Protecting your paycheck – for today and tomorrow

That can happen in two ways, according to Sandy Botcher, vice president of disability income insurance at Northwestern Mutual. “When a family loses its usual source of income due to a disability, sometimes the only alternative is to dip into retirement savings to cover normal household expenses,” she says. “And even if you don’t have to take money out of savings to replace income, the other consequence of a disability is that it decreases your potential to contribute to your retirement plan.”

Botcher adds that from the moment you start working until the day you retire, your ability to earn an income is your most important financial asset.

Consider this example: A $60,000 annual salary results in $2.4 million earned over a 40-year career, and that doesn’t take into account inflation, salary increases, or the long-term growth potential of money invested in retirement saving vehicles along the way. If a disability prevents the individual from earning this income, or requires him to access a portion of what’s already been saved (often with a tax penalty), it can have devastating impact on retirement dreams.

Recent research demonstrates the need to prepare for the unexpected. Over the past three years, 22 percent of Americans had dipped into retirement savings and 22 percent had stopped or reduced their savings contributions, according to Northwestern Mutual’s 2013 Planning and Progress Study. More than half of those surveyed say unexpected expenses are to blame. Yet 23 percent of respondents say they want to be more cautious with their money, and feel they have a lot of catching up to do.

“The Great Recession has reminded us that we cannot afford to lose our incomes,” says Botcher. “But we also need to remember that our chances of losing our incomes are determined by more than just our employers’ viability or our career success.”

In the minds of consumers, few things seem more unexpected than a disability. Yet the Social Security Administration reports that about one in four 20 year olds today will become disabled before retirement.

One way to prepare for the possibility of being unable to work is disability income (DI) insurance, designed to help pay living expenses, maintain lifestyle needs and preserve assets accumulated for retirement and other purposes. Many employees think that coverage they get through their employer’s group disability policy is enough. They should think again.

Group DI typically has a cap at 60 percent of salary; other forms of compensation like bonuses or commissions may not be covered. In addition, the benefits are taxable. So, if earning less than two-thirds of one’s current salary would make it difficult to make ends meet as well as work toward goals like continuing to fund retirement, it’s important that another option be considered to bridge the gap.

That option is an individual DI insurance policy. Premiums for individual DI policies are paid after taxes, so the benefits are not taxed, and the policies are portable.

“We can’t forget that the source of a retirement program is the ability to work. Having individual disability income insurance is a way to address one of the key risks to achieving your retirement goals,” Botcher says.

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The lottery scam: Think you’ve won the lottery? Think again

While your chances of winning the actual lottery may already be slim, you not only won’t win with scammers – you’ll likely lose money. These types of scams work in a number of ways, and all of them end with an unsuspecting victim losing. Here are three common ways scammers use the promise of big winnings to their advantage:
* A scammer claiming to be associated with a government agency, a well-known celebrity or someone associated with a sweepstakes or lottery tells a victim he or she has won a large sum of money. The victim is told to send money to cover processing fees or taxes before receiving the prize. The victim then pays these “fees,” and never hears from the scammer again.
* A scammer sends a victim a check or money order and claims it’s a prize. The victim is asked to deposit this money and send a smaller portion of money back to cover fees or taxes. The problem occurs when the victim deposits the check or money order and sends the scammer the money as directed before the check clears which can take weeks. Banks don’t always immediately identify the “winning” check as fake until it’s too late and the money has already be sent to the scammer. The victim is responsible to the bank for any used funds from the check.
* A scammer emails or sends a victim information about a foreign lottery, or another alternative lottery or sweepstakes that offers better odds of winning than a traditional lottery. The victim sends money to the scammer for a chance at winning, but the lottery or sweepstakes doesn’t actually exist.
The common thread in all of these scams is they require victims to send money in advance to claim a prize, which is never the case with a legitimate lottery or sweepstakes. “The No. 1 rule consumers need to remember to protect themselves from falling victim to this scam is to never, ever send money to claim a prize,” says Shelley Bernhardt, director of consumer protection at Western Union, a leader in global payment services. Bernhardt offers these additional tips to avoid becoming a victim in a lottery or sweepstakes scam:
* Never send money to pay for taxes or fees on lottery or prize winnings.  Legitimate sweepstakes don’t require you to pay or buy something to enter or improve your chances of winning or to pay taxes or processing fees to get your prize.
* Never play anything claiming to be a foreign lottery. And this is not just because it might be a scam – it’s actually illegal to play a foreign lottery.  
* Only send money to people you have met personally, know and trust.
* Never provide your banking or any other sensitive personal information to an individual or business you don’t know, especially if they claim they need it in exchange for a prize.
* Always wait to withdraw funds from your account until after a check or money order clears, which can take weeks.
* If you suspect a scam, check out the company or individual who contacted you with law enforcement, the Better Business Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission ( or another trusted source.
As a trusted method for sending money to family members and friends, Western Union encourages users of their services to be vigilant about scams and fraud. To learn about more ways you can protect yourself from fraud, visit For more information and videos on how some of the most common check fraud scams work, visit
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Paying for college, without sacrificing your ‘nest egg’

One place mass affluent parents are less likely to look for funding their children’s college education is from their retirement savings. In fact, only 22 percent of mass affluent parents (those with $50,000 to $250,000 in investable assets) -who saved or are saving for their children’s college education said they would be willing to cut back significantly on their retirement savings to pay for their children’s college, according to the latest Merrill Edge Report. As mass affluent parents continue to prioritize their retirement savings, many are instead relying on student loans (37 percent), scholarships/grants (36 percent), and state and/or federal financial aid (26 percent) to fund their children’s college education.

“Today, many mass affluent parents are in a unique financial situation – they are working to balance saving sufficiently for retirement, while also contributing to their children’s college education,” says Aron Levine, preferred banking and investments executive at Bank of America. “It can be an intimidating task, but parents should plan ahead to help make their retirement goals a reality as well as utilize other financial resources early on to help their children pursue their educational goals.”

Understand your entire financial picture and create a financial roadmap

When beginning to think about the cost of a child’s college education, mass affluent parents should take a look at their entire financial picture. From mortgage payments to retirement savings goals, considering financial priorities will help mass affluent parents determine how much they are able to contribute. They should also consult with a financial advisor or utilize a streamlined investment platform, such as Merrill Edge, to gain a better understanding of their finances.

Parents will also want to estimate how much college will potentially cost and what they can realistically afford. To do this, they can take advantage of several online tools, such as Merrill Edge’s College Planning Tool. Additionally, mass affluent parents need to determine what they already have saved. The Spring Merrill Edge Report shows that half (51 percent) of mass affluent parents who have or will save for college have saved just $20,000 or less for their child’s college education. With yearly in-state tuition rates climbing to more than $22,261 for the academic year, according to the report Trends in College Pricing by The College Board, current savings will likely only cover the tuition bill for freshman year. Once parents have assessed their entire financial picture on their own or with a financial advisor, they should create a Financial Roadmap to help them stay on track to pursue their goals.-

Consider alternative financing/savings opportunities

Today, more than half (56 percent) of mass affluent parents are not personally willing to incur debt for their child to attend the college of their choice. As tuition rates continue to skyrocket, parents will want to start saving as early as possible and explore alternative options to pay for tuition. To start, they might consider opening a 529, UGMA (Uniform Gifts to Minors Act), or other education savings plan in their state.

One-quarter (24 percent) of mass affluent parents who are saving for college and who have children younger than 18 are not confident they will reach their target savings goal by the time their child is ready to go to college. That means many families will turn to financial aid and student loans to cover tuition costs. With 37 percent of families planning to utilize student loans, it’s vital for parents to educate their children on the financial responsibility of student loan payments and the potential financial impact they could face post-graduation.

Cutting back to save more

As increasing tuition bills become a reality, it’s essential for parents to also increase their amount of savings. While few are willing to cut back on important financial goals like retirement savings, more are willing to scale back on personal luxuries including a new car (51 percent), family vacations (43 percent), and a new home (42 percent).

Sixty-five percent of mass affluent believe that the cost of a college education is worth their return on investment. By planning ahead, saving earlier, utilizing financial resources and offerings, and cutting back on personal luxuries, today’s mass affluent parents can work towards their retirement savings goals, while also helping their children receive a college diploma.

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Five surprising summer habits that pack on the pounds

Swimsuit ready? Not for long. Gaining the weight you lost preparing for summer is so easy, you’re likely to do it without trying. If you don’t stop the eating patterns that unintentionally cause weight gain, you’ll never be successful losing body fat.

Tom Nikkola, director of nutrition and weight management at Life Time Fitness, “The Healthy Way of Life Company,” says people unintentionally sabotage their diet even as they’re cutting calories. 

Here are five ways you may be packing on the pounds without even realizing it:

1. Load up on sugar
You don’t have to indulge in sweets or spoon extra sugar over your food to eat too much. If you eat a lot of processed foods, you’re probably already eating too much sugar. Nikkola says you can even find added sugar in processed meats. “White flour, bread, waffles, many cereals, chips, granola and crackers are easily converted to sugar as well,” he adds.

2. Skimp on protein and fat
“Protein and fat are macronutrients that are essential to our health,” Nikkola says. “By avoiding these foods, you’ll be more likely to have an insatiable appetite.” On the flip side, he notes people who include protein and fat in every meal are less likely to overeat and may reduce cravings for carbohydrate-rich or sugary foods.

3. Eat more breakfast cereal
“A bowl of cereal is a great way to start the day if your goal is accumulating additional body fat,” Nikkola says. Such a breakfast can leave you hungry just a few hours later, and reaching for high-carbohydrate snack foods. Before noon you’ll likely be feeling the effects of low blood sugar, like trouble focusing, a reduction in energy and increase in irritability (which only makes you want to eat more). 

4. Fill up on fruit and fruit juice
Fruit and fruit juice are not synonymous in a healthy diet. “Juice is much more concentrated in sugar, especially fructose, and does not include fiber, which may help reduce your appetite,” Nikkola explains. “Loading up on juice is a great way to increase calorie intake, much like drinking soda would be.” Even too much whole fruit can lead to too much sugar in your diet. The best way to balance out your fruit and vegetable intake is to eat three to four servings of non-starchy vegetables for each serving of fruit.

5. Reward yourself after every workout
“It doesn’t take much to offset what you burn in each workout,” Nikkola says. “With a muffin, some chips, or a bowl of pasta you’ll replace all the glycogen you burned in your training session and eat enough extra carbohydrates to add to your fat stores.” Instead, refuel with whole food and include protein for better recovery.
Of course you don’t really want to gain weight this summer. Life Time Fitness has an in-house nutritionist on staff at most of its 105 clubs to work with members on their personal nutrition goals. 

“When you become aware of the many causes of weight gain, you’ll understand why the approach we take at Life Time Weight Loss is more complicated, and more personalized, than most other weight management systems,” Nikkola says. If you’d like to see a longer list of how to get fatter this summer, check out Nikkola’s article 14 Ways to Get Fatter at
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Your first resume – dos and don’ts

Christine Pacheco, director of career services at The Art Institute of Colorado, and Kristin Frank, director of career services at The Art Institute of Phoenix, share the top dos you should include to get noticed and get your foot in the door – and the don’ts that could get your resume tossed in the trash.

First, the dos:

* Do look at the job description and then tailor your resume to the specific needs of the job, advises Frank. Your skills need to match what the employer is looking for. Pacheco stresses the importance of key words that should be included in your resume. “Your resume could be scanned electronically and if key industry words and words from the job description are not in it, it will get tossed before it ever gets to a human being,” she says. That means you should be tweaking your resume for each job.

* Do ensure you’ve completed at least one internship to include on your resume, even if your program of study did not require it. Explain how you contributed to the organization and how you made yourself stand out. Make sure to stress the professional skills you honed during that time. If you’ve done freelance and contract work in your field, create a ‘freelance/contract work” section and list all your clients.

* Do list your membership and participation in professional organizations, and if you haven’t joined a professional organization for your field, do so immediately. “It’s important to show a genuine interest in your industry,” explains Frank. Make sure to also list any professional certifications you’ve earned while still in school.-

* Do utilize your college’s career services department. Advisors can assist you in formatting and tailoring your resume and may be able to provide you with job leads. They can also help you prepare for the actual interview.

* Do list your work-related and non-work-related accomplishments. Make sure the non-work accomplishments still showcase your benefit to a potential employer. For instance, if you planned your sorority or fraternity annual philanthropy, focus on the leadership skills you utilized and the organization the event benefitted. If you’ve completed a marathon, list that as well. It showcases your ability to stick with a project and follow through. It could also wind up being a pretty interesting topic of conversation during the interview. Just be prepared to discuss your skills and accomplishments, when asked.

Which brings us to the don’ts:

* Don’t embellish. Because you will be asked about your marathon or how you increased your company’s ROI during your three-month internship, make sure everything you put on paper is true. If not, it could come back to bite you.

* Don’t send before you proofread. “We still see typos and missing names, email addresses or phone numbers,” says Pacheco. Few things annoy hiring managers more than that kind of easily avoided carelessness. It tells an employer that you do not have attention to detail and that you complete sloppy work. In an era with spell-check, most of this can be easily avoided.

* Don’t use that “cute” email address you created in college. A hiring manager will be hard-pressed to take “” or “” seriously, warns Frank.

* Don’t include irrelevant info on your resume. A philanthropic event you organized for your fraternity is a plus, the spring break trip you spearheaded may not impress, nor will your award for most parties attended in a semester. Make sure the information you include showcases your responsible side. Your future employer does not want to imagine you calling in sick because you stayed out too late the night before.

* Don’t go on and on. “I’ve seen executive-level resumes that stuck to a page or two,” says Pacheco. Make sure your resume is clear and to the point.

Includes editor’s note.

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Kitchen remodeling: How to go from a far-off dream to ‘DIY’

Year after year, no matter the state of the housing market, kitchen remodeling remains a good idea. The project perennially tops lists of value-for-your-money home improvements and almost every buyer will be attracted to a kitchen that’s updated and move-in ready. Even if you’re planning on staying in your home for a while, few things can reinvigorate your home like a brand new kitchen.

Kitchens are the hardest-working rooms in most homes, and the wear and tear that comes with years of use can leave them looking drab. A remodeling project that makes over your kitchen from floor to ceiling can do more than just improve the aesthetics – it can also be a great way to adapt the room for better functionality.

If you’ve put off dreams of a new kitchen because you think it’s unaffordable, you might want to reconsider the changes you can make with your own two hands (and maybe those of some family and friends). When you have the right tools on hand, do-it-yourself kitchen remodeling projects are more accessible than you might think. By visiting a nearby rental store to pick up the necessary tools, you can see twice the savings – in addition to the DIY cost savings, you’ll avoid the expenses associated with buying the tools outright. By going to, you can find local stores that have all the tools you need to remodel and revive your kitchen.

Here are some essential parts of the project and the tools you’ll need to get going:

* Floors: There are lots of stylish and functional options for flooring, but the type of saw you’ll need for cutting things down to size will depend on what material you choose. For tile, you’ll need a wet saw, but a cut-off saw for wood and laminate. A table saw can also be helpful for wood flooring.

* Trim: Putting the finishing touches on is important, both for looks and for long-term stability. For molding and other trim, a pneumatic nailer will save you an enormous amount of time, energy and frustration.

* Cabinets: Now more than ever before, homeowners have great options for easy-to-install cabinetry that don’t require a team of professionals. Make sure that you’ve got the right drill, drill bits, nails, screws, anchors, levels and supports on hand before you get started – that way you’ll be able to work without interruption.

* Countertops: Again, the tools you need will vary, depending on what material you’re using. If you need to cut a material like laminate to size, a jigsaw will be a convenient tool. Sanders and drills are two more items you’ll want to have nearby.

* Walls: Whether you’re hanging drywall or simply painting, a ladder will be an essential tool. If your kitchen has particularly high ceilings or hard-to-reach spots, renting a ladder to fit the task is a good idea.

A beautiful kitchen will quickly become a focal point in your home, both for your family and for potential buyers. By taking the project into your own hands, you can save a significant amount of money, giving you even better return on your investment. For more ideas and information, visit

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