Category Archives: Opinion

Practical Money Matters – November 25, 2015

By Nathaniel Sillin

Your Year-End Financial Checklist

It will begin soon enough – all those “beat the rush!” ads for holiday shopping, activities and events. Right now, you have a great opportunity to beat the rush to organize your year-end finances and make some smart moves for the New Year.
Consider the following tasks for your year-end financial to-do list.
Total up your year-to-date spending. Whether you organize by computer or on paper, make sure your tracking system for spending, saving and investment is up to date. This way, you can make sure you are on budget for the year and ready with data for tax time. Once you are finished, determine your net worth – what you own less what you owe – and get an early idea of what you need to change next year.
Check in with your planner or tax professional. Late December is a busy time for financial professionals. Take a minute to see if they can review your numbers and make suggestions on year-end financial activities and new moves you should make in 2016.
Make sure you’ve reviewed all your credit reports for the year. You are entitled to one free copy ( of each of your three major credit reports from TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. It’s generally wise to schedule delivery of each at different points in the year to catch errors or irregularities.
Check and rebalance your portfolio. With the dramatic market swings this past year, be sure to check if your retirement and other investments are still on track with your investment goals. Get qualified help if necessary to see if the assets you own still fit your needs. And if you need to do any tax selling by the end of the year, now is the time to start thinking about it.
Check your insurance coverage. If you buy your own home, auto, life or other insurance policies, contact two or three agents representing highly rated ( insurers to review the adequacy and pricing of your coverage. If you have made any structural changes or improvements to your home, make sure those actions are reflected in your homeowners insurance. Such work may boost your home’s replacement value. Also, if you’ve had a major life or financial event like a new baby or the purchase of a new home it’s time to make sure all your coverage is sufficient.
Update your W-2, benefits and estate plan if necessary. While you’re updating your insurance and investment needs for big life events related to family, property or marital status, see if your tax withholding and employee health coverage and investments need review. Get qualified help to make this assessment if you are not sure.
Empty out your flexible spending accounts. If you have a Flexible Spending Account for health care or other qualifying expenses, it’s time to submit outstanding claims from the doctor, dentist or optometrist. Remember you can only transfer $500 in your remaining balance over to the next year. Make any appointments or medical purchases you need to now and get the paperwork in fast.
Do a last-minute tax review. If you work alone or with a tax professional, review your annual income, investment and spending data to see if there’s anything you can do in the final weeks of the year to save on taxes. If tax-deductible donations to qualified charities and nonprofits are recommended, consult sites such as GuideStar (, CharityWatch ( and Charity Navigator ( to evaluate your choices so you know your contribution is being well spent.
Save time and cut back on waste with online bill pay and deposits. Automatic online bill pay means you won’t have to waste time writing checks or risk late payment fees. Scheduling bill payment through your checking and savings accounts can save time and money, while setting up regular electronic deposits to savings and investment accounts can also help you save money before you are tempted to spend it.
Bottom line: Doing a last-minute review of your finances can potentially save money and help you save, spend and invest smarter in the coming year.

Practical Money Matters – November 18, 2015

By Nathaniel Sillin

Making Holidays Bright – And Affordable

Already dreading what you’ll spend this holiday season? It doesn’t have to be that way.
Gifts aren’t the only budget-busting culprit during the holidays. The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s are also a peak time for spending on groceries, travel, events, entertainment, energy, clothes and meals out.
Financial advisors recommend you use no more than 1.5 percent of your annual income on holiday spending (, so consider the following suggestions to keep it under control:
Start with a list and make a budget. Begin your planning by listing every possible holiday expense you’ll face – and don’t stop at gifts. Consult the Practical Money Skills for Life comprehensive holiday budget planner ( to help organize your information and track your spending.
Be open about money trouble. If you are facing financial difficulties during the holiday season, don’t spend to hide the problem. Don’t be ashamed to make adjustments and tell friends and family members that you’d like to temporarily downsize your spending until conditions improve. They might actually appreciate a spending reprieve, too.
Build a bargain-hunting strike force. Let friends and family know you’re looking for particular toys, gifts, foods or decorating items and volunteer to do the same for them. Save and share coupons. Encourage your group to find resources, check prices and share requests and ideas via social media. Results can come back in a matter of minutes.
Evaluate all transportation costs. Do you really need to run out of one or two items at a time? Designate certain days of the week for particular items, keep an eye out for free delivery and see if friends and family might want to share errands. Those with large vehicles or trucks can help move, deliver and even install appliances or electronics if they have the skills to do so. Smart transportation choices extend to car pools or public transportation for events and entertainment.
Leverage your creativity. If there’s something you make or do really well that people love, consider making such accomplishments into gifts. From specialty food items your friends enjoy, to clothing or art, anything done well can be a gift. Don’t rule out lessons or skilled labor as potential holiday gifts, particularly for relatives who can’t afford such services at this time. Smart shopping for ingredients or supplies can make such creative gifts a real money saver.
Build a year-round gift stash. If there are gifts or foodstuffs you can buy on sale and keep for a while, you’ll have a ready source of thank-you gifts for hosts, teachers or co-workers year-round. Set aside a similar area for cards, gift tags and wrapping paper. Also keep in mind that many retailers put holiday-themed items on sale before the holidays are finished. If you think you’ll need these items next year, grab your coupons, take advantage and put those items aside for future gift giving.
Late saving for gifts? Do it anyway. If you don’t have a holiday fund set up, don’t let that keep you from starting one. Every little bit helps. Take 5-10 percent of your next paycheck and set it aside, doing it each week throughout the holidays. If you keep it up, your holiday fund can eventually become an emergency fund to be used for other savings goals, including retirement.
Take notes for next holiday season. Create a paper or digital file where you can collect ideas for next year. Check print and online resources like Consumer Reports for items that can be bought at specific times of the year at a discount so you are able to hide them for the holidays – but remember where you hid them.
Bottom line: Keeping holidays affordable isn’t a challenge when you’re willing to do a little planning, idea-sharing and record-keeping. Make it an activity you can do year-round.

Letter to the Editor – Dale Barnett

To the Editor:

While we can all rejoice this Veterans Day that the steady flow of U.S. casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan has slowed to a trickle, we must never forget the incredible sacrifice that America’s defenders continue to make on our behalf.
Such is the case of Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler, who died leading a Delta Force rescue mission of ISIS hostages held in Iraq on Oct. 22. A veteran of 14 combat deployments, his sacrifice is shared by four boys who are now fatherless and his wife, who became a widow far too early. But another important part of his legacy are the 70 hostages who were spared brutal executions by an enemy that is as ruthless as any that America has faced.
The willingness to face pain and death so others can be spared isn’t unique to just the fallen. Consider the case of two American veterans and their longtime friend when they bravely stopped a terrorist attack aboard a train bound for Paris this summer.
Airman First Class Spencer Stone, Army Specialist Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Salder could have run from the danger when a heavily armed gunman boarded the train.
Instead, Specialist Skarlatos said, “Let’s go,” as the men ran toward a future that could have easily meant instant death or maiming for them and all of the other innocent people within range.
Fortunately, this story is remembered not for the horrific tragedy that nearly happened but for the heroism that did. Even after enduring serious stab wounds that were inflicted as he disarmed the gunman, Airman Stone administered life-saving first aid to a passenger that was shot.
The terrorist was carrying 270 rounds of ammunition. But because of the actions of these three young Americans, and two Europeans who assisted them, the death toll aboard the train was zero.
There is also the incredible story of Chris Mintz. As others were understandably fleeing from a mass shooting at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College on Oct. 1, the 30-year-old former Army infantryman bravely confronted the gunman at a classroom door, as he attempted to save others who were inside. Mr. Mintz survived the attack and continues to recover after being shot five times.
These stories are inspiring, but certainly not surprising to me. As national commander of The American Legion, I meet veterans all of the time who have demonstrated tremendous heroism yet blend in our communities without fanfare.
There are many ways to thank the men and women who have served in our Armed Forces, but I cannot think of a better method of showing gratitude than to hire one. Employers who make this smart decision will usually benefit from the discipline, skills and loyalty that are found abundantly in today’s military.
Isn’t it likely that people who have survived firefights in Afghanistan can handle whatever tasks are thrown their way at the office without too much stress?
My old classmate, C. Hughes Clark, summed up the humble nature of most veterans. “I can say without regret that I wouldn’t have done anything different through it all, simply because it has given me a sense of accomplishment that I couldn’t have accomplished any other way.”

Dale Barnett, The American Legion

View Point: Three New Laws Help Vets in Need

By State Senator Steve Sodders

Veterans Day is Wednesday, November 11- a time to honor those who have served our country and made great sacrifices in their military duty.
At the Statehouse, we’re always looking for ways to thank our veterans. Some have major needs because of their service, and it’s our responsibility to help. This year, we:
1. Ensured a full property tax exemption through the Disabled Veterans Property Tax Credit to veterans with a permanent disability that makes it impossible to work.
A full property tax exemption already applies to those who suffered a 100 percent disability because of their service, and to surviving spouses of those killed in the line of duty.
Veterans should apply to their local assessor to receive an exemption. For more information, contact your local assessor by going to, or your county veterans’ office by going to
2. Added service-disabled veterans to those who qualify for a Targeted Small Business, which is eligible for low-interest loans and grants, as well as consideration when that state seeks bids for goods and services.
The Iowa Department of Inspections & Appeals certifies businesses owned, operated and actively managed by service-disabled veterans as Targeted Small Businesses. The business must also be for-profit, located in Iowa and have a gross income of less than $4 million.
Those applying for certification must provide proof of a service-connected disability. Learn more or begin the certification process at
3. Established a stable source of revenue for the Iowa Veterans Trust Fund. Rather than relying on profits from the sale of designated Iowa Lottery games, each year $2.5 million in lottery revenue will be transferred to the trust fund. That’s the average Lottery proceeds received from the games in previous years.
The Veterans Trust Fund has seen increased applications for help from veterans in serious need of help with vision, hearing or dental care, durable medical equipment, emergency home repairs or transitional housing, and unemployment or underemployment assistance due to service-related causes.
Learn more or apply for assistance at

Practical Money Matters – November 4, 2015

By Nathaniel Sillin

Moving Soon? Keep Costs Under Control

Even if you’re only moving across town, it’s likely to cost more than you think.
According to the latest figures from the American Moving and Storage Association, the average cost of an in-state professional move – based on 7,570 pounds of stuff – is $1,170. The average state-to-state move costs $5,630.
How can you control moving expenses? Start making a master checklist to collect data and consider all costs and personal aspects of a potential move. You may even want to include a pro-and-con list that addresses all conceivable economic and lifestyle outcomes – the real long-term costs and benefits of a move. After deciding whether the move is worthwhile, consider these subsequent steps:
Seek solid advisors. Whether or not you plan to sell a home with a licensed real estate broker or agent, most are open to do a market valuation of your property and suggest repairs or improvements that could maximize a sale price. If you use a qualified financial planner or tax advisor, include that individual in early discussions on how a move might affect your finances. Also, if you’re selling property, find an experienced real estate attorney to review broker and sale contracts.
Get multiple estimates from movers. An early walk-through at your home or apartment by two to three U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)-registered movers ( can provide a reality check on how much you’ll want to take and whether you can afford luxuries like packing or storage. Online resources can also help you evaluate those estimates.
Watch for fraud. Recent news reports have highlighted a trend called “hostage load,” a practice whereby unscrupulous moving companies demand more money from customers before finishing a delivery. Getting references from trusted friends and advisors is a good first step to finding the right registered mover for your relocation. DOT has launched the “Protect Your Move” ( site that allows you to download a moving fraud protection guide and offers tips on proper ways to investigate and hire a mover.
Start downsizing – now. Getting early estimates from movers certainly helps you decide what you’re really willing to take. If there are valuables you think you can sell, consult professional appraisers and even general marketplace sources like eBay to get a realistic idea of value. Otherwise, consider garage sales and donations for the rest.
Insure what you’re moving. Whatever plans you’re making for home or renter’s coverage at the new destination, make sure you have proper coverage in place for the contents of your move. The Insurance Information Institute provides a useful guide ( to properly insuring the possessions you’re moving.
Build a cash reserve for deposits, fees and incidentals. Keeping moving costs low can help you handle dozens of smaller and sometimes unexpected expenses that crop up immediately before, during and after a move. Budget for those hidden costs which can include deposits, fees and multiple trips to the discount store, home center or grocery.
Bottom line: Thinking about moving? Give yourself adequate time and resources to plan all aspects of this major life and money event.