Tag : Financially Fit Friday

stolen

Here’s What to Do If Your Credit Card Is Stolen

If your credit card is stolen, don’t go into a panic. It’s normal to feel angry or vulnerable, but keeping a level head and acting quickly will lessen potential financial injury. In fact, America First members have zero fraud liability if you quickly let us know about the situation. Here’s what to do if your credit card is missing.

See if you can find it

First, determine if you’re the victim of theft or you just misplaced your card. Retrace your steps and think of the last place you used it. Log in to your account and look at recent transactions. Pat down recently worn outfits, check under couch cushions, call any stores or restaurants you visited, and ask your spouse about it. Because when you report a card as stolen, it will be deactivated and replacing it may take a few days.

Turn It Off

If you have free Card Guard® mobile security from America First, you can turn off your Visa® as soon as you notice it’s missing. That will give you time to search those couch cushions one more time. If you find it, just press a button and turn your card on again. If your Visa doesn’t turn up and it’s off, whoever has it can’t use it.

Contact the card issuer

When you determine that your card is lost or stolen, contact your financial institution immediately. Have the following information ready to speed up the reporting process:

  • Your name
  • Which card was stolen
  • When it was stolen/lost
  • When and where it was last used

If your PIN was compromised, report that as well. Once reported as stolen/compromised, your card/PIN will be cancelled and new items will be issued. As previously mentioned, creating & delivering replacements can take a couple days, so be prepared to use another card or cash until then.

Review & update

Look over your monthly statement for unauthorized charges. If any appear that weren’t previously reported, let your institution know. Under federal law, if the transactions occur after the card is reported stolen, you cannot be held liable. And for those that took place before then, the maximum liability amount is $50.

And finally, when your new card is in your wallet, make sure to update your payment information for automatic transfers, such as your Netflix or cable bill. Not doing so can interrupt your movie, which could also induce panic attacks in some people.

tax refund

Five Wise Ways to Use Your Tax Refund

If you’re expecting a tax refund, it may be tempting to blow it all on hats or a gold-plated gadget, but there is a better use. After all, this isn’t a bonus from your company; it’s your money that the government borrowed and they’re giving it back to you. Using these funds wisely can alleviate stress and increase your sense of well-being. Here are five smart ways to make the most of your refund.

Invest

This isn’t limited to stocks & bonds, although it’s not a bad idea to enter the market. Investing in certificate accounts is a safe way to earn higher dividends. And even if you already have a 401(k) plan with your employer, you can start a separate IRA to diversify and create a secondary income stream. Alternatively, you can contribute to a new business or you could invest in people by donating to charitable causes—which can also be tax deductible.

Reduce Debt

There is no feeling quite like being debt-free. Why not use the money to lower your credit card balances? Pay off the one with the highest interest rate first, and if you have some money left over, start working on the next. You can also get ahead on your auto loan, your student loans & your mortgage principal. This may not seem as fun as buying things, but owing less to others gives you more buying power.

Build an Emergency Fund

If you don’t have one yet, a tax refund can help jump start your rainy-day savings. Even $500 can help soften the blow of unexpected costs. If you already have an emergency fund, keep working to save three to six months of expenses. Having this cushion will help if you ever suffer from job loss or medical issues.

Repair & Replace

Complete the maintenance projects you’ve been putting off. Fix broken shingles on your roof. Replace your car’s worn tires. Go to the dentist and take care of the tooth that’s been bothering you. Replace an old, energy-inefficient fridge or a malfunctioning oven. At times, spending a little on preventative care now will help prevent bigger bills down the road.

Make Memories

There’s no harm in treating yourself with your tax refund when your other financial responsibilities are handled. However, many people find that purchasing things isn’t as satisfying as gaining experiences. Take your spouse out to a nice dinner. Enjoy a family vacation. Go somewhere fun with your friends. Create memories that will last, instead of buying that quadcopter drone with GPS—after all, it’s likely to break before the month’s over.

move

Pack it Up: How to Save When You Move

No matter what your plans are, when you move it will always come with a price. If you do it yourself, it’s going to cost a lot more time. When you hire professionals, it means spending more money. It’s important to determine what’s of value to you. Regardless of the method you choose, here are some ways to save.

Getting Movers

Create a budget beforehand. Figure out all the pre-moving expenses and what it will take to get your new place up and running. Check prices online and get quotes from at least three companies. Be sure to clarify if they charge extra for long hauls, packing, assembly, stairs and storage. Talk to friends in the neighborhood and speak with folks at your destination about who they use.

Choose the off-season if possible. Most people move in the spring and summer months, since school is out and the weather is nice. However, some movers charge less between September and May. Scheduling for weekdays can also bring savings, since the demand is higher on the weekends.

Taking it on Yourself

First, figure out how much stuff you want to take. Sell things you don’t want to bring along to help offset the cost. Or use what you earned from a yard sale to help pay for furniture or electronics at your new home. Of course, it’s also less expensive to move fewer items—you won’t need an extra-large truck for a more modest set of belongings.

Carefully select the vehicle’s size. A larger one may come with a higher rate, but it will be less expensive than multiple trips with a smaller van. You can also rent helpful items, such as dollies or furniture pads, instead of buying them. And try to time your move directly from one location to another, instead of renting a storage shed.

Search for free boxes at local stores. You can also go online and look around your neighborhood for packing materials from those who have recently moved. And while you’re at it, ask friends & family to help. After all, you can usually pay volunteers in pizza.

If you’re changing cities for a new job, some employers will cover the relocation. Also, you can deduct certain expenses, so keep all related receipts. Please consult your accountant or a tax professional for details. Moving is never a fun experience, but careful planning and budgeting can ease your financial burden.

limit

Raising the Roof—Increasing Your Credit Limit

A credit card is like a chain saw—if used correctly, it can be a great tool. But if it’s mishandled, the results can be disastrous. Increasing your limit is a helpful way to gain more spending power, but it must be done responsibly to gain the benefits.

Why should I increase it?

If you’re a responsible cardholder who regularly pays the entire balance every month, yet still find yourself repeatedly maxing out your card, you may have outgrown your credit line. Increased expenses, after all, are common as people get older, marry & have children. Raising your limit gives you more flexibility with your spending.

Another reason to boost your limit is to cover big expenses, such as a new vehicle or an extended vacation. Increasing your credit line can also be useful in the event of any emergency situations that may arise. Plus, with a Visa® from America First, you will enjoy quarterly rebates on every dollar you spend.

When should I apply to raise my credit limit?

It’s important to achieve financially stability before you request an increase. If your payment history is spotty or your credit score is low, you may not be approved in the first place. While a boost in credit may trigger a hard pull on your credit report, a higher limit could actually help raise your score in the long run. This is because your credit utilization ratio—an element that credit reporting agencies use to calculate your score—measures how much debt you have available, compared to what you regularly tap into. Keeping that percentage of used credit low in relation to your potential will help improve your overall score.

How can I accomplish this?

Raising your limit is actually quite simple. Usually you’ll fill out an online application or contact your financial institution. If you’ve proven yourself as a responsible borrower, your request will likely be approved. And don’t hesitate to discuss your current financial situation with the card issuer to determine what credit card limit is right for you.

birthday

Birthday Freebies—Celebrate with Deals Just for You

Eating out on your birthday doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Many restaurants offer free food or drinks when you sign up for their lists or loyalty clubs, and all it costs is getting some emails. You can even create folders specifically for these deals so the marketing messages don’t overwhelm your primary account.

And you don’t have to visit all of these places in one day, either—that would be deliciously impractical. Most discounts won’t expire for a week or two and some are good for your entire birth month. These birthday offerings are subject to change, though, and most require advance registration, so please check their official sites for details.

  • A&W Restaurants – free root beer float
  • Arby’s – free small shake with sandwich purchase
  • Applebee’s – free treat
  • Baskin-Robbins® – free ice cream scoop
  • Benihana – $30 gift certificate
  • Buffalo Wild Wings – $5 off purchases of $25 or more
  • Cafe Rio – $5 credit towards one purchase
  • Chili’s – free dessert
  • Cinemark Theatres – free large popcorn
  • Cold Stone Creamery – buy-one, get-one-free ice cream
  • Corner Bakery Cafe – free sweet
  • Costa Vida – free dessert
  • Dairy Queen – BOGO Blizzard® shakes
  • Del Taco – free premium shake
  • Denny’s – free Grand Slam® breakfast
  • Dickey’s Barbecue Pit – free classic sandwich
  • Dunkin’ Donuts – free beverage
  • Einstein Bros. Bagels free egg sandwich with purchase
  • Famous Dave’s – buy one entrée, get the second 1/2-off
  • Firehouse Subs – free medium sandwich
  • IHOP – free Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity® pancakes
  • Jamba Juice – free smoothie or juice drink
  • Jersey Mike’s Subs – free regular sandwich & 22-ounce fountain drink
  • Krispy Kreme – free doughnut & beverage
  • LongHorn® Steakhouse – free dessert
  • Olive Garden – free dessert
  • Orange Julius BOGO drinks
  • Pizza Hut – free breadsticks or cinnamon sticks
  • Red Robin – free burger
  • Rumbi Island Grill – free dessert with purchase
  • Smashburger – free side or milkshake
  • Starbucks – free beverage or treat
  • Texas Roadhouse – free appetizer with purchase
  • TGI Fridays – free dessert with purchase
  • The Habit Burger Grill – free Charburger
  • The Melting Pot – free chocolate fondue
  • Tucanos Brazilian Grill – buy one meal, get one free
  • Zaxby’s – free Nibbler sandwich

Have a happy and frugal birthday!

movies

Cinematic Savings: How to Spend Less at the Movies

Whether you’re looking for a fun popcorn flick or you’re anticipating the next Academy Award-winning film, going to the movies is always a good time. Sometimes, however, the scariest thing at the theater isn’t on the screen—it’s on the receipt. The National Association of Theatre Owners reports that the average ticket price in 2017 was $8.97. That means a family of four will spend over $45 just for the show. If you add popcorn, drinks and candy, the total is closer to $75. But it doesn’t have to cost that much. Here are some ways to save.

Go early

Matinee pricing is usually cheaper than regular, so plan on a showing earlier in the day. Some theaters offer additional discounts for the first showing of the day, or if you on certain weekdays. And when you use your Visa® from America First, you can get matinee pricing every Monday night!

Go late

Despite what trailers tell you, it’s not necessary to see a movie on opening weekend. In fact, if you have the patience to wait—and the wisdom to avoid online spoilers—you can cut expenses by choosing a late-run showing or going to the dollar theaters. These establishments offer cheaper tickets for nearly the same moviegoing experience.

Avoid unnecessary fees

Do you really need to see that animated feature in 3D? Will IMAX enhance a romantic comedy? You’ll pay a premium for upgrades, but few are truly worth it. Stick to regular showings for the most part and buy your tickets box office to avoid online convenience fees.

Skip the concessions

The popcorn industry has done a great job of making you feel like their crunchy, buttery, salty treat is a must-have during any film. However, if you eat a good meal before going to the movies, you’ll be less tempted to get snacks and drinks, which is where most theater profits are made. If you can’t resist, split the cost with a group.

Discover discounts

Check to see if a nearby theater offers price breaks for students, seniors, AAA members, or those serving in the military. Warehouse outlets like Sam’s Club or Costco also sell tickets to local theaters at reduced prices. And if you download their apps, many national theater chains have ways you can earn discounts on movies and concessions.

Find freebies

Look for free screenings in your area. During the summer, for example, many communities will show films at local schools or libraries. You can also find out about advance events—when studios invite you to see a movie before the public to generate buzz. These are usually free, but they’re often overbooked and seating is not guaranteed. However, if you don’t get in, you can always go home and stream a favorite from the comfort of your couch.

social media

Fraud Prevention: Staying Safe on Social Media

Modern email accounts will filter out most phishing attempts and spam messages, but social networking sites like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Snapchat offer scammers a new path to your personal information, financial accounts, and identity. Here are some tips on how to stay safe while using social media.

Safe setup

No matter which service you’re using, check your privacy settings. Facebook, for example, allows you to customize who can see your posts, who can send you friend requests and if you want your profile to show up in search engines. Leaving your profile completely public is like keeping all the blinds open on your house. Use strong, unique passwords for each profile and keep them updated. Only fill out the required fields when registering. The less personal details you share online, the better.

Stay on guard

Don’t accept every friend request that comes your way on social media. Some fraudsters will create fake profiles or use the names and pictures of people you know to fool you. Examine each profile and if something looks fishy, delete the invitation. Avoid clicking on suspicious links, even if it’s from a friend or family member.

Be skeptical of third-party apps that request too much personal information or require unnecessary permissions, specifically when it comes to games and online quizzes. If you’re using a public computer, verify the “save password” box is unchecked when you log in to your profile and make sure to log out when you’re done—don’t just close the window.

Avoid oversharing

As exciting as it is to prepare for a vacation, resist the urge to post your upcoming travel plans online. This could alert the wrong people about when you’ll be gone and your home will be empty. Think twice before tagging your location while you’re out and about for the same reason.

Review each photo before uploading it to social media. Make sure you’re not accidentally revealing any information you don’t want to share, such as the name of your apartment complex or a friend’s phone number. And, it should go without saying, but never post pictures of your credit card, social security card or driver’s license online.

Be proactive

Talk to others in your household about internet safety. After all, one person clicking on the wrong link could put everyone else who uses that computer at risk. Make sure your smartphone is password protected if it is linked to your social networks. Report fraudulent social media profiles to customer support so they can delete the account.

If you suspect that your identity has been stolen, you should contact your financial institution immediately. We offer free identity theft recovery services to all of our America First Visa® cardholders, and will work with you until the issue is resolved. Stay safe out there!

pensions

Retirement Planning: Pensions & 401(k)s

The landscape of retirement financing is changing. While pensions became popular during World War II and were commonplace through the 1980s, 401(k)s are the new normal. But what are the differences? And why would employers choose one over the other?

Pension

Employment-based pensions, otherwise known as defined benefit plans, are investment portfolios managed by the company. After retiring, eligible employees receive income for the rest of their lives. The annuity amount, or monthly payout, depends on age, salary, and years of employment. These plans reward those who work at one company for an extended time.

One reason traditional pensions are less abundant is because most of the investment risk is placed on the employer. Some plans don’t even require employee contributions to disburse pension benefits. Also, if the company has financial issues or mismanages the portfolio, these funds can be reduced or lost completely.

401(k)

Because of the risks mentioned above & other factors, defined contribution plans, also known as 401(k)s, were introduced to supplement retirement income. However, these accounts replaced pensions at many companies. A 401(k) puts more responsibility in employees’ hands, who then choose what percentage of their income they will contribute, as well as the stocks, bonds and mutual funds that will comprise their investments.

There are no guarantees with 401(k)s. Employees assume all investment risks, but they also control their portfolios. Additionally, the money you contribute is yours to keep, no matter how long you stay with one company. Some businesses will match a percentage of what you put in, but that amount is significantly smaller than pension payouts. Additionally, since defined contribution plans cost less, smaller enterprises can participate in providing retirement benefits for their employees.

Of course, when it comes to choosing a plan, you are largely dependent on what your employer offers. Some businesses provide both a pension and a 401(k), but if you only have one option, discuss the potential benefits and risk factors with your human resources representative.

hotel

How to Save on Your Hotel Stay

Whether you’re planning a romantic getaway or you’re taking the whole family on a vacation, lodging can consume a large chunk of your budget if you’re not careful. Here are some tips for saving on your next hotel stay.

Timing is everything

The best way to spend less per night is to go during the off-season. Peak times will vary depending on location. A room at a ski resort will cost a lot less in the summer, for example, but you’re going to have a hard time finding inexpensive accommodations on Valentine’s Day. This also applies to days of the week. Most hotels charge more on the weekends, so a Tuesday-through-Thursday trip could be a lot cheaper. Finally, make your reservation in advance to take advantage of early booking discounts.

Do your research

Shop around to see how much rooms are in certain areas. If you want to reduce expenses & don’t mind traveling, consider staying outside downtown areas. Lots of hotels offer free guest shuttle services. Speaking of which, keep an eye out for complimentary perks such as breakfast, a pool, fitness center, and laundry service. Little bonuses like these can add up. On the flip side, watch out for hidden fees for things like parking or internet access.

Visit a few online aggregators to compare costs and read reviews, but don’t rely solely on them. Sometimes there are limited time offers that aren’t on third-party sites. Once you have a price in mind, contact the hotel directly—they might beat the pricing—and others may match any listing. Ask about the lowest non-refundable rate and if there are deals & discounts not listed elsewhere.

Find the discounts

Look for coupon codes for both the hotel and travel service sites. If you’re a member of AAA, AARP or the military, there’s a good chance you’ll score a cheaper room. Some businesses have loyalty programs that deliver discounts just for signing up. And ask about free upgrades when you arrive, especially if it’s your birthday, anniversary or honeymoon.

Additionally, America First can give you a break just for using your Visa® card—activate ABC Deals® and get 10% off at select hotels. Plus, with our Visa rewards program, you’ll earn points for every dollar you spend, then redeem them at hotels.

Try something different

Seek unconventional options, such as bed & breakfasts or hostels, to save big bucks. If you’re traveling with a large group, rent a vacation home near your destination and split the cost. If you have an in-room kitchen, cooking instead of eating out will lower your budget significantly. And, finally, if you want the cheapest break available, send the kids to their grandparents’ and spend the evening alone together in your own, now quieter & calmer home.

accident

What to do Right After a Car Accident

No matter how safe you’re driving, you can’t control anyone else on the road, which means you may still get into an accident. When that time comes, knowing what to do can save you time, money, even additional injuries. Here’s how to proceed immediately after a collision:

Step 1: Secure the scene

First, don’t leave. Fleeing the scene is a crime and will only get you in more trouble. Move your vehicle to a safe area, such as on the shoulder of the road or a parking lot. If your car is immovable, turn on the hazard lights and stay out of traffic as much as possible. Check everyone involved. If people are seriously injured but not in immediate danger, don’t move them until paramedics arrive—you don’t want to cause further damage.

Step 2: Carefully communicate

If there are injuries, call 911 immediately. Even if no one is hurt, you should still contact the police, making sure proper protocol is followed. Plus, their report is helpful if you decide to file an insurance claim. If the incident is minor enough that officers aren’t dispatched, you can still file your own accident report with the police department or DMV. As you wait for the authorities to arrive, exchange information, including:

  • Names
  • Insurance companies & policy numbers
  • Vehicle makes & models
  • License plate numbers
  • Eyewitness contact information

You should also take note of the responding officer’s name and badge number. You can even take pictures that capture this information instead of writing it down. Also, as you’re talking about the accident, don’t admit fault. This may feel strange—especially if you think you are the one who caused it—but there is a process for determining who’s responsible & the professionals should make that call. For example, you may have been looking at your phone when you hit the other vehicle, but after the cops speak with a witness, they could discover that the other driver ran a red light. Don’t rush to judgment, just state the facts.

Step 3: Consider a claim

Most insurance cards have numbers to call in case of an accident. Report it as soon as possible to ensure quick benefit delivery. However, just because you were in a crash doesn’t mean you must claim it with your insurance company. If it’s a minor fender-bender and no one is injured, filing claims can cause premium increases.

Caution and common sense go a long way after an auto accident. Following the three steps above will help save you some pain, both physically and financially.