Financial Literacy - Families and Finance
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7 strategies for single parents

Contact an attorney to advise you about how to properly title beneficiary designations on the insurance policy. Minor children can't own or control property, but you can make provisions for their care by establishing a life insurance trust where the trust is named as a beneficiary for the benefit of the children.

While you're at it, revise your will and set up an estate plan with the attorney. You will want to designate guardians for your children in the event something should happen to you.

Any retirement accounts you hold also need to be reviewed to make sure that beneficiary designations have been updated. If you neglect to do this, you could unintentionally have assets or insurance proceeds go to your ex-spouse.

Set up an emergency fund

Setting up an emergency fund was tough while you were married, and it will be even tougher now that you are single.

Still, try to divert funds from your paycheck, spousal support or even child support into a liquid account such as a money market or savings account for emergency purposes.

If you receive a lump sum payment from your divorce settlement, avoid being tempted by what CFP Steve Stanganelli calls "the sudden wealth effect."

"The person receives the money and decides now it's time to go out and buy a new car," he says.

"Any large sums of money should immediately be deposited into a liquid account before you decide to purchase a big-ticket item or any other kind of investment."

Take advantage of tax breaks

Believe it or not, Uncle Sam does have a strong benevolent streak judging from the number of tax breaks that are designed to help you get ahead.

In addition, the IRS allows for some child-friendly tax breaks.

If you're a single parent with a modified adjusted gross income less than $75,000 per year and file as head of household, single or qualifying widow or widower, you may be eligible for a tax credit of up to $1,000 for each child under the age of 17.

The credit phases out for those with incomes above that level.

In addition, lower-income earners with an adjusted gross income of less than $38,646 may qualify for the earned income credit, or EIC.

For families with college-age children, the IRS also provides higher education-related tax credits as well as a tuition and fees deduction.

Consider a new career

Many families today rely on dual incomes, but perhaps you had postponed your career to raise your family or serve as a homemaker.

In that event, you may need to take classes to earn a postgraduate degree or to receive professional certification, which can be expensive and time consuming.

Solutions exist. Sometimes courts allow for "rehabilitation maintenance," which is a negotiated provision in the marital settlement agreement requiring one spouse to pay for the other's career-based training.

"It's becoming more and more common where one spouse pays the other spouse for training that might be needed to get them over the hump," says Stanganelli.

But before spending time and money on a career you may not like, it may be beneficial to consult with a life coach or some other career adviser.

A coach can assess your key abilities and at least point you in the right direction.

Don't be afraid to ask for help

If it really takes a village to raise a child, then millions of single-parent families have their work cut out for them.

Single parents are pulled in every direction, which can lead to high stress levels and poor health.

Where you once divided duties with a marital partner, you're now responsible for making all the major personal, financial and legal decisions, and that can lead to a perfect storm of stressors, says Ellis.

Single parents are often reluctant to reach out for help out of fear that it shows vulnerability or weakness. Sometimes pride prevents them from taking advantage of support networks, friends and family, but all are effective tools to reduce stress.

"Being able to say 'this is beyond me' and 'I need support' is an important first step for people to take," Ellis says.

"What's always amazing to me is when single parents reach out for help, they can't believe how many people are willing to support them and all they really needed to do was ask."

She adds that setting aside time for yourself is essential for maintaining good mental health and recharging your batteries.

"Self-care is paramount, whether it's taking five minutes to go outside or picking up the phone and calling a friend. Do something everyday that is nurturing and supportive to you."

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