October 2016 Free Business Lunch and Learn: Is Your Marketing Scary?

10-18-diy-biz-seminar-skeletonIt’s almost Halloween – is your marketing just as scary??

As a small business owner, it’s not always feasible or cost effective to hire an outside marketing agency, which means you often end up tackling the marketing yourself. We know it’s a lot to take on, so join us along with experts Judyth Brown of Walkabout Media Enterprises and Nichole Nappi of N2 Design Services for an interactive lunch & learn workshop to help with all things marketing for your business. From copy writing to web design, we’ve got you covered!

Attending this lunch & learn workshop, you will learn:

  • How to revitalize marketing projects
  • How to optimize your copy writing, social media, graphic & web design, and SEO skills for your business
  • Marketing breakout mini sessions with DIY Marketing Studio – receive personalized and expert Marketing tips for your business!

Join us on Tuesday, October 18th at 12pm-1:30pm (light lunch will be provided), along with our DIY Marketing Studio Roadshow presented by Judyth Brown of Walkabout Media Enterprises and Nichole Nappi of N2 Design Services. The event will be held at First Financial’s Corporate Office located at 391 Route 9 North in Freehold, NJ. Space is limited – register below. *There will be one-on-one time at the end of the workshop for all attendees to discuss your marketing objectives with the presenters and receive personalized advice!

Judyth Brown: In the last decades of the last century, Ms. Brown was proudly computer illiterate and determined to remain that way. Since then she has come to her senses in a big way. She now holds a master’s degree in adult education, she started teaching adult computer literacy, and traveled the U.S. delivering business training on digital marketing.  Ms. Brown’s company, Walkabout Media Enterprises, provides local businesses with email marketing and social media management services. Her background in adult education made partnership with Constant Contact an easy choice. As a Constant Contact Authorized Local Expert, she explains the ins and outs of digital marketing, helping small businesses grow with email and social media. Ms. Brown is currently based in the Jersey Shore Arts Center, the beautiful former Neptune High School, offering insight to the digital tools that help businesses thrive.

Nichole Nappi: Nichole Nappi, is a graphic designer and digital artist. She received her Bachelors Degree in Fine Art with a Computer Graphics concentration from Monmouth University. She currently owns a design business, N2 Design Services, and has been serving the business community for over 10 years. Ms. Nappi has worked as a graphic designer at the Asbury Park Press, as a production artist for both a silk-screener and a corrugated box company. By having a diverse background in production and design, she is able to work efficiently to create projects that can be produced in different media. Ms. Nappi currently lives in Wall, New Jersey with her husband and son and enjoys cycling vacations, reading, spending time with her family and creating abstract digital art.

Both Judyth Brown and Nichole Nappi started the DIY Marketing Studio, a community based initiative located in Neptune, NJ. Twice a month small business owners meet with the studio’s creative hosts for expert advice in branding, social media management, and marketing strategy. To learn more about the DIY studio, visit their Facebook page and sign up for sessions on meetup.

7 Signs You Can’t Afford to Buy a Home

House made of woman hands isolated on dollars background

Making the leap from renting to buying is thrilling and liberating — for many, it signifies the realization of “the American Dream.” Buying a home is also a long-term commitment, and one that requires strong financial standing. If any of these signs strike a chord, you may want to delay taking on a mortgage in the near future.

1. You have a low credit score.

Before considering home ownership, you’ll want to check your credit score, which you can do through free sites like Credit Karma, Credit.com, or Credit Sesame.

“The higher your score, the better the interest rate on your mortgage will be,” writes personal finance expert Ramit Sethi in “I Will Teach You to Be Rich.” Good credit can mean significantly lower monthly payments, so if your score is not great, consider delaying this big purchase until you’ve built up your credit.

2. You have to direct more than 30% of your income toward monthly payments.

Personal finance experts say a good rule of thumb is to make sure the total monthly payment doesn’t consume more than 30% of your take home pay.

“Any more than that, and your finances are going to be tight, leaving you financially vulnerable when something inevitably goes wrong,” write Harold Pollack and Helaine Olen in their book, The Index Card. To be fair, this isn’t always possible. While there are a few exceptions, aim to spend no more than 1/3 of your take home pay on housing.

3. You don’t have a fully funded emergency savings account.

And no, your emergency fund is not your down payment.

As Pollack and Olen write, “We all receive unexpected financial setbacks. Someone gets sick. The insurance company denies a medical claim. A job is suddenly lost. However life intrudes, the bank still expects to receive their monthly mortgage payments. Finance your emergency fund. Then think about purchasing a home. If you don’t have an emergency fund and do own a house, chances are good you will someday find yourself in financial turmoil.”

Certified financial planner Jonathan Meaney recommends having the equivalent of a few years’ worth of living expenses set aside in case there is a job loss or other surprise. “Unlike a rental arrangement with a one or two year contract and known termination clauses, defaulting on a mortgage can do major damage to your credit report,” he tells Business Insider. “In addition, a quick sale is not always possible or equitable for a seller.”

4. You can’t afford a 10% down payment.

Technically, you don’t always have to put any money down when financing a home today, but if you can’t afford to put at least 10% down, you may want to reconsider buying, says Sethi.

Ideally, you’ll be able to put 20% down — anything lower and you will have to pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI), which is a safety net for the bank in case you fail to make your payments. PMI can cost between 0.5% and 1.50% of the mortgage, depending on the size of your down payment and your credit score — that’s an additional $1,000 a year on a $200,000 home.

“The more money you can put down toward the initial purchase of a home, the lower your monthly mortgage payment,” Pollack and Olen explain. “That’s because you will need to borrow less money to finance the home. This can save you tens of thousands of dollars over the life of the loan.”

Need help calculating if you can afford to buy a home or what your monthly payments will be based on what you put down? Check out our free mortgage calculators at firstffcu.com!

5. You plan on moving within the next five years.

“Home ownership, like stock investing, works best as a long term proposition,” Pollack and Olen explain. “It takes at least five years to have a reasonable chance of breaking even on a housing purchase. For the first few years, your mortgage payments mostly pay off the interest and not the principal.”

Sethi recommends staying put for at least 10 years. “The longer you stay in your house, the more you save,” he writes. “If you sell through a traditional realtor, you pay that person a fee — usually 6% of the selling price. Divide that by just a few years, and it hits you a lot harder than if you had held the house for ten or twenty years.” Not to mention, moving costs can be high as well.

6. You’re deep in debt.

“If your debt is high, home ownership is going to be a stretch,” Pollack and Olen write. When you apply for a mortgage, you’ll be asked about everything you owe — from car and student loans to credit card debt. “If the combination of that debt with the amount you want to borrow exceeds 43% of your income, you will have a hard time getting a mortgage,” they explain. “Your debt-to-income ratio will be deemed too high, and mortgage issuers will consider you at high risk for a future default.”

7. You’ve only considered the sticker price.

You have to look at much more than just the sticker price of the home. There are a mountain of hidden costs — from closing fees to taxes, that can add up to more than $9,000 each year, real estate marketplace Zillow estimates. And that number will only jump if you live in a major US city.

You’ll have to consider things such as property tax, insurance, utilities, moving costs, renovations, and perhaps the most overlooked expense: maintenance. “The actual purchase price is not the most important cost,” says Alison Bernstein, founder and president of Suburban Jungle Realty Group, an agency that assists suburb-bound movers. “What’s important is how much it’s going to cost to maintain that house,” she tells Business Insider.

Stop into any First Financial branch and we can help you with your home buying journey. We provide great low rates and offer a variety of Mortgage options – to speak with First Financial’s lending department, call us at 732.312.1500 option 4.* 

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.** We’re here to help you achieve your financial dreams!

*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. Subject to credit approval. Credit worthiness determines your APR. **Standard text messaging and data rates may apply.

Article Source: Kathleen Elkins for Business Insider, http://www.businessinsider.com/signs-you-cant-afford-to-buy-a-home-2016-4

Our Fall 2016 Member Newsletter is Here!

change_leavesOur Fall Newsletter is here! Copies will be printed and available at your nearest branch. An electronic version of the newsletter will appear on our website, social media sites, and will be sent to our members via email.  No printed copies will be mailed to any members in a continued effort to go green.

The Fall Newsletter features the following content:

  • Upcoming First Financial seminars and events (September – November 2016)
  • Article – “4 Ways to Be a Good Financial Role Model for Your Children”
  • Message from the CEO
  • Auto Loan Limbo
  • “What Could Go Wrong Between Now and 50?” – Investment & Retirement Center Article
  • 2016 Erma Dorrer Literary Scholarship Recipients
  • EMV Chip Debit Cards are here!
  • 80th Anniversary Visa Credit Card Introductory Rate – 0.80% APR for 8 Months
  • “4 Ways to Avoid Cybercrime When Banking or Shopping on Your Mobile Phone or Tablet” – Article
  • New corporate office staff photo with address
  • Important information, holidays, phone numbers, and branch locations

To view a copy of the newsletter, click here.

Enjoy and Happy Fall!

How to Fix Your Bad Money Habits

toolsThey say it takes about 21 days to create a habit, whether good or bad. Once you start feeding into bad money habits, it can be harder to be financially responsible and become increasingly easier to continue splurging. If you feel your bad money habits are getting you down, don’t worry; there is hope for you.

The first step to changing your ways is to acknowledge that there is a problem. If you are blind to the issues your money habits are causing you, it will take you much longer to get out of your situation. By facing them head on, you will be able to turn your bank account around.

Here are some common bad money habits and ways to fix them:

Eating out multiple times a week. By making simple homemade foods at home, you can save quite a few dollars each month. If you figure that the average meal when dining out is roughly $12 compared to about $4 to $6 when cooking at home, you’ll save roughly $6 per person per meal each month.  Even by reducing the amount of times you go out for coffee every month, and making it more at home, you will be able to cut back on frivolous spending. For example, going out for a $2 coffee five times in one month is more than what you could pay for one bag of coffee. $2 may not seem like a lot, but it certainly adds up quickly. Have a hard time giving up your favorite cafe’s cup of Joe? See if you can purchase your own bag of their ground coffee beans to make at home.

Having no financial plans. Not having a plan to save any money is a terrible habit you should break away from immediately. Making changes like paying yourself first, creating an emergency fund, creating a budget, and opening a retirement account are all actions to consider implementing as soon as possible.

Not talking to your significant other. Not discussing the topic of finances with your significant other is a bad idea. Even if you are not married yet, you and your partner should have a general idea of what is going on in your bank accounts, especially if you have plans to move in together. Create a plan and financial goals together and work on being as transparent as possible with one another.

Impulsive buying. It’s hard to not want to dish out money on an item we see and feel we must have right away. But, this kind of impulsive spending on a regular basis is not only harmful to your bank account, but it tends to create negative habits that become harder to avoid even in times of financial struggle. One way to short circuit this process is to only carry cash. People tend be more budget conscious when paying with cash, so you can truly help yourself by paying in cash only.

Carrying a credit card balance. People use credit cards to create a tremendous amount of debt each year. If you have a balance – pay it down to get rid of any looming interest. Train yourself to skip using a credit card for unnecessary purchases or any items you haven’t budgeted for. If you do use your card, make sure to pay off the balance each month.

Don’t forget about First Financial’s free, online debt management tool, 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.

Ignoring your savings. Some studies suggest that roughly 1/3 of Americans don’t have any money saved for emergencies. Consider cutting the fat out of your budget and automating contributions to your savings and 401k accounts. Contributing to your 401k will improve your tax situation, and building your savings will reduce any financial stress you might be having.

Neglecting to get the best rate. People often overpay for services they don’t use. A great example of this are huge cable bills for hundreds of channels that never get watched. Consider using a comparison website like lowermybills.com to get a sense of how much you should be paying. Once you have this information, you can call your provider to see if they can lower your rate. Or if it’s not being used, cancel your cable all together.

The above are just a few common bad money spending habits, but we know there are more to avoid. How do you feel about your own spending habits and knowledge of financial literacy? To get an idea, take this quiz and find out.

Article Source: Jennifer Clark for Saving Advice, http://www.savingadvice.com/articles/2016/07/20/1041690_bad-money-habits.html

5 Tips for Buying Your First Home

Mixed race couple in new home

With U.S. mortgage rates near all-time lows, the appeal of purchasing a home has become much more enticing. For those who currently own, those lower rates mean looking into refinancing options to lock in lower rates; for those who rent, this may provide a nice entrance into home ownership.

According to the most recent National Association of Realtors® Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends report, the demographics of first-time homebuyers has shifted over the last century. The current median age sits around 29, with over 65 percent of homebuyers under the age of 34.

Below are five tips, catering specifically for older Millennials who are looking to plunge into homeownership for the first time.

1. Have Stable Employment and a Robust Savings Account

Your financial security is of the utmost importance when looking into any large purchase. If you are unsure of the likelihood that your job and a steady paycheck will be there in 6, 12, or 36 months, you need to step back and logically assess how probable it is you can keep afloat while paying off a home for the next 30 years.

As with any basic personal finance advice, it is wise to have a substantial savings account. Particularly for large purchases such as homes, making sure there is a financial cushion to fall back on in case of unthinkable circumstances should be a determining factor when you are looking for your first home.

2. Understand and Adhere to Budgeting Strategies

If money management is not a strong suit, it will pay off to get down to business and take the time to invest in your financial literacy. Without basic financial know-how, taking on a loan for hundreds of thousands of dollars might not be a wise move for your long-term financial portfolio. Make sure you understand exactly what you are getting yourself into, how you will afford payments in the years ahead, and how you will handle unplanned financial obstacles.

3. Have a Healthy Credit Report and Know How to Handle It Responsibly

When applying for home loans, a healthy credit score is your MVP. Without stellar credit, you could find yourself paying far more than you should. Take the time to make sure your credit tells a story of a financially responsible individual, and you are bound to see the rewards.

Remember: Your credit reflects who you are to lenders. It’s a snapshot into how you have handled credit in the past and provides an educated guess as to how you will act financially in the future.

4. Understand Loan Approvals

It’s easy to become swept away by the glamour of home shopping. The excitement and possibilities can lead to pricy immediate gratification, instead of financially sound judgments. It is incredibly tempting to look at approval amounts as permission to push your budget, particularly when submitting loan applications and receiving approvals. Simply because a lender says you can borrow a certain amount, does not mean it is the wisest decision. Approvals are meant to be guidelines and firm upper limits, not excuses to push your budgeting envelope beyond its comfort zone.

Ashland University Professor of Finance and CFP® Terry Rumker says, “You should decide how much you are willing to spend each month on your home — principal, interest, insurance, and taxes combined — and then figure out how much money you are willing to borrow. Not how much a bank is willing to lend.”

5. Critically Assess the 20% Down Payment Rule and See if it Makes Sense for You

While the debate on how much to put down on a home purchase has been going on for decades, with the most frequently touted advice being that 20 percent is the golden rule, contracts can go forward with less — much less — brought to the table. Decide what fits best with your budget and if you would be okay paying (and affording) Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI), which could add possibly a couple hundred onto your mortgage payment on a monthly basis until you have paid that 20%.

Stop into any First Financial branch and we can help you with your home buying journey. We provide great low rates and offer a variety of Mortgage options – to speak with First Financial’s lending department, call us at 732.312.1500, option 4.* 

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.** We’re here to help you achieve your financial dreams!

*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. Subject to credit approval. Credit worthiness determines your APR. **Standard text messaging and data rates may apply.

Article Source: Rebecca Sheppard for Benzinga.com

How to Save Even If You Live Paycheck to Paycheck

fishing out saving dollars from glass jar isolated on white background

You know you need to save money, but it can be hard if you’re just trying to make ends meet on a small income. After all, you have bills to pay today, so it’s hard to make saving for tomorrow a priority. Even higher-income people can find themselves living paycheck to paycheck without much room in their budget to set aside cash. Despite what you might think, it is possible to save even when you’re strapped for cash. Here’s how to get started.

Figure Out Where Your Money Is Going

You might have more room in your budget to set aside money for savings than you think. But you won’t know until you track your spending for at least one month. Review your bank statement to figure out how much your necessary expenses — rent or mortgage, utilities, insurance, transportation and food are costing you. Account for credit cards, student loans and other debt payments. Then, add up how much you’re spending on things you can live without, such as cable TV or Netflix, restaurant meals, magazine subscriptions and nights out. Knowing how much of your paycheck is going toward needs and wants will help you pinpoint how much you can afford to save each month.

Pay Yourself First

You should think of saving as one of your fixed expenses that you pay at the beginning of the month rather than waiting until the end of the month to see how much you have left over to set aside. Pay yourself first, then learn to live on what’s left.

One of the best ways to pay yourself first is to automate contributions to savings so you don’t even have to think about setting the money aside. If you opted out of your workplace retirement account because you didn’t want to sacrifice your paycheck, you should opt back in and have contributions automatically withdrawn from your paycheck moving forward each month.

You also need to be saving for emergencies so you don’t have to rely on credit cards or even retirement savings to cover unexpected costs. To build an emergency fund, use the same approach as with retirement savings by setting up automatic monthly transfers from your checking account to a savings account so the money comes out before you have a chance to spend it. But, don’t get discouraged if you can’t set aside that much now. Even a small monthly contribution can add up over time.

Get Free Money for Your Retirement Account

If you can’t set aside 10% of your pay each month, contribute enough to your workplace retirement plan to get the full matching contribution from your employer — if it offers one, because this is practically free money. 25% of American employees don’t contribute enough to get the full match from their employer, leaving an estimated $1,366 of free money on the table each year, according to research by Financial Engines, an investment advice company.

Keep More of Your Paycheck

A tax refund can be welcome windfall when you’re living paycheck to paycheck. But a refund means you’re letting the IRS hang onto too much of your paycheck throughout the year. You can keep more of your money each month — and use it to boost savings by adjusting your tax withholding. Ask your human resources department at work for a new W-4 to claim more allowances, which will lower the amount of taxes withheld from your paycheck.

If you received the average refund in 2016 of $2,732, adjusting your withholding could put $227 back into your paycheck each month. If you invested that amount each month at a 7 percent interest rate starting at age 25, you could have nearly $600,000 by age 65.

Reduce Nonessential Expenses

If you discover you’re spending heavily on things you don’t need, those nonessential expenses are the first thing you should cut to make sure your paycheck can cover necessary expenses and savings contributions. If you gave up buying a coffee and bagel twice a week, you could save an estimated $40 per month. If you were to invest that amount each month instead with a 7 percent annual return, you could have $32,402.87 after 25 years.

Raise Your Insurance Deductibles

Another way to find more room in your budget to boost savings is to cut insurance costs. By raising your auto insurance deductible, you can lower your premium by 15 percent to 40 percent, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Raising your homeowner’s insurance deductible from $500 to $1,000 could shave 25 percent off your premium. You also can lower your health insurance premium by opting for a high-deductible plan. With a high-deductible plan, you also get the benefit of being able to set aside money pre-tax through payroll deductions to a health savings account (HSA). Money in an HSA can be used to cover out-of-pocket healthcare costs.

Lower Your Bills

In addition to insurance premiums, there likely are other monthly bills you can cut so you’ll have more cash to stash in savings (for example – Netflix, cable, expensive gym membership, etc.). If you aren’t using these services, why are you paying for them? If you don’t want to get rid of a service completely, you may even be able to opt for a lower data plan to cut the cost of wireless service and so on.

Let Technology Help You Save

If you don’t have the discipline to save on your own, there are several apps that can help. For example, the free Digit app takes automation a step further by linking to your checking account and analyzing your income and spending habits to figure out how much you can set aside in savings. It then automatically puts that money into savings for you.

Article Source: Cameron Huddleston for Go Banking Rates, https://www.gobankingrates.com/personal-finance/save-live-paycheck/