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Friday Facts: Government Information You Can Use

This Week's Facts:

-State Agency Spotlight: Dept. of Local Government & Finance

-Blog Offers New Year's Financial Tips & Strategies

-HUD Network Provides Foreclosure Prevention Counseling

-Hone Money Management Skills with Money Matters from the FTC

Program Offers Finance Training via Multiple Platforms

In 2001, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) launched the Money Smart program. This is an educational program designed to educate students and individuals “outside the financial mainstream” learn to better manage their money. This program is extremely versatile in the way that it targets consumers. There is a self-paced computer-based version available online for anyone over the age of thirteen. It is in both English and Spanish. There is also an MP3 version called the Smart Money Podcast Network – people on the go will appreciate being able to listen to this when they are able to. Finally, the FDIC, along with the Indiana Department of Financial Institutions, encourages banks and other financial institutions to host classes based on these modules. There are ten modules, each lasting about 60 minutes and covering a variety of financial topics. The curriculum is provided to interested parties free of charge, based on the thought that an informed public is a financially healthier public. You can see examples of the curriculum here. This is a great program to get involved in – whether it’s encouraging local banks to teach it, hosting it at your library, or even just making sure patrons are aware of the self-serve options.

Hone Money Management Skills with Money Matters from FTC

Whether it stems from the economy or a simple desire to save more, the start of a new year is a great time to create new money management habits. The Federal Trade Commission has a website that can help you do just that. Money Matters provides information on basic money management, debt, and how to avoid scams. For people for whom budgeting can be a challenge, the website provides good tips on how to create – and stick to – a budget. They also have tips on saving money and even on how to watch what you spend. It is a fact of American life that many people are in debt, whether it’s due to  credit cards, student loans, or a mortgage. Money Matters also has tips on how to deal with this. Not only do they offer basic information about what different situations may be, but they also tell you different ways to deal with your problem. Finally, be sure to check out Scam Watch. In the course of trying to manage your money or get out of debt, you may find yourself the victim of a scam. Unfortunately, many scam artists target the people who are already in trouble. The website has information on the different types of scams, how you can identify them if you get solicited, and what to do if you get taken.

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Friday Facts Editorial Team:

Katharine Springer
State Data Center Coordinator

Elisabeth Hedges
Federal Documents Librarian
&

Kim Brown-Harden
State Documents Coordinator

Indiana Federal Depository Library Program

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We’ve devoted this issue of Friday Facts to finance tips for 2012. In it, you’ll find a spotlight on a state agency dedicated to finance, services for avoiding foreclosure, and many tips for staying financially healthy in the new year. Enjoy

State Agency Spotlight: Dept. of Local Government & Finance

DLGF: Indiana GatewayIntroducing… the State Agency Spotlight. This new addition to Friday Facts recognizes the contributions and efforts of Indiana State Agencies to provide Indiana citizens with access to information.

The Department of Local Government Finance is responsible for ensuring property tax assessment and local government budgeting are carried out in accordance with Indiana law. The Department is charged with publishing property tax assessment rules and annually reviewing and approving the tax rates and levies of every political subdivision in the state, including all counties, cities, towns, townships, school corporations, libraries, and other entities with tax levy authority. The Department is primarily led by the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner.

The Assessment Division provides guidance, technical instruction, and support to taxpayers and local officials across the state. The assessment division promotes consistent assessing procedures throughout the state by providing guidance, technical instruction, and securing compliance with the applicable laws to ensure the fair and equitable assessment of real and personal property for taxpayers and local officials. The division is responsible for the statewide assessment of public utilities; personal property auditing; assisting in equalization studies; developing manuals, rules, and guidelines for use by local officials; and providing training to assessing officials and administering an assessment certification program. The division maintains field representatives throughout the state to better serve local units of government.

The Budget Division works closely with local officials in preparing their annual budgets and to monitor and enforce statutory compliance with Indiana law. The division's staff provides recommendations to the Commissioner on matters related to budgets, rates, levies, exceptions to property tax controls and taxpayer exceptions to tax rate increases. Throughout the year division staff is involved in training and participate in budget hearings and appeals throughout the state. The division maintains field offices throughout the state to better serve local units of government.

The Data Analysis Division conducts on-going research and analysis in all areas of property taxation to ensure the fair and equitable distribution of the property tax burden in Indiana. The division also reviews and audits the parcel-level property tax data files submitted to the Department by county auditors and assessors.

The Department's legal staff draft and publish property tax assessment rules and interpret statutory law to ensure property tax assessments and local government budgeting are carried out in accordance with Indiana law and Department rules and regulations.  

The DLGF’s latest initiative, The Gateway, is an interactive site which enables Indiana citizens to see how their tax dollars are being spent. The site also contains reports for counties, townships, and cities/towns, and other financial information. If you’re interested in finding out your specific taxing entity, that’s also available just by typing in your address.

Blog Offers New Year's Financial Tips and Strategies

USA.gov BlogWith the holiday season behind us, the new year is at the forefront of most people’s minds. Now is a good time to put together a financial plan for the coming year. There are a number of financial tips and strategies that will help you have a financially successful year:

  1. Review Your Finances - Review the financial aspects of your life to see where you can trim and save.

    1. Monthly Bills: Take a look at your monthly bills to see if there are services you don’t want or need. In particular, consider a cheaper cable TV package or a cheaper cell phone plan. If you are currently paying for home telephone service, consider eliminating your landline altogether. Reducing these bills by just a few dollars per month will really add up over the course of a year.

    2. Insurance: Contact your auto insurance provider to see if you qualify for a cheaper auto insurance premium, and review the policy deductibles to see if you are eligible for any savings. If you are currently paying for private mortgage insurance and the balance on your loan is around 80% of your home’s value, contact your lender to see if you can avoid paying private mortgage insurance altogether. In general, look for ways to save on all insurance policies without sacrificing coverage.

    3. Credit Reports: You can request credit reports up to three times per year for free—once from each of the three consumer credit reporting companies. It is very important to review your credit report on a timely basis to make sure it’s accurate and up to date. Check for old credit cards that you have closed that may still be on your report. And of course, check for any negative reports. If they don’t belong there, file a dispute and get them removed. AnnualCreditReport.com is the only authorized site to check your credit report for free.

  2. Find One New Way to Save - There are endless ways to save in your everyday life. However, if you try to implement many of these all at once, you may be setting yourself up for failure. Rather, focus on one new way to save before moving on to the next strategy.

    You can plan to focus on saving home energy costs. Set up a home energy audit through your power company, which is free, and follow their recommendations to reduce energy expenses. Other ways to consider saving money include eating out less, reducing clothing purchases, or saving money on groceries by learning how to extreme coupon.

  3. Commit to Paying Down Your Credit Card Debt - If you are currently carrying credit card debt, now is a great time to commit to paying it down. The best way to start is to follow one simple rule: if you can’t afford to pay for something by the time the bill comes in, don’t buy it. After that, calculate how much money you can save in other aspects of your finances (after reviewing your finances and finding one new way to save) and earmark this money for your credit card bills.

    If you carry debt on a high-interest credit card that you can’t immediately afford to pay down, see if you qualify to transfer that debt to a card with a lower interest rate. Even if you do qualify for a new low- interest credit card you will have to pay a balance transfer fee. Make sure the amount you’ll save in interest payments will make up for this fee. Know your rights with credit card companies and don’t be afraid to shop around for the best options.

  4. Review Your Retirement Portfolio - If you haven’t started saving for retirement, now is the perfect time to start. If you have already started saving, review your portfolio. Analyze where your money is invested and re-balance it between stocks and bonds, if necessary. Or if a particular security or mutual fund you own has consistently underperformed its benchmark, get rid of it and purchase a more solid investment in the same category.

    You may want to consider committing a larger portion of your income to retirement. Additionally, consider opening a Roth IRA to complement your employer’s 401k.

  5. Set Financial Goals - Decide for yourself what you want to accomplish financially next year, write it down, and decide how you are going to reach your goals. The Consumer Action Handbook can help you find more ways to save with tips about understanding credit, preventing identity theft, filing a consumer complaint, and many other financial and consumer protection topics to help you plan for a successful 2012.

Final Thoughts

If you have had a stellar financial year, congratulations! If you made some mistakes, simply set yourself up for success next year by following these tips. With a little planning and forethought, you can positively impact your finances in the coming year.

This a special post written in collaboration with David Bakke, a long-time contributor for Money Crashers, one of the leading personal finance blogs online.

HUD Network Provides Foreclosure Prevention Counseling

US Department of Housing & Urban DevelopmentIn recent years, many people have turned to individual agencies, housing counselors and various lenders to avoid foreclosing on their homes. Unfortunately, many families found themselves paying scammers who took their money and failed to protect them.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Any person at risk of losing his or her home due to foreclosure can receive free counseling from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) nationwide network of approved counseling agencies.

Available Services: HUD’s nationwide network of approved counseling agencies can help families who are trying to avoid foreclosure. Although each agency offers specific services, in general you can receive the following types of help:

  • General counseling in matters related to housing

  • An evaluation of your specific housing situation

  • Counseling on ways to avoid foreclosing on your home

  • Help with refinancing through HUD’s various programs or with lender negotiations

HUD-approved agencies cannot charge for their foreclosure counseling services. However, they can charge a reasonable fee for other services, such as general housing education, pre and post-sale counseling, and other services.

Preparing for Your First Meeting: You don’t need to wait to be in foreclosure to seek counseling. If you think you may run into problems paying your mortgage, it is better to seek foreclosure counseling sooner, rather than later. Having the following financial information ready will make your first meeting with a counseling agency more productive:

  • Household monthly income and expenses

  • Current monthly mortgage payment amount

  • Latest mortgage account statement

  • Any relevant communication with your lender regarding late mortgage payments

It is also a good idea to have a sense of what you want to accomplish with the help of the approved counseling agency – keeping your home, selling it, refinancing, etc.

Working with a Non-Approved Agency: If you choose to work with a non-approved agency, consider taking certain steps to avoid falling victim to scams:

  • Avoid paying for foreclosure counseling services

  • HUD-approved agencies provide these services at no cost

  • Resist any tactics that pressure you into signing documents without enough time to go over them carefully

  • Do not sign over the deed of your house to any other person or organization

  • Make your mortgage payments only to your lender or an institution approved by your lender

These tips were compiled from a series of articles on personal finance for the new year on the USA.gov blog, brought to you as a courtesy of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). For more information, visit USA.gov.

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