Thursday, March 29, 2007

Free Credit Score

A few years ago, FACTA (Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act) was passed offering free access to one’s credit report [once per year per agency]. Unfortunately, free credit scores have not followed. A credit score is viewed by many in the financial world in the same light that a GPA is viewed by many in the academic world (the usefulness of both those numbers are widely debated, but we’ll save that debate for another day).

Yesterday (3/28/07), VISA launched a new website targeted to college students and young adults called What’s my Score ( The financial resource is designed to help individuals understand credit reports and scores, and take control of their financial futures. “Money Guides” are available, covering topics from saving for college, student loans, renting an apartment, and buying a car. You may find their information helpful (others may be a little cynical due to the source); regardless, part of the site launch was a deal struck with Fair Isaac (the company that created the most widely used credit score – the FICO score) to provide free credit scores to the first 5,000 students wanting to check their credit score. To receive the free score, go to the site above, or click to walk through a 15 minute tutorial/quiz on credit basics, credit cards, and building credit. Once that is completed, you’ll be given a code and link to which you can use to order the score [that will be free by using the code]. The following link will walk you through the process of ordering your score after getting your code.

After getting your score, you can “break the code” at: In addition, past financial tips as well as the OFS website provide additional credit resources. MyFico is one of the best resources on the web for credit scoring. E-loan was the first site to offer access to your credit score for free, but it does require that you create a log-in [provide some personal info] to get it [and you can only do it once]. A free score estimator is also available at the What's my Score site.

The truth is, credit scores are no longer the big mystery many make them out to be [although it wasn’t long ago that they were]. I’ll write next week more about what credit scoring is in a follow up to this tip … after all, here at MU, we’re on spring break!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Identity Theft Resources

Identity theft is an issue that is regularly in the news - over the past couple of years, I’ve written multiple financial tips on the potentially devastating effects of identity theft. It is frightening to think that 25,000 Americans are victimized daily [that equates to nearly 5% of all Americans last year alone!]. I’d like to review the general strategies available to consumers to help minimize ID theft that have been shared prior and then discuss a new FDIC resource I recently came across.

Personally viewing your credit report. Every 12 months you can order a credit report from each reporting agency for free. Most experts suggest staggering your reports (ordering one every four months). Use the gov't site: ( NOT

Opt out. One way to reduce the risk of ID theft is to reduce the number of solicitations you receive. You can opt out of credit card solicitations and phone solicitations.

Fraud alert. This is a ‘flag’ you can place on your credit report after being victimized. Alerts potential creditors that you are a potential fraud victim. Unfortunately, creditors aren’t required to abide by [or even check] the alert.

Credit monitoring service. A service where an annual fee (average of $75) is assessed to tell you when people are viewing your file. Most services don’t add much of a benefit beyond what you can do for free [see above].

Credit freeze. This is a very intriguing option and the only viable option that allows you to ‘stop’ ID theft before it happens rather than reacting to issues that surface. Several problems exist – laws have been established in some states, but not others; some states require you to be a victim prior to being able to use the freeze. I was very pleased to learn that Missouri initiated a credit freeze law since my freeze tip last June. For a list of state freeze laws, click link.

FDIC – “Don’t Be an On-line Victim” (free CD-ROM).
Nice, free resource on guarding yourself against internet thieves and electronic scams. The free CD-Rom can be ordered at the FDIC website. There is also an online version. The ID theft resource has seven sections:
- Introduction to identity theft
- Introduction to electronic scams
- Protecting your information
- Protecting your computer
- What to do if you are a victim
- Help for identity theft victims
- Resources

Deter, Detect, Defend
Fighting Back
FTC ID Theft Site
Guard Against Internet Fraud
National Data
Resolving Specific Problems
State Data
Steps to Take
Test Your Knowledge

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Personal Finance Course Offerings (Summer 2007)

Have you considered taking a Personal Finance course this summer??

FINPLN 1183 (Financial Survival).
A one-credit course geared toward underclassmen focusing on "student-specific" financial issues: credit cards, student loans, debt management, avoiding pitfalls, credit issues, etc. Offered pass/fail only.

* Reference #23005
* M/W/F -- 12:00-1:00
* June 11 - July 6 (first 4 week course)
* Instructor - Dr. Mark Oleson

FINPLN 2183 (Personal/Family Finance).
Three credit course that focuses on introductory financial planning issues: savings, insurance, investments, taxes, use of credit, and financial aspects of housing. Meets math proficiency requirement.

* Reference #22985
* M/T/W/R/F -- 9:00 - 11:00
* June 11 - July 6 (first 4 week course)
* Instructor - Dr. Mark Oleson

* Both courses will also be available this fall [2183 by different instructor]; the one-credit Financial Success course (FINPLN 4483) that is being taught this spring will also be available in the fall. A notice will be sent when the final scheduling kinks get ironed out.

Cooperative Extension Resources

I’m always looking for ways to stay ahead of the [financial] curve. I want the most up-to-date information possible. This is often difficult as information and policy is changing continually. A consistent source of current financial information is Extension. What I’ve encountered is that the notion of Extension is often a cloudy one. Did you know that personal/family finance is a prominent area of programming efforts in most states?

In 1914, Congress established the Cooperative Extension Service to deliver information from land-grant colleges to Americans. This ‘cooperative’ (educational partnership) helps people put research-based knowledge to work for businesses, communities, and individuals resulting in economic prosperity and an improved quality of life. Extension links the resources and expertise of nearly 3,150 county government offices, 104 State Universities, and the US Department of Agriculture Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, literally “taking the University to the people.” In other words, you have professionals that gather information and provide it to the public in an understandable way [often for no or minimal cost]. I would like to focus this week on the financial literacy resources that Extension provides … publications, web resources, classes and programs are simply a few of the ways that Extension is helping people put knowledge to work.

Debt Management, College Funding, Estate Planning, Investing, Insurance, Retirement Planning, Budgeting, Consumer Protection, Buying a House – these are just a sampling of the types of topics where Extension information is readily accessible. Rather than you needing to dig around, I’ve done the initial digging for you and have organized the information by state (see resources below). Links are provided to a general “financial management” homepage and a list of available publications. If no link is provided, it could be that the state doesn’t have a financial specialist; it could also be that their information was not organized in an ‘easy to find’ manner. If you find “better” links for a particular state’s program or pubs, let me know and I’ll change our links as necessary.

Links to Extension Financial Resources.
- Links to state resources
- Missouri Families
- MU extension resources
- National eXtension personal finance site

Using science-based knowledge, University of Missouri Extension engages people to understand change, solve problems and make informed decisions. MU Extension makes University education and information accessible for:
- Economic viability
- Empowered individuals
- Strong families and communities
- Healthy environments

Thursday, March 8, 2007

What is Your Money Personality?

What are your attitudes/values about money? Do you tend to do things the way your parents did [or do you find yourself rebelling against their example?] … A lot of people [myself included] would argue that “understanding yourself” (i.e., what drives your spending and saving decisions) is critical to achieving financial success. It is very common for money personalities to get in the way of making good choices. A study published by the American Psychological Association found that the #1 source of stress for 73% of Americans was money. This to me emphasizes the importance of exploring our feelings and attitudes about money. The ultimate goal is not necessarily to change your current personality/values to different ones, it is to learn to prosper with the one you have.

Different experts have different names for these money personalities. Jordan Goodman, author of “Master Your Money Type: Using Your Financial Personality to Create a Life of Wealth and Freedom” summarizes money types as:

STRIVERS. You are all about achieving success and letting others know just how successful you are by buying lots of stuff. Money equals success. Ambition is the upside; overspending is the downside.

OSTRICHES. You are uncomfortable with money, even confused, intimidated or embarrassed by it. So you bury your [financial] head in the sand. The upside is you’re not consumed by money and you focus on more important things in life; the downside is eventually you’ll wind up regretting your avoidance of money problems and not setting financial goals.

DEBT DESPERADOS. You get a thrill from buying, which leads you to overspend. You quickly accumulate debt and may find yourself on the run from creditors. If there is an upside, it is that you likely understand the anguish debt can cause and that can be used to motivate and provide the resolve to get out of it. The downside is overspending is a weakness that is often bailed out through credit cards.

COASTERS. You may be coping or even thriving financially, but a lack of a money crisis has made you comfortable with the status quo. The upside is that you’re organized and responsible. But complacency means you’re missing out on opportunities and greater prosperity.

HIGH ROLLERS. You’re a thrill-seeker and gambler with money, thinking you’re smarter than others and are certain you’ll get a ‘big score.’ The upside is that you’re comfortable with risk, which can pay off with big rewards. The downside is that unbridled risk-taking can be dangerous and can land you in financial ruin.

SQUIRRELS. You hoard your money like a squirrel gathering nuts for the winter. You’re intensely afraid of losing money and exert a great deal of effort to spend less. The upside is you’re an excellent saver, but often at the expense of other things money is good for – spending, giving, etc.

A recent study by Putnam Investments outlined six financial beliefs and habits that they found to be most important in achieving financial security:

1. Realistic Expectations
2. Resisting temptation for quick rewards and fads
3. Patience in the face of adversity
4. Greater satisfaction from saving than spending
5. Ability to tolerate above-average risk
6. Receptivity to advice on how to save and invest

What’s your money personality? Are you interested in exploring your attitudes, values, and beliefs about money? If so, here are a few free resources to get you started

- Color of Money
- Financial Compatibility Test
- Keirsey Temperament Sorter
- Money Psychology Tests
- Myvesta Money Personality Test
- Putnam Investor Profile

The following ISU Extension publication can also be a useful tool in beginning a dialogue about money and values …

Thursday, March 1, 2007

America Saves Week

“America Saves Week is an effort aimed at reaching more institutions and individuals to increase awareness that people need to save money, reduce debt and build wealth. The primary focus of America Saves Week is to encourage Financial Action – commitments to save, invest and build wealth” ...

Launched in 2001 and managed by the Consumer Federation of America, America Saves was initiated to focus greater attention on the need and opportunities for personal savings. To date, more than 67,000 Americans have enrolled as Savers by committing to implement a detailed plan to achieve a specific savings goal. This week (February 25 to March 4) has been set aside as the first America Saves Week. Several items included in accompanying press releases have stuck out to me as worthy of mention …

A recent Federal Reserve Board study identified successful saving strategies:
- Have a reason to save. Households with an identifiable goal for saving were more likely to have financial assets [and also have higher levels of assets]. Setting a goal is an important part of any saving strategy.
- Think ahead, plan ahead. Looking into the future can be an important motivational tool to help people anticipate and be prepared for future expenses. The most prominent goal of the Savers in the program is to develop an emergency fund.
- Develop a savings habit. It is no secret that getting started is the biggest challenge people face financially. Once the habit is developed, people comment on how ‘second nature’ saving becomes.
- Make savings automatic. Automatic savings via payroll deductions or automatic transfers from a checking or savings account is one strategy found to be very effective in “creating” Savers.

Two great ways to establish automatic savings:
(1) Online Savings Accounts – provide high yields; the following all currently pay 5% + with no minimums to establish [or maintain] an account, no fees, and are FDIC insured.
a. Emigrant Direct
b. FNBO Direct
c. HSBC Direct

(2) Mutual Funds – while many mutual fund companies require a large initial investment to open a mutual fund account, some companies will waive the initial investment if you establish an automatic investment (typically $50/month). T.Rowe Price and TIAA-CREF are a couple of notable ‘no load’ fund companies; AIM Funds and American Funds are examples of load fund companies that allow for automatic investments to open accounts. The Mutual Fund Investor Center provides a search tool to find companies that accommodate people looking for automatic investment opportunities.

Accompanying the America Saves Week is the announcement by eXtension of its new personal finance interactive website.

Related Sites and Resources.
- America Saves
- American Saver Newsletter
- Find a local campaign
- Military Saves
- Money 2020
- Youth Saves