Tag : Articles


Fraud Prevention: Creating Strong Passwords

If your password is 123456, qwerty or, even worse, password, you should probably stop reading and change it now. Despite all the security hacks and data breaches in today’s world, many people still use easy-to-guess logins, putting their information & identities at risk. Creating strong passwords is your first line of defense against hackers, so here are some tips to get started.

  • Make it easy (for you)—Passwords you can’t remember are useless. Choose keywords or phrases you can easily memorize. But don’t make it so simple that someone else could quickly figure it out.
  • Make it unique—Don’t use the same login on various accounts, because if someone gets access to one, they’ll have them all. Create a unique password for every site to ensure better security.
  • Change cases—Many logins are case-sensitive, so using a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters will add an extra layer of protection. You don’t even have to follow the capitalization rules you learned in school—CapiTaLIze whateVER yOU WAnT, WHerEveR You wANt.
  • Add numbers—Include numbers that mean something to you. Don’t just include a 1 at the end of your password, put a series at the beginning (8675309Jenny), at the end (Jenny8675309) or interspersed throughout a word (J867e53nn09y). You can even replace certain letters with numbers, such as 4m3r1c4 F1r57 Cr3d17 Un10n.
  • Try special characters—Even adding a question mark at the end of your password can make a difference. You can add the pound sign at the beginning to make it hashtag (#PurpleToupee?) or put a word in quotes (Nowmadewith”real”cheese!). Be creative.
  • Consider passphrases—Instead of just one or two words, try a sentence. Create a long phrase that means something to you, such as nevergonnagiveyouUP!nevergonnaletyouDOWN! or WhyDoesMyEmployerMakesMeChangeThisEvery6Months?
  • Swap passwords often—Make a habit of changing your passwords periodically. This rotation will ensure that even if someone does discover your login, they won’t have it for long.

Following the advice above may not protect you from every cyberattack, but it will help strengthen your online security.


Eight Ways to Save on Car Maintenance

The freedom of having a personal vehicle comes with a price tag. In addition to the purchase price, AAA estimates the average cost of owning & operating a car is $8,558 annually. However, there are ways to limit these expenses. Here are eight tips to help you save on maintenance.

  1. Keep a record—The owner’s manual will tell you how often routine services, such as flushing the transmission or replacing the timing belt, should be done. Then, keep track of what maintenance has been performed to avoid unnecessary or redundant repairs.
  2. Do it yourself—Some things you can do on your own, even if you’re not mechanically inclined. The air filter, windshield wipers and even some light bulbs are all easy to replace and you won’t pay for labor. You might also consider changing the spark plugs or fuel filter If you’re comfortable with that.
  3. Watch your oil—It used to be that changing your oil every three months or 3,000 miles was the norm. But with later models and newer, synthetic oils, this isn’t the case. Check the car’s manual to know for sure, but you might not have to go in that often. Nevertheless, you should check your oil & other fluid levels regularly and don’t ignore serious leaks. Otherwise, your engine could seize and you’ll be spending a lot more.
  4. Check your tires—Those with low air pressure wear down faster than if they’re properly inflated and get worse gas mileage. Gauges aren’t expensive and will let you know if you’re at the right PSI. When the time comes to replace your tires, look for a place that offers free rotation, balancing, and alignment with purchases.
  5. Clean your battery—To extend its life, clean any corrosion off the terminals—all you need is baking soda, water and a toothbrush. Automotive stores also sell wire brushes specifically for this purpose.
  6. Do your research—If you encounter a problem, look up online articles & watch YouTube videos. Learn what could be wrong so you feel more confident when you go to a mechanic. Find a shop you trust and don’t be afraid to go somewhere else if you feel they’re taking advantage of you. Compare estimates, find coupons, and seek discounts on parts—some shops will even let you bring in your own that you purchased elsewhere.
  7. Save on gas—Most cars, especially when you drive them in higher altitudes, don’t need premium fuel. Save with the cheaper option. Also, don’t drive aggressively—sudden acceleration or braking wastes gas. Speaking of unnecessarily burning fuel, combine your errands so you’re not making multiple trips.
  8. Watch your dashboard—Don’t ignore the warning lights. If the oil, battery or check engine light is on, take it in and see what’s wrong. It could be a faulty sensor, but it might be something much more serious that, if left unchecked, could be extremely costly.

Preventative maintenance is the best way to avoid expensive auto repairs. By following the tips above, you’ll extend the life of your car and save money.


Five Ways to Improve Your Relationship—with Money

Much like dating, your partnership with cash & credit can be complicated. And, just like marriage, it takes effort to make your finances work. Here are five tips to help you improve your relationship with money.

Communicate Clearly

First, you need to be honest about how you handle money. Then determine where you want your relationship go. Are you happy with the way you’re spending and saving or is there room for improvement? If you need to make some changes, set quantifiable & achievable objectives. Make a plan that fits your lifestyle and doesn’t leave you frustrated, then check in periodically on your progress.

Be Honest

Once you establish a budget, stick to it. No financial plan can be completely rigid, but exceptions to your rules should happen rarely and only after careful consideration. If you’re constantly fudging the numbers and making excuses, you’re only cheating yourself.

Reward Good Behavior

If you save and never spend, your relationship with money isn’t going to be as fulfilling. Set up periodic rewards when you reach a benchmark. Treating yourself to a snack or buying a song on iTunes won’t derail your financial future, and these small rewards will encourage you to continue.

Forgive Mistakes

Don’t throw everything away if there’s a hiccup in your plans, such as accidentally going over your grocery allowance for the week. If unexpected expenses come up, which they probably will, re-evaulate and adjust as necessary. Don’t stress out over something small. You may come in under budget the following week, so it could even out. Don’t use these little mistakes as an excuse to give up.

Show Respect

If you treat money like it’s completely expendable, it will be gone sooner than you’d like. You need to realize the importance of your finances. Treat money right by saving, investing and spending wisely, and you’ll get much more in return from your relationship with it.


How To Transfer Your Credit Card Balance in Three Easy Steps

If your credit cards have unreasonably high rates and you’re paying more than you earn, it’s time for you to transfer those balances to America First. You can even consolidate multiple cards into one, easy-to-manage account.

We offer unlimited cash back, no annual fees, and some of the lowest rates in the nation. Plus, it’s simple to switch.

Step 1: Open your Visa® account

If you already have a Visa credit card from America First, you’re ready to begin. If not, it’s easy to apply for one.

Step 2: Get a cashier’s check

After determining how much you’ll need to pay on your other accounts, talk to an America First representative at a branch or call our member service department. We’ll cut a check from your Visa balance for the amount you owe, which will be payable to that financial institution. Don’t transfer the balance from your Visa to checking yourself or you’ll be charged a cash-advance fee—we waive that fee when cashier’s check are used.

Step 3: Pay off your other card

We’ll give you a check for the full amount or mail it directly to any address you request.

And, just like that, your balance is now on your America First Visa Platinum and you’ll benefit from lower rates, fewer fees & greater rewards.

emergency preparedness

Emergency Preparedness on a Budget

In case of fire, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes or even job loss, an emergency preparedness plan can make a big difference. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has recommended that each household be sustainable for at least three days after a catastrophic event. And while you can buy food storage and 72-hour kits for hundreds or even thousands of dollars, here are some tips for getting prepared on a budget.


Don’t wait until a disaster hits to start stocking up or you’ll be faced with empty shelves and a limited selection. Grow your inventory in small steps, buying whenever a good deal comes around. Skip eating out once a week and use that money to purchase some non-perishable items.

Start with a few cans at a time and watch for case lot sales at your local supermarket, where you can buy canned beans, fruits, vegetables and meats in bulk to save even more. Also, keep an eye out for deals on spices, which will be much appreciated if you’re living on wheat bread and beans for a while. Spend less on generic brands, but make sure you’re getting something you and your family will actually eat. Rotate your storage every few months.


Water is essential for any emergency preparedness inventory. You need to be ready in case your city’s water supply is contaminated or cut off completely. Recommendations are to store one gallon of water for each family member, per day. However, instead of expensive bottled water, save a few bucks by filling up empty two-liter soda bottles. Make sure to clean and rinse them to prevent any contaminants that could promote bacterial growth.

Not all water is used for drinking, though. If you have advanced warning, fill up your bathtub and some buckets for bathing, washing clothes, and doing dishes. If your water is shut off, you’ll also need a reserve to flush your toilet. Ration it wisely and make sure to keep your two water supplies separate.

Other Supplies

Your emergency preparedness kit should also include items to keep you warm, dry & clean. Many dollar stores carry basic toiletries, bandages, rubbing alcohol and other first-aid supplies, as well as cheap flashlights. After all, you don’t want to have to waste your phone’s power. Test them regularly and replace the batteries as needed.

Instead of donating all your old clothes to a local thrift store, keep an outfit or two to include in your 72-hour pack. You don’t need new clothes or the latest trends when you’re trying to stay warm. And if you have small children, consider using cloth diapers instead of disposable ones—they’re reusable and take up much less space. Keep a small amount of cash on hand, too. No electricity means that credit & debit cards won’t work.

Putting together an emergency preparedness kit doesn’t have to be expensive. Set apart a small amount each month for additional preparation purchases. You can also ask for items as birthday or Christmas gifts. It may take a little longer on a budget, but every little bit helps when disaster strikes.

credit score

How to Improve Your Credit Score

A good credit score is your passport to approvals. Lenders will look at that number to determine how risky it is to provide you with financing. Scores can determine your rate, term, or even if you get the funds at all.

If yours is lower than you’d like, you should know that there is no quick fix. In fact, the so-called simple tricks you’ll find online will most likely backfire. Responsibly rebuilding your credit score takes time and effort, but if you want to improve it, here are some tips.

Know Your Number

Your score is a three-digit number that comes from one of the major consumer reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. A FICO® Score, created by the Fair Isaac Corporation, is used by many lenders. At America First, you can see your FICO® score just by logging in to free online banking–checking it as many times as you like without affecting your credit rating. In case you don’t know if your number is good or bad, here is a quick breakdown:

  • Exceptional: 800+
  • Very Good: 740-799
  • Good: 670-739
  • Fair: 580-669
  • Poor: under 579

Correct Errors

Every year, you can get a free copy of your full credit report. Scan the documents from all three bureaus for any errors that negatively affect you. Are all your accounts listed? Are there any applications you didn’t set up and don’t recognize? Are there payments listed as late that you can prove were made on time? If you do find something incorrect, you can dispute it with the agency reporting the error.

Pay Your Debt Down

Start reducing your debt at a steady & deliberate pace. Don’t just move it around. Keep your credit card balances low and pay off your monthly charges. Also, be sure to stay current with all your bills. With America First online banking, you can set up alerts that notify you when a loan payment’s due and enroll in free online bill pay for automatic transfers. These will take care of utilities, your phone, cable and other accounts on time, every time. Paying your debts consistently and in full is the best way to improve your credit score.

If you think your credit is beyond repair, talk to an expert. America First offers free financial counseling for every member. And remember, building up your credit isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. Consistency and responsibility are your best options for improving your credit score.


The Benefits of Beneficiaries

As much as we don’t want to think about dying, it’s important to plan for it and have your financial affairs in order. Naming beneficiaries for all of your accounts and keeping that information up-to-date is vital to avoid disputes among those you’ve left behind.

Keep it Current

The joint owner has equal ownership with the primary owner, so if one of them passes away, the funds default to the other. If your account has a single owner, you can still elect who receives your America First resources by submitting this payable-on-death beneficiary form to any branch.

There are many life changes that can affect who your beneficiary is, such as marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, or the death of someone in your immediate family. It’s therefore essential to keep your designations current. These apply to personal savings, checking & money market accounts, as well as certificates and IRAs.

You can also elect more than one recipient. In fact, additional coverage from the National Credit Union Administration is available when you have multiple beneficiaries. Details are at NCUA.gov or contact an America First representative.


The credit union is required by law to disperse the funds to the named beneficiary, unless otherwise determined by the courts. This means if you remarry, but forget to change your information and your former spouse is still your designee when you die, your assets will go to him or her.

If you don’t choose a beneficiary and your account doesn’t have a joint owner, your money could be subject to probate, a process that administers a deceased person’s assets in a court of law. It costs to file the case, may require an attorney, and can take a long time if your estate is contested, so you want to avoid this if possible.

Another way to protect against probate is by opening a trust account. You’ll need a lawyer to draft the trust document, then we will set up your account that you will fund. America First also offers free professional consultations regarding trusts, wills and estate settlements. For specifics, call (801) 827-7130.

Staying current with your beneficiaries will help your family avoid unnecessary entanglements and stress. If you don’t know who is named on your account or want to check or change your status, please call 1-800-999-3961 or visit a nearby America First office.


HSA: Saving You Money on Healthcare

Health savings accounts (HSAs) are dividend-earning accounts specifically designated to pay the costs of managing your healthcare. If you’re generally healthy and don’t need to visit the doctor very often, an HSA is a great way to limit your upfront expenses and save some money in the long run.


Many people have preferred provider organization (PPO) coverage because that’s the most traditional way. With a PPO, you are billed larger premiums by an insurance company whether you use the program or not.

Health savings accounts are relatively new and this unfamiliarity makes some people hesitant about them. However, they offer more control when it comes to health expenditures. Plus, the funds in your account are tax-deductible—or you can set up pre-tax contributions with your employer—and the dividends you accrue are also tax-free.

How do I open one?

To qualify, you must have a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). This may seem intimidating, but if you don’t normally spend a lot of money on medical care anyway, you’ll benefit from the lower premiums. After that, opening an HSA with America First is as easy as getting a regular savings account.

How do I utilize it?

Once it’s open, you’re responsible for the funding and making sure the money is used correctly. You’ll receive a debit card to pay for qualified medical expenses, which includes everything from doctor’s visits, eye exams and dental work, to insulin, wheelchairs and guide dogs. You’ll additionally need to track all your expenses and keep the receipts in case you’re ever audited.


Unlike PPOs and flexible spending accounts, the money you put into an HSA is yours to keep. If you quit your job, retire or otherwise lose your HDHP coverage, you can still spend these funds on eligible medical costs. And, when you turn 65, you can do what you want with the account balance, which means it can eventually become part of your retirement fund.

America First health savings accounts come with no fees and no minimum-balance requirements. We also offer custom products to fit your needs, such as HSA checking and certificate options. You’ll get 24/7 access with free online & mobile banking, and, as always, you’ll benefit from the assistance and expertise of our member service team. Contact your employer or insurance provider today to see if they offer HSA-qualified high deductible plans.


How to Pay for College Even When You Think You Can’t

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average annual cost of college tuition, fees, room & board is between $16,000 and $42,000. If those numbers make your head spin, you’re not alone. Whether you’re trying to pay for college yourself, or you’re looking to fund your child’s education, here are some resources that can help ease the financial burden.


Thankfully, there are ways to make a university education more affordable. Some scholarships will cover your entire tuition, as well as books & housing, whereas others will only award you a few hundred dollars. Keep an eye on the deadlines and apply for as many as possible, because you can get more than one.

Academic and athletic scholarships are probably the most common, but you can also gain funds based on your ethnic background, hobbies, military service, or an essay you wrote. They can also be unusual, such as the TCI Scholarship Award given to students above a certain height, and the Chick and Sophie Major Memorial Duck Calling Contest, which has awarded more than $73,000 in scholarships since it began in 1974.

Contact the school’s financial aid office to discuss what’s available and how to apply. You can also find options online, but beware of scammers who will ask you to pay for consideration or ask for too much personal information.


Federal and state grants are financial aid distributed by the government. They’re available for almost anyone in need and generally do not need to be repaid. There are four federal types:

  • Pell Grants – awarded to undergraduates in financial need
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) – created for undergraduate students having exceptional financial need
  • Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) – given to students who intend to teach at schools with low-income families
  • Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants – for students whose parents or guardians died during military service

Apply at https://fafsa.ed.gov/ to see what assistance you qualify to receive.

Coverdell Education Savings

America First offers Coverdell education accounts, which are savings accounts specifically designated for your kids’ education. You can deposit up to $2,000 per year and automatic transfers make setting aside the money easy. Even $10 monthly will quickly add up and make a difference in your child’s future.

Get involved

It pays to get involved with school organization and activities. Many student government officers receive tuition discounts. You can also qualify for stipends at many universities by creating college clubs. Additionally, on-campus jobs will sometimes include a tuition portion in addition to a paycheck.

No matter what you decide to study, higher education is costly. However, it doesn’t have to mean financial ruin. By saving money, applying for scholarships & grants, and getting involved on campus, you’ll find that paying for college can more affordable.

ride your bike

Ride Your Bike & Save Some Bucks

When you ride your bike instead of driving to work, school or the store, you gain a lot of benefits. Biking is both aerobic and anaerobic exercise, improves cardiovascular fitness, strengthens bones and prevents disease. Bike riding is also good for the environment as pollution-free transportation–and it’s great for your wallet.

According to AAA, the average yearly cost for owning and operating a personal vehicle is $8,558, approximately 15% of the median household income. This equates to over $700 a month or 57 cents per mile. And while regularly riding a bicycle won’t cut out all auto-related expenses, it can significantly decrease the amount you spend annually on your car or truck.

Less gasoline

First and foremost, you’ll save on fuel. Gasoline’s average cost has decreased significantly in the last five years (from $3.87 per gallon to $2.34 a gallon), but it’s still more expensive than a breakfast smoothie or granola bar—the fuel of a cyclist. And when gas prices start to rise again, which they probably will, you won’t have as much anxiety.

Less maintenance

It costs a lot less to maintain a bike than a car. By not driving as often, you’ll decreased maintenance expenses, which average almost $800 annually. You won’t have to change your oil as frequently or replace your tires as quickly. Plus, with less wear and tear on your vehicle, it will be on the road longer.

Other advantages

Some companies will reimburse employees who bike to work $20 per month, tax-free, because of the Bicycle Commuter Act. This is intended to cover related expenses, such as accessories, repairs, improvements & storage. Check with your employer to see if it’s offered. Additionally, select insurance companies will lower your premiums if they learn you’re no longer driving to work each day.

Finally, there are incidentals such as parking. Most bike racks are free of charge and, as an added perk, are usually close to the building. Plus, you won’t pay as much for the gym. After all, when you ride your bike, you’re getting plenty of exercise. And all that physical activity can mean less trips to the doctor.

As you can see, there are many benefits to commuting via bicycle. Besides becoming healthier and environmentally friendly, you’ll also be spending less on fuel, maintenance and insurance. In fact, when you ride your bike regularly, the only thing you may miss is the morning traffic.