What was the very first financial choice you ever made?
Think about it: it likely took place before your first job, even as far back as when your annual income consisted of Tooth Fairy money and lucky pennies. The very first financial decision you ever made is also one of the most important choices—it’s where to keep your money.
When you first made that decision, piggy banks, sock drawers and buried-in-the-sandbox-like-
pirate-treasure all seemed like perfectly acceptable options. As it turns out, they aren’t nearly as super-secret as you might have hoped. Opening a bank account is the best solution, but in order to do that, you first need to choose a financial institution—so, your choice is between a bank and a credit union.
Banks and credit unions offer essentially the same products and services, but there are huge differences in the way they operate. Despite this, many people put more thought into building their Netflix queue than they do choosing their financial institution. It’s a Money Thing is here to help fill in the gaps and show you how the differences can affect your dollars. Whether you’re just starting out or rethinking your current financial setup, here is what you need to know.
The main difference between banks and credit unions is in their structure. Banks are for profit, while credit unions are member-owned and -operated. This means that banks have numerous expenses that credit unions simply don’t have. Banks have to pay their shareholders, their private investors and even their board of directors (credit union boards are typically volunteers elected by credit union members)—and all this is in addition to regular operating costs. Banks are set up in a way that allows a select group of people to make money off of your banking activity.
Credit unions, on the other hand, are set up in a way that allows all of their members to benefit from their profits. Once the operating costs are covered and reserves are set aside, the profits are distributed back to members in the form of free banking products, lower interest rates on loans and higher interest rates on savings accounts. Credit unions in the United States are also exempt from federal and state income taxes, which translates to even more profit that comes back to members.
Credit unions sound pretty great, right? You might be wondering why some people choose banks over credit unions, even though credit unions consistently outperform banks when it comes to deposit and loan rates and customer service.
The simple answer is that banks are bigger, and some people believe bigger is better. A more effective approach would be to figure out your banking priorities. Here are some factors to consider:
1) Am I eligible for an account? Banks are open to anyone. Credit unions have membership requirements, but don’t let that intimidate you! Requirements can be as simple as living in a certain community or working in a certain field.
2) How much does it cost to get set up? Are there any fees associated with opening an account? Is there a minimum balance required? Joining a credit union involves purchasing a share (they’re usually $5), but this is different from a fee—it means you’re a member-owner of the credit union.
3) Will I have good access to ATMs? You might feel as though you see larger bank ATMs everywhere, but credit union ATMs are just as accessible. In fact, the largest credit union ATM network is actually larger than the largest bank ATM network. Find out which other financial institutions share your local credit union’s network—free ATM transactions are not limited to machines with a particular credit union name on them.
4) What can I do online? More and more financial institutions are offering online banking services. Find out what you can do from your computer and smartphone. Can you check your balance? Schedule payments? Transfer money between accounts? Taking advantage of online products can be super-convenient, and can avoid a trip to the ATM or the nearest branch.
5) And speaking of the nearest branch, where is it? Find out what the hours of operation are and how they work with your schedule. Find out if you can bank through other branches, too. This could come in handy if there’s a location close to work or school.
6) What can my financial institution do for me? Ask about products that are tailored to your situation. How do the interest rates compare to other financial institutions? Are there free products you’re eligible for? Don’t settle for a financial institution just because you need an account—you should also want to have an account there.
At the end of the day, choosing a financial institution is a personal decision with a huge influence on how you manage your money and your time. If you make the effort to ask questions and compare services, you’ll find the best home for your finances.
Until Next Time,
2015 has definitely been an amazing one, but i’m ready to bring on the new year! It seems just like yesterday that I was given the opportunity to be your spokesperson and crazy enough, in less than 12 hours, it will be 2016. Where has the time gone? Since the new year is all about making goals, have you thought about what your New Year’s resolution will be? If not, make it a goal to be financially savvy. Here are 3 ways to kick off your new year the right way:
- 52 Week Money Challenge. Looking for an easy and efficient way to save money? Check out my blog post about the 52 Week Money Challenge! It’s all about saving a little more each week and by the end of the challenge you will have saved $1,378. Think of all the things you could do with that extra cash!
- Start Saving Now! I can’t emphasize it enough – Saving money is so important! You never know when an emergency can come about. Financial emergencies can come in the form of a job loss, significant medical expenses, home or auto repairs or something you’ve never dreamed of. The last thing you want to do is be forced to rely on credit cards or a loan which could simply increase the problem. Most experts agree that you should keep three to six months worth of your income set aside in your emergency fund. The most common reason for the need of an emergency fund is due to a sudden loss of income. If you feel it is difficult to begin saving, simply start with a small amount. Each month put aside $20 and as you learn to budget and eventually make more money, you can increase that dollar amount. To help you stay on track, set up an automatic transfer at your Credit Union. Each month you can automatically transfer a certain amount from your checking to your savings account for no fee at all!
- Manage your Debt. Whether you borrowed to pay for college or to enhance your lifestyle, it is difficult to feel financially savvy if you are drowning in debt. Make a plan of action! Start by paying off debts with the highest interest rate first (e.g. credit cards). Also, try paying more than the minimum payment. You will be able to pay your loan off faster and the overall interest amount will decrease.
- Collect Your Change. Any time you make purchases with cash, only spend whole dollar amounts. If you go to the grocery store and your items come to $67.39, pay $70 in cash and pocket the change. The first thing you should do when you go home is throw the money in a large container. If you stick to this method and don’t spend any of the change, you are likely to save several hundreds dollars over the course of a year.
If none of these helped you out, I’m confident you will be able to make good decisions on your own! I wish you all a happy and successful New Year! Good luck and I will see you in 2016!
Until Next Time,
Are you a senior in high school and a permanent resident of Iowa? Click below to register for the Iowa Financial Know-How Challenge: Senior Scholarship and a chance to win one of 30 scholarships worth $2,000.
The Iowa Financial Know-How Challenge: Senior Scholarship is:
•Open to legal U.S. citizens who are permanent residents of Iowa; are seniors at an Iowa high school during the 2015 – 2016 school year; and attend college in fall 2016.
•A no-purchase-required scholarship.
How to Qualify
To qualify for the scholarship, students must:
•Register by March 4, 2016.
•Complete two online financial literacy tutorials created by Iowa Student Loan.
•Take an online financial literacy assessment test created by Iowa Student Loan.
The three online components will take a total of about one hour for students to complete. The 30 seniors who score highest on the assessment will receive a $2,000 scholarship sent directly to their college in fall 2016. If a tiebreaker is necessary, tied students will be asked to write and be judged on a short essay.
Deadline to apply is March 4, 2016.
Falling snow can be quite beautiful this time of year, however it can also wreak havoc on the roads. While no one enjoys driving in snowy or slippery conditions, there are steps you can take to help improve your safety with these winter driving tips:
Preparing Your Car:
- Take your car to a mechanic and get the following things checked: antifreeze level, battery, oil, thermostat, heater, brakes and defroster.
- Check to make sure your tires have adequate tread. If the treads are worn, replace them. Better yet, exchange them for a set of snow tires, which have treads that provide better traction and are equipped to handle extreme winter driving conditions.
- Keep the gas tank at least half full throughout the winter. This will reduce condensation, making your vehicle easier to start on cold mornings.
Packing Your Car:
- Blanket: In Iowa, weather can be unpredictable. Temperatures can drop quickly and you’ll need a good blanket to stay warm. Keep an extra pair of gloves and a hat in your trunk as well in case of an emergency.
- Snow Shovel & Ice Scraper: Keep a folding snow shovel and ice scraper in your kit in case you need to dig your car out of a ditch or snow bank.
- Flashlight: Be sure to keep a small but bright flash light in your glove box in case you get stranded at night. You will also want to make sure you have fresh new batteries in your kit as well.
- Cell Phone Car Charger: Put an extra cell phone charger in your glove box! Too often do we become overconfident on the roads knowing we are only a phone call away from help…BUT what if it dies? Then what do you do?
- Emergency Contact Numbers: If you are relying on your cell phone to be the storage unit for all your emergency info, just think what would happen if your phone dies or if you got in a car accident and your phone is damaged. Just to be safe, write down all of your emergency contact info on a piece of paper and store them in both your glove box and your wallet.
- Important Documents: Proof of insurance, vehicle registration and owner’s manual. Easy enough right?
- Non Perishable Snacks: Keep plenty of bottled water and nonperishable, nutritious food items, like energy or protein bars, in your kit to keep you hydrated in case you are stranded or have to wait a long time for assistance. Check expiration dates periodically and replace these items as needed.
- Sand or Kitty Litter: If you find yourself stuck in snowy slush, non-clumping cat litter can be a lifesaver (or at least a timesaver). Pour it in the path of your wheels to help get traction.
- Jumper Cable
- First Aid Kit
Driving Your Car:
- Clear snow and ice off your car – including windows, mirrors, lights, reflectors, hood, roof and trunk.
- Drive with your headlights on, and be sure to keep them clean to improve visibility
- Keep your windshield washer reservoir full, and make sure your car has wiper blades that are in good condition.
- Remember that speed limits are meant for dry roads, not roads covered in snow and ice. You should reduce your speed and increase your following distance as road conditions and visibility worsen.
- Be cautious on bridges and overpasses as they are commonly the first areas to become icy.
- Avoid passing snow plows and sand trucks. The drivers can have limited visibility, and the road in front of them could be worse than the road behind.
- Drive Slow! Your boss will understand if you are a few minutes late due to winter weather conditions. Plan ahead and monitor weather conditions by checking local news stations the night before.
- If you must travel during a snowstorm or in blizzard conditions, be sure to let a relative, friend or coworker know where you are headed and your expected arrival time. Avoid the temptation to check or be on your phone while driving as all of your attention should be on arriving safely.
Just remember, as important as it is to have your car tuned and have a winter survival kit in your trunk, it’s equally imperative to know how to protect yourself while driving in the snow and ice. Follow these tips and you will feel safer and more prepared this winter!
I shared this post last year but I wanted to share again as a reminder to be smart while doing your holiday shopping. Check out this guest post from Cait Klein at Nerdwallet! NerdWallet is a personal finance website that is focused on helping people lead better lives through financial education and empowerment. When it comes to credit cards, insurance, loans or expenses like hospital costs, consumers make almost all their decisions in the dark. NerdWallet is changing that by building accessible online tools and providing research and experts that can’t be found anywhere else, all to balance consumer finance in favor of the consumer. They call it putting knowledge in your wallet.
The holidays are a time of family, friends and fun, but for an unfortunate few, it’s also a season marred by fraud and even theft. Here are some tips to help you protect yourself while shopping online and at the store.
Online Safety Tips
- Shop smart: If you plan on making purchases online, only use secure websites with URLs prefaced with https://, rather than http://. Think of the extra “s” as standing for safety.
- Bolster passwords: If it’s been a while since you last changed your passwords, now’s the time. Avoid using the same one across multiple sites so that if one gets hacked, others won’t fall as well. Make passwords a mixture of upper- and lowercase letters and numbers, along with symbols. For example MeRRyXmaS!* is a much safer password than MerryChristmas.
- Log out when done: After completing an online transaction, make sure to log out of the website and close the browsing tab instead of hopping directly over to another site. It may be tempting to keep multiple sites open at once to speed movement between them, but avoid creating this browser mall. For each purchase, open a new browser to ensure security.
- Watch for porch poachers: As online purchases are shipped, keep track of when the orders are set to reach your door. You can track packages online to make sure they don’t sit on a porch or step for hours, presenting a tempting target for thieves. Try to be home to accept deliveries, or ask a neighbor to grab them.
- Beware of identity theft: Personal information about tens of millions of people in the U.S. has been exposed by data breaches, mostly involving big retail chains like Target, Home Depot and T.J. Maxx. While taking precautions such as changing passwords can help you avoid becoming a victim, keep an eye on your accounts for any suspicious activity. Most bank, debit and credit card accounts can be monitored online and with smartphones as well as through mailed monthly statements. Financial services providers like Community 1st Credit Union often offer online andmobile apps to help you keep an eye on things. If you think one of your accounts has been compromised, report it to the account provider first, then file an identity theft report with theFederal Trade Commission.
- Shop smart: If an online deal sounds like a holiday hoax, chances are it is. Be skeptical about closeouts, super discounts and terms that seem too good to be true.
In-Store Safety Tips
- Shop in numbers: The more the merrier—as well as safer. Shop with a friend or family member to help you avoid in-store predators. If you’re lugging more bags than you can easily carry, it can attract a thief who could grab a sack or slip something out of one unnoticed.
- Hide and lock: Keep purchases hidden from view in your vehicle’s trunk or covered cargo space, and remember to lock the doors. Bring along a blanket or extra jacket to toss over any purchases you must leave on a seat.
- Watch out: Heading to and from the parking lot, keep an eye out for sketchy characters hanging around, and keep your purse or wallet tucked inside a jacket. Danger isn’t everywhere, of course, but it’s better to be safe than sorry — and it never hurts to be alert to your surroundings.
Simple precautions like these can help keep you safe this holiday season, both online and in stores.
Cait Klein, NerdWallet
Can you believe Christmas is a little over a month away? Well if you’re anything like me, you haven’t even started to think about Christmas shopping. However, now is the time to start making your list and checking it twice, because ready or not, the holidays are on their way! Check out some of these tips to survive the holiday shopping season without busting your budget….
Make a List.Write down everyone you plan to buy a gift for, no matter how small the gift may be. Include ideas of what to give each person, along with the maximum amount you’re willing to spend. This will help you manage your holiday budget.
Black Friday Shopping. If you’re looking for great deals and aren’t afraid of battling the crazy long lines, the day after
Thanksgiving is a shopping must. Get a head start by checking Blackfriday.com before the big day. The site lists Black Friday ads from various stores and updates the information as it becomes available, allowing you to plan out which stores to hit and what products you intend to buy. Some stores even offer advance “Black Friday” sales before Thanksgiving! Make sure to check them out!
Cyber Monday. Cyber Monday is the biggest online shopping day of the holiday season and many online retailers will offer special discounts on their products the day of. It takes place the Monday after Black Friday. Beat the crowds and shop online. Don’t miss your chance to find some great deals!
Plan ahead. If you’re not already a Christmas Club member, consider opening an account at C1st. Christmas Club accounts are unique savings programs that allow you to save throughout the year for the holiday season. Deposit any amount throughout the year or let us help you with automatic deposit options. On October 1stof each year, we will return your yearly savings along with the dividends – just in time for the holiday shopping season.
- No minimum balance
- Funds transfer automatically into checking or savings on October 1st
- Two withdrawals (emergency only) allowed per year
Skip-A-Pay. Take a break this holiday season! We all know the holidays can be an expensive time of year but why not make yours a little less stressful. Enjoy some extra cash with our Skip-A-Pay program and skip your December loan payment. C1st will extend the term of your loan by an additional month. Then, what you do with the extra cash is up to you!
Do you have any holiday spending tips or tricks? Share them in the comments below!
Until Next Time,