Preparing Financially for a New Baby

Congratulations! You’ve just gotten the positive pregnancy test results and you’re breathless with excitement — and nerves. Or maybe you’re a few months along, and the mild panic is growing right along with the baby bump. Regardless, a baby means big changes, and some of those changes bring many new expenses. How will you pay for it all?

Whether you’re only thinking about having a baby, or your due date is fast approaching, there’s no need to stress about finances. By taking the necessary measures today, you can learn to cover these new expenses without falling into debt.

Here are some steps you can take to prepare financially for a new baby:

Pay down debt

There’s more than just a nursery to set up before your baby’s arrival. It’s best to get your finances in order to make it easier to manage all new expenses and prepare for your child’s future. If this involves getting rid of a mountain of debt, you can choose between these two debt-kicking plans:

The snowball method involves maximizing your payments toward your smallest debt balance first. Once it’s paid off, move on to the next-smallest debt, “snowballing” the payment from your previous debt into this one until it’s paid off, and repeating until you’re completely debt-free.
The avalanche method involves maximizing payments toward the debt with the highest interest rate and then moving on to the one with the second-highest interest rate until all debts are paid off.

Adjust your monthly budget

Babies don’t come cheap. When your little one arrives, you’ll need to spring for baby gear and furniture, a new wardrobe, diapers and possibly child care as well. According to the USDA’s most recent report on the cost of raising a child, the average middle-income family will spend approximately $12,350-$13,900 on child-related expenses before their baby’s first birthday.

Most of these expenses will be ongoing, and it’s best to make room in your budget for these new items before the baby is born. Spend some time reviewing your monthly budget to look for ways to cut back on spending and give you that wiggle room to cover baby-related expenses.

Set up a baby account

All those baby expenses can be overwhelming, but if you break them down into bite-sized pieces, they’ll be easier to manage. You can do this by putting away some money for baby costs as soon as you plan on having a baby or find out you’re expecting. Consider setting up a new savings account at Advantage One Credit Union for all baby expenses to keep this money separate from other savings. You may also want to automate these savings by setting up a monthly transfer from your payroll or checking account to your “baby account.”

Estimate prenatal care and delivery costs

While exact amounts vary by state and by insurance provider, prenatal care and delivery can cost thousands of dollars. This includes out-of-pocket expenses, co-pays and insurance deductibles. Be sure to prepare for these expenses by saving up for them or by allocating a large windfall, such as a tax refund or generous work bonus, to be used for paying for prenatal care and delivery.

Start saving for college

Hard as it may be to believe, your little one will one day be all grown up and ready to go to college. With college tuition now averaging $41,411 at private colleges, $11,171 for state residents at public colleges and $26,809 for out-of-state students at state schools, according to data reported by U.S. News and World Report, this can mean paying a small fortune to give your child an education. In addition to spreading the costs over nearly two decades, starting to save for your child’s college education now will give those savings the best chance at growth.

Consider opening a 529 plan before your child is born where your college savings can grow tax-free.

Write a will

No one wants to think about their own death when preparing for a birth, but writing a will — and purchasing life insurance if you haven’t already done so — can be the best gift for your child in case the unthinkable happens.

Welcoming a new baby is a life-altering experience, and can mean big changes for your finances. Follow our tips to ensure you’re financially prepared for your new baby’s arrival.

Your Turn: What steps are you taking to prepare financially for a new baby? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
nerdwallet.com
mint.intuit.com
thepennyhoarder.com

The Comprehensive Guide to Insurance Coverage

Insurance premiums can take a big bite out of a monthly budget, but not having enough coverage can be even more costly.  Let’s take a look at the five primary insurance types and the most important information to know about each one.

1. Health insurance

What is it? 

Health insurance is coverage that typically pays for medical, surgical and prescription drug expenses in exchange for a monthly premium. Many states mandate health insurance coverage and will collect fees, along with state taxes, from taxpayers who do not have sufficient coverage.

Types of health insurance plans

Health insurance plans are divided into two primary categories: public and private.

Public health insurance is provided at low or no cost through the federal and/or state government. The most common public insurance plans are:

  • Medicaid – Public insurance plan for low-income families and individuals. Eligibility requirements vary by state.
  • The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) – A federal and state program designed to cover children below the age of 18 whose families have incomes above the qualifications for Medicaid, but are too low to afford private health insurance.
  • Medicare – A federal health insurance program for Americans age 65 and older.

Private health insurance may be provided through an employer or purchased privately from the insurance provider, or through a broker.

These are the most common private health insurance plans:

  • HMO: Health Maintenance Organization – The most restrictive plans that only work with a network of healthcare providers. The insured must choose a primary care physician (PCP) who is in the network to benefit from coverage. To see an out-of-network specialist, the insured will need a referral from their PCP. HMOs tend to have cheaper premiums than other health insurance plans.
  • PPO: Preferred Provider Organization – The most flexible health insurance plans, which allow the insured to choose an in-network doctor at a lower cost, or an out-of-network doctor at a higher cost. There is no referral necessary to see a specialist. Premiums are generally more expensive than other plans.
  • EPO: Exclusive Provider Organization – A blend of HMO and PPO plans, EPOs do not cover out-of-network physicians, but do not require referrals for specialists. Premiums on EPOs fall between HMOs and PPOs.
  • POS: Point of Service – Another blend of HMO and PPO plans, POS plans will require a PCP on an HMO-style network, while also allowing out-of-network options at a higher cost. A referral is required for specialists. Premiums are generally more expensive than HMO plans but less expensive PPOs.

2. Life insurance

What is it?

Life insurance is a contract between an insurance company and a policyholder that guarantees a sum of money to the policyholder’s designated beneficiaries when the policyholder dies, in exchange for monthly premiums paid during the insured’s lifetime.

Types of life insurance

These are the five most common kinds of life insurance plans:

  • Term insurance – The most basic form of life insurance, with a predetermined term, usually ranging from one to 10 years. Plans are renewable at the term’s end, but the premiums will increase with each renewal. Term policies generally have the cheapest premiums, but no cash value.
  • Whole life insurance – Offers policyholders a cash-value component coupled with increased protection. Premiums can be locked in throughout the term, and a portion of premiums goes toward the policy’s cash value. The insured can borrow up to 90% of the cash value, tax-free, but loans reduce the policy’s death benefit.
  • Universal life insurance – Offers increased flexibility for policyholders. Premiums can go up or down, or even be deferred within certain limits. Cash values can be accessed and withdrawn, though this directly decreases the death benefit. Face values can be modified as well.
  • Variable life insurance – Fixed premiums and investment options make this policy the choice for true risk-takers. The policyholder’s cash value will be invested in the insured’s choice of stock, bond or money market portfolio. Cash values and death benefits will fluctuate along with the investments’ performance. These policies usually have higher fees than universal life insurance, but all cash value accumulation grows tax-free.
  • Universal variable life insurance – A blend of universal and variable life insurance, these policies offer flexible premiums and the ability to modify face values, along with investment options.

3. Auto insurance

What is it? 

Auto insurance is a contract between a policyholder and insurance company, protecting the policyholder from financial loss in the event of an auto accident or theft. The coverage is provided in exchange for a monthly premium. Some form of auto insurance is required in all 50 states.

Types of auto insurance policies

These are the primary categories of auto insurance coverage:

  • Liability coverage – Includes coverage for bodily injuries, property damages or auto damages to another motorist if the policyholder is at fault.
  • Comprehensive coverage – Pays for damages and losses to the car that were not caused by another driver.
  • Personal injury protection – Covers medical bills for the policyholder and their passengers in the event of an accident.
  • Collision insurance – Covers damages to the policyholder’s car if it’s involved in an accident.
  • Uninsured/under-insured motorist protection – Pays for damages caused by another motorist who does not have sufficient (or any) coverage.
  • Gap insurance – Pays the difference between what the policyholder owes on a financed or leased vehicle and what it is valued at when there’s a total loss of the vehicle.

4. Long-term disability insurance

What is it?

Long-term disability insurance is an insurance policy that provides income replacement for workers if they are unable to work due to a debilitating illness or injury.

Types of long-term disability insurance

There are two primary types of long-term disability insurance policies:

  • Own-occupation disability insurance defines a disability as an inability to work at your regular occupation. Benefits are paid even if the policyholder can work at another job.
  • Any-occupation disability insurance defines a disability as an inability to work at any occupation. These plans are generally cheaper, but claiming benefits can be more difficult.

5. Homeowners/renter’s insurance

What is it?

Homeowners insurance is a policy designed to protect homeowners and their families from liability and financial loss in case of damage to their home and belongings in exchange for monthly premiums. Renters insurance is purchased by tenants and only covers damage or theft of their personal property.

Types of homeowners insurance policies

  • HO-2 – A policy that only protects against 16 specified perils.
  • HO-3 – A broad policy protecting against all perils other than those excluded in the policy.
  • HO-5 – A premium policy that usually protects newer homes and covers all perils, except the few excluded in the policy.
  • HO-6 – Insurance for co-ops/condominiums, which includes personal property coverage and liability coverage.

Each plan type will also include some extent of liability coverage. Most policies will only cover events if they are sudden and accidental. Some natural disasters, like earthquakes and floods, require a separate policy for coverage.

Types of renters insurance policies

Renters insurance policies will generally fall within either:

  • Replacement-cost plans – Will pay for the full cost of replacing your damaged or stolen belongings up to a predetermined cap. This plan offers more robust coverage, but premiums are generally higher.
  • Cash-value plans – Will only offer payouts to cover what the damaged item was worth at the time of the disaster.

Insurance is a big part of financial responsibility. Use our guide to help you make the right choices in all major types of insurance coverage.

Your turn: What are your best tips for buying insurance?

Learn More:
policygenius.com
smartasset.com
iii.org
allstate.com
nerdwallet.com
investopedia.com

Navigating the Current Auto Loan Market

If you’re in the market for a new set of wheels, get ready to experience sticker shock. Prices on new and used cars have soared since the beginning of 2020, and experts aren’t expecting them to fall anytime soon. Here’s what you need to know about the current auto loan market and how to navigate it successfully.

Why are auto prices so high? 

The coronavirus pandemic has touched every sector of the economy, and the auto industry is no exception. According to the U.S. Consumer Price Index, the price of used cars and trucks has jumped a full 9.4% in the last 12 months, while the price of new cars and trucks increased by 1.5%. The drive behind the increase is multifaceted and linked to several interconnected events.

When the pandemic hit American shores, demand for new and used cars increased significantly. This was largely due to the many people who were avoiding public transportation for safety reasons. The mass exodus from big cities and their high rates of infection also boosted the demand for new cars.

At the same time, supply of new and used cars dried up, thanks to these factors:

  • The pandemic put a freeze on the production of new vehicles for nearly a full business quarter. The factory shutdowns reduced output by 3.3 million vehicles and sales dried up, along with subsequent trade-ins.
  • The production freeze prompted chipmakers to focus on the electronics industry instead of creating chips for automakers. Now, the industry is still scrambling to keep up with the automakers’ demand.
  • Business and leisure travel was halted for months. This led to a steep decline in travelers renting cars, which in turn led to rental agencies holding onto more of the cars in their lots instead of selling them to used car dealerships.

The rise in demand and shortage of supply naturally triggered a steep increase in the prices of both new and used vehicles.

Rethink your auto purchase

If you’re in the market for a new car and the price tags are scaring you, you may want to rethink your decision. If your car is in decent condition, consider holding onto it a little longer until the market stabilizes. To go this route, consider the following tips to help make your car last longer:

  • Use a trickle charger to keep the battery in excellent condition.
  • Change your filters regularly.
  • Follow the service schedule. Most cars need to be serviced every 10,000 miles.
  • Keep all fluid levels high. This includes coolant, oil, antifreeze and windshield washer fluid.
  • Drive carefully to avoid sudden braking and prolong the life of your brakes.
  • Replace spark plugs when they begin showing signs of wear or melting. Depending on the vehicle, spark plugs need to be replaced every 30,000-90,000 miles.
  • Check your tires regularly and rotate and inflate them as needed.
  • Pay attention to all warning lights that are illuminated on the dashboard.
  • Have your car rust-proofed to keep the exterior looking new.

Tips for buying a car in today’s market

If you’ve decided to go ahead with buying a car, it’s best to adjust your expectations before hitting the dealership.

First, a seller’s market means many dealerships will not be as eager to close a deal as they tend to be. They have more customers than they can service now, and that can translate into a willingness to move only slightly on a sticker price of a car, or a refusal to negotiate a price at all. Processing a car loan may now take longer, too.

Second, expect to pay a lot more than usual for your new set of wheels. If you’re looking to purchase a new car, prepare to pay approximately $40,000. Also, as mentioned, supply of new cars is down while demand is up, so you likely won’t have as many choices as you may have had in the past.

The used-car market has been hit even harder by the pandemic since prohibitive prices and a short supply has pushed more consumers to shop for used cars instead of new vehicles.  This increase in demand, coupled with the dwindling supply, has driven the prices of used cars up to an average of $23,000, according to Edmunds.com. If you’re thinking of buying a used car, prepare to encounter a highly competitive market where bidding wars are the norm and cars are super-expensive.

If you’re looking to take out an auto loan, consider one with your credit union. The most recent data shows that auto loans at credit unions are a full two points lower, on average, than auto loans taken out through banks. Car prices may be soaring, but credit unions continue to deliver lower rates and customer service you can really bank on.

The auto loan market has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Follow the tips outlined here to navigate today’s car market successfully.

Your Turn: Have you recently bought a new set of wheels? Share your best tips on navigating today’s auto market in the comments.

Learn More:
chicagotribune.com
marketwatch.com
barrons.com
cnbc.com
yourautoadvocate.com

How to Adult: Personal Finance for the Real World

Title: How to Adult: Personal Finance for the Real World

Author: Jake Cousineau

Paperback: 235 pages

Publisher: Independently published

Publishing date: March 23, 2021

Who is this book for? 

  • High school graduates, college students and any other young adult who needs to prepare for the financial realities of adulthood.
  • Young adults who’ve made money mistakes due to a lack of financial education and want to learn how to better handle their money in the future.

What’s inside this book?

  • A clear, easy-to-understand explanation of financial topics, like compound interest, mutual funds, insurance deductibles, Roth IRAs and more.
  • Practical examples and real-life anecdotes to bring financial lessons home.
  • Hands-on tools to help readers jump-start their financial journeys.
  • A “Build Your Skills” section at the end of each chapter inviting readers to test their knowledge and retention of the chapter’s material.

5 lessons you’ll learn from this book: 

  1. The foundational concepts of personal finance and building wealth.
  2. How to avoid costly financial missteps.
  3. How to budget, save and invest your money wisely.
  4. How taxes and insurance work.
  5. How to prepare for life’s big expenses.

3 questions this book will answer for you:

  1. What are the financial basics I need to know to make it in the real world?
  2. How can I avoid making money mistakes as a young adult?
  3. Can I learn about finances without breaking my brain over complicated jargon and complex concepts?

What people are saying about this book:

  • “This! This is what I needed when I was in high school. It is also what I needed when I was in college, and when I bought my first car, and when I bought my first house, and when I opened my first credit card. Every high school student in America should have to pass a class that uses this book. The real-world examples are relatable and make the reader feel like they are armed with the knowledge they need. It doesn’t just make you book smart. It makes you street smart.” — Stukent Personal Finance
  • “In How to Adult, Jake Cousineau engages readers using a blend of storytelling, analogies, charts and research to deliver key financial lessons. Whether it’s comparing index funds to sports teams, or interest to pineapple on pizza, Jake has a gift in delivering financial advice in a way that will educate adults, young and old alike!” — NGPF Personal Finance
  • “The author does an excellent job of explaining complex concepts in clear terms using common language. I learned something new about taxes despite having filed them for the past 15 years. Clever and approachable. Highly recommend.” — Zach G

 Your Turn: What did you think of How to Adult? Share your opinion in the comments.

Learn More:
amazon.com
thefishow.com

What is Credit Card Interest and How Does it Affect Me?

Getting your first credit card is super-exciting. That small piece of plastic is a gateway to adulthood, and when used responsibly, it can be your first concrete step toward establishing sound financial habits to last a lifetime. Unfortunately, though, many teenagers and young adults don’t know enough about credit card interest when they open their first credit line (such as with a credit card) and end up deeply in debt — and quickly.

Don’t let this be you! Be sure to learn all you need to know about credit card interest and how it works before you apply for your first credit card.

What is credit card interest?

Interest on a line of credit is money the credit card issuer charges to the cardholder for borrowing money every time they use their credit card. The interest is generally set at an annual rate known as the annual percentage rate, or the APR. Credit card companies use the APR to calculate the amount of daily interest the cardholder is charged for purchases as well as the unpaid balance on the line of credit associated with the card.

Important credit card terms to know

Before learning how credit card interest is charged, you’ll need to know some basic credit card billing terms:

  • A credit card billing cycle is the period of time between credit card billings. Billing cycles can range from 20 to 45 days, depending on the credit card issuer. During that time frame, any purchases, credits and interest charges will be added to or subtracted from the balance.
  • When the billing cycle ends, you’ll receive your credit card statement, which will reflect  all unpaid charges and fees for this period of time.
  • The statement will also highlight the payment due date, which tends to be approximately 20 days after the end of the billing cycle.
  • The time frame between the end of the billing cycle and the payment due date is known as the grace period. If you neglect to pay your bill in full before the grace period ends, the outstanding balance will be subject to interest charges.

Calculating interest charges

To calculate your interest charge for a billing cycle, follow this formula:

Step 1:  Divide your APR by the number of days in a year to get your daily periodic rate, or the amount of interest your credit card issuer charges cardholders during each day of the billing cycle.

For example, if your APR is 18.5%, you’ll divide that by 365 to get your daily periodic rate of .0005%. (0.185 / 365 = .0005)

Step 2: Multiply the daily periodic rate by your average daily balance, or the balance you carry during each day of your credit card’s billing cycle, to get your daily interest charge. To find your average daily balance, look on your credit card bill. You can also determine your average daily balance by taking the sum of the balances at the end of each day in the billing cycle, and dividing that number by the total number of days in your billing cycle.

Using the numbers in the above example, if your average daily balance is $1,200, you’d multiply this number by your daily periodic rate (.0005%) to get a daily interest charge of $0.60. (0.0005 * 1,200 = 0.60)

Step 3: Multiply your daily interest charge by the number of days in your billing cycle.

Staying with the above example, if your billing cycle is 30 days, you’d multiply $0.60 by 30 to get an interest charge of $18 for this billing cycle. (0.60 * 30 = 18)

Avoid paying interest

Credit card issuers will only charge interest if you carry a balance from one month to the next. If you pay your balance in full before the grace period ends, there will be no interest charged. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the payment due date on your credit card billing cycle and to set a reminder to pay your bill before it’s due whenever possible.

If you have a large outstanding balance and paying it in full at the end of the billing cycle is not possible, at the very least try to pay more than just the minimum payment each month. It’s also a good idea to avoid charging more purchases to your card if there is already an unpaid balance. Remember: A credit card purchase that is not paid off before the payment due date can mean paying for that purchase for months, or even years, to come.

Credit cards are a necessary part of life. Building a strong credit history can open the door to long-term loans and other financial opportunities, but neglecting to learn how credit card interest works can lead to a spiral of debt. Before opening your first credit card, brush up on your knowledge of how credit card interest works and how it affects you as a cardholder.

Your Turn: Have you recently opened your first credit card? Share your beginner tips for responsible credit card use in the comments.

Learn More:
magnifymoney.com
investopedia.com
finder.com
credit.org

5 Reasons We Overspend (and How to Overcome Them)

We’ve all been there. Maybe it’s that I-gotta-have-it urge that overtakes us when we see a pair of designer jeans. Maybe it’s that shrug as we reach for the $6 cup of overrated coffee that says “I deserve this.” Or maybe it’s that helpless feeling as the end of the month draws near and we realize we’ve outspent our budget — again.

What makes us overspend? Let’s take a look at five common reasons and how we can overcome them.

1. To keep up with the Jones’s

Humans are naturally social creatures who want to blend in with their surroundings. When people who seem to be in the same financial bracket as we are can seemingly afford another pair of designer shoes for each outfit, we should be able to afford them, too, right?

The obvious flaw in this line of thinking is that nobody knows what’s really going on at the Jones’s’ house. Maybe Mrs. Jones’ expensive taste in shoes has landed the family deeply in debt and they are in danger of losing their home. Maybe her Great Aunt Bertha passed and left her a six-digit inheritance. Maybe all of her Louboutin’s are cheap knockoffs she bought online for $23 each.

Break the cycle: Learn to keep your eyes on your own wallet and to ignore how your friends or peers choose to spend their money. Develop a self-image that is independent of material possessions. Adapt this meme as your tagline when you feel that urge to overspend as a means to fit in: Let the Jones’s keep up with me!

2. We don’t have a budget

A recent survey shows that 65% of Americans don’t know how they spent their money last month.

When all of our spending is just a guessing game, it can be challenging not to overspend. We can easily assure ourselves that we can afford another dinner out, a new top and a new pair of boots — until the truth hits and we realize we’ve overspent again.

Break the cycle: Create a monthly budget covering all your needs and some of your wants. If you’d rather not track every dollar, you can give yourself a general budget for all non-fixed expenses and then spend it as you please.

3. To get a high

Retail therapy is a real thing. Research shows that shopping and spending money releases feel-good dopamine in the brain, just like recreational drugs. David Sulzer, professor of neuro-biology at Columbia, explains that the neurotransmitter surges when people anticipate a reward — like a shopper anticipating a new purchase. And when we encounter an unforeseen benefit, like a discount, the dopamine really spikes!

“This chemical response is commonly called ‘shopper’s high,’” Sulzer says, likening it to the rush that can come with drinking or gambling.

This explains the addictive quality of shopping that can be hard to fight. When life gets stressful, or we just want to feel good, we hit the shops or start adding items to our virtual carts.

Break the cycle: There’s nothing wrong with spending money to feel good, so long as you don’t go overboard. It’s best to put some “just for fun” money into your budget so you can make that feel-good purchase when you need to without letting it put you into debt.

4. Misuse of credit

Credit cards offer incredible convenience and an easy way to track spending. But they also offer a gateway into deep debt. Research shows that consumers spend up to 18% more when they pay with plastic over cash.

Break the cycle: When shopping in places where you tend to overspend, use cash and you’ll be forced to stick to your budget. You can also use a debit card with a careful budget so you know how much you want to spend.

5. Lack of self-discipline

Sometimes, there’s no deep reason or poor money management behind our spending. Sometimes, we just can’t tell ourselves — or our children — “no.”

Scott Butler, a retirement income planner at the wealth management firm Klauenberg Retirement Solutions in Laurel, MD, explains that it takes tremendous willpower to say no to something we want now.

“One of the big reasons people overspend is that they don’t think ahead,” Butler says.

Too often, we allow our immediate needs to take precedence over more important needs that won’t be relevant for years — such as a retirement fund or our children’s college education. We simply lack the discipline to not exchange immediate gratification for long-term benefit.

Break the cycle: Define your long-term financial goals. Create a plan for reaching these goals with small and measurable steps. While working through your plan, assign an amount to save each month. Before giving in to an impulse purchase or an indulgence you can’t really afford, remind yourself of your long-term goals and how much longer your time-frame will need to be if you spend this money now.

Your Turn: What makes you overspend? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
thebalance.com
thedollarstretcher.com
hermoney.com
money.usnews.com
elle.com

Rewire for Wealth: Three Steps Any Woman Can Take to Program Her Brain for Financial Success

Title: Rewire for Wealth: Three Steps Any Woman Can Take to Program Her Brain for Financial Success

Author: Barbara Huson

Hardcover: 256 pages

Publisher: McGraw-Hill Education

Publishing date:  Jan. 12, 2021

Who is this book for? 

  • Women who’ve gotten a harsh financial wake-up call.
  • Women who want to learn about money management to be financially independent.
  • Women who have always been intimidated by money.
  • Women who think they’re just not “wired” to handle money well.

 What’s inside this book?

  • Huson’s story of how the men in her life handled her money and then hung her out to dry when things got tough.
  • A physiological explanation for why men and women often have very different approaches toward money management and wealth growth.
  • Huson’s revolutionary approach toward changing financial habits.

Five lessons you’ll learn from this book: 

  • How to apply a proven three-step formula ― recognize, reframe and respond differently ― to rewire the brain for a more confident approach to wealth building.
  • Why women often process financial information in a detrimental way.
  • Why every woman needs to know about financial planning.
  • How to eliminate damaging financial behavior.
  • How women can empower themselves to build wealth.

Four questions this book will answer for you: 

  • Why do all the men in my life have such a vastly different approach toward money than I do?
  • Is there a way for me to rewire my brain to process information differently?
  • Will I be stuck in a financial rut forever?
  • Which obstacles are standing between me and financial empowerment?

What people are saying about this book:

  • “If mastering your money feels daunting, you need this book. Barbara expertly exposes what could be holding you back with simple, practical solutions to finally rewire your thinking and truly build a wealthy life.” — David Bach
  • “Barbara Huson is the unequivocal leader in helping women rewire themselves for wealth. This book will go down in history as a total game changer for us.” — Ali Brown
  • “This book will change your life, if you let it.”— Marci Shimoff
  • “Barbara Huson has done it again. By digging into the ways women think about money differently than men do, she is able to chart a path toward lifelong security — and wealth.” — Jean Chatzky

Your Turn: What did you think about Rewire for Wealth? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

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