Security Update: It’s Time to File—Beware of Scams

As the tax season shifts into high gear, criminals also step up their schemes to rob you. They will impersonate IRS employees, set up fake sites to steal your data and deploy many other tactics.

But there are ways to protect yourself:

  • Dismiss calls, emails and texts from people who claim to represent the IRS—the agency only communicates via mail on official letterhead. Hang up, delete, delete.
  • Don’t pay anyone who says he or she is from the government, needs a pre-paid debit card, and threatens to levy fines if you don’t comply.
  • Never reply to emails, texts, pop-ups or ads asking for your personal or financial information.
  • Don’t do your taxes over public Wi-Fi hotspots vulnerable to hacking.
  • Visit us here to learn more about safeguarding your resources.

Protecting Your Resources No Matter the Economic Direction

By Glen Olpin, Senior Vice President & Chief Economist

As economic expansion in the United States continues, we are approaching one of the longest-running periods of growth on record, with the 120-month benchmark likely to be surpassed in 2019. We expect this positive trend to extend through the year.

Overall economic growth, as measured by gross domestic product, has seen ongoing improvement in Utah and neighboring western states. These have been among the top states in economic strength and we believe such strong performance will be ongoing.

Consumers are leading the recovery, their confidence being at an all-time high. Households are spending more and increasing debt levels. Personal income is up from last year, driven in part by tight labor markets. Low unemployment rates and an abundance of new job openings are applying upward pressure on wages.

Tax reform and regulation relief have encouraged stronger industrial production. Capital expenditures remain robust. The business sector should demonstrate durability comparable to the consumer segment, boosting economic security. However, issues of concern for stock and bond markets—weakening global indices, fears of ongoing trade wars, border security disputes and gridlock in Washington—may impede broad economic gains.

Home prices are rising more quickly than upticks in personal income, although the pace of price increases has slowed. Mortgage rates should gradually increase. The higher cost of housing, lower income gains, and long-term rate increases are reducing affordability for owners, with little near-term relief in sight. Moderate increases in sales are expected.

Positive underlying economic fundamentals supported the auto industry in 2018, but as manufacturers pay more for labor and materials, consumers will bear much of that burden. Demand for new vehicles is expected to cool somewhat this year, as buyers become more selective and price-conscious.

Indications suggest that inflation doesn’t pose a serious threat to the economy. Accordingly, following a series of minimal short-term rate hikes, the Federal Open Market Committee pushed the pause button, presumably for the first half of 2019.

Longer-term rates have seen small, sustained increases and are expected to go up slowly. The flattening yield curve, more moderate overall growth, a narrowing labor situation, and rising wage pressures give us mixed signals as to future financial strength.

Although challenges and market fluctuations will continue, we expect this year to generate solid economic results. As America First members, you can be assured that we will provide flexible, affordable, and convenient products & services that fit your changing needs.

Save Money with America First Credit Union

With technology flourishing, we are in an era where pretty much everything has gone digital, including your bank apps.

Nicole Cypers from America First is here today to tell you how you can save money by switching to their credit union. Right now, they have an offer through the end of February for a 3% balance transfer.

This allows you to transition all your debt to a Visa card and get up to 3% back, drawing your debt down. There are many other benefits, such as card customization, free Card Guard® mobile security, member perks and so much more!

For more information, visit: americafirst.com.

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baby

She’s Having a Baby! (And Saving)

Congratulations are certainly in order if your family is growing. But even with good medical coverage, the costs of labor & delivery are considerable. The price for a normal birth without complications is usually in the thousands. Of course, it’s always important to set aside funds when you’re planning for a new baby, but there are ways to save & pay less.

Before your due date

The best way to save money is to be informed. Contact your insurance company and find out which expenses are covered. Discuss things like length of stay, medications, meals, and other procedures. Don’t be hesitant to treat your agent as your personal consultant—after all, that’s their job.

Do comparison pricing on local hospitals, as what they charge often varies from one facility to another. Ask questions such as the average total amount, when you should expect the bill, and if your insurance plan is accepted. If you don’t have insurance, inquire about cash discounts and payment plans. Depending on your income, you may qualify for financial aid, but you won’t know unless you ask.

At the hospital

Obviously, the health and well-being of the mother and the baby are far more important than any payment. Therefore, trust the counsel of medical professionals. However, you don’t need to receive every service offered. For example, the epidural generally costs hundreds of dollars and some people choose to go without it. Also, if permitted, bring your own over-the-counter pain relievers for after the delivery. That way you won’t be charged $50 for an ibuprofen.

If your family lives near the hospital, they can go home for meals instead of eating at the cafeteria. And don’t stay longer than necessary. Once you’ve received the all-clear from the doctor, see how soon you can check out. It’s intimidating to bring a child home and begin a new chapter of your life, but doing so a little earlier can mean significant savings.

When you’re home

Formula can be expensive, so if it’s possible to nurse your baby, that may be a good option. Also, when the final invoice arrives, check it closely for errors, such as being double-charged. Hospitals will usually bill the mother and child separately, so keep that in mind during your review, because mistakes are more common than you might think. Even if you have insurance, looking for ways to save is certainly beneficial.

return

What’s Your Return Policy?

Now that the holiday season dust has settled and most, if not all, of your Christmas decorations are stored, it’s time to decide which gifts you’re keeping and which ones you want to return. Maybe a shirt is the wrong size, or the family laptop you bought is a lemon—whatever the reason, here are some tips for making sure you don’t get stuck with unwanted clutter.

Review return dates

Exchange timeframes largely depend on the vendors. For example, Kmart purchases can be returned within 30 days, whereas Target allows 90 days. It can also depend on what you buy. Costco doesn’t have a limit for most things, but you’re given three months for electronics & appliances. Check the official site for specific policies.

Retain receipts

Always keep your receipts until the refund window closes. When giving presents, always include gift receipts. Having proof of purchase makes the exchange process go smoothly and it gives you additional options. For instance, some stores will accept returns without receipts, but only provide in-store credit.

Ready at the right time

If you wait until January to return a Christmas gift, you’ll probably be within allowed period and you’ll avoid the crowds. Reduce the chance of waiting in line even further by going early in the morning or late in the evening. Of course, you’ll circumvent this scenario completely by using online returns and simply shipping the merchandise back.

Read the fine print

You may not get the full amount when requesting a refund. Vendors such as Best Buy can charge a re-stocking fee and Amazon might deduct the cost of shipping. If you order from a third-party seller, its return policy may be entirely different. Some stores take returns on a case-by-case basis, so it doesn’t hurt to be kind when you ask.

Resolve it yourself

Finally, if you’re unable to return the item, or you don’t know where the gift was purchased, you can try selling it on eBay, listing it with your local classifieds or posting it on your social media pages. Alternatively, if you’re feeling philanthropic, you can give it to someone in need or donate it to charity—then you’ll benefit from good feelings, as well as a sense of accomplishment as you check off another item from your to-do list.

America First Credit Union Offers Furlough Assistance Loan to Members Affected by Government Agency Shutdowns

For Immediate Release:

America First Credit Union Offers Furlough Assistance Loan to Members Affected by Government Agency Shutdowns

RIVERDALE, Utah – January 3, 2019 – America First Credit Union is helping to ease the burden of its members affected by the shutdown of government agencies across the nation by providing a special Furlough Assistance Loan. The personal loan of up to $4,000 will be made available to federal employees who have been furloughed due to the recent government shutdown. Additionally, America First, which has more than 988,000 members, is also offering members no-cost counseling services, loan extensions and numerous free and low-cost benefits.

“The recent government shutdown has started a domino effect throughout our communities and we are thankful to be in a position to provide financial assistance and guidance to our members,” said John B. Lund, president and CEO of America First Credit Union. “In these difficult times, we stand resolute with those affected and promise to remain a trusted financial institution for those who have devoted their lives to serving our country.”

To be eligible for the Furlough Assistance Loan, individuals must be America First Credit Union members and have missed a paycheck due to the shutdown. The Furlough Assistance Loan will be available one-time only and offers terms up to seven months, with one-month interest free. The loan has a zero percent interest rate for the first 30 days and then a 4.99 percent interest rate that begins to accrue on day 31. Applicants must provide proof of federal government employment including a recent paystub not older than 30 days, military or government ID or a verified direct deposit from a federal employer to America First.

For those interested in becoming members of America First to take advantage of this program, please fill out the membership application at www.americafirst.com or call 1-800-999-3961.

America First members can also take advantage of free financial counseling, free financial education and safe savings programs. Members are encouraged to contact America First about the options available to them by calling 1-800-999-3961 by visiting America First’s Financial Counseling resource page online or by stopping into their local branch.

For more information, visit www.americafirst.com. Find America First Credit Union on Facebook and Twitter or follow @AmericaFirst on Instagram and Pinterest.

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About America First Credit Union

With a long-standing history and more than 79 years servicing members, America First has become one of the largest, most stable and most progressive credit unions in the country, and has remained a member-owned, not-for-profit cooperative financial institution. Today, America First has 129 locations, and is the 10th largest credit union in assets in the United States with over $10.2 billion, and the sixth largest credit union in membership in America with more than 988,000 members.

 

Media Contact:
America First Credit Union
Nicole Cypers
C: 801-726-9480
ncypers@americafirst.com

 

Quillin Public Relations
Julian Lupo
702.818.1637
julianl@quillinlv.com

Renewal Brings Opportunity for Beneficial Change

By John B. Lund, President and CEO

It’s hard for me to believe another year has come and gone, yet I always appreciate this annual opportunity to pause and reflect on treasured memories & accomplishments.

Additionally, it’s a time to re-focus our efforts toward achieving the goals being set for the months ahead. Reader’s Digest traditionally compiles its 15 most popular New Year’s resolutions. Here is the 2019 list:

  1. Get into shape
  2. Lose weight
  3. Enjoy life to the fullest
  4. Spend less, save more
  5. Dedicate additional time to family, friends
  6. Become better organized
  7. Learn something new
  8. Travel
  9. Break a smartphone addiction
  10. Cook meals at home rather than dining out
  11. Cut down on drinking
  12. Stop smoking
  13. Reduce stress
  14. Make sleep a priority
  15. Floss regularly

Whether or not the above aspirations factor into your plans, some of them coincide with mine. In fact, I’m pleased to know that three or four have already been conquered!

America First Credit Union can be key to meeting several of these objectives. We provide sound advice and counseling, will help you discover new ways to conveniently and efficiently manage your money, and we’ll assist you in prioritizing saving, while reducing spending.

Visit a local branch to review your finances. We’ll explore the possibility of lowering the interest rates on loans & credit cards. We offer programs that generate additional cash back for the purchases you’re already making. Our premier electronic services deliver enhanced security and real-time transaction control. America First Visa® credit cards also feature free identity theft recovery services that include protection and monitoring.

These are just a few examples of how we strive to simplify and improve the financial aspect of your life, lessening that source of stress. When your financial affairs are in order and you’re maximizing the available benefits, you’ll likely have more time and energy for family, friends, hobbies, exercise and other pursuits.

Our goal at America First is to become and remain your primary financial partner. We are dedicated to being relevant to all stages of life and ensuring your interactions with the credit union are positive and productive. We thank you for your trust and look forward to a lasting relationship.

inventory

Taking Inventory of Your Finances

At the end of the year, most businesses will take inventories in order to gather data, measure success, and learn from shortcomings. For many of the same reasons, conducting a personal inventory of your finances around this time is also a good idea. Here are some tips on how to do it right.

Gather materials

It’s impossible to make accurate evaluations without having the complete story. Most of the information you need can be found on statements provided by your financial institution. Online statements allow you to quickly and easily find account summaries, loan information and tax documents for this year and past years. If needed, you can also print out these statements to compare and contrast your monetary habits from year to year.

Check for errors

When looking through your statements, keep an eye out for any unusual activity, such as double charges, inaccurate deposits, checks that haven’t cleared yet, transaction errors, or possible fraud. If you notice anything unusual, contact your credit union or bank. You don’t even have to wait for your monthly statement—use online banking to check account activity at any time.

Compare spending & saving

Look at where your account balances were at the beginning of the year and at the end. Do the same with your credit card and loan balances. Did you save more than you spent? Take note of your peak spending months and see if you can prepare for those months in advance so you could borrow less on credit next time. This is also a great way to see where most of your money went during the year. Taking regular inventory of your balances will keep you informed and help you avoid denied card transactions, bounced checks, and costly fees.

Take notice of interest

A wise person once said that those that understand interest earn it, whereas those that don’t, pay it. Examine which of your savings accounts offers the highest interest rate and consider storing more of your funds there. Also take note of which loans cost you the most interest, and find ways to avoid having to pay that much again. This could include simply making the minimum payment each month on your credit card or refinancing your mortgage.

Do something different

Taking inventory won’t make a difference in your finances if you don’t make adjustments based on what you learn. Even if you’re satisfied with how much you’ve saved, for example, you can probably find ways to spend less or earn more. As you make annual improvements, you’ll start to become financially stronger with each passing year.

The benefits of savings accounts for children

Nicole Cypers from America First Credit Union joined us to follow up on their 24th annual ‘Warm the Soles’ program. More than 1,800 pairs of gift-wrapped shoes were delivered to children in need throughout the month of December. The program was funded by America First member donations and their ‘Skip a Payment’ program.

America First Credit Union aims to help children not only through programs like ‘Warm the Soles’ but through promotions that benefit them as well. For only a few more days, when you open a new youth account for minors (17 and under), America First Credit Union will match up to $25 of the initial deposit.

When your children start saving young, you can help them learn and establish sound savings habits that will pay off. Youth savings accounts at America First Credit Union also have no annual fees or minimum-deposit levels, competitive dividends, flexible terms and free online access, making it the perfect starting account for a young individual.

Nicole explained that as an added benefit for all current, new and non-members, they will also be giving away ten $250 dedicated savings accounts for your child. For every $25 you deposit into your account, you will gain one entry for this drawing. They will randomly select the winners and complete the fulfillment by January 31.

Visit americafirst.com for more information and to find a branch near you.

Source

Christmas

Have Yourself a Frugal Little Christmas

After all the shopping and party prepping are done, your holiday budget may feel two sizes too small. If you want to boost your Christmas spirit, but don’t feel like spending large sums of money, here are some inexpensive activities you can do with your family, on a date, or on your own this season.

Decoration expedition

Enjoying elaborate exterior decorations doesn’t have to cost a lot—go on a drive and appreciate your neighbors’ work. There are websites, apps & maps that identify impressive holiday displays, or you can explore and find them yourself. Many cities have lights in public parks with free admission.

Movie marathon

On the other hand, if you’re staying in, throw on pajamas, wrap yourself in a blanket and have a Christmas movie marathon. There are plenty of holiday streaming options available on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and YouTube, or you can turn on the TV and see what specials are playing.

Twinkling story time

Check out classic Christmas books from your local library, such as “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” “The Polar Express,” or “A Christmas Carol.” Turn off all the lights and read stories by the glow of the Christmas tree. You can also play some soft seasonal tunes to fill the room with more cheer.

Magical mall walks

Remember the mall? Even though many purchase presents online these days, shopping centers are full of festive decor, joyful music, aromas of pine & peppermint, and Santa’s workshop. Strolling through the mall without the stress of having to find a gift is a nostalgia-inducing experience.

Christmas karaoke

You already know the songs by heart, so why not throw a holiday-themed karaoke party? After all, as Buddy the elf said, “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” And if you’re feeling brave, you can take your show on the road and go caroling.

Celebratory crafts & treats

There are thousands of Christmas craft ideas and recipes on the internet. Find those that work with supplies you already have and get creative. Cut out paper snowflakes, bake cookies, write heartfelt cards, set up a hot chocolate bar, or try your hand at DIY candy canes.

Joyful service

There’s something magical about serving others during the holiday season. Shovel a driveway or wrap packages for an elderly neighbor. Pay visits with the treats and crafts you’ve made. Volunteer for organizations that help the homeless and poor. Look for ways to brighten other people’s days and your yuletide spirit will shine even brighter.