Financial Education

transfer

How To Transfer Your Credit Card Balance in Three Easy Steps

If your credit cards have unreasonably high rates and you’re paying more than you earn, it’s time for you to transfer those balances to America First. You can even consolidate multiple cards into one, easy-to-manage account.

We offer unlimited cash back, no annual fees, and some of the lowest rates in the nation. Plus, it’s simple to switch.

Step 1: Open your Visa® account

If you already have a Visa credit card from America First, you’re ready to begin. If not, it’s easy to apply for one.

Step 2: Get a cashier’s check

After determining how much you’ll need to pay on your other accounts, talk to an America First representative at a branch or call our member service department. We’ll cut a check from your Visa balance for the amount you owe, which will be payable to that financial institution. Don’t transfer the balance from your Visa to checking yourself or you’ll be charged a cash-advance fee—we waive that fee when cashier’s check are used.

Step 3: Pay off your other card

We’ll give you a check for the full amount or mail it directly to any address you request.

And, just like that, your balance is now on your America First Visa Platinum and you’ll benefit from lower rates, fewer fees & greater rewards.

emergency preparedness

Emergency Preparedness on a Budget

In case of fire, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes or even job loss, an emergency preparedness plan can make a big difference. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has recommended that each household be sustainable for at least three days after a catastrophic event. And while you can buy food storage and 72-hour kits for hundreds or even thousands of dollars, here are some tips for getting prepared on a budget.

Food

Don’t wait until a disaster hits to start stocking up or you’ll be faced with empty shelves and a limited selection. Grow your inventory in small steps, buying whenever a good deal comes around. Skip eating out once a week and use that money to purchase some non-perishable items.

Start with a few cans at a time and watch for case lot sales at your local supermarket, where you can buy canned beans, fruits, vegetables and meats in bulk to save even more. Also, keep an eye out for deals on spices, which will be much appreciated if you’re living on wheat bread and beans for a while. Spend less on generic brands, but make sure you’re getting something you and your family will actually eat. Rotate your storage every few months.

Water

Water is essential for any emergency preparedness inventory. You need to be ready in case your city’s water supply is contaminated or cut off completely. Recommendations are to store one gallon of water for each family member, per day. However, instead of expensive bottled water, save a few bucks by filling up empty two-liter soda bottles. Make sure to clean and rinse them to prevent any contaminants that could promote bacterial growth.

Not all water is used for drinking, though. If you have advanced warning, fill up your bathtub and some buckets for bathing, washing clothes, and doing dishes. If your water is shut off, you’ll also need a reserve to flush your toilet. Ration it wisely and make sure to keep your two water supplies separate.

Other Supplies

Your emergency preparedness kit should also include items to keep you warm, dry & clean. Many dollar stores carry basic toiletries, bandages, rubbing alcohol and other first-aid supplies, as well as cheap flashlights. After all, you don’t want to have to waste your phone’s power. Test them regularly and replace the batteries as needed.

Instead of donating all your old clothes to a local thrift store, keep an outfit or two to include in your 72-hour pack. You don’t need new clothes or the latest trends when you’re trying to stay warm. And if you have small children, consider using cloth diapers instead of disposable ones—they’re reusable and take up much less space. Keep a small amount of cash on hand, too. No electricity means that credit & debit cards won’t work.

Putting together an emergency preparedness kit doesn’t have to be expensive. Set apart a small amount each month for additional preparation purchases. You can also ask for items as birthday or Christmas gifts. It may take a little longer on a budget, but every little bit helps when disaster strikes.

credit score

How to Improve Your Credit Score

A good credit score is your passport to approvals. Lenders will look at that number to determine how risky it is to provide you with financing. Scores can determine your rate, term, or even if you get the funds at all.

If yours is lower than you’d like, you should know that there is no quick fix. In fact, the so-called simple tricks you’ll find online will most likely backfire. Responsibly rebuilding your credit score takes time and effort, but if you want to improve it, here are some tips.

Know Your Number

Your score is a three-digit number that comes from one of the major consumer reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. A FICO® Score, created by the Fair Isaac Corporation, is used by many lenders. At America First, you can see your FICO® score just by logging in to free online banking–checking it as many times as you like without affecting your credit rating. In case you don’t know if your number is good or bad, here is a quick breakdown:

  • Exceptional: 800+
  • Very Good: 740-799
  • Good: 670-739
  • Fair: 580-669
  • Poor: under 579

Correct Errors

Every year, you can get a free copy of your full credit report. Scan the documents from all three bureaus for any errors that negatively affect you. Are all your accounts listed? Are there any applications you didn’t set up and don’t recognize? Are there payments listed as late that you can prove were made on time? If you do find something incorrect, you can dispute it with the agency reporting the error.

Pay Your Debt Down

Start reducing your debt at a steady & deliberate pace. Don’t just move it around. Keep your credit card balances low and pay off your monthly charges. Also, be sure to stay current with all your bills. With America First online banking, you can set up alerts that notify you when a loan payment’s due and enroll in free online bill pay for automatic transfers. These will take care of utilities, your phone, cable and other accounts on time, every time. Paying your debts consistently and in full is the best way to improve your credit score.

If you think your credit is beyond repair, talk to an expert. America First offers free financial counseling for every member. And remember, building up your credit isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. Consistency and responsibility are your best options for improving your credit score.

beneficiaries

The Benefits of Beneficiaries

As much as we don’t want to think about dying, it’s important to plan for it and have your financial affairs in order. Naming beneficiaries for all of your accounts and keeping that information up-to-date is vital to avoid disputes among those you’ve left behind.

Keep it Current

The joint owner has equal ownership with the primary owner, so if one of them passes away, the funds default to the other. If your account has a single owner, you can still elect who receives your America First resources by submitting this payable-on-death beneficiary form to any branch.

There are many life changes that can affect who your beneficiary is, such as marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, or the death of someone in your immediate family. It’s therefore essential to keep your designations current. These apply to personal savings, checking & money market accounts, as well as certificates and IRAs.

You can also elect more than one recipient. In fact, additional coverage from the National Credit Union Administration is available when you have multiple beneficiaries. Details are at NCUA.gov or contact an America First representative.

Disbursement

The credit union is required by law to disperse the funds to the named beneficiary, unless otherwise determined by the courts. This means if you remarry, but forget to change your information and your former spouse is still your designee when you die, your assets will go to him or her.

If you don’t choose a beneficiary and your account doesn’t have a joint owner, your money could be subject to probate, a process that administers a deceased person’s assets in a court of law. It costs to file the case, may require an attorney, and can take a long time if your estate is contested, so you want to avoid this if possible.

Another way to protect against probate is by opening a trust account. You’ll need a lawyer to draft the trust document, then we will set up your account that you will fund. America First also offers free professional consultations regarding trusts, wills and estate settlements. For specifics, call (801) 827-7130.

Staying current with your beneficiaries will help your family avoid unnecessary entanglements and stress. If you don’t know who is named on your account or want to check or change your status, please call 1-800-999-3961 or visit a nearby America First office.

HSA

HSA: Saving You Money on Healthcare

Health savings accounts (HSAs) are dividend-earning accounts specifically designated to pay the costs of managing your healthcare. If you’re generally healthy and don’t need to visit the doctor very often, an HSA is a great way to limit your upfront expenses and save some money in the long run.

HSA vs. PPO

Many people have preferred provider organization (PPO) coverage because that’s the most traditional way. With a PPO, you are billed larger premiums by an insurance company whether you use the program or not.

Health savings accounts are relatively new and this unfamiliarity makes some people hesitant about them. However, they offer more control when it comes to health expenditures. Plus, the funds in your account are tax-deductible—or you can set up pre-tax contributions with your employer—and the dividends you accrue are also tax-free.

How do I open one?

To qualify, you must have a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). This may seem intimidating, but if you don’t normally spend a lot of money on medical care anyway, you’ll benefit from the lower premiums. After that, opening an HSA with America First is as easy as getting a regular savings account.

How do I utilize it?

Once it’s open, you’re responsible for the funding and making sure the money is used correctly. You’ll receive a debit card to pay for qualified medical expenses, which includes everything from doctor’s visits, eye exams and dental work, to insulin, wheelchairs and guide dogs. You’ll additionally need to track all your expenses and keep the receipts in case you’re ever audited.

Ownership

Unlike PPOs and flexible spending accounts, the money you put into an HSA is yours to keep. If you quit your job, retire or otherwise lose your HDHP coverage, you can still spend these funds on eligible medical costs. And, when you turn 65, you can do what you want with the account balance, which means it can eventually become part of your retirement fund.

America First health savings accounts come with no fees and no minimum-balance requirements. We also offer custom products to fit your needs, such as HSA checking and certificate options. You’ll get 24/7 access with free online & mobile banking, and, as always, you’ll benefit from the assistance and expertise of our member service team. Contact your employer or insurance provider today to see if they offer HSA-qualified high deductible plans.

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!