Our Fall 2014 Newsletter is Here!

Our Fall Bi-Annual Newsletter has arrived! In a continued effort to “go green,” we’re publishing our newsletter electronically – it can also be found on our website and social media sites. Paper copies will be available in our branches in the coming weeks – stay tuned. This Fall “First Edition” newsletter covers some great new topics and talks about some of the exciting events and promotions going on at First Financial for the rest of 2014.

The Fall Newsletter Magazine features the following articles:

  • Upcoming First Financial Seminars (October – November 2014)
  • New Mobile App Announcement
  • “How to Save Money by Simplifying Your Life” Article
  • Note from the CEO
  • New Instagram Announcement
  • “Living in Retirement” – IRC Article
  • Groundbreaking Event Photos & New Freehold/Howell Service Center Address
  • Tell a Friend Referral Program with Holiday Bonus Offer
  • “4 Ways to Save” Financial Tips
  • 2014 Erma Dorrer Literary Scholarship Recipients and Photo
  • Penny Smart’s Food Truck & Restaurant Birthday Bash Summary with Photos
  • Important information, holidays, phone numbers, and branch locations

To view a copy of the newsletter, click here.

Enjoy!

Personal Finance: 5 Areas You Shouldn’t Ignore

piggy bank savings - top viewPersonal finance is not just something to think about now and then, such as when you review your bank statement – it affects your life on a daily basis. Ask yourself how well prepared you are in each of the 5 personal finance items below, and how you might be able to do better.

1. Credit and Debt

If you have significant credit card debt, you should pay it down as quickly as you can. Fortunately, it can be done. One good strategy is tackling your highest-interest-rate debt first. Switching to paying for most things with cash instead of credit cards can also help by reining in spending.

Beyond that, you need to strive for a spotless credit report and strong credit score. Check your credit report regularly, have errors fixed, and build a high score. Healthy credit is a key aspect of personal finance.

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.

2. Insurance

Yes, you might have home insurance, car insurance, and health insurance, but how about life insurance if anyone relies on your income? How about renter’s insurance if you rent your home or apartment? This personal finance category also includes umbrella insurance that offers excess liability protection, which insures you against lawsuits. Disability insurance can protect your income stream in case you become unable to work. Long-term care insurance can support you if you need to be cared for at home or in an assisted-living facility for a while. It’s well worth exploring, as you’re more likely to need it than you might expect, and buying it while you’re relatively young can save you money in the long run.

3. Real Estate

This personal finance category includes buying a home, owning and maintaining one, and selling it at some point. To do well in this category, you need to maintain a strong credit rating and qualify for a low-interest-rate mortgage. You might opt for a 15-year mortgage to build equity faster. It’s important to take good care of your home but you should also think twice before embarking on expensive remodelings that might not let you recoup most of their cost.

It’s also smart to consider refinancing your mortgage at some point. Conventional wisdom suggests that it’s smart to do so when you can snag an interest rate about 1 percentage point lower than your current one. That’s not enough of a reason though, be sure that you plan to stay in the home long enough for the savings to outweigh the closing costs.

If you’re looking to purchase or refinance a home, First Financial has a variety of options available to you, including 10, 15, and 30 year mortgages. We offer great low rates, no pre-payment penalties, easy application process, financing on your primary residence, vacation home or investment property, plus so much more! For rates and more information, call us at 866.750.0100, Option 4 for the Lending Department.*

You can also sign up for our Mortgage Rate Text Messaging Service to receive updates on our low mortgage rates straight to your mobile phone. To be a part of the program, text FIRSTRATE to 69302 and each time our mortgage rates change, we’ll send you a text message with the new rates.** 

4. Taxes

Smart taxpayers make smart tax decisions all year long. Here’s a tip that not enough people take advantage of: Set up and use a flexible spending account throughout the year. It lets you put aside pre-tax dollars to pay for qualified health care expenses.

5. Estate Planning

This is another critical area of personal finance. Your estate plan might include a will, a durable power of attorney, a living will, advance medical directives, beneficiary designations on financial accounts, and possibly a trust. Don’t assume you have everything covered with just a will, as you might be able to save your loved ones a lot of headaches, heartache, and money with some more planning and preparation. A living, or revocable trust, for example, can let you avoid the sometimes long and costly (and public) process by directing how your property is to be handled before and after your death.

There’s a lot more to learn about each of these personal finance topics. Spend a little time on them, and you may find that they’re not so boring, and the prospect of saving a lot of money (and being able to spend it now or in retirement) is exciting. And if you need help, don’t be afraid to consult a financial professional.

Questions about retirement savings, estate planning, 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 savings goals, contact us at 866.750.0100 or stop in to see us!***

*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. Subject to credit approval. Credit worthiness determines your APR.

**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. 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 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.

Article Source:  http://www.fool.com/how-to-invest/personal-finance/2014/08/10/personal-finance-5-areas-you-cant-ignore.aspx by Selena Maranjian.

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 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.