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Financial Fitness Blog

Facing the top FIVE most frightening financial fears this Halloween

(Retirement, Money Management) Permanent link

Brenda EcheverriaLet’s face it, we all have fears when it comes to finances.Maybe your heart skips a beat when bills and bank statements arrive. Perhaps you fear your identity will be stolen or you will lose your job.  Or it’s facing the looming questions: Have I saved enough? How do I create a budget and make it work? Here are several common fears and how to face them this Halloween:

  1. I fear I may never get out of debt.
    How to face your fear: The scariest part is identifying exactly how much debt you have and why. Once you’ve assessed your debt, devise a plan to pay off the smallest debt first. If you need some help, contact our financial planner. We’ll help you come up with a plan to get you back on track.

  2. I fear bills and bank statements.
    How to face your fear: Bills and bank statements are unavoidable. But, don’t live in denial, if you’ve gotten to the point of fearing bills and bank statements, you’re probably overspending. Cut back, don’t spend more than you make. Then, build a budget and stick to it. We have tools and calculators to help you.

  3. I fear my identity will be stolen.
    How to face your fear: Be diligent. Monitor your credit reports,bank statements, and transactions. Sign up to receive text or email alerts from your bank or credit union if your financial institution offers this service. Our Identity Theft Infographic has some great tips.  

  4. I fear I haven’t saved enough for my future
    How to face your fear: It’s never too late to start. Contribute more. Pay yourself first, and stick to your budget.

  5. I fear I will lose my job someday
    How to face your fear: Prepare in advance. Establish an emergency fund, and stash away at least six months of living expenses.
Remember,facing your financial fears doesn’t have to be scary. The key is to identify the cause of your fears, and face them by taking action, making a plan, and being realistic about your situation. 

Brenda Echeverria, Financial Planner

Got student loans?

(Money Management) Permanent link

Brenda EcheverriaDo you (or a family member) have student loans? If you took out loans after October 1, 1998, have been teaching full-time in a low-income elementary or secondary school for five consecutive years, or are working in public service or in the military, you may qualify for some student loan forgiveness programs.

It’s surprising how many people are not aware of these programs and how many borrowers could actually benefit from them—the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimates that one-fourth of the American workforce may be eligible for repayment or loan forgiveness programs.

Here a few stats of interest:

  • 40 million student loan borrowers (including 753,000 Wisconsinites) have outstanding student loans today.
  • More than $1.2 trillion outstanding student loan debt exists nationwide.
  • Two-thirds of U.S. college students carry a debt load averaging $25,250.
  • About 14% or 5.4 million borrowers have at least one past due student loan account.
  • It now takes an average student loan debtor twenty-one years to pay off his or her college loans.
  • Tuition for students at public universities has more than doubled since 1987.
  • Rates of home ownership are 36% lower among people still carrying student debt.

If you'd like to learn more about some potential routes to student loan forgiveness, read our "Got student loans? Seek forgiveness" article.

Brenda Echeverria, Financial Planner

This blog post is for informational purposes only and not intended to be legal or tax advice. Consult your tax advisor or attorney before taking any action.

Announcing the 2014 NIFEL scholarship winners

(Money Management) Permanent link

WEA Member Benefits Awards Four Scholarships to Wisconsin Teachers to Further Financial Literacy in Schools

Madison, Wis…WEA Member Benefits—a Madison-based provider of personal insurance and retirement and investment services exclusive to Wisconsin public school employees and their families—awarded four scholarships to Wisconsin educators to attend the National Institute of Financial and Economic Literacy’s (NIFEL) annual Summer Institute on financial education. This year’s conference was held June 23-July 30 at Edgewood College in Madison.

The goal of the conference is designed to provide educators with new and innovative ways to teach future generations about basic financial concepts and money management skills such as understanding paychecks, saving and investing, purchasing insurance, and understanding how credit works.

“As an organization, financial literacy is fundamental to what we do, which is why we are pleased to offer scholarships to Wisconsin public school employees attending a NIFEL course,” states David Kijek, president and CEO of WEA Member Benefits.“This program allows educators to increase their instructional effectiveness when teaching these life-long skills to students.”

The four scholarship recipients are:

Mary Dahler, Business and Marketing teacher at Middleton High School, Middleton, Wis.

Holly Kanvik, Family and Consumer Science teacher at Sennett Middle School, Madison, Wis.

Lexa Speth, Social Studies teacher at New Glarus Middle School, New Glarus, Wis.

Michael Goecks, Social Studies and Economics teacher at Brodhead High School, Brodhead, Wis.

WEA Member Benefits has been offering 403(b) and RA retirement savings plans, financial planning services, and personal insurance programs—including auto, home, additional liability, and long-term care insurance—to Wisconsin educators and their families for over 40 years. Our403(b) program has been nationally recognized asa soundly managed, low-cost retirement savings option for Wisconsin public school employees. We operate as a trust which reinvests any profits back into programs that benefit participants. In addition to their products and services, Member Benefits is also a leading provider of financial education for public school employees around the state. WEA Member Benefits was the recipient of an Excellence in Financial Literacy Education (EIFLE) Award in 2012 for our financial literacy game Don’t Be Jack™ and awarded WEAC’s Friend of Education award in 2014.

Nominate a financial mentor - Deadline is September 5

(Money Management) Permanent link

Do you know someone that takes the time to give financial encouragement, advice, and guidance to their colleagues? Nominate your financial mentor and give him or her some well-deserved recognition.

Last year, 10 public school employees were nominated for and received Member Benefits' Financial Mentor Award. These individuals share knowledge and information with others about how one can do good as an education professional and also do well financially.

At WEA Member Benefits, our mission is to enhance the financial security of our members. This fall we will recognize individuals who have given their time and talents to mentor others on the benefits of good financial planning and saving for retirement.

Nominations for the 2014 Financial Mentor Awards will be accepted through September 5, 2014. It takes just a few moments to fill out the nomination form at Award winners will be announced on October 20. They will also be mentioned in a short article in your$ magazine and will receive a certificate of recognition.

Improve your fiscal fitness this summer!

(Money Management) Permanent link

N'Kenza WhitlowDon’t forget to register for one of our FREE Let’s Get Fi$cal! Financial Fitness Fairs taking place throughout Wisconsin from June 18 through August 13.

Attend sessions or visit with experts about employee benefits, retirement savings, and personal insurance and other finance related topics. (You’ll be able to see the available choices in the registration form.) Plus, attendees will be entered in a drawing to win a Kindle Fire and attendees who pre-register online will also have a chance to win a $50 gift card.

An open house format will allow you to pick and choose which sessions to attend based on your personal needs. Available sessions include:

  • Understanding Long-Term Care Insurance
  • Insurance 101
  • Get on Track to Financial Security
  • Investment Basics: Get Growing
  • Understanding WRS 101

Register online today and strengthen your financial health!

>>More information

>>Seminar calendar and registration

N’Kenza Whitlow, Retirement Savings Consultant

Seminars are free to attend; however, if you choose to invest in the WEA Tax Sheltered Annuity or WEAC IRA program, fees will apply. Consider all expenses before investing. Long-term care (LTC) insurance products are underwritten by multiple LTC insurers.

More signs you may be living beyond your means

(Money Management) Permanent link

Laura KampsLast week we shared five signs you may be living beyond your means. Here’s a few more scenarios to look for that may mean it’s time to take a good look at your spending habits.

  1. I have paid late fees more than once in the last year.
  2. I spend more than 28% of gross income on housing. Some lenders may allow their customers to borrow as much as 35% of their income, but historically, 28% has been the rate at which the average person can make their payments and still enjoy a reasonable standard of living.
  3. I have bad credit or have been denied credit. A low credit score signals to lenders that you’re in over your head. Even if you’re approved for new lines of credit or a home mortgage, your future interest rates will be much higher. A poor credit score can also affect your insurance rates.
  4. I have used my savings to pay off debt.
  5. I pay my bills with credit cards. If you’re using credit cards to pay off basic bills like utilities, groceries, or worse, other credit cards, take action right away. You may need to reevaluate your spending habits, get an additional job, and/or seek help from a trusted advisor to make a plan. For credit counseling services, visit the National Foundation for Credit Counseling ( to find a member agency.

By taking control of your spending you can enjoy peace of mind and financial happiness. What steps have you taken to make sure that you live within your means?

Laura Kamps, RIS Specialist

Five signs you may be living beyond your means

(Money Management) Permanent link

Brenda EcheverriaIf you find you’re coming up short financially every month, you may be living beyond your means. Recognizing some of the signs is a first step toward getting your cash under control. Here's a few to look for.

  1. I don’t have enough savings to cover six months of expenses.Setting aside at least six months worth of income is ideal, but even three months worth is reasonable. Don’t be caught short for the unexpected like a home or car repair, unemployment, or major medical expense.
  2. I paid an overdraft fee in the last 12 months.
  3. I take vacations on credit. Paying for vacation on credit could make it more expensive than it’s worth. If you want to charge your trip for purchase protection reasons, save enough first so that you can pay off the balance before you’re charged any interest.
  4. I have exceeded my credit limit on one or more credit cards.
  5. I only make minimum payments on my credit cards. Credit card debt is expensive. It is not tax deductible nor does it finance a potentially growing asset (like a house). Instead, it’s like sending money down a drain never to be seen again. Pay as much as you can beyond the minimum and avoid adding more to the account(s). 

Living within your means may feel a bit restrictive but it’s wise. It may require you to make lifestyle adjustments, but the changes also free you from the burden brought on by financial woes. We'll share five more signs to look for next week.

Brenda Echeverria, Financial Planner