FINANCE

Wellness Programs

Avoid ATM Fees and Save Save Big on Taxes Credit Cards Debit Cards Reloadable Prepaid Cards Avoid Elder Finance Abuse Mortgage Interest Calculator Mortgage Loan Approval

Maximizing Results With Wellness Programs

(NAPSI)—Employers are beginning to take greater notice of health and wellness issues—and with good reason. At least one-quarter of health care costs incurred by working adults are attributed to modifiable health risks such as tobacco use, diet and lack of exercise, according to PreventDisease.com.

Many companies are implementing wellness programs as part of their benefits offerings to promote healthy employee lifestyles, cut down on expenses and maximize options to employees.

As the 2012 Aflac WorkForces Report found, 92 percent of organizations with a wellness program consider it effective. Further, 59 percent of companies overall agree wellness programs can decrease health care costs.

What's more, 28 percent of workers say they would be more satisfied and more loyal to their employer if their company offered options to improve health and lifestyle, because they would believe their employer cares about their well-being.

Advantages of Wellness Programs

One of the most important benefits to both employers and employees is reduced health care expenses as a result of proper preventive care. Businesses can encourage wellness and prevention by offering voluntary insurance that includes wellness benefits. In addition to the primary benefits of the policy, policyholders get a lump sum cash payment whenever they have a preventive screening or test.

Companies can not only promote smart choices for eating and exercise, but educate and engage employees on how to improve their lifestyle—physically and fiscally.

Companies Offer:

• Health screenings

• Financial incentives for annual physical exams

• Discounts to health centers or gyms

• Financial management tips, including how to save and invest money

• Health seminars and fairs

• Advice on how to manage stress and anxiety

• Company-sponsored runs.

Offering voluntary insurance benefits options can boost employee morale and increase productivity, which can help drive business success.

Learn More

For more information on wellness programs and benefits offerings, visit www.aflacworkforcesreport.com.

 

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Surprising Ways To Add To Your Savings

(NAPSI)—Learning to be more of a "saver" than a "spender" can often start with small steps that take you in a new direction and help you to acquire new habits.

If you struggle with finding money to save, here are some ideas you may have overlooked:

• Put aside your loose change each day. Saving just $1 a day will yield you $365 in a year.

• Cut your phone bills. For less than $10, you can buy a prepaid cell phone and pay only by the minute. Unless you have medical issues that can require emergency calls, you may even want to consider canceling your land line.

• Do your best to avoid unnecessary bank fees. For instance, by avoiding bounced checks, overdrafts and ATM fees, the $20-$40 you normally spend each month could save you $240 to $480 each year.

• Bring lunch to work. Spend $2 a day on making lunch at home instead of eating out for $5 a day, and before you know it you've saved $780 in one year.

• Track your spending. You might not realize where your money is going. Keep a receipt for everything you spend in one month. At the end of the month, separate them into categories.

This process can often help you see where you can trim excess spending without radically changing your lifestyle. Many people find that entertainment and dining out are two areas where modest cuts can lead to significant savings over time.

To learn more, visit www.primerica.com.

Mr. Addison is Primerica's Co-Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of Primerica Distribution.

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Act Now For Tax Savings Later

(NAPSI)—The average American must work 107 days to earn enough to pay federal, state and local taxes in 2012. Although nearly 30 percent of our wages go to taxes, many Americans do little in the way of tax planning.

Tax planning involves reviewing tax benefits and implications of your income, expenditures, investments and retirement plans. How can you maximize the benefits of each in the most tax-efficient way? Planning may also include taking a close look at your income tax return.

"It's never too late for tax planning," said TaxACT spokesperson Jessi Dolmage. "There are things you can do anytime of year to maximize your tax savings. But the earlier you start, the better."

Dolmage shares several ideas for your tax planning checklist this year and every year:

• Review your retirement plan. Can you contribute more in order to decrease your taxable income? If you don't have a retirement plan, consider starting a 401(k) or IRA. If you want to start an IRA, remember the tax differences between traditional and Roth IRAs. Avoid early withdrawals, which often involve additional taxes.

• Did you claim the standard deduction last year but have significant expenses for medical care, mortgage interest, state and local taxes, unreimbursed employee expenses, or charitable contributions? Review which expenses qualify in IRS Publication 17 at www.irs.gov and consider paying an additional mortgage payment or medical expenses before December 31, 2012. That extra payment could make it more advantageous to itemize deductions. Keep receipts and detailed documentation for all deductions throughout the year.

• Check tax return filing status options. You may qualify for more than one status, especially if you have qualified dependents. Changing your status may increase your standard deduction. IRS Publication 17 includes filing status and dependent criteria.

• Check your federal withholding, especially if you've married, had children, bought a home, earned investment income or made capital gains profit in 2012. Conventional wisdom says withhold just enough tax to meet your tax liability. Although withholding too much means a refund, you're also giving Uncle Sam an interest-free loan. Withhold too little and you'll owe taxes plus possible penalties and interest. You can change withholding anytime of year by submitting a revised Form W-4 to your employer. TaxACT Free Federal Edition offers a free withholding calculator and helps complete new W-4s at www.taxact.com.

• Paying tuition? The American Opportunity Tax Credit is scheduled to expire after 2012, so take advantage now. If you'll be short of the $2,500 maximum credit amount by December 31, consider paying some of your 2013 spring tuition before year's end to make up the difference. Details about all education tax breaks, including the expanded student loan interest deduction, can be found at www.taxact.com/college-tax-whiz and in IRS Publication 970.

• If your will includes property, update the financial and family information and evaluate how scheduled tax changes will impact the value. The federal estate tax exemption for 2012 is $5.12 million, taxed at 35 percent. After 2012, the exemption will drop to $1 million, taxed at 55 percent.

Dolmage warns taxpayers to be prepared for last-minute tax law changes. "Seventy-seven tax breaks expired at the end of 2011," said Dolmage. "Congress will likely extend many of them after the presidential election, but we're not sure when. Regardless of when legislation passes, tax solutions like TaxACT will update their programs right away. You can get a head start and estimate your 2012 federal and state taxes free starting in October at taxact.com."

For more planning information, visit www.irs.gov and www.taxact.com/taxinfo. Do your federal return free and get free tax help at taxact.com. TaxACT guarantees your maximum refund and accuracy.

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Take Advantage Of The Benefits Of Credit Cards And Debit Cards

(NAPSI)—While consumers have become savvy when it comes to managing their money, many could take greater advantage of using either a credit card or a debit card by better understanding the benefits of each.

Below are considerations to help individuals choose for themselves when the benefits of using a credit card outweigh those of using a debit card, or vice versa.

Benefits of Debit Cards:

• Withdraw Cash When Making Purchases—Debit cards not only allow access to cash from ATMs, but also the ability to withdraw money when making a purchase.

• No Balance Due at Month's End—Charges made using a debit card are pulled directly from a checking account and not added to a credit card balance. Some consumers like the freedom of not worrying about a balance at the end of the month and are able to better establish a monthly budget.

• No Due Dates—To avoid interest charges, credit card users must pay close attention to due dates and pay off their balance. Debit cards, on the other hand, pull money from a checking account immediately, eliminating worry about when a balance will be due and any interest that could result from missing the payment due date.

Benefits of Credit Cards:

• Earn Rewards on Daily Purchases—Many credit cards earn rewards. And if consumers pay off their credit card when the payment is due, no interest will accrue on everyday purchases such as gas and groceries.

• Building Credit History—Using a credit card responsibly may help to build good credit, which may make it easier to get loans and better interest rates.

• Funds to Make Large or Unexpected Purchases—Whether it's a large purchase, such as new furniture, or an unexpected expense like a last-minute home repair, credit cards offer access to spending limits typically greater than one's checking account balance.

Security Benefits—Credit cards offer the security of funds not being tied directly to a checking account, as they are with debit cards. So if fraudulent activity occurs, the funds in a checking account are not depleted. However, Fifth Third Bank's new DUO Card, which is the first and only option available to combine the benefits and features of both a credit card and a debit card into one, allows consumers to use a debit card without sacrificing this security feature. With this card, only transactions made using a security PIN are tied directly to a checking account (i.e., debit purchases), which adds an additional layer of protection.

The decision as to when to use a credit card versus a debit card is a personal one, as there are benefits to both, and no two people manage their money in exactly the same way. With options like Fifth Third Bank's DUO Card, these personal decisions are that much easier—with the security, convenience and flexibility of both a credit card and a debit card all in one.

For more information, visit www.my53card.com/DUO or a Fifth Third Banking Center in the following states: Ohio , Florida , Georgia , Illinois , Indiana , Kentucky , Michigan , Missouri , North Carolina , Pennsylvania , Tennessee and West Virginia .

Note to Editors: The products featured within this story are only applicable to certain states in which Fifth Third Bank operates, including Ohio , Florida , Georgia , Illinois , Indiana , Kentucky , Michigan , Missouri , North Carolina , Pennsylvania , Tennessee and West Virginia . Lending is subject to credit review and approval. Fifth Third Bank. Member FDIC.

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Simple Tips And Smart Tools For Easy Budgeting

(NAPSI)—From summer travel to back-to-school season, many Americans find it challenging to budget for special purchases.

Thinking of your next big purchase or just wanting to better manage your everyday spending? Here are five tips to help you stick to a budget:

1. Set priorities—Map out your basic needs and go from there. If you commute 10 miles to work, having money for gas is much more important than, say, a premium cable TV package. But once you set your priorities, re-evaluate them every couple of weeks.

2. Reduce, don't deprive—Part of any budget is managing the everyday luxuries-from a favorite magazine to the occasional night out. It's important to set a budget for these purchases based on what you can afford, but don't deprive yourself. We're all human—and completely cutting out simple pleasures like these can set you up for failure.

3. Track progress—Regularly measure how things are going. It helps you understand where you need to make adjustments and can give you a sense of gratification when you're staying on track. If it's your first time making a budget, don't be surprised if you fall short of your goals—like with anything, practice makes perfect.

4. Think DIY—One of the easiest ways to save money is to take a "do-it-yourself" approach to things you enjoy. Think long term: If you are a coffee lover, upgrading your in-home equipment may come with costs, but it can save you money in the long run to make those lattes at home instead of paying $4 a cup at the coffee shop.

5. Budget and manage your money smartly—Find a way to manage your money in a way that works for you. While some consumers keep cash budgeted for restaurants, movies and other fun activities in separate envelopes each month, there are also more secure options available-from savings accounts with automatic contributions each month or reloadable prepaid cards that ensure you don't spend more than you have.

"More and more Americans are looking for new financial products and services that help them manage money on their terms," said Ryan McInerney, CEO of Chase Consumer Banking. "We've recently introduced Chase LiquidSM, a reloadable card that offers customers control, flexibility and convenience—it's low-cost, and FDIC-insured."

Chase Liquid, which can be used anywhere VisaŽ is accepted, has a flat monthly fee of $4.95 with no additional charge to refill the card with cash or checks at Chase's 10,500 DepositFriendlySM ATMs and 5,500 branches nationwide. Customers can also withdraw cash at no additional charge at all of Chase's 17,500 ATMs and 5,500 branches nationwide. There are no overdraft fees and no minimum balances to maintain the account—only an initial deposit of $25. In addition, customers can check their balances for no additional fee at Chase's ATMs, telephone, branches, online, via text or e-mail, or by speaking with a customer service representative.

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How To Avoid Elder Financial Abuse

(NAPSI)—While elder financial abuse decimates incomes, affects the health of its victims and fractures families, the MetLife Mature Market Institute offers free resources and tools, including steps you can take to protect yourself and those you care for:

• Know the Facts and Stats. According to "The MetLife Study of Elder Financial Abuse," most elder financial abuse is committed by strangers but about a third is by family, friends or neighbors.

• Stay Active. Socialize with family members and friends. Get involved in activities you enjoy. Isolation can leave you more vulnerable to exploitation.

• Monitor Your Affairs. Take your time and consult with people you trust before making important financial decisions. Check credit card and bank statements and bills for accuracy. Use direct deposit to prevent mail theft. Sign your own checks when possible.

• Be Organized. Keep important papers and legal documents in a secure place. Review them at least annually.

• Be Cautious. Be careful when responding to solicitations. Don't let anyone pressure you into making an immediate decision. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Speak with a family member or trusted friend before sending money or providing bank account, credit card or Social Security numbers.

• Protect Your Passwords. Don't share passwords. Change them if you feel they've been seen or used by someone else. Immediately notify the company or bank if, when reviewing your financial statements, you see charges or transactions you didn't make.

• Beware of Telephone Solicitations. Planning Tips: Preventing Elder Abuse, produced by the Mature Market Institute, notes that billions of dollars are lost each year to fraudulent telemarketers. Consider using an answering machine or caller ID to screen calls. You can add your name and phone number to the National Do Not Call Registry at (888) 382-1222.

• Know What to Do if You're a Victim. Don't be afraid or embarrassed to discuss your concerns with someone you trust-relative, clergyman, bank manager, attorney. Knowing the resources you can turn to, including the police, your bank and Adult Protective Services, can be the first steps in addressing the problem.

• Learn More. Excellent resources include "The MetLife Study of Elder Financial Abuse"; "The Essentials: Preventing Elder Abuse"; "Planning Tips: Preventing Elder Financial Abuse for Older Adults"; and "Planning Tips: Preventing Elder Financial Abuse for Family Caregivers." Created by the MetLife Mature Market Institute, MetLife's center of expertise in aging, longevity and the generations, they may be downloaded from www.MatureMarketInstitute.com.

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Lightening The Home-Buying Financial Load

(NAPSI)—Buying a home today involves making choices that can save you time and money—up front and over the long term. These tips can help you avoid delays and hold down costs.

• Shop for the right mortgage. Before determining which mortgage product is right for you, familiarize yourself with all available loan products. For example, if you are looking to purchase a home with a down payment of less than 20 percent, be sure to compare a loan guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) with a conventional low-down-payment mortgage backed by private mortgage insurance (MI). Because of higher premiums for FHA mortgages that took effect this year, many borrowers find that conventional mortgages with MI offer lower monthly payments. Ask your mortgage professional for a price comparison.

• Lower your interest rate. Borrowers can often reduce their mortgage interest rate by paying down "points." Often referred to as a buydown, one point equates to about 1 percent of your loan. If you plan to stay in the home for more than five years, it could be worth the cost.

• Don't delay shopping for homeowner's insurance. Homeowner's insurance is required on a home purchase to protect yourself and your lender in case of vandalism, fire and other unplanned occurrences. Unfortunately, this critical part of the home-buying process is often overlooked by many buyers, leaving them stuck choosing an expensive policy at the last minute. To avoid this situation, shop for homeowner's insurance early to allow yourself ample time to find the best coverage at the most affordable rates.

• Invest in home and pest inspections. A home inspection can determine the quality and condition of the house you are seeking to purchase and can reveal potential problems such as a weakened roof, poor structural integrity or antiquated plumbing. While the typical cost is between $300 and $600, the value or benefit to you is usually far greater. A pest inspection can determine if there are any unwanted guests (e.g., termites, rats, roaches) in the home before you buy. These inspections range from $50 to $150, but the benefits far outweigh what could be a costly proposition to eliminate on your own.

• Know your closing costs. Closing costs include fees for the appraisal, lender, title and recording. These costs can be confusing and can really add up. In order to protect consumers from excessive fees, lenders are required to provide a good-faith estimate and a closing statement that spells out the costs associated with purchasing a home. Request that your lender provide these documents in advance of closing day so you'll know what additional payments may be expected of you.

To learn more about low down-payment mortgages, visit www.SmarterMI.com.

 

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Tips To Help Homebuyers Look Good To A Lender For Mortgage Loan Approval

(NAPSI)—Even with interest rates low, many buyers are sitting on the fence, unsure whether now is the right time to buy a home and if they would even qualify for a loan. There's no magic to get you the loan you want but there are a few things you can do to help get yourself on the right path. Wells Fargo, the nation's leading home mortgage lender, offers some helpful tips to make you look your best in the eyes of a lender:

1. Check your credit—Know where your credit stands before you apply for a loan. A borrower's credit history can affect the amount required for a down payment, the interest rate or the amount of money that can be borrowed in relation to his or her income. A credit score of 720 or above is not only going to help you look better to a lender for loan approval, it may also help you get a better interest rate. Once per year, you are able to obtain a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com. In addition to viewing your report, you may also want to consider getting your credit score. There may be a small fee to get your credit score.

2. Decrease your debt—An important factor that lenders look at when qualifying borrowers is their debt-to-income ratio. This is the relationship between your income and expenses, amount of debt a person carries compared to how much income he or she makes. The smaller your debt-to-income ratio is, the more attractive you are as a borrower. While debt-to-income requirements vary by mortgage programs, a good rule of thumb is to keep your total debt level at or below 36 percent of your gross monthly income.

3. Save for a down payment—In the current mortgage environment, most borrowers need to have a down payment. Having 20 percent down is not a must, but it will help get the best interest rate available and help you avoid private mortgage insurance. If you need help coming up with a down payment, try to find a down payment assistance program that might be able to assist you.

4. Show proof of all income—Can you repay the loan? That's what lenders want to know when they consider your application. You must be able to verify a stable source of income. Lenders will review your employment history and will require current W-2s or tax returns if you are self-employed. If you have any other income, you should bring proof of that to share with the lender.

5. Have some money in the bank—In addition to being able to show that you can make your monthly mortgage payments and keep up with other responsibilities, lenders want to know that you have cash reserves. Some call this cushion a "rainy day fund" to handle those unexpected expenses that come with homeownership, such as certain repairs. If you're interested in understanding and working to improve your credit standing, you can visit the Wells Fargo Smarter Credit Center found at www.wellsfargo.com/smarter_credit. The site has advice on establishing, improving and protecting credit, as well as tips on paying down debt.

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