Keeping your Credit Score Safe after a Data Breach


Worried about how the recent data breaches will affect your finances?  Follow these tips from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s  blog to keep your credit secure!

  1. Check your accounts for unauthorized charges or debits and continue monitoring your accounts. If you have online or mobile access to your accounts, check your transactions as frequently as possible. Report even small problems right away. Sometimes thieves will process a small debit against your account and return to take more if the first smaller debit goes through. Fraudulent account activity might occur many months after the breach;
  2. Contact your financial institution or card provider immediately if you suspect an unauthorized debit or charge. If a thief charges items to your account, you should cancel the card and have it replaced before more transactions come through. Consider changing the PIN to be safe; and
  3. Know when to ignore anyone attempting to “verify” account information by phone or email. This could be a common scam, often referred to as “phishing,” to steal account information. Credit unions and other financial institutions never ask for account information through phone calls or emails they initiate. Reliable sources of contact information for your card provider include the customer service number or web address listed on your bank or credit card statement or the back of your card.

Other points to remember:

  • Under federal law, credit card holders who had their account information stolen, but not the physical card, are not responsible for unauthorized charges.
  • For debit cards, if an unauthorized transaction appears on a statement, but the card or PIN has not been lost or stolen, under federal law consumers will not be liable for the debit if it is reported it within 60 days after the account statement is sent.
  • If a PIN or physical card has been lost or stolen, the time to report is two business days, in order to limit liability to no more than $50 of unauthorized charges, which is why reports need to be submitted as soon as the discovery is made.
  • Unauthorized charges that go unreported for more than 60 days could result in money and future charges made by the same person being lost.

Your credit union personal finance professionals bring you this website and other tools to help you make the most of your money. To find a local credit union you are eligible to join click here or go to

1 in 5 Rely on Credit Cards to Maintain Lifestyle


Take a look around.  1 in 5 can’t pay all their bills and make ends meet without access to a credit card, the National Foundation of Credit Counseling (NFCC) found in a recent online poll.

In order to live only on cash, 22% of respondents said they would have to make significant lifestyle changes.


Credit can be helpful when used responsibly. “Credit should be used as a convenience, not to supplement income,” said Gail Cunningham, NFCC spokesperson. “It is a warning sign if a person is not able to manage his or her daily lifestyle without the use of credit cards, as this is a dangerous habit that could lead to serious financial distress.”

Identify the signs.  Are you on the tipping point? The NFCC offers the following red flags to help consumers identify when their debt has become unmanageable:

  • Paying only the minimum on credit card bills each month;
  • Increasing credit card balances;
  • Skipping monthly payments, paying late, or making short payments;
  • Accounts going into collection;
  • Moving debt around through balance transfers;
  • Seeking cash advances, payday loans, title loans or other nontraditional credit;
  • Arguing at home over money;
  • Charging items that were previously paid for with cash;
  • Attempting to obtain new lines of credit because existing lines are near their limit; and
  • Considering bankruptcy or debt settlement.

“No one ever intentionally digs a deep financial hole, but breaking one of the basic rules of personal finance–spending more than you make–is not likely to have a positive outcome,” Cunningham said.

Your local credit union can help you reverse the credit debt cycle.  Find one to join at!

Credit Union Helps Elementary Students Save Over $40K


A Biz Kid$ Financial Education Grant from the National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF), helped Silver State Schools CU develop a program to teach elementary students the importance of saving.  At the end of the school year, students at Walter Bracken Elementary saved just over $40,000.

Silver State Schools CU, Las Vegas, used the funding to launch “Piggy Bank Project,” a collaborative effort initiated jointly with Walter Bracken Elementary School, The United Way of Southern Nevada, Young Philanthropist Society, Junior Achievement, and the Andson Foundation to offer real savings accounts for elementary students, while also providing in-class financial education to reinforce the habit of saving money.


Using Biz Kid$ videos in the classroom, students learned the important concepts of needs vs. wants, goals, budgeting and smart spending.

The project also included an on-campus piggy bank, which gave students the chance to put into practice the lessons they learned in the classroom.

“Collaborating in the community to provide financial education to youth through Silver State  Schools CU’s ‘Piggy Bank Project’ is a great example of the credit union mission in action,” said Danielle Brown, NCUF director of development and donor relations.

Many credit unions support their communities with programs like these.  Consider joining a credit union for additional benefits like financial education and community contributions.  At a credit union you’re not just an account number, you’re a member-owner who can impact the lives of those around you!

Keys to Safe Credit, Debit Card Use on Campus


Full article originally appeared on Fox Business By Dana Dratch

Want to put a little extra spending money in your pocket this semester?

If you are taking debit or credit cards to college, following some smart tips can make the difference between a few extra pizzas and a pile of bills.  Here are some simple tips to keep you on track:

It is Easier than Ever to Track Purchases and Receipts

If you use your debit card daily, it is even more important to know exactly how much money you have in your account. Three free options for keeping tabs include:

  • Apps and online offerings from your own bank or credit union.
  • Websites such as that allow you to integrate and track finances.
  • The “notes” function on your phone.

No matter which option you choose, recognize that not all purchases are deducted from your account the minute you make them. Some may take several days, or even a week, to clear, says Michelle Dosher, managing editor for the consumer education department of the Credit Union National Association.

Remember, you can hurt your parents’ credit
If you run up a balance you cannot pay on your parents’ credit card, you are potentially hurting their credit scores, says Dosher: “It’s your parent’s credit that’s on the line.”

Want to avoid problems? Have a talk with Mom or Dad to spell out exactly what the card is meant to cover, says Dosher. If they use fuzzy terms like “for emergencies,” get specific and have them spell out exactly what constitutes a card-worthy emergency.

Set a budget to help you track what you are spending including:
  • Food
  • Housing
  • Tuition
  • Fees
  • Books
  • Utilities
  • Emergency fund
  • Savings
  • Retirement!

Your credit union personal finance professionals bring you this website and other tools to help you make the most of your money. To find a local credit union you are eligible to join click here or go to


Cliffs Notes for College Payment Strategies


College students who borrow to attend college graduate with a debt load equivalent to a new-car purchase or a down payment on a house, averaging $25,000. Some borrowing might be inevitable, but also explore the features of other college payment strategies (Kiplinger Aug. 26).

529 savings plans

  • Pros: Your savings grow tax-free and earnings escape federal tax if you use withdrawals for qualified college expenses. Your state might give you a tax break for contributions; you may invest in other states’ 529 plans.
  • Cons: If you use the money for non-college expenses you’ll have to pay taxes and a penalty on earnings. A state-appointed firm manages the account you so lose direct control.

Prepaid tuition plans

  • Pros: You can lock in tuition at in-state public colleges years in advance. The tax benefits are the same as for a 529 savings plan. If your student goes to an out-of-state or private school instead, you can transfer the value of the account or get a refund.
  • Cons: Not all states participate. If you use the money for non-college expenses you’ll have to pay taxes and a penalty on earnings.

Coverdell education savings accounts

  • Pros: The tax benefits are the same as for a 529 savings plan, and Coverdells expand the definition of “qualified” to include tuition at private elementary schools and high schools.
  • Cons: Your contributions can’t exceed $2,000 a year and the beneficiary must be younger than 18; contributions are limited by your modified adjusted gross income.

Roth IRAs

  • Pros: The money in a Roth grows tax-free. Withdrawals are not limited to qualified education expenses. You can avoid taxes on withdrawals as long as they don’t exceed your contributions; you can avoid a 10% early withdrawal penalty on earnings if you use the money for educational expenses.
  • Cons: If you are younger than age 59 1/2, you will owe tax on any earnings you withdraw. If you are 59 1/2 or older you must have held the account for five years to avoid taxes on earnings you withdraw. The ability to contribute to a Roth IRA is governed by modified adjusted gross income limits.

Custodial accounts

  • Pros: You manage the account until the child reaches 18 or 21, depending on your state. After that your adult child owns the account. There are no limits on how the money can be used. There’s no limit on how much a parent can put into a custodial account. Full-time students younger than age 24 pay no tax on the first $950 of unearned income and pay the child’s rate on the next $950. Earnings above $1,900 are taxed at the parents’ marginal rate. Investment choices aren’t restricted.
  • Cons: If your contributions surpass $13,000 a year you’ll have to pay a gift tax. Large balances in a custodial account can hurt chances for financial aid.

Private scholarships

  • Pros: The money is free, and many scholarships are awarded to students based on need or special interests.
  • Cons: Schools might reduce aid if scholarships and aid combined are more than a student’s calculated need.

With soaring tuition, borrowing is often necessary even after accounting for savings and scholarship money. Investigate government-sponsored loans, federal work-study programs, state programs, and institutional aid with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form. Consider federal PLUS loans as well as a private loan from your credit union. Private student loans come into play after all other resources are exhausted, find a local credit union for extra information about scholarships and loans!

Savings gains start with scrutiny of spending


If you want to boost savings, create a smart spending plan–and stick to it. It sounds easy, but, according to a recent survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, Washington D.C., about 71% of people have financial worries, and 31% of them say not having enough savings is their biggest concern. Thirty-four percent say they have nothing saved for retirement ( July 29).

On a brighter note, millennials are on top of their retirement savings game. A recent survey from San Francisco-based Transamerica found that 3 of 4 young adults born between 1979 and 1996 already are discussing saving and investing and planning for retirement with family and friends (July 15). The survey found that 18% of millennials frequently discuss retirement savings, compared with 9% of baby boomers. Seventy percent of millennials already are saving for retirement either through an employer-sponsored plan such as a 401(k) or through anther savings vehicle such as an IRA (individual retirement account).

To get a handle on spending–and saving–or to amplify what you’re already doing:

  • Save for retirement: Aim to save 10% to 13% of your gross pay. This includes your employer match if you get one. If you’re already saving enough in your employer’s retirement plan to get the company match, consider opening a traditional or Roth IRA at your credit union as well.
  • Review housing costs: If you own a home or are thinking about buying one, principal, interest, taxes, insurance, and homeowners association dues shouldn’t exceed 28%-36% of your gross pay. And don’t forget about home repairs and lawn maintenance costs, even though these expenses aren’t included in the housing debt percentage.
  • Save for major expenses: Expenses might include, but aren’t limited to, a down payment for a house, children’s college education, a different car, home remodeling project and emergency fund savings in case you lose your job or become ill. According to a recent study by the Federal Reserve Board, 39% of respondents reported having a rainy day fund that could cover three months of expenses.
  • Control living expenses: Check with TV, Internet and phone providers to make sure you’re getting the lowest rates. Find out if bundling services can help you save. Compare insurance policies and check the National Association of Insurance Commissioners website for price comparisons and the Insurance Information Institute for advice about picking reputable companies. Cut back on going out to eat and picking up take-out meals.

Your credit union personal finance professionals bring you this website and other tools to help you make the most of your money. To find a local credit union you are eligible to join click here or go to

Minnesota Credit Unions Connect with Local Communities

Hi folks!  aSmarterChoice is back today, stay tuned for all of our updates this week!

Minnesota credit unions are Minnesota Minded and dedicated to their local communities.  Watch this video to learn more about your local credit union’s involvement in their home community and how they can help you reach your personal finance goals!

Making the Financial Grade: Back to School Budget Check In


As the leaves start to turn colors and temperatures drop, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) is encouraging consumers to assess their current financial status before heading into the holidays in November and December.   Take the quiz below!
“Consumers may still be receiving the summer vacation and back-to-school bills, but should not lose sight of the fact that the holiday spending season is just around the corner.  This makes it vitally important for a person to understand their current financial situation before taking on new debt obligations,” said Gail Cunningham, NFCC spokesperson. “Doing otherwise could result in damaging an already fragile financial situation.” 

QUIZ Time!  

True or False:  Concerning my current financial situation, I …

  1. Know how much I currently owe on each credit card.
  2. Am receiving collection calls and notices.
  3. Have money saved to pay cash for holiday expenses.
  4. Will be adding new debt on top of old debt if holiday expenses are charged.
  5. Have reviewed my credit report and score in the past 12 months.
  6. Am near the maximum amount allowed on my lines of credit.
  7. Am current on my vehicle payment.
  8. Have applied for a payday loan, title loan or credit card cash advance in the past 12 months.
  9. Have savings in addition to money earmarked for holiday spending.
  10. Have overdrawn my checking account more than twice in the past 12 months.

If the answers for the odd-numbered statement were true, you’re earning an A!  Answering true to the even-numbered statements means you might be headed fora less than passing grade.  This is a great time to spend some extra time studying your budgets before holiday spending begins.

Credit Score Breakdown

You’ll hear everyone talk about the importance of a strong credit score.  But what exactly does that mean?  This infographic from Anheuser-Busch Employees’ Credit Union lays it out in clear language:

10375909_10152670860268764_8146977872305440758_nYour credit union personal finance professionals bring you this website and other tools to help you make the most of your money. To find a local credit union you are eligible to join click here or go to


Creative uses for Tax-Advantaged Accounts


Just as with finding unconventional uses for common items–did you know crushed aspirin is great at removing sweat stains?–there are multiple ways to use your tax-advantaged accounts.  
A report released this month from the Employee Benefit Research Institute, Washington D.C., found that the average person contributing the maximum allowed to a health savings account (HSA) could save up $360,000 in 40 years assuming a 2.5% rate of return. That amount jumps to $600,000 after 40 years at a 5% rate of return ( The New York Times Aug. 19). 
HSAs were created a decade ago to help people with high-deductible insurance plans pay for health-care expenses. The reason financial planners are beginning to recommend them as a potential vehicle for retirement savings is that they’re triple tax-advantaged: contributions reduce your taxable income, grow tax free, and can be withdrawn tax-free for eligible expenses.  
And although the max you can contribute annually to an HSA now is $3,300 for an individual and $6,550 for a family, the balance can be rolled over from year to year and invested.  
You can only contribute to an HSA if you’re enrolled in a high-deductible health insurance plan, and it only makes sense to use it as a long-term investment if you have enough money to cover your out-of-pocket healthcare expenses. 
Here are some other outside-the-box uses for conventional tax-advantaged accounts ( Forbes Aug. 14): 

  • Make your Roth IRA an emergency fund . Ideally, you’d have an emergency fund equal to three to six months of expenses. What could help get you there more quickly is using your Roth IRA (individual retirement account) as an emergency fund. You can withdraw any money except earned interest, tax-free, from a Roth IRA at any time.
  • Tap your 401(k) for a down payment on a house or for education expenses. You can withdraw up to $10,000 from your retirement account without paying the 10% penalty if it’s used to buy a new home–to qualify you cannot have owned a home in the last 3 years–or for education expenses. Both a degree and paid-off home can be huge assets later in life, but make sure you’re still on track for retirement without that money.
  • Use your Roth IRA for health insurance in retirement. If you retire before you’re eligible for Medicare at 65, you may be eligible for subsidies that significantly lower the cost of buying a plan through a healthcare exchange. Because Roth IRA withdrawals are tax-free, you can use that money to pay for the health plan without affecting your eligibility for subsidies.

Your credit union personal finance professionals bring you this website and other tools to help you make the most of your money. To find a local credit union you are eligible to join click here or go to

Credit Unions are a Smarter Choice!