Eileen Ambrose: Personal Finance
The Baltimore Sun's Eileen Ambrose has been writing on taxes, retirement, saving for college and other personal finance issues since 1999. Got questions? She'll try to find answers. She also contributes to the blog Consuming Interests.
September 9, 2012
About a dozen years ago, the Internet bubble had burst and many workers were forced to postpone retirement because their 401(k)s were wiped out by the bear market. Today, we're living through the aftermath of another bubble collapse and workers again are wondering when, or even if, they'll be able to retire.
12:22 PM EDT, September 4, 2012
Open a credit card account and you might walk away with more than just plastic.
August 28, 2012
Ethics professors at business schools aren't short of teachable moments these days.
August 26, 2012
Baltimore police arrested five people last week accused of impersonating city tax collectors and going to the homes of elderly residents to rob them.
7:42 PM EDT, August 20, 2012
The early results of Maryland's sales tax holiday are in: Retailers liked it. So did their customers.
August 14, 2012
One of the largest business expenses for Santoni's Supermarket in Highlandtown is interchange fees — what the grocer pays a bank to process customer's credit card transactions.
August 19, 2012
Students across the country are headed back to college, and millions of them will get financial aid disbursed on a debit card.
7:48 PM EDT, August 6, 2012
If you're stuck in a bad relationship, you might have something in common with the subprime mortgage mess.
August 12, 2012
Here we are less than six months away from the "fiscal cliff" and Congress shows little sign of pulling the country back from the brink.
July 29, 2012
Borrowers overwhelmed by private student loan debt often discover an ugly truth too late — these loans can't be discharged in bankruptcy like other types of consumer loans.
7:24 PM EDT, July 27, 2012
Legg Mason Inc. reported Friday that it lost $9.5 million in the first quarter, citing the costs of restructuring debt and launching two funds.
July 24, 2012
Baltimoreans, got a great idea for a web or mobile product? Do you have the passion — and energy — to turn that idea into a reality?
July 22, 2012
Cathy Pelekakis, who was without power for six days after the June derecho, quickly made a few calls to complain: to her state representative, the Baltimore County executive and the Maryland Public Service Commission.
6:28 PM EDT, July 16, 2012
You walk into a job interview prepared to be grilled about your skills and what you can bring to the position. Instead, the interviewer throws a curveball:
July 15, 2012
The tax season ended in April for most of us, but for some consumers their tax headaches are only about to begin.
July 8, 2012
Much of the wealth of millions of baby boomers is tied up in their houses — a sure sign we're going to see a growing demand for reverse mortgages.
5:52 PM EDT, July 9, 2012
You're likely part of the largest financial scandal in the world today if you have an adjustable-rate mortgage or a private student loan.
7:50 PM EDT, July 2, 2012
It happens after every natural catastrophe. Once the winds die down, the water recedes or the fire is doused, shady contractors appear on the scene to make affected homeowners victims twice over.
3:05 PM EDT, June 29, 2012
Workers are about to get valuable information about their 401(k) — specifically, how much they pay for it.
June 26, 2012
Battle lines are being drawn over whether money market funds need more protection in the event of another financial crisis. Maryland investment firms and the state treasurer are on one side of the fight; the SEC chairman is on the other.
8:19 PM EDT, June 18, 2012
Small businesses needing loans should think small — bankwise, that is.
6:32 PM EDT, June 11, 2012
Rodney Donald represents the third generation of his family to work at the Sparrows Point steel mill, and he's hoping this one won't be the last.
June 17, 2012
When you buy a house, you know the price and your monthly payment. The same with a car.
June 10, 2012
A new report from the IRS shows that nearly 21,000 American households with incomes of $200,000 and up didn't owe federal income taxes.
7:47 PM EDT, June 4, 2012
Susan Fulton says about 100 clients of her Bethesda asset-management firm were "up for the risk" last month and invested a total of $1 million the day Facebook went public.
June 3, 2012
Tom Morgan tried to file his federal tax return electronically this year, but he kept getting an error message that advised him to double-check his Social Security number.
May 27, 2012
Money may be tight, but not enough for most of us to forgo a summer vacation.
6:24 PM EDT, May 21, 2012
Maryland small businesses gripe that they can't get loans from banks. Lenders complain of a dearth of borrowers.
May 20, 2012
Here's another reason to file your tax returns as early as possible: an identity thief might beat you to the money.
7:23 PM EDT, May 14, 2012
Maryland banks and credit unions are likely to be among the first to notice that an elderly customer is being financially exploited by a con artist or an unscrupulous relative.
May 13, 2012
Prepaid debit cards are everywhere these days — and so are their fees.
7:54 PM EDT, May 7, 2012
About a year ago, Matt Venditto hired a builder to construct a house in Westminster. It wasn't long before buyer's remorse set in.
8:13 PM EDT, April 30, 2012
Regulators nationwide are pushing life insurers to do a better job of tracking when policyholders die and locating the beneficiaries — an effort that could reap billions of dollars for consumers.
May 6, 2012
The thrill of potentially winning big bucks gets people to spend millions of dollars regularly on lottery tickets. Can this same concept excite Marylanders to become better savers?
April 29, 2012
Finally, a spotlight will be shone on a widespread business practice that forces unhappy customers to settle disputes through binding arbitration — rather than by telling their story in court.
7:14 PM EDT, April 23, 2012
Let's turn to baseball to sum up the Maryland legislative session's impact on consumers: It had a few singles but no home runs.
7:25 AM EDT, April 17, 2012
So the tax deadline is here and you don't have the money to pay the bill.
9:16 AM EDT, April 3, 2012
Give anyone age 40 and older a time machine and they would likely go back to their early 20s — to open an IRA.
7:45 PM EDT, April 14, 2012
Could crowdfunding work for entrepreneurs who need capital for their private startup and are willing to sell a stake in it to the masses? Congress seems to think so.
10:05 AM EDT, April 10, 2012
Yo-yo financing is what happens when you drive off the lot with your newly purchased car, only to be reeled back in days or weeks later by the dealer because the financing didn't go through.
April 8, 2012
Even among the hundreds of data breaches that occur each year, the hacking of card processor Global Payments stands out.
4:51 PM EDT, April 2, 2012
Give anyone age 40 and older a time machine and they would likely go back to their early 20s — to open an IRA.
April 1, 2012
The fate of the Affordable Care Act is in the hands of the Supreme Court justices. But in the court of public opinion, a large percentage of people polled recently want the law scrapped.
12:00 AM EDT, March 24, 2012
Apple made headlines again last week, but this time they weren't entirely about the new iPad.
4:11 PM EDT, March 19, 2012
Students beware: Scholarship providers aren't just going by your application to learn about you.
March 18, 2012
Many long-term unemployed have discovered an ugly truth: You need a job to get one.
6:15 PM EDT, March 26, 2012
Many consumers voluntarily buy more than one type of insurance from the same company so they can get a discount on premiums.
March 11, 2012
Most of us know some basics about Social Security.
9:55 AM EST, March 5, 2012
Same-sex marriage, signed into law Thursday in Maryland, will bring significant changes to gay and lesbian couples here. But to their personal finances, maybe not so much.
3:55 PM EST, February 20, 2012
Last year, Jane Kuhl and her husband qualified for a state-run program that promised a 50 percent rebate to homeowners installing energy-saving insulation.
8:16 AM EDT, March 13, 2012
Workers' confidence about their retirement is at a near-record low. Fewer are salting away money for their later years, and the majority have less than $25,000 in savings and investments.
7:29 PM EST, March 5, 2012
Roberto Pagan-Franco didn't have a bank account for decades. His employer paid him in cash or with a check that the Baltimore resident took to a check-cashing store. A few years ago he lost his job after a severe illness and for a time was homeless.
February 26, 2012
For years, anyone in Maryland could prepare tax returns for money, so it wasn't unheard of to find tax services offered at laundromats, car dealerships or palm-reader shops.
February 19, 2012
As concern grows over child identity theft, Maryland is considering legislation that would make the state the first in the nation to protect a youngster's credit report.
February 28, 2012
It's bad enough being hounded by collection agencies for debt that's yours. Imagine getting calls from fake debt collectors in India who threaten to have you arrested for not repaying payday loans you don't owe.
5:49 PM EST, February 6, 2012
Until recently, retirement planning focused mostly on helping workers accumulate savings.
8:03 PM EST, January 23, 2012
Personal finance guru Suze Orman says she never would have introduced her prepaid debit card if there wasn't a possibility that some day it could be used in credit scoring.
February 14, 2012
Somewhere, a husband and wife are arguing about money — even on Valentine's Day. And researchers say that if the two were being totally honest, they would say:
7:59 PM EST, December 24, 2011
Many parents braved the malls to find their children this year's must-have toy or the hottest gadget.
8:01 AM EST, January 31, 2012
Marylanders on average have the highest income in the country, but when it comes to having a financial cushion in hard times, we're disappointingly mediocre.
4:46 PM EST, December 19, 2011
Jim Loukota of Baltimore County is trying to make the best of a soured investment.
February 12, 2012
Stef Gray recently delivered a petition to Sallie Mae's Washington office, asking the giant private lender to eliminate a fee that unemployed college graduates must pay to suspend payments until they find a job.
February 5, 2012
Death and taxes might be certain, but the latter changes each year.
6:37 PM EST, January 9, 2012
To: Richard Cordray, Director
December 4, 2011
Megan Connors of Harford County says she got a great education at Auburn University but a brutal lesson on private student loans.
January 22, 2012
Survey after survey shows that many workers don't know how much they shell out in 401(k) fees — or that they even pay them.
3:55 PM EST, January 13, 2012
The conventional wisdom is that allowances make children responsible money managers as they learn to budget so they don't run out of cash.
1:31 PM EST, January 2, 2012
Many consumers will resolve to pay off their credit cards for the new year, and their intentions are in the right place. But according to a recent study, how they go about it is likely to be wrong.
November 27, 2011
John David Kromkowski learned about compound interest as a youngster with the help of a passbook savings account at the bank.
7:37 AM EST, January 17, 2012
Tax season is officially here, with the Internal Revenue Service and state of Maryland starting Tuesday to accept electronically filed returns.
9:31 PM EST, January 7, 2012
After his mother's death six years ago, Doug Hamilton says, his financial life spiraled out of control. He spent freely, didn't pay his bills on time and had creditors calling him at work.
4:30 PM EST, November 21, 2011
If consumers actually do what they say they'll do, this will be another slow holiday season for retailers.
December 31, 2011
If you had slept Rip Van Winkle-style through 2011, you'd be awakening now to find that your stock portfolio was much the same as you left it.
8:00 PM EST, December 5, 2011
Joyce Brown of Brooklyn Park receives lots of blatantly bogus letters claiming she won millions or billions of dollars in a lottery, but the one that arrived about a week ago was different.
3:45 PM EST, December 26, 2011
If you own mutual funds outside a retirement account, you likely have heard from the investment companies asking you to choose your math.
December 18, 2011
How much in savings and investments should you have by age 35 or 45? Or, for that matter, at 65 when you're likely to be near retirement?
7:14 PM EST, December 12, 2011
An aim of the landmark credit card reform act of 2009 was to protect consumers from getting too deep into debt.
6:22 PM EST, November 14, 2011
Timing is everything if you're trying to get the best deal on a computer, airfares, cars and even stocks.
December 11, 2011
We want gift cards and like to give them, but for some reason we don't always use them and wind up wasting billions of dollars.
November 13, 2011
Don't automatically shred those credit card offers arriving in your mailbox. They just might contain an attractive rewards program.
7:38 PM EST, November 7, 2011
Tens of thousands of Marylanders could benefit from two initiatives by the Obama administration that are designed to ease the burden of federal student loans.
12:03 PM EDT, October 7, 2011
Airfares can fluctuate even within the span of a few hours, but the direction of holiday travel prices is one-way: up.
November 20, 2011
Year-end tax planning these next several weeks will be refreshingly straightforward for a change.
9:42 AM EDT, November 1, 2011
Apparently, consumers have a breaking point — a $5 monthly debit-card fee.
October 2, 2011
Health care costs rose faster than inflation and wages this year — a trend that will hit home for many workers in the next several weeks as employers offer open enrollment.
6:50 PM EST, November 28, 2011
Marlene Partridge and her husband have a six-figure retirement income, no debt and pay off their credit cards each month.
October 29, 2011
Most of us don't buy cars all that often. So when we do, we can come away with that nagging feeling of not knowing whether we got a fair deal or grossly overpaid.
November 6, 2011
When the Obama administration recently backed off a long-term insurance program that was part of the law to overhaul health care, we all lost.
5:42 PM EDT, September 26, 2011
That unfamiliar incoming call to your cellphone soon might be from a debt collector.
7:09 PM EDT, September 23, 2011
For Eddie Germino, being unemployed for a time last year worked to his advantage in a dispute with his Maryland landlord.
9:11 PM EDT, October 24, 2011
By the time you know how much it will cost out of pocket to attend a college, you are far along in the process. Not only have you been accepted by the school, but you've likely waited weeks to receive the financial aid package.
September 18, 2011
A couple of years ago, Joe and Marlene Everett were 50-something empty nesters with a daughter out on her own and a son away at college.
6:42 PM EDT, September 19, 2011
The number of borrowers defaulting on federal student loans continues to rise in Maryland and elsewhere. But even during the long and painful economic recovery, many of these defaults likely are unnecessary.
9:15 PM EDT, September 5, 2011
Help still is available for Marylanders at risk of losing their homes because they lost a job, their pay was cut or earnings reduced because of an illness.
September 4, 2011
Little-known health education and advocacy unit helps Marylanders resolve medical bill and insurance disputes
The surgery on Don Hayden's son was successful. The only lingering complication: a bill for $23,000.
7:11 PM EDT, August 29, 2011
If this past week was not a wake-up call to make sure you are financially prepared to survive a natural disaster, what is?
August 14, 2011
While nearly 14 million unemployed Americans are searching for work, some employers are limiting their hiring to preferred candidates: People who already have jobs.
September 13, 2011
Breaking up with a bank can be hard to do — and expensive if you don't do it right.
6:19 PM EDT, August 22, 2011
If you are offered a short-term advance on your paycheck at a triple-digit interest rate, you might think you're being pitched a payday loan — a product that's basically banned in Maryland and other states with rate caps.
August 21, 2011
Online budgeting sites aim to take the tedium out of money management, and the latest entry even tries to make a game of it with cash prizes.
August 28, 2011
Sam Cameron says high school classmates used to give her "funny looks" when she told them she planned to go to a local community college after graduation instead of some prestigious four-year institution.
September 11, 2011
Last week's column on a little-known state group that helps consumers with medical disputes generated emails from readers asking if organizations exist that can help them tackle other problems.
8:27 PM EDT, August 8, 2011
Investors watched stock markets swoon and economists fretted about the nation's fragile recovery on the first day of trading after the unprecedented downgrade of the nation's credit rating.
7:15 PM EDT, August 15, 2011
The silver lining in all this economic upheaval lately: low interest rates on consumer borrowing.
4:32 PM EDT, August 6, 2011
Think about how you have been feeling about your portfolio lately.
7:00 PM EDT, August 1, 2011
While congressional leaders work to push through a deal to raise the government's debt ceiling, some credit unions that serve federal employees aren't taking any chances.
July 24, 2011
Back in 2003, major Wall Street firms agreed to pay more than $1 billion to settle claims that their research analysts hyped stocks to curry favor with — and get business from — the companies they covered.
6:24 PM EDT, July 18, 2011
Consumer advocates aren't getting their first choice to lead the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Despite the setback, this is still a big week for consumer protection.
11:34 AM EDT, August 1, 2011
Imagine showing off your new car to friends and family only to get a call from the dealer — sometimes weeks later — saying your financing has fallen through.
9:52 AM EDT, July 26, 2011
The move by the federal government to end the sale of paper savings bonds at banks and credit unions next year is bad news for savers in more ways than one.
9:52 AM EDT, July 12, 2011
It was just a matter of time before businesses began to push back against some of the worst behaviors of extreme couponers.
July 10, 2011
Years ago, before we were married and moved to Maryland, my husband opened a checking account in Indiana and had the statements mailed to his office there.
7:54 PM EDT, June 20, 2011
This recorded message must be one of the biggest fibs a business makes to customers: "Your call is very important to us."
6:55 PM EDT, July 15, 2011
While politicians in Washington refuse to compromise on raising the debt ceiling, small investors are worrying about what a stalemate might mean to their life savings.
July 3, 2011
On Capitol Hill, some lawmakers treat Elizabeth Warren as if she were Public Enemy No. 1.
8:00 PM EDT, June 27, 2011
Some banks soon will find it more difficult to slap consumers with overdraft fees — a boon to customers who discover that one misstep can lead to a cascade of penalties.
June 19, 2011
Ever so slowly, the unemployed are getting hired. And if you're one of them, the next task will be to get your finances back on track.
June 26, 2011
Investment guru Peter Lynch once advised ordinary folks to "invest in what you know."
March 1, 2011
The Internal Revenue Service says it will file fewer liens against those who owe back taxes and make it easier for taxpayers to get liens withdrawn — a move that wipes the blemish from credit reports.
February 1, 2009
Gather your W-2, charitable receipts and investments statements. Tax season is here.
July 5, 2011
You might not have paid attention to the fierce yearlong battle between merchants and banks over debit cards, but you'll likely notice last week's outcome in your wallet.
January 30, 2011
For taxpayers who are procrastinators, this is your year.
9:33 PM EDT, March 31, 2011
Auditors have raised doubts about First Mariner Bancorp's ability to remain in business, according to financial statements that the largest Baltimore-based bank, founded by prominent businessman Edwin F. Hale Sr., filed with regulators late Thursday.
5:50 PM EDT, June 13, 2011
Soccer clubs, PTAs, community associations, a temperance union and inactive foundations belonging to a couple of Baltimore sport legends are among the thousands of Maryland groups that have had their tax-exempt status revoked by the Internal Revenue Service.
March 14, 2010
The fastest-growing segment of the population these days: centenarians.
6:09 PM EST, January 31, 2011
If you are a low- to moderate-income taxpayer and you shell out any money to have your taxes done, you're likely paying too much.
1:45 PM EST, January 21, 2011
Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons is hawking a prepaid card. Reality TV star Kim Kardashian briefly offered a prepaid card before it was pulled off the market. Then earlier this month, the Treasury Department announced that it would allow some taxpayers to get their refunds on prepaid cards this year.
February 9, 2010
With 2 feet of snow this past weekend and more flakes forecasted, many homes in the Baltimore area are likely to end up with some weather-related damage.