Personal Finance

At the library we offer information to help you manage your finances to achieve your financial goals, including books on budgeting, credit, investing, real estate, identity theft, and other financial topics.

Kathleen Kennedy is the Library’s Career Specialist. She holds a BA from Rockhurst University in Administration of Justice and Theology and a MSW from the University of Kansas. As a MSW social worker, Kathleen has many years of experience in urban KCMO/KCKS providing employment and career counseling, child abuse/neglect and substance use disorder treatment, homelessness and emergency assistance services, and criminal legal system work. She is passionate and driven to provide individual advocacy, strong community collaborations, and activism against systemic oppression.

woman smiling by bookshelf
Kathleen Kennedy, Career Specialist

Even though a few banks have been in financial trouble lately, they are still the safest place to keep your money. Remember that most banks are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and that no money has ever been lost by an FDIC-insured bank. You will need to present a government-issued ID card (such as a Driver’s License), as well as your social security card, to open a bank account. If you do not have a social security card, another government issued ID card such as a Permanent Resident Card (or “green card”). Visit the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website for more information on how to get a green card.

Why Should I Have a Bank Account?
  • Banks provide the convenience of keeping track of the amount of money you have available making money management easier.
  • Bank users establish relationships with bank staff; this can help when applying for bank loans.
Benefits of Savings Accounts
  • They are used to store your money safely as you reach your savings goals.
  • They are intended for less frequent withdrawals than checking accounts.
  • These accounts may earn interest (a direct payment to you which is a percentage of your balance; the higher the balance, the higher the payment).
Benefits of Checking Accounts
  • These are used for day-to-day purchases of goods and services
  • Checking accounts are safer than sending cash through postal mail, and are less expensive than using money orders (most banks charge a fee for each money order requested).
  • Most allow deducting using both a handwritten check and a debit or “check” card.
  • Like savings accounts, these also may earn interest.
Checking Account Safety (From the Federal Reserve Board)
  • Do not give your checking account number or routing number (the nine-digit number following your account number) out to any person or business that you don’t know and trust.
  • Review your monthly bank statements for mistakes (Are all of the transactions yours?), and contact your bank if you find errors.
  • Balance your checkbook by keeping track of checks written, ATM withdrawals, and deposits!
About Electronic Check Conversion (From the Federal Reserve Board)
  • Paper checks are being turned into electronic debits more and more frequently; these debits are taken out of your checking account immediately, faster than a regular check.
  • If a check you present in person is converted into an electronic debit, you will be given the original check back as a receipt.
  • If you have mailed a check that is converted into an electronic debit, you will not receive the check back, even if you usually receive your checks or images back in your statement; your bank statement is considered your receipt and proof of payment.
  • Contact your bank if you have a problem with an electronic check conversion; contact your state’s consumer protection agency or attorney general’s office to learn more about your state’s laws regarding electronic check conversion.

Many financial planning experts advise that the first step to creating a personal budget is to keep a “spending diary” for a week or month to carefully track “where” your money is going. Relying on a weekly or monthly budget will allow you to gain control of your spending, and hopefully prepare you to save a portion of your assets for future expenses. There are many free budgeting tools available on the Internet. Here are a few examples:

Financial Education: General Resources
Budgeting Tools
  • Learn how to properly use a credit card
  • How to Establish, Use, and Protect Credit Learn how to establish and use credit
  • Your Free Credit Reports Learn about how to access your credit reports for free
  • Understanding and Improving Your Credit Score Learn how to improve your credit score Many financial planners also believe that “living within your means” boils down to one thing: Self-discipline. Reaching financial goals requires self-control, and understanding the difference between wants and needs. Your first step is to determine your financial goals. When creating a budget, be sure to include
  • Fixed expenses: Expenses in which the amount does not change (such as monthly rent)
  • Variable expenses: Expenses in which the actual amount fluctuates from time to time (your electric bill)
  • Optional expenses: For things like dining out and entertainment
Easy Day-to-Day Tips for Saving Money

From InnerLight Incorporated (Kansas City, MO)

  • Clip coupons only for staples (butter, hot dogs, bread, etc.)- many grocery coupons are for new high-priced items, so coupons will not really “save” you money- they will just bring these items down to regular price.
  • Read and use merchant sales flyers.
  • Buy whole rather than cut foods (meats, fruits, and vegetables).
  • Pack a lunch for work.
  • Engage in inexpensive forms of exercise that do not require a gym membership (jogging, biking, free weights). From Consumer Federation of America, “66 Ways to Save Money” (Washington, DC)
  • Buy generic products.
  • Pay bills ON TIME (to avoid interest payments).
  • Don’t pay retail for anything—watch for sales, and ask merchants, “Is that your best price?”
  • When buying a used car, compare the asking price with the “Bluebook” price, or the price found in a reputable pricing guide (available at the Library).
  • Find and use an automotive mechanic who is honest, well-established, and communicates well about repairs.
  • Use a free checking account from a bank which does not charge extraneous fees.
  • Open a savings account at a bank that does not charge extraneous fees and earns the highest interest possible.
  • Use a cell phone plan which saves you the most money based on your calling habits.
  • Cook! Prepared foods are more expensive than ingredients.
  • Pay attention to quantities on food labels; shop for the lowest price per unit weight.
  • Ask your physician about generic prescription drugs, and call several pharmacies to compare prices for prescription drugs. For additional information, look over these books available at Kansas City Public Library; you can find more books by searching the Library's catalog under the subject headings "Saving and investment," "Budgets, Personal," and "Finance, Personal."
Consumer Reports Magazine

For general consumer protection information, including ratings of consumer products, browse Consumer Reports online (with full text through January 2009). Like our other databases you’ll need a library card to access this from home. The past year’s issues of Consumer Reports are also available in print at the 3rd floor Reference desk.

Investment Fraud

The’s Fraud Center includes links to an investment fraud information packet, and questions to ask before buying an investment.

Credit Reports

Businesses which sell major products like automobiles, most employers, landlords, and lenders of loans (banks) will check your credit history to determine whether you are suitable financial risk. (That is, if you are offered credit, will you pay it back?) Credit is the promise to pay for something in the future in order to buy or borrow in the present. You are entitled to receive one free copy of your credit report from the United States’ official website, You may also request a report by phone by calling 1.877.322.8228. In addition, the postal mail address for requesting a report is: Annual Credit Report Request Service P.O. Box 105281 Atlanta, GA 30348-5281 Through this website you can get a copy of your credit report from the three main credit reporting agencies: Equifax 1.800.685.1111 Postal mail: Equifax Credit Information Services, Inc. P.O. Box 740241 Atlanta, GA 30374 Experian 1.888.397.3742 Postal mail: Write to the address on your credit report Transunion 1.800.888.4213 Postal mail: TransUnion 2 Baldwin Place P.O. Box 2000 Chester, PA 19022 You can also receive your credit score from these companies for a fee. Ranging from 300 to 850, your credit score is a numerical rating of your credit. It is based on five factors (from the Federal Trade Commission):

  • Do you pay your bills on time?
  • How much money do you owe (what is your debt?)
  • Have you recently applied for new credit?
  • How many, and what types, of credit accounts do you have?
  • How long is your credit history? You can improve your credit score by carefully reviewing your credit report for errors and having them corrected. The Federal Trade Commission’s site, Credit Repair: How to Help Yourself, provides additional tips on improving your credit.
Identity Theft

Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States. The Federal Trade Commission has established a website with information on what to do if your information is misused. Also see Protecting Yourself Against Identity Theft. Identity theft is not simply the misuse of your credit card; anytime another person uses a valuable item associated with another person without the owner’s permission, the possessor can be said to have committed identity theft. Some people are surprised to learn that identity theft is most likely committed by people who know the victim, even a “friend” or relative. Acquaintances are most likely to have access to your mail, financial statements in your home which contain sensitive personal information, and other documents. The simplest advice is to keep such items safely stored (preferably under lock and key, in a fireproof storage container) until and unless you need them. Here is some other advice:

  • Do not give out your Social Security Number unless it is absolutely necessary (such as for an employer or health care provider).
  • Do not keep your Social Security Number in your wallet or purse. In nearly all cases, a government-issued photo ID will serve as acceptable identification for your day-to-day business.
  • Social Security cards are difficult to replace if lost, and have valuable information (your Social Security Number and signature) that thieves can use to hurt your credit. If you do lose your Social Security card, visit this page on the Social Security website, or call 1.800.772.1213.
  • Access and review free copies of your credit reports once a year from the three main credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and Transunion.
  • Consider using a paper shredder to destroy documents you no longer need containing information that would be valuable to a thief, such as your account number, and (in the case of credit card statements), your credit card number.
  • Watch for “phishing” scams both by phone and online. “Phishing” is a way for unauthorized companies to retrieve your personal information (such as your contact information or account number) so that they can log into your online account and exploit it. Many companies have made public statements that they NEVER request your personal information from an online account, even if it is theirs. If you receive such messages, delete them immediately. Do NOT open them, because they could have a virus attached which could harm your computer.
  • Be vigilant, but not paranoid, of identity theft. Keep in mind that though identity theft is a rising crime, statistically speaking, the likelihood that it will happen to YOU is still very low. As long as you are receiving all the business correspondence you are expecting (bills, etc.), and NOT receiving correspondence that you are NOT expecting (phone calls about bills which are not yours), you are probably safe. Double check this, though, by reviewing your credit report every year and tracking your financial paperwork closely.
  • If you suspect that your social security number has been stolen, visit Identity Theft And Your Social Security Number, or call 1.877.IDTHEFT. Note that the Federal Government cannot solve credit problems—you will need to handle those through the three main credit reporting agencies. Also check the Library’s catalog under the subject headings “Credit,” “Credit ratings,” “Consumer credit,” and “Identity theft protection” for books on credit and protecting yourself from identity theft.

The Kansas City Public Library provides many resources to research investments to meet your personal financial objectives. A search of our online catalog using the subject heading “investments” will produce a list of titles addressing a wide range of investment topics. For decades, The Value Line Investment Survey has been a go-to resource for advice on stock investing. With a one-page analysis of thousands of equities and hundreds of mutual funds, Value Line thoroughly covers the American investment universe. The library collection also includes several investor newsletters such as The Kiplinger Letter. Also check out,

Many jobs require a specific level of education and/or degree as a basic requirement. There are many additional educational options available to a person who has earned a high school diploma or a General Equivalency Diploma (GED). These include

  • 4-year colleges and universities
  • Community colleges
  • Other educational institutions Four-year colleges and universities
  • All offer Bachelor’s degrees
  • Many offer degrees in liberal arts such as science, fine arts, social science, and history
  • Some larger institutions (normally universities) have special schools for education, business, nursing, and architecture Community colleges and other educational institutions
  • Offer Associate’s, or 2-year, degrees, which can be earned by completing either general coursework, or specialized coursework in a special program
  • Metropolitan Community College, for example, offers Associate’s programs in almost 70 career paths
  • Some professions, such as cosmetology, have their own educational institutions. Use the federal government’s College Navigator, the best free source on the Internet for getting information about colleges and universities.
Take the Required Test

Many four-year colleges and universities require a test for admission, either the Scholastic Assessment Test (call toll-free 1.866.756.7346), or the American College Test (call 1.319.337.1270). Visit with the admissions or counseling staff of the schools you are interested in to determine which of these tests you need to take. Keep in mind that each test also has a schedule for signing up and paying, and informing you of your scores. Information about these dates, as well as where you take the tests, is available on the tests’ websites. The LearningExpress Library also offers practice tests for the SAT, ACT, and certification exams for many different professions, free to use with your Library card.

Apply to College: Complete the Application, Send Transcripts, & Test Scores

Many colleges have an application deadline that you need to meet to be accepted to the school. In addition to completing the application, you will need to submit your high school transcript, a document which has all of the grades you earned in high school. A person can normally make this request in writing to their high school, but there will usually be a fee. Contact your former high school to learn their specific procedures for getting a transcript.

After You Are Admitted

After you are admitted, many institutions will also offer placement tests. Your scores on these tests will help you select the right classes. For additional information

  • Look over the resources listed on the Library’s Career guidance information
  • Ask a reference librarian to help you search the Library’s catalog for testing guides
  • Search the Library’s catalog for books on completing college applications and essays (under the subjects “Universities and colleges-Admission,” and “Universities and colleges-Directories”).

Funding for post-high school education (including traditional four-year colleges, career colleges, and technical schools) can take several forms. These are outlined in the federal government’s Student Aid website. Take a few minutes to look at this site, because it contains a lot of useful information.

Types of Student Aid

There are several types of student aid:

  • Grants and scholarships (These do not have to be repaid)
  • Student loans (These do have to be repaid)
  • Federal Work-Study: This program provides part-time on-campus jobs for both undergraduate and graduate degree-seeking students. Not all on-campus jobs are federal work-study jobs, but many are, you should verify this when you apply for an on-campus job.
Who Awards Student Aid?

Financial aid for attending community, 4-year or technical college is awarded by:

  • The federal government (apply using the FAFSA)
  • States (for Missouri state aid, look at the Missouri Department of Higher Education’s Grants & Scholarships website)
  • Schools. Many institutions offer scholarships; visit with the financial aid officers of schools you are interested in attending to learn more about the application procedures.
  • Businesses and organizations. Think about every place you regularly do business with, and ask them if they have a scholarship available.

To qualify for student aid, you must:

  • Demonstrate financial need (in most cases)
  • Possess a high school diploma or GED
  • Be working toward a degree or certificate in an eligible program
  • Be a U.S. citizen
  • Have a valid social security number
  • Register with the Selective Service (if required)
  • Maintain satisfactory process once in school
  • Certify that you are not in default on a student loan
  • Certify that you will use federal student aid for educational purposes
The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)

An important step of the process for applying for college aid is complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Application deadlines for the various programs vary; many schools have their own application deadlines for completing the FAFSA. Make sure to check with the colleges and universities you are interested in for their priority deadline. A major part of the FAFSA application requests your tax information. Because you may not have your income taxes completed at the time your FAFSA application is due, use the information you have to estimate your income, credits, and deductions. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool is available to use with the 2020-2021 FAFSA Form. The tool helps applicants get tax information needed for the FAFSA application. A good starting point is the FAFSA4caster. It’s a snapshot in time to let applicants know what Federal Aid they could be eligible for, however this information isn’t saved or carried over to the FAFSA application. It gives applicants an idea of how the FAFSA looks and feels. Check out the College Roadmap from Community America Credit Union that includes Step-by-Step Video Tutorials and a FAFSA chat option all for free. The Educational Opportunity Center through Metropolitan Community College is another free resource. They assist with FAFSA completion, career counseling, and defaulted student counseling, etc. If you live in Kansas, there are several Educational Opportunity Centers that offer FAFSA assistance as well. Additional tips:

  • Never pay to have the FAFSA completed.
  • Call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 800.4.FED.AID or 800.433.3243 if you have FAFSA questions, need help completing the form, or need the status of your application.
  • If you are a high school student, check with your high school guidance counselor. They should be able to assist with FAFSA questions.
  • Sites across Missouri host event events to assist with FAFSA completion. The FAFSA Frenzy is a free event designed to help students complete the FAFSA. You can contact your high school counselor for additional information. Commonly asked questions about federal financial aid:
  1. I probably don’t qualify for aid. Should I apply for aid anyway? Yes. Many families mistakenly think they don’t qualify for aid and prevent themselves from receiving financial aid by failing to apply for it. In addition, there are a few sources of aid such as unsubsidized Stafford and PLUS loans that are available regardless of need. The FAFSA form is free.
  2. Do I need to be admitted before I can apply for financial aid at a particular university? No. You can apply for financial aid any time after October 1. To actually receive funds, however, you must be admitted and enrolled at the university.
  3. What do I need to apply for financial aid? The need analysis process for financial aid uses the family’s income and tax information from a prior tax year to judge your eligibility for need-based financial aid during the upcoming academic year (the award year).
  4. Do I have to reapply for financial aid every year? Yes. Most financial aid offices require that you apply for financial aid every year. If your financial circumstances change, you may get more or less aid. After your first year, you will receive a “Renewal Application” which contains preprinted information from the previous year’s FAFSA. Note that your eligibility for financial aid may change significantly, especially if you have a different number of family members in college. Renewal of your financial aid package also depends on your making satisfactory academic progress toward a degree, such as earning a minimum number of credits and achieving a minimum GPA.
  5. How do I apply for a Pell Grant and other types of need-based aid? Submit a FAFSA. To indicate interest in student employment, student loans and parent loans, you should check the appropriate boxes. Checking these boxes does not commit you to accepting these types of aid. You will have the opportunity to accept or decline each part of your aid package later. Leaving these boxes unchecked will not increase the amount of grants you receive.
  6. Are my parents responsible for my educational loans? No. Parents are, however, responsible for the Federal PLUS loans. Parents will only be responsible for your educational loans if you are under 18 and they co-sign your loan. In general, you and you alone are responsible for repaying your educational loans. On the other hand, if your parents (or grandparents) want to help pay off your loan, you can have your billing statements sent to their address. Likewise, if your lender or loan servicer provides an electronic payment service, where the monthly payments are automatically deducted from a bank account, your parents can agree to have the payments deducted from their account. But your parents are under no obligation to repay your loans. If they forget to pay the bill on time or decide to cancel the electronic payment agreement, you will be held responsible for the payments, not them.
  7. Why is the family contribution listed on the SAR different from the family contribution expected by the university? The federal formula for computing the expected family contribution is different from those used by many universities. In particular, the federal formula does not consider home equity as part of the assets.
  8. If I take a leave of absence, do I have to start repaying my loans? Not immediately. The subsidized Stafford loan has a grace period of 6 months and the Perkins loan a grace period of 9 months before the student must begin repaying the loan. When you take a leave of absence you will not have to repay your loan until the grace period is used up. If you use up the grace period, however, when you graduate you will have to begin repaying your loan immediately. It is possible to request an extension to the grace period, but this must be done before the grace period is used up. If your grace period has run out in the middle of your leave of absence, you will have to start making payments on your student loans.
  9. I got an outside scholarship. Should I report it to the financial aid office? Yes. If you are receiving any kind of financial aid from university or government sources, you must report the scholarship to the college financial aid office. Unfortunately, the university will adjust your financial aid package to compensate. Nevertheless, the outside scholarship will have some beneficial effects. At some universities, outside scholarships are used to reduce the self-help level.
  10. Where can I get information about Federal student financial aid? Call or go online to the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC): 1-800-4-FED-AID (1.800.433.3243) or 1.800.730.8913 (if hearing impaired) and ask for a free copy of “The Student Guide: Financial Aid from the US Department of Education.” This toll free hotline is run by the US Department of Education and can answer questions about federal and state student aid programs and applications.
  11. Are work-study earnings taxable? The money you earn from Federal Work-Study is generally subject to federal and state income tax, but exempt from FICA taxes (provided you are enrolled full time and work less than half-time).
Scholarships, Loans, & More

In addition to government websites, also look at:

  • FinAid — The Smart Student Guide to Financial Aid— Contains information about student loans, scholarships, saving for college, the FAFSA, military aid, and financial calculators
  • Fastweb — An excellent online resource for searching for specific college scholarship opportunities. You’ll be asked to create a short profile and will then be provided matches based on your inputted information. Also information about jobs, financial aid, and college life.
  • Big Future (by the College Board)— Reliable information on paying for college
  • — Another great site that includes a calculator to estimate expenses based on your unique circumstances
  • Greater Kansas City Community Foundation — A resource for hundreds of different scholarships for students in and around Kansas City.
Finding General Information About Colleges Online

Here are three excellent websites to search for colleges by size, program, and more:

KC Degrees

KC Degrees is a new service that offers free career counseling and other support to adults seeking to return to college. Visit their website for more information.

Midwest Student Exchange Program

The Midwest Student Exchange Program (MSEP) is an interstate initiative established by the Midwestern Higher Education Commission (MHEC) to increase interstate educational opportunities for students in its members states. This tuition discount program, includes the seven participating states of Kansas, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wisconsin. The Midwest Student Exchange Program seeks to provide more affordable educational opportunities for students to attend out-of-state institutions. It also strives to facilitate enrollment efficiency in those institutions which have excess capacity in existing programs.

Money Matters Booklet

The Money Matters booklet, created in partnership with the Women’s Employment Network, is another great way to learn about banking, budgeting, credit, identity theft, and payday loans. It also available in Spanish and Somali.

Financial Coaching

Free one-on-one financial coaching is available at four Financial Opportunity Centers in Kansas City, including help with:

  • Budgeting
  • Setting future financial goals
  • Using tools to build credit

Community Services League: 404 North Noland Rd. Independence, MO 64050 | 816.254.4100

Guadalupe Centers, Inc.: 2600 Belleview Kansas City, MO 64108 | 816.472.4120

Prosperity Center: 5151 Troost Ave., Suite 100 Kansas City, MO 64110 | 816.501.4239

Women’s Employment Network: 4328 Madison Ave, Kansas City, MO 64111 | 816.595.1302

Women's Employment Network Workshops

The Women’s Employment Network also offers free employment, entrepreneurship, and financial education workshops. See the workshop website for dates and registration information.