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.

Security Update: Guarding Against Cybercrime

No matter the season and regardless of the economic environment, there are always criminals looking to perpetrate fraud.

It can happen to anyone at any time, but here are five easy steps you can take to help protect yourself:

  • Don’t include your Social Security and driver’s license numbers on any identifying documents
  • Never write your PIN on cards or papers in your immediate possession
  • Destroy confidential documents—click this link for a free shredding schedule
  • Choose strong passwords with different letters, numbers and special characters
  • Review your America First statements with free online & mobile banking
  • Visit us here for news about safeguarding your financial resources

Ensuring Member Success Creates A Vital Credit Union

By Rex Rollo, Executive Vice President/Chief Financial Officer

In a beautiful poem titled “A Nation’s Strength,” Ralph Waldo Emerson reveals the true measure of any country’s success. His verse, consisting of only six stanzas, has a deep and clear message. Emerson suggests it is the people of a society—not its might, riches or natural resources—that make it strong. Here at America First, we realize our health & stability are derived from the same source: the families & businesses we serve. This knowledge forms the basis of our motto, Members come first.

Further, the credit union’s mission statement declares our commitment to “provide personal financial services of a superior quality to the members/owners; our chief concern is their financial well-being.” The America First membership has been the key to our sustained prosperity for nearly eight decades. Like Emerson, we know the credit union was and will only be healthy and vital to the extent that it elevates the financial lives of those who join.

This can be clearly seen in America First’s operating results for the first half of 2018. We now have more than 960,000 members, all seeking exceptional, convenient, secure products. As the membership has grown, so too has our ability to offer world-class services. Even as assets exceeded $10 billion for the first time, by carefully balancing growth, we can continue delivering personal service of the highest quality, whether through our branch network, industry-leading mobile & online channels, or award-winning contact centers.

If we look at America First’s performance from a traditional financial perspective, we can clearly determine that the credit union is safe and sound, with reserves over 150% of minimum regulatory requirements. Those assets are then reinvested to make America First membership more beneficial. And so it goes, as members, now and in the future, take full advantage of what is offered to them, their position is enhanced and they enjoy greater value. In turn, their collective strength propels the organization forward, allowing us to provide the most advanced financial services available.

At your credit union, we take Emerson’s viewpoint to heart—the well-being of America First is inextricably tied to how well we serve you, which is why we are dedicated to the ideal that members come first.

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.

Security Update: How to Reduce the Rising Risk of Identity Theft

No matter the month, cyber criminals are always busy. But during the summer, when families are on vacation or enjoying weekend getaways, they step up attacks on consumers around the globe.

According to experts, no one is immune to this phenomenon but there are ways to minimize your risk:

  • Be overly careful about clicking on links and attachments you didn’t request and/or don’t recognize.
  • Limit the amount of sensitive data stored on your devices.
  • Use free online & mobile banking for real-time transaction and account monitoring.
  • Don’t geotag photos on Facebook.
  • Restrict the personal information you post on any social media site.
  • Get free identity theft recovery services with Visa® credit cards from America First.

Please visit americafirst.com/security for updates regarding our efforts to safeguard your resources.

Remembering

By John B. Lund, President & Chief Executive Officer

I was recently in a meeting during which our group leader discussed the importance and value of remembering where we came from, those who were a positive influence, and those helping to shape who we are. After some introductory comments, he turned the time over to us, allowing many to share their meaningful memories. It was an especially uplifting and motivational experience to hear heartfelt stories of parents, teachers, coaches, friends, even brief acquaintances and others observed from a distance.

This exercise stirred recollections of my own, some of which I hadn’t thought about for years. It also caused me to ponder the kind of memories I might be intentionally or unintentionally creating for family, friends, co-workers and those around me. I recommitted to being more sensitive with my words and actions, and to have an optimistic outlook.

For me, the process of remembering the positive people, events, and life circumstances leads to deeper gratitude. Several scientific studies have validated that being grateful leads to better health and wellness.

July is a month filled with picnics, barbeques, outdoor fun and a host of celebrations, including Independence Day. Amid these happy occasions, I hope we can also pause to remember the thousands of men and women who sacrificed so much to preserve our freedoms. We are very fortunate to live in a land of opportunity and goodness.

As members of America First, I want you to know that I remember and value the credit union’s mission, which compels us to have the passion and determination necessary to provide personal and business services of superior quality. Our chief concern is the financial well-being of each member. Striving to always keep this purpose in mind generates gratitude for your trust in America First, for your loyalty, and for promoting the credit union to your family and friends.

Thank you very much. We look forward to a lifelong relationship with you and your family.