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What to Do with Your Tax Refund

April 1, 2010

Cindy Battles

This is the time of year when I get hopeful; hopeful for Spring and hopeful for everyday’s mail — that it will bring my tax refund.

Why not do something responsible with your tax refund this year? Do you really need that new, big-ticket item? Or is this the year (and the economy in which) to save?

How about this: allow yourself to blow 10% of your refund so you feel better about saving the rest. In my case, that’s approximately 2 years of double-shot iced mocha lattes. With the rest, I suggest you resist temptation… and I offer these saving/spending ideas:

1. Pay Down Debt — I don’t have credit cards so I don’t have to worry about this. I make do with a VISA debit card which stays up to date. But many people do have credit and it’s a good idea to make some headway on your credit card bills with the chunk of change that comes in your mail this tax season. More here on managing credit.

2. Save in an Emergency Fund — Only about three in 10 U.S. households have enough savings to get them through three months of unemployment. That’s a little scary tidbit from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It may seem quixotic — it might not be enough — but it won’t hurt to save your refund for the unexpected. Every little bit helps. Auto repairs, for example, can sky-rocket to $800 or more from nowhere and eat up your funds… so having an emergency fund to draw from is the way to save.

3. Take a Course — If you want to keep yourself employable or boost your earnings, you may need to learn new skills. Save the money until you find the course that best suits where you are at right now and where you want to go. Then invest in your future.

4. Go to a Conference —This is the mini version of the above. A one- or two-day fee-based work conference can allow you to network, get your business card passed around, meet and greet. It can be an effective way (by passing out resumes) to combat unemployment. It may use up your refund to attend but could also pay off heavily.

Your tax refund may be a big piece of temptation. Save or spend it wisely and you’ll be glad you did.

Cindy

Get REAL: Self-Employment

March 25, 2010

Cary Griffin

Welcome to Real Economic Impact’s Get REAL (Reliable Experts, Answers & Lessons) series: reliable advice re: your economic concerns from leading money, legal, and financial experts from around the country.

This week’s Get REAL expert’s are Cary Griffin & Dave Hammis, Senior Partners at Griffin – Hammis Associates, LLC, a full service consultancy specializing in building communities of economic cooperation, creating high performance organizations, and focusing on disability and employment.

Q: Why is it important for individuals with disabilities, parents and family members, teachers, support coordinators, and rehabilitation counselors to know more about self-employment?

A: A person’s disability should not determine his or her fitness for self-employment. Owning a business can be one of the least stigmatizing forms of employment for individuals with significant disabilities because the opportunity to gently rely on ongoing or time-limited rehabilitation services coexists with typically purchased business supports. Certainly, self-employment is not for everyone. It’s a personal choice that should be balanced by a variety of life circumstances, including financial position and funding, availability and quality of business and personal supports, and the viability of the business idea. In some cases, allowing the person to experiment with different career options is the greatest support available.

Dave Hammis

Moreover, there appear to be certain indicators of success probability in self-employment. For instance, many small business owners learned their trade and understand the market because they worked for someone else first. Still, because so many people with disabilities never get the chance to begin with a typical job, self-employment presents a unique opportunity to create an employment circumstance specifically tailored to their personal situation, degree of mobility, speed of production, stamina, health, and accommodation needs. Again, a person’s disability should not determine his or her fitness for self-employment. Rather, each situation is assessed to point out the need for supports—such as financing, skills training in specific tasks, and tooling and/or assistive technology—in the same manner that any entrepreneur requires supports in areas of need, in order to make it work. Typical business owners outsource accounting, marketing, subcomponent manufacturing, and other functions that they either cannot handle themselves or do not enjoy.

Our Get REAL blog series welcomes your questions. Simply e-mail us at GetREAL@RealEconomicImpact.org.

The Single Saver

March 18, 2010

This post was contributed by Elizabeth Jennings, Program Associate for National Disability Institute and Syracuse University’s Burton Blatt Institute, Singleton and Saver.

“If you can walk, you can dance. If you can talk, you can sing.”

This has always been my favorite proverb. It’s from Africa and is usually found written alongside pictures of African women wearing broad smiles and traditional African garb, their arms stretched out towards one another with hands intertwined, evoking thoughts of joyous dancing. A celebration.

To me, it has always given me the feeling that if I can do the basic steps, I can do anything. It gives me hope in my own abilities. It empowers me beyond my usual fear of failure/embarrassment to the possibility of success. Or, at the very least, joy in the motions.

Let’s mix it up…. “If you can work, you can earn. If you can budget, you can save.”

Half of the challenge we each experience in building a better economic life for ourselves is having the self-confidence to believe that we can do it.  

It often feels like it takes someone who’s smarter, who earns more, who has their life in better order or has someone to take care of it all for them.

It doesn’t.

You can do it. You just need to learn the basics.

And to prove it…. I’m gonna do it with you.

Over the next several months, I am going to walk you through the steps I took to redefine my financial life. We’re gonna cover all the basics and learn to walk and talk personal finance.

Think this will be easy for me? It won’t.

It’s embarrassing to admit there was a time in my life when I put my finances off to the side (I’ll tell you why in my next post).

And the idea of putting my personal life out on the web for all the world to see is simply mortifying to me.

But, more importantly, I am a single woman and a recent Pew Foundation report shows that single women have the lowest household incomes.

So I feel it’s important that I share with my fellow singletons how I took control of my financial life, set a savings goal and am sticking with it.

I’m not a financial planner and I’m not an expert on personal finances. But I am someone who went from Point A to Point B and is willing to share the experience.

Ladies, the choice is simple, wait for a husband/partner to better your economic future or take your financial life into your own hands.

Anyone ready to learn to dance with me?

— Elizabeth

REI Tour Best Practices from the Field: Greensboro, NC

March 11, 2010
 

Michael Roush

This post was contributed by Michael Roush, National Program Director for the National Disability Institute and “Chief Financial Officer” of his family.

Having been bitten by the video bug, I’ve been really starting to get into it. And I found that it’s easy to ask others to participate. In fact… fun! So it was a pleasure to put together more Best Practices from The Real Economic Impact Tour as we travel across the country.

Next stop, Greensboro, NC! There, we teamed up with the IDA and Asset Building Collaborative of NC and EITC Carolinas to implement the Building Assets, Promoting Choice and Community Participation for People With Disabilities curriculum — and also introduced it to our new partner, Beyond Academics.

Beyond Academics is a progressive four year post-secondary education program for adults with intellectual disabilities, in partnership with The University of NC at Greensboro. Welcome Beyond Academics!

To learn more about the Building Assets, Promoting Choice and Community Participation for People with Disabilities curriculum and how you can get involved, click here.

Michael

Legal Aid

March 4, 2010

Cindy Battles

This post was contributed by Cindy Battles, a freelance writer based in Rutland, VT who’s been diagnosed with and managing bipolar disorder for many years.

As an intern at Vermont Legal Aid several years ago, I remember witnessing a specific case for an appeal of a denial for Social Security Disability.

The client’s disability caused her chronic pain and fatigue which prevented her from holding down a job. She could barely even take care of her kids and house. Thankfully, her Legal Aid lawyer successfully argued on her behalf and she was granted Disability. Not surprisingly, the client burst into tears upon the outcome. The way she thanked and thanked her lawyer showed me firsthand how powerful Legal Aid work really was.

As a person with a disability, should you ever find yourself in need of legal guidance, Legal Aid services offices exist around the country — and often around the corner. Depending upon your state and eligibility, from counsel and advice, to brief service and full representation to eligible clients and their family members, you can get help — and there is no charge. In fact, Legal Aid might just be able to help you improve your life.

Services include assistance with special education, guardianship, access to health care, transportation, developmental services, and assistive technology, disability-based discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations, SSI/SSDI terminations based on disability, abuse, neglect and exploitation, vocational rehabilitation, and more.

What’s more is, the Legal Aid attorneys I worked for were not only talented and professional but also kind. I will never forget the opportunity of working alongside them and how the power of their work in helping others has regularly inspired me to give back as well. I continue to volunteer but these folks, for their good legal work, will always be my everyday heroes.

Cindy

Grandpa Willie’s Savings Wisdom

February 25, 2010

Michael Roush

This post was contributed by Michael Roush, National Project Director for the National Disability Institute and “Chief Financial Officer” of his family.

William (Willie) Higgins was a humble man; a farmer, a union worker, a World War II Veteran and a father to six children (my mother among them). Perhaps most poignantly, Grandpa Willie was a saver. And he took pride in passing this quality onto his grandchildren by opening savings accounts for each of us. On our birthdays, he would pull out the savings register and show us how much money was in the account, how it had grown — and how someday, it would help us to achieve our dreams.

At Christmas time, my grandfather would give us tin cans with a few quarters inside sealed tight so that the only way to get the money out was to break them open. To us, they were like maracas. To him, an easy, fun savings education trick that has stuck with me since.

These little lessons helped pave the way so that as I grew up, savings became an interwoven part of my life, something I knew I just had to do. Like Grandpa Willie, I am a saver. And thanks to my grandfather, getting started was easy.

In celebration of America Saves Week, now’s a great time for you too to get started. Remember, it’s okay to begin by saving simply (with your own tin can). The important thing is to take action, to make your personal pledge to start building your own economy.

Consider signing up for our Money Mondays Savings Tips via text. Each week, we’ll send you valuable information that can help with great savings ideas and simultaneously act as a reminder to keep at it — sometimes, the hardest part! Just text RETMM to the number 69302 from your cell phone.

You’ll find lots of other helpful tips when you enroll as an America Saver — from information, advice and encouragement to tools that can help you pay down debt, build an emergency fund or save for a home, education or retirement. You can do it!

Your fellow saver,

Michael

Get REAL: Public Benefits

February 18, 2010

Sharon Brent

Welcome to Real Economic Impact’s Get REAL (Reliable Experts, Answers & Lessons) series: reliable advice re: your economic concerns from leading money, legal, and financial experts from around the country. 

This week’s Get REAL expert is Sharon Brent, Director of Training and Technical Assistance for Real Economic Impact, a vision of the National Disability Institute. Sharon is also a parent of an adult son with cerebral palsy.

Q: Why it is important for individuals with disabilities, parents and family members, teachers, support coordinators, and rehabilitation counselors to know more about public benefits

A: Simply put… because knowledge is power!!! People need accurate information about public benefits and how they impact employment, housing, and asset development. A person who is receiving federal and state supports and wants to earn wages has a wide array of programs they may be qualified for while maintaining eligibility for health insurance like Medicaid, Medicaid Waivers and Medicare.

Some federal programs include employment supports (Supplemental Security Income, Social Security Disability Insurance, Medicare and Medicaid) and other work incentives through the Social Security Administration. There are other federal and state incentives and programs that enhance successful employment including the Medicaid Buy In Program, tax credits through the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration and asset building options and strategies.

Most importantly, getting and staying informed about public benefits resources reduces fear and misunderstanding and leads to having more money to live on and a better quality of life.

Our Get REAL blog series welcomes your questions. Simply e-mail us at GetREAL@RealEconomicImpact.org.