10 Reasons to Finance Your Vehicle with BrightStar

There are many advantages when it comes to having a credit union as your primary financial institution. Lower interest rates on loans, higher earnings on savings accounts and not to mention the personalized attention you receive from a community-based business.

As a not-for-profit business we offer lower rates on our auto loans, which means you will be paying much less than if you finance with a dealership. It’s important to do your research before you make such a huge decision, so why not discover benefits of financing your vehicle with BrightStar Credit Union.

  1. Earn Cash Back

You may qualify for a cash rebate just for re-financing your existing loan from elsewhere to BrightStar. Cash that can go towards paying down debts, home renovation, or your savings.

  1. Skip-A-Pay

Now this is a great perk to have. Take a vacation from your loan payment. Members may qualify to “skip” up to 2 payments per loan account in a twelve month period. Does your other lender offer this benefit?

  1. Take a 90-Day Break

You may qualify to make no payments for up to 90 days on your new loan.

  1. Super Low Loan Rates

Save money with a lower interest rate from your Credit Union. Our loan rates often beat the competition. Consider this: Datatrac.com has certified that BrightStar’s auto loan interest rates are substantially lower than the average rates in South Florida. Plus, a recent Credit Union National Association (CUNA) report shows that credit union members save an average of $950* when they finance their auto loan with their credit union versus a bank.

  1. No Hidden Fees On Your Loan

No pre-payment penalties, just a straightforward loan with no gotchas.

  1. FREE Auto Advisors Service

Our Auto Advisors can locate your next new or used vehicle and eliminate the stress from the car buying process. We may be able to get you a better price and more for your trade-in. Tell us what vehicle you want, and we’ll do the rest.

  1. Save Even More Money

We offer lower pricing on GAP Insurance, Extended Vehicle Warranties and Payment Protection Plans. Some GAP policies cost $1,000 or more. BrightStar policies are as low as $499. Ask us for details.

  1. E-Sign Your Loan Documents

If you prefer, we may be able to close your loan online, saving you gas and time!

  1. Payments Made Easy

Easily make your payments online via automatic transfers from your BrightStar account, at a BrightStar branch, or at thousands of credit union shared branches nationwide.

  1. We’re Your Credit Union

We listen to your needs. Need a shorter term? Need a lower payment? We’re happy to discuss a variety of terms and options to suit your individual needs.

So stop by a branch, give us as a call at 954-486-2728, or apply online today at BSCU.org. Our loan officers are happy to answer any question you have.

5 Tips to Plan a Better Vacation

With summer quickly approaching, the thought of a summer vacation may have crossed your mind. You may be thinking about location, activities to do, and your budget. If you opened up a Summer Saver/Wish account with us last year and made deposits regularly to the account, your budget should be in check.

A survey conducted by AAA in 2013 found that the most frustrating thing about traveling was unexpected expenses such as “airline fees, resort fees and parking,” and the third most frustrating was “finding the best price for lodging and transportation.”

If you’re looking for the best ways to save money on your summer vacation look no further than these 5 tips to help you plan a vacation the family will never forget.

  1. Avoid Peak Season

Popular times to travel during the summer are the second and third weeks of August and any holiday weekends. Avoid these times because you will be facing sky-rocket prices for flights, hotels, and cars. Not to mention tours that will be completely booked to the brim. Consider traveling in June for the best rates.

  1. Look into Other Hotel Options

If you’re planning on going to a major city for vacation like New York City or London, consider staying in a nearby city to save a ton of money on your room rates. If they city you’re visiting has a great public transportation system, even better! You’ll be able to see the city and save money at the same time. If you’re feeling more adventurous with your accommodations, consider a Home exchange program. Airbnb.com is a great website where people open up their homes to visitors. It’s a great way to see another side of a city

  1. Do Your Research on Activities

If you plan on doing excursions be sure to book early. Peak season comes along with peak pricing and large crowds. If you have your heart set on an activity whether it be a tour, visiting a landmark, or some type of excursion try and book it as early as possible to get the best price as well as secure your spot. A great website for finding great deals is Groupon.com. Just put in your vacation destination and they will have great deals on everything from paintball to spa packages. You can even book hotel packages with them. Just be sure to research the hotel and how far it is from your destination.

  1. Be a Backyard Explorer

Living in Florida, we have tons of access to exploring the area we live in. If you’re looking for an adventurous vacation a state park is right up your alley. Many state parks in Florida, whether it be in The Keys, Miami, or Central Florida have activities suitable for every age. Snorkeling in a coral reef, hiking trails, kayaking through mangroves, bike trails, and tubing through clear springs are just a few options. Plus, pets are typically allowed in these areas (as long as you clean up after them!)

If you’re looking for a more relaxing vacation, take a day trip to a nearby beach town. Naples and Marco Island are great locations for family trips and you won’t pay much for transportation.

  1. See the Slopes in Summer

This sounds silly but during their off-season ski resorts have tons of things to do that don’t involve the snow. Lakes, ropes courses, golf, and zip-lining are offered at many of these resorts. Beat the rush of people and peak prices at the beach and head to the mountains for a different kind of summer vacation.

FHA or Conventional Mortgage: Which is better for you?  

shutterstock_114626293The dreaded 20% down payment has made many a renter worry that they’ll never be able to buy a home of their own. Saving up one-fifth of the cost of an entire house can take years, especially while you’re paying rent, utilities and a million other expenses.

There are advantages to waiting until you have 20% to put down. But in some cases, buying with a smaller down payment may be in your best interest. Fortunately, conventional loans are becoming more readily available with a smaller down payment, and the Federal Housing Administration, or FHA, backs mortgages for qualifying buyers with down payments as low 3.5%. Let’s look at the options.

Conventional vs. FHA

Because some lenders offer both conventional and FHA loans, homebuyers are often confused about who exactly is lending them money. In both cases, the financial institution is the lender. The difference is that FHA mortgages are insured by the government. The FHA does this to encourage lenders to issue more mortgages to qualified buyers for whom a conventional loan is out of reach.

The size of the loan matters, too. FHA loans must be under a certain dollar amount, which varies by county. Conventional loans offered by lenders like Bright Star Credit Union also have to come in under a cap, and anything higher is considered a jumbo mortgage.

Down payments

Paying the smallest down payment possible makes sense, right? Not necessarily. For one thing, a larger down payment provides some insulation against market fluctuations. If your down payment is quite small, a downturn in the real estate market in the first few years might leave you owing more than your home is worth. That can make it hard to sell the house without taking a loss if you need to move.

Larger down payments also reduce the total amount you’re borrowing. As a result, a bigger down payment will mean you’re paying interest on a smaller loan balance. Both your monthly payments and the long-term costs of carrying the loan will be smaller if you pay a greater portion of the home’s price up front.

But smaller down payments make home ownership accessible to many people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to buy a house or condo, or would have to wait years longer to get there.

Many lenders offer conventional loans with down payments below 20%, but the smaller the down payment, the higher the buyers’ credit score needs to be — and the higher the interest rate that they’re likely to face. But the down payment that FHA borrowers have to pony up also depends on the strength of their credit, so the differences between the two types of loans may not be as significant as some people think.

Mortgage insurance

If you put down less than the recommended 20% for a conventional loan, your lender will most likely require you to pay for private mortgage insurance, or PMI, on top of your monthly mortgage bill. Your smaller down payment makes you a riskier bet for the lender. The insurance helps the lender recoup more money if you default on the loan.

Now for the bad news. With FHA loans, you have to pay an up-front premium just to close the deal. You must also keep on paying monthly mortgage insurance premiums until the loan is paid off or refinanced. This is a major drawback to FHA loans.

Qualifying for a loan

Whether you’re applying for a conventional loan or an FHA loan, you have to prove that you can afford the required monthly payments. Your lender will require proof of income and will want to see documentation of all your major assets and debts. The lender will also check your credit score, but don’t despair if your credit is less than perfect. The FHA has a minimum credit score requirement of 500, while most lenders require a credit score of at least 580.

How to choose

There are as many types of loans as there are types of buyers. The right decision will depend on your circumstances. If your down payment is on the small side and your credit score is okay but not great, an FHA loan might be the best choice. A conventional loan may be a better bet if you bring either a substantial down payment or good to great credit to the table.

If you’re unsure which route to take, sit down with your lender and look at the options. You’ll be picking up the keys in no time.

Virginia C. McGuire, NerdWallet

Fraud in Florida-Keeping Your Money Safe

hacker

Target, Home Depot, Visa and MasterCard are some of the companies that experienced hacking breaches in the past few years. If you need a refresher course Target hackers stole about 40 million debit and credit card numbers and personal information; Home Depot hackers installed custom-built malware on its self-checkout systems as well as stole 53 million email addresses.; Visa hackers exposed more than 20 million accounts while the MasterCard hackers opened 13.9 million accounts. With today’s hacking breaches it’s hard to trust that your information will stay secure anywhere you shop. BrightStar Credit Union wants to help protect your money and your identity with our newest financial presentation Fraud in Florida-Keeping your Money Safe beginning in March. For dates and locations click here. But until then these tips will help you feel more secure and make your money more secure.

Avoid Suspicious Websites

When an unknown company’s website is offering a deal that is too good to be true, it most likely is. Beware of businesses that have a lousy website design or multiple pop-up windows. U.S. News and World Report suggests in order to stay safe by shopping with big-name retailers. If you are shopping from a smaller retailer look for familiar payment systems, such as PayPal.

Don’t Give Your Information to Strangers

This may seem like a no-brainer but it’s easy to be fooled. Many times hackers will call pretending to be an official from your credit union or bank to ask you information about your account. To verify that they are talking to the accountholder they will ask for personal information like your social security number, your account number or your debit/credit card number. DO NOT GIVE IT TO THEM. Your credit union/ bank should already have that information. Instead hang up the phone and call your financial institution personally to report the fraudulent activity.

Remember: There is NO Sure Thing in Investing

If you have someone, whether it’s a friend, a family member or a complete stranger, talking to you about a low-risk, high-return investment opportunity, run far away. The Federal Trade Commission reports “When you hear pitches that insist you act now, that guarantee big profits, that promise little or no financial risk, or that demand you send cash immediately, report them at ftc.gov”

Only Open Emails from Known Addresses

The average amount of spam mail a business email receives in a day is 13. That is 13 opportunities for a hacker to steal your information and even give your computer malware. To protect yourself from spam mail make sure you have a spam folder set up through your email account. Email services like Gmail, Outlook and Yahoo all have a spam folder automatically set up for those annoying emails. If your email provider doesn’t offer you one automatically follow these 3 steps to secure your finances

  1. Identify Spam: Spammers will often have weird email addresses and spelling mistakes. It’s simple, if the email address does not look familiar, do not open it.
  2. Prevent spam: Make your email address unscannable when you need to enter it in a website to register, ie. myemail[at]yahoo[dot]com

Block and Report Spam: Many email services have a one-click option for you to block a sender. It could either look like an exclamation point, a shield symbol with a X in the middle of it, or a right click option on that email to block sender.

google spam

yahoo spam

Remember, there is no sure fire way to protect yourself from hackers. If you follow these tips and are smart about where you spend your money you can decrease your chances of having hackers stealing your information and your identity. Don’t forget to RSVP for BrightStar Credit Union’s newest financial presentation Fraud in Florida-Keeping your Money Safe beginning March 24. For dates and locations visit bscu.org/seminars

Manage Your Money

Do you find yourself having trouble keeping track of your finances? How much money do you spend on groceries per month? Clothes? Utilities? Or maybe you’re having trouble creating a budget and sticking to it. Well, we are very happy to tell you about Money Desktop.

MoneyDesktop (MD) is an online money management tool, integrated into online banking, which empowers you to take control of your finances and simplify your life. Budgeting, account aggregation, categorization and mobile access are just a few of the tools to guide you along the way.

With MD, you can view your bubble budgets. You set your budget for any number of categories including entertainment, pets, business services and much, much more! The budgets change color from green to yellow to red depending where you are on your budget for that month. The size of the bubble changes on how small or large you set your budget. The larger the budget, the larger the bubble.

MD-4000x2858

MoneyDesktop also has a Debts tab that allows you to see how much you owe on all your credit cards, loans etc. You can choose to organize your debts by: fastest payoff first, highest interest first, lowest balance first or highest balance first. Then you can change how much money you want to pay off each month for these debts. Depending on the amount you choose MoneyDesktop tells you when you will be debt free.

MD-Debts

Another tab MoneyDesktop offers is the Trends tab. It is an easy way for you to measure how much money you spent in the last 6 months in categories. These categories include travel, food and groceries, home, health and fitness, auto and transport, and more!

MD-Trends

With all of these features and more available on MoneyDesktop, budgeting your money has never been easier. To access it login to Online Banking on bscu.org. Once you’re in click on the MoneyDesktop tab at the top of the page. To start, add accounts for your other financial institutions including credit cards, investments, and mortgage. From there you’re all set to use MoneyDesktop!

Fresh Start in 2015

shutterstock_172827005BrightStar Credit Union was featured in an article posted by NerdWallet discussing how banks and credit unions are helping their members get a fresh start in 2015. Here is a quick peak ““We will be going around to different branch locations from January to March with presentations that teach members about car buying, ‘What the Car Dealers Don’t Want You to Know’; their credit score, ‘Credit Matters: Understanding Your Credit Score’; and helping them avoid fraud, ‘Fraud in Florida; Keeping Your Money Safe.”

To read the whole article click here: http://nerd.me/1Fn1LhK

5 Last Minute Tips to Save Money During the Holidays

shutterstock_227011213Electronics and clothes and toys, oh my! It seems holiday wish lists are getting longer and more expensive while the budget keeps shrinking. If you find yourself in a rut this holiday season because you didn’t save enough this year or so many unexpected things happened that you lost count, don’t panic. The holidays aren’t about keeping up with Jones’, it’s about enjoying the people who surround you all year round. However, if you do plan to hand out presents this year, there a few ways for you to not lose your cool.

Gift Exchange

If you have a big family and can’t afford buying a gift for Aunt Carol, Uncle Joe and that one cousin who seems to be missing a screw, suggest a gift exchange like Secret Santa. You put all the family member’s names into a hat and everyone draws a name. This way the family can focus on getting their one member a special gift that they actually want rather than spending a lot more time and money looking for everyone in your family.

Host a potluck

One of the greatest things about the holidays are the dinners. The food is endless with choices that will have you wishing you had a second stomach. So instead of everyone relying on you to make 3+ courses, host a potluck. Invite all of your friends and family to your house and ask them each to bring a dish to share. As the host, think about cooking the main dish. It will be less of a burden on your wallet and it’s fun to see what delicious food your guest will bring.

Remember not every sale is a bargain

BUY ONE GET ONE 50% OFF! ONE-TIME SALE! GET IT BEFORE IT’S GONE! You’ve probably seen this sign every store you’ve been into since Black Friday but these sales aren’t really worth it. Unless you had these items on your list (and you’ve checked it twice) pass on the sale. Give yourself 24 hours to think if you really needed those pajamas or shoes. Most likely the answer will be no.

Declutter

Do you have a closet in your house filled with stuff you haven’t used in a year? 2 years? More? If you haven’t used it in a year, you probably will never use it again. Try selling your stuff. Stores like Plato’s Closet and Uptown Cheapskate will gladly accept your new or like new clothes. If you’re looking for bigger stuff to sell like electronics or furniture Craigslist and eBay are great options. If no one is biting on your awesome deals consider donating to a charity. After all, it is better to give than receive.

Compare prices online

These days everything is online. So when you’re looking to buy something you know is available at multiple stores check out each store’s website. Compare prices to see which one offers the best deal. Don’t forget to put in any promo codes or coupons that the stores are offering.  Most will even offer free shipping.

So don’t get all flustered this holiday season. Keep calm and be smart. These tips will even help you when it’s not the holiday season. Oh, and try to get your holiday shopping early so you can enjoy the time with your family and friends.

How to Reach Financial Goals Worth Celebrating

shutterstock_202276120Reflecting on the past year, are you thankful for having reached certain financial goals? Perhaps you’ve set aside a target amount in retirement savings or reached a certain level in a fund for a future expense, such as a child’s college tuition or a house.

The holiday season is a time when many evaluate how they did on their most recent New Year’s financial resolutions. If you’ve got plenty of cash for gifts and other holiday expenses, you probably did well on your savings goals. But if you’re struggling to come up with the money you need, it may not feel like there is much to celebrate on the financial front.

Now is a good time to think about setting objectives for next year so that when Thanksgiving 2015 arrives, you’ll have a shot at being financially thankful.

As Easy as One, Two, Three

How can you ensure you have something to celebrate financially at Thanksgiving—if not this year, then in 2015 and beyond? Follow these three steps.

  1. Establish a budget and stick to it. A budget starts with recognizing priorities and cutting out the unnecessary indulgences, such as a daily pumpkin spice latte. See where you can cut expenses that aren’t vital, and bolster your savings.
  1. Avoid credit card debt. Try not to buy things using a credit card unless you can completely pay off the balance each month. A variable interest rate can quickly run up your debt, especially when rates range close to 23%. Avoid swiping the card unless you can pay it off with the next bill.
  1. Consolidate your debt. See if you can get a lower interest rate on debt, whether it’s tied to credit cards, school loans or other expenses. Consider taking out a home equity loan or line of credit, or even a personal loan to reduce your costs. With the Federal Reserve taking steps that may push rates higher starting next year, now may be the last time for a while that you’ll be able to lock in low rates.

If sticking with a savings plan has proven too challenging, consider setting up an automatic deposit system through your financial institution. A specified amount will be withdrawn from your earnings and plugged directly into a savings account or retirement fund. By salting it away, you can eliminate the temptation to spend the money on unnecessary items—as the saying goes, out of sight, out of mind.

And don’t forget to keep your eyes on the prize. Next year at this time you may find that, financially speaking, you indeed have plenty for which to be thankful.

Cait Klein, NerdWallet