Money on My Mind

Is it Time for a Credit Freeze?

Who’s looking at your credit report? A LOT OF FOLKS!

Credit reports and scores are widely used not just by creditors, but by employers, landlords, insurance companies and even cell phone companies. They can affect employment, housing and the amount you pay for goods, services and loans. It is very important to keep a close eye on these reports and protect them.

One way that is now a lot easier to use to protect your credit is through a applying a Credit Freeze to your credit reports.

Credit freezes, also known as security freezes, restrict access to your credit file even by valid creditors until you “Unfreeze” or “Thaw” your report. In 2018, Federal Law guarantees that you can freeze and unfreeze your credit file for free. You can also put freezes in place for minors. If you’re ready to put a freeze in place, simply contact each of the credit reporting bureaus, and follow their process. One more tip brought to you by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), don’t confuse freezes with locks. They work in a similar way, but freezes are free, but locks may have monthly fees.

Here’s more info from the CFPB: https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/blog/free-credit-freezes-are-here/

In closing, be aware that Credit Freezes are not fool-proof protections, so it is still important to check your Credit Reports routinely.

Marjorie McLean, MBA, AFC®

P.S. Here's some more info on how to check your credit report to make sure all the info is accurate. Note: Due to COVID-19, these credit reports are now available WEEKLY (not just annually) through April of 2022. See this blog release from the Federal Trade Commission for more info. Free weekly credit reports during COVID extended until April 2022 | FTC Consumer Information


Budget Annually. New Year, New Insights.

You know the view you get when flying in an airplane? Traveling high above the day to day, you can see much farther and gain a new perspective. You see connections-roads, buildings, neighborhoods, landscapes come together—forming patterns not seen from the ground. That’s why you need an Annual Budget.

Monthly budgets are important. Most of us start budgeting with a monthly budget. It shows what income will come in during the month ahead and then we plan what spending, saving or investing we’ll do that month with that income. However, the monthly budget only looks a few weeks ahead. It can be short-sighted. We see the trees, but not the forest.

The Annual Budget is where we see the bigger picture of the ebb and flow of our income & expenses. It will help you understand and manage…

-Income changes that come with seasonal, commission-based or pandemic impacted work.

-Expenses that vary over months or seasons, such as the inevitable summer vacations, back to school shopping or saving up for the Christmas to come and winter’s high heating bills. These are expenses we often need to save in advance for—so we need to see the expense coming up in the future and use the months before to prepare.

-Expenses that don’t happen on a monthly basis: such as quarterly, semi-annual or annual bills and obligations.

-The longer term impact of financial decisions: such as the financial changes that come with buying a home vs. renting, adding a new car payment or reducing work hours to stay home with a new child or what more we could achieve financially if we earned a promotion at work?

You can build an annual budget anytime of year, so there's no need to wait. If you would like assistance in expanding your financial point of view through creating an Annual Budget, contact me for a free consultation. I can help.


Financial Pearl, Marjorie McLean, MBA, AFC®


The Next Generation: Share Financial Wisdom with Your Kids

In everyday life, we have many natural opportunities to teach our children financial wisdom that they'll benefit from for years to come. I've written a series of blog posts for SaverLife, featuring financial conversations you can have with your kids as they grow.


Read the Series here:

How Early Should I Start Talking to My Kids About Money? | SaverLife


How Can I Involve My Kids in Everyday Budgeting and Financial Decisions?


How to Teach Your Kids to Budget for Their First Jobs | SaverLife

Financial Pearl, Marjorie McLean, MBA, AFC®


Photo by Paige Cody on Unsplash

Buckle Up! Your Emergency Fund is Your Financial Seatbelt.

Your emergency fund protects you financially, just a your seat belt protects you physically. You may rarely need it, but when you need it you'll be glad you were prepared.

It is a Necessity. You wear a seatbelt because you recognize the danger you’re in without one. It’s not a fashion accessory, but it is a protective device that reduces injuries and saves lives. Shifting over to finances, What about your emergency fund? Your finances are in danger if you don’t have one. Setting aside liquid cash in a saving account is not flashy, but it is a necessity.


Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late. Accidents happen in the blink of an eye, and often our unexpected expenses happen quickly as well. Just like your vehicle’s seat belt, you may rarely need it, but when you do, there’s no time to put it on, which is why you need to fund your emergency fund before the crisis happens. One day your home’s heater is working fine and the next day, it’s blowing cold air out at you in the middle of February. One morning you wake up with excruciating tooth pain, and your dentist advises a course of antibiotics and a root canal. The list goes on and on. What personal examples could you add to the list?


Save your Finances from Serious Injury. In a time of need, your emergency fund will help you avoid serious injuries to your personal finances. Use it to avoid the discomfort and relationship issues that often come from seeking financial help from friends or family members. It will keep you out of or reduce your dependency on high cost debt. $1,000 borrowed on a credit card at 18% interest, making a minimum payment of $50 a month will take you TWO years to pay off and cost you $200 in interest. What’s the chance that another emergency will come up in the two years it takes to pay off the last emergency? It’s pretty likely. This is why, sadly, those without an emergency fund often find themselves in a cycle of debt.


How We Think Influences Our Actions. I hope that visualizing your emergency fund as a seatbelt--a highly protective necessity--will encourage you to start or build your own emergency fund. Today. :)


Financial Pearl, Marjorie McLean, MBA, AFC®


Socially Distance from Scammers

WARNING! DANGER! BE CAREFUL! There’s so much to be concerned about in these uncertain days of COVID-19–and unfortunately financial scammers are using this time to take advantage of others.

Today’s scams are preying on financial concerns and opportunities. They’re also preying on fears of the virus. Three ways to learn more and protect yourself.

1) SIGN UP FOR SCAM ALERTS at www.consumer.ftc.gov. Daily, the FTC is posting new scams and alerts for consumers.

2) This link has 10 great tips for avoiding scams and fraud. https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0060-10-things-you-can-do-avoid-fraud

3) One tip I want to emphasize is: TAKE YOUR TIME & SEEK TRUSTED ADVICE: Scammers are going to try to pressure you to take immediate action. They’re going to threaten dire consequences if you don’t. They are professionals and very good at making people feel desperate and concerned. Take some time and before you take any action or reveal and personal information, seek the advice of a trusted friend or family member to help you think through the situation.

Just like times are changing scammers change their scams to fit the times, so be knowledgeable and careful, especially in these times.

Marjorie McLean, MBA, AFC®


A Tale of Two Carrots

Note: This blog was written pre-pandemic. Now that grocery costs are on the rise, this way to save is even more valuable.

Have you taken a look at how much you spend on food lately? Many people who create a budget and look at how much they’re spending each month are surprised by their food bill. In financial counseling, it’s often the first area that someone tags as wanting to reduce.

The Tale of Two carrots is a story of cost vs. convenience. You can use it to see if your food spending is overburdened by convenience items.

If you’re like me, you probably enjoy those super cute, tiny, baby carrots. They are so perfectly tiny that there is no need to break out a knife to chop them into bite sized pieces. However, that perfectly tiny cuteness and convenience comes at a cost. At my grocery store, I can buy a 16 oz bag of giant carrots (you know the kind with the leafy green tops) for $1.00 OR I can by a 12 oz perfectly tiny carrot bag for $2.50. Reducing those to cost per ounce, I can pay 6 cents for the big carrots, or the perfectly tiny for 21 cents an ounce. I pay 350% more for convenience.

Just a small part of a bigger story. As you likely know, this isn’t just a tale of two carrots. It’s also a tale of block cheese vs pre-shredded cheese. In exchange for the time savers of not shredding it ourselves and having one less dish to wash, we pay 165% more per ounce. Same for those fancy pre-made zucchini zoodles, packaged soups, to go salad, pre-cooked chicken breast, pre-packed kids lunches, etc. In all these areas, we are trading off an increased cost for increased convenience.

Looking to trim those grocery store expenses, start here. What convenience items are you buying? How often? How much are they costing you each month? What are some alternatives?

Don’t forget the benefits: If you decide to do more prep work yourself to save some money, don’t forget there are some side benefits. You’ll work those arm muscles as you shred those blocks of Cheddar or Monterey Jack and slice, dice or julienne those large carrots into perfectly tiny pieces.

Marjorie McLean, MBA, AFC®


Taxes: Tips for Choosing a Tax Professional

Tax season is never easy. Here's some tips to follow when your choosing a tax professional.

Why should I be careful when choosing a tax professional?

  1. The tax professional will have access to key personal and financial information, such as your social security number, income and investment information. You need someone knowledgeable and trustworthy.

  2. You are still responsible. IRS Criminal Investigation (CI), notes, “Taxpayers are responsible for the accuracy of all entries made on their tax returns. This remains true whether the return is prepared by the taxpayer or by a return preparer.”

How much will I pay? How much you’ll pay a tax professional is based on many variables, such as the complexity of your return, how many schedules are needed, personal vs business income, etc. However, according to Better Financial Counseling Network’s, Jerry Zeigler, an Enrolled Agent (the highest credential the IRS awards),A tax professional should be able to provide an estimate on the price and explain from the beginning what fax forms and services that price is based on. To avoid seeing a price increase, due to unexpected items requiring more tax forms, be as clear as possible with your professional about your situation.”

Interview before deciding: As with any major purchase, it’s best practice to interview a few tax professionals, before making your decision. Zeigler states, “One way to help choose a tax professional is to get referrals from friends who have had a similar tax situation. Another method is to ask a tax question that you know the answer to as a screen of the professional’s answer. A more vague or evasive answer may be a red flag. Screening questions like this are a bit subjective and can have limitations, but they can be helpful.” If you are married, make sure both spouses are comfortable with the tax professional. This person may be a long-term resource, so it is important everyone is comfortable with not only the professional’s advice, but their manners and personality as well.

Utilize the Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications is a free searchable and sortable database. It includes the name, city, state and zip code of credentialed return preparers who are CPAs, enrolled agents or attorneys, as well as those who have completed the requirements for the IRS Annual Filing Season Program.

What Red Flags should I watch out for? IRS Criminal Investigation (CI) provides the following tips"

  • Avoid return preparers who claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers.

  • Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the amount of the refund.

  • Use a reputable tax professional that signs and enters a preparer tax identification number (PTIN) on your tax return and provides you with a copy for your records.

  • Consider whether the individual or firm will be around to answer questions about the preparation of your tax return, months, even years, after the return has been filed.

  • Never sign a blank tax form.

Marjorie McLean, MBA, AFC®