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Life Hacks and Other

Good Information

Get a Head Start on Your Next Vacation                                  

Going on regular vacations is essential for your mental health. A relaxing break in your day-to-day routine soothes the soul and reduces stress. However, if you pay for that vacation with credit, especially at a cost you can’t comfortably pay off in 1 or 2 months, then the vacation could cause even more stress.

Here’s a great idea one credit union member, Steve N., and his family uses to pay for a vacation. It enables them to save up money before the trip and save them from financial stress after the trip. He writes:

“Every year we start saving for our next vacation as soon as we return from one. Each month we transfer a fixed amount out of our checking account into a credit union money market ‘vacation account’ that receives a higher rate of interest. My wife and I agree to use this account only for vacation savings.”

Steve emphasizes getting agreement from the family. For any successful family budget goal, you must have buy-in. He continues:

“In addition to our monthly transfer, we have an agreement to deposit every gift of money we receive—from Christmas, birthdays, whatever—into this account. The same goes for any rebate checks we receive from product purchases during the year. Basically, every little ‘extra’ check we receive goes directly into this account.”

Every so often, Steve and his wife pull money out of their money market account and put it into a short-term share certificate/CD (certificate of deposit) to get an even higher yield. He says they have CDs maturing almost every month that they can then deposit into their money market vacation account.

Steve and his family are doing several smart things that you can apply to any savings project:

  • They have a goal—to vacation without borrowing money.
  • The goal has a deadline—the date of the next vacation.
  • They automate their savings—it’s easier to save when it’s done automatically and not randomly.
  • They agree on the strategy and work together.

This is just one way to save for a specific goal. If you’re interested in learning other ways to reach your savings goals, stop in at one of our branches or call us at 402-494-2073.



ByGreenPathFinancial Wellness

 It’s human nature. We’re all wired to meet our immediate wants, whether it’s indulging in a tempting bowl of ice cream, spending more time than we planned to scroll through social media, or treating ourselves to an impulse purchase. Unplanned expenses or emergencies are other common life events.  A car or house repair, or even a weather-related emergency, can make a dent in our budget. Whether it’s the struggle of delaying immediate rewards for greater benefit in the future, or an unexpected expense, people looking to build a successful savings habit often run up against these very human challenges. To help manage these realities, here are five tips we suggest jump-starting your savings.

1. Build Your Budget

To set yourself up for savings success, build a simple budget. Think of it as a road map that tells you exactly where you are in terms of monthly income and expenses, what money is available to save each month, and if you’re on track.  A budget helps you monitor and track your financial progress. The most important part of your budget is updating and monitoring it regularly. Build it in a format that works best for you –using a smartphone app, spreadsheet or simple notebook. Keep it in an easy to find spot to track your income, spending and saving as you go forward.  

2. Set SMART Goals

The SMART acronym provides a strategy for reaching savings goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and anchored within a Time Frame. As an example, depending on your specific situation, perhaps you can tuck away $20 each week to hit an annual savings goal of $1,000.  Measure your progress each week and modify as needed. By keeping it SMART, you will more likely achieve savings goals when bite-sized amounts are saved over a realistic timeframe.

3. Manage Debt

Many people find it hard to save money when struggling with high credit card debt. The longer you carry large balances, more of your monthly payment is applied to interest and the less you have to tuck away in a savings account. You will save the most money by starting to pay as much extra as you can on your highest-interest debt first, and then once that’s paid off, move on to your second-highest interest debt, and so on. If you’re struggling to make a plan to repay debt on your own, there’s help! Working with a trusted national nonprofit like Green Path Financial Wellness is proven to help people manage debt and jump start savings.

4. Build Your Emergency Fund

 A savings plan should include building an emergency savings fund to handle unexpected expenses and setbacks that can come up suddenly. A general rule of thumb is to set aside three months’ worth of living expenses in your emergency fund. This buys you some time if something were to happen. If that isn’t realistic for your situation, start with what you can.  It’s most important to get into the habit of prioritizing your savings and to begin making progress. You don’t have to bite off the whole goal all at once.

5. Set it and Forget It The most successful savers automate monthly deposits to make it as painless as possible. Decide how much you can put into savings and set yourself up with an automated transfer. Another good option is to automatically direct deposit a portion of your paycheck into savings every payday. Begin with an amount you can afford to put into savings and look at your big-picture plan to set your savings goals in the long term.  

 

As you’re probably already aware, your credit score can impact your financial picture across several categories. Lenders evaluate your score in determining whether you’ll be approved for a loan or credit card, what interest rate they’ll charge, and even whether you’ll be eligible for job or security clearance. If you need to give your credit a boost, we have five suggestions for helping you get back on track. But first: the basics.

What is a Credit Score?
A credit score uses historical information about a person’s past use of credit to calculate the likelihood that they will pay back what they owe on time and in full. Ranging from a low of 300 to a high of 850 (sometimes referred to as “perfect credit”), credit scores are calculated based on payment history, amount owed, length of credit history, types of credit used, and new applications for credit.In general, a score of 660 and above would make a borrower eligible for credit with favorable interest rates. A score below 600 may result in difficulty getting approved for credit and is likely to be subject to high-interest rates.If you don’t know your credit score, you can contact one of the three major credit bureaus; Equifax, Experian or Transunion.
1. Be punctual with payments
Paying your bills on time is the biggest single factor used to calculate your credit score. Late payments, past due accounts, and accounts in collections have a negative impact on your credit. Always aim for consistent, timely payment (even it’s the minimum amount). Punctuality pays off: a positive payment history across 18 months or longer increases the likelihood that you’ll receive more favorable loan terms from lenders.If you’re falling behind, be proactive in your financial planning. Create a realistic monthly budget that accounts for bills and everyday expenses like gas and groceries. Struggling to keep track of multiple bills? Consider automation. Automated payments can minimize late fees. If you know you will miss a due date, call your credit card company or lender. They may be able to help by moving your due date out.
2. Pay down your debt
How much you owe is another big factor when it comes to credit score calculation. If you have a large amount of debt or are carrying balances on credit accounts for extended periods of time, it can negatively affect your score.Make it a goal to pay down your debt. Take inventory of any categories where you can reduce non-essential spending so that you pay a little extra on your credit accounts. A credit counselor can walk you through different options for dealing with debt and may be able to help you pay it off more quickly.
3. Don’t max out your credit limit
The amount of credit you use (also called credit utilization) also affects your score. Our financial counselors suggest using less than 30 to 40% of your available credit. Spending above that threshold or carrying high balances relative to your credit limit will cause your score to fall. If you are using more of your credit limit than you would like, consider making adjustments in your budget and spending choices to reduce your overall reliance on credit.Keep in mind that regularly utilizing small amounts of credit (and paying it off) will increase your score. People without established credit history typically receive lower credit scores.
4. Maintain good habits
Your credit score is built on patterns over time, with an emphasis on more recent activity. Improving credit and rebuilding a credit score that has fallen will take some patience, but it can be done! Credit scores can and do change. A history of timely payments and accounts that you have held for five years or longer have a positive effect on your credit score. Quickly opening multiple accounts, carrying high balances for a sustained period, or even closing unused accounts have a negative effect on your score. Events like foreclosure and bankruptcy, while they serve an important purpose for those with severe debt, have a significant and lengthy impact on your credit score. (We are not lawyers, and this is not legal advice. If you are considering one of these options, we encourage you to consult a legal professional and to investigate other alternatives as well.)
5. Chat with a credit counselor
While talking to a credit counselor won’t have a direct effect on your credit score, you can gain valuable insight and information. We will work with you to understand your financial situation, explore different options, and make a personalized plan. We can help you review and understand your credit report. If debt is preventing you from making progress, we can help you explore debt management plans and other options that can accelerate your path forward.
Understanding Phishing
Phishing is a technique employed by cybercriminals to deceive individuals into divulging sensitive information or installing malware on their devices.  This method is executed through various channels such as phone calls, emails, SMS texts, or even social media messages. The term "phishing" was coined in the late 1990s when hackers began using email lures to "fish" for passwords and financial data from unsuspecting internet users. 
 
Types of Phishing Attacks
1. Email Phishing:  Attackers send fraudulent emails that mimic reputable sources, such as banks, government agencies, or popular online services. These emails often create a sense of urgency, urging recipients to click on malicious links or provide personal information. 
2. Spear Phishing: This targeted approach focuses on specific individuals or organizations.  Cybercriminals gather personal information to craft tailored messages that appear authentic, often impersonating colleagues, vendors, or clients to manipulate victims into revealing sensitive data. 
3. Smishing and Vishing: Phishing attacks have extended beyond emails. "Smishing" refers to fraudulent text messages, while "vishing" occurs through voice calls. These tactics rely on social engineering to deceive victims into sharing personal information or clicking on malicious links. 

Avoid and Identify Phishing Attempts
1. Stay Vigilant: Be cautious of unsolicited emails, especially those requesting sensitive information or containing urgent request. Look for signs of poor grammar, generic greetings, or email addresses that don't match the claimed sender.  
2. Verify the Sources: Before sharing any personal or financial information, independently verify the legitimacy of email or message.  Contact the organization directly through their website or customer service channels to confirm the request's authenticity.
3. Be Wary of Links and Attachments: Hover over hyperlinks to reveal their true destination before clicking. Avoid downloading attachments or files from untrusted sources, as they may contain malware of ransomware. 
4. Strengthen Passwords and Enable Two-Factor Authentication:  Use unique, complex passwords for each online account. Enable two-factor authentication whenever possible, adding an extra layer of security to your accounts. 
5. Keep Software Updated: Regularly update your operating system, web browsers, and antivirus software. Software updates often security patches and help protect against known vulnerabilities. 
6. Educate Yourself and Others:   Stay informed about the latest phishing techniques and trends. Share knowledge with friends, family, and colleagues to raise awareness and help them avoid falling victim to phishing attacks.