5 Ways to Whip Your Budget Into Shape for the Holidays

Безымянный-2Holiday shopping is officially in full swing – but that certainly doesn’t mean you need to go broke over it. Here are just a few financial tips to whip your budget into shape for the holidays without sacrificing gift giving or your other financial goals.

Reflect on last year. If last year’s shopping season was a budget-busting disaster, then now is the time to learn from your mistakes. Take a look at your holiday bills from a year ago and think about whether your financial situation has improved or worsened since then. Be honest with yourself. Are you really up for a repeat spending performance this year? If not, start thinking about how much you can realistically afford to spend, and make sure it’s reflected in your new holiday budget.

Set a dollar amount. And stick to it! While holiday spending often feels essential, it’s easy to get swept away in the shopping frenzy and end up spending more than you can afford. So before you start shopping, use this opportunity to develop a realistic budget where you designate a specific dollar amount for each item or person on your list. Easily create, manage, and stick to your budget using a free online personal finance management tool that can also help you manage your money on the go.

Track receipts. You’ll need them for returns, price adjustments, and to compare against your credit card statement. Knowing how much you spent will keep you honest and help you plan better for future holiday shopping too. Tally the receipts from all holiday expenses, including gifts, postage, meals, entertainment, and decorations. Assess where you’ve spent and once you’ve completed your shopping list, stop shopping!  More mall or web time can amount to more spending.

Limit your use of plastic. Unless you know you’re good about paying off your credit card balances in full each and every month, leave the plastic at home. Only bring cash you’ve set aside for holiday shopping to avoid temptations for unnecessary purchases. If you must use credit this year and know you won’t be able to pay everything off right away, try this approach: Don’t rely solely on credit; make a plan in which you pay your purchases off completely within two to three months; and limit your credit card use to the card in your wallet with the lowest interest rate.

Did you know First Financial has a lower rate VISA Platinum Credit Card, great rewards, no annual fee, and no balance transfer fees? Apply today!*

No emotional purchases. Let’s face it, if you’re stressed out, you might make some unnecessary purchases. Take the emotions out of your holiday shopping, and stick to your original holiday budget. Having your budget in hand and a game plan for who you are buying for and what you want to buy, can help make the daunting task of shopping a bit more manageable. It’s also worth doing a little online research and comparison shopping before leaving the house, so you don’t get caught up on the hype of the holiday sales.

So why not take a different approach this year? By following some of these tips ahead of time you’ll be able to balance your gift giving and still avoid that holiday debt hangover.

To save for holiday shopping next year, check out First Financial’s Holiday Savings Club Account – don’t put yourself into debt over holiday spending, save ahead and come out on top (and not in debt)!**

  • Open at any time
  • No minimum balance requirements
  • Dividends are posted annually on balances of $100 or more
  • Accounts automatically renew each year
  • Deposits can be made in person, via mail, payroll deductions, or direct deposit
  • Holiday Club funds are deposited into a First Financial Checking or Base Savings Account

*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.

**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.

Article Source:

Holly Perez of Money.usnews.com, http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/my-money/2014/11/20/5-ways-to-whip-your-budget-into-shape-for-the-holidays

8 Things You Should Do With Your Money Before 2015

Checkbox 3DThe last thing we want to do right now while preparing for the upcoming holidays, is probably think about money. That’s what New Year’s resolutions are for, right? While it’s tempting to put off your finances until the New Year, you might miss some critical financial deadlines or lose the opportunity to save extra money. An end-of-year financial checklist gives you the opportunity to make changes and save before the clock strikes midnight on December 31st.

Here is a year-end financial planning checklist. Use these last few weeks to get your finances organized and under control — a great way to close out 2014.

1. Look over your spending.

Ideally, you’ve been tracking your spending all year. What were your spending patterns? Did you go over or under in a certain category? Take a look at what you actually spent vs. what you had budgeted for. Do you need to change your expectations? Review your financial goals from last year and consider whether they will work for you in the coming year and make the necessary adjustments. If you paid off a loan, see if you can redirect that money into a paying off another debt or adding to a savings or retirement account. Don’t let the money get eaten up by miscellaneous expenses. If you don’t have a budget, start one now. Mint.com, Level and Check are all good free budgeting tools with features to help you create a budget from scratch, track your spending, and set financial goals.

2. Order your free credit report.

You’re entitled to one free yearly credit report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Get a report now so you know where you stand before heading into the new year. Look over your report and check for errors or negative information. If your credit history could use some improvement, make 2015 the year you get back on track.

3. Get your credit cards in check.

That means checking your balances, rates, and cash back or other rewards. Make a large payment if you are carrying debt and have extra money to do so. If you can’t pay down a chunk of the debt you accumulated this year, create a debt repayment plan that will get it down next year.

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.

4. Make an extra mortgage payment.

Making just one extra mortgage payment each year can cut your loan down by years, saving you possibly thousands in interest. Also, making an extra mortgage payment means you may be able to claim an extra month of mortgage interest deductions in 2014. If you can’t afford an extra payment, try to make January’s payment before the first of the month. If the payment gets credited before January 1, 2015, it may still be tax-break-eligible for 2014.

5. Review your insurance plans.

Look over your health, life, homeowner’s/renter’s, and car insurance plans. Do you need to adjust your coverage, premiums, or add any dependents? Do you need to purchase new coverage, like life insurance or disability? Did you get married, have a baby, or buy a house? Do you have any changes coming in 2015 that you need to plan for? Those life events all trigger insurance changes.

PS: If you answered yes to any of those questions, you might need to make changes to your W-2, too.

6. Automate everything.

It’s time to finally automate your bills and savings. The more you can automate, the easier your finances will be in 2015. Automating helps you pay your bills on time and maintain a regular savings plan. This is also a good time to cancel any automatic subscriptions you aren’t using: video and music streaming, magazines, premium subscriptions, etc.

7. Make a tax-deductible charitable contribution.

If you are going to itemize deductions on your 2014 tax return, consider making a charitable contribution to a cause you believe in. The donation must be made to a qualifying organization and the tax benefit only saves you a fraction of what you donate, but you’ll be supporting a good cause to end the year.

8. Use your Flexible Savings Account.

If you have a Flexible Spending Account for healthcare or other qualifying expenses, now is the time to submit any outstanding claims. This is also the perfect time to make any year-end doctor appointments.

If you get your finances in order at the end of the year, it can only help you get more organized for the coming one!

Don’t forget to stop in to have your annual financial checkup before the year ends, or to kick off the beginning of the new year! 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!

Article Source:

Morgan Quinn of Gobankingrates.com, http://www.gobankingrates.com/personal-finance/10-smart-money-moves-make-before-2015/

Help Local Families in Need this 2014 Holiday Season in any First Financial Branch!

season of giving joyHoliday Greetings to all of our First Scoop Readers!

As we approach the holiday season, First Financial will be partnering with local non-profit organizations to help families in need within Monmouth and Ocean Counties. Our First Financial branches will serve as collection sites for non-perishable food items that will then be donated to the following non-profit organizations:

Please note that the first branch food pick-up date will be on Friday, November 21, 2014. There will be other pick-up dates throughout the holiday season, so please feel free to donate your non-perishable food items after November 21st also.

We will also be partnering with the Salvation Army to offer Angel Tags: Gifts for Children. Each of our 4 branches will receive Angel Tags listing a child’s gender and age in the upcoming week. These tags will be available for you to bring home in order to purchase a gift for the child in need listed on the tag you select. These gifts will be picked up on Wednesday, December 10th at all First Financial locations – so please be sure to return your unwrapped gifts with the tag attached, by December 10th.

Help brighten someone’s holiday this season and thank you for your continued support!

8 Ways to Protect Your Identity While Shopping Online

Concept of mobile shoppingAs we move into the most frenzied shopping season of the year, scam artists will be on the prowl for vulnerable shoppers. To avoid becoming a victim, consider taking steps now to keep your financial accounts and personal information safe.

1. Skip attachments and hyperlinks. Even attachments from people you know can be nefarious, since those acquaintances could be infected with a computer virus. If the email contains unusual or scant wording, don’t open the attachment. The same logic applies to hyperlinks in emails (or requests for information received over text message). First hover over the link to make sure it’s going to direct you to a valid address.

2. Don’t make purchases over coffee shop lattes. Any public Wi-Fi connection, such as those offered at coffee shops or libraries, carry extra risks, since they aren’t private. Try to avoid shopping online or engaging in any financial transactions, like logging into your bank account, from such hot spots.

3. Protect your smartphone. Web browsers and retailer apps on mobile devices make it easy to shop on the go, but doing so can also expose shoppers to extra risks since many phones don’t have the same kind of data encryption that’s often installed on computers. Even taking a relatively simple step, like enabling the password lock feature on your phone, will make it harder for a thief to access private data stored on the phone in case it’s lost or stolen. The computer security company McAfee also warns against downloading apps that might steal personal information.

4. Don’t trust your “friends.” Hackers target social media, including Facebook and Twitter, because they know it’s easier to get people to click on a link that appears to be recommended from a friend. McAfee has identified dozens of examples, including free dinner offers at Cheesecake Factory and fake mystery shopper invitations. Offers that sound too good to be true, such as free iPads or free iPhones, are also a common lure. The company cautions against clicking on fake alerts from friends, who may have been hacked themselves, and avoiding shortened links on Twitter that claim to offer deals.

5. Open e-cards with caution. They can be cute, but they can also be malicious. McAfee warns that some e-cards download viruses onto your computer when you download them. To avoid that outcome, the company suggests only opening e-cards from domain names that you recognize.

6. Upgrade your passwords. The holiday season can serve as a good reminder to give your passwords a makeover; security experts recommend changing them regularly as a precaution against hackers. Avoid common and simple words, use long combinations of words that also incorporate numbers or symbols, and never use duplicate passwords for multiple accounts. Sites that offer two-step authentication, such as Twitter and Gmail, can also add another layer of protection.

7. Check up on an e-retailer before making purchases. Some fly-by-night operations take advantage of the uptick in shopping around the holiday season to collect cash without ever mailing out the goods in return, warns the Better Business Bureau. The same applies to in-person exchanges on Craigslist or other online sites. To protect yourself, the bureau recommends never wiring money or paying in advance, and bringing a friend to any in-person exchanges.

8. Review your statements. The first sign of identity theft is often an unfamiliar charge on a credit card or bank statement; reviewing those statements carefully and contacting your financial institution or card provider with any concerns can prevent a theft from expanding. Credit cards usually come with some measure of automatic protection, as long as you report the scam relatively quickly.

Following these tips might leave you feeling overly cynical about the world, but the real downer would be dealing with a stolen identity just as the holiday season is heating up.

Don’t wait until it’s too late! Check out First Financial’s ID Theft Protection products – with our Fully Managed Identity Recovery services, you don’t need to worry. A professional Recovery Advocate will do the work on your behalf, based on a plan that you approve. Should you experience an Identity Theft incident, your Recovery Advocate will stick with you all along the way – and will be there for you until your good name is restored and you can try it FREE for 90 days!*

Our ID Theft Protection options may include some of the following services, based on the package you choose to enroll in: Lost Document Replacement, Credit Bureau Monitoring, Score Tracker, and Three-Generation Family Benefit. To learn more about our ID Theft Protection products, click here and enroll today!**

Article Source: Kimberly Palmer for US News – Money, Http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2014/09/16/8-ways-to-protect-your-identity-while-online-shopping

*Available for new enrollments only. After the free trial of 90 days, the member must contact the Credit Union to opt-out of ID Theft Protection or the monthly fee of $4.95 will automatically be deducted out of the base savings account or $8.95 will be deducted out of the First Protection Checking account (depending upon the coverage option selected), on a monthly basis or until the member opts out of the program. 

**Identity Theft insurance underwritten by subsidiaries or affiliates of Chartis Inc. The description herein is a summary and intended for informational purposes only and does not include all terms, conditions and exclusions of the policies described. Please refer to the actual policies for terms, conditions, and exclusions of coverage. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions.

4 Personal Finance Myths: Busted!

A computer generated image of a chain with a broken link.Financial myths are a force behind one of the biggest threats to your financial future – yourself. Here are some personal finance myths that could be costing you money and endangering your future security.

Myth 1: Two incomes are better than one. Truth: Today’s families often have two incomes out of necessity. They make more money than a one-income family did a generation ago. But, by the time they pay for the basics – an average home, a second car to get the second spouse to work, child care, health insurance, taxes, and other essentials, that family actually has less money left over at the end of the month to show for it.

The assumption in the myth is that with two incomes you’re doubly secure. But if you’re counting on both of those incomes, then you’re in serious trouble if either income goes away. And, if you have two people in the workforce, you have double the chance that someone will get laid off, or that someone could get too sick to work.

Housing prices are rising twice as fast for families with kids, and a big reason is dwindling confidence in public schools. People are bidding up the prices on homes situated in school districts with good reputations. The only way for a typical family to afford one of those homes is for both spouses to work. Average mortgage expenses have risen 70 times faster than the average family’s primary income, so, families are required to keep two incomes.

When two incomes are a necessity, the question of whether two may be better than one is moot. Busting this particular myth means understanding the true financial stakes involved in deciding to have children and raising a family, based on your personal situation.

Myth 2: Owning is always better than renting. Truth: The money you pay for rent is a necessity like your other living expenses. Do you consider the money you spend on food to be wasted? What about the money you spend on gas? Both of these expenses are for items you purchase regularly that get used up and appear to have no lasting value, but are necessary to carry out daily activities.

If you own a home, unless you paid cash for it, you pay a mortgage (and it’s likely as much as you’d be spending on rent), plus other expenses like property taxes, insurance, maintenance, etc.

The choice between owning and renting is often a financial toss up. Busting this myth means understanding the most important reason to buy a home. Decide how badly you want to settle down for the long-term and invest in a permanent residence.

First Financial offers a number of great mortgage options, including refinancing – click here to learn about our 10, 15, and 30 year mortgage features and see what a good fit for your home is!*

To receive updates on our low mortgage rates straight to your mobile phone, text FIRSTRATE to 69302 and each time our mortgage rates change, we’ll send you a text message with the new rates.**

Myth 3: A near-perfect credit score will get you the best loan rate. Truth: Every expert, credit bureau, and loan officer has a different opinion as to where the threshold for excellent credit lies. In addition, “near-perfect” can be a relative term. Do we mean “near-perfect” as in “excellent,” or as in “perfect,” which doesn’t exist? Different loans and lenders have different standards.

Generally, any credit score in the mid-700 range and up is considered excellent credit, and will get you credit approvals and the best interest rates. But at this high end of credit scoring, extra points don’t always improve your loan terms much. Sure, the higher your score, the better. But even an extra 50 points in this range doesn’t always help you get a better rate on your next loan.

Those extra points can serve as a buffer if a negative item shows up on your credit report, however. For example, if you max out a credit card, you can get dinged 30-50 points. An extra 50 points would absorb the hit and minimize the possible damage.

So, there really is no “magic number” when it comes to credit scores. Busting this myth means understanding that more than just your score is taken into consideration. To get the loan you want, you may need a high credit score, no negatives in your credit file, and adequate income to afford it.

Myth 4: You need to earn more to save more. Truth: Your ability to save is defined by your discipline to sacrifice and set aside a percentage of your spending. Your income level is not really a factor. And no matter the amount, the younger you start saving, the more years you’ll have for your money and any interest earned to work its magic. You may decide you want to invest some of your savings too – talk to a financial planner and decide if investing in stocks and mutual funds might be a good option for your savings goals.

So, savings is not some arbitrary amount – but a discipline. Busting this myth means understanding that you need to sacrifice some of your spending now for financial security later. You simply have to decide how important that security is to you.

Consider how these personal finance myths and others like them could be contributing to money problems you’re experiencing now, and pose more serious trouble for your future.

“Busting” these myths offers the answers you need to take action and change your behavior with money – and assure your financial security.

Article Source: http://www.nasdaq.com/article/why-these-4-personal-finance-myths-perpetuate-money-problems-cm396086

*A First Financial membership is required to obtain a mortgage and is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, 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.

Add Kmart and Dairy Queen to the Latest Data Breach List and Check Your Statements!

Kmart_logoRecent data breach news reports have Dairy Queen admitting to a breach at as many as 395 stores between August and September 2014, and Sears Holding Co. disclosing that malware at Kmart point-of-sale registers stole customer debit and credit card data.

Kmart customers who shop in its Brick, Manahawkin, Toms River, or Wall, NJ stores may need to check their debit and credit card accounts, after the retailer discovered a data breach last week.

According to an article on APP.com, the company announced its payment system had been attacked by hackers who stole customers’ debit and credit card numbers. Kmart discovered the intrusion into its payment system on Thursday – but the investigation shows it goes back to early September 2014, Kmart said in a statement released Friday.

Kmart joins a list of other big companies, including retailers Target, Acme, and Home Depot, that have been attacked by hackers recently.

“According to the security experts we have been working with, our Kmart store payment data systems were infected with a form of malware that was undetectable by current anti-virus systems,” the company said in a statement. “We were able to quickly remove the malware. However, we believe certain debit and credit card numbers have been compromised.”

No personal information, debit card PIN numbers, email addresses, or Social Security numbers were obtained by the hackers, the company said. There also is no evidence that Kmart.com customers were affected. Dairy_Queen logo

In late August, Dairy Queen announced its data breach after it was reported by KrebsonSecurity, which placed the attacks as early as June 2014.

Dairy Queen and Kmart have said there is no indication that Social Security numbers, personal identification numbers, or email addresses were taken in these incidents. Krebs also reported on the malware incident at Kmart, which posted a notice Friday about the malware incident.

In related news, federal investigators reportedly believe the hackers who breached JPMorgan Chase over the summer also stole information from Fidelity Investments, according to the Wall Street Journal. The paper’s sources do not believe the breach of Fidelity was on the same scale as the JPMorgan breach affecting contact information for as many as 76 million households.

First Financial would like to remind our members that your accounts with us are monitored 24/7 by an experienced team of security professionals for any suspicious or potentially fraudulent activity. First Financial employs the most advanced fraud detection and prevention technology to guard members’ credit and debit accounts against unauthorized access and use. Here’s a quick update for your peace of mind:

  • If our security team observes any unusual activity on member accounts, we will contact members immediately to determine whether the transaction activity is legitimate and authorized.
  • It is also a good practice for members to keep a watchful eye on their accounts and transactions and look for any unauthorized activity or purchases.

Don’t wait until it’s too late! Check out First Financial’s ID Theft Protection products – with our Fully Managed Identity Recovery services, you don’t need to worry. A professional Recovery Advocate will do the work on your behalf, based on a plan that you approve. Should you experience an Identity Theft incident, your Recovery Advocate will stick with you all along the way – and will be there for you until your good name is restored and you can try it FREE for 90 days!*

Our ID Theft Protection options may include some of the following services, based on the package you choose to enroll in: Lost Document Replacement, Credit Bureau Monitoring, Score Tracker, and Three-Generation Family Benefit. To learn more about our ID Theft Protection products, click here and enroll today!**

We will continue to monitor all members’ accounts for suspicious activity. If you have any additional questions or concerns, please give us a call at 866.750.0100 or email us at info@firstffcu.com. Thank you for being a valued member of First Financial.

*Available for new enrollments only. After the free trial of 90 days, the member must contact the Credit Union to opt-out of ID Theft Protection or the monthly fee of $4.95 will automatically be deducted out of the base savings account or $8.95 will be deducted out of the First Protection Checking account (depending upon the coverage option selected), on a monthly basis or until the member opts out of the program. **Identity Theft insurance underwritten by subsidiaries or affiliates of Chartis Inc. The description herein is a summary and intended for informational purposes only and does not include all terms, conditions and exclusions of the policies described. Please refer to the actual policies for terms, conditions, and exclusions of coverage. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions.

Article Sources:

http://www.app.com/story/money/business/consumer/2014/10/10/kmart-hacker-attack/17080339/

http://patch.com/new-jersey/wall/do-you-shop-wall-kmart-check-your-credit-and-debit-cards-0?utm_source=newsletter-daily&utm_medium=email&utm_term=business&utm_campaign=newsletter#.VD0z5WddUuc

http://www.nafcu.org/News/2014_News/October/Dairy_Queen__Kmart_in_latest_data_breach_stories/