How to Save Money By Simplifying Your Life

save-money-travel-photo-ccNearly half of households in the United States are “liquid asset poor,” meaning they have less than three month’s worth of savings in the bank, according to a report this year from the Corporation for Enterprise Development, a nonprofit that tracks household financial security. Surprisingly, 25% of those who are considered “liquid asset poor” are in the middle class with earnings of $56,113 to $91,356 annually. What’s even more surprising is that 89% are employed.

Statistics like these might make you wonder how we got here. The fact is, modern life has become more difficult and complicated than ever. We not only have more inconveniences and responsibilities than previous generations, but we also have more bills to pay. We work more, relax less, and spend most of our time planning for the future instead of enjoying the present. Everything costs more than it did generations ago, which is another reason so many Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. And when you’re living a hand-to-mouth existence, it can be next to impossible to break the cycle.

Breaking the Cycle in 5 Simple Steps

But what if someone told you it didn’t have to be that way? What would you do if you discovered that merely simplifying your life could help you save and prepare for a brighter future? The truth is, a simpler existence might be exactly what it takes to transition from a lifestyle of struggle into one where you’re able to enjoy life a little. It may not be easy, but change might just be within your reach.

Here’s how:

  • Pare down your possessions. If you’re struggling to keep up and feeling bogged down by life’s ups and downs, it might be time to lighten your load. The truth is, many of the belongings that bring you joy could also be a source of stress either because they require upkeep, take up too much space or come with additional financial costs. So, instead of holding on, figure out what you can sell and take the necessary steps to do so. You’ll not only simplify your life, but you’ll also rake in some extra cash in the process.
  • Cancel unnecessary services. Many monthly bills are non-negotiable, including things such as utilities, insurance, mortgage or rent payments, and transportation costs. But the rest? You can typically do without it. If you really want to simplify and get ahead, consider canceling services that aren’t necessary. This could include things such as cable television, expensive gym memberships (when there are many more affordable monthly plans out there), pricey cell phone contracts, or other unnecessary monthly subscriptions (magazines, movie rental/streaming services, etc.). Eliminating or cutting even a few of your monthly expenses can make a huge difference in your bottom line over the months and years. Plus, who doesn’t want fewer bills to pay?
  • Pay down debt. If you’re like most people, you have a few lingering debts from the past. The bad news is, those monthly debt payments might be part of the reason you’re struggling. They might even mean the difference between mere survival and getting ahead. Unfortunately, the only real way to escape the grasp of your debt is to make a commitment to become debt-free. Use the money you’ve freed up by paring down your possessions and eliminating unnecessary services to work toward becoming debt-free once and for all. It may take a while, but it will be worth it.

Utilize First Financial’s free, anonymous debt management tool, 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.

  • Make a commitment to save. When you’re living paycheck to paycheck, one surprise bill or emergency is all it takes to knock you completely off track. That’s why it’s absolutely crucial to begin saving for the future and for any unexpected expenses that might arise. Saving money might seem like a lofty goal, but it can be done if you make the commitment to never give up. Your future self will thank you.
  • Make it automatic. If you’re worried you’ll fall off the savings wagon in a hurry, the best thing you can do for yourself is make all savings automatic. This generally means setting up an automatic account transfer on payday or at the end or beginning of the month. Making it automatic helps you accomplish your savings goals in two ways: First, it ensures you’re saving on a regular basis by forcing you onto a savings schedule. Second, it forces you to live on less than what you earn, which is required if you truly want to get ahead and stay ahead.

It’s true that modern life has become burdensome and overly complicated in some ways, but it’s also true that our decisions often make it worse. Fortunately, the key to escaping a lifetime of struggle is often within reach if you’re willing to look hard enough. All it takes is a fresh perspective, a willingness to live on less, and the fortitude to make it happen. A simpler and more prosperous life can be yours if you want it.

*Click here to view the article source by Holly Johnson of US News.

5 Budget Killers You Can Avoid

budgeting-money-to-conquer-debtCreating a budget is the first step in taking control of your finances. Sticking to your budget is another challenge altogether.

Even when you believe you have factored in every cost you may encounter by week, by month or by year, somehow you end up needing more money than you allocated – right? If this sounds like you, you are likely encountering a budget killer (or several). Below are some of the most common costs that can cause you to veer off your budgeting course.

1. Account Maintenance Fees: Some big bank accounts and credit cards tack on fees if you don’t maintain your account or meet specific requirements. Some charge you extra if you don’t maintain a certain balance, if you write too many checks, or if you don’t make enough transactions. These can add up quickly. Make sure when choosing an account or credit card, you read the specifics of your account agreement carefully. Look into which checking accounts and credit cards offer services that fit your lifestyle.

Be sure to check out the variety of flexible Checking Account options that we offer here at First Financial including First Protection, High Yield, Free, Go Green Checking and more. Plus, if you’re on the hunt for a great new maintenance-free credit card with rewards, click here to learn more about our low-rate Visa Platinum Credit Card and apply online.

2. Subscriptions: While seemingly low monthly fees can be attractive, subscription magazines and online services (think Netflix, Hulu, etc.) add up. These costs are hurting your budget if you are not using the services or if you could find them elsewhere online for free. Eventually, these just become another add-on to your monthly payments so it’s a good idea every so often to re-evaluate whether yours are worth keeping.

3. Credit Card Interest: Credit cards have several attractive features: allowing you to buy now and pay later, providing cash back, and helping you earn points toward a new car, vacation or night out. Paying installments on your purchases over time may appear to be a great way to buy all your monthly and superfluous purchases. However, high interest rates add up over time if you carry a balance and you can find yourself deep in debt before you know it. You may think you are paying off your purchase when all you are doing is treading water by paying off the interest. To avoid this, it’s important to know the interest rates of your credit cards, pay off your balance in full every month, and save before you purchase. Carrying a lot of debt can have longer-term implications on your credit scores too. If you want to see how your debt is affecting your credit, check out our free and anonymous debt management tool, Debt in Focus and be sure to take advantage of our First Score service to learn ways to improve your score as well.

Did you know that our Visa Platinum Credit Card rate starts as low as 10.9% and offers rewards?* It’s a good idea to check the APR of some of your current credit cards to see if it’s time to switch! Keep in mind, we also don’t have any balance transfer fees – and as an additional BONUS, 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.**

4. Excess Phone, Cable & Utility Bills: Many households are paying hundreds of dollars for TV, Internet, cell phone, and utility expenses each month. No matter how comfortable these tools make us, they are taking up valuable space in our budgets. Look through your bills carefully and try to scale back from services you aren’t using or do not need to use, from running the air-conditioning while you are at work to paying for a DVR on a second TV you never even watch. Also, be sure you are not paying for a level of service you don’t need. If these alterations don’t bring a big enough impact on your budget, consider alternatives like prepaid phone services and switching cable providers.

5. Convenience Fees: Certain businesses tack on “convenience fees” when you utilize their goods or services as a way to make up any added expenses that can incur during your transaction. Be wary of these types of fees before you make various transactions, to see if there is a less expensive way for you to do so.

Having an emergency fund can be a big help when you come in over budget. This money can save you from stress when you have fallen victim to these and other budget killers. It’s a good idea though to deal with the root issue instead of repeatedly ruining your budget and having to dip into your emergency fund. If you do have to use that money, it’s important to replace it and frequently evaluate your budget to match your changing lifestyle.

Article source courtesy of Fox Business.

*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. Rates quoted assume excellent borrower credit history. Your actual APR may vary based on your state of residence, approved loan amount, applicable discounts and your credit history. 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.

How to Get Your Child Financially Prepared for College

college-students-awesomeAfter the high school class of 2014 dons their graduation gowns, they’ll be spending this summer gathering dorm necessities, picking classes and hunting for the cheapest textbooks.

One major point of focus should also be signing up for the right student financial accounts, specifically checking accounts and credit cards. With so many choices, it can be confusing for parents and students, but there are simple approaches to getting college-bound kids financially prepared.

Pick the Right Checking Account

When looking for a checking account, parents may be quick to sign their children up to their own banks or to a major bank close to home. However, that approach may not be the best for the college student.

Since college students may need cash for spontaneous occasions, it is important to have an in-network ATM at or near the college campus. Constant cash withdrawals at out-of-network ATMs can amount to plenty of fees. At the 10 largest U.S. banks, the average out-of-network ATM fee is $2.45. Furthermore, the operator of the out-of-network ATM has the right to impose a surcharge, which typically ranges from $2 to $3.

Besides location convenience, parents also have to consider their ability to fund their kid’s accounts. Parents and students should research which financial institutions are around campus and near home to find the one with a student checking account that would allow them to stay financially connected. Parents, you should also make sure that the financial institution you choose has instant transfers during the times you have to transfer money into your child’s account electronically – you don’t want a 1-2 day delay period.

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.

Sign Up for the Right Credit Card

Credit cards are less attainable by college students since the Credit Card Act of 2009 took effect, requiring anyone under age 21 to provide proof of reliable income to qualify for a card. If a student can qualify for a credit card on his or her own, it is crucial to evaluate spending and repayment habits to maximize any rewards and minimize interest paid.

For instance, a student who will be driving around campus may prefer to get a credit card that offers rewards on gas purchases. Or if a student doesn’t expect to be able to pay off their balances every month, he or she may opt for a card that doesn’t have rewards but carries a lower interest rate.

The more likely situation would involve parents adding their children as authorized users on an existing credit card account. Parents can limit how much their children can spend on their authorized cards, and when the occasion calls for it, they can raise or reduce the limits accordingly. As authorized card users, students can also start building their credit profiles, which can increase their chances of qualifying for credit cards and loans in the future.

Keep an Open Line of Communication

Do your children know what to do in the case of a financial emergency? College students may encounter dilemmas that cannot be solved with the financial means available to them.

Parents should keep an open line of communication that would allow their children to contact them in the event of financial distress, regardless of how bad the situation may be. It’s important for parents to continue providing financial and emotional support, so their kids can focus on the most important aspect of college: their education.

Students need to be financially prepared not only before college, but also post-graduation. Check out some of our graduate products and services that we offer here at First Financial – from a Checking Account to an Auto Loan offer exclusively for recent graduates! 

Click here to view the article source courtesy of Simon Zhen of US News.

*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.  + Call or visit a branch to request refund of the first fee incurred. We must receive request within 90 days of date fee is charged in order to be eligible for refund. The eligible fees are NSF, Overdraft, and Courtesy Pay fees.  ++ Bill Pay is free as long as 3 bills are paid through Bill Pay each month, otherwise a $6 monthly fee applies.

“Real World” Advice from Dads & Grandpas 2014

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Thank you to everyone who participated in our Father’s Day Facebook Contest, and for posting all of the ways in which your fathers and grandfathers taught you how to prepare for the “real world.”

Below is a list of all the wonderful advice we received:

  • “My dad helped me to set multiple levels of financial goals, including starting my first savings account at First Financial (at that time MonOc)! He also helped me to learn about credit cards, savings certificates and CDs. Overall, he really helped me to get on the right track and become very successful today with my finances. Hope I have the opportunity to give him that Home Depot gift card for Father’s Day!” – Joshua E.
  • “Dad and grandpa both stressed the importance of needs vs. wants and how bills should only account for a certain percentage of my income. Smart men!” – Troy J.
  • “My dad always said to pay with cash. If you don’t have the money now, save for it.” - Bridgette D.
  • “Dad always made sure I never spent my whole paycheck from the time I started working at 14. That went from giving him a few bucks back then and turned into retirement and investment accounts today. Great advice.” – Karen M.
  • “By putting away a portion of income automatically and the importance of saving for retirement!” – Joe V.
  • “I was one of seven children, so a total family of nine with my parents. I witnessed my Dad save money in many ways, first to put food on the table for a large family, let alone pay a mortgage and utilities, clothing, etc., was a task. What he taught us was how to survive on a few dollars when you had to, don’t hire laborer’s when you can do repairs yourself, “learn it” he said, learn it all. He made cabinets, he fixed his own cars, he did electrical work. We went without a furnace for 3 month’s of a very cold winter while he rebuilt the system when our furnace broke, we stayed in one room of our nine room home. He built additions for family, with family, and his trade, he was a printer on an old fashioned Poegy Press – I incidentally knew how one worked myself at age 13. Yet, he took us on vacation every year in the summer, because he saved through his own laboring. He owned two homes in his lifetime. He’s deceased since 1990, and I still have questions I wish I’d asked on many things he did. I can say my son-in-law does a lot of these things, and he reminds me of my father in this respect, which makes me proud to say my daughter’s married men who “labor” and that is a way to save.” – Patricia C.
  • “Pay yourself first! (Put money into savings first, before you do anything else).” – Denise J.
  • “My Dad taught me to always pay my bills on time and he encouraged me to purchase a rental property so someone else could pay my mortgage; it was the best advice ever.” – Kevin O.
  • “Only buy if you will use it as a priority.. not just a want.” – Gayle G.
  • “My Dad taught me to never pay credit card interest, to always donate 2% to charity and to save for those big unexpected purchases.” – AT O.
  • “My dad taught me to balance my checkbook and how to understand stock indexes when I was 15 yrs old.” – Chief (Facebook Username)
  • “My grandfather was a frugal yet enormously generous man who taught all of us that it takes more than money to be rich!” – Kerry D.
  • “My dad taught me to save a portion of every paycheck.” – Patty B.
  • “My father taught me how to budget once I got into the ‘real world’ by his example. He never used a credit card and taught me that if you didn’t have the extra cash to purchase something then you would have to wait and save for it. Today I employ this, however, I do use my credit card, specifically for the ease of that type of payment especially in today’s use of technology and internet retail. I follow his example and manage that by paying my credit card bill every month in it’s entirety so I do not incur any interest charges.” – Danette K.
  • “My Dad made sure I paid back any money I borrowed. I’m happy to say that almost 40 years later I pay all my debts on time! Thanks Dad!” – Charlene L.
  • “Well, I have to say honestly my dad didn’t teach me to ‘budget’ money, my mom did the financials in our household. But he did teach me the value of balancing, looking ahead and enjoying the now. He knew the future was important but also how important it was to live in and appreciate the present. That’s a great gift.” – Terri S.
  • “My dad taught me to always put away a percentage of my pay check for those ‘emergencies.’ He always taught me the financial responsibilities in life, even if I didn’t like it. I had to start paying rent the day after I graduated high school. I didn’t like it then, but it taught me responsibility and budgeting my finances since I had to. I thanked him years after because he taught me so much more than others my age.” – Renee M.
  • “Dad always saved first, then bought. From the day he bought a car, he would start saving for the next.” – Laurie S.
  • “My father always said live for the future not just for today. He encouraged us to save money and if you wanted something, you should set aside money each week so you can buy it outright.” – Lori M.
  • “My father always used coupons which allowed us to have money for fun things, like the arcade or movies. I used to get a $3 weekly allowance which I saved to buy my family Christmas presents with. We weren’t rich, but I thought we were!” – Angela S.
  • “My grandfather taught me the importance of saving from a early age. Through this time and his encouragement I was able to buy my own car in cash.” – Kenny F.

Be sure to follow us on Facebook and receive the most recent information about First Financial including monthly trivia, seminars, financial tips, event information, promotions, and so much more. Thank you again for participating and on behalf of everyone at First Financial, we wish all Fathers and Grandfathers a wonderful and happy Father’s Day!

Financial Resolutions for 2014

iStock_000014802582Small-x-560If you haven’t already started making your New Year’s resolutions – or even if you have – make sure to include a few money-related ones to your list. We’ve got a few to help you get started:

  • Pay down your mortgage. You can save more than $63,000 on a 30-year, $200,000 mortgage by paying just $100 more a month.
  • Save 10 percent. Put aside 10 percent of your income for long-term investments and retirement savings before paying any bills.
  • Track your expenses. Record every dollar you spend, for at least one week. You’ll get a clearer idea of where the money goes and what you can cut back on.
  • Energize your house. Look for ways to make your house more energy efficient. You’ll save on heating and cooling costs and also help the environment.
  • Stay home. Resist the temptation to eat out. Cook more meals at home. Instead of going to the movies, rent a video, read a book, or a play a game with your whole family.
  • Don’t rely on credit cards. Credit card debt can eat up your savings and your future. Start reducing your debt, and don’t buy anything on credit if you don’t have the money to pay the bill off promptly.

Don’t forget to stop in to have your annual financial checkup! Here at First Financial, we encourage our members to come in at least once a year to sit down with a representative at any one of our branches to make sure you are currently placed in the correct Rewards First tier for you, and also that you are receiving the best value, products and services based on your financial situation. Give us a call at 866.750.0100 or stop in to see us today!

*Click here to view the article source.

What to Do If Your Credit Score Is Too Low For a Mortgage

first-time-home-buyer-1If you’re preparing to buy a home, you probably know that your credit score is important. Maybe you’ve already been turned down for a mortgage because of a low credit score. Or maybe you’ve recently pulled your credit report, only to realize that your credit is worse than you expected.

Don’t give up on buying a home yet! There are plenty of places to turn if your credit is too low to get a conventional mortgage. But first, you should figure out what lenders expect of your credit score, since you might be surprised to find that you may be able to buy a home with your current credit score.

What do lenders expect?

Lending requirements vary from one lender to the next, but they’ve generally become more strict since the subprime mortgage lending crisis in 2008. As a rule of thumb, though, you’ll need a FICO score of about 650 to get a conventional mortgage – and that’s on the low end.

Remember, the lower your credit score, the higher your mortgage rate is likely to be. This can have a dramatic effect on how much you pay for your home over time. So if you’re sitting on the mid-to-low end of the credit spectrum, you may want to look into some of these options, even if you qualify for a conventional mortgage.

Put More Money Down

Mortgage lenders look at a host of factors when deciding whether or not to lend you money. One of those factors is your credit score. But another factor is your down payment.

With some lenders, you may be able to offset a weak credit score with a higher down payment. With a bigger down payment, you’ll have more equity in your home, which means the lender takes less of a risk when lending to you.

If you’ve got a substantial amount of money in savings, but still have a fairly low credit score, consider applying for a mortgage with a community credit union, like First Financial. Often, these smaller entities operate under more flexible lending guidelines, so you can talk to a loan officer about your situation and maybe get a favorable result.

To speak with First Financial’s lending department, call us at 866.750.0100 option 4, and to learn more about our mortgages – click here.

Work With a Homeownership Counselor

There are some local and national nonprofits that offer homeownership counseling.

Nonprofits like these offer counseling to future homebuyers who need help raising their credit scores or navigating the homebuying process. It may take some time, but with the help of a credit and housing counselor, you can learn which steps to take to raise your credit score and apply for a home loan.

First Financial offers a free Home Buying and Mortgage seminar every year; stay tuned for our next one! To register for our upcoming free seminars, click on the event calendar tab at the top right of our website. All of our staff is here to help you, if you ever have any questions please don’t hesitate to stop into any one of our branches and see us!

Get Your Credit Score Up

You could also simply take the time to bootstrap yourself into a better credit score. Raising your score isn’t complicated, but it does take time, discipline and hard work. These steps can help get your credit score up so that you can qualify for a mortgage.

  1. Correct any errors on your report, especially late payments or collections accounts that aren’t recorded properly.
  2. Make all your payments on time. Late payments are the # 1 way to ding your credit score.
  3. Pay down revolving debt like credit cards. A high debt-to-credit ratio is another surefire way to lower your score.
  4. Wait it out. As long as you’re paying down debt and making payments on time, your credit score will eventually rise on its own.

Don’t forget to utilize all of our free online financial calculators located on our website too.

*Click here to view the article source by Abby Hayes of US News. 

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