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Recently in: Money & Work

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Money & Work

Is Going Back to School Right for You?


The phrase "back to school" doesn't just apply to kids. Many adults are headed back to the classroom in hopes of starting a new career or improving their odds of promotion within their current job. In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of students over age 25 grew 43 percent from 2000 to 2009 - and it's expected to increase another 23 percent by 2019.

"Anyone considering going back to college needs to do their homework," said University of Phoenix School of Business Dean Dr. Bill Berry. "Returning to school is a big decision, and you have to be sure of your reasons so you get the most out of your educational experience."

If you've been thinking of going back to school, Dr. Berry recommends asking yourself the following questions and answering them honestly:

* What are my goals? You need to be clear about why you want to go back to school. Some common goals include getting ahead in your career or starting a career in a new field.
* Do I have time to take classes? According to the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, whether taking classes online or in a classroom, it can take at least eight hours a week of work to successfully complete assignments.
* How can I leverage my support system? Ask family or friends if they are willing to look after your children while you're studying. If you work, discuss your situation with your supervisor to ensure you have a plan in place to address work-related responsibilities.
* How are my computer skills? As more and more course work is done online, it's critical to have these skills in order to succeed. If your computer skills are a bit rusty, look to see if your college or university offers any courses to help strengthen your skills before enrolling.
* Do I really know what to expect? Programs such as the University of Phoenix University Orientation workshops are required for incoming students with less than 24 credits. The three-week, no-cost workshops allow students to experience the University's academic rigor. "We want our students to succeed," said Dr. Berry. "Offering this workshop lets them figure out if this is a good fit for them, and what is expected of them as students."

What to Look For
The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning recommends that you:

* Look for colleges that are accredited - Check for their accreditation on their website, or look for them at www.ed.gov.
* Ask about Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) - If the school has a system for evaluating your prior learning, you could save time and money when earning your degree.
* Find out about student services - For example, will you have access to faculty and advisors to help you with classwork and your program goals? For example, University of Phoenix assigns every student a Graduation Team made up of advisors for enrollment, academics and finance, in order to help you navigate your entire college experience.

Going back to school is a big decision, but if you ask the right questions and do the right planning, it will be a decision you can make with confidence, knowing it will pay off with a brighter future.


Source: University of Phoenix

... Continue reading Is Going Back to School Right for You?.

Tracking Down College Scholarships


We hear often from parents, "I'd love for my son/daughter to get accepted to their dream school...but I'm very nervous about how to pay for it."

Even if you're in a more comfortable income bracket, scholarships can go a long way to making the college-going years less of a financial burden. Here are our top tips on getting started:

The Internet
Scholarpro.com and Zinch.com are both great resources for scholarships.

Your Employer
Look for college scholarships close to home. See if your company or any professional organizations you belong to offer scholarships.

Local businesses, civic groups and even wealthy people in your hometown may offer scholarships to local students.

Guidance Counselors
Proactively sit down with your student's guidance counselor to discuss scholarships that are a personal fit for your student and your family's financial situation.

The University
Most people don't know that universities earmark scholarship money for students studying specific majors or entering certain career fields. Once you have narrowed your college list, be sure to reach out to each university to see what is available.

Federal Government
The federal government offers certain scholarships and grants: studentaid2.ed.gov is a great resource.

Courtesy of BrightGuide
This article comes to us from BrightGuide, a community of parents preparing their children for college. Signup and you'll get practical tips, empowering ideas, and the best possible college preparation resources...daily to your inbox.

... Continue reading Tracking Down College Scholarships.

Women Starting Over


How to take charge of your financial future

Women are more educated, earn higher incomes and have a more powerful role in the workplace than women of previous generations. But in spite of this progress, 90 percent of women say they feel financially insecure, according to the 2007 Allianz Women, Money and Power Study. The vast majority of women will need to take financial responsibility at some point in their lives, so it is vital that they have the knowledge and confidence to take charge of their financial future.

A 2009 report by The Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER) says that women are particularly vulnerable going into retirement. The findings in "How Can Women's Income Last as Long as They Do?" show that:
* Women at age 65 are expected to live, on average, another 20 years - four years longer than men. That means they will need to save more for retirement.
* Less than one third of retired women today receive pension income. And less than half of today's working women have access to a pension or retirement savings plan through their jobs.
* For more than 40 percent of older women living alone, Social Security is virtually all that they have. This group is four to five times more likely to be poor than married couples.

"Each stage of life holds events that can shape your financial needs and impact your ability to achieve long-term goals," says Katie Libbe, vice president of Marketing Solutions for Allianz Life. "Divorce and widowhood are two stages that have significant financial impact for women, so they need to learn how to take control of their financial futures."

Here are some tips to help begin the process of starting over.

Gather all the information you need to evaluate your current financial situation. These include:
* Checking and savings account statements
* Credit card information
* Tax returns
* Social Security records
* Investment information - stocks and bonds certificates, mutual fund statements
* Insurance policies - homeowner's, life, auto, health, long-term care
* Retirement assets - 401(k), pension, IRA, ROTH IRA, annuity statements
* Deeds
* Wills and powers of attorney

Evaluate how much money you will need for the next six to 12 months and keep that money in an easily accessible account in your own name.
* Pay Your Bills. Failure to pay your bills can result in bigger problems due to late payment fees, interest charges, and damage to your credit history.
* Take it Slow. Don't make any major purchases or changes right away. Give yourself time to heal emotionally before rushing into major decisions.

If you don't already have a financial advisor, it may be advisable to get one. "A professional financial planner can help you improve your current financial management and help you through these challenging changes," says Libbe. "Their expertise and objective perspective can save you time, and help you invest for your future."

To find a qualified financial advisor, you can ask trusted friends or professionals, such as lawyers and accountants, for references. You can also get references from professional associations such as the Financial Planning Association, the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, or the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
Make sure that you have a support network made up of trusted family, friends and professionals who can give you feedback, go with you to meetings and help you follow up on the actions you need to take.

For more information on finding a financial advisor and to download free financial checklists for the widowed or divorced, visit allianzlife.com/WomenMoneyPower.

Illustration courtesy of Getty Images


... Continue reading Women Starting Over.

Want to Go Back to School?


ProjectWorkingMom is a scholarship program that provides college funding for working moms and dads. To date, the program has awarded nearly $6 million in scholarships. This year, the program is awarding another $5 million in full-ride scholarships. The program is made possible by its sponsors, including The Tyra Show.

You can learn more and enter your application for a scholarship to earn an online degree.

... Continue reading Want to Go Back to School?.

Love & Money

According to a Pew research report, the percentage of married women making more money than their husbands has gone up to 22%--sixteen points higher then in 1970. Read what AV Flox, a blogger on the BlogHer network, has to say about that in her post, Does Money Make a Man More Attractive? Income Disparity in Love

... Continue reading Love & Money.

Take Steps to Prepare for the Cost of a Bigger Family

A couple's decision to start a family leads to one of the most significant periods of transition in their lives. Along with a host of new responsibilities comes the financial impact that children have on a household. This is not something to be taken lightly. You may be focused on immediate expenses like diapers, booties and baby food, but that's just the start. By some estimates, the cost of raising a child from birth to age 18 can fall in the range of $200,000, and possibly much more depending on any number of variables related to lifestyle, education and healthcare costs.

These numbers make it apparent that it takes not just a village to raise a child, but a fair amount of money as well. But take heart: families have been managing to make this work since people first roamed the earth. The key is to make sure you have your financial house in order before the new arrival comes on the scene. Here are some critical factors you can't afford to overlook:

Medical costs
The first expense that comes to mind is the cost of delivering a baby. Are you covered by medical insurance? How about dealing with any potential complications, either for the mother or child? Beyond that, will you have to pay additional costs to add the child to your existing insurance policy?

Child care expenses
Some new families prefer to have a parent stay home to raise the child. Though ideal in many respects, this option also comes at the cost of one potential income, which can put a big squeeze on a family budget just at the time when the headcount has expanded by one. On the other hand, if both parents plan to be back at work full-time, daycare costs become part of the equation. Depending on where you live and the options available to you, this can easily amount to several hundred dollars of additional expense per week--a significant cash outflow even in most dual-income households.

Other everyday living expenses
Is your house or apartment big enough to handle the arrival of a new child? If not, you may need to move into a larger space. A new addition to the family also means another mouth to feed, so your grocery bill is likely to go up. Clothing is another ongoing cost, and your entertainment budget may rise as well, if for no other reason than the need to pay a babysitter when you want to go out.

Education expenses
If you choose to send your child to a private school for grade school and high school, you could be in store for some hefty tuition bills. And the cost only escalates for higher education. If you're planning to assist your child with college expenses, you may want to consider making monthly contributions to an education savings fund. The sooner you begin saving, the better financial shape you'll be in when it comes time to write out the checks.

The arrival of a new child into the family is an exciting and exhausting time in a parent's life. On top of the day-to-day tasks involved in running an expanded household, you'll have new responsibilities related to the development and well-being of your new son or daughter. Given all you'll have to juggle, you won't want to waste time worrying about whether your financial future is secure. Talk to a financial advisor to etch out a plan to reach your long-term goals. Being proactive today will mean more time to enjoy the treasures of parenthood that lie ahead.

Julie Meany,
7101 York Avenue South Edina, MN 55435
© 2010 Ameriprise Financial, Inc. All rights reserved.

... Continue reading Take Steps to Prepare for the Cost of a Bigger Family.

Not the Same Old Tax Return

New rules for this year's tax season

by Julie Meany, Financial Advisor, Ameriprise Financial Inc

Few things induce more anxiety this time of year than the looming April 15 tax return file deadline. As you begin the process this year, keep in mind that changes to the tax rules could affect your tax liability and possibly make you eligible for new tax reduction opportunities. More details can be found at the Internal Revenue Service website (www.irs.gov) or by talking to your tax advisor. Here are some of the more prominent changes that could affect your final 2009 tax bill:

Homebuyer Tax Credit -- This has been one of the most highly publicized changes of the past year. First-time homebuyers--i.e. those who have not owned a principal residence for the three years prior to purchase--may be eligible for up to an $8,000 tax credit. (A credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction of your tax bill). Generally, the purchase must have been completed in 2009 to qualify for the tax credit on your 2009 return. However, the credit will continue to be available for new home purchases under written contract by April 30, 2010 and closed by June 30, 2010. A special election exists to claim the 2010 purchase on your 2009 tax return. A similar credit of up to $6,500 is available for existing homeowners who purchased a replacement home. This credit applies only for purchases made after November 6, 2009 and by the above deadlines. To qualify, existing homeowners must have owned and used the same home as their principal residence for five consecutive years in the eight-year period prior to the purchase of a new home. Note that income and other limits apply to qualify for both credits. If your tax liability is less than the amount of the credit, you still qualify to receive the entire credit in the form of a refund.

Tax Credit for Post-Secondary Education -- A tax credit of up to $2,500 per student attending a four-year college is available (for taxpayers who meet income and other requirements). If the credit is more than your income tax liability in 2009 and 2010, 40 percent of it can be returned as a refund. To learn more about the American Opportunity Tax Credit, visit www.irs.gov.

Making Work Pay Tax Credit -- Many employees saw a slight reduction in the amount of tax withholding from their paychecks earlier in the year, an adjustment made due to the Making Work Pay Tax Credit. The credit amount is 6.2 percent of the taxpayer's earned income up to a maximum of $400 for a single tax filer and $800 for married couples filing a joint return. The credit must be claimed on your tax return. If the credit has not already been reflected in your paycheck or if you are self-employed and have not accounted for the credit, you will adjust the amount of your tax liability as you complete your 2009 tax return. Income limits apply to qualify for the credit.

Sales Tax Deduction for the Purchase of New Vehicles -- If you purchased a new car, motor home, light truck or motorcycle between February 16, 2009 and December 31, 2009, the sales or excise tax amount you paid can be deducted from your income even if you do not itemize deductions (a deduction reduces your taxable income and, as a result, the amount of tax you pay).

Energy Tax Credits -- Various credits tied to making homes more energy efficient are available. These include a tax credit valued at 30 percent of the amount paid for qualified solar water heating equipment, solar electric equipment, small wind energy property, or geothermal heat pumps installed in your U.S. residence. A similar credit with maximum credit limits exists for the installation of qualified fuel cell property in your principal residence. Also, 30 percent of the cost, up to an aggregate of $1,500, is provided for energy-saving home improvements such as qualified windows, outside doors, insulation, roofing, high-efficiency furnaces, water heaters, heat pumps, biomass fuel stoves, air circulating fans, and central air conditioners that are placed in your U.S. principal residence in 2009 and 2010.

Other pointers as April 15 approaches
As you prepare for the tax filing deadline, here are a few things you can do today to help make the process easier:
• Gather your records - if you haven't already, you should be receiving statements from banks, investment firms and mortgage companies with tax information. Keep it filed in one safe place. Make sure you receive W-2s or 1099s (reporting income received) from employers or firms you may have contracted with.
• Determine your most efficient way to complete a return - there are numerous software programs available, many of which are accessible online, to complete the job. Or make sure you have your accountant or tax preparer in place and ready to deliver a timely return.
• Take more time if you need it, but let the IRS know - you can receive an automatic six-month extension by filing form 4868 with the IRS by the April 15 deadline to avoid interest and potential penalties. You must make payment for any tax that may be due by April 15.

This column is for informational purposes only. The information may not be suitable for every situation and should not be relied on without the advice of your tax, legal and/or financial advisors. Neither Ameriprise Financial nor its financial advisors provide tax or legal advice. Consult with qualified tax and legal advisors about your tax and legal situation. This column was prepared by Ameriprise Financial.

Brokerage, investment and financial advisory services are made available through Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA and SIPC. Some products and services may not be available in all jurisdictions or to all clients.

Julie Meany, Financial Advisor, Ameriprise Financial Inc
7101 York Avenue South Edina, MN 55435

© 2010 Ameriprise Financial, Inc. All rights reserved.
File # 95014

... Continue reading Not the Same Old Tax Return.