5 Smart Ways to Use Your Stimulus Check

As part of the COVID-19 Relief Package, the U.S. government is issuing stimulus checks to many households in an effort to boost the economy and help individuals deal with the financial impact of the global pandemic.

What is the most strategic way to use your stimulus check?

1. Cover the Essentials

Millions of people have lost their jobs or been furloughed, leaving many with smaller incomes. However, expenses have likely remained the same. Before spending your windfall, take a look at the next few months of bills that may come due and make sure you will have enough to pay for:

  • Mortgage or rent and car payments
  • Utilities, cell service and internet
  • Minimum payments on credit cards and debt
  • Insurance for vehicles and/or home

Note: Take advantage of relief programs. If you’re experiencing significant financial strain, check with your lenders and service providers to see if they’re among many who offer relief programs or special payment terms during this time.

2. Build an Emergency Fund

If you’re in a position where you don’t need the money immediately, consider setting it aside in an accessible, protected account to use when absolutely necessary. There’s no way to know how long the U.S. economy will suffer as a result of the crisis or whether your financial status may change in coming months. Stashing it away for safekeeping may help you ease a potential impending financial burden down the road.

3. Pay Off Debt

If you’re confident that you’ll have enough to cover basic expenses for the next few months, consider having your stimulus check go toward paying off credit card debt, medical bills, car payments or student loans. While some institutions may offer relief programs in the short term, those funds will still be due later on. Prioritize by paying off debt with the highest interest rates first.

4. Invest

If you’ve established a healthy emergency fund and believe you’ll remain financially secure, you may consider contributing to your retirement through a variety of investment strategies. Markets experienced some turbulence in 2020, and have since stabilized. Long-term investments may prove promising.

Note: If you’d like to learn more about how planning ahead today can pay off in your future, contact a financial professional located at your credit union.

5. Be Generous

The global pandemic has put a strain on many nonprofits as the need for the goods and services they provide climbs to an all-time high. If you’re in a financial position to help others during this time of crisis, find a nonprofit that you feel passionate about and consider donating a portion (or all) of your stimulus check funds to those who need it most.

Representatives are registered, securities sold, advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor, which is not an affiliate of the credit union. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution to make securities available to members. Not NCUA/ NCUSIF/FDIC insured, May Lose Value, No Financial Institution Guarantee. Not a deposit of any financial institution.

CBSI-3053187.2-1220-0123

5 Ways to Financially Thrive in the New Year

The time for “New year, new me” resolutions is here, and we’ve got five (actually attainable) resolutions that you’ll want to keep up with all year long. Read on to find out five ways to make 2021 a financially great year.

Learn a new (financial) language. Does listening to financial talk sometimes feel like hearing a foreign language? Instead of simply nodding along, make a resolution to improve your financial literacy this year. Finally learn the ins-and-outs of money management. There are plenty of resources online that can help you decode the definitions behind personal finance terms. You can even make a Quizlet to help you commit the terminology to memory! If you’re worried about finding the time to teach yourself this new language, try incorporating some financial podcasts into your weekly routine. By listening to financial podcasts, you can improve your finance skills while still going about your daily tasks. It’s a great way to get stuff done and get a better idea of what is going on in your wallet and bank account.

Clear out the clutter. Recurring payments can be a great time saver, but they can also get out of hand very easily. Sit down and comb through your recurring payments so you can know exactly where your money is going and when it’s being taken. Take an especially close look at your monthly subscriptions. How many television streaming services are you subscribed to? Music streaming services? There are countless entertainment streaming platforms out there, but you don’t need to subscribe to all of them. Make a list of your entertainment subscriptions and figure out which ones you actually use and which ones are just cluttering up your monthly or annual payments. This applies to paid store memberships, too — if you don’t shop at that discount warehouse much anymore, don’t forget to cancel the membership card before you get charged for the new year’s renewal!

Get creative. Don’t let yourself feel trapped by the status-quo of savings, there are many ways to get creative with your finances. Need some extra money for tighter areas in your budget but don’t know how where to get it? Look into refinancing your existing Auto Loan from another lender with us! With our low rates, your monthly payment will be more manageable, which means you’ll have more money in your pocket, ready to put to good use.*

Making the switch from a high-interest rate credit card to one of our lower-rate cards could also decrease the amount of money you’re spending per term, freeing up funds to put elsewhere.** There are so many avenues you can take to save money. Get in touch with our Loan Department, and we’ll help you get creative in finding them!

Take up a new (money-saving) hobby. Trying a new hobby can help improve one’s mood and daily motivation, but don’t forget that it could also help your wallet! Want to try improving your culinary skills? Great! Ditch the costly take-out meals and door deliveries, and resolve to cook meals at home. Halting the high delivery costs, taxes, and tips (or gas money for drive-thru and pick-up options) will drastically cut down your monthly expenses, giving you more money to spare. You could also pick up a new hobby that could help increase your income. The internet has given us a wealth of resources when it comes to finding freelance work. Skilled at editing? Explore the world of freelance editing for supplemental income. Got an artistic side? Look into starting up an online shop to sell your handmade goods on sites like Etsy or Facebook Marketplace. The options are exciting and endless (and will provide you with some supplemental income)!

Plan it out! Most people shudder at the word “budget.” It’s never fun to sit down and decide what you can’t spend money on. Instead, why not give yourself the freedom to choose what you can spend money on? This tactic for approaching money management is called a “spending plan,” and it’s a lot less intimidating than a budget. A spending plan gives you a lot more flexibility in your finances while still keeping you focused on covering your monthly essentials.

The process of determining your “non-negotiable” expenses is mainly the same as a budget: you have rent, electric, water, internet, groceries, emergency funds, etc. The difference begins when you determine your flexible categories. For example, entertainment, personal shopping, dining out, date nights, and more. A spending plan gives you the freedom to set ballpark amounts for these categories without restricting you too harshly. As long as you have your monthly non-negotiables covered, how you distribute money from month to month in your other categories doesn’t matter as much. A budget is far more restrictive, which can put you in a panicked mindset of “money is always tight, I have no wiggle room,” whereas, a spending plan gives you the control to say “I have the room to spend a little extra here this month.” Start 2021 establishing a spending plan and giving yourself the freedom to choose where your money should go and how you want to spend it!

*APR = Annual Percentage Rate. Not all applicants will qualify, subject to credit approval. Additional terms & conditions may apply. Actual rate may vary based on credit worthiness and term. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a First Financial auto loan and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. See credit union for details. A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account/loan. First Financial FCU maintains the right to not extend credit, after you respond, if we determine you do not meet our guidelines for creditworthiness. Current loans financed with First Financial FCU are not eligible for review or refinance.

**APR varies up to 18% when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. These APRs are 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 Fees. 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 Credit Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

The Answers to Your Second Stimulus Payment Questions

The second round of stimulus checks are on their way, thanks to the signing of the COVID RELATED TAX RELIEF ACT OF 2020 that was just recently signed on 12/27/2020. Since many different amounts and restrictions were thrown around during the negotiations, most people probably have a lot of questions about these new stimulus checks. At the top of the list: How much will I get? And when will I get it?

Here’s a few answers to the questions you may have:

Question: When will I get my second stimulus check?

Answer: Soon! The IRS has already started sending out $600 payments. If the amount is later raised – anyone who has already received a $600 second stimulus check will be sent another payment as quickly as possible for the additional amount they are owed.

If the IRS already has your bank account information—either from a recent tax payment that you made or from a tax refund sent to you, then expect to get your second stimulus check faster. That’s because the IRS will be able to directly deposit the payment into your bank account. The IRS can also make a second stimulus payment to a Direct Express debit card account, a U.S. Debit Card account, or other Treasury-sponsored account. Otherwise, you’ll get a paper check in the mail.

Question: How much money will I get?

Answer: Right now, you’ll get $600. Those who made more than $75,000 will get less. A married couple making up to $150,000 will receive $1,200. Children under 17 will get $600. Therefore, the most a family of four could get is $2,400. The amount will be based on the income you claimed on your 2019 federal tax return. $300 in additional unemployment benefits will be made to jobless workers, to expire on 3/14/2021.

Question: Will I have to pay taxes on it?

Answer: No. There are no strings attached and you will not have to pay taxes on this second stimulus payment.

If you’re wondering when you can expect your stimulus funds, please click here. This will take you directly to the IRS website where you can check your payment status.

If you know your payment will be directly deposited into your First Financial account, click here for online banking or view your account within our mobile app.

The Latte Factor: One Way to Get Your Finances on Track in 2021

How often do you find yourself saying, “I can’t afford that!” Whether it’s about an unplanned expense or something that you want to buy. David Bach, author of The Latte Factor, says that’s usually just a lie we tell ourselves.

In his book, The Latte Factor, Bach lays out several key points that can be summed up as: Small amounts of money spent on a regular basis costs us far more than we can imagine.

The Latte Factor came about after a class Bach had taught some years ago. One of his students said she couldn’t afford to save, but she was drinking a latte at the time (and almost every day in his class). He ran the numbers and showed her that if she skipped the latte, she would save $5 a day. What does $5 a day mean to you? Let’s do the math. $5 a day is $150 per month. Would you like to save an extra $150 per month? What’s the value of $150 per month saved in 10 years from now? That’s $1,800 a year saved and $18,000 in 10 years from the Latte Factor alone. Over 25 years, five dollars a day will net you almost $50,000. It’s amazing how such a small difference each day can make a huge impact over time.

As you head into the new year, vow to stop saying “I can’t afford that!” and take a second look at your finances. You don’t have to starve yourself of enjoying everything that life has to offer. Instead, pick one thing you know you spend money on that you might be able to do without. Is it your morning latte, eating out for lunch every day, subscription service, etc.?

If you want to get serious about getting your finances in order this year, here are two recommendations:

  1. Buy The Latte Factor and read about how Zoey turned her morning latte into the words “I CAN afford this.” It’s a quick read and it’s really eye opening!
  2. Take a look at your current debt. Instead of making multiple payments on multiple loans, have you thought about consolidating those payments into one lower monthly payment? You may even get a lower interest rate that will minimize the amount of interest you’re paying.

Apply for a First Financial Consolidation Loan online, or contact us to see if we can help you get started in getting your finances in order this year.*

Happy New Year and Keep Thinking First!

*APR = Annual Percentage Rate. Actual rate will vary based on creditworthiness and loan term. Subject to credit approval. A First Financial Federal Credit Union membership is required to obtain a Personal Loan, and is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers 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/loan.

Things to Do on a Budget in Monmouth & Ocean Counties this December 2020

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!  Enjoy this special time of year by attending one of the events below – either outdoors, virtually, or in your car. Happy Holidays from all of us at First Financial, and wishing you a prosperous 2021!

Monmouth & Ocean’s Best Holiday Lights Displays

  • Six Flags Holiday in the Park (Jackson) – You won’t want to miss this beautiful winter wonderland! On weeknights, drive through the park and see the holiday lights. On weekends, the park features festivities, food, firepits, hot cocoa, and light shows. Holiday in the Park runs through January 3, 2021. Find out more and purchase tickets online here.
  • Magic of Lights (Holmdel) – Ride through PNC Bank Arts Center’s gorgeous 2.5 mile holiday light display from dusk to 10pm Sunday – Thursday, and until 11pm on Friday and Saturday nights. Standard vehicles are $25 each to drive through the display. Learn more and purchase tickets online here.
  • Sisti Family Christmas Lights (Spring Lake) – Each year, this family turns their front yard into a holiday wonderland of lights. Ride by 322 Pitney Avenue in Spring Lake, you won’t want to miss it! Find out more.
  • Gress House Holiday Light Spectacular (Union Beach) – Each year, this home gets involved with Decorations for Donations and donates to the Children’s Miracle Network. You won’t want to miss the massive display of lights, inflatables, sounds of the season and more at 14 Johnson Avenue in Union Beach. Get more information.
  • Ferone Family Christmas Light Spectacular (Toms River) – The goal of this gorgeous light display is to raise money to the Children’s Hospital of Toms River. It can be seen from 5-9:30pm Monday to Thursday and 5-11pm on Friday & Saturday at 184 Yellowbank Road, Toms River through December 26th. Tuesday nights are Disney nights. You definitely won’t want to miss it! Find out the details here.

All December until the 24th: Red Bank Elf Scavenger Hunt. Look for the Red Bank Elf in the windows and in the stores, restaurants, and businesses and enter to win from November 27 to December 24th. Stroll the charming downtown and arts and antiques district to view more than three dozen places where the Red Bank Elf has been spotted. Keep track of the locations by logging information into the official Scavenger Hunt form. Find out more and download the form here.

Saturdays & Sundays in December: Victorian Holiday Tea at the Mathis House (Toms River) at 11am and 3pm. Enjoy a full Victorian Holiday Tea at the Mathis House located in Downtown Toms River. Live music and tours of the historic mansion are available. The afternoon tea includes soup, salad, scones, a variety of tea sandwiches and a plate of desserts with a pot of holiday tea. The cost is $39 per person by reservation only by calling 732-818-7580. For more information, please visit www.mathishouse600main.com

December 13 & 20:

Christmas at Allaire from 11am-4pm (Wall). Warm up on the open hearth, help make holiday treats, listen to the musicians, there will be storytelling, a Gingerbread House Contest, and much more. Also keep your eyes out for Santa, a great photo opportunity! All the village buildings will be spectacularly decorated for the Season. Historic sleds and various outdoor Christmas trees will be on display too. Tickets must be purchased in advance online. Learn more and buy your tickets here.

Shrewsbury Historical Society Wedding Dress Displays from 1-4pm. Don’t miss this historical wedding dress display! Contributions are appreciated. The display is at the Shrewsbury Municipal Center, 419 Sycamore Avenue. Learn more here.

December 18: There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays (Virtual Event) at 8pm. Let the comedy elves from The Second City deliver the virtual holly jollies to wherever you are in this fast, festive, funny improv show that brings you into the action! This event will take place on Zoom. One virtual ticket per viewing device, and you can have as many people view per viewing device as you wish. Cost is $18.50 plus a $1.50 ticket fee. Available through the Grunin Center for the Arts at Ocean County College. Purchase tickets at https://www.grunincenter.org/

*All events are subject to changes or cancellations due to COVID-19. Please be sure to check online or call before you go!

Online Shopping Tips for This Unusual Holiday Season

This year more so than others – given the pandemic, many people have been shopping online for the holidays instead of in the store. If you’re still shopping and getting hit left and right with emails for online sales, coupons, and deals – keep reading to find out how to save money and shop safely without exposing yourself to online fraud.

  • If you’re using a home computer to order gifts online, first be sure you have the latest antivirus software installed prior to placing any orders.
  • Take time to compare products. To get the best deal, always compare products between different stores. Do some research online, check product comparison sites, and read online reviews before you click “add to cart.”
  • Check out the seller. Confirm that the seller you are deciding to purchase from is legitimate. Look for reviews about their reputation and customer service, and be sure you can contact the seller (or that you can pay via PayPal on their site) if you have a dispute.
  • Look for coupon codes. Search for the store’s name with terms like “coupons,” “discounts,” or “free shipping.” Or you can check for deals on their website or research available offers on a site such as retailmenot.com
  • Pay by credit card. Paying by credit card gives you added protections. Never mail cash or wire money to an online seller. If the seller asks you to pay this way, it is most likely a scam.
  • Use secure checkout. Before you enter your credit card information online, check that the website address starts with “https.” The “s” within any web address stands for secure. If you don’t see the “s,” don’t enter any personal or financial information. You should also see a lock icon where the secure website address is too.
  • Keep records of online transactions until you get your purchase, confirm you got what you ordered, and that you won’t have to return the item.

If you follow the above steps when buying online and purchase smart, this season of cyber holiday shopping is bound to be a breeze!

Should you happen to encounter any scams while shopping online, you can report it to the FTC at https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/

Happy Holiday shopping!

 

Article Source: S. Walker for Consumer.FTC.gov