Tag : Articles

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.

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.

Card Guard

Card Guard: Powerful Protection for your Transactions

Your financial information can be stolen at any time of the year, but people are particularly vulnerable during the holidays, just because everyone’s spending more. But when you have Card Guard® from America First, you control when, where & how your Visas are used—giving you the best possible protection.

Our revolutionary security app is free and available for Apple and Android devices. Download it, then log in to your account and pick the credit, debit and ATM cards you want to manage.

Customizable Control

If you misplace a credit card, for example, you can flip a switch and it will be disabled. Once you’ve retraced your steps and realize, for some reason, that you put your card in the fridge, you can quickly and easily turn it back on.

Another feature lets you set geographic limits on where cards can be processed. You can also choose to allow transactions only if your smartphone is in the vicinity. If anyone tries to use your card number in a store outside of this pre-determined area, or if the scammer doesn’t have your mobile device with them, the purchase will be declined.

Card Guard also lets you allow some transaction types and decline others. Or you can determine which card you want to be used at certain department stores, gas stations, restaurants, and grocery stores. This kind of control can prevent theft or help you manage your budget.

Additionally, your card can deny any transactions above a pre-determined spending threshold, stopping scammers from buying things with huge price tags. However, some criminals start by buying something smaller to test the card, which is why you want to set up real-time alerts.

Instant Notifications

These notifications are one of the coolest things about the Card Guard app. Once real-time notifications are enabled, your phone will deliver instant alerts about specific transactions or when your card number is being used at all. So, if you get an alert in the middle of the night, you can quickly review the transaction and see if you need to turn your card off or if it’s just your recurring charge from Netflix.

Add extra protection to all your purchases with Card Guard today.

snow

(Safely) Dashing Through the Snow

As soon as snow starts to fall, it seems people suddenly forget how to drive in a reasonable manner. So, we have pointers for avoiding costly accidents in the winter.

Proper Preparation

Check the weather and your route before a trip. Give yourself plenty of time so you can drive slowly and arrive safely. Tell others an estimated time of arrival. That way, if you do get stuck, people will know where to look.

Make sure your tires are properly inflated and that they have sufficient tread to handle icy roads. Cold weather can reduce pressure and increase the risk of blowouts. Keep your gas tank at least half full—running out of fuel in the middle of a blizzard is a miserable experience. On a related note, keep your phone’s battery full in case you need to call for help.

Stock your vehicle with winter weather basics such as a snow scraper, jumper cables, mobile charger, and blankets. Clear off your headlights and keep them on so everyone can see you coming. And make sure your windshield wipers are working correctly so you can see others coming.

Acceptable Acceleration

Everything you do in a car—stopping, starting, turning—takes a little longer in the snow. Move at a moderate, steady pace. Don’t rely on cruise control when the streets are slippery, wet and icy. Keep your eyes on the road & your hands on the wheel.

Also, just because the posted speed limit is 55 miles per hour doesn’t mean you should go that fast. In fact, you can be ticketed for driving the limit if conditions are deemed unsafe. Drive slowly enough that you can retain control and move with the flow of traffic.

Don’t punch the gas pedal when you start out or begin ascending a hill. Gradually applying pressure is the best way to avoid spinning your wheels or skidding off the road. If you drift, take your foot off the accelerator and let your car slow down until you get back on track.

Beneficial Braking

Stopping is one of the most dangerous parts of driving in the snow. In fact, if you can avoid coming to a complete halt, you’ll maintain your inertia and have less chance of getting stuck. Allow plenty of room when approaching a stoplight or an intersection, then decelerate naturally. If you’re behind another commuter, give yourself eight to 10 seconds instead of the usual three or four.

Become familiar with brake functions in both wet and dry conditions. Most modern vehicles have anti-lock features, but slamming on the brakes will almost certainly cause skidding. And don’t think you’re invulnerable just because of four-wheel or all-wheel drive—this won’t help when you hit a patch of black ice.

During the winter months, drive slow, smart & safe. You’ll save some money and your stress levels will decrease dramatically.

seasonal

Seasonal Jobs are Coming to Town

With all the spending taking place over the holidays, many look for ways to earn extra money. Luckily, it’s also a time when employers need individuals to fill temporary positions dealing with the influx of shoppers and shipments. Here are some seasonal jobs you can find almost anywhere in the country.

Warehouse Worker

Warehouse facilities are full of electronics, furniture, clothing, toys, jewelry and so much more. During the busy months, they need people to perform lots of tasks, including forklift drivers to stock the shelves, pickers to find items, and packers to fill boxes. Additional workers load trucks at night for the next day’s runs.

Delivery Driver

Companies like FedEx and UPS hire seasonal employees every year. If you don’t feel comfortable driving a delivery truck, you can also be hired on as a helper, who acts as an assistant to the driver, doing whatever’s needed and getting packages to porches. Either job is highly active, involving lots of lifting and walking. So, along with gaining some extra cash, you may also lose a few pounds.

Retail Associate

While malls are not the holiday haven they used to be, many retail stores require employees this time of year. There are cashiers who interact directly with customers, stockers who ensure the shelves are full and presentable, and security personnel who help prevent shoplifting and loss to the business. People skills and patience are usually the most important qualifications for seasonal retail jobs.

Customer Service Representative

Call centers are often seeking assistance at Christmastime. These employees handle both inbound and outbound calls, whether they’re from customers troubleshooting products or those filing complaints. You’ll be trained on specific subjects, so you shouldn’t stress about not knowing the answers immediately. And, if there’s a problem, it can always be escalated to your manager.

Event Staffer

All those company parties at hotels, country clubs, and conference centers have staff to set things up, cook meals, serve guests, bartend, run audio & video presentations, and clean afterward. Since these events normally peak at the end of the year, the venues are a great place to find seasonal work.

Finally, if you’re looking for meaningful part-time work with flexible hours that could easily turn into a full-time career, check out the open positions at America First Credit Union.

Black Friday

Black Friday Survival Guide

It’s Black Friday! And even if you’re reading this article after the sun has come up, here are some tips on how to save some cash on one of the biggest shopping days of the year without sacrificing your well-being.

Have a plan

If you haven’t already done so, set your budget and decide which items are most important as well as which ones are likely to go quickly. Map out your route to minimize wasted travel time. Then, after that, make a backup plan. There may be a few times when the deal you want won’t be available. If you don’t have an alternate option, you may take too long to decide, and you could lose out on yet another deal.

Divide & conquer

Don’t bring your young children with you, they’ll only slow you down. Find another adult friend or two and split up the list. They can visit the toys section while you shop electronics. Or you can visit entirely different stores on opposite sides of town. Just make sure that you’re in constant communication so you don’t accidentally double-buy something.

Price check

Don’t automatically believe that every discount you see is the best deal. Take a moment to look online for similar items at other locations. If you find a lower price elsewhere, determine whether the difference is worth the cost of going to another store. Also, make sure to check the return & exchange policies on any bargain you may encounter, just in case you find a better deal elsewhere.

Shop virtually

Many retailers offer the same deals online that they do in-store. You can do your Black Friday shopping from the comfort of your own couch while wrapped in a blanket and sipping hot cocoa. You can even choose the store pick-up option if you want to get out of the house and people watch for a little bit. Just make sure that you only make purchases from trustworthy sites.

Don’t panic

Yes, there are lots of so-called doorbuster deals on Black Friday, but many retailers offer week-long or even month-long discounts in the weeks preceding Christmas. And you may find that they rival the ones offered on the evening of Thanksgiving. If you don’t want to stay up late, wake up early, or battle the unruly crowds, consider visiting stores another day.

There’s always next year

If you couldn’t snag the stuff you wanted this year, learn from your mistakes. Start making a plan of attack, which may include following specific stores and brands on social media and signing up for emails and mailing lists, so you can be notified as soon as items start to go on sale for the next Black Friday.

underwriter

What Does an Underwriter Do?

If you apply for a loan or an insurance policy, your documents must be reviewed by an underwriter. But what functions does the underwriter perform? How do they fit in the process?

The backstory

The word underwrite simply means signing under or below something. In the early days of banking, underwriters would place their names below the amount of risk they were willing to tolerate, in exchange for a premium. If anything went wrong, the underwriter would have to answer for it.

Underwriting now

Today, underwriters are trained on all lending guidelines & procedures. They assess loan risk and determine if an institution is wise to invest in an individual. Auto financing, credit cards, mortgages and insurance policies are all underwritten. These professionals evaluate all the paperwork and examine your income, debts, credit score, property, assets, job stability and borrowing history.

After an underwriter examines the facts and crunches the numbers, that information and a proposed decision is delivered to a loan officer. This could be an approval, a rejection, or a call for further information, or a suggestion that adjustments need to be made. It is up to loan officers to give borrowers the verdicts.

Why they’re helpful

Underwriters mitigate the institution’s liability and stay apprised of economic trends, such as new types of fraud or a pending recession. If the underwriter does their job correctly, financial institutions and insurance companies don’t lend to or cover those who can’t or won’t make the required payments. However, underwriters are also beneficial for borrowers, because they’ll analyze your situation and ensure that you don’t get in over your head.

How to become an underwriter

Does this sound like a career you’re interested in? It helps to have computer proficiency, as well as experience in business, mathematics, economics or finance. Underwriters receive extensive training and then complete a series of certifications to stay up to date on changing policies and regulations and remain consistent in lending decisions.

If you’re interested in assessing finances and helping people get the loans they need, keep an eye on the America First job listings page.

veterans

Veterans Day Deals & Discounts

Veterans Day is when we as a country honor the brave men and women who fight for & protect the nation. Many businesses recognize those in the military with discounts.

Below are some deals service members, past and present, can receive on Veterans Day. Some require purchases, while others ask for identification or are dine-in only. Be sure to check the merchant’s official sites or call ahead for details, as these are subject to change and may apply to different days. For example, this year, Veterans Day falls on November 11, but will be observed on November 12.

  • Applebee’s – free entrée
  • Boston Market – buy a meal and a drink, get another meal free
  • Buffalo Wild Wings – free small order of wings & side of fries
  • California Pizza Kitchen – free entrée
  • Chili’s – complimentary meal
  • Chipotle – buy-one, get-one menu item free
  • Cracker Barrel – free slice of cake or Crafted Coffee beverage
  • Denny’s – free Build Your Own Grand Slam® breakfast
  • Dunkin’ Donuts – complimentary doughnut
  • Famous Dave’s – free two-meat combo
  • Golden Corral – free dinner buffet, drink
  • Goodyear Auto Services – free auto check and 10% off all tires
  • Great Clips – complimentary haircut
  • Hyatt Hotels – room rate discounts up to 15%
  • IHOP – free Red, White & Blue pancakes
  • Joe’s Crab Shack – 20% off entire check
  • Little Caesar’s – free Hot-N-Ready® lunch combo
  • Mattress Firm – 20% discount
  • Outback Steakhouse – free Bloomin’ Onion, drink
  • Red Lobster – free appetizer or dessert
  • Red Robin – Red’s Tavern Double burger & fries for free
  • Romano’s Macaroni Grill – free Mom’s Ricotta Meatballs & Spaghetti
  • Sizzler – free complete lunch
  • Sport Clips – complimentary haircut
  • Starbucks – free tall brewed coffee
  • Target – 10% discount on in-store & online purchases
  • Texas Roadhouse – free lunch
  • Tucanos Brazilian Grill – BOGO Churrasco meals
  • Village Inn – free INN-Credible breakfast
  • Wienerschitzel – free chili dog, fries, drink

And be sure to visit americafirst.com to see the benefits we provide to those serving in the military every day.

vehicle

Properly Pricing Your Vehicle to Sell

Setting a sale price for your vehicle is like fishing. If it’s too high, you won’t get any bites from prospective buyers. If what you’re asking is too low, you won’t get the full value of your investment. Here’s some advice for when you put your car, truck or SUV on the market.

Assess the Value

It’s important to check how much it’s worth online, because you can bet those thinking about taking it off your hands will do the same. Valuation sites like Kelley Blue Book® use an extensive database to evaluate factors such as recent vehicle transactions in your area. Enter the make, model, year and mileage for trade-in, retail and private party values. Be honest about your car’s history and condition to get accurate results. Additionally, search local classifieds for similar vehicles. If you can’t find your exact make and model, look for those with comparable miles and options.

Pick a Price

By now you should have a price range in mind. You can ask for more if your vehicle is still under warranty (that is transferrable) or you have new tires, new brakes or a new timing belt. Go lower if it needs major maintenance, was in an accident, or you just want it to sell quickly.

Once you have a base figure, decide the minimum you’d accept and work up from there. Build in a negotiation cushion, because many buyers will consider your asking price a starting point for bargaining. Most sellers don’t, in fact, receive their initial offer. Letting people negotiate will help them feel like they’re getting a good deal.

Pricing can also depend on the time of year. For example, sporty convertibles sell better in the summer, while the demand for four-wheel-drive increases during the winter. If your car gets good gas mileage, promote that fact when fuel prices are high; conversely, gas-guzzling SUVs probably won’t go as quickly then. Don’t underestimate your old trucks and vans, either. Some people might want them for work or hobbies.

Don’t overthink

Finally, keep it simple. Don’t ask for $12,999.99—you’ll sound like dealer. Private buyers enjoy nice, round numbers. Just remember to set the first asking price above what you’d take so you can negotiate and still make some money. Be patient. If no one drives off with your vehicle right away, you may need to start over and adjust accordingly.