Happy New Year! As you review your finances from the holidays and try to keep your sanity, it may be time to also review your financial institution. Many people are not aware of credit unions or what they do. Here are just some benefits of joining a credit union.
- You do not have to belong to a particular group or have a specific occupation to join; today, many credit unions are open to almost anyone with very few stipulations. Being member-owned and not-for-profit, the credit union exists to serve is its members. Typically, they offer lower interest rates on mortgages, auto loans and credit cards with lower fees. This helps its members save more money over the long-run. Credit unions are governed by a member-elected, unpaid volunteers which means local accountability.
- Tech-savvy; most credit unions have all the latest technology such as APPs, online banking, mobile site and social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and even YouTube and Instagram. One of the best features of the APP is the mobile deposits of checks. It is a simple process. Log in to your mobile account, select the deposit check icon, state the amount of the check, take a photo of the front of the check, take a separate photo of the back of the check and select deposit. Members are also able to pay bills, find locations and ATMs, make a transfer and even apply for a loan all through the APP. Most credit union APPs are free though your smart device and are compatible with iPhones, tablets and androids.
- Member-specific savings; credit unions also provide personal loans to members when in need of financial assistance. Financial literacy is also an important benefit that credit unions provide. Helping members understand and manage their credit; improve their credit score and eliminate debt are additional benefits of joining a credit union. Many credit unions have specified fee-free ATMs locations throughout the country. They are also federally insured by the NCUA, the sister organization of the FDIC.
- Educating the public; many credit unions offer free seminars on topics such as credit, getting out of debt, purchasing a car or home and retirement. Credit unions have partnerships with businesses and organizations to provide discounts exclusively to its members. They also give back to the community by generously supporting other not-for-profit organizations.
As you progress through life, it is wise to see if your financial institution is still the best choice for you. It not only saves dollars, it makes sense.
Losing weight is the most common New Year’s resolution, but becoming a better money manager isn’t far behind. If you’d like to get your spending in shape, too, adopt some of these resolutions this January.
Analyze your spending
Some financial institutions offer apps or calculators that help you split your spending into categories, such as housing costs, grocery expenses and entertainment. There are also many third-party apps with similar features. These tools show you where your money is going and help you identify areas — such as spending on entertainment — where you might be able to cut back.
Check your credit
You’re entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three major reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Request a different one every four months through AnnualCreditReport.com to keep a close eye on your credit. If you find serious errors, tell the reporting agency. According to federal law, it must investigate your claim, usually within 30 days.
Your credit has a major impact on whether or not you’re approved for mortgage and car loans, as well the interest rates you’re charged. Having a high score will make it easier for you to qualify for loans with low interest rates.
Take the thought out of bill payments
Your monthly bills all arrive at different times, from different providers, in different forms. What if you could manage them all in one place?
Online bill pay isn’t terribly new, but if you haven’t tried it yet, you should. You can receive and view all your bills, make or schedule payments, and review your payment history in one platform. This makes it harder to misplace any important information.
Payment history makes up a large part of your credit score. If you make payments on time and in full, it will improve your score. Online bill pay is a good way to ensure that you don’t miss any payments.
Revisit your mortgage and insurance policies
We tend to set it and forget it once we’ve signed up for insurance. But if you shop around every year, you might find a better deal on auto, home or health insurance.
In a similar vein, it’s a good idea to examine the terms of your existing loans, particularly if you’ve raised your credit score since you qualified. If you refinance, you could qualify for a lower interest rate, which would reduce your monthly obligations.
Developing or improving your money management skills is a great way to kick off the new year. And if you stick with it, the dividends are just as positive as the benefits of regular workouts at your gym.
Peter Lewis, NerdWallet
© Copyright 2015 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved
The holiday season is underway and more than ever, consumers will shop by mail, phone and the Internet. This means greater opportunities for thieves who hope that shoppers will drop their guard in pursuit of bargains and hard-to-find items. Protect yourself from fraud for a happy holiday season:
- Check out the seller. Be sure anyone selling though the Internet has a physical address, phone number and clearly posted policies relating to payment, refunds, delivery schedules, and the privacy of your information. Those selling by mail and phone should provide the same information. When in doubt, contact the Better Business Bureau for a reference.
- Be wary of unsolicited phone calls. Thieves sometimes pose as well-known retailers, offering special deals available only by phone. Shop by phone only when you make the call, and to a merchant you know and trust.
- Check out the product. Some sellers try to hide the fact the offered item is refurbished or a previously returned item. Be certain of the product description in the ads and examine items carefully when they arrive.
- Don’t email financial information. Email isn’t that secure and legitimate sellers won’t request payment in this fashion. Enter personal and financial information only when there is a “lock” icon on the browser’s status bar and look for the URL to read “https” versus “http”.
- Don’t open suspicious attachments. Some Internet identity thieves will send spam email offering unbelievable bargains on hot items such as digital cameras, computers, and mp3 players. The email includes an attachment that promises to explain how to obtain the promised item. By opening the attachment, however, you download a program that searches your computer for your personal information, and transmits that data to the thief.
- Keep your virus protection software and personal firewall up-to-date. Many software packages have features that allow an automatic check for updated virus definitions or enhanced protection; use these options to guard against hackers and thieves. Don’t forget to use hard-to-guess passwords to further protect sensitive data.
- Be careful using unfamiliar ATMs. Need cash on your shopping trip? ATM’s are popping up everywhere but some are found in high traffic areas where there are opportunities for thieves to observe your pin entry and use small cameras to film your transaction.
- Know Your Rights. All retailers (including those using the Internet) must ship your order within the time limit they promised in their offer. If they didn’t state a time limit they must ship within 30 days of receiving payment. If the retailer cannot ship within the promised date, they must allow you to cancel the order and receive a timely refund.
- Keep Records. Save all documentation related to your purchases, including emails detailing on-line purchases. Make note of all phone purchases, including the phone number you called, when you called, and who you spoke with. Always ask for a confirmation number for your order to quickly reference the purchase if the item fails to arrive or you are not satisfied.
Want more important consumer and personal finance guidance? Contact the financial professionals at BALANCE. As a benefit of being an account holder at [Your Financial Institution], counselors are ready, at no charge to you, to answer questions and help you develop a personal finance strategy. Visit http://www.balancepro.net or call toll-free: 888.456.2227.
Ways to Save Money on Holiday Dinner
Hosting dinner for Thanksgiving? These helpful tips will keep money in your pocket so you can purchase that perfect gift.
Size does matter: Using smaller plates helps prevent wasting food. Guests can always go back for seconds if needed. Get an accurate head count. If you are expecting a large group, purchase in bulk from Sam’s Club or Costco.
When purchasing that delectable bird, try to buy it early. Having meal options can help relieve the stress and cut the cost of getting that large turkey. Vegetarian options, baked chicken, rice and beans can all be a new tradition and help save money. Make a note of the least eaten dishes and cut them out.
Buy seasonal: A great way to save money is by purchasing food that’s in season such as corn, eggplants, asparagus, peas and onions. Try the Farmer’s market or local supermarket. Look for items on sale, and create a menu.
Decorations: Use things around the house or items that are in season from the yard. Check websites such as Pinterest or YouTube for decorating ideas. Leaves, branches and twigs can be attractive if used correctly. Seasonal food and fruits can also be used and eaten later. Still looking to buy decorations? Go the local dollar store.
Potluck: There is less stress when you have a plan. A potluck gives variety to your meal. Friends and family can swap recipes. Delegate the menu so that everyone knows what to bring. Simple meals are easier to make and costs less.
Keep it real: Use real plates instead of purchasing paper plates and plastic cups, knives and forks. Yeah, it may be a hassle when it comes to cleaning up but get everyone to chip in. It is also better for the environment. Borrow from family or friends if needed.
Recipes for left overs: Sandwiches are great, try stews or soups, fried turkey bites, gumbo or pot pies. Look up fast and easy recipes online. This will help reduce waste and throwing money in the garbage.
If you are looking to try something new, why not volunteer at a food bank? The best way to show how grateful you are, is by giving back.
It is always great to be with family and friends for the holidays, especially during Thanksgiving. Hopefully by now you have figured out your plans for Turkey Day. Remember, it is the busiest time for travel. Here are tips to take into consideration:
Flying? Book early!
Book your trip at least 2 weeks in advance. Check discount sites on Wednesdays, Thursdays or Saturday evenings. If possible, do not fly the Wednesday before, or the Sunday after Thanksgiving; the priciest and busiest times to fly.
Traveling with the family or in groups? Book as early as you can or consider flying on Thanksgiving Day. Check out smaller airlines or airports to help save money.
Pack smart! Do you really need all that?
Check the weather before you go. Pay attention to guidelines for carry-on luggage. Airlines have specific guidelines which may result in expensive fees. According to Independent Traveler, it is best to fit everything in your carry-on as it saves time and worry when transferring. Remember TSA guidelines in regards to liquids.
Driving instead? Check out your ride
Check out your car before you go on the road. If you can avoid it, don’t drive on Thanksgiving Day. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, it is the busiest day of the year for cars being on the road. Leave on the Wednesday or Tuesday before Turkey Day instead.
Driving late at night can be an option. There is less traffic and the kids will be asleep. Make sure you are well-rested and have a co-pilot. It is dangerous to drive tired.
Try an alternative
Try using alternative transportation such as a train or bus. Amtrak offers great discounts for the family. Avoid spending on food or snacks by carrying your own.
Place to stay
If you are unable to stay with family members or friends there are some great, affordable alternatives. Sites such as AirBnB can be a great resource. You can read reviews from other travelers who have stayed at the same location. This alternative is much more cost effective as opposed to staying at a hotel or motel.
However you decide to travel, be safe and treasure the moment.
Halloween is quickly approaching which means pumpkins, trick-or-treat, costumes and spooky festivities. According to U.S. News and World Report, Americans spent $7.4 Billion on this ghoulish holiday in 2014. The average person will spend from $40-$80 on decorations, costumes and candy. Depending on family size, that amount can quickly spin out of control. Thankfully there are ways to enjoy the festivities without screaming when you see the bill. Here are a few tips:
Sam’s Club and Costco are great places to purchase candy in bulk. If you are not a member, ask friends or family who are members to take you shopping with them.
Non-candy treats such as stickers, erasers, pencils or plastic bugs can be a great alternative. Stop by your local dollar store for affordable options. Create your own trick-or-treat sacks by using pillow cases, sand buckets, baskets, gift bags or reusable grocery bags.
There are several websites where you can order affordable spooktacular decorations. Check coupon sites such a Groupon to see if there are additional savings available. The neighborhood Dollar Store is also a great option.
Activities or parties for the entire family
Events such as Halloween Horror Nights or your FREE community activity can be a great alternative. It’s also great to pool together with friends when having a fright night. Homemade Halloween goodies will be a scream at your howling party. Have a potluck where guests can win a prize for “the spookiest dish.” Groupon and Living Social are also great for events the entire family will enjoy.
Make your own costume, shop at consignment stores or swap costumes with friends and family. Another alternative is the toy section for dress-up options. Use make-up instead of purchasing masks will also save green. Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube can assist with the make-up D-I-Y.
Purchase pumpkins last-minute at your neighborhood grocery stores or farmer’s markets to keep the cost of Halloween to a minimum. According to US News and World Report, stores may have drastically-reduced prices on pumpkins to save on the post-Halloween price drop. Have a pumpkin carving competition on, or, the night before Halloween.
In addition, a scary movie night can be a cost-effective option; create and print your own invitations; capitalize on the after-Halloween sales and make a note of how much you spent in order to save additional funds next year.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- Shop on Sales Tax Holiday
- Download textbooks online for up to 50% off
- 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.
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.
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.
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:
- Tap water is relatively free. If water is too bland for you, add frozen fruit for a refreshing summer drink.
- 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.
- Look up and down. Stores typically put the higher cost item at eye level. Look above and below that item for cheaper options.
- Eat before you shop and stick to your list.