Financial Dos and Don’ts During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Young blond woman in glasses checks books and takes notesQ: Since the coronavirus has landed on American shores, each day seems to bring more devastating news about the state of our economy. What steps should I be taking to protect my personal finances during this time?

A: The coronavirus outbreak has already generated severe consequences for the national and global economies — and experts say we’re only seeing the beginning of the pandemic’s financial fallout. The virus ended one of the longest bull markets in history, as the stock market plunged by a full 25 percent in one volatile month. In fact, it saw its worst day since 1987. More than that, businesses have been adversely affected by the outbreak in many ways: production lines have been put on hold as the delivery chain is disrupted indefinitely; the global-wide halt on travel has caused tremendous losses for the tourism and airline industries; sports and entertainment industries have taken huge hits; and countless other business lines have been negatively impacted by a dearth of supplies, decreased spending and a shortage of personnel due to quarantines or school closures.

With all this uncertainty, it’s easy to fall into a panic and wonder if there are some concrete steps you should be taking to save your personal finances from impending ruin. Here are some practical dos and don’ts to help you maintain financial stability and peace of mind during this time.

Don’t: Panic by selling all your investments
Both seasoned investors with robust portfolios and those simply worried about their retirement accounts can find it nerve-racking to see their investments drop in value by as much as 10 percent a day. It may seem like a smart idea to sell out just to spare investments from further loss, but financial experts say otherwise. According to The Motley Fool, most sectors of the economy will recover quickly as soon as the outbreak clears. For example, consumers may not be purchasing shoes or cruise tickets now, but they will likely do so when it is safe to shop and travel again. While the global and national economy may not bounce back for a while, experts are hopeful that individual business sectors will recover quickly.

Do: Trim your spending
The thriving economy the country has enjoyed for a while has prompted a gradual lifestyle inflation for many people. As the economy heads toward a probable recession, this can be a good time to get that inflation in check. Work bonuses, raises and promotions are not handed out as freely during a recession as they were in recent years. Some people may even find themselves without a job as companies are forced to lay off workers in an effort to stay solvent. Trimming discretionary spending now can be good practice for making it through the month on a smaller income. It’s also a good idea to squirrel away some of that money for a rainy day.

Don’t: Put your money before your health.
Financial wellness is important, but physical health should always take priority. If you’re feeling unwell, and especially if you’re exhibiting any of the symptoms of the coronavirus — such as fever, coughing and shortness of breath — call in sick to work. Do the same if you’ve been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 14 days. Don’t let financial considerations come before your health and the health of those you come into contact with each day.

As part of a package of executive orders to help mitigate the financial fallout of the coronavirus, President Donald Trump has announced that all employees are entitled to two weeks of full paid leave if they are unable to work because of the coronavirus. This includes contracting the actual virus, self-quarantining for fear of having been exposed to the virus and caring for a family member who has contracted the virus, or for children who are home due to school closures. Be sure to take advantage of this offer by making your health paramount.

Similarly, doctor visits can cost a pretty penny, but when necessary, should always outweigh financial concerns. A co-pay or insurance deductible is a small price to pay for your health.

Do: Consider a refinance
The silver lining of an economic environment like this is falling interest rates. As of March 17, the average interest rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is 3.3%, down from approximately 4.5% of a year ago. Refinancing an existing mortgage at this lower rate can potentially save homeowners several hundreds of dollars a month. That extra breathing room in a budget can be a real boon in case of salary cuts or even a layoff during a recession.

Be sure to work out the numbers carefully before considering this move since a refinance isn’t cost-free. [You can speak to an MSRP at Advantage One Credit Union to learn about your options.]

The coronavirus has already impacted the economy tremendously, and will likely continue to do so for a while. Keep your own finances safe by remaining calm, putting your health first and taking some of the practical steps mentioned above.

Your Turn:
What steps have you taken toward protecting your finances during this time? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
fool.com
cnn.com
fortune.com

How To Retire Happy, Wild, And Free by Ernie J. Zelinski

Cover, How to Retire Happy, Wild and FreeSome of us plan for retirement throughout our working lives. We pinch pennies, cut corners and dream big of the day we’ll finally throw off the shackles of a 9-5 life and be free to live, exploring and creating as we please. Others simply slide into retirement with very little planning and figure they’ll take it day by day. Whatever your style, you’ll need to find a way to enjoy life beyond retirement in the most fulfilling ways possible.

Ernie J. Zelinski’s classic book, How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free, shows readers the key to a truly happy retirement. Zelinski claims that planning for retirement goes beyond counting dollars-you need to plan for your creative outlets, leisure activities, physical well-being, mental health and social support system. In his book, he guides readers through this process, helping them create a feasible plan for retirement which encompasses every area in their lives.

In How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free, you’ll learn how to do the following:

  • Take an early retirement
  • Put money into proper perspective
  • Generate purpose in your post-retirement life through meaningful, creative pursuits
  • Follow your dreams instead of chasing someone else’s goals
  • Take charge of your mental, physical and spiritual health
  • Envision your retirement goals clearly
  • Make your retirement years the best stage of your life

One of the most powerful tools you’ll find inside is the Get-a-Life Tree, a seven-page list of activities to keep you happy and active for years to come.

At times, Zelinski’s book is provocative and often entertaining. It always practical, though, and it is an enjoyable read with a unique message. Its reader-friendly format, fun cartoons, captivating quotations and inspiring content have made it a favorite among retirement books throughout the world.

Some readers complain the advice in the book is fairly obvious and doesn’t break new ground. Others criticize the way Zelinski makes light of the dollars and sense of retirement, claiming he wouldn’t talk so blithely about money if he weren’t financially comfortable himself.

This book might not give you a solid plan for saving up for retirement, but if you’re wondering how to spend your golden years living a happy, fun and fulfilling life, this might be the book you’ve been seeking.

Your Turn:
Do you believe the post-retirement years can be the best years of our lives? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

Learn More:
amazon.com
erniezelinski.com
goodreads.com

All You Need To Know About Savings Certificates

Two women comparing certificate interst rates on a laptopIf the lump under your mattress is getting uncomfortably big and you’re looking for a safer, more lucrative place to park your savings, look no further than Advantage One Credit Union. As an institution that’s completely devoted to your financial wellness, we offer several secure options for savings, including Advantage One Credit Union Savings Accounts, Money Market Accounts, Health Savings Accounts, and our Christmas Club Accounts.

Another excellent option we offer our members to help their savings grow is our savings certificates. They are sometimes also known as share certificates, and referred to by banks as CDs. These unique accounts offer the best of both worlds when it comes to your savings. First, you’ll be giving your money a greater chance at growth than it would have in a typical savings account. Secondly, you are not subjecting your savings to the inherent risks and potential for loss that accompanies investing in the stock market.

Let’s take a closer look at the way this fantastic savings product works and why it might be the perfect choice for you.

What is a Certificate?
A savings certificate is a federally insured savings account with a fixed dividend rate and a fixed date of maturity. The dividend rates of these accounts tend to be higher than those on savings accounts and some money market accounts. Generally, there is no monthly fee to keep the certificate open.

However, unlike a savings account, your money will be tied up in a certificate. A typical certificate will not allow you to add any money to the certificate after you’ve made your initial deposit. You also won’t be able to withdraw your funds before the maturity date without paying a penalty.

Terms and conditions of Certificates
As a member of Advantage One Credit Union, you can open up a certificate today. However, there are some basic requirements that must be met before you can do so, including a minimum opening balance and a commitment to keep your money in the account for a set amount of time.

The minimum amount of funds you’ll need to deposit to open a certificate will vary widely from one financial institution to the next and also depends upon the term you choose. Some institutions will accept an initial deposit as low as $50 for a certificate. Others, such as a “jumbo” certificate, will demand an opening balance of $100,000. In general, the more money you invest in a certificate, the higher rate of interest it will earn. At Advantage One Credit Union, you can open a certificate with as little as $50 for youth certificates and $1,000 for adults. Certificate rates vary with term, check them out now.

Certificate term lengths also vary greatly among financial institutions, with most offering a choice of certificates that run from three months to five years. Typically, certificates with longer maturity terms will earn a higher rate. Here at Advantage One Credit Union, we offer our members certificates that can be opened for just six months or as long as 60 months. View our current certificate rates.

Is a savings certificate for everyone?
While keeping your savings in a certificate can be an excellent option for your money, it is not for everyone. Before you go this route, ask yourself these important questions:

  • Do I have an emergency fund set aside to help me get through unexpected events or circumstances?
  • Do I anticipate needing to access these funds during the life of the certificate?

Remember: Your money will be tied up in the certificate and you will not be able to access it without paying a penalty. A certificate works best for people who have money set aside for a rainy day and are fairly certain they will not need to access the funds in the certificate until its maturity date.

Why keep your money in a certificate?
Here are some of the most popular reasons people choose to open a certificate:

  • Low risk
    While nearly every investment carries some sort of risk, your money is always safe in a certificate. With each Advantage One Credit Union certificate insured by [the National Credit Union Administration] up to $250,000, so you can rest easy, knowing your money is completely secure.
  • Higher dividend rates
    Certificates offer all the security of savings accounts with higher yields. It’s more for your money, just for choosing to invest it in a certificate.
  • Locked-in rates
    There’s no stressing over fluctuating national interest rates with a certificate. The APY is set when you open the account and is locked in until its maturity date. Instead of playing guessing games, you can determine exactly how much interest your money will earn over the life of the certificate the day you open it.

If a certificate sounds like the perfect choice for you, stop by Advantage One Credit Union today to learn more. We’re committed to giving your money its best chance at growth.

Your Turn:
Have you chosen to keep your savings in a certificate? Tell us why you chose this option in the comments.

Learn More:
nerdwallet.com
thebalance.com
businessinsider.com

Do I Need An Emergency Fund And A Rainy Day Fund?

Close up of the side of a glass jar of money containg bills and coins and labeled "Emergency Fund"Q: Do I need to have a separate rainy day fund and emergency fund?

A: In an effort to simplify their money, people sometimes consolidate accounts. This is OK in many instances, but it’s important to remember that rainy day funds and emergency funds serve different purposes. Additionally, it’s important to have not just one, but both funds available to tap into as needed.

Read on for all your questions on rainy day and emergency funds, answered.

Why have a rainy day fund?
Say your washing machine decides to suddenly quit on you and needs replacing. You’re now looking at an extra expense that can run anywhere from $350-$850 (or more). Where are you going to get that kind of money in a pinch?

According to a Federal Reserve Board report, if you’re like 44% of Americans, you’ll need to sell something you own or borrow money to fund such an unexpected expense. Or, you might choose to charge the purchase of a new washing machine to a credit card, which means you’ll pay extra in interest and the cost of the new machine will be haunting you for months—or even years—to come. Either way, a surprise expense of a few hundred dollars can be enough to send you into a tailspin of debt.

Is there a solution?
Here’s where your rainy day fund comes in. It’s a small savings account created just for these types of small, unfixed expenses that you know will crop up on occasion. You’ll tap into your rainy day fund to pay for minor household and car repairs, to cover the cost of summer camp for your child, or to replace your broken kitchen table. When you have a way to fund these small financial hiccups, they won’t have as much of a chance to disrupt your financial health.

Why have an emergency fund?
In contrast to your rainy day fund, an emergency fund is for much larger expenses. It should have enough padding to keep you afloat even if you experience a major disruption in your life, like a divorce, job loss or illness. Without an emergency fund, any of these, or a similar event, can leave you scrambling to pay your bills and quickly send you into a debt trap that can last years.

How much money should be in each fund?
Your rainy day fund, created for minor expenses, only needs to hold $500-$1,000. That should be enough to tide you over in the event of a small, unfixed expense.

Sometimes, you may be able to anticipate these expenses and save up for them accordingly. For example, if you know your child will need braces next year or that your HVAC system will need replacing in a year or two, you can build up your rainy day fund over the next several months until it has enough to fund these anticipated expenses.

Your emergency fund, however, should be positioned to pull you through major financial crises. That’s why you will need to have a lot more money in the account. Ideally, it should hold 3-6 months’ worth of your living expenses. This value will vary according to circumstance and can be anywhere from $3,000-$10,000 or more. Find your own magic number by tracking all your fixed and discretionary expenses for a month and multiplying that amount by 3 or 6.

Where should I keep these funds?
By definition, the cash in both of these funds needs to be easily accessible. Don’t lock the money up in a Savings Certificate or another long-term savings account that will make it difficult and/or expensive to withdraw when the need arises.

Your Advantage One Savings Account is a perfect home for both your rainy day fund and your emergency fund. You can even set up multiple accounts for each one. Your money is always safe here, and federally insured by the NCUA up to $250,000. Best of all, you’re free to withdraw your funds without penalty whenever you need to do so.

How can I build my funds?
You’re convinced: You need an emergency fund and a rainy day fund. But how are you going to get the money for both? If you’ve never saved up for unexpected expenses before, the prospect of doing so can be daunting.

No worries, though. With a bit of discipline and hard work it can be done! Use these three tips to build your funds:

  • Start a side hustle. Freelance for hire, take online surveys for spare cash or accept a seasonal position. Keep all or most of the extra money you pull in for your funds, making equal contributions to each fund.
  • Trim your budget. Take a long hard look at where your money goes each month and choose your biggest money-gobbler to be pruned. Use the money you save for your funds.
  • Make it automatic. Set up an automatic transfer from your Checking Account to your Savings Accounts so your funds grow on autopilot and are less tempting to use for fun.

It may be some time before your funds are fully padded, but that’s OK. It takes time to save up that kind of money, and hopefully you won’t need to tap into your savings until you’ve successfully built your funds.

Also, you won’t need to stick to your tightened budget or keep your extra job forever; you can drop both as soon as your funds are built, taking them up again only when the money in one of the funds is depleted.

Start setting up your rainy day and emergency funds today! You’ll sleep better at night knowing you’re prepared for any financial eventuality.

Your Turn:
Do you have a rainy day fund and an emergency fund, or do you use the same source to fund any extra expense? Share your take with us in the comments below.

SOURCES:
https://www.thebalance.com/do-you-need-a-rainy-day-fund-and-an-emergency-fund-4178821

https://www.aarp.org/money/credit-loans-debt/info-08-2011/rainyday-fund-emergency-fund.html

https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/banking/why-you-should-save-a-rainy-day-fund-and-an-emergency-fund/

Cryptocurrency Hacks

A man and a woman using laptop computers at a kitchen tableCryptocurrency is all the rage. Money you can’t see? Online accounts that aren’t regulated by big banks or even the feds? It has a futuristic feel, and anyone and everyone seems to be buying into the trend.

Lots of those folks who are buying up bitcoins by the hundreds claim cryptocurrency investment is the ticket to a richer tomorrow. But security experts think otherwise. They’ve repeatedly warned that all cryptocurrency is extremely vulnerable and at risk of being hacked – and that includes yours.

Is cryptocurrency the wave of the financial future, or is it really as risky as experts would have you think?

Before making your decision, read on to arm yourself with all the information you’ll need about cryptocurrency hacks.

How it works
Cryptocurrencies are decentralized and unregulated. That means there is no single country or institution controlling bitcoin, Ethereum or Litecoin. These currencies are, consequently, extremely volatile and vulnerable to risk. Since all cryptocurrency transactions are processed online, a hacker can simply break into crypto exchanges, drain people’s wallets and disappear without a trace.

As you may expect, hackers have been following the meteoric rise of cryptocurrency and are eager to cash in on the prize. They’ve been systematically frauding the system for years, and have only gotten bolder over time. In the most recent major heist, hackers made off with an incredible $530 million in cryptocurrency from Coincheck, the leading Asian bitcoin exchange, this past January.

And experts predict that it will get worse.
An Ernst & Young report studied 372 preliminary coin offerings between 2015 and 2017 and found that more than 10% of the funds were stolen, amounting to as much as $1.5 million a month.

It’s not only individuals who’ve been defrauded; the report shares that huge companies have lost several million dollars on hacked cryptocurrency.

According to Chainalysis, a risk management software company for virtual currencies, more than 50% of these hacks occurred through phishing.

In other instances, hackers have modified malware to redirect bitcoins to their own wallets during a trade or purchase. This scam is particularly nefarious because the hackers snag the victim’s exchange credentials and login information so they can gain complete control of the mark’s bitcoin wallets.

By extension, this means the hackers have also accessed the victim’s credit card information and can do untold damage to their credit score while racking up huge bills in the victim’s name.

Any way you slice it, cryptocurrency hacks pose a major risk to all investors and users.

Who’s paying?
Nearly 20% of bitcoin investors purchase their cryptocurrency using a credit card – and almost 25% of them cannot pay off their credit card balance after making this purchase.

Some credit card companies are ready to throw in the towel on cryptocurrency. They’ve had their fair share of headaches caused by cryptocurrency hacks aimed at their cardholders, including disputed charges, fraudulent transactions and the inability to pay for large purchases.

Earlier this year, many major credit card companies, including Discover and Capital One, announced they will no longer allow cardholders to purchase cryptocurrencies using their credit cards due to the high level of risk and potential fraud associated with such transactions.

Lots of financial institutions have followed suit with similar announcements, claiming the increased volatility poses a loss to the institution, which may be forced to pick up the pieces for their member if a cryptocurrency investment or purchase is hacked.

Are cryptocurrency exchanges government-regulated?
The short answer is no. The very attraction of bitcoins and Ethereum is that they are decentralized, answering to no institution or government.

A little digging reveals that some foreign countries, like China, are actually taking stronger approaches toward protecting their citizens from cryptocurrency fraud and are coming down hard on all scammers and hackers.

For the average U.S. citizen, though, when it comes to cryptocurrency, you’re on your own.

Protecting yourself
Cryptocurrency transactions pose an extra risk by being absolutely final. There’s no way to cancel a cryptocurrency payment, back out on a purchase or secure an anti-fraud guarantee from a reputable financial institution. In case of fraud, you may be able to trace the computer that was used for robbing you, but it’s nearly impossible to identify the scammers that took off with your money.

In other words, by using cryptocurrency, you’re putting yourself at significant risk. There’s no one protecting you and no way to undo the damage once you’ve made a payment that’s been hacked.

The only thing you can do is take proactive steps to be as careful as possible when engaging in crypto-payments:

1.) Stick to established, recognized exchanges, like Coinbase.

Only use exchanges you’ve heard of, and only those that utilize two-factor authentication.

2.) Don’t store too much digital currency online.

It’s best to store your money as actual greenbacks in a brick-and-mortar financial institution. You can keep some cash in your wallet or even hoard it in a home safe, but be careful not to put too much in an online digital exchange.

3.) Keep your OS and security software up-to-date.

Always accept and install the most recent patches and updates when they become available. To ensure your system doesn’t fall behind, elect to have it update automatically.

4.) Be wary of suspicious emails and links.

Never share sensitive information over the internet, no matter how sincere or urgent an email or link may appear to be. Don’t download anything from an unverifiable source, and keep your spam settings working at their strongest capacity.

Cryptocurrency may be the dollar bill of the future, but don’t fall prey to the many criminals who are counting on consumer naivety to make a quick buck. Use caution and be on guard to keep your money safe!

Your Turn:
Do you use or invest in cryptocurrencies? What precautions do you take against hacks? Share your own tips with us in the comments!

SOURCES:

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/amp/hidden-dangers-buying-virtual-currency-go-beyond-simple-hack-n852706

http://money.cnn.com/2018/01/29/technology/coincheck-cryptocurrency-exchange-hack-japan/index.html

https://www.fool.com/investing/2018/01/29/after-the-biggest-cryptocurrency-hack-ever-bitcoin.aspx

Rising Interest Rates

Report showing rising interest rate dataInterest rates have been steadily increasing over the last year. So, if you’re thinking of taking out a large loan in the near future, you might be waiting until those rates start going down again.

Here’s why that might not be the best idea.

Interest rates will continue to rise
Experts predict interest rates on financial products will continue increasing throughout the year. It’s not looking great for those who are taking out a short-term loan, either. Experts claim 2018 will see three interest rate hikes, each being 0.25%. If you need to borrow money, it’s best to do it sooner rather than later.

The inflation factor
Unemployment rates are down, but wage growth continues to crawl at an almost nonexistent pace. This, in turn, leads to limited price growth, which keeps the inflation rate stagnant. However, the feds are expecting wage growth to finally kick off in 2018, setting into motion an uptick in inflation and price growth.

The government wants to stay ahead of any surge in inflation. They do so by increasing their interest rates even before there is clear evidence of an inflation peak.

Financial institutions and credit card companies pattern their own interest rates after the government’s rate. Therefore, it’s best to work on aggressively paying down outstanding debt you have before you’re hit with increased interest rates.

Government deficits
Long-term interest rates have been rising since December. This is largely due to the growing government deficit that’s linked to recent tax cuts. The pending two-year budget plan will put the government even deeper into the red, likely causing those rates to climb even higher.

Mortgages
Mortgage interest rates are now at an all-time high; they are currently close to 4.6% and are up more than .20% from a year ago.

For the most part, mortgage rates are linked to bond yields. When bond yields rise, so do mortgage rates. The recent tax overhaul caused investors to favor stocks over bonds, and consequently, mortgage rates have been climbing since September.

Some experts are predicting a turnaround for mortgages in 2018, with the rates possibly dipping below 4% sometime this year. However, all agree that by year’s end, the mortgage rate will settle at 4.5%.

No one can be certain of anything, though, and waiting until the rates drop might prove to be pointless. In fact, you might even end up paying a higher rate for that delay.

The good news
Experts predict a great year for returns on savings, especially CDs. Some claim an average one-year CD will yield a 0.7% return by the end of 2018. So, if you’ve been thinking about opening a share certificate or other savings options, talk with [credit union] to get started.

Volatile economy got you stressed? Call, click or stop by the credit union. We’ll guide you through any financial turn!

Your Turn:
What steps are you taking in the current financial climate? Tell us all about it in the comments!

SOURCES:

https://www.kiplinger.com/article/business/T019-C000-S010-interest-rate-forecast.html

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.bankrate.com/finance/mortgages/interest-rates-forecast.aspx/amp/

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.bankrate.com/mortgages/analysis/amp/

What Does a 529 College Savings Plan Cover?

 

529 college savings plans are only eligible for spending on certain expenses

Jjar of money labeled collegeThe cost of attendance at American universities is skyrocketing year after year, with a college education now costing up to six figures. 529 college savings plans offer a tax-free way to save money for your education. However, there are a few conditions since the money is tax-free, including what you can spend that money on. Here are a few of the qualified expenses included in the plan.

Tuition and education fees
Of course, the most obvious college expense is tuition. Any of your 529 savings money can be applied toward basic tuition. Many colleges charge mandatory fees such as application fees and additional course fees, and your savings plan can be used on those as well.

Keep in mind that your savings plan can only contribute to mandatory fees. Writer for Washington’s Top News, Nina Mitchell, warns against the use of 529 savings funds for fraternity and sorority membership dues or club and activity fees. “These are considered extracurricular and are not eligible,” says Mitchell.

Textbooks, computers and school supplies
Alongside the rise of tuition prices, textbook prices are also increasing each year. According to Brian Boswell, contributor at Forbes.com, your savings plan can be applied toward textbook rentals and purchases each year. You can also put your savings money toward school supplies, including items like pencils, pens, backpacks and notebooks.

Modern-day education often requires students to have their own personal computers or laptops. With advancing technology, laptops are more expensive than ever. Laptops and desktop computers can be purchased through your 529 savings plan, says Boswell, easing the burden of buying new, up-to-date technology. Printers are also covered under the plan.

Room and board
Your housing costs as a student are covered under your 529 savings plan as well. Whether you live in a campus dorm and are paying for student housing, or if you pay rent off-campus, your savings money can be used for your rent and utilities. While you’re a student, your savings money can also be applied to your dining plan and grocery costs.

However, Boswell explains there is a catch to off-campus living, “To be considered qualified, [off-campus living] costs must be less than or equal to the room and board allowance from the college’s cost of attendance figures. If the total cost living off-campus exceeds the school’s allowance, the student would have to pay the difference using funds from another source.”

If your university charges a fee for internet usage, or if you live off campus and have to purchase an internet package yourself, you can pay those expenses out of your 529 savings plan. Additional software deemed necessary for your education is also covered.

Disability equipment
If you have a disability that requires medical or mobility equipment, you can purchase those items with the money in your 529 savings plan, says Boswell. These items include wheelchairs, prosthetics and transportation costs.

Saving and paying for college tuition alone can be stressful enough, but having to worry about additional school-related expenses just adds to the frustration. Luckily, these expenses are all covered under your 529 savings plan. Consult your tax advisor regarding your personal situation and the possible impacts and benefits of this type of program.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

Tips for Saving for Your New Car

Hands holdinga jar of moneyIdeas for affording that hot ride you have always wanted
It’s a common situation: your current car is on its last leg and you have your heart set on a new model that will last longer, look better and have more features. Unfortunately, your bank account isn’t on your side and is limiting your options. Instead of disregarding your financial limitations, find ways to overcome them by saving money and shopping wisely so you can eventually afford that dream vehicle.

Determining your financial goal
Before you establish a plan of action, it is vital to fully evaluate your current financial situation and what your goal is; a clear understanding will help you effectively plan how to reach your goal.

Once you identify which vehicle you want, you can estimate how much a down payment would cost. Ronald Montoya of Edmunds suggests that 20% of the total cost of the vehicle should be your down payment (resulting in a lower monthly cost), but that if you cannot comfortably afford that amount, a 10% down payment with GAP insurance mitigates risk while keeping money in your pocket.

Jamie Page Deaton of U.S. News & World Report emphasizes the importance of considering the ongoing price of monthly vehicle costs, such as repayments, insurance and maintenance. Depending on your cost of living and pre-existing debt, these expenses should not exceed 15-36% of your monthly take-home pay. Ensure you have a secure income to afford these monthly costs after you drive the car off the dealership lot.

Saving money on daily expenses
Now that you’ve established a target amount of money to save for both the down payment and monthly fees, you can analyze your current spending habits and find ways to trim your daily expenditures and divert the difference into a savings fund.

Trent Hamm of The Simple Dollar outlines dozens of methods for cutting expenses. For instance, consider using public transportation or carpooling to work. Cancel your unnecessary memberships, subscriptions or paid services. Buy bulk, generic, non-perishable items from the grocery store and make your own meals instead of eating out. Other ideas include shopping at thrift stores, selling unused items, consolidating your loans, lowering home thermostats, unplugging electronics and pausing your travel plans.

Getting the best deal on the car
Saving money isn’t just about having enough cash in your bank account; it’s equally imperative to ensure you’re getting a deal on the vehicle you are purchasing. There are methods for knocking some numbers off the sticker price to ensure you are paying the lowest possible amount rather than simply handing over your hard-earned money at the first price presented.

Kerry Hannon of Forbes offers nearly a dozen ways women can save on a new car; all of the methods can be used by men, too. Time your purchase so that you can take advantage of a seasonal sale, a reduced price on last year’s model or a rebate program. Do your research and have a clear idea of what the car’s value is and what competing dealerships in the neighborhood are offering for the same model. Don’t be afraid to negotiate; hold firm on the target price and don’t get drawn into add-ons or upgrades.

Another way to get a better deal on your car is by improving your credit score and thus receiving a better deal on financing. Investigate all your financing options and find the best loan offer that is best for you, whether that’s through your bank, a local credit union or the dealership.

With a solid plan and frugal spending habits, you will eventually be able to afford that new car without putting your finances at risk.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

Cool Ways to Save Extra Money

A little creativity and thought can save you a lot of money
Couple Saving MoneyThere are many ways to save a little extra money each month, some of which have added benefits beyond financial ones. Have a little fun and get some great additional perks with these five out-of-the-ordinary ways to save extra money.

Forgo cable
With the popularity of Hulu, Netflix and other streaming services, cable isn’t considered a necessity anymore. These streaming services even produce their own shows that you can’t watch anywhere else. Plus, their fees are just a fraction of the average monthly cable bill—services like Apple TV only cost a flat fee up front for the device.

Another way to get media on the cheap is to dust off that old library card. Many local libraries are part of a network from which you can rent a vast selection of DVDs, TV series boxed sets, CDs and books. Even better, it’s absolutely free—as long as you return everything on time.

Socialize cheaply
Instead of going to the movies on date night or heading out for drinks with your pals, look for free activities happening in your area.

“Many cities offer a host of free activities, especially in the summer months. Use social media tools and the web to find listings for community activities and make your date night a little cheaper,” wrote money blogger Nicole Graham on LifeHack.org. “This will also push you to do something new or different, which will broaden your horizons and help you meet new people.”

You can also host your own social events. Save on menu items, tax, tips and parking by hosting a potluck supper. Or organize a clothing swap—it can be a fun, intimate event; and you can all get some free new outfits out of the deal.

Eat at home
Maybe your apartment is too small to host a potluck, but you can still plan your meals ahead and cook at home for yourself in order to pocket some cash.

“Taking a few hours every weekend to grocery shop and meal plan for the week will definitely save you money, as dining out is the No. 1 expense for most households,” said Brittney Castro of CNBC. “By eating at home, you save money that would otherwise be spent on tax and tip—and you usually save calories, too.”

If you do eat out—maybe it’s a special occasion or a reward—at least try to order take-out rather than dining in or getting food delivered. You won’t have to pay the double-fee of tipping the driver AND paying the delivery charge.

Get crafty
Take to Pinterest, beauty blogs and more to find cheap, easy-to-make and oftentimes eco-friendly cleaning or beauty supplies. These online resources can also give you cool ideas for repurposing items around the house or crafting in general, so finding a new hobby out of the deal is yet another advantage.

Charge yourself for bad habits
Quitting vices, such as smoking, can save you a ton of money. But the actual process of kicking the habit can save you some money as well. On LifeHack.org, Graham recommends labeling a jar with your designated bad habit and placing a certain denomination of money in the jar every time you find yourself partaking in said bad habit.

As if watching exclusive media content, hanging with friends, helping the planet or bettering yourself could get any better—with these tips, you can save money while you’re at it!

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

Best Ways to Save for Your Mortgage Down Payment

Four simple methods to get the ball rolling on your down payment savings
Buying a home is ajanuaryfeatured_saveforhome huge step in life and begins with a huge hurdle: the down payment. Fortunately, by starting early and thinking things through, you can get a solid jump on saving. Here are some easy ideas to get you started.

Automate Your Savings
At your usual financial institution, open a savings account specifically designated for your down payment/mortgage. Not only will this allow you to conveniently transfer funds from one account to the other, it will also allow you to automate transfers or directly deposit part of your paycheck into the specified account.

Make a Budget
Create a spreadsheet that lists all of your monthly expenses and monthly net income. Not only will this tell you how much you can put into savings, it can also help you discern what monthly mortgage payment you can afford. If the buffer between expenses and income is already too small, this is an early red flag that you will have to start doing some things differently to afford your mortgage.

“Given that income and expenses are closely matched in many households, the only way to get ahead is to bring in more money or change your spending habits (meaning spend less) and avidly look for new savings sources,” says Peter Miller, The Simple Dollar contributor.

Invest Your Funds
If you are looking to buy a house within the year, Kathryn Vassel of CNN Money recommends keeping your money liquid; but if your plans are more long-term, it is a good opportunity to invest in order to boost savings. If you are looking at a 10-year time frame, stocks could be a good option for you, Vassel writes. If you think you’ll buy a house in five to seven years, consider investing in bonds: 50 percent in longer-term bond funds or individual bonds and 40 percent in short-term bonds that mature in one to three years, plus 10 percent in cash. Finally, try higher-interest CDs if you are still two to four years from buying a home.

Research Home-Buying Programs
One of the first steps toward saving for a mortgage is setting a goal. A general rule of thumb for the down payment is 20 percent of the home’s selling price, but many available government programs also offer lower down payments, down payment loans or grants, or housing discounts. For lower down payments, look into GSE loans or loans through the FHA, VA or USDA.

Whether you choose one of these savings methods or all of them, they will help you come up with the down payment for the home you’ve always wanted.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.