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Getting Ahead
4th Quarter 2011

In this issue:

What to Do If You Lose Your Job

Protect Your Kids from Identity Thieves

Seniors Vulnerable to Internet Scams


What to Do If You Lose Your Job

No JobDon't wait-take action!
Anyone can lose a job, for a variety of reasons, at any time. If you find yourself in this situation, you don't have to sit idly by. Take these seven steps right away to help ease the financial pain.

Step 1: Review your severance package before you sign.
According to federal law, you have 21 days to sign a severance deal (and seven days after that to change your mind). You may be able to negotiate a better deal, particularly if you're an experienced manager or an executive-level employee.

Be sure you understand the terms. Are you giving up any rights? Are you signing a non-compete clause that may limit your options for finding a new job? Look online for some guidance or talk with an attorney.

Step 2: Apply for unemployment.
The federal/state unemployment compensation program covers almost all wage and salaried workers. If you find yourself out of work through no fault of your own, you probably qualify. Eligibility and benefits vary from state to state, so contact your state for details. Typically, your benefit depends on your recent earnings. It's also important to note that unemployment income is taxable.

Click here for Georgia unemployment information.

Step 3: Take advantage of your COBRA rights.
Most workers can continue to be covered under their employer's health insurance plan for up to 18 months after being laid off, thanks to the COBRA legislation of 1986. Most states have mandated an extension of that.

Step 4: Roll over your 401(k) account.
When it comes to preserving your retirement savings, you have several choices. You can:

  • Make a direct transfer of your entire account balance to a Rollover IRA. This way your money continues to grow tax-free.
  • Get a check from your former employer and roll this over to an IRA. In general, this isn't a good idea because your employer will be forced to withhold 20 percent for prepayment of federal income taxes. If you're under 59 ½, you must do this within 60 days or you also will be charged a 10 percent penalty. State income taxes and penalties may also apply.
  • Leave your money with your former employer. You'll still be tied to the investment choices in your former employer's plan, but you won't have to pay taxes or penalties.
  • Cash out. If you just take the cash, you'll owe taxes on the entire amount, plus potential penalties depending on your age.
This is an important decision, so weigh the pros and cons of each choice carefully.

Step 5: Create a budget, and cut your spending.
First, figure out what you're going to live on while you look for a new job. Severance pay? Your spouse's income? Unemployment benefits? Your emergency fund?

Then, take a look at your spending. Some expenses are necessities, like rent or mortgage, utilities, and insurance. But there are usually plenty of ways to reduce your outflow while you're searching for a new job.

Step 6: See if you qualify for other forms of assistance.
There are several tax benefits that might be available to you, from tax credits to the zero percent capital gains and qualified dividends rate if your income is low enough. Check with your former employer, a tax professional or go to

Step 7: Look for a job.
Start your job search right away. If there are few opportunities in your current industry, work on applying your skills and experience to another one. Take a part-time job. Freelance for a while if that's an option. The more initiative you take, the greater your chances of finding a new job.

Article courtesy of

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Protect Your Kids from Identity Thieves

Protect Your KidsYou're probably weary of being reminded to take precautions against identity theft, but here's a wrinkle you may not have considered: Identity thieves have broadened their reach by harvesting children's dormant Social Security Numbers (SSNs) and using them to illegally obtain jobs, credit accounts, mortgages or car loans and much worse.

Many victims have no inkling anything is amiss until they later apply for a student loan, bank account, job or apartment and are turned down because of poor credit history. Some families have even been hounded by collection agencies or served with arrest warrants because the debts or criminal activities thieves executed were so extreme.

There's no completely foolproof way to protect your child's identity, but here are some precautions you can take:

Although it's tempting to simply not register your kids for SSNs until they turn 18, that's not practical in today's world. For one thing, children need one if you want to claim them as dependents on your taxes. They also may need one if you want to obtain medical coverage or government services for them or open accounts or savings bonds in their name.

Most parents register their children for SSNs at the same time they apply for birth certificates at the hospital. If you wait until later to apply, you must provide proof of your child's U.S. citizenship, age and identity, as well as proof of your own identity.

Because each person's SSN is unique, it's not uncommon for schools, healthcare providers, insurance companies and others to require that parents provide one as an identification tool. However, don't be afraid to ask:

  • Why do they need an SSN - is there a legal requirement and if so, what is it?
  • Will they accept alternative identification?
  • What will happen if you don't disclose it?
  • What security precautions do they take with personal information?
  • Will they agree not to use the SSN as your child's personal identification number on correspondence, account statements or ID cards?
Warning signs your child's personal data might have been compromised include:
  • Preapproved credit account offers.
  • Calls from collection agencies, creditors or government agencies.
  • You're denied opening a bank account in their name because one already exists with the same SSN.
  • They are denied credit, employment, a driver's license or college enrollment for unknown or credit-related reasons.
There may be legitimate reasons why your child is receiving credit offers. For example, if you opened a college fund or they enrolled in a frequent flyer program. However, if you strongly suspect an identity theft has been committed, you can:
  • File a police report and keep a copy as proof of the crime.
  • Contact the fraud units at the three major credit bureaus for instructions: Equifax (800-525-6285), Experian (888-397-3742) and TransUnion (800-680-7289).
  • Notify the Federal Trade Commission (877-438-4338). Their Identity Theft site at contains information on fraud alerts, credit freezes, working with police and much more.
  • Ask Social Security (800-772-1213) whether anyone has reported income using your child's SSN. Search "Identity Theft" at for information.
  • Contact the IRS' Identity Protection Unit (800-980-4490).
Bottom line: Use the same precautions with your child's personal information as you do with your own and make sure you know the warning signs and what to do if it's compromised.

Article courtesy of

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Seniors Vulnerable to Internet Scams

Seniors Vulnerable to Internet ScamsWe're forever warning teenagers to be careful online - don't reveal personal information to strangers, avoid scams, report bullying behavior. The same advice may be appropriate for grandma and grandpa as well. Seniors are the fastest-growing segment of new Internet users, as they've discovered email, online shopping and banking, social networking, travel planning and other online conveniences.

Even the most tech-savvy among us sometimes fall prey to online scammers, so if your parents or grandparents have recently taken the online plunge, here are some safety tips you can share:

Update security software. Make sure their computers have anti-virus and anti-spyware software and show them how to update it regularly.

Think like the bad guys. Even the best software isn't 100 percent foolproof, so teach them how to anticipate and ward off annoying - or criminal - behavior. For example:

  • Only open or download information from trusted sites to which you navigated yourself. Don't assume a link contained in an email, even from a friend, will necessarily take you to a company's legitimate Web site.
  • Don't click on pop-up windows or banners that appear when you're browsing a site.
  • Common email scams that target seniors include offers for discounted drugs and low-cost insurance, and supposed warnings from the IRS - which incidentally, never contacts taxpayers by email.
  • Financial institutions never email customers asking for verification of account or password information.
  • When shopping online, look for safety symbols such as a padlock icon in the browser's status bar, an "s" after "http" in the URL address, or the words "Secure Sockets Layer" (SSL) or "Transport Layer Security" (TLS). These are signs that the merchant is using a secure page for transmitting personal information.
These are all common tricks used to infect your computer with viruses or to install spyware that records your keystrokes to obtain account or other confidential information.

Use strong passwords. Believe it or not, the most frequently used password is "password." Other common, easy-to-crack passwords include simple numeric sequences and names of pets, spouses and children. For more secure passwords:
  • Use at least seven characters with a mixture of upper and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols.
  • Use unique passwords for each account in case one gets compromised.
  • Change passwords frequently.
Protect personal information. Never post sensitive information on any Web site (or share via email, mail or phone) unless you initiated the contact. This might include numbers for credit cards, bank accounts, Social Security, Medicare and driver's license, address/phone and full birth date.

Set privacy controls. On social networking sites, carefully review privacy settings that let you limit who has access to your personal information. Similarly, always review a company's privacy policy to ensure you agree with how it may share your information with affiliate organizations.

Be skeptical of "free" anything. Before signing up for free trials, especially via pop-up windows or banner ads, make sure you understand all terms and conditions. Pay particular attention to pre-checked boxes in online offers before submitting payment card information for an order. Failing to un-check the boxes may bind you to contracts you don't want.

Article courtesy of

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