Saving money begins at home. From monitoring your energy use to shopping smart to eating right to comparing financial products, there are many ways to meet your savings goals. Here are some tips you might not have thought about.
Save your energy
If you haven’t switched your light bulbs to carbon fluorescent, do it now. You can save $30 to $80 over the life of just one bulb, according to Energy Star.
Do you leave your computers and cable boxes plugged in all the time? The energy used while you’re sleeping is called “vampire energy,” and it costs $100 a year in the average home. Plug the various cords into a power strip so you have to reach just one button to turn everything off.
Low-flow showerheads will save you money and are good for the environment. According to Energy Star, a 10-minute shower with a low-flow showerhead will use 25 gallons of water, 5 gallons less than a full bath. Energy Star estimates switching to a low-flow showerhead will save a typical household about $145 a year in energy costs.
Be a smart shopper
Planning your shopping, whether in stores or online, will help you save money. There are seasons for sales on specific categories of goods. For instance, “white sales” — linens — are held in January, mattresses are on sale in February, computers in March and so on. Anticipate when big-ticket items will be on sale and shop then.
When you’re shopping online, be sure to search for coupon codes before you buy any item. You might find a discount you didn’t know about.
Save on food
The National Resources Defense Council recently said American consumers waste 40% of the food they buy, which is about $28 to $43 per family each month. You can combat food waste by understanding sell-by dates on your food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture explains sell-by dates and how long food can be eaten beyond those dates.
Without a doubt you’ll save money if you plan your weekly meals and eat in rather than going out. And you can take leftovers to work for lunch the next day.
Comparison-shop for financial products
Most people think it’s a hassle to switch car and home insurance carriers, but comparing car insurance or homeowners insurance can save you a lot.
If you took your car loan from a bank, it’s worth checking to see whether you can save money by refinancing. According to data from the National Credit Union Administration, the average interest rate for new- and used-car loans at a credit union like United Financial Credit Union is more than 2 percentage points lower than the average rate at a bank. That can translate to real monthly savings if you have a high-interest bank car loan and refinance your vehicle at the lower credit union rate.
As long as you’re saving all this money, be sure to make the most of it by choosing the right type of savings account. Credit unions generally offer a variety of savings accounts tailored to a member’s needs.
This year, set a savings goal and use these tips to meet it — or exceed it.
Ellen Cannon, NerdWallet
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With 2016 just around the corner, many people will make resolutions to manage their personal finances better. Whether that means saving more, or setting up a personal budget, the suggestions can get overwhelming.
Here are four easy personal finance goals for you to consider, to start the New Year on the right path:
1. Set up a money management system that works for you
Different systems work well for different folks, but here are a few ideas:
- Write down your income and all of your monthly expenses. Look for opportunities to trim expenses, wherever you can.
- Identify the areas where you might overspend, and then decide to use cash for these transactions. Then, limit the amount of cash you put in your wallet each week to the amount you’ve decided to spend. Seeing the amount of money available as a fixed, finite thing can help you control your spending.
2.Review your credit report
Visit www.annualcreditreport.com to receive one free credit report annually from each credit bureau.
If you’re having trouble understanding how to improve your credit, a free credit report review through the Accel program can help.
3. Begin to save
Once you’ve got a workable budget, automate the process of saving. Setting up direct-deposit into savings makes it much more likely that you’ll save. Plus, paying yourself first helps the money to be “out of sight and out of mind,” so that you’ll be able to stick more closely to the spending plan you’ve set for yourself.
It’s important to reach a point where you have a balance between short-term savings and long-term (retirement) savings. It should be a priority to try to adjust your budget, so that you can take advantage of any employer-sponsored retirement plan that your job might offer, especially if the employer offers a contribution match.
4. Get serious about reducing debt
One of the first steps in decreasing your debt load is to stop adding to it in the first place. Begin to get out of the habit of using credit cards for purchases.
If you have consumer debts, look for ways to try to reduce your overall interest costs and fees. Through our credit union’s partnership with Accel, you have access to a Debt Management Plan, which may reduce interest rates, lower monthly payments and waive late fees, for free! To learn more, call 877-332-2235 or visit www.accelservices.org.
Need new wheels but dreading the hassle involved? Buying a car needn’t entail endless legwork and massive stress. Here’s how to make the process a whole lot easier — and perhaps even enjoyable.
Do the math first
You’ll be spared lots of heartache by understanding what you can afford from the start. Determine your down payment, and then aim to keep your total car expenses, including financing, gas, maintenance and insurance, to no more than 20% of your take-home pay after you’ve paid your other bills. To help estimate the ownership costs of particular models, visit auto comparison sites and consult an insurance agent. Or you can streamline that process: Some financial institutions like United Financial Credit Union offer free apps that allow you to scan vehicle identification numbers to get the average retail cost and estimated gas mileage for that model and to compare and rank the ones you’re interested in.
Find your best financing
Although dealer financing is the path of least resistance, it’s not always the wisest choice. Even when dealers advertise 0% loans, these are often reserved only for those with near-perfect credit. You can strengthen your bargaining position by getting pre-approved for a loan through your lender. That way, you’ll know exactly what your interest rate will be and what you can afford to buy.
Another approach is to work with an institution that partners with local dealers to provide financing where you buy the car. Credit unions typically offer very competitive car loan rates, even if your credit is less than perfect, in part because they’re member-owned not-for-profit organizations that exist to serve their members’ needs.
Shopping for used cars
Buying a used car can be cheaper, in part because the original owner has absorbed the high level of depreciation that comes when a new car leaves the dealer’s lot. The trade-off is getting a limited warranty, or no warranty at all, along with concerns about reliability and future mechanical costs. Before going with a used car, review its history through a site like vehiclehistory.gov. If the history is sound, consider having a reliable mechanic examine the car.
Don’t sweat it
When you’re ready to negotiate, get your best deal without raising your blood pressure:
- Make sure you know the base price or fair market value of the models you’re considering, as well as what a fair price is for any options you consider essential.
- Find out if you’re eligible for cash incentives, discounts and rebates frequently offered to credit union members, military personnel, students and recent grads.
- Always negotiate on the vehicle price rather than the monthly payment, and negotiate this price separately from any trade-ins.
- Don’t let salespeople push you into a quick decision or upgrades you don’t need. You have the power to walk away and look elsewhere.
When you’re armed with financing options, the knowledge of what you’re willing to pay and the market value of the car you want, the final conversation with the dealer can be stress-free. You’ll be pleasantly surprised as you reflect on your car shopping adventure to find that it wasn’t worth worrying about after all.
Roberta Pescow, NerdWallet
CHIP CARD TECHNOLOGY – A SAFER, MORE SECURE CARD
Chip card encryption technology (also known as EMV), allows transactions to occur through a microchip embedded in your card. This new technology is a safer and more secure transaction method than the traditional magnetic stripe. Chip card encryption technology also protects cardmembers by reducing fraud and counterfeiting. Look for your United Financial Credit Union Credit and Debit cards to be upgraded within the next couple months. Click here for a Chip Card FAQ
Chip card encryption technology is standardly referred to as EMV (Euorpay, MasterCard and Visa). This technology began in Europe and is currently being used by most of the world. Implementation of chip card encryption technology has decreased counterfeit fraud by 60-80%**.
Step #3 Remove the chip card after the transaction is approved when you
are prompted to do so.
Merchants without Chip Card Terminals
EMV cards can still be processed in terminals without chip-reading capabilities. Simply swipe your magnetic stripe and proceed with your transaction as normal.
If you have any questions, please contact United Financial Credit Union at 989-777-3620 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
When you’re ready to settle down and buy a home, be prepared for the various costs and decisions that will arise in the process. Here are a few tips to know on the road to becoming a homeowner.
Know what you can afford
Despite all the enticing homes for sale in town, be practical about what you can afford. A good rule of thumb often used by lenders is to figure you can pay 28% or less of your pretax monthly income on housing, including a mortgage loan, taxes and insurance. This will help you limit what you owe on your home; the average American’s mortgage is about $155,000.
Decide on the type of mortgage
There are two main types of home loans: fixed-rate and adjustable-rate mortgages, or ARMs. The first may be a better choice if you plan to stay in the home for decades, since the rate and loan payments don’t change over time. But if you anticipate moving within a decade, the typically lower starting rate of an ARM may make it a better choice. Generally, ARMs come with a period of years at a fixed rate, then convert to a form where the rate can change periodically, depending on a market gauge.
Choose your down payment
The percentage of the home’s price that you pay in cash, called the down payment, can be the biggest upfront cost of buying. Although many lenders may give you a mortgage without a large down payment, putting up 20% or more typically means you won’t pay private mortgage insurance, or PMI, which can add hundreds of dollars to your monthly bill.
One way to reduce the interest rate you pay is by buying points. Generally, one point equals 1% of the loan and provides a fraction of a percentage point reduction in the rate. So on a $200,000 mortgage, one point would cost $2,000. Paying points can be a strategy for saving money on a long-term loan. But this upfront cost may be more than your eventual savings, if you sell or refinance the home after only a few years. Lenders like United Financial Credit Union have calculators that let you compare monthly payments for different terms and rates.
Factor in other costs
Obtaining a mortgage generally requires paying costs that can total from 3% to 6% of the property’s purchase price. Some fees pay for an appraisal, an inspection, underwriting costs, a title search and deed transfer. Often there are also legal and other transaction costs.
Knowing in advance what costs and decisions you need to make when buying a home can smooth the process. These tips should help do that and get you off to the right start.
Spencer Tierney, NerdWallet
We’re Here for the First-Time Homebuyer!
If you’ve been considering the purchase of your first home, congratulations! As you begin this exciting journey, it’s important to have a financial partner by your side. Our experienced mortgage counselors will be here for you each step of the way. We will answer your questions, help you determine how much home you can afford, and walk you through the entire home loan process.
Are you ready to get started? Contact our Mortgage Department at 989.777.3620 to schedule one-on-one counseling with our team today, and we’ll give you $250 off* of your Mortgage Closing Costs!
*Offer valid for a limited time. See Credit Union for details.
May 28: The American Dream – First Time Homebuyer Workshop
Buying a house is the largest purchase of your life. Learn to navigate your path to home ownership at The American Dream, a homebuyer education program. Come and learn the tools to:
• budget and shop for your home
• secure and close your loan
• efficiently care for your home once you’ve moved in
This free informative workshop will be held at United Financial Credit Union: 4685 State St, Saginaw on May 28 from 6:00-7:00pm. Call 989.777.3620 or email to register.
Refreshments will be served. Don’t miss it!!
This April, youth can take a walk on the wild side at the credit union. Whether they’ve been to the jungle or not, the call of the wild is enticing to youth of all ages. This year, they can check out the credit union’s financial menagerie without a trip to the banking zoo.
During the month of April, youth will have the opportunity to go on safari at the credit union as United Financial Credit Union celebrates National Credit Union Youth Month™. This year’s theme, “Wild About Saving™,” encourages youth to use resources available at the credit union to help them cut their way through the jungle of financial responsibility. Before long, they’ll be leading their own savings safari.
So stop by United Financial CU and get in on the action at our Youth Month events:
- Any new Youth account will receive a free gift: Dinosaur book for kids and $10 gift card for teens
- United Financial will make a $10 donation to Covenant Kids for each new youth account in April.
- During the week of April 20th – stop in for treats and free coin counting at all our of locations.
- Free Dinosaur Event on April 23rd at 6pm at 4685 State St. More information here or to RSVP
Bring your zoologists into United Financial CU, and get them wild about saving!
[Saginaw, MI – December 18, 2014] United Financial Credit Union made the holidays a little brighter for the CAN Council and CASA of Saginaw County. The Credit Union raised $4,158.96 for their 3rd Annual CASA Christmas. The money and any items that were donated were able to help 76 kids that are currently in the CASA program. United Financial collected donations and “Wish List” items at all six of their locations; and at the Saginaw and Bay City offices of the CAN Council.
What is the CAN Council?
The CAN Council Great Lakes Bay Region is building communities where children are free from abuse and neglect. They sponsor several programs in the community; Child Abuse Prevention Education (CAPE), Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC), CASA of Saginaw County, Community Outreach and Public Awareness
What is CASA of Saginaw County?
CASA of Saginaw County (Court Appointed Special Advocates) are specially trained volunteers who provide a powerful voice in the Saginaw County court system for children who have been removed from their home because of abuse or neglect. Every child has the right to a safe, permanent and caring home. Yet, according to the Saginaw County Department of Human Services, each year in Saginaw County over 300 children live in foster care or with relatives because it is not safe to return home. Most of these children will end up in court. Their only “crime” is that they have been victims.
United Financial Credit Union was founded in 1964 to serve a small group of tool and die workers in the Bridgeport area. United Financial C.U. currently has six locations located in Bridgeport, Saginaw Township, Chesaning, Freeland and Auburn and serves over 19,000 members. Anyone who lives, works or worships in Saginaw, Bay or Midland Counties is eligible for membership.
Creating a sound financial plan is one of the best ways to prepare for the new year. Whether you want to buy a home, reduce debt (which continues to be a major problem for Americans) or just get spending under control, here’s how to start moving toward your goals.
Revisit the past year
An effective strategy to help manage your money better next year is to examine spending patterns. Figure out your fixed expenses such as mortgage, auto loans or rent; how much went toward necessities with variable costs, such as heating oil or electricity; and, finally, what you spent on optional items such as basketball tickets and mocha lattes. Reviewing the past year’s expenditures reveals where cuts can and can’t be made.
Find out where you stand
Get a feel for your cash position: income, obligations, assets and credit. How much total debt do you really have? Are you carrying high-cost credit card balances or multiple loans? If so, try to budget some extra funds toward paying down those debts more quickly. Or consider consolidating what you owe using your home equity, a personal loan from a lender like United Financial Credit Union, or a balance transfer to lower the interest rate.
Another important area to evaluate is savings and investments. If you haven’t already set up accounts for emergency expenses, education, retirement or other personal goals, this is an excellent time to take those steps. Try to put something away regularly. Even if you can only spare $20 a week, you’ll have more than $1,000 by the end of next year.
Finally, take the time to check your credit reports and score. Any problems you find can probably be repaired, but only if you start the process. Since your credit score reflects how risky you are as a borrower, a low value could stand between you and better financing terms, getting hired for a dream job or being approved as a renter.
Set goals you can live with
To make your financial resolutions easier to live with, they need to be both specific and realistic. For example, just resolving to reduce debt is so vague you may not make much progress. A clearer goal would be to earmark $100 a month to add to a credit card’s minimum payment.
Keep resolutions gentle enough so you don’t feel deprived and give up on them. If you buy lunch every workday, deciding to never spend another dollar that way is going to get old very fast. You’ll more likely stay on track if you resolve to bring your lunch from home three or four days a week but allow yourself a day or two to head for a favorite spot for a midday break with friends.
Create your budget
Once you’ve got a snapshot of your typical spending patterns, assets, liabilities and goals, you’re ready to work up a budget. Add up your income, subtract the costs of your locked-in obligations and necessities, and create a plan for optional expenses that maximizes savings, reduces debt and still lets you feel like a human being. Try to put away enough each month to deal with cash flow issues such as bills that come due before your paycheck arrives. And don’t forget to pay yourself by stashing some cash in a savings account.
Be patient with yourself
Financial goals often take years to reach, so remember that small steps now can add up to huge changes over time. Flexibility is also crucial. If unexpected expenses arise or you splurge on something you shouldn’t have, don’t give up. As long as you keep coming back to your plan and adjusting as necessary, this New Year’s Day can mark the start of a more organized, comfortable and prosperous future.
Roberta Pescow, NerdWallet
In the tradition of philanthropy, a movement began not long ago to establish the Tuesday after Thanksgiving as a day of donating to humanitarian causes—a charitable antidote to the shopping blitz of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Giving Tuesday marks a time when people are encouraged to give a little back, in keeping with the spirit of the season. The movement began in 2012 and has grown to more than 10,000 participating groups. It may pick up steam this year as more Americans join in.
Where to give
With so many charitable organizations out there, and a slew of scams ready to catch the unwary, it can be a challenge to determine where to donate. Here are a few recommendations of organizations that pledge to use your gift in the most effective and efficient way possible:
- GiveWell. This organization rates charities based on their ability to positively effect change while maintaining low overhead costs. The group’s top three charity recommendations are GiveDirectly, Schistosomiasis Control Initiative and Evidence Action’s Deworm the World Initiative.
- Heifer International. Perhaps this year, instead of buying your mom a goose down jacket, give a family a flock of geese in her name instead. Heifer International lets people donate livestock, such as a goat, a trio of bunnies, a flock of geese or a cow to people across the world, helping families become self-sustaining by providing a means to raise food and sell goods.
- ReachOutandRead. This group mobilizes pediatricians across the U.S., supplying them books and pamphlets to give to parents and caregivers when they “prescribe” bedtime reading to children. Evidence shows that early exposure to reading can improve development and language skills, with lifelong benefits.
- PolarisProject. Using a hotline and other resources, this organization combats human trafficking in the U.S. by identifying and providing therapeutic resources to victims.
- HeroRATS. For $36, you could buy a year of food for a mine-sniffing super-rat in Africa. A single animal could potentially save hundreds of lives by detecting land mines and sniffing out diseases such as tuberculosis.
Making a donation directly or as a gift in another’s name can have an impact on someone else’s life as well as your own. Donations made before Dec. 31, whether by check or credit card, may be tax deductible and reduce your tax obligation for this year.
Make sure to keep a paper receipt that identifies the recipient organization, the date, and the amount donated to support your claim to a deduction, if you plan to take one. Note that donations to individuals or political organizations and candidates are not tax deductible.
If you don’t have cash to donate, or gifts to give, for that matter, consider getting a head start on next year by setting up a special savings account to create a fund.
Cait Klein, NerdWallet