When is it Time to Downsize Your Home?

Maybe the spacious home with the white picket fence you’ve always wanted doesn’t have the same charm it used to. Between increased maintenance over the years, unused rooms, and high monthly expenses – your home may be causing more headaches than it’s worth. If any of this is resonating with you, it could be time to downsize your home.

Choosing to sell and move to a smaller home is a big and likely emotional, decision. You might have lived in the home for decades or raised your family there – that’s why it’s important to know when the time is right and what resources are available to help. Keep reading to see when you should truly consider downsizing.

Your monthly housing expenses are high

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recommends spending no more than 30% of your monthly income on housing. If you’re paying more than that, you could be qualified as “financially burdened.” This means if you’re planning on retiring anytime soon, or will have a significant drop in income, it will be even harder to keep up on bills and monthly expenses. Downsizing will allow you to have a reduced mortgage or rent, cheaper utilities, and fewer maintenance needs. If you’re able to downsize 5 to 10 years before retirement, you can use the extra cash to save for travel or other activities.

Home maintenance is overwhelming

The older your home gets, the more maintenance it will need. Minor repairs, painting, caring for the lawn, and snow removal all take time and are physically demanding. Instead of throwing more money into maintenance costs by hiring a professional, consider moving into a rent-controlled space that has maintenance included. This will take the burden off of having to keep up with home repairs so you can focus on relaxing and enjoying retirement.

Your home doesn’t fit your needs

As we get older, our mobility changes – causing us to have different needs and requirements for our day-to-day lives. Whether it’s steep stairs, bathtubs without grab bars, or large yards that are impossible to keep up with – an inaccessible home is reason enough to consider downsizing. This is especially the case if you’d also have to invest in upgrades to accommodate your needs.

Financial considerations for selling your home

Before making a financial decision, you should also consider how much downsizing would cost. While you’ll be saving money in the long run, you’ll also need to account for any costs that come with selling your current home. Not only will you need to plan for initial updates if you want a higher value on your home, but you will also have to account for real estate agent fees and closing costs.

Downsizing takes time, planning, and research. Outside of finances, there will be other factors to evaluate and our financial experts are here to help! Contact us to get started, stop into your local branch, or schedule a video chat or phone call with our loan department.

Want to see more articles like this? Subscribe to First Financial’s monthly newsletter for financial resources and advice.

 

Stay Safe with These ATM Security Tips

ATMs may be one of the easiest ways to access the money in your bank account, but they are also a target for theft. Criminals have been known to try taking cash right out of your hands upon leaving the ATM, or even stealing your personal identification number (PIN) at the ATM. This risk can be higher depending on the machine’s location or the time of day. Don’t let this scare you from ever using an ATM again though – you can take plenty of safety precautions to protect yourself and your money.

Here are our top ATM security tips for the next time you plan to withdraw money.

Keep your PIN private

If someone can steal your PIN, they can likely pretend to be you and use your account. That’s why it’s essential to be aware of your surroundings when using your card at an ATM. Someone waiting in line behind you can peer over your shoulder to see your PIN, or even withdraw more money if you forgot to end your transaction before walking away.

A more stealthy way criminals can try to take your money is by installing card skimmers on ATMs to capture people’s debit cards. Skimmers are hard to identify, making it challenging to even know your information has been compromised. Without taking proper precautions, your information can be sold online or used by criminals to make purchases.

Here are some tips for protecting your ATM/Debit card:

  • Inspect the ATM for possible skimming devices. Some red flags include sticky residue from an adhesive, damaged pieces, loose or extra attachments on the card slot, or noticeable resistance with pressing the keypad. Check out our ATM card skimming and fraud prevention guide for more information and images.
  • Cover your hand over the ATM keypad as you enter your PIN so no one around you can see.
  • Never write down your PIN or tell anyone your number. Keep it as private as possible.
  • Never give information about your ATM card or PIN over the phone. If your bank calls asking for you to verify your PIN, it is likely a scam.
  • Consistently check your accounts for suspicious activity.
  • Keep your card in a safe place and don’t ever leave it lying around – even at home.

Be alert at the ATM

No matter where you’re using an ATM, you’ll need to scan your surroundings for suspicious activity. If you notice someone waiting in a nearby car or hanging around while keeping an eye on you, try coming back later or using a different ATM. You’ll want to use your judgment – if something doesn’t feel safe, you’re probably right.

After withdrawing cash, stay alert. Some criminals may try to follow you. If you think that’s the case, find a heavily populated area and call the police. We recommend following these precautions every time you visit the ATM:

  • Bring someone with you when you go to the ATM.
  • Lock your doors at drive-thru ATMs.
  • Avoid using ATM machines at night.
  • Have your card ready as you get to the ATM, and do not linger and count your cash once it’s withdrawn from the machine.
  • Don’t leave your transaction receipt at the ATM.
  • If someone approaches you at the ATM and demands money, give it to them. No amount of money is worth risking your life. Call the authorities as soon as you’re somewhere safe if this happens.

View additional ATM skimming safety tips in our YouTube video.

At First Financial, we are here to help protect our members from fraud, scams, and identity theft. If you have any concerns or questions about any of your First Financial accounts, please call member services at 732.312.1500 or visit one of our branches.

Want to see more articles like this? Subscribe to First Financial’s monthly newsletter for financial resources and advice.

How to Pay Off Student Loan Debt Faster

Furthering your education is no easy feat, and paying off the student debt you’ve accumulated can be even more challenging. Not only can paying off your student loans cause a strain on your budget, but it can also prevent you from meeting your financial goals. Whether it’s making extra payments or refinancing, here are some ways to help pay off your student loans faster.

Student loan forgiveness

If you have an adjusted gross income of less than $125,000 or $250,000 for combined household income in 2020 or 2021, you’re likely eligible for student loan forgiveness. Student debt borrowers can have up to $10,000 of federal loans forgiven. Details are still in development, but applications should be available by early October with the deadline for submission by December 31.

Pay more than the minimum

Paying more than the minimum each month not only helps you pay off your loans faster and avoid further interest, but also gives a boost to your credit score. First, you’ll want to determine how much you can afford to add to your monthly bill and use a student loan calculator to see how it will impact you. Every lender’s website handles payments differently, so be sure to ask if your extra payments were applied correctly.

If you have extra income but want to space out your payments, consider making biweekly payments instead. There are no penalties for making additional payments, and it can help keep you ahead of your repayment plan.

Consider a different repayment plan

Depending on your income and loan amount, you can choose a repayment plan that works best for you. The government automatically puts federal student loans on a 10-year repayment schedule, but federal loans also offer income-driven plans that can extend your payments to 20 or even 25 years. FSA’s loan simulator can show you how your payments would change with each plan.

Look into refinancing options

If your lender won’t adjust your repayment timeline or you have a high-interest rate, you may need to consider refinancing with a new lender. At First Financial, we offer personal and consolidation loans that can help reduce monthly expenses and save money with lower interest rates.* Do keep in mind that refinancing with a new lender means you’d lose the perks of federal loans like income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness programs.

Want to change up how you pay your student loans, but don’t know where to start? The team at First Financial can give you recommendations based on your financial situation. Contact us to get started, or stop by your local branch to speak with a representative today!

Want to see more articles like this? Subscribe to First Financial’s monthly newsletter for financial resources and advice.

*APR = Annual Percentage Rate. Actual rate will vary based on creditworthiness and loan term. Subject to credit approval. Personal Loan repayment terms range from 12 to 60 months, and APRs range from 10.24% APR to 18% APR. Minimum loan amount is $500. Loan payment example: A $2,000 Personal Loan financed at 10.24% APR for 24 months, would have a monthly payment amount of $92.51. A First Financial Federal Credit Union membership is required to obtain a Personal Loan or Line of Credit, 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.

 

 

How to Outsmart Sophisticated Phishing Scams

You’ve probably heard of phishing. But do you really know what it is – and more importantly, how to protect yourself from falling victim to it? Phishing scams have become very sophisticated, but there are some simple things you can do to protect yourself and keep your personal information safe.

What is Phishing?

Let’s start with a basic description: Phishing is a type of scam where an attacker sends a fraudulent message to trick you into revealing sensitive information – often to access your accounts or commit identity theft.

Phishing attempts usually occur through email, over the phone, or via text message. They can be very well-designed to look or sound like legitimate messages from those you know and trust, such as your financial institution, and may contain a link that directs you to a fake website that looks legitimate.

Check out this YouTube video on phishing scams.

Tip #1: Do not expect phishing emails to be filtered into your Junk mail. Because they are often individually crafted based on information gathered on your social media sites, they can avoid detection from advanced email filters.

How to Detect Phishing Scams

There are ways to avoid phishing scams if you know what to look and listen for. Be on the lookout for these identifying factors:

  • Inconsistencies in email addresses. Phishing emails will typically come from an unfamiliar, unusual email address. The easiest way to detect this is to hover your cursor over the email address to reveal the true “from” address. This will usually reveal the email as a fraud and can be done without actually clicking into the email itself. For example, if an email allegedly originates from your financial institution, but the domain name reads something else, it’s likely a phishing email. Delete it immediately.
  • Unfamiliar greeting or salutation. Sometimes the informality or other irregularity of a salutation can and should provoke suspicion. Be on the lookout for this type of irregularity in emails and text messages, and perhaps even phone calls. For example, if your financial institution greets you with a nickname you don’t use with your accounts, it’s an indication of phishing.
  • Bad grammar, spelling mistakes or unusual language. Legitimate emails and text messages will not have these mistakes. However, they are often found in phishing scams.
  • Demand for urgent action. This is key! Emails, text messages and phone calls threatening some type of negative consequence, loss of money, or missed opportunity are key factors in phishing scams. The urgency prompts you to act without thinking and is what ultimately gets intelligent consumers to fall for these well-designed phishing scams. The scams have flaws, but the panic they create can cause consumers to take swift action before errors can be spotted.
  • Requests for passwords. Do not respond to a text alert, email, or phone call asking for a password, PIN, or any other security information. Never give this information to anyone, even if you think it’s your bank or credit union. They will never ask you for this information. Ever.

Tip #2: Be wary of long text numbers. If you receive a text message from an unidentified number longer than 10 digits, the odds are high it’s a scam.

More Do’s and Don’ts to Protect Yourself

  • Don’t click on links in an unsolicited email or text message.
  • Don’t use the phone number a potential scammer provided in an email or text message. Look up the company’s phone number on your own and call to verify the authenticity of the message or request.
  • Don’t give out personal information such as passwords, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, dates of birth, or Social Security Numbers.
  • Don’t respond to suspected phishing emails, text messages or phone calls, even if you think it would be fun to tease or trick them. It’s best to avoid responding in any way.
  • Do be suspicious of anyone pressing you to act immediately.

Tip #3: Phone numbers and caller identities can be faked to look like the caller ID is from a business you know and trust, like your financial institution. Never trust that the caller ID is accurate. It is best to look up the company’s phone number on your own and call them.

If you detect suspicious activity, contact the alleged company directly. In the case of your financial institution, call at the number listed on the back of your bank-issued debit card, in your banking app, or the bank’s official website.

To learn about other scams and ways to protect yourself, visit zellepay.com/pay-it-safe.

At First Financial, our goal is to help protect our members from scams and identity theft. If you have any concerns or questions about any of your First Financial accounts, please call member services at 732.312.1500 or visit one of our branches.

 Zelle and the Zelle related marks are wholly owned by Early Warning Services, LLC and are used herein under license

First Financial Member Spotlight: Susan West Hebert

“I’m treated with dignity and respect. What really speaks to me is the respect they have for the community.”

Welcome to our First Financial member spotlight – a series where we feature some of our personal and business credit union members who we’ve happily worked with over the years. Next up is long-time member, Susan West Hebert.

As a former employee of the Freehold Regional High School District (one of our community partners), Susan became interested in banking with a credit union once she learned about it through her employer. After being warmly welcomed at our Freehold branch, Susan knew First Financial was the place where she wanted to put her money. Over the years, she acquired a mortgage with us and also an auto loan when she decided to buy out her car lease. At First Financial, we take pride in offering loans with low rates, flexible terms, and quick approval decisions.

How to join First Financial

If you live, work, worship, volunteer, or attend school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties in NJ, you’re eligible to become a member. Businesses in Monmouth or Ocean Counties and our community partners are also eligible for membership. To join, all you have to do is open a savings account with $5. It’s that easy! Once you’re a member, your immediate family members can sign up too. To get started, call us at 732.312.1500, email info@firstffcu.com, or stop by any of our local branches.

Send Yourself Money? That’s a Big Red Flag

Scammers are always creating new ways to steal your money. One of the recent scams utilizing peer-to-peer payment services is what’s known as the “Pay Yourself Scam.”

The gist of the scam is that someone pretending to be a representative from your bank or credit union tells you that there has been a fraudulent transaction and in order to stop it, you need to send yourself money with Zelle®. That sense of urgency really works in their favor and gets unsuspecting consumers to act immediately.

The best way to avoid this scam is to know what to look for. Here’s how it unfolds:

  • It starts with a text message from a scammer that looks like a fraud alert from your bank or credit union. It looks real and urgent!
  • If you respond to the text message and engage the scammer, you’ll receive a call from a number that may appear to be your bank or credit union.
  • The scammer pretends to be calling from your bank or credit union and offers to stop the alleged fraud by directing you to send yourself money with Zelle®.
  • In reality, the scammer is tricking you into sending money to their bank account.

How the Scam Works

So how are the scammers diverting money to their account?

When you enroll with Zelle® initially or if you switch your enrolled U.S. mobile number or email address to a different account, your bank sends you a security code to verify your identity. In this scam, the fraudster pretends to be calling from your bank or credit union saying that they need this passcode to authorize your payment to yourself. That should be a big red flag to you. Your bank will NEVER ask you for this security code, nor will they ask you to send money to yourself.

If the scammer gets the one-time passcode, they can link their bank account to your U.S. mobile number or email address. Now the money you thought you were sending to yourself is sent directly to their bank account.

Check out this YouTube video on how the scam works.

Staying Safe in a World of Scammers

How can you avoid being tricked? Always keep these tips front of mind:

  • Never discuss account numbers, PINs, or other personal information with anyone who contacts you, even if they say they are from your bank or credit union.
  • If the person claiming a problem with your account needs your account information, hang up and call the bank yourself.
  • Don’t call the number in a text, email, or voicemail. It will connect you directly with the scammers. Always look up the number online or review the number listed on your debit or credit card.
  • Don’t click on text message links from people you don’t know, even if it looks like it’s your bank or credit union. These links can be deceiving and direct you to a fraudulent site or expose your device to malware.
  • Your bank or credit union will never ask you to send money to yourself (or anyone else)! If you detect suspicious activity regarding Zelle®, hang up and contact your bank or credit union directly at the number listed on the back of your bank-issued debit card, in your mobile banking app, or on their official website.

To learn about other scams and ways to protect yourself, visit zellepay.com/pay-it-safe.

At First Financial, our goal is to help protect our members from scams and identity theft. If you have any concerns or questions about any of your First Financial accounts, please call member services at 732.312.1500 or visit one of our branches.

*U.S. checking or savings account required to use Zelle®. Transactions between enrolled users typically occur in minutes.

 Zelle and the Zelle related marks are wholly owned by Early Warning Services, LLC and are used herein under license.