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YCS4 coverToo many people believe too many lies about credit scores, and it’s costing them money. Read the real scoop in my MSN Money column “Credit score myths that need to die.”

Our family may never achieve “zero waste,” but we’ve started some easy ways to reduce the amount of garbage we generate. More in “Are you ready for a zero-waste lifestyle?

Kyle has a good job, and better health care coverage than her husband. He thinks those are reasons to keep working and create a more flexible schedule. But daycare is eating up most of her paycheck and she’s wondering if she should quit to stay home with their baby. Read my assessment, plus what you need to do if you’re considering becoming a stay-at-home parent, in Marketplace Money’s new feature “Financial Feud.”

Some financial missteps may not show up on your credit reports, but they’re big red flags that you’re headed for trouble. Read more in CardRatings.com’s “Danger ahead: 5 warning signs that won’t show up on your credit report.”

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Friday’s need-to-know money news

Jul 12, 2013 | | Comments Comments Off

Old windmill in the town of Gorinchem. NetherlandsHow to save big bucks when traveling, preparing for back to school shopping, and what mistakes to avoid when managing your 401(k).

5 Coolest Travel Share Websites
Why pay for an overpriced hotel room when you can have the literal run of the house?

9 Money Management Tips for Newly Employed Millennials
Finally making real money is exciting. But finding ways to save it is vital.

Help with Managing Finances for People with Disabilities
Things to take into consideration when taking care of a disabled person’s finances.

2013 Sales Tax Holidays for Back-to-School Shopping
Find out when your state’s holiday is and what purchases will be tax-free.

The Experts: The Biggest 401(k) Mistakes to Avoid
Important tips on how to properly manage your 401(k).

Categories : Liz's Blog
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Garbage BoatMost of what we buy or consume requires trade-offs. When it comes to some of the most important features–convenience, thrift and environmental friendliness—we often settle for one or two out of three.

A book and a few Web sites devoted to the “zero waste” movement have convinced me to try a little harder on the third count.

At first I was skeptical of claims that the typical American produces more than four pounds of garbage a day. Just observing our household patterns, though, convinced me that we’re generating a lot more trash than I thought. And too much of that trash either wasn’t being recycled or couldn’t be recycled. (We’re not alone…I found this rubbish map from the Economist showing the U.S. and Norway, of all places, are tops at producing trash.)

I’m not ready to go to some of the lengths that the truly devoted advocate to reduce our trash to what would fit in a Kleenex box.  But we’re taking a few baby steps:

We’re finally getting a composter. We composted on the farm where I grew up, but it was a pretty simple chore. Compostable food scraps went into a bucket Mom kept under the sink. Every few days it was my job to take the bucket and a shovel to the garden to bury the scraps. They disappeared almost magically. We never turned up an eggshell or coffee filter later on. The small lot we live on now doesn’t allow that kind of “lazy composting,” but the city of Los Angeles offers a $20 composter I’m going to try.

I’m remembering to take my reusable bags to the store. They’re way better than the flimsy plastic bags grocery stores provide (and that LA is about to ban). But I managed to ignore that until a lovely, expensive bottle of olive oil fell out of tear in one of those flimsies and shattered on our driveway. Now my groceries come home in strong, resilient, reusable totes that don’t let the contents roll all over my car.

I’m thinking about packaging before I buy. There’s usually a choice between recyclable and not. Surprisingly often these days, you don’t have to pay more for the greener option. This extends to fast food outlets. Carl’s Jr., a favorite burger chain here, wraps its food in paper and cardboard. McDonalds, by contrast, continues to use Styrofoam and non-recyclable plastic. The purists would bring their own plates, cups and cloth napkins to a fast food joint, or avoid such restaurants altogether, but for now I’m content to pick Carl’s.

We just had an almost-zero-waste BBQ. I’d convinced myself you couldn’t have a party without filling a trash bin, but I was wrong. I made pitchers of lemonade and cucumber water instead of providing bottled water. We used cloth napkins, regular cutlery, and real plates and glasses for the most part. The plastic cups for the kids were recyclable (as were the beer and wine bottles). I even managed to skip the Styrofoam trays that usually accompany meat: We bought some lovely tri-tip roasts from a local butcher, who wrapped them in paper. At the end of the night, the only thing that went into the trash were the hot dog wrappers. It was fun, and the cleanup wasn’t that hard.

Some resources if you’re interested in learning more:

The Zero-Waste Lifestyle: Live Well by Throwing Away Less” is a book by Amy Korst that suggests ways to reduce, reuse and recycle that range from the easy (like remembering those tote bags!) to the advanced (Diva Cups, anyone?).

Zero Waste Home is the blog of Bea Johnson, who wrote a book by the same name. I especially like the posts where she talks about zero waste and raising kids.

The Nonconsumer Advocate is a perfectly delightful Portlandian named Katy Wolk-Stanley who describes herself as a “library patron, leftovers technician, Goodwill enthusiast, utility bill scholar, labor and delivery nurse, laundry hanger-upper, mother and citizen.” Her commentary about some of her more absurd Goodwill finds—found under the heading “Goodwill, Badwill, Questionable-Will”—are particularly hilarious.


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Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Jul 11, 2013 | | Comments Comments Off

Paid education. Graduate cap on bank notesMaking college more affordable, avoiding email scams, and deciding should get your iTunes library when you die.

14 Dangerous Emails That Could Be in Your Inbox
It’s not just Nigerian princes anymore.

Retiring Soon? Don’t Forget Tax Implications
When planning your retirement budget, be sure to factor in these taxes.

How to Cut Back on College Costs
Tips on how to make college slightly more affordable.

How to Manage Your Digital Afterlife
Do you REALLY want your loved ones finding your private Facebook messages?

Car Dealers No Longer Fear Bruised Credit
If you have less than perfect credit and need a car, now’s the time.

Categories : Liz's Blog
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Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Jul 10, 2013 | | Comments Comments Off

iStock_000016540552XSmallWhat 20-somethings can learn financially from their elders, how much that adorable new baby is going to cost you, and why the more you know could mean the more you spend.

7 Key Money Lessons for 20-Somethings
Old-school money habits can help the new school financially.

Raising Baby: Just How Much Does it Cost?
So very cute and so very expensive.

Same-Sex Couples Face New Financial-Future – and Opportunities
What same-sex couples should focus on financially now that DOMA is done.

When Informed Shopping is Dumb Shopping
How more information can lead to dumber purchases.

How Credit Card Companies Spot Fraud Before You Do
Credit card companies are tracking your spending patterns in order to prevent fraud.

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Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Jul 09, 2013 | | Comments Comments Off

My first carHow to speed up your mortgage closing, saving more money with a maxed out 401(K), and preparing for your teenager’s time behind the wheel.

Four Steps to a Speedier Mortgage Closing
Speeding up the last, agonizing step before home ownership.
How Rising Interest Rates Affect Retirement
Rising interest rates could leave you altering your retirement plans.
Maxed Out on Your 401(K)? How to Save More
Maxing out your 401(K) doesn’t mean you should stop saving.
The Impact of Adding a Teenager to Your Auto Policy
Prepare to open your wallet when Junior’s ready to get behind the wheel.

How to Budget as a Live-In Couple
Creating a budget can make a stressful time much easier.

Categories : Liz's Blog
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Co-signing card leads to collectors’ calls

Jul 09, 2013 | | Comments Comments Off

Dear Liz: I co-signed a credit card for someone and the person defaulted on payment. I started making payments but could not continue because I became unemployed. The debt started at $15,631.23 but has gone up to $17,088.08 because of interest and fees. I previously had to go to court because my bank account was frozen. I recently got a notice about this again. Should I file for bankruptcy or try contacting the attorneys who are seeking payment? I am working part-time and have a tight budget. I don’t have anything saved and am living from paycheck to paycheck.

Answer: You should have gone to a bankruptcy attorney the first time you got sued.

Many people try to ignore their debts or hope that collection agencies will be lenient. That’s not a good strategy at a time when collectors are increasingly willing to file lawsuits to get paid, said Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education for Credit.com. Once collectors have a judgment against you, they can freeze your bank accounts or garnishee your paycheck.

If you don’t have anything saved and can’t come up with any money for payments, you have little leverage in dealing with a collection agency. Bankruptcy may be your only recourse to get these collection efforts to stop.

A bankruptcy attorney can let you know whether you are “judgment proof,” which basically means that you have and make too little for a creditor to collect on any judgments. If you are judgment proof, you may not need to file for bankruptcy, but you may have to deal with frozen accounts and regular trips to court when a collector oversteps.

You can get a referral from the National Assn. of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys at http://www.nacba.org.

The only silver lining of this situation is that you’ve provided other people with a clear lesson in why they shouldn’t co-sign a credit card or any other loan for someone else.

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How much should you spend on rent?

Jul 09, 2013 | | Comments Comments Off

Dear Liz: I am wondering about what percentage of your income should your rent be. Ours at the moment is 35% just for rent, not including utilities or anything else.

Answer: In high-cost areas, people regularly pay 40% or more of their income on housing. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

When you spend a big chunk of your income on rent or mortgage payments, there’s often too little left over to save for the future, pay off the debt of your past and live for today.

There are no hard-and-fast rules for what’s affordable, but limiting your housing costs to about 25% of your gross pay or 30% of your after-tax pay will help ensure that you have money left over for other goals. “Housing costs” include rent, utilities and renter’s insurance if you don’t own, or mortgage, property taxes, property insurance and utilities if you do.

If you’re much over these limits, you should look into ways to reduce your costs, earn more income or both. Otherwise, you’re likely to continue to struggle with an unbalanced budget.

Categories : Budgeting, Q&A
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Dear Liz: Many years ago I read about spousal benefits based on an ex-spouse’s Social Security earnings record. Is there a minimum length of time of the marriage to qualify? How do I apply for this benefit? I am within nine months of retirement.

Answer: You can qualify for Social Security spousal benefits based on an ex’s work record as long as:

•The marriage lasted 10 years or more.

•You are 62 or older and unmarried.

•Your ex-spouse is eligible to begin receiving his or her own Social Security benefit (even if he or she hasn’t applied yet).

•Your own benefit is less than the spousal benefit you would get based on his or her work record.

Any benefits you receive based on his or her record won’t affect what your ex receives, or what his or her current or other former spouses receive.

As with regular spousal benefits, the amount you get will be permanently discounted if you apply before you’ve reached your own full retirement age (which is currently 66 and will climb to 67 in a few years).

Categories : Q&A, Retirement
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Monday’s need-to-know money news

Jul 09, 2013 | | Comments Comments Off

Pink piggy bank and Stacks of money coinsHow to make the best out of credit card annoyances, tips on finding the best unsecured loans and how a little known settlement fee between credit card companies and retailers could save you money at the register.

10 Common Credit Card Complaints
From annual fees to lousy customer service, tips on how to manage the annoying side of credit cards.

Is Higher Education Still a Good Investment?
As tuition prices skyrocket, is a college degree still worth the expense?

Should You Get a Personal Loan?
Tips on finding the best unsecured loan.

How to Avoid Movers’ Scams
Moving is stressful enough without having to deal with shady movers.

Paying With Cash Could Earn You a Discount at More Retailers
How a swipe fee settlement could save you money at the register.

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