Credit Unions: A Better Name for Banking

Looking for more information about how a credit union is better for your personal bottom line?  Check out A Better Name for Banking, where you can see the differences in rates between credit unions and banks; understand credit unions cooperative nature that gives you access to over 5,000 locations and 30,000 ATMs; and learn more about our democratic governance structure that gives each member one vote.

Convinced?  Find a credit union you are eligible to join by clicking here or visit asmarterchoice.org

Image from Daily Finance, Shutterstock

Credit Unions are your guide away from bank fees!

When ditching a big bank and all the charges and fees that come with it, a credit union can be a great alternative when picking a new financial institution, a recent article in Daily Finance said. 

Are you tired of paying fees for basic banking services to one of the mega-banks that dominate the American financial scene? With a little effort, you can keep more of your money.

Fees tend to be significantly lower at a credit unions because they are cooperatively owned, not-for-profit organizations that exist only to serve members, explained Daily Finance ‘s Carol Kopp.  “Historically, membership in a credit union is open to people with a common interest–members of a union, employees of a company or worshipers at the same place,” Kopp said. “But many are open to an entire community.”

Credit unions offer lower fees and better rates because they answer to their members and not profit driven shareholders.  All profits, after ensuring the financial security of the credit union, are returned to members in the form of lower or fewer fees, better savings returns and often dividends.  If paying less to your bank to hold your money sounds like an idea you like, visit asmarterchoice.org to find a credit union you are eligible to join!

50 kids become billionaires at financial summer camp

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The Pink Team at the Mini Billionaire’s Academy captured all five flags, each one tied to their credit score, allowing them to get “approved” for a loan. (Tallahassee-Leon FCU Photo)

It’s summer camp for kids, with a twist.

Is there capture the flag? Yes, but a captured flag improves your credit. Are there egg-carrying relay races? Of course, but the faster you run, the faster you invest in the stock market, which can be a risky play. 

These were the types of games, and financial lessons, played and learned by the nearly 50 kids who attended this year’s Mini Billionaire’s Academy, a five-day overnight camp hosted by Tallahassee-Leon Federal Credit Union, Tallahassee, FL

The academy, geared towards kids ages 8 to 16, educates participants on personal financial management using entertaining and engaging games. In its third year, this year’s academy was the largest class yet. 

“Students are graduating high school, and even college, with almost no formal training on personal money management and we are proud to be able to fill that gap in our community,” said Lisa Brown, Tallahassee-Leon president/CEO. 

The camp, which started as a one-day event in a community center, has become so popular that it has been moved to the expansive Wallwood Boy Scout Reservation in Gadsden County where campers can canoe, bike, go zip-lining and more.

Other activities included a s’mores store competition that challenged campers to run their own businesses; campfire skits about budgeting; and a reality fair where campers were assigned careers and had to make financial decisions based on their unique financial situations.

Florida State Rep. Alan Williams (D-Tallahassee) stops by to speak to the campers about the importance of responsible money management. (Tallahassee-Leon FCU Photo)
Florida State Rep. Alan Williams (D-Tallahassee) stops by to speak to the campers about the importance of responsible money management. (Tallahassee-Leon FCU Photo)

A grant from “Biz Kid$,” an award-winning PBS TV program supported by the National Credit Union Foundation that teaches kids about fiscal responsibility, helped Tallahassee-Leon put on the camp this year. Many campers received partial or full scholarships to attend as well.

“It’s so rewarding to see how responsible the campers are by the end of the program,” Brown said. “A little bit of fun will equip them for the rest of their lives.”

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!

Your Adult Report Card: The Credit Score

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To help viewers understand how credit bureaus calculate credit scores, Sterling Nielsen, president/CEO of Mountain America CU, West Jordan, Utah, offered up some insight during a recent appearance on KSL-TV 5 ‘s “Studio 5 with Brooke Walker” in Salt Lake City. 

Nielsen’s Tip One: “First of all you need to make sure that you watch that credit history. Make sure that you make your payments on time” The credit rating agencies are going to look at how often you make a late payment, how late that payment is (and) how many accounts are late. These all play a big part in your credit score.” 

Nielsen’s Tip Two: You should pay attention to their levels of credit utilization and make sure you’re not using too much of your credit limits.    “A lot of people think, ‘Hey, I have a $5,000 credit card (limit), I might as well charge it all up,’” Nielsen said. “But that hurts your overall credit score. You’re better off keeping your utilization down to about 30%,” even if you pay off your balance every month.  

Nielsen’s Tip Three:  Consumers should work to build a strong credit history, “You want to show a period of time when, not only were you paying your bills on time, but you were managing credit responsibly,” Nielsen said. “The length of time is quite important in managing your credit score.” 

He adds that consumers with credit scores of 700 or above likely will receive the most advantageous interest rates earning you an A, while those with credit scores below 600 will likely have to pay higher interest rates.

Your credit union personal finance professionals bring you this website and other tools to help you make the most of your money and earn you an A+ in financial wellness. To find a local credit union you are eligible to join click here or go to asmarterchoice.org

Have a 529? Here’s how to best use it.

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College is just around the corner for newly graduated high school seniors, which means the first tuition bills will appear at any moment.

To help guide families who are using 529 plans to pay for tuition, the College Savings Plans Network (CSPN) offers these guidelines: 

  • Start early. Find out from your plan how long the funds transfer will take, whether the plan will send a check to you or directly to the college, and if there’s anything else you should know as you start withdrawing funds. Once your beneficiary decides on a school, the earlier you start the process, the better.
  • Know before you go. Tuition due dates vary–some are not until after the course add/drop period, some are before the semester starts. Check with your school to find out its due date for tuition payment, and make sure you start withdrawing your funds well in advance.
  • Do your homework. Make sure to check with your plan to find out what it defines as qualified higher education expenses. This generally includes tuition and fees, room and board, and the cost of books, supplies, and equipment required for enrollment or attendance. If you are unsure if any specific item qualifies, ask your plan administrators.
  • Keep a record . For tax purposes, keep records and documentation of higher education expenses for any withdrawal you intend to treat as qualified.
  • Be prepared . Make sure your distributions do not exceed your higher education costs. If the distribution does not exceed the amount of the student’s qualifying expenses, you do not have to report it as income on your tax return. But if the distribution exceeds those expenses, you must report the earnings on the excess as “other income” on your tax return.

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 asmarterchoice.org

Don’t Give Your Money To A Fat Cat

Thanks to Affinity Federal Credit Union We know why the bankers are in it. We use a credit union because we like people, not profits. Why did you choose your credit union?

Credit unions are non-profit cooperative financial institutions that believe in fair and honest banking and are dedicated to the financial well-being of their members. They are able to provide superior service, lower fees and better rates because they don’t report to shareholders, making their members their number one priority. To find the right credit union for you and receive more information visit asmarterchoice.org.

How to Save $1,000 by Christmas: Christmas in July Part 2

Original Post by 3 Rivers FCU, Aly Hess

It might seem a little early to be thinking about the holidays, but once the first of December rolls around and you’re scrambling to decorate, think of unique gift ideas, and round up the money to pay for those many, many holiday expenses, you’ll be muttering, “I wish I would have started all of this months ago.”

See 3 Rivers FCU additional post on Christmas In July

Photo credit: newcastleairport.com.au

Photo credit: newcastleairport.com.au

Open a Savings Account

Maybe you already have a savings account, but do you find yourself dipping into it from time to time to help pay for non-necessities? Not helpful. Go ahead and open another account and make it untouchable until the appropriate time comes.

What makes saving up your dollars in this type of account versus a standard checking account better, is that the money you put in will gain interest at a certain percentage month to month, so it’ll grow without you having to do anything extra!

When it comes to making deposits, try starting the 52 Week Challenge now or create your own challenge – maybe it’s $5 a week that goes towards this account. With the added interest, you’ll be surprised at how quickly it can add up! (Toss in $25 a week starting now, and you’ll have saved $550 by December 1!)

Take Advantage of Automatic Transfers

Don’t let yourself forget to deposit your set amount into savings week to week! Sure, making a transfer is easy, but if you forget one week, chances are, you won’t remain consistent.

Set up an automatic transfer and it’ll take care of itself. You can have a certain amount of money pulled from one account and placed into another, then you get to pick the date when you withdraw funds.  This is great for people who have a little trouble keeping their hands out of their savings accounts!

Save Money on Your Cell Phone Bill

Being on the wrong plan for your lifestyle, and sneaky texting and service fees, can add up quick and clear out your savings even quicker. Take a step back to reevaluate your plan and mobile habits to cut costs. RELATED | How to Cut Costs on Your Cell Phone Bill

Find Cheaper Internet Service + Ditch the Cable

Shop around and compare Internet providers in your area, along with their packages and prices. Chances are, there’s something cheaper available and still suitable for what you need. If not, see what kind of specials your current provider is running and if they’re better than the plan you’re on, request to take advantage of those particular deals.

Also, if you’re paying extra for cable, cut it out. Unless you rely heavily on television shows that just can’t be found anywhere else (read: NetflixHulu, or the network’s website), then you probably don’t really need to be forking over so much money for something that plays such a little role in your life overall.

Raise Insurance Deductibles

If you feel confident in the amount you have saved up in your emergency fund for any unexpected occurrences, raise the deductible on your car and homeowner policies. This can save you anywhere from 10-15%.  RELATED | How a $1,000 Insurance Deductible Can Save You Money

Do Away with the Gym Membership (You Can Still Workout)

There are plenty of video workouts and fitness resources available for free online so you can sweat it out at home. Plus, there’s no better time than now to take advantage of getting your workout in outdoors.

DIY Home Repairs

Make sure you’re taking care of your home to avoid any unexpected costs due to damage. That is, change your furnace filter monthly, seal up any drafty windows or doors, repair leaky faucets, and so on. Take care of your home so you don’t have to pay the experts to do it for you.  RELATED| 5 Home Repairs You Really Should Know How to Do Yourself

Brown Bag It

Grabbing a cheap, fast-food lunch each workday? Let’s do the math. Even just $2 spent 5 days a week over the course of 10 weeks is a costly $100. Bring your lunch and enjoy the savings (and health benefits!)

See more great savings tips from 3 Rivers FCU on their blog!

Work hard and keep focused on these money-saving steps and habits. Make sure you’re allocating as much of the extra money you see as a result to your holiday savings account and you’ll be breathing a major sigh of relief come December!

Creating your Holiday Gift Budget: Christmas in July!

Original Post by Three Rivers FCU Aly Hess

Preparing yourself to get through the holiday season without going deeply in debt can be done. Start thinking about these steps (and acting on them ASAP) and you’ll come back home from holiday shopping madness with a little more leftover in your wallet!

Photo credit: lexingtonlaw.com

Photo credit: lexingtonlaw.com

Determine Your Holiday Budget

Hopefully you’ve got your regular month-to-month budget figured out before making a holiday budget. (No? Find out how to create a budget here!)

Once that’s done, have a look at what your monthly disposable income is (how much you have leftover to spend each month after paying the usual bills and expenses.)

Determine how much of that leftover amount you’re willing to comfortably set aside in one month, and multiply it by however many months there are until your holiday shopping kicks in. Make a point to transfer that amount (say it’s $50 a month) into a separate savings account or use it to buy a gift card at the store you plan to do most of your shopping each month leading up to the holidays. (If you started now and saved through November, you’d have $250: $50 x 5 months!)

NOTE: DO NOT TOUCH THIS MONEY UNLESS YOU’RE MAKING HOLIDAY PURCHASES!

Also, consider what you can cut back on in the coming months that may help you save up and consider ways to supplement your income. RELATED: Save $1,000 By December

Make Your Lists + Check Them Twice

Before you even start browsing the stores for holiday gifts “just to get an idea” (we all know how that ends up), make a list. Actually, make a few lists and keep them with you AT ALL TIMES from now until your last holiday shopping day. Start taking note of what your niece is into right now or when your grandma says, “I’d really like a new bathrobe.” Keep that list with you, in your car, wallet, purse, or on your phone and pull it out while you’re out and about to help stock up gradually.

Holiday Gift List

  • Who to Buy For: Do you typically buy for people you hardly know, just because you feel obligated or see something that reminds you of them while you’re out? Stop. Make a list of those people you absolutely must buy something for and stick to it. If you want to surprise your co-workers, youth group, or another larger group of people you’re involved with, try doing a Secret Santa or bring in baked goods for the entire crowd instead of buying something special for each individual person.
  • What to Buy: Next to each individual listed, jot down a gift that they’ve told you they want or need, or a detailed description of what you should be on the lookout for. Having a solid idea in mind instead of just strolling through the stores and waiting for the perfect thing to jump out at you will save lots of time and money.
  • A Price Limit: Create a price limit per-person as well, especially if you have a lengthy list of people to buy for. By giving yourself a dollar amount for each person and sticking to it, you’ll know just how much you’ll spend at most and not go into complete shock when you review your receipts afterwards.

It might seem like quite a bit to do and plan for before even getting around to the actual shopping part, but if you make sure you’ve taken all of these steps before diving into the holiday spending craze, you’ll find that you can save much more than you ever thought possible during gift-giving season. The professionals at your credit union can help you get and stay on track with solid budgeting techniques.  To learn more, as well find credit union locations that you will be eligible to join, click here or visit asmarterchoice.org

The Fitness-Finance Connection

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By: Gabrielle Leach, Banking You Can Trust

Many people strive for the same goal—to have their scales weigh less and their wallets weigh more. But could improving ones physical fitness provoke positive signs fiscally? Recent studies have shown a connection between living a healthy lifestyle and managing healthy finances.

More Exercise = More Productivity

Increasing your daily exercise can lead to an increased performance at work allowing you better opportunities for raises and promotions. A study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM), illustrates that workers who engage in moderate exercise have higher work-quality and better job performance than those who lead a sedentary lifestyle. According to the study, physically fit employees get along better with coworkers, take fewer sick days, and often perform more work, using less effort. This means that getting in shape could lead to increased productivity and career growth.

Less Doctor Visits

Getting sick can ruin your day and your budget. As healthcare costs increase, it is important to lower your risk by creating a healthy lifestyle and getting daily activity. Dr. Brian Martinson one of the JOEM study’s lead investigators, explains that the study showed that increasing physical activity to even moderate levels was associated with declines in annual health care charges of $2,000 on average. Exercise is also a known stress reliever and can reduce your risk of getting diseases that require long-term treatment (and long-term costs), like diabetes.

Self Discipline is Important

It isn’t news that maintaining a healthy diet and a balanced budget requires serious will power. Some researches hypothesize that by monitoring the intake of food and exercise, one will begin to analyze other areas of their consumption. The same amount of self-discipline that is required to schedule workouts and count calories can be transferred over to limiting impulsive spending and sticking to a monthly budget.

Unhealthy Habits Can Kill…Your Wallet

Costly vices like drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes can really add up. According a study done by the U.S. Department of Labor in 2009, the average American consumer spends $49,638 each year. Of this total 0.9% is spent on alcohol and 0.7% is used to purchase tobacco products. Today, the average annual amount spent on cigarettes is close to $2,000. Eliminating unnecessary purchases can free up funds to be reallocated or saved for better use. Cutting out junk food and needless snacking can also help save some serious cash.

The correlation between being physically and fiscally fit is still being studied, although it’s clear a relationship exists. Leading a healthy lifestyle with moderate daily activity can improve your job performance and prevent illness. By evading sickness you can have more free time and can make better decisions about your future. This is why many employers are starting new fitness incentive programs.

While this does not mean that getting in shape will make you a millionaire, it can help teach you the habits necessary to lead a financially healthy lifestyle.

Credit unions are non-profit cooperative financial institutions that believe in fair and honest banking and are dedicated to the financial well-being of their members. They are able to provide superior service because they don’t report to shareholders, making their members their number one priority. To find the right credit union for you and receive more information visit asmarterchoice.org.

Select Federal Credit Union fills payday lending gap in San Antonio

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Select Federal Credit Union is providing consumers with access to affordable funds after the city of San Antonio filed a lawsuit against seven payday lending establishments that were allegedly in violation of a city ordinance. 
  
The ordinance requires payday and auto-title lenders to register with the city, pay a fee, and limits the amount of the loan. Perhaps the biggest challenge is enforcement. If the city’s lawsuit prevails, it will be a major victory for the regulatory effectiveness of city law. 
  
To be effective as a replacement for payday lenders, SFCU first had to establish a presence where the loans were needed. The credit union established a branch at the Ella Austin Community Center. 
  
“We want to dedicate this branch to sitting down and talking with people,” John Garcia, head of business development and marketing at the credit union, told The Rivard Report (July 7). 
  
The credit union is also working on other partnerships with local businesses and institutions to bring virtual or mini-branches to their facilities. 
  
The credit union doesn’t want to simply offer loans, it wants to help members obtain financial stability, Garcia said. 
  
SFCU is a designated community development financial institution, one of only two in San Antonio. As a CDFI, the credit union identifies members who seem to be relying on payday loans for non-essential costs and can offer financial counseling to help them curb their spending. 
  
SFCU is also working with the City of San Antonio to align lenders for applicants who want to move into Wheatley Courts, a former Section 8 development that being transformed into mixed-income housing.

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!