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  • Life Happens: A Practical Course of Personal Finance from College to Career by Mitchell D. Weiss
  • Irina Naoumova and Dinara Safina
Life Happens: A Practical Course of Personal Finance from College to Career
Hartford, CT: M. D. Weiss LLC, 2012, 115 pages Mitchell D. Weiss, M.D.

Life Happens is an innovative approach to introducing American and international students to personal financial management systems. Although the book is based on an American financial framework, it is extremely interesting to exchange students, faculty, and international professionals who come to the United States for a short- or long-term stay. Fulbright and IREX scholars would benefit from reading the book prior to coming to the United States. The book’s content is also relevant to any country’s financial system due to its clear and engaging explanation of such fundamentals as managing cash; budgeting and saving; acquiring, managing and protecting credit; investing in equity; purchasing a home and a car; buying insurance; and dealing with debt.

The younger generation is computer savvy; they easily learn through a variety of Internet resources and visual applications. They appreciate hybrid forms of textbooks containing lecture captures, Internet exercises, surveys, videos, and links to additional readings. Life Happens is one such hybrid form, incredibly dynamic and interesting, containing valuable knowledge that could be applied to real life right away.

The book is divided into seven parts that are organized in smaller sections. Although it has a clear value on its own, the book could be accompanied by [End Page 155] the online course taught through 81 individual videos. The title of the book is related to John Lennon’s song “Beautiful Boy”: “Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.” Life Happens intrigues readers from the very first page and invites readers to view the text as practical, thought-provoking, and conversation-triggering. It is as if you could literally hear the voice of an experienced and knowledgeable friend guiding you through milestones of financial literacy.

In the first part of the book, Mitchell Weiss starts with describing basics: how to deal with financial planning, goal-setting, and prioritizing goals. He also shares his advice of establishing two important savings, one for long-term goals and one for emergencies. He suggests they should be held separately in different funds. Tracking cash, income, and debt is the next valuable discussion. Weiss also touches upon a major problem for international visitors and college students: financial implications for shared property or the economics of a committed relationship.

Detailed explanation on how checking accounts work and on factors affecting the account balance is interrelated to the material on banks’ policies, fees, overdraft protection plans, and interest rates. The author provides personal stories and shares best practices in four strategies for success. Also, in the fundamentals he presents a description of the U.S. tax system, including federal and state income taxes; suggests “legitimate strategies” for minimizing tax obligations; strategies for “increasing certain deductions (such as for charitable giving) and exemptions . . . , adjustments to income”; and investment strategies. Next in the fundamentals is the section devoted to acquiring and managing credit. The author starts from describing the financial system of lending and major expenses and business models of lending institutions. Better understanding of lenders’ policies is critical for successful management of one’s credit. The author goes through the “Five C’s of Credit”: capital, capacity, collateral, conditions, and character. In relation to the last C, he describes the system of credit scores and functions of credit bureaus and shares advices on maintaining a good credit score and avoiding identity theft. Suggested reading and links are provided at the end of this part for each of the listed fundamentals (e.g., Darlin, 2009; Goodchild, 2010; Schneier, 2007).

The second part reflects one of the most critical financial functions: borrowing. It starts with detailed explanation of how banks make money on loans and examples of loan amortization and definitions and examples of interest rates, fees, and different loan terms. Collateral, points, payment schedule, refinancing, and escrow are also discussed here. The text is supplied with easy-to-open Internet links to loan calculator sites...