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Do You Need to Downsize? A Quick Quiz

01/09/2023

News Article 1092023 | News Articles

Do you Need to Downsize? A Quick Quiz
Perhaps you've heard the call of coyotes from that den you don't go into anymore, or you've seen tumbleweeds congregating in that extra, extra bedroom. Or maybe you've just looked at your electric bill lately and gasped. No matter your reasoning, if you are a homeowner who feels like you have more space than you really need, you've probably considered downsizing into a smaller dwelling at some point. Here are questions to ask yourself when you are considering the change:

What is my equity position in the current home?
Obviously, having a positive equity position in your home is a biggie, since it will make it a lot easier financially to get into a new place. If you sell the home and the amount you receive is less than what you owe on the mortgage(s), you will have to use your own money to make up the difference or face the consequences associated with a short sale. In other words, if you are in a negative equity position, downsizing might not be the best option.

How much money will you save on monthly housing payments?
If you've given serious thought to downsizing, you've probably looked at what it would cost to live in a new place. When you are comparing that number to what you currently pay for your house, don't forget to include categories like taxes, maintenance and repairs for the future on the house side of the equation. Also, pay close attention to utilities since there can often be a dramatic difference in what you will pay in a larger home and what you would pay in a smaller home, apartment, or condo. Sometimes these expenses can tip the scales such that downsizing is the better option.

Does my current neighborhood still fit my needs?
It's not just the house that should be weighed when making a decision on downsizing. If you moved into a neighborhood because it had great schools or lots of wide-open space, as you get older those things may not matter anymore. Downsizing could mean being able to find an area that's better for what you want now while also saving you money.

Will I be able to maintain the property in the years to come?
Maybe at one point you were gung-ho about climbing ladders to do fix-it projects or spending all day on a yard project. But as you get older, you may not be able to maintain the property like you once did. This could mean increased expenses in the future, or if you can't afford to hire someone to do these things for you it could result in the property quickly losing value as it falls into disrepair. Sometimes it is best to sell a home when you are still able to keep it at its most attractive.

What's my relationship with my stuff?
Many people find getting rid of a good deal of their accumulated belongings liberating since they feel less controlled by their possessions. Others have sentimental or practical attachments to certain possessions that require a fair amount of space to store. Either way, think about what you would really need to have with you in the home and then decide how much space it will take going forward to keep it.

What are your space needs for guests?
You may enjoy having a larger space to host family members or friends who come to visit. Think about the maximum number of visitors you have at one time and if you can accommodate them in a smaller space. Many people find that even in a smaller place they are still able to have plenty of guests.

How to Get the Best Vehicle Financing Deal

01/03/2023

News Article 1032023 | News Articles

Getting the best deal on automobile financing isn't as easy as accepting the first offer you are presented with. To make sure you get the lowest possible interest rate, good dealer incentives, and a monthly payment that works well for you, you will have to do a little legwork. The effort can save you thousands of dollars.

Check your credit report and make necessary improvements
Before you shop for a loan, first obtain your credit reports from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax). Dispute any erroneous information, pay old debts, reduce your unsecured balances, and close accounts you don't need or use. Repairing damage and improving your credit score takes time, but it can make a tremendous difference in the deal you are offered.

Bring your own credit report with you
If you plan on using dealer financing, take your own credit report to the dealership. The salesperson may still access one, but having your own can thwart being denied the best rate because your credit isn't good enough, when it actually is.

Make sure the report is current (within the last 30 days) and that it is complete with a FICO score (a number ranging from 300 to 850 that is generated by the Fair, Isaac & Company that helps lenders assess lending risk). The higher your score, the greater chance you will qualify for the best financing deals.

Consider a co-signer, carefully
If you have less than perfect credit, you may consider having someone with good credit cosign the loan for you so you can get a better deal then you would on your own. Be cautious when using this option. The cosigner assumes equal responsibility for the repayment of the loan and any late or missed payments will appear on both of your credit reports.

Shop for the best deal
The total amount you will pay for your car depends on its price, the annual percentage rate (APR), and the length of the loan. Shop around and compare offers. Search the Internet and call various lenders. One of the best sources for attractive car financing deals is your credit union. If you are not currently a member, consider joining one now. Their rates for car loans are frequently better than what you would get at a dealership, and you won't have to worry about being ?scammed.?

If you choose to go with dealer financing (where the dealership shops for loans for you), be sure to ask about manufacturer's incentives, reduced finance rates, and cash back on specific car models.

Financing offers can be tricky. Don't be fooled by an advertised low monthly payment. If the length of the loan is long and the interest rate high, you will be paying more than you may have to. And be wary of extremely low promotional APRs. Though you may qualify for particularly low rates by making a large down payment, it may be more affordable to pay higher financing charges on a car that is lower in price or to buy a car that requires a smaller down payment.

Beware zero percent financing
Zero percent financing sounds like an amazing bargain, after all, how can you beat a no interest loan? You can. Such deals often come with inflated prices for extended warranties and loan insurance, high application fees, and pre-payment penalties. And because you forfeit the rebate option, you end up paying a higher price for the car.

Though you may not have to pay interest on the first half of the loan, you could be charged interest on the remainder and have to pay it first. This is called front loaded interest. You may also be required to repay the car in three years or fewer, resulting in a very high monthly payment. Consider the example:

$20,000 loan 0 % financing for 3 years = $555 per month
$20,000 loan 3.9 % financing for 5 years = $367.43 per month
Zero percent financing can be elusive. It is only offered to those with very good credit, which is determined by the lender. And it is often not available for the most popular cars and trucks.

Though zero percent financing can be an economical way to buy a car, very often you will pay less over all and have a more manageable payment by negotiating the price down and paying a reasonable amount of interest instead.

Read and understand your loan document
Finally, before you sign any document, make sure you read the loan document carefully. Be sure you understand and agree to the:

Exact price you're paying for the vehicle
Amount you're financing
Finance charge
APR
Number and amount of payments
Total sales price
Is it worth it to take the time to repair your credit, learn about the lending process, shop around, compare rates, and negotiate? If you want to save a lot of money, the answer is an unequivocal ?yes.? By doing so, you can drive away secure with the knowledge that you received the best deal possible.

Holidays bring out online scammers, teens increasingly vulnerable

12/20/2022

Augusta Business Daily Article 12202022 | News Articles

By: Gary Kauffman, Article provided by Augusta Business Daily

CSRA residents, like millions of Americans, enjoy the ease of online shopping. But that trend also brings out criminals trying to capitalize on that appeal by running scams and, surprisingly, the fastest-growing victim group is teenagers.

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Department (SLED) said the end of the year is especially rife with scams and fraud.

According to Social Catfish, in the past five years, the number of teenage victims of scams has increased by 1,125 percent and in 2021 resulted in a loss of $101.4 million. Those over 60 are still the largest group of scam victims, resulting in $1.7 billion in losses in 2021.

Unlike seniors, who often fall for scams because of a lack of tech knowledge, teens often fall victim because of overconfidence about their tech savvy. They are especially vulnerable to three types of tech scams: romantic scams through online dating sites, social influencer "free" giveaways, and fake websites that mimic real stores.

Although teens and seniors are the most frequent victims of scams, SLED warns that anyone can fall prey to scammers. Romance scams are one way criminals take advantage of people online.

Here are some ways to stay safe:
-Verify that the account is real. There are thousands of fake Amazon, Walmart, eBay, and other store accounts. These scams generally involve soliciting the intended victim with an official-looking letter or receipt urging the person to click on a link to "verify details."
-Be careful when using Venmo, Paypal, Zelle, and other money transfer apps. Verify that the person asking for the transfer is real - scammers often try to impersonate someone you may know.
-To reach younger people, scammers set up fake TikTok and Instagram accounts, pretending to be social influencers. Check how many followers the account has - a low number could mean it's a fake account.
-Never give out your password or your financial details in answer to an email or text request.
-Check your bank account regularly to ensure there is no fraudulent activity.
-Be cautious when shopping online using public wi-fi
-Use credit cards rather than debits cards to make online transactions.
-If you suspect you've been contacted by a scammer, call your local law enforcement agency.

Are Store Cards Worth It?

12/19/2022

News Article 12192022 | News Articles

Would you like to open an account with us today? You will get 15% off on your purchases!?

When you are standing at the cash register at a chain store, it is almost inevitable that the salesperson will make a pitch for you to sign up for a store card. It is easy to be tempted by the discount, but a store card is not a coupon. Before you get one, it is a good idea to consider the following factors:

What are the benefits?
Beyond the same-day discount, what are the perks you get for having the store card? Points that can be used for purchases? Coupons? Future discounts for using the card? If the cashier cannot tell you what the perks are, you can probably find some information about the card online. Also, consider what discounts are offered to regular customers. If you can get extra coupons by signing up for the email list, it may not be worth it to get the store card.

What is the interest rate?
One of the downfalls of store cards is that the interest rate tends to be higher than for regular credit cards?20% or higher is common. The interest rate is irrelevant if you pay off your balance in full each month, but if you frequently carry a balance, the interest that you have to pay could very well exceed any discounts you get. Also, be careful with cards that offer you a 0% interest rate on a large purchase. You are typically required to pay off the balance completely within a specific time period, and if you fail to do so, you will retroactively be charged interest on the whole purchase.

How often do you go to the store?
True store cards can only be used at that company's stores. (This is different from co-branded credit cards, which can be used anywhere and provide rewards from the company sponsoring the card.) It does not make sense to get a card from a store you only shop at once a year. On the other hand, if you go to the store all the time and have difficulty controlling your spending there, getting a store card may only add fuel to the fire.

How good is your credit?
Generally speaking, store cards have many downsides compared to credit cards, such as higher interest rates, lower credit limits, and limited places where they can be used. However, because it is typically easier to get approved for a store card than a credit card, it can be a good option for those trying to establish or reestablish their credit.

How many cards do you have currently?
If you already have a significant number of credit store cards, it may be best to pass on another one. Having ten cards means you have to remember ten different due dates. Also, applying for credit frequently can lower your credit score.

Life Stages: How to Manage Your Finances Through the Years

11/21/2022

News Article 11212022 | News Articles

There are certain times in life when particular money management areas need special focus. The list below may remind you of areas of your finances that need special attention now or in the near future. Bear in mind that our stages are generalizations: some people are married with children in their twenties while others do not have dependents until their 50s, if ever. Whatever your situation, it's important to plan ahead to accommodate the coming changes in your financial situation.

20s

This is a time when you probably finish your formal education and begin your first ?real? job. Now is the time to start developing sound financial habits for a lifetime.

-Establish credit and maintain a good payment record. Do not charge more than you can pay off in 3 months (or better yet, within the month).
-Set up an emergency savings fund, typically 3-to-6 months? living expenses. Keep this money as liquid (accessible with few, if any, penalties) as possible.
-Start learning about investing and establish an automatic savings program to reach your financial goals.
-If you can, buy a home, or start saving for the down payment.
-Make sure you are taking full advantage of the savings benefits available to you through your employer: 401(k) or 403(b), et cetera.
-Make sure you have adequate insurance coverage (life, home, auto, health, disability, liability).

30s

-If you have children, begin investing for their education.
-Continue to keep credit under control and avoid paying finance charges and annual fees.
-Write a will or review the one you have.
-Review your insurance coverage in light of changes in your family situation, increasing assets, or professional activities.

40s

-As your income grows, look for investments and savings plans that shelter some of it from taxes.
-Use a retirement planning software program or see a financial planner to figure out exactly how much you'll need to have saved to maintain your lifestyle in retirement.
-Step up personal and employer-sponsored retirement savings accordingly.
-Review your investment allocation and make sure you are still well diversified.

50s

-Review your will and estate plan.
-Pay off your debts. Depending on the going rates for different types of investments, it may or may not be wise to pay off your mortgage now.
-Maximize your savings for retirement.
-Make sure your growing assets are protected by liability insurance.

60s

-As you near retirement, switch a portion of your investments to low-risk types to produce income rather than higher-risk growth.
-With life expectancy increasing, make sure a portion of your retirement nest egg is invested so that it continues to outpace inflation.
-Maintain your health and long-term-care insurance.
-Remain wary of scams aimed at seniors.
-Research reverse mortgages if you are a homeowner. You may need to tap the equity in your property to supplement your retirement income.

How to Make the Most of a Reduced Paycheck

11/14/2022

News Article 11142022 | News Articles

Bubbles burst, the economy falters, companies downsize, and personal disasters happen which can result in a reduced paycheck. Perpetual salary growth or even maintenance is simply not guaranteed. However, by adopting the right tools and attitude, you can make the most of a reduced paycheck and not just survive, but thrive.

Determine whether your situation is temporary or permanent
If you fully expect to be back to your full salary soon, you may only have to adjust to lessened cash flow for a limited time. But before you tap into your reserves (and retirement savings, home equity, cash value life insurance, etc.) it would be wise to behave as if the salary reduction is long-term. Cut down on spending now. Securing your old income may take longer than you think.

If you do not expect to make as much money as you once did, you may be experiencing anxiety, which is normal. You may be panicking about the practical matters to contend with as well, such as how you will pay your bills. Adopting a systematic approach and devising a plan will help you manage the anxiety.

Recognize that your salary is not you
This is a deceptively obvious statement. Of course your salary is not you. But many people's self esteem directly corresponds with how much money they make, the higher the income, the more important they feel. If your mood declines when your income drops, make every effort to dispel the attitude that financial wealth equals worth. It does not, nor does having an abundance of money guarantee happiness. Think back to when you were making more money then you do now. Were you genuinely happier, or did you just have the ability to buy more?

Seize the day
Hardship can hone skills and challenge entrenched ideas. Perhaps you worked in the high-tech field because the money was good, but that is not where your passion (or even perhaps talent) truly is. Consider this your opportunity to discover what you really want out of life. After all, if you are going to dedicate forty or more hours a week to your job, it should be something you love. Or at least like.

If you are currently unemployed or are working fewer hours, use this ?extra? time wisely. Your options are as varied and abundant as your desires. Consider taking a class, one that will boost future earning potential or for pure pleasure. Write that book, paint the kitchen, start an exercise routine. Or just relax.

Analyze your expenses
When cash is copious, it is easy to spend arbitrarily. However, when the salary that sustained such a lifestyle is gone or drastically reduced, its time to take a good look at what you need to spend your money on, not what you can. Prioritize expenses now, and identify which bills take precedence. Mortgage versus car payment? Credit cards versus utilities? Analyze the ramifications of missing or not paying each. If you need help deciding, contact a financial counselor for help.

Develop a spending plan. It will help you to discern between those expenses you can and cannot live without. If you find there is simply not enough money to support your necessities, much less your desires, at the very least you now know how much you will require from your next job. If expensive dinners are now a thing of the past, relish in the delights of a cheap pizza, or making cold cuts stretch with lots of lettuce. Enjoy and appreciate the things you may have begun to take for granted.

Remember: credit is not supplementary income
When money is tight, credit cards can take on an unusually seductive glow. However, a $40,000 line of credit is not a bonus in disguise, no matter how you much you wish it was. If you use credit to maintain the lifestyle you've grown accustomed to, it won't be long before you ?hit the wall?. Without an income to support repaying the balance in full every month, you'll be paying in installments. Interest rates on unsecured credit is not cheap, and if you fall behind by 60 days, the rates will likely skyrocket. Late and over limit fees will add to an increasingly daunting balance. And soon you'll be wishing you could return all the merchandise you bought and the meals you ate just so you don't have to open another statement and look at those big, scary numbers. Credit cards are not designed to be emergency savings accounts.

Develop a plan
To thwart procrastination, write down what you want to achieve during this time. Be specific: include names of people you need to speak to and proposed accomplishment dates for each task. Update and refer to it regularly. Apathy's enemy is a detailed and well-thought-out plan.

Go forward
Get professional assistance, talk to friends, and find others who are in like circumstances. It is too easy to think you are alone in this, support is key. Vent to those who can empathize; ask for help from those who can assist. Shock, shame, and anger are normal and feeling these emotions is expected. But by adopting a positive attitude and taking pragmatic steps, you can adapt to a reduced income, and achieve a financially stable future.

Five Easy Ways to Cut Monthly Expenses

11/07/2022

News Article 11072022 | News Articles

Ever notice how your monthly expenses always seem to equal whatever salary you're making, even after you get raises? The phenomenon is called lifestyle creep and it can keep you from reaching all kinds of financial goals, from paying down debt, to saving for retirement. One way to get lifestyle creep under control is to have any future raises you earn directed into savings. Consider diverting the raise to savings via direct deposit or increase the percentage that you contribute to your retirement account.

While you are waiting on that raise, here are a few things you can do right now to cut your monthly expenses.

Make a Budget
The first step toward cutting expenses is to make a budget, so you know exactly where your money is going. Start with major categories, like rent or mortgage, utilities, transportation, meals, clothing, and entertainment. Then break it down even further to ferret out items that are ripe for reducing. Many people, for example, are surprised to learn just how much they pay for pricey lattes and snacks from restaurants and vendors that would cost a fraction of that amount if they were made at home or purchased at a grocery store.

Lower Your Mortgage Payment
The biggest monthly expense for many people is their home mortgage. If you haven't examined that loan since you bought your home years ago, it's quite possible that you could save a lot of money ? both now and over the life the loan ? if you refinance at a lower interest rate. To know whether refinancing makes sense, you'll need to add what you'll spend on closing costs into the calculation of your new monthly payment.

Get an Insurance Checkup
If you have a car, you absolutely must have car insurance. But it pays to shop around periodically to make sure you're getting the best deal. If you have a decent emergency fund on hand in case of an accident, one way to lower your premiums is to increase your deductible. Also be sure to examine your policy for ?extras? you may not need. For example, you could be paying for roadside assistance both through your insurance policy and through AAA.

Examine Your Auto-Payments
Putting your regular bills on auto-payment can be a really smart way to protect your credit rating by ensuring you're never late with a payment. However, if auto-pay causes you to keep paying for items or services you don't really need or use, it's no bargain. A few common culprits include unused gym memberships, subscriptions to magazines that aren't read, and cable or satellite TV plans that include loads of premium channels that are rarely watched.

Cut the Cord
If you've already ditched your land line, good for you! If not, doing so is one of the quickest and most pain-free ways to trim your expenses. Most all of us have our cell phones with us all the time anyway, and if you really like the feel of a traditional phone in your hand, a VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) plan that provides phone service over the Internet is a lot cheaper (free in some cases) than traditional land line service.

How to Plan for Financial Emergencies

10/31/2022

News Article 10312022 | News Articles

Wouldn't it be nice to adapt to change easily and gracefully? To offset the wallet-shock an unexpected life change can bring? You can.

Whether you have one year or one week to adjust to such monetary upheavals as marriage, divorce, a growing family, or military deployment, you can sail through financial foul weather ? as long as you PLAN for it.

Prepare: This first step will help you understand how much money you have to work with. It is vital to putting together a practical strategy for the future. If you don't already have your financial documents in one place, it may require a little hunting and gathering (and once you do, keep them accessible, be it on your computer or in a folder in a corner of the kitchen. Be and remain organized for the next inevitable change).

You will need recent bank and credit card statements for account balances, current loan papers, pay stubs with income, tax, and deduction information, and your checkbook register for household bill information.

Have it all together? Good. Now carefully examine and notate your current income, expenses, assets and liabilities. You will need all this data for the next step in your PLAN?

Learn: Ignorance is not bliss! Learn how this event will alter the way you currently spend and save. If there will be additional or increased expenses, you will need to be acutely aware of their type and cost. More gas for a longer commute? Diapers or daycare for a baby? The last thing you want is to be hit with a big, unexpected expenditure after you worked out a feasible money management plan.

To know how the change will affect the numbers in your financial picture, you may need to conduct some research. Thankfully, there is an abundance of free to cheap (yet high-quality) information available. Websites, books, magazines, friends and family members who have experienced what you are about to go through are all useful sources to tap. Contact your financial institution for ideas and options. If you are in the military and are facing deployment, be sure to investigate the plethora of programs that are specific to your needs and situation.

Often a life change will inspire new goals. You may want to start an educational IRA to fund your child's college tuition, or save for a down payment on a home. Take the time to assess long-term objectives and figure out how much it will take to achieve them. They too will have to be factored in to your newfangled budget.

Act: Now you need to put your PLAN into action. Because you have completed the first two steps, you should have everything necessary to smoothly transition from old to new. Plug the revised numbers into your budget. Are you over or under? You may have to modify spending habits, reduce expenses, or even sell assets to meet the needs of the pending change in circumstance.

Other action items may include opening a savings or investment account, adjusting tax deductions or exemptions, obtaining or modifying insurance coverage, or meeting with a financial professional for long-term planning.

Resist inertia, sitting around hoping things get done is tempting but self-destructive. All the knowledge and assistance in the world won't help if you don't do what you need to do.

Network: Finally, reach out and connect with those who are, or have been, in the same position as you will be. The impending financial predicament may be new to you, but there are scores of people out there who have weathered the storm and come out dry. They can provide you with not just information, tools, and ideas, but also the support you need to be successful with even the most challenging of changes.

Ask people in your familial and social circle for suggestions and connections, contact your employee assistance program for free programs and services, log onto online forums and chat rooms. You may be surprised by how enthusiastic others are to share their wisdom and encouragement.

Remember, change isn't a matter of if ? it's when and how. Think of it as an opportunity to grow and be self-sufficient under even the most daunting of financial conditions. You can do it. It just takes a good PLAN.

Keeping Your Credit Score Aloft

10/03/2022

News Article 10032022 | News Articles

You've done all the right things. You've made your payments on time for all your obligations. Your balances are low on revolving accounts. You've diversified your credit, limited your applications for new credit, and kept old unsecured debt accounts open.

As a result, your credit score is in a solid place. The question now is how to keep it there. The good news is that because of the work you've already done; the main task is to stay the course.

While sticking to the fundamentals is the most crucial part of keeping your credit score high, there are a few external and internal factors to watch out for. Like flying a small aircraft, once you've got the basics down, the main priorities are to keep an eye on your gauges and look out for the unexpected.

Utilize credit monitoring
From financial institutions to credit card providers to money management websites, there are several different sources for credit monitoring. You can likely even find a service that will let you track your score for free. With that being the case, monitoring your credit rating is a good idea.

The idea isn't to obsess over your score, though. Once you've built up your score, credit monitoring's most significant value might be in its ability to alert you to unexpected information that is finding its way into your credit reports.

Most of the time, erroneous data in your credit file comes from honest mistakes, whether that's information being incorrectly processed somewhere along the line or someone else's file being confused for yours. These mistakes can impact your score, so if you get an update from a credit monitoring service that looks fishy, it's crucial to review your reports immediately. If your credit monitoring service provides you free access to your reports, take advantage of it. You can also access your credit reports for free once a year by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com or calling 877-322-8228.

Once you've pinpointed the incorrect information hitting your credit file, your next step is to dispute the falsehoods being reported on your behalf. When you dispute information in your credit reports, you're essentially requiring the company reporting it to the bureaus to prove that the data they're showing for you is legitimate. If they can't prove it belongs to you, they must remove it from your reports.

You can complete disputes for each of the three major credit bureaus at:

Equifax
Experian
TransUnion

Sometimes, unfamiliar data can show up in your file because someone is fraudulently accessing your existing accounts or stealing your identity to open new accounts. If that's the case, it's wise to file disputes for all information in your credit files you believe was not your doing. It's a good idea to also:

-Start a file containing all the information related to your identity theft and your efforts to resolve it
-Check all your accounts for evidence of fraudulent use
-Contact all companies you have accounts with to let them know about the situation
-For any accounts that have been fraudulently opened or used, demand the company involved provide documentation about the account opening or activity in question.
-File a report with your local police about the crime
-Place a fraud alert with each of the three credit bureaus listed above
-Order the additional free credit reports you are entitled to from the credit bureaus as a victim of identity theft
-Consider putting a freeze on your files at the credit bureau websites, creating a barrier for anyone trying to open new accounts using your information
-Run a virus scan on your computers
-File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov
-If you have identity theft insurance, file a claim
-Change all account passwords

Build your emergency savings
Talking about savings might seem like a non-sequitur, given that we're discussing credit reports and scores. However, with on-time payment history being the single-largest component of your score, it's wise to think ahead. You might be chugging right along now, stacking up timely payment after timely payment. But this is a good time to heed the old saying that the only constant is change. If a significant financial challenge were to come your way, would you still be able to keep up on all your obligations? Having six months of your regular income in an emergency savings can help you keep your payment history rock solid no matter what life throws at you.

Don't obsess
It's easy to get sucked into the quest to see your credit score reach the 800-level. And once it's there, you may want to squeeze out a few more points because your neighbor told you he has an 815 score. But the reality is that you're not changing anything. The cutoff for where lenders typically start handing out their best deals is around 750-780. To borrow another old saying, anything above that is gilding the lily.

If you become preoccupied with achieving the highest score possible, you may do more harm than good for yourself. For example, suppose you refuse to use one of your older credit cards because you want to keep your usage percentage low. In that case, the credit card issuer may close the account due to inactivity, potentially hurting your score by lowering the average age of your open accounts.

If you've done the work to elevate your score to lofty heights, it's time to relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor: The financial rewards that come with good credit. So, yes, keep an eye on your score, but try not to let it become a point of worry. It's just not worth it.

Costly Mistakes Shoppers Make (and How to Avoid Them)

09/26/2022

News Article 9262022 | News Articles

Whether you are buying clothes, groceries, or products just for fun, shopping is something you do all the time. You may shop online or visit stores in person, but in the end, you will exchange your money for the items you want and need.

Making mistakes as you shop is common, and the cost of those errors is often quite literal. Whether it's spending too much on things you don't need or paying too much for essentials, the numbers can add up. Here are six costly errors shoppers make and how you can avoid them.

Buying just because it is on sale
Stores love those flash 70% and 80% off signs, and so do shoppers. And while those deep discounts can be compelling, buying just because an item is on sale is a big mistake. If you need it and it's on sale, so much the better; if not, leave it where it is.

Overspending to rack up credit card rewards
Buying everyday purchases with credit cards is a great way to rack up rewards, but spending too much to grab additional points will not do your budget any good. The credit card companies want you to overspend, and it's up to you to disappoint them.

Failing to track your spending
From everyday groceries to dinners out to the occasional splurges on fancy clothes, knowing how much you are spending is essential.

Falling for the checkout line trap
Whether you are shopping for groceries, clothes, or something else, you will spend some time in the checkout line. Stores know that, and they try to entice you to throw additional items in your cart. Falling for the checkout-line trap could be very costly, so keep your wallet in your pocket and your eyes on your cart.

Not checking prices online
One of the great things about shopping online is that price checks are just a tap away. Spending a little time checking prices online before buying in-store is a great way to spend less.

Not keeping your receipts
Hopefully, every item you purchase will work flawlessly, and you will never have to initiate a return. But if you need to return a defective item, having your receipts handy will make the process easier. Not keeping your receipts is a big mistake, so keep them somewhere safe in case you need them.

Shopping is no doubt necessary, but it can also be fun (and sometimes therapeutic). Whether it's the grocery store, the Internet, the shopping mall, or somewhere else, avoiding the mistakes listed above can help to make your shopping a more enjoyable experience.

Three Reasons Why You Should Always Pay More Than The Minimum

09/19/2022

News Article 9192022 | News Articles

Credit cards are a valuable financial tool for both individuals and businesses - but they come at a price.

You get purchasing power on the spot, and the creditor only requires you to pay off a small amount of the total every month, i.e., the minimum amount due. However, it's important to remember that the minimum is calculated in the best interest of the creditor, which puts you at a disadvantage.

Here are some important reasons why you should always pay more than the minimum due on your credit card.

1) Save money
When you only cover the minimum every month, you end up paying more in interest. The minimum payment exists to ensure that interest fees are covered, with only a small amount going toward the actual balance.

For example, suppose you have a $3,000 balance with a 14 percent APR (Annual Percentage Rate). Your minimum payment would be around $65. By the time you pay it off, you will have paid an additional $1,332 in interest.

On the other hand, if you were to pay $100 every month instead of $65, you would only pay $713 in interest.

2) Get to debt-free faster
The more you pay, the quicker you'll be debt-free. Using the same example, it would take 67 months to pay off the original $3,000 balance, along with all that extra interest. That's 5.5 years!

Paying $100 per month instead would clear the debt out in approximately 38 months, which is just over three years. Of course, this is provided you're not adding additional charges to the card and that your APR remains at 14 percent.

3) Raise your credit score
The ratio of your balances to your credit limits is called ?credit utilization.? This ratio actually accounts for 30 percent of your entire credit score.

For example, a credit limit of $2,000 with a balance of $500 would mean that you have a credit utilization of 25 percent. A lower ratio is better because it shows that you're using only a small amount of the total credit that has been extended to you.

If you're only paying the minimum, your balance remains high relative to your total credit limit. This will cost you some points on your score. Naturally, this also means that when you begin making higher payments that quickly bring down your balance, you'll likely see an increase in your credit score to reflect this change.

So what's the solution to avoiding the minimum payment trap? Whenever possible, pay off your balances in full every month.

Daily Habits That Make Building Wealth Easier

09/12/2022

News Article 9122022 | News Articles

It is easy to think of wealth as something that happens overnight. The media often emphasizes rags to riches stories, forgetting how rare those scenarios are. News sites share stories of happy lottery winners, reports that also overlook the enormous odds ticket buyers face when they lay down their hard-earned money.

Given these misperceptions, it is easy to see why so many people haven't taken the steps that could help them achieve their financial goals. Goals that may seem unattainable. With discipline and hard work, building wealth is possible. Here are a few strategies and everyday habits that can make wealth building easier.

Pay yourself first
Pay yourself first, or PYF, is perhaps the most effective wealth-building habit and one of the easiest to implement. With this simple strategy, you direct part of every paycheck to a savings account, mutual fund, or other investment vehicle, forcing yourself to live on less than you make.

Know how much is in your accounts
There is a reason why financial institutions make so much money on overdraft fees, a shocking number of account holders have no idea how much money is in their account. As a result, they are blindsided when writing a check or withdrawing cash from an ATM sends their balances negative. Knowing how much is in the account is an essential first step toward controlling unexpected costs and taking control of your finances.

Prioritize fee reduction and demand real value for your money
Those who manage to build wealth know that prioritizing fee reduction is a vital first step and that every dollar not spent on management costs is one more dollar that can be invested. The wealthy, and those on their way, always demand value for the money they spend on their investments.

Deposit (or invest) raises, bonuses, and other found money
If you want to build wealth, start by putting bonuses and other found money in a savings account or investing the cash in a mutual fund or other low-cost investment. When wealth builders get extra money, they avoid lifestyle inflation, opting instead to beef up their savings and investment accounts.

Take advantage of tax savings
From 401(k) contributions to IRA accounts to health savings accounts, some types of investments have a double and even triple advantage. One of the most effective ways to build wealth is to prioritize investments that offer tax savings and the promise of tax-free withdrawals. Consult a tax advisor to determine the best strategies for your situation.

Develop multiple streams of income
One of the fastest ways to build wealth is to bring in extra money, which starts with developing multiple income streams. That could be a side hustle, a home-based business, or even rental real estate. The idea is to generate extra cash, money that can be saved and invested.

Save on everyday purchases
People who are successful at building wealth look for ways to save money on everyday purchases. These people choose generic and store-brand products when they go grocery shopping. You might even see them scanning the racks of the local thrift store for gently worn designer duds and used but still pristine furniture and home decorations.

Take the long view
Building wealth will be a slow and steady process unless you are the one in several million who buys that winning lottery ticket. If you want to succeed, it pays to adopt the long view, saving consistently, taking calculated risks, and tracking your progress over time.

Conduct an annual financial review
Successful wealth builders know where they stand and where they are going. So they conduct annual reviews of their finances, including emergency savings, investments, insurance, and all other expenses.

Building wealth is not an easy process; in many cases, it is not fast either. If you want to build wealth for the long term, start today, and adopt these smart habits that can help you succeed. The strategies listed above can help you get started, one dollar, and one day, at a time.

Multiple Ways ID Theft Targets Seniors

News Article 82202022 | News Articles

08/22/2022

Identity theft is something we all have to take precautions against. Approximately 1 in 15 Americans experience some type of identity theft each year.* The most vulnerable of us are the elderly who may not have the knowledge of how to protect against identity theft in an ever-increasing electronic world. More troubling is that most senior identity theft is perpetrated by close family or friends who have easy access to personal information. The federal government labels this type of identity theft as "familiar fraud." Here are a few of identity theft schemes that target seniors:

1. Medical Identity Theft. Medical identity theft occurs when a person steals someone's social security number and uses it to bill Medicaid or an insurance company for services the victim did not receive. Medical identity theft is difficult to guard against because national insurance carriers often lack security and investigation teams to identity or rectify the thefts.

2. Estate Identity Theft. Estate identity theft occurs when a criminal collects tax returns, Social Security checks, or military and other benefits using personal information of a recently deceased senior.

3. Tax Fraud. Tax fraud occurs when a criminal files taxes using a stolen Social Security or Employee ID number to collect a victim's tax return. While tax fraud is common across all demographics, seniors are generally slower to notice on-going tax fraud. In this case, this personal information is often obtained by rummaging through the victim's purse, wallet or trash.

4. Wire Transfer Fraud. Wire transfer fraud happens when a criminal uses a victim's personal information, usually online banking information, to electronically transfer money from their financial accounts. Discovery of these transactions can take 6 months or more, unless a senior is regularly monitoring bank statements, or has alert settings configured to receive notice of unusual activity.

Seniors and their family members can help protect against senior fraud by making sure only certain individuals have access to the senior's personal information. Online purchases and social media accounts should be carefully monitored to ensure nothing out of the ordinary takes place and personal information is not publicly available.

Paid professional services that monitor online and financial profiles for unusual activity are available. It's also important to shred all documents that contain personal information before they are discarded. Finally, any fraudulent activity should be handled as soon as it is identified to limit the impact on the senior's finances.

Eight Awesome Alternatives to Binge Shopping

News Article 8152022 | News Articles

08/15/2022

It would be great if we all only made rational, well-analyzed spending decisions. But none of us are robots. We've all made emotional buys at one point or another. Think back on things you bought because you had a rough day at work. Or maybe it was an argument that got you agitated. No matter the cause, purchases made on feelings instead of frugality can be rough on your bottom line. Here are a few ways to soothe yourself without draining your funds.

Create Me Time:

In a lot of cases overspending happens because it gives you a sense of control over your surroundings. Instead of trying to grab control with money, take control of your time and your surroundings. Whether that means gifting yourself with a nice hot bath or time to work on that tinkering project in the garage, commit to unwinding on your own terms.

Connect with a Loved One:

Loneliness is another emotion that can turn you into a frenzied consumer. A call to a relative you haven't spoken to in a while or even a spontaneous get-together with a friend can remind you of the wonderful bonds in your life.

Volunteer:

It may sound strange, but in many cases the best way to help yourself is to work at making someone else's life better.

Exercise:

Scientists believe that for certain people splurge shopping releases the same amount of endorphins in the brain as skydiving. So if you are one of those people who gets a real charge out of filling a shopping cart, consider alternatives like going to the gym, walking, or riding a bike to get your endorphin rush (if the plane and parachute are not available).

Enjoy Nature:

One of the best ways to get away from your problems is to get away from them! Leave your connectivity behind and get back in touch with a favorite out-of-the-way spot.

Read:

A little healthy escapism is always good for taking your mind off your day-to-day worries. Whereas passive media like television usually serves more as just a casual distraction, diving into a good book forces you to actively engage in the story.

Play:

Be it with children or a pet, having some silly fun can shed a lot of stored up tension you might otherwise look to purge with shopping.

De-clutter:

Because coming home to a place full of stuff can add to your stress level, give yourself a present and a future of increased serenity by hunting for items that can be donated or sold online or at a garage sale.

Teaching Kids and Teens Smart Money Habits

08/08/2022

News Article 8082022 | News Articles

Think back to how you formed your financial habits. Did you learn everything you needed in school? From your parents? If you could go back and talk to your younger self, what financial pitfalls would you tell yourself to avoid? If you have children of your own, you may be wondering how and when to start teaching them smart financial habits like saving early and spending responsibly. Younger kids enjoy the process of learning and earning rewards, while teens will be motivated to learn because they are yearning for financial independence. As a parent, you can capitalize on these wants to help teach your children to build a strong financial foundation for their future. If you're not sure where to start, here are a few activities to help.

Money Activities For Kids
Even pre-school aged children can start learning money habits and early math skills. The activities below use children's natural curiosity to learn as well as their reward-orientated motivation to encourage their money awareness.

1. Use a clear jar instead of a piggy bank to save money. They'll be able to see and enjoy the money as they watch it grow.

2. Create a chore or simple money-earning task for your child. Then have them put some money aside for saving while allowing them to spend the rest on themselves or someone else. This will start to show them what items actually cost while reinforcing that they should always save first.

3. Send your kids on a house and car scavenger hunt looking for loose change. Then you can either have them put the coins directly into their savings jar or they can sort the coins and put them into coin wrappers.

4. Start a family game night with board games that involve collecting and spending money. Search online for versions of popular board games that have been adapted for younger players.

5. Roleplay with your kids going to the grocery store, or to your financial institution. Let them fill out checks and deposit slips. You can even pretend they are running their own business. Use their natural creativity to engage them in play that plants seeds of financial responsibility.

Teens And Money
Teaching teens smart money habits, or anything really, can be a challenge. However, with the right motivation and a lot of patience from you, your teens can learn to manage their finances.

1. Sit down and have a talk with them. Teens value honesty and authenticity. Share with them the financial mistakes you have made. They will appreciate your ability to admit you aren't perfect. They may not take your advice off the bat, but you are planting seeds that will blossom later as they mature.

2. If they don't already have one, set your teen up with a checking and savings account. Your financial institution may even have credit cards designed specifically for teens that allows you to monitor and set spending limits. Your teen will gain the feeling of autonomy while still giving you some oversight on their spending habits.

3. Encourage them to think of some large, but fun purchase they want to make. It can be anything from saving for prom, buying a new car, or going on a spring break trip. Help them budget for the expenditure and think of creative ideas to earn the money for it. If they know they will be spending their money on something fun, they will be more likely to save for it. If you're able, you can even match their savings as a reward for their discipline and focus.

4. Find an online investment simulator geared for teens. A simple google search can find a few programs, some even allow teens to earn dividends. Whether real or a simulation, these programs are simplified investment plans to teach teens how to invest, buy, sell, and trade on stocks. If you have more than one teen, you can turn it into a simulated competition to see who can earn the most.

5. Help your teen research the costs of colleges and the starting salaries of the career path they are considering. Have your teen look up the cost of the college tuition, living costs and books for the college they're hoping to attend. Then, compare those numbers with the starting salaries for their dream job. This may be a huge reality check for some teens. You can use the opportunity to discuss their education goals and the best ways to pay for tuition and books. Student loans, scholarships and part-time jobs can all be part of the discussion.

Final Thoughts
One of the best ways to teach your children is to lead by example. This is an opportunity for you to stay on track financially and discuss mistakes that you may have made along the way. In the end, your honesty and consistency about financial habits will stick with your children for many years, even if they don't seem open to it at first. Keep the faith, and your patience, and you can prepare your children for a lifetime of financial success.

How to Teach Young Children About Saving Money

08/01/2022

News Article 8012022 | News Articles

How much better would Americans be with money if we were intentional about teaching good money and savings habits at a young age? We'll focus on ways to positively model and influence children and teens regarding money, spending habits, and saving. It's never too early to start teaching your children about saving, budgeting, and money matters. It is easy to overlook these valuable lessons since it's not a core subject taught in school until they are in high school. But you don't need to wait, here are some money-savvy ideas that you can start teaching your children while they are still toddlers.

Save A Little
A piggy bank or a money box is a classic way to help a small child save money. Let them choose their style of a bank in the shape of a car, cartoon character, or maybe an actual pig. Show them how to drop in the coins and collect a stash of money they will use in the future. Explain it's not to be opened or dipped into unless there's some emergency? which doesn't include buying candy or ice cream.

You can also help create a DIY saving center. Grab three jars or boxes of the same size. Cut a slot into the lid and let your kids decorate them with paint, markers, ribbon, stickers, or any random craft supplies. Designate one jar for saving, one jar for sharing, and one jar for spending.

When kids get a little older, you can set them up with their own savings account. Every time the piggy bank is full, they can go to the local branch, cutely tip the pile of coins on the teller's desk and see their account balance grow in front of their eyes.

Give Them Ways To Earn
Next, they will be wondering how to fill up the piggy bank faster. It's your chance to introduce chores and get a happy little helper on board with the housework. Make a roster to check off the daily or weekly chores, and be ready to hand over your coins when they get the jobs done.

As they get older, you can show them other ways to make some money to save. Having a garage sale is always fun, and all the family can get involved. They could also offer to help out neighbors for a little extra pocket money.

Let Them Spend a Little
While saving is important, we also want to teach smart spending habits. So, let your children take some of their well-earned money to go shopping and buy what they want, as appropriate. Explain to them, in a fundamental way, the economics of money flow within a community. They will soon see the cycle of earning, spending, and saving as they gain experience and confidence by doing it themselves.

Show Them How To Be Giving
There are many ways to show your children how to give through donations, charity, and buying tickets for things that go to a good cause. Building awareness of kindness through giving is a beautiful lesson to teach your little ones.

In the end, children will make their own methods to earn, spend and save money. Hopefully, they will remember your wise lessons, and financial success will flow easily to them. Giving them a firm foundation of knowledge from a young age is one of the best life lessons you can pass onto your children.

Be a Reality Star in the Checkout Aisle: Extreme Couponing Tips

07/19/2022

News Article 7192022 | News Articles

If you've ever watched TLC's popular cable program Extreme Couponing, you've probably been amazed to see shoppers exiting the checkout lane with carts full of food for only a few dollars. But if you've paid close attention, you've also heard the show's superstar savers comment that the time it takes to do extreme couponing is equivalent to a full-time job. That doesn't mean, though, that a person who already has a job can't take away a few pointers from the supreme bargain buyers:

Check Sunday newspapers for coupons:
If you aren't sure which local paper will save you the most money, start by buying copies of one or two local Sunday papers with the most ads in the middle. Also be on the lookout for free local publications that come with coupons. Asking friends or family for their extra newspaper coupons can help you quickly add up the savings.

Check websites that aggregate the best coupons:
Among the most popular are Coupons.com, FabulesslyFrugal.com, RedPlum.com, and SmartSource.com. While you are online, bookmark sites for the stores where you most commonly shop, sign up for their email list and ?friend? them on Facebook since this is where they are likely to promote discounts.

Organize your coupons efficiently:
Most experts recommend keeping a small accordion file or binder with plastic insert sheets (like those for baseball card collections) to best organize coupons you have printed or clipped. The smaller the better, since you will need to take this to the stores with you.

Load up if there's a great deal:
You never know when an item you use frequently will be on sale again, so if you can spare the room at home, stock up when a major price break happens.

Only buy items you'll use:
No matter how much of a bargain it is, remember that it's never a deal to buy something you don't need or aren't going to use. Creating a shopping list first and then matching items with your coupons helps you stay focused on the items you really need.

Should You Co-Sign?

07/11/2022

News Article 7112022 | News Articles

It is a question that few want to hear: "Will you co-sign for me?" Typically coming from relatives or friends with no or low credit scores, it can be a difficult request to respond to. Most people do not want to ignore a family member or friend in need, but co-signing comes with risks that make many justifiably nervous to sign on the dotted line. So, should you do it? There are many factors to consider before making a decision.

What are the risks?
One risk that you incur when co-signing is the primary applicant making the payments late or not at all. Even if the primary applicant is the one who is supposed to make the payments, late or non-payments may still be recorded on your credit report, which can lower your credit score. If the primary applicant stops paying, you may also start to experience collection activity, such as phone calls from the creditor. You could even be sued. The creditor is under no obligation to try to collect from the primary applicant before taking action against you. If he or she stops making payments, do you have the money to pay the bill? If not, co-signing may not be a good idea.

Even if the primary applicant makes all of the payments on time, you may still be affected if you are planning to apply for credit yourself in the future. When you apply for some types of credit, like a mortgage, many lenders consider how much debt you already have in deciding whether to lend to you and how much to lend to you. In general, the higher your debt payments, the less you can get. Lenders commonly include debt you co-signed for in calculating your level of debt, even if you are not the one paying it. (However, some lenders will ignore co-signed debt if you have proof that the primary applicant is making all of the payments.) This means that you may not get as much as you would have if you had not co-signed.

Why does the person need a co-signer?
You probably would not co-sign if you knew the person asking you would not make the payments, but how do you know ahead of time if he or she will? A low credit score can be seen as a sign that there is a good chance the person will not repay the debt, but it is also helpful to consider why the person has a low score. Was he not able to pay previous bills due to losing a job but has a well-paying job now? Is she still struggling with bill-paying due to purchasing an expensive house, fancy car, and luxury goods put on credit cards? A person who had problems in the past, but corrected them, is probably less of a risk than someone who continues to experience difficulties or exhibit poor financial habits. If the person has no credit score, you obviously cannot examine past credit use, but you can consider how conscientious he or she has been in other things, such as in saving money and paying household bills, when deciding if you should co-sign.

What are you being asked to co-sign for?
Is your daughter who just graduated from college asking you to co-sign for an apartment so that she will have a place to live or for a $2,000 loan so that she can buy a big screen television? Ask yourself if the person can do without what you are being asked to co-sign for. It may not make sense to put yourself at risk if what you are co-signing for is not even a necessity. The person should be able to work on building his or her credit score so that a co-signer will not be needed to get credit in the future.

Minimizing the risks
If you would like to co-sign, but have concerns, there are steps you can take to minimize your risk. One way would be to pay the creditor directly yourself and have the person send the money to you. He or she could send the payments to you late, but your credit score would not be affected as long as you send the payments to the creditor on time. Another option would be to choose a lender that allows you to see the account information on-line. This allows you to check the status of the account before the due date to see if the payment has been made, instead of waiting for the creditor to call you after the account has become delinquent. If you see that no payment was made yet, you can make it yourself.

Co-signing can help a friend or relative in need, but it comes with risks. Understanding what the risks are, and why the person needs a co-signer, can help you make an informed decision and not unnecessarily jeopardize your financial future.

Saving By Reducing: How Lowering Your Debt Can Save You Money

06/27/2022

News Article 6272022 | News Articles

You may not realize it, but by paying down your debt, you ARE saving! Actively reducing your debt means you're saving on interest, avoiding late fees, and maintaining or increasing your credit score. On this day, we'll focus on why paying down debt should be acknowledged, utilized, and celebrated as a form of saving and a component of your financial plan.

How Does Reducing Debt Help You Save?
Consumers often think saving and reducing debt are two separate goals that must be done simultaneously or that saving money is more important than lowering debt. However, that is not always the case. By ignoring your debt load, you could inadvertently keep yourself stuck in a bad financial position. This is mostly due to the high-interest rates and your regular payments barely touching the principal balance - keeping your debt high and prolonging your payments to the creditor.
Equifax (and other credit reporting companies) suggest focusing on paying down any high balance and/or high-interest rate debt while contributing minimally to a high-interest rate savings account. By reducing debt, you will be able to save more sooner instead of continuing to barely save, while barely making a dent in your debt. As you reduce your debt, you can increase your savings.

A Real-Life Example: Pat & Terry:
Let's say Pat and Terry both have a $10,000 personal loan with a 10% APR, a minimum monthly payment of $213, and a term of 60 months. Each has $600 to allocate to debt or savings each month. Pat decides to prioritize saving and only makes the minimum payment each month, putting the extra $387 in a high-interest savings account with .5% interest. Terry decides to prioritize paying off the loan by paying $500 each month and saving the extra $100 in a high-interest savings account with .5% interest.
At the end of 5 years, Pat would have paid about $12,780 on the loan and saved $23,517.52. On the other hand, Terry would have paid off the loan in 22 months, rather than 60. Now during those 22 months, Terry would only save about $2,200. However, after that period, Terry could then deposit the full $600 into their savings account each month. By the end of the five years, Terry will have saved $25,232.05. This example shows that paying down your debt faster may lead to a significant increase in savings over the long-run.

When To Prioritize Debt Over Saving:
If you have high-interest-rate consumer debt, you would likely benefit from paying down the debt rather than savings. By doing so, you may significantly increase your financial return, more so than you would investing in the stock market or using a savings account. However, there may be situations when saving should come before reducing your debt, such as having a 401(k) matching program with your company, lower interest rate debt, or student loans that can be deferred interest-free for an extended period of time.

How To Do It:
If you have decided to reduce your debt to maximize your savings down the line, the best way to determine how much to pay towards your debt is by creating a budget. You'll be able to see how much extra income you have at the end of each month. Your regular minimum debt payment should be counted in your expenses so that the extra money is genuinely ?extra.? Then decide how much money you feel like you are comfortable paying extra balanced with how little you are comfortable saving each month. If you already have an emergency fund, you can probably pay more and save less. However, if you are still working on growing an emergency fund, you may want to pay extra on the debt but save more until you have a small emergency fund. If you have multiple debt accounts, pick one to focus on first. Some people may choose to focus on the account with the highest interest rate, or they may choose to focus on the smallest balance to eliminate one payment faster. It's up to you to decide what proportion of debt repayment versus savings makes the most sense for your situation.

Get Advice:
If you still aren't sure what option makes the most sense for you, consult someone who can help. A free financial advisor, a tax accountant, or a private financial expert are all excellent choices. There are also free calculators and tools online that can help you figure out how long it will take you to pay off your debt, as well as how much you can save over time. You should never feel like you have to guess how to use your money best. By seeking extra help, you can drastically improve your financial situation.

Elder Financial Exploitation

06/13/2022

News Article 6132022 | News Articles

To con artists, down-on-their-luck relatives, or opportunistic acquaintances, they are gold mines. Individuals over the age of 50 control 70% of the country's wealth, and seniors between the ages of 65 and 74, with an average net worth of $1.06 million, have more assets than any other age group. "That's where the money is," says Jay Haapala, AARP associate state director of community outreach in Minnesota. "If college kids had a bunch of disposable income lying around, criminals would be trying to figure out how to scam college kids." Dementia, disability, and decline can make it even easier for criminals. All told, it is a problem that costs American seniors billions of dollars every year.

Common forms of exploitation

There are myriad scams, unethical businesses, and unscrupulous individuals preying on seniors all the time. While the details vary, there are a few familiar scenarios.

-Breach of trust:
The vast majority of elder financial abuse - as much as 90%, according to the National Adult Protective Services Association - is committed by caregivers or close family members. A son is added to a checking account to help manage Mom's bills and then starts using the account to pay off gambling debts. Or Grandpa gives valuables to the housekeeper and eventually - at her suggestion - names her in the will.

-Phone scams:
Someone calls, ostensibly from the IRS, saying that an individual has a tax bill that is going to rise with interest and fees unless paid immediately. Or someone calls with news that there is a problem with a credit card and they need a Social Security number and birth date to access account information to clear things up.

-Phishing scams:
As more seniors head online, they grow more susceptible to phishing scams. Phishing emails look as though they come from legitimate sources such as banks or credit card issuers. They ask seniors to click on a link to enter account information in order to verify recent transactions or to rectify problems with accounts. Unfortunately, the links are fake, and criminals use them to gather personal account information, which they use to drain accounts or steal identities.

So, how do you protect yourself and your loved ones from elder financial abuse? Sign up on the Do Not Call Registry. This prevents businesses from contacting you. Those that do come through either don't know what they're doing or don't care. "Either way," says Haapala, "you should not do business with them."

Haapala also reminds seniors to conduct their personal business within the financial services system. Financial institutions have fraud protection services that limit an individual's risk. They also have systems that make it possible to trace funds back to criminals in some instances.

Pay Fines to Preserve Your Credit Score

06/06/2022

News Article 6062022 | News Articles

If you think ignoring a parking ticket is no big deal, think again. Unpaid traffic and parking tickets often end up going to collection agencies, and that can put a major dent in your credit score. If you continue to ignore a ticket once it's in a collection agency's hands, not only do you run the risk of getting your vehicle booted, your registration rejected, and your license suspended, but you could also lose serious points from your score. In addition, these collection accounts stay on your credit report for seven years.

Credit scores are calculated using different pieces of credit data. Two of the most important pieces of data are the amount you owe (30%) and your payment history (35%). A minor ticket left unpaid and racking up fines can end up affecting your score as much as more serious types of debt.

As a result, the next time you apply for an auto, mortgage, or other type of loan, you could face higher interest rates or rejection-even if your credit was formerly spotless.

According to the Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO), someone with a 680 credit score could lose about 50 points from the addition of a collection related to unpaid traffic or parking tickets. And someone with a 780 score could lower the score by as much as 105 or 125 points.
The best way to protect your credit score? Don't write off those tickets. Even if you think you can get away with not paying them, the consequences for your credit score could be much more costly in the long run.

If you have questions about understanding or improving your credit score, speak with the financial professionals at SRP Federal Credit Union. We can provide strategies and advice to help you get your credit score back in good shape.

Teach Kids Money Management with a Debit Card

05/23/2022

News Article 5232022 | News Articles

Like many parents, you may have opened a savings account for your child when he or she was a baby. If you've been teaching them money management skills and they have shown financial responsibility, then, when they become teenagers, a debit card/checking account from SRP can be a great next step.

As kids hit middle-school age, they start spending more time with friends. That means you're not always around when they buy treats or movie tickets. Those early-teen years can be good opportunities for them to use a debit card and practice financial responsibility.

Though most teens, like most people, no longer write many checks, when the opportunity arises for your teen to write one, jump on it. For example, perhaps your teen pays part of the cell phone bill each month. Have your teen write a check to you for his or her part of the payment. It would be easier just to transfer money from your teen's account to yours but getting practice writing a check once in a while can be beneficial for them.

Explain to your teen the importance of keeping track of the balance in their account either by writing each transaction in a check register or by frequently checking their account online. Also remind your kid that online balances might not show the actual balance in the account if transactions haven't posted or if checks haven't been cashed.

The professionals at SRP are eager to help your teen take this next step financially. Stop by with your teen and we'll show them how to open an account of their own, as well as explain how to use a debit card and our online banking service.

Secure Your Mobile Wallet

05/09/2022

Article 5092022 | News Articles











There are many mobile applications that allow you to carry out most of your personal finance transactions online and on the go.

To keep your financial data safe, keep these security tips in mind:

-Enable a passcode/password on your phone. This will ensure that no one else can simply pick up your phone and access your personal information.

-Enable the auto-lock feature on your phone. This will lock your phone after a certain period of inactivity. Use auto-lock with a password to make sure no one else can access your phone.

-Make sure your security software is up-to-date. When your network carrier sends you alerts that a security or operating system update is available, download it as soon as possible.

-Watch for fake texts or other messages telling you to go to a site or call in. Spam messages can open the door to malware, which software hackers use to disrupt computer operation, gather sensitive information, or gain access to private computer systems.

-Only install applications from trusted sources. Use Google Play Store or Apple App Store and avoid installing apps from unknown sources.
-Avoid public Wi-Fi. The information you send over public Wi-Fi can potentially be seen by others using the network, including hackers. Instead, use your mobile carrier's network when accessing confidential information.

-Turn off Bluetooth and Wi-fi when not in use. Leaving them on when you are out in public leaves your phone vulnerable to hackers. Only connect to trusted networks.

Credit Card Do's and Don'ts for Seniors

04/25/2022

News Article 4252022 | News Articles

What are your retirement dreams? If you?re approaching retirement, it would be wise to clear up any credit card debt now to ensure your retirement is as worry-free as possible.

To help stay clear of credit card debt:

-DO pay off your credit card debt before you retire and no longer earn a salary or wages.

-DO pay for rent or mortgage, food, utilities, transportation, and prescriptions first before paying credit card companies.

-DO understand your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

-DON'T take money out of a tax-deferred retirement account to pay off a big credit card bill. You may have to pay taxes on the withdrawal, which could turn a $15,000 debt into a $20,000 expense.

-DON'T buy big-ticket gifts for the kids and grandkids until you are debt-free.

-DON'T wait until your finances are out of control before you seek help. Desperation makes you vulnerable to predatory lending practices.

And, as always, talk to us at SRP Federal Credit Union for ideas about ways to make the most of your financial resources.

Identity Theft Victim Checklist

04/18/2022

News Article 4182022 | News Articles


















Identity theft is one of the top three consumer complaints to the Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC's annual look at its Consumer Sentinel Network database of complaints found that the agency received more than 3 million complaints overall in calendar year 2018, with 15% related to identity theft.

If you are a victim, take these steps immediately:

-Place a fraud alert on your credit reports, ask for a free copy of your credit report, and review those reports for evidence of accounts you didn't open. The three credit bureaus are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

-Close accounts - including share drafts/checks or ATM cards - that have been tampered with or used fraudulently. Contact all financial institutions and lenders, credit card issuers, utility companies, and the Social Security Administration to notify them of the fraud. Follow up each conversation with a letter.

-File a report with law enforcement and insist on getting a copy of the report or the report number.

-File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

-If you are a SRP member and have fallen victim to identity theft you can contact our Financial Crimes Department at (803) 278-4851.

Store Cards: Seldom the Better Deal

04/11/2022

News Article 4112022 | News Articles

With offers of an additional 15% off your purchase or free merchandise, it's tempting to apply for credit cards from your favorite retail stores. Think twice, however, before signing up. If you don't pay the bill in full at the end of each month, you could end up paying much more than you originally would have saved.

That's because interest rates on retail cards average about ten percentage points higher than credit union credit cards. Store cards usually offer special incentives for cardholders to increase loyalty and encourage them to spend more. The average household has about 2.5 store-issued credit cards. If you plan to buy a car or house in the near future, it can hurt your chances to get a loan at a favorable rate if you have many recently opened lines of credit. It's usually better to have one major credit card that you can use for all items you wish to charge.

SRP FCU offers credit cards at great rates! Visit our website at www.srpfcu.org/creditcards to learn more about all the credit cards we offer or stop by one of our branches and speak to one of our service representatives today.

COVID Costs You Can Deduct from 2021 Taxes

04/04/2022

News Article 4042022 | News Articles

In 2021, the IRS announced that taxpayers who itemize could deduct certain unreimbursed COVID-19 medical expenses from their taxes. Among those expenses, you can include at-home COVID-19 tests, as well as the cost of personal protective equipment (PPE), like masks, hand sanitizer, and sanitizing wipes.

Taxpayers can only claim this deduction if their total medical and dental expenses exceed 7.5% of their 2021 adjusted gross income. For example, if your household had an adjusted gross income of $70,000 last year, you had to have spent more than $5,250 on these expenses before you can claim this deduction. Also, if your insurance reimbursed you for any COVID-19 expenses, you cannot claim them.

If you are a teacher, you can claim up to $250 in eligible educator expenses. For your 2021 tax return, you can also claim the unreimbursed COVID-19 protective items you purchased for your classes. These expenses include:

-face masks
-disinfectant for use against COVID-19
-hand soap
-hand sanitizer
-disposable gloves
-tape, paint or chalk to guide social distancing
-physical barriers (for example, clear plexiglass)
-air purifiers

The deadline for filing taxes was moved to Monday, April 18, 2022. The IRS says that due to a backlog of returns they have already received, if you submit your return on paper forms, it may take a while to get your refund. They suggest filing electronically to get your refund processed more quickly. You can also instruct them to send your payment via direct deposit. This will get the refund into your credit union account faster than waiting for a paper check to arrive in the mail. If you log into the IRS website, you can get updates on your refund's status by clicking on their "Where's My Refund?" page.

Once you receive your refund, be sure to save at least a portion of it in a savings account. As these last two plus years have shown us, having an emergency fund can truly save you in the event of a job loss or extensive medical expenses. If you don't have an emergency savings account yet and need some help getting it set up, just contact us at (803) 278-4851 and one of our member service representatives will be happy to help you.

When It Comes to Car Loans, Shorter is Often Better

03/28/2022

News Article 3282022 | News Articles

When It Comes to Car Loans, Shorter Is Often Better

A longer-term loan can make even the most expensive car look affordable.

By stretching out the loan over many years, your monthly payment is likely lower, but you could end up paying a lot more in interest. Still, many people find such loans attractive.

The average new car loan was over 71 months at the end of 2020, according to Edmunds.com. Almost 32% of vehicle loans made in the first quarter of 2021 were for 73 to 84 months (6 to 7 years), according to Experian.

That's well above the standard three- to four-year loan that used to be typical for new car purchases. Here are some of the problems with taking out a longer car loan:

- The longer the term of the loan, the worse your interest is likely to be. Shorter-term loans generally qualify shoppers for a better interest rate.

For example, say you want to finance a $28,000 car at 8% sales tax, with a loan rate of 3.5% for 60 months, and a trade-in worth $5,000. You will end up paying $2,310 in interest over the life of the loan. Compare that with a 72-month loan. Your interest rate will jump, likely to about 6%, and you'll end up paying $4,878 in interest.

- There's a greater chance you'll end up underwater, meaning you will owe more to the lender than the car is worth. Cars depreciate as soon as they leave the lot, and for the first three years, most cars are worth less than what is owed on the loan. Without a substantial down payment, if you total the car or need to sell it within the first three years, you could end up receiving less than you owe on the loan.

- You're stuck with the car when it begins needing expensive maintenance. If you want to buy a newer vehicle, you likely won't be able to trade in your old car because the remaining balance on what you owe on the car is higher than what the dealer is willing to pay for it.

If you need a longer car loan just so you can buy the car, you probably can't afford the car in the first place. Try to keep the length of your car loan shorter to save money.

Before you go shopping for a vehicle, visit SRP Federal Credit Union to get preapproval on a loan. The loan officer will figure out exactly how much you can comfortably afford, at the best rate.

SRP Federal Credit Union can also help you If you already have an auto loan from another lender. We can help you refinance to a shorter term and more affordable payment.

Women Drive Household Finances

03/21/2022

News Article 3212022 | News Articles

The purchasing power of women has been rising for decades and all signs say it will continue. The amount of assets controlled by women in the U.S. is expected to climb from $10 trillion (about 33%) to $30 trillion by 2029. According to Morgan Stanley, women control 83%% of all consumer purchases in the U.S., ranging from cars to health care to electronics. In 2020, women were the primary income earner in 41.2% of households with children. And because women are statistically more likely to outlive their male spouses, the money they earn will have to last them longer.

With that in mind, many financial experts are recommending to women that as their economic power grows, they take a lead role in managing their family's finances.

At SRP we offer the tools and resources to help you do that. With retirement planning, debt consolidation tools, and more. SRP can help you take ownership of your family's financial future. And, because we're a not-for-profit financial institution, we return our earnings to you in the form of better rates and fewer fees - making us just one of the many smart choices you've made for your family.

The Financial Facts of Life

3/14/2022

The Financial Facts of Life image | News Articles

The Financial Facts of Life

It's a buzz word you shouldn't ignore: financial literacy. Why? Because it's essential for financial survival in today's world.

It's never too late to begin learning the financial facts of life. If you're unsure how financially literate you are, ask yourself three questions:

1. Do I have a good handle on the financial facts of life? People with a good understanding not only shop wisely for everyday purchases, but they also make smarts decisions when shopping for a mortgage or other loan, they reconcile their accounts, regularly contribute to their retirement plan, and compare insurance policies to determine which fits their needs best. If you don't practice these good financial habits, you may be wasting money on expensive alternatives, paying for services you don't need or want, or making yourself vulnerable to identity theft or other forms of fraud.

2. How can I boost my financial IQ? The Federal Trade Commission has a consumer information website where you'll find an array of resources that answer questions about many common topics. It addresses topics like money and credit, mortgages, and online security. Your credit union is another solid resource for personal finance education.

3. What's my best line of defense? Educate yourself. Learn how to create a spending plan, use credit cards wisely, compare prices for everything you buy, and learn how to spot a good deal from a bad one.

Make smart decisions now and you'll have a solid financial foundation in the months and years ahead!

IRS Imposters Among the "Dirty Dozen" Tax Scams

03/07/2022

March 7th Article | News Articles

Here's the bad news about any unexpected good news you receive in an e-mail from the Internal Revenue Service: It's probably bogus. For example, the IRS will not contact you via e-mail, out of the blue, about a refund you didn't know you had coming. But, yet, people fall for this scam again and again. Some have received e-mails--with convincing IRS logos--that display a refund amount and a link you must click on to get the refund.

The link leads to a mock-IRS Web page form that requires financial information, such as a Social Security and bank account number, user ID, password, mother's maiden name, and the like. Victims enter this information, press "submit," and Presto! Another identity thief now has the means to make a bank balance disappear.

The bogus IRS e-mail is an example of "phishing," which can lead to identity theft. It occurs when scammers use an authentic-looking e-mail to trick recipients into supplying personal financial data.

Don't take the bait - it's expensive
Although phishing accounts for only a fraction of the Internet fraud committed each year, its sting goes deep. We offer a few clues that an e-mail may be from an IRS imposter:
* Tortured English: Most phishing e-mails traced by the IRS originate outside the United States. Look for grammar and spelling mistakes or unusual words and sentence structures.
* No forewarning: The IRS does not make initial contact with taxpayers via e-mail.
Agents do correspond via e-mail, such as during some audit situations, but that doesn't happen unless you give provide them with your e-mail address first.
* Your gut reaction: If it sounds too good to be true - it probably is.

Phishers exploit charity donors
Phishers also may pose as charitable organizations. Finding a list of a charity's donors isn't difficult, and criminals use the organization's identity to go phishing.
For example, they send e-mails telling donors that the charity has calculated the tax-deductible amount of their donations. Donors are asked to supply Social Security numbers or other personal data to retrieve the documentation they'll need to claim the tax deductions.

Don't guess - ask the experts
The best thing to do if you're unsure whether an e-mail regarding taxes is legitimate is to check at irs.gov, call your local IRS office, or forward the email to phishing@irs.gov. Not only can you find the truth there - you may alert the IRS to a criminal who can be shut down before scamming another victim.