Consumer Financial Advice Blog

A Father’s Timeless Financial Lessons

(Friday, June 19, 2015)

Anna Cuevas is the National Urban League's new Consumer Advocate, as part of our 2015 Financial Empowerment series. Learn more about Anna here.

Did your dad teach you to ride a bike and check the oil in your car? A father’s advice can be invaluable, especially when it comes to finances. When dads teach us the value of a dollar and how to budget our income, they give us the tools to be financially secure and independent. This Father’s Day, let’s thank dads everywhere for their words of wisdom, such as:
 

  • Be prepared for emergencies. Dad always had a flashlight and extra batteries around, just in case of a power outage. And he taught you that you should always carry some cash on you in case of an emergency. The same is true for spending—always put some money aside from your paycheck in a dedicated emergency fund so you’re not strapped if your furnace goes out or you find yourself out of work for a period of time.
     
  • Spend a penny, save a dollar. Yes, dads are the kings of savings. They taught us to be frugal when it comes to spending, but to be generous when it comes to savings. Did your parents give you an allowance, but make you save part of it? This financial advice is as solid today as it was generations ago.
     
  • Take care of the most important things first. While it may be tempting to buy something you want but don’t really need, set priorities. Before you put your hard-earned dollars toward a new stereo system, make sure you have the money for routine medical and dental appointments, medicine, food, and other priorities, like paying your bills on time. Unlike a cell phone or a stereo, your health and financial status should be top priorities.

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HARP Refinancing: Find out if You Are Eligible

(Wednesday, June 10, 2015)

Anna Cuevas is the National Urban League's new Consumer Advocate, as part of our 2015 Financial Empowerment series. Learn more about Anna here.

The Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) has been extended through December 2016. This federal government program was established in 2009 to assist underwater or struggling homeowners in refinancing their mortgages. HARP offers homeowners with mortgages owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac with reduced, affordable mortgages. In order to qualify, homeowners must complete an application and meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • The mortgage must be owned by Freddie Mae or Fannie Mae. To determine if your loan qualifies, use the links or toll free numbers below:

    Fannie Mae
    Loan Look-up Tool
    Telephone: 800-7FANNIE
     
    Freddie Mac
    Loan Look-up Tool
    Telephone: 800-FREDDIE
     

  • The origin date of the mortgage was on or before May 31, 2009.
     
  • The home is the homeowner’s primary residence, or a single unit second home, or an investment property that contains from one to four units.
     
  • Homeowners must be current on their mortgage payments, without any late payments of 30 days or more in the past six months, and only one 30-plus day late payment in the last 12 months.
     
  • The loan-to-value ratio of the mortgage must be more than 80 percent.

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Phishing: Criminals are Fishing for Your Information

(Wednesday, June 03, 2015)

Anna Cuevas is the National Urban League's new Consumer Advocate, as part of our 2015 Financial Empowerment series. Learn more about Anna here.

The Internet has made it very convenient for us to do our banking, connect with family and friends, easily access information, conduct business, and shop from the convenience of our own homes. However, it has also made it more convenient for technologically-inclined criminals to access and steal our personal information, bank accounts, identity, and hard-earned money.

Cybercriminals use a technique called phishing to get this information. Fraudulent websites and emails are created to lure users, where they are required to provide usernames, passwords, bank account numbers, credit cards, Social Security numbers, and other personal and/or financial information.

Cybercriminals have become very diligent in their ploys. They send phone calls and emails to individuals requesting certain information. The emails and websites they use often include hidden software, called malware, that track keystrokes in order to obtain passwords and private information. Cybercriminals attempt to sound legitimate by:

  • Using the names and logos of real companies. They might send an email that for all intents and purposes looks like it came from a business or bank. In addition, they include links that appear to be legitimate and create websites that look identical to authentic sites.
  • Borrowing names. They sign emails with names of real individuals who do work for the business, so if you attempted to verify the authenticity of the correspondence, it wouldn’t raise any red flags.

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First-Time Homebuyer Frequently Asked Questions

(Wednesday, May 28, 2015)
 

Anna Cuevas is the National Urban League's new Consumer Advocate, as part of our 2015 Financial Empowerment series. Learn more about Anna here.

First-time homebuyers have many questions. Because those questions will impact the decisions you make, you should seek answers that will guide you through the home buying process. The questions below are some that are frequently asked by first-time homebuyers.

  1. Is it better to rent or buy?

    The decision to rent or buy is an individual one based on your financial situation and your wants and needs. Renting is a preferred option for those who don't have the down payment or credit required to be approved for a mortgage. Renting is also suggested for those who don't anticipate staying in a home for at least five years.

    On the other hand, buying a home has its advantages. First, it is an investment that often increases in value. While rent rates continue to rise, your mortgage payment will usually stay the same (depending on the type of mortgage). Home ownership also offers tax advantages and deductions, including interest, property taxes and insurance. Over time, a homeowner builds equity in their home, providing them with a worthy asset. In the long-term, once a mortgage is paid in full, homeowners are free of monthly payments, whereas renters will be required to continue to pay rent as long as they stay in a residence.
     

  2. I have bad credit and only a small down payment. Can I buy a home?

    There are programs to assist potential first-time homebuyers in situations like yours. Federal mortgage programs and incentives are available. Contact a lender, realtor, and/or a local housing counseling agency for assistance and programs available in your state and community.

    The good news is that even if your credit is poor or you have no down payment, you can take steps today to make improvements in both areas. Get a copy of your credit report for free at www.AnnualCreditReport.com and begin to pay down your debt while paying your bills on time. In addition, create a budget and set aside funds on a regular basis to increase your down payment. It will take time, but the effort will pay off.

     

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New HomePath Program Offers Incentives on Fannie Mae-Owned Homes to First-Time Homebuyers

(Wednesday, May 21, 2015)

Anna Cuevas is the National Urban League's new Consumer Advocate, as part of our 2015 Financial Empowerment series. Learn more about Anna here.

In April 2015, Fannie Mae announced its new HomePath Ready Buyer Program. The program, geared specifically toward first-time homebuyers who purchase Fannie Mae-owned properties, offers a number of very attractive savings features that can help make the difference in the ability of families to purchase a home. Those who successfully complete the HomePath home buyer education course can qualify for a discount of 3% in up-front costs, and the elimination of mortgage insurance, which brings down the monthly mortgage payment.

First-time homeownership has declined significantly in the past five years and decreased by more than 10 percent in the last years. With tightened credit restrictions and requirements, mortgages have been more difficult to obtain. Other obstacles include lenders requiring higher credit scores, higher down payments, and underwriting criteria that make ownership difficult, if not impossible, for first-time homebuyers.

The HomePath Ready Buyer Program seeks to remedy some of those obstacles and make homeownership a possibility for many who have been unable to secure a mortgage. Jay Ryan, Fannie Mae’s Vice President of REO Sales, states that the program was developed to “provide first-time homebuyers with the knowledge to make informed decisions as they navigate the complexities of the home buying process.”

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What Happens When a Debt is Sold?

(Wednesday, May 13, 2015)

Anna Cuevas is the National Urban League's new Consumer Advocate, as part of our 2015 Financial Empowerment series. Learn more about Anna here.

Companies sell their outstanding debts to collection agencies. Collection agencies attempt to collect the debt and if they cannot, they will look to recoup their losses by reselling the debt. It’s not uncommon for a debt to be sold once, twice, or multiple times over the span of its existence. As a consumer with a credit history, how does a sold debt affect your credit report?

While unpaid debts sent to collection will negatively impact your credit score and payment history, there is a limit on the length of time it can remain on your credit report. The statute of limitations for such debts is seven years, as imposed by the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Debts that are sold are still subject to this time limit, and the clock starts ticking from the date of the initial debt—not the date it was sold.

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Why Do You Have Three Credit Scores?

(Wednesday, May 6, 2015)

Anna Cuevas is the National Urban League's new Consumer Advocate, as part of our 2015 Financial Empowerment series. Learn more about Anna here.

Three credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, record credit histories and produce credit scores. All three base their credit scores on the FICO score standard; however, each credit bureau may, and often will, report a different score than the others. The reason for this difference is that some creditors do not report payment history to all three bureaus. In addition, each credit bureau places slightly different percentages and weights to different data reported in a credit report. Therefore, it is typical to find that your credit score will vary from one credit bureau to the next.

When you are reviewing your credit score, which credit report do you need? You should order a report from all three bureaus. Because lenders review these credit reports when determining loan eligibility, it is important for you to know exactly what is in them. Some lenders will order a credit report from only one credit bureau, while others may order reports from all three.

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Maximize Your College Financial Aid Award

(Wednesday, April 29, 2015)

Anna Cuevas is the National Urban League's new Consumer Advocate, as part of our 2015 Financial Empowerment series. Learn more about Anna here.

With college acceptance letters starting to roll in, it is time to figure out how you will fund higher education. The expense college is a concern for many, and it's one that often determines which school a student can afford to attend. While most financial aid awards are based on the FAFSA application, there are ways students can find additional aid or receive more than guidelines suggest.

  1. Ask the colleges of your choice to match or beat the tuition at other schools. This works for students who excel academically or otherwise. Colleges and universities want to recruit honor students and high achievers. Explain (in writing) why you want to attend the school(s) of your choice and ask them to meet or beat the tuition and fees charged by other colleges who are also seeking your admission.
     
  2. Point out any changes in income or assets since you completed the FAFSA. If you’ve experienced job loss or other change in income, schools can and will take that into account when calculating your award. Other circumstances include gaining a dependent, such as a parent, grandparent, or custody of another child since you completed the FAFSA. Major illnesses or disabilities, death, and even a divorce that affect income and assets are also changes you should report.
     
  3. Meet with a financial aid officer and explain finances that are not addressed on the FAFSA. This could include medical bills for surgeries or illnesses. If your family is supporting an elderly relative or contributing to their care, these costs can modify your award. Note that you will need to provide documentation of these expenses.
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For Homeowners Impacted by 2008 Housing Crisis: A Return to the Housing Market

(Wednesday, April 15, 2015)

Anna Cuevas is the National Urban League's new Consumer Advocate, as part of our 2015 Financial Empowerment series. Learn more about Anna here.

The housing crisis of 2008 caused many people to lose their homes to foreclosures and short sales. Now several years later, those who lost their homes are getting closer to being able to return to the housing market and become homeowners once again.

Foreclosures stay on a person's credit report for seven years, which means those who lost their homes in 2008 and have worked to improve their credit may finally be eligible to buy a home this year. RealtyTrac estimates that during the next eight years, more than seven million of these former homeowners will be eligible to reenter the housing market.

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Increase Your Tax Refund AFTER You Get It

(Wednesday, April 8, 2015)

Anna Cuevas is the National Urban League's new Consumer Advocate, as part of our 2015 Financial Empowerment series. Learn more about Anna here.

A tax refund is happy news for many people. If you're anticipating receiving one this year, don't take it for granted. There are smart uses for that refund that can actually make it go farther and benefit your finances in other ways. Consider these options:

  1. Change your withholding and open a savings account. The extra money you paid in taxes are an interest-free loan you've given to the government. Instead, get more for your money by decreasing your withholdings and putting the money you'd pay in taxes in an interest-bearing account. At the end of the year, you'll have more money than you'd receive in a tax refund.
     
  2. Use your refund to build an emergency fund. Most people are not financially prepared for emergencies. An accident, sudden illness, or disaster could result in financial despair. Experts suggest that everyone should have an emergency fund that amounts to six or more months of income. Depositing your tax refund in an interest-bearing savings account can give you peace of mind and access to money when you need it most.
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Nine Tax Deductions You Might Not Know About

(Wednesday, April 1, 2015)

Anna Cuevas is the National Urban League's new Consumer Advocate, as part of our 2015 Financial Empowerment series. Learn more about Anna here.

It’s April! Have you done your taxes yet? Income taxes are often a dreaded process, especially when taxpayers think they're not entitled to a refund. Unfortunately, many taxpayers aren't aware that they qualify for and miss out on many deductions. Here are some possible deductions that you may not know about:

  1. Health insurance premiums. You might know that medical expenses are deductible, depending on the amount, but many people don't realize that health insurance premiums are included in that deduction. With the new healthcare laws, more people will qualify for this deduction. In fact, the majority of self-employed individuals qualify. It's a great way to offset the costs of having the security of affordable healthcare.
     
  2. Home improvements and appliances. Did you replace a refrigerator or install a new furnace or air conditioning system? Did you get new siding, windows, or a roof? These improvements offer energy efficiency, and the government rewards taxpayers for these investments by offering tax deductions for such upgrades. Electrical upgrades, such as solar power, also offer significant tax savings.
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Check Your Credit Report for These Eight Mistakes

(Wednesday, March 25, 2015)

Anna Cuevas is the National Urban League's new Consumer Advocate, as part of our 2015 Financial Empowerment series. Learn more about Anna here.

It is advised for consumers to check their credit report on a regular basis to ensure that the items reported are accurate. Errors in credit reports do occur, and not only could such errors affect the credit score, but they can also be signs of identity theft. If you're trying to improve your credit score, this critical review is the first place to start. While you cannot get accurate items deleted from your credit report, you can identify errors and have them corrected or deleted. The following steps will help you with the process and educate you about some of the most common credit reporting errors.

  1. Order a copy of your credit report from all three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). You can request one free copy of your report from each bureau every year. Review your credit report to ensure that the accounts listed are correct and double check for any inaccuracies.
     
  2. Look for any reports of late payments. FICO calculates 35% of your credit score on payment history, so timeliness is a major factor that could impact your credit score. If your report includes any late payments that are more than seven years old, request that they be removed since late payments can only be reported for seven years.
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Looking for a Job? Employers May Look at Your Credit Score

(Friday, March 13, 2015)

Anna Cuevas is the National Urban League's new Consumer Advocate, as part of our 2015 Financial Empowerment series. Learn more about Anna here.

The job market is still competitive, and unemployment still high. As job seekers apply for prospective positions, employers are using various resources to screen them – such as a credit report. Credit checks are ordered by approximately 60 percent of employers when filling a position. For some unemployed job seekers, this could create anxiety about their prospects.
 
Why do employers check credit scores? It's a consideration for positions in which employees may have access to money or deal with finances. However, it is also one way employers can gauge whether or not a person is responsible. Poor credit can be read as a sign of financial irresponsibility, but for those who have been unemployed, it may just be the result of a lack of income and the funds necessary to pay bills on time.
 
Does that mean those who have poor credit should be discouraged from apply for jobs? Absolutely not. Employers first want to hire applicants who are experienced, qualified, and skilled. They look at many factors when selecting potential employees—a credit score is just one. The best way to counter the negative impact of a credit score is to be prepared.

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The One Thing Keeping Millennials from Buying a Home

(Thursday, February 26, 2015)

Anna Cuevas is the National Urban League's new Consumer Advocate, as part of our 2015 Financial Empowerment series. Learn more about Anna here.

Adults between the ages of 22 and 34, the millennial generation, have been the focus of research and speculation for the past year. Why? Because they’re choosing to rent over buying a home. In an effort to find ways to boost their buying power in the housing market, several studies have sought to identify their motives and obstacles. Is it because millennials carry high debt and student loans? Are they delaying homeownership because they cannot find jobs? Or is it simply because they prefer the urban lifestyle and the low maintenance of renting?
 
There are signs that renting is not their first preference. Research by Zillow shows that millennials are actually more interested in buying a house than other age groups. A survey conducted by Google also showed that real estate websites were visited by half of this population in July 2014. And we cannot ignore the fact that the Demand Institute studies show that homeownership is a goal of 75 percent of millennials. If that is the case, what’s holding them back from actually purchasing homes?
 
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Should You Rent or Buy, and Why

(Wednesday, February 4, 2015)

Anna Cuevas is the National Urban League's new Consumer Advocate, as part of our 2015 Financial Empowerment series. Learn more about Anna here.

For some, the American Dream of home ownership has been replaced with the desire to rent. Given the precarious economy and the restrictions posed on lending by banks, many people cannot buy a home, and others simply don't want to. The high numbers of foreclosures and short sales in the past have also contributed to the number of people who must rent, instead of buying a home.
 
From a supply-and-demand perspective, this means that rental properties are highly sought after. With more than 43 million renters in the United States, the supply is struggling to keep up with the demand. As a result, the price of rental properties and rent charged has increased.

It used to be that home ownership was the ideal choice because homes continually increased in value and homeowners were able to build equity. Home ownership is still highly desirable, and as the housing market begins to stabilize and climb, more and more people are contemplating buying their first home. Yet, it is a big consideration, and potential homeowners should adequately prepare to reach the best decision.

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Expert Tax-Time Tips to Keep You Sane This Tax Season

(Wednesday, January 28, 2015)

Anna Cuevas is the National Urban League's new Consumer Advocate, as part of our 2015 Financial Empowerment series. Learn more about Anna here.

With tax season fast approaching, it is time to prepare for your income taxes so you can maximize your deductions and avoid unnecessary penalties. The IRS has announced that it is cutting back on staff and alerting taxpayers that their agency may not be able to provide timely support for their tax questions. So I turned to tax expert Wendy Baker, EA, of MB Tax Resolution to learn how taxpayers can prepare for when they meet their tax professionals or accountants.

Anna Cuevas: People seem to dread income tax season. How can they reduce the stress and make the process easier?

Wendy Baker: Organization is the rule. Knowing where everything is and being able to access it quickly makes the process so much easier. Remember, the beginning of the year is the best time to prepare for next year's income taxes! Develop an organized filing system and keep everything in a safe place. Then when it's time to file taxes next year, you'll have all of the documentation you need to avoid potential penalties and reduce your tax liability.

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A New Year and New Savings with a 2015 Budget

(Wednesday, January 21, 2015)

Anna Cuevas is the National Urban League's new Consumer Advocate, as part of our 2015 Financial Empowerment series. Learn more about Anna here.

On paper, it may look like you have enough money to cover your expenses, but at the end of the month, you find that isn't the case. If this sounds like you, you need to understand where your money is going and create a budget that fits your income. It may sound like a grueling task, but most people can create a budget with just a little effort. A budget allows you to find ways to save money. The National Urban League makes it even easier – download or print this free monthly budget worksheet and get started!

Let's start with a few steps that will shed light on your overall financial picture and spending. It might be helpful to use a free budget software program for this purpose. Consider these resources: BudgetPulse, BudgetSimple, and Yodlee

List all sources and amounts of income. This includes any jobs you and your spouse have, both full-time and part-time, as well as child support, Social Security, or other sources of income.

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Top New Year's Resolutions: Lose Weight and Save Money

(Wednesday, January 14, 2015)

Anna Cuevas is the National Urban League's new Consumer Advocate, as part of our 2015 Financial Empowerment series. Learn more about Anna here.

Whether your 2015 resolution is to save money, lose weight, or both, there is good news. When you resolve to lose weight, you can also grow your savings. In other words, getting fit and healthy is a good way to improve the health of your finances. Initially, one may think that it's about cutting back on food and, therefore, grocery costs, but improving your health and shaving inches can help you save money in many ways:

  • Drink plenty of water. Water curbs the appetite and cleanses our systems. The added benefit is that water has zero calories. It is necessary for our survival and the only resource we have that is absolutely free. Substitute soda, coffee, tea, and juices for water, and you'll not only be healthier, but you'll save the expense of high-priced beverages.
     
  • Cook for two—meals, that is. When you prepare dinner, make a little extra and pack it for lunch the next day. It won't cost extra to prepare, and it will save considerable dollars from eating out or ordering lunch in during the week. The bonus? You know what goes into your meal and can adjust it to lower fats, calories, salt, and sugar.


Click here to read the full blog.

 



Financial Empowerment Series Blog: Ask Anna

(Wednesday, December 17, 2015)

National Urban League is excited to introduce our new Financial Empowerment Series for 2015 with Consumer Advocate Anna Cuevas.

She will contribute weekly financial education articles and host a monthly Ask the Expert Twitter Chat, an interactive and engaging series where YOU, the community we serve, get to ask your most pressing questions and share tips for achieving your financial goals. Please welcome our newest contributor!

Anna Cuevas
Hi, I'm Anna Cuevas, iAM Empowered's Consumer Advocate. I am very excited to be a contributor for the iAMEmpowered platform. My posts will share engaging, informative, empowering, and practical personal finance tips to help you become your own best financial advocate in 2015. I am grateful for the National Urban League's commitment to helping people improve and enhance their financial well-being.

Get to know me a bit:

I am the founder of askaloanmodguru.com, a blog dedicated to providing homeowners vital information to become their own advocates. I am the bestselling author of "Save Your Home: Without Losing Your Mind or Your Money" and a co-author with the celebrated motivational speaker Les Brown, author of Fight for Your Dreams. I am a guest blogger for the Huffington Post and have been featured on several TV and radio shows, including The Les Brown Show on KFWB Los Angeles. I have been working since I was 14-years-old. I’ve practiced as a licensed real estate agent for 29 years. I love being an advocate and motivating others to reach their potential through knowledge and positivity.

Click here to read the full blog.

 


I pledge to responsibly commit my time and talent to ensure that the nation is empowered to achieve the following goals by 2025: