7 Smart Ways to Take Advantage of Your Tax Refund

taxes08Tax season is often a time of stress for many, but it can be a joyful time for the roughly 75 percent of Americans who do receive income tax refunds.

While the refund really means you’re getting back money you loaned to the government at no interest, in practical terms it often means an unexpected infusion of cash into your wallet or bank account. It’s a great problem to have, but what should you do with your windfall?

The best choice for one person may not be the best choice for another. But experts agree on one thing – if you have debt, apply your refund to paying it off, whether it’s credit card debt, student loan debt, or other consumer debt.

If you’re getting a big refund ­– a check in the ballpark of $1,000 or more for taxpayers who don’t have a side business – consider adjusting your withholding so that you’ll have that money available to you during the year.

Here are the seven smartest things you can do with your refund:

Pay down debt. If you have any consumer debt – student loans, credit card balances or installment loans – pay those off before using your refund for any other purpose. Car payments and mortgages aren’t in this category, but you can also consider paying extra on your principal.

Add to your savings. Can you really ever save enough? You can use the money to build up your emergency savings, your kids’ college fund, or put it toward a specific goal, such as buying a house or a car, or financing a big vacation you’ve been dreaming about taking.

Add to your retirement accounts. If you put $2,500 from this year’s tax refund into an IRA, it would grow to $8,500 in 25 years, even at a modest 5 percent rate of return, TurboTax calculates. If you saved $2,500 every year for 25 years, you’d end up with more than $130,000 at that same 5 percent rate of return!

Invest in yourself. This could mean taking a class in investing, studying something that interests you, or even taking a big trip. Think about doing something that might add value to your life, such as taking a photography class or purchasing a special camera that could become a new hobby and potentially a side business in the future.

Improve your home. Consider putting your refund to good use by adding insulation, replacing old windows and doors, or other improvements that are more energy efficient. Or perhaps it’s time to remodel your bathroom or kitchen. You’re adding value to your home, and at the same time you’re improving your living experience too.

Apply your refund toward next year’s taxes. This is common among self-employed taxpayers, who are required to pay quarterly taxes since they don’t have taxes withheld. By applying any overpayment toward upcoming tax payments, you can free up other cash.

Splurge on something you’ve always wanted to do. If you’re out of debt and have substantial savings, this may be the time to take the cruise to Europe or trip to Thailand that you’ve always dreamed of taking. Such an experience can be life-changing, and you never know what impact it will have on your future until you actually do it.

Article Source: Teresa Mears for US News, http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2014/03/28/7-smart-ways-to-take-advantage-of-your-tax-refund

Learn the Importance and Benefits of Social Security at this Complimentary Seminar in January 2014

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On Thursday, January 30th – the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial will be holding two seminar sessions on Social Security and Your Retirement. The first session will be held at 1:00pm and the second at 6:00pm in the Neptune Branch. It is complimentary to attend.

Seminar Objectives:

  • The value of Social Security
  • The “rules of the road” for receiving Social Security Benefits
  • Possible routes to take to maximize benefits
  • The future of Social Security and the challenge of setting up a retirement income stream
  • The retirement income planning process

The seminar will be presented by Mary LaFerriere, our financial advisor for the Investment & Retirement Center at First Financial. We encourage anyone who has not yet begun receiving Social Security benefits, but are nearing this important milestone, to attend this complimentary seminar. To RSVP, click on one of the links below, call 732.312.1565 or email ircinfo@firstffcu.com.

*Non-deposit investment and insurance products are not federally insured, involve investment risk, may lose value, and are not obligations of or guaranteed by the Credit Union. 

Representatives are registered, securities are sold, and investment advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor, 2000 Heritage Way, Waverly, Iowa 50677, toll-free 800-369-2862. Nondeposit investment and insurance products are not federally insured, involve investment risk, may lose value and are not obligations of or guaranteed by the financial institution. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution, through the financial services program, to make securities available to members. FR071212-0CA6

9 Ways to Simplify Your Finances Now

simpify financesIf managing personal financial affairs were easy, we probably wouldn’t graduate nearly 70,000 accountants each year. Budgets, credit cards, insurance, retirement savings and more—it’s a lot to track, and things are getting more complex all the time.

A lot of people are losing the battle. One in three adults who say their finances have taken a turn for the worse also say their finances have grown more complex, according to a survey from Aite Group. Likewise, 43% of those who say their finances have improved also say their finances have grown less complex.

Simple is good. It’s understandable. It’s manageable. It doesn’t eat up a lot of time. It breeds confidence and makes tough decisions easier. “The financial frenzy people experience comes from being disconnected from their personal income,” says Melody Juge, managing director at Life Income Management.

Some things can’t be made simple. Income tax filing comes to mind, at least for some people. So do retirement account distributions. You can’t know how long you’ll live. But other things don’t have to be so difficult. Maybe you can get control of your money with a few simple tricks. Here are nine ways most Americans can simplify their personal finances:

  • Get down to one mutual fund. You’ll get great asset allocation and solid diversification within asset groups with just one target-date mutual fund. These are the fastest growing corner of the retirement savings world precisely because they are so simple. Choose a target-date fund for the year you turn 65 or 70, put all your retirement savings in it and go about the rest of your life knowing you have professional management and an asset allocation that will become more conservative as you age. Of course, there are drawbacks and you’ll have to look out for expenses when you choose. But investing for the long haul has never been simpler.

Questions about retirement savings or investments?  If you would like to set up a no-cost consultation with the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial Federal Credit Union to discuss your brokerage, investments, and/or savings goals, contact us at 866.750.0100 option #6 or stop in to see us!*

  • Keep two credit cards. You will save a bundle in annual fees and rid yourself of umpteen bills and solicitations. Use one card for monthly spending and the other only when you must carry a balance. Keep cards with the lowest interest rates or annual fees, or those that offer useful rewards.

First Financial’s VISA Platinum Credit Card comes fully loaded with rates as low as 7.9% APR, no balance transfer fees, no annual fees, CURewards redeemable for travel, merchandise items, and merchant gift cards, and so much more! Apply online or stop into any one of our branches to get started today.**

  • Pay bills online. Most financial institutions offer an online bill pay service for no charge. Stamps, envelopes and physical checks are an obsolete expense. You’ll save time too. But best of all, your bank or credit union will automatically keep track of what you spend and where you spend it for easy review, which makes budgeting a lot simpler.

Try First Financial’s free Online Banking today!  Bill Pay is also free, as long as at least 3 bills are paid online each month – otherwise a $6 monthly fee applies.

  • Choose one financial institution. You can probably get everything you need in one place. Stick with one. You’ll not only get better service, but cut down on monthly statements and get a better picture of your overall finances.
  • Automate everything. Arrange for direct deposit of your paycheck to eliminate constant car trips to your financial institution. Arrange for regular payroll or bank account debits to your retirement account — and for automatic increases in the amount as you get pay raises — to keep savings on track. Arrange automatic monthly payments via your online bill pay system to creditors to cover the minimum due and avoid late fees.
  • Get overdraft protection. Link your checking account to your savings account to avoid the cost and hassle of overdrawing your account.
  • Create an emergency fund. The goal is to set aside six months of living expenses to guard against unexpected expenses that derail your plans. But don’t let what may seem a large sum deter you. Start with $500, which is enough to cover the cost of most minor household emergencies. Add $100 a month until you reach your goal.
  • Pay yourself first. You should be saving at least 10% of what you make every month. Write that check first and budget to live off of what’s left.
  • Get organized through new technologies. Account aggregation through your financial institution or a service like Mint.com will allow you to view all your accounts in one place, says Linda Sherry, national priorities director at Consumer Action. She also recommends using a password manager like 1password or Dashlane to simplify your online transactions from any device, and setting up a folder in email for increasingly common online account statements.

*Representatives are registered, securities are sold, and investment advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC , a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor, 2000 Heritage Way, Waverly, Iowa 50677, toll-free 800-369-2862. Nondeposit investment and insurance products are not federally insured, involve investment risk, may lose value and are not obligations of or guaranteed by the financial institution. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution, through the financial services program, to make securities available to members. CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc., is a registered broker/dealer in all fifty states of the United States of America.

**APR varies from 7.90% to 17.99% 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: http://business.time.com/2013/09/20/9-ways-to-simplify-your-finances-now/

Budget Tips for Planning for Life’s Unexpected Curve Balls

couple-worry-moneyLife doesn’t always go as planned, and many of life’s major events, like getting married, having a baby and buying a home can crowd your savings capability and even throw you into a financial tailspin.

When it comes to making ends meet, retirement is often left out of the savings equation. Eighty-four percent of people say saving for retirement has been undercut by a life event, according to this year’s HSBC Future of Retirement survey of more than 15,000 people. But people react differently when in crunch mode, the survey says, and in some cases, extreme measures are required to cover budget needs. Three tactics improve cash flow in a financial crunch: increase income, decrease expenses or a combination of both.

Time to Downsize?

In reality, you have more control on your spending side, particularly with flexible expenses like travel, entertainment, gifts and food. But if your financial woes seem irreversible, you may have to take a hammer to large expenses like housing.

In fact, 21% of women surveyed say they would downsize, compared to only 14% of men. And 31% of men say they would dip into their retirement savings to cover unexpected expenses.

Though experts concede downsizing may be extremely emotional, it’s more preferable than taking a chunk out of retirement savings. Actually, 29% of respondents say the financial strain of home ownership puts a real crimp in retirement savings.

If you have any questions about the home buying process, feel free to ask us! We know it can be an intimidating process at times, and we’re here for you. To apply for a 10, 15, or 30 year First Financial Mortgage – click here.* You might also want to subscribe to our mortgage rate text message service, by texting FIRSTRATE to 69302. When our mortgage rates change, you’ll be the first to know!**

Rethink Your Lifestyle.

Today’s lifestyle norms may have something to do with one-dimensional thinking. Items once seen as luxuries are now seen as necessities, says Ravi Dhar, director of the Yale Center for Customer Insights.

Plus, what people do with their money has more to do with psychological and emotional issues than it does with crunching the numbers, claims Marcee Yager, a retired certified financial planner. “It’s never just about the money.”

Because non-financial issues often dictate financial decisions and create a domino effect, consumers need to look at both quantitative (intellectual) and qualitative (emotional) issues when making life choices, says Yager. “Without shared thinking, people’s heads start spinning.”

The idea that emotional understanding must be factored into financial decisions has gained very little traction, claims Yager. “Big investment banks don’t tend to make things soft and fuzzy.”

Dhar even questions the effectiveness of some system resources like the many online investment tools available to consumers. Calculators project four, six, or eight million dollar targets for a retirement 30 years into the future. He says the timeframe seems intangible and the goals unattainable.

For consumers looking to navigate their way out or steer clear of the financial weeds, experts offer the following:

Take small steps to wealth. The only way to build up reserves is to do it gradually. Budget a realistic portion of your paycheck to start an emergency fund or return to the basics. “The best thing people raising families can do is go back to the old traditional practice of putting money in an envelope or a cookie jar,” adds Yager.

Be flexible. Think about what’s possible to mitigate a tight financial situation. Baby boomers tend to be fearful of change, particularly of moving to unknown places, says Yager. In fact, new locales both in and outside of U.S. borders can create wonderful opportunities that improve your quality of life.

Keep a minimum three-month reserve for savings. Learn to cut corners, live on less and shop in cheaper places.

Write it down. Take a financial fitness quiz then put your pencil to paper. You need to see the numbers then monitor your day-to-day situation.

For a FREE and anonymous online debt management tool, try 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!

If your credit score is not where you want it to be, try First Financial’s First Score Program, a low cost interactive session ($30) with a financial expert – which simulates your credit score using various scenarios.

First Financial also hosts free credit management and debt reduction seminars throughout the year, so be sure to check our online event calendar or subscribe to receive upcoming seminar alerts on your mobile phone by texting FFSeminar to 69302.**

Turn to professionals. Reviewing your savings situation and retirement potential with a professional financial advisor can help to ensure that all your future requirements are identified.

If you would like to set up a no-cost consultation with the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial Federal Credit Union to discuss your brokerage, investments, and/or savings goals, contact us at 866.750.0100 option #6 or stop in to see us!***

Click here to view the article source, from FoxBusiness.com.

*A First Financial membership is required to obtain a mortgage and is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. A First Financial Mortgage is subject to credit approval. See Credit Union for details. **Standard text messaging and data rates may apply.***Representatives are registered, securities are sold, and investment advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC , a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor, 2000 Heritage Way, Waverly, Iowa 50677, toll-free 800-369-2862. Nondeposit investment and insurance products are not federally insured, involve investment risk, may lose value and are not obligations of or guaranteed by the financial institution. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution, through the financial services program, to make securities available to members. CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc., is a registered broker/dealer in all fifty states of the United States of America.

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Learn the Importance and Benefits of Social Security at this Complimentary Seminar in July 2013

660_social_securityOn Tuesday, July 23rd – the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial will be holding a seminar on Social Security and Your Retirement. The seminar will be held at 6:00pm at First Financial’s Toms River Branch and is complimentary to attend.

Seminar Objectives:

  • The value of Social Security
  • The “rules of the road” for receiving Social Security Benefits
  • Possible routes to take to maximize benefits
  • The future of Social Security and the challenge of setting up a retirement income stream
  • The retirement income planning process

The seminar will be presented by Eric DiBraccio, the New England Regional Sales Director of MEMBERS Insurance & Investments. First Financial encourages anyone who has not yet begun receiving Social Security benefits, but are nearing this important decision, to attend this complimentary seminar.

Register Here

Eric DiBraccio is the Regional Sales Director at MEMBERS Insurance and Investments. He’s been part of CUNA Mutual Group since 2012 and is also a consultant to 100+ advisors in 14 Northeast states. Eric was previously a Wholesaler for BlackRock and a Regional Consultant for Merrill Lynch Investment Management. He earned his MBA in Finance/Global Business Management Rutgers University and a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance at St.Joseph’s University, Philadelphia. Eric is currently FINRA Registered and earned the Certified Investment Management Analyst (CIMA) designation from the University of Pennsylvania- Wharton School.

*Non-deposit investment and insurance products are not federally insured, involve investment risk, may lose value, and are not obligations of or guaranteed by the Credit Union.

Representatives are registered, securities are sold, and investment advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor, 2000 Heritage Way, Waverly, Iowa 50677, toll-free 800-369-2862. Nondeposit investment and insurance products are not federally insured, involve investment risk, may lose value and are not obligations of or guaranteed by the financial institution. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution, through the financial services program, to make securities available to members. FR071212-0CA6