Wednesday, December 12, 2012

10 Sites to Shop for Unforgettable Gifts

 By | Dec, 2012
We all know one of them: that person who seems impossible to shop for.
Maybe they already seem to have it all. Maybe they’re the minimalist who asks for nothing. Or perhaps they’re a new co-worker or awkward in-law you just don’t know that well.
Whatever the reason, there are shopping spots that are off the beaten path with gifts any recipient on your list is sure to remember. While most of these stores have plenty of expensive options, many also carry plenty of affordable ones as well.
  1. Brookstone: This online and mall-based store sells gadgets and gifts of every kind – from remote-controlled spy tanks to massagers of all shapes and sizes. Their products tend to be on the more expensive side, but last year, Brookstone’s best sales happened during the weeks leading up to the holidays.
     Etsy: This online marketplace allows artists, crafters, and other creators to sell handmade items (and resell vintage items) directly to e-shoppers. From one-of-a-kind jewelry to hats for cats, Etsy offers almost too many handmade options to pick from. And if you really can’t decide, they now offer gift cards, which just about any woman would enjoy using.
  2. Old Time Candy Company: No matter how old your gift recipient is, this online store stocks the candy they’ll remember eating as a kid. It carries retro candy from every decade from the 1920s to the 1990s.
  3. Perpetual Kid: As its name implies, this online store is the perfect place to shop for children and for the grown-up with a loud inner child. Note that items in their sale category – like centipede ice cube trays and Family Guy pint glass sets – are currently up to 82 percent off.
  4. Quirky: This company helps would-be inventors turn their ideas into products with assistance from social media. The result is some ingeniously useful gift ideas, especially for people who enjoy technology or cooking.
  5. SimpleHuman: This company describes their products as “tools for efficient living.” Their focus on simplicity and functionality makes their website a great place to shop for the hyper-organized and anyone who recently moved into a new home.
  6. ThinkGeek: This online store is to geeks what Perpetual Kid is to grown-up children. And their On Sale section is always stocked up – currently with more than 500 items that are up to 75 percent off, like a stainless-steel Star Trek Enterprise pizza cutter and a vampire pacifier.
  7. The Ultimate Rose: If you’re not sure what to buy the wife or girlfriend this year but have a few hundred dollars to blow on six-foot-tall roses, this is your site.
  8. Uncommon Goods: “Unique gifts and creative design” is this online store’s motto and an accurate summary of its goods. If you’re stumped, check out their Gift Finder tool, which narrows your options down based on who you’re shopping for and how much you want to spend.
  9. Vat19: Perhaps you’ve seen this company’s TV commercials featuring their five-pound gummy bears. The self-described “purveyors of curiously awesome products” also offer flat-rate shipping, a “Sort by Recipient” feature, and dozens of options in the under-$10 and under-$20 ranges.
Got more suggestions? We’d love to hear your comments below or on Facebook.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Poll Shows Overwhelming Majority of Consumers Will Cut Back

Washington, DC – The November poll hosted on the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) website queried consumers regarding holiday spending.  The results revealed that 50 percent of consumers intend to spend less on holiday purchases this year than last, indicating they are in a worse financial position, while thirty-seven percent plan to spend nothing at all, as they fear further financial distress. 

While this total of 87 percent is a shocking number, when asked the same question in 2011, 91 percent of respondents indicated their intention was to cut back or spend zero on holiday gifts, demonstrating a positive year-over-year trend. 

“This statistic speaks loudly, and underscores that consumers are not willing to repeat the mistakes of Christmases past by spending irresponsibly this year,” said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC.

 A seemingly contradictory statistic was revealed in the NFCC’s October poll where 70 percent of those participating felt that their best financial days were in front of them.  Taken together, the two polls suggest that Americans are both optimistic and realistic, a combination that could lead to a brighter financial future. 

“It takes optimism to endure the difficult economic times of the past few years,” continued Cunningham. “However, it takes a dose of realism to not become an emotional spender during the holidays.  It appears as though consumers have learned a tough lesson, and will emerge better equipped to face future financial challenges.”

Looking at the other poll answer options, 11 percent intend to spend as they did in 2011, stating that their financial situation is now stable, while 3 percent will spend more, feeling as though they are in a better financial position this year.

Holiday spending can financially make or break retailers.  The same is true for consumers.  Don’t let it be your personal fiscal cliff. 

For help developing a holiday budget, controlling spending, or any other personal finance concern, contact an NFCC Member Agency.  To locate the agency closest to you, dial (800) 388-2227, or go online to  For assistance in Spanish, call (800) 682-9832.

The actual November poll question and responses are as follows:

This holiday season I will…

A.    Spend as I did last year because my financial life is stable = 11%  

B.     Cut back on spending, since I am worse off financially this year = 50%

C.     Spend more than last year because I am in a better financial position = 3%

D.    Not spend at all, because I anticipate further financial distress = 37%


Note: The NFCC’s November Financial Literacy Opinion Index was conducted via the homepage of the NFCC Web site ( from November 1 - 30, 2012 and was answered by 1,413 individuals.


The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest serving national nonprofit credit counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services. NFCC Members annually help more than three million consumers through close to 750 community-based offices nationwide. For free and affordable confidential advice through a reputable NFCC Member, call (800) 388-2227, (en Español (800) 682-9832) or visit  Visit us on Facebook:, on Twitter:, on YouTube: and our blog:


Monday, November 26, 2012

Student Loan Horror Stories

With the cost of college continuing to rise and the economy still stagnating, the student debt burden has swollen to a record $1 trillion.

Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of and, believes that one of the main culprits behind the student debt crisis is the private student loan sector.

"Students are following their dreams and don't pay attention to their debt," Kantrowitz says. "They sign whatever piece of paper is put in front of them, figuring they'll pay it back when they graduate."

Unlike federal loans, private loans usually come with variable interest rates that seem low at first glance but can skyrocket by 5 points over the loan's lifetime. They also offer far fewer options for cash-strapped graduates struggling with payments, such as deferment, lengthy forbearance periods and income-based relief.

And since it's next to impossible to discharge student loan debt in bankruptcy, millions of students are left drowning in private debt they have no hopes of ever paying off.

Last year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) put out a call for consumers to share their student loan stories on its message board and get the ball rolling on lending reform.

But for these nine commenters, it may already be too little, too late.

This is part of our series on The Best Colleges In America.

Steve Macintyre: $100,000 in debt and out of a job

"I used to work in the entertainment industry but have been unemployed for a few years and I needed to desperately update my skillset if I could hope to find a job in the highly competitive field of games and animation.

Searching for various schools, I kept seeing advertisements for the Art Institute and talked with one of their recruiters and was told wonderful stories about how the school was accredited, how students went on to successful careers, etc.

I told them I wanted to get a degree in Game Art and Design but was told I could but needed to take the Graphic Design course first. I didn't think much of it at first, but I agreed. I was dismayed at the quality of the classes...(Now) I'm stuck with over $100,000 dollars in debt, which qualifies as theft as I received nothing substantive in return.

I actually had to sign up for other courses outside the school in order to successfully complete assignments! Courses that offered REAL *VIDEO* Instruction at a fraction of the cost ($35 dollars per month as opposed to $2000+ dollars!) and by a company that trains people in the industry.

It's now 8 months since loans have run out and I couldn't complete my degree and I'm still looking for work."

This comment by Steve Macintyre originally appeared in a thread on the CFPB's message board.

Socialworkmary: Paid $350+ per month on her loans for 14 years to no avail

"I admit I did not understand capitalized interest until recently. I consolidated my loans in 1997 when the interest rate was 8 percent. My student loan office at Tulane University led me to believe that I 'had' to consolidate and Sallie Mae was the only option offered to me.

I have repaid them over $61,000 (over 14 years). I think I should be done now, but according to Sallie Mae I still owe $25,000. A Sallie Mae employee directed me to write the legal department and ask to have my loan written off and to appeal if they denied. They denied, stating that federal government regulation prevents them from writing off the balance of the loan.

When I talked to the Sallie Mae employee and said I was confused about why on most months more of my payment goes to interest than principal... she chuckled and said 'We certainly don't go out of our way to put that in big bright red letters across the front page'."

This comment by socialworkmary originally appeared in a thread on the CFPB's message board.

Dgoeck: Stuck with a clunker – indefinitely

"I'm not really sure what to do at this point. I am a victim of a for-profit school that definitely seemed in cohorts with Sallie Mae. My original loan was $80,000 but has grown to $135,000 and all I can pay is interest only, which is already $700 a month.

It's ridiculous how sad this market has become. No one offers consolidation anymore or those that do will pin you at a ridiculous interest rate.

I am definitely in this for life... It looks like I will be stuck living in a low-rate apartment for the rest of my life and drive a 15-year-old car. I'm at least glad I found a really good job in the industry I was hoping for, but these loans are a real burden. Just thinking about them hurts my overall outcome each and every day."

This comment by Dgoteck originally appeared in a thread on the CFPB's message board.

Michael Speck: Passing on a generation of debt

"I have three degrees, including an MA and a JD. When I graduated from law school in '99 all of the offers – with the exception of those from the upper echelon firms that essentially own you – were for little money, leaving next to nothing for living expenses.

Now I am making a decent living and can pay my loans under the (Income-based repayment) program, but repayment is a distant dream. As a result, I am unable to assist my son with his education expenses (thereby effectively making the debt trans-generational), or buy a home, start my own practice, etc.

As a macro-economic problem, those of us saddled with this debt are unable to fully participate in the economy."

This comment by Michael Speck originally appeared in a thread on the CFPB's message board.

KDF11: Dogged by debt collectors

"I am a graduate (doctoral) student with a 2005 loan from Bank of America which was passed to American Education Services. AES passed my loan to their subsidiary National Collegiate Trust...

They cited that my (notice to them) was over 60 days late and the loan was in repayment and refused to negotiate. Then, when I called/wrote/emailed NCT to negotiate, they sent my loan to another subsidiary— their collection agency MRS.

These companies are working together and when students are full-time in school, they bombard them with calls and deadlines and capitalize by taking punitive measures such as outlined above, from which they no doubt profit.

...I believe that a lot of students have had loans placed at (a) collection agency while they are full-time in school. This should be amended to allow students wiggle room to complete their studies stress-free. If students graduate, find employment and refuse to pay, only then collections should be appropriate."

This comment by KDF11 originally appeared in a thread on the CFPB's message board.

Debttired: Needs to hit the lotto to pay off loan debt

"I am the first in my family to go to college. Without family support, I self-financed three college degrees (BA, MA and PhD) at state colleges between 1988 and 2005 using Pell Grants, multiple jobs, scholarships and $90,000 in subsidized and unsubsidized student loans.

My loans have been bought and sold so many times it is impossible to keep track of changes in rates, balances and terms of service since I have never had to resign any promissory notes. Eventually, I was able to consolidate the loans with Sallie Mae at a 7% interest rate. My loan payments have ranged from $400-600/mo. depending on the loan provider and lowest possible payment option available.

...I am currently a public school teacher with an income of $50,000, barely enough income to pay the interest-only payments. I have never missed a payment in over ten years ... and my loan balance stands at $105,000. To date, I have paid over $40,000 in loan payments and because my income restricts me to interest-only payments, and the 7% daily capitalized interest rate, I now owe $15,000 more than I borrowed....

My student loan situation has nothing to do with a lack of financial responsibility.

I have never missed a student loan payment and I have paid off $20,000 in credit card debt and a $10,000 car loan since graduation. I have no mortgage or any other outstanding debt, just my student loans. I have a credit score of 820. However, because of the usurious interest rates, capitalization of interest and the sole option of interest-only payments, I will never be able to pay off my student loan. It’s just not possible, unless I win the lottery."

This comment by Debttired originally appeared in a thread on the CFPB's message board.

Jnsmith553: Drowning in daughter's debt

"Unfortunately, (my daughter) picked a very expensive private school... We ended up going with CUstudentLoan. The interest rate was slightly higher (than Sallie Mae).

We pay $25 per month while in school. I can get off the note 24 months after graduation and there is an 18% cap on interest, which is extremely high but the lowest I found. Many were 25%.

These interest rates are extremely ridiculous and do not encourage higher education. My daughter will graduate in 2015 with about $80,000 in debt. Worse case scenario for me (is) two years of payments.

(The loan payments are) going to be more than my mortgage."

This comment by Jnsmith553 originally appeared in a thread on the CFPB's message board.

Laws65: Single mother can't find humanity in lenders

"Being a single mom with three children and two disabilities, I have found the unworkability or flexibility, depending on how you look at it, with (private) student loans to be impossible bureaucracy at it's finest.

If you consolidate (your loans), you're stuck and the interest rates are high. If you can't afford them, regardless of the documentation you show, it doesn't matter. When you call Sallie Mae, they claim to be workable, but in reality are not.

If you default, it is nothing short of a harassment nightmare that needs legal representation to assist in the matter – (like) having to prove a closed school, nothing short of another nightmare in which the individual does all the work – even when you've gone to your (state) congressmen twice.

...Why are student loans, in this economy, not being looked at like mortgages-as some are as much as mortgage payments?

Where is the humanity in any workability with student loans? There, simply put, isn't any."

This comment by Laws65 originally appeared in a thread on the CFPB's message board.

Nick Keith: Collects cans and squeaks by on disability benefits

"I am a victim of a for-profit school that sold me a private student loan that I cannot afford to repay. I borrowed $60,000 to attend a culinary school–a school that has settled a class action lawsuit admitting that it lied to students about the value of the program and the statistics of the number of graduates getting employment in the culinary field.

I was lied to about the terms of the private student loan. After completing the program, my first job in the culinary field paid $10 per hour. It took me three months to save enough money to make the first student loan payment of $1,300. I spoke to Sallie Mae. I wrote to Sallie Mae. But Sallie Mae would not refinance my debt with a reasonable interest rate or reasonable payments.

They maintained my private loan balance at 19% variable interest rate and monthly payments of over $1,000 per month. I never made another payment. I could not afford to make a student loan payment because my choice each month was to either pay my rent or make a student loan payment.

I spoke to a bankruptcy attorney as well as a CPA, and they both gave me the same answer: don't make any payments.

...That was in 2005. My private student loan, held by Sallie Mae, has been in default for sometime, and the balance due is nearly three times the amount that I borrowed. After working in the culinary field for almost two years, I was injured at work and became permanently disabled in 2007.

I have not been able to work since that time. I have no means to pay my student loans...

Today, my credit rating is below poor and all of my debts from student loans to credit cards are in default, but I cannot file bankruptcy until Congress restores the ability to discharge student loan debt.

Right now, there is no hope for me to achieve the American dream. I will never be able to own a home. I will not be able to save for retirement. I cannot go back to school for a real education. My total defaulted debt right now is more debt than I have ever borrowed and repaid in my lifetime...

Today, I am living on my social security disability income and have less than $4 left in my checking account until the next check arrives in about two weeks. Every day, I walk around the public areas of town collecting cans and bottles. I get groceries at the local food bank.

I have sold or lost 99% of everything I ever owned. I need debt relief in order to even begin path to becoming a productive American. PLEASE HELP. Please help me start over by giving me an opportunity to get rid of my bad debt that I cannot repay. Please stop companies like Sallie Mae from victimizing helpless students who have been lied to by their schools and were given loans they could never afford."

Monday, November 19, 2012


Tips on Preparing for the Largest Shopping Day of the Year

 For many, shopping on Black Friday has become as much of a Thanksgiving tradition as turkey, with friends and families whipping up a shopping strategy along with the dressing and gravy.

The National Foundation for Credit Counseling advises consumers to shop smart by planning ahead. Following are five steps consumers should take before hitting the stores on Black Friday, helping them enjoy their shopping excursion without harming their pocketbook.

  • Beware of special credit card offers - Issuers are tempting consumers by offering incentives such as no interest balance transfers, extra perks by meeting certain spending levels, and increased cash back in specified categories. However, no deal is a good deal if you can't afford it. Responsible shoppers will commit to spending no more than what they can repay in full when the bill arrives, regardless of how many bonuses are tacked on.
  • Know what you currently owe - Review all existing debt obligations, tallying what you've already spent and committed to repay. This reality check may put a temporary damper on your holiday mood, but that's better than digging the financial hole even deeper.
  • Create a plan - Knowing who you're shopping for, what items you hope to find, and most importantly, how much you intend to spend is critical to a successful shopping day. Commit in advance to stick to your plan, and enlist an accountability partner if necessary, as it is very easy to be caught up in the excitement of the moment and get off course.
  • Find the best deals at home - Shop from home before heading for the stores. Compare prices online, as well as local circulars for sales in your area. Be aware of time restrictions, as some prices may only apply during certain time periods throughout the day. Once the actual shopping begins, going directly to the store which has your item at a good price will save you time, gas, money and frustration.
  • Remove all unnecessary cards from your wallet - Spreading purchases across multiple cards makes you feel as though you're charging less and can trick you into overspending. Designate one card for holiday spending, and remove all others from your wallet. This will not only help you stay within your budget, but will also lessen the damage in case of loss or theft.

"It is important for consumers to shop with their head, not their heart," said Paul Atkinson, spokesperson for Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo. "Preparing in advance will help you stick to your budget, in spite of the decorations, carols and Santa himself beckoning you to spend."

If you need assistance learning how to live within your means, reach out to
Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo, Inc. where you'll find legitimate help through a trained and certified credit counselor. Call us at 712-2060 or visit our website,

Friday, November 2, 2012

When Keeping Up with the Joneses Means You’ll Save More Money

Saving adds up
Getty Images
We’re accustomed to hearing about how peer pressure is powerful in a negative way. But the idea that peers are watching (and judging) our every move can also do some good. It all depends on the context. In a working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research entitled “Under-Savers Anonymous: Evidence on Self-Help Groups and Peer Pressure as a Savings Commitment Device,” researchers wanted to find out what forces, if any, might help people to save more money.
Participants in the study—2,687 low-income micro-entrepreneurs in Chile—were randomly divided into three groups: 1) a self-help treatment group, in which individuals could publicly announce their savings progress (or lack thereof), and savings was monitored every week; 2) a control group given access to a basic savings account, with an interest rate of 0.3%; and 3) a group with high-interest savings accounts, yielding a 5% return on their money.
Guess which group saved more? Logic would dictate that participants in the latter category should have saved the most—since they had the most to benefit by saving. Yet it was the folks who were being watched by their fellow savers who wound up leading the pack by a large margin. The study reports:
Participants assigned to the Peer Group Treatment deposit 3.5 times more often into the savings account, and their average savings balance is almost twice that of the control group.
Higher interest rates, on the other hand, didn’t seem to cause savers to change their behavior much at all. After reviewing the data, researchers concluded that participants didn’t “respond to the interest rate at all, neither in terms of amount saved, nor by reallocating their savings (for those who had a pre-existing lower-interest account).”
Social forces—peer pressure, in this instance—seem to have more power to change behavior than plain old monetary incentives. In other words, it looks like we care more about what other people think about us than we do about socking more money away in our savings accounts.
But maybe this isn’t exactly the way things work. In another part of the study, researchers arranged for one group of participants to be sent weekly text messages with updates on one’s savings progress. Such messages resulted in far more saving compared to the control group, and also in nearly as much saving as those who’d been attending the peer group treatment meetings. Therefore, according to the researchers:
These results suggest that while peer groups can provide a highly effective commitment device, neither in-person meetings nor peer pressure seem to be indispensable features, and regular accountability and follow-up seem to play an important role. Modern technology — in the form of text messages or other feedback devices – may therefore render the accountability mechanism of self-help peer groups more scalable and potentially attractive to larger and different populations.
A previous study involving text messages and saving showed that participants in a study who received regular messages reminding them of goals boosted savings substantially. Some of the messages were threatening ultimatums—one read: “If you don’t frequently deposit into the Gihandom Savings account, your dream will not come true”—but no matter if savings reminders were negative or positive, they seemed to work equally well.
The takeaway is that we’re far more likely to save when someone (or something) is prodding us along and keeping tabs on our progress. A trusty friend is ideal. But in lieu of that, a cell phone will probably do the trick.
Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

Read more:

Monday, October 22, 2012

How to Stop Living Paycheck to Paycheck

How to Stop Living Paycheck to Paycheck: Find yourself running out of money before payday? Here's how to spend less and save more without sacrifice.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo To Host


 OCTOBER 20, 2012

Identity theft affects approximately 10 million United States residents each year, with financial losses totaling upwards of $50 billion. CCCS of Buffalo will do its’ part to help people in the Buffalo community protect their identities by hosting SECURE YOUR IDENTITY DAY 2012 on October 20th and offering expert tips on how to protect your identity.

Join us on October 20th, from 10:00 am—2:00 pm. Staff of Consumer Credit Counseling Services and CINTAS will be available to accept any and all documents for shredding on the spot, and will also accept used cell phones. Certified Financial Counselors will be on hand to pull credit reports and provide one-on-one financial counseling.

SECURE YOUR IDENTITY DAY is part of National Protect Your Identity Week, held this year October 20-27th.

This year's theme is "ID Theft Protection on the Go”…Smartphone Alert!

We all love our cell phones, but with the convenience of smart phones came the opportunity for thieves to help themselves to our personal information.

A Smartphone is a mobile phone with enhanced capabilities.   Many of these new functions are similar to those found on a PC.  With the increased abilities of the Smartphone, come built-in risks for exposure of personal information. This information, carried on and transmitted through the device, is highly desired for use by identity thieves. There are steps Smartphone users can take in order to reduce the risks associated with using these handy devices.

Risks which occur when using a Smartphone:

There are many risks when you use a smartphone.

Phones are easily lost or stolen.  Think about how many times you have lost your cell phone. Enough said.

These mobile devices are associated with and linked to a particular user for billing and account purposes.  This association is taken a step further when GPS is enabled on a device.

Increased mobility means increased exposure.  

Moving in and out of Wi-Fi service areas means moving in and out of firewalls and secure hotspots. Some applications used on smartphones are unsafe.   Some can actually enable “phishing” or other malicious attacks.

Best practices to protect yourself and your personal information with Smartphones:

Password-protect your phone.  This is the simplest step you can take to prevent your information from being accessed.  Make sure it is a strong password that is not similar to or associated with any other personal information.

Install Security Software.  There are a number of companies which offer anti-virus, malware and security software designed especially for Smartphones.   Contact your carrier for details.

Be aware of what you are doing on your phone.  The same precautions you would take while on your home computer apply to your Smartphone.  Double check URLs for accuracy, don’t open suspicious links, and make sure a site is secure (https) before giving any billing or personal information.

When installing an app on any Smartphone, take the time to read the “fine print”.  Evaluate the information the app requires access to, and consider if this information is necessary for the app to run successfully. If you cannot see a reason for the app to have access to the information, you should reconsider installing the app.

Install a “phone finder” app.   These apps are designed to help you find your phone if it becomes lost or stolen.

Enroll in a backup / wiping program. You can enroll in a program that will back up the information on your Smartphone to your home computer.  Many of these services are also able to “wipe” your phone if it is lost or stolen so that no data remains on the device itself.   These services are available through your Smartphone’s manufacturer or through your wireless provider.  iPhones have a built-in “wipe” feature that can be turned on that will wipe the phone after 10 failed log-on attempts.

Limit your activities while using public Wi-Fi.   Try not to purchase things or access email while using a public Wi-Fi zone.   Public Wi-Fi hotspots are targeted by hackers since they can give the hacker direct access to your mobile device.  Using your 3G network provider connection is much more secure than using a public Wi-Fi connection.

Check URLs before making a purchase using your Smartphone.  Any page that requires credit card information should start with https://. This means it is a secured site.

If your Smartphone is lost or stolen:

If you have enrolled in a backup / wiping program:

Contact the administrator of your program and have them “wipe” your phone.

Call your service provider and have them cancel your service and report your phone missing.

If you have not enrolled in a backup / wiping program:

Treat the loss of your Smartphone as you would the loss of a wallet or purse.   You can find more information on handling these situations from the Identity Theft Resource Center Fact Sheet 104: My Wallet Purse or PDA was Lost or Stolen.

For other tips, or for information about SECURE YOUR IDENTITY DAY 2012, call 712-2060.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

How To Talk Yourself Into Getting Out of Debt

Your inner spender wants to go on a spree? Try these snappy comebacks

By Allie Johnson

If you're battling credit card debt, your own inner voice might be making things tougher, whispering "you deserve it!" and other seductive phrases as you reach for the plastic.
Next time your inner spender wants to go on a spree, try using these snappy comebacks and expert tips to make smarter money choices:
Your inner spender:"Oh, come on. You deserve it!"
How to talk yourself out of getting into debt
The talk-yourself-out-of-debt comeback: "What you really deserve is peace of mind."
What to do: Remind yourself there's nothing you can buy that will feel better than a clear conscience, says Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. "Say, 'I'm going to give myself that by not overspending,'" Yarrow says. If you do decide you want to indulge in shopping, you should plan and budget for it, says Art Markman, professor of psychology and marketing at The University of Texas at Austin, and author of "Smart Thinking: Three Essential Keys to Innovate, Solve Problems and Get Things Done." He recommends you set a budget, pick a day and time to go shopping, and invite a friend. That makes it a social occasion and more of a treat, and also can help keep your spending in check. "If you know you're prone to overspend, let your friend know you can only spend $100," he says.
Your inner spender:"You've had a hard week. This will make you happy."
The talk-yourself-out-of-debt comeback: "Something else would, too. How about a workout?"
What to do: Find a healthy substitute for shopping. "A lot of times, when people spend money, it's kind of like Prozac -- it gives them a little lift, a little boost. It's a mood elevator," says financial consultant Denise Hughes, who has a master's degree in psychology and blogs at She recommends that people ask themselves if they're looking for a mood boost, and why. Did you clash with your boss, have a tiff with your spouse or care for a cranky child that day? To prepare for the inevitable hard days, Markman suggests finding a healthy, stress-relieving activity that you really enjoy, such as going to the gym, yoga or a walk. He says: "Make that your reward."
Your inner spender:"Everyone else has one."
The talk-yourself-out-of-debt comeback: "You can, too -- after you save up for it."
What to do: Don't beat up on yourself. It's pretty normal to want to buy that new iPhone because all your friends have one or a Lexus because all of your colleagues drive them, says Brad Klontz, a clinical psychologist and director of research at H&R Block Dollars & Sense, which provides personal finance education to teens. "It has a lot to do with the animal brain," Klontz says, noting that some parts of our brains still react as if we were in the Stone Age, when getting ousted from the tribe meant being eaten by predators. In that world, "If I see somebody in the tribe seems to have a lot of power, it's in my best interest to get close to and emulate that person," he says. People will always have these impulses, but they need to channel the powers of their prefrontal cortex -- the rational, decision-making part of the brain -- to help override them. So, make a plan to save up for something you want, Klontz says: "It's not about not getting something, it's about getting it in a way that's not going to hurt you."
Your inner spender:"It's only $50 -- what a great deal!"
The talk-yourself-out-of-debt comeback: "Not really, when you add on the cost of interest and stress of getting the bill."
It's not about not getting something, it's about getting it in a way that's not going to hurt you.
-- Brad Klonz
clinical psychologist
What to do: Look past the price tag and think about how much the item will really set you back, Hughes says. (You can plug the numbers into a credit card payment and payoff calculator.) For example, if you go to a big sale and spend $300 on a few pairs of price-slashed designer jeans and a shirt, using a credit card with an 18 percent interest rate, you could end up paying an extra $100 in interest over more than three years. You might still be working to pay for those jeans long after you've worn holes in them, Hughes says. She tells her clients who use revolving credit, "Do you realize you're borrowing time and energy from your future self in order to pay for this?"
Your inner spender: "You can always take it back later."
The talk-yourself-out-of-debt comeback: "Will you really take it back? If so, why buy it in the first place?"
What to do: Don't buy something with the idea that you can take it back later. You probably won't, experts say. Once you start to feel what it would be like to own something, it's as good as yours, Markman says. That's why car dealers eagerly hand over keys for test drives. "The same thing happens in a store. You try on this great shirt and you look in the mirror and you look good -- and that's far more important than numbers that are going to show up on a credit card bill later." Once you actually get an item home, you're unlikely to spend the time and gas or shipping money to return it, Yarrow says. As part of her consumer research, she says she gets invited to peek in homes and often sees unused items, price tags still on: "I ask people about it and they say, 'I meant to return that.'"
Your inner spender:"There's only one left. If you don't buy it now, it'll be gone."
The talk-yourself-out-of-debt comeback: "That might be true. But maybe you'll find something better when you have the money."
What to do: Step back and realize that you're experiencing fear. "The fear of missing out is huge," Yarrow says. "People hate regret. They'll go through all sorts of mental gyrations to avoid regret." Retailers capitalize on this fear with tactics such as limited-time offers. When you're feeling an intense emotion, it can cloud your decision-making skills, so Yarrow suggests taking a short timeout. "Just carry the item around with you for 20 minutes without buying it and distract yourself with something else. Or put it in your basket online and go away" from your computer. After a short cooling-off period, she says, you might decide more calmly. She also suggests doing a quick mental inventory of other times you've bought something out of fear, and how important the item ended up being in your life.
The best thing you can do to avoid overspending, however, is to try to stay out of tempting situations where you'll face an inner struggle, Markman says, noting that once your brain goes into "go" mode, such as when you move toward making a purchase, then willpower is required to hit the brakes.
He says: "Then you're not putting yourself in the best situation because you're fighting against yourself."

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Cheaper Student Loans. Who Knew?

By on September 16, 2012


In his speech at the Democratic convention, former President Bill Clinton heaped praise upon a program that the Obama administration started to help people repay their student loans. Known as “income-based repayment,” it lets borrowers adjust monthly payments down to 15 percent of their income and wipe out the debt after 15 years. “No one will ever have to drop out of college again for fear they can’t repay their debt,” Clinton said. “If someone wants to take a job with a modest income—a teacher, a police officer, if they want to be a small-town doctor in a little rural area—they won’t have to turn those jobs down because they don’t pay enough to repay the debt. Their debt obligation will be determined by their salary. This will change the future for young Americans.”

It’s notable that Clinton talked about how many people the program would help in the future. It’s actually been around since 2009. So far it hasn’t worked as well as policy makers had hoped.
Right now only 972,000 graduates—about 2.6 percent of all borrowers—are using income-based repayment. Two to three million further borrowers could qualify for the program, says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of, who crunched U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Census data to devise his estimate.

Why would so many graduates with the option of paying less every month not take it?
For one thing, a lot of borrowers don’t know they qualify. To get into the program, you have to apply through the bank that services your loan, but many banks don’t tell borrowers about the program. They aren’t required to do so, and because they make more money if monthly payments are higher, they have little incentive to spread the word. Also, while companies that service direct federal loans—those in which the government is the lender—must offer income-based repayment, servicers of federally guaranteed loans issued by private lenders don’t have to offer the program.
It also didn’t help that in the program’s first six months, there were so many filing glitches that many borrowers were turned off, Kantrowitz says.

The Obama administration is now trying harder to get people into income-based repayment. By the end of this year, officials plan to move the income threshold down from 15 percent to 10 percent for some borrowers, which will make the program available to more people. (If you make $60,000 a year and your loan payments are $600 a month—or about 12 percent—you’ll be eligible and could then decrease your payments to $500 a month.) Banks will be required to describe the program to borrowers who call up and say they’re having trouble paying. The idea is to get people enrolled before they become delinquent.

There’s a further, psychological reason why students might not be taking advantage of the program, Kantrowitz says. Those already in default may have accrued fees and other penalties they feel are unfair. Enrolling in income-based repayment means accepting all the debt, even if borrowers don’t think they owe every last cent. In other words, the program’s existence may be contributing to the very situation the government is trying to avoid—borrowers simply brushing off payments altogether.
Dwoskin is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in Washington.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Did You Know?

Did You Know? 

As in previous years, in 2012, just over two in five US adults (43%) report that they have a budget and keep close track of their expenditures. More than half (56%) admit they do not have a budget, including more than 1 in 5
(22%) who say they don’t have a good idea of how much they spend on housing, food, and entertainment.

Though the likelihood of having a budget has not changed over the past 5 years, the proportion of adults who do not pay all of their bills on time has increased from 28% in 2011 to 33% in 2012 – that is, fully one-third of
US adults, or more than 77 million Americans, do not pay all of their bills on time.
Source: 2012 NFCC Financial Literacy Survey)

Monday, July 23, 2012

NFCC Helps Consumers Understand Importance of Credit Report

NFCC Helps Consumers Understand Importance of Credit Report
Consumers Need to Take Responsibility for Reviewing Credit Reports
Washington, DC – The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently announced that it would soon begin examining credit reporting agencies to confirm, among other things, that they are producing accurate credit reports and that consumers have ample ability to dispute errors on their reports.
 “An accurate credit report is critical to a person’s financial future, and consumers need to be aware that the responsibility for reviewing their report lies with them,” said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC).  “Even though consumers can obtain their credit report free of charge, the recent NFCC Financial Literacy Survey revealed that 62 percent of respondents had not ordered their report in the past 12 months.”
It is important to understand what a credit report is and what it isn’t.  At its core, the purpose of a credit report is to provide those with a valid need a track record of a person’s credit history.  Having a way to evaluate the risk of extending new credit is just as important to the consumer as it is to the business.
Among other things, the report contains information such as where a person lives, how many lines of credit have been applied for or opened, and how he or she manages credit.  Credit reporting bureaus are a repository of information that has been provided to them.  They sell the information to lenders, insurers, employers, and other businesses that use it as a tool when evaluating a person’s application for credit, insurance or employment.
There is often misunderstanding regarding credit reports.  Many erroneously think that the credit report includes a credit score, a person’s race, income or medical history.  One of the most common misconceptions is that the credit bureaus are involved in the approval or denial of credit, which is not true.
The reasons for obtaining a credit report are many, but include confirming accuracy before applying for credit, checking for identity theft, or verifying that outdated information has rotated off.  Perhaps the most important reason is that the all-important credit scores are based on the information contained in the credit report. 
If, upon review, consumers question the accuracy of the information contained in the report, the Fair Credit Reporting Act provides them with the opportunity to dispute the entry.  Consumers should dispute the information directly with the credit reporting bureau through which the report was obtained.  The bureau must then investigate the concern and correct or delete inaccurate or unverifiable information, usually within 30 days. 
Anxious to find a quick-fix for a blemished credit file, consumers often fall prey to unscrupulous businesses which charge high fees but offer no legitimate help beyond what consumers can do for themselves at little or no cost.  Warning signs are if a company offers to create a new identity and credit file, or guarantees to remove late payments or other negative information from a report.  The smart consumer will check with the Better Business Bureau before becoming involved with a credit repair firm.
“Since the credit report is meant to be an accurate snapshot of a person’s credit history, consumers need to remember that if the report contains negative information that is true, it needs to remain a part of the report,” continued Cunningham.  “Filing a frivolous dispute benefits no one.”
The CFPB’s announcement serves as a reminder of the importance of credit reports, and hopefully will inspire consumers to take the first step by ordering their report, examining it for accuracy, and disputing any errors.  Consumers can obtain their credit report free of charge once every 12 months from each of the three credit reporting bureaus by going to 

For help understanding the contents of your credit report, reach out to an NFCC Member Agency, like Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo, at 712-2060. 

The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest serving national nonprofit credit counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services. NFCC Members annually help more than three million consumers through close to 750 community-based offices nationwide. For free and affordable confidential advice through a reputable NFCC Member, call (800) 388-2227, (en Español (800) 682-9832) or visit  Visit us on Facebook:, on Twitter:, on YouTube: and our blog:

Monday, July 16, 2012

How Is Your Scam IQ? Take the Email Headline Test

How Is Your Scam IQ? Take the Email Headline Test: There wouldn't be so many email scams unless some poor saps were clicking ��" and getting ripped off. Don't be one of them.

Monday, July 9, 2012

NFCC Poll Reveals Consumers’ Top Financial Regrets

The recent National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) online poll allowed consumers to select their greatest financial regret.  Of more than 2,200 respondents, 53 percent indicated that habitually overspending was what they regretted most.

Overspending far outweighed other financial concerns such as inadequately saving (18 percent), insufficiently preparing for retirement (14 percent), not having bought a house (10 percent), or having bought a house (five percent).

“Although most people have financial regrets, it is important to not dwell on past mistakes,” said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC.  “Instead, look forward and take action by constructing a plan that recognizes the realities of the situation, repairs financial damage, and moves in a positive direction toward financial security.” 

 The NFCC offers the following 10 tips for turning financial regrets into financial wins:

·         Set financial goals – Both short and long-term goals provide a financial framework and create a vision that keeps spending on track.  Put the goals in writing and display in a prominent place.  Have sound reasons for establishing each goal, and when necessary, sound reasons for abandoning them.

·         Create a budget – A budget is the cornerstone that a sound financial future is built upon.  Without it, danger signals are missed and spending can easily spiral out of control.  Get started by utilizing the financial worksheet on the NFCC website at

·         Become a track star – At least once every six months, track your spending by writing down every cent spent for 30 days.  This exercise will reveal any leaks and provide an opportunity to adjust spending to best meet objectives.

·         Be financially organized - Create a cash-flow calendar, writing down all sources of income on the anticipated pay date.  Next, record which bills are to be paid out of each check.  If there is not enough money to satisfy all obligations during one period, call the creditor and request a due date change. 

·         Don’t wait to automate – Setting up automatic bill-paying provides protection against skipping a payment or paying late, both of which can result in a dinged credit report, a potentially lower credit score, and a late fee. 

·         Review your credit report – A credit report is a reflection of a person’s financial track record, and is the basis of the credit score, making it a must-read, particularly for those rebuilding credit.  Consumers are allowed one free credit report every 12 months from each of the three bureaus.  To access this free report, go to 

·         Build a high credit score – A high credit score equals a lower interest rate on loans and credit cards.  For a higher score, put an emphasis on paying bills on time, not utilizing more than 30 percent of available credit, creating a mix of credit lines, not applying for more credit than is necessary, and responsibly managing credit over time.

·         Realize that life happens – Life is filled with the unexpected, with the unplanned expense always occurring at the worst time, wrecking the best of budgets.  Guard against this by creating a financial safety net.  Even small amounts of money consistently deposited into a rainy day savings account can create enough of a cushion to make it through most short-term emergencies.

·         Know that tomorrow will come - Even if retirement is a long way off, that’s no reason to ignore planning for it.  Knowing that time is money’s best friend, provides the smart young investor a very long window of opportunity to turn a small sum of money into a fortune.

·         Become a financial adult – This may involve making hard choices, changing attitudes, behaviors, and lifestyle, but it is unlikely that financial decisions made on auto-pilot will result in a smooth landing.  Be financially mature by understanding the nuts and bolts of personal finance, and acting on that knowledge.

The actual May poll question and responses are as follows:

My biggest financial regret is that I…

A.    Habitually overspent = 53%

B.     Inadequately saved = 18%

C.     Haven’t bought a house = 10%

D.    Bought a house = 5%

E.     Haven’t sufficiently prepared for retirement = 14%

Note: The NFCC’s June Financial Literacy Opinion Index was conducted via the homepage of the NFCC Web site ( from June1 - 30, 2012 and was answered by 2,205 individuals.

The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest serving national nonprofit credit counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services. NFCC Members annually help more than three million consumers through close to 750 community-based offices nationwide. For free and affordable confidential advice through a reputable NFCC Member, call (800) 388-2227, (en Español (800) 682-9832) or visit  Visit us on Facebook:, on Twitter:, on YouTube: and our blog: