Managing Your Finances in an Unsettling Economy Seminar Summary

Recently we held a seminar on How to Manage Your Finances in an Unsettling Economy.  Attendees were taught about the importance of creating and sticking to a budget or spending plan, how to reduce acquired debt, and how to improve their credit score.

b4_3d_pig_with_calculator_03-resized-600The importance of managing credit and controlling debt was discussed.  Attendees were given a few creative ways to cut unnecessary spending, and how to pay off debt as quickly as possible.  It was stressed to attendees the importance of why a good credit score was important -good credit helps you to build personal financial wealth, secure goods and services now – but pay for them later, it affects interest rates and fees you pay, and it can help you to achieve your short and long term goals. Seminar attendees were also informed that their credit scores were made up of the following information about them: 35% of your credit score comes from your payment history, 30% from other amounts you owe, 15% comes from the length of credit history, 10% from the types of credit used, and another 10% from new credit.  A credit score can be improved by paying bills on time, keeping credit card balances low and paying them off in full when possible, not opening unnecessary credit card accounts, and by not closing unused cards – which can raise your balance to limit ratio and actually lower your credit score.

First Financial offers a program called Debt in Focus, which is a free, anonymous online debt management tool.

Try Debt in Focus

The budgeting portion of the seminar emphasized the significance of creating a plan for monthly expenses at the beginning of the month – and tracking it on the computer in an Excel spreadsheet, or by using a budgeting program such as Microsoft Money, online banking, or a mobile phone app.  Regardless of the method chosen to create a budget, recurring or fixed monthly expenses should always be entered first, examples include: mortgage/rent; monthly utilities; and any debts such as auto loans, student loans, or credit card.  Next, flexible expenses, or things you have control over should be entered – such as: entertainment, food, clothing, and household expenses.

It’s important to find a healthy balance between the power you have over money, and the power money has over you.  A budget is often considered a spending plan, but it’s also a savings plan.

Stay tuned for future seminars at First Financial by visiting the event calendar on our website.

Mortgage Market Seminar Summary

mon125027-resized-600Recently, First Financial hosted a free Mortgage Market Seminar. The seminar was intended for anyone looking to buy or sell a home in the current state of the economy. Those in attendance were provided with detailed descriptions of the home buying and mortgage application process as well as advice on how to choose a realtor and lending institution.

The presentation began with an overview of the home buying process and emphasized that it is important not to be intimidated by the long process or be worried about credit score. By finding and choosing the right financial institution with an appropriate lending product and a realtor that one feels comfortable with, this process can be much easier. In order to choose the right financial institution, it is necessary for one to understand all the costs of owning and maintaining a home and determining how much he or she can afford. Some of the most common expenses of owning a home are the mortgage payments covering principal and interest, taxes and insurance, and upkeep. It is recommended that homeowners also set aside a reserve of cash for unforeseen expenses or emergencies.

Once a financial institution has been found, the potential home buyer needs to be approved. The difference between pre-approval and pre-qualification is that the first is a formal commitment from the lender and requires verification of income, funds on deposit, and credit report. When choosing a realtor and attorney, it’s recommended you choose someone with whom you are comfortable with and not make a decision based solely on fees.

No one should ever allow themselves to be persuaded into an agreement or contract about which they feel doubtful or uncomfortable with. It’s also encouraged to ask for closing credits and make your purchase offer contingent upon things such as affordable financing and satisfactory home inspection.

On that note, it is highly recommended that potential home owners have the house inspected. It might cost you a few hundred dollars now, but it gives peace of mind and might potentially save you from thousands of dollars in costs that could have accidentally been overlooked.

The seminar concluded with describing the differences between a fixed and an adjustable rate and closing costs. If you or anyone you know has any questions regarding a mortgage or a future seminar at First Financial, contact us.

Budgeting Seminar Summary – How to Organize Your Finances

bankinginoneplace-resized-600We recently held a seminar on How to Organize Your Finances in 4 Easy Steps. Attendees were taught about the importance of creating and sticking to a budget or spending plan that you decide upon to track what you earn, spend, and save.

The seminar began with educating attendees about the “grandparent method” of budgeting – in the past our grandparents typically budgeted by placing cash in various envelopes labeled by bill name.  For example, when money was needed for groceries, it was taken from the grocery envelope.  Today it’s a little bit different— we live in a typically cashless society where plastic cards and automatic or online bill payments are virtually the norm.  However, attendees were shown how the grandparent budgeting method can easily be applied to today’s digital world.

The seminar emphasized the significance of creating a plan of what you think you’ll spend for the month at the beginning of the month – and tracking it on your computer in an Excel spreadsheet, or by using a budgeting program such as Microsoft Money, online banking, or an app on your mobile phone.

Regardless of the method you choose to create your budget, you should enter your recurring or fixed monthly expenses first, including: mortgage/rent; monthly utilities; and any debts such as auto loans, student loans, or credit card.  Next, enter your flexible expenses, or things you have control over – such as: entertainment, food, clothing, and household expenses.  Seminar attendees were given a budgeting worksheet to use, and shown how to manage their expenses and input their income regardless of whether they were planning for just themselves, a couple, or a family budget.

While budgeting might be “scary” for some, don’t be afraid to have fun with your budget! Make a game of saving your money, and paying your bills.  People are afraid of money – especially of not having it.  By creating an organized plan for your lifestyle, you won’t ever need to be afraid of not having money again.

Stay tuned for upcoming monthly consumer seminars! Enter your email in the subscribe box — located at the top right of this blog — to subscribe to seminar previews and more from First Scoop.

Financial Aid Seminar Summary

Recently at our Wall Office, Ken O’Connor, CU Student Loan’s Director of Student Advocacy, presented a Financial Aid Seminar – where he introduced ways in which parents and students can select a college and efficiently pay for it.
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THE BEGINNING – SELECTING A COLLEGE

Ken noted that over time, the factors taken into consideration in the selection of a college have changed.

“Twenty years ago students would choose a school based upon their area of academic pursuit and the college’s reputation for a degree in that field,” he said. “The most important thing for them was the learning aspect. Nowadays, as more colleges adopt standardized curriculum, the value of what is learned versus the costs associated with the program are important to consider during the selection process. Thankfully, with the convenience of the internet, it is now easier than ever to compare costs!”

Ken went on explaining that a school’s location may leave a student with the decision of whether or not to commute. Living on campus is convenient, but commuting can reduce costs. Ken encouraged prospective students to take all this into consideration when selecting a college.

In addition to cost, students should think about what kind of environment they can succeed in. Some people prefer the fast-paced hustle and bustle of a city campus, while others prefer the quaint, small town feel of a rural college. Some students are unsure of what they like, so Ken encouraged students to start visiting colleges before their junior of high school to visualize and experience the campus.

Did you know that 50% of people transfer schools at some point during their college years? According to Ken, they do! During transfers, students can lose credits toward graduation depending on how many classes are counted at the new school.  Knowing what to look for in an institution and an education while searching for a school can help students zero in on the best option and successfully graduate, instead of having to transfer somewhere else.  That being said, many students plan their college education around an expected transfer.  They may attend a community college for their first two years, and transfer to a larger school to complete a four year degree, drastically cutting college costs. However a transfer is handled, a student’s goal should be to retain as many credits possible toward graduation.

Being familiar with the differences between State schools and Private schools can help you choose an appropriate college environment with affordable cost.

collegestudents-resized-600The Differences between State and Private Schools

State schools:
1. Are usually less expensive.
2. Will charge a higher tuition cost for out-of-state students.
3. May have much larger class sizes limiting individualized attention for students.
4. Getting admitted to your state school of choice may be more challenging than you think depending on how many students in your state are also applying, and depending on how many out of state students they are willing to admit.

Private schools:
1. Usually carry a much higher sticker price.
2. May award more scholarships and financial aid to help lower that sticker price for students.
3. Tend to have smaller enrollment and class sizes where professors can provide more attention to each student, justifying the higher costs.

NEXT UP – THE FINANCIAL AID PROCESS

“The financial aid application process can be a daunting task, especially when it’s being done for the first time,” Ken said. “However, the students that take ownership of their financial aid and bill pay process are students that can also take ownership of their education.”

There are differences between grants, loans, and scholarships. Ken encourages students and parents to make it a team effort when filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

“Getting students involved in the financial aid application helps develop the focus and discipline required to succeed in school.  It also makes it easier when they have to re-apply the next year,” Ken said.

IN CONCLUSION – PAYING FOR COLLEGE

Ken explained that although a handful of students are fortunate enough to be offered full scholarships, the majority have to cover a “tuition gap” – the remaining tuition due after taking into account grants and scholarships. This gap can be paid out-of-pocket or with a loan. Some loan options are considerably better than others, so it’s important to know the terms and conditions of repayment in order to select the loan that is the best fit for the needs of the student and their parents. Ken recommends choosing a loan that the student can start paying off while attending college and will not penalize the borrower for early repayment. He noted that sometimes the monthly payment can be as low as $25 and it will teach the student financial responsibility in addition to assisting in getting the loan paid off faster. “Making payments while in school not only knocks out the debt, but also builds a positive credit history,” Ken added.

Ken O’Connor is a 10 year veteran of higher-education finance who has served thousands of students and parents, each having their own specific financial and educational needs, during his career as a financial aid counselor. By assisting so many families, Ken has gained experience in creatively solving a multitude of the financial problems that arise with attending college.