One of the largest factors of purchasing a house comes down to your credit. What does it look like and will you be able to purchase a house with your history and score? People tend to focus on the score, and while it is important – the history is what creates the score. Together with my husband we tackled this credit question in the following few steps.

Check your Credit History

Finding money in a tight budget to put towards savings is challenging. However, tax time may provide an opportunity to kick-off that saving goal! The first step is to check if you are eligible for any tax credits.

It seems like only yesterday that we were saying goodbye as our students left for college, and now the semester is quickly winding up. As the students return home for the holidays, now is a good time to revisit financial plans.

Spending plans (budgets) are working documents. After using a plan for awhile, it's important to evaluate and adjust it. This is true for everyone but especially for new college students who may be confronting many new spending decisions.

Set aside some quiet time to talk to your student about their spending.

I think that social media is costing us much money. Until a few days ago, I had never heard of a promposal. Granted I went to high school in the stone ages when boys awkwardly asked girls at their lockers to go to the prom. My children's experience was not far removed from that other than all the couples went as a big group rather than as individual couples. My son even waited until the night before prom to tell me he needed a suit for prom after I had been asking him for weeks about being fitted for a tuxedo.

Thanksgiving is a time where families and friends come together to be thankful for all that they have. However, one conversation you should consider having around your family dinner table is about death.

Did she just say "death"? That's right, I said death. As much as an uncomfortable topic as it is, it's one you should be having with almost every family member you have. Whether it's with your grandparents, spouse, or siblings who have children under the age of 18, estate planning is important at any age.

To celebrate the upcoming America Saves Week, America Saves is launching the #imsavingfor contest. It's easy to enter. Just share a picture of you and what you are saving for and then enter to win $500 at

Get creative with your pictures!

Healthcare flexible spending accounts (FSAs) are great ways to avoid income tax on money you use for medical expenses. The tax isn't just deferred – you never pay tax on the money if you use it for qualified expenses.

What happens to those accounts when you leave your job? There are special rules for this situation, and ignorance could be costly.

Half the battle of paying bills on time, being reimbursed for expenses, and keeping financial tools like insurance up-to-date is finding the right document when you need it! And, one of the reasons it's hard to find the right document is that many of us keep too many documents.

Everyone needs to find their own system for organizing financial documents. For me, the key is to minimize what I keep.

Now that school's almost out, do you have plans for child care? The cost of child care during the summer can be quite the budget-buster! However, you may be able to cut the costs if you can use the Child and Dependent Care Credit.

If you're sending them to summer camp, did you know that the money you pay for that may help you qualify for a tax credit on next year's tax return?

Summer day camp expenses may help you qualify for the child and dependent care credit.

I have been talking with a young friend about a lot of different financial topics over the past couple of months. I realized that the challenges my young friend faces are the same things that almost all young adults deal with. Over the next few months, I'll be sharing some of our conversations. Maybe you're wrestling with some of the same questions. Or, like me, maybe you have a young friend you could share these conversations with.  ~ Karen


It's tax time!

I know it's only December and you'd rather do anything but think about filing your income taxes which aren't due until April 15th 2016, but I am urging you to start preparing now and file as early as humanly possible.

There are lots of reasons to begin your income taxes before the end of the year that could save you money. Making tax deductible contributions to charity for example or making additional contributions to your IRA's- also tax deductible. You won't know if you need to or are able to until you put some rough numbers together.

Saving money can be magical. Start small, contribute regularly, and through compounding returns amazing things happen! Compounding returns is a fancy way of saying that money in savings and investment accounts earns MORE money for you – it works for you. In a savings account, you earn interest. In an investment account you earn returns such as dividends, interest, and growth in value. These returns (real dollars) exist – not from your salary – but because you have money working for you.

Dear Karen,

Thank you so much for the thoughtful information! I've read through it, and now it's marinating in my brain. I like the idea of "buckets," and I appreciate you breaking things into smaller chunks. (You must have heard stories of me and my "financial fatigue.") This all does help things feel less complicated, although I don't think anything with money is ever going to be as simple as I'd like it to be. *dramatic sigh*

Young Friend


I'm so excited: it's America Saves Week!  One of my favorite weeks of the year. We'll have blog posts each day of the week to celebrate. We're kicking things off with a great article from the national America Saves office -- a partner of Cooperative Extension.

As some of you know, my husband and I recently got married last May. One of the next steps we would like to do together as a married couple is to purchase a house. I think one of the quintessential American dreams is that of owning your own home. It gives a sense of accomplishment as well knowing that you are coming home to something that is yours. In the next couple of months, I will explore a series about how I am learning about how to buy a house for the first time. I hope that we can answer some of the following questions together:

Recently identity theft has been in the news frequently. First, it seemed like one store's credit card database after another were breached. Now, government offices like the IRS online transcript service and the Office of Personnel Management's personnel files have been hacked! I feel like it is hard to know whether or not your identity is secure.

I don't believe in being too paranoid about identity theft. We do have laws which protect the limit of our financial liability if someone uses our credit cards illegally, for example.

Interest rates on loans vary tremendously. For example, the benchmark 30-year fixed-rate mortgage loan rate is 4.01%, according to Bankrate's recent survey of large lenders. In contrast, a vehicle title loan's annual percentage rate is often over 200%!

The Financial Fat Cat is back with a new savings tips! This summer the Consumer Economics team wanted to be in the GoBankingRates #MoneyMinute Challenge again! With our great success last year of the Financial Fat Cat, we wanted to expand on our Fat Cat's knowledge of personal finance. This time, two of Sasha's cats – Bella and Lottie explain how to saving can be good for a rainy day, emergency or even retirement. Just remember the rule of three!

Please welcome guest blogger, Tammy Greynolds!! Tammy Greynolds works for America Saves, managed by the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America (CFA), which seeks to motivate, encourage, and support low- to moderate-income households to save money, reduce debt, and build wealth. Learn more at

To rent or buy, that is the question! After being a renter for the last eight years of my life, I like the benefits of being a renter. I'm not tied down to my home and can move anywhere in the country. If something is broken, my property owner fixes it and I don't have to shovel snow or water the lawn! When my husband and I decided it was time to look around to buy a house I had some hesitation. We had to ask ourselves if we were ready for this leap into the financial unknown!

Whew! What a journey we've been on together with the Sasha Learns: How to Buy a House series! This month we're going to cover the closing process. If you've been working with awesome "

When the topic of credit comes up in one of my classes, people tend to have lots of questions about it. However, I am always shocked on the amount of people who don't check their credit on a regular basis. Below are some great reasons on why you should check your credit report!

Check Your Credit for FREE

Recently a friend asked me, "Could she pay back her student loan more quickly and avoid some of the interest charges?" This is a great question! The answer is yes; most federal and private loans allow people to pre-pay their loans without penalty.

Illinois students who borrow money for their undergraduate degrees average $28,984 in student loans upon graduation, according to the Project on Student Debt. But the real cost of these loans is based on several factors including how long it takes to pay off the loan.

As the Sasha Learns: How to Buy a House series comes to an end – the final step in the first time home buying process is moving in! When I first moved to Illinois I went through the moving process with my

I believe in the importance of financial education; I am a financial educator. I believe with good information people can avoid many costly errors and utilize their money to reach their dreams and goals. But it's not enough! And, as I talked to people during Money Smart Week I realized that it may sound like I think it is. However, it's clear to me that before people can make educated decisions and use their money wisely, they need to have enough available income to be out of survival mode.

March is a big part of a financial time of the year.

For those sports fans, especially of college basketball, the all-important "bracket" is the subject of many studies, guessing and possible financial "investing". It can be an exciting or agonizing time as favorite teams are defeated, and a "Cinderella" team takes the bracket.

It can also be a time when lots of discretionary money is spent on friendly wagers, eating out and hosting parties to watch games.

When you buy a home for the first time or even your 100th, there is a group of people you need to work with to get the home purchase accomplished. In a previous post we talked a lot about

We often play games to entertain us or to help teach life lessons in a pretend or safe environment. How about making savings a game?

The Affordable Care Act requires that United State citizens have health insurance. However, for some, this information is coming as a surprise when they files taxes this year AND they're surprised by the penalty they need to pay too.

If you're one of the ones who first learned of this when you were preparing your taxes, then there's a special enrollment period just for you! You can still buy health insurance in the Marketplace until April 30, 2015 for 2015 and avoid the tax penalty you'd otherwise pay next year, if:

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about "The Credit Question" for my series on How to Buy a House! This week our focus is more on credit utilization as well as ways to potentially fix

Brightly colored scarecrows crowded by pumpkins, yummy pie recipes featured online, holiday lights displayed in local stores, it's that time of the year: the holidays are upon us!

It can be a wonderful time of the year to catch up with friends and family, and enjoy the changing seasons. But with first Halloween, then Thanksgiving and winter holidays, all the way to celebrating the New Year, it can be a four month spending spree! How can we avoid spending more than we're comfortable with when the holidays roll around so quickly?

To reach financial goals, like college or down payment on a home or a special trip, we need to save money. But it can be hard to start saving.

One way strategy that works is to start small and to save regularly! And when I say, start small – I mean small.

How much do you think you'd save in one year if you put:

Recently I heard an excellent presentation by Ella York, an attorney from the Illinois Attorney General's office. Identity theft is the #1 issue that is reported by consumers to the Illinois Attorney General's office. I appreciated Ms. York's well-thought out presentation and came away with several tips regarding protecting yourself from identity theft, and I thought you'd like to know them too!

Money Smart Week is coming, April 18 to 25, 2015. It's the best time of year to learn anything you want about managing your finances. Why is it the best time?

It's all free.

There will likelyworkshops near you. Over a thousand programs will take place across Illinois. There are also programs in about 45 other states. And some events are offered online, so they're accessible anywhere.

So far in this series we've talked about renting verses buying, credit, and finding a realtor. Today's blog post will be slightly more fun as we'll briefly talk about the pre-approval process and the house hunt!!

The Pre-Approval Process

Last time I left you with the end of our house hunt! We found the home of our dreams and put in an offer, but I left out some important details that went into the process. In this post we'll be talking about the home inspection and other important home buying details!

Price Point

Please welcome guest blogger, Tammy Greynolds from America Saves!

Very few of us have money at the ready to cover an emergency, never mind the money for the larger purchases we'd like to make. This is why it's that much more important to prioritize savings to cover both the items you need as well as those you want.

To save money in most retirement saving plans, you often need a minimum already saved to get started. Not the myRA offered my the US government. I think the low amount needed to start saving and the NO FEES are the best parts of the myRA, and making checking out this saving option worthwhile!

There's a new tool you can use to help predict if the person you are dating is a good prospect for a long committed relationship. It is your credit score. It is one more reason to improve your credit report and keep it good.

A recent study by the Federal Reserve Board looked at 12 million randomly selected consumers from the databases of the credit reporting bureau Equifax over 15 years. The results were surprising.

After deciding whether to rent or become a homeowner, checking your credit and possibly fixing it, the next step you'll want to do is find a real estate agent! Just like any other advisor, you need to establish some rapport with them. Below are a few traits and other items you should look for in a realtor and questions to ask them if you're interviewing them.

Experience and Knowledge

It's easier to make New Year Resolutions than to keep them! Let's take a look at some strategies to keep your financial resolutions on track.

State the resolutions effectively.

For the past several months, I've been writing about the financial decisions that young adults face. This month, I'm switching gears to talk about a different kind of transition that could happen at any point in your working years: leaving a job.

Whether you're taking a new job, being laid off, or retiring, there are probably more financial decisions and ramifications than you might think.

I'd like to take a minute to toot our own horn.

The writing team behind the Plan Well Retire Well blog just won two awards for Internet Education Communications from the National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (NEAFCS) at their annual conference held November 2-5, 2015 in White Sulfur Springs WV.

We received first-place in the Central region which includes IL, IN, IA, KS, MI, MN, NB, ND, OH, SD, WI and first-place national honors .

It's back to school time and that means busy schedules for many families! Between juggling work, after school activities and sports, it can be challenging to provide healthy, low-cost meals for you and others.

Making a weekly plan for meals is one way to gain control over your food budget, and avoid the temptation of eating out which tends to be more expensive. Typically in the US, people spend about 43% of their food dollars on food away from home.

Here are steps to take to make a weekly plan: