4 Reasons You Should Check Your Credit Report

When is the last time you checked your credit report?  Sadly, far too few people are taking the time to request their reports.  At a minimum, you should be requesting your free credit report every 12 months.   Here are a few reasons why this is a good idea:

  • Free.  When using annualcreditreport.com, you have access to your credit report for free, once each year, from each of the three credit bureaus – Transunion, Equifax, and Experian.
  • Identity Theft Indicator.  When looking over your credit report, if you find names you don’t recognize, social security numbers that do not belong, or accounts that are not yours, you might be a victim of identity fraud.
  • Monitor Credit.  Just like you monitor credit card bills and bank statements, it’s a good idea to keep track of credit accounts.
  • Correct Inaccurate Information.  If any information on your credit report is incorrect, both personal or account related, instructions are included on how to correct those inaccuracies.

For more information on the process to check your credit report or if you have questions or concerns related to credit, contact the Financial Literacy Center to schedule a coaching session.

 

It’s Tax Time!

Do you need help filing your taxes? UW-Whitewater provides free tax preparation through the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program to low to moderate levels of income.  Supervised by accounting faculty, certified student preparers assist members of the campus and area community with their tax preparation and filing.

On Wednesday, February 20 and April 3, representatives from VITA will be available in Hyland Hall, room 1302, starting at 3:30 pm, and all undergraduate and graduates students are encouraged to attend to have their tax questions answered.  In addition, UWW VITA tax clinics are held on Wednesdays and Saturdays through April 10.  Click on the link for specific details.

For other personal finance questions or to set up an appointment to speak with a staff member, call (472-4947), email, or visit the UWW Financial Literacy Center today!

New Year, New You

The start of a new year is often celebrated by resolutions.  Why not make changes to your financial situation in order to reach your goals?  Here are a few money resolutions you might consider to improve your financial well-being.

  • Limit entertainment expenses.  College is suppose to be fun, but the more you spend on entertainment, the less you have towards tuition.  You don’t have to completely eliminate your entertainment, just become more frugal.  Seek out free or low-cost options on campus, and take advantage of student discounts by showing your student ID at restaurants, movie theaters, and more.
  • Utilize your savings account. After each pay period, place some funds (any amount is good) into savings.  If you don’t want to think about making the transfer, set up an automatic transfer or utilize apps provided by your financial institution.  Creating the habit and having funds for emergencies is a good idea.
  • Use credit cards wisely.  Avoid impulse purchases and only charge what you can afford to pay off each month.  Paying down credit card debit over months and years incurs expensive interest charges.
  • Create a budget.  Estimating income and expenses is not difficult, but keeping track of expenses and comparing budgeted to actual amounts take time, and is often the hardest part of the budget cycle.  The advantages to completing the budget process includes personal knowledge of where your money goes and the ability to plan for changes.
  • Check your credit.  Use annualcreditreport.com to check on your credit history once a year.  Although this free site will not give you a credit score, it will allow you to look for errors and discrepancies in regards to your credit.  Often times, the credit report will alert you to any signs of  identity theft.

Pick one, two, or all of the above resolutions and implement a plan to work towards your goals and improve your overall financial wellness.  Take charge of your finances now to set yourself up for future success and freedom.  For more information or to set up a financial coaching session, contact the UWW Financial Literacy Center.

 

Holiday Gift Giving on a Student Budget

The tradition of holiday shopping and gift giving on a student budget is challenging, and the added financial stress and burden can make the holiday season more stressful and less enjoyable.  It is possible to give your friends and family meaningful gifts, even on a student budget.

Tip #1:  Save money in advance.  The holiday season should not come as a surprise each year, yet how many times has it ‘snuck up’ on you, and you find yourself wishing for more funds in your bank account.  A year-long savings or holiday fund plan is a solution.  Determine an estimated total cost and start saving early to achieve your goal.  This would make a good New Year’s Resolution for 2019.

Tip #2: Hunt for bargains.  Use sites like RetailMeNot and Groupon that offer business discounts.  Utilize coupons and sales, which are in abundance around the holidays.  When online shopping, watch for and utilize discounts and free shipping.

Tip #3:  Budget and monitor expenses.  List the people you wish to purchase presents for and set spending limits on each person.  Save your receipts and maintain a listing of spending totals, being careful not to overspend.  Remember to include greeting cards and holiday gift wrapping supplies within your budget.  Consider downloading one of the many money management apps, or keep a notebook log to track expenses.

Tip #4:  Utilize thrift stores and DIY projects.  Browsing local thrift and consignment stores may yield unique gifts for loved ones at a price cheaper than retail.  Handmade gifts are often the most cherished gifts.  It can be more cost effective to purchase materials and create gifts rather than to purchase items.  Around the holidays, watch craft store sales for percentage off items or entire purchases.

The holiday season can wreak havoc on a student’s budget, but affording the holidays can be done with careful planning.  Relieving yourself of financial worry and stress will allow you to enjoy and celebrate this special time of year.  Contact the UWW Financial Literacy Center for additional personal finance information and resources on a wide array of topics.

Financial Literacy Services Expanding to UW-Rock County

Exciting news!  On Monday, December 3, the Financial Literacy Center will be hosting a financial seminar at the UW-Whitewater at Rock County campus.  Smart Strategies to Manage Money will focus on budgeting strategies, monitoring expenses, managing credit and establishing positive credit history.  Starting at 12:00 noon, the seminar will take place in the Commons Meeting Room, HS120, and attendance is encouraged and open to all students.  For more information on financial topics, visit or contact the UWW Financial Literacy Center.

 

Comparing On and Off Campus Housing

When deciding to live on or off campus, compare the pros and cons before making this big decision.

  • Cost.  Expenses such as security deposits, monthly rent, utilities, and parking should all be considered.
  • Location.  Is the location within walking distance of campus or will transportation be needed?  Consider parking needs, vehicle costs, and if public transportation is available.
  • Privacy.  Dorm rooms generally have shared living space by 2 or more students. Rentals may have more privacy options, but this is determined by number of roommates, bedrooms, and bathrooms.
  • Amenities. Air conditioning, heat control, laundry facilities, internet connection, and dishwasher may be available at rentals; however, living on campus provides daily cleaning of facilities and readily available meals.
  • Security.  Consider door locks, peep holes, and security systems when living off campus.
  • Other.  If contemplating off campus housing, some additional considerations include renter’s insurance, allowable pets, subleasing options, yard work requirements, furnished or unfurnished, and landlord availability.

Once the pros and cons of each category are compared, you can make a decision based on which is most beneficial to your personal situation. For more information and resources on comparing on and off campus housing, visit the Financial Literacy Center and schedule a coaching session today!

Is An Emergency Fund Really Necessary?

Is an emergency fund really necessary for college students?  Of course it is!  Everyone, even college students, need an emergency fund as unexpected expenses can happen at any time.

  • Good Habits.  Making wise money management decisions at an early age provides a path to good financial decision-making in the future.  In addition, the habit of placing funds consistently into an emergency fund will spill into other parts of your financial life.  Individuals are more likely to achieve their future savings and investment goals if they start as young adults.
  • Less Headaches.  Prepared or not, unexpected expenses will occur at some point in your life.  Your car breaks down, an unexpected illness occurs, or the water pipe in your apartment bursts.  Being prepared for emergencies can save you a headache when life throws a curveball.
  • Investment in Yourself.  When you place money aside for an emergency fund, you are investing in yourself.  As your account grows, feelings of accomplishment and success will show as a result of your efforts.

Unexpected expenses occur, it is just a matter of time.  Being prepared with an emergency fund is a way to combat these situations.  For more information on emergency funds, schedule a coaching session or visit the Financial Literacy Center today!

Budget Adjustments

Monthly changes of your budgeted amounts are to be expected.  Changes in spending and income result from the realities of life – both expected and unexpected.  For this reason, continuous adjustments to your monthly budget are just a part of the process.

Income Increase.  Taking on a new or additional job, receiving a monetary gift, or gaining income through other sources are all ways to increase your income.  With this new income, you may want to pay down debt or add money to your emergency or savings accounts.

Income Decrease.  Losing a scholarship, being let go from a job, or having to spend money on unexpected car expenses will force you to tighten your spending.  As a result, you may need to identify non-essential spending areas to cut back. Figure out how much you will need to decrease your spending and decide which categories can be reduced.

Be flexible and reasonable each month when reassessing your budget or spending plan.  For more information on budget strategies, visit the Financial Literacy Center.

 

Cyber Security Tips When In-Store Shopping

Technology has provided additional convenience while shopping, but taking a few safety precautions with your devices while out and about will provide a more safe and secure shopping experience.

Stores and service providers are beginning to track your whereabouts when your devices are within a certain range.  To prevent these business from accessing your device, disable the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth features when not in use.

Public Wi-Fi connections are targets for identity fraud.  Be wary of completing any transactions over these open connections.  This includes accessing any bank or credit information and logging into any email or financial accounts.

Basic and simple precautions can make your in-store shopping experience more safe and secure.  For more information on cyber security awareness, contact the UWW Financial Literacy Center.

 

Refunds: What To Do With The Extra Money?

A financial aid refund is excess money left over from your financial aid package after your tuition and allowable fees have been paid.  Although it can be tempting to use this extra money on non-essentials, such as gaming consoles, vacations, or designer clothing, financial aid is meant for education-related expenses. In many cases, the refund check is actually a student loan which will need to be repaid in the future with interest.

Here are the recommended priorities for refund usage:

  1. Pay Outstanding Account Balance. Even though you may receive a refund, your student account may still have charges that need to be paid (see Note below).
  2. Purchase Essential School Supplies.  Depending on your course load, various school supplies are needed for class success such as books, calculators, and other materials.
  3. Pay for Living Expenses and Transportation.  Consider needs versus wants.  Depending on your personal situation, rent, groceries, meal plans, utilities, and basic transportation costs may be necessary expenses.
  4. Place Funds into Savings for Future Education-Related Expenses.  Although it may be tempting to use refund money on non-essentials, such as vacations or designer clothing, financial aid is meant for education-related expenses.
  5. Give Money Back.  If you have over-borrowed, consider giving the money back to reduce your overall student debt.

For more information and resources on financial aid refunds or other financial needs, reach out to the appropriate campus departments.

Note:  Due to financial aid restrictions, your student account in WINS may continue to have non-tuition charges that will need to be paid using personal funds.  Students are encouraged to authorize the Federal Title IV Financial Aid (WINS/Student Center/View Student Permissions) to pay additional charges on their student account such as parking permits, bookstore charges, health center services, and library fines.  Pay plan activation fees and finance charges cannot be covered with Federal Title IV permissions, therefore these will need to be paid with personal funds.