Things are heating up with March Madness beginning this week, and many of us are scrambling to pick our favorite teams and fill out our tournament brackets. So, why not apply the same concept to your finances? Check out Financial Four, an interactive bracket developed by the National Endowment for Financial Education and the Financial Planning Association to help you identify the financial areas that are most important to you.
How to Begin:
On the interactive web page, the topics are divided into four groups:
- Growing Your Money
- Spending Wisely
- Protecting Your Money
- Learning About Money
Rank each topic until you advance your selections to your #1 financial priority. Clicking submit shows how users’ answers compare to financial experts! Each item on the list is also linked to a helpful resource for financial information. It’s as easy as that! Interested in what your financial priorities are? Click here to play!
Now that you have filled out your bracket, what did you come up with? Is it establishing an emergency savings or using credit responsibly? Was it living within your means or ensuring job security?
Expert financial planners and advisors recommend the following as their top suggested “financial four” priorities:
- Live Within Your Means. This was the top choice among financial planners and advisors. Spending less than you earn and living within your income allowance is the best way to ensure you meet your financial goals.
- Pay Yourself First. Every time you receive a paycheck, save a certain percentage of your income before spending money on anything else.
- Rein in Debt. Have less than 15 to 20 percent of your income earmarked for debt payments – excluding mortgage debt. If you pay more than this, you’re in the danger zone and potentially in over your head with debt.
- Maintain Adequate Insurance. Ensure your financial security by having adequate insurance coverage in place for health, disability, long-term care, auto, homeowners’, and renters’ to protect yourself and your assets.
Well now that you have filled out your bracket the only thing left to do is create an action plan! Make it a goal in 2015 to focus on your/or the recommended financial priorities, and you will be on your way to creating a successful financial future. Easy enough right?
Share with us your final four financial priorities in a comment below!
Until Next Time,
In honor of Friday 13th, I thought I would share some credit union knowledge with all of you. Here are 13 facts about credit unions that you may not have known!
13 Fun Facts About Credit Unions
- In 1934, President Roosevelt signed into law the Federal Credit Union Act. This established credit unions as an alternative to banks to promote thrift and prevent usury during the Great Depression. Many credit unions have decades of history with members spanning generations.
- Credit unions are not-for-profit financial cooperatives. Like other not-for-profit organizations, credit unions enjoy federal tax exemptions allowing them to offer better rates on savings accounts, lower rates on loans and little or no fees. Credit unions enjoy this benefit because they are mutually operated without profit. Credit unions do pay other types of taxes such as state, sales and payroll taxes.
- Credit unions are member owned. Don’t let “membership” scare you. It simply means you have a say in some of the activities of your local credit union, should you want it. It also means you are treated with the same respect as everyone else.
- NCUA versus FDIC: The vast majority of credit unions are federally insured by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), which provides essentially the same insurance coverage on deposits as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which insures bank deposits.
- Eligibility: Membership is limited, but joining a credit union is probably easier than you think. All credit unions have a field of membership (FOM) in their charters that defines who is eligible to join. This can be based on the community where you live, where you work or what associations you belong to. FOMs have expanded in recent years making it easy to join many credit unions based on where you live or the associations you belong to.
- Credit unions are convenient. The myth is that credit unions are junior varsity (JV) and can’t directly compete with the convenience offered by banks. Many credit unions have partnered together to form a network called, the CU Service Center (aka shared branching, sister branches, partner branches) giving you access to over 5,000 credit unions worldwide. Many credit unions also offer 24 hour access through online banking, mobile banking with deposit features, 24 hour call centers and text and email alerts.
- Once a member, always a member. Once you are a member of a credit union, you can remain a member regardless of what happens to your original qualifications. If you move to a new city or if you change employers, you can remain a member of that same credit union.
- ATM Access: Free ATM access can be as widespread as a big bank. Many credit unions belong to nationwide ATM networks. This gives you surcharge-free access to thousands of ATMs around the country.
- Share Account: At most credit unions, you simply need to deposit $5 or so in your accounts. But, if you close the account, you get it all back.
- There are about 7,000 credit unions in the United States. The vast majority of people can join a credit union and find one that meets their financial needs.
- Credit unions provide financial education. CU’s are passionate about providing financial education to help you and your family manage their money.
- You can join a credit union today! At Community 1st Credit Union we believe in empowering our employees to help our members achieve financial success! We are people helping people- rooted in our communities. Are you a credit union member? If not, apply today!
- Credit Unions are awesome! Need I say more?
Your midterms are in full swing, your brain is fried, the travel plans are booked and all you can do is anxiously wait for Spring Break. For those of you going somewhere warm this Spring Break, you might want to take this opportunity to update your wardrobe. Just remember, updating your wardrobe does not have to cost a lot of money! Here are a few ideas to keep your new wardrobe within budget.
- Make a list beforehand, while leaving just a little room for “impulse buys.” Decide on what would make your new wardrobe awesome beforehand. If you don’t, you might be leaving with more shopping bags than you can carry. Making a shopping list can help you avoid buying something you don’t need or actually want.
- Take inventory of what you have. You do not need 20 new swimsuits for your trip. Repeats of what you love aren’t a bad idea, but that doesn’t mean you need one of every color. Mix and match your outfits, especially your swim suits! Keeping track of what you already have will help avoid impulse shopping as well.
- Avoid the malls, unless you’re shopping clearance rack. There is no point in paying an extremely high price for something you can buy at another store for so much less. Stores like TJ Maxx and Marshall’s occasionally carry these “mall brand” items in their stores for a lower price.
- Don’t be “too cool” to use coupons. This is an obvious one. Look online for coupons. Use your rewards card for the store. Look through ads to see when and where the sales are. Any way you can save money means more awesome clothes for you. BUT, do not open several store credit cards just because you could save 15% on your purchases. I promise you, this is a bad idea.
- TRY THINGS ON. I can’t say this enough. Although I am guilty of breaking this rule, it is very important in saving money and time in the long run. Unfortunately, sizes are NOT universal. Size 4 jeans in one store might not fit like size 4 in another. It is important to try things on to see if they fit and if you like the way you look in that article of clothing.
- Borrow from your friends! One thing I miss more than anything from college/high school was borrowing my friends clothes. It was so fun to just walk into your roomies closet and pick out an outfit for the day (with their permission of course)! Plus, the best part is it’s free! Check with your roommate or best friend to see if there are a few items you could take with you on spring break to make your wardrobe feel new. Just don’t lose anything or you may never get to borrow from them again!
As young adults, we do not have a lot of money just to throw away. Buying clothes, sadly, is no exception. Buy things that you like and that you can wear often by mixing with a lot of things you already have. Last but not least, remember “quality not quantity” when buying a new wardrobe!
It’s that dreaded time of year again…. Tax Time! Have you filed your taxes yet? Will you be receiving a tax refund this year? If so, how you will you be spending your money. If you are planning on putting it directly into your checking account, you are on a fast path to losing track of where and what you are spending it on! Instead, get smart and create a plan for your refund. Check out these 5 tips to help you spend your tax refund wisely!
1. Create an Emergency Fund
In case of a financial emergency, it is ideal to have money saved. That way, you can get out of a situation without breaking the bank or having to turn to a loan for help.
2. Pay Off High-Interest Debt
Use your refund money to pay off that high interest student loan, auto loan, or high-interest credit card debt. It never hurts to get a head start on paying off your loans, especially ones with high interest rates.
3. Fund an IRA Account
If you think you are too young to start thinking about retirement, think again! Saving for your retirement early is one of the best things you can do for your financial future.
Use the money to open a higher-interest earning account at your credit union! There are several options when it comes to high-interest earning accounts, and you can use the money to help grow your savings early.
5. Spend it on Something You Need
Are you having car trouble, did your computer crash, or have you put off dental work? You need to take care of these essentials, and now that your refund is here, you can cover the cost.
Are you getting a refund this year? What do you plan to do with it? Are you smart with your money, or do you tend to quickly spend your refund?
Until Next Time,
Valentine’s Day is inching closer but there is no need to panic. If you’re worried that your funds can’t stretch far enough to give your beloved a Valentine’s Day to remember, realize that the best gift you can give on Valentine’s Day is letting your significant other know that they’re loved, cared about, and wanted. You don’t need expensive jewelry or a five star meal to win them over. Save your money and still have a great Valentine’s Day with some of these ideas listed below:
- Give them time
If your significant other is stressed and tired from a busy work life, give them the time they desperately need to relax. Take over their responsibilities at home for the day, whether that means doing household chores, going to the grocery store, etc. Throw in a back rub, make their favorite dinner and watch their favorite movie. You’ll give them the chance to recharge and that will mean more to them than chocolates ever could!
- IOU Coupons
An excellent way to show your love can be through making IOU coupons or vouchers. Some examples include:
- This voucher is good for one week of dish washing by me, no questions asked.
- This voucher is good for guaranteeing one season of your favorite TV show to be shared with me. And a promise that there will be no channel surfing during said show.
- This voucher is good for one foot massage. To be redeemed any time.
- This voucher is good for one breakfast in bed.
- Get Cooking: Instead of spending a fortune at an expensive restaurant, run to the grocery store and pick up the essentials to make your loved ones favorite meal. Light some candles, dim the lights and play some romantic music in the background. Don’t forget the desert!
- Plan a throwback night
Still have a vintage Nintendo or PlayStation tucked away in storage? If your significant other is into video games, plan a “throwback” night with old-school games (video or board)!
- Get Creative
I’m sure you’ve heard this before but, there’s nothing wrong with a homemade gift. Your significant other will be swept off their feet when you give them a heartfelt, handwritten letter on notebook or construction paper, I promise. If you have extra time, print off a photo of you and your boo and stick it in your homemade card. Add a meaningful note and you are all set!
If flowers are a must, you may have to cash up a few extra dollars. Flower bouquets are always extremely over priced on Valentine’s day. My recommendation is to pick some up from the grocery store as opposed to a flower shop. Also, try looking for flowers at wholesale stores like Costco and Sam’s Club. They will be cheaper, and your loved one will never even know the difference! It’s the thought that counts, right?
Whatever your gift might be, the most important feature of any gift is sincerity. Show your Valentine you’re happy they’re in your life. The best gift of all should be spending quality time with your loved one and showing them how much you care about them, not just on Valentine’s Day, but everyday!
Happy Valentine’s Day!
There are just two days left until the most watched annual sporting event in the world airs on NBC… Super Bowl XLIX. That being said, many of you may be interested in hosting a Super Bowl party with your friends or family, so I thought I would share some of my favorite game day recipes that your guests won’t be able to resist. Now, I am all about healthy eating, but sometimes I just like to let loose, watch football and enjoy some good food. If you are looking to host a Super Bowl party this year, be sure to check out these delicious yet budget friendly appetizers:
1. Ham and Cheese Sliders
I know what you are thinking…ham and cheese sliders…. does that really require a recipe? The answer is YES it does. These have so much flavor and everyone at your party will absolutely love them. If you are interested, click here for the recipe!
2. Bacon Wrapped Smokies in Maple Glaze
Of all the football food I have made, this is by far one of my favorites. Warning: They are super addicting! They aren’t necessarily the most healthy food of choice, but they sure are delicious and super easy to make! Plus, who doesn’t love bacon!? For the recipe, click here!
3. Skinny Taco Dip
In case you are looking for something a little lighter, check out this skinny taco dip! It’s delicious, popular and it only takes about 5 minutes to make! Just don’t forget the Tostitos! Click here for the recipe!
4. Buffalo Chicken Dip
You can’t go wrong with buffalo chicken dip and a bag of Tostitos! Delicious, crowd-pleasing and very easy to make! Click here for the recipe!
Veggie platters are always a great choice for a party. Crisp, seasonal veggies can add color and flavor to a table, and heath conscious guests will appreciate the tasty, guilt-free offering. Add some dips to the mix and you are all set to go!
If you are looking to host a low cost party, why not turn it into a potluck? Have your guests bring an appetizer and beverage of their choice? This will help save you time and money! Plus everyone will be pleased no matter who wins the game!
Who will you be rooting for this Sunday? Seattle Seahawks or the New England Patriots?
Until Next Time,
Well, the weekend is almost here and in just a few short days, millions of viewers will be in front of their TV’s watching the Super Bowl XLIX. What do you need to know about this year’s Super Bowl? Well, I have done some research so that you can feel fully prepared to watch the game this Sunday! Check out some fun facts below!
Game Info: Sunday, February 1, 5:30 PM on NBC @ University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
Teams: Seattle Seahawks vs New England Patriots
- The Seahawks and Patriots are both the No. 1 seed in their respective conferences
- The Seahawks are the first team to play in consecutive Super Bowls since the Patriots did it in 2004-05
- Tom Brady’s 6th Super Bowl appearance is the most in the NFL for any quarterback. With the win against the Indianapolis Colts, Brady broke his tie with former Denver Broncos great John Elway as the only quarterbacks to have been in five Super Bowls.
- Arizona is hosting the Super Bowl for the third time in 19 years.
- A 30-second ad cost $4 million in 2014, and that number is expected to rise to $4.5 million this year.
- Katy Perry is the featured artist for the halftime show. Lenny Kravitz will join Perry as a guest performer. The very talented Idina Menzel will perform the national anthem, while Grammy winner John Legend sings “America the Beautiful.”
- There will be 120 footballs ready to go on Sunday. Let’s hope they are all regulation size.
- The well known sterling silver Lombardi Trophy, is made by Tiffany & Co. and weighs about seven pounds.
Do you have some fun facts to share about Super Bowl XLIX? If so, leave us a comment below!
Who will you be rooting for this Sunday?
Until Next Time,
For those of you who have tried the 52 Week Money Challenge and successfully completed it, I now have a new challenge for you! It’s called the 52 Week MEGA Money Challenge. Now, I know saving money can be quite the challenge, especially when you are in your 20’s. Many of us are counting every penny and it’s really hard not to spend it, let alone save it! But if the other challenge was a breeze, and you have the income to support saving a larger amount of cash, then it’s time to take it a step further!
The mega challenge is based on the standard challenge, but instead of beginning week one with a $1 deposit into the challenge fund, the mega challenge begins with $5. Then each week of the year, you multiply that week’s number by $5. In week two, the goal is $10, in week three it’s $15, and so on until the last week of the year (52) when you’ll need to deposit $260 into the fund. While the price is steep, the reward compares. If you are able to accomplish the challenge, you’ll have an extra $6,890 in your bank account at the end of the year. Imagine all of the things you could do with that extra money!
This is an excellent challenge for those who are highly motivated and currently have the income which can support these savings numbers. The purpose of these 52 week challenges isn’t necessarily about the overall money saved. The main point of it is to get you into the habit of saving money each week, and a side benefit of that is that you can begin to fund your emergency savings as well. Shoot for the highest amount you feel confident you can achieve, but definitely don’t overextend yourself to the point that you end up quitting. If you feel it’s too much some weeks, put only the amount you feel comfortable with.
Are you up for the challenge? If so, keep us updated on your journey!
Until Next Time,
First-Time Homebuyers Face Hurdles That Most Can Overcome
Buying a home can be a challenging process. So it’s best to be prepared for what you’ll be getting in to before you can move into that new place of your dreams.
First off, figure out some financial basics. How much debt do you have? How much is your gross monthly income? How much money have you saved for a down payment? What’s your credit score? All these are critical in determining whether you can get a traditional mortgage and how much it’ll cost.
Your credit score helps lenders determine what interest rate to offer you on a mortgage. If your score is too low, finding a willing lender may be difficult. Improving a low score takes considerable time.
Debt vs. income
Next, estimate your debts and income. Many lenders won’t give you a mortgage if you’re paying more than a certain amount each month on loans and other debts. All together, your loan and home-related monthly expenses, including taxes and insurance, can’t top 36% to 43% of your pretax income.
If your current debt-to-income ratio is too high, you might still find a lender, but it may cost more. Alternatively, you could try to reduce or restructure your debt, or seek a smaller mortgage. For instance, if you borrowed to buy a new car, consider selling it to pay off the loan.
Before you begin house hunting, start shopping for financing. Finding a lender like Community 1st Credit Union that will work with you and offers competitive costs will help ease and accelerate the process.
Check out mortgage rates offered and related charges. Combined, fees alone can amount to thousands of dollars, so it’s important to get a detailed breakdown along with an estimated total cost from each lender you’re considering. Compare them to see which best meets your needs. Don’t forget to negotiate — some lenders are more flexible on fees and other charges. So you may cut your costs.
Down payments can vary, but remember the amount you put into the deal affects monthly costs. Usually, less than 20% means paying private mortgage insurance, or PMI, which can add hundreds of dollars a month to your bill.
Once you’ve picked a lender, find out how much house you can afford by prequalifying for a mortgage. It’s like applying for a loan and can make it much quicker to obtain the financing you need once you’ve found the home you want. It can also save you from the frustration of learning that your favorite place is priced beyond your reach.
Lenders are required to determine your ability to repay a loan before they give it to you. So expect to document income, employment, assets and credit history. You’ll also have to detail your current debts and related obligations.
Affordability and financing
A home’s affordability partly depends on financing, as types of mortgages can affect monthly payments. The trade-offs usually involve risk levels and total interest costs.
Fixed-rate mortgages are popular as they provide the borrower with the certainty of a specific monthly payment. With rates still near historic lows, this can be the best choice for those who intend to stay put for more than 10 years. Remember that usually mortgage interest can be deducted from taxable income, lowering the monthly expense.
Variable rate loans, known as ARMs, often initially cost less per month, but can leave the borrower exposed to paying more interest should rates rise. In such a scenario, you can find yourself owing a much higher monthly amount in just a few years. So that lower initial cost comes with considerable payment risk.
Hybrid loans mix both, with fixed rates that eventually switch to variable. Hybrids can reduce the monthly cost at first, but predicting rates years in advance is virtually impossible, so there’s still considerable risk involved. These products are often most popular with buyers who expect to move within the fixed-rate period.
There’s a lot to learn for first-time homebuyers, but your lender can help you through it. So don’t let the complexity hold you back.
Ted Bunker, NerdWallet
If you’re struggling to pay back student loans, you’re in good company. The average individual debt as of December 2014 is $32,264. Americans owe a total of almost $1.129 trillion in student loans—an 8% increase from 2013.
Those figures can be pretty intimidating for recent graduates, especially those who haven’t yet found a job. So how can you pay off loans quickly and on time, avoiding the dark waters of default? Here are some tips.
1. Get organized
It’s important to know to whom you owe what, and to chart a course for paying it off. In addition to noting the total amount and the number of loans, write down how much must be paid on each loan and when and where payments are due. Use this information to factor your total monthly payments into a budget.
School loan payments should be prioritized just like rent and food, since missing them can have pretty dire consequences. Consider setting up automatic payments from your checking account, especially if you have multiple loans, to ensure that you don’t miss a due date. Keeping organized with a folder for all documents from lenders will help if you need to change repayment terms or decide to consolidate your loans.
2. Loan consolidation
If you have multiple loans and struggle to cover monthly payments because of the costs, or you just have difficulty keeping track of it all, consolidation may be a good idea. It involves borrowing enough money to repay all the smaller loans, streamlining the process so you’ll have just one, usually lower, payment to make each month.
Keep in mind that if you extend the term of repayment, making it longer than the terms were for the individual loans, your monthly payment may be reduced but ultimately you’ll pay more in interest. Also note federal and private loans must be consolidated separately—they can’t be lumped together.
3. Know your repayment options
If you’ve taken out federal student loans, there are several repayment options:
- Standard repayment. Set monthly payments over a period of 10 years.
- Graduated repayment. Lower initial payments out of school; then the amount increases over time until the loan is paid off.
- Extended repayment. Payments are spread over 25 years instead of 10.
- Income-based repayment. These plans use annual income to calculate monthly payments and can range from 10% to 15% of discretionary income, with repayment periods extended to variable lengths of as much as 25 years.
- Loan forgiveness. After 10 years of payments, some people in public service positions such as some nurses, teachers, military personnel, police, firefighters, AmeriCorps, or Peace Corps volunteers can qualify for federal loan forgiveness.
4. Find support
Most creditors offer deferment or forbearance if you can’t make a payment. But it’s in your best interest to continue to make payments even in the most difficult situations, as the interest will still accrue and student loans aren’t usually forgiven even if you seek bankruptcy protection.
If you’re feeling overburdened by education loans, or fear you may be one day, a representative of a lender like Community 1st Credit Union may be able to help.
Cait Klein, NerdWallet