Author Archives: Melissa Hart

About Melissa Hart

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

Beware: Subscription Services

With growing numbers of video streaming services and product box programs, these subscriptions are becoming the newest budget buster. These seemingly small monthly charges add up, lowering a person’s ability to save along with a potential for increased debt. These ongoing financial commitments leave people with a lower percentage of free cash flow, or unencumbered income.

Subscription service spending is often overlooked especially when the payments are on auto pilot. A $4 or $8 monthly fee may not seem like much. However, research indicates that subscription services are an increasing financial burden as most people underestimate the amount. In one study, 84 percent of respondents estimated monthly spending on these services at about $80; the actual amount was over $110. In addition to video steaming services, people sign up for automatic monthly shipments of beer, wine, contact lenses, cosmetics, meal kits, pet food, razors, vitamins, and other products.

For additional information on subscription services, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students survey several people to determine the types and amounts of subscription services being used.
  • Have students create a financial analysis for amounts saved over several years by reducing or eliminating subscription services.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What factors influence a person’s decision to use a subscription service?
  2. Describe suggested actions that a person might take to reduce or eliminate subscription services.
Categories: Budget, Chapter 2, Chapter 6 | Tags: , | Leave a comment

COVID-19 Robocall Scams

Scammers are using illegal robocalls to profit from Coronavirus-related fears.  Illegal robocalls are universally hated, so why do scammers still use them? Because scammers need only a few people to take the bait for them to make money. Scammers might do that by getting your bank account number, tricking you into handing over gift card PIN codes, or stealing valuable personal information such as your Social Security number.

Crises such as COVID-19, bring out the best in people, and the worst in scammers who pretend to be from the Social Security Administration, offering fake Coronavirus tests to Medicare recipients, and scaring small businesses into buying bogus online listing services.

To hear examples of illegal robocalls exploiting concerns about the Coronavirus, and to stay up to date on the latest Federal Trade Commission (FTC) information, visit ftc.gov/coronavirus.

Now that you know what Coronavirus robocall scams are like, make sure you share this information with your friends and family members. And, if you get such scam calls,don’t believe them. Instead:

  • Hang up. Don’t press any numbers. The recording might say that pressing a number will let you speak to a live operator or remove you from their call list, but it might lead to more robocalls, instead.
  • Consider using a call blocking app or device. You also can ask your phone provider if it has call-blocking tools. To learn more, go to ftc.gov/calls.
  • Report the call. Report robocalls at ftc.gov/complaint. The more the FTC  hear from you, the more they can help fight scams.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they or their family members have received such calls. If so, how did they respond?
  • How many students or family members have considered using a call blocking app or have contacted their phone provider to block such calls? Summarize their findings.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it not advisable to ask the caller to remove your name from their call list?
  2. How does reporting your robocalls help the FTC combat scammers?
Categories: Chapter 5, Identity Theft, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

SPREAD THE WORD, NOT THE VIRUS

The infectious disease experts are urging all Americans to do their part to slow the spread of the Coronavirus.  Even if you are young, or otherwise healthy, you are at risk and your activities can increase the risk for others.  It is critical that you do your part to slow the spread of the Coronavirus.

Work or engage in schooling from home whenever possible.  Avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people.  Avoid eating or drinking at bars, restaurants, and food courts—use drive-through, pick-up, or delivery options.  Avoid discretionary travel, shopping trips, and social visits.  Do not visit nursing homes or retirement or long-term care facilities unless to provide critical assistance.  Practice good hygiene.  Wash your hands, especially after touching any frequently used item or surface.  Avoid touching your face.  Sneeze or cough into a tissue, or the inside of your elbow.  Finally, disinfect frequently used items and surfaces as much as possible.  Furthermore:

  1. Listen to and follow the directions of your federal, state and local authorities.
  2. If you feel sick, stay home. Do not go to work. Contact your medical provider.
  3. If your children are sick, keep them at home. Contact your medical provider.
  4. If someone in your household has tested positive for the Coronavirus, keep the entire household at home.
  5. If you are an older American, stay home and away from other people.
  6. If you are a person with a serious underlying health condition—such as a significant heart or lung problem—stay home and away from other people.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they are practicing social distancing. If not, what are the reasons?
  • Ask students how difficult has it been since the world has almost come to a standstill. What has changed in their life?

Discussion Questions

  1. Are the President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America fair to the citizens? Explain why or why not?
  2. Since older people are particularly at risk from the Coronavirus, why are younger people being quarantined?
Categories: Chapter 9, Health Insurance | Tags: , | Leave a comment

FINRA Investor Education Foundation Publishes “The State of U.S. Financial Capability”

Did you know that in 2018:

  • 19% of households spent more than their income?
  • 46% of individuals lacked an emergency fund?
  • 35% of credit card holders paid only the minimum on their credit cards?

In September 2019, the FINRA Foundation released data from its latest Financial Capability Study—one of the largest and most comprehensive financial capability studies in the United States. Among the findings, younger Americans, those with lower incomes, African-Americans and those without a college degree face the toughest financial struggles. More than 27,000 respondents participated in the nationwide study. Conducted every three years beginning in 2009, it measures key indicators of financial capability and evaluates how these indicators vary with underlying demographic, behavioral, attitudinal and financial literacy characteristics—both nationwide and state-by-state.

For more information, click here

Teaching Suggestions:

  • Ask students if they spend more than their income in a given year.
  • Ask students if they have a rainy day fund. If not, why?
  • Ask students if they pay in full when the credit card bill arrives. If not, why?

Discussion Questions

  1. What might be some reasons why almost one in five households spends more than their income?
  2. Why is it important to have a rainy day fund? Why almost half of Americans lack such a fund?
  3. Why is it vital to pay credit card bills in full? What are the costs of paying a minimum balance?
Categories: Budget, Credit Cards | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Meet the “Henrys” (high earners not rich yet)

Many young people making high salaries still say they feel broke. A “Henry,” short for “high earners not rich yet,” is someone who lives an extravagant lifestyle combined with their student loans has very little money left over.  These “working rich” place a strong emphasis on travel, and often limit their spending on food and clothing in order to afford luxury trips.  While many have a desire to get their finances in order, very few take appropriate actions to do so.

Henrys are characterized by a higher-than-average income, little or no savings, and a feeling of low material wealth. Most of their earnings go toward current living expenses rather than building wealth with investments.

For additional information on high earners not rich yet, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students conduct online research to determine various financial attitudes and behaviors of people in different age categories and life situations.
  • Have students prepare a video that recommending actions to the people described in the article.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What factors might be influencing the financial activities of the people described in the article?
  2. Describe possible financial concerns associated with these financial attitudes and behaviors, and recommend corrective actions that might be taken.
Categories: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Financial Planning | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap) policies

Original Medicare pays for much, but not all, of the cost for covered health care services and supplies. Medicare Supplement Insurance policies, sold by private companies, can help pay some of the remaining health care costs for covered services and supplies, such as copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles. Medicare Supplement Insurance policies are also called Medigap policies.

Some Medigap policies also offer coverage for services that Original Medicare doesn’t cover, such as medical care when you travel outside the U.S. Generally, Medigap policies don’t cover long-term care (such as care in a nursing home), vision or dental care, hearing aids, eyeglasses, or private-duty nursing.

Every Medigap policy must follow federal and state laws designed to protect you, and they must be clearly identified as “Medicare Supplement Insurance.” Insurance companies can sell you only a “standardized” policy identified in most states by letters A through D, F, G, and K through N. All policies offer the same basic benefits, but some offer additional benefits so you can choose which one meets your needs. In Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, Medigap policies are standardized differently.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to read about different types of Medigap policies, what they cover, and which insurance companies sell Medigap policies in their area.
  • Ask students to find and compare drug plans, health plans, and Medigap policies offered in their state.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are the differences between a Medigap policy and a Medicare Advantage Plan?
  2. What types of services are not generally covered by Medigap policies?
Categories: Chapter 9, Retirement Planning | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Kakeibo: The Japanese art of saving money

Kakeibo, pronounced “kah-keh-boh” and translates as “household financial ledger,” is a method used in Japan for managing personal finances. For over 100 years, this system has helped people make smarter money decisions.

Similar to other budgeting systems, kakeibo is designed to help you understand your relationship with money by recording all financial inflows and outflows. As proven by research, this recordkeeping method emphasizes physically writing your financial activities making you more aware of bad money habits. Kakeibo can help you become completely honest about your spending with the use of four categories: (1) needs, (2) wants, (3) culture, such as books and museum visits, and (4) unexpected – medical expenses or car repairs.

Kakeibo encourages you to ask yourself these questions before buying any non-essential items, or things you buy on impulse:

  • Can I live without this item?
  • Based on my financial situation, can I afford it?
  • Will I actually use it? Do I have the space for it?
  • How did I come across it in the first place? (Did I see it in a magazine? Did I come across it after wandering into a gift shop out of boredom?)
  • What is my emotional state in general today? (Calm? Stressed? Celebratory? Feeling bad?)
  • How do I feel about buying it? (Happy? Excited? Indifferent? And how long will this feeling last?)

In addition, to spend more mindfully, Kakeibo recommends that you:

  1. Leave the item for 24 hours.
  2. Don’t let major “sales” tempt you.
  3. Check your bank balance regularly.
  4. Spend in cash.
  5. Put reminders in your wallet – use a sticker: “Do you REALLY need this?!”
  6. Change the environments that cause you to spend.

For additional information on kakeibo, go to:

Link #1

Link #2

Link #3

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students conduct a survey to determine reactions to this budgeting system among people in different age categories and life situations.
  • Have students prepare a visual summary of some of the characteristics of the budgeting system.

 Discussion Questions 

  1. What elements of this budgeting system might people find beneficial? What are possible drawbacks?
  2. If you were to implement this system for your life, which actions would you select to do first?
Categories: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Financial Planning | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Tips for gift card shopping

Gift cards are one quick way to get through your last-minute holiday shopping list. But before you give (and get) gift cards, here are a few things you need to know.

  • Inspect gift cards before you buy. A gift card should have all its protective stickers in place. Report the card to the store if anything looks scratched off or damaged.
  • When you buy, save the receipt. Keeping the gift card receipt can be helpful if you run into problems with the card. 
  • Treat gift cards like cash. Report a lost or stolen gift card to the card’s issuer immediately. Most card issuers have toll-free numbers you can find online to report a lost or stolen card. Depending on the card issuer, you may even be able to get some money back.
  • Buy gift cards from sources you know and trust. Think twice about buying gift cards from online auction sites, to avoid buying fake or stolen cards.
  • Read the gift card’s terms and conditions. Know the deal you’re getting with gift cards. For example, are there fees every time it gets used – or if it sits unused?

And here’s the most important gift card tip of all:

  • Remember that gift cards are for gifts, not payments. Gift cards are a scammer’s favorite way to steal your money. Anyone who demands that you pay them with a gift card, for any reason, is always a scammer. This includes calls from imposters claiming to be a family member with an emergency, calls from the IRS and Social Security, law enforcement, and utility companies. Simply, never pay with a gift card.

Report gift card scams directly with the card issuer, then report it to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they have ever given or received a gift card. If so, let them describe their experience.
  • Make a list of differences between a traditional debit-card and gift cards.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to inspect gift cards before you buy them?
  2. What are some of the disadvantages of gift cards?
  3. What happens to a gift card holder when the retailer/issuer goes bankrupt?
Categories: Chapter 5, Debit Cards | Tags: | Leave a comment

Paying for Long-Term Care

Paying for long-term care (sometimes called “long-term services and supports”) includes non-medical care for people who have a chronic illness or disability. This includes non-skilled personal care assistance, such as like help with everyday activities, including dressing, bathing, using the bathroom, home-delivered meals, adult day health care, and other services. Medicare and most health insurance plans, including Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap) policies, don’t pay for this type of care, sometimes called “custodial care.” You may be eligible for this type of care through Medicaid, or you can choose to buy private long-term care insurance.

Long-term care can be provided at home, in the community, in an assisted living facility, or in a nursing home. It’s important to start planning for long-term care now to maintain your independence and to make sure you get the care you may need, in the setting you want, now and in the future.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask the students if they have Long Term Care insurance since 40 percent of the 13 million people receiving long term care services are between the ages of 18 and 24.
  • Ask students to prepare a list of services that long term care insurance policy may provide.

Discussion Questions

  1. If majority of Americans will be cared for at home by family members and friends, why should anyone purchase a long-term care insurance policy?
  2. Do younger people need long-term care insurance? If so, why?  If not, why?
  3. Why long- term care insurance is very expensive? Should everyone purchase long term care insurance?
Categories: Chapter 9, Health Insurance | Tags: | Leave a comment

Avoiding Personal Finance Nonsense

Many personal finance reports are published with advice that may not provide the best guidance. In an effort to avoid buzzwords and troubling phrases, consider these suggestions:

  • determine who conducted the research; a company may sponsor a study that lacks the rigor of academic or government researchers.
  • be wary of research that reports feelings or predictions rather than actual behaviors and actions of respondents.
  • consider the number of people in the study and how the respondents were selected.
  • avoid generalizations that about a certain age group, such as Millennials, Baby Boomers, or Generation X.

Don’t revise your money management activities based on some survey or research report. If your current actions are working, then you are on the correct path.

For additional information on avoiding personal finance nonsense, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students conduct online research to locate a recent personal finance study to evaluate the validity of the advice offered in the report.
  • Have students create a video presentation reporting both valid and nonsense personal finance advice.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What problems could occur if a person uses inappropriate financial advice?
  2. In addition to the suggestions in the article, what actions might a person take to determine the validity of personal finance advice?
Categories: Career, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Financial Planning, Purchasing Strategies | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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