Prepare for National Financial Literacy Month with online tools

Prepare for National Financial Literacy Month with online tools

In April 2013, we will be celebrating “National Financial Literacy Month” for the ninth time. Growing out of earlier initiatives, the United States Senate officially recognized April as National Financial Literacy Month in March 2004. It should not be surprising that much of our population is blissfully unaware of important financial topics such as the wise use of credit, investing, banking, spending, saving, and other areas of personal finance. Several organizations get involved with National Financial Literacy Month (NFLM) by promoting a selection of financial awareness events for all ages. It is important that children are also educated in relevant financial topics.

In order to get children involved in financial literacy for National Financial Literacy Month, the Texas Council on Economic Education is sponsoring a poster contest for K-12 students, with U.S. Savings Bonds awarded for the best posters. Details on the poster contest are available online at economicstexas.org/?p=3935 with posters due to be hand delivered to one of several Houston area public libraries by March 28.

One of the lead organizations promoting financial literacy is the nonprofit National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), which provides a wealth of consumer information at nfcc.org. Another organization, Money Management International (MMI) at moneymanagement.org, also provides materials and information on the National Financial Literacy Month through is companion website financialliteracymonth.com.

At financialliteracymonth.com are a wide variety of resources for people at all economic levels and all ages that can be used to recognize the NFLM, as well as provide helpful personal information. Among the useful information on the financial literacy month website are “Tools for Success,” free e-books, and a Financial Literacy Month Toolkit. One of the most helpful free e-books is “Your 30 Step Path to Financial Wellness,” available in PDF format at www.financialliteracymonth.com/Tools-for-Success/EBook.aspx. A companion free e-book, also in PDF format and available from the same Web link, is “Tips for Change,” which contains a series of money saving vignettes including shopping tips, saving money around the house, using your food budget more wisely, reducing transportation expenses, saving for the future, credit reports, and other beneficial information.

The Financial Literacy Month Toolkit (www.financialliteracymonth.com/Tools-for-Success/FLM-Toolkit.aspx) includes a wide selection of free resources for both personal use and for promoting the NFLM event. Included in this tool kit are fully customized news releases that can be used to promote the event; links to the free e-books on financial literacy; a free downloadable poster; sample e-mails that can be used to promote the event; samples of information to be posted on social networking services such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Digg and Twitter; a series of questions, answers and talking points on financial literacy; and a Financial Literacy Month badge that can be used freely on blogs and websites.

On the NFLM website “Tools for Success” (www.financialliteracymonth.com/Tools-for-Success.aspx) is a wide assortment of helpful utilities and tools for mostly personal use that can also be used to help educate others. Among the tools available are a series of free online “Webinars” (seminars or presentations) on topics including goal setting, credit reporting, managing credit, debt repayment and budgeting. Also available at this site are several online worksheets to better calculate income, net worth, debt load, financial priorities, daily expenses, monthly expenses and financial goals. A “fridge friendly” personalized goal certificate can be posted on your refrigerator or other location to remind you of your financial goals and help you stay motivated to reach those goals.

While not directly connected to the National Financial Literacy Month, there is an excellent and free way to get legitimately free credit scores without having to subscribe to a paid credit service. One of my personal favorite Web services I regularly use to monitor my credit health is CreditKarma (creditkarma.com). The CreditKarma website says they “provide truly free credit scores to consumers direct from the credit bureau and show how you can save money on your credit cards, loans, mortgage and more!” There are no hidden fees, and CreditKarma is always free. A newer version of CreditKarma is currently in “beta” or prerelease testing, and has invited users to sign up for free at beta.creditkarma.com. The new beta version includes the free credit scores and other benefits of the original CreditKarma service, but adds additional services. The CreditKarma Beta website says, “Focus on living – not on your finances. If you connect your accounts to Credit Karma, we’ll keep an eye on them for you and update your information without you ever having to think about it. Plus, for each connected account, we’ll: Remind you when a bill is due; Notify you when your bank account funds are low; Alert you when a bank charges you a fee; Automatically categorize your transactions; and Tell you when your credit card’s limit or interest rate has changed.” Also included in this free beta version is a “Credit Report Card,” which shows the factors that can influence your personal credit score. Also included is a “Credit Simulator” which displays how certain actions or events could influence your credit score. Emphasizing the cost of the program, CreditKarma Beta explicitly states, “Unlike other offers you may have seen, this service is truly free. No credit card is ever required to access Credit Karma’s features.” At present, this “beta” is accepting a limited number of free registrations.

We all see lots of TV commercials touting “free credit reports” but their fine print indicates that the credit report is only free with a paid subscription. There is an honestly free website where the user can obtain a totally free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting services (credit bureaus). This website, a joint operation of Experian, TransUnion and Equifax, is online at www.annualcreditreport.com. Consumers are allowed one free credit report from these three credit reporting services once every 12 months. With widespread identity theft, plus recent media reports about the massive number of material errors found on credit reports that may adversely affect a credit score, it is a good practice to check your credit report annually at annualcreditreport.com. For those without Internet access, this free credit report can be obtained by phone by calling (877) 322-8228 and responding to the phone prompts. Be advised that regardless of the method used to obtain the free credit report, the user will be asked for personal information including a Social Security number.

With National Financial Literacy Month occurring every April, it is a good opportunity to learn about personal finance issues. What would be even better would be to learn about such issues continuously, and not just in April — every month should be Financial Literacy Month.

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