Filed under: Money
Check your money assumptions
Continuing our series on keeping the happy in the holidays this year, this week’s tip is to check your money assumptions. Finances can be strained during the holidays. This is not just an emotional problem, but how you think about money can affect you emotionally. Do you find yourself thinking, “I must give my family as good a Christmas as I had as a kid” or “I should be able to buy my kids whatever they want”? The fact is, you may like things to be different, but must or should they? Get rid of words such as “must” or “should” and focus instead on thoughts such as “What can I afford?” and “Are there ways I can make the holidays special without spending a lot of money?” Then notice how you feel without the constraints of what you must or should do. Instead, give yourself permission to give your family the holiday you can afford this year.
One of the top personal sources of stress for Warfighters (according to a 2011 DoD survey) is money. Not enough money, not enough savings, or a bad credit history—all contribute to financial stress. For information and ideas on budgeting and saving money, check out this recent HPRC article. Another tool in your financial arsenal is the credit report. But first: What is a credit report?
A credit report is simply a record of your credit history. It includes your name, social security number, home address, credit cards, loans, collections, open amounts (how much you owe), and whether you have paid your bills on time (if late, it shows how late: 31-45 days past due, 46-60 days past due, etc.). In fact, you have more than one credit report; there are three major ones, so you need to pay attention to them all.
It’s important to have good credit reports—they have the information businesses look at to determine if they want to do business with you. This means if you apply for a credit card or loan, (1) are you worthy to get credit; (2) if you qualify, then what would the interest rate be; and (3) for an interest-free credit card or loan, what would the payback period be.
A number of businesses look at your credit reports: credit card companies, banks, mortgage lenders, cell phone companies, and even your insurance company. Employers can look at your credit history as well, but they must ask for your permission first.
It’s important to look at your credit reports for accuracy, especially with identity thefts, and to review the list of open credits that you may no longer use. Open credit is open credit—it can limit you in the long run because creditors know you have open lines of credit to use. The great news is that you can ask for a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three major companies, thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Visit the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) website to see how to get your free credit reports.
Preparing federal and state tax returns can be a time-consuming and aggravating task. Good news: There’s help out there! Most military bases offer free tax advice for Warfighters and their families through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, with certified volunteers trained by the IRS to know military-specific tax issues. Also, if you are eligible, Military OneSource offers federal and up to three state returns online free.
If you are deployed, you and your spouse may quality for a tax return deadline extension up to 180 days after you return from theater. For more helpful tips—including acceptable deductibles on out-of-pocket moving, travel, and uniform costs—visit the IRS and DoD YouTube video resources.