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autumn

Autumn Preparation for Winter Protection

The weather may seem nice right now, but winter is coming. Properly preparing your house in autumn can help prevent costly damage from rain, ice and snow. Here are some tips on how to save some money as you ready your residence for the cold weather.

  • Clear Your Gutters – Clogged gutters can cause water to pool on your roof and cracked downspouts can lead to damaged foundations and flooding basements. Before the wet weather arrives, remove leaves and other debris from your gutters. Test the flow of water with a hose. Look for cracks or breaks and repair where needed.
  • Protect Your Pipes – Turn off your sprinklers, open the valves, and drain the pipes—this will help prevent them bursting due to expanding ice. Unhook your hoses and store them in a garage or shed to extend their lives and shut off all outdoor plumbing.
  • Check Your Roof – It’s much easier to inspect your roof when it’s not slick with rain. Fix for any raised or damaged shingles. Plus, while you’re up there, you could even hang your Christmas lights, so you don’t have to do it in the snow—just don’t turn them on until after Thanksgiving.
  • Inspect Your Heater – Furnace filters are easy to change, but you should also have a specialist inspect your HVAC system and make sure the ducts are clear. Make sure the vents aren’t blocked. If you have a fireplace, you should clear ashes and debris out, then have a professional clean the chimney.
  • Do a Safety Check – Test your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. Change the batteries if necessary. Additionally, check your fire extinguishers and make an emergency escape plan with your family.
  • Test for Drafts – Your heaters won’t be very effective if all the warm air is seeping out of your home. Check for drafts by putting your hand near the edges of windows and doors. Use weather stripping or caulk to stop cold air from entering your house.
  • Strengthen Your Lawn – Mow your grass one last time in autumn, and don’t forget to empty the gas tank of the mower before storing it. Fertilize your lawn before the first frost for a healthier yard when the spring thaw comes. This will strengthen the roots to resist the lower temperatures and help your yard green up faster in the spring.
  • Prep Your Garden – Clear weeds out. Plant bulbs, such as tulips, daffodils and irises in the autumn for a beautiful start to spring. Inspect trees on your property for weak or damaged branches that could break if weighed down by snow. Bring your more delicate plants inside.
  • Stock Up on Supplies – Put an ice scraper in your car. Buy some ice melt. Check your snow shovels and your snow blower. It may seem too early for all this, but you’ll be thankful when that first snow starts to fall.
splash pad

Splish at a Splash Pad this Summer

If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on a waterpark, consider taking your kids to a splash pad. These recreational areas are usually run by the city—so most of them are free—and they include fountains, spray nozzles and other water features to help you cool off. Plus, since there normally isn’t any standing water at these public parks, swimming lessons are not required.

Here are some tips to get the most out of your family trip to a splash pad:

  • Look around – You may have seen a local splash pad nearby, but it’s probably not the only one. Search online to see how many are close to home.
  • Time it right – Mornings at the splash pad tend to be busy. You may find it to be less crowded if you go later in the afternoon.
  • Prep beforehand – Get everyone in their swimsuits and sunscreen applied beforehand, so no one has to wait to play in the water.
  • Don’t forget towels – Even in hot weather, playing in the water can make you cold. And make sure to dry everyone off before the drive back.
  • Bring some bandages – Wherever children and wet concrete meet, slips & scrapes will happen. Keep the fun going with some simple first aid.
  • Keep it clean – Use swim diapers for those who aren’t potty trained yet to avoid contaminating the water supply. Change dirty diapers immediately.
  • Supply some snacks – Nothing keeps your kids happy like a quick break to eat some treats. Keep it simple and keep the cooler at home.
  • Keep ’em hydrated – Playing in the sun will make you thirsty. Bring a couple of water bottles so no one is tempted to drink water from the nozzles.
  • Expect a short stay – Splash pads are fun, but it’s not an all-day event. After an hour or so your little splashers will probably run out of steam.
geocaching

Geocaching—Treasure Hunting with the Family

Did you know there are hidden treasure boxes all around you right now? If you’re looking for a fun, inexpensive summer activity you can do with the whole family, try geocaching—all you need is a GPS-enabled device and a sense of adventure.

Geocaching is the process of using GPS coordinates to find containers (or “caches”) concealed above the ground in forests, fields, caves, bodies of water and city streets. You’d probably be surprised to discover how many are nearby. According to geocaching.com, there are more than three million caches in over 190 countries. Some are as small as film canisters while others are large buckets. They have been placed there by the community of geocachers to give the others something to find.

Once you pick a cache and locate it using the listed coordinates, you’ll normally find some sort of logbook and some trinkets or small toys. The rule of geocaching is that if you take something, you’re supposed to leave something of equal or greater value. These real-world treasure hunts vary in difficulty, so all ages can enjoy it.

It’s easy to participate:

  • Step 1: Register for a free account at geocaching.com or download the free app. This will allow you to see coordinates for various caches, get clues from other geocachers and log your finds.
  • Step 2: Choose your cache by searching near your location or destination. If you’re just starting out, select a regular-sized or large cache with a low difficulty rating.
  • Step 3: Use your GPS-enabled device. Once you’ve successfully located a geocache, sign the logbook and then return it to its original location so the next treasure-seeker can find it.

Have fun outdoors and get some exercise by geocaching!

online statements

Easy, Earth-Friendly, Free: Online Statements

Most financial institutions, including America First, offer online statements. After all, paper versions fill your mailbox, clutter the counters and end up in the landfill.

To recognize Earth Day, considering cancelling your paper statements. With the online version, there’s no waiting for the mail—your information is available anytime, anywhere just by logging in to a secure account. Plus, online statements don’t get lost or delivered to the wrong address, and they guard against identity theft.

If instant access and added security weren’t enough, going paperless is also an environmentally conscious decision. Reducing unnecessary paper waste helps diminish the number of trees that need to be cut down annually. If everyone at all financial institutions got their statements exclusively online, we could help ensure our beautiful forests will be around for years to come.

America First makes switching easy:

  • Log in to online banking
  • Click the Other Services tab
  • Select Statement Preferences
  • Follow the brief instructions

Go paperless—it’s for your convenience, protection and better for your planet.

federal holidays

A Brief Explanation of Federal Holidays

Federal holidays have been around since 1870, but back then they only applied to government employees in the District of Colombia. As time went on, these officially recognized calendar holidays have broadened to honor icons & aspects of American heritage that have shaped us as a nation. On these holidays, all non-essential federal government offices are closed. Also closed are federally chartered financial institutions, including credit unions and banks. This is because many, like America First, depend on national agencies to process specific transactions.

There are currently 10 federal holidays:

  • New Year’s Day (January 1)
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (third Monday in January)
  • Presidents’ Day (third Monday in February)
  • Memorial Day (last Monday in May)
  • Independence Day (July 4)
  • Labor Day (first Monday in September)
  • Columbus Day (second Monday in October)
  • Veterans’ Day (November 11)
  • Thanksgiving Day (fourth Thursday in November)
  • Christmas Day (December 25)

If it falls on a weekend, the holiday will usually be observed on the closest weekday. Credit unions also close for official state holidays. In Utah, for example, America First offices close for Pioneer Day (July 24), while our Nevada locations will be closed on Nevada Day (last Friday in October) and Family Day (the day after Thanksgiving).

Although you’ll find our branches unavailable on federal holidays, we’re open to serve you 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year with online and mobile banking, as well as at thousands of ATMs nationwide.

romance

Don’t Get Fooled by Romance Scams

Falling in love can make you feel as though you’re walking on air, but if a budding relationship is exclusively online, it’s important to keep your feet on the ground. Here are some tips to avoid becoming a romance scam victim.

  • You may be charming and attractive, but scammers will try grooming you by flattering your ego. Be suspicious if things progress too quickly without meeting each other in person.
  • Watch out if your new friend starts making financial requests. He or she may play with your heartstrings and say there are medical expenses to pay or ask you for travel expenses for a date. Don’t do it.
  • Never send cash, cashier’s checks, gift cards or wired funds to unverified individuals. It’s almost impossible to get that money back.
  • Resist the temptation to send expensive gifts to your virtual boyfriend or girlfriend. Save that for when and if you meet in person. Even then, don’t spend more than you can afford.
  • Private information, such as your account number or PIN isn’t to be shared with anyone but joint account owners.
  • Don’t provide your address, credit card numbers or Social Security number to someone you’re talking to on a dating site or in a chat room.
  • Resist any effort to connect to your account to an online friend’s, even if they claim they’ll only make deposits.

In short, a healthy amount of skepticism can keep you safe whenever you start seeing—or chatting with—a new love interest.

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.