Monthly Archives: June 2012

Not Well Known Veteran’s Benefit

If you are a veteran who served in active duty, you may be eligible for a monthly VA pension. This is a benefit that I just heard about, and a lot of people are eligible for it, and since it isn’t widely know, many who are eligible don’t apply for it.

I am far from an expert in this topic, but as a quick review, of the many benefits that veterans and those in active military are eligible, a few of them are:

  • Military Pension for those who have 15 to 20 years or more of service
  • VA disability benefit for those injured as a result of active duty
  • VA pension or non-service connected disability

The VA pension or non-service connected disability, pays a monthly benefit, but there are tests for service, such as honorable discharge and 90 or more days of active duty with at least 1 day during a period of war-time of WWII, Korean Conflict, Vietnam Era or Gulf War. There are additional tests for disability, income, and assets. To file a claim application form 21-526 “Veterans Application for Compensation and/or Pension.” Surviving spouses may be eligible too, and would file 21-534 for death pension.  Applicants may have to provide financial information, such as income, but may be able to meet the tests considering some deductions such as for things like health care.

If you are a veteran with an honorable discharge and 90 or more days of active duty with at least 1 day during WWII, Korean Conflict, Vietnam Era or Gulf War, you may want to look into this, or if a friend or relative may qualify, be sure to pass this information on.

When to Use Credit Counseling Agencies

US households debt service ratio is now down to 11.5 percent from a high of 14.0 percent, in the third quarter of 2007. People are making great strides to reduce or eliminate debt altogether. This is good news, however many people are still concerned about their debt.  The conventional ways of debt reduction entail some type of snowball method and lowering of expenses.  Snowballing is a simple way to more quickly eliminate debt by committing to a total fixed dollar amount each month towards a debt reduction schedule. When one debt is totally repaid, then the next one (typically the one with the highest interest rate or lowest balance) receives a larger amount of the fixed payment.  People ask me what they should do if they can only make the minimum payments, and nothing more, snowballing will help but they may be decades away from being debt free. Down sizing and second jobs is the answer for many, while others can refinance homes in this day of very low mortgage rates to get a little room in their budgets.

If people can’t make minimum payments, no matter how much they tighten their budgets, often they consider bankruptcy (either Chapter 7 forgiveness or Chapter 13 repayment), or credit negotiation companies. Dave Ramsey advocates a pro-rata approach instead of those options, and that might work for some people if creditors comply, but IRS and student debt or debts long in collections may not cooperate.  

What can people do who are barely making minimum payments, or are doing further in debt in each month, and are not yet to the point of needing to consider these options, should they ever consider credit counseling agencies?  The answer is maybe. I think people should at least talk to a couple of really good ones, and get proposals. To read more about them, Mary Hunt has written an excellent piece below. Mary is founder and publisher of Debt-Proof Living, a highly regarded organization consisting of interactive website, monthly newsletter, personal finance tools and almost 20 books.

Is Credit Counseling For You?

If there’s one thing that makes many people go hmmmm, it’s the topic of credit counseling. Many people still confuse credit counseling—paying back all of what a borrower owes—with debt settlement and negotiating payoffs of 50 percent or less of what the borrower owes. Others assume incorrectly that credit counseling is the same as debt consolidation.

Credit counseling is educating consumers on how to avoid incurring debts that cannot be repaid, and creating an effective debt management plan and budget. Credit counselors are often able to negotiate lower interest rates and a more favorable payback schedule.

Here’s when a credit counselor’s debt-management program may help you:

1. Your unsecured debt is mostly on credit cards. Debt-management plans typically can’t deal directly with overwhelming medical bills, student loans or other similar debts.

2. You are ready to get on a strict budget. A debt-management plan requires you to turn over a certain dollar amount each month to the credit counselor, who distributes the money to your creditors.

3. You are determined to avoid bankruptcy. Credit counseling is designed to help you avoid bankruptcy or debt settlement.

4. You’re not already in too deep. Unfortunately, people wait too long to seek aid. If you have enough income to pay the minimums on your bills and a little bit extra, you’ll have the best shot at success with credit counseling.

For most of credit counseling’s history, the industry has been dominated by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, whose nonprofit affiliates known mostly as Consumer Credit Counseling Services offer lower interest rates and payment plans for people who have fallen behind.

NFCC, offering credit counseling and financial rehabilitation since 1951, has become the gold standard in credit counseling.

Recently, I spoke with Gail Cunningham of NFCC and asked her about NFCC’s success rate. “In 2011, of the 2.5 million people NFCC counseled, one-third required only a number of counseling sessions to get them back on track,” says Gail. “Another one-third of that group required professional intervention by means of our debt-management program.” The final one-third were found to be better served by someone else.

About 53 percent of those who come to NFCC seeking help go on to a successful completion, which means unsecured debt is 100 percent paid off and they’re back on their feet financially.

What happens to your credit during counseling largely depends on how your lenders report your account to the credit bureaus. Some creditors report customers as delinquent on their bills until they make three consecutive payments of the negotiated new minimums. Being reported as late or delinquent can certainly hurt your credit scores, but a simple notation about credit counseling probably won’t.

To be connected with a credit counselor that is certified by NFCC, go to www.NFCC.org and look for “Click Here to Begin.” Or call 800-388-2227 to be connected to the counselor closest to you.
©Copyright 2012 by Mary Hunt

In conclusion, be careful before committing to one of the approaches, be sure to talk to several wise financial counselors and pray for direction.

Monday AM Launch, the Deal

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23

One day when I was about 16 years old I had a conversation with a fairly wealthy man, the father of a high school acquaintance. This was a good family, and we had a lot of fun together snow skiing in Aspen and water skiing on lakes. As I recall the conversation, Ray told me that having an enjoyable life involved making good money, and being able to have a lot of fun. 34 years ago I still recall this conversation, because over time I have struggled with what he said, what I thought, and how I think now. I wasn’t a believer in Christ then, but I knew at the time something didn’t ring true about this, and I didn’t agree with him.

What is a good world view of money?  What kind of fruitful life can I plan on having? Many of us hold one or several view points, while perhaps some have no view-point because we haven’t given it much thought. Many of the perspectives are formulaic involving some kind of ‘if then’ equation.’ If I choose the right education and career, work hard, manuever my way through the corporate maze, and work hard then I will do well financially. Some think if I manage my personal finances well, and am good at investing. There are those that think that their wealth is mainly a result of political forces, unions, corporations and economics. Lastly some have negative view-point, they tell me that none of these things really matter, and they will probably always be either poor or at best constantly struggle.

The second part of some people’s equation sometimes connects wealth and having a fun and happy life. Some Christians connect faith and abundance; believing that wealth accumulation is a consequence of faithful livings, or at least, applying Biblical wisdom.

What does Jesus say about all of this? Does he indicate that the “abundant life” he promised (John 10:10) translates into our finances. What fruit was Jesus promising, when he said;  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)? Jesus promises us many things: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Jesus promises us eternal life (John 3:16), the Holy Spirit (John 14:26), he will provide our needs (Matthew 6:33). The deal is, is that Jesus just asks that we follow and are obedient to him. That is a pretty good deal; an abundant fruitful life in things that matter, a life that is eternal accompanied by his Holy Spirit. Regardless if we have an abundance of money, or go through difficult financial times, we can have the most valuable things that money can’t buy.

Vacation Savings

I just returned from a much-needed vacation. Since it been many years since we had a real one, I underestimated some of the expense of it all.

First of all we saved a lot on the beach house by getting a great deal, and we bought a lot of our food locally and took it with us in a cooler since grocery stores at beach areas are much more expensive. We also brought our own lotions and purchased beverages from Costco to entertain us and keep hydrated, again much less than at the beach. We cooked several of our own meals, and ate sandwiches from our cooler during the drive. I think we were pretty frugal.

Eating out, souvenirs, goggles, sun hats, and various other items just added up. We had a budget, but we went over a little, although next year, we won’t have to buy some things we did this year.

When you add the gas, beach house, food and various other items, a simple vacation isn’t really cheap I wonder if an all-inclusive resort would be cheaper. It would be nice to have everything provided- definitely would simplify things. Next time around, we may look into going to one of these resorts, and compare to how much we spent this year. We kept all of our receipts so we know exactly how much we spent. There are some budget minded all-inclusive resorts outlined on this article at FoxNews/Travel.

Save on Clothes With New Antiperspirant

Financial blogs like this usually don’t have recommendations about personal care products, but this one might save you some money. Do you throw clothes away by yellowing caused by deodorants and antiperspirants? Over the years it has really bothered me to toss out a light-colored favorite polo or white dress shirt that still had a lot of wear left in it, but had ugly yellow stains. These clothes aren’t cheap. I was skeptical when a family member recommended an antiperspirant product that I have never heard of called CertainDri. I’ve been using it for several months now, and in this single user test, I have found shirts are unaffected, and I actually perspire less than when using heavy-duty products like Mitchum. The amount of product that is applied is very little, so it lasts a long time, thus saving us more money. CertainDri is unisex, with simple packaging and I believe are all unscented. Pretty limited product line, but I like simplicity. The one my store carries is applied at night, but I understand they have an AM product now.

Front versus Top Loading Washers and Dryers

Mary Hunt founder and publisher of Debt-Proof Living, a highly regarded organization consisting of interactive website, monthly newsletter, personal finance tools and almost 20 books, recently wrote about the front and top loading washer and dryer debate. I thought this information to be very valuable to people considering those new appliances.

Dear Mary,
In a recent column you said you didn’t buy a front-loading washing machine, as you learned from others’ mistakes. What are the pros and cons of a front loader, and what’s your opinion of the top-loader machines without the middle agitator? Pat, email

Dear Pat,
Front-loading washers suffer from a unique set of technical problems, due to the drum lying sideways. If the clothes are out of balance or there are too few items in the load to properly balance it, many front-loaders will just shut down, or rock slowly until time runs out. I have received a myriad of comments from readers with front loaders who complain about water left behind at the end of the wash cycle, bleach spotting, long wash cycles, excessive vibrations and other complaints.

One issue unique to front-loaders is most troubling of all: mold buildup in the rubber gasket of the door and the resulting odor on clothes, especially towels.

If all of this is not enough, recent studies of consumer-reviews posted across the Internet show a trend of U.S. front-loading washers to have problems with bearing failure usually within the first six years, with the repair costs close to a replacement cost.

Following a great deal of thought and research, I purchased an LG Wave Force top-loading washer and the companion Perfect Steam dryer. The washer has no center agitator, has extra large capacity and high efficiency. So far I could not be happier. The wave action is a hoot to watch through the window on top of the machine. I can wash a small load or large, customize the water temperature, use preset cycles for specific needs, and even stop the cycle to add garments or change the settings at any point. Whites come out bright and sparkling without using bleach and even in cold water, which thrills me to no end. (Read more about my new washer and dryer, “If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Three Others,” on my blog.) 

Dear Mary,
I read your column, “A Badge of Thrifty Honor.” I’ll ask the question that I know everyone wants to ask: HOW did you find that washer/dryer deal? Gail, email

Dear Gail,
We purchase refurbished machines. The washer and dryer are the top of the line models from LG and were used as floor models in trade shows. Neither had been operated. But because they were removed from the boxes and people opened and peered inside, they could not be sold as “new,” so they became “refurbs.” Both appliances have full warranties and are about as new as can be as far as I am concerned.

The washer, as you read, has a small scratch on one side. I found the washer locally on www.CraigList.org. I found the dryer by searching online, at www.SearsOutlet.com. The secret is that I knew exactly the models, and I wanted them in white and I was willing to wait until I found them.

Monday AM Launch, What’s Next?

Luke 3:10 – 14 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely —be content with your pay.”

I find it interesting that while John the Baptist was baptizing new believers, when asked by those recently dunked, what they should now do next. What he told the crowd to do was in regard to their extra belongings, for those in the financial sector (tax collectors) to be fair in financial dealings, and to soldiers (probably conscripted soldiers, who agreed to work for a term of years for a certain price) to be content with their wages and not extort others.

Of the many things that John could have commented for them to do such as prayer and worship, he talked into their material, financial and work lives; areas of life that must be extremely important to God.

I recall when I was a new believer, one of the first things I was wisely advised to do was to consider my income, belongings and financial affairs, which were all now His. I began to tithe and walk in obedience in all aspects of life. I think sometimes this step is either skipped or not emphasized today with new believers, perhaps fearing people’s perception of the church just wanting people’s money. However when I look back, I don’t think it seemed this way to me at the time, although it did to some of my friends.

Often people wonder what they should do next, either as new believers, or long-term Christians, to deepen their faith. One great place to start is with our finances, work lives and giving extra material belongings away.

The Price of Inequality, Trickle Up Economics?

Nobel prize-winning author and economist Joseph E. E. Stiglitz argues in his new book The Price of Inequality, economies suffer when societies lack opportunity for upward mobility, education and health care. He also cites evidence that the United States has less opportunity today than most other industrialized countries.

Capitalists and conservatives argue against entitlements, which I usually agree, since this results in a shift of services and power to government. Many fear this as a slide to socialism. On the other hand Stiglitz says most of the financial growth has not been to those in the middle or poverty, whose incomes and net worth have either decreased or stagnated over the last 15 years, but the very wealthy continue to grow.

Trickle down economics seems to have had mediocre results, so arguments of trickle up economics whereby we increase opportunity to upward mobility to raise financial markets for all, may enter the national discussion as countries continue wallow in stagnating economies.

I’m not sure I agree with the conclusions reached in this book, but this provides some interesting reading.

Monday Launch, Work Hard

Monday is a hard day for a lot of people. After a few day weekend, of some work, leisure and sleeping in, we are up at the break of day, with fatigue we head off to work. We look forward to the day of retirement, when we can go at a slower pace. Yet when we go to work, we are obeying the Lord, and when we obey him he blesses us.

  • WORK HARD:  Whatever your hand finds to do, verily, do it with all your might . . . (Ecclesiastes 9:10).
  • GOD WORKS: By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. . . all His work which God had created and made (Genesis 2:2-3). And the Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden . . . (Genesis 2:8). But He [Jesus] answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (John 5:17).
  • REQUIRED: Six days you shall labor and do all your work . . . (Exodus 20:9).
  • WORK NOT RESULT OF THE FALL: Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate and keep it (Genesis 2:15).
  • NOT SELFISH: . . . we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent from the body, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ . . . (2 Corinthians 5:9-10). But you [Baruch], are you seeking great things for yourself? Do not seek them . . . (Jeremiah 45:5).
  • NOT OVERWORK: It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors; for He gives to His beloved even in his sleep (Psalm 127:2).
  • FAITHFUL EMPLOYEES: Then the commissioners and satraps began trying to find a ground of accusation against Daniel in regard to government affairs; but they could find no ground of accusation or evidence of corruption, inasmuch as he was faithful . . . (Daniel 6:4).
  • WORK AS UNTO THE LORD: Whether, then, you eat of drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

THE LORD IS WITH US ALL DAY: We don’t go to work to labor alone and then drag ourself home at the end of the day, but we can be encouraged by Psalm 16:8: I know the LORD is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.