John Wasik

The Ivy leap: 5 ways to land a college scholarship

Mar 28, 2011 16:37 UTC

A student uses her laptop computer on the steps to Memorial Church at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts September 21, 2009.   REUTERS/Brian Snyder  If you or your child is hoping to enter college in the fall, it’s a good time to be looking for a scholarship. Take the Ivy leap now.

Scholarship and grants form the bedrock of my college financing philosophy: Get as much of a discount upfront on college bills before you step inside those ivy-covered walls.

I’ve always disliked loans, which can hobble young adults for years. Grants don’t have to be paid back and should be your first financing option. There’s a method to the Ivy leap that takes a great deal of diligence. Scholarships don’t magically appear in the mail, and you’ll need to fill out a lot of forms.

For the persistent, taking the Ivy leap pays off. I know one young man who got enough scholarships to cover his first two years of college and he’s now working on getting the money for the rest of his degree.

There are few people who know more about landing college funds than Mark Kantrowitz, the founder of the college money search engines Fastweb and Finaid. Kantrowitz has distilled some of the tips he’s learned over the years in his new book Secrets to Winning A Scholarship.

4 ways to play Japan’s rebound

Mar 25, 2011 15:29 UTC

People walk past a display showing stock indices in Tokyo March 23, 2011.  REUTERS/Lee Jae-WonIf you’re an investor, how should you regard the Japanese crisis? Should you be shorting Japanese stocks? Should you bet heavily on Korean companies to pick up the slack? What about American-based companies like Apple and Hewlett-Packard that are dependent upon the Japanese supply chain?

There are no clear-cut answers as supply chains are often as complex as the products whose parts depend on them. You need to look beyond Japan and the current headlines to explore a number of scenarios.

Japan will be hurt in the short-term. Although eventually Japanese engineers and crisis planners will get things moving again, in the interim the island nation is short of electricity. Unlike oil and other commodities, they can’t easily pipe in more electrons from a ship or plane. A weakened grid means lower or no productivity in factories and brownouts in office buildings. Parts are not being shipped out for everything from cellphones to autos.

Cut your tax bill now with five big deductions

Mar 21, 2011 14:45 UTC

Sheila Bradley speaks with a client regarding 2010 taxes in Tax Tyme Connection's office, New Smyrna Beach, Florida, February 15, 2011.  REUTERS/Jill KitchenerThis defies the conventional wisdom, but some tax preparation is easy and actually makes sense — if anything can in the murky U.S. tax code.

Some of my favorite write-offs are “above the line.” That means they are relatively simple to declare and you can put them right on the first page of your 1040 tax form.

While most of the tax code is maddening — just try to figure out your alternative minimum tax liability without software or a tax planner — there are certain deductions that often fly under the radar. If you have a small business, for example, did you know that one-half of self-employment taxes are deductible?

Saving safeguards: How to avert financial disaster

Mar 18, 2011 14:58 UTC

An elderly man sits on a chair among rubble in Kesennuma City, Miyagi Prefecture, in this picture taken by Kyodo News on March 18, 2011. Mandatory Credit REUTERS/KyodoThe Japanese tsunami and nuclear disaster has triggered a lot of serious thinking about personal disaster planning.

While my hopes and prayers are with the Japanese people as they attend to their needs and recover, it’s an ongoing reminder that we have to consider and plan for worst-case scenarios in our own lives.

Protecting against a disaster requires financial triage. Most of us never think about the need to do this until faced with a life-changing event. The single-best “first responder” safeguard against all kinds of catastrophes is a combination of adequate savings and insurance.

How to beat the energy tax

Mar 14, 2011 19:20 UTC

A motorist prepares to put fuel into her car at a petrol station in Melbourne July 3, 2008.   REUTERS/Mick TsikaWith crude oil prices once again shooting above $100 a barrel, getting a fill-up at the gas pump is getting pricey again. I just spent $60 to fill up my minivan over the weekend.

Even if the numerous Middle Eastern fights for freedom are resolved soon — unlikely at this point — we will still be hostage to foreign oil producers. Each increase in the price of oil is a direct energy tax on our transportation budgets.

Since conservatives in Congress appear unwilling to greenlight a comprehensive federal policy that will boost alternative energy, renewable electricity or green buildings, you’ll have to jumpstart your own conservation plan.

Home market isn’t on rebound yet

Mar 11, 2011 15:42 UTC

A vacant house for sale is pictured at the Green Valley Ranch neighborhood in Denver, Colorado July 26, 2007.  REUTERS/Rick Wilking Are we there yet? Is the U.S. home market on the upswing?

As Alan Greenspan would say, “there are shoots,” although a true spring in housing is still hampered by a chilly economic climate throughout most of the country.

One positive sign came from new mortgage applications, which jumped to the highest level in three months last week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

As Congress and state attorneys general wrangle with a number of reforms to seed a housing rescue, most of the country is not out of the woods. Yale Economist Robert Shiller warned recently that housing prices could “slip another 15 to 25 percent”.

How health reform de-funding will cost you

Mar 9, 2011 20:56 UTC

Opponents of the proposed U.S. health care bill are pictured during a rally outside the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, March 21, 2010.    REUTERS/Jason Reed  Although corporate and conservative interests have done a stellar job of demonizing “Obama Care,” it makes no economic sense whatsoever to de-fund this landmark legislation.

In a major concession triggered by pending state lawsuits challenging the health reform law, President Obama recently signaled he was flexible on the law’s insurance mandate. Yet that would require  Congress to shift the major building blocks of the plan back to the states, many of which are ill-prepared to design their own plans.

We’re back to a cagey political poker game. Obama has called to see the cards of his opponents. They either come up with a winning hand or fold. Being martyrs to the cause proves nothing, though.

Make inflation a personal fight

Mar 8, 2011 13:53 UTC

A sign is seen in a Dollar Tree store in Arvada, Colorado February 25, 2009.   REUTERS/Rick Wilking It’s time to get personal with inflation. First you have to stop pretending that the government’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) is a precise guide to the cost of living.

For those on Social Security and workers whose wages are indexed to the CPI (lucky you), the index is a Rosetta Stone, although not a very good one. It may not be an accurate reflection on your cost of living.

To see how inflation impacts your life, you need to take two separate views: your daily living expenses and your long-term portfolio.