4 Tricks for Fall Road Trips on a Budget

Fall is the perfect time for a road trip. The leaves are changing and there’s so much beautiful scenery to take in. Before you hit the road, take a hard look at your budget and plan accordingly. Here are 4 tips to consider for your autumn road trip that can save you some money before the pricey holiday season.

Get a tune up.
Before you take off on your road trip, be sure your vehicle is in tip-top shape. Getting a legitimate tune up and inflating your tires to the proper pressure will ensure you’re riding in a safe car. It will also help prevent you from making costly repairs to your vehicle down the road.

Stock up.
We all know eating out can cost a ton, but so can simple snacks purchased at convenience stores. If you pack a cooler with your favorite food and drinks, you can skip those frequent stops at fast food chains and gas station markets. Then, you can save up for more enjoyable meals when you reach your destination.

Go mobile and save on gas.
Over 70 million people have downloaded the GasBuddy app, which helps travelers locate gas stations near them, and most importantly the ones carrying the cheapest gas. When mapping out your trip, plan in advance to fuel up at these more economical gas stops. This will help you budget ahead of time and give you a better idea of how much extra spending money will be left over.

Book outside the box.
Can you think of the last time you spent less than $100 on a hotel room? The key to saving on accommodations is to think outside the box and step out of your comfort zone. Couchsurfing.com connects travelers with local hosts and can give you the opportunity to stay for free (and safely), at the home of someone in the area. Or if you don’t like the idea of staying in someone’s house, compare hotel prices within your destination city by using a site like trivago.com, trip advisor, or kayak.

Article Source: Wendy Moody for CUInsight.com

The 3 Best Categories for Boosting Your Home’s Value Without Going Broke

Everyone makes home improvements for different reasons, but most of the time they’re either a necessity like a roof repair, something for personal enjoyment, or intended to increase a home’s market value. Whether you’re getting ready to move or just sprucing things up, it’s wise to be mindful of how the improvements you’re making will affect your home’s value when it comes time to sell your home.

Based on what real estate experts say, the top home improvement categories that deliver the biggest bang for your buck are:

1. Practical Appeal

When we think of home renovation, our minds jump to fun projects like updating a kitchen or adding a deck, but standard projects like routine maintenance and repairs go a long way in creating a baseline appeal and value to your home.

  • Maintenance & Repairs

Home hunters want to know the place they’re considering is in good condition. No matter how great a renovated bathroom looks, it won’t persuade a buyer to overlook a major repair they’ll have to deal with right away. Performing routine maintenance on furnaces and septic systems, fixing problems like plumbing leaks or rusty gutters, and making practical improvements, are all investments that will raise and maintain your home’s value in the long run.

  • Energy Efficiency

Home buyers are looking more carefully at utilities – one of those controllable expenses that can be drastically improved with energy-efficient appliances and heating/cooling systems. Besides the personal savings on your utility bills and taxes, making your home greener may also improve the value of your home by up to 20 times the annual energy savings.

2. Curb Appeal

Potential buyers decide within the first few moments of walking up to a house whether or not they’re interested in seeing more. First, there’s landscaping. Overhanging trees and unruly bushes can obscure your home’s best features, darken the interior, encourage mold, and can even cause expensive damage.

Then there’s the entryway. Is it neat, well lit, and protected from weather? Is your front door in good shape and does it look secure?

Finally, fix other exterior issues like missing siding or chipped paint. These small fixes can make a pretty big difference when it comes to shaping the first impressions of anyone who sees your home.

3. Modern Appeal

It’s now time to give your home some modern appeal after the basics are taken care of. Real estate professionals say home buyers are looking for open floor plans, natural light, updated flooring, and bathroom and kitchen upgrades. A few of the most value driven ways to make your home look more modern, are to knock out a non-structural wall or kitchen island, and to improve light by replacing broken panes, or installing less expensive tubular skylights. You also want to fix squeaks in your floors, patch and repair boards and tile, and maybe even rip out some wall-to-wall carpeting and replace it with engineered hardwood. Updating a bathroom on a tight budget could mean cleaning grout, removing any rust stains, re-caulking, updating door knobs, or replacing faucets.

The bottom line is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money on improvements to increase your home’s value. Just choose your improvements wisely and you can easily recoup that investment back. The more you value your home by taking care of it, the more others will value it, as well.

In need of some home improvements but could use a little help? First Financial’s Home Improvement Loan is designed to help you create the home you’ve been imagining. It’s time to move your “wants” to the top of your to-do list.*

*Available on primary residence only. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a Home Improvement Loan and is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. See credit union for details. Rate will vary based off of applicant’s credit rating. Not all applicants who apply will be approved, subject to underwriting guidelines and credit approval. Lien position and appraisal valuation may affect the maximum loan amount. Not all applicants will qualify for maximum Loan to Value (LTV) ratio. It will be based off of creditworthiness, property type, occupancy, lien position, and loan amount. Rates will be affected by LTV or combined LTV if there is another lien on the property. Loan amounts over $7,500.00 will be required to give First Financial FCU a security interest in their property. Rates will vary based off of lien position and whether the loan is mortgage secured or unsecured. For mortgage secured Home Improvement loans First Financial FCU (FFFCU) will waive closing costs at inception of loan. If loan is terminated within the first 2 years of opening, closing cost waiver is revoked and are required to be paid back by member to FFFCU.

Article source: Jessica Sommerfield for Moneyning.com

Lost Cell Phone? Here’s How to Keep Your Finances Safe

We depend on our cell phone for so many day-to-day tasks that go beyond communication. We keep track of our appointments, monitor our healthy lifestyle, and stay updated on breaking news. Additionally, our cell phones have become a hub for managing our finances.

The Federal Reserve reports that Americans use their smart phones or other mobile devices for a variety of monetary activities.

    • 51% of smartphone users had used mobile banking.
    • 24% of smartphone users had made a mobile payment.
    • 38% of mobile phone users had deposited a check using their phone.

Financial apps have made it faster and easier than ever to access your money on the go, and view all your financial information right from the palm of your hand.  But, what dangers could arise if you are one of the 5.2 million people who, in a year’s time, lose their smart phone or have their smart phones stolen? How can you protect your finances in the event that your cell phone ever goes missing?

Before your phone is ever compromised, take these precautions to prevent strangers from accessing your phone or the programs and apps it holds.

Passcode Protection: 62% of smartphone owners don’t have a passcode set to protect their phone. You should always set your phone or mobile device to lock when it’s not in use, and set a secure passcode or password for access to your phone. Some smartphones now let you take security even further and utilize your thumbprint or facial recognition to unlock your phone.

Activate Find My Phone: The Find My Phone feature on your smartphone allows you to quickly trace your phone’s location if it ends up missing. Your operating systems may also offer a lost mode. With this feature, you can send a message to your home screen asking anyone who finds your phone to call to you at a specified number.

If your smartphone is lost, quick action can be the difference between saving your financial information or months of headache if your accounts are accessed by a stranger. Take these actions as soon as you realize your phone is gone.

Contact Your Financial Institution: Let your financial institution, credit card companies, and lenders know your phone or device is missing and someone may have access to your account information. They can flag your account as “compromised,” freeze your accounts, or monitor suspicious activity.

Change Your Passwords: Use your desktop computer or another mobile device to reset the passwords for your online banking or payment tools. Also reset your email password. This way if someone uses the “Forgot My Password” feature on any financial app or website, they cannot access your email and reset your passwords themselves.

A Final Tip: Always log out of financial websites or apps before you close out of them. Keeping yourself logged in or enabling auto sign-in means that your information is easily accessible, even if you’re not the one holding your device.

If you feel that any of your First Financial accounts may have been compromised as a result of a lost or stolen cell phone, please contact Member Services at 732-312-1500 Monday through Friday 8am-6pm EST, or Saturday 8:30am-1pm.

Article Source: Kara Vincent for CUInsight.com

Watch Out for Card Skimming at Gas Pumps

The FTC is warning drivers about skimming scams at the pump. Typically, we New Jersey drivers don’t pump our own gas – but if you plan to take any Fall road trips to enjoy the foliage in another state, you might want to be on the lookout for the following gas pump scam.

Skimmers are illegal card readers attached to payment terminals. These card readers grab data off a credit or debit card’s magnetic stripe without your knowledge. Criminals then sell the stolen data or use it to buy items online. You won’t know your information has been stolen until you get your statement or an overdraft notice.

Here are a few tips to help you avoid a skimmer when you fuel up out of state:

Make sure the gas pump panel is closed and doesn’t show signs of tampering. Many stations now put security seals over the cabinet panel. If the pump panel is open, the label will read “void.”

Look at the card reader itself. Does it look different than other readers at the station? For example, the card reader on the left has a skimmer attached, the reader on the right does not.

Try to wiggle the card reader before you put your card in. If it moves, report it to the attendant. Then use a different pump.

  • If you use a debit card at the pump, run it as a credit card instead of entering your PIN. That way, the PIN is safe and the money isn’t deducted immediately from your account if there is a card skimmer attached. Better yet, if you have a credit card on you – use that instead.
  • If you’re really concerned about skimmers, pay inside rather than at the pump.
  • Monitor your credit card and bank accounts regularly to spot unauthorized charges.

If you feel that any of your First Financial accounts may have been compromised as a result of a scam, please contact Member Services at 732-312-1500 Monday through Friday 8am-6pm EST, or Saturday 8:30am-1pm. Learn more about card skimming by reading our user guide.

Article source: Colleen Tressler for the Federal Trade Commission

How to Bounce Back from a Spending Spree

We’ve all been there. We intend to make a few purchases then suddenly we realize we’ve gone overboard with our spending. You may feel the urge to panic – but before you do, consider these tips for damage control after going on a spending spree.

Prioritize purchases
When the dust has settled and your panic begins to recede, start to look back over what you’ve bought. Are these things vital to your life, or are they all “extras” that you don’t necessarily have a need for? Sure, it’s fun to get new things, but if you’ve spent too much, you may need to think about returning some things to get your money back on track.

Get back on budget
Sure, you’ve gone over the limit, but it’s time to move forward and recover. Remember how you typically spend and if that’s been working for you, go back to your old ways. Don’t beat yourself up over what’s in the past. It’s time to regroup and remember your limits.

Plan to pay back
Stick to your original budget, but also consider ways you’re going to make up for the damage you’ve done to your wallet. If you’ve charged your purchases, now’s the time to dip into that debt repayment fund you’ve hopefully been saving up. If you shopped with cash, plan for ways you can trim your spending until your finances are where they were before your spending spree.

Reflect on patterns
Getting in this position every once in a blue moon is not cause for too much concern. But, if overspending and busting your budget is becoming a pattern, you need to stop and assess the issue. Is there a particular reason why you’re shopping/spending habits are getting out of control? Understanding why you’re behaving the way you are, will help you to make corrections and learn from your mistakes.

Need help with your budget? Check out our budgeting guide!

Article Source: Wendy Moody for CUInsight.com

3 Reasons Not to Pay Off Your Credit Cards Too Fast

When it comes to getting rid of debt, it seems like the best option is to pay it off as quickly as possible. This is especially true of credit card debt. It’s high interest, so you should just pay off what you can, as quickly as you can, right? Not so fast.

It’s actually possible to pay off your credit cards too fast. Wait, what?! Here are three reasons to take a step back and evaluate whether or not you should pay off your credit cards immediately.

1. You Don’t Want to Completely Drain Your Emergency Fund

If you have a chunk of change in your emergency fund, it might be tempting to just take the lump sum and pay off your debt.

The problem with this though, is that you open yourself to financial vulnerability if an emergency crops up. You might have to turn to your newly-paid-off credit card. When that happens, you wind up back in debt, and you’ve got no emergency fund on top of it.

There’s a reason financial experts suggest you keep at least $1,000 in an emergency fund before you start paying off debt. That way, if something happens, you can cover it without going further into debt. Don’t deplete your emergency fund in an effort to get rid of debt right now.

2. Watch Out for Cutting into Your Regular Expenses

You feel rich on payday. You feel like you can put $500 toward debt, and it makes sense. Pay it off faster and win right?

Unfortunately, you might not actually have $500 to put toward that debt. What about your regular expenses, like groceries and insurance premiums? Have you looked ahead to the bills you will need to pay in two or three weeks?

Your debt payment needs to be based on your budget and grounded in the reality of your regular monthly expenses. If you aren’t looking at all your monthly expenses, and just throwing money at your credit cards without a plan, there’s a good chance that you will need to turn to those credit cards in order to get through the rest of the month.

That means you take a step back for every step forward. Instead of getting excited and putting a large amount toward debt when you get paid, make it a point to map out your budget. Look at your income and expenses. Then make a debt payment plan that calls for an extra debt payment based on the money you have available.

3. Don’t Put Your Future at Risk

Finally, it can be tempting to take a loan out from your retirement account in order to pay off your debt more quickly. However, that can be a bad idea as well. Even though you are “paying yourself interest” on the loan, the reality is that you can’t replace the time the money is out of the market.

Another potentially dire consequence is that you could suddenly end up needing to pay the whole retirement account loan back at once. For instance, the entire loan comes due within a few months if you lose your job. The amount becomes an early withdrawal if you can’t pay it back — subjecting it to penalty and taxes. That could put you in an even worse position.

Just because it seems like you should pay off your credit card debt quickly, doesn’t mean that you should be so extreme that you put your overall finances at greater risk. If you are looking to pay off your credit card debt, ensure you have a budget and financial plan in place so that your daily expenses and emergency fund are covered first.

Article Source: Miranda Marquit for moneyning.com