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May 31, 2010

Your money Q&A

We are two elderly folks, ages 91 and 84, who have not been in the stock market for some time – thank goodness. But we are at a loss to know what to do with some cash we recently got from a certificate of deposit. What is being offered in the way of interest on another CD leads us to believe we’re just as well off to “put it under our mattrress” – more or less.
Name withheld, Coconut Creek
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Leave that bed alone! But you might feel like jumping under the covers when you consider that the average one-year CD is paying only 0.7 percent, according to Bankrate.com.

Certified Financial Planner Ronald Myers of Associated Financial Consultants in Fort Lauderdale says if you plan to not touch the principal and pass this money on to your family after death, you could take a little more risk than a government-insured CD. Myers said you could put together a basket of preferred stocks and short-term bond mutual funds and probably come up with a 4 percent to 5 percent yield.

Another idea: A fixed-rate annuity, if you act before the 84-year-old’s next birthday.

There’s a five-year annuity from Lincoln National available to customers up to age 85. Its effective rate is 3.15 percent if you invest $100,000 or more. That beats the five-year CD average of about 2 percent.

Your money would be locked up. If you needed your principal before the end of five years, you’d pay surrender fees - and it could lower the interest you are paid. However, the owner of this annuity is allowed to withdraw 10 percent of the principal in any one year. The same is true for many others.

You can check, too, to see if the money can be taken out penalty-free in the event of death or the start of nursing home care on other annuities.

The interest you receive will be taxable, like ordinary income.

Normally inflation is a problem because it eats away at the purchasing power of fixed payments, but inflation has been extremely low in recent years.

And your risk? The payout depends upon the financial strength of Lincoln National – and you can check the ratings on the company’s web site, www.lfg.com. If it goes out of business, Florida’s state insurance guaranty fund is designed to back fixed annuities up to $100,000.

For more information on that annuity,go here or call: 800 950-2454.

Before you make a decision, there may be similar or even better deals out there, so shop around. But stick to fixed-rate annuities to avoid too much risk and to financially sound firms.


Your money questions answered

Do you have a question about personal finance? Submit your question for consideration to Harriet Johnson Brackey at 954-356-4628 or sunsentinel.com/moneyquestions. Financial advisors will offer answers online every Monday.

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May 28, 2010

Bank Overdrafts: New rules, old problems

Consumers are finally getting some protection to their most personal of financial accounts, their checking, debit and credit cards.2832828.thl.jpg
It’s good. But it’s far from perfect, as my column to be published in the newspaper on Sunday shows. The column will be posted online this weekend, as well.

The issue is overdraft fees related to debit-card purchases and withdrawals from automated teller machines. Consumers pay these onerous fees when they mess up, by spending more than they have in their accounts that back the debit cards. These fees add up to billions in profit for banks and other financial institutions.

All that’s just the way it is. If it were easy or inexpensive to overdraw your account, you might do it more often.

But banks were getting out of hand with the fees, charging them automatically for overdrafts even when you might have wanted them to refuse a transaction because you ran out of money. Finally, the Federal Reserve has stepped in with some new rules.

The rules do several good things, but they don’t tell the banks to limit what they charge. They also don’t tell the banks to stop charging you several fees a day.

Some banks are working to preserve their right to charge you, essentially, anything they want. That’s the story my column tells.

Imperfect protection? Tell me what you think.

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May 27, 2010

Watch out for oil spill stock schemes

In the wake of drenched pelicans, stock promoters are touting investments in companies that claim to be involved in cleanup operations for the Gulf of Mexico.

Watch out.

“While some of the companies touting their role in the cleanup may be legitimate, others could be bogus operations that are only looking to clean out unsuspecting investors,” said a news release Thursday from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Finra and the SEC issued an investor alert about oil spill stock schemes.

The SEC earlier this week suspended trading in the stock of ACT Clean Technologies of Huntington Beach, Ca., because of questions about claims that a unit of the company licensed a promising “oil fluidizer technology” and that BP was interested in using it to clean up the spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Finra and the SEC suggest you watch out for:
• Claims to have products or technologies that are effective in remediating oil spills or restoring the eco-system
• Mention of contracts or expected contracts with BP, formerly British Petroleum, that will aid the cleanup effort
• Claims that the company is providing technical assistance or expertise to BP or to U.S. government agencies such as the Coast Guard or the Environmental Protection Agency
• Predictions of rapid, exponential sales growth
• Pressure to invest immediately


To avoid getting caught, the SEC and Finra suggest investors look closely at any claims made by a company or by others discussing a stock in a blog or through Twitter or on a message board.

Regulators say, “Be extremely wary of any pitch that suggests immediate pay-offs, especially if the investment involves a start-up company or a product or service that is still in development.”

If you have a complaint, here’s where to go: www.sec.gov or www.finra.org/complaint

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May 26, 2010

Hey, you, let go of that paper (check)

Here's my public service announcement to mark the start next week of hurricane season: Get direct deposit.

This message is for those 109,000 Fort Lauderdale folks so attached to paper that they receive actual checks when they get their Social Security benefits. It also is for all dunderheads who still go to the bank with their paychecks.

Let me remind you: One of the hardest things to get after Hurricane Wilma in 2005 was cash. Because first you had to have electricity and then open banks or working automated teller machines.

It was about a week and in some cases longer after the storm before banks were able to operate normally.

As part of Hurricane Preparedness Week, Gary Beets, a U.S. Treasury regional financial center
director, was trotting out the message that people should consider direct deposit or an electronic payment option for their Social Security Benefits.

About 80 percent of those who get these payments do have them deposited directly into their account. But those 109,000 paper-check-lovers in Fort Lauderdale are part of 435,000 statewide. In Florida, more than 4.2 million Social Security and Supplemental Security Income payments are processed each month.

To get your payment electronically means one of two things: Either the money flows through a direct deposit into your bank account or it is credited on to a debit MasterCard. The Treasury has offered the debit cards since 2008 for those who don’t have bank accounts. You can use the cards at ATMs and to make purchases, but users can be charged fees in some instances.

For more information on direct deposit, go to www.godirect.org or call 800-333-1795 . For info on the debit card option, go to www.usdirectexpress.com or call 877-212-9991

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Brokerage expanding in South Florida

South Florida’s hot, again, in the eyes of at least one investment firm.

Edward Jones, based in St. Louis, plans to expand dramatically from 33 South Florida offices to as many as 150 locations in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. It is hiring brokers and would-be financial advisors.

“We have a very different market strategy than I think our competitors have,” said Darcy Breeman, regional leader for Edward Jones in South Florida. “We will wait to open a branch until we find the right candidate for that location.” The timetable for opening the offices, which would have at least one financial advisor each, is flexible, she said.

In South Florida, the firm sees a lot of room for growth. Edward Jones says it serves almost 7 million investors nationwide, but its presence until 2000 was concentrated more in smaller towns than in major metro areas. The St. Louis-based firm emphasizes face-to-face contact and personal service.

But to expand dramatically in an area still struggling to find the end of the economic downturn? And when the volatile stock market has turned down? In the last three years, the brokerage industry seemed to be a place for mergers, not expansion. A.G. Edwards became part of Wachovia and Bank of America absorbed Merrill Lynch.

“People need help, probably more than ever before,” Beeman said. “Now you really have to have a plan and you need to find somebody you can trust.”

Beeman said there’s a June 1 recruiting event in Miami and another at her Fort Lauderdale office June 15. For more information, call 954-566-4252 or go to EdwardJones.com.

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May 25, 2010

Consumer confidence falls

Take away the tax breaks and Florida's attitude gets glum.

The University of Florida reports that Florida’s index of consumer confidence plummeted seven points to 71 in May after the first-time homebuyers tax credit and rebates for energy-efficient appliances ended.

“We expected a big decline in consumer confidence as these two major stimulus programs ran out,” said Chris McCarty, survey director at UF's Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

The index was at 78 in April, the highest point so far this year. The record low as 59 in June, 2008.

McCarty doesn't expect consumer confidence to head upward over the summer. In fact, he said it's possible consumers' attitude could get worse.

“We expect Florida’s consumer confidence to remain in the low 70s for the next several months, unless the effects of the oil spill show a direct effect on Florida, the stock market continues to decline or Florida has a bad hurricane season, in which case it would fall lower,” he said.

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May 24, 2010

How does your credit card compare?

TThe Federal Reserve Monday said it has compiled all that fine print that 300 credit card issuers send consumers into a searchable database. 3663119.thl.jpg

The Federal Reserve Monday said it has compiled all that fine print that 300 credit card issuers send consumers into a searchable database.

Want to know if your card's terms are favorable? Or even normal? The data base has pricing and fee agreements for most major card companies.

You can find it here: www.federalreserve.gov/creditcardagreements.

The Fed plans to update its data base every quarter, staring in August.

“The idea is good. It’s another reason there really should be no excuses for not knowing the terms of a card,” said Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com. “But for it to work, people have to use it.”

Indeed, the legal descriptions included in the data base are pretty broad – with ranges of applicable interest rates for example, rather than the actual rate that you might be paying. For that kind of detail, a consumer has to look at the account online or on the monthly statement, McBride said.

The Fed’s new data base isn’t an easy place to go shopping for the best card, because it doesn’t include a search engine. A number of private firms, including Bankrate.com, CardRatings.com and LowCards.com, have useful tools that allow you to shop for cards that have the features you might need, such as cards with the best reward programs or cards geared to those who have poor credit.

Of course, you can go surfing the Internet to get most cards’ details. Under the terms of a 2009 federal law, credit card issuers must also post account agreements on their websites.

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No more Madoff: Outsmart invesment fraud, free seminar

When it comes to investments, you don’t have to be the next victim of some greedy scum. And you don’t have to be afraid of falling into the clutches of the next Bernard Madoff, if you arm yourself with some knowledge.

“Outsmarting Investment Fraud” is a free seminar Tuesday in West Palm Beach. The goal is to help seniors who want to fight back against crooks and con-artists. The seminar is open to anyone, regardless of age.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Foundation, along with Florida state regulators and AARP Florida and the Securities and Exchange Commission are hosting the forum. The information you get there will be unbiased.

To register for the event, go here: http://www.saveandinvest.org/55Plus/Events/P121332
Or call 866-862-0110.

You may be asked to leave your registration in a voice message – I was on hold for quite a while and did not reach a person – but with one call you are allowed to register as many people as you like.

The 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. forum will be held at the West Palm Beach Marriott, 1001 Okeechobee Blvd., in the Regency Ballroom.

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May 20, 2010

Loan modifications: Wells Fargo/Wachovia wants borrowers to come to Miami Beach workshop

Wells Fargo and Wachovia have invited more than 15,000 of their mortgage customers to meet in person to work out loan modifications at a three-day workshop in Miami Beach.

“We know South Florida is one of the areas hit hardest by the foreclosure problem,” said bank spokeswoman Kathy Harrison.

Of the 15,000 borrowers invited to the home preservation workshop, “Some are in foreclosure, some are at least two months past due and some have already started working with someone,” she said. “This is an opportunity for them to get face-to-face and get some answers.”

Wells Fargo is bringing 300 of its employees to the event. At previous home preservation workshops in other cities, Harrison said two out of three people who attended were able to get a loan modification on the spot.

About 1,200 borrowers pre-registered, but Harrison said other borrowers who have not responded to the bank’s invitation can still attend.

For more information, call 800-405-8067 or go to www.wfhmevents.com\leadingthewayhome.

The home preservation workshop takes place Friday, Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., at the Miami Beach Convention Center, Hall D, 1901 Convention Center Dr.

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May 19, 2010

Be careful about crafting financial reform, Domino says

Financial Reform: Good kid, behaving badly. What do you do about him?

That’s the analogy Carl Domino, a well-known investment manager from Jupiter, used to discuss the Senate, which is the parent in this story, trying to figure out the new rules for Wall Street, the misbehaving kid.

Domino’s firm handles around $200 million. On the rest of his resume, Domino is a Republican state representative who is running for the Florida state senate in District 25, which straddles Palm Beach and Broward.

He spoke to the Financial Planning Association of Broward Tuesday

“I’m more disturbed by the fact that the Senators (who are discussing financial reform) clearly have no idea of how financial markets work,” he said.

The kid behaving badly might need discipline, “But don’t wipe out the capital markets in the process,” he said.

On markets, Domino had a pretty sunny short-term outlook, with the storm clouds on the longer-term horizon.

His concerns? The usual for a money manager: Unease spreading from Greece across Europe and the growing U.S. federal deficit .

But here’s where he says the good news is:

-U.S. employment has been growing not just in April, but for three consecutive months.

-Retail sales are strongest in the high end of the market

-Houses are starting to sell and since building activity is so low, he said there’s a possibility a year from now of a shortage of homes

-Auto sales are increasing and last year surpassed auto production

-Corporate balance sheets are so strong that companies are considering increasing dividends.

-Earnings are becoming more predictable.

“Longer term is where the higher risks start,” he said. His list: inflation, increasing government spending rising interest rates and increased regulation.

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May 18, 2010

Loan modifications: Slowdown in starts, but why?

The Treasury's loan modification report for April had some interesting numbers.

Among them:

-In Florida, the number of people in a trial loan mod - the first step - fell by more than 17,000 between March and April. So fewer people are going into the Obama administration's Making Home Affordable program.

-Also in Florida, more than 36,000 loan mods have become permanent by April, up from 28,000 in March. That's good, for those borrowers.

-But we don't know how many people in the state are eligible for a loan mod. The Treasury doesn't say. The closest indication I can find is mortgage delinquencies and we'll find out tomorrow what that figure was for the first quarter of this year, when the Mortgage Bankers Association makes its announcement.

-The Treasury has slashed its estimate of how many borrowers nationwide are eligible for a loan mod. In January, it said there were 3.4 million loans eligible. In April, the report says just 1.7 million.

Anybody out there know why?

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Free credit scores!

Free, really free, credit scores with no strings attached may be coming soon.

The Senate tacked an amendment on to the financial reform bill that would allow consumers to get their credit scores for free.

Right now, consumers can't get them without paying a fee. You've been able to get your credit report, since 2003, once a year for free, but it didn't come with a score. That frustrates many consumers, who know that the score is the peg that determines so much about loans, credit and insurance.

If the Senate's amendment passes unchanged, someone could get their own credit score if it is used to deny them credit or a job. Also, it'll be free if the score is the reason the consumer is charged a higher interest rate on a loan.

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May 17, 2010

More than 15,000 Florida charities at risk of losing tax-exempt status

It could be the end of tax-exempt status for more than 15,000 Florida non-profits or charities today.

That's because May 17 is the deadline for most to file tax returns. If they have not filed a return in three consecutive years, the Internal Revenue Service is required to revoke their tax-exempt status.

According to GuideStar, which researches non-profits, 15,567 organizations in Florida that either haven't filed the Form 990 annual return since 2007 or have never filed one. The list from GuideStsar goes from New Alternaitves Inc. in Miami to Jupter Noseriders Inc. in Jupiter. GuideStar Spokeswoman Suzanne Coffman said many of the non-filers might already be defunct.

For the rest, the loss of tax-exempt status could be a major blow, because donors who want to deduct their contributions or who offer nonprofit discounts could pull back .

The 2006 Pension Protection Act requires the IRS to yank the tax-exempt status for non-filers. Monday’s tax-filing deadline for Form 990 is for organizations that operate using the calendar year.

Non-profits can reapply for their tax-exempt status, but the process can take several months. Any donations received in between the loss of the status and its reinstatement would be taxable.

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Robbed? When is a safe-deposit box not so safe

Has anything ever disappeared from your safe-deposit box?
My colleague Doreen Hemlock is looking for anyone whose box isn't as safe as it should be.
A family contacted us recently to say they found their box empty at a Hollywood bank. They’ve filed a police report.
An Internet search suggests their complaint is not an isolated case.
If you’ve had safety problems with your safe-deposit box, contact Doreen Hemlock at dhemlock@sunsentinel.com or 305-810-5009.

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Searching for stability in unstable markets

In case you missed it, here's my latest column, about how to deal with volatility in the stock market.

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May 14, 2010

Mortgages: New Help coming for South Florida's troubled homeowners

Fannie Mae – which backs a slew of mortgages in South Florida – may be getting ready to devote a lot of resources to help troubled homeowners in Broward County get loan modifications.

It would happen through a large-scale mediation process that would be set up in Broward’s courts. Fannie Mae’s Senior Manager for Media Relations Jason Vasquez told me that he's not ready to discuss the program yet, but he promised more details later.

What may happen is mediation begins when the borrower is 60 days behind, before foreclosure proceedings begin. If qualified, the borrower will be offered a loan modification under the Obama administration’s Making Home Affordable program. If the borrower makes the payments, all’s well.

When Fannie Mae makes this official, I’ll let homeowners know where they can look for help.

There’s another mediation process in Broward courts that’s gearing up to begin July 1, to work with homeowners whose loans are owned by all other financial institutions. The American Arbitration Association is running that one.

The thing about mediation: It may be the only place where some borrowers actually get to talk to a lender who can change their loans. Borrowers now are stuck in the rabbit-trap of voice mails and very few opportunities for a face-to-face meeting.

And: I’m still looking for people to talk to for a story about the foreclosure process in local courts. Homeowners, I’d like to talk to you, if you’ve been before a judge in South Florida. Just post a comment below.

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Loan modifications: South Florida borrower finally gets one

“I did not go out and buy theTaj Mahal,” Mark Belmonte told me the first time we talked. Not even close. It’s a two-bedroom, one-bath modest house in Oakland Park that he bought in 2007 with a stupid mortgage.

What he was trying to do was to get out of his interest-only deal and into a reasonable loan with a decent interest rate.

On an interest-only loan, you never pay it off. The loan balance isn’t amortized. Only the interest is paid.

He wanted to refinance or modify his mortgage into a regular, old-fashioned amortizing loan. He wanted to do the same with a second mortgage.

Why such a lousy loan? He got caught in the market’s downturn, trying to arrange for a short sale of one home while buying another. Then, he got slammed at his job with a reduction in pay. And, he was underwater in his loan, meaning he owed more than the house is worth.

He was seven months into the loan modification process when we first talked. His lender is Suntrust. And somehow, he could never seem to get through to them to get the loan modification finalized.

Good news arrived in the email box this morning.

After 14 months of effort, Belmonte got his loan modifications through the Obama administration’s Making Home Affordable program.

The deal saves him about $128 a month in payments.

“It’s nice to share some good news even if it’s long in coming,” he said.

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May 13, 2010

Online banking beats in-person for customer satisfaction

They’re lining up. The consumers and their not-so-positive opinions about banks.

They are saying, in a study released today, that online banking provides them with a more satisfying experience than banking in person.

And here’s the twist: The nation’s largest banks – Bank of America, Citibank, Chase, PNC and Wells Fargo—scored the lowest in the study for online banking satisfaction. by ForeSee Results and Forbes.com Highest: Credit unions.

So the little guys beat the big guys where it matters, in satisfying their customers.

Remember last week, when I reported the J.D. Power and Associates survey about banks?

The little-er bank beat out all others. BankAtlantic topped all the major national banks in Florida in its customers’ rating.

But overall, J.D. Power found that customer satisfaction is declining nationwide and the ranks of highly committed, loyal customers are thinning.

Unhappy customers can be pretty demanding. And willing to check out the competition when they want service.

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May 12, 2010

Pump up your Social Security benefits

Even if it is years and years until you even consider retirement, here's something to think about that could mean more money in your pocket.1195422853575736333ArtFavor_Money_Bag_Icon.svg.thumb.png

I suggest you tap into the debate about how to pump up your Social Security benefits to the max.

Here's one of the articles about it that's very interesting. It's from Investment News and you can read it here.

If you don't know much about Social Security, you really should get up to speed. Your marital status, your age and your work history all impact that eventual benefit. You should know something about how it works, so you can, well, work it, to your advantage.


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May 11, 2010

Teens: Here's how to find a summer job

You've heard how bad the job situation is for teenagers this summer. But here's help.
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WorkForce One in Broward has put together a series that answers many of the questions young job seekers may have, such as what should be in a resume and what information will I have to give on a job application.

The Top Ten Tips for Teens are online here.

And, if you'd like to catch the eye of South Florida employers, you can upload a 30-second video about why you should be hired at SunSentinel.com/hireme.

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May 10, 2010

What are you doing about your credit card debt?

While consumers are getting praise for paying down their debts and holding off on spending until their financial houses are in better order, along comes CardHub,com and blows that all away.

Actually, 90 percent of the debt reduction that happened last year was because consumers were defaulting. Not paying. Rather than paying their debts down, says a report from the site.

The statistics come from car issuers, credit bureaus, the Federal Reserve and others.

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May 7, 2010

Foreclosure, mortgages: Bring your problems to this forum

Tomorrow's the day. If you're having a problem with foreclosure, loan modifications or mortgage fraud, you can tell it to Florida's Attorney General in person.
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On Saturday, May 8, in Miami, Attorney General Bill McCollum will be on hand for a Mortgage Fraud Community Forum. He's hosting the event with Florida's Interagency Mortgage Task Force.

The session is on "The Housing Crisis, Who to Trust and Where to Turn." As Florida's housing market deteriorated, the AG's office has logged hundreds of complaints about loan modifications and has launched numerous investigations into mortgage scams.

It's open to the public and free, but reservations are required. Call 877-385-1621.
It will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Miami Dade College, Wolfson Campus, Chapman Conference Center, 300 N.E. Second Ave.

The AG's office says you can get help on how to face foreclosure, housing scams, mortgage fraud, loan modifications and finding legal assistance.

Certified housing counselors, volunteer lawyers, as well as representatives of Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo/Wachovia and SunTrust will be on hand.

Also attending will be representatives of:
Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Office of Financial Regulation, Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Florida Bar, Dade County Bar Legal Aid Society, Cuban American Bar and the Collins Center Foreclosure Mediation Program.

For more information, go to www.myfloridalegal.com/mortgagefraud.

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May 6, 2010

Retirement: Do the numbers

To get your retirement plan on track, first, you have to have a plan. Brilliant, eh? But more than half of us just can’t face it right now.3693126.thl.jpg

I’m going to blame the economy. When the economy’s down, we are not in the mood to calculate how much money we need for retirement. When the stock market’s soaring, hey, no problem. We do the numbers.

That’s what it looks like to me in the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s 2010 Retirement Confidence Survey.

It says that in 2000, when tech stocks were soaring and people’s portfolios were looking good, 53 percent of workers tried to calculate how much money they’d need for a comfortable retirement. We went into a recession in 2001 and after the tech stock bubble burst, the figure fell to 38 percent in 2002.

Last year, only 44 percent of workers calculated what they’d need for retirement. This year, it’s 46 percent.

Doing the math is essential. If you know what you’ll need, you’ll start to plan for how you’ll get it. You’ll get real about retirement. If you never do the math, retirement will remain a dream.

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May 4, 2010

IRS open house


Tax troubles still bothering you? The IRS wants to talk. It's having a nationwide open house Saturday, May 15.

The goal: "to help small businesses and individuals solve tax problems."

Any and all problems can be discussed, including how to make payment arrangements and filling out difficult paperwork.

When the IRS had an open house in March, most of the taxpayers were able to resolve their issues that day.

“If you have a problem filing or paying your taxes or resolving a tough tax issue, we encourage you to come in and work with us,” said spokesman Michael Dobzinski.

There will be two more open houses on June 5 and June 26.

The South Florida offices of the IRS that will be open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. are:
Miami, 51 SW First Avenue, Plantation, 7850 SW 6th Court and West Palm Beach, 1700 Palm Beach Lakes Blvd.


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Do you like your bank? If not, you've got plenty of company

The folks at BankAtlantic had every right to be ecstatic with their top-ranking in the recent J.D. Power and Associates retail banking satisfaction survey for 2010 for Florida.2832828.thl.jpg

The Fort Lauderdale-based bank beat out much larger institutions, including SunTrust, Regions and Wachovia, to come in at the top of the list of nine banks in the state.

But taking a second look at the survey shows the not-so-upbeat news for banks as a whole: Customers are really less and less pleased with their banking relationship.

If you've been reading the headlines, I'm sure your jaw is not dropping right now. The fury about banks has been building since 2008, in my view.

What's interesting about this survey is that it showed the overall satisfaction rankings didn't slip so much as the ties that typically bind customers to whatever bank they've always done business with.

Here's what I mean: Satisfaction with banks in general, out of a possible score of 1,000 points, is now at a level of 748. That's down slightly from 763 three years ago. But what has really plummeted is loyalty. In the 2007 survey, 46 percent of customers said they "definitely" would not switch banks in the next 12 months. That figure has fallen to only 34 percent of customers in 2010, which represents a 26 percent decline.

In other words, two out of every three customers may be willing to go through all the hassle it would be to change banks. The ties have come undone for most people.

"I think part of the decline can be attributed to - no big surprise - fees, of course, which have been in the news," said Michael Beird, director of banking services at J.D. Power. Overdraft charges, in particular, have steamed plenty of customers.

But the rest of the reasons? "It's what we refer to as back to basics," he said.

People want "more personal service and better service," he said. "Do you give me multiple channels for doing transactions? Are ATMs available, is the online web site up and working?"

What works, besides better service? Communication, he said. "A lot of it has to do with getting rid of hidden things and making sure customers understand what they get," he said. Explaining fees, informing customers who have brought a problem to the bank's attention how it is being handled.

In fact, the banks that soared in customer satisfaction did something amazing: They called their customers three days after the account was opened. It wasn't a sales call, Beird said. It was just a call. Imagine.

It's not that smaller banks have any sort of special advantage here, he said. In fact, they faced more consumer concerns about their financial stability than the mega-banks.

And no matter what a bank's ranking is, it takes effort to keep those customers happy.

Bank of America, in fact, was tops in 2007 in the Southeast (J.D. Power didn't do individual state listings at that time.) In 2010, it was at the bottom of the Florida List.

How do you like your bank? (I know it's a loaded question. I'll just stand far away while you vent.)

POSTED IN: Your Money (256)

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May 3, 2010

Markets: What will stocks return this year?


Stocks have been trending up strongly in 2010. But wouldn’t you like to know if that will continue?

FinancialPlanning.com recently reported that a survey of 400 financial advisors showed they expect the annual return on their stock and bond portfolios to range between 2.5 percent to 4 percent after inflation.

Like Bob Veres, who conducted the survey, I remember when planners had expectations that were double those figures -- and higher. Veres says now no one's talking about what happened in the past. And plenty of people seem to be worrying about future threats to investing -- higher taxes, inflation.

So quick, what did stocks do last year? Remember my blog post about most people not knowing this.

For your scrapbook, the price gain for the Standard & Poor's 500 for one year, ended April 29, was 35.83 percent, for five years, 2.58 percent and for ten years, a decline of 18.30 percent.

With results like that, no wonder making a prediction is incredibly tricky.

POSTED IN: Your Money (256)

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About the author
You've got the job of managing your money. No one in school taught you how. But you and I, we can teach each other, how to handle it, how to save for retirement, how to make money last, how to educate the kids, how to make a budget work. The conversations I have with my readers are fun. Money's important, but discussing it does not have to be boring.

Harriet Johnson Brackey Harriet Johnson Brackey, the personal finance columnist for the Sun Sentinel, is an award-winning business reporter. Her columns for 2008 were named "The Best in the Business," a national award chosen by her colleagues at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

Brackey has worked at Business Week magazine and at USA TODAY, where she was a founder and part of the original staff of the Money section at the country's first national newspaper. After nearly 11 years there - spent covering the 1980s bull market, the insider trading scandals, the 1987 crash - Brackey left Washington, D.C., and came to The Miami Herald. She spent the next decade writing a column about personal finance that chronicled the stock market's Internet boom and bust, as well as the popular Money Makeover features.

Brackey also has done commentaries for Marketplace Money, which airs on National Public Radio and The Nightly Business Report which is broadcast on more than 250 PBS television stations nationwide. She also has been a radio guest on WLRN’s Miami Herald News.
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