6 Ways to Save on Back to School Shopping

Back to school typically means back to spending for most families. Who remembers being a kid and being so excited to go shopping for brand new clothes, shoes, and supplies? Well now that I’m looking back on it I can only imagine what financial stress I put on my parents.

Maybe you have older kids. Chances are that they will want the latest and greatest of what is out there, whether it be jeans, shoes, or electronics. Those items often come with the greatest price tag. These tips will help you save money when you go back to school shopping this year.

  1. Check Your Inventory

Before you begin your quest to the malls and office supply stores, check your closets. Often times there are notebooks, binders, and pens that are still like new. Don’t be afraid to ask your family and friends if they have any supplies lying around. You can always swap supplies with each other if they need something that you have.

This rule also applies to clothes. Clean out your children’s closets before you shop. Something doesn’t fit? Make it a hand me down, donate it, or sell it. Clothes with holes and stains in it? Throw it out. See what your kid really needs for school and make that a priority item to shop for.

  1. Give the older children a budget

This is a great idea for high school students. As previously mentioned, older kids will most likely want the newest items. Consider giving them a set budget they can’t go over. This will make them think twice about buying shoes for $120 when their budget is $250. You can even give them their limit in cash and let them shop on their own. If they come back asking for more money simply explain to them that they need to budget their money better and go through the items to help them decide what should be returned.

  1. Look for Sales

IMO (In My Opinion), when it comes to clothes back to school sales are better than the sales during The Holidays. Many teen stores (Hollister and American Eagle*) will have the entire store 40%-50% off. Department stores will also have opportunities for you to save (Macy’s* One Day Sale that occurs every week.)

Want to save even more? Go the extra mile. “Like” companies pages on social media and sign up for texts. Businesses will often share deals and coupons on their pages and through texts. Use this to your advantage, especially when it’s a store your kid loves.

Since we are on the topic of sales, if your child doesn’t need school supplies right away consider shopping after the rush of the first week of school. Office supply stores and retail stores, like Target and Walmart will have markdowns on whatever is leftover from the rush of buying school supplies.

Some other options to save money are:

  1. Shop on Sales Tax Holiday
  2. Download textbooks online for up to 50% off
  3. Check with a religious center in your area to see if they are having a School Supply Drive

*BrightStar Credit Union is not affiliated with any of the stores mentioned above.

How to: Save Better & Eat Better

Chipotle, Panera, and Jason’s Deli. What do these three restaurants have in common? They were all rated as America’s Top 10 Healthiest Fast Food Restaurants by health.com. Americans actually prefer these restaurants to Burger King and McDonalds.

In the current “Food Apocalypse” Americans are choosing healthier options when it comes to dining out and eating at home. Organic produce is also experiencing a rise in popularity as consumers try to avoid food with pesticides. Susan Schwallie of NPD Group, a research company, said the rise of “better-for-you snacks” like yogurts and nuts are predicted to take over the sale of candy and cookies by 2018.

However, when people think about eating healthy they may have dollar signs flash in front of their eyes. There are steps for consumers to take to buy healthy foods on a budget.

Buy In-Season

When you walk into a grocery store and head to the produce section and look at the strawberries your jaw might hit the floor. When strawberries are not in season, they could cost you nearly $5.00. Look for the sales! You can get 3 packages of strawberries for $5.00 on a good day. Buying what’s on sale is a great way for you to save money and try fruit and vegetables you’ve never heard of. Publix often has BOGO deals with their fruit.

Buy Canned

When it’s not on sale, produce and meat can hurt your wallet. If you’re having a hard time finding fresh food on sale, head to the aisles. Choose fruit canned in 100% fruit juice (beware of the sugar content) and vegetables with “low sodium” or “no salt added.” As for protein, canned meat is very affordable and we’re not talking about SPAM. Canned salmon and canned chicken are great ways to add protein to your salads. But it doesn’t stop there. Use canned meats to make Asian-Style Chicken Lettuce Wraps, Quinoa Salmon and Avocado Salad, even Coconut Curry Salmon.

If you’re trying to cut down on the amount of meat you’re consuming black beans and lentils are another great option. You can find a bunch of recipes where the main ingredients come from cans, like this one.

Keep Breakfast Simple

Most people don’t want to put too much effort into their breakfast. Some are satisfied with cereal. A great breakfast should have protein and carbs to give you energy to start your day. Egg whites are a quick, simple, delicious breakfast. This food is high in protein and low in fat. Liquid egg whites in the carton are the easiest for making your daily breakfast. You can spice it up by adding veggies like peppers, tomatoes and mushrooms (cut these up and store them in the fridge so they’re easy to grab). Along with egg whites, oatmeal is another great low-cost breakfast item. This power food boosts energy, supports weight loss and boosts heart health. Avoid the instant oatmeal with the fruit added in already. These are especially high in sugar.

Here are a few more quick tips you can follow:

  1. Tap water is relatively free. If water is too bland for you, add frozen fruit for a refreshing summer drink.
  2. Don’t buy things just because they are on sale. Only buy them if you have been wanting to try that food or it’s something you always eat.
  3. Look up and down. Stores typically put the higher cost item at eye level. Look above and below that item for cheaper options.
  4. Eat before you shop and stick to your list.

4 Ways to Lower Your Credit Card Debt

shutterstock_62123887A dinner here, a trip there, a pair of shoes every once in a while. You think to yourself “Oh I can afford this, I just won’t go out to dinner for a full week.” It’s the cycle some are familiar with. But when you start maxing out credit cards and your 25% interest rate is adding on unnecessary debt, it’s easy to feel like your finances are spiraling out of control.

Many people use credit cards to build their credit but lose track of how much they’re spending. Credit cards are a quick and easy fix when you want something and don’t have the means for it. If you’re swimming in credit card debt, these tips will help you get to dry land.

  1. Organize your debt

This may seem standard but sit down, get all of your recent credit card statements and add up how much money you owe all together. The key is to get organized and know exactly how much you owe rather than making assumptions.

  1. Pay off the credit card with the lowest balance

This may sound odd but here me out, paying off the credit card that has the lowest balance will motivate you to finish paying off your debts. You know the saying “Tackle the small things first.” Well that applies perfectly to lowering your debts. Don’t get frustrated and flustered with bills that will take years to pay off. By paying off the credit card with the lowest balance, that’s one less thing you have to worry about.

  1. Transfer your high-interest debts

Before we even begin talking about balance transfers, let’s discuss credit card annual fees. If you’re paying an annual fee on any of your credit cards, it’s time to end your relationship with that company. Why should you be paying $80 a year to a company that is already charging you 25% on your purchases? For the rewards? Well, there are a ton of credit cards out there that offer rewards with no annual fee.

When it comes to balance transfers the first thing that may come to mind is to transfer your balances to another credit card, but that isn’t always the best case. Many times credit unions have great rates (as low as 1.89% APR) on Home Equity Lines of Credit (HELOC). For those who may not know a HELOC is basically borrowing money from the equity in your house. You can typically borrow up to 80% of the equity in your home.

Let’s take this real life example: Maria has $50K in credit card debt and needs to reduce her monthly payments. She talks with a credit union employee and learns that a HELOC is her best option. Once she got her house fully appraised to confirm its equity, her maximum loan amount was $20,000.00, allowing her to pay off 2 high balance/high-interest rate credit cards. She ended up saving $3,408 in interest in the first year.

If a HELOC is not a viable option for you credit card balance transfers are also a great option to lower the amount of interest you’re paying. Since credit unions are not-for-profit, they typically have fewer fees on their credit cards, like no annual fee and no balance transfer fees. Plus, they have lower interest rates. For example, BrightStar Credit Union has interest rates from 8.99%-18.oo% APR.

Many cards offer a lower interest rate for balance transfers for the first year or so. With that being said, this window is a great time to pay down and pay off your high balances. It will be hard but you will save hundreds of dollars in interest.

  1. Lower your rate

If you’re not willing to do a balance transfer call your credit card company and see if they are willing to lower your rate. A few kind words and a good attitude can go a long way here. If you’ve had that credit card for years, have a good standing relationship with them, and are on-time with your payments you will most likely be able to talk them down a bit. Even if it drops one or two points you will save money on interest.

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


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.


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.


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!


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!