Tag : Articles

financial tips

Financial Tips from Mothers

In honor of Mother’s Day, we asked some local moms about what they teach their children about finances. They also explain some monetary wisdom they wish had been imparted. We hope you enjoy these financial tips from mothers.

Penny

Dedicate yourself to your education first and find a job in which you can share your best talents — where you can see and feel the difference you make in others’ lives. Start your retirement planning now and build your deposits as you make more money. Choose your spouse carefully. Look for someone [who] has good saving habits. Put away money by being frugal now and you’ll be able to live comfortably later. You only need one credit card, that is attached to your deposit institution, so you can pay it off monthly.

Jennie

It’s important to understand the difference between needs and wants. Normally when a child says, “I need this,” it really means they just want it. Help them understand that sometimes wants have to wait or may never happen.

Kimberly

Hit the clearance racks first. Rarely pay full price for anything.

Karlene

Balance your checkbook. Start teaching your children early about finances. Even though you teach your children about finances, it does not always mean that they will understand. Let them learn from their mistakes.

Laura

First and foremost, try to save at least $10 to $20 every paycheck as a starting point. Don’t worry about coupon shopping—the discounts are often only on name-brand products. Do not encourage your children to think that name-brand clothing is the only way to dress. Have your children do chores to earn things they are aspiring for, even if your child is 18!

Tiffany

From the time you start earning money, have a budget. That way you will always spend within your means, be able to save, and never go into debt.

Alicia

Know the difference between needs and wants. Set a goal for your savings. Sometimes it’s easier to sacrifice with the end goal in mind. You can’t save money by spending.

Jennifer

Live within your means—in other words, don’t spend more than you earn. In our world today, everyone feels like they need everything right now. Young, old, newly married, married forever. I hope my children will understand the key to happiness is being happy with what you have and not always waiting to get more to find happiness.

shopping online

Tower Defense: How to Stay Safe While Shopping Online

These days, going to a store to buy something might feel like a hassle — most prefer internet purchases. In fact, a recent study shows that 80% of Americans are shopping online, a number that keeps going up. Unfortunately, it means cybercriminals are becoming more advanced, too, making it equally important to stay safe while shopping online. Here are some tips to help prepare you for the virtual battle against identity theft and credit card fraud.

Gathering Intel

Sometimes the best deals aren’t on popular sites such as Amazon or eBay. But if you’re visiting one for the first time, do your research. Look up reviews and check out the company’s reputation before entering any information. And trust your feelings: if it’s a strange URL, has a dated look, is loaded with excessive pop-ups or anything else that seems shady, it’s probably worth going somewhere more credible.

Also, look for https:// at the start of the web address. This lets you know they encrypt sensitive data and keep your information private. Browsers additionally display green boxes & text or lock icons in the address bar when the connection is secure. Using official company apps on mobile devices also ensures better security.

Fortifying your Defenses

You are your own first line of defense against hackers. For example, avoid buying over public Wi-Fi connections and remember to keep your browsers updated to prevent breaches.

Don’t offer more information than necessary when creating accounts or checking out — only enter the required fields. If a company wants more than that, walk away. No reputable store will ask for your Social Security number or PIN. If you do create accounts, use secure passwords and change them periodically.

Credit card purchases are common & safe options, with automatic protections built in. You can also put an extra layer of security between you and vendors with systems like PayPal. Plus, America First provides Visa® cards that come with free identity theft recovery services in case you’re ever a victim.

Defending your Stronghold

Once you buy, keep an eye on your account for the transaction to clear. Using free online banking regularly is a good way to avoid any unwanted charges. Also, file your email receipts in a dedicated folder. That way, you won’t be fooled by spammy emails about fake purchases.

If you get a message about something you didn’t buy, don’t click on any links. You can also spot scams by looking at the sender’s address. If it says Google, but the email is coming from ggl24601@hs-42.ithosting.biz, you can safely assume it’s fraudulent. To confirm if it’s legit, go to the company’s site and contact their support team.

Finally, if you suspect any breach or compromise, contact your financial institution immediately. With all the threats out there, it’s hard to feel completely safe while shopping online. But if you do your research, take proper precautions and stay on guard, you can avoid many of these virtual pitfalls.

How to Apply for your First Loan

Whether you’re wading into the world of borrowing with a credit card or diving into the deep end with a mortgage, the process can be daunting for someone who hasn’t done it before. If you’re looking for a lender to meet your financial needs, here are some tips on how to apply for your first loan.

Defining the Terms

In order to feel comfortable when you apply, here are a few common terms:

  • Principal – the actual amount you borrow
  • Interest – percentage the financial institution charges for lending money
  • Term – how long until you pay it back
  • Down Payment – initial amount you put in when buying
  • Collateral – something lenders are offered in case you can’t pay your loan

Gathering Information

You’ll need to provide certain information. First, determine the specific amount you want to borrow, remembering not to take on more debt than necessary. Second, most lenders require proof of income and employment history. Consider how much you make and spend every month, then estimate your monthly payments. When you know this, you’ll get a better idea of how much you can spare. America First offers easy-to-use mortgage calculators and auto loan calculators to help you figure out what your monthly payments could be.

Then, look up your credit score, which is essentially your financial grade. It tells lenders how well you pay debts. A score above 700, for example, is considered good. The higher your number, the more you can borrow — at a lower interest rate, too. America First gives you quick and free access to your FICO® score through online banking.

If you have no credit, you can build it up by using and regularly paying off a credit card. If your score is low, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t get a loan, but you may face a higher interest rate. Those with better credit can co-sign for you, but remember their scores could be negatively affected if you don’t make the payments.

Actually Applying

Many people apply for loans at credit unions or banks. However, you can also finance vehicles at the dealership, home loans at mortgage companies, or student loans at universities. Shop around for the best rates, terms and an institution you trust.

There are ways to lower your rate. Besides having good credit, bigger down payments usually bring the interest rate down. You can also extend the term to lower your rate, but that means it’ll take longer to pay back. Most auto loan terms range between five to eight years. Mortgages are 10 to 30 years.

You’ll also need to decide if you want variable or fixed rates. Fixed stay the same for the entire term, whereas variable rates can change throughout. Some people like the consistency of a fixed, while others prefer the flexibility of variable.

If you’re still anxious about getting your first loan, bring an experienced friend or family member with you for advice and guidance. America First also has free financial counseling services and helpful loan officers to help prepare you for your journey into borrowing.

improve your home

Spring Sprucing: Affordable Ways to Improve Your Home

Spring has a way of getting us to tidy up our living spaces. Some might be satisfied with traditional cleaning, while others use a home equity line of credit for major renovations. But if you’re on a budget and still want to make changes, here’s a list of affordable ways to improve your home.

Boost Curb Appeal

  • Add a pop of color to your front door with a bold shade or bright hue, then paint the exterior trim and shutters to match.
  • Modernize your address numbers with a different font, size and color to create personality.
  • Buy a fun new doormat or paint your old one.
  • A mowed lawn, weeded flowerbeds, trimmed trees and watered window box gardens make a world of difference.
  • Give your mailbox a makeover.
  • Add new light fixtures to your porch.
  • Build a pergola over your parking space.

Make Your Bathroom a Personal Sanctuary

  • Bring in flowers and candles to make it feel more luxurious.
  • Replace the shower curtain with a new pattern or color and switch the bathmat to match.
  • Apply a new coat of paint to refresh the area.
  • Hang quirky art on the walls.
  • Update your towel bar and get some new colorful linens.
  • Use ornate glass jars for decoration and organization.

Whip It Up in the Kitchen

  • Paint your cabinets and swap out the old hardware with something more modern.
  • Remove cabinet doors for an open shelving effect.
  • Display decorative plates on your walls.
  • If you have a fridge that doesn’t flow, you can use chalkboard paint to completely transform the look.
  • Check out local thrift stores for vintage light fixtures.
  • Purchase new, colorful small appliances and use them as decorative accessories.

While we don’t expect you to try everything on the list, it’s hopefully helped you realize that improving the look and feel of your home doesn’t have to cost a lot. However, if you want to invest in significant upgrades, you can always apply for an affordable, low-rate home equity loan from America First.

kids financial literacy

The Importance of Teaching Kids Financial Literacy

We all know reading, writing and arithmetic are three essential building blocks of an education. However, it’s also vital to teach your kids financial literacy. Children need to learn how to make informed money decisions to become self-sufficient and contribute to society. Plus, just in case you’re hesitant to talk to your kids about money, remember that financial independence will help prevent them from coming back to live with you after they’ve grown!

Promote Active Instruction

When children are old enough to say they want something, they’re ready to learn about finances. We all form money habits early in life. Don’t force kids to piece together their own conclusions based their limited views — make your instruction intentional. Take advantage of teaching moments when they arise, but don’t turn on information firehose. Financial education isn’t something you can cover in one sitting. It takes time and patience. It’s also important to be positive. Don’t push or lecture. This should be a part of the natural daily discussions you have with your children.

And try to make money real. Show your kids that your Visa® isn’t a magical card full of unlimited funds. Explain how you earn money and discuss how your paycheck is a reward for what you do. And while it’s not a bad thing to explain the finite nature of your checking account, don’t overshare financial concerns. As your kids grow, discuss the difference between needs and wants. Teach them the value of long-term saving versus immediate spending. Give them the opportunity to make financial choices.

Preparation & Planning

Prepare your children for the future by letting them help plan the family budget. Show them how to use tools like Money Manager for setting limits and tracking spending. Let them start by monitoring a discretionary expense. That way, if they make mistakes, it won’t affect your overall plan. Plus, it’s better to have them make mistakes with small amounts when they’re younger than with larger amounts when they’re older.

Opening a youth account at America First, will give your boys and girls a safe place to put their money and save up. They’ll also begin to learn about things like interest and dividends. Additionally, if your children are between the ages of 12 and 17, they can get Fundz cards, which have the convenience and security of Visa without the revolving credit line.

There are also several apps that instruct kids about financial skills. Some teach basic counting and values, whereas others allow users to virtually invest in the stock market. But remember, using an app is only effective if it’s backed up by parental discussion and action.

Practicing Makes Perfect

The grocery store is a great school for basic finances. Start by letting kids help you look for coupons, then find those items on the shelves. As they progress, you can give them your shopping list and challenge them to stay within a certain spending limit. Encourage them to compare prices and look for deals so they come in under budget.

Young kids can learn a lot by running a lemonade stand or candy store for the summer. If you’re having a yard sale, you could put them in charge of the cash box or the mobile credit card swiper. Finally, when they’re of age, encourage your children to get a job. Gainful employment is the best possible way to teach the value of a day’s work. And as they get their first paychecks and you continue your economic conversations, it may surprise you how financially responsible your child can be.

buying a car

Buying a Car the Sensible Way

It’s easy to purchase a vehicle, but buying a car the sensible way takes a little more effort. Whether you’re looking for a new or used auto, at a dealership or from an owner, here are some ideas to make your auto purchase as painless as possible.

Set a budget

Before you go shopping, figure out exactly how much you can afford. This is the most important part of the process. After all, car payments are a big financial commitment. Consider all your current monthly expenses, including your mortgage, utilities, food, childcare, entertainment, and tuition.  Be realistic and make sure you are not spending more than you can spare.

Then, apply for loan pre-qualification to see how much you can borrow and what your payments might be. This can also speed up your approval when you find something in your price range.

Do your research

After you’ve budgeted, you can start seriously looking for a vehicle. Make a list of negotiable and non-negotiable items. You may require a specific number of seats, for example, but allow some flexibility on the mileage. Look up the average price for the car’s make, model and year. You’ll be a more informed consumer and you’ll be able to negotiate with the seller when the time comes.

And don’t take the first good deal you see — shop around. Ensure you are getting the best deal possible before signing on the dotted line. Check car lots, visit dealers, and browse an online repo sale site to get the right car, truck, van or SUV for the best price.

Stay firm

Making budgetary decisions beforehand allows you to stick with your plan. Most salespeople are paid on commission, so they may try to get you to upgrade or agree to extras. Stay firm on your decided limit, but keep it to yourself. If you tell the seller your maximum amount, they may go immediately to that figure and be less willing to negotiate.

Be patient

Take your time and consider your options carefully. You might want to wait until you have enough money for a decent down payment, or until you find the vehicle you’re really after. Regardless of how, where or when you make your purchase, stick to your budget, be patient in your research and firm in your decisions. You’ll find that buying a car the sensible way is easier on your mind and your wallet.

Prepare Now Because Retirement is Coming Later

Whether you’re 16 and just entering the workforce or 66 and can start collecting Social Security, retirement should always be on your mind. Unfortunately, many people don’t seriously consider it until later in life. Here are four quick questions you should ask yourself now because retirement is coming later.

When should I retire?

Just because you could start Social Security at 62, doesn’t mean you should retire then. Most people do so between the ages of 61 and 69, but if you apply for benefits before you’re 67 — if you were born after 1960 — you’ll receive a reduced amount. On the other hand, if you delay beyond your full retirement age, you’ll collect more. Circumstances could change as you approach this stage in life, but having a specific age in mind allows you to set appropriate goals.

Where am I going to live?

Believe it or not, where you choose to settle can affect your retirement plan. Cost of living varies from city to city, and you may not want a big yard or need as much space. Some people stay close to family members while others take up residence in a retirement community. Make a note of places where you’d consider living. Go on vacation there to see how you like them. Make sure to visit in both the summer and the winter to see if the seasonal extremes suit you.

How can I save enough?

Many employers offer a 401(k) plan and some will even match your contribution, allowing for more accumulation. But you don’t need to depend on your job to help you save; you can invest in an individual retirement account, or IRA. America First offers traditional and Roth IRAs, as well as financial counseling to help you maximize your earnings.

How much should I save for retirement?

While the precise amount will depend on your situation, most experts recommend saving 10 to 15% of your income, starting in your 20s. You should also assess your living expenses and the type of lifestyle you desire when you retire. You can also use our simple & free retirement calculators to get more concrete numbers regarding the level of savings you’ll need to live comfortably.

HSA

Traveling Abroad on a Budget

When people think of visiting popular overseas destinations like London, Paris or Japan, they’re often concerned with extravagant hotels, overpriced food and costly flights. However, a big trip doesn’t have to bring big expenditures. In fact, with a little planning and some self-discipline, traveling abroad on a budget can be relatively simple.

Economical Travel

One of the easiest ways to save is by going during the off-season. In Europe, for example, this is between October and April. Flights are usually cheaper, as are hotels, restaurants and fuel.

Don’t just take the first flight that fits your departure and return dates — do your research. If you’re willing to sacrifice some time, it can be cheaper to have some layovers. For instance, it may cost less to fly into Ireland, then catch the connecting flight to Paris, than it is to go directly to Charles de Gaulle.

If you’re traveling alone or as a couple, use public transportation when possible. In London, an Oyster Card gives you access to the subway, bus, railways and boats for less than the price of renting a car and paying for gas. On the other hand, if you’re with a group of adults, splitting the price of a single rental car could be more cost-effective.

Modest Accommodations

Skipping the main tourist season means you’ll already spend less on accommodations, but you don’t have to rely on hotels. Many bed-and-breakfasts offer rooms at lower rates and sometimes provide plenty of free amenities. Hostels are an option, and you can look up pictures and reviews online before booking. You can also try home exchanges or hospitality services, such as Airbnb to see what kind of deals are available.

Cheaper Cuisine

If you have access to a kitchen, consider buying groceries and making your own meals instead of eating out. Look for what’s in season and take advantage of the local produce. Additionally, you can pick up groceries that don’t have to be cooked and stop for a picnic.

If you’re vacationing on a budget, three meals a day isn’t necessary. Dinners at restaurants is usually the most expensive, so by eating a big lunch and only snacking for the rest of the day, you’ll save some money and some calories, too.

Inexpensive Entertainment

Check out a guidebook — printed or online — before beginning your journey and look for free tours, good hikes, scenic locations and other inexpensive excursions. Search for deals and discounts on entertainment. Once you reach your destination, talk to locals about their favorite sights and activities. You may discover adventures, vistas and prices most tourists don’t find.

If want to bring souvenirs home, avoid airport and hotel gift shops. Look for flea markets, farmer’s markets and swap meets. Not only will you be able to purchase handmade items from local residents, many vendors are open to bartering, letting you walk away with a great bargain.

Finally, if you’re planning on international travel, make sure to notify your financial institution. This will help prevent any unnecessary issues with your credit cards. America First is also part of the CO-OP Network, which allows you to get cash from any ATM in that partnership without paying fees.

Traveling to another country does require some financial preparation, but these money-saving tips should help the price tag become more manageable.

HSA

Six Tips for First-Time Homebuyers

Buying your first home can be intimidating. After all, making the leap from renting to ownership should not be taken lightly. However, with proper preparation and planning, you’ll find it’s not as scary as it seems. Here are six tips for first-time homebuyers.

1. Make Sure You’re Ready

Before purchasing a house, you’ll need to be willing to plant some roots. It takes time to build equity and experts suggest staying in a home for at least five to seven years to make it worth the investment. Plus, selling isn’t as easy as not renewing the lease on your apartment.

Next, check your credit score. A good one — 700 or above — usually means you can get a lower interest rate on your mortgage loan. And that means a smaller monthly payment. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll be paying utility bills, insurances and, in some cases, association (HOA) fees. Figuring out how much you can afford now will help prevent financial stress down the road.

And you’ll have to plan for a down payment. Most mortgage lenders require 3% to 5% of the price up front. However, you don’t want to completely deplete your savings, because it’s important to maintain an emergency fund. Steady income and smart spending are essential when you make the decision to become a homeowner.

2. Prioritize What You Want & Need

Come up with a list of features you want in your future residence. This may include size, design, location and area crime rates. This will help narrow your search. Differentiate between needs and wants. There’s no such thing as the perfect house, so you also need to decide what’s flexible and what are deal-breakers.

3. Find a Real Estate Agent

It’s crucial to work with a Realtor you trust. Choose someone with experience in the neighborhoods you’re considering, then talk to friends and family about their past buying and selling situations. Interview several real estate agents to find someone with whom you are comfortable.

4. Get Pre-Qualified

It’s important to seek loan pre-qualification to know what you can afford. This also makes the mortgage application go faster when you find the property you want. America First can help you through this process and determine which loan best meets your needs and financial goals.

5. Make an Offer

Once you find the house you love, it’s time to make an offer. Your Realtor can help you in coming up with something reasonable and communicate it to the seller. It’s acceptable to offer slightly less than the asking price, but some sellers are willing to negotiate and others are not.

6. Inspections are Key

Never buy a home until you have it inspected. There could be serious flaws, such as mold, structural damage, wiring issues or plumbing problems that could end up costing you in the long run. Hire a professional inspector and make sure to read the report thoroughly. Resolve anything major before you close.

Following these guidelines should provide first-time homebuyers with some stress relief. You can also check realestate.americafirst.com and search for local homes by location, price and type, as well as bathrooms and bedrooms.

Happy house hunting!

HSA

Standby Power: Unplug & Save

Take a moment to think about every device you have plugged in at home. Now consider how many of those actually need to be.

The truth is, most electronics don’t always have to be attached to outlets. In fact, many of these perpetually plugged-in gadgets still use power when they’re turned off, costing you money you didn’t even know you were spending.

What Is the Standby Power Price Tag?

The average household routinely leaves around 40 appliances plugged in 24 hours a day. The U.S. Department of Energy has estimated that standby power — also known as leaking electricity, phantom load or vampire draw — can account for up to 10% of your annual electric bill. That means you could be throwing over $100 annually down the electrical drain.

What Are the Culprits?

Certain things like refrigerators and DVRs need to stay hooked up, for obvious reasons. However, identifying problem electronics can help you save some money. Older items with manual knobs, switches & dials, didn’t use a lot of standby power. Almost everything these days comes with a digital display. LED lights don’t use a lot of energy by themselves, but if you see a light on when something is turned off, it’s a power sucker. Computers, laptops, TVs, cable boxes, gaming consoles, coffeemakers and iPod docking stations are some of the biggest culprits when it comes to standby power usage.

How Do I Prevent Power Leaks?

The simple answer is to unplug devices when you’re not using them. While this seems like common sense, it can be a little tricky in practice. After all, no one wants to do that with 40 products when they leave for work, then hook them back in when they get home. The idea is to determine what you can unplug and connect those devices to a power strip. That way, you can easily switch all of them on and off as needed. If a daily disconnect is too daunting, consider doing it when you go on vacation or take a weekend getaway.

As you can see, unplugging unnecessary electronics is not only good for the environment, it’s also beneficial for your wallet. Plus, once you’ve gotten into the habit, you can take that extra money and invest it in an America First dedicated savings account, earning dividends instead of letting it slip away through a power outlet.