Financial Education

Pack it Up: How to Save When You Move

No matter what your plans are, when you move it will always come with a price. If you do it yourself, it’s going to cost a lot more time. When you hire professionals, it means spending more money. It’s important to determine what’s of value to you. Regardless of the method you choose, here are some ways to save.

Getting Movers

Create a budget beforehand. Figure out all the pre-moving expenses and what it will take to get your new place up and running. Check prices online and get quotes from at least three companies. Be sure to clarify if they charge extra for long hauls, packing, assembly, stairs and storage. Talk to friends in the neighborhood and speak with folks at your destination about who they use.

Choose the off-season if possible. Most people move in the spring and summer months, since school is out and the weather is nice. However, some movers charge less between September and May. Scheduling for weekdays can also bring savings, since the demand is higher on the weekends.

Taking it on Yourself

First, figure out how much stuff you want to take. Sell things you don’t want to bring along to help offset the cost. Or use what you earned from a yard sale to help pay for furniture or electronics at your new home. Of course, it’s also less expensive to move fewer items—you won’t need an extra-large truck for a more modest set of belongings.

Carefully select the vehicle’s size. A larger one may come with a higher rate, but it will be less expensive than multiple trips with a smaller van. You can also rent helpful items, such as dollies or furniture pads, instead of buying them. And try to time your move directly from one location to another, instead of renting a storage shed.

Search for free boxes at local stores. You can also go online and look around your neighborhood for packing materials from those who have recently moved. And while you’re at it, ask friends & family to help. After all, you can usually pay volunteers in pizza.

If you’re changing cities for a new job, some employers will cover the relocation. Also, you can deduct certain expenses, so keep all related receipts. Please consult your accountant or a tax professional for details. Moving is never a fun experience, but careful planning and budgeting can ease your financial burden.

Five Steps to Take Before Buying a Used Car

It’s an exciting experience to buy a used car—especially when you finally find the make, model & color you want—at a price that looks like a good deal. However, before you get caught up in the process and sign the paperwork, here are five steps you should take.

Do your research

Don’t make a final decision the first time you visit a dealership or private seller. First, look up the vehicle online and, if applicable, the dealer. Use NADA or similar guides to check the value and read what others who own the same type of car are saying. You can even find repair records if you have the vehicle identification number (VIN).

Take a test drive

The best way to get to know a used car or truck is to drive it. Create a checklist beforehand so you don’t overlook anything. And don’t just take it around the block, either; see how it handles at various speeds on different roads. Use each of your senses by looking for excessive wear and tear, listening for strange rattles, knocks and squeaks and determining if the heater or air conditioner is generating odd smells. Press all the buttons, flip the switches, and turn on the lights to be certain everything is in working order.

Get a second opinion

While you’re out test-driving, take it to a friend or family member’s house. Talk to them about the mileage, the seller, the price and anything else that’s on your mind. This will give you the valuable perspective of an outsider who might be able to uncover red flags you can’t.

Visit the mechanic

If you’re not well versed in vehicle maintenance, you might consider going to an auto repair shop and getting a pre-purchase inspection. The mechanic can likely discover things you wouldn’t find just from looking under the hood. These normally run around $100, but spending a little upfront could save you from expensive repairs in the future.

Get preapproved

Never wait until the last minute to think about financing. Getting preapproved for an auto loan will help ensure you get the lowest possible rate. Plus, you can choose your lender instead of relying on expensive dealer offers. This will speed up the buying process when you’re ready. America First even delivers instant online approvals so you can get an idea of what you can afford before you even set foot on a used car lot.

Charitable Contributions: Financially Sound Generosity

We all know it is better to give than to receive. And, of course, the point of giving to a worthwhile cause is not expecting anything in return. Nevertheless, there are financial benefits to charitable contributions when you file your taxes. Here are a few tips & guidelines regarding taxes and charity.

WHAT IS DEDUCTIBLE?

The IRS doesn’t allow deductions for funds given to specific individuals or families. Meaning, if you give a friend in need some money to help them pay for a medical issue, it doesn’t apply. The contribution has to be to a qualified organization, such as the Red Cross, public schools, churches and many other non-profit organizations. If you have a question a group’s tax-exempt status, contact the IRS online or call 1-877-829-5500.

KEEP DETAILED RECORDS

If you deduct charitable donations on your return, you’ll need more than just a scribbled note on a napkin. There should be a written communication from the organization, including its name, the date and the amount you contributed. Detailed receipts will ensure you have accurate data and are invaluable in case of an audit.

HOW MUCH CAN I DEDUCT?

You can actually deduct up to 50% of your adjusted gross income when it comes to charitable contributions. It’s one of the few itemized deductions that doesn’t have a floor, or lower limit, meaning you get to deduct every dollar that you give to qualified organizations until you reach half of your income level. Every dollar that you donate to charity beyond that 50% of your income will still give you warm fuzzies, but you don’t get to deduct it on your taxes.

IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT MONEY

Cash contributions aren’t the only things that can lower your tax bill. You can also deduct the value of donated clothing, furniture, vehicles and more. To do this right means you have to get a receipt when you donate and determine fair market price of the item — which is, essentially, a reasonable price if you were selling it. There are also cases when you can deduct the cost of travel to and from a place where you volunteer your time, the price of a volunteer uniform and other endeavors.

Please remember that this article is for information only. We recommend consulting your tax advisor with questions regarding specific deductions and charitable donations. However, if you want to start donating today, the America First Community Assistance Program is a wonderful — and tax-deductible — effort you can join. Simply log in to your online banking account and make your contribution.

plasma donation

The Value of Blood—Donating Plasma

If you need to make some extra money and you enjoy helping others, donating plasma could be a good option. Plasma is made up of the water, enzymes, proteins and antibodies in your blood. Companies process plasma to create medicines and to use in therapies. Since it can’t be created synthetically, and donated plasma does not go directly into the body of another person, businesses are willing to compensate donors for their time. If you’re considering a plasma donation, here are some things you should know:

  • You need to be between 16 and 69 years old.
  • You must weigh more than 110 pounds.
  • You must be in good health and free of infectious diseases.
  • You’ll have to pass a basic physical examination.
  • You should bring a valid photo ID and have proof of your Social Security number.
  • Some medications can prevent you from donating plasma.
  • Recent body piercings or tattoos may also prevent you from donating.
  • Some donation centers use promotions or coupons to draw in donors.
  • Search online for local plasma donation centers—make sure the one you choose is IQPP-certified, such as BioLife, CSL Plasma, Grifols, and Octapharma.
  • Drink lots of fluids before you go, as this will help your blood flow faster.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol within 24 hours of donation, as these can affect your blood pressure and hydration levels.
  • Pump your fist (e.g. use a stress ball) to help increase the rate of circulation.
  • You can expect somewhere between $20 to $50 per visit, depending on the company.
  • Some companies will pay you more for repeat donations.
  • Payment is usually distributed in the form of a prepaid debit card.
  • How much plasma you can give is dependent on your weight—the more you can donate, the more you can earn.
  • Plasmapheresis, or the process of separating the plasma from the red blood cells, takes usually around 60-90 minutes.
  • Your first donation will take longer than subsequent visits, because of the medical screening.
  • Normally, you may only make two donations in a seven-day time period.
  • Generally, you must wait 48 hours between visits.

Please check the official websites of the companies for specific details regarding rules and compensation regarding donating plasma.

autumn

Autumn Preparation for Winter Protection

The weather may seem nice right now, but winter is coming. Properly preparing your house in autumn can help prevent costly damage from rain, ice and snow. Here are some tips on how to save some money as you ready your residence for the cold weather.

  • Clear Your Gutters – Clogged gutters can cause water to pool on your roof and cracked downspouts can lead to damaged foundations and flooding basements. Before the wet weather arrives, remove leaves and other debris from your gutters. Test the flow of water with a hose. Look for cracks or breaks and repair where needed.
  • Protect Your Pipes – Turn off your sprinklers, open the valves, and drain the pipes—this will help prevent them bursting due to expanding ice. Unhook your hoses and store them in a garage or shed to extend their lives and shut off all outdoor plumbing.
  • Check Your Roof – It’s much easier to inspect your roof when it’s not slick with rain. Fix for any raised or damaged shingles. Plus, while you’re up there, you could even hang your Christmas lights, so you don’t have to do it in the snow—just don’t turn them on until after Thanksgiving.
  • Inspect Your Heater – Furnace filters are easy to change, but you should also have a specialist inspect your HVAC system and make sure the ducts are clear. Make sure the vents aren’t blocked. If you have a fireplace, you should clear ashes and debris out, then have a professional clean the chimney.
  • Do a Safety Check – Test your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. Change the batteries if necessary. Additionally, check your fire extinguishers and make an emergency escape plan with your family.
  • Test for Drafts – Your heaters won’t be very effective if all the warm air is seeping out of your home. Check for drafts by putting your hand near the edges of windows and doors. Use weather stripping or caulk to stop cold air from entering your house.
  • Strengthen Your Lawn – Mow your grass one last time in autumn, and don’t forget to empty the gas tank of the mower before storing it. Fertilize your lawn before the first frost for a healthier yard when the spring thaw comes. This will strengthen the roots to resist the lower temperatures and help your yard green up faster in the spring.
  • Prep Your Garden – Clear weeds out. Plant bulbs, such as tulips, daffodils and irises in the autumn for a beautiful start to spring. Inspect trees on your property for weak or damaged branches that could break if weighed down by snow. Bring your more delicate plants inside.
  • Stock Up on Supplies – Put an ice scraper in your car. Buy some ice melt. Check your snow shovels and your snow blower. It may seem too early for all this, but you’ll be thankful when that first snow starts to fall.
splash pad

Splish at a Splash Pad this Summer

If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on a waterpark, consider taking your kids to a splash pad. These recreational areas are usually run by the city—so most of them are free—and they include fountains, spray nozzles and other water features to help you cool off. Plus, since there normally isn’t any standing water at these public parks, swimming lessons are not required.

Here are some tips to get the most out of your family trip to a splash pad:

  • Look around – You may have seen a local splash pad nearby, but it’s probably not the only one. Search online to see how many are close to home.
  • Time it right – Mornings at the splash pad tend to be busy. You may find it to be less crowded if you go later in the afternoon.
  • Prep beforehand – Get everyone in their swimsuits and sunscreen applied beforehand, so no one has to wait to play in the water.
  • Don’t forget towels – Even in hot weather, playing in the water can make you cold. And make sure to dry everyone off before the drive back.
  • Bring some bandages – Wherever children and wet concrete meet, slips & scrapes will happen. Keep the fun going with some simple first aid.
  • Keep it clean – Use swim diapers for those who aren’t potty trained yet to avoid contaminating the water supply. Change dirty diapers immediately.
  • Supply some snacks – Nothing keeps your kids happy like a quick break to eat some treats. Keep it simple and keep the cooler at home.
  • Keep ’em hydrated – Playing in the sun will make you thirsty. Bring a couple of water bottles so no one is tempted to drink water from the nozzles.
  • Expect a short stay – Splash pads are fun, but it’s not an all-day event. After an hour or so your little splashers will probably run out of steam.
geocaching

Geocaching—Treasure Hunting with the Family

Did you know there are hidden treasure boxes all around you right now? If you’re looking for a fun, inexpensive summer activity you can do with the whole family, try geocaching—all you need is a GPS-enabled device and a sense of adventure.

Geocaching is the process of using GPS coordinates to find containers (or “caches”) concealed above the ground in forests, fields, caves, bodies of water and city streets. You’d probably be surprised to discover how many are nearby. According to geocaching.com, there are more than three million caches in over 190 countries. Some are as small as film canisters while others are large buckets. They have been placed there by the community of geocachers to give the others something to find.

Once you pick a cache and locate it using the listed coordinates, you’ll normally find some sort of logbook and some trinkets or small toys. The rule of geocaching is that if you take something, you’re supposed to leave something of equal or greater value. These real-world treasure hunts vary in difficulty, so all ages can enjoy it.

It’s easy to participate:

  • Step 1: Register for a free account at geocaching.com or download the free app. This will allow you to see coordinates for various caches, get clues from other geocachers and log your finds.
  • Step 2: Choose your cache by searching near your location or destination. If you’re just starting out, select a regular-sized or large cache with a low difficulty rating.
  • Step 3: Use your GPS-enabled device. Once you’ve successfully located a geocache, sign the logbook and then return it to its original location so the next treasure-seeker can find it.

Have fun outdoors and get some exercise by geocaching!

online statements

Easy, Earth-Friendly, Free: Online Statements

Most financial institutions, including America First, offer online statements. After all, paper versions fill your mailbox, clutter the counters and end up in the landfill.

To recognize Earth Day, considering cancelling your paper statements. With the online version, there’s no waiting for the mail—your information is available anytime, anywhere just by logging in to a secure account. Plus, online statements don’t get lost or delivered to the wrong address, and they guard against identity theft.

If instant access and added security weren’t enough, going paperless is also an environmentally conscious decision. Reducing unnecessary paper waste helps diminish the number of trees that need to be cut down annually. If everyone at all financial institutions got their statements exclusively online, we could help ensure our beautiful forests will be around for years to come.

America First makes switching easy:

  • Log in to online banking
  • Click the Other Services tab
  • Select Statement Preferences
  • Follow the brief instructions

Go paperless—it’s for your convenience, protection and better for your planet.

federal holidays

A Brief Explanation of Federal Holidays

Federal holidays have been around since 1870, but back then they only applied to government employees in the District of Colombia. As time went on, these officially recognized calendar holidays have broadened to honor icons & aspects of American heritage that have shaped us as a nation. On these holidays, all non-essential federal government offices are closed. Also closed are federally chartered financial institutions, including credit unions and banks. This is because many, like America First, depend on national agencies to process specific transactions.

There are currently 10 federal holidays:

  • New Year’s Day (January 1)
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (third Monday in January)
  • Presidents’ Day (third Monday in February)
  • Memorial Day (last Monday in May)
  • Independence Day (July 4)
  • Labor Day (first Monday in September)
  • Columbus Day (second Monday in October)
  • Veterans’ Day (November 11)
  • Thanksgiving Day (fourth Thursday in November)
  • Christmas Day (December 25)

If it falls on a weekend, the holiday will usually be observed on the closest weekday. Credit unions also close for official state holidays. In Utah, for example, America First offices close for Pioneer Day (July 24), while our Nevada locations will be closed on Nevada Day (last Friday in October) and Family Day (the day after Thanksgiving).

Although you’ll find our branches unavailable on federal holidays, we’re open to serve you 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year with online and mobile banking, as well as at thousands of ATMs nationwide.

romance

Don’t Get Fooled by Romance Scams

Falling in love can make you feel as though you’re walking on air, but if a budding relationship is exclusively online, it’s important to keep your feet on the ground. Here are some tips to avoid becoming a romance scam victim.

  • You may be charming and attractive, but scammers will try grooming you by flattering your ego. Be suspicious if things progress too quickly without meeting each other in person.
  • Watch out if your new friend starts making financial requests. He or she may play with your heartstrings and say there are medical expenses to pay or ask you for travel expenses for a date. Don’t do it.
  • Never send cash, cashier’s checks, gift cards or wired funds to unverified individuals. It’s almost impossible to get that money back.
  • Resist the temptation to send expensive gifts to your virtual boyfriend or girlfriend. Save that for when and if you meet in person. Even then, don’t spend more than you can afford.
  • Private information, such as your account number or PIN isn’t to be shared with anyone but joint account owners.
  • Don’t provide your address, credit card numbers or Social Security number to someone you’re talking to on a dating site or in a chat room.
  • Resist any effort to connect to your account to an online friend’s, even if they claim they’ll only make deposits.

In short, a healthy amount of skepticism can keep you safe whenever you start seeing—or chatting with—a new love interest.