6 Common Tax Mistakes To Avoid

Get ready to break out the calculator and pencils; dig out the enormous pile of receipts, tax forms, and pay stubs, and get to work. It’s tax season.6 common tax mistakes to avoid - marion community credit union

Whether you choose to go it alone, use a tax-prep computer program or hand it all over to an accountant, start with checking out our list of common mistakes people make on their tax returns.

1) Faulty math
One of the most common errors on filed taxes is math mistakes. A small miscalculation can throw off all your numbers and get you into trouble with the IRS. However you choose to prepare your taxes, be sure to triple-check the math before filing.

2) Name changes and misspellings
It makes sense that you’re thinking about numbers when filing your taxes, but don’t forget to pay attention to everything else on your form. If you use a name that’s different than the one the IRS has on file for your Social Security number (or even if you spell it wrong), that can mean trouble for you and your taxes. If you’ve recently changed your legal name, be sure to let the Social Security Administration know.

3) Omitting extra income
Many people neglect to include secondary sources of income on their tax forms. This may include freelance work and any other side work they may have done throughout the year. If you’ve taken any side jobs in 2017, fill out a 1099-MISC and file it along with your taxes.

4) Deducting funds donated to charity
Charity laws are complicated. First, only donations given to an organization with a tax-exempt status can be deducted from your taxes. Second, if you’ve donated food items or used clothing, they had to have been in decent shape to be eligible for a write-off. Finally, calculate the value of your non-monetary donations according to what they would be worth if you’d sell them now. Don’t forget to include those charity tax receipts when you file.

5) Using the most recent tax laws
The current administration has made some major changes to the tax code. While most of these changes won’t take effect until you file your first taxes for 2018, there are some changes that are effective for this year, including the following:
  • The standard deduction increased to $6,350 for single, $9,350 for head of household, and $12,700 for married filing jointly.
  • The maximum earned income tax credit increased to $6,318.
  • The maximum income limit for the EITC increased to $53,930.
  • The foreign earned income deduction increased to $102,100.
  • Annual deductible amounts for Health Savings Accounts increased (for individuals only) to $3,400.
6) Signing your forms
If you’re filing through the USPS, be sure to put your signature wherever necessary, and get a mailing receipt. If filing online, you can use a PIN instead. Most places that require a signature will need to be dated as well.

Check your forms for errors before submitting and file with confidence.

Mock Spaghetti on a Bed of Marinara [RECIPE]

This “spaghetti” recipe is delicious as lunch or a light supper and will quickly become a family favorite.
Homemade Cooked Spaghetti Squash Pasta with Marinara Sauce
Homemade Cooked Spaghetti Squash Pasta with Marinara Sauce
  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • ½ tablespoon oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 15 oz can mushrooms
  • 1 15 oz can tomato sauce
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  2. Cut spaghetti squash in half. Wrap each half tightly in aluminum foil and bake until completely softened, about 1 hour. Let cool slightly.
  3. Meanwhile, heat oil in a sauté pan over medium heat.
  4. Add onion and sauté until clear, about 7 minutes.
  5. Add mushrooms and sauté an additional 3 minutes.
  6. Add tomato sauce, garlic, salt, onion powder, pepper and brown sugar. Let sauce simmer until thickened.
  7. Unwrap spaghetti squash and scoop out the seeds. Then, scrape the flesh with a fork directly onto a serving platter or individual places; it will immediately turn spaghetti-like in consistency.
  8. Pour your homemade marinara sauce over the “spaghetti” and serve warm. Toss sauce and spaghetti squash before serving.
  9. For an added dash of delicious, sprinkle shredded mozzarella cheese on top.
Yields: 6 servings

7 New Year’s Resolutions for a Richer 2018

The New Year is a great time of renewal and making resolutions – bold, decisive changes in your life. Leave behind the baggage that was 2017 and start fresh with a blank slate in 2018. If you’re looking for some resolutions to improve your personal finances, we’re pleased to offer seven ways to make 2018 the year of the dollar.resolutions - 2018 - marion community credit union

1) Track your spending
If you’re looking to take your first steps toward financial literacy, figuring out where your money goes should be at the top of your list. If you don’t know where your money goes, it’s going to be tough to follow through with any other money plans. You may have a general sense of how much you spend, but after a month where you’ve recorded every dollar, you’ll have a much better picture. Using apps like Mint or Personal Capital can automate the process. You might even find that keeping track of what you do with your money encourages you to spend a little more carefully.

2) Make a budget
About 70% of Americans live financially spontaneous lives. They don’t make a plan for spending or saving. When asked why they chose not to do so, the most common response was that the family spent all the money anyway. This is a circular problem. If you don’t have a budget that includes setting aside money for long-term expenses and savings, you’ll end up spending all your money on unplanned things and events. The best way to stop the cycle is to sit down and make a budget that modifies your spending to be more in line with your priorities.

3) Get out of debt
Easier said than done, right? However, there’s no bigger stumbling block to financial security and wealth building than debt. It’s hard to save for long-term goals when so much of your monthly income gets eaten up by interest and fees. There are a variety of methods you can use to help accelerate your payoffs. For instance, you can add an extra $50 or $100 to your credit card payments. Or, you can focus all your payment resources on the highest interest debt until it’s paid off and then move it all to the next highest for snowballing your way to freedom from debt.

4) Start an emergency fund
The best way to avoid going into debt is to have some money on hand to handle the occasional, yet inevitable, emergency. Most Americans, though, can’t come up with $500 in such instances. Set a specific goal, like adding $5 per week to a savings account. At the end of the year you’ll have more than $250 available in case something goes wrong.

5) Start a retirement account
You can’t save for what you don’t think about. When retirement is years or decades away, it’s difficult to incorporate thinking about it into your daily routine. If you have a retirement account open, you’ll get monthly statements, which serve as reminders. The challenge, though, is taking that first step. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. While there are important differences between Roth and Traditional accounts, either one is better than no retirement savings at all. If your job offers a 401(k) matching program, sign up to get at least the full matching funds amount – it’s free money. Do a little bit of research, then open the account that seems like the best fit.

6) Automate your savings
Saving money takes willpower. Because it’s hard to practice self-denial on a constant basis, that extra $5 you’ve earmarked for savings can very easily turn into a mid-morning coffee. Fighting that impulse is a constant struggle. That’s why it’s easiest to avoid the decision altogether. Change your direct deposit to put some of your paycheck directly into a savings account, where you won’t even think of spending it impulsively.

7) Get educated
Knowledge is power, and that’s especially true in the world of personal finance. What you know about your money goes a long way toward determining how much of it you get to keep. There’s a lot to learn, but you’ve got a wealth of information at your fingertips. Resolve to read one personal finance article a week. Not only will this give you good ideas for improving your personal financial situation; you’ll also spend more time thinking about your money. That’ll lead to positive results down the line.

The 12 Scams of Christmas

The holidays are a time of family togetherness and celebration…but also scams. Scammers know you’re distracted, busy, and emotional. That’s why their schemes are so devilish. They get their own twist around Christmas time.

angry face - 12 scams of ChristmasTake a few minutes to read this list and protect yourself this season. In the interest of keeping things in the holiday spirit, we’ve named them the 12 scams of Christmas. Don’t get taken in by these or similar schemes. Otherwise, you might be footing the bill for 12 drummers drumming and all the rest!

1) Mobile malice

Be wary of “season-themed” apps that perform frivolous functions, yet demand top-level security access. An app that makes it look like there’s snow on your background image doesn’t need to send or receive texts. Such an app might send premium text messages and leave you holding the bill.

2) E-card danger

Everyone with an email address will send these little flash programs. Scammers have designed some with malicious code. They can install data leaching programs on your computer and do untold damage. Don’t click links in emails unless you know the sender. Even then, if it looks a little out of the ordinary, it probably is. They may have already fallen victim and it would be good to let them know.

man delivering packages - 12 scams of Christmas3) Fake packages

You’ll be receiving unexpected packages this season. Scammers know this and will send realistic-looking delivery failure notifications. They expect you to follow up with them and reveal personal identification information. Head to your local post office or call the parcel delivery service to check with a clerk before you hand over information online.

4) Hotel “Lie”-Fi

The FBI issued a warning to this season’s travelers about a malicious pop-up at hotel chains around the country. This scam requests people install a foreign program before connecting to a hotel Wi-Fi network. This foreign program turns out to be data-stealing malware. Remember, internet connections you don’t own or control can easily be used against you. Before you use the internet at a hotel, ask yourself if it’s worth the risk. If you do need access, be wary of what you’re installing – there shouldn’t be a need to install anything.

5) Festive spam

We’ve all gotten used to filtering out spam in our email. Now prepare yourself for it to take on a more holiday-oriented theme. Messages will suggest that off-brand Rolex watches and cheap pharmaceuticals would make excellent gifts. Be careful, though, because these companies might just be in the market for your personal information.

6) Bogus gift cards

There’s a bonanza of savings to be had buying gift cards through second-hand retailers. But watch out as they might be a front for scammers. Gift cards could be invalid, used, or even complete forgeries, and you’ll be stuck with nothing.

7) Fake charities

These crop up every time there’s a major disaster, but they also show up at the holidays. Leaflets and phone calls from organizations with familiar-sounding names will soon appear. To be safe, don’t give to any charity with whom you didn’t start the contact. Do your research and give to charities whose values align with your own.

8) Must-have gift scams

There will soon be an “it” gift. You’ll know it by the high demand, low supply, and hugely inflated prices. Almost on cue, websites will pop up offering the rare widget at unbelievably low prices. This is a scam – the advertiser doesn’t have the product and is only using the offer to harvest personal information or bilk you of your hard-earned money through sites like Craigslist or eBay, where they will seek payment through PayPal and never send the item you purchased.

9) Christmas catfishing

“Catfishing” means pretending to be seeking a romantic partner on the internet to dupe people. Scammers take advantage of the loneliness the holidays can evoke to trick people out of gifts or worse. As tempting as it is to believe in love stories at Christmas, keep your feet on the ground and practice safe internet dating. A good rule of thumb: If you’re single at Halloween, stay that way until after New Year’s.

10) Holiday vacation scams

If it’s cold and miserable where you are, it’s always tempting to go someplace tropical for a few weeks. If you’re thinking about getting away, be careful of unrealistic prices or “too-good-to-be-true” travel offers. Scammers have been setting up phony travel sites to harvest personal information. Only book through reputable websites.

11) Devious Christmas games

If you’re facing a five-hour flight and a three-hour layover, it’s fantastic to have a distracting mobile game to pass the time. Be careful, however, not to download the wrong one. Mobile games can harvest data from your phone or steal password information. Always do a quick search to check the validity of the app you’re downloading and read the permissions carefully. A fun game should never ask for permission to send texts or send information to third parties.

usb plugged into laptop - 12 scams of Christmas12) Free USB Tricks

Be careful with unsolicited gifts of “free” USB thumb drives. Security firm McAfee warns that many of these devices come pre-loaded with malware. Such scams often target company computers, so ensure you only use approved hardware on your work network. USB storage is cheap enough that you can throw out the freebies.


7 Ways to Save Money This Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving means giving thanks for all the good in our lives. It also means turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie. The holiday’s a long-standing tradition of enjoying a delicious meal with people we love. But this tradition can also get pretty expensive. Fortunately for you, we have tips to help you save money this Thanksgiving.turkey - save money this thanksgiving

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, the average host cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 guests will spend approximately $50 on the dinner alone. Of course, if you’re expecting more than 10 guests (or you tend to overspend when hosting), your costs can easily top that amount. Between the turkey, ingredients for that luscious holiday meal, and décor to get everyone in the right mood, hosting a Thanksgiving dinner is not cheap.

Looking for ways to cut back without compromising on the quality and festivity of your meal? Look no further! You know at Marion Community Credit Union we love to help you keep money in your own pocket. That’s why we’ve compiled this list.

1) Verify your guests’ attendance

Before you start writing up a spectacular menu or a detailed shopping list, check to make sure you have an accurate head count of the guests and family members who will be joining you for Thanksgiving dinner. You don’t want to end up with a fridge full of leftovers. Verify that all the people you invited are actually planning on showing up. Then begin planning your menu.

2) Find out what your guests like

While you’re doing your inviting, ask for your guests’ individual tastes. You don’t want to forget that Great Aunt Martha is on a strict gluten-free food plan or that your cousin’s spouse is a vegetarian. Aside from specialized diets, ask about particular foods your guests like to eat and those they won’t touch. If something on your menu isn’t very popular with your guests, skip it – even if you think it’s an “obligatory” Thanksgiving food. This way, you won’t slave over a pumpkin soup that nobody will touch or end your holiday meal with trays full of leftovers and lots of hungry guests.

3) Make it a potluck

Slash your spending and your stress in one step by answering an enthusiastic “yes!” to every guest who asks if they can bring something. Don’t just say “anything’s fine,” though, or you might have seven desserts. Instead, create a Google Sheet with your planned menu and let your guests input what they’d like to contribute to the meal. This way, they’ll know exactly what you need, you’ll know what they’re bringing, and best of all, you won’t be doing all the cooking yourself.

4) Serve on smaller plates

Most people will load up their plates to capacity, regardless of the plate’s size. Curb the wasting at your table by using smaller dinnerware. Let your guests load up all the way without leaving half-full plates. They can always refill if they still want to eat more later.

5) DIY décor

You can set a beautiful holiday tablescape without blowing your budget; all it takes is a little imagination. Shop the local dollar store for discounted décor that still packs a punch, like colored vases, fake flower arrangements, and other centerpieces. Look for easy, inexpensive DIY ideas online. Finally, get creative by using things from around the house – or yard – as your décor. For instance, you can create a whimsical candleholder by affixing cinnamon sticks around a candle or design an autumn-themed centerpiece with leaves and pinecones from your own yard.

6) Shop the sales

Grocery stores and shopping centers tend to run specials on turkeys and other Thanksgiving staples starting as early as Halloween. Plan your menu several weeks in advance so you can take advantage of these sales. Keep it flexible until you see the circulars and then base your dishes on the ingredients and produce that’s cheapest. Also, be sure to shop around for your turkey! Supermarkets tend to have the best deals on the birds, with some even running free turkey deals when you spend a specific amount on other groceries.

7) Cook from scratch

Most everything is less expensive – and tastes better – when it’s homemade. Think gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing and apple pie. Start your cooking well enough in advance so you don’t find yourself relying on too many convenience foods and paying the price both in cash and taste. Your wallet and your guests will thank you!

When you gather ’round the table with family and friends this Thanksgiving, you can be thankful for all the good in your life without feeling guilty over how much you spent on the meal. All it takes is a little planning!

Tips for Talking About Money (Newlywed Edition)

Of all the conversations you’ll have before marriage, talking about money is probably the least exciting. Statistically, money is the top reason couples argue and financial arguments are among the top predictors of divorce.

bride and groom feet - talking about moneySo, how can you avoid becoming a statistic? Here are some ideas from the experts:
Talk To Each Other

A 2013 poll by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling found 68% of engaged couples have negative attitudes about discussing money. 45% of couples think it’s “necessary, but awkward,” and 7% say it’s “likely to lead to a fight.” 5% predict it would mean the wedding gets called off.

The result? Couples don’t talk finances. A Fidelity survey found that over one-third don’t know their partner’s salary. Oddly enough, 72% of those same couples think they communicate “very well” about finances.

It’s not surprising: What’s romantic about debt, budgets or taxes? Nobody likes talking about money, but experts agree: Don’t wait.
Discuss taxes now. If you’re both employed, the “marriage penalty” may cost you more; consider marrying in January. But if one spouse earns the majority, you’ll enjoy a “marriage bonus” and a December wedding might be wise.
Talking about money now is important, but so is how. SmartMoney found that over 70% of couples talk about money weekly. The problem? “Most of us don’t know how to talk about money,” says Mary Claire Allvine, certified financial planner. “People tend to be emotional and reactive, not strategic.”
Whether you talk money weekly or monthly, agree on a system and stay open to change.
Get Started
Start easy: “What’s your first money memory?” “How did you spend your allowance?” Then, go further:

“Are you a spender or saver?”
If one saves and one spends, create a budget considering both styles. Studies show that men and women spend differently. Women tackle daily expenses (groceries, utilities, clothes); men make larger purchases (TVs, cars, computers). Amounts might be equal, but perceptions differ. About 36% of partners don’t discuss big purchases; that’s a recipe for disaster.

“Are you in debt?”
Your spouse’s debt doesn’t become yours, but it affects your choices. Heavy credit card debt complicates home buying. Make reducing debt a priority. A TD Ameritrade survey found 38% of partners are unaware of the other’s debts.

“What are your financial goals? Where do you want to be in five or 20 years?”
Goal-oriented people progress toward savings and investing targets faster. Decide on the targets: buying a home, starting a family, being debt-free. List your goals then share and plan together.

Know what’s important to each other: things or experiences? A house or saving for retirement? Clarify these values early on in the marriage.
Trust Each Other
Money survey revealed that those who trust their partner with finances feel more secure, argue less, and have more fulfilling romantic lives. That trust isn’t common among newlyweds. “We’re intimate with our partners in so many ways before marriage, and yet money remains off the table,” says Paula Levy, marriage therapist.
Be honest. If you made a foolish purchase, own up to it. Some 40% of partners have lied about the price of a purchase. Lying about money has huge repercussions.
Support one another; finger-pointing or retreating won’t help. Instead, work together on a plan.
You’re Still Individuals
Celebrate differences. Your bargain-hunter should do the spending while you invest the savings. Choose a monthly amount each can spend, no questions asked. Money claims the average is $150.
A joint bank account has pros and cons. SmartMoney found 64% of couples put all their money in joint accounts; 14% kept everything separate. Many newlyweds choose both: yours, mine, and ours. Calculate shared living expenses and then contribute your portion of those costs.

Ask For Help
If money conversations are tough, you can always turn to the pros. We can help you figure out ways to budget and save. Act now to make sure money won’t prevent your wedded bliss.

Everything You Need to Know About the Equifax Breach

In a recently revealed breach, the scope of which the country has never before seen, 143 million Americans may have had their personal information exposed.computer monitor with code

Equifax, one the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies, reported a massive data breach that lasted from mid-May through the end of July. Hackers were able to access people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and even some driver’s license numbers. They also stole credit card numbers of approximately 209,000 people and dispute documents containing personally identifying information of 182,000 people. It wasn’t just Americans who were targeted – the hackers also got their hands on personal information of some UK and Canadian consumers.

Right now, the situation is still developing and there are many more questions than answers. Researchers are seeking explanations for the site’s outdated security system, an accurate number of those affected and the impact this will have on the future of credit reporting.

Still, people are wondering if they’ve been affected and what they can do about it. If you have any type of credit product such as a credit card, mortgage, or auto loan, there’s a chance your personal information may have been compromised. Instead of panicking, it’s best to learn all you can about this data breach and then take the proper and practical steps toward protecting yourself against future damage.

If this sounds daunting, don’t worry. We’ll walk you through some suggested steps and clear instructions for what you can do now.

1) Find out if your information was exposed

You can do this by visiting an Equifax-created website for sharing information about this issue, equifaxsecurity2017.com. Click on the “Potential Impact” tab and enter your last name along with the last six digits of your Social Security number. The site will tell you if you’ve been affected by the Equifax breach.

Since your SSN is sensitive information, be sure to complete this step only on a secure computer that uses an encrypted network connection. Once you’re visiting the Equifax informational site, you’ll also find easy access to frequently asked questions about the breach. In addition, Equifax has set up a call center to assist consumers. The call center’s hours of operation are 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily (weekends included), Eastern Time. That number is (866) 447-7559.

2) Sign up for free protective services

Whether your information was exposed or not, U.S. consumers are being offered a full year of complimentary credit monitoring and other services through Equifax’s TrustedID product. The site will provide you with a date to return and sign up for these services. Be sure to follow up on the designated date because the last day for enrollment is Nov. 21, 2017.

The protective program includes the following features: Equifax credit report copies; three-bureau credit file monitoring, providing automated alerts of any major changes in your credit reports; Equifax credit report lock, preventing third parties from accessing your Equifax report; Social Security number monitoring, which performs online searches of suspicious websites that may list your Social Security number; and $1 million identity theft insurance, which covers some expenses in the event of a stolen identity.

Be warned, though, that the fine print of this service contains a catch. The terms of service agreement for TrustedID states that enrollees must employ arbitration over civil courts in order to settle any disputes. Critics of the company argue that Equifax is taking advantage of victims by forcing them to sign over their rights. You may, however, decide that the benefits offered by this service far outweigh its negative fallout.

Other credit monitoring companies (such as LifeLock) would be an alternative option that might cost you money, but wouldn’t come with the strings attached to Equifax’s free offer. Plus, it might be worth the peace of mind.

3) Place a credit freeze or a fraud alert on your files

If you know your information has been exposed, consider placing a credit freeze on your credit bureaus. This option has fees associated with it, but it will make it more difficult for someone to open a new account in your name, though it won’t stop a thief from making charges to your existing accounts.

Instead of a credit freeze, you can choose to place a fraud alert with Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. This will warn creditors that you may have been victimized by identity theft, alerting them to verify that anyone seeking credit in your name is really you.

Even if the Equifax site did not tell you you’ve been exposed, it’s always a good idea to closely monitor your credit card and financial accounts for charges you don’t recognize.

4) File your taxes early

Tax identity theft is more common than you think. If your SSN was accessed in this breach, it’s best to file your taxes as soon as you have all the necessary tax information. Don’t let a scammer use your SSN to get their hands on your tax refund. Also, be sure to respond immediately to any letters you receive from the IRS, though be suspicious of any emails or phone calls claiming to be from the IRS, as the IRS will not initially notify you using such means.

The Equifax breach may be one of the worst the US has ever seen. But, by taking the proper steps toward protecting yourself, you can minimize any potential damage.


How To Avoid Hurricane Harvey Scams

Hurricane Harvey has wrought more devastation than any natural disaster in the U.S. over the last decade. The death count is still climbing, thousands of people have lost their homes, and the estimated cost of relief is currently topping $10 billion.faded white star on wood

The news reports recounting the stories of Houston residents whose lives have been upturned by the storm can really tug at your heart. In fact, you may be moved enough to open your purse strings and donate whatever you can to help the victims of this horrific hurricane.

Unfortunately, though, that’s exactly what many scammers are counting on. When emotions run high, they know they can count on your caution to be thrown to the winds and your wallet to be thrown wide open.

If you’d love to assist with relief funds, but want to make sure your money is really being used for helping victims – and not padding the pockets of scammers – use this handy guide as your reference. Now you can give with confidence.

1) Avoid Harvey Scams
Opportunists using this crisis to con you out of your money are great in number, but with just a bit of awareness and precaution, you can avoid all scammers.

First, make sure your computer’s security systems are updated to the most recent versions, as scammers will first prey on unprotected devices.

Second, as always, never share your personal information with an unverified source.

There are hundreds of “must-watch” hurricane Harvey videos circulating the web, each with attention-grabbing titles and thousands of views. Many of these, though, will ask you to input your email username and password before you can watch them. Doing so can infect your device with malware and give scammers an open door into your computer.

Similarly, do not click on any links or download anything from suspicious sources. Remember, the urgent “Donate Now” ads on your social media pages might look convincing, but may actually be the work of a sophisticated scammer.

Finally, it’s best not to donate over the phone because it’s difficult to verify a charity’s authenticity that way.

2) Verify a charity’s validity
While Harvey scammers abound, that doesn’t mean there aren’t thousands of sincere people who are genuinely concerned for victims and are collecting donations to help them out.
If you come across a charity you’d like to donate to, you can easily determine its validity. Check out the charity on the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator or Charity Watch. Be sure the charity’s name matches the listed charity exactly. Alternatively, contact the organization yourself.
You can also ask a representative to share details about the charity with you. If they seem reluctant to answer questions or they brush off your concerns, that’s a red flag – proceed with caution!
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also recommends checking with the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster for a list of legitimate disaster-relief organizations based in Texas.
3) Reach out on your own
Perhaps the best way to ensure your money is really going toward its intended targets is to contact the charities yourself. This way, you can be sure you’ve reached the actual organization and not an impersonator.
There are many legitimate organizations accepting donations on behalf of Harvey victims. Here are a few to get you started:
  • The American Red Cross. You can donate on their website, by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS ((1-800-733-2767) or you can text HARVEY to 90999 to donate $10.
  • AmeriCares is accepting medicine and supplies for survivors.
  • The Salvation Army. You can donate online, by calling 1-800-SAL-ARMY (1-800-725-2769) or by texting STORM to 51555.
  • The South Texas Blood and Tissue Center has reported a critical shortage. You can donate by calling (210) 731-5590 or by visiting their website for more information.
  • Carter Blood Care is an organization that assists hospitals in North, Central and East Texas. To donate, call (877) 571-1000 or text DONATE4LIFE to 444-999.
  • The Texas Diaper Bank in San Antonio is asking for diapers and wipes. These baby supplies can be personally dropped off or mailed to 5415 Bandera Road, Suite 504, San Antonio, TX 78238.
  • To help animals suffering from the disaster, you can visit the Houston Humane Society or the San Antonio Humane Society. For long-distance assistance, the Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has set up an animal emergency response hotline, at (713) 861-3010. They are also accepting donations on their website.
  • The United Way of Greater Houston Flood Relief Fund is helping victims with urgent needs as well as long-term services, like minor home repair. You can visit their website to donate or text UWFLOOD to 41444.
  • If you’d like to donate blood to those in need, you can contact the following organizations: AABB: (301) 907-6977, American Red Cross: 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767), Armed Services Blood Program: (703) 681-5979.
Times of crisis bring out the best and the worst in humanity. Don’t let crooks destroy your goodwill. Keep your guard up and research every charity before donating to steer clear of scammers. Doing so will help you have confidence that your charitable giving is being put to proper good use.

How Can a Little Planning Protect Your Assets and Your Family?

We make five-year life plans, savings plans, and even dinner plans, but what about the plan for when the unthinkable happens and we are no longer here to care for our families? Nationally, only 42 percent of adults in this country have estate planning documents such as a will or living trust, according to a Caring.com survey. The numbers in Ohio are slightly more encouraging, with 57 percent saying they have a will in place stipulating who will care for their children in the event of the parents’ death, according to results from the Ohio Credit Union League’s 2017 Consumer Survey.

Two things people don’t like to talk about are money and death. However, taking care of these uncomfortable subjects with a will can formally address the distribution of assets, and for parents, outline directives for the care and custody of their children. These formal papers communicate your wishes to the people who you want to care for your children and communicate your intentions to the state via legally recorded documents.

What many people don’t realize is that verbally stating your wishes to family members and friends is not enough to ensure those wishes are followed. Without a will, the state takes the responsibility of dictating the disposition of any property and the care of any children. People also sometimes think they don’t have enough assets to warrant the trouble and cost of a will. Regardless of how much or how little one has accumulated, most people would still rather decide what happens to their assets than have the government make that determination.

Most parents don’t want to think about dying or becoming incapacitated, but it’s a possibility that shouldn’t be ignored. It’s important to make sure children are provided for, and it’s imperative to clarify parents’ wishes for the children’s care and upbringing should they be unable to raise them. Even people without a lot of assets or a complicated financial picture should follow these basic guidelines to protect their children’s interests.

Designate first responders: These people will go to your children in a time of crisis. Ensure these trusted friends or families have the appropriate documentation to establish their clear legal authority to care for your kids. This will guarantee your children go directly into the care of an adult of your choosing rather than into the foster care system until the courts determine who should have guardianship.

Define guardians for long-term care: Parents can agree upon guardians for their children, and even verbally communicate their wishes to their families. But if those intentions are not communicated in a legally-binding, written document, every family member would have equal priority of guardianship, and again, the courts will be the final say in who raises the children. This legal documentation is especially important if you choose a friend, rather than a family member, as a guardian.

Make sure the designated guardians know how you want your children raised: What educational, spiritual, and cultural path do you want them to take? The only way to ensure your children are raised with the values you would have instilled in them yourself is to make those values clear to the guardians you’ve chosen.

Document your plan, regardless of your assets: If you have any assets at all, you should have a will. You’ll want to make sure the right thing happens to your assets, and to your children, in the event of your death. Simple estate planning can be done with online legal document services, but it’s still wise to speak to an attorney about drawing up your will.

Plan to provide sufficient financial support: When you have children, you are responsible for supporting them until adulthood. With sufficient life insurance, even if you pass away, you can still fulfill that responsibility and financially provide for your family. It’s not just the main breadwinner who needs life insurance. Even stay-at-home parents who don’t earn an income should be insured. If they pass away, everything they do without getting paid needs to be done by someone like child-care providers, which require weekly fees.