Chicago Sun-Times Latest news from the Chicago Sun-Times Online en-us (Editor) Newspapers Chicago Sun-Times 84 34 30 Copyright 2014 <![CDATA[ America faces tough decisions ]]>

The American economy has pulled through some tough times before. But until now, we were almost always pulling together, even though only some of our citizens were directly affected by recession or economic transition. This time around it's different because we have two huge segments of the population directly opposed to each other -- and fully aware of the very high stakes if one gets bailed out at the expense of the other. Homeowners are squaring off against ordinary investors in this mortgage crisis. And since both sides command a lot of votes, this has become more than a financial … ]]> Fri, 03 May 2013 12:14:51 -0500 <![CDATA[ House of cards or solid foundation? ]]>

Alan Greenspan said he was puzzled about why the sub-prime mortgage mess hadn't had a greater impact on the economy. That was last month. The latest economic data show that indeed the combined crunch of higher mortgage payments and higher energy prices are sapping economic growth. A chilling effect Clearly, the mortgage mess impacts all homeowners, even indirectly. If the house down the block is sold at a foreclosure auction, how much is your home worth? That thought is chilling for millions of Americans who count their home as their most important asset -- both financially and psychologically. How far … ]]> Fri, 03 May 2013 12:14:51 -0500 <![CDATA[ Start guarding identity better ]]>

Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America. According to the FBI, an estimated 10 million Americans are victims of identity theft each year, costing an incredible $50 billion, either to the individual, the creditors or financial institutions -- and ultimately to the consumer who bears the burden of these losses in higher prices for goods and services. We're No. 10 Here in Illinois, the Federal Trade Commission says that more than 11,000 people reported they were victims of ID theft in 2005 -- and the FTC says that more than half the people who are victimized do not … ]]> Fri, 03 May 2013 12:14:51 -0500 <![CDATA[ Many victims of subprime crisis ]]>

It's the loans that are subprime -- not the borrowers! Let's stop blaming the people who took the bait (and switch), and thought they'd landed their piece of the American Dream. Home ownership has been a goal of most Americans, or those who landed on our shores as immigrants. The offer to make that dream affordable was irresistible. Essentially, that's what happened to millions of families who make up a significant portion of the $1.3 billion subprime mortgages outstanding today. Who's to blame? Sure, some of those loans were taken out by scam artists who had no intention of … ]]> Fri, 03 May 2013 12:14:51 -0500 <![CDATA[ Here's a to do list for New Year ]]>

Don't waste your time making New Year's resolutions. Instead, make a list -- and actually do the things on that list. The tasks are not so difficult to accomplish if you tackle them one by one. In fact, you'll get a great sense of accomplishment. Here's a great "to-do" list for the New Year. You might be able to check off a few without even trying! DETAIL YOUR DEBTS. Make a list of what you owe and the interest rate and minimum payment. (If you double the current minimum monthly payment, and keep making that same payment amount every month, … ]]> Fri, 03 May 2013 12:14:51 -0500 <![CDATA[ No easy fix for housing mess ]]> Lead story image

Take all your rotten eggs, put them in one basket and tie a bow on it -- and if you believe that you now have the fixings of a tasty omelet, then you must still believe in the Easter Bunny! That's exactly what the big money center banks said they'd do this week when they took care of all the bad mortgages that they -- or actually their off-balance subsidiaries -- hold in "structured investment vehicles." Those SIVs can no longer sell commercial paper, since they've been downgraded to junk, based on the defaults on the mortgages they own. Loading … ]]> Fri, 03 May 2013 12:14:50 -0500 <![CDATA[ What happened to Golden Rule? ]]>

On the eve of a holiday that celebrates the best in human nature, it's interesting to wonder why humans have spent the past 2,000 years struggling to live up to these lofty standards of the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Is the Golden Rule suspended when it comes to money and investing and wealth? Surely, you'll answer with a resounding no. But that is not the way we behave. Perhaps because when it comes to financial decisions, human nature is ruled by two powerful emotions -- fear and greed. Overcoming good sense … ]]> Fri, 03 May 2013 12:14:50 -0500 <![CDATA[ It's time to plan for April 15 ]]>

Don't come whining to me looking for tax deductions in April when you finally get around to doing your tax return. The time to act is now -- at year-end -- when no one wants to think about taxes. But if you want to save tax dollars in the spring, here's what you should be doing, Give money away It's the season to be charitable -- and charity begins at home. Gifts of cash to family and friends aren't deductible, because they aren't IRS-recognized charities. But those gifts could reduce your ultimate estate tax (depending on when you die). You … ]]> Fri, 03 May 2013 12:14:50 -0500 <![CDATA[ Rx for finding right health plan ]]>

Last week's column mentioned the importance of the "open enrollment" period for corporate health plans, and generated a few questions. In fact, many employees spend only a few minutes reviewing their options, and this year-end task gets relegated to the bottom of the "to-do" list. That could be an expensive mistake. So this week's column offers some resources for those who would like to make informed decisions about their employer's health plan alternatives, but simply don't know where to start. It's worth spending the time to understand your options, because your company might have added new choices, including a Health … ]]> Fri, 03 May 2013 12:14:50 -0500 <![CDATA[ Fed in delicate juggling act ]]>

Most Americans haven't noticed yet, but a supermodel certainly has the Fed figured out. When Giselle Bundchen demanded that her modeling contracts be paid in euros, not dollars, she was only expressing the truth made evident by the currency and gold markets this past week: The dollar grows more worthless by the minute. The dollar is falling in value because there are simply too many dollars in the global marketplace as a result of our borrowings and trade deficit. Even worse, the Fed is making it less attractive to hold dollar investments by cutting interest rates. There's an old rule … ]]> Fri, 03 May 2013 12:14:50 -0500 <![CDATA[ Prescription for Medicare Part D ]]>

Attention seniors -- and those who love them. Medicare Part D -- the prescription drug program -- is back again. From Nov. 15 through Dec. 31, there is a new "open enrollment" period for 2008 Part D coverage. So, here's a reminder of how Medicare Part D works, along with a quick lesson in how to use the "PlanFinder" tool to choose the plan that's best for you. Medicare Part D is the federal government program started in 2006 to make sure that all seniors can get access to prescription drugs through a national insurance program, provided by private … ]]> Fri, 03 May 2013 12:14:50 -0500 <![CDATA[ Prepare: The end may be near ]]>

If you had to run, what would you take with you? Watching all those California houses go up in flames last week was a frightening reminder of some important Savage Truths. First, nothing is as important as life -- yours, your family, perhaps even your pets. That's what everyone grabbed as they ran -- along with precious family photos. These awful television scenes are a reminder that it makes sense to have a discussion with your family about what you'd want to take -- and how you'd carry it -- if you had just moments to escape from fire, flood … ]]> Fri, 03 May 2013 12:14:50 -0500 <![CDATA[ New strategies for college help ]]>

President Bush recently signed the College Cost Reduction Act -- a law designed to make more financial aid available to the poorest students, as well as to lower interest rates for some new borrowers. As a bonus, the new law also creates an opportunity for students to avoid repayment of some loans -- if they engage in certain public service jobs. Tracking the benefits While the headlines sound great, the actual benefits will affect relatively few students. Pell grants made to the lowest income students increase from $4,310 in 2007 to $5,400 by 2012 -- an additional $11 billion in … ]]> Fri, 03 May 2013 12:14:50 -0500 <![CDATA[ Fidelity stretches retirement funds ]]>

Fidelity Investments will offer two new investment products designed to cater to the income needs of baby boomer retirees. About to debut are a new series of Income Replacement Mutual Funds and a Guaranteed Withdrawal Benefit Annuity. These two products form a potent attraction for a generation that will be the first in a while to retire without a guaranteed monthly pension check. Combining these products in a retirement plan can alleviate worries about running out of money and about the diminishing purchasing power of a fixed monthly check from a more traditional annuity. Income replacement fund The income replacement … ]]> Fri, 03 May 2013 12:14:50 -0500 <![CDATA[ The Bag Lady Syndrome ]]>

It's a fear that lurks in the back of every woman's mind -- the fear of being a bag lady. We don't have to see an older woman pushing a shopping cart that contains all her belongings to summon up the worry about being older, alone and without enough money to stay in control of our own life. Women worry with good reason. Women outlive men. At age 60, a man has a life expectancy of 18.9 years. But a woman at age 60 now has a life expectancy of 23.1 years. Those four extra years of life will be … ]]> Fri, 03 May 2013 12:14:49 -0500