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9 Tips to Bring New Life to Your Finances

When spring is in the air, it’s time to put away those winter sweaters and pull out your summery shorts. It’s also a great time to clean your financial house, casting aside old habits and starting new ones. As flowers begin to bloom and birds return to their nests, give yourself a fresh financial start, too. 

Here are nine ways to clear the cobwebs from your wallet and get your financial plan neat and tidy for 2020.

  1. Review your spending, create a budget and set up automated savings

If you don’t have emergency savings, you’re not alone: Nearly 60% of Americans don’t have enough money to cover a $500 emergency, according to a Bankrate survey. Increasingly, workplaces are helping people to contribute to an emergency fund alongside retirement plans like 401(k) accounts, and if that option is unavailable, individuals can use direct deposit to set aside emergency funds.

  1. Throw away your debt

Debt is like that clutter in the closet that’s taking up space you need for something else, including reaching goals like buying a new home. Just as you’d go through your closet, start out by assessing the debt you already have. While you may not be able to pay everything off, with some discipline you can make real changes.

  1. Perform your own self-evaluation to keep your career growing

Take stock of where you are at work, including your salary. Check the salary range for your job, know what you’re worth and create a negotiation plan. If 2020 is the year you need to take a career break to take care of your family, think about how to maintain your skills through volunteering or continued learning while you take time off from paid work.

  1. Spruce up retirement plan contributions

If you began the year with a raise, a good bonus or even got a great tax return, you likely have already begun planning a summer vacation, started looking at new cars or making other plans. Consider setting some of that aside for the future by adding to your workplace account or in an individual retirement account.

  1. Review your tax withholding

If you got a big tax refund in 2019, it likely feels like a bonus. But it really means you were paying more than you should have last year, giving Uncle Sam money that you could have put to work for your own needs. Set up withholding so that you get the most out of your paycheck through the year without owning any money at tax time in 2021.

  1. Dust off your estate plans

Doublecheck your list of beneficiaries to see if anything has changed in the last year. A change in any relationship, like getting married, will likely prompt an immediate change. Also consider whether any life changes would impact elements of an estate plan, including any power of attorney documents.

  1. Review insurance needs

Spring is a great time to consider whether any life changes, like having a newborn or getting married, create a need for financial protection. If someone depends on your income for any number of reasons, it’s worth considering whether life insurance will work for you. It’s also a great time to review homeowners or rental insurance policies as well.

  1. Put a new shine on your financial plan (with an adviser)

Whether it’s an accountant for tax planning or a financial adviser for investment and insurance advice, it’s important to find a professional who can help you review your accounts and provide recommendations on how to best reach your financial goals. In current volatile markets, for example, it’s important to know what’s happened in your portfolio and to use any investment losses to reduce capital gains taxes.

  1. Sow the seeds of your financial future

Begin to think about financial goals for the rest of the year and beyond — what seeds can you plant today to reap the rewards you seek? Focus on what you want for yourself and your family, with a near-term budget and some long-term ideas, including saving for retirement. Do you want to go on a big family vacation this summer? In retirement, do you want to live in an urban area and volunteer? Do you want to climb mountains?

As you shake the dust off your financial plan and imagine your future, cleaning house can help you understand how much it will cost and start thinking about ways to keep you finances in order throughout the year ahead. The sky’s your limit.

Source: Kiplinger

 

8 Ways to Keep Your Money Saving Goals in 2020

Pop quiz: If you had a medical emergency or your car blew a tire, would you have enough money saved up to cover it? If your answer is no, you’re definitely not alone. In fact, almost 28% of American adults have no savings, while only 25% have a so-called rainy-day fund—albeit one that can’t cover three months’ worth of living expenses, according to Bankrate’s most recent Financial Security Index.

With New Year’s resolutions on everyone’s minds, you may be thinking about how you can spend less and save more in the coming year. Here are some easy ways to keep you on a money-saving track all the way to 2021, and beyond.

Have a Goal

You’re much more likely to change your spending habits if you’re saving with something specific in mind. It could be something as large as a two-week vacation or a down payment on a house—in which case, you can also mentally prepare for what will be more of a savings marathon. If your focus is on (relatively) smaller items like a new laptop or winter coat, consider it more of a sprint—and once you achieve it, you should add something else, big or small, to your wish list.

Track Non-Essential Spending

Regardless of how big your target figure is, you need to see where all of your dollars are going before you can figure out how much you’ll be able to put away. To do this, on the first day of next month, look at what you spent the previous month, putting essentials and non-essentials into different buckets. Consider what you could forego and commit to socking that money away. For example, can you skip takeout twice a week and cook at home instead? As for the actual figure you should be saving, 10% to 20% of your income each month is a good benchmark.

Get Rid of High-Interest Debt

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to high-interest debt, which is most commonly associated with credit card bills. Assuming you have a little money squirreled away in an emergency fund, high-interest debt is the first thing you should tackle before meeting long-term savings goals. On the other hand, if you have no emergency fund to speak of, start there before paying off high-interest debt.

Make It Automatic

Every month, schedule a recurring amount of money to be transferred regularly from your checking account to a linked savings account. This tactic relieves you of having to remember to make a deposit and reduces the risk of you spending the money before it’s saved. Even better: If you can, arrange to have part of your paycheck directly deposited into a savings account so that it never hits your checking account at all. And if you have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan, make automatic contributions to that as well.

Stick to the 24-Hour Rule

We’d be willing to bet that you buy more things online than at a store—which means you also know how tempting and easy it is to constantly visit your favorite online shop to see the latest inventory. The solution to avoiding impulse buys? Impose a 24-hour limit on hitting the “buy” button after placing items in your cart. Chances are good that by the next day, you’ll decide you don’t need them after all.

Don’t Spend “Found Money”

Whether you’re lucky enough to have grandparents who gift you $100 for your birthday or typically receive an annual tax refund, it’s best to put this money toward your savings goals rather than spending it. After all, it wasn’t there before, so you’ll never miss it. This applies to raises, too. Rather than spending more, put the difference into savings.

Consider Accounts With Tax Benefits

If your goals don’t require needing cash in the next one to three years, look into accounts that offer tax advantages. For longer-term goals like college and retirement, funding IRA accounts will give you tax savings and allow your money to grow over time through investments. (Note that before opening any new accounts, it’s always good to consult with your tax advisor.)

Don’t Go It Alone

Saving money isn’t always easy—if it were, there wouldn’t be so many articles written about it!—but if you know a friend, family member, or co-worker who is also trying to save, pairing up may help motivate you to stick to your plan. You can share progress, commiserate over hurdles, and have someone to lean on for support.

Source: The Muse

Financial New Year’s Resolutions for 2020

Looking to make some financial New Year’s resolutions for the coming year? Here are a few money resolutions to consider.

Resolve to do better next year.
The new year is a fantastic time to review your financial strengths, pore over your budget and make big plans for next year. Consider taking a moment to meet with your financial advisor or tax professional to review what worked this year and make changes for the year ahead.

Identify financial goals.
Before you can make progress toward any financial goals, identify what they are. Are you hoping to earn a degree? Buy a home? Repay your auto loan? Finally contribute to your employer 401(k)? Take some time to mull over what financial qualities you can improve this year. 

Start tracking your budget.
Before you commit to sticking to a budget, commit to track your spending each month. Spend some time identifying budgeting leaks, spending categories on which you tend to sink too much money and decisions about how to improve your spending for next year.

Check your credit report.
If you’ve stopped paying attention to your financial health, request a free credit report on annualcreditreport.com this year. Consumers are entitled to one free credit report each year from each of the three credit bureaus, which are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. If everything looks correct, this exercise shouldn’t take more than an hour. Take stock of your debts and dispute anything that looks incorrect.

Boost retirement contributions.
If you’re looking to put money away for retirement, commit to boosting your 401(k) contributions. At the least, contribute enough to your workplace plan to secure your employer’s match, which is typically between 3% and 6%, if one is offered. Forgoing an employer match is like leaving free money on the table.

Cut back on bad money habits.
Identify a bad financial habit – eating out too often, paying full price for clothing, splurging on your pets – and promise to eradicate it this year. Identify alternatives or coping mechanisms when you want to indulge in your bad financial habit.

Evaluate last year’s financial mistakes.
Take an honest look at your financial performance last year. Did you overspend? Overborrow? Get passed over for a promotion? Not every financial downfall is avoidable, but some can be dodged or limited going forward. Reconsider your financial mistakes, and strive to perform better this year.

Source: U.S. News

How to Protect Yourself While Holiday Shopping Online

The holidays should be a time of joy as you spend time with friends and family. Stay ahead of online scammers and identity thieves by using these tips to help secure your personal information while shopping online.

Ship to a secure location
The rise of online shopping has led to an increase of home deliveries — and with it, an increase in “porch pirates”, or thieves who steal packages from doorsteps. If no one’s home to accept a package, consider shipping to your office or another safe place.

Only use official retailer apps to shop
Mobile apps allow you shop for and purchase items while you’re on the go — making holiday shopping a breeze. But the danger arises if you unknowingly install an app laced with malicious software, or malware.

Don’t save your credit card information on your accounts
While it may be convenient to store personal and payment information in your online accounts, it does come with risk. Retail websites may not be equipped to secure your info, which could leave your personal details and payment card data vulnerable.

Never make purchases on public WiFi
WiFi networks use public airwaves. With a little tech know-how and the freely available WiFi password at your favorite cafe, someone can intercept the data you send and receive while on free public WiFi.

Don’t get tripped up in holiday shopping scam emails
Sometimes, something in your email in-box can stir your holiday consumer cravings. Clicking on emails from unknown senders and unrecognizable sellers could infect your computer with viruses and malware. Delete them, don’t click on any links, and don’t open any attachments from individuals or businesses you are unfamiliar with.

Massachusetts Credit Unions 2020 College Scholarship Program

Do you know a high school senior planning to attend college in the 2020-2021 school year?

AllCom Credit Union is pleased to announce the Massachusetts Credit Unions 2020 College Scholarship Program. Sponsored by the Cooperative Credit Union Association, six (6) $1,500 scholarships will be awarded.

2020 College Scholarship Application

Application deadline: February 28, 2020

Scholarship Eligibility
1. Eligibility is limited to high school seniors who will be enrolled in an undergraduate college degree program during the 2020-2021 academic year.

2. Applicant or parent/guardian must be a member of the sponsoring credit union.

3. The credit union must be a member in good standing with the Cooperative Credit Union Association.

4. Each applicant must complete a current Association scholarship application form and submit it with the other required material to the sponsoring credit union.

5. Each credit union will select its top 3 applications and forward them to their chapter president. They must be accompanied by a cover letter from the sponsoring credit union CEO verifying that each applicant and/or parent/guardian is a credit union member.

Each chapter will select its scholarship winner evaluating each applicant on the same criteria the credit unions will be using: essay, grades and extracurricular/community activities.

Students must submit the following items with their completed applications. All items requested must be received in order for the application to qualify for consideration.

1. Students must submit a typewritten essay, in 250 words or less, about a person or event that has been an inspiration to you and how it has affected you and your outlook on life.

2. An academic transcript of grades.

If you have any questions, please call Erin Harvey, Branch Manager at 508.754.9980.

7 Budgeting Tips for Every Type of Budgeter

Budgeting doesn’t have to be unbearable. Whether you’re a first-timer or have struggled to budget in the past, these budgeting tips can make it less painful and more likely to stick.

1. Decide why you’re budgeting

Start by articulating what’s inspiring you to create a budget. Are you overspending, in debt or looking for expenses to trim? Maybe you’re saving up for something, like a wedding or new baby.

When budgeting with a partner, discuss the details together to ensure you’re on the same page.

2. Use empowering language

The term “budget” can be off-putting.

Try switching to language you’re more comfortable with, such as “spending plan,” to help keep you motivated.

A budget — or whatever you choose to call it — shouldn’t intimidate or restrict you. It should be an opportunity to take control of your money.

3. Select your budgeting method

Just as there are many reasons to budget, there are many ways to budget. Read up on different budgeting methods — like the 50/30/20 budget or the cash-based envelope system — and try one that fits your lifestyle.

If you give it a fair shot and can’t find a way to make it work, explore other options.

4. Prioritize expenses and goals

Understand the difference between needs and wants, then focus on the essentials first — those include groceries, housing and transportation costs. That doesn’t mean other expenses aren’t important, though. Your financial goals, such as paying off debt or saving for retirement, should still receive attention.

5. Leave room for surprises

Don’t expect your budget to be perfect. Surprises will happen, and some expenses may slip through the cracks. But you can take precautions to soften the blow.

Set aside a little bit of cash to cover miscellaneous expenses each month and make regular contributions to an emergency fund. That way you can handle an unexpected car repair or other emergencies without taking on credit card or loan debt.

6. Automate responsibly

Technology can help alleviate the tedious aspects of budgeting and prevent setbacks. Try setting up automatic transfers so you can regularly pay bills or sock money away without thinking about it, and lean on apps and tools to conveniently track your spending.

7. Revisit your budget monthly

Checking in on your budget at least once a month gives you the chance to deal with fluctuations in a timely manner. Depending on your style and the method you choose, you may decide to check in more frequently — that’s OK, too.

Source: NerdWallet

5 Car-Buying Tips From an Undercover Salesman

Here are just a few of the things they learned and how you can safely navigate the car-buying process.

1. Test-drive your car salesperson

They face long hours, hostility from customers and constant pressure from managers who watch from “the tower,” a raised platform overlooking the car lot. Later, as I used my insider knowledge to buy more than 100 cars for an automotive website, I met many honest, intelligent, helpful car salespeople. But the work of these “good apples” was often spoiled by a rotten batch of uninformed sales stereotypes — not to mention some manipulative and even underhanded dealership managers.

I like to tell people that they should test-drive car salespeople before they test-drive the car. Here are a few things to ask yourself: Are they informed about the cars they are selling? Do they listen well and respond to your questions? Will you feel comfortable negotiating with them?

2. Check the ‘book’ value

It takes only a minute to look up the current market value of a car — and yet many shoppers wander onto the car lot without any idea of what they should pay. This one little data point would provide an amazing amount of protection. But as an undercover car salesman, I had to stand by and watch trusting, ordinary buyers overpay for their new cars.

So take a moment and check a pricing guide such as Edmunds or Kelley Blue Book for the current market value of the car you want. Bring this information with you, or download a pricing app to check prices on the fly.

3. Don’t be a monthly-payment buyer

“What kind of monthly payment are you folks looking for?” This helpful-sounding question is the favorite trick of car salespeople everywhere. And if you answer, it can be a financial disaster for you. While it sounds like the salesperson is concerned about your budget, it’s the opening gambit for a tactic called “packing payments.” If the dealer can get you to negotiate a monthly payment rather than the purchase price of the car, it’s easy to add in — or “pack” — extras and make you overpay.

Getting a preapproved car loan with AllCom Credit Union and telling the salesperson you are a “cash buyer” is an easy way to deflect this trick.

4. Be ready to walk

You could walk into a dealership and have the same high-pressure experience your father had when he bought cars decades ago. Or you could have a mellow, enjoyable shopping experience where you get a fair deal. There’s such a wide range of sales styles and dealerships.

I worked at a “turnover house,” meaning that if one salesperson wasn’t making progress with a customer, the customer was turned over to a different salesperson. If that didn’t work, they brought in a “closer” —  an overbearing, manipulative bully who was determined to make a deal at any cost.

If you see these warning signs, if you get a bad vibe, if you don’t like your salesperson, beat a hasty retreat — instead of going to war, go to another dealership. For example, the second dealership I worked at was very relaxed and didn’t use closers. But high-pressure or relaxed, whichever type of car lot you find yourself on, never take anything at face value.

5. Beware the finance manager

While the salesperson negotiates the price of the car and pretends to be your best friend, the real damage is done after the customer is handed off to the finance and insurance manager. Also called the “F&I guy,” this salesperson assumes the air of a financial advisor, sort of like a friendly banker. But he or she is really there to build even more profit into the deal by inflating the interest rate on your loan and selling you extra products such as extended warranties and anti-theft devices.

Before you go to the dealership, spend a few minutes being your own finance manager by using an auto loan calculator to set up your own deal. Bring these figures with you to the dealership and get the dealer to match or beat them.

Now is the Time to Buy!

Get Pre-approved for an AllCom Credit Union Auto Loan

Shopping for vehicle financing is just as important as shopping for the vehicle itself. Before you shop for your next vehicle, find out why getting pre-approved for an AllCom Credit Union auto loan is the way to go.

Helps you determine how much you can afford.
Getting an auto loan pre-approval helps you know how much you can afford to spend before you even start shopping for a car so you can stick to your budget. If the salesperson tries to sell you a newer, more expensive car, you can feel more confident about declining the offer because you know how much you can comfortably spend and what your interest rate will be on your loan.

Improves your chances of getting a lower rate.
Getting pre-approved is often the best option when you’re trying to finance a car because it can help you get a lower interest rate on your loan, which can save you money over the life of your repayment term. High-interest car loans are like a double-edged sword because while your car is depreciating in value as you use it, you also have to spend several years paying back your loan.

AllCom offers competitive rates as low as 3.49% APR* and terms to meet you financing needs.

Already have an auto loan with another Financial Institution? You may be able to refinance with AllCom and lower your rate or get cash back.

Speak with an AllCom loan officer or apply online today.

 

*Annual Percentage Rate. 3.49% best rate available based on model year, mileage and credit worthiness. 2012-2019 model years, 60-month maximum term. Loan based on payment of $18.19 per $1000 borrowed for 60 months. Other rates and terms available. AllCom reserves the right to rescind this offer at any time. Offer not valid on existing AllCom auto loans. AllCom will finance up to 100% of the purchase price (for purchases) or NADA retail value (for refinances). Actual amount down will depend on model year, mileage, collateral and credit worthiness.

How to Win at Saving for College

The estimated cost of putting a newborn through public college 18 years from now is nearly equivalent to buying a median-priced home today for all cash. Saving that much, especially for more than one child, is impossible for most families. Nobody wants their children to start their adult lives stuck with a crippling amount of student debt. We aren’t told how to begin and it’s often hard to find any room in the budget, particularly when you’re already paying a mortgage (or rent), child care, health insurance — and maybe even a student loan of your own.

Who Should Save?

If you can afford to save something, you should — every little bit can help.  

Don’t think about saving for your child’s future college education if you currently have a pile of high-interest credit-card debt or don’t have any money set aside in an emergency fund. Deal with that first.  

Everyone else who can afford to save something should. 

The debatable part of this question is how to prioritize saving for your own retirement versus your child’s college fund. You can borrow for college, but you can’t borrow for retirement. And if you’re well-positioned after they graduate, you can always help with paying your children’s loans. 

Ultimately, you’ll need to consider how to balance the two goals of retirement and college saving. Financial planners suggest testing varying rates of savings — for retirement and college — to see the impact of dialing one up and dialing down another. You can play around with online retirement and college savings calculators to get a general sense, or pay a professional financial planner for their time for a more precise outlook.

Note: If you believe saving for college will hurt your eligibility for financial aid, you can safely cast those ideas aside. The truth is, when the federal government determines what you are expected to contribute, your income matters far more than your savings.

How Much Should You Be Saving

It’s important to understand your goals, and your current situation, as you plan for the future. 

There are several philosophies on what you should save, but then there’s the hard reality of what you can afford to. There is also no easy way to know exactly what you will have to pay out of pocket.

Once you’ve thought that through, there are several practical ways to put together a savings plan. A well-known expert on all-things college finance, advocates the following strategy: 

  • Save one-third of the costs of a four-year public college in your home state over your child’s first 18 years. 
  • Attempt to pay a third out of your income while they’re attending college.
  • Finance the remainder (with federal loans). 

Other experts suggest variations of that theme, like saving a quarter of the cost, paying a quarter and borrowing the rest split among family members. 

Regardless of what you decide to save, there are big benefits when you save early on: If you start when your child is a newborn, roughly one-third of the savings will be generated from the earnings on your investments. If you wait until high school, less than 10 percent will come from earnings. 

Source: New York Times

Top Credit Card Tips For Students

Getting a credit card as soon as you can is a smart move – after all, credit cards provide an easy opportunity to build credit, which is important when it’s time to buy a car or a house.

Most people start using credit cards regularly for the first time in college, and as with many college experiences, it’s easy to make mistakes. To avoid credit card regret, take a look at the information below for our top credit card tips for students.

  • Pay the bill on time

The point of getting a credit card is to build a positive credit history, but if you don’t pay your bill on time, you’ll end up doing more harm than good. The largest portion of your credit score – 35% – comes from your history with paying your bills on time. This means that if you’re chronically making late payments to your card, your credit will seriously suffer.

Make it a priority to pay your bill by its due date, and if you do forget to make a payment, call your credit card company right away to get back on track. The worst think you can do is let a missed payment linger.

  • Don’t charge more than you can afford to pay off in a month

Many college students fall into the vortex of credit card debt by mistakenly thinking that they’ll be able to pay off the charges when they’ve graduated and gotten a high-paying job. This mentality can lead to thousands of dollars in debt, which will do damage to your credit. 30% of your credit score is determined by your total debt load, so if you’re carry a balance from month to month, you’re setting yourself up to start the rest of your financial life with a less-than-ideal credit score.

Don’t fall into this trap! Only charge what you can afford to pay off in one month, no matter what. This is easier to do if you’re carefully tracking your spending and keeping it in line with your income. Once you hit your limit, leave the card at home. And don’t let peer pressure cause you to overspend – no spring break trip is worth going into credit card debt for – trust us!

  • Avoid getting too close to your credit limit

Even if you’re being careful to pay your credit card bill on time and in full every month, getting too close to your credit limit is also a risky move. The credit bureaus don’t like to see you using more than 30% of your available credit – this means that if your limit on your credit card is $10,000, you shouldn’t have more than $3,300 in charges on the card at any given time.

To avoid utilizing too much of your available credit, keep a close watch on your spending and pay your balance in full every month. Not only will this keep you out of debt (see above) you’ll also avoid exceeding that 30% threshold.

  • Don’t open too many cards

The temptation to open new credit cards is everywhere, but it’s important to avoid the impulse to get a new card every time a store you’re shopping in is offering a deal. Having too many cards makes it difficult to keep track of your spending and payment due dates, and it also provides too many opportunities to get into debt.

When you’re new to using credit, the best thing to do is keep one or two credit cards for your daily spending and stick to just those cards until you’ve gotten the hang of regularly charging your purchases and paying your monthly bills. No need to overcomplicate your financial life before you have to!

  • Avoid fees

With all the great credit cards for students on the market today, there’s no need to pay an annual fee on your credit card. Again, your goal is to build good credit, and there’s no need to pay fees to do so. Shop around for a no-fee card that offers other rewards you’re interested in to make the most of your first credit card experience.

The takeaway: to set yourself up for a positive financial future, it’s important to open a credit card and use it responsibly as soon as you can, preferably in college. Be sure to follow the credit card tips above to avoid turning your good credit dreams into nightmare!

Source: NerdWallet

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