Shoppers Beware: Retail Credit Card APRs Average 23%

Open WalletBefore you take the bait from the cashier and sign up for a new store credit card, be sure to read the fine print first.

Retail credit cards boast average annual percentage rates of 23.23%, according to a CreditCards.com analysis of cards from 36 of the nation’s biggest retailers.

That’s more than eight percentage points higher than the average credit card APR of 15.03%.

“Retailers dangle incentives like 15% off a purchase to encourage consumers to sign up for their credit cards,” said Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com. “But the much higher interest rates far outweigh the one-time discount for anyone who carries a balance.”

If you’re confident you will never miss a payment and you think the retailer’s rewards program would provide you with savings, then it could be a fine deal. But if there’s even a small chance you’ll carry a balance, you could end up paying big money in interest as a result.

Customers with a 23.23% APR credit card, for example, would be hit with $840 in interest if they carry a $1,000 balance and only make minimum monthly payments — and it would take them 73 months to repay that balance. That compares to $396 in interest for the average credit card.

Jeweler Zales’ store card topped the list, with a rate of up to 28.99%, Office Depot and Staples both offer cards with rates as high as 27.99%, and Best Buy credit cards come with rates ranging between 25.24% and 27.99% depending on your credit.

Need to transfer a high rate credit card balance without any balance transfer fees, to a lower rate card? This is possible at First Financial, where our credit card rates are as low as 10.9% APR and we have no balance transfer fees!* And for a limited time – if you are approved for a balance transfer of $5,000 or more to our VISA Platinum Credit Card, you will receive 10,000 bonus CURewards Points! You can apply for the balance transfer by stopping into any branch or calling 866.750.0100 to be sent a balance transfer request form.**

If you have a great deal of debt, we also have a free, anonymous online debt management tool called Debt in Focus. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live.

*APR varies from 10.90% to 17.90% when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. This APR is for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Subject to credit approval. No Annual Fee. Other fees that apply: Cash advance fee of 1% of advance ($5 minimum and $25 maximum), Late Payment Fee of up to $25, Foreign Transaction Fee of 1% plus foreign exchange rate of transaction amount, $5 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of up to $25. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a VISA Platinum Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

**Additional bonus points will be reflected within 30 days from the balance transfer approval and can be viewed when signed into your VISA Platinum Card Account online through Online Banking. In order to redeem bonus points, an offer reference must be made to a First Financial representative. Bonus points can only be redeemed one time per member, on an approved balance transfer of $5,000 or greater during the promotional period of 4/28/14 – 12/31/14.

Article Source: Blake Ellis for CNN Money, http://money.cnn.com/2014/08/07/pf/retail-credit-cards/index.html?iid=SF_PF_River

 

IRS Warning About Phone Scams

scamThe Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) continue to hear from taxpayers who have received unsolicited calls from individuals demanding payment while fraudulently claiming to be from the IRS.

Based on the 90,000 complaints that TIGTA has received through its telephone hotline, to date, TIGTA has identified approximately 1,100 victims who have lost an estimated $5 million from these scams.

“There are clear warning signs about these scams, which continue at high levels throughout the nation,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Taxpayers should remember their first contact with the IRS will not be a call from out of the blue, but through official correspondence sent through the mail. A big red flag for these scams are angry, threatening calls from people who say they are from the IRS and urging immediate payment. This is not how we operate. People should hang up immediately and contact TIGTA or the IRS.”

Additionally, it is important for taxpayers to know that the IRS:

  • Never asks for credit card, debit card, or prepaid card information over the telephone.
  • Never insists that taxpayers use a specific payment method to pay tax obligations
  • Never requests immediate payment over the telephone and will not take enforcement action immediately following a phone conversation. Taxpayers usually receive prior notification of IRS enforcement action involving IRS tax liens or levies.

Potential phone scam victims may be told that they owe money that must be paid immediately to the IRS or they are entitled to big refunds. When unsuccessful the first time, sometimes phone scammers call back trying a new strategy.

Other characteristics of these scams include:

  • Scammers use fake names and IRS badge numbers. They generally use common names and surnames to identify themselves.
  • Scammers may be able to recite the last four digits of a victim’s Social Security number.
  • Scammers spoof the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear that it’s the IRS calling.
  • Scammers sometimes send bogus IRS emails to some victims to support their bogus calls.
  • Victims hear background noise of other calls being conducted to mimic a call site.
  • After threatening victims with jail time or driver’s license revocation, scammers hang up and others soon call back pretending to be from the local police or DMV, and the caller ID supports their claim.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, here’s what you should do:

  • If you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 1.800.829.1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue, if there really is such an issue.
  • If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to think that you owe any taxes (for example, you’ve never received a bill or the caller made some bogus threats as described above), then call and report the incident to TIGTA at 1.800.366.4484.
  • You can file a complaint using the FTC Complaint Assistant; choose “Other” and then “Imposter Scams.” If the complaint involves someone impersonating the IRS, include the words “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.

Taxpayers should be aware that there are other unrelated scams (such as a lottery sweepstakes) and solicitations (such as debt relief), that also fraudulently claim to be from the IRS.

The IRS encourages taxpayers to be vigilant against phone and email scams that use the IRS as a lure. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels. The IRS also does not ask for PINs, passwords or similar confidential access information for credit card, bank or other financial accounts. Recipients should not open any attachments or click on any links contained in the message. Instead, forward the email to phishing@irs.gov.

For more information or to report a scam, go to www.irs.gov and type “scam” in the search box. More information on how to report phishing scams involving the IRS is available on the genuine IRS website, IRS.gov.

Learn How to Put Pinterest & Instagram to Work for Your Business this October 2014

Should-My-Company-Use-Pinterest-or-InstagramAre you interested in getting your business noticed via Pinterest and Instagram? If the visual aspect is missing from your business marketing, utilizing these two top-trending social media sites will enable you to do that and for FREE! Instagram helps build engagement for business consumers while Pinterest will help drive your sales. For more tips and tactics to get you started, attend our upcoming seminar with social media consultant, Deborah Smith!

This seminar will cover the basics of:

  • Tools for creating eye catching images
  • How to optimize your boards, pins, and Instagram posts
  • Engagement tactics – building your community
  • Promoted pins and sponsored Instagram posts – what paid opportunities are coming
  • Integrating Pinterest and Instagram with your website and social channels

Participants will have plenty of time to ask questions, share experiences, and network with peers. And they’ll leave with real-world insights and knowledge that they can put to work immediately, to help their business or organization succeed.

Join us on Wednesday, October 8th at 8:30am for networking and 9:00am for our How to Put Pinterest and Instagram to Work for Your Business Seminar presented by Deborah Smith, owner of Foxtrot Media, LLC. The seminar will be held at First Financial’s Corporate Office located at 1800, Rt. 34 North, Building 3, Suite 302, Wall NJ. Space is limited – Register today! *This seminar is $10 to attend.

Register Now!

Deborah Smith is the owner of Foxtrot Media, LLC a Social Media Consulting and Management company. Deborah got her start in social media over 12 years ago when she launched an E-Commerce business which operated a network of websites serving the Nanny Industry. She began employing email groups, chat rooms and online message boards as marketing and networking tools well before the term “Social Media” was ever conceived. When the new tools like Blogs, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn emerged, Deborah was an early adopter and soon mastered these tools for her own business. In 2007, she launched her first blog, JerseyBites.com, a collaborative food blog with over 35 contributors throughout the state. JerseyBites now welcomes over 25,000 visitors per month and was recently named content partner to NJ.com for food news in New Jersey. Deborah was also recently named one of 100 Constant Contact local experts in the country. She is an experienced corporate trainer and social media consultant for businesses throughout the tri-state area.

3 Ways Moving Can Hurt Your Credit Score and How to Combat Them

Stack of cardboard boxWhether you are moving because it’s an upgrade to go along with a higher salary, or simply a change of scenery, many of us love to hate moving – and do so frequently. But between asking around for free boxes and trying to comprehend how you’ve acquired so much stuff, watch out for your credit! Here are three ways moving could impact your credit score and how to deal with them.

1. A credit check will initiate a hard inquiry.

When you apply for a new apartment, your apartment management company will likely pull your credit to see whether you’re responsible with money. This will trigger a hard inquiry, which can pull down your credit score a few points. Hard inquiries remain on your credit report for two years and affect your credit score for one.

Because of the minor impact of a hard credit pull, it’s generally not a huge concern. However, if you’re initiating multiple hard inquiries each year, you could hurt your score more significantly. Hard inquiries may include: applying for credit — such as credit cards, mortgages, and loans, or applying for a service that requires financial responsibility, such as a cell phone.

Solution: To keep your credit score from suffering multiple inquiries, you should limit your annual credit applications and take advantage of rate shopping when possible. This will keep your inquiries low and your credit score high.

Need to get your credit score in check? Try First Financial’s First Score Program, a low cost, interactive session ($30) with a First Financial expert, which simulates your credit score with various “what if” scenarios. You can email us at firstscore@firstffcu.com or call 866.750.0100, Option 4 to get started.

2. Bills that go to your old address may go unpaid.

new study released by the Urban Institute states that over 1/3 of Americans have an account in collections. But what does this have to do with moving? An account can easily end up in collections because it isn’t forwarded correctly, instead being sent to an old address. There are two easy things you can do to prevent such a mix-up.

Solution: First, change your address with the U.S. Postal Service before you move. It will forward your mail to your new address for one year. By that time, you should have your address changed on all of your accounts. Remember to update your address on your accounts as soon as possible.

While you’re updating your address, you may also want to enroll in paperless statements and automatic bill pay. In an increasingly paperless world, it’s best to handle your financial dealings electronically. If you don’t want to use auto pay, have statements sent to your primary email so you can pay them before the due date.

First Financial members can take advantage of our free Online Banking and enroll in e-statements. Online Bill Pay is also free, if you pay at least 3 bills online per month – otherwise a $6 monthly fee applies. Learn more about how you can self-enroll in Online Banking today!

3. You’re putting too many moving expenses or new purchases on credit cards.

Moving can be expensive. Between paying for a moving truck and covering your security deposit and first month’s rent, it may be tempting to put moving-related expenses on credit cards. This is all well and good, but only if you have the funds to pay off your credit card in full before the due date to avoid accruing interest.

It’s also easy to fall into the trap of charging new items for your home. After all, new digs require new furniture, right? Wrong! Unless you can reasonably pay for your new purchases, resist the urge for now.

Solution: Save money well before your move-in date to cover all moving-related expenses. And in the case of buying new things for your new place, purchase the decor of your dreams slowly as you have the money. Your home shouldn’t be a source of stress, so make sure it isn’t filled with things that are hurting your finances.

If you do need to put some moving expenses on a credit card – be sure you are using a low-rate card like First Financial’s Visa Platinum Card, which also has no balance transfer fees and no annual fee.*

Bottom line: Moving can hurt your credit score, but only indirectly. To keep your credit from being damaged by your upcoming move, avoid getting too many hard inquiries in any given year, change your address with the USPS and switch to paperless billing, and try not to buy anything moving-related or otherwise that you can’t pay for before your credit card due date.

*APR varies from 10.90% to 17.90% when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. This APR is for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Subject to credit approval. No Annual Fee. Other fees that apply: Cash advance fee of 1% of advance ($5 minimum and $25 maximum), Late Payment Fee of up to $25, Foreign Transaction Fee of 1% plus foreign exchange rate of transaction amount, $5 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of up to $25. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a VISA Platinum Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

Article Source: Nerdwallet.com

3 Totally Common Financial Tips You Should Probably Ignore

Mature man taking data off the computer for doing income taxesWhether you get your financial tips by asking friends and family, checking out library books, attending seminars or searching online, impractical pieces of advice sometimes abound.

Too many personal finance experts tend to populate their cable appearances, books, columns and blogs with the same simple tidbits. But some of that common advice is also not applicable to everyone. For each of these three clichéd tips, let’s look at some other alternatives:

1. In Debt? Cut Up Your Credit Cards

Certain financial gurus advise people in debt to cut up all their plastic and consider using credit cards as the eighth deadly sin.  Here’s some advice: don’t cut up your cards.

People land in debt for various reasons, and some – like student loans, don’t have anything to do with credit cards.

If being unable to pass up a sale or discount clothing bin is your trigger for getting into massive amounts of debt, then put your cards in a lock box and back away. If you fell into some bad luck and used your credit card for an emergency, consider a balance transfer.

Need to transfer a high rate credit card balance without any balance transfer fees, to a lower rate card? This is possible at First Financial, where our credit card rates are as low as 10.9% APR and we have no balance transfer fees!* And for a limited time – if you are approved for a balance transfer of $5,000 or more to our VISA Platinum Credit Card, you will receive 10,000 bonus CURewards Points! You can apply for the balance transfer by stopping into any branch or calling 866.750.0100 to be sent a balance transfer request form.*

But just because someone is in debt and wants to get out of it doesn’t mean they’re going to stop spending money entirely. People still need to eat, fill the car with gas, and deal with the occasional unexpected expense.

Some may counter that it’s best to use a debit card, but consider the ramifications of debit card fraud.  A compromised debit card gives thieves direct access to your checking account. While most financial institutions will cover the majority of money taken from your account, it can be an extreme hassle to deal with. When a credit card is compromised, the issuer typically reacts quickly – possibly even before the customer notices, and usually offers fraud protection.

It also helps to have a low-interest rate credit card for emergencies. Think of it as a fire extinguisher housed in a glass case. You don’t want to break that glass unless you really, really need it. But you do want the fire extinguisher to be there.

If you have a great deal of debt, First Financial has a free, anonymous online debt management tool called Debt in Focus. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live.

2. Have a 20% Buffer in Checking

Undoubtedly, it’s preferable to have a buffer in your checking account to avoid overdraft fees, but two types of situations typically cause overdraft fees.

  • Person A is forgetful, forgets a recurring charge or neglects to check his or her balance before making a purchase.
  • Person B uses overdrafts as a form of short-term borrowing because he or she does not have enough money to get by without going into overdraft.

About 38 million American households spend all of their paycheck, with more than 2/3 being part of the middle class, according to a study by Brookings Institution.

It’s simple for personal finance experts to recommend tightening up the purse strings, doubling down on paying off debt, and moving out of the paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle – but those who don’t have assets and who struggle each month to make ends meet don’t need to hear people harping about avoiding overdraft fees by “just saving a little bit.” Every little bit counts for them.

Instead, let’s offer some practical advice: Those looking to avoid overdraft fees should evaluate their banking products.

Americans who use overdraft fees as a form of short-term lending may want to set up a line of credit with a credit union or have a low-interest credit card for emergencies.

First Financial Federal Credit Union has both options available – give us a call at 866.750.0100, Option 4 or learn more about our lines of credit and low-rate Visa Platinum Card on our website.***

3. Skip That Latte!

Many years ago, David Bach created a unifying mantra for personal finance enthusiasts. The “latte factor” was that you could save big by cutting back on small things.

Bach’s deeper concept – that each individual needs to identify his or her latte factor – got lost in the battle cries, with many people crusading specifically against your daily cup of coffee.

Yes, people should be aware of leaks in their budget. But everyone’s budget looks different. If “Person A” buys a coffee each day, but rarely buys new clothing, and trims the budget by cutting cable and brown-bagging it to work, then leave them alone about their caffeine habit.

People are allowed to live a little when it comes to their personal finances. It’s important to save for the future, but it’s also important to enjoy life in the present. Personal finance shouldn’t be a culture of constant denial either. Create a budget, figure out if you can work in an indulgence or two, and don’t live in complete deprivation. For those working to dig out of seemingly insurmountable debt, then yes, it may be time to identify and limit your latte factor or make an appointment with a financial counselor.

Decide What’s Right for You

Keep in mind, personal finance is indeed personal.  A generic piece of advice, like keep a 20% buffer in your checking account to avoid overdrafts, may not be helpful in your personal situation.  You need to figure out what works for you, and ask for help along the way if you need it.

*APR varies from 10.90% to 17.90% when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. This APR is for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Subject to credit approval. No Annual Fee. Other fees that apply: Cash advance fee of 1% of advance ($5 minimum and $25 maximum), Late Payment Fee of up to $25, Foreign Transaction Fee of 1% plus foreign exchange rate of transaction amount, $5 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of up to $25. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a VISA Platinum Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

**Additional bonus points will be reflected within 30 days from the balance transfer approval and can be viewed when signed into your VISA Platinum Card Account online through Online Banking. In order to redeem bonus points, an offer reference must be made to a First Financial representative. Bonus points can only be redeemed one time per member, on an approved balance transfer of $5,000 or greater during the promotional period of 4/28/14 – 12/31/14.

*** Subject to credit approval. Your actual APR may vary based on your state of residence, approved loan amount, applicable discounts and your credit history. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a Line of Credit or VISA Platinum Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

Article Source: http://www.dailyfinance.com/2014/07/28/common-financial-tips-you-should-ignore/ by Erin Lowry.

How To Talk Money With Your College Student

SavingMoneyYour child is a college student, and you’ve successfully packed them up, moved them in, made several trips to Bed Bath & Beyond, and they’ve settled into their class schedule for the new year – you can finally breathe a sigh of relief, you’ve covered it all.  Or have you?  How about the skills necessary not to blow whatever budgetary limits that have been set for the first semester?

It’s not an easy maneuver to accomplish. The skills your child probably has to manage their own money are most likely the ones you’ve (hopefully) taught them.  And they may not have picked up as much as you think.  75% of parents say they’re having regular conversations with their kids about money, but only about 60% of kids say the same.

With that in mind, here’s a quick checklist of items to discuss with your son or daughter living at the college dorm:

  • Spending Limits

Some colleges will provide you with guidelines of how much spending money to give your kids. Northwestern University, for example, says about $2,000 will be sufficient for the 2014-2015 academic year, while the University of Arizona says $1,800 (not including books). Stretching those dollars, however, will be hard for kids who aren’t used to paying for their own pizza, let alone laundry and shampoo. It’s important to develop a basic list of what money will likely be used for – and how much those things cost,  to make sure actual expenditures fall in line with these estimates. Richard Barrington, senior financial analyst for MoneyRates.com, also suggests doling the money out slowly – say a month at a time — and for specific purposes.

  • The ID Card

The student ID card gets you into the library and the dining hall. And it’s essentially a prepaid debit card, as well. Parents can put money on an account and students use that money for food, copies or whatever other campus services they need. What’s good about these cards is that you (and your student) have the ability to check what the balance is at any time. And, because the amount on tap is capped, there’s not the same risk you’d have if you handed your child a credit card (more on that in a moment). Talk about the card with your child so they can prevent spending all the money on the card right away.

  • Picking the Right Financial Institution

Although it may seem more convenient to have your child bank at the same institution you do – so that you can transfer funds into his or her account in the event of a shortfall – it may also prove to be more expensive. The Achilles heel of the college student when it comes to banking is the $3 a pop (or more) ATM fee at the campus or other local ATM. Unless your child has an account and card with one of those, these ATM charges can add up.  Be sure to investigate the banking situation – does your current institution offer Online Banking with a mobile app and remote deposit?  This may be another great, easy alternative for your student at college.

First Financial’s has a great Student Checking Account available for 14 to 23 year old students, which includes:

  1. A free first box of checks, and an allowance of the first mistake being free+.
  2. Free phone transfers to the account by parents.
  3. No per-check charges – unlimited check writing without getting charged after writing a certain amount of checks.
  4. No minimum balance requirements.
  5. No monthly service charge for having the account.
  6. A personalized Debit Card issued instantly in one of our Monmouth or Ocean County branches.
  7. Free Online Banking with Bill Pay++.
  8. Unlimited in-branch transactions.
  • A Credit Card for Emergencies

Since the passage of The Credit CARD Act in 2009, kids under 21 are not supposed to be issued credit cards of their own unless they have either income to support their spending or a co-signer. But the credit scores of millennials have also suffered as a result.  If you want your child to have credit on hand for either emergencies or regular usage and/or build a credit history while in college, the best way to go about it is to add your child to one of your accounts as an authorized user. Make sure the card you choose actually will report on the child’s behalf to the credit bureaus. Nearly 25% of college students now also have prepaid cards in their wallets. This might solve the budgeting/emergency problem, but not the credit score issue – as prepaid card history isn’t reported to the credit bureaus.

  • Talk to Your Child About Getting a Part-Time Job

The money they’re undoubtedly going to spend on a college campus – like anywhere else – looks far more valuable when they’ve actually earned it.  If there’s room in your child’s schedule, it might be a good idea to investigate a part-time job that’s manageable.

*Article Source Courtesy of Fortune.com by Jean Chatzky

*A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account. All personal memberships are part of the Rewards First program and a $5 per month non-participation fee is charged to the base savings account for memberships not meeting the minimum requirements of the Bronze Tier. Click here to view full Rewards First program details, and here to view the Tier Level Comparison Chart. Accounts for children age 13 and under are excluded from this program.