Tag : Financially Fit Friday


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 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!


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!


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.

auto insurance

Understanding Auto Insurance

After buying a new or used vehicle, your next step should be getting it insured. Auto insurance, after all, can save you a lot of money on repairs, hospital stays, and even property damage. Most states require drivers to carry insurance, but it’s important to understand what you’ll need before you hit the road. Here are the main auto policy categories.


This pays for the other person’s damage and injuries when an accident is your fault. If the accident is caused by the other driver, his or her liability insurance pays for your repairs and medical bills. Getting this is usually mandatory, though the levels of coverage may vary. In Utah, for example, you are required to have a minimum of $25,000 for bodily injury per person, $65,000 for bodily injury total per accident, $15,000 for property damage per accident, or $80,000 total for bodily injury and property damage. This may sound like a lot but, remember, this is not the premium you’re paying the insurance company, it’s the coverage you’re getting from it.

Personal injury protection (PIP)

Also necessary in some states, personal injury protection is primarily for the cost of accident injuries. Utah law requires that you have a minimum of $3,000 per person. It is also known as no-fault insurance, because it gives you additional financial protection, regardless of who caused the accident.


No matter who’s at fault, this insurance pays for your vehicle’s repairs when you’re in an accident. Collision coverage comes in handy when the damage total is more than what the other driver’s insurance can pay. Additionally, if the vehicle is unrepairable, it will provide payment at the actual cash value. It’s optional in most states, but many lenders require that you carry collision until your car is paid off.


Sometimes vehicles get wrecked by things other than cars & trucks. Comprehensive coverage takes care of damage due to fire, hail, flooding, tornados, theft, vandalism or even if you hit an animal. Once again, it’s optional, but it’s a good investment if your vehicle has an expensive price tag.

Uninsured motorist

This pays for car repairs and medical expenses if the other driver isn’t covered. It’s estimated that one in seven drivers on the road are uninsured or are underinsured, which means that you could end up facing the costs of the crash if the wrong person hits your vehicle.

There are, of course, other types of auto insurance, such as rental reimbursement, where you’ll get a loaner if your car isn’t drivable, but these five are the most prevalent. Discuss all options with an insurance agent, then decide what’s best for you and your vehicle.

used car

Five Steps to Take Before Buying a Used Car

It’s an exciting experience to buy a used car—especially when you finally find the make, model & color you want—at a price that looks like a good deal. However, before you get caught up in the process and sign the paperwork, here are five steps you should take.

Do your research

Don’t make a final decision the first time you visit a dealership or private seller. First, look up the vehicle online and, if applicable, the dealer. Use NADA or similar guides to check the value and read what others who own the same type of car are saying. You can even find repair records if you have the vehicle identification number (VIN).

Take a test drive

The best way to get to know a used car or truck is to drive it. Create a checklist beforehand so you don’t overlook anything. And don’t just take it around the block, either; see how it handles at various speeds on different roads. Use each of your senses by looking for excessive wear and tear, listening for strange rattles, knocks and squeaks and determining if the heater or air conditioner is generating odd smells. Press all the buttons, flip the switches, and turn on the lights to be certain everything is in working order.

Get a second opinion

While you’re out test-driving, take it to a friend or family member’s house. Talk to them about the mileage, the seller, the price and anything else that’s on your mind. This will give you the valuable perspective of an outsider who might be able to uncover red flags you can’t.

Visit the mechanic

If you’re not well versed in vehicle maintenance, you might consider going to an auto repair shop and getting a pre-purchase inspection. The mechanic can likely discover things you wouldn’t find just from looking under the hood. These normally run around $100, but spending a little upfront could save you from expensive repairs in the future.

Get preapproved

Never wait until the last minute to think about financing. Getting preapproved for an auto loan will help ensure you get the lowest possible rate. Plus, you can choose your lender instead of relying on expensive dealer offers. This will speed up the buying process when you’re ready. America First even delivers instant online approvals so you can get an idea of what you can afford before you even set foot on a used car lot.


Take Control to Achieve Financial Well-Being

Good financial health doesn’t just happen—you must take an active role to have stability and success. But gaining control of your money isn’t as difficult as it may seem. Here are four simple things you can do:

Follow a budget

You don’t need a complex algorithm from a popular financial website—find a budget that works for your lifestyle. It could be an Excel spreadsheet, allocating cash envelopes to each family member, or just using a pen & paper. America First’s money manager is a free online tool that intuitively tracks, provides a plan to deal with debt, and automatically categorizes your transactions. Plus, you can add any other accounts to see everything in one place.

Monitor your account

It’s important to stay informed about income and your expenditures. You can log in to free online banking every morning and look at your transactions. What’s even more convenient is setting up free account e-alerts to be notified when certain actions happen. Receive an email or text when your balance is low, money with withdrawn, you’ve reached your Visa® credit card limit, a loan payment’s due, when your paycheck arrives & more. Customize the alerts according to your needs.

Secure spending

Speaking of custom notifications, Card Guard® is a free app from America First that adds an extra level of control to your Visa accounts. After registering, you’ll get instant alerts whenever your cards are used and you can limit transactions to certain geographical areas. You can additionally set up threshold amounts so your card will automatically deny purchases for more than you allocated. And if your card is lost or stolen, you can simply turn it off. Using this kind of instant security is essential, as identity theft and cybercrime continue to increase.

Know your credit score

Understanding credit is essential to reach your financial goals. Your score, after all, informs institutions of how much risk they’re taking by offering you a loan. It influences your interest rate, terms, and even if you’ll get financing at all. You can look up your FICO® Score every time you log in to free online banking from America First and it won’t affect your credit. It’s updated quarterly, which means you can always see where your borrowing power stands.

These are just some fundamental things you can do to control your money matters. For more ideas for improving your financial well-being, check out our range of user-friendly products & services at americafirst.com.