Prepare for a Strong Financial Future During Financial Capability Month
It’s never too early to start planning for your financial future, and National Financial Capability Month is the perfect time to begin. Whether you’re saving for college, learning how to be a smarter consumer or planning for retirement further down the road, we’ll help you unravel common money mysteries this month so you can ensure a strong financial future for yourself and your family.
The green banner at the top of this post will appear on all blog posts related to financial topics throughout the month of April. Keep an eye out for the banner and you’ll know you’ll find sound advice on how to make your money work for you.
To kick off the month, here’s a few financial tips to get you started:
Choose the Right Savings Account
Understanding the difference between different kinds of savings accounts can be overwhelming. Your goal is to find a safe place to put your money, but with all the options, how do you know which account is right for you?
Minimum deposit amount: Does the account require you to keep a certain amount of money in the account at all times?
Limit on withdrawals: How often can you take out money?
Interest: How much will your money earn just for being in the account?
Deposit Insurance: Is your money insured in case something happens?
Convenience: How easy it is to for you to deposit or withdraw money?
Be Prepared for an Emergency
Being financially prepared doesn’t just mean you understand your budget and have a healthy emergency fund. While having savings to fall back on will make it easier to recover after a disaster, a lack of quick access to cash and not being able to locate vital records, ATM cards or proof of identification can make it harder to get back on your feet quickly.
FEMA recommends you put together a financial emergency preparedness kit. Take inventory of valuables in your home for your insurance. Take photos of the items as well as the inside and outside of your house.
Store these photos, along with a small amount of cash and copies of important documents (like your insurance policies) in a safe place at home as part of your emergency disaster kit. In the event of an emergency, you’ll be able to use your kit to help file insurance claims.
Teach Your Kids Good Money Habits
Smart saving and spending habits start early in life. You can help your kids understand money basics with fun and educational comic strips from Kids.gov. The comics teach the importance of saving and help kids find creative ways to be frugal.
Order Free Financial Materials
If you want more free and trusted financial advice, order a packet of free financial materials and you’ll get tips on retirement benefits, smart saving for college, avoiding financial setbacks and more. You’ll also receive a copy of the Consumer Action Handbook, full of advice on how to avoid scams and fraud to protect your money and financial future.
Make sure to check back throughout the month to get even more financial advice.
By: Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association
What is the value of a strong public health system? The answers are quite literally all around us: in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and the places where we live, learn, work and play.
Today marks the beginning of National Public Health Week, an annual celebration organized by the American Public Health Association every April. This year’s theme, “Public Health is ROI: Save Lives, Save Money,” highlights the return on investment, or ROI, that public health programs and services deliver in protecting our health and reducing medical costs from diseases that could be prevented.
Did you know that investing $10 per person each year in community-based public health activities could save more than $16 billion within five years? That’s $5.60 returned for every dollar invested. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg:
Routine childhood immunizations save $9.9 million in direct health care costs, save 33,000 lives and prevent 14 million cases of disease.
Every $1 invested in the nation’s poison center system saves $13.39 in medical costs and lost productivity, saving a total of more than $1.8 billion every year.
From 1991 to 2006, investments in HIV prevention averted more than 350,000 infections and saved more than $125 billion in medical costs.
The benefits of tobacco cessation programs nearly always outweigh the costs, with a benefits-to-cost ratio reaching more than $2.50 for every $1 invested.
Substance abuse treatment has an ROI of $4-7 for every $1 invested.
Lowering health care spending and curbing disease rates is possible — and opportunities to do so are all around us. But most people may not know what public health is and how it impacts their lives.
National Public Health Week is an opportunity to raise awareness about the value of public health and its benefits on our lives and our pocketbooks. Each day carries a new theme, including health at home, at school, in the workplace, outdoors and in communities.
You can make the key difference. Make your mark during National Public Health Week by:
Millions of people suffer from allergies every spring, including many children. In fact, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, about 40 percent of children in the United States suffer from allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever.
Hay fever is triggered by breathing in allergens, like pollen, commonly found in springtime air. Sneezing and nasal congestion are some of the most common symptoms, but your symptoms can vary depending on the types of plants that grow where you live.
The following tips will help you minimize seasonal allergies in children, and learn more about allergy treatments.
How to Prevent Allergies in Children
If your child suffers from seasonal allergies, there are steps you can take to reduce their symptoms and decrease the use of medications:
During the spring, keep your children indoors in the evenings because pollen levels are highest during that time of day.
Keep your home and car windows closed during windy, sunny days.
Have your children take a shower after spending time outside to remove any pollen residue on their body or in their hair.
Have your children change their clothes after spending time outside because they will carry pollen indoors on their clothes.
Dry your clothes indoors instead of on an outdoor clothesline during this time of year.
Allergy Medicine for Children
Medicine can help alleviate allergy symptoms in children, but with any medication you give your child, be sure you’re using the right medication for your child’s age and weight. Follow the instructions carefully to be sure your child gets the correct dosage.
Over-the-counter, generic allergy medication is effective for many people and can cost less than prescription allergy medications. If you have any questions about what medications are right for your child, ask your family doctor.
Some common allergy medications include:
Nasal decongestants to relieve a stuffy nose.
Antihistamines to relieve sneezing, and an itchy, runny nose.
Nasal corticosteroids are also often used, but are available only by prescription.
For children who have allergy symptoms that are difficult to control, doctors will often give your child an allergy test to learn the exact cause of the allergy. Your doctor will recommend a special treatment based on the results of the allergy test.
By Jeanethe Falvey, EPA State of the Environment Project Manager
Our rivers no longer burn, nor do our lungs. Chemicals can no longer be dumped carelessly without consequences.
Forty years ago, EPA set out to document the state of our environment: in photographs. In a historic project known as DOCUMERICA, the country’s best photojournalists were given a doorway and ran through it: into mine shafts, living rooms and factories. Those 22,000 pictures will forever depict the state of the United States when the work of the Environmental Protection Agency was just beginning.
When DOCUMERICA closed in 1977, so did the box which contained those faces and places. They would not to be rediscovered – or revisited – until now.
Through the end of 2013, it’s your chance. What you see, can be a part of this unprecedented global call for photos of our lives and environment today.
Side by side, what will State of the Environment and DOCUMERICA say about our past and our current quality of life? What challenges have we overcome and what signs today point to the challenges ahead?
That’s up to you. Join the 2,800 photos and growing that have been submitted to State of the Environment on Flickr. From sea to space and our earthen travels, this project is all about your view.
As we approach Earth Day 2013, we hope you’ll join this global movement. We hope you embrace the potential of a single photograph and are inspired by the power of many.
A recent research poll showed that more than half of all American adults entered sweepstakes within the past year - most of which were legitimate and law-abiding. However, con artists try to capitalize on the popularity of these offers by disguising their illegal schemes.
The Federal Trade Commission receives thousands of complaints each year from consumers about gifts, sweepstakes, and prize promotions. You can protect yourself by recognizing the differences between legitimate sweepstakes and fraudulent ones:
Prizes in legitimate contests are awarded solely by chance. Contestants don’t have to pay a fee or buy something to enter or increase their odds of winning.
In fraudulent schemes, “winners” almost always have to pay to enter a contest or collect their “prize,” if they get a prize at all. Requiring a fee to enter is illegal.
Fraudulent sweepstakes promotions often show up through telemarketer calls, e-mails, or in the mail. You can reduce your chance of receiving these notifications by registering for the National Do Not Call Registry and by having your name removed from direct mail and e-mail marketing lists.
Every March Women’s History Month honors and celebrates the contributions of women throughout United States history.
This year’s Women’s History Month is the one hundred year anniversary of suffragists marching on Washington to promote women’s rights. In recognition of the anniversary, the National Archives created a Pinterest board where you can view photos, letters, a cartoon, and other documents from that period.
National Women’s History Week began in 1981, and the official month was recognized by Congress in 1987.
If you’re driving or walking and encounter flood water, turn around. Don’t drown.
It only takes six inches of water to knock over an adult and cause loss of control of a vehicle. A foot of water will float many vehicles and only two feet of rushing water will carry them away, including pickups and SUVs.
The depth of flood water is not always obvious. It can be especially hard to judge at night. The best option is to play it safe and turn around.
Every year more than two million poisonings are reported nationwide, and more than 90 percent of these poisonings happen in the home. The majority of non-fatal poisonings happen in children.
With so many of these incidents happening at home, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) offers these tips during National Poison Prevention Week (March 17-23) to protect your family every week of the year:
If you or someone you know may have been poisoned, call the toll-free Poison Help line right away at 1-800-222-1222, and you’ll be connected to your local poison center. If the person is not breathing, call 911.
If the person has poison on their skin, remove any clothing the poison may have touched and wash their skin with running water for 15 to 20 minutes. If poison is in the eyes, rinse their eyes with running water for 15 to 20 minutes.
Keep household products and medicines in their original containers with appropriate labeling. Many household items should be stored in a place out of reach to children.
Some art or school supplies contain chemicals that can be harmful to you or your children. Make sure to carefully read the directions and warnings to ensure proper use.
For People with Disabilities, There’s a “Ticket” to Work!
By Bob Williams, Associate Commissioner for Social Security’s Office of Employment Support Programs
Today, more than 13 million working-age people in the U.S. receive Social Security disability benefits. That’s almost one in every 15 adults. I know firsthand that for these individuals, finding and maintaining work can be particularly challenging, especially in today’s economy. For those who have considered returning to work or trying work for the first time, they may have questions like: Am I able to work? Who would hire me? What about job accommodations? How will work affect my disability benefits? If you’re a Social Security disability beneficiary, age 18 through 64, and thinking about work, these are important questions. The good news is that the Ticket to Work program is here to help!
What is Ticket to Work?
Social Security’s Ticket to Work program is a free and voluntary program that offers people who receive disability benefits improved access to meaningful employment. It provides the choices, opportunities, and support needed to find and maintain work and achieve greater financial independence. The program, with the help of special rules called Work Incentives, may allow participants to keep some of their benefits while they gain work experience.
Can I use the “Ticket”?
You already qualify and can participate in Ticket to Work if:
You are age 18 through 64 and,
You receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
Call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 (V) or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY) to get more information from a customer service representative.
Use the Find Help Tool to locate an Employment Network or Vocational Rehabilitation Agency.
Learn about real people who used their “Ticket” to find work and achieve financial independence in our success stories!
Going to work, meeting new people, and pursuing a career can greatly enhance your quality of life. The Ticket to Work program takes commitment, but the effort can be very rewarding. If you are interested in changing your life through work, or you know someone who is, explore your options through Social Security’s Ticket to Work program. It could be the best decision you ever make!
Why is Today the First Day of Spring? The Science Behind the Seasons
The vernal (or spring) equinox occurs just after 7 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, March 20. If you live in the United States or other places in earth’s Northern Hemisphere, spring began for you at that time.
The Latin word equinox means “equal night.” On the day of an equinox, daytime and nighttime are almost the exact same length. This will happen again on the autumnal equinox in exactly one half year.
Why doesn’t every day have equal parts day and night?
This constantly changing variation in the length of daytime is actually caused by the same thing that gives us changing seasons: the tilt in the earth’s axis.
The earth spins on an axis that has an angle which is 23.5 degrees different from the angle of the path the earth makes around the sun.
Here’s a longer explanation:
Night and day are caused by the rotation of the earth on its axis. Sometimes your part of the earth is facing the sun (day), and sometimes your part is facing away (night). One rotation takes about twenty-four hours.
Meanwhile, the earth is traveling around the sun in a path called an orbit. One full orbit takes one full year.
If the angle of the earth’s orbit and the angle of the earth’s equator were the same, the sun’s rays would hit all of the places of the earth the same way all year long. In addition, every place on earth would have one never-ending season with temperatures that got colder as you moved further from the equator.
However, our orbit and our equator don’t line up. The earth is tilted on its axis. For half a year’s time, the bottom half (Southern Hemisphere) of the earth gets more sun than the top half (Northern Hemisphere). During the next six months, the top half gets more. The vernal equinox begins six months of longer and warmer days for the Northern Hemisphere.
The Federal Trade Commission released its top 10 complaint categories for 2012.
For the first time ever, the agency received more than two million complaints. Of the two million complaints, 18 percent were related to identity theft. Of those 18 percent, almost half were related to tax or wage fraud.
Here is a complete list of the top 10 complaint categories:
Identity Theft - 369,132 complaints
Debt collection - 199,721 complaints
Banks and Lenders - 132,340 complaints
Shop-at-Home and Catalog Sales - 115,184 complaints
Prizes, Sweepstakes and Lotteries - 98,479 complaints
Impostor Scams - 98,479 complaints
Internet Services - 81,438 complaints
Auto-Related Complaints - 78,062 complaints
Telephone and Mobile Services - 76,783 complaints
Credit Cards - 51,550 complaints
The FTC uses the Consumer Sentinel Network to record complaints throughout the year. The secure database is available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies across the country and helps agencies research cases and track targets.
If you are thinking about buying or leasing a car, there’s a lot to consider before you make a final decision.
First, you need to decide what type of car will fit your needs and your budget. With so many choices available in the car market, setting a budget first helps you narrow down your search based on what you can afford.
Other important considerations include safety measures, fuel economy, and the credibility of the dealer or individual selling you the car.
Safety: Many tests are done on car safety before any vehicles hit the roads. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety are just two places you can check on a car’s safety rating and features. You can also find out from NHTSA if a vehicle has been recalled for safety defects.
Title: If you’re buying from an individual seller, it is important to check on the title to make sure you are working with the actual vehicle owner. You can check on the title with your local Better Business Bureau. Just enter your zip code, and you’ll find an office to assist you. If you’re buying from a dealer, you can check on their credibility with your local consumer affairs office.
Financing: Whether you’re leasing or buying a car, most people have to do some type of financing when purchasing a vehicle. Two common types are direct lending or dealership financing. It’s important to do your research so you know which type of financing is right for you. The Federal Trade Commission explains your options and defines financing lingo so you can be prepared.
You’re not the only one waiting for your tax refund. Scammers are looking for it too. In fact, every year there are more and more scams designed to steal tax refunds.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says these kinds of thefts have increased substantially in the last few years. Between 2010 and 2012, the number of investigations opened by the IRS grew from 224 to 898, according to the latest figures.
Find out more about tax refund scams, how to protect yourself from identity theft and what to do if you are a victim.
It All Starts with Identity Theft
Tax refund thefts usually begin when someone steals your personal information, such as your Social Security number. This is called identity theft.
To get your information, scammers use a technique called phishing, where a scammer tries to fool you into revealing your personal data.
This is how it works:
They send you fake e-mail messages or websites pretending to be someone they’re not, such as the IRS or the Social Security Administration.
They ask you to provide your personal or financial information such as your Social Security number or your credit card numbers.
Once they have the information they need, they file your taxes in your name and wait until they get your refund.
How to Protect Yourself
This is what you can do to protect yourself from this scam:
Be careful with websites that pretend to be the IRS. The official IRS website is http://www.irs.gov/
If somebody calls you and says they are an employee of the IRS, take down their employee identification number and call 1-800-829-1040 to make sure the call is legitimate.
Do not provide your Social Security number or other personal information to anybody you consider suspicious.
What to Do If You Are a Victim
Many taxpayers find out they’ve are victims of tax refund scams when they get a letter from the IRS saying their taxes have been filed twice. If you get such a letter, contact the IRS immediately to try to correct the situation.
You can find out the status of your tax return by visiting the official IRS website. You will be asked to provide personal information such as your Social Security number and the amount of your expected tax return.
If you would like assistance or would like to report identity theft, contact the IRS or call 1-800-908-4490.
The Library of Congress recently added its first all emoji book to its collection, “Emoji Dick” by Fred Benenson which is a retelling of “Moby Dick.”
Emoji are the little symbols like smiley faces and hearts that you may have seen used in text messages or on social media.
Benenson funded his book through a Kickstarter campaign and then had thousands of people translate one sentence of Moby Dick into emoji.
Michael Neubert, a recommending officer for the Library of Congress’ collections, said, “There is, in the literal sense, no other book in the Library’s collections like it. What is striking for the Library’s collections about this work is that it takes a known classic of literature and converts it to a construct of our modern way of communicating, making possible an investigation of the question, ‘is it still a literary classic when written in a kind of smart phone based pidgin language?’”
Other websites offer the Death Master File, but these are not endorsed by the Social Security Administration. The Social Security Administration cannot confirm if these websites are either accurate or current.
Don't Get Ripped Off by Fraudulent Health Products
Scammers have been selling fake health products for hundreds of years. They will promise everything from weight loss to a cure for cancer in exchange for your money. These scams aren’t only a waste of money, they can be dangerous. Unproven medical treatments can be damaging to your health and even deadly.
One product does it all. Be suspicious of products that claim to cure a wide range of diseases. A New York firm claimed its products marketed as dietary supplements could treat or cure senile dementia, brain atrophy, atherosclerosis, kidney dysfunction, gangrene, depression, osteoarthritis, dysuria, and lung, cervical and prostate cancer. In October 2012, at FDA’s request, U.S. marshals seized these products.
Personal testimonials. Success stories, such as, “It cured my diabetes” or “My tumors are gone,” are easy to make up and are not a substitute for scientific evidence.
Quick fixes. Few diseases or conditions can be treated quickly, even with legitimate products. Beware of language such as, “Lose 30 pounds in 30 days” or “eliminates skin cancer in days.”
“All natural.” Some plants found in nature (such as poisonous mushrooms) can kill when consumed. Moreover, FDA has found numerous products promoted as “all natural” but that contain hidden and dangerously high doses of prescription drug ingredients or even untested active artificial ingredients.
“Miracle cure.” Alarms should go off when you see this claim or others like it such as, “new discovery,” “scientific breakthrough” or “secret ingredient.” If a real cure for a serious disease were discovered, it would be widely reported through the media and prescribed by health professionals—not buried in print ads, TV infomercials or on Internet sites.
Conspiracy theories. Claims like “The pharmaceutical industry and the government are working together to hide information about a miracle cure” are always untrue and unfounded. These statements are used to distract consumers from the obvious, common-sense questions about the so-called miracle cure.
From the Preservation Division at the National Archives
This Thursday the National Archives holds its Preservation EXPO in Washington DC so you can learn more about how to preserve a whole range of media that document family history as well as our national history.
We would love to have you come. But maybe you can’t be in Washington DC March 14th to visit the National Archives Building for the Preservation EXPO. If not, here are tips to help your papers and photos last as long as possible.
How do I preserve my family papers and photos?
Proper storage and safe handling practices are key to preserving paper and photographs. Your personal documents last longer when stored in a stable environment similar to what you find comfortable yourself: 60-70 degrees F; 40-50% relative humidity (RH); with clean air and good circulation.
High heat and moisture accelerate the chemical processes that make paper brittle and discolored, and that deteriorate photos. Damp environments may cause mold growth or encourage pests that use the documents for food or nesting material.
So the central part of your home provides a safer storage environment than a hot attic, a damp basement, or a garage.
Light also damages paper and photographs, especially light with abundant ultraviolet such as fluorescent fixtures and daylight. Light exposure has cumulative and irreversible effects; they promote chemical degradation and fade inks and dyes. Permanent display of valuable documents is not recommended. Photocopies, digital images or photos of documents can be substituted for display.
Store personal papers in appropriate sized enclosures, a folder, box, portfolio, etc., that provide physical protection as well as protection from light and dust.
How can I safely mount my documents, memorabilia, and photos into albums or scrapbooks?
The method you use to assemble scrapbooks, photograph albums or memory books can enhance the preservation of the items or can cause irreversible damage.
Avoid mounting with the following materials: white glue, rubber cement, pressure-sensitive tapes and films, staples, or hot glue gun adhesives. These materials do not age well and can physically damage and discolor paper and photographs.
Avoid albums with self-stick pages (“magnetic pages”) because the adhesive used on the mounting page is poor quality.
There are several safe alternatives for mounting. Valuable items such as birth certificates, family letters, and photographs should be mounted without use of glue or other adhesives. Use clear envelopes and sleeves made of stable plastics such as polyester and polypropylene to hold the materials and as album pages. Another good mounting method uses corners made from stable plastics (such as polypropylene and polyester) or from stable paper.
Plastic and paper corners used to mount photos should be made of a material that has passed the Photographic Activity Test (PAT). The PAT test determines if a storage material will cause fading or staining of photographs.
The PAT test, developed by the American National Standards Institute, appears in a national standard named ANSI IT9.16, Photographic Activity Test. Many manufacturers test their products with the PAT and advertise storage materials that have passed the PAT.
Paper corners to be used with paper memorabilia need to meet the standard for permanent paper ANSI/NISO Z39.48, Permanence of Paper for Publication of Documents in Libraries and Archives. This standard specifies the characteristics of paper that is long lasting and that will not harm documents with which it is in contact.
How should I frame and display my photographs and documents?
Decorative frames, available at many stores, are appropriate for everyday snapshots. Often these frames lack a mat or spacers to keep the document or photograph from contact with the glass, or have a poor quality acidic paper mat.
Unfortunately, many unmatted photos have been damaged or permanently stuck to glass when fluid seeped between the glass and photo. This fluid may come from liquid cleaner sprayed on frame glass or beverages spilled near the frame.
Never use liquid cleaners around photographs and artwork. Many cleaners are corrosive and can cause immediate fading and staining if they, or their vapors, come in contact with a photo or a document.
Mat important personal photographs or photographic artworks with museum quality mat board for the window mat and the backboard. Mat board for photos should have passed the ANSI IT9.16 Photographic Activity Test (PAT).
Photo corners work well to secure a photo to a backboard when the window mat will cover the photo edges and hide the photo corner. But do not use photo corners on unmounted prints larger than 20 x 24 inches, or very fragile photos.
Large or fragile photos should be attached to the backboard with stable paper hinges adhered to the back top edge of the photo and then secured to the backboard. Hinging should be left to a qualified framer or conservator.
Once a treasured photograph or document is properly matted and framed, do not display it in direct sunlight, or under bright lamps, near heat sources or in damp locations such as basements, kitchens or bathrooms. Typical diffuse home lighting is not harmful over the short term, but display in rooms that receive direct sunlight can cause rapid fading.
Light will cause fading and other irreversible damage that may become objectionable over time. So avoid extensive display of treasured documents and photographs that you want to pass on to future generations. Instead, make and display a duplicate copy while the original is stored safely in a storage container with other valued papers and keepsakes.
If you heard recent news reports about a devastating sinkhole in Florida, you may be wondering how this type of event occurs.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), sinkholes are most common in karst terrain, or regions where the rock below the land surface is soluble. When water from rainfall moves down through the soil, the rock begins to dissolve, creating spaces and caverns underground. If the underground spaces get too big, a sudden collapse occurs.
About 20 percent of the United States is susceptible to sinkhole events, but the most damage tends to occur in Florida, Texas, Alabama, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania.
Detailed geologic mapping, which defines areas of soluble rock at the surface and subsurface, can help educate land planners and policy makers about sinkhole risk. If you know that you live in an area underlain by soluble rock, check your property for holes in the ground or cracks in your structure’s foundation.