Can Buying Your First Home Actually Hurt Your Credit?

For generations, owning a home has been considered an integral part of the American Dream. Life without a home of your own, two kids, golden retriever, and a white picket fence just didn’t make sense. Okay, that last part may be a bit of an overstatement, but the fact remains – family members and financial experts have long recommended home ownership as a sensible path to financial stability.

When done correctly, buying a house can be one of the smartest investments you’ll ever make. It will undoubtedly be one of the biggest. As a first-time home buyer, your finances will face the scrutiny of mortgage underwriters, so it’s essential to have all your economic ducks in a row before you even begin applying for a mortgage. And while a smooth financing process is reason enough to be smart with your money, financial stability can also help when your credit takes a hit for five or six months following your big purchase. Wait. What?! Yep. That’s right. Your credit score can, and probably will – drop a bit for a few months after you become a homeowner.

Great for you. Not so great for your credit. Why does buying a house – which, by all accounts, is a wise financial decision – have a negative impact on your credit? The answer isn’t as crazy as you might think. When you apply for real estate financing, mortgage companies pull your credit report to determine whether it makes sense for them to lend you money. In credit industry terms, this is known as a “hard inquiry.” Since these inquiries signal you could be incurring additional debt, they often result in a small, temporary dip in your credit score.

Fortunately, it’s relatively simple to limit the negative impact of hard inquiries. If you’re going to apply for financing with multiple mortgage lenders, do your best to conduct all of your searches within a 30-day window. Because they understand that many people shop for the best rate even though they’ll only secure a single loan, major credit bureaus structure their rating systems to account for multiple inquiries within the same one-month reporting period. While there may still be a dip in your score, grouping your credit pulls will help you minimize the damage. And don’t worry, once you start making payments on time and establishing a positive mortgage history, your credit score should bounce back to where it was before.

Experience a little short-term pain for a long-term gain. From the opportunity to build equity to the satisfying sense of home ownership, there are a variety of excellent reasons to leave the renting life behind. A temporary dip in your credit score shouldn’t scare you away. If you entered the homebuying process with your finances in order and you resist the temptation to rack up additional debt as you furnish your new home, your credit rating should be just fine in the long run. And let’s be honest, you’ll probably be so busy remembering the new route to work and rearranging your living room furniture, that six months will pass before you’ve had a chance to think about your credit score anyway.

If you’re just beginning your home search and in the Monmouth or Ocean County area, your local First Financial Federal Credit Union branch is a fantastic place to start. In addition to reviewing your current financial situation, our representatives can also help you determine how much house you can afford and which mortgage program is right for you. We may even be able to help you get prequalified, which can give you the extra leverage you need when you do find that perfect house. If you have questions about the mortgage process or don’t know how to get started, we are here for you. Contact the Loan Department at 732-312-1500, Option 4 or learn more about First Financial mortgages on our website.

*Subject to credit approval. 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 in New Jersey. See Credit Union for details. Federally insured by NCUA.

 

8 Ways to Save at the Grocery Store Without Coupons

Grocery shopping can be a hassle, and having to take time to cut coupons can make it even worse. Here’s how you can shop without coupons and still save money.

1. Pick the right store.

Try comparing stores by shopping for identical items and figure out which store has the best value. Keep in mind the distance you travel to each store, because that can add up too.

2. Stock up on sale items.

When there’s a sale, buy anything you can freeze or that has a long shelf life. If it’s an item that goes on sale often, buy enough to last you until the next sale. Compare your store’s weekly ads and plan ahead.

3. Take advantage of loyalty programs.

Some stores require a loyalty card to get sale prices, so definitely sign up for one. It only takes a few minutes and you may even get other discounts as you use it.

4. Check the unit price.

Occasionally, buying in bulk will save you money. However – at a lot of grocery stores, the smaller quantity packages actually cost less per ounce.

5. Don’t buy prepared foods.

You may think having to wash and cut fruit and vegetables is an inconvenience, but it’s also a great way to save money. You may enjoy the ease of using already prepared food, but you’ll pay for that benefit. Buy the ingredients uncut, and create your meals. You’ll pleasantly be surprised to see how much you can save.

6. Don’t waste anything.

Make sure you’re not buying anything you haven’t already planned on eating. If you buy on impulse, you may end up buying something that will eventually just get thrown away. Map out meals and snacks and don’t get anything you don’t really need.

7. Cook the right amount.

Don’t make more food than you need. If you follow the recipe on a package, you may cook too much food, especially if you’re only cooking for 1 or 2 people. Sometimes leftovers are good to have, but a lot of times they end up in the trash can. Make sure you figure out the correct serving size and adjust your purchases accordingly.

8. Shop less.

This one is easy. The more you shop, the more impulse buys you’ll make. Look at your store’s sale schedule and shop only as often as you have to.

 Article Source: John Pettit for CUInsight.com

4 Ways to Identify a Tax Scam

Tax filing season is of course a busy time of year. It’s also a busy time of year for scammers. According to a recent Federal Trade Commission report, of the $1.48 billion total reported fraud, consumers lost nearly $488 million to imposter scams in 2018. Fraud schemes range from debt collector calls or emails claiming you haven’t paid your taxes, to someone posing as an official from the IRS or local law enforcement agency threatening arrest, suspension of your driver’s license or some other penalty if you don’t immediately wire funds to pay your taxes. The scams have become increasingly sophisticated and hard to detect.

Here is what you need to know about the IRS and tax scams:

The first contact from the IRS is through regular mail delivered by the United States Postal Service. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text message or social media channels. Even if they call you to set up appointments or discuss an audit, you would first receive notification by mail. Only after mailing an official notification of an audit can an auditor/tax examiner follow up by phone. Forward any suspicious emails to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov. Alleged IRS or tax debt collection calls should be reported to (800) 366-4484. 

Payments to the IRS are only payable to the United State Treasury. They do not accept payment in the form of prepaid debit cards, gift cards, or wire transfers.

IRS agents will NEVER demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or dispute the amount they say you owe. They must advise you of your rights as a taxpayer. They CANNOT threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers or other law enforcement agencies to have you arrested for not paying your taxes. The IRS also has zero authority to revoke your driver’s license, business license, or immigration status.

If an IRS representative calls or comes to a home or business unannounced to collect a tax debt or as part of an investigation, they will always provide two forms of official credentials: a pocket commission and an HSPD-12 card. You have a right to see the credentials and can call the IRS to verify the identity/information on the representative’s HSPD-12 card.

The moral of the story: be aware, do your research, and don’t become a victim of a tax scam this tax filing season!

Article Source: Myriam DiGiovanni for Financialfeed.com

 

Let the Taxpayer Beware: Learn to Spot 6 Common Tax Scams

Now that your W2s and miscellaneous tax documents have arrived, tax season is officially in full swing. While it’s easy to get lost in optimistic daydreams about your tax refund and all you’re planning to do with it, it’s important to remember that scam artists are probably dreaming about what they could do with your refund as well.

After reaching an all-time high of more than 700,000 cases in 2015, tax refund fraud has been declining thanks to significant enforcement efforts by federal, state, and private agencies. While these statistics are encouraging, they also highlight the ongoing need for caution and vigilance. So, before you file your 2018 taxes or pay someone to file for you, we want to remind you about six of the most common tax-related scams happening today.

Phishing Emails 

This one is relatively easy to spot. Why’s that, you ask? Because the IRS doesn’t initiate communication with taxpayers via email. So, if you see an email from the IRS pop up in your inbox—even one that looks remarkably official, don’t open it. For good measure, go ahead and mark it as spam before deleting it. Emails of this type have only one goal: to trick you into clicking a fraudulent hyperlink or responding with sensitive personal information.

Phishing 2.0

In 2018, the IRS reported a new twist on traditional phishing scams. In the new approach, fraudsters hacked the systems of legitimate tax professionals, stole tax returns containing personal details, and then deposited funds directly into taxpayer bank accounts. After those deposits hit the bank, the criminals posed as the IRS or collection agencies and contacted account holders demanding a resolution to the error. The goal of these scams is not to simply regain the money deposited “in error,” but to get the victim to share account details that can be used to access the account at another time. If you find yourself with an unexpected deposit in your bank account, the IRS offers helpful instructions here.

Phone scams 

Though they come via phone call, these scams are essentially the same as phishing emails. The difference lies in the fact that con artists can spoof IRS phone numbers in an attempt to convince unsuspecting people to answer the call. Once the phone call is underway, the person on the other end claims to be an IRS agent and tries to get the individual to confirm private account details in an attempt to “resolve the situation.” If they don’t get the results they’re hoping for, the fraudsters may even follow-up with phone calls where they impersonate law enforcement officials and threaten legal action. To avoid accidentally divulging personal details, it’s best to ignore these calls completely. Just as the IRS doesn’t initially contact taxpayers by email, they also don’t initiate official communication by phone either.

Refund Theft 

This type of scam takes place at the intersection of identity theft and financial fraud. Using a variety of tactics, criminals obtain taxpayer social security numbers and file fraudulent tax returns in their name—often claiming substantial refunds. Since this happens without the knowledge of the victim, it only comes to light when their legitimate tax return is rejected due to a previous return already filed under the same social security number. While the IRS is committed to resolving these issues when they happen, the process can be long and tedious. To safeguard yourself against tax refund theft, IRS officials recommend obtaining an Identity Protection PIN, also known as an IP PIN. Instructions for securing a PIN can be found on the official IRS website.

Shady Tax Prep Services

Since an estimated 79 million Americans use paid tax preparation services, there are considerable opportunities for dishonest preparers to abuse the system. One of the most common scams involves a preparer illegally inflating an individual’s refund and collecting a percentage of the taxpayer’s refund instead of a flat fee. Many times, the problem isn’t identified until after the refund has been issued and the preparer’s fee has been collected. In these scams, the preparer is long gone by the time that the problem is identified, and the taxpayer is responsible for handling the audit on their own. While the practice of a tax preparer charging a percentage of refund isn’t technically illegal, you’re better off avoiding this type of arrangement and opting for a flat-fee service instead.

Public Wi-Fi Scammers

It seems like this one should go without saying, but we could all use a reminder from time to time. The public Wi-Fi at coffee shops, libraries, and bookstores can be great for hopping online to browse social media, but it’s terrible for filing your taxes. Not only can these unsecured networks be accessed by almost anyone, but dishonest scammers can also set up hot spots that look like the establishment’s Wi-Fi and intercept logins, passwords, and personal information. So, if you’re filing taxes electronically this year (and considering the fact that approximately 90% of taxpayers filed electronically in 2018, you probably are), do yourself a favor: file at home from your personal computer and your secure Internet connection.

As with most financial scams, these can be simple to sidestep as long as you know the signs to look for. If you observe questionable practices, want to read up more on tax season scams, or have additional tax-related concerns, you can find more information and helpful instructions here on the official IRS website.

If you are receiving a federal or state tax refund this year and want to make the most of your money, contact us here at First Financial Federal Credit Union. Our financial specialists can help you assess your financial situation and show you all the beneficial programs and products available to you as a credit union member. Call, email, or stop by a branch today!

Don’t Fall for a Work From Home Scam

The promises of making it big by working from home are definitely out there, and most of the time it’s a scam. Though you may already be on high alert, online job scammers have gotten more sophisticated – and some may still slip past your radar.

Besides heeding the old adage that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is – job seekers should consider the following questions when reviewing potential work from home opportunities:

  • Does the job listing include the hiring company’s name and/or does the recruiter or job posting match the company’s information?
  • Are there any upfront costs required to get the job? (Supplies, a minimum investment or training fees).
  • Are there any typos on the site or in any correspondence?
  • Are you being asked to provide personal information like a social security number, credit card number, bank information, or driver’s license?
  • Did they offer you a job on the spot without conducting an interview?

If the answer is yes to any of the above, experts say that’s a red flag, and the “dream opportunity” might become a nightmare.

Here are the 5 most common work from home scams:

Career advancement grant: This scam claims to come from the government, promising you a grant to pursue education or a certification. Scammers ask for your bank account information with the promise that they will deposit the bogus grant money directly into your account.

Data entry scams: There are legitimate data entry jobs that allow you to work from home, but these scammers ask for money up front and/or promise wages that are much higher than normal.

Pyramid schemes: If the only way to make money is by others losing money or paying you as they recruit others, it’s probably a scam. Plus, pyramid schemes are also illegal – so you could be charged with a crime too.

Online reshipping: Don’t ever repack items and forward them to customers outside of the United States. What you’re doing is transporting stolen goods, and not only will you never get paid, you could also be charged with a crime.

Rebate processor: This scam promises you a salary based on the number of clicks your ad receives. It charges a training fee up front for which you will never be reimbursed, and you’ll never receive that salary, either.

Scammers can be very creative in convincing you that a position or company is legitimate, so do your research. Check with sites like BetterBusinessBureau.com, FTC.com, and Scam.com to learn of recent employment scams.

Article Source: Myriam DiGiovanni for FinancialFeed.com

5 Simple Steps to Stop Overspending

You probably have the best intentions when it comes to saving money. With all the temptations out there, it can be hard to keep your finances in line. Splurging here and there every once in awhile is okay – but the habit of overspending can become a much bigger problem if you don’t keep things in check. Check out these five steps to stop overspending, before it gets out of hand.

Understand Your Triggers

Overspending is often caused by impulse shopping. When you’re out shopping, do the small items in the checkout aisle get you? Do you always pick something up while waiting at the checkout line, even though you don’t actually need anything? Ask yourself why. It’s important to understand what your triggers are. Do you spend because it gives you a thrill or because you’re bored and have nothing else to do while waiting in line? Understanding exactly why you overspend will help you get to the root of the problem and find lasting and realistic solutions.

Track Your Budget

The most important thing you can do to stop overspending is to actually have a budget and track your expenses. It’s not enough to just have a rough idea of how much you’re spending. You need to know exactly where your money is going and what you’re spending on everything. Start logging expenses in the budget whenever you buy something or pay a bill. At the end of the month, sit down and analyze your spending habits. You might be surprised at what you find out, and even more surprised when you realize you can cut a lot out without feeling much of a sacrifice.

Learn to Say No

Overspending has a lot to do with social pressures. Sometimes it’s just really hard to say no. You might be trying to keep up with the Joneses, or maybe your friends are just constantly asking you to go out. Think about your priorities before you agree to anything. Is the decision going to hurt your finances and should you really be making that commitment? Learning to say no is a big part of being financially responsible. The sooner you learn what you can and can’t afford, the closer you will be to financial independence.

Live Within Your Means

Here’s a simple thing you can do to improve your finances: don’t spend more than you have. Getting into the habit of spending every paycheck is dangerous even if you never get into debt, because emergencies do happen and you will need savings to fall back on. It’s even worse if you overspend and fall into debt to make purchases. Once you owe money, you not only have to pay for what you buy, but you also need to pay interest on what you owe – effectively making your paycheck smaller for the foreseeable future. Learn to live within your means. It’s certainly not easy at the beginning, but scaling back little by little will set you up for long term success.

Allow Small Rewards

Personal finance is serious business, and most of the time it may not seem very fun. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself in the process though. Don’t forget to budget for a “YOU” fund. Allow yourself small rewards from your paycheck. Just make sure the “YOU” fund doesn’t cause you to go over your budget.

Article Source: Connie Mei for moneyning.com