10 Ways to Spend Your Tax Refund and Build Assets

It’s tax season! Time to think about how best to spend your well deserved tax refund. While most financial advisers suggest practical ideas, such as paying down debt or building up your emergency fund, there are ways to use your tax refund as an asset that can benefit your in the long-term rather than just spending it, thus turning your cash windfall into a liability. Here are 10 ways to spend your tax refund and “make your money work for you” building assets:

1. Open a savings account. According to BankRate.com, less than 50% of American consumers have a savings account. Opening a savings account is easy. Just visit your local bank or credit union and ask the teller about opening an account. If you already have a savings account, you should consider depositing as large a portion of your tax refund in it as possible.  You’ll thank the process of “compound interest” for the financial windfall later.

2. Open a Money Market Account (MMA). MMAs are basically high-interest savings accounts that require a larger deposit (around $1,000) to get started. MMAs are a good way to stash away cash for your emergency fund and get paid a reasonable return on interest in the process.

3. Buy a Certificate of Deposit (CD). If you’re looking for a way to build up your savings while keeping “hands off” your cash, a Certificate of Deposit (CD) might be a good way to go. CDs come in various denominations, each with a specific “maturity date” when withdrawals can be made. Contact your local bank or credit union for complete details.

4. Start an IRA (Traditional or Roth). Anyone 18 or older and open an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). Visit your local bank or credit union and ask to speak with a financial manager to see how an IRA can help supplement your income in retirement by “paying yourself first” while you work.

5. Open a 529 plan. A college education is an important investment for your child, but financing a college education can be expensive. You can minimize the cost by opening a 529 college savings plan for you college-bound child or grandchild. Contributions reduce your taxable liability while distributions toward tuition and school expenses are tax-free.

6. Make home repairs/improvements. Your home is your largest asset. You can help maintain its value by using your tax refund to perform DIY home repair projects or contract out for larger projects, such as a room addition.  If the home repair/renovation project meets federal energy efficiency standards, you could qualify for a tax deduction.   Once home improvements are complete and your home increases in value, you’ll thank your contractor and your appraiser.

7. Make an extra mortgage payment. One extra payment a year toward the principle of your home can reduce the number of payments you’ll make over the life of the loan as well as the amount of interest paid. The sooner you pay off your home, the more money you’ll have available during retirement and that could make the world of difference in your golden years.

8. Buy stock. Whether a novice or experienced trader, buying stock as a hedge against inflation is always a good investment. Many online brokerage firms, such as eTrade, Fidelity or TD Ameritrade are good places to start. Ensure to ask the broker about how to start a monthly stock buying plan.

9. Buy government savings bonds. Buying government bonds is easy and very cost effective. Just visit www.TreasuryDirect.gov to get started. Unlike savings bonds of old, today’s savings bonds are purchased at their full face value depending on the denomination, mature faster (minimum, 1 year) and can accrue interest for up to 30 years. Government savings bonds may not be an ideal investment option when interest rates are low, but as rates increase investing in bonds becomes more inviting – and more lucrative in the long-term.

10.  Start a business. Start-up capital is always a deterrent to entrepreneurship, but these days you can start a (homebased) business with less than $1,000.  And who knows…if you work hard enough at your side hustle maybe it will transform into the greatest investment you’ve ever made in yourself.

There you have it – 10 asset building ideas using your tax refund you can put to use right now.  Instead of treating your refund as a liability, why not treat it as an asset and put it to work making money for you?  When those Benjamin’s start stacking up, you’ll be glad you did.

Zebert L. Brown

Zebert L. Brown is the author of Break the Debt Cycle in 3 Simple Steps and a 16 year Navy veteran with specialties in administrative management, career development and public relations. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Home Network Security and Protecting Against Internet Scams

Recently, one of the nation’s leading banks, Wells Fargo, was fined $185 million by federal regulators for opening fraudulent bank accounts, credit and debit cards in their customer’s name without their permission. At least 5,300 Wells Fargo participated in a scheme that involved enrolling their customers in banking services using fake personal identification numbers and phony email addresses. The employees would then transfer funds from the legitimate bank accounts in order to temporarily fund the new, unauthorized accounts. This siphoning of funds would registered as an account imbalance where Wells Fargo would then charge customers for insufficient funds or apply overdraft fees. In a statement issued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Wells Fargo employees “chased compensation incentives” by “secretly opening unauthorized accounts to hit sales targets and receive bonuses”. In addition to the multi-million dollar fine, Wells Fargo has also been order to pay restitution to its customers in the form of refunds to the tune of $2.5 million.

While this is troubling news for Wells Fargo customers, it raises grave concerns for the millions of other consumers at leading commercial banks. Consumers are now inquiring about ways to protect themselves against what can only be deemed as internal consumer fraud. Since these were internal actions conducted by bank employees on phony accounts, it’s unlikely that typical protective measures, such as credit card fraud alerts, would have caught such fraudulent activity. Thus, the only “alert” Wells Fargo consumers had to warn them of the fraud in this case were questionable transactions on their monthly bank and/or credit card statements. Unfortunately, by the time statements reached customer mailboxes, Wells Fargo had already bilked them out of millions!

So, what should consumers take-away from this unfortunate situation? As mentioned in an earlier blog post on how to Protect Yourself Against ID Theft and Online Scams, you should always review your monthly bank and credit card statements and question any suspicious activity you may find, i.e., an unusual purchase at a retail store where you seldom shop, an out-of-state purchase or a charged item out of your normal price range. Such suspicious financial transactions or rapid depletion of your bank account could have acted as red flags and signaled Wells Fargo customers of unauthorized financial activity long before things got too far out of hand. Of course, one other thing Wells Fargo customers could have looked for were questionable or excessive overdraft fees which were the primary signs they had to warn them something was amiss with their bank accounts.

For more tips on how you can protect yourself from ID theft and make your Internet browsing experience virtually scam proof, download a copy of my latest eBook, “Home Network Security and Protecting Against Internet Scams”.

Zebert L. Brown

Zebert L. Brown is the author of Break the Debt Cycle in 3 Simple Steps and a 16 year Navy veteran with specialties in administrative management, career development and public relations. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Investing 104: Low-Cost Investments, BIG Rate of Return

True or False…In order to net a significant return on investment you must “trade like the big boys” and invest a large sum of capital.

The answer, of course, is false. However, a little perspective goes a long way.

For most people who are new to investing, the axiom “it takes money to make money” generally means you have to invest large sums of capital in the stock market in order to see a large rate of return trading stocks. Potential investors who share this point of view typically ignore the world of penny stocks.

Penny stocks are stocks of smaller companies that are traded “over-the-counter” directly from brokerage firms.  Such stocks are issued by companies that either don’t have enough market exposure, don’t have enough capital (total assets) or have been de-listed from the NYSE because they lost their high credit rating.  This doesn’t mean that penny stocks are bad investments.  It simply means penny stocks are riskier investments because information about such companies is usually very scarce.

You can find most penny stocks on the newly revised Over-the-Counter Bulletin Board (OTCBB) now known as the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) or on most regional exchanges.  The new FINRA OTCBB has learning tools for beginning investors and industry leaders alike, as well as, the latest market industry news, fraud alerts, stock tickers for both the big boards and small/micro-cap (penny stock) investment options.  However, it still pays to do your homework before investing in any company’s stock. The best place to start is by reviewing the company’s quarterly Form 10-Q report, its annual Form 10-K report or their Form 8-K report which lists periodic events of significant importance as required by the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC).

It doesn’t take a ton of money to get started in investing especially with penny stocks. You could start either by opening an account with an online broker (i.e., TD Ameritrade, Etrade, Charles Schwab, etc.) or you could participate in a direct investment plans (DRIPs) where deposits are made into an investment account and stock is purchased once the account balance reaches sufficient levels to purchase stock.

Most people learn about penny stock through mass email submissions. Such emails play up the large financial gains a small investment in penny stock could yield. It’s not uncommon to read reports claiming gains of 100% – 900% increase in profits from their initial investment. While it is true that you can recognize big profits from a small invest in penny stocks, it’s important to remember three very important things when making such an investment:

  1. Invest like a speculator. Always keep in mind that you’re investing in penny stocks for the short-term. Your goal is always to make a quick return on investment (ROI) and get out ahead of losing any significant financial gains. This is where knowing how to read stock charts comes into play.

  2. Know how much you’re willing to risk. If you’re unwilling to accept losing your investment, then odds are investing in penny stocks is not for you because chances are you’ll lose more often than you’ll win with such risky investments.  The key here is know your limit and only invest as much as you can afford to lose.

  3. Know when to cut your loses. Because trading activity with penny stocks is so fluid, it’s important that you buy into a system to help track the movement of your high risk investment. The speculative investor is constantly monitoring his/her investment to know when is the right time to buy or sell due to the volatility of the market. Therefore, it’s important to know when to cut your loses and walk away from the investment. Know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em.

That’s my blogpost for this week. Join the discussion by posting your comments below. And don’t forget to tune in next week where I’ll once again share more ways you can break the debt cycle and then go…beyond.

Zebert L. Brown

Zebert L. Brown is the author of Break the Debt Cycle in 3 Simple Steps and a 16 year Navy veteran with specialties in administrative management, career development and public relations. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Investing 103: Proven Investment Strategies

As mentioned in my previous blogpost, “Investor 101: Are You a Speculator or an Investor,” there’s a distinct difference between a speculator and an investor.  Both risk their capital investing in the stock market in the hopes of extracting a reasonable rate of return on their investment; however, each apply different investment strategies to achieve profitability.

For the speculator, a combination of cyclical norms, such as buying stock in the fall of the second-year of a presidential cycle and holding until the end of the year or sell in May and re-enter in October, and chart analytics are the tools of the trade.  In this regard, the speculator is always attempting to time the market so as to adhere to the stock market axiom “buy low, sell high”. There are two fundamental problems with such speculative strategies:  1) your timing has to be right over 50 percent of the time in order to make any gains; and 2) you have to know when to pull out of a stock in order to limit your losses.  That’s not to say that such timing strategies aren’t effective. However, as indicated in this article from Forbs.com (“What? Some Proven Investment Strategies Are Too Simple to Accept?”), none of the speculative strategies work every single time.  Hence, knowing when to fold ’em is critical for the speculator as his bottom line can be significantly impacted if he is wrong on either end of the “timing chain”.  Pull out too soon and you could miss out on substantial financial gains.  Stay in too long and you may loss any gains achieved from the point of purchase.

For the investor, knowing when to buy is far more important than knowing when to sell.  As with any stock purchase, you want to get in as close to the ground floor (lowest buying price) as possible.  Why?  Because as an investor you’re looking to buy value at the lowest price and hold the stock for an extended period of time, generally no less than 5 years. Thus, value investing is your investment strategy with “buy and hold” as your guiding philosophy. The value investor looks at a company’s BIC – balance sheet, income statement and cashflow analysis – to find solvency, value, long-term growth and, of course, potential profitability in the company before making a stock purchase.  The value investor is, therefore, looking at stocks as a business owner and takes the long view on investing.

The basic tenet of investing is to make a good assessment of whether the value of the investment will increase regardless of which investment strategy you employ.  The key thing to remember is to do your research before you buy a stock.  Nevertheless, if you follow the four basic rules of investing and you’re able to keep your emotions out of the purchase or sell of any stock, you should see a reasonable rate of return on your investment regardless whether you’re in for the short or the long haul.

That’s my blogpost for this week. Join the discussion by posting your comments below. And don’t forget to tune in next week when I’ll once again share more ways you can break the debt cycle and then go…beyond.

Zebert L. Brown

Zebert L. Brown is the author of Break the Debt Cycle in 3 Simple Steps and a 16 year Navy veteran with specialties in administrative management, career development and public relations. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.





Investing 102: The Stock Exchanges

Recently, a small group of friends asked where they could find stock quotes. My initial response was “try looking in the Wall Street Journal,” but as our discussion continued I realized my they were looking for more than just the latest stock quotes.

Finding the right stock to invest in takes some research. But in order to get started you have to know precisely where to look. While most people have heard of the New York Stock Exchange or even the NASDAQ (short for National Association of Securities Dealers’ Automated Quotation system – I’ll talk more about this “exchange” later), few realize there are other stock exchanges in the U.S. The following is a brief summary of the nine major and minor (regional) U.S. Stock exchanges:

Major U.S. Stock Exchanges

  • The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE; aka, “The Big Board”) is the world’s largest stock exchange. It lists over 1,800 U.S. companies (most of which are major large-cap corporations) and conducts over $16.6 trillion per year in trading volume (on avg., $169 billion in trading per day).

  • The NASDAQ is considered the second largest U.S. stock exchange; however, it really isn’t a physical trading floor but rather is an electronic stock exchange serving primarily as a hub for brokerage firms who conduct stock trades online. The NASDAQ lists over 2,700 U.S. and conducts over $8 trillion in annual trading volume.

  • The NYSE MKT LLC (originally the American Stock Exchange but more formerly known as the NYSE Amex Equities stock exchange) is the third largest U.S. stock exchange. Companies listed here are usually small-cap corporations trading primarily in the options market and exchange trade funds (ETFs).

  • The Over-the-Counter Bulletin Board (OTCBB) is home for the “penny stock”. Companies listed here are either small start-ups with market capitalization under $75 million or companies that have been de-listed from the NYSE. However, don’t let their small market valuation or de-listing fool you. Companies listed on the NYSE MKT LLC are still considered viable players in the market place. These are stocks valued at below $5 per share, but don’t let their cheap prices fool you. Most Fortune 500 companies got their start on the OTCBB. Moreover, many novice speculators cut their investment teeth here. Some have gone on to make small fortunes of their own.

U.S. Regional Stock Exchanges

Of the fifteen or so regional stock exchanges across the country, the five largest regional exchanges are:

  • The Boston Stock Exchange;

  • The Chicago Stock Exchange;

  • The Pacific Exchange;

  • The Philadelphia Stock Exchange; and,

  • The Cincinnati Stock Exchange (which is a smaller version of the NASDAQ electronic stock exchange).

Stocks listed on regional exchanges are of local companies which for either economic or other reasons elect not to be listed on the major stock exchanges. Nonetheless, if you’re interested in sharing in the growth of a local company, there’s no better place to start your investigation into the strength of a local company’s stock than with your regional stock exchange.

And there you have it. Whether you have thousands of dollars to invest or just $50, know that you have several stock exchanges to choose from when attempting to make your fortune in stock trading. You don’t have to risk it all playing with the big boys on the big boards. You can start small while also gaining valuable experience. And hopefully, you’ll make a decent profit in the process.

That’s my blogpost for this week. Join the discussion by posting your comments below. And don’t forget to tune in next week where I’ll once again share more ways you can break the debt cycle and then go…beyond.

Zebert L. Brown

Zebert L. Brown is the author of Break the Debt Cycle in 3 Simple Steps and a 16 year Navy veteran with specialties in administrative management, career development and public relations. Like me on Facebook and Follow me on Twitter.


Investing 101: Are you a Speculator or an Investor?

In what way do you want to participate in the buying, selling and potential profitability that can only be found in the stock market? Will you be a speculator or an investor? Answering this fundamental question before risking your hard earned dollars in the volatile world of stock trading is crucial to how you approach investing.

Speculating involves an exercise of reason. It requires having the ability to gauge the movement of the market at any given time and make well informed decisions on when to limit your risk on a investment security, in this case stocks. An investor, on the other hand, buys stock in a company with the expectation to exact a reasonable rate of return on his investment over a long period of time. The time frame is usually determined by years, not hours, days or months. In short, speculators seek large profits over brief periods, whereas, investors seek a reasonable yet gradual rate of return on their investment(s) over the long haul.

While there is the potential for significant profitability on either extreme, it is the motivation behind the risk that remains the allure for those willing to participate in the free market system. Thus, the question must be asked and answered, “Why are you participating in the stock market?” Is it for short-term gains or long-term profitability? While there is nothing that says you can’t attempt to do both, answering this basic question beforehand is crucial to limiting your risk while also reaping the rewards that comes with investing in the stock market.

So, how do you minimize your risk and assure a high degree of profitability? Start by keeping these four basic rules in mind:

  1. You must accept the fact that there is a high possibility that you may lose money in the stock market. There’s no guarantee of wealth attainment. Therefore, you must enter into investing with a clear understanding of how much capital you’re willing to put at risk and the very real possibility that you may lose your investment. But as the saying goes, “no risk, no reward”.

  2. Increase your knowledge about stocks and the stock market starting with the basics:

    1. What is a stock and why are they issued?

    2. How are stocks valued (priced)?

    3. Where can stocks be purchased and how do your place an order to buy (or sell)?

    4. How is a stock’s progress tracked or monitored?

  3. Study the business, the industry and market trends before investing. The more you know about the company, the industry in which it operates (i.e., retail, tech, manufacturing, energy, real estate, etc.) and the changes within the industry, specifically where new innovations are concerned, the better, more well-informed decisions you’ll be able to make concerning your investments. Knowledge is power! Three informative resources I’d recommend for beginners who wish to increase their knowledge on investing are: a) “How to Buy Stock,” by Louis Engel, b) the annual 10K report of the company you wish to invest in as filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and, c) the Wall Street Journal. The more you know about the company and/or the industry you wish to invest in and are able to gauge market trends, the better you’ll be able to make well-informed decisions concerning your investments instead of basing your decisions on emotions particularly during times of frantic market fluctuations.

  4. Know when to walk away. Knowing when to sell a stock is just as important as knowing when to buy a stock. This is different from attempting to “time the market” – jumping in or out at the perceived optimum time to buy or sell a stock. Many a speculator and investor have tried doing just that with mixed – if not disastrous – results. While it’s important to know when a stock (if not the market) is on an up tick (bull market), it’s also important to know when a stock (market) is on a precipitous downturn (bear market). Stock charts play a vital role in providing the speculator and investor alike with the insight they need to make timely decisions as to “when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.”  You should cut your loses when the value of a particular stock drops no more than 8% below its highest price gain. Anything more and you risk losing significant gains from your profit margin.  Knowing when to cut your loses is key to minimizing your risk with any investment particularly in the stock market. So, take time to learn how to read stock charts and make them an integral part of your investment knowledge base.

By following these four basic rules of investing, you can minimize your risks and increase your potential for profitability for both the short- and the long-term. But you must first answer the most crucial question concerning your investment future: Are you a speculator or an investor?

That’s my blogpost for this week. Join the discussion by posting your comments below. And don’t forget to tune in next week where I’ll once again share more ways you can break the debt cycle and then go…beyond.

Zebert L. Brown


Zebert L. Brown is the author of Break the Debt Cycle in 3 Simple Steps and a 16 year Navy veteran with specialties in administrative management, career development and public relations. Like me on Facebook and Follow me on Twitter.


Repairing Your Credit After ID-Theft

Zebert L. Brown

In my last blog, I pointed out that identity theft is a major problem for consumers no matter the size of your bank account, and I outlined a few free, simple safeguards you can take to protect yourself against identity theft. In this week’s blog, I’ll outline steps you should take to repair the damage resulting from identify theft. But first, some myth busting concerning ID-theft protection and credit repair services.

According to ConsumerReports.org, only one-third of all cases reported as ID-theft actually involve stolen identities. The rest involve stolen credit cards. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take all necessary precautions to protect yourself against ID-theft. Hackers and scammers are getting smarter in how they carry out their crimes. Therefore, the harder you make it on them the better off your digital wallet will be.

You could pay an identity theft protection service, such as, LifeLock, TrustedID or Zander Insurance’s ID-Theft Protection Plan, to protect your identity for a small monthly fee, but most of the services they charge for their services you can do yourself for free. Such services include:

Posting a Fraud Alert to your Credit Card Account. Contact any of the three major credit bureaus to set this up yourself:

The first credit bureau you contact will notify the rest.

Opting-Out of Email/Mailing List. Optoutprescreen.com is “the official Consumer Credit Reporting Industry website to accept and process requests from consumers to Opt-In or Opt-Out of firm offers of credit or insurance”. Just click on the “Out-In/Out-Out” button at the bottom of the screen to begin the application process. Once your application is submitted, your request remains in affect for 5-years. You’ll have to renew your application at this point in order to continue the service.

Credit Reports and FICO Scores. Under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions (FACT) Act, you’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report from the three major credit bureaus each year. You can contact each credit bureau separately or you can request all three at annualcreditreport.com. It should be noted, however, that your FICO credit score doesn’t appear on free versions of your credit report. Therefore, it is highly recommended that you contact the credit bureaus directly and pay their one-time service fee (usually between $15-20 per report) to obtain a complete copy of your credit report with credit score.

(Note: FreeCreditReport.com will also provide you a copy of your credit report with credit score from Transunion during their 7-day trial period…for $1, but in order to receive your credit reports from the other two credit reporting agencies, you’ll have to subscribe to their membership service at $14.99 per month.)

Report a Lost/Stolen Debit/Credit Card. If you can pick-up your cell phone or search the web, it’s a sure bet you can contact your bank or credit card company yourself and report your debit or credit card as lost or stolen or if you suspect someone has committed bank fraud by writing unauthorized checks against your account.

Of course, there’s that $1 million total service (insurance) guarantee these company’s claim. This may sound good, but if your lose is covered by other forms of insurance (homeowners/renters, merchant or even federal consumer protections) it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever see a penny of that so-called “guarantee”. So, what should you do to recover your identify if you’ve become a victim of identity theft?

  • Contact your bank or credit card company immediately and report your credit card as lost or stolen. In most cases, your bank or credit card company will close your account and start a new one at your request provided you’re able to show prove of fraudulent activity. Your monthly credit card statement along with a copy of the police report (see below) should do the trick.

  • If the theft includes personal checks, ensure to place a “stop payment” on the check or series of missing checks.

  • Change the Personal Identification Number (PIN) to your ATM upon being issued new debit/credit cards.

  • Place a fraud alert with the three major credit bureaus to prevent any further unauthorized purchases using your credit card.

  • Place a freeze on your credit accounts. This will prevent any new credit activity from being added to your account for at least five months.

  • Contact local law enforcement to complete a police report providing as much information as you can concerning the loss or theft of your debit or credit card or other identification that may be missing (i.e., driver’s license, Social Security Card, etc.).

  • Obtain copies of your credit reports and review each for suspicious activity and dispute any questionable purchases. This includes any new lines of credit opened in your name.

  • Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to close any fraudulent accounts opened in your name.

  • You may also want to contact your local Postmaster, Social Security Administration and state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to report a wrongful change of address or that vital pieces of identification has been stolen and/or misused in your name.

  • Contact your creditors (those you normally pay via debit or credit card) and notify them of the investigative work being conducted concerning ID-theft of your accounts. Follow-up your phone calls with a Certified Letter.

Being penny-wise while protecting your identity doesn’t have to mean sacrificing quality results. It simply means finding the right services to do the job at a price you can afford. And what better price is there than free? By doing it yourself, your only cost is time, but by taking immediate action you’ll be protecting yourself against liability for any unauthorized purchases charged to your accounts resulting from the loss or theft of your banking or credit card information. Of course, you could pay for the convenience of having these services performed for you, but now that you know you can do them yourself for free, why not put that money towards an investment account of some sort, e.g., a Roth IRA or 529 Qualified Tuition Program plan, and watch those dollars grow instead?

That’s my blogpost for this week. Join the discussion by posting your comments below. And don’t forget to tune in next week where I’ll once again share more ways you can break the debt cycle and then go…beyond.

Zebert L. Brown is the author of Break the Debt Cycle in 3 Simple Steps and a 16 year Navy veteran with specialties in administrative management, career development and public relations. Like me on Facebook and Follow me on Twitter.

Protect Yourself Against ID Theft and Credit Card Scams

Zebert L. BrownIf you’ve paid close attention to the news recently, you’ve probably heard about the millions of medical record accounts that were compromised by hackers at a major medical facility in Alabama and the retail accounts that were hacked by Target stores.  In this digital age, identity theft and consumer scams are fast becoming a big problem for consumers and retailers alike.

According to Javelin Strategies and Research, a leading consulting firm on retail merchant transactions, over 13 million consumers fell victim to identity theft in 2013 at a cost of over $18 billion. Such criminal activity also impacts retailers. According to a report by CyberSource Corp, a leading business-to-business payment processing and risk management consulting firm, retailers lost an estimated $3.5 billion in revenue to online fraud in 2012.

The leading cause of identity theft for consumers continues to be weak password protection to websites that conduct ecommerce transactions. For retailers, the problem goes a lot deeper. Most retail merchants fall victim to malicious software that seek to steal consumer Social Security Numbers, credit card numbers or bank account numbers. The good news here is banks, credit card companies and most major department store retailers take various steps to protect consumers who fall victim to identity theft offering everything from refunds on sales to discounts toward their next purchase and free identity theft protection services.

Consumer scams are a constant problem for shoppers and the scams get more elaborate over time. According to the Better Business Bureau, the top 10 consumer scams for 2013 were:

  • Medical Alert scam

  • Auction Reseller scam

  • Arrest Warrant scam

  • Invisible Home Improvements scam

  • Casting Call scam

  • Foreign Currency scam

  • Scam Texts

  • Do Not Call scams

  • Fake Friend scam

  • Affordable Care Act scam (BBB’s “Scam of the Year”)

So, what can you do to protect yourself from identity theft and prevent being scammed? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Keep your anti-virus software up-to-date.  The best way to protect your online identity online is to keep your anti-virus software updated.  Most anti-virus programs, including the free versions, allow you to schedule your computer to receive automatic updates on a daily or weekly schedule you set.  But a word to the wise:  Unless you’re using a paid commercial version of anti-virus software, such as, Norton Antivirus or McAfee All-Access, most free versions only provide limited security features.  That doesn’t mean you can’t have decent anti-virus protection using free software.  However, it does mean you may need to utilize a combination of other anti-virus, malware and spyware programs to keep your online presence safe and secure.  One exception to the rule might be Windows 7 and Vista users since Microsoft’s Security Essentials is built into its operating systems.  But in order for its built-in security features to adequately protect your computer and keep your online presence secure, you should keep your anti-virus program up-to-date.  You can do this manually from the Security Essentials’ control panel or you can download the latest security updates using the Windows Update feature from your computer’s Control Panel.

  2. Use strong password encryption. A strong password consists of a combination of upper and lower letters, numbers and symbols (e.g., Ab1$3dC$). When deciding on a password, be creative.  Mix it up alittle.  For example, suppose I wanted to use the word “super cool” as my password. I could use, “souperkool” or “SoupERKoweL”.  I could even add numbers or special characters to strengthen the encryption making it even more difficult for hackers to decipher my password.  Whatever you do, don’t use personal identifiers such as the name of your spouse, child or family pet as your password. And if you’re still using “password” as your password, you should change it now!  I would also recommend changing your password to all Internet-capable devices at least once every 30-60 days.  If you must maintain a list, don’t save it on your computer’s hard drive.  Save it on a USB drive instead and keep it in a secure location, i.e., a locking file cabinet, away from your computer if possible.

  3. Don’t click on unfamiliar links or email attachments. Whether at home or at the office, never open email attachments or click on links from senders you don’t know or websites that are unfamiliar to you.  Keep in mind your bank, mortgage company, utility company or retail department store will never contact your via email seeking confirmation of your personal information. They will either call or send you a letter on company letterhead.  But if you suspect someone may be trying to scam you over the phone, try to get as much information from the caller as you can including the caller’s name, employee ID number, business license number, if possible, and a call-back number.  If the caller hangs up or refuses to provided the requested information, chances are it’s a scam.  Follow-up with the Better Business Bureau or your state’s licensing agency to confirm that the company is who they say they are using the information you obtain. 

  4. Shred personal documents. Destroy outdated documents such as bank statements that are more than 3 years old or unwanted credit card applications.  You can purchase a shredder at most retail department store for under $50.  An alternative to shredding your documents would be to rip them up in small pieces and dispose of the pieces in multiple trash cans to make it more difficult to scammers to look through your trash and find such unused documents.  As a last resort, you could burn such documents.

  5. Use browser security features. Internet Explorer, FireFox and Chrome all provide “InPrivate Browsing” to keep websites from tracking the websites you last visited.  Never set your website to automatically save your passwords.  This may be a convenient way to quickly log back into a website your frequent, but it’s also an easy way for hackers to obtain your password using keystroke tracking malware.

  6. Report suspected activity immediately. Monitor your bank and credit card statements frequently (online if possible) and contact your bank or credit card company as soon as possible if you notice questionable activity on your accounts.  If you suspect you’ve been scammed, you should contact the Better Business Bureau and report any information you can recall or present any correspondence or solicitations you suspect may be a scam.

That’s my blogpost for this week.  Post your comments below to join the discussion. And don’t forget to tune in next week where I’ll once again share more ways you can break the debt cycle and then go…beyond.

Zebert L. Brown is the author of Break the Debt Cycle in 3 Simple Steps and a 16 year Navy veteran with specialties in administrative management, career development and public relations. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Automate Your Way to Wealth

Zebert L. Brown

Whenever I ask people what’s their #1 reason for not sticking to a budget, I normally get “lack of time” to manage it properly.  I then ask, “Have you tried automating your finances?” It’s at this point folks do that old “I Could’ve Had a V8” bonk upside the head thing.

In today’s busy world, it can be difficult to keep track of your spending especially if you’re still doing it the old fashioned way with pen, paper and calculator.  But if you automate your finances, your world will become a whole lot easier.  Trust me! 

I remember the first time I automated my finances using Direct Deposit back when it was the newest wave in banking.  At the time, I would receive paper checks because I didn’t trust the accuracy or timeliness of the Electronic Funds Transfer system.  But once I saw the benefits of it – no waiting in lines to cash my check and instant access to my money – I was hooked on the new banking technology and I haven’t looked back since.  I’ve even paid off three vehicles using auto-payroll deduction where the car payments were automatically deducted from my paycheck and my budget never missed it!

Today, there are multiple ways to ease the burden of maintaining your budget and you can increase your net worth in the process just by automating your finances.

  • Saving and Investing through Auto Payroll Deduction. The easiest way to get started in investing is to pay yourself first.  That means making regular deposits to your savings account.  But if making regular deposits into your savings account is a habit that remains elusive, you can take the strain out of the process by automating your savings using automatic payroll deduction.  The process is easy: Just contact your HR department, determine the amount of funds to be withdrawn from your pay each pay period, fill out the necessary paperwork and submit them to your bank, credit union or other financial institution and within a payday or two you should start seeing your savings increase.  You can also automate contributions to your 401(k) or IRA (whether Traditional or Roth) using auto-payroll deductions.  Not only is this a fast and effective way to increase your investment portfolio, you can also reduce your taxable income in some cases allowing more of your earnings to go into your bank account and less going to Uncle Same.  Once established, all you’ll have to do is sit back and watch your retirement nest-egg grow and grow and grow.

  • Online Bill Pay. Ever miss a payment on a bill and kick yourself for it?  You can save yourself the agony of watching all those late fees eat away at your hard earned income and stop kicking yourself in the butt in the process by paying your bills online.  In most cases, you simply log in to your creditor’s website, i.e., utility company, mortgage company, car finance company, insurance premium, etc., provide the appropriate account information and the payment is automatically withdrawn from your bank account or credit card.  The neat thing about online bill pay is you can either make a one-time payment or set up a payment schedule where a specific amount is withdrawn from your bank account at the interval you specify (i.e., once a week, bi-weekly, once a month).  There are three benefits to online bill pay: 1) your payment is usually processed within 24-hours saving you a late fee; 2) you save money on postage; and 3) you can stop or start the process, or change the payment method at your convenience.

  • Pros to automating your finances:

    • No hassle savings and investing.

    • Prompt payment processing

    • No late fees

    • Quick payment confirmation (usually via email)

    • Easy payment tracking (i.e., email confirmation, creditor’s website or banking app)

    • Saves time


  • Cons to automating your finances:

    • Easy to fall into that “out of sight, out of mind” mentality and forget to account for such deductions in your budget

    • Halting or changing payments made by auto-payroll deduction can take time for the required paperwork to get processed

    • An error in a payment amount could throw off your account balance and take time to correct

It’s important to monitor your banking statements and your budget in order to keep on top of your spending when automating your finances, but the pros far out-weigh the cons.  One word of caution:  You should automate your finances only when you’re absolutely sure your budget can handle it.  If your finances are tight and you’re still not comfortable with your spending being on auto-pilot, automating your finances may not be for you.  But once you get your finances on track and you start seeing consistent positive cashflow in your budget on a regular basis, I would highly recommend calling “All Systems Go” to automating your finances.

That’s my blogpost for this week. Join the discussion by posting your comments below. And don’t forget to tune in next week where I’ll once again share more ways you can break the debt cycle and then go…beyond.

Zebert L. Brown is the author of Break the Debt Cycle in 3 Simple Steps and a 16 year Navy veteran with specialties in administrative management, career development and public relations. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Honoring Our Veterans this Memorial Day

SoldiersontheMoveOn this Memorial Day, it is fitting that we take a moment to remember those Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines, as well as, members of the Coast Guard and active reserves who paid the ultimate sacrifice so that we may all enjoy the freedoms we have today. As a veteran, I understand many of the struggles my fellow comrades in arms face as they prepare for battles yet waged and endure hardship away from friends, family and loved ones. So, on this Memorial Day, here are 10 things each of us can choose to do to honor those veterans who gave their lives so that we can be free, for those who still wear the uniform and for those who recently returned from being in harms way. May God bless them all on this Memorial Day.

1. Tell a veteran “Thank You”. For most veterans, that’s enough. All anyone really wants is to be recognized for a job Well Done.
2. Listen to their story. Whether an old WWII veteran or a Soldier returning from Iraq or Afghanistan, each veteran deserves to be heard now more than ever (i.e., PTSD).
3. Visit the wounded and infirmed at your local VA Hospital. Regardless of the troubles the VA is going through today, there’s no reason for their troubles to become your troubles. Visit your local VA hospital a give thanks to those who served.
4. Lay a flag at a Veteran’s Memorial/Cemetery. To find a local veteran’s memorial or hospital near you, visit the Veteran Administration’s website at www.va.gov and select the “Locations” menu.
5. Make a donation to a non-profit veteran’s organization, such as, the Veteran’s of Foreign Wars (VFW), the USO or the Wounded Warrior Project.
6. Volunteer at your local Veteran’s Hospital or veteran’s organization. They’ll be glad for your assistance and the veteran’s will appreciate your time served.
7. Hire a veteran. If you’re in the position to hire new employees, consider hiring a veteran. Most returning veterans only want a chance to contribute and feel useful again.
8. Pay for their meal. Paying it forward is always the kind thing to do. Why not show such generosity to a veteran at breakfast, lunch or dinner time?
9. Give ’em a beer. If paying for a meal’s too much for your pocket book, how about putting a cold one on your tab?
10. Pray for our brave servicemen and women. Many are still on-station manning a post or patrolling the oceans or the high seas. Some are still on the battlefield in harm’s way, protecting our freedom is a 24/7 job. I would ask that you keep them in your prayers.


That’s my blogpost for this week. Join the discussion and post your comments below. And don’t forget to tune in next week where I’ll once again share more ways you can break the debt cycle and then go…beyond.

Zebert L. Brown is the author of Break the Debt Cycle in 3 Simple Steps and a 16 year Navy veteran with specialties in administrative management, career development and public relations.  Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Building Wealth….Slow, but Steady

Zebert L. Brown

Let’s face it, unless you win the lottery, receive a large inheritance or are fortunate enough to bring your own product to market, most people will simply have to go from rags to riches the old fashioned way – spending less, saving more and investing for the future. And while this may sound simple enough, very few are able to follow this simple plan. The reasons vary, of course, everything from low earnings, over spending, not taking advantage of apparent opportunities or the circumstances of life got in the way, but most people can slowly build wealth over time if they follow a few simple steps.

  • Monitor your spending. Unless you know exactly how your hard earned dollars are being spent you’ll never be able to determine if you’re spending your money wisely. The only tool at your disposal that will chart your spending habits is your budget. I can’t emphasis this enough! By planning your budget for the long-term, you’ll be able to better gage spending and take better control of your personal economy.

  • Make credit work for you. As consumers, most of us used credit not to build wealth but rather to supplement our income. As such, credit card debt skyrocketed over the last decade for the average middle-class household. However, today’s consumers are starting to get smarter about using credit as credit card debt is down since 2012. The best way to make credit work for you is to only buy routine household items you can afford using your credit card and paying off the balance in full immediately when the bill comes due. It’s clear that irresponsible use of credit is the leading cause of credit card debt. So, use that plastic source for short-term “loans” wisely.

  • Invest wisely. While most consumers would love to find that one stock buy that will make them rich, few people have the disposable income to make a big-time investment that stands to eventually make them millions. So, what’s a person of modest means to do if they want to get involved in the stock market? The answer is “move slowly, build up your cash infusion through savings, study industry trends, then invest wisely.” Unless you get extremely lucky and happen to put your money in a hot stock of the moment, most investors invest for the long haul through value investing. But to get there takes time and patience. In the beginning, you’ll have to take baby-steps to investing which means putting money into savings first and learning how stock trading works, but after you’ve dipped your feet in the financial water and gained experience you can take bolder moves as your earnings begin to accrue. An alternative actively trading on the stock exchange is to start a monthly stock purchasing plan with a reputable broker where installment payments are set aside until the full amount is accumulated to buy a share of stock. It’s a slow process, but at least you’ll be able to get your feet wet in the stock market and build your investment income over time.

That’s my blogpost for this week. Join the discussion and post your comments below. And don’t forget to tune in next week where I’ll once again share more ways you can break the debt cycle and then go…beyond.

Zebert L. Brown is the author of Break the Debt Cycle in 3 Simple Steps and a 16 year Navy veteran with specialties in administrative management, career development and public relations. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

10 Smart, Cost-Saving Grocery Shopping Tips


Zebert L. BrownAccording to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a family of four spends approximately $627.90 a month on groceries – and that’s being on the thrifty side! For most Americans, their grocery bill constitutes the third largest household expense behind paying the mortgage and transportation costs. And from the looks of things it doesn’t appear that foods costs will be coming down any time soon. So, what can you do to reduce your grocery bill?  Here are 10 cost-saving tips that can save you big bucks on your grocery bill:

  1. Plan your meals. It might sound tedious, but planning your meals a week at a time helps to streamline your grocery shopping. This way you only purchase those food items you need. This works whether you’re on a tight budget or a fixed income.

  2. Make a grocery list. If done right, your grocery list should include all the necessary ingredients to make your menus complete. By making a grocery list, you also minimize the risk of impulse buying which only adds to your grocery bill. And at today’s food prices, who wants to spend more than they have to on food?

  3. Price Matching. Most grocery store chains will match the price of a competitor’s sales price provided you can show them the sales price. Bring coupons or competitor’s sales ads with you and present them at the check-out to save a few bucks.

  4. Use Coupons. The stories you’ve heard of The Coupon Lady saving hundreds on her grocery bill are true! Clipping coupons remains the best way to save money on your grocery bill. It’s no easy task; you have to do a lot of work up front to get organized, but the cost savings are worth it provided you’re willing to look for bargains. Collect weekly circulars for coupons or print them from such on-line sites as Coupons.com, MyCoupons.com or GrocerySmarts.com.

  5. Use In-Store Discount Cards. We all look for the sale price whenever we go shopping, but many grocery store chains, such a Kroger, offer in-store discounts using their store discount card on top of their sale price. Using a store’s discount card can add extra savings to your grocery bill.

  6. Shop Generic. We’ve heard it said before, “shop generic”, and it’s true that buying off-brand food items can save you money. In fact, many name brand grocery store chains now offer store brand items of their own in place of the old white or yellow “generic” packaged food items. If you’re worried about taste or quality, don’t be! Most store brand foods taste just as good as the retail brands or better, and are of high quality, too. So, don’t be afraid to try an off-brand item. You won’t be able to tell the difference and you’ll save a lot of money in the process.

  7. Shop at Discount Stores. While the big grocery store chains offer many of the name brand items we all love, discount stores, such as Dollar Tree, Dollar General and Aldi’s, offer quality grocery items at very competitive prices. In most cases, their every day low prices beat the retail grocery store chains hands down. So, don’t be fooled into thinking low-cost means “cheap”. Discount stores offer significant cost-savings on many of the common food items you routinely buy at a faction of the cost. And they taste good, too.

  8. Be tech savvy – Use Shopping Apps. You can compare prices of name brand grocery store items or even create shopping lists using shopping apps, such as GroceryIQ or Grocery Pay. So, if you think $2.95 is too expensive for that 20 oz. can of named brand soup, compare prices right from your iphone and if you find the same item for a cheaper price at another store in your neighborhood, head across town and by it there. Better yet, show the cashier at check-out and if they price match, buy it! Talk about choice and competition!! There are several other grocery shopping apps you can download at the Google Play store and most apps are free. So, shop around and find the best app that works for you.

  9. Shop at Farmer’s Markets. Fresh fruits and vegetables are already expensive and unstable weather conditions can only mean prices will go higher. But your local Farmer’s Market can help lower the cost of fresh produce because all items are locally grown providing you with significant savings. All Farmer’s Markets undergo rigorous state health and safety inspections. So, you can rest assured they meet the highest health and safety standards. But just as important, the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables are cheap compared to your local grocery store chain. So, give your local Farmer’s Market a try. You can find a Farmer’s Market near you at www.localharvest.org.

  10. Buy in Bulk. If you’re feeding a small army, chances are buying bulk is worth your time and can save you money. But even if you’re feeding a family of four, buying in bulk can provide long-term savings for those grocery items you buy routinely. Simply use what you need for the here-and-now, and store the excess away for later use. Membership at the leading two bulk buying stores, Sam’s Club and CostCo., is relatively inexpensive. So, if you have extra pantry space, buying in bulk can be worth it in the long-run.

That’s my blogpost for this week. Join the discussion and post your comments below. And don’t forget to tune in next week where I’ll once again share more ways you can break the debt cycle and then go…beyond.

Zebert L. Brown is the author of Break the Debt Cycle in 3 Simple Steps and a 16 year Navy veteran with specialties in administrative management, career development and public relations. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.


Going “Beyond the Debt Cycle”

Zebert L. BrownThere are several reasons people fall into debt – a job lose, severe illness or series injury, divorce, death of a loved one, poor spending habits or plain old careless with their money.  Regardless of the reason why, the question each person asks once they find themselves in debt is “how do I get out”?

As I read over the various blogs that cover personal financial management, each mentions the following as important first steps towards resolving your debt woes:

  1. Acknowledging that you have a debt problem; and,

  2. Start a budget.

Both are prudent first steps, yet both can be very difficult steps to take.

Most people who find themselves in debt are afraid to admit they’re having difficulty managing their finances properly.  Simply put:  pride gets in the way.  At our core, we don’t want to be viewed as a failure. However, by acknowledging that you need help managing the household finances, you’re seeking the assistance you need to think through financial matters that not only impact yourself but your entire family.  As explain in chapters 1 and 2 of my book (see byline below), your family should be involved in the budgeting process so that everyone understands your household’s financial situation  and helps to keep things on track.  But what if you’re single?  Where should you turn for help?  As mentioned in a previous blogpost, “10 Tips to Improving Your Financial Literacy,” agencies such as Consumer Credit Counseling, your local community college or your bank can all be of assistance.

Acknowledging you’re having difficulty managing your household finances may be easier than drafting and maintaining a budget, however.  The reason most people don’t like living with a budget is  they believe budgets are too restrictive.  I certainly use to think that way.  It wasn’t until my wife and I realized we were starting to miss payments to our creditors and beginning to bounces checks that we realized we needed to do something different about managing our household finances.  As we sat down with our bills, recent bank statements and our cash receipts and began the first rough draft of our budget, we began to see a couple of patterns emerge.  First, we were spending way too much on dining out (for lunch mostly).  Second, we were relying on memory to ensure one of us was paying specific bills on time.  Once we were able to see how negative spending habits and a lack of focus were hurting our bottom line, we were able to draft a well-constructed budget plan that took both our input into account. We also realized that we need to forecast our spending beyond the next paycheck to tackle any unforeseen circumstances that might crop up.  By forecasting our expenditures 3-6 months out, we were able to absorb added short-term expenses without significantly impacting our long-term financial goals.  And that brings me to a broader point concerning your budget:  it’s merely a tool to help you manage your money as you see fit.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Use your budget to help keep track of your earnings, expenditures and long-term financial goals.  I want to emphasize that last part.  I think it’s important for people to understand that your budget shouldn’t be a static document.  I should change as the circumstances of your life changes.  Furthermore, just because you may have to cut back and live within your means (or below them) in order to get your finances on track doesn’t mean you have to always go without.  You can – and should – incorporate leisure time activities into your budget plan. Such activities could be as inexpensive as planning a special family meal once a week or renting your favorite movies including everyone’s favorite snacks.  My point is, such leisure time activities don’t have to be extravagant.  Just plan ahead and be creative again taking input from your family.  Unfortunately, many consumers believe that “keeping up with the Jones’” – image – is more important than living debt-free.  To some, debt is just another part of life.  But I would argue that living debt-free is a better way of life because you’re in control.  Instead of being dictated to as to how to spend your money, you get to call the shots.  And wouldn’t you rather be in control of your financial future than having someone else control it for you?

Another aspect of your budget plan should be personal investments.  While most financial counselors suggest waiting until you’ve gotten your debts under control, I would suggest that you start by putting as much money as you can into an interest-barring savings account  and build up your savings over time when you can afford to save more.  The point here is to pay yourself first!  After all, you work hard for your money.  Shouldn’t you receive the benefit of its use besides just paying bills?

If you’re struggling with debt, take the first steps towards getting out of debt today by acknowledging your debt woes, seeking assistance and drafting well-constructed budget plan.  Try to forecasts your expenditures for the long-term, and don’t forget to include personal investments and leisure time activities into your budget plan.  Your family, your sanity and your financial future will thank you for it.

That’s my blogpost for this week.  Join the discussion and post your comments below.  And don’t forget to tune in next week where I’ll once again share more ways you can break the debt cycle and then go…beyond.

Zebert L. Brown is the author of Break the Debt Cycle in 3 Simple Steps and a 16 year Navy veteran with specialties in administrative management, career development and public relations.  Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

10 Tips to Improving Your Financial Literacy

 LeeHeadShot4 In last week’s blogpost, I outlined the importance of becoming more financial literate.  This week I provide ten important tips you can use to improve your financial literacy skills and start your children off on the right track to becoming more fiscally responsible.

For Adults:

1. Take a financial management course. You can contact your bank or local community college to see if they offer such a course, or you can contact the American Consumer Credit Counselors for a free credit counseling session.

2. Learn common financial terms. Asset, depreciation, liquidation, equity are all basic terms you’ll come across in nearly every financial situation, but if you don’t know what these words mean or how they apply to your financial situation, you can’t make financial decisions that are right for you and your economic situation.

3. Read the small print! I can’t emphasize this enough. No matter how much pressure you get from slick talking salesmen, you should always take your time to read over ALL documents pertaining to your personal finances before you sign them. After all, you work hard for your money and no one’s going to look after your best interest except you.  Give yourself at least 24 hours to review any document before you sign on the dotted line to make doubly sure you’re making the right decision.

4. Diversify your finances. The saying “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” is true. Assuming you can afford to spread the wealth around, you should try to put your money in investment vehicles that stand to earn you money other than a simple savings account or a 401k plan with your employers. An IRA, stocks, bonds, mutual fund or exchange trade funds (ETF) are all investment vehicles that can provide a decent return on investment over the long haul.

5. Ask questions. If there’s something you don’t understand about a potential financial situation that could obligate you to a long-term financial commitment, ask questions – as many as it takes for you to fully understand the situation at hand. And if you don’t feel as if you’re getting the right answers from one person, ask to speak with the manager.

For Children:

1. Talk to them about money. Believe it or not, children learn how to manage money from watching their parents. Of course, if you’re not “penny wise” odds are your child may very well pick up some poor spending habits from you. The sooner your child learns the value of money, the sooner he/she begin to take a personal interest in his/her ersonal economy.

2. Give them an allowance. Most parent may not believe in giving their child an allowance, but an allowance gives them a  sense of ownership for “a job well done”. Moreover, they quickly learn that “money doesn’t grow on trees or comes from the ATM” each time they run out of their money.

3. Take them shopping with you. Let your child pay for groceries (small purchases, of course) and show them how to bargain shop. This way not only do they learn that you’re not an inexhaustible source of money, they also learn how to look for the best deals right along with you.

4. Give your child a piggy-bank. There’s nothing like the sound of a bunch of coins clanking in a glass jar or that pink plastic pig. Your child will have a sense of pride for all the money he/she saves up to purchase that special item on their wise list. As an alternative to a piggy-bank, you could also start a savings account for your child and let them make the deposits.  This way they learn about bankng, saving and investing early in life.

5. Play board games that involve money. Monopoly, Life, Payday. These traditional board games are not only fun to play, they also teaches your child about the world of finance. Every kid loves being the banker. Let them learn about financial management by playing with play money so that once they experience the real thing they can apply what they’ve learned in real life.

That’s my blogpost for this week.  Join the discussion and post your comments below.  And don’t forget to tune in next week where I’ll once again share more ways you can break the debt cycle and then go…beyond.

Zebert L. Brown is the author of Break the Debt Cycle in 3 Simple Steps and a 16 year Navy veteran with specialties in administrative management, career development and public relations.  Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Financial Literacy…How Important Is It?

LeeHeadShot4   Financial literacy has quickly become the hot new buzz term in personal financial management, but what does it truly mean?

Financial literacy refers to having a basic understanding of how money works, as well as, how to apply knowledge and skills in financial managment to make well informed decisions concerning personal financial matters.  How you earn money, manage money, invests money or donate money to help others are all part of financial literacy.  The more knowledgeable you are about basic financial principles, the better financial decisions you are able to make.

In the wake of the Great Recession, there’s been a lot of finger pointing going on where people of all stripes have played “the blame game” where personal finance meets personal responsibility.  While it is true that many consumers acted irresponsibly taking on more debt than they could afford, it’s also true that commercial entities took on more risk than they could reasonable manage.  Nonetheless, this isn’t about whose more at fault for the present state of our nation’s economy.  It’s about what you can do to take control of your personal economy.  The truth is that for over a generation our nation has fostered a culture of consumption and debt, and that culture has led consumers to take on more debt obligations than they could reasonable afford.

I remember when I was in high school one of the mandatory courses I had to take as a senior before I could graduate was Government and Economics – or “civics” as some like to call it.  Aside from learning how our government worked, this course also taught the basics in financial management. I admit it hasn’t always been easy for me to apply those financial skills I learned back then in my every-day life as a consumer, but I do try to live by the sound teachings I learned from that mandatory course back in my high school days and I can honestly say that in applying those teaches I’ve managed to make a few prudent financial decisions along the way.

I say this to make a point:  financial literacy is something that has to be taught! You can’t just pick it up as you go along. Granted, certain aspects of financial literacy are rooted in common sense, i.e., don’t spend more than you earn, but true financial literacy requires having a keen understanding of various aspects of consumer finance, such as, how to properly calculate interest rates whether it’s the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) on a credit card, the interest rate on an Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM) or simple compound interest earned on a savings account.  Knowing how to “do the math” properly can help you to make better buying decisions that are sure to affect your bottom line.

It’s a fact that wages have remained flat for many Americans. As such, our overall buying power gradually decreases over time with inflation.  Unfortunately, the only alternative many consumers have to made up the difference between what they earn and what they’d like to afford is to put more and more of their purchases on their credit card, or take out a home equity loan or a line of credit against their home.  Is there any wonder then why so many people are living paycheck-to-paycheck or that fewer households have anything in savings or that many ordinary people are unable to invest because they just don’t have the extra capital to do so?  The only way to change things is for consumers to return to using sound financial principles, and it begins with implementing one common sense practice – drafting a budget and maintain it regularly.

No matter who you are, what you do or what side of the economic divide you’re on every financial planner, credit counselor or tax accountant will tell you that unless you maintain a budget on a regular basis, you’ll never know where you’re money’s going, where the excesses are, what you can do realistically to cut back on expenses or how much of your hard earned money you can put to work earning you money.

Improving your financial literacy is key to becoming a better steward of our money and will also help you to make better financial decisions.  As you consider your financial literacy skills, ask yourself the following questions:

What steps have you taken to become more financial literate?

What’s the worst financial mistake you’ve ever made and what did you learn from it?

What’s the best financial decision you’ve ever made and how did the decision improve your net worth?

What advice would you give to your partner, spouse or child concerning how to invest in their financial future?

That’s my blogpost for this week.  Become part of the discussion by posting your comments below.  And don’t forget to tune in next week where I’ll once again share more ways you can break the debt cycle and then go…beyond.

Zebert L. Brown is the author of the book, Break the Debt Cycle in 3 Simple Steps He is also a 16 year Navy veteran with specialties in administrative management, career development and public relations.  Like him on Facebook and follow him Twitter.

Hello, Blogosphere!

LeeHeadShot4  I’ve wanted to say that for a long time and I’m happy that day has finally arrived. Since this is my introductory blog post, it’s only fitting that I provide a little background as to why I’m so excited to be starting my blog.

After the U.S. economy took a nose dive in 2008, I began to pay close attention to what was happening to the personal economies of hard working people such as yourself all across the country. I would read the headlines and follow story after story of families whose lives had been turned upside down mainly because a father or a mother – or sometimes both – lost their job and eventually their home because the main source of income was gone and their savings dried up. As sad as such stories were, I realized there was little I could do to help these people in their immediate situation. Even if some of them did managed to find new jobs, they’d still have their unpaid debts to deal with.  I mean, when was the last time you had a debt collector graciously wipe your slate clean? It just doesn’t happen. Still, I was left wondering how could I help?

As I kept abreast of the storylines involving home foreclosures, rising health care costs, rising student loan debt, income inequality, low-savings rates and dwindling retirement accounts by Average Joe’s like you and me, I decided to start digging deeper into these types of issues. At first it was to protect my own self interest – I didn’t want any of those things to suddenly happen to me if I could help it. But then it occurred to me!  With all the information I had gathered and the experience I’d gained keeping my own household afloat throughout the Great Recession, I could write a book based on the lessons I’d learned in personal financial management.

The title of my book is “Break the Debt Cycle in 3 Simple Steps”.  I wrote it specifically for individuals who are struggling with debt and want to learn how to take control of their personal economy, eliminate debt and start building lasting wealth. And that is what brings me to your computer screen today.

Although there are several books and countless blogs on the subject of personal finance, one thing I’ve noticed is that most give the same cookie cutter advice. I try to go beyond the debt cycle and provide information you can use to save money, protect your assets and get started in investing. That’s the level of content I plan to bring to my blog aptly named, “Beyond the Debt Cycle”.

So, I hope you’ll stay tuned for my weekly blog posts and help to make this an environment where good advice and shared experiences can make a difference in the lives of ordinary people just like you. Together, let’s get more hard working Americans to break the cycle of debt and then go beyond.

See you next week.