need a little better understanding of some things. Ultimately, if we’re to be better-educated consumers, it’s up to us to make it happen.

Spring clean your finances



via Moak: Spring clean your finances, clarionledger.com, 3/30/2016

PDF: Spring Clean Your Finances

Now that spring is officially here, homeowners everywhere are buzzing to life after the winter doldrums. Garden and home centers are full of people looking to do household maintenance, performing a thorough cleaning of their homes, and sprucing up the yard. It feels good to dust off the cobwebs, open the windows and let some fresh, cool air waft through the house.

While spring cleaning is an annual ritual, many Americans probably haven’t stopped to think about something else that needs sprucing up — their personal finances. The other day, a release from the American Bankers Association caught my attention, with the unusual title of “Out with the Old, In with the Savings: 6 Tips to Spring Clean Your Finances.”

While your household finances might not need to be pruned and fertilized like your azaleas, or hung up and aired out like your area rug, this is a good time to stop and think about how you can get your financial house in order as you do your springtime chores.

“The arrival of spring motivates people to renew their surroundings, and what better way to focus that momentum than to check off everything on your financial to-do list?” asks Corey Carlisle, executive director of the ABA Foundation. “Taking stock of your finances and planting the seeds of new saving habits today will go a long way toward alleviating pressures on your pocket throughout the year.”

Here are some of ABA’s ideas for straightening up your financial affairs:

Evaluate and pay down debt. Take a look at how much you owe and what you are paying in interest. If there are better rates available now, consider requesting a lower credit card interest rate or refinancing your mortgage. Begin paying off existing debt, whether that’s by chipping away at loans with the highest interest rates or eliminating smaller debt first.

Review your budget. A lot can change in a year. If you’ve been promoted, had a child, or become a new homeowner or renter, be sure to update your budget. Determine what expenses demand the most money and identify areas where you can realistically cut back. Develop a strategy for spending and saving and stick to it.

Check your credit report. Every year, you are guaranteed one free credit report from each of the three bureaus. Take advantage of these free reports and check them for any possible errors. Mistakes can drag down your score and prevent you from getting a loan, or cause you to pay a higher than necessary interest rate. To get yours, visit http://annualcreditreport.com. But beware: some companies say their credit reports are free, but you’ll actually have to pay or give them a credit card to register.

Download your bank’s mobile app. Manage your finances from the palm of your hand. With the click of a button, you can make a deposit or access a record of all your recent transactions. Be sure to download the latest updates when they are available.

Sign up for e-statements, paperless billing and text alerts and automatic bill pay. Converting to paperless billing will help keep your house — physical and financial — more clean and organized, and will help protect you from fraud.

Many experts also add that it’s a good time to evaluate your credit cards. While many of us are brand-loyal to a lovable fault, that loyalty could actually be causing your credit card company to take you for granted, and you could be missing out on some great deals. Shop around; especially if you have above-average credit, you could be taking advantage of special deals, lower interest rates and better terms than what you have.

Bank group announces program to fight senior financial abuse

Via Moak: Bank group fighting senior financial abuse, clarionledger.com, 9/9/2015

PDF: Bank group fighting senior financial abuse

Hardly a week goes by that doesn’t include news of a caregiver who has been accused of stealing from an elderly or otherwise-vulnerable person in their care. Just last week, Attorney General Jim Hood announced the arrest of a Jackson woman who owns a personal care home, on charges that she took more than $12,000 from a patient, and was in the process of attempting to steal an additional $2,900.

A news release from Hood reported that Pebla Jones Wright, 48, was charged with felony exploitation of a vulnerable person and another for attempted exploitation of a vulnerable person. If convicted on the charges, she could face up to 20 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

Jones is just the latest Mississippian to be accused of taking funds from vulnerable people and converting them to their own personal use. With the retirement of the baby boom generation producing record numbers of elderly people in need of care, there are also likely to be people waiting to take advantage of the money they can provide.

Financial exploitation of seniors has reached near-epidemic proportions in the U.S. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, one in five Americans will be over the age of 65 by 2050; a 2010 study reported that one in five of those have been victims of financial abuse and fraud. Those numbers, while staggering, may be just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Seniors may be reluctant to report fraud for a number of reasons including embarrassment, fear of retribution and a complicated reporting process.

While law enforcement does what it can, the banking industry is uniquely positioned to have the greatest potential impact. Often, seniors are coerced into giving or sending money to people through banking transactions, but attentive bank personnel may be able to stop questionable transactions or to alert authorities. I recall one case in which a Mississippi bank teller noticed that an elderly person was about to send a cashier’s check for thousands of dollars to a known scammer, and was able to intervene and stop the transaction. Such intervention isn’t without risk; in the past, bank personnel have done so at great risk of legal repercussions for disclosing such information or even getting involved, but in most states, they are now protected.

In fact, Mississippi’s Vulnerable Persons Act requires any person who believes such a crime may be in progress to report it, and is provided immunity from being sued as long as the report is made “in good faith” – even if an investigation reveals that no fraud or abuse actually exists.

The banking industry is responding to the challenge as well. On Tuesday, the American Bankers Association Foundation announced a new campaign called Safe Banking for Seniors to provide a set of comprehensive tools and resources starting in January. The site will include event materials, lesson plans, media outreach tools and best practices. The site is active now, and contains some basic resources for banks and seniors alike.

“Bankers are often the first line of defense against elder financial fraud from educating and advising customers to spotting the signs of abuse,” said ABA President and CEO Frank Keating. “We take our role seriously, and the more we can work together as citizens, bankers, and government officials, we can protect our seniors from fraud.”

If you are elderly, or care about a senior, it’s crucial that we all do what we can to watch for and stop senior financial abuse. The best defense against exploitation is for somebody to step up and say something when we see it.

Millennials delay milestones due to student loans

via Moak: Millennials delay milestones due to student loans.

If you’re a parent trying to help your college student navigate the choppy waters of financing college, it can be daunting. The Federal Financial Aid form, known as FAFSA, is itself tricky and often infuriating because of the maze of online security you must navigate. And if you happen to be selected for random “verification” of your FAFSA data (as we were this year), that can add even more gray hairs to your head.

Unless your student is among the lofty few who cries when she gets anything lower than an “A” or if you’re either independently wealthy or below the poverty line, you might not be stressing out over it. Scholarships, savings and grants will usually fill the bill in those cases.

Some of us were smart enough to start putting money aside when they got their little bundles of joy home from the hospital. But for most middle-class families, paying for college usually requires an eclectic mix of scholarships, mason-jar funds, largesse from family and friends — and loans. Today’s average college graduate will have barely had time to unpack boxes in their new apartment (or their parents’ house) before they get their first bill from their student loans.

Increasingly, that debt is putting a substantial crimp in their plans. While they may be young and idealistic, they may have to put off saving the world for a while because they have to pay back those loans.

A new study released by Bankrate.com shines some light on this disturbing trend. More than half of millennials with current debt from student loans are reporting they have “delayed major life events” because of that debt. Those milestones include rites of passage such as buying their first home or car, starting a retirement nest egg or even getting married and having children. The trend is not just present among millennials; older Americans are also likely to be carrying student debt well into middle age, where it can potentially crash into retirement.

Economists and policy makers should worry about this, because the longer new graduates wait to enter the economy, the longer it takes them to start contributing, investing in the economy on a larger scale and paying taxes.

“Student debt is often portrayed strictly as a millennial issue, but the truth is that Americans of all ages have put their lives on hold due to student debt,” said Steve Pounds, Bankrate.com analyst. “Delaying major life milestones such as buying a home or saving for retirement doesn’t only affect the individual and his or her family; it also has ill effects on the overall economy.”

A key finding about the study is that many people with student debt never really received good information about the risks and responsibilities of student loans in the first place. As with any credit, responsible borrowing also carries with it the necessity of understanding just what you’re getting into. Deferral, (which allows students to defer making any payments until after graduation) can provide a false sense of security, and is really just kicking the can down the road. But eventually, the bills will come.

More than half of student loan borrowers in the Bankrate.com survey say they didn’t receive enough information or advice about the financial risks of taking on education loans. Sixty-six percent of millennials, more than any other age group, have this complaint.

A lot of people are in this boat, and it is getting a lot of attention. Famously, one man named Lee Siegel decided earlier this year he’d had enough after being hounded by bill collectors trying to collect on 40-year-old student loans. He announced in a New York Times op-ed that he was not going to pay any more, and urged others to do the same.

His stance garnered him near-universal (and justified, in my view) outrage from nearly all quarters, but does point to an increasing frustration with a system that encourages people to finance skyrocketing education costs with loans against their future earning potential. And the aforementioned study details some of the implications of encouraging young people to begin their careers in a financial hole.

The fact is, though, there are alternatives to financing your college education with unmanageable debt:

Make sure you exhaust all alternatives. Many sources of funding, such as grants and scholarships, don’t have to be paid back. You don’t necessarily have to be in the top tier of your class to qualify, and some programs are specifically to help students from a particular geographic area, course of study or other criterion.

A four-year college may not be necessary. Mississippi has one of the best community college systems in the country, many of which offer programs to qualify you for all types of careers — many of them lucrative. And community colleges can be more affordable than four-year institutions, and have exclusive financial aid offerings as well. Consider military programs as well — many of them will finance college for you in exchange for a specified commitment after graduation.

Shop wisely. If you are getting a loan, shop around. Some private lenders have programs that offer excellent interest rates and options.

Mississippians have an excellent program that helps link Mississippi families and students with information and advice about going to college. Get2college.org can be reached at (601) 321-5533, in central Mississippi; (228) 875-4441 in south Mississippi; and (662) 349-2789 in north Mississippi. It’s a must-visit for any family who is trying to navigate the college-financing maze, and is well worth your time.