Financial Education

ride your bike

Ride Your Bike & Save Some Bucks

When you ride your bike instead of driving to work, school or the store, you gain a lot of benefits. Biking is both aerobic and anaerobic exercise, improves cardiovascular fitness, strengthens bones and prevents disease. Bike riding is also good for the environment as pollution-free transportation–and it’s great for your wallet.

According to AAA, the average yearly cost for owning and operating a personal vehicle is $8,558, approximately 15% of the median household income. This equates to over $700 a month or 57 cents per mile. And while regularly riding a bicycle won’t cut out all auto-related expenses, it can significantly decrease the amount you spend annually on your car or truck.

Less gasoline

First and foremost, you’ll save on fuel. Gasoline’s average cost has decreased significantly in the last five years (from $3.87 per gallon to $2.34 a gallon), but it’s still more expensive than a breakfast smoothie or granola bar—the fuel of a cyclist. And when gas prices start to rise again, which they probably will, you won’t have as much anxiety.

Less maintenance

It costs a lot less to maintain a bike than a car. By not driving as often, you’ll decreased maintenance expenses, which average almost $800 annually. You won’t have to change your oil as frequently or replace your tires as quickly. Plus, with less wear and tear on your vehicle, it will be on the road longer.

Other advantages

Some companies will reimburse employees who bike to work $20 per month, tax-free, because of the Bicycle Commuter Act. This is intended to cover related expenses, such as accessories, repairs, improvements & storage. Check with your employer to see if it’s offered. Additionally, select insurance companies will lower your premiums if they learn you’re no longer driving to work each day.

Finally, there are incidentals such as parking. Most bike racks are free of charge and, as an added perk, are usually close to the building. Plus, you won’t pay as much for the gym. After all, when you ride your bike, you’re getting plenty of exercise. And all that physical activity can mean less trips to the doctor.

As you can see, there are many benefits to commuting via bicycle. Besides becoming healthier and environmentally friendly, you’ll also be spending less on fuel, maintenance and insurance. In fact, when you ride your bike regularly, the only thing you may miss is the morning traffic.

monitoring

Fraud Prevention: Monitoring Your Account

Preventing fraud is sometimes as easy as keeping an eye on your money. Regular account monitoring can help protect your identity and keep your hard-earned funds safe. Many credit unions, banks and credit card companies will send a monthly statement, which you should always look over, but being proactive in your financial surveillance will give you an extra layer of protection.

Logging in

Online banking gives you anytime, anywhere access and that means you don’t have to wait for a statement. Some people make logging in and going through account activity part of their morning routine. As you check in, you’ll see pending charges, when checks clear, when deposits are made, and more. Also, looking at your account daily facilitates better budgeting.

The main things to watch for when monitoring your account are unexpected ATM withdrawals, unusual point-of-sale purchases and other unauthorized transactions on your Visa® cards. America First also offers free check images so you can verify that there haven’t been any alterations to cleared checks. Moreover, if you authorize specific withdrawals, such as those from a utility company, make sure the names and amounts match your expectations.

Setting up alerts

America First offers free account alerts that will trigger emails when specific actions occur. You choose what kind to get and when they’re sent. These could include notifications about withdrawals over a certain amount, when you’re approaching your credit limit, or when your paychecks arrive. Enabling and customizing alerts will allow you to stay on top of your finances.

Downloading more benefits

Card Guard® from America First is a free mobile app that gives you complete control of your Visa and ATM cards. For example, you can use it to disable your debit card outside your current geographic location or specify that your Visa credit card can only be used at restaurants. Or, you prohibit any ATM withdrawals. Card Guard® can also send instant notifications to your mobile device whenever your card is used. Plus, if you lose your card, you can immediately disable it.

Regardless of how you’re monitoring, if you notice any unauthorized purchases or suspect any fraudulent activity, notify us immediately. America First members will generally not be held liable for fraud when it’s reported in a timely manner. But being vigilant is always part of a good defense.

charitable accounts

In Lieu of Flowers—Donating to Memorial & Charitable Accounts

When hardships & losses affect you or someone you care about, there are always financial implications and many wish to offer monetary contributions to a family or cause. There are many different crowdfunding options online, such as Go Fund Me and You Caring, that can collect funds. But they charge fees or payment processing costs, which take a cut out of the proceeds. By contrast, when you use America First memorial and charitable accounts, the recipient gets every cent raised. Plus, the money is safe in a financial institution you know and trust.

Setting it Up

The main difference between charitable and memorial accounts is that the former is created for living persons, whereas the latter honors someone who passed away. Other than that, these two savings accounts function in the same manner. Anyone who qualifies for America First membership can open an account and whoever is established as the owner has access to the funds.

Many people use these types of accounts to help with medical bills, support a family after the death of the primary breadwinner, and in similar ways. Charitable accounts can also act as the collector of a 5K run’s proceeds or a donation box for the new roof of a local business. They can be open as long as needed, but keep in mind that they do earn interest. Since the owner’s Social Security number is attached, he or she would have to claim that as income.

Chipping In

Anyone can donate to America First charitable accounts. All that is needed is the account name and/or number. People can use their financial institution’s bill paying feature to transfer funds, contribute in-person at any of branch, send a check in the mail, or call 1-800-999‐3961.

We offer donation receipts for the contributor and the recipient. However, please note that America First doesn’t monitor where the money goes after it’s collected. We only receive the deposits and hold them for the beneficiary. Account owners are responsible for managing the funds.

It’s important to be cautious when you contribute to any charitable cause. Do your research before donating, get a receipt when possible, and monitor when the money’s debited from your account. Being vigilant can help you aid people in need monetarily without putting yourself in financial danger.

summer vacation

Stay & Save on Your Summer Vacation

Your summer vacation doesn’t have to break the bank. In fact, you can always get away without going far, enjoying events & entertainment without extensive travel expenses or costly hotel stays. Plus, when you use your Visa® from America First, you’ll get additional savings at several local venues, such as:

Lagoon

Although it’s over 130 years old, this amusement park in Farmington, Utah is constantly growing, improving and inventing new ways to thrill. It features over 50 rides for both children and adults including Cannibal, Colossus — The Fire Dragon, Jet Star 2, Wild Mouse and Wicked. Also, be sure to step into the past at Pioneer Village, and beat the heat at the Lagoon-A-Beach water park.

America First Visa perk: $8 off general admission every Wednesday in July

Megaplex

Since 1999, Larry H. Miller’s Megaplex Theaters have revolutionized the movie-going experience. With almost 20 locations and 200 screens in Utah and Nevada, this popular chain showcases the latest films using cutting-edge technology. While you’re watching a movie in IMAX® 3D at the Megaplex, you can get a deluxe meal from the in-house food court.

America First Visa perk: Matinee pricing every Monday night at the ticket counter

SeaQuest Interactive Aquarium

At SeaQuest, visitors are encouraged to interact with the animals. You can swim with the stingrays or dip your feet into the exfoliating fish spa. And it’s more than just sea life. You can also pet iguanas, feed macaws & talk with mermaids. Take the whole family to SeaQuest in Layton, Utah or Las Vegas, Nevada locations.

America First Visa perk: $7 off single-ticket discounts on Tuesdays & half-price annual passes

Cowabunga Bay

Bring the beach directly to your family. Located in Draper, Utah and Las Vegas, Nevada, Cowabunga Bay gives you a variety of intertwining waterslides and hundreds of interactive water toys. You can even let your kids splash around as you relax with food and drinks delivered directly to your private cabana.

America First Visa perk: $5 discount in Draper or $15 discount in Vegas on general or military admission

Cherry Hill

Cherry Hill combines every summer activity into one park in Kaysville, Utah. Work up a sweat climbing on The Rock or putting around the miniature golf course, then cool off on the Double Dragons waterslides or Grant’s Gulch lazy river. Then, when you’re all tuckered out, you can climb in your RV or set up a tent and camp on one of 180 sites.

America First Visa perk: $5 off the all-access King of the Hill pass

These are only a few of the ways you can save during your summer vacation. Check out our Visa benefits page to see more discounts and offers you’ll get for using your America First Visa credit & debit cards.

farmers' market

Farmers’ Market Shopping Guide

Farmers’ markets are a great way to find fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and more in your neighborhood. They allow you to interact directly with the grower, which can also mean lower prices for delicious produce. If you’ve never been to a farmers’ market before, or if you’re only starting to attend, here are some tips to help you get the most out of your time there.

Before you go

Get to know the local fruits and vegetables in your region and find out what grows in which season. This will help you identify the freshest produce. For example, you may see apples in April that you know have been in cold storage since October. Knowing when and what farmers grow locally will also allow you make a shopping plan beforehand for the best buys.

Meal planning before you shop is always a good idea, because it helps you save money. Figure out what you want to buy, but leave some room for a few unplanned purchases, just in case you find a new or unusual vegetable that you would like to try.

Hit up the ATM before you go. Having cash on hand will make it easier to make purchases at farmers’ markets. Don’t expect every vendor to have a mobile credit card reader. Carry small bills and some change to make exchanges go more quickly. Plus, cash can help you with bargaining, as well.

At the market

Go as soon as the market opens if you want to get the best produce. Items like meat and seafood, for instance, sell out very quickly. Going early will also help you avoid the large crowds. However, if you want the best deals, you should go at the end of the day. That’s when vendors are trying to sell off inventory instead of having to pack it up and transport it home.

Bring your own bags. Some, but not all of the vendors will offer a bag, but those bags are usually small and flimsy. Experienced shoppers will bring a backpack or small, wheeled cart to keep their hands free for things like squeezing produce.

Buying in bulk can save you some money. Many vendors are willing to give you a good deal if you’re willing to offload a crate of strawberries rather than just a baggie full, for example. Eat as many fresh fruits and veggies as you are able, and then freeze, dehydrate or can the rest.

There’s usually more than one vendor selling an item. Don’t buy everything from the first booth you see. Shop around. Try samples, if available. Once you’ve made the rounds and weighed your options, you’ll be able to make an informed decision based on price and taste.

Talk to the farmers. They can help you pick out the best items and teach you how to determine ripeness. Discuss how to best prepare their produce, as well. You may find a new recipe that you love.

And finally, stash a cooler in your car if you plan to shop a while or have a long drive home. This will help the produce maintain freshness from the farmers’ market to your kitchen table.

Happy shopping!

financial tips

Financial Tips from Fathers

Father’s Day is approaching, and since we had such a good time talking about money with moms, we decided to ask some local dads for some advice. We hope you enjoy these financial tips from fathers.

Rob

Live within your means — spend less than you earn. Avoid debt like the plague that it can be. Always set aside at least some savings from each paycheck. Learn to be happy within your means — it’s actually quite easy to be happy on any income and it’s nearly impossible to be happy when burdened by debt. You always have a car payment. If not to your financial institution, then to yourself. Cars depreciate and eventually are worth nothing. If you have been making a car payment to yourself, then you can pay cash for your next car. Don’t ever be fooled into thinking that you don’t have a car payment.

Doug

Give 10% to charity. Put 10% in savings. Add 10% to retirement. Live on the rest.

Dave

Buy a vehicle you can afford and do your own auto repairs. Don’t go into a lot of debt.

Spencer

Set aside 10% of your income to invest in a no-load, no transaction fee Index Fund (such as the S&P 500). If you invest just $100 per month at an average of 8% interest over 30 years, your $36,000 investment would be worth $105,761.32. Let your money work hard for you.

Chris

Do not spend it before you have it. Be patient.

Mark

Avoid debt at all costs. Learn how to make and follow a budget early — it will help you understand how you spend your money and assist you with spending and saving goals. Make a commitment early to always save 10%. Set thresholds you will never go below as you meet savings goals.

David

Most children learn by doing. Give them the opportunity to manage their own money. As they grow older, but before they leave for college, they should have more and more opportunities. Give them the responsibility to purchase certain things for themselves, such as clothes and personal hygiene items. If the child does not have the funds, don’t bail them out. Allow children to purchase things even if it looks like a total waste of money. That is how they will learn. Better to let them learn young than when they have a spouse and children of their own.

build a house

When to Buy & When to Build a House

If you want to move, the question of buying an existing home or constructing a new one is probably on your mind. The truth is, there is no quick or easy answer. It depends on many factors, including time, money and your wants & needs. Here are a few pros and cons to help you decide if you should buy or build a house.

TIME

If your schedule is tight because you’re relocating for work or your kids are about to start school, then buying is probably best. Once you find the right place, which can take a while, you can usually close and move in after two months.

Building usually takes six to seven months, but the process can be longer if the land, weather or contractor don’t cooperate. And if you sell your existing house before construction is finished, you may have to find temporary accommodations.

MONEY

Purchasing a home comes with lower initial costs. Plus, you likely won’t pay for expensive landscaping because the grass, rocks & other features are established. Mature trees, for example, add property value and can help with air-conditioning bills.

Up-front costs for new housing are higher than resales in most cases. If you build, however, you’ll benefit from up-to-date wiring, plumbing and HVAC systems. You won’t worry about repairing an old furnace or replacing a roof, as most of these homes are under warranty for years after they’re finished. You’ll also save on utilities with the latest in energy-saving and eco-friendly enhancements.

WANTS & NEEDS

If you build, you can get exactly what you want. There are few, if any, concessions to make or design flaws to overcome — the home matches your personality. Yet when you buy used, you can visualize the floor plan because it’s already there. There’s no need to wait to see how it will all turn out.

Newer construction tends to be in developing areas, so you may be farther away from the center of town and your surroundings will change. There’s also things like water, sewer, gas, electric, cable and internet to consider.

On the other hand, you’re joining an established neighborhood when you buy pre-owned. You can talk to your potential neighbors and hear what they think of the area before deciding.

Whether you buy or to build, America First offers low-rate mortgages, construction, and lot loans to get your dream home going.

credit and debit cards

The Difference Between Credit and Debit Cards

The cards in your wallet may look the same, but there actually are some major differences between credit and debit cards. Understanding the difference between these two payment methods can help you avoid financial issues and even earn some extra money in the process.

Application

A debit card or check card is, essentially, a digital checkbook. It is tied directly to your financial account. When you make a purchase, it is subtracted from the amount you have. Most banks and credit unions will give you a debit card to access the funds in your checking or savings account. You can also purchase prepaid debit cards with a specified amount that you can reload, as needed.

Credit cards allow you to borrow money from the card issuer, which means that your application for a card must be approved by the financial institution. If you have bad credit or no credit, you might not be able to get a credit card, or your interest rate could be higher. Credit cards also influence your credit score — for better or for worse.

Utilization

Most debit cards require a PIN to make a purchase. This is a special code that authorizes the merchant to deduct money from your account. Normally, the only fees you have to worry about with a check card are overdraft fees — which occur when you try to spend more than you have. America First offers a free line of credit with our checking accounts to help you avoid costly overdraft fees.

Larger purchases with a credit card require a signature. And since a credit card is a loan, you will sometimes have to pay annual fees, over-limit fees or late-payment fees. However, credit cards also come with perks such as cash back, discounts and travel points. In fact, because of those types of reward programs, if you use your credit card wisely and pay the required balance each month, you can actually profit from your purchases.

Protection

A debit card offers less temptation to spend more than you have because it’s linked to your bank account. However, this also means that if if your card is stolen and your PIN is compromised, someone could have direct access to the funds in your account. It is important to report lost or stolen credit and debit cards as soon as possible.

If you are responsible in your spending and pay off your balance regularly, a credit card is, essentially, an interest-free loan. Many credit cards offer extended warranties on purchases made with the card. You can also get automatic rental car insurance and life insurance when you use your credit card while traveling.

America First offers zero-liability protection against fraudulent purchases on both our credit and debit cards. We will alert you if we see any suspicious activity on your account and work with you to get problems resolved as quickly as possible. We also offer protective services such as Card Guard® and free identity theft recovery to help you take control and make sure that you feel safe and secure no matter which type of card you’re using.

wedding

Planning a Wedding Without Debt

Priceless weddings can oftentimes end up being, well, pretty pricey. However, it’s possible to create a memorable and beautiful wedding without going into debt. Here are some ways to make your big day special without breaking the bank.

Building a budget

Research the average price of everything you need and want at your wedding. Prioritize your list to determine which elements are most important, what costs less, and which things you can do without.

Vetting the venue

If you’re having a reception, it doesn’t have to be extravagant. Consider an inexpensive location, such as a church hall, the local rec center, a nice backyard, even your home. You can also have the ceremony and reception in one place. Or you can skip it altogether and plan a small dinner with family and close friends.

Considering the catering

Local restaurants are unique and usually more affordable than professional caterers. You can serve fewer courses or choose a different entrée. If children are attending, have dishes like macaroni & cheese or peanut butter sandwiches just be them. They’ll be happier with these options and they’re less expensive!

Finding the flowers

Flowers are usually one of the highest-priced wedding decorations. Instead, use candles or lanterns for your centerpieces or make flowers from fabric or crepe-paper. If you do go to a florist, stay local, choose something in season, and discuss your budget with them.

Inventing the invitations

Rather than hiring someone to design your invitations, look online for customizable designs at reasonable prices. Or create the invites yourself and have an assembly party with friends to stuff the envelopes. Remember, liners and vellum overlays look fancy, but aren’t necessary.

Deciding on the dresses

Check local classifieds to see if there are any used gowns you love. Or think about renting from a bridal shop. You can also look online to make alterations to a dress you have or design one from scratch. Choose a neutral color for the bridesmaids, so they can find something already in their closets.

Hatching the honeymoon

The honeymoon is all about spending quality time with your spouse, so it doesn’t have to be lavish. Try saving on airfare by staying at a nice hotel or resort within driving distance. Make sure you book as early as possible to get the best rates. Wherever you go, let people know it’s your honeymoon, as hotel employees will often go the extra mile to ensure a lovely stay.

America First also offers wedding savings accounts. This are convenient and easy options for your guests and they’ll help you gather resources for your future financial needs as newlyweds.

millionaire

How to NOT Become a Millionaire

Having a lot of money can be a burden. People constantly ask you for it, taxes are more complicated and you need a plan for your wealth when you’re gone. If you’re looking for ways to avoid becoming rich, here is some advice on how to not become a millionaire.

Don’t Think Ahead

If you’re not yet a millionaire, don’t make any dramatic changes — just keep on with what you’re doing. Becoming independently wealthy takes effort, so things like writing down your financial goals will only help those who are looking to make their resources grow. And don’t set small, achievable benchmarks either, because you may find yourself unintentionally achieving larger financial goals.

Limit Your Income Streams

You only need one income to get by. Anything else will only increase your earnings. A job and a single paycheck is the easiest way to maintain your savings instead of building them. Rental properties, side businesses and investments are only for people who want to diversify their revenue opportunities and accumulate money more quickly.

Never Invest

Speaking of investing, if you want to avoid becoming a millionaire, you should always keep your money easily accessible instead of making an investment that generates compound interest. With regular contributions to your America First dedicated savings account, for example, your initial investment could grow at a surprising rate with little effort on your part.

Spend It As Soon as You Get It

Saving is the gateway to investing. Decide how you want to spend your paycheck, tax refund or birthday money before you get it. That way, you won’t be tempted to put some away to build a rainy-day fund or contribute to your retirement. In fact, spend more than you have by maxing out your credit cards. Then you’ll continuously be paying off debt and you’ll also lower your credit score, so you won’t be tempted to take out a business loan.

Say Yes to Get-Rich-Quick Schemes

This may sound counterintuitive, but get-rich scams will actually make you poorer. Usually those who offer “exclusive opportunities” to “get in on the ground floor” with a “small initial investment” are the only ones who benefit. There is no fast and easy way to make money — it takes study, dedication and hard work. Losing money, however, is quite simple — especially with a bad investment.

Go It Alone

If you don’t want wealth, don’t ask advice those that are prosperous. Their words might inspire you to achieve success. Watch out for financial advisers, too. Their expertise will only bring you good investments and help you avoid bad ones. If you’re going to prevent yourself from becoming a millionaire, it’s best to be on your own.