Category Archives: Financial Tips

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.

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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!

Free Financial Fitness Fair January 30, 2013 in Pembroke Pines

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Mark your calendar and plan to attend BrightStar Credit Union’s Free Financial Fitness Fair, Thursday, January 30, 5:30 p.m. Get on track for a healthier financial future. Free seminars, snacks and giveaways. Location: Walter C. Young Middle School (901 NW 129th Ave, Pembroke Pines, FL 33028).  Click the image for more information.

7 Ways to Trim Your Holiday Spending

Holiday shoppingThe average American intends to spend $421 on gifts this holiday season. That alone is a substantial amount, but that sum doesn’t even include food, travel and other common holiday expenses. If you throw in the price of a few plane tickets for good measure, you could find yourself deep in the hole by the time the holidays are over.

The holiday spirit often overpowers rational thinking, leading some to spend thousands before they know what hit them. However, you, the smart holiday shopper, will have a leg up on them. Consider these seven ways to keep your wallet padded this holiday season without becoming Scrooge!

1 – Create a Budget

Review how much you’ve spent during previous holiday seasons and remind yourself how long it took to pay off those holiday expenses. Decide whether that level of spending is financially acceptable this year. If not, make your budget a little tighter this time around.

Factor in items such as:

  • Cards
  • Decorations
  • Food
  • Entertainment
  • Gifts
  • Travel
  • Wrapping paper

If you typically purchase a Christmas tree, add that to the list too. The idea is to cover not just gifts, but everything related to the holiday you celebrate.

Having a budget on hand will help immensely when deciding whether or not to pay $100 for that cute little robotic dog. After all, if your gift budget is $300 and you have 14 other people on your list, the recipient will get five times her fair share of your gift money.

2 – Prioritize

If you typically purchase gifts for 50 people and want to radically cut your budget to $250 this year, consider dropping Kim from accounting, the mailman, your neighbor’s uncle and maybe even that distant cousin who you haven’t talked to all year. After all, your significant other, children, parents and others you cherish most should be your primary focus.

3 – Make a Shopping List

Retailers lay out their merchandise to maximize profits. Thus, if you walk in without a plan, you could easily be suckered into buying items you had no idea even existed.

Instead, know what you want to buy and stick with it. Get in, find your pre-planned merchandise, pay for it and leave.

4 – Be the Early Bird

To get the holiday worm – if you will – your best bet is to shop as early as possible. Not only will doing so give you the best chance at actually finding the best deal, but prices generally rise as holidays draw near.

Ideally, find bargains on your entire gift list on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.

5 – Cash is King

Shoppers spend 12-18% more when using credit cards as opposed to cash. That’s because people feel the “pain” of spending money more with the latter. As such, carry only enough cash with you to purchase your target items and leave your cards at home.

For online purchases, consider using a debit card. It’s still plastic, but it limits you from spending more than you have.

6 – Don’t Sign up for Store Credit Cards

“Would you like to sign up for the XYZ card today? You’ll save 10 percent on your purchase.”

Chances are you’ll hear something like this at some point during your holiday shopping. While the offer may be tempting, it’s likely a bad deal. Such cards encourage you to spend more in the long run and usually have high interest rates.

Again, stick with cash.

7 – Remember what the Holidays are Really About

The holidays are about sharing positive moments with loved ones, not swimming in wrapping paper and pretending you like every trinket that will later wind up in storage. Consider toning the spending down a bit, and perhaps doing it as a family.

For instance, a family of four might urge the kids to skip buying socks for dad and agree that each child kid gets one big gift and two or three smaller ones versus a new bicycle, video game console and 12 new games. They could focus more on spending meaningful time together. An affordable family outing might be an attractive alternative to presents.

Conclusion

By creating a budget, prioritizing and sticking to a shopping list, you’ll clear the path for a financially responsible holiday season. Remember to shop as early as possible and pay with cash. Be sure to let the cashier know you’re not interested in the store credit card!

Finally, remember that the holidays aren’t all about gifts. They’re about spending time with loved ones. Keep that in mind and conserving your holiday spending should be a piece of holiday fruitcake.

Getting Your Teen a Checking Account: 4 Things to Know

Teens and money

As your teen transitions into adulthood, they’re experiencing many firsts, including a first job and a first paycheck. This is the perfect time for them to start managing their own financial products too. Even if they’re not 18 yet, they can still open their first checking account with your co-signature. A checking account is a crucial stepping-stone on your teen’s journey to full financial independence. Let them practice now, while still under your watchful eye, and they’ll have a clear advantage over their peers when they leave for college or start their first full-time job. Here are four strategies to help your teen use their account to the fullest.

1. Wait until your teen is ready

You know all too well that your teen is unique. Accordingly, not all teens are ready to handle a bank account at the same time. When deciding whether or not you should open one together, focus on your teen’s level of maturity and previous experiences handling cash, rather than their age or year in school. Some teens can handle a bank account at 14, while others may need an extra year or two. Either way, they’ll have plenty of time to practice money management before they move out, so don’t feel the need to rush things.

2. Let your teen manage everything (with your guidance)

Even though you’ll be a joint account holder until your teen turns 18, let them take the lead on managing their money. They should be the ones checking their balance, making ATM withdrawals and using the debit card to make purchases. This is the only way they’ll get better at it. Continue to talk with them about budgeting and responsibility. Let them know you’ll always be available if they have questions. You’ll ultimately have the final say as to how your teen manages the account, but they should still feel like they’re in control of their money.

3. Talk about fees with your teen (so they can avoid them)

The best teen checking accounts are free, meaning your teen should not have to pay any minimum balance requirements or monthly fees. Fortunately, BrightStar Credit Union’s checking account is free, no matter how old you are. However, there may be other fees your teen needs to worry about. Your teen may be charged a fee for an overdraft or using an out-of-network ATM. Go through all the checking account’s boring documents, including the fee schedule, together. Don’t hesitate to ask a BrightStar representative for help if you don’t understand something, or just need clarification.

4. Online banking is the best thing ever

Before computers and smartphones were invented, balancing your checkbook and reviewing your monthly statements were essential skills for anyone with a checking account. They’re still important, of course, but online banking has made them easier than ever. Your tech-savvy teen can easily manage their account right from their computer or smartphone, which will help them stay on budget. BrightStar has mobile apps for your phone and free online banking. Make sure you talk about online safety first, though. Banking online can be dangerous in public places, and you don’t want your teen to become a victim of identity theft.

For more money management tips for your teen please visit http://www.BrightStarU.com

Laura Edgar is a senior writer for NerdWallet, a consumer finance website that helps you with planning your financial future.

What should I do with my tax return?

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Some treat their tax return as a savings account. For them, that amount that’s withheld and then refunded is like a deferred deposit – the check just doesn’t clear until late winter or early spring, when we get those returns in the mail.

For high-income people, this isn’t the wisest strategy: they miss out on interest they’d accumulate by depositing right away. But for those who struggle to save because the budget is tight – often lower-income, younger folks – it may indeed make sense to withhold, because they don’t miss out on much interest – just on the chance to splurge throughout the year. A healthy tax return can be their saving grace.

Without further ado, then, we return to that question: what are we to do with that tax return? There are thousands of ways to use that check, but I’d like to delineate two very general categories first: paying off debt and saving.

  • Pay off your debts. When you have extra cash sitting around, your first priority should always be to eliminate debt, because compound interest digs that hole deeper every month. Unlike your savings account, most of which look to grow, on average, at 0.5% this year, your credit card debt piles up at 15% – 30 times the rate! The answer is pretty clear: get rid of debt before it multiplies.
  •  Save once you’ve settled your debts. As we’d suggested earlier, there are thousands of ways to save, with so many accounts competing for your attention.
  • There is, however, a first step that everyone should take. It’s not a specific type of savings account; it’s more of a savings strategy. It’s a safety net in case of a drop in income, and it’s called the Rainy Day Fund.
  •  Most financial advisors recommend it comprise 3 months to even a year’s worth of living expenses. That’s all your non-discretionary expenses, like rent or mortgage payments, insurance – everything you must pay lest you face severe penalties. The account you choose for this emergency fund can be one of many – skip to the next step to learn more on that front.
  •  Beyond the Rainy Day Fund, there are several other ways to save, and it all depends on your needs. If you have children, you might put it toward their college fund. If you’re a big shopper, you might want to save for the holidays next year. The list goes on.
  •  Pick the account for you. When do you open a savings account – or as you reevaluate your current account – you should know the general differences between them. Again, there are too many finer points for this article to name, but generally you should know that regular savings accounts will yield the least interest, money market accounts a bit more, and CDs even more than that, at least usually.

Before you run out to BrightStar, though, know that lower interest isn’t always a bad thing.

Why? Well, the rule of thumb in banking is this: the lower the interest, the greater the liquidity. In other words, you may not earn much on that regular savings account, but you have much freer access to your funds that you would on a 5-year certificate of deposit. Your choice depends on how much cash you already have to throw around, say in a checking account, and how much you’ll need.

Now that you’ve got the basics down, you’re ready to start weighing your options. There’s plenty of research you can do online, and, when you’re ready, stop by BrightStar to get rates and all the relevant details.

Michael D. Anderson writes for NerdWallet.com, a consumer finance comparison website.

Have it Direct Deposited to Your BrightStar Account.

Tax Refund
Don’t wait for snail mail. Direct Deposit to your BrightStar CU account is the faster and safer way to receive your tax refund. Taxpayers who choose Direct Deposit can get their refunds much quicker. More than 73 million taxpayers chose Direct Deposit in 2012. It’s secure and eliminates the possibility of your refund check being lost, stolen or returned to the IRS as undeliverable.

To have your tax refund Direct Deposited to your BrightStar account, use the following information on your tax forms:

  • The BrightStar CU routing number is 267078299.
  • Make sure to select correct account type – Checking or Savings.
  • Your Checking account number is the 13 digit number that appears on the bottom of your checks, after the routing number.
  • If you prefer funds to be deposited to your Savings account, the numbers will be your member number followed by your 2 digit account suffix/type, exclude any leading zeros or dashes
  • If you don’t know your suffix, call us, check your statement, or view your suffix using Online Banking.

Real New Year’s Resolutions for Your Wallet

New Year new youLaura Edgar is a senior writer for NerdWallet.com, an unbiased consumer finance website committed to promoting financial literacy.

This year, make it a priority to get your finances in order. Resolutions like “save money” or “spend less” are well intentioned, but they don’t constitute a plan of action. You’re more likely to stick to your resolutions if they’re simple, clear and action oriented. Here are a few suggestions from the financial literacy experts at NerdWallet to keep you on track.

I will not pay checking fees

Most bank customers pay an average of $117 in fees per year for things like overdrafts and out-of-network ATM use. As a member of a credit union, you’re already on track to save money. BrightStar’s free checking account gives you access to thousands of free ATMs nationwide, plus other great perks like a rewards debit card and free financial counseling. You can help keep your account free by monitoring your balance online, building up a reserve in your savings account avoiding overdrafts. If you don’t already have a checking account with BrightStar, now’s a great time to get one. You’ll get  $100 just for signing up.

I will pay off my student loans

If student loan debt is “good debt”, Americans have too much of a good thing.

According to the New York Federal Reserve, the average student loan debt is now greater than the average credit card debt. In fact, student debt now exceeds $956 billion in total, and the average borrower graduating in 2011 owed $26,600. Yikes! Educate yourself about your repayment options and find a sustainable solution that works for you. If you’re still in school, don’t borrow more than you need.

I will get out of debt

The average American household credit card debt is $7,150. You can pull yourself out by creating a debt repayment plan. We recommend prioritizing your debts by interest rate. If you pay the one with the highest interest rate first, you’ll end up spending less money to pay down your debts over time. We also recommend enlisting professional help. Take advantage of BrightStar’s free financial counseling services for members, offered in partnership with Balance.

I will start saving for retirement

Did you have a 401(k) at your previous job? Now is a great time to roll it over into an IRA. Don’t have a 401(k)? Consider getting an IRA anyway. Most retired people can’t count on employer benefits or social security (or even both!) for all their financial needs, so it’s important to build a nest egg for yourself. IRAs have the added benefit of letting you save for retirement tax-free. What’s not to like?

I will talk about money and estate planning with my partner and my family

Most people have a hard time talking about money. For couples, it’s often harder. Nevertheless, it’s better to have that awkward conversation sooner rather than later. How else can you make sure your family and your assets are protected in your absence? Write your will, look into life insurance, and check in with older family members like your parents to see what their plans are.

5 Holiday Shopping Tips!

Matt Ong is a writer for NerdWallet.com, a consumer finance website dedicated to clarifying financial products and financial decisions.

Did you promise yourself last holiday season that you’d be better about budgeting for the 2012 season? Here’s a hint – skip printing and clipping coupons and go straight for easier ways to save on gifts. In the madness of the holiday season, how much time do you want to waste tracking down coupons only to get rejected at the register? Instead, use the discounts you’re already eligible for. If you’re not using these, you’re probably losing money.

1. Shop through rewards malls.

Rewards malls are online shopping malls that offer you cash back, loyalty program points or miles on your Internet buys. There’s no cost to join and no catch – the mall gets a commission from the retailer from your purchase and the mall in turn gives you a cut of the payout. Every major credit card issuer has a rewards mall, as well as all major airlines and hotel programs. If you’re not looking for credit card rewards points or frequent flyer miles, use a straight cash back website to get your rebate. You can save up to 40% with just a few clicks.

2. Don’t pay for shipping.

Ever thought you needed a holiday from the holidays? You probably haven’t realized that December 17th is actually a celebration of sorts – a day for free shipping. Free Shipping Day is a once a year, 24-hour online shopping event where thousands of retailers offer free shipping with delivery by Christmas Eve. Hundreds of major big-box retailers and popular merchants participate, so if you’re a procrastinator, do your online shopping on the 17th and no one will be the wiser. If you liked our tip #1, too, you can leverage rewards malls to save on shipping as well. Shop online through a rewards mall, then choose in-store pickup. More and more retailers are offering in-store pickup on online buys as they try and combat the rise of online shopping, which has been hurting traditional brick-and-mortar stores. Buy your gifts through your favorite rewards mall, get your rewards mall bonus and avoid the shipping charges by picking your products up at the retailer’s physical store.

3. Buy handmade.

Ever put off from buying a creative and unique holiday gift because of a higher price? Independent retailers have caught on to this problem and technology has allowed them to now easily offer coupons just like the big-box retailers. Check out online marketplaces like Etsy, Artfire or Big Cartel and use the new resources available to you – Etsy just launched gift cards for the holidays and there are plenty of Etsy coupon codes available as well.  

4. Use social media.

Follow your favorite retailers on Twitter and Facebook to receive updates on exclusive discounts, coupons, Black Friday sales and giveaways. Why? Retailers love social media. It’s a cheap way for them to connect with their customers – and it’s a free way for you to get the savings they offer through their channels. Be careful not to be enticed into buying more, however – you won’t be saving money if you’re buying things you don’t need. If you don’t want to mix merchant updates with your regular social media profile, just create a new account for your favorite retailers. One bonus of using social media during the holiday season? Your kids might be better at using social media than you are – so let them help you find great discounts when you’re busy doing everything else. In turn, teach them about holiday budgeting and responsible credit card use in the process.
5. Use card-linked offers.

Card-linked offers allow you to link coupons right to your debit, credit or store loyalty card. It’s a high tech coupon, granting the same or better savings but with the advantage of allowing you to skip printing coupons and avoid any potential slow down at the register. Simply shop like normal and your rewards will be placed on your card’s account.