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Getting Ahead
2nd Quarter 2014

In this issue:

Tips for Simple Summer Travel Savings

Students, Not State, Grapple with Higher Price for Higher Education

Should You Raid Your Retirement Savings to Slash Debt?

Tips for Simple Summer Travel Savings

OrderWhether you're traveling solo, with friends, or with the entire family, there are ways to get where you're going and enjoy your time there without spending your life savings. One of the easiest ways to save on summer travel is to take advantage of free websites and mobile apps that do the deal finding for you.

Booking Airfare

Get fare alerts. Take the worry out of finding the best price by signing up for fare alerts to get email notifications when the cost of your flight itinerary changes. Travel websites like Hipmunk offer the service for free.

Pull the trigger. If you see a great fare, book it. All airlines selling airfare in the U.S. allow you to cancel within 24 hours without any penalties as long as you purchased a ticket at least seven days before the flight. Many airlines also let you hold a fare for a short time for a small fee.

Try metasearch sites. Search for airfare on websites like Hipmunk, BookingBuddy, and, which compare top travel sites to show the best flight or hotel at the cheapest price.

Finding the Perfect Place to Stay

Book hotels last-minute. Hotels often offer special mobile-only rates for last-minute bookers. For example, Hipmunk's Tonight Deals saves app users up to 60 percent on hotel rates.

Try a vacation rental. Rates can be cheaper than hotels and cooking your own meals saves on eating out. Airbnb and HomeAway are popular vacation rental websites and you can see their listings alongside traditional hotels when you search through Hipmunk.

Look at reviews. Sentiment-based reviews like Hipmunk's make it faster and easier to see a hotel's strengths and weaknesses without having to read pages of individual reviews. At a glance you're able to see whether past hotel guests were happy with the price of breakfast or thought the hotel was a value.

Activities and Dining

Pre-purchase activities. Browse activities or dining deals on sites like Groupon or LivingSocial and pre-purchase the ones you like at a significant discount. Make reservations well in advance for the dates you'll be in town.

Find last-minute dining deals. Use the Yelp app to identify local restaurants offering a deal. Just search nearby restaurants and filter by "offering a deal" to taste local flavors at a discount.

Getting Around

Walk it off. Use a site like Walk Score to identify and stay in areas that are walkable to avoid cab fares and public transportation costs.

Try short-term car rental. If you'll need a car on and off, try services like Zipcar or Getaround. You can borrow a car for as little as an hour so you don't pay for it when you're not using it.

Rideshare. Uber or Lyft rates are often cheaper than cab fares and the apps are free. In addition, you pay through the apps so you never have to pull out your wallet in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

Article courtesy of Yahoo! Finance

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Students, Not State, Grapple with Higher Price for Higher Education

RetirementMost people agree a college degree provides valuable benefits, even if not everyone can afford one, but experts say there are ways to make it attainable to more people.

Tuesday, a survey from Georgia Credit Union Affiliates showed that 70 percent of credit union members believe a college degree is worth the financial investment. Kristi Arrington, vice president of information development for the credit union cooperative, said the value of a degree will also only increase over time.

"There is a clear, lifelong value of getting a post-secondary (degree)," said Clair Suggs, senior education policy analyst for the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute, an Atlanta-based advocacy group. "Here in Georgia, we know it is estimated that by 2020, at least 60 percent of all jobs will require at least some post-secondary training."

According to a study from the Economic Policy Institute, a college graduate makes $7 more per hour than a non-college graduate. The unemployment rate for Georgia’s graduates, ages 21 to 24, is also 10 percent lower than the unemployment rate of all workers ages 16 to 25.

These benefits, however, are not seen by all graduates in this job market, said economist for the Economic Policy Institute Heidi Shierholz.

"On average, yes, it's still the case that you will make more money (with a college degree)... but that word, average, masks a lot of variation amongst outcomes of people with a college degree," she said.

Some college graduates receive the same or lower wages than non-college graduates or remain in jobs which do not require their degree. Once the economy improves and employment rises, Shierholz said college graduates will see better wages. But at this time, students are facing increased tuition and student debt alongside a lower incentive for attending college.

"It (college) doesn't pay off for everyone," she said. "We're certainly reducing the incentive of going to college by not having the benefits of going to college expanding quickly, but having the [cost of tuition] expanding."

The average tuition cost in Georgia increased by 65 percent since 2008, according to the College Board, an increase caused in part by decreased state funding. Higher tuition is coupled with decreased coverage by the HOPE Scholarship, which once covered all tuition and fees for qualifying students and now covers between 60 and 70 percent of tuition and fees, leaving families with a higher price tag on higher education.

Representing a group which advocates increased funding for education, Suggs emphasized that as costs go up, low- and moderate-income students have a harder time affording post-secondary degrees. This, she said, is coupled with the lack of a statewide effort to provide need-based funding.

"If these students are going to go on, they're going to need some financial help," she said.

Arrington said planning and setting aside money is one step toward easing the burden from tuition costs.

"The biggest thing is just getting people to think about saving early, no matter how far off college is," she said.

Savings may not cover the whole cost of college, but, Arrington said, acting early can allow for money to gain interest and increase its value, as well as give families the opportunity to explore all available financing options.

Article courtesy of Athens Banner-Herald

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Should You Raid Your Retirement Savings to Slash Debt?

CuttingIf dipping into your retirement savings to finally pay off that pesky credit card bill sounds like a good idea, you should probably think twice.

Taking a 401(k) loan can seem attractive for a few reasons: You don't have to qualify. You can get the funds quite quickly. Plus the interest rate is typically around 4% to 5%, far below the typical credit card interest rate.

Most 401(k) plans allow you to borrow 50% of your balance up to $50,000, which you then must pay back (plus interest) through automatic payroll deductions. Typically, the loan must be repaid within five years.

Nearly half of all retirement savers who had taken a 401(k) loan said they had borrowed the cash to pay down debt, according to a recent survey from retirement provider TIAA-CREF. But there are a lot of things that can go wrong. Not only are you raiding your current savings balance, but you could also miss out on possibly higher compound returns those funds could have gained over time.

Plus, like any other kind of borrowing, a 401(k) loan isn't tax free. You'll pay the loan back with after-tax dollars and then pay taxes again when you withdraw the savings in retirement. And if you lose your job or switch to a new one, the timeframe to pay back the loan shrinks to as little as 60 days. If you're unable to repay it by that deadline, you could be hit with another tax bill and a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you're younger than 59 1/2.

If you're still thinking of taking a loan to tackle debt, here are some things to consider:

• What kind of debt is it? The only kind of debt you should even consider raiding your nest egg to pay down is extremely costly debt, such as high-interest credit card bills or a payday loan, said Bruce Cacho-Negrete, a certified financial planner who specializes in helping clients manage their debt. That means that you wouldn't want to use retirement savings to pay down loans with lower interest rates and longer time spans, such as student loans or mortgage debt.

• Do you have other options? A 401(k) loan should be a "loan of last resort," according to Cacho-Negrete. First consider your alternatives. For example, if you have a good credit score, you might be able to pay down higher-interest credit card debt with a personal loan from a bank or credit union, said Sophia Bera, a Minneapolis-based certified financial planner. Or if you think you'll be able to tackle the debt in the next year, consider taking advantage of a 0% balance transfer offer to transfer the debt to a different credit card and pay it off without any additional interest payments.

• Do you have a plan? Your retirement savings is not a piggy bank. So if you do take a loan, you'll need a strategy to make sure you don't make it a habit, said Dan Keady, director of financial planning for TIAA-CREF. If it was overspending that forced you to raid your savings, for example, commit to a budget to make sure you don't just run up the card all over again. If possible, you should also try to continue contributing to your 401(k) plan up to at least your employer match, on top of paying back the loan.

Article courtesy of CNNMoney

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