The Benefits of Using Mobile Payments

Why fumble for your wallet at checkout when you can just pay by using your phone?

With more than 81% of Americans owning smartphones, contactless payments by digital wallet and mobile payment apps are now more popular than ever. Contactless payment is also becoming increasingly available at checkout counters across the country, with six in every 10 retailers accepting digital payments, according to research by the National Retail Federation.

Switching over to paying for your daily purchases with a digital wallet is simple. You’ll need to choose between popular mobile payment apps, like Google Pay, Apple Pay and Samsung Pay. All of these apps are similar, but Google Pay is your app of choice for all Android phones, Apple Pay works with recent Apple devices, and Samsung Pay offers the widest acceptance of all digital wallet apps. Once you’ve downloaded the app, you’ll need to load your credit union credit and debit card information and then finish setting up the app with your personal authentication process. When this step is complete, your app is ready for use.

Here are some of the benefits of using mobile payments.

Convenience

The biggest and most obvious draw of mobile payments is their incredible convenience. No more pawing through cards at the checkout counter while the people standing in line behind you are growing impatient. No more hesitating over a stack of cash. Just pull out your phone, open your digital wallet app and tap or wave your phone near the payment-enabled terminal. It’s that easy.

Security

Using a mobile payment app to complete a purchase has several security advantages over traditional payment methods.

First, it eliminates the need to carry around cash or credit cards, which always has the risk of being stolen or lost. Misplaced credit cards in particular can be a nightmare for consumers, making them vulnerable to full-blown identity theft.

Second, mobile-payment apps use extra security measures to protect the user’s data, such as encrypting all personal information and utilizing bio-metric authentication features, like fingerprint scans and facial recognition.

Finally, each transaction that takes place over a mobile payment app is tokenized. This involves a one-time code generated by the payment terminal, or a “token.”  The token is used to complete the transaction in place of the buyer’s actual payment information. The token cannot be used for any other transaction and is effectively useless if hacked. The buyer is thus protected from fraud.

Speed

Mobile payments are super-fast. Instead of counting out cash or inserting a card into a payment terminal and waiting for the transaction to clear, it’s just a one-two-three tap to pay. With mobile payments, checking out in any store can take just seconds from start to finish.

Budgeting and expense-tracking

Digital wallets can be easily integrated with money-management apps, making budgeting easy. Every transaction will be instantly recorded for future reference and review. Additionally, retailers generally offer electronic receipts with mobile payments, as opposed to paper receipts which are easily misplaced.

Safety

Ever since the world entered the alternate reality of COVID-19, mobile-payment apps have enjoyed an enormous boost in popularity. In fact, retailers have seen a 69% rise in contactless payments since the beginning of 2020, according to a study done by the National Retail Federation. This is likely due to the fact that consumers are wary of shopping in brick-and-mortar locations and are hesitant to handle germ-infested cash. Inserting a debit card or credit card into a public payment terminal that processes payments for hundreds of cards a day is not much of a better option. All of this has made digital wallets the chosen method of payment now more than ever, with 67% of shoppers choosing self-checkout options from their own mobile devices over in-person payment.

Mobile payment apps enable consumers to complete a purchase without making physical contact at germ-laden terminals. There’s no need to use a wallet, cash or credit card at all. Just pull out your phone and your transaction is a quick wave or tap away. It’s the perfect way to pay for purchases without compromising your safety.

Mobile payments are the way of the future. There are so many reasons to love mobile payments. They’re convenient, secure, quick and safe.

Your Turn: Why do you use mobile payment apps? Share your favorite benefit of using digital wallets in the comments.

Learn More:
thefinancialbrand.com
mobilepaymentstoday.com
alacriti.com

What Do I Need to Know About Today’s Real Estate Market?

Q: The news from the real estate market can be confusing. What do I need to know as a buyer, a seller, or just an American citizen, about today’s real estate market?

A: Trends and stats in real estate are constantly changing, especially during the unstable economy of COVID-19. Here’s all you need to know about the real estate market today.

Is it a buyer’s market right now? 

Actually, pickings are slim for home-buyers right now, giving sellers the upper hand and driving up prices for buyers. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), inventory was down nearly 20% in October 2020 compared to October 2019.

Low supply also means homes are on the market for a shorter period of time than what would be likely in other years. According to the NAR, in October 2020, more than seven out of every 10 homes sold were on the market for less than a month. This means buyers don’t have the leisure of lingering over their decisions and may find themselves getting caught in heated bidding wars.

If you’re currently in the market for a new home, it’s best to be prepared to change some of the items on your list of must-haves into nice-to-haves. You may also want to expand your search to include other neighborhoods or home types than you originally planned. And of course, don’t forget to have your mortgage pre-approval in hand before beginning your search. This will give you a leg up on bidding wars and show sellers you’re serious about buying.

What does low inventory mean for sellers?

An uneven balance of supply and demand that favors sellers means homeowners who are looking to sell will have more offers than anticipated. They may be able to choose the best offer for their home — perhaps even at a price that is higher than expected as well.

If you’re selling your home right now and have plans to purchase another, remember that the things making it easier for you to sell your home in this market will also work against you when you purchase a new one. Prepare for prices that may be above market value and a pressured buying environment.

Is home equity up? 

According to the NAR, home prices have swelled to a national median of over $300,000, with October 2020 marking 100 consecutive months of year-over-year price gains. CoreLogic’s 2020 3rd Quarter Homeowner Equity Insights report shows that the average U.S. household with a mortgage now has $194,000 in home equity. These factors make it a great time to sell a home.

If you’re selling your home, it’s a good idea to work with an experienced agent to ensure you get the best possible offer for your home.

If you’re planning to buy a home in this market of increasing home prices, make sure to work out the numbers and to determine how much house you can afford before starting your search.

If possible, consider choosing a 15-year fixed-rate conventional mortgage, which will give you the lowest overall price on your home.

Are interest rates still low? 

Interest rates reached record lows in 2020 and economists are predicting low rates continuing through 2021.

For buyers, this helps make homes more affordable. However, it’s important not to let a low interest rate make you think you can afford a home containing a price tag that is really out of your affordability. As mentioned, be sure to run through the numbers and determine how much house you can really afford before you start looking at houses.

How is the home-buying process different right now? 

Many parts of the home-buying process are now being done virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions. Some sellers are only offering virtual tours to only very serious buyers. Other parts of the process, like the attorney review and the actual closing, may be done completely virtually using remote online notarization and electronic signature apps.

What do I need to know about the real estate market if I don’t plan to buy or sell a home this year?

According to Freddie Mac, equity will likely continue to rise in 2021. But it will be at a more controlled pace. You may want to monitor how much your home is worth this year since you may change your mind about selling before the year is up.

Similarly, if you’re a homeowner with no plans to move, this can be a great time to tap into your home’s equity with a home equity loan or line of credit from Advantage One Credit Union. Contact us at 734-676-7000 or shoot us a line at news@myaocu.com to find out more.

Your Turn: Have you bought or sold a home recently? Share your best tips with us in the comments.

Learn More:
daveramsey.com
rockethomes.com
keepingcurrentmatters.com

All You Need to Know About Checking Accounts

The most obvious things in life are often overlooked, and your checking account is just one of them. Most people hardly give a thought to this important account and how to best manage it effectively. We’re here to change that.

Here’s all you need to know about checking accounts:

What is a checking account? 

Your checking account at Advantage One Credit Union offers easy and convenient access to your funds. The minimum balance required for opening a checking account can be as low as $25. Like most financial institutions, we also allow an unlimited number of monthly withdrawals and deposits.

Checking accounts are designed to be used for everyday expenses. You can access the funds in your account via debit card, paper check, ATM or in-branch withdrawals, online transfer or through online bill payment.

Making transactions using the connected debit card, or through a linked online account, will automatically use the available balance in your account and lower the balance appropriately.

A paper check is also linked directly to your account, but will generally take up to two business days to clear. It’s important to ensure there are enough funds in your account to cover a purchase before paying with a check.

Maintenance fees 

Many banks charge a monthly maintenance fee for checking accounts.

According to Bankrate’s most recent survey on checking accounts, only 38% of banks now offer free checking, compared with 79% in 2009. Monthly fees can be as high as $25 a month.

Interest rates

Most checking accounts offer a very low Annual Percentage Yield (APY) on deposited funds, or none at all. Institutions that offer checking accounts with interest or dividends will generally charge a monthly fee, with the fee being higher for accounts that have higher rates. They also generally require a minimum balance in the account at all times or a minimum number of monthly debit card transactions. According to Bankrate’s survey, you’ll need to keep an average of $7,550 in an interest-yielding checking account at a bank to avoid a steep maintenance fee.

Security

Funds that are kept in a checking account at a bank are federally insured by the FDIC for up to $250,000. Credit unions feature similar protection for your funds, with all federal credit unions offering government protection through the National Credit Union Association. State and private credit unions may be insured by the NCUA as well, or through their own state or private insurance. Advantage One Credit Union is insured by the NCUA to offer you full and complete protection for your funds.

Managing your checking account 

Managing a checking account is as simple as 1-2-3:

1 – Know your balance

It’s important to know how much is in your account at all times. This way, you can avoid an overdrawn account, or having insufficient funds to cover your purchases. Being aware of how much money you have will also help you stick to a budget and spend within your means. You can generally check your balance by phone [or via online checking or a synced budgeting app].

2 – Automate your finances

Make life a little easier by setting up automatic bill payment through your checking account. You won’t miss the hassle of paying your monthly bills, and you’ll never be late for a payment again. As a bonus, you’ll save on the processing fee that is often charged on bill payments made via credit card.

You can also set up direct deposit to have your paycheck land right in your account.

Finally, ask us about automatic monthly transfers from your checking account to savings so you never forget to put money into savings.

[You may also want to consider signing up for overdraft protection, or to have funds transfer from your linked savings account to checking when your balance is getting low.]

3 – Keep your account well-funded, but not over-funded

Financial experts recommend keeping one to two months’ worth of living expenses in your checking account at all times. This way, you’ll always have enough funds to cover your transactions without fear of your account being overdrawn. You’ll also be able to cover the occasional pre-authorization hold that a merchant may place on your debit card transaction until it clears.

It’s equally important not to keep too much money in your checking account. Once you’ve reached that sweet spot of two months of living expenses, it’s best to keep your savings in an account or an investment that offers a higher APY, such as a money market account or a share certificate.

Checking accounts offer the ultimate in convenience and accessibility. Now that you’ve learned all about these often overlooked accounts, let this financial tool help you manage your finances in the most effective way possible.

Your Turn: How do you manage your checking account effectively? Share your best tips with us in the comments.

Learn More:
investopedia.com
discover.com
bankrate.com
thebalance.com
kiplinger.com

Five Steps to Take After a Financial Disaster

As we sail into 2021, many Americans are struggling with the aftershocks of financial disaster. Whether it’s due to a layoff, a smaller workload, medical expenses or a change in family circumstances, the financial fallout of COVID-19 has been devastating for people in every sector of the economy.

Recovering from a financial disaster, due to a pandemic or any other reason, is never easy; however, with hard work and the ability to look forward, it can be done. Here’s how.

Step 1: Assess the damage

Take a step back to evaluate exactly how much financial recovery you need to do. Are you thousands of dollars in debt? Do you need to find a new job? Do you have new ongoing costs you will have to cover each month? Are there any other long-term financial implications of the recent disaster, including alimony and IRS liens?

It’s also a good idea to review your overall financial picture at this point, including your current income and ongoing expenses.

Crunching the numbers and putting it all on paper will make it easier to take concrete steps toward recovery.

Step 2: Accept your new reality and stay calm

Shock and denial are valid stages of grief for any major loss or disaster, but in order for recovery to be possible, it’s important to reach a place of acceptance about your new reality. You can vent to a close friend or your life partner, express your feelings in an online journal or a paper-and-pen version, de-stress with your favorite low-cost hobby and then let go. Revisiting the past and constantly harping on what could have been will only drain you of the energy you need to move on.

Tim Essman, a financial professional with West Coast Wealth Strategies and Insurance Solutions in San Diego, also stresses the importance of remaining calm during an economic downturn. Don’t make any rash moves out of panic and fear, he cautions, as the best move in a financial crisis is to keep things stable until you can evaluate the situation and make rational decisions.

Step 3: Outline your goals

Before you get started on the actual recovery steps, define your primary objectives. Are you looking to rebuild a depleted emergency fund? Find gainful employment that will help bring your income back to its previous level? Pay down your medical bills?  Outlining your goals will make it easier to move ahead.

As you work through this step, remember to choose goals that are SMART:

Specific — The goal should be clearly defined.

Measureable — It’s best if there’s a way for you to measure the goal, such as dollar amounts, credit score numbers, etc.

Attainable — Set a goal that challenges you, but is possible to achieve.

Realistic — Your goal should not be completely out of reach.

Timely — A goal without a deadline is just a wish.

Step 4: Create a Plan

You’re now ready to create a full-blown plan to help you reach your goal. Your plan should consist of consecutive steps that lead to a life of complete financial wellness.

Here are some steps you may want to include in your plan:

  • Trim your spending until you can consistently spend less than you earn.
  • Build a small emergency fund to help get you through an unexpected expense.
  • Seek new employment or new income streams, as necessary. Consider moonlighting, blogging or selling stuff online for extra cash.
  • Start paying down debts. You may want to consolidate your debts with an unsecured loan to make this step easier.
  • Save more aggressively, with an eye toward your retirement and another toward a large emergency fund with up to six months’ of living expenses.

Step 5: Make it Happen

It’s time to put your plan into action. If you were careful to set goals that are SMART, you should be able to take the first steps in your plan immediately.

Be sure to review your plan occasionally and adjust it if any changes are needed.

Times are hard, but with a forward-thinking attitude and the willingness to work hard, we can all recover.

Your Turn: What steps have you taken toward financial recovery after COVID-19? Share them with us in the comments.

Learn More:
www.thesimpledollar.com
financialmentor.com
blog.massmutual.com

Pass It On: Transferring Wealth, Wisdom, and Financial Smarts to Future Generations

Title: Pass It On: Transferring Wealth, Wisdom, and Financial Smarts to Future Generations

Authors: Lori B. Gervais and Roger G. Gervais

Paperback: 268 pages

Publisher: Lioncrest Publishing

Publishing date:  Oct. 9, 2020

Who is this book for?

  • Parents planning for their children’s financial futures
  • Those wanting to further their own financial knowledge and skills
  • Readers who are or will soon be starting a family

What’s inside this book?

  • Clients’ stories of talking to children about managing wealth
  • Tips on how to begin the conversation about preserving the family fortune
  • Lessons on transferring family values, as well as transferring wealth
  • Instructions on preparing children to inherit responsibility as well as money
  • The authors’ personal experiences both in growing up and in raising their own children

Lessons you’ll learn from this book: 

  • How to speak to children about preserving your family’s wealth
  • How to ensure your personal values concerning your money are maintained
  • How to instill responsibility
  • How to use money for creating a great positive effect on your community and future generations
  • How and why financial literacy must be addressed within the family

Questions this book will answer for you: 

  • How do I prepare my children to manage their inheritances?
  • How can I maintain my family values while also transferring family wealth?
  • How do I introduce the topic to my family?

What people are saying about this book: 

“Managing money and finances can be some of the most challenging concepts for any family to navigate. I love the way the authors break it down and give us ways to help not only as a couple managing finances…more importantly equipping us with tools to help educate our family, setting us up for success for the future.” — Tara Gundrum

“…Pass It On, provides a financial framework that all of us can customize to meet our financial and life objectives. It goes well beyond wealth management or estate planning, providing clear, practical and actionable guidance we can all apply to virtually any financial matter. A must read.” — H. Edward Wynn, author of We the People: Restoring Civility, Sanity and Unifying Solutions to U.S. Politics

“Many parents fear leaving their kids’ substantial wealth. It can be difficult to know if they will be good stewards of what you leave them. If you are looking to learn a path and framework for passing on wealth and wisdom to those you care about, you will want to check out this book.” — Timothy J. McNeely, CFP CIMA

Your Turn: Tell us how you’ve used the advice of “Pass it On” in your own life.

Tracking Holiday Spending Keeps Seasonal Stress Down

Nothing is more heartwarming than seeing your loved ones’ faces light up when they open that perfect gift you (err, Santa) gave them.

Tyler’s new bike, Olivia’s new tablet and that gift card to mom and dad’s favorite steak place all add up to wonderful holiday memories… until the credit card statements show up.

The holidays will look different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is why most people will try even harder to make the season brighter for others. But, you don’t have to dip into Tyler and Olivia’s college savings to create a special time for everyone!

The most important thing to remember is to plan ahead: Have a set spending amount for gifts, wrap, entertaining, donations and travel.

Make a list and check it twice

Many are struggling financially this year, so it will be no surprise to those outside your family if your gift-recipient list is shorter this year. Once you trim your list, make a holiday treat or handmade token for those who got the cut. It really IS the thought that counts.

Once you have your list complete, figure out a realistic amount to spend on each person. Jot down a couple of gift ideas in your price range for that person.

Try a budgeting app like Mint to keep your spending in check. You can use Mint for regular monthly budgeting, but it also allows you to allocate more funds for holiday purchases. Using graphs and reports, it shows how much you’ve spent and how it will affect your budget in the months to come.

The iSpending app uses charts to show your expenses and how much you have left to spend, while CashTrails allows you to separate your normal expenditures from special purchases like holidays and travel.

Shopping

Due to the pandemic, holiday shopping is already in full swing. Most people want to avoid crowds, so they are already hitting the malls. Retailers are well aware of this trend, and are offering pre-Black Friday sales and discounts.

Spreading out your holiday shopping over several weeks also makes it easier on your budget. Always shop with a list and keep track of your spending. As you buy your gifts, subtract from your total budget.

In addition to shopping the sales and collecting coupon codes for online purchases, know when to buy. December is the best time to buy cars, appliances, winter clothing and electronics. Also, know how much items cost before a markdown to know if you’re really getting a deal.

It is expected that online shopping will increase by 35% this year because shoppers don’t feel comfortable being in stores. Some states still have restrictions limiting retail establishments’ capacity and store hours.

If you’re shopping online, order early and expect delays in shipping. Increased shopping during the holidays will affect already-strained delivery companies. To avoid shipping delays and higher shipping costs, shop at stores that offer “buy online, ship to store” service. This service is free at most retailers, some of which offer curbside pickup.

Get the best deals on cards, decorations and gift wrap during the days right before and after Christmas. Discounts of up to 75% off can shave a lot off your holiday budget for next year.

Entertaining

Still reeling from the pandemic, most folks will host smaller holiday gatherings this year, which will save tons on food, treats and adult beverages. Many people are still working from home, so work parties and gift exchanges also will be virtual or postponed, keeping cash in your wallet.

If you’re hosting guests, keep costs down by asking everyone to bring their favorite side or dessert and include festive recipe cards with the chef’s name.

For the adults, serve a warm mulled wine or holiday punch or make one festive signature cocktail.

Use DIY decor featuring natural items, like holly and pine cones. Gather the kids and go on a hike to find outdoor holiday decorations. Not only will it save you money, but it will also give you some stress-free outdoor time with your family.

Save more by partying without plastic. Disposable plates and dinnerware are not great for the environment or your budget.

Travel

If you must travel home for the holidays, don’t forget to figure in other incidentals beyond gasoline and the cost of a plane ticket.

If you’re traveling by car, gas prices have luckily seen a steady dip. Still, the GasBuddy app can help you find the best prices for gasoline wherever you are, and you can even pay from the app. Don’t forget to figure in tolls and any emergency costs that may come up.

If you’re flying, consider baggage fees, parking and shuttle costs and the expense of ground transportation once you arrive.

And don’t forget Fluffy! You’ll need to pay someone to take care of your furry friends. The Rover app can help you find pet care options near your home.

Charitable giving

The holidays are a time for goodwill toward all. But if your budget cannot accommodate a monetary donation, volunteer your time. If you are able to make a financial donation, be sure to check that the charity you are supporting is legitimate by consulting Charity Navigator.

Keep your holidays dollars in check, and you may have some holiday spirit left over even after the last elf is packed away and the January bills start rolling in.

We at Advantage One Credit Union wish you all a happy, healthy and stress-free holiday.

Your turn: What are your best tips for sticking to your holiday spending plan?

Learn More:
forbes.com
thebalance.com
mentalfloss.com
hgtv.ca
gasbuddy.com
www.moneycrashers

Paychecks & Balances

Rich Jones and Marcus Garrett are a dynamic duo on a mission to help struggling millennials learn to manage their money and pay off debt. Together, the pair launched Paychecks & Balances, a podcast with more than 5K followers where they share insightful tips and advice on all things financial.

Jones brings his background in human resources to the P&B community, but it’s his journey toward a debt-free life that enables him to really connect with his audience. Likewise, Garrett has paid down $30,000 in debt and understands the financial challenges facing millennials.

The finfluencers’ interview-based podcast is super popular with millennials looking to learn more about money and/or seeking actionable tips on improving their finances.

Here are the core beliefs of Paychecks & Balances:

  • Money does not have to be complicated — or boring. When Jones wanted to broaden his financial knowledge, he found the podcasts and blogs available online to be incredibly boring. He’s therefore determined to keep his own podcast jargon-free and entertaining while still providing the audience with valuable information.
  • Freedom looks different to everybody. We each have our own version of freedom. To some, it can mean being excited to go to work. To others, it can mean having the ability to travel anywhere on a whim. At P&B, no one is shamed for having a day job and answering to a boss, so long as it brings them personal fulfillment.
  • Mental health matters. Jones and Garrett are big believers in mental wellness. They freely sprinkle conversations about mental health throughout their content.
  • Diversity isn’t just a buzzword. The duo believe that diversity is key to financial inspiration and education. The P&B podcasts feature a range of guest speakers from all kinds of backgrounds and demographics.
  • Good career decisions lead to good financial outcomes. You’ll find lots of advice on acing interviews, negotiating salary and choosing the best career path on P&B.

You can tune into the P&B podcast episodes on a broad range of financial topics, check out their blog  for easy-to-read articles that pack a real punch and follow the duo on Twitter , Instagram and/or Facebook.

Your Turn: Are you a P&B follower? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
paychecksandbalances.com
izea.com

Save Money This Holiday Season with These DIY Gift Hacks

Love the holidays but hate the Santa sticker shock that follows? No need to spend your way into debt this Christmas. Keep costs down and make the holidays more meaningful by gifting your loved ones with personalized homemade presents. From pamper-me packages crafted with care, to home décor that costs just a few dollars, to home-baked goodies that say “I love you,” the sky’s the limit when you DIY! Here are 13 homemade gift ideas from across the cyber-verse to get you started.

Sugar cookie sack

Everyone loves pulling freshly baked cookies out of the oven, but who wants to bother with measuring and mixing all those ingredients? Make it easy for your loved one with this adorable sack of sugar-cookie mix. Decorate the sack to make it personal, and you’ll have a heartwarming gift costing less than $10.

Fleece blanket

Help your friends and family gear up for winter with a cozy fleece blanket. If you’re handy with a needle, you can design a deluxe version of this fuzzy piece of heaven; otherwise, keep it simple, sweet and oh, so cheap.

Pedicure kit

Has your friend been pining for a pedicure? Gift them with all they need to make their nails sparkle with a “for your mistletoes” nail kit! Fill a $7 Mason jar with polishes, filers, a buffer and everything else they need for a spa-at-home experience.

Wall clock

Dress up a flat circle of wood with some beautiful material, attach a clock kit and voila — homemade designer décor for just a few dollars! This clock makes the perfect gift for the friend who’s just moved into a new home or dorm room. Learn how to make your wall clock here.

Bubble bath gift set

Who doesn’t love a relaxing bubble bath? This gift makes it possible with a complete bubble bath kit, including chocolate, bath salts, a candle, soaps, a pouf and more. Learn how to create your own at Sugar and Charm.

Instagram picture frame

Round up your friend’s best Instagram snaps of the year with this creative desktop frame. This gift will make them smile all year long.

Infused vodkas

Flavor your own vodkas and give your friends a unique gift they’ll enjoy for days to come. Choose between classic flavors or experiment with brave new ideas, like spicy citrus and cucumber tarragon. Get the tutorial for infused booze here.

Money tree

Who says money doesn’t grow on trees? Give the gift of cash with an adorable holiday-themed presentation by rolling up stacks of bills into tree boughs. Learn how here.

Recipe box

This one is for the friend who dreams of starring on “Chopped.” Fill this personalized, decorated recipe box with their own best recipes and add a few new gems for their collection. They’ll think of you every time they cook up another storm. Check out Club Crafted to get the full tutorial.

Snowball bath bombs

Bath time is fun again with these peppermint-infused bath bombs! Package inside plastic ornaments for a real holiday treat.

Rainbow candles
We’re all spending more time at home these days, and what better way to light up a cold winter evening than with these gorgeous rainbow candles? All you need for these eye-catching creations is a bit of time and some old crayons.

Painted picture frames

Dress up dollar-store picture frames with colored chalk paint for the perfectly memorable gift. Learn how at Make Your Mark.

Reindeer gift card holder

This holiday-themed card holder is the perfect present for that friend who owns a collection of gift cards and needs a place to keep them safe. You can also use it to dress up a gift card and make it more personal. It’s made out of leftover toilet paper rolls and basic craft materials you likely already have at home.

Keep the stress out of the holidays this year with our DIY gift hacks. It’s all the shared love with none of the debt. Plus, creating these gifts will keep you busy as you ride out a quarantine or avoid crowded malls during these pandemic times. Who knew holiday gifts could be so much fun?

Your Turn: What’s your favorite DIY gift hack? Share it with us in the comments.

Learn More:
homehacks.co
goodhousekeeping.com
fabricpaperglue.com

When Does it Make Sense to Pay a Bill with a Credit Card?

Credit cards and debit cards both offer incredible convenience. With just a quick swipe or a linked account, a payment can be instantly processed. It seems like a no-brainer to use that convenience for taking the hassle out of paying bills. But, is it a smart idea to pay monthly bills with a credit card or debit card?

Choosing to pay a bill with a card can have a significant impact on your general financial wellness — for better or for worse. That’s why it’s important to consider the many variables of this decision before going ahead with it.

Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of paying monthly bills with a credit card or debit card.

The advantages of paying bills with a credit card or debit card

There are many reasons you may want to pay your monthly bills with a credit or debit card when possible. Here are just a few of the advantages of paying with plastic:

  • Automate monthly payments. Setting up automatic payments for monthly bills through a credit card or debit card will help ensure payments are always on time.
  • Build credit with a consistent monthly payment. Using a credit card for a monthly bill is a great way to amp up a credit score without running the risk of overspending. Just be sure to pay the bill in full and on time every time.
  • Earn rewards for money that needs to be spent anyway. Using a credit card that offers rewards for a bill that needs to be paid anyway will help to pile on those rewards points without overspending. Many debit and/or credit card issuers, [including Advantage One Credit Union’s [debit/credit] card], also offer attractive rewards for using the card to pay for specific expenses, including some monthly bills.
  • Enjoy consumer protection. Paying with plastic offers the consumer the advantages of purchase protection, zero or minimal liability in case of fraud, guaranteed returns and more.
  • Pay your bills quickly without the hassle of writing out checks and using snail mail. With a credit or debit card, paying a bill only takes a few clicks or phone prompts.
  • Budget easily. Paying with a credit or debit card makes for easy tracking of monthly spending.
  • Payments post promptly. Bill payments made via credit or debit card will generally post within one or two business days. Contrast that with a check that needs to be mailed out, delivered to the correct party and then deposited and cleared until the payment is finally processed.

The disadvantages of paying bills with credit or debit cards

Here’s the flip side of paying bills with plastic:

  • There may be fees for paying the bill with a credit card. Pay close attention to the payment options on every bill; some service providers charge a processing fee for paying with a debit or credit card.
  • It can make a difficult financial situation worse. For consumers who are already carrying a sizable amount of debt, it may not be the best idea to charge a monthly bill to a credit card. Similarly, it isn’t responsible to set up an automatic monthly payment through a debit card that is linked to an account that may not have enough money to cover the charge each month.
  • Credit utilization may cross the threshold to an undesirable rate. One of the key components of an excellent credit score is a low credit utilization rate. For consumers with a minimal amount of available credit, charging too many bills to a credit card can cause their score to plunge.
  • Interest may accrue. Consumers who cannot pay their entire credit card bill each month would be saddled with more accrued interest than they can afford if they choose to pay their monthly bills with a credit card.

Which of my bills can I pay with a credit or debit card?

You will likely not be able to pay the following monthly bills with a credit or debit card:

  • Mortgage
  • Rent
  • Car payments

These monthly bills can usually be paid with a credit card, but you may need to pay a fee to do so:

  • Car insurance
  • Home insurance
  • Health insurance
  • Taxes

The following monthly bills usually allow you to pay with a credit card or debit card, and without a fee:

  • Subscription services
  • Phone bills
  • Utility bills
  • Internet providers
  • Cable providers

Before deciding whether to pay a specific bill with a credit or debit card, it’s best to check with your provider to find out if this is a viable option and if there will be a fee attached for paying with plastic.

The bottom line

Sometimes, paying bills with a credit card or debit card makes perfect financial sense, but it sometimes does not. Before deciding which way to go on any particular bill, consider all the relevant factors detailed above to be sure you’re making the responsible choice.

Your Turn: Do you pay any of your monthly bills with a credit card or debit card? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
thesimpledollar.com
thebalance.com
creditkarma.com

What’s a Recession Anyway?

Unless you’ve been living in a bunker for the last several months, you’ve likely caught the term “recession” thrown around on the news more than once. Hearing this word being used to describe the state of the U.S. economy can trigger a range of reactions from mild anxiety to a full-blown stuffing-money-under-the-mattress panic.

For many people, though, part of their angst surrounding the state of the economy is the vast amount of unknown: What is the exact definition of a recession? How is it different from a depression? How long do recessions usually last? What causes a recession?

So many questions — but we’ve got answers! Here’s all you need to know about recessions, the current state of the U.S. economy and what all of this means to you as a private consumer.

What is a recession? 

A recession is a widespread economic decline in a designated region that lasts for several months or longer. In a recession, the gross domestic product (GDP), or the total value of all goods and services produced in the region, decreases for two consecutive quarters. A healthy economy is continually expanding, so a contracting GDP suggests that problems are brewing within the economy. In most recessions, the GDP growth will slow for several quarters before it turns negative.

What’s the difference between a recession and a depression?

A depression has criteria similar to that of a recession, but is much more severe. For example, in both a recession and a depression the unemployment rate rises; however, during the Great Recession of 2008, the worst recession in U.S. history to date, unemployment peaked at 10%, while during the Great Depression, unemployment levels soared to 25%. Similarly, during the Great Recession, the GDP contracted by 4.2%, while during the Great Depression it shrank by 30%.

Depressions also last a lot longer than recessions. The Great Depression officially lasted for four years but continued to impact the economy for more than a decade. In contrast, recessions generally last only 11 months, according to data from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).

There have been 47 recessions in U.S. history, and a total of 13 recessions since the Great Depression. There has only been a single recorded depression in our country’s history.

What causes a recession? 

A recession can be triggered by a variety of factors:

  • A sudden economic shock that causes severe financial damage.
  • Excessive debt carried by consumers and businesses, leading to debt defaults and bankruptcies.
  • Asset bubbles, or when investors’ make irrational decisions, overbuy stocks and then rush to sell, causing a market crash.
  • Excessive inflation and rising interest rates, which triggers a decline in economic activity.
  • Excessive deflation, which sparks a decrease in wages, further depressing prices.
  • Technological changes, including outsourcing jobs to machines or other technological breakthroughs that alter the way entire industries operate.

Why the COVID-19 recession is unlike any other?

In June 2020, the NBER  announced that the U.S. economy had been in recession since February.

The COVID-19 recession, also known as the coronavirus recession, the Great Shutdown, the Great Lockdown or the Coronavirus Crash, is unique because it was sparked by an unforeseen pandemic and not by any inherent problem within the economy.

Another anomaly of the coronavirus recession is the super-healthy state of the economy before it hit. In February, unemployment levels were at a 50-year low, stock markets were at a record high and the U.S. economy had enjoyed 126 months of growth,  its longest period of uninterrupted expansion in history.

The unusual triggers and the explosive start of the current recession may be good news for its eventual end. Economists initially were hopeful that the recession could reverse itself quickly with a V-shaped recovery. Unfortunately, due to prolonged lockdowns and the nationwide failure to keep infection rates down, they have since declared that a rapid rebound is unlikely. There is still hope for a relatively fast recovery. An April Reuters poll  found that nearly half of 45 economists believed the U.S. recovery would be U-shaped: slower and more gradual than a V-shaped recovery, but still fairly quick.

How will this recession affect me?

The coronavirus recession can impact the average consumer in multiple ways.

First, many are struggling with sudden unemployment or will be facing joblessness in the coming months. The most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show the unemployment rate at a staggering 10.2%.

Second, the economic uncertainty has triggered record-low interest rates, which in turn sparked a rush to refinance. If you are currently paying high interest rates on a long-term loan, you may want to consider refinancing and enjoying a lower monthly payment.

Finally, investments in stocks, bonds and real estate may lose value during a recession.

Your Turn: What do you think will be most impacted by the coronavirus recession? Share your thoughts in the comments.