Sep 13

Teach your kids the value of money

(BPT) – Teaching your kids to be financially savvy could help them to be financially confident and successful in the future. As credit card debt and low retirement savings continue to frustrate many Americans, you can help your kids steer clear of these and other financial pitfalls by talking to them early on about the value of money. In fact people who have had financial education participate more often in retirement programs, make larger contributions to the programs and have a much higher savings rate than others, according to research from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

“Managing money effectively is one of the keys to gaining wealth, but many of us forget to talk to our kids about it, or avoid the subject, all together,” says Michael Fanning, an executive vice president at Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). The company recently debuted its new FutureSmart Challenge that teaches middle school students smart money management skills for the future, including how to save, spend, invest, donate and use credit wisely.

“As much as we teach our kids about math, science and history, children also need to learn about money and how to use it properly, so they can succeed in the future,” adds Fanning. “If we give them tools for financial success now, they’ll make smarter decisions down the road.”

Seventy-two percent of parents say it is important to educate children about finances, but only about half are actively teaching their kids about saving, spending and investing, according to MassMutual’s 2013 State of the American Family Study. Here are five tips to get the conversation started:

* Household finances: Expose your kids to age-appropriate information about your household budget and show them what it costs to keep your home running. Electricity, gas or oil, food and even cable bills are great ways to talk about budgets, explaining that setting aside money to pay for various items is one of the reasons you are able to maintain your lifestyle.

* College is key: Studies show that people with college degrees earn significantly more money in their lifetime than those without one. Have your kids research various job titles, both those requiring a degree and those that do not, along with their corresponding salary ranges, so they can see first-hand the impact a higher education can have on their income. This is also a good time to talk about different career paths and your children’s future aspirations.

* Needs versus wants: Helping your kids understand that a need is something you have to have like food versus something that would be nice to have – a want, like the latest video game, will encourage them to think about how they are spending money. If they really want that video game, encourage them to save for it.

* Credit cards versus dollars: How you pay for things matters, especially when it comes to credit card debt. Talk to your kids about the pros and cons of credit cards, the importance of paying a balance off every month and how interest rates can make you pay more money, in the end.

* The importance of saving: If you don’t already, consider paying your kids an allowance and encourage them to set aside three different funds: money to save, share and spend. Take them to open a bank account, and show them how they can build their wealth by contributing regularly and earning interest.

Whether you drive to the bank to open up an account, show your kids the family budget or simply buy a piggy bank and add your daily change accumulation to it, the steps you take today to teach your children about money and how to manage it can help set them on the right path to a financially confident and successful future. For more ideas to help teach your children about money visit

Sep 05

Your credit scores: What you don’t know could cost you

(BPT) – Do you know what your credit scores are? If you don’t, you’re not alone. In fact, many people know very little about their credit scores, what they are or how they work. And they certainly don’t understand that having low credit scores can have a big impact on their future.

Are you one of these people?

Recent research from the Consumer Federation of America and VantageScore Solutions highlights some of the crucial credit score information most people don’t know. According to the survey that polled 1,000 American consumers, almost half of the respondents did not know that a credit score measures the risk of a person’s likelihood to default in 90 days, as opposed to factors such as knowledge of – or attitude toward – consumer credit. This is paramount, as lenders typically review a person’s various credit scores before authorizing a loan.

The youth factor

Although people of all ages showed a lack of knowledge regarding important credit score information, the results show that the wider knowledge gap exists with Millennials (ages 18 – 34) than with older Americans.

Less than half of all Millennials understood that age was not used when calculating credit scores, according to the data. Meanwhile, more than 60 percent of adults (45-64) understood this.

Millennials also were less likely than older adults to know that credit scores are based on information collected by each of the three main credit bureaus.

“It isn’t a big surprise that consumers in the 45-60-year range know more than younger consumers about credit scoring, but the generation of consumers coming into the workforce is particularly challenged by massive student loans. A student loan is a great opportunity to help establish good credit for these consumers, but the concern is that many of these young adults could miss payments and begin their financial lives deep in debt with low credit scores, putting them in a difficult position,” says Barrett Burns, president and CEO of VantageScore Solutions.

Knowledge is power

Many people fail to realize how many different ways poor credit scores can affect their lives. Credit scores affect not only whether a person can receive a loan but also the interest rate a person pays for the loan.

The data shows that while the majority of all respondents understood that their credit scores would be reviewed by credit-card issuers and mortgage lenders, they did not know that electric utilities, home insurers, landlords and even cell phone companies may also review this information.

In short, a good credit score could save you hundreds or thousands of dollars in interest or rate payments when compared with possessing a poor score. If you want to improve your scores, the first step is to obtain your credit scores so you know where you stand. Not surprisingly, individuals who obtained their scores in the past year knew more about credit scores and how they are used by lenders in the market than those who didn’t obtain their scores in the last year.

“We know that education can help consumers improve their scores, and whatever the consumer’s age, our aim is to arm him or her with accurate, unbiased information and resources to help them become good managers of their credit,” Burns said.

To get a true picture of your credit status, it’s best to review your credit reports and credit scores from multiple sources.  Test your knowledge about credit scores at, which was created by VantageScore Solutions and Consumer Federation of America. Both the online quiz and a corresponding brochure are available in Spanish at

For more tips and resources to educate yourself regarding credit scores, visit the VantageScore Website. There you’ll find useful information regarding what impacts your credit score and how to be a good manager of your own credit.

Sep 01

It’s never too early to start teens on a budget

(BPT) – At some point, everyone will have to learn how to live on a budget, whether it’s at home, at work or with a nonprofit organization. For teenagers with a limited income and plenty of interests that cost money, learning to manage a budget can never come too early.

Money management is a necessary skill, and learning how to apply good management skills to a set budget at an early age can help teens grow into responsible adults. To help teens develop these financial skills, parents should work with their children to set a budget limit, create a list of wants and a list of needs, and look for ways expenses could be reduced. The following five tips provide some ways to help a teen live within a budget.

1. Identifying technological wants and needs. It seems everyone has a smartphone these days, and teens often think they can survive only with the latest and greatest in cellphone technology. However, the cost of the device and service plans quickly adds up. Discuss with your teen how the phone will be used, and find out if they are willing to reduce expenses to save money on cellphone technology.

One way teens can keep this area of the budget under control is with Straight Talk Wireless. For only $45 a month, Straight Talk offers unlimited nationwide, talk, text and data – all without a contract or credit check, and with 4GLTE nationwide coverage on America’s largest and most dependable networks. Or, with the “Bring Your Own Phone” option, you can even give your teen your old smartphone and switch to Straight Talk service without having to buy a new phone. Parents will also be interested in the new Safe Driver Car Connection available through Straight Talk, which blocks texting while the teen is driving, tracks the vehicle in real time and monitors their driving behaviors.

2. Create a spending journal. Teenagers can keep a journal for one week on every item purchased during that week, as well as the item’s price. Once the information has been collected, divide it all into categories. How many of the purchases were needs and how many were wants? How many of the purchases were immediately consumed, and how many lasted for a couple of hours or days? This information will give the teenager valuable insight into his shopping habits and patterns, allowing him to better identify where his money is going each week.

3. Develop a spending strategy. In some families, a teenager may receive an allowance designated for specific categories like transportation or clothing, for example. And in some families, teens are expected to work to earn the spending money they’ll use to pay for fun and those needed items. As the budget is being established, parents and teens should have a discussion about what parents will cover and what teens are expected to cover. This helps teens establish a spending strategy that will not overlap with funds already provided by parents.

4. Make a wish list. Wish lists can help teens set goals for what they will save their money to purchase, and they also give family members excellent ideas for holiday and birthday presents. Establishing savings goals early will help teens work toward purchasing that first car, their first house or something else that is very important. Parents should encourage their teens to price check their wish list as well, so they know how much they’ll need to save before they are able to purchase an item on the list.

5. Set up a savings fund. In relation to the wish list, teens should establish a savings fund. A discussion between parents and teens should be on how much money is put into the savings fund each week, when and for what reasons money can be withdrawn from the fund, and what the teen plans to use the fund for. For example, is it only to purchase items on the wish list, or is the teen looking ahead and saving for college expenses or rent for when they move out?

Budgeting and wise money-spending skills will serve your teen well for the rest of his or her lifetime. It’s never too early to start teaching these lessons, so be sure to sit your teen down for a financial discussion today.

Aug 22

Organize your finances in four easy steps

Do you tend to live paycheque to paycheque? Does the notion of setting up a savings plan put you into cold sweat? If either of these examples describes you to a T, then the financial experts from Desjardins Group have a 4-step plan to help you out.

What are you worth? Drawing up a balance sheet may seem daunting, but it’s actually a very simple exercise. Start by listing your assets (what you own) and your liabilities (what you owe). Now calculate your net worth by adding up your assets and then subtracting your liabilities. If your net worth is positive, you’re doing a great job of managing your money. If your net worth is negative — or “in the red” — It’s time to tackle your debts and get your finances back on track. Go to step 2.

Create a budget that is straightforward and flexible so it can be easily modified if your income or expenses change. Be realistic and specific about your spending. To build a simple budget, take a look at your monthly bank statements and bills to identify your fixed expenses (i.e. housing, groceries, transportation, bills, debts, etc.) and variable expenses (leisure, clothing, vacations, etc.). The goal is to find a balance so that you have a little left over each month that you can apply to your debt. Go to step 3 for tips on how to pay off your debt.

So, how overextended are you? To find out exactly how much you owe, add up all your debts. (See Step 1) Then, determine which debt you want to repay first. (Here’s a tip: Pick the one with the highest balance or highest interest rate.) Or, depending on your situation, consider consolidating your debts so that you only have one payment to make. Remember to reward yourself when you reach your goal — without using your credit of course. Head to step 4 for tips on how to start saving.

Saving pays off, so start saving in small increments today. Experts suggest that you should save 10 percent of your earnings and have an emergency fund equalling a minimum of three months’ worth of savings. This may be very overwhelming when you’re starting out. So try starting small by saving five dollars a week until you have more funds available. Remember, saving a bit than saving none.

To learn more about managing your money and to access financial calculators, visit the Co-op Me page on

Aug 22

Filing a small insurance claim — is it worth it?

Every year approximately 100,000 bicycles are stolen in Canada. Here’s a practical suggestion: if you want to avoid losing your bike — which could potentially trigger a small insurance claim — then make sure it is locked and if possible stored in a secure location like your garage or a condo bike room. But if you are victimized — bicycle thieves are very ingenious — it’s likely that your bike is covered under your home or apartment insurance policy. The important questions now are: how much is it worth, because your policy will include a deductible; and does it make sense to put in a claim with your insurance company.

Home insurance deductibles typically range from $500 to $1000. So if you purchased your bike for $150 plus tax, it would be wise to just replace it yourself. However, if you’re a serious cycling enthusiast and bought a high-end racing bike worth many thousands, then hopefully you’ve arranged special insurance on the bike so that you can file a claim if it’s stolen.

“The main purpose for insurance is to protect you in case of expensive, unforeseen circumstances,” says Desjardins Insurance spokesperson Joe Daly. “It usually doesn’t make sense to put in a claim on a small loss. First, you might have to pay it yourself anyway, depending on your deductible. And secondly, a lot of small claims can have a negative impact on your insurance premiums.”

Daly says if a falling tree branch cracks your eavestrough for example, you are better off fixing it yourself. But if the branch damages your roof and rain pours into your home, that’s probably an expensive repair so it makes sense to file a claim. That way your insurance company will ensure that it’s repaired quickly and properly.

But what about a parking lot dent?

We’ve all been there. You pop into the mall and when you come back, there’s a dent or scratch on your vehicle and the guilty party is long gone. The damage is minor. But if you put in a claim, will it impact your premiums?

No it won’t, as the damage to the vehicle wasn’t your fault, says Daly. However, you will still have to pay the deductible. If the repair cost is less than the deductible, it makes no sense to file a claim. But if the cost is substantially more — and it is sometimes surprising how much even a minor looking dent can cost to fix — go ahead and file the claim.

Just bear in mind, if you start filing numerous parking lot dent claims, your insurer might begin to think you are being negligent in how and where you park your vehicle. You should probably try to leave a little more room between other cars when parking, or find another shopping mall with less traffic. Better yet, take your bike instead of the car. Just be sure to lock it up securely.

To learn more about small claims, visit Desjardins Insurance at

Aug 22

What to do when your real estate offer is met with competition

Frustrations can fly when eager homebuyers run into competition during the offer phase of the buying process. Competitive, or multiple offer situations, can take place in markets all across Ontario, so it’s best to be prepared.

“Regardless of the market, an attractively priced home that meets the desires of more than one interested buyer may create a competitive situation,” says Costa Poulopoulos, president of the Ontario Real Estate Association. “Prospective homebuyers, together with their Realtor, should prepare a strategy for competitive situations to avoid disappointment and financial overextension.”

Here are some tips if it should happen to you:

Check your emotions – rely on your Realtor for objective advice and guidance through the process. He or she can help you avoid becoming too attached too soon to a home, or making spontaneous offers.

Set a price and stick to it – resist the temptation to increase your offer in a competitive situation. If your higher offer is accepted, your new home may become a bigger financial commitment than you bargained for.

Keep those conditions – in the heat of a competitive offer situation, some buyers may be tempted to waive conditions to increase their chances of securing the home. Waiving conditions and then having your offer accepted may put you in a bind if you end up with a home that needs costly repairs or if you have trouble securing a mortgage.

Calculate all costs – if you find yourself inching over your set price, rein yourself in by looking at the overall end price, including all the extra costs such as legal fees.

More information is available at

Aug 22

Young adults see the value in home ownership

The desire to own a home is alive and well among Ontario’s younger generations, according to new research from the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA). A large majority – 77% of Generation Y and 79% of Generation X – say home ownership is important to them. Are you one of them? Together, these generations include Ontarians aged 19 to 49 years of age.

“A large majority of younger Ontarians believe that owning a home makes more sense than renting,” says Sean Simpson, vice president of Ipsos Public Affairs. “They also have a positive perception of the economy and the current residential real estate market, both of which are important considerations in the decision to buy a home. Insights like these help us understand the motivation for younger people to buy homes.”

The study found that:

• 76% of Gen Y and 82% of Gen X, think it makes more sense to own a home rather than rent over the long-term;

• 73% of Gen Y and 82% of Gen X believe real estate is a good investment;

• More than half of Gen Y and Gen X have a favourable assessment of the current residential real estate market in Ontario (51% and 63% respectively), while only 23% and 17% have a negative assessment;

• The majority also describe the economy as ‘good’ right now (61% of Gen Y and 57% of Gen X).

“Their positive outlooks show that these new and aspiring homeowners understand the long-term investment potential of residential real estate,” says Costa Poulopoulos, president of OREA. “With spring underway, the reawakening real estate market is a great time for prospective homebuyers to explore their ownership options.”

The study, conducted by Ipsos Reid on behalf of OREA, examined public opinion on a variety of matters pertaining to the Ontario real estate market. More information is available at

Aug 22

How to price your home for sale

Choosing the right list price for your house or condo can lead to a timely sale and maximize your investment, so real estate experts recommend a strategic approach based on “precise numbers” when picking a property’s sales price.

“The right list price is the first step to getting buyers to look at the house, and if the number is too high or too low you can attract unrealistic offers,” says Costa Poulopoulos, president of the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA).

A study from Psychological Science compared house listings to what they sold for and discovered that sellers received offers closer to their asking price if the figure was precise, for instance $299,500, versus a round number like $300,000.

“A Realtor will often recommend a precise number after evaluating the home’s worth,” Poulopoulos continued. “Buyers will perceive it as closer to the value of the property than one that’s rounded up to the nearest ten thousand or hundred thousand dollars. To a buyer, an ‘exact’ listing appears as if the owners put more thought into the evaluation.”

OREA recommends taking these steps to choose the right price for your home:

• Have your Realtor review sales of similar houses in your neighbourhood. Don’t compare to a property that’s a different size or in a different part of town since this will give you a false idea of its worth.

• Discuss with your Realtor factors such as mortgage rates, nearby schools and access to transit and how this can create interest in the listing.

• Get the price right the first time. Each time you lower the price you make the house seem unsellable and offers will come in far less than what you wanted.

More information is available at

Jul 22

Tips for a successful open house

Hosting an open house is a valuable exercise in the home selling process, so it is important to do it right, says Costa Poulopoulos, president of the Ontario Real Estate Association. “Just as visitors are expected to follow certain etiquette when entering an open house, hosts of open houses have their own set of rules to follow.”

To leave a good impression with visitors, Poulopoulos recommends the following tips to homeowners hosting an open house:

Leave: Visitors won’t feel as comfortable exploring the home with you present. If you can’t leave, try to be as inconspicuous as possible to give visitors an opportunity to experience the home.

No pets: Cats, dogs and other animals should be out of the house and any pet smells should be eliminated as much as possible. Any visible cages and pet dishes should appear spotless.

Keep it clean: A clean home suggests that the home is well cared for.

Clear the drive: Give your visitors somewhere to park, especially if street parking is not available or hard to come by.

More information is available at

May 22

Savings strategies for new graduates

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…

That’s how it seems for many graduating students these days. Their debts are high and the chance of finding a good paying job appears to be low, according to the leading pundits. They also advise new grads to pay off their school debts as quickly as possible, to start savings for retirement and for the ever-imminent rainy day. This may all seem very daunting if you’re a grad with two or three part-time jobs who’s barely scraping enough together for rent. But the experts at Desjardins Insurance have some suggestions on how all these goals can be achieved through careful planning and creativity.

Create a monthly budget. Setting it up will require a bit of effort, but it’s worth it in the long run. Remember—

• Keep it simple: It should be straightforward and flexible so it can be easily modified if your income or expenses change.

• Set your financial objectives: Your objectives should be realistic, measurable and time-bound.This will help you stick to your budget and to achieve your financial goals.

• Be realistic and specific about your spending:Go through your account statements to identify your spending patterns. Each expense item will have its own line in your budget, like housing, groceries, utilities, transportation, school debt payments, entertainment, clothing, etc.

• Stay organized: Save all of your receipts and track them against your budget.

Talk to a financial planner to help you define your short- and mid-term savings goals, assess the savings options available to you and get advice on how to get an early start on your retirement savings strategy. One of the best ways of doing this is to take advantage of dollar cost averaging, which is all about using time and consistency to grow your money. Here’s how that would look: Suzanne can contribute $1200 this year into her retirement savings plan. She can either wait until she’s saved up $1200 and invest it all at once, or contribute $100 each month. Here’s how dollar cost averaging pays off:

Lump Sum Contribution: She saves $1200 by the end of the year and is ready to invest. Suzanne decides to purchase mutual fund shares with a unit price of $5. Her $1200 buys 240 units.

Regular Contributions: By contrast, Suzanne invests $100 per month through regular payroll deductions. Because of market fluctuations, the cost per unit changes every month allowing her to buy a different number of units with her monthly contributions. At the end of the year, Suzanne was able to buy 266 units, valued at $1330. She’s now ahead by $130 ahead.

To learn more about dollar cost averaging and other financial strategies for new graduates, visit Desjardins Insurance at