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Welcome to MoneyWise Matters

MoneyWise Matters is a weekly blog published each Wednesday by the Office of the Indiana Secretary of State. Here we discuss money related topics including; debt reduction, budgeting, saving strategies, scam alerts, investment fraud prevention and investor insights. You don’t want to miss out on this helpful information, hit subscribe for email updates (above) so you’ll be notified when we publish a new post.

Please note that the statements made in the posts are solely the opinions of the writer and do not represent the opinion and/or position of the Indiana Securities Division. The Division assumes no responsibility for the content presented by the authors.  


Saving Money & Staying Sane While Staying at Home

Saving Money & Staying Sane While Staying at Home

 

By Kelly Griese

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

We’re all spending a lot more time at home these days. Like many of you, I’m working from my couch. My neighbor’s children are finishing out the school semester via e-learning. Even folks in essential industries, like healthcare, law enforcement, and food services have to find something to do with their free time once they return home from a work shift. So I thought this would be a good time to share some FREE resources that can help you stay sane while following stay-at-home orders. 

This list is by no means complete, but it’s a starting point. If you have additional ideas, we’d love for you to share them with us! You can email me your ideas at kgriese@sos.in.gov, or you can share them via Facebook and Twitter

One important note. We can’t guarantee the safety of any of the computer programs listed below. There have been numerous reports in recent weeks about various programs putting user data at risk. It’s important for you to do your research, read those terms and conditions, and create strong, unique passwords. 


Binge Together

Netflix Party allows you and your friends to binge all your Netflix favorites together, without actually being in the same room. Netflix Party is a Chrome browser extension. It only works on laptops and desktops, not tablets or phones. Here’s how it works. Netflix Party synchronizes video playback and adds group chat to your favorite Netflix programs. 

Visit Zoos, Aquariums, and Museums 

Many of our favorite places to visit are closed to the public right now, but that’s not stopping them from providing you with entertainment from a distance. A quick check of your social media feeds will reveal all sorts of videos and live chats being produced by zoos, aquariums, and museums. Here are some examples. The Indianapolis Zoo has been posting behind the scenes videos showing how their keepers take care of the animals. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has ten different live cameras that let you pretend you’re swimming in the ocean. Museums like the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles offer virtual tours of their art collections. And our own Indiana Statehouse has virtual tours available

Learn Something

Even some scientists have had to press pause on their research, but they’re using their free time to educate others. I’m a huge fan of sharks and the ocean, so my favorite finds so far include Instagram live stories by behavioral ecologist Dr. Tristan Guttridge, webinars by oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, and kid-friendly “Shark Talks” with a variety of experts who work with the National Marine Educators Association. If sharks aren’t your thing, that’s okay. Pick your own passion and start Googling. I’m sure you’ll find something fascinating to learn about while you’re stuck at home. You can even try LinkedIn Learning. LinkedIn has 16 of their courses available for free right now, including courses on productivity, building relationships, and using virtual meeting tools. This could be a great time for you to build your resume by learning some new skills. 

Consult a Tutor

Are you struggling to help your child with their e-learning homework? Don’t sweat it. Help is available. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology’s AskRose Homework Help is a free math and science tutoring service for Indiana students in grades 6-12. Students can call 877-ASK-ROSE, email, or chat live with a friendly tutor to work through and better understand homework assignments. 

Play Games

There are a slew of apps, programs, and websites that make it possible to play games together. Experienced gamers may prefer MMORPGs (otherwise known as “massively multiplayer online role-playing games”) like Elder Scrolls, World of Warcraft, and Final Fantasy. But if you’re new to the idea of playing games online with other people and want to stick with people you know IRL (“in real life”), why not try the AirConsole app or Board Game Arena? AirConsole enables you to use your smartphone as a gamepad and your computer browser as a console to play more than 150 games with friends. Board Game Arena has 175 games to play, including classics and some exclusives to the website. You play the games through your computer browser after creating a login. 

Get Outside 

Of course, the stay-at-home order doesn’t mean you have to stay locked inside your house or apartment. You can still enjoy the great outdoors! Now is the perfect time to explore nature, even in your own backyard. Why not make some bird feeders, or turn your produce scraps into new plants? The Audubon Society has four DIY bird feeders that the kids can help make. Buzzfeed has a list of 16 food scraps that you can use to start your own vegetable garden

Get Creative

Social distancing scavenger hunts are growing in popularity. This is a great activity for children, and you can choose new themes every week. Just make some art to put in your windows, and then go for a neighborhood walk with a piece of paper and pencil. Make notes of all the window art you find. And here’s another way to get creative outside… make some sidewalk chalk art! You can leave inspirational messages or even create sidewalk “coloring books” by drawing outlines only and letting someone else fill in the drawings with the colors of their choice. 

Get Fit

Gyms are among the many businesses closed right now, but you can still exercise. In addition to walking and running outside, there are numerous ways to get fit inside your own living room. The Yoga Studio of Indianapolis is offering free streaming sessions via Instagram Live. The YMCA of Greater Indianapolis posts workout videos on their Facebook page. And if you were working out with a trainer at your gym, why not email or text them to see if they’re offering virtual training sessions? 

75 More Ideas

Finally, if we haven’t given you enough ways to keep yourself and the kids entertained during the stay-at-home order, our good friend Cherie Lowe – AKA, The Queen of Free – has more than 75 amazing tips, and they're all FREE!
 

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Saving Money & Staying Sane While Staying at Home

Saving Money & Staying Sane While Staying at Home

 

By Kelly Griese

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

We’re all spending a lot more time at home these days. Like many of you, I’m working from my couch. My neighbor’s children are finishing out the school semester via e-learning. Even folks in essential industries, like healthcare, law enforcement, and food services have to find something to do with their free time once they return home from a work shift. So I thought this would be a good time to share some FREE resources that can help you stay sane while following stay-at-home orders. 

This list is by no means complete, but it’s a starting point. If you have additional ideas, we’d love for you to share them with us! You can email me your ideas at kgriese@sos.in.gov, or you can share them via Facebook and Twitter

One important note. We can’t guarantee the safety of any of the computer programs listed below. There have been numerous reports in recent weeks about various programs putting user data at risk. It’s important for you to do your research, read those terms and conditions, and create strong, unique passwords. 


Binge Together

Netflix Party allows you and your friends to binge all your Netflix favorites together, without actually being in the same room. Netflix Party is a Chrome browser extension. It only works on laptops and desktops, not tablets or phones. Here’s how it works. Netflix Party synchronizes video playback and adds group chat to your favorite Netflix programs. 

Visit Zoos, Aquariums, and Museums 

Many of our favorite places to visit are closed to the public right now, but that’s not stopping them from providing you with entertainment from a distance. A quick check of your social media feeds will reveal all sorts of videos and live chats being produced by zoos, aquariums, and museums. Here are some examples. The Indianapolis Zoo has been posting behind the scenes videos showing how their keepers take care of the animals. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has ten different live cameras that let you pretend you’re swimming in the ocean. Museums like the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles offer virtual tours of their art collections. And our own Indiana Statehouse has virtual tours available

Learn Something

Even some scientists have had to press pause on their research, but they’re using their free time to educate others. I’m a huge fan of sharks and the ocean, so my favorite finds so far include Instagram live stories by behavioral ecologist Dr. Tristan Guttridge, webinars by oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, and kid-friendly “Shark Talks” with a variety of experts who work with the National Marine Educators Association. If sharks aren’t your thing, that’s okay. Pick your own passion and start Googling. I’m sure you’ll find something fascinating to learn about while you’re stuck at home. You can even try LinkedIn Learning. LinkedIn has 16 of their courses available for free right now, including courses on productivity, building relationships, and using virtual meeting tools. This could be a great time for you to build your resume by learning some new skills. 

Consult a Tutor

Are you struggling to help your child with their e-learning homework? Don’t sweat it. Help is available. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology’s AskRose Homework Help is a free math and science tutoring service for Indiana students in grades 6-12. Students can call 877-ASK-ROSE, email, or chat live with a friendly tutor to work through and better understand homework assignments. 

Play Games

There are a slew of apps, programs, and websites that make it possible to play games together. Experienced gamers may prefer MMORPGs (otherwise known as “massively multiplayer online role-playing games”) like Elder Scrolls, World of Warcraft, and Final Fantasy. But if you’re new to the idea of playing games online with other people and want to stick with people you know IRL (“in real life”), why not try the AirConsole app or Board Game Arena? AirConsole enables you to use your smartphone as a gamepad and your computer browser as a console to play more than 150 games with friends. Board Game Arena has 175 games to play, including classics and some exclusives to the website. You play the games through your computer browser after creating a login. 

Get Outside 

Of course, the stay-at-home order doesn’t mean you have to stay locked inside your house or apartment. You can still enjoy the great outdoors! Now is the perfect time to explore nature, even in your own backyard. Why not make some bird feeders, or turn your produce scraps into new plants? The Audubon Society has four DIY bird feeders that the kids can help make. Buzzfeed has a list of 16 food scraps that you can use to start your own vegetable garden

Get Creative

Social distancing scavenger hunts are growing in popularity. This is a great activity for children, and you can choose new themes every week. Just make some art to put in your windows, and then go for a neighborhood walk with a piece of paper and pencil. Make notes of all the window art you find. And here’s another way to get creative outside… make some sidewalk chalk art! You can leave inspirational messages or even create sidewalk “coloring books” by drawing outlines only and letting someone else fill in the drawings with the colors of their choice. 

Get Fit

Gyms are among the many businesses closed right now, but you can still exercise. In addition to walking and running outside, there are numerous ways to get fit inside your own living room. The Yoga Studio of Indianapolis is offering free streaming sessions via Instagram Live. The YMCA of Greater Indianapolis posts workout videos on their Facebook page. And if you were working out with a trainer at your gym, why not email or text them to see if they’re offering virtual training sessions? 

75 More Ideas

Finally, if we haven’t given you enough ways to keep yourself and the kids entertained during the stay-at-home order, our good friend Cherie Lowe – AKA, The Queen of Free – has more than 75 amazing tips, and they're all FREE!
 

Supporting Girl Scouts During Social Distancing

Supporting Girl Scouts During Social Distancing

 

By Kylee Hale

Thursday, April 2, 2020

You may be aware of the Secretary of State’s financial literacy program, Indiana MoneyWise. Our program partners with the Girl Scouts of Central Indiana on many programs throughout the year such as Circle the City, Girl Scout Day at the Statehouse and multiple badge earning programs. With the coronavirus pandemic making it impossible for troops to get together and earn badges with in-person activities, we’re excited to offer online learning and activities to keep girls earning those badges.

Brownie Celebrating Community Badge

This eLearning module is full of exciting fun about why communities are special and how celebrations are a big part of showing love for ones community. 

Time to complete: 20 minutes

Supplies needed: paper, markers or crayons, and your imagination! 

 

 

 

 

Brownie Money Manager Badge

This eLearning module is about wants and needs. After earning this badge girls will be savvy at managing all their cookie money income. 

Time to complete: 20 minutes

Supplies needed: paper, a pen or pencil and a calculator

For more badges and Girl Scout Resources visit girlscoutsIndiana.org

Con Artists in the Age of COVID-19

Con Artists in the Age of COVID-19

 

By Kelly Griese

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The coronavirus, or COVID-19, is all anyone can talk about. Terms like social distancing, pandemic, and hand sanitizer have been added to our daily vocabulary. We’re discussing toilet paper and hand washing more than ever before. And many of us are finally getting caught-up on binge-worthy series we’ve been meaning to watch for ages. It’s weird. It’s stressful. I understand. But while our guard is up regarding germs, we’re probably a little less guarded when it comes to scams. 

Emergency situations often cause us to react without much thought. Our brains don’t always work the way we want them to when we’re scared, and con artists know it. They exploit our fear for their gain. Sometimes they build scams around natural disasters, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and even volcanoes. Sometimes the scams are tied to health emergencies, such as COVID-19, Ebola, and swine flu. Whatever the source of our fear, con artists are exceptionally good at creating a scam to go with it. 

Right now, many of us are split between worrying about our health and worrying about our finances. I’m going to focus on scams related to our finances. 


Investment Fraud 

With the current volatility in the market (Kylee wrote about it last week), I want to urge you to be especially cautious when contacted by anyone regarding your investments. If you are contacted, do not give out personal information. Instead, call your investment professional on a number you know to be trustworthy and ask if the contact is legitimate. Some calls could be real, but others could be from people trying to take advantage of this economic turmoil. If you believe you’ve been contacted by someone engaging in investment fraud or fraudulent activities, you can report it to the Indiana Securities Division


Checks from the Government 

By now, you’ve probably heard that the federal government is working on an economic stimulus package that would provide many Americans with money. We don’t yet know how much money or how it will be distributed. But what we do know is that scammers will no doubt try to take advantage of the situation. The Federal Trade Commission shares these tips for protecting yourself: 

  • The government will not ask you to pay anything up front to get this money. No fees. No charges. 
  • The government will not call you to ask for your bank account, credit card, or Social Security numbers. Anyone who does this is a scammer.
  • These reports of checks are not yet a reality. Anyone who tells you they can get you the money now is a scammer. 

Just remember, no matter what this payment winds up being, only scammers will ask you to pay to get it. If you spot one of these scams, report it to the Federal Trade Commission. It’s also a great idea to sign up for the FTC’s consumer alerts


Charity Scams 

In times of crisis, some of us become more charitable. We see others suffering, and we want to help. It’s a wonderful instinct to have, but you need to take caution. Scammers are eager to exploit your generosity. They will use names that sound a lot like the names of real charities and create convincing websites to lure you in. Money lost to bogus charities means less money for those who need it most, so it’s important that you do your research before donating. Here are some tips from the Federal Trade Commission: 

  • When you consider giving to a specific charity, search its name plus “complaint,” “review,” “rating,” or “scam.”
  • Use these organizations to help you research charities. 
  • If someone wants donations in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money, DON’T DO IT! That’s how scammers ask you to pay. 
  • Keep a record of your donations and review your financial statements carefully to make sure you’re only charged for the amount you agreed to donate – and that you’re not signed up to make a recurring donation if that was not your intent. 

In Indiana, charity scams should be reported to the Indiana Attorney General. If you need to make a report in another state, the National Association of State Charity Officials has a great list of all the state charity regulators. 


How Scammers Think

One of the best ways to protect yourself against scammers is to learn how they think. There are far too many scams out there for me to discuss them all, but once you learn the basics, you’ll be able to spot new scams. So here are some things to keep in mind: 

  • Scammers are in a hurry. Time is money, and in order to maximize their returns, scammers need to communicate with as many people as possible as quickly as possible. They will try to rush you into giving them money and/or personal information. Not only does this keep you from taking the time to discover they’re lying, but it helps them move on to their next victim. 
  • Your caller ID could be lying to you. Scammers utilize something called “spoofing” to make it appear as if you’re receiving a call from your normal area code (like 317, 812, and 765). Or they may even put names on the caller ID (like Social Security and IRS). There’s really no way of knowing where the call originates, so never do business over the phone if you can’t verify the caller’s identity. 
  • Scams are often lacking important details. The scammers may make vague, sentimental, or sensational claims but give no specifics. Crucial paperwork is typically missing. 
  • They make unrealistic promises. If anything sounds too good to be true, it is. With investing in particular, beware of anyone who offers guaranteed returns or claims to know about a no-risk investment. Remember that risk and reward go up and down together. There’s no such thing as a high return/low risk investment. 
  • Beware of gifts and incentives. Scammers could say you’re going to win a lot of money or some big prize, such as a vacation or a car. Or they might simply offer some swag or a free trial to open the doors to communication. Legitimate businesses and organizations use these tactics too, so it can be challenging to figure out who to trust. 
  • Scammers make threats. This goes back to using fear as a manipulation tactic. Scammers may talk about arresting you or mention a warrant. They could claim someone you care about is in danger or in need. 

If you notice any of these red flags, contact the proper authorities immediately. If you’re not sure who that is, contact me at kgriese@sos.in.gov. I’ll connect you with the correct agency. 

What is Market Correction?

What is Market Correction?

 

By Kylee Hale

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Market Correction1

With investments, it can be said that a stock index enters “correction” territory when it falls by more than ten percent, and this alarming drop can put many investors on edge. A lot has happened recently in large part due to coronavirus concerns resulting in canceled meetings and reservations, supply chain disruption, an oil price war and on top of that we’re in a presidential election year. As an investor or onlooker, you may be wondering what this really means and what to expect next. So let’s look at some of the common questions. 

Is it the beginning of a bear market? 

Let’s go back and define market correction, there is no universal definition but most consider a correction has occurred when a major index such as the S&P 500 index or Dow Jones Industrial Average, declines from its most recent peak by 10% but still less than 20%. Historically the drop returns or “corrects” prices to their longer-term trend as this is referred to as the “correction”. It’s not really possible to predict whether a correction will reverse or turn into a bear market, meaning that the market falls by 20% or more. As of last week Dow Jones, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq all entered a bear market. Since November 1974 there have been twenty-two market corrections, four (five if you include the current) of which became bear markets. 

What if this is the start of a declining market?

It’s easy to forget that the market cannot and should not go up indefinitely. After a long run of a bull market, shares of stock are selling at a premium, a correction would be better seen not as a sign of doom but yet as a sign of opportunity. While bear markets can be scary, they are part of long term investing and they don’t last forever. The average bear market has lasted 17 months which is far shorter than the average bull market and they can end as abruptly as they begin. 

How to survive the market dip? 

We don’t know how the coronavirus will play out – nor does anyone, really. While we navigate our way to progress the markets will remain bumpy. This uncertainty is uncomfortable and driving volatility in the markets. We are experiencing an economic slowdown as we’re all affected by the social distancing. What we don’t know is how long it’s going to last, but we can be almost certain to expect growth to rebound, even if it doesn’t happen this year. 

In China, where the outbreak originated, a decline in new cases of the coronavirus is already happening, showing that travel bans and canceling public gatherings is working to stop the spread. Economically, as a country we are in better shape than the 2008 bear market, because our large banks aren’t as highly leveraged, meaning they’re better equipped to handle this now than they were back then. Worrying about the spread of the virus and the bear market is counterproductive, but being prepared is a good approach. 

Is there anything I can do?

Have a plan. A written financial plan can help you weather the storm and calm your nerves. Think of your short and long term goals and stay the course as the market gets bumpy. Consider your risk, it’s easier to take risks when the market is rising, however, market downturns can provide a time to consider adjusting your asset allocation. Remember you can’t lose any more than the money you put into your investments and regular rebalancing will help keep your portfolio on target. If you are tempted to sell and buy again later, CNBC has demonstrated if you had invested in the market from 1999 to 2018 and not touched it, your money would have doubled. But if you had jumped in and jumped out of the market and perhaps missed out on the ten best performing days in the timeframe, your returns would be cut in half. Lastly, it is important to consider your life stage or age. As young investors have time to recover, those nearing retirement would favor diversification and a more conservative approach. It might be a good idea to avoid selling assets and postpone planned withdrawals for large expenses. It's important to remember that a loss is not official until funds are withdrawn and it's recorded on paper.

Social Security Impostor Scams

Social Security Impostor Scams

 

By Kelly Griese

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

I had planned to write about something else this week. Then I received SIX calls in one day, from six different phone numbers, and they all left the exact same voicemail. I knew I had to share this information with all of you. Here’s the transcription of the voicemail.  

We are trying to reach you to let you know that your Social Security number is been used for some kind of fraudulent activities in the south border of Texas. So please in order go ahead get more information. To speak with officer, press one. I repeat, press one. Thank you and have a great day.

The voice was computerized. The message was vague. The purpose was clear. This is an impostor scam designed to scare people into providing personally identifiable information to fraudsters. Ironically, I received these SIX voicemails just three days before a massive public awareness campaign launched by the REAL Social Security Administration called “Slam the Scam Day.” 

The Federal Trade Commission says Americans reported losing nearly $153 million to government impostor schemes in 2019. Of that, more than $37 million was lost to Social Security scams. It’s no wonder the Social Security Administration (SSA) is working hard to educate Americans about this scam. The agency regularly posts about it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. They have created public service announcement videos for YouTube. They write about the scam in the Social Security Matters blog. And they’ve even asked our office to help get the word out. They’d love for all of you to help spread the news as well. I’m hoping this blog post will provide you with the key points you need to know. I’m also hoping you’ll share the information with your friends, family, and coworkers. 

SSA may call you in some situations, but stress that they will NEVER:

  • Threaten you
  • Suspend your Social Security number
  • Demand an immediate payment from you
  • Require payment by cash, gift card, pre-paid debit card, or wire transfer
  • Ask for gift card numbers over the phone or to wire or mail cash

SSA advises that if you receive a suspicious call, HANG UP! Do not give the caller money or personal information. Finally, report the scam to the Office of the Inspector General. You can do so via their website or by calling their hotline: 1-800-269-0271. 

Here are some red flags that you’re talking with a scammer: 

  • The caller says there’s a problem with your Social Security number or account. (That’s what the robocaller claimed in the voicemail I received). 
  • Any call asking you to pay a fine or debt with retail gift cards, wire transfers, pre-paid debit cards, internet currency, or by mailing cash. 
  • Scammers pretend they are from Social Security or another government agency. Caller ID or documents sent by email may look official, but they are not. (Learn more about caller ID “spoofing” by checking out the Federal Communications Commission’s webpage on the subject.) 
  • Callers threaten you with arrest or other legal action. 

Again, the Social Security Administration wants to spread the word. Tell the people in your life about this scam. Share this blog post. Share links to SSA’s content on the subject. And get used to listening to and DELETING a lot of annoying voicemails. 
 

Compound Interest Benefits the Lender, Not the Spender.

Compound Interest Benefits the Lender, Not the Spender.

 

By Kylee Hale

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

In my last post, I explained how remarkable compound interest is and how its positive effects can really boost your savings. However, compound interest also applies to most of your debt like student loans, mortgages and unpaid credit card balances. For those who pay compound interest on loans, it can dig a deep hole that may be difficult to escape. Here's a few examples of how compound interest can dig financial holes:

Compound Interest on School Loan

Brandon took out student loans to fund his education, finishing school with $50,000 in student loans at a 7% annual interest rate. Brandon was not able to find a job in his field with a competitive salary, so he entered an income-based repayment program to make ends meet, paying $200 per month. While the repayment program freed up money to help him pay his monthly bills, the payments were not enough to cover the interest on his student loans, much less the principal. After ten years, Brandon’s loan balance grew from $50,000 to $65,866, despite making payments every month. Time and compound interest caused his loan balance to grow. To the right is an example of Brandon’s $50,000 loan with compounding interest creating more debt just over one year.

Brandon’s sister Amanda wanted to go on vacation, but had not saved enough money. Instead of scaling back her plans, she booked a trip to Tahiti on her credit card. Unfortunately, Amanda was unable to pay off her credit card balance, and the interest charges began to compound. Amanda went from owing $10,000 to owing more than $10,786 one year later, even though she paid $150 per month. The credit card’s high 25% interest rate meant that Amanda’s $150 payments didn’t even cover the interest on her debt each month.  

 

What can I do to avoid the pitfalls of compound interest?

  1. Be discerning about debt. Don’t take on unnecessary debt like Amanda did. Make sure you only take on debt that you can afford to pay back, at an interest rate that won’t hinder your ability to save for your future.  
  2. Pay down high-interest debts. If you already have high-interest debt, refinancing to a lower rate could be a solution for you, but might not make sense for everyone. Do your best to pay off high-interest debts before the compound interest takes its toll on your finances.

Compound interest should be used to your advantage, and to invest for your future.  Be cautious in taking on debt and understand how compound interest can derail your finances.

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