Financial Education

contactless payments

Make Quick Purchases with Contactless Payments

Swipe, dip, tap, insert. It can be confusing when you approach the check-out counter, but contactless payments are now a popular way to transmit funds. And if you think making purchases with your phone is something for a far-off future, the ability is probably in your hands right now.

The technology behind it

To understand how this process works, you first must be familiar with radio-frequency identification, or RFID. This technology uses a memory chip to store data and an antenna to send information to a reader when they are in close proximity. Examples include security tags on clothing in department stores, microchips implanted in pets and, of course, credit & debit cards. In fact, you may already have tap-to-pay access. If the contactless symbol (which looks like a sideways Wi-Fi signal) is on the back of the card, it means you’re good to go.

Near-field communication, or NFC, is a slightly more advanced cousin to RFID. Such memory chips can also act as readers, meaning you can send and receive data—and money—from one device to another if they’re within an inch or two of each other. It’s still relatively new, but most of the latest smartphones come with this feature pre-installed. To check your phone, go to settings and look for the switch that turns NFC off and on.

How to use it

Millions of restaurants and retailers worldwide have contactless terminals. You may also already have a mobile payment app, such as Google Pay, Apple Pay or Samsung Pay on your phone. If you don’t, you can easily download them for free. Then add your compatible cards by manually entering the information or scanning the card. When it’s time to pay, simply unlock your device, open the app and tap it on the terminal.

The benefits

Tap-to-pay technology makes shopping quick and easy. You won’t be carrying around a stack of cards, nor will you need to rummage through your bag to find the right one. All your information is safely secured behind the phone’s lock screen, and there are multiple layers of security to help prevent fraud.

If you’re hesitant to try contactless payments with your phone, we hope this explains it’s not as complicated or scary as you might have thought. In fact, tap-to-pay technology is probably already in your pocket. And once you’ve try it, you may never want to swipe again.

breakfast

Sunrise Savings: Breakfast on a Budget

Just because breakfast is the most important meal of the day doesn’t mean it also needs to be the most expensive. Whether you’re cooking for one or feeding a horde of children, here are some ways to save some money every morning.

Make a Menu

Grabbing whatever you can find as you’re rushing out the door is not only unhealthy, it can cost you. Create a weekly menu so you’re not buying too much at the grocery store. Identify where you can utilize an ingredient in multiple meals, like spinach for a dinner salad as well as your morning smoothie. Proper planning will save you time, prevent waste, and keep you out of the drive-through.

Buy in Bulk

When certain breakfast ingredients go on sale, get larger quantities and store them. For example, if you buy a whole bushel of peaches while they’re in season (May through August), you’ll spend less per pound than you would picking up two or three at a time during the winter. Chop fruits and vegetables you don’t plan on using immediately to freeze before they spoil.

Go Generic

Many Americans wake up to big bowls of cold cereal. Bringing home box after box of name-brand products can get expensive. Generic versions are a fraction of the cost and usually taste the same. This saving principle can be applied to other items such as cream cheese, bagels, jam, peanut butter, bread and even microwavable meals. Don’t pay extra for the label.

Make it Yourself

You’ll also be charged for the labor that goes into pre-cooked, pre-sliced and otherwise pre-made foods. A box of pancake mix is easy, but purchasing flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, eggs, milk, vegetable oil, and making your own batter will produce more and cost you less. Less processed products are the more frugal choice.

Keep it Simple

When it comes to the first meal of the day, people tend to overcomplicate things. Your kids may be just as satisfied with a hard-boiled egg as they would eggs Benedict. And instead of grabbing a breakfast sandwich from a restaurant on the way to work, bring a piece of buttered toast with jam from home. Substitute simple rolled oats for pricey cereals—you can even mix in those delicious peaches you have in your freezer. Start your day off right by saving!

cryptocurrency

Virtual Money: Understanding Cryptocurrency

The concept of cryptocurrency can be fairly confusing to those who are just hearing about it. After all, words like Bitcoin, blockchain and mining sound like they belong in a video game rather than the financial sector. If you’ve ever wondered what this world is all about, here’s a brief introduction.

What is cryptocurrency?

In the simplest of terms, cryptocurrency, or crypto, is virtual money. It only exists electronically. Bitcoin is the most popular, but there are thousands of others, with names like Ethereum, Litecoin, Ripple, Feathercoin and TRON. Users can’t make their own Bitcoins, but anyone with the know-how can create their own digital currency, so it’s not easy to tell which options are viable for investing. Some digital coins may be worth more in the future, but others may disappear completely, leaving the investors with nothing.

How does it work?

People use digital currency much like they do regular money. If someone can find a person or business that is willing to accept the crypto they have, they can make an exchange, no matter where in the world they are. This system is dependent on a peer-to-peer network with multiple parties supervising what’s going on. While users are anonymous, each transaction is logged and verified in digital ledgers, otherwise known as blockchains. Since there is no overseeing authority for cryptocurrency, these blockchains are monitored by various users around the globe.

How do people get it?

There are a couple ways. First, people can purchase it with real money. One Bitcoin, for example, currently costs over $6,000. Interested parties can buy a fraction of one coin, too. Another way to earn some types of digital currency is by putting a computer to work, verifying blocks (transactions) on the blockchain with an algorithm—a process known as mining. When a computer successfully confirms a logged transaction, the owner may be rewarded with a certain amount of crypto. Some people spend lots of money buying special hardware and software to mine for Bitcoin and other virtual currencies.

What are the risks?

Cryptocurrency has been referred to as the wild west of the financial world, because there aren’t many rules or regulations. Some say investing in it is akin to gambling, whereas others say it’s the future of money. Either way, investors should not convert funds they can’t stand to lose. Since crypto isn’t regulated by any state or government, no one is there to investigate fraud and investments aren’t insured or protected. If the virtual coins in a digital wallet disappear, the money is gone.

There is a lot more to say on the subject, but this article is a quick overview to help you understand what the digital currency trend is all about. In summary, cryptocurrency is a volatile, experimental market and only time will tell how worthwhile such an investment might be.

The Cost of Cycling

If you’re searching for a new hobby, cycling is a fun & healthy choice. But if you’re going to take it seriously—even train for races such as the Tour of Utah—you’re going to spend some money. Here’s a brief cost overview:

The bicycle itself ($500 – $2,000)
Absolutely the most expensive component. Road bikes are far more aerodynamic and lighter than those made for trails. High-end models are also more expensive because they have carbon fiber and titanium construction. Those you see in the Tour de France run around $12,000, but that’s certainly not necessary for those on the entry level.

Headgear ($25 – $300)
If you’re going to ride fast, a safety should be your first concern. You can be more frugal here, because all bike helmets must pass standardized safety tests. Those that are the most expensive are usually designed for function and aesthetics. These versions weigh less, provide better venting and are more technologically advanced—yet a cheap one will protect your brain from injury just as well. Most manufacturers recommend you replace helmets every five years.

Clothing ($30 – $350 each)
For casual riding, you can wear whatever you have on. However, if you’re going long distances, traditional cycling gear is more comfortable and effective. You may feel a little self-conscious wearing the shorts at first, but they’ll prevent painful chafing. Moisture-wicking jerseys and gloves help regulate body temperature and keep blisters away. Lots of cyclists also buy cleats to improve their pedaling. Once again, these items aren’t required, but they make a difference.

Misc. equipment ($20 – $200 each)
Of course, you’ll also need glasses to keep the bugs out of your eyes, a water bottle to hydrate on the go, a compact bike pump, a multitool for minor repairs, a mirror, sunscreen, and a pack to store all the extras.

When you start riding, you’ll learn what’s essential and what isn’t. Make your initial investment wisely and you’ll get a lot of benefit in return.

credit cards

Smart Spending: Use Credit Cards Wisely

Credit cards may have an iffy reputation, but the truth is that they’re beneficial financial tools if you make wise choices. They can boost your credit score, bring some cash back, and generate rewards. Use them carelessly and you’ll pay for it—literally. Here are some best practices.

Maintain zero balances

Treat your credit cards like personal loans to yourself. Don’t spend more than you have. Carrying a balance means you’re being charged interest, which is money you don’t need to spend. Pay in full and on time every month to avoid this cost. If that’s not possible, at least submit the minimum or more so you don’t rack up fees. And mark the statement closing date on your calendar so you don’t forget to pay when the bill comes due.

Track your spending

Never treat your card like a bottomless pit, create a budget to track spending. Review monthly statements to figure out how often you’re charging, then determine where you can cut back. Also, look at the transaction history regularly and set up balance alerts that tell you when you’re nearing the established limit.

Don’t max out

If you’re consistently reaching your credit card limit, you’re either spending too much or your available cap is too low. Raising your limit is not a bad thing if you’re sensible about it. In fact, using less than 30% of your total available credit can improve your credit score, while repeatedly reaching a smaller limit can make a dent.

Avoid fraud

When you shop online, only enter your card information on reputable sites. Look for URLs that begin with https:// and have a green padlock icon next to the address bar, which means they’re properly encrypted. At gas stations, look for pumps nearest to the shop. Choose indoor ATMs when possible and always check for signs of tampering before inserting a card. If you suspect your card has been compromised, contact your financial institution immediately.

Get rewarded

Many cards offer rewards. Visa® Platinum from America First, for example, gives you 1.5% cash back on every purchase. Or you can get one point for every dollar you spend, redeemable for merchandise, hotels, flights, gift cards and more.

Using your credit cards wisely means you’ll earn more and pay less.

IRAs

Traditional vs. Roth IRAs

Individual retirement accounts, or IRAs, are a way people can save money specifically for when they leave the workforce. The two primary types of retirement accounts are traditional and Roth. Here’s a quick rundown of the differences between these options.

Traditional

With traditional IRAs, you normally won’t pay taxes until you withdraw the money. Some or all of your contributions may be tax deductible, depending on your gross adjusted income, and your earnings can also grow in a tax-deferred environment. Any money you put into a traditional IRA will lower your taxable income that year, which could help you qualify for other tax incentives.

You may continue to contribute to traditional IRAs until you reach the age of 70½. After that, you are required to begin taking distributions. Also, if you withdraw funds before you turn 59½, you’ll pay a 10% penalty. However, there are some ways to not get penalized for early withdrawal, such as if it’s for a first-time home purchase or the disability or death of the account holder. If you want to know more about these exceptions, contact a financial professional.

Roth

On the other hand, Roth IRAs are taxed now, but can be pulled out tax-free when you begin distribution. So your contributions aren’t deductible, but your earnings will grow untaxed with this type of retirement account. If you believe that you will be in a higher income tax bracket when you retire, then a Roth IRA might be right for you.

You can make contributions at any age to Roth IRAs. Distributions aren’t required, either. Plus, you won’t pay any penalties for early distribution, as long as it’s not more than the total amount that you’ve contributed. If you want to withdraw your earnings, you can do so tax-free if the Roth has been open for five years and you’ve turned 59½, you’ve incurred a disability, you need it to make a payment for your first home, or the account holder’s death.

Setting up an individual retirement account is easy, and the earlier you start, the more you’ll have when it’s time to retire. If you want to learn more about investing in IRAs, visit americafirst.com.

tires

All-Wheel Savings: Caring for Your Car Tires

You should always take care of your wheels—and we’re not just talking about the car itself—because it will save you money in several ways. Properly maintained tires get better mileage, so you’ll spend less on gas. Regular checks and rotations will help them last longer and prevent blowouts, which could cause costly damage to your vehicle and potential injury. Here are some tips on how to take care of your ride:

Monitor the Pressure

Air pressure is measured in pounds per square inch or PSI. The PSI number on the sidewall is the maximum amount of pressure, and therefore should not be the number you use when inflating. You can see the ideal PSI in the owner’s manual or on the driver’s side door frame. Check the pressure regularly, because even a perfectly healthy tire can lose up to two PSI per month. Underinflated tires have more rolling resistance, which means the engine burns additional fuel. It can also lead to heat buildup, causing treads to wear down more quickly.

Look at the Tread

Check your wheels monthly, looking for damage, cracks, punctures and bubbles on the sidewalls. You should also monitor the treads, as bald tires won’t grip the road well and affect steering and handling. Underinflation will cause your tires to wear on both edges, whereas center-worn treads indicate overinflation. Use a tread depth gauge or, alternatively, a penny. Insert the coin in the grooves upside down and facing you—if you can see the top of Abraham Lincoln’s head, your tread is too low. Replace damaged or bald tires immediately.

Remember to Rotate

If your tires are unevenly worn, it’s because they haven’t been properly rotated. During this process, each wheel is taken off and moved to a different position, making them last longer. Most tires should be rotated every 6,000 to 8,000 miles, or roughly every other oil change. However, if you notice any irregular wear on your wheels—even if you haven’t reached 6,000 miles yet—go in for a rotation.

Watch Your Speed

Going fast means a greater chance of tire damage due to heat buildup or road hazards. Excessive spinning can also cause faster wear. Check your owner’s manual to learn the vehicle load limit to avoid unnecessary stress wheel or engine stress.

Take care of your vehicle and it will take care of your wallet.

moving

Moving Out & the Cost of Independence

Living on your own is an essential part of growing up, but it comes with a price and independence isn’t cheap. If you’re thinking of moving out, here are some costs to consider. This isn’t intended to scare you, but rather prepare you for the budget realities you’ll face.

Housing

One of the biggest monthly expenses is your rent or mortgage payment. The average one-bedroom apartment in downtown U.S. cities can range from $600 to over $3,500, depending on where you live. Some places also require security deposits, as well as first & last months’ rent. Plus, if it’s unfurnished, you’ll need some money for a bed, tables, chairs and other furniture. And let’s not forget about the basics, such as light bulbs, utensils, shower curtains, toilet paper and cleaning supplies.

Utilities

In addition to housing payments, you’ll pay utilities to keep the lights on and the AC running. On average, Americans spend over $100 per month for electricity, another $100 for gas, and around $40 for water & sewer. Sometimes these bills will be rolled into your rent, but if not, be careful with your thermostat.

Groceries

If you’re single, you’ll be spending up to $50 a week on milk, eggs, fresh produce, bread and other groceries, but you’ll also want the staples—flour, sugar, salt, oil, condiments and spices. A fully stocked fridge is the best way to avoid the cost of eating out too much.

Entertainment

A television or computer can keep you entertained and connected, but they come at a price. While many people are cutting cable TV, the internet is becoming more of a necessity than a luxury. Service providers charge between $40 and $70 monthly for basic packages, and that doesn’t include the cost of router and a modem.

Insurance

Your place should also be insured, protecting you against huge losses due to fire, flood or injury. Homeowner’s insurance is common, but renter’s insurance is also an option. If you own a vehicle, you must get it covered and you’ll need health insurance, although it’s offered as a benefit by many employers. All this adds hundreds or thousands of dollars to your yearly expenses, but it’s worth every penny in case of emergency.

Miscellaneous

If that weren’t intimidating enough, there are also a bunch of miscellaneous things to pay for: car repairs, maintenance, appliances, tools, fire extinguishers, etc. Even the act of moving out will dent your budget, because might be paying for boxes, tape, packing materials, renting a truck and feeding everyone who came out to help.

Finally, you don’t want monthly expenses to exceed 30% of your net income. If it’s more than that, you might want to take on a second job or cut some spending. Otherwise you may find yourself moving back in with your parents.

phone scams

Fraud Prevention: Avoiding Phone Scams

While many criminals are online stealing information, thousands are still affected by phone scams every year. Here are some tips to avoid being victimized.

Be Skeptical

Getting a call from a number you don’t recognize naturally raises skepticism. That’s good. Treat any unsolicited call as a potential threat. However, some scammers spoof numbers, so the call appears as if it’s coming from someone you know or a business you’ve worked with before. Stay on guard and spot red flags early.

Listen Closely

There are a few ways to identify phone scams. If the caller repeatedly tells you to trust him or her, for example, it’s a good sign that you shouldn’t. And if the offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. Be wary of contests you don’t remember entering and remain suspicious of anyone who needs a wire transfer or prepaid debit card transaction. Also, watch out for those who ask for your credit card information, account numbers and PINs—you should never give that information over the phone.

Take Time to Think

These crooks want as much data as they can get, as fast as they can get it. Many scammers will use high-pressure language to make you respond immediately. Don’t fall for it. Take your time and think about what’s going on. Ask clarifying questions. Get the caller’s information and tell him or her you’ll call back. If they seem hesitant or reluctant to let you off the phone, it’s likely fraudulent. Don’t be afraid to hang up if you feel uneasy.

Do Your Research

Look online for the originating phone number and see if others have reported it. Search for the company name with the words fraud or scam and watch if anything pops up. If a suspicious caller claims to be from a bank or credit union, go to the institution’s official website, call the listed number, then ask if they’re trying to reach you. If not, report it.

Act Swiftly

If you run into something suspect, file a complaint with the FTC. If a telemarketer calls you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., report them to the FTC—the law prevents solicitation during those hours. Additionally, if you ever receive a pre-recorded call from a company that didn’t get your permission to contact you, report that, as well. On robocalls, don’t press a number to speak to a person or to be removed from a list, because that may cause more unwanted calls. Reporting phone scams will help you and prevent others from being hassled by the same treatment.

Disneyland Vacations: Five Key Things to Know

Prior planning is one of the best ways to save when you’re going on vacation. And if you’re visiting Disneyland® this summer, here are five things you should know about the 2018 season, courtesy of our partners at Get Away Today:

  1. In April, Disneyland kicked off Pixar Fest with a new fireworks show and the return of two parades. Together Forever—A Pixar Nighttime Spectacular will take place at Disneyland, along with the Pixar Play parade. In Disney California Adventure, you’ll find the return of Paint the Night parade and you can watch some Pixar shorts in the Sunset Theater. Be sure to catch these attractions before September 3.
  2. Disney California Adventure Park opened Pixar Pier, formerly Paradise Pier, on June 23. This land has four neighborhoods highlighting Toy Story, The Incredibles, Inside Out and a general Pixar area. California Screamin’ will become the Incredicoaster and Mickey’s Fun Wheel will have Pixar characters added to its gondolas.
  3. Don’t miss enchanting evenings at the Disneyland Resort. Summer days may be warm, but the nights can be chilly. Plan on packing layers and take a midday rest if necessary, because there is incredible evening entertainment. An updated Fantasmic! and World of Color, as well as Paint the Night parade, will take place.
  4. MaxPass is now available at Disneyland, allowing you to make FastPass reservations from your phone. You can also get PhotoPass digital downloads for a small charge. If you’re there on a busier day, it may be worth the upgrade.
  5. Downtown Disney is getting bigger and better as well. Both Splitsville, a luxury bowling alley/restaurant, and The Void, a virtual reality Star Wars experience, recently opened as huge hits. Expect more restaurant space later this year, too.

If you haven’t booked your vacation yet, contact Get Away Today at 1-855-GET-AWAY or getawaytoday.com for the best ticket and package deals. Use your America First Visa® to pay and you could earn 1.5% cash back to fund some extras while you’re enjoying the parks!