The Guide to Money
Pay It Forward: Our picks for charity.
5 things You should know about money
By Greg Saitz
Photo: Meiko Arquillos
Teachers bring a lot to their profession: dedication, commitment, sacrifice. There’s nothing wrong with those first two, of course, but you needn’t forgo quite so much on that last one—at least when it comes to money.
That’s because while teachers get shortchanged on some stuff (literally, look at your paycheck), being an educator also makes you eligible for money-saving perks offered to few others.
Uncle Sam, meet Mr. Deduction
Save money for retirement
Milwaukee business teacher Mike Kania has a lesson for you on saving—the same one he delivers to students at South Division High School. Start with your monthly budget sheet (you have one, right?) and add a new column next to mortgage, insurance, groceries, student loans, etc. Title this new column “PYF”—or “Pay Yourself First.” This new field ensures that you put a little away into savings each month. Sock it away for short- or long-term financial goals—or invest it for retirement. And, speaking of investments, Kania prefers certificates of deposit, rather than traditional savings accounts, as a nice way for your money to keep pace with inflation.
Most teachers can deduct up to $250 on their tax returns for all the books, software, and other classroom supplies they buy with their own money. But as New York certified public accountant Robert Greene notes, “What teacher spends $250? Let’s get real.”
Greene, who says roughly half of his clients in 40 states are teachers, says the figure is closer to $1,000 or more. Add that to Association dues and you’ve likely reached the 2 percent of adjusted gross income required to itemize—a better option, Greene says.
Home sweet home, only cheaper
If you’re willing to buy in “revitalization areas” and stick around for three years, the federal government has some bargains for you. As part of its Good Neighbor Next Door program, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD, www.hud.gov) offers single-family homes to teachers at half-off list price.
“There are good deals for teachers out there to inspire them to move into a district and stay,” says Norm Jezzeny, a housing program officer with HUD, which has sold about 5,000 homes to teachers since 2000. (Check with your local and state governments for opportunities in your area.)
To forgive is divine
Many new teachers begin their careers with a healthy dose of enthusiasm and an even healthier dose of student-loan debt. But there are federal and state “loan forgiveness” programs specifically for teachers.
Full-time teachers can have all of their Perkins loans and some Stafford loans cancelled if they meet certain criteria, such as working in Title 1 schools.
Another federal plan started in 2007 could erase loans after 120 payments. (Go to studentaid.ed.gov for more information.)
To 403(b) or not to 403(b)
Some teachers think they don’t have to worry about saving for retirement because they have a pension. While defined-benefit plans are the gold standard, the combination of defined benefit plus a defined-contribution supplemental savings plan can be even better.
Here’s why: In 2009, you can contribute up to $16,500 to a 403(b), tax deferred. That means your annual taxable income is reduced significantly. And if your employer makes matching contributions, they’re essentially giving you cash. Take it.
Flash your ID
Doing this may not get you into a sold-out Springsteen concert, but being an educator gives you access to deals and discounts at retailers ranging from Barnes & Noble to Staples. Also, NEA members have access to NEA Member Benefits’ Click & Save program at stores such as Target and Brooks Brothers.
When in doubt, just ask. Sandi Farina, a 28-year veteran from Watchung, New Jersey, checks into discounts for teachers everywhere she shops. “A lot of times they’ll say ‘Yes, we’ll give you 10 percent off.’”
Three free tech tools to try today!
Your colleague, the Educational Technology Guy—otherwise known as Dave Andrade, a high school teacher in Connecticut and author of a blog called, yes, Educational Technology Guy—can recommend plenty of free tech tools for you to try. His top three are listed below, but for more, go to his blog.
Google's Educational Tools
Tech & Learning Magazine
When the spirit strikes you…
With the winter holidays around the corner, you might be considering what to give this year—or where to give. Here are just a few worthy options:
NEA’s Books Across America
Who they are: NEA’s Books Across America, a joint venture by NEA and The NEA Foundation, is helping to stock the reading shelves of libraries in poor schools.
What your contribution could provide: Books! (It’s hard to learn to read without them … )
Where to go: http://www.nea.org/booksacross
Share Our Strength
Who they are: A national organization with a plan to end childhood hunger in America.
What your contribution could provide: A gift of $35 can provide a hungry child with three meals a day for more than a month.
Where to go: http://www.strength.org/
Will Steger Foundation
Who they are: Founded by Arctic explorer Will Steger, the foundation aims to slow climate change through environmental education and policy.
What your contribution could provide: Check out the $20 Global Warming tote bag—all of the purchase price goes to support the foundation’s initiatives.
Where to go: http://www.willstegerfoundation.org/
Who they are: These are folks who put a chicken in every pot, literally. They work internationally to stop hunger and poverty by providing livestock and training.
What your contribution could provide: A $20 flock of chicks can lay thousands of eggs a year— providing food and income for a hungry family.
Where to go: http://www.heifer.org/