Weekly business rail, with debt-control tips, BBB warning about an H1N1 e-mail scam and more.

Tip of the Week

The bills are coming in, complete with due dates, minimum amounts due and debt dollars adding up. Sure, you had a great time over the holidays, but now it's time to figure out how you can prepare yourself to start the new year off right with your finances. "Consumers are in a financial crisis; they are well beyond treading water; they're drowning in their debt," says Steve Ely, president of Equifax Personal Information Solutions. "Overspending during the holidays will only worsen their debt burden and make getting out of debt seem like even more of an impossibility. That is why having a plan for getting out of debt - a plan that they can actually stick to - is so important." Here are some tips that may help you get your debt under control:


- Get your debt organized. If you don't know how much debt you have, or how much you're spending on interest, you'll never be able to get it under control.


- Stop adding to your debt. Paying down your debt doesn't mean you're going to be able to get out of debt unless you curb your spending. Create a budget for yourself, including your debt payments, and stick to it. In addition to your debt, add all of your required expenses like utilities, insurance, taxes and food costs. Also, to keep the January bills to a minimum next year, consider creating a savings account just for holiday presents, and contribute to it all year long.


- Make cuts if needed. As you start budgeting, you might find that your money isn't stretching as far as you'd like. Look over your expenses and determine whether you can make cuts. Consider cutting back on cable or satellite services and cell phone extras, switching to generic brands of food and clothing, leaving your car at home and taking the bus or walking or biking, and selling items you don't use. You might also decide you need to take on a second job to bring in a bit more money.


-- ARA


BBB Watch


The Better Business Bureau is warning of fake H1N1 e-mails that began hitting inboxes on Dec. 1 regarding a state vaccination program supposedly sponsored by the Center of Disease Control. The e-mails are suspected to be a means of spreading computer viruses and phishing. The message states that anyone who is age 18 or over must complete a vaccination profile on the CDC's Website whether they intend to be vaccinated or not. They are then instructed to click on the supplied link and provide the required information. Users who click on the link are at risk of having a malicious virus installed on their computers.


"As we understand it, the virus is a version of the Banker trojan, which steals usernames and passwords when you are online doing your banking," says Steve J. Bernas of the Better Business Bureau.


For more information about this scam and others, go to www.bbb.org.


The List


According to a recent Forbes report, here are the best bang-for-the-buck cities.


1. Omaha-Council Bluffs, Neb.-Iowa area


2. Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, Ark., area


3. Jackson, Miss., area


4. Des Moines-West Des Moines, Iowa, area


5. Augusta-Richmond County, Ga.-S.C. area


6. Wichita, Kan., area


7. McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas, area


8. Chattanooga, Tenn.-Ga., area


9. Colorado Springs, Colo., area


10. Ogden-Clearfield, Utah, area


To see the full list and more details, go to www.forbes.com/2009/11/30/cities-affordable-cheap-lifestyle-real-estate-housing-foreclosures_chart.html.


Number to Know


9: Number of consecutive months consumer borrowing has been down, according to the Federal Reserve.


Tech Talk


Apple recently bought out online music shop Lala.com, which provides music in a streaming format that is faster and cheaper than the MP3 format.


GateHouse News Service