12 Days of FinLit

In honor of National Financial Literacy Month, KOFE created this 12 Days of FinLit Infographic. Each day features a key financial topic related to that day. Do you recognize them all?

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What is Economic Abuse?

Economic abuse affects millions of Americans annually. We explain what economic abuse is and give examples that reveal the extent of this abuse in the US.

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More ID theft protection tips

#1: Always take advantage of free annual credit report reviews

No, we are not telling you to sign up for one of those services that promises a free credit check, then charges you in three months. Instead, you want to go through the website mandated for free credit reports by the federal government. That site is www.annualcreditreport.com. This official site lets you access all three versions of your credit report. You have three because each credit bureau (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) maintain their own version. Although they should say the same thing, mistakes happen. You want to review your reports for discrepancies that can hurt your credit score; if you find any dispute them.

Smart Identity Theft Protection Tips

Use KOFE’s Identity Theft Protection infographic to learn how to protect your personal data and information from ID theft and credit fraud.

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Financial Independence and Debt infographic banner
Financial Independence & Debt. What does financial independence and the American Dream look like for families today? 70% of Americans believe you have to be debt free to be financial independent. How close are you to achieving independence? 43% say they’re not even close; 35% say they’re almost there; 17% are confident they have long-term stability; 5% are there now, but worry about the future.

Personal Perspectives on Financial Independence

We asked 1,100 consumers what they thought about financial independence and the American Dream today. Read personal perspectives from real Americans.

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Revealing Retirement Cryptic Checkpoints infographic banner
Hidden key milestones to hit on your road to retirement Want to retire on time and only work if you really want to? Here’s where you need to be if you want to get there. Age 30 • You should have at least one retirement account open o Either a 401(k) through your employer or an IRA • You should be making contributions every month Age 35 • You should have 1 times your gross (pre-tax) yearly salary saved Age 45 • You should have 3 times your gross yearly salary saved Age 50 • Catch-up contributions may be possible on 401(k) match programs o Increased tax deferment for 401(k) contributions to allow for catch up • Increased maximum yearly contribution limit for IRA • Become eligible for AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) membership – discounts on everything from shopping and dining to insurance Age 55 • You should have 5 times your gross yearly salary saved • If you quite or lose your job, you can make penalty-free 401(k) withdrawals Age 59½ • Begin retirement account withdrawals without tax penalties for 401(k) and all types of IRAs Age 62 • Eligible for Social Security payments, although payment may be permanently reduced by up to 30% if you sign up too early o If you continue working while taking out Social Security, part or all of some payments may be withheld • You are now eligible for using a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (also known as HECM or reverse mortgage) to access equity in your primary residence with minimal risk Age 65 • You should have 8 times your gross yearly salary saved • Become eligible for Medicare (may sign up three months prior to your birthday) o If you don’t sign up now, premiums for Part B/D may permanently increase o May also be denied supplemental coverage • Starting on your birthday, begin 6-month Medigap open enrollment period • New Medicare enrollees eligible for free preventative care doctor’s visit for 12 months Age 66 • Currently the age most retirees (those born between 1950-59) become eligible to collect full Social Security payments earned (i.e. “full retirement”) • Once full retirement age reached, no longer receive penalty for working and taking Social Security payments concurrently Age 67 • Currently, if you were born 1960 or later you reach full retirement age this year • If you are currently age 53 or younger, this should likely be the age you aim for full retirement Age 70 • Delaying Social Security benefit enrollment increases payments until age 70 – after this, there is no additional after age 70, so if you haven’t already you should sign up now!

Retirement Checkpoints

KOFE helps you understand key milestones you need to hit on your road to retirement if you want to retire on time and in the way you want.

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Debunking 5 Financial Myths infographic banner
Five misconceptions that could be costing you big. Myth No. 1: Making the minimum payments every month is the responsible way to pay off your credit cards. The Truth: Minimum payments keep you in debt longer The Downside: More payments means more added interest charges. The Cost: At 15% APR, you’d pay $851 in ADDED interest on $1,000 of debt. The Better Way: Devote as much money as possible for larger payments. The Best Way: Pay off your balances in-full every month Myth No. 2: There’s no longer a need for 20% down payment on a mortgage when you buy a home. The Truth: Traditional fixed-rate mortgages require at least 20% down. The Downside: Less down means higher payments with mortgage insurance (PMI). The Cost: With 3% down on a $150,000 mortgage, PMI would be over $100 monthly. The Better Way: Look into down payment assistance options if you have less than 20%. The Best Way: The full 20% makes it easier to qualify for the mortgage you really want. Myth No. 3: While budgeting is useful, building one is time consuming and more hassle than it’s worth. The Truth: New technology makes budgeting easy by doing the work for you. The Downside: Without a budget you’re flying blind with your finances. The Cost: Average overdraft fees are $30 if you spend more than you have available. The Better Way: See if your primary bank offers a free money management platform. The Best Way: Find a secure 3rd-party platform that can integrate all your accounts. Myth No 4: There’s nothing wrong with running up your credit cards as long you don’t go over your limits. The Truth: The amount of credit you’re using is a key factor in credit score calculations. The Downside: If you’re using more than 50% of any credit line, it decreases your score. The Cost: Interest on a 4-yr. $20K car loan is more than $350 extra at 650 vs. 750. The Better Way: Never run your credit cards up to their maximum limits. The Best Way: Never utilize more than 20% of any credit line to maximize your score. Myth No. 5: Your credit report is factually accurate representation of your past credit history. The Truth: A credit report can contain mistakes/errors that decrease your credit score. The Downside: A lower credit score makes it harder to qualify for credit at good rates. The Cost: Mistakes like duplicate mortgages can take up to 100 points off your score. The Better Way: Review your credit report to ensure that all information is accurate. The Best Way: Download your free report and repeat this review every 12 months.

Debunking 5 Financial Myths

KOFE helps you build financial literacy with a useful infographic that debunks 5 common financial misconceptions that can lead to distress.

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Millennials and Money

In this week’s featured infographic, we look at how Millennials view money and what they ultimately want to achieve from a financial standpoint.

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Of U.S. households with medical debt problems in 2015… 62% say they were covered by insurance at the time • 66% say the bills were caused by a one-time event ex. hospital stay or ER visit • 33% say the bills have built up treating chronic condition ex. Diabetes or cancer treatment Number of people who had problems paying a medical bill in 2015: 1 in 5 insured Americans 1 in 2 uninsured Americans Why are insured Americans still struggling with bills? • 75% couldn’t afford copays/deductibles • 32% had out-of-network care that insurance didn’t cover • 26% received an unexpected claim How much were the bills? • 10% less than $500 • 14% $500-$1,000 • 19% $1,000-$2,500 • 24% $2,500-$5,000 • 18% $5,000-$10,000 • 13% more than $10,000 How much does it impact the family? • 44% major impact • 47% minor impact • 7% no real impact 35% lacked funds for basic necessities (food, housing) 61% had difficulty paying other bills Sources: http://kff.org/report-section/the-burden-of-medical-debt-section-3-consequences-of-medical-bill-problems/

Medical Debt

Our medical debt infographic explores how out-of-pocket healthcare costs have become a leading cause of America’s debt and credit problems.

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The Truth about Debt Management Programs

Consolidated Credit helps you cut through the hearsay to get to the heart of what debt management programs are and how they can help you out of debt.

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Consolidated Credit's Frightening Halloween Statistics Infographic for 2018

Frightening Halloween Statistics

Halloween marks the start of the most expensive time of year. We look at last year's Halloween shopping statistics to see how people will spend money this year.

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Help After a Hurricane: Take the Right Steps to Rebuild After a Storm

Surviving a disaster can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t know what to do after the storm. We offer tips on how to find help after a hurricane.

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Back to School

Parents expect to shell out almost $700 this year on back to school shopping. We break that total down and show you how to set a budget to save money.

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How much do students today rely on credit cards? Only 1 out of every 10 purchases made by college students in 2015 used a credit card 42% used debit 40% used cash In 2005… 46% of students had a credit card in their name In 2015… Only 23% of students had one The average credit-using college student: • Has 1.5 cards in their name • Has a credit limit of $1,339 • Charges roughly $141 per month Why do students want credit cards? 62% use them build credit history 59% want to earn rewards 56% believe they provide “budget controls” When do students use credit cards 41% only use cards for emergencies 36% use them for recurring payments But 46% admit to sometimes using cards for everyday purchases And in 2014, students charged $2,150 on average to cover education costs! How to get credit now that it’s harder… 57% got a secured credit card first 45% qualified with a cosigner Is Credit Use Good or Bad? 59% of students say they’ve used cards to effectively build credit 69% say they keep their balances below $500 But… Only 66% pay their bills in-full every month 33% have been late with at least 1 payment 31% have a maxed out card 63% say they’ve made a purchase without having funds to pay the bill Source: http://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/student-credit-debit-prepaid-statistics.php

Campus Credit Card Use

We explore campus credit card use to see how early credit usage affects students’ ability to manage debt and graduate from college with minimal debt.

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How to make your housing feel like home for less. College-Bound Add-ons & Extras Add Up • Total 2014 college spending $48.4 billion • Combined college/school spending $74.9 billion More Cost for the Same Kitsch • Average spending for dorm furniture o This year: $916.48 (↑ 10%) o Last year: $836.83 • Electronics purchases o This year: $243.79 (↑ 20%) o Last year: $203.28 • New clothing o This year: $138.73 (↑ 13%) o Last year: $122.70 • New shoes o This year: $77.60 (↑ 18%) o Last year: $65.60 • Personal care products o This year: $78.08 (↑ 15%) o Last year: $65.08 • Food prep / appliances: o This year: $103.87 (↓ 0.5%) o Last year: $104.44 Added Interest on Your Dorm If you charge $916.48 on credit and make minimum payments… • Time to payoff 90 months • Added interest charges $552.97 • TOTAL PAID $1,468.97 2 Real-World Bargain Hunts for a Tight Budget Walmart • Bed in a bag (comforter + sham): $19.48 • Sheet set (twin XL): from $7.58 • Mini-fridge: $84 • Microwave: $48 • 7-piece Frame & Clock Décor Solution: $19 • Rug: from $4.88 • Desk lamp: $8.84 • Bulletin boards + push pins: $10.00 or less • Decorative pillows: under $10 • Total (excluding tax): $217.78 Target • Comforter + sham: $29.99 • Twin XL sheet set: $16.99 • Mini-fridge: $85 • Microwave: $49.99 • Storage bins: $5.59 • Picture frames (4x6 [2], 5x7 [2], collage frame): $19.94 • Clock: $6.99 • Dry erase board: under $10 • Rug: from $10 • Desk lamp: $9.99 • Bulletin board + push pins: under $10 • Decorative pillows: $9.99 and up • Total (excluding tax): $267.96 Smart Tips to Cut College-Bound Shopping Costs • Repurpose items from home • Visit garage sales and thrift stores • Get DIY ideas for wall décor like http://www.brit.co/diy-dorm-decor/ • Use sites like etsy.com to refurbish old items • Contact your roommate to split/share appliance costs • Pay off all dorm-related charges within one month to avoid added interest charges!

Dorm Decorating on a Dime

Spending close to $1,000 to decorate a room that’s used for less than a year can break the bank. Here’s how to do it on a budget without going into debt.

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Credit Unions vs Corporate Banks infographic
Clearing up financial institution confusion. Demystified side by side Credit Union Bank Business type? Nonprofit For-profit Who owns it? The members The shareholders What’s the angle? Members pool resources to provide services. Services selected to maximize profits. How do I get in? Often requires membership in specific community group OR member referral. Open eligibility as long as you’re not consider “unbankable” ATM access? Not as widespread & limited to community, but network ATMs may not incur fees. National banks have ATMs everywhere; may see higher fees for non-network ATMs Online banking? Website upgrades and new features like PFM platforms may be slower coming, but tailored to member needs. Usually faster to offer the latest and greatest technology to entice customers that they’re the best choice. Mobile apps? Some credit unions have them, but not all. Most banks already have mobile apps already. Minimum balance requirement? Lower – in some cases, there isn’t a balance requirement at all; usually $5-10. Higher – often pay monthly maintenance fee if you don’t have a balance in the 1000’s. Credit eligibility? May have less loan restrictions, since they’re set by members’ board. Approval typically tougher with higher standards to minimize risk. Secure investment of funds? Insured up to $250,000 but with lower rates / better service. Insured up to $250,000. Rate reality Rates on most loans and credit cards are LOWER at credit unions, so you pay LESS to borrow… Credit Union Bank Credit card (classic) 11.61% 12.59% Unsecured personal loan (36 months) 9.25% 10.21% New car loan (60 months) 2.70% 4.72% Used car loan (48 months) 2.78% 5.16% 30-year fixed-rate mortgage 4.08% 4.06% 15-year fixed-rate mortgage 3.36% 3.36% 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgage 3.30% 3.54% 5-year home equity loan (80% LTV) 4.42% 5.02% Home equity line of credit (80% LTV) 4.01% 4.34% Conversely, savings and investment rates are HIGHER at credit unions, so your money grows FASTER… Credit Union Bank Interest checking account (5K) 0.10% 0.09% Regular savings account (1K) 0.13% 0.12% Money market account (2.5K) 0.16% 0.12% 6-mo. CD (10K) 0.30% 0.23% 1-yr. CD (10K) 0.47% 0.38% 3-yr. CD (10K) 0.97% 0.80% 5-yr. CD (10K) 1.49% 1.22% Source for rates: https://www.ncua.gov/analysis/Documents/credit-union-bank-rates-2015-q4.pdf Rates listed as of December, 2015

Credit Unions vs. Banks

Learn about the key differences between banks and credit unions so you can understand which financial institution is the better choice for your money.

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Black Friday Shopping Strategy infographic
164.6 million consumers plan to shop over the Thanksgiving weekend 70% plan to shop on Black Friday 19% will shop Black Friday pre-sales on Thanksgiving Why do people fight the crowds? • 66% deals are too good to pass up • 26% because Black Friday is a tradition • 23% it’s something to do over the weekend By Black Friday, 12% of shoppers are already halfway done with their list! The average in-store discount on Black Friday is 37% Based on discounts, Black Friday deals are best for:  TVs  Tablets  Appliances  Jewelry Sources: https://nrf.com/resources/consumer-research-and-data/holiday-spending/holiday-headquarters https://www.thebalance.com/what-is-black-friday-3305710

What’s Your Black Friday Shopping Strategy?

Use KOFE’s new infographic to craft the right Black Friday shopping strategy so you can stay on budget and avoid credit card debt

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Money Hacks: Smart ways to cut down your budget and control monstrous credit card debt. 1. Day of the Living No-Spend: Pick one day each month where you commit to not spending any money. Plan ahead to buy groceries, find free activities and avoid malls and shopping plazas 2. Question Everything: Review each service you use to see if you need it or if it overlaps something else. Narrow down your streaming services, cable packages and subscriptions regularly 3. Send It Back from Whence It Came: Apply the 30-day rule for large purchases to make sure you still want and need the item. If you make spontaneous purchases, take 30 days to see if you still care or send it back. 4. One of Us: Sign up for customer loyalty programs with your favorite retailers to save big. Then keep a running list of items you need so you can grab them when they go on sale 5. Upgrade and Thrive: But never book your upgrades! Only ask at the time when you arrive for free scores. This can work for rental car upgrades and to get premium hotel rooms on the spot. 6. Never Let Them Take You by Surprise: Carry around $100 so you can always pay for incidental purchases with cash. Then carry bigger bills that are harder to break to prevent cash overspending 7. Avoid Feeding Frenzies: High credit card APR can be a killer, so call your creditors to reduce your interest rates. If you can’t get your rates reduced yourself, see if you qualify for a Debt Management Plan 8. Get a Little Help from Your Friends: Set up lending networks with friends and family so you can swap items you don’t use. You can exchange books, clothes, toys and more. Just send an email or group text to switch. 9. Isolate to Stay Safe: Open a checking account just for bills where you transfer money only to cover obligations. This helps you avoid overspending and missing crucial payments because you lacked funds. 10. Always Focus on Fighting the Principal: It’s the source of your problems, so take extra steps to target principal debt more effectively. If you make larger or extra payments each month, you fight to directly to decrease the principal debt you owe

10 Money Hacks that Cut Financial Challenges Down to Size

Consolidated Credit helps you take control of monstrous debt with 10 money hacks that can solve budget imbalance so you can achieve financial stability.

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Overcoming the FOUR biggest sources of debt Average Credit Card Debt • $16,140 per household • APR* 13.93% *for cards with a balance • # of cards 2.24 bankcards, 1.55 store cards 34% of households carry credit card debt 15% of households (35 mm people) roll over more than $2,500 each month Keys to becoming debt free: 1. Consolidate debt into 1 bill with 0-10% APR 2. Debt management programs can reduce total payments by 30-50% and have you out of debt in 3-5 years Keys to staying debt free: 1. Only charge what you can pay off completely in 1 billing cycle 2. Only carry balances on low or no interest cards – never store or rewards cards Average Mortgage Debt • $155,361 per household • 30-year fixed loan rate is 4.01%* • Rate for 5/1 Hybrid ARM = 3.16%* ( *as of 12/03/2015) Only 1.4 mm of 4 mm projected HAMP modifications have been made Renters spend 25% of after-tax income on housing costs while homeowners only spend 15% Keys to becoming debt free: 1. Contact a HUD-certified housing counselor to see if you qualify to refinance thru HAMP 2. Reduce your rate by 0.125% paying off 1 point of your mortgage (1% of the purchase price) Keys to staying debt free: 1. Set up bi-weekly payments to save over $17,500 in interest charges on avg. traditional mortgage 2. Try to put 20% down to get a traditional fixed-rate mortgage with no mortgage insurance Average Auto Loan Debt • New car payment = $482 • APR = $4.56% • Loan length = 66 mo. new, 62 mo. used 84% of new and 55.2% of used vehicle purchases are done with financing The average car buyer puts down roughly 15% of the purchase price Keys to becoming debt free: 1. Shop around for better insurance rates -18% have never done so - then put the savings towards making bigger car payments 2. Consider refinancing - over 14% of auto loans are refi - to reduce interest rates and/or monthly payments Keys to staying debt free: 1. Set up bi-weekly payments to save on interest charges over the life of the loan 2. Put more money down to get better financing terms and lower monthly payments Average Student Loan Debt • Student loan debt = $31,946 • Debt for 2015 grads = over $35,000 71% of Bachelor’s degree recipients have at least 1 student loan Median monthly income for those with at least a Bachelor’s degree = $1,193 Keys to becoming debt free: 1. Federal student loans can be consolidated using 1 of 5 government programs 2. Public servants can have outstanding loan balances forgiven after 10 years of making payments Keys to staying debt free: 1. Always apply diligently for scholarships and grants for continuing education 2. Be aware that student loan debt, federal and private, can’t be discharged by bankruptcy

Keys to a Debt Free Life

If you want to achieve freedom from debt, you have to make strategic plans in your budget to eliminate these four biggest sources of consumer debt.

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Personal debt doesn’t stop a giving heart We polled nearly 1,500 indebted borrowers to see if personal financial challenges curtail charitable donations. The result: people still give even as they address problems with debt. 3 out of 4 still donate money in spite of debt 60.9% donate throughout the year 25.4% donate during the holidays 7.8% set up recurring donations 5.9% donate for people’s birthdays Where do your donation dollars go? 61.9% donate through church/community organization 44.5% donate to local charities 21.9% donate to national charities 68.9% Children’s Charities 59.4% Homeless Services / Food Banks 40.8% Medical Charities 38.9% Military / Veterans Charities 38.2% Pet / Animal Charities 6.6% Arts / University Endowment Funds 63% say they’d donate more if not for budget troubles 20% blame credit card debt for draining donation funds 17.4% donate time instead of money How much can you afford to give? 35.4% Less than $100 35.5% $101-$300 12.3% $301-$500 8.2% $501-$1,000 8.5% More than $1,000

Donations in Debt

KOFE’s Donations in Debt infographic explores the practice of continuing charitable giving in spite of personal challenges with debt.

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Valentine’s Day: It’s the Little Things that Add Up

KOFE offers a quick infographic snapshot of expected spending for Valentine’s Day 2018. This year, it’s the little things that add up to near record spending on sweethearts. We offer tips on how to use credit cards wisely as you spread the love.

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Types of Consumer Debt

This infographic compares types of consumer debt to help you better understand debt so you can effectively prioritize debt repayment and savings.

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A closer look at consumer spending habits in 2015 Average pre-tax annual income: $69,629 Average annual expenses: $55,978 Type of Expense Percentage of Budget Average Spent Food 12.5% $7,023 Dining in $4,015 Eating out $3,008 Housing 32.9% $18,409 Shelter $10,742 Utilities $3,885 Furnishings/equipment $1,818 Apparel/services 3.3% $1,846 Transportation 17% $9,503 Vehicle $3,997 Gas/oil $2,090 Healthcare 7.8% $4,342 Insurance costs $2,977 Entertainment 5.1% $2,842 Education 2.3% $1,315 Cash Contributions 3.2% $1,819 Personal Insurance / Pensions 11.3% $6,349 Life insurance, etc. $333 Pensions, Social Security $6,016 Misc. 4.5% $2,530 Housing Actual shelter 58% Utilities 21% Furnishings 10% Other 11% Food Dining in 57% Eating out 43% Transportation Vehicle 42% Gas / oil 21% Other 37% Healthcare Insurance 69% Other 31% Smart Spending Tips 10% - the amount you should save each month Make cash contributions to savings and IRAs automatic with direct debit 10% - the amount you should spend on credit card debt If it takes more than that to pay your bills, it’s time to consolidate! 36% - the monthly income you should spend on debt payments If you spend more, eliminate debt before you seek new financing

American Spending Statistics

Use this infographic to compare your budget and spending to average American spending statistics to see how you stack up when it comes to cash flow.

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Big Benefits, Bigger Challenges What is a tiny house? • Avg. tiny house is 186 sq. ft. vs. 2,100 sq. ft. size of traditional house • Commonly defined as any house less than 500 sq. ft. • Over 11 tiny houses can fit in 1 traditional property Big benefits of tiny houses 1. Reduced carbon footprint Wood required to build a traditional house = 7 full logging trucks Tiny houses take 1/10 of the materials 2. Lower cost to build $23,000 to build vs. $272,000 3. Lower utility bills Ting houses range from $10-$40 vs. $163 avg. for a traditional house 4. Less debt 78% of occupants own, and 68% of those have no mortgage vs. 29.3% of traditional homeowners 89% of tiny owners have less credit card debt than the avg. American, 65% have NO credit card debt 5. More savings 55% of tiny owners have more savings than the average American Median savings = $10,972 32% saved more than $10,000 saved for retirement; 62% have less than $5,000 saved Big challenges to going tiny 1. It can be tough to find land Code restrictions often prevent simply placing a tiny house on a regular urban or suburban lot Options for placement: (1) Park in a backyard of a traditional house (2) Find an eco-village or tiny house community (3) If it’s on wheels, RV park or campground 2. It can be tougher to get financing Most lenders won’t finance houses for less than $50,000 or under a certain square footage Loans aren’t viable for banks because tiny houses have low resale value 3. Laws may be against you Almost all municipalities have minimum habitable structure definitions If your tiny house isn’t up to code, you could face fines Even if the house is on wheels, you still need building permits Many municipalities will take issue with you going completely “off the grid” 4. You probably won’t be close to stuff Most tiny house communities are outside urban areas in rural spaces This means longer commutes for work and school, and for daily needs shopping 5. You’re giving up personal space There is no room for family members to have their own space – may not work with kids, especially teens You’ll have to downsize all of your stuff – no tchotchke, no room for hobbies, etc. Big problems in finding financing If you can’t get financing through a traditional bank, what can you do? 1. Self-fund through savings (best) 2. Put it on a high interest credit card (worst) Profile of the perfect tiny house owner 1. Has enough money in savings to build without taking on debt 2. Single person or couple 3. No kids or have kids who are no longer living at home 4. Career flexibility to live in rural / off the beaten path area 5. Outdoor enthusiast – you don’t have enough space to be a homebody 6. Hobbies don’t require a lot of space – hard for at-home chefs, crafters, etc.

Tiny Houses

We look at the financial and lifestyle benefits of owning tiny houses versus traditional houses, as well as the challenges you’ll face to transition.

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Once More into the Breach Steps you can take to ensure you’re protected after Equifax data breach Step 1: Check to see if you’re affected 1. Head to equifaxsecurity2017.com 2. Click “Am I Impacted?” 3. Enter last name and that last 6 digits of your social 4. Confirm you’re not a robot 5. Equifax tells you if you’re part of the breach or not Step 2: Review your credit for free 1. Go to annualcreditreport.com 2. Confirm your identity (security questions based on your report) 3. Download your credit reports from each bureau 4. Review your reports for items you don’t recognize 5. Dispute them to see if they’re mistakes or a sign of ID theft 6. You can repeat this review for free once every 12 months Step 3: Consider signing up for credit monitoring 1. Equifax offers 1 free year to anyone affected by the breach 2. You can also use independent third-party services 3. Monitoring allows you to set up fraud alerts 4. They notify you anytime there’s activity in your credit file 5. Expect monthly fees that vary based on size of service package Step 4: Decide if you want to freeze your credit 1. Prevents anyone from opening credit in your name 2. Lenders must confirm identity during credit applications 3. Only stops new accounts – won’t protect existing accounts 4. Fees may apply (usually $10 max to place or remove freeze) 5. Length of freeze and fees vary by state 6. Check with state Attorney General’s office for state-specific details

Steps to Take After the Equifax Data Breach

If you’re worried about ID theft following the Equifax data breach, we explain four steps you can take to protect your identity and prevent credit fraud.

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Are you a Smart Spender or an Over Spender? Smart Spenders… Over Spenders… Start shopping early: • 40% of shoppers start in October or earlier • 61.4% of early shoppers do it because it spreads out the cost over more pay cycles for better budgeting Start shopping late: • 19% of men and 14% of women start shopping in the first 2 weeks of Dec. • Even worse – 5% of men and 3% of women start in the last 2 weeks of Dec. Limit the gift list to family: • Expected spending on family gifts = $462.95 Give gifts to everyone: • Expected spending on gifts for friends = $77.85 • Expected spending on co-workers = $29.95 Choose a retailer for the right reasons: • 73.1% pick stores for sales / price discounts • 60.7% pick stores that offer better quality merchandise Choose retailers for the wrong reasons: • 45.3% pick stores because they’re close or convenient • 10.3% of Millennials pick stores simply because they have layaway Opt for less expensive stores: • 55.9% shop discount stores • 55.6% hit department stores • 44.1% shop at grocery stores Waste money at more expensive retailers: • They spent $24.5 million at electronics & appliance stores last year • They spent $40.3 million at clothing stores Are smart about shipping: • 93.1% of shoppers will use free shipping at least once this season • 46.7% say free shipping is a key factor in choosing an online retailer • 46.5% of shoppers will use in-store pickup to reduce online purchase cost Aren’t concerned with shipping charges: • 7.8% of shoppers waste money on same-day shipping charges • Millennials are more likely to opt for same-day shipping: o 16.7% of shoppers 18-24 o 15.9% of shoppers 25-34 Shop online retailers for the right reasons: • 90% pick sites for the lowest prices Shop online for less moneywise reasons: • 78% base store choice on how easy it is to navigate the website Use tech the right way to shop: • 37.9% of smartphone users and 47.5% of tablet users research products Don’t use tech to its full advantage: • 28.4% of smartphone users just use it to check for store hours and directions Go for the classics on gifts: • Barbie has been the top gift for girls 10 of the past 11 years • LEGO has been the top gift for boys for all 11 years Go high-tech on gifts: • 8% of parents focus on video games for boys • 4% of parents gave their girls a smartphone or tablet Don’t spend money on gifts for themselves. Spend an average of $131.59 self-gifting. Reuse decorations from last year. Spend an average of $53.02 on new décor. Make purchases with cash or pay off credit card debt in the first month to avoid interest on the $805.65 average holiday spend. End up spending an extra $384.02 for interest charges on a minimum payment schedule for a total holiday spend of $1189.67.

Holiday Smart Spenders vs. Over Spenders

Our latest infographic helps you understand how to shop smart for the holidays so you can avoid overspending that usually leads to credit card debt.

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Credit Card Use in the Latin Community

Over half (51%) of Hispanics say building credit is the main advantage for owning a credit card, while 72% state the main disadvantage is unwanted debt.

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Invasion of the Credit Snatchers infographic banner
Defending against ID Theft & protecting your identity against all threats Credit snatchers slowly & quietly take over… • 7.5% of Americans are victims of identity theft – roughly 12,157,400 annually • 50% of incidents stay hidden for a month • 20% stay hidden for more than 2 years They target the young, affluent, and the Arizonans… • 18-24 year olds are almost twice as likely to be targeted that those 65+ • Income earners of $75,000+ are more than twice as likely to be targeted than someone who makes less than $35,000 • Residents in Arizona have the highest theft levels and are more than 4Xs as likely to experience theft than South Dakota residents, which is the state with lowest theft levels They will drain you dry… • 14% of ID theft victims experience out-of-pocket losses; half lose $99 or less • The average financial loss is $5,130 • Total financial loss in 2014: $26,350,000,000 Species No. 1 – The account parasite Gains access to one of your existing accounts to make charges or transactions on your dime. • 64.1% of all reported incidents involve existing account misuse • That’s 7.5 million victims for bank cards & 7.7 million for credit cards How to defend your identity: • Make PIN #’s unique • Use passwords that are difficult to guess (letters, numbers and symbols are best) • Change PINs and passwords regularly • Check statements every month, reviewing each transaction • Don’t bank or shop online using public Wi-Fi / unsecure hotspots Species No. 2 – The data doppelganger Steals your personal information to open new accounts they can use in your name. • Misuse of personal information accounts for 14.2% of ID theft – that’s 1.1 million cases • 4 out of 5 victims have no idea how the thief stole the information How to defend your identity: • Don’t give out Social Security (SS) or Driver’s License (DL) numbers • Even if a business form requests them, only provide if it’s legally required – always ask • Don’t send info, including SS/DL, via email – even to legit recipients – it can be intercepted • Turn off Bluetooth connection on smart phone in public • Avoid oversharing personal information on social networks • Check your credit report for free once each year to identify accounts you didn’t open Species No. 3 – The monster you know Family member, friend, neighbor, coworker, or maid who chooses targets close to home. • 32% of victims were targeted by a family member or relative • 18% were victimized by a friend, neighbor or in-home employee How to defend your identity: • Don’t give family access or account info unless they’re a cosigner • Don’t keep a password list that can be found by someone else • Don’t give out your card/PIN to send someone to the ATM for you • Keep financial documents locked up • Don’t leave your purse or wallet sitting out – keep it locked in your personal space • Don’t save account passwords to public/networked computers at work Species No. 4 – The child snatcher Steals identities from the young because it’s harder to track and catch in the act. • About 10% of children will become ID theft victims before their 18th birthday • That’s 1 in 40 households that have to address ID theft before the child turns 18 How to defend your children’s identity: • Keep birth certificates locked in a safe place – they’re used to create new identities • If you teach them their SS #, make sure to teach them not to share it at the same time • Once they get bank accounts, teach them the ABCs of passwords / account protection • Don’t give a child a credit card until they’re responsible enough to protect their data • If you’re concerned theft happened, check each credit bureau website for instructions on obtaining a minor’s credit report as their legal guardian. Reverse snatchers – The credit soul collectors When your identity is latched onto by a debt collector for an account that’s not yours. • 25% of all collection complaints are because the “debt is not mine” • That equals about 500 complaints per month that the CFPB receives on this type of complaint How to defend your good name: • Send a letter to the collector to cease and desist communication because the account’s not yours • Lodge a collection complaint with the CFPB • Check your credit report yearly for collection accounts that aren’t yours • Also check the report for aliases in your personal information that you don’t use • Report repeated unauthorized robocalls – even on mobile phones – to the FCC

Invasion of the Credit Snatchers

Watch out for the Invasion of the Credit Snatchers! This fun infographic helps you understand how identity theft can create scary problems for your credit.

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Secrets to a Successful Retirement infographic banner
Real facts from the experiences of those retiring now Baby Boomers, age 51-69, are reaching retirement and sharing wisdom of what they wish they’d done to better prepare. Secret 1: Retirement will come sooner than you think • Traditional retirement age = 65 • Age most people PLAN to retire = 66 • Average ACTUAL retirement age = 61 Secret 2: … Unless it doesn’t come at all • 41% of Boomers who are still working expect to work beyond age 69 • 82% of Sixty-Somethings believe they will never be able to retire Secret 3: Retirement will last longer than you expect • Average life expectancy during retirement = 20 years Secret 4: 75% of your yearly income isn’t enough • Common wisdom says you’ll need 70-75% of your yearly income in each year of retirement • But new data shows low income-earners need about 90% Secret 5: Florida isn’t the retirement mecca • Based on cost of living, crime, quality of healthcare, state and local taxes and the lowest federal tax rate in the country… o Wyoming is the best state to live during retirement • The tax rate in Wyoming (6.9%) is only about half of what New Yorkers face Secret 6: Working past retirement isn’t always about money • 72% of retired Boomers aren’t working at all • Of those who are… o 18% do it to stay mentally sharp o 15% want to stay physically active o 15% need a sense of purpose • Half of those who aren’t working at all blame health issues Secret 7: Healthcare should be your biggest concern • Recurring costs for Medicare beneficiaries average $1,885 a year • At age 85 and older… o Nursing home costs average $24,185 for 2 years o Some pay up to $66,660! • AARP estimates retirees need $3,000 a year to cover premiums & deductibles for Medicare Parts A, B and D • Estimates show a couple who both retire will need $220,000 total for medical expenses • Healthcare cost is retiree’s biggest fear – even those who were completely healthy when surveyed Secret 8: Federal retirement benefits are still relevant • While pensions, 401(k) and IRA accounts and investments are top income sources for current retirees… So is Social Security! • In 2014, over 59 million Americans received almost $863 billion in benefits • The average monthly benefit for retired workers was $1,294 / month

Secrets to Successful Retirement

KOFE helps you make a plan to retire on time and the way you really want with eight secrets to achieving a successful retirement plan.

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How to Reduce Credit Card Debt

Learn two proven methods for eliminating high balances on high-interest credit card debt so you can regain control quickly and save money.

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The True Cost to Tie the Knot

The average wedding costs over $30,000, but that’s only if you pay in cash. This infographic shows you the true cost with credit card interest added.

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Credit Report Cleaning Instructions infographic banner
Proper care & cleaning to achieve a spotless credit profile Step 1: Check the hamper Download 1 copy of each credit report from www.annualcreditreport.com • By law you can download a free copy of each report 1 time every 12 months • Site tracks if you’ve downloaded your reports recently Which reports you’ll need: 1. Equifax 2. Experian 3. TransUnion Step 2: Check for spots & snags Review all 3 credit reports to identify errors • 1 in 4 reports has an error that would decrease a credit score • 1 in 20 have an error to drop credit score by more than 25 points Look for: 1. Incorrect current balances 2. Mistakes on payment history 3. Duplicate accounts 4. Misreported account statuses 5. Out-of-date collections / penalties 6. Credit inquiries you didn’t authorize 7. Accounts you didn’t open Step 3: Go through a cleaning cycle Follow the steps below to make disputes • Disputes MUST be made separately with each bureau • By law, disputes must be answered with 30 days Steps to follow for “spot” removal: 1. Type out a concise dispute letter 2. Include full name, account information and nature of dispute 3. Attach any proof or documentation showing mistake 4. Send by registered mail 5. Note what date dispute was received 6. Address any follow ups immediately 7. Receive acceptance of removal or confirmation original information is correct Step 4: Repeat as needed Lots of errors may mean more than one cycle • You should only include a few disputes in a single dispute letter • If you have more errors on one report, send disputes in sets When to rinse and repeat: 1. Once you’ve received responses on the first set, send the next 2. Include no more than 5 disputes in a single letter 3. Keep sending in sets until all disputes are addressed 4. Make sure to check again next year Tips to Ensure a Spot-Free Clean • Make sure to keep cleaning tickets for the future Save all paperwork you send and receive back for your records in case you need to pull something later • Consider covering up any remaining imperfections If a dispute is rejected, by law you can include a 100-word response statement in your credit report • Avoid pulling old threads that could unravel If you have an old account that’s closed and paid off, don’t remove it – it could hurt your credit score • All blemishes with fade with time If you can’t get an error cleared, all negative information gets removed eventually – usually after 7 to 10 years Sources: http://www.federalreserve.gov/pubs/bulletin/2004/summer04_credit.pdf

Free Credit Repair: Step-by-Step Credit Report Cleaning Instructions

If you find mistakes or errors in your credit report that you need to dispute, use these free credit repair instructions to repair your credit so you can maximize your score and qualify for financing at low interest rates.

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Budget Balancing Act infographic banner
Maintaining a balanced budget to achieve financial stability Act 1: Balancing Income vs. Expenses Income: Wages, Benefits, Annuity Payments, Spousal or Child Support, Assistance Expenses: Housing, Transportation, Utilities, Insurance, Debt Payments, Food, Clothing, Entertainment, Miscellaneous Act 2: Prioritizing Expenses Fixed expenses: The anchor of your finances – needs with a fixed cost Flexible expenses: The lynchpin of success – needs with variable costs Discretionary expenses: The flair of life – wants and rewards Act 3: Juggling Monthly Costs Housing 30% Food 16% Transportation 15% Medical/insurance 10% Savings 10% Entertainment 7% Clothing 5% Revolving debt payment 5% Miscellaneous 2% Act 4: Carrying Debt Effectively <2 ACROBATS CROSSING A HIGHWIRE WITH SMALLER PERFORMERS ON THEIR SHOULDERS> To maintain balance, you’re debt can’t be any bigger than 36% of your income Ideally, revolving debts like credit cards should only be 5% of your income Act 5: Jumping a Financial Gap If you have a period of unemployment, make sure to have a financial safety net of 3-6 months of budgeted expenses to catch you if you can’t make the jump to another job immediately.

Budget Balancing Act

Keeping your finances organized can be a real balancing act. Consolidated Credit helps balance your budget with this helpful budgeting infographic.

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Tax Refund Tactics: Maximize Your Refund

Get the most out of your tax refund this year by comparing how much interest you can save on various debts versus the amount you can earn if you save it.

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Your Financial Wheel of Life

KOFE helps you strike the right balance in your financial life by teaching you to balance money management, debt elimination and savings.

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How to Get Your “Yes” for Less

Popping the question can cost thousands – especially once you include the cost of the engagement ring. This infographic can help you get your yes for less.

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Find Your Way Home

Not sure what steps to take to become a successful homeowner? We walk you step by step through the purchasing process so you know what to expect.

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Debt Hangover Cures

Don’t let outstanding holiday credit card debt just hang around to gather interest. We explore 3 options to eliminate debt fast so you can regain control.

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Reach Zero Faster with Debt Consolidation

Credit card debt consolidation can help you traverse down a mountain of unpaid debt faster and easier. Learn how Consolidated Credit can help you reach the debt-free finish line.

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Overstuffed Stockings

The holidays have a way of railroading a budget with all of the one-off costs you don’t have planned in. Use this infographic to stay on-budget this year.

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Reverse Mortgages and the Alchemy of Equity

KOFE breaks down how seniors can use a reverse mortgage to get the most out of home equity with our helpful Alchemy of Equity infographic.

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Talking Turkey

See how one meal can end up being a big drain on your budget and learn how to cut food costs so you can avoid putting the expense on a credit card.

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Take the Plunge with Credit Counseling

Learn what to expect when you take the plunge into credit counseling, so you can find the path forward to achieve freedom from credit card debt.

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Scary Spending Habits

If supernatural creatures could qualify for credit, would they use it or abuse it? We look at supernatural spenders and then see how you stack up.

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Credit Score Idols: 5 Factors Used to Judge Your Credit

Do you have what it takes to be a credit score superstar? Learn about the five judges that determine if your credit score is enough to achieve your dreams.

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Are Your Credit Cards Gluttons for Payments?

Consolidated Credit offers a new infographic that explains how high credit card APR eats away at every payment you make, preventing you from reaching zero.

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Game of Owes

HBO's series Game of Thrones is back for another season starting 4/6, but if your finances mirror the drama from the show, it may be a sign you need help.

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Growing Your Family

Part 3 of Consolidated Credit’s America Saves Week infographic series – The Science of Saving – shows how to save effectively to support a growing family.

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Maintaining a Healthy Savings Mix

In Part 2 of the Science of Saving infographic series, we look at where you need to save money, from a rainy day fund to the right retirement plan.

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Formula for Saving

Part 1 of Consolidated Credit’s Science of Saving infographic series for America Saves Week breaks down how savings accounts work at a basic level.

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Last Minute Holiday Miracles

KOFE helps you avoid a credit card debt crunch from last minute holiday shopping with this helpful money-saving infographic.

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Debt Sucks

At Consolidated Credit, we understand that Debt Sucks! This helpful infographic shows the 10 ways we make debt suck a little less for clients like you.

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Credit Counseling

The right debt solution can help you get off the ground when it comes to solving credit card debt problems. Here’s how credit counseling can help you.

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Books to Briefcase

Transitioning from the classroom to the boardroom can be a bumpy road for your finances and credit. We offer tips on how to eliminate debt and budget wisely.

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Walking Down the Aisle with Debt

KOFE offers a helpful Wedding Infographic that details the real cost of a wedding with ways you can cut costs to avoid problems with debt.

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Cupid’s PAYnful Arrow?

See how Americans spend money for Valentine’s Day with KOFE’s infographic and learn how much people are paying in the name of love.

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