Author Archives: Melissa Hart

About Melissa Hart

A permanent lecturer at North Carolina State University. I teach Personal and Corporate Finance.

Romance Scams

What are some signs that a romance scam could be taking place?

  • a new love living far away requests money or use of your credit card number
  • being asked to sign a document giving a new romantic interest control of your finances
  • a new sweetheart wants you to open a joint bank account with them

While romance scammers usually focus on single, older people, anyone seeking a new relationship is a possible target. These scams can happen in person, but more often through social media, dating websites, smartphone apps. These scams happen when a new love pretends to be interested in you as a way to get your money. In fact, they may not even be who they say they are.

Beware of Cupid’s arrow striking your wallet instead of your heart!  To protect you, friends, and family from romance and other scams, consider these actions:

  • Avoid giving a new friend access to credit cards, bank accounts, or other financial assets.
  • Report crimes or financial exploitation to local law enforcement agencies or to Adult Protective Services (APS); information available at gov.
  • Contact your state attorney general and the Federal Trade Commission to report cases of financial abuse.

For additional information on romance scams, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students create and present possible scam situations to create awareness among various potential victims.
  • Have students create a visual presentation (using computer software or a poster) to communicate actions to avoid scams.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What are common warning signs that may indicate that a possible scam is taking place?
  2. Describe actions that might be taken to avoid various scams and frauds.
Categories: Chapter 2, Chapter 6, Frauds and Scams | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Becoming Financially Disciplined

Whether you start at the beginning of the year or you start today, some actions to keep your financial plans on track include:

  • Set a money objective. Simplify your approach for financial goals by selecting a word or short phrase to give your direction. This theme might be “future needs” (for retirement planning), “spend mindfully” (for controlling spending), or “kid’s college.”
  • Use automation. Using automatic transfers will allow you to save for a house down payment, an emergency fund, a vacation, or retirement.
  • Challenge yourself. Cut unnecessary expenses to allow you to have money left over each month for financial goals.
  • Change your environment. Modifying your financial habits can occur with visible reminders, such as photos, sticky notes, or note cards placed on your credit card, desk, bathroom mirror, refrigerator, car dashboard, or computer screen. Also consider keeping a financial diary or journal.
  • Obtain needed support. Instead of going it alone, work with a friend, roommate, spouse, or group to achieve your money objective and stay accountable.

 For additional information on becoming financially disciplined, click on the following links:

Financially disciplined #1

Financially disciplined #2

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students talk to others to obtain ideas for achieving financial goals.
  • Have students create visuals that might be used to remind them about financial goals and actions.

 Discussion Questions 

  1. What are the main reasons people who not achieve financial goals?
  2. Describe methods that might be used to help you and others achieve financial goals.
Categories: Chapter 1, Chapter 2 | Tags: , | Leave a comment

8 Simple Ways to Save Money

“Sometimes the hardest thing about saving money is just getting started.”

This Bank of America article provides a step-by-step guide for simple ways to save money–money that can then be used to pursue your financial goals.  To learn more, check out the 8 steps below.

  1. Record your expenses. Ideally, you can account for every penny you spend for the big items like mortgages, credit cards, and even small items like a coffee and snacks.
  2. Make a budget. Once you know how you spend, you can compare your income to your expenses and make changes, if necessary.
  3. Plan on saving money. Your budget should contain a savings category.  Ideally, savings should account for 10 to 15 percent of your income.
  4. Choose something to save for. One of the best ways to save money is to set a goal.  Possible goals include saving for a vacation, the down payment for a house, retirement, or anything important to you.
  5. Decide on your priorities.  Prioritizing goals can give you a clear idea of what is most important and helps to remind you why you are saving money.
  6. Pick the right tools. There are many saving options and the choice often depends on the amount of time before you need the money.  Often, money for short-term goals is placed in savings accounts.  Money for long-term goals may involve stocks, bonds, or mutual funds.
  7. Make saving automatic. Banks offer automated transfers between checking and savings accounts.  Automated transfers are great because you don’t have to make a decision to save or invest; it just happens.
  8. Watch your savings grow. Checking your progress every month helps you stick to your personal savings plan.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

You may want to use the information in this blog post and the original article to

  • Discuss the relationship between income, expenses, and establishing a systematic savings program.
  • Help students understand how saving small amounts over time can help obtain goals that can change their lives.

Discussion Questions

  1. At the end of the month, many people wonder where their money went!  Why is it important to determine how you spend your money?
  2. How can a budget help you find the money needed to establish a savings program built on the goals you want to achieve?
Categories: Budget, Chapter 2, Savings | Tags: , | Leave a comment

How to Profit from the Ultra-Tight Job Market Right Now

“The war for talent that obsesses tech companies is intensifying and is about to spread economywide.”

This Fortune article is a must read for job seekers in today’s world, Geoff Colvin explains that after nine years of sluggish economic growth, the economy has turned the corner and creating jobs at a record pace.  The hiring boom is not only creating opportunities for unemployed workers, but also currently-employed workers who want to get a better or higher-paying jobs.

In the current job market, employers are seeking talented employees that have a great future.  Traits that include creativity, the willingness to work hard, and love of learning often help employers evaluate potential.  Digital skills are very important, but not restricted to just tech companies.  For example, many retailers are hiring workers who can use digital skills to reach customers in new ways.

Human skills are also more important than in the past.  Companies want workers to feel they’re part of the organization and a valued asset.  These “same people” skills are very important for workers applying for management positions.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

You may want to use the information in this blog post and the original article to

  • Reinforce that employers want workers who have the knowledge and skills that they need, but also are willing to work hard, become part of the organization, and keep learning once they get the job.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do you develop the traits and skills so that employers are willing to pay you a salary?
  2. If you were an employer, how would you choose between job applicants applying for a customer service position at American Airlines? What traits and skills are most important?
Categories: Career, Career Training, Career_Appendix, Chapter 1, _Appendix B | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Children and Social Security Numbers

A child needs a Social Security number if he or she is going to have a bank account, if a relative is buying savings bonds for the child, if the child will have medical coverage, or if the child will receive government services. You’ll also need a Social Security number for a child to claim him or her on your tax returns.

The application for a Social Security number and card is sometimes overlooked in the paperwork that parents fill out in preparation for a child’s birth. Typically, the hospital will ask new mothers if they want to apply for a Social Security number for their newborn as part of the birth registration process. This is the easiest and fastest way to apply. The Social Security card typically arrives about a week to ten days after the baby is born. You can learn about Social Security numbers for children by reading a Social Security publication, Social Security Numbers for Children.

If you wait to apply, you will have to visit a Social Security office and you’ll need to:

  • Complete an Application for a Social Security Card (Form SS-5);
  • Show original documents proving your child’s U.S. citizenship, age, and identity; and
  • Show documents proving your identity.

A child age 12 or older requesting an original Social Security number must appear in person for the interview, even though a parent or guardian will sign the application on the child’s behalf.

For More Information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if Social Security is only meant for the elderly and the disabled persons.
  • What is the procedure to apply for a Social Security Number if a parent does not apply for it when the child is born?

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to apply for a Social Security Number at child’s birth?
  2. Does Social Security benefit only retired people? Why or why not?
Categories: Chapter_14, Identity Theft, insurance | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Common Credit Report Errors

What are common credit report errors that you should look for on your credit report?  When reviewing your credit report, check that it contains items about you.  Be sure to look for information that is inaccurate or incomplete.

Some common errors in credit reports are:

Identity errors

  • Errors made to your identity information (wrong name, phone number, address)
  • Accounts belonging to another person with the same name or similar name as yours (this mixing of two consumer’s information in a single file is called mixed file)
  • Incorrect accounts resulting from Identity theft

Incorrect reporting of account status

  • Closed accounts reported as open
  • You are reported as the owner of the account, when you are actually just an authorized user
  • Accounts that are incorrectly reported as late or delinquent
  • Incorrect date of last payment, date opened, or date of first delinquency
  • Same debt listed more than once (possibly with different names)

Data management errors

  • Reinsertion of incorrect information after it was corrected
  • Accounts that appear multiple times with different creditors listed (especially in the case of delinquent accounts or accounts in collection)

Balance Errors

  • Accounts with an incorrect current balance
  • Accounts with an incorrect credit limit

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Why is important to check your credit reports every year?
  • Credit bureaus are required to follow reasonable procedures to ensure that your credit report is accurate, then why mistakes may occur?
  • Ask students if they have ever been contacted a credit bureau to dispute the accuracy of its information. What was the outcome?

Discussion Questions

  1. When you notify the credit bureau that you dispute the accuracy of its information, what must the credit bureau do to rectify mistakes?
  2. What are your legal remedies if a consumer reporting agency fails to comply with the provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act?
Categories: Chapter 5, Credit Mistakes, Credit Scores | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Trump’s Tax Plan and How It Affects You

“On December 22, 2017, President Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.”

Fact:  Most Americans wonder how the current wave of tax reform will affect them.  This article by Kimberly Amadeo summarizes how the Act changes the amount of income tax that both individuals and businesses pay.

Significant changes in the Act for individuals include

  • Lower tax rates (highest rate in 2017 was 39.6 percent drops to 37 percent in 2018) could mean an increase in the amount individuals take home each payday.
  • Personal exemptions ($4,150 in 2017) per person are eliminated.
  • The standard deduction almost doubles for a single person ($6,350 in 2017) to $12,000. For married and joint filers the standard deduction ($12,700 in 2017) is now $24,000.
  • More taxpayers will opt to take the standard deduction instead of itemizing deductions.
  • For those taxpayers who choose to itemize, many itemized deductions that were previously allowed have been eliminated.
  • Taxpayers who itemize can still deduct charitable contributions, most mortgage interest, retirement savings, and student loan interest.
  • Taxpayers who itemize can still deduct up to $10,000 in state and local taxes.

For businesses, the largest and most signification change is lowering the maximum corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent beginning in 2018.

The article does provides more specific information about how the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act affects both individuals and businesses.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

You may want to use the information in this blog post and the original article to

  • Discuss how the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will affect a single college student or a typical American family.
  • Explore how lower corporate taxes could impact economic growth, worker salaries, unemployment rates, job creation, and other factors that impact both the nation and individuals.

Discussion Questions

  1. Given the information contained in this article and other reports, do you think the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is good for you? Explain your answer.
  2. For an individual, what effect does lower taxes have on your spending, savings and investments, and retirement planning?
Categories: Chapter 3, Financial Planning, Taxes | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week

Are you looking forward to getting your tax refund in the New Year? Tax identity thieves may be looking forward to getting your refund too. That’s why the Federal Trade Commission has designated January 29-February 2, 2018 as Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week.

Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number (SSN) to get a tax refund or a job. You might find out it’s happened when you e-file your tax return and discover that a return already has been filed using your SSN. Or, the IRS may send you a letter saying more than one return was filed in your name, or that IRS records show you have wages from an employer you don’t know.

Learn to protect yourself from tax identity theft and IRS imposter scams, and what to do if someone you know becomes a victim. The FTC and partners including the IRS, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration will be co-hosting free webinars and Twitter chats during Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week. Visit ftc.gov/taxidtheft for details about the events and how to participate.

For more information, click here.

Teacher Suggestions

  • Ask students if filing early may avoid e-file tax identity theft fraud if someone files before they do.
  • Ask students what steps should they take if their identity is stolen?

Discussion Questions

  1. How can one protect from tax identity theft and IRS imposter scams?
  2. What can you do if you or someone else you know becomes a victim of identity theft?
Categories: Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Frauds and Scams, Identity Theft, Taxes | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Protect Your Social Media Accounts

The Internet has made our lives easier in so many ways. However, you need to know how you can protect your privacy and avoid fraud. Remember, not only can people be defrauded when using the Internet for investing; the fraudsters use information online to send bogus materials, solicit or phish.

Here’s what you can do to protect yourself when using social media:

Privacy Settings: Always check the default privacy settings when opening an account on a social media website.

Biographical Information: Consider customizing your privacy settings to minimize the amount of biographical information others can view on the website.

Account Information: Never give account information, Social Security numbers, bank information or other sensitive financial information on a social media website.

Friends/Contacts:  Decide whether it is appropriate to accept a “friend” or other membership request from a financial service provider, such as a financial adviser or broker-dealer.

Site Features: Familiarize yourself with the functionality of the social media website before broadcasting messages on the site. Who will be able to see your messages — only specified recipients, or all users?

For More Information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to make a list of their social media accounts. How do they protect their accounts from fraudsters?
  • Why do many social media websites require biographical information to open an account?

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to limit the information made available to other social media users?
  2. Is there an obligation to accept a “friend” request of a service provider or anyone you don’t know or do not know well?
  3. Why be extra careful before clicking on a link sent to you even if by a friend?
Categories: Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Frauds and Scams, Identity Theft | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Creating a Strong Interview Impression

Nearly everyone has minor stumbles in a job interview.  However, these flaws can be overcome with actions to engage the interviewer.  Some ways to make yourself memorable in an interview include:

  • Start the interview with a question or comment that reflects your preparation about the company.
  • As appropriate, answer the questions you are asked with a question. This approach is usually only valid when talking with operating staff, but not with a human resources person.
  • Remember to emphasize your awareness and potential contributions to the needs of the company, including ideas for addressing current concerns and market opportunities. Rather than a specific solution, communicate your sensitivity and awareness of their problems.
  • Show your humanness through humor, openness, and vulnerability.
  • Prepare with strong research on the company that allows you to better answer expected questions and to interact as you discuss your experiences and potential organizational contributions.
  • Think and talk like a consultant to communicate confidence and competency.

For additional information on strong interview impression, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students role play situations interview situations that they might encounter when applying for a job.
  • Have students create responses to potential interview questions based on the suggestions in this article.

Discussion Questions 

  1. How might the advice offered in this article be used when you are in an interview situation?
  2. Describe some common mistakes people might make in interviews. Explain actions to overcome these mistakes.
Categories: Career, _Appendix B | Tags: | Leave a comment

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