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Traditional vs. Roth IRAs

Individual retirement accounts, or IRAs, are a way people can save money specifically for when they leave the workforce. The two primary types of retirement accounts are traditional and Roth. Here’s a quick rundown of the differences between these options.


With traditional IRAs, you normally won’t pay taxes until you withdraw the money. Some or all of your contributions may be tax deductible, depending on your gross adjusted income, and your earnings can also grow in a tax-deferred environment. Any money you put into a traditional IRA will lower your taxable income that year, which could help you qualify for other tax incentives.

You may continue to contribute to traditional IRAs until you reach the age of 70½. After that, you are required to begin taking distributions. Also, if you withdraw funds before you turn 59½, you’ll pay a 10% penalty. However, there are some ways to not get penalized for early withdrawal, such as if it’s for a first-time home purchase or the disability or death of the account holder. If you want to know more about these exceptions, contact a financial professional.


On the other hand, Roth IRAs are taxed now, but can be pulled out tax-free when you begin distribution. So your contributions aren’t deductible, but your earnings will grow untaxed with this type of retirement account. If you believe that you will be in a higher income tax bracket when you retire, then a Roth IRA might be right for you.

You can make contributions at any age to Roth IRAs. Distributions aren’t required, either. Plus, you won’t pay any penalties for early distribution, as long as it’s not more than the total amount that you’ve contributed. If you want to withdraw your earnings, you can do so tax-free if the Roth has been open for five years and you’ve turned 59½, you’ve incurred a disability, you need it to make a payment for your first home, or the account holder’s death.

Setting up an individual retirement account is easy, and the earlier you start, the more you’ll have when it’s time to retire. If you want to learn more about investing in IRAs, visit americafirst.com.


All-Wheel Savings: Caring for Your Car Tires

You should always take care of your wheels—and we’re not just talking about the car itself—because it will save you money in several ways. Properly maintained tires get better mileage, so you’ll spend less on gas. Regular checks and rotations will help them last longer and prevent blowouts, which could cause costly damage to your vehicle and potential injury. Here are some tips on how to take care of your ride:

Monitor the Pressure

Air pressure is measured in pounds per square inch or PSI. The PSI number on the sidewall is the maximum amount of pressure, and therefore should not be the number you use when inflating. You can see the ideal PSI in the owner’s manual or on the driver’s side door frame. Check the pressure regularly, because even a perfectly healthy tire can lose up to two PSI per month. Underinflated tires have more rolling resistance, which means the engine burns additional fuel. It can also lead to heat buildup, causing treads to wear down more quickly.

Look at the Tread

Check your wheels monthly, looking for damage, cracks, punctures and bubbles on the sidewalls. You should also monitor the treads, as bald tires won’t grip the road well and affect steering and handling. Underinflation will cause your tires to wear on both edges, whereas center-worn treads indicate overinflation. Use a tread depth gauge or, alternatively, a penny. Insert the coin in the grooves upside down and facing you—if you can see the top of Abraham Lincoln’s head, your tread is too low. Replace damaged or bald tires immediately.

Remember to Rotate

If your tires are unevenly worn, it’s because they haven’t been properly rotated. During this process, each wheel is taken off and moved to a different position, making them last longer. Most tires should be rotated every 6,000 to 8,000 miles, or roughly every other oil change. However, if you notice any irregular wear on your wheels—even if you haven’t reached 6,000 miles yet—go in for a rotation.

Watch Your Speed

Going fast means a greater chance of tire damage due to heat buildup or road hazards. Excessive spinning can also cause faster wear. Check your owner’s manual to learn the vehicle load limit to avoid unnecessary stress wheel or engine stress.

Take care of your vehicle and it will take care of your wallet.


Moving Out & the Cost of Independence

Living on your own is an essential part of growing up, but it comes with a price and independence isn’t cheap. If you’re thinking of moving out, here are some costs to consider. This isn’t intended to scare you, but rather prepare you for the budget realities you’ll face.


One of the biggest monthly expenses is your rent or mortgage payment. The average one-bedroom apartment in downtown U.S. cities can range from $600 to over $3,500, depending on where you live. Some places also require security deposits, as well as first & last months’ rent. Plus, if it’s unfurnished, you’ll need some money for a bed, tables, chairs and other furniture. And let’s not forget about the basics, such as light bulbs, utensils, shower curtains, toilet paper and cleaning supplies.


In addition to housing payments, you’ll pay utilities to keep the lights on and the AC running. On average, Americans spend over $100 per month for electricity, another $100 for gas, and around $40 for water & sewer. Sometimes these bills will be rolled into your rent, but if not, be careful with your thermostat.


If you’re single, you’ll be spending up to $50 a week on milk, eggs, fresh produce, bread and other groceries, but you’ll also want the staples—flour, sugar, salt, oil, condiments and spices. A fully stocked fridge is the best way to avoid the cost of eating out too much.


A television or computer can keep you entertained and connected, but they come at a price. While many people are cutting cable TV, the internet is becoming more of a necessity than a luxury. Service providers charge between $40 and $70 monthly for basic packages, and that doesn’t include the cost of router and a modem.


Your place should also be insured, protecting you against huge losses due to fire, flood or injury. Homeowner’s insurance is common, but renter’s insurance is also an option. If you own a vehicle, you must get it covered and you’ll need health insurance, although it’s offered as a benefit by many employers. All this adds hundreds or thousands of dollars to your yearly expenses, but it’s worth every penny in case of emergency.


If that weren’t intimidating enough, there are also a bunch of miscellaneous things to pay for: car repairs, maintenance, appliances, tools, fire extinguishers, etc. Even the act of moving out will dent your budget, because might be paying for boxes, tape, packing materials, renting a truck and feeding everyone who came out to help.

Finally, you don’t want monthly expenses to exceed 30% of your net income. If it’s more than that, you might want to take on a second job or cut some spending. Otherwise you may find yourself moving back in with your parents.

phone scams

Fraud Prevention: Avoiding Phone Scams

While many criminals are online stealing information, thousands are still affected by phone scams every year. Here are some tips to avoid being victimized.

Be Skeptical

Getting a call from a number you don’t recognize naturally raises skepticism. That’s good. Treat any unsolicited call as a potential threat. However, some scammers spoof numbers, so the call appears as if it’s coming from someone you know or a business you’ve worked with before. Stay on guard and spot red flags early.

Listen Closely

There are a few ways to identify phone scams. If the caller repeatedly tells you to trust him or her, for example, it’s a good sign that you shouldn’t. And if the offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. Be wary of contests you don’t remember entering and remain suspicious of anyone who needs a wire transfer or prepaid debit card transaction. Also, watch out for those who ask for your credit card information, account numbers and PINs—you should never give that information over the phone.

Take Time to Think

These crooks want as much data as they can get, as fast as they can get it. Many scammers will use high-pressure language to make you respond immediately. Don’t fall for it. Take your time and think about what’s going on. Ask clarifying questions. Get the caller’s information and tell him or her you’ll call back. If they seem hesitant or reluctant to let you off the phone, it’s likely fraudulent. Don’t be afraid to hang up if you feel uneasy.

Do Your Research

Look online for the originating phone number and see if others have reported it. Search for the company name with the words fraud or scam and watch if anything pops up. If a suspicious caller claims to be from a bank or credit union, go to the institution’s official website, call the listed number, then ask if they’re trying to reach you. If not, report it.

Act Swiftly

If you run into something suspect, file a complaint with the FTC. If a telemarketer calls you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., report them to the FTC—the law prevents solicitation during those hours. Additionally, if you ever receive a pre-recorded call from a company that didn’t get your permission to contact you, report that, as well. On robocalls, don’t press a number to speak to a person or to be removed from a list, because that may cause more unwanted calls. Reporting phone scams will help you and prevent others from being hassled by the same treatment.

freezer meals

Freezer Meals: Store Up Some Cold, Hard Savings

Freezer meals are becoming an increasingly popular way to save time. But did you know that they can also save you money? If you’ve ever thought about freezing your meals, here are some way to get the most out of your efforts.

What are freezer meals?

When we say freezer meals, we’re not talking about store-bought TV dinners that heat up in the microwave. These are home-cooked breakfasts, lunches and dinners that you make and store for later. A surprising variety of foods can be frozen to feed your family, including soups, sandwiches and casseroles. You can also freeze partial meals or ingredients for future courses.

Freezer cooking can save you time on decision-making and cleaning up. Some people will cook a month’s worth in one day, while others will simply double or triple a recipe and freeze the extra. Find the method that works best for you.

How do I save?

When dinner’s ready to go, you won’t grab grab some take-out on the way home after a busy day or when you just don’t feel like cooking. Plus, you’ll be eating healthier for less money. Freezer meal prep goes hand-in-hand with meal planning. By determining what you’re going to have beforehand and setting limits, it’ll mean less time at the store and fewer impulse buys. Freezer cooking also helps decrease the unplanned shopping trips that can kill your monthly budget.

Your frozen dishes can also be made with whatever’s on sale. Look for discounts on more expensive ingredients like meat and divide it into manageable portions before freezing. Buying in bulk can also generate savings and food that’s frozen doesn’t spoil as quickly.

Freezer cooking tips

Don’t do all of your shopping and cooking on one day—that would be exhausting. If you’re new to the process, start small with a handful of meals you can pull out when needed. And make sure to let the food cool off before you freeze it so that you don’t thaw out other items.

Air is your enemy when it comes to these meals—it’s what causes freezer burn. If you’re using gallon or quart-sized bags, squeeze out as much air as possible before sealing them. Some people even use straws to create a vacuum in the container. And freeze things flat whenever possible so the bags stack easier.

Use labels with dates and descriptions. You’re less likely to eat a freezer meal if you don’t know what it is or how long it’s been in there. Keep things organized and maintain an inventory sheet, rotating through it regularly. These time & money-saving meals aren’t for long-term food storage, after all, they’re quick and easy sustenance solutions.


More Financial Tips from Dads

We learned so much from last year’s post, so here’s another round of financial wisdom from local dads just in time for Father’s Day.


Finances can be scary and intimidating if you don’t take the time to acquaint yourself with them. While sitting down each month and setting your budget doesn’t sound fun or enjoyable, it makes a big difference. The more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll become and the more confident you’ll be. Understanding your limitations is important, because it allows you to know your financial flexibility. Make a budget each month and push yourself to stick to it so you can reap the rewards down the road with a fun trip or exciting adventure.


Break down everything you’re looking to buy as wants and needs. At a young age, wants seem a lot more like needs, so you have to really separate your heart from the equation. Make sure your needs are met and you’ve got enough to fall back on, then you can let those wants have a little more room in your budget.

Cameron T.

It’s not what you make, it’s what you save. Live within your means. Invest early. Stay out of debt.


Don’t waste your money on worthless things. Work hard and earn your money. Make sure the things you buy are worth what it took to get them. Don’t spend everything, save something.


Money often costs too much. Be careful about what you are giving up to get it. Everything has a cost. Don’t spend money on something you don’t love at the store. The opportunity for wealth is often disguised in overalls and looks like hard work. Money is a terrible master, but an excellent servant.


It’s just fine to be seen as the cheap friend. Once you’ve set that standard, it will be a running joke and it will be assumed that you’ll always be that way. You’ll save plenty of money. Once you save and build a foundation of financial security, be generous and pay it forward.

Cameron M.

Sound financial management can help you avoid a heavy burden. Decide what you want most, instead of what you want now.


Get out of debt and stay out of debt. Never spend money you don’t have. Put money aside for a rainy day. Don’t invest anything you can’t afford to lose. Don’t plan on an inheritance, but be grateful if you receive one. Don’t involve yourself in any get-rich-quick scheme, as they rarely do anything but put you in a worse position than you were before. It doesn’t matter what job you have or what it pays, as long as you can be disciplined to live on the wages.


The Write Way to Fill Out a Check

With today’s quick ways to pay, such as credit cards & online transfers, writing personal checks is like a lost art. However, on the rare occasion you need to use a paper check, here are some tips on how to do it correctly.


Being consistent will help identify check fraud, should it ever arise. When it comes to dates, some people put the month first, while others use the day. To avoid confusion, spell out the month in that field. Also, double-check the year during the first few months of the year, when you’re still getting used to the date changing.


Use full names and avoid acronyms whenever possible. If the check is to more than person—a wedding gift, for example—put the preposition or between the names. If you write Jon Snow and Cersei Lannister as payees, both must endorse it. If you write Jon Snow or Cersei Lannister, then either party can. Also, if it’s for a soon-to-be-married couple, use the names from the invitation. Even if one spouse is going to take the other’s last name, that process may take a while. The same principle applies to children who don’t have accounts—write their names followed by or and the parent’s name so the check can be cashed. And always use a pen to prevent any unauthorized alterations.


The two amount fields confirm one another. For the number in the box, start at the far left and fill the entire space. Make clear distinctions between dollars and cents with decimals. Clearly spell out the intended amount. Add a horizontal line through any empty space at the end to prevent unauthorized additions. If you make a glaring error, write VOID in big letters across the entire check and start a new one.


It’s optional and mostly for your records. However, it can help you avoid payment disputes—if your landlord says you didn’t pay your rent in June, but you have a carbon copy of the check that reads June rent payment on the bottom, you’ll be in the right. If you have an account or invoice number with a utility company, putting it on the memo line will help connect the check and the payment stub if they get separated.


These have power, because a check isn’t valid until signed. Complete all other fields first and then write your signature when you’re ready to give it to the payee. With joint accounts, either party can sign. Once again, consistency will help prevent fraud.

reverse mortgage

Understanding a Reverse Mortgage

If you’re approaching retirement and find yourself with less cashflow than anticipated, you may want to consider a reverse mortgage. Home equity conversion mortgages have been around since the 80s, but have recently gained popularity as a way for senior citizens to supplement their income.

What is a reverse mortgage?

A reverse mortgage is essentially the opposite of a traditional home mortgage. Instead of paying principle & interest to a financial institution to gain equity, the bank or credit union gives the homeowner access to their equity without the obligations of a monthly payment.

How does it work?

A reverse mortgage allows an eligible homeowner to convert their home’s equity into cash. The amount which can be borrowed is dependent on the value of your home as well as the borrower’s age. You may choose to receive those funds as one lump sum, in monthly payments or as a line of credit, which you can draw from as needed.

Once a reverse mortgage is granted, the homeowner no longer needs to make monthly mortgage payments. Their primary obligations are to maintain the home and to pay property taxes and home owners insurance. The homeowner retains ownership until the home is no longer owner occupied for a year, the homeowner sells the home, or they pass away. The debt is paid from the future sale of the property. The heirs of the estate will never have to pay more than the value of the house.

What are the requirements?

You don’t need an amazing credit score to qualify for a home equity conversion mortgage. To qualify for this alternate stream of income, you must:

  • Be a homeowner
  • Be 62 years of age or older
  • Use the home as your primary residence
  • Have equity in the home
  • Continue to pay property taxes and homeowners insurance

Is a reverse mortgage right for me?

Reverse mortgages are intended for those who have substantial equity in their home and are in need of additional cashflow. They are also designed for people who have long-term plans to stay in their houses. To set up a consultation and find out if a reverse mortgage is right for you or a loved one, please call 1-866-224-2157.


Hosting Your Backyard Barbecue on a Budget

Getting friends and family together for a barbecue is a staple of summer. However, trying to feed & entertain large groups can get expensive if you’re not careful. Here are some ways to grill up some fun without going broke.

Trimming the Bill

You don’t have to wow guests with fancy Japanese wagyu steaks—simple burgers work just fine. Chicken legs & thighs also have a lot of flavor and are usually less expensive. Additionally, good marinades give cheaper meats tender textures and flavorful character. Even low-priced hot dogs can please a crowd when dressed up with delicious toppings & condiments.

Establish a budget and design your menu around what’s on sale. Buy items in bulk when they’re discounted, then freeze them until needed. Take inventory of what you already have before shopping so you don’t double up and waste money.

Sharing the Sides

The host of a barbecue doesn’t have to provide everything. Ask guests to bring side dishes and desserts. Make specific assignments, though, or you could end up with 20 bags of chips. And you’ll need ice—stock up from your own fridge by putting it in plastic bags beforehand. Organizing a pot-luck-style meal also helps you count how many people are coming.

Sides will also reduce the need for costly meats. People will fill up on chips, dips and veggies instead of seconds of the chicken, burgers or steaks. And if you’re asked to bring a side dish, avoid purchasing pre-made food. Make your own pasta salads, rolls or baked beans to save cash.

Finding the Flatware

Most dollar stores have plenty of colorful plates, utensils, napkins, and decorations. If you’re having a smaller gathering, consider using dishes and silverware. Yes, it will make for more work afterward, but it only costs time. You could also invest in reusable plasticware specifically for barbecues.

Planning the Party

Inexpensive activities can also make for a memorable barbecue. Water balloons are a cheap, entertaining way to beat the heat. You could run a three-legged race, set up a simple obstacle course, or stage a watermelon-eating contest. A neighbor might have a volleyball net or horseshoe set that you can borrow. You can also keep kids (and some adults) entertained with a box of sidewalk chalk.

Regardless of what you do, remember that when it comes to backyard barbecues, people tend remember the socializing more than the food. A simple get-together is sometimes the best way to create lasting memories.

senior trip

Graduation Vacation Education: How to Spend Less on your Senior Trip

If you’re wanting to go on a senior trip, but you don’t have quite enough money for an exotic all-inclusive resort, here are some ways you can save some cash while still celebrating your graduation.

Plan it Out

Instead of going wherever the summer wind takes you, make a detailed plan of what you would like to do. This will help you create a budget and determine the most affordable vacation option. Additionally, doing research ahead of time will allow you to compare prices and find the best deals—cutting the cost of travel, food and entertainment.

Stay with Family

If you want to get away for your senior trip, visit a place where you’ve got close friends or family. Staying with relatives will help save you some money, and they can also be a guide to you about where to visit, what to eat, and must-have experiences while you’re there. Just make sure to be a polite house guest, otherwise you may not be invited back.

Be a Local Tourist

Sometimes we don’t appreciate the sights that are in our own backyard. Is there a place of interest within driving distance that you’ve always wanted to see? Is there a nearby tourist attraction that you’ve neglected to visit? Checking sites about your city or state can help you discover new experiences and local events you may not even know about. Seeing your home town from a different perspective can make it feel like a whole new world.

Go Camping

If you and your friends don’t mind going without some creature comforts, travel to the great outdoors for your senior trip. Camping is much cheaper than staying in a hotel, after all, and it can be fun to get away from everything for a while and enjoy nature. You can spend your days in the mountains hiking, swimming, fishing and relaxing in the open air, at little or no cost to you.

Build Your Savings

If you’re graduating this year, then this may be a little too late. However, you can still pass this advice along to your younger siblings: start putting money away as soon as you start getting a paycheck. It doesn’t have to be much, but save something. Building your savings will give you the financial freedom to do things, like have a fun senior trip, and still have money left over.