Month: December 2017

resolutions

Five Financial Resolutions You Can Keep

The new year is when people make all sorts of commitments to better themselves financially. However, if you’ve set your sights too high and come up short time and again, it can be difficult to consider realistic goals. Nevertheless, here are five financial resolutions anyone can keep.

Evaluate Your Financial Health

Do you know your net worth? That’s the amount of your assets minus liabilities. Once you calculate this figure, you’ll have a clear picture of where you stand and how to outline achievable & realistic resolutions. It’ll also provide insight into monetary shortcomings and where you can make improvements.

With free online & mobile banking from America First, you can link all your accounts to see your net worth and track progress. Another simple step is determining your credit score, giving you an understanding of your borrowing power and how to change for the better. Review your FICO® Score when you log in to online banking. Set up calendar reminders to check it quarterly.

Specifically Spend Less

Spending less by itself is too general. Pick something specific to cut back on. Maybe you can brew your morning coffee at home instead of grabbing one on the way to work. Or perhaps you could designate two times a week as leftover days, using the food you have instead of eating out. After all, little cuts like these can turn into big savings.

Start a Saving Habit

Speaking of saving, commit to putting a specified amount away every month; it doesn’t have to be much. Determine a specific time for deposits, such as every payday, so you don’t forget and develop this healthy habit. You could also open dedicated savings at America First, which automatically transfers the money for you. Or, if you don’t have a retirement fund yet, you can start an IRA and plan for the future.

Get Detailed

Don’t just say you want to pay off debt this year. Make it a goal to get your credit card down to a zero balance each month, for example, or resolve to put $50 extra toward your car payment. Removing a debt that’s hanging over your head is one of the most rewarding feelings you can have.

Use Incentives

Rewards are a big motivator, but they’re not just for significant milestones. Instead of waiting until your house is paid off, celebrate when your mortgage is under $100,000. Incentives also shouldn’t set you back financially, like blowing emergency cash on a fancy dinner. Be smart when you treat yourself for a job well done.

Christmas

Financial Wisdom from Christmas Movies

Few things get you into the season’s spirit faster than a good holiday movie. But beyond being festive, these films can also be educational. Here are some financial tips to take from eight classic Christmas flicks.

A Christmas Carol

The Story: Ebenezer Scrooge (Alastair Sim) is a miserable miser whose life is changed on Christmas Eve when he is visited by three spirits.

The Lesson: There isn’t anything wrong with saving, but there’s also nothing wrong with spending…if you do it responsibly. It’s okay to reward yourself for reaching short-term benchmarks, for example, to achieve long-term goals.

Jingle All the Way

The Story: Howard Langston (Arnold Schwarzenegger) promises his son a Turbo Man action figure, only to find that they’re completely sold out wherever he goes.

The Lesson: Don’t wait until the last minute or you may end up spending more than you wanted or going without. Plan ahead to get the best deals.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

The Story: Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) wants all his relatives together at home for a fun, old-fashioned family Christmas.

The Lesson: Clark thinks he’s surprising them with plans for a pool, but when his Christmas bonus doesn’t arrive, he’s left with no way to pay for it. Spending money before you have it is always risky, especially when it’s for a big project.

Home Alone

The Story: The McCallisters go on vacation, leaving Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) behind to fend for himself and outwit a pair of burglars.

The Lesson: Using funds for experiences is usually more fulfilling than purchasing things. No one is going to remember what Buzz or Fuller got that Christmas morning, but the McCallisters will never forget their trip to Paris.

A Christmas Story

The Story: The only thing Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) wants on Christmas morning is an official Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot range model air rifle.

The Lesson: Make sure what you’re saving for is worth the effort or you’ll be disappointed. Ralphie learns this lesson twice: the first time when he drinks gallons of Ovaltine to get a decoder ring that only translates into Ovaltine advertising, then again when he finally gets his BB gun and immediately shoots his eye out.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

The Story: Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon) grows weary of being the King of Halloween Town, so he decides to take over the neighboring Christmas holiday.

The Lesson: Jack wears a Santa costume, builds a sleigh and creates reindeer to appear successful, but he stretches himself beyond his means & almost ruins things in the process. Keeping up with the Joneses and shelling out more than you make will only cause added stress.

It’s a Wonderful Life

The Story: George Bailey (James Stuart) falls into despair because of financial ruin, but rediscovers hope when his community comes to his rescue.

The Lesson: If you find yourself in monetary trouble, don’t be afraid to discuss your problem with friends, family or a financial counselor.

The Santa Clause

The Story: When Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) accidentally kills Santa Claus, he must take on the role of old Kris Kringle himself.

The Lesson: Always read the fine print before you buy something or enter an agreement to avoid any unexpected or unnecessary financial entanglements.

overspending

How to Prevent Holiday Overspending

The magic of the season tends to end abruptly when your credit card bill arrives. If you have a habit of overspending during the holidays, here are some tips to help you avoid the Christmas sticker shock once it’s over.

Plan Early

The best way to stop overspending is prior planning. Make a shopping list that includes how much you’re going to spend on each person. When you start looking for gifts, take your time and keep an eye out for coupons and special promotions. You’ll prevent the high cost of expedited delivery if you need something shipped quickly.

Begin building your holiday budget early in the year and keep this fund separate from the rest of your accounts. Opening a dedicated savings at America First, for instance, will provide automatic transfers with compound interest each month.

Shop Smart

Don’t use the festivities as an excuse for overspending. Stick to your budget and track spending as you go—a little extra here and a little extra there adds up. And try to not exceed what you can pay off when your credit card balance comes due. Our Visa® Platinum gives you 1.5% cash back on all purchases, so you could even earn a little extra while you shop.

You can additionally consider actually going to stores instead of shopping online so you can save on shipping. However, when you do go out and about, avoid purchasing snacks or dining out. Those incidentals can negate any savings you’ve gained. Also, resist the urge to buy something for yourself when you’re getting things for others. If something catches your eye, put it on your wish list for someone else to pick up.

Travel Wisely

Family & friends enjoy getting together at Christmastime, but many don’t factor the cost of traveling into their holiday budgets. If you’re flying, start looking for deals well in advance. Buy your trip a month or two before leaving to miss the inevitable price crunch. If you’re driving, pack meals to eat along the way instead of stopping for fast food, then stay with your hosts, when possible, instead of getting hotel rooms.

Finally, limiting the time you’re away from home is a great way to stay within your holiday budget. You aren’t required to attend every party or event, especially if you haven’t got the money. Occasionally, even a Skype call will suffice. Careful planning when it comes to shopping and traveling is the best way to keep a lid on overspending.

skip

Sometimes It’s Actually Rewarding to Skip a Loan Payment

It’s always important to stay on top of your loans. Regularly missing payments can negatively affect your credit & harm your financial well-being. Nevertheless, there are times when extra cash for unforeseen expenses or emergencies is needed, which is why America First offers a service where you can skip certain loan payments once a year with no adverse consequences.

How It Works

When you skip a payment, it doesn’t go away completely. You’re still required to pay the full loan balance, but it’s deferred until the end of the term. And it won’t be reported as late or make you incur any penalties.

It costs only $25 for this program, which is much less than most monthly payments. To see if you qualify, log in to your America First account, select the other services tab, and then click on Skip a Loan Payment. This will show you which loans are eligible. You can also visit your local America First branch or call 1-800-999-3961 to discuss it with one of our helpful team members.

The Fine Print

This option is only for personal, auto, and some home equity loans. It does not apply to long-term mortgages, business financing or Visa® credit cards. Members with accounts in good standing can skip one payment every twelve months—not once a calendar year. That means if you skip a payment on December 31, 2017, you can’t do it again the next day. You would have to wait until at least January 1, 2019.

A Holiday Perk

From now until the end of January, we’ll contribute $5 of the $25 fee to the America First Charitable Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping those in need. So, there’s an extra advantage to skipping a payment during the holidays—you’ll be helping the less fortunate in the process.

overdraft

Overdraft Protection—A Financial Safety Net

While paper checks aren’t very common, most people use checking. In these accounts, money is subtracted when a transaction occurs. If there are no available funds and you attempt a purchase, it triggers an overdraft & your card will be declined.

If you have overdraft protection on your account, a financial institution will cover such a transaction and the purchase will go through, avoiding the inconvenience & awkwardness of being declined. Understanding this service and using it wisely can prevent a potentially destructive financial cycle.

Opting In

At America First, checks, automatic debits, and other payments or withdrawals you authorize for checking have automatic overdraft protection. Debit cards, however, aren’t covered unless you specifically request it. You can sign up online, visit a branch or call 1-800-999-3961 to opt in. This one-time step will cover all your debit card purchases and you can always opt out later if you change your mind.

Line of credit versus overdraft service

A line of credit is an open-ended loan, which means it can be used and paid off repeatedly. When it’s attached to checking, charges over your balance are applied to the line. It’s an extra buffer zone between how much you have, how much you can spend, and it helps you avoid overdraft fees.

The Cost of Non-Sufficient Funds

It doesn’t cost anything to sign up for overdraft service & most members never use it, but if your checking balance and line of credit are both exhausted and overdraft protection kicks in, there’s a $25 per-transaction fee. So, if you go to three different stores when your account & line of credit are maxed out and you buy three things, you could be charged up to $75 in fees on top of the purchase costs. It’s safe to say you shouldn’t rely on overdraft service & you should only use it in an emergency.

Keeping an eye on your checking balance, paying off your line of credit and spending responsibly will keep you from needing overdraft protection. However, knowing it’s there for emergencies will give you a little extra peace of mind.

Enjoy Some Financial Relief & Lend a Helping Hand to the Less Fortunate

Everyone knows it’s better to give than receive. But as a member of America First, you can do both!

Skipping a loan payment* is only $25 & when you take advantage of this option during the holidays, we’ll contribute $5 to the America First Charitable Foundation that assists the less-fortunate.

Then you’ll be free to go shopping, get caught up on your bills—anything you see fit. Plus, you’ll be helping someone in need. To see if you qualify, log in to free online banking.

*Terms and conditions apply. Not all loans are eligible. Ineligible loans include long-term mortgages, lines of credit & Visa® credit accounts. The America First Credit Union Charitable Foundation is a Utah-based, non-profit corporation.

What Are Your Most Cherished Childhood Holiday Memories?

By John B. Lund, President & Chief Executive Officer

Every January, the entire America First management team gets together to kick off a new year, discuss our strategic plan and budget priorities, and generate enthusiasm for achieving future goals. I was addressing the group a couple of years ago at this event and, as an experiment, I asked for three volunteers to come forward. My request was quite simple, but came it as a bit of a surprise.

I asked each to share his or her fondest or most cherished childhood memory from Christmas or the holidays. None mentioned a bicycle, doll, or any other toy or gift. Without fail and with visible emotion, they all spoke of experiences with family, friends and neighbors they held dear. We heard of enjoyable times spent together; of games, laughter, delicious meals, and renewing connections with distant family members; and we learned how providing a surprise act of service brought joy. In short, they highlighted the value and enduring nature of meaningful relationships.

This simple exercise vividly illustrated what we truly value—positive relationships developed and strengthened over time. Although the nature of our affiliation is not as deeply personal, it is our desire at America First to develop a valued connection and relationship with each member we serve. Building such trust requires time, commitment, care, and providing relevant products & benefits that save you money and simplify your financial life. That is our pledge to all of you.

It is our hope that during this season and throughout the year, we will make the effort to remain optimistic, look for the good in others, do some good ourselves, and perhaps create a cherished memory for someone.

We look forward to a lifelong relationship with you and your family. Please accept our best wishes for a merry Christmas and happy holiday season. Don’t forget to pick up your free 2018 calendar at any America First branch.

Your Partner in Financial Health

The America First Financial Solutions program, available through CUSO Financial Services, L.P. (CFS), provides a variety of insurance and investments that complement those offered by the credit union.

You can take advantage of advice and services to help achieve your personal financial objectives, whether these goals are saving for a home, providing resources for college, or planning a comfortable retirement.

We can assist you with:

  • 401k rollovers
  • Stocks & bonds
  • Mutual funds
  • Annuities
  • Life & long-term care insurance
  • Higher education planning

Your CFS representative at America First Financial Solutions is a registered, licensed and experienced professional who is dedicated to your financial health. Please call 1-800-999-3961 for a no-cost, no-obligation appointment or email your request to affsolutions@cusonet.com.

Non-deposit investment products and services are offered through CUSO Financial Services, L.P. (CFS), a registered broker-dealer (Member FINRA/SIPC) and SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Products offered through CFS are not NCUA/NCUSIF or otherwise federally insured, are not guarantees or obligations of the credit union, and may involve investment risk, including possible loss of principal. Investment representatives are registered through CFS. The credit union has contracted with CFS to make non-deposit investment products and services available to members.