Ways to Protect Your Credit Cards

If you’ve ever been a victim of identity theft, you know it’s awful. Between the time it takes to get everything corrected and the stress it causes – it’s definitely a spot you’d like to avoid if you can. Though nothing is fool proof, there are several ways in which you can protect your finances. Here are a few that pertain to keeping your credit card information safe from fraud.

Secure all your cards: If your wallet is ever stolen and you lost every card, think about what a nightmare it would be to have to cancel and replace them all. Really consider this the next time you leave home. Try to only take the cards you absolutely need and keep the rest in a secure location like a safe or locked drawer. Try to also minimize the amount of cash you have on you as well and only bring what you need. This way if your wallet gets lost or stolen, you aren’t literally losing everything.

Pay attention: It might be difficult to keep track of a criminal’s activities in real-time, but you can check on your accounts regularly. Today’s smartphone banking and credit card apps really make it easy and fast to check on all your accounts and look for fraudulent transactions. If you’re keeping track of your spending and looking at your accounts daily, you’ll know the minute something happens that looks out of the ordinary. Checking on your accounts every day also helps you monitor your monthly budget and spending habits too.

Opt for being more high-tech: Have you ever used your smartphone’s digital wallet? Many retailers are set up to take payments via Apple Pay and Google Pay, and it’s very easy to use. EMV chips in your credit and debit cards also make transactions more secure and prevent card skimming as well. When shopping online, if PayPal or your phone’s digital wallet are options for payment over entering your card number – always go that route.

Using the above tips can help protect your financial information and really save you from an identity theft headache. Also be weary when using an ATM or paying for gas at the pump – be sure to check for any skimming devices before inserting your card. If something seems off to you, it probably is. Read about how to spot a skimming device in our guidebook here.

T.H.I.N.K First because There’s Harm In Not Knowing!

Article Source: John Pettit for CUInsight.com

Budgeting Mistakes that are Easy to Make

Hopefully by now in the second month of the new year, you’ve mapped out your monthly budget and expenses. If not, get started here ASAP.

Once your budget is set, it’s definitely not always foolproof. Here are a few categories in which you might forget to include in your budget, and a couple mistakes that are easy to make so you can be sure to avoid them.

Are you really ready for anything? Did you remember to include an emergency fund when you created your annual budget? If not, this is a big category you don’t want to forget about. If you have an unexpected emergency and you have no emergency savings account back-up, you’ll either be taking money out of other accounts you shouldn’t be touching or racking up debt on your credit card. Either way, it’s going to put a major dent in your budget. If you don’t have an emergency fund, start one as soon as possible.

Do you keep guessing about monthly bills? If you have utility or other bills that vary from month to month, you may have to guess what they may be when you are setting up your monthly budget. When you are estimating bills that change each month, be sure you factor in a number that’s higher than you think it would normally be. This way you won’t short change yourself and you can be prepared for anything that comes up.

Your budget won’t always be fully complete. Most likely, things are going to pop up for the month like a spur of the moment dinner out with friends, or that family member’s birthday gift you forgot to include when you initially crafted your budget. Things like this can really add up on a monthly basis though, if you forget to include them. At the start of each month, sit down and look at all the dates on the calendar for the month ahead. Think about who might have a birthday coming up, if there’s a weekend outing, and so forth. Factor in as many expenses as you can, and if you have a little leftover – give yourself a bit of a buffer just in case anything comes up last minute so that you won’t have to use your credit card.

Don’t forget about annual fees. Look back over what you spent last year if you can. Do you have a credit card with an annual fee, or maybe a gym membership, insurance policy, or warehouse shopping club annual fee? Jot them all down and take note of any annual fees that might be due. Plan ahead and try to set the money aside so you know you are covered when the bill comes in.

Like anything, there is a learning curve when you are first getting used to doing something like creating a monthly budget. Give yourself a bit of wiggle room and if you make a mistake, try to get back on track for the next month.

In addition to our budgeting guidebook above, also check out our online fillable PDF budgeting worksheet here. Come back each month and fill it out for the upcoming weeks ahead!

Article Source: John Pettit for CUInsight.com

How to Get a Great Valentine’s Gift on a Limited Budget

Valentine’s Day is … tomorrow. If you are still trying to find a last minute unique gift idea for that special someone in your life and stay in line with the budget that you’re probably still paying off holiday bills from, keep reading! You can still give your Valentine a great day tomorrow without going broke.

The most important word you can remember about Valentine’s Day: Thoughtfulness. You truly don’t have to spend a ton of money on lavish gifts, experiences, or dinner at a fancy restaurant. Don’t underestimate the value of a nice home cooked meal, a homemade card, or an activity you both love doing together.

Go on an Outing this V-Day

Sometimes an experience creates more memories than a big gift or expensive flower delivery. Would you rather buy your true love a giant flower arrangement that more than likely won’t be around to see February 21st, or recall a fun day out together that you can look back on for years to come? Planning an actual activity also shows creativity and effort. Need some lower cost ideas?

  • Go geocaching – this is completely FREE. What is geocaching? This is a real life outdoor treasure hunting game using the GPS device on your smartphone. You will need to find and register locally, and then you’ll be given GPS coordinates to navigate to and find a geocache container that’s hidden at the designated location. Find out more here.
  • Try an escape room – averages about $30 a person. This is a lower cost, fun and adventurous activity to try with your loved one. You’ll need to work together and communicate, and it’ll be an exciting experience you won’t soon forget. Hit the web and find out where the nearest escape room is to you.
  • Wine and paint class – another lower cost activity that is BYOB, and typically under $40 a person. You’ll get to paint together, drink wine, and take home some beautiful artwork! To save even more money, try looking for deals online for a class local to you on Groupon.
  • Go axe throwing – cost also averages about $30 a person. See if there’s a local venue near you for throwing axes and/or darts. These locations are also typically BYOB which will save you some more money as well.
  • Actually see a movie in the theater – when was the last time you went to the movies? These days it seems like most people tend to take advantage of Netflix and other streaming at home movie services. This also is probably one of the cheaper outing options on this list, around $20 per person. Check your local theater and purchase tickets online in advance.

Ways to Save on Flowers

Being that Valentine’s Day is tomorrow – it’s probably going to be tougher to order online now, have them delivered on the actual holiday, and not pay a fortune. If you are in this boat and didn’t preorder, instead of purchasing a whole bouquet – don’t underestimate the gesture of buying just one single long stemmed rose, or try a less expensive flower bouquet instead (think red/pink carnations).

Are you against the idea of buying flowers altogether and spending a great deal of money on something that may not last longer than a few days? How about sending your Valentine a photo of virtual flowers. You can send them anything, they’ll last, and won’t cost you a dime!

But, if you’re still set on buying flowers – look online for deals, or try ordering through a cash back site like Rakuten.

How to Save on Valentine’s Dinner

At this point, it’s probably going to be next to impossible to get a dinner reservation. However, most of the time a home cooked meal is more private, less expensive, and better than dining out.

Do you have an InstantPot? This wonderful kitchen device allows you to cook a gourmet-like meal quickly. If you don’t – hit your local Target or Walmart and pick one up (they range in price with an average of around $50, but you can probably get one on sale or look for store coupons too). All you have to do is find a recipe, purchase your ingredients, close the lid, and push a button. You’ll impress your love and probably have leftovers for the next day also! You can even make dessert in your InstantPot such as cheesecake, the day before. Or if you want to opt for something easier to make the day of that’s still seasonal – try your own chocolate covered strawberries and open a bottle of wine or champagne.

If You Still Insist on Buying a Gift

If you’ve thought about it and you are set on purchasing a thoughtful Valentine’s Day gift but don’t want to spend a fortune, opt for one that includes a photo of the two of you. This is still sentimental, a nice memory, and won’t cost a lot. Simply print out your favorite picture together at your local Walgreens (which you can do almost immediately), put it in a nice frame, and if you have extra time – have it engraved.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Article Source: Rick Broida for cnet.com

How to Actually Save Money Every Month

It’s easy to stop pulling out your wallet every so often, but in actuality it’s our recurring expenses that typically get us into debt. Many people often ignore monthly expenses because they are subconsciously used to just paying the usual bills each month. However, there are a few areas that when you eliminate them or find ways to cut them down – you can actually save yourself some money on a monthly basis.

Take note of the following bills – can you cut any of these out completely or down?

  • Cell Phone. First look to see if there are any items you can cut from your monthly plan that will save you money on your bill. If not, consider switching carriers – there are often plenty of deals out there. Something else to look into is a prepaid cell phone plan. This may not work for everyone, but many have had success with saving a lot of money on their monthly cell phone bill this way and only using their mobile phone when they truly need it.
  • Home Phone. Is this something you actually use, or can you get away with just using your cell phone as your monthly bill? If you are still paying your cable company for a land line and you don’t use it – find out if eliminating this can add some savings back into your bank account each month.
  • TV. More than likely you probably pay way too much for your favorite shows through your cable provider. Have you sat down and looked at what you can still watch through avenues such as Hulu or Netflix for a fraction of the cost?
  • Gym Membership. Do you actually go to the gym and use your membership? If you do go daily, this would probably be one bill worth keeping. However – if you rarely go and continuously pay money each month, this may be one membership to consider cancelling and instead jog outdoors when the weather is nice or run at your local park instead.
  • Other Subscriptions. Included in this category would be newspaper or magazine subscriptions, warehouse shopping clubs, meal prep services, and so forth. How many subscriptions do you really need? Be honest with yourself. Are you paying a lot more for groceries by using a meal prep service? Really take a good look (and a calculator) at how much you are spending per month in this category and cut out as much as possible.
  • Utilities. Make sure your lights and electronics are off and unplugged whenever you aren’t in the room or using them. Open the windows and use fans during interim seasons when you don’t need the air conditioning yet. Besides helping your utility bills, these actions also help the environment.
  • Medications. Always ask to switch your prescription medications to the generic brand when possible. This will save you a lot of money. Also when you can, see if you can purchase a 90 day supply of maintenance medications. Usually this is a cheaper option instead of going to the pharmacy every 30 days for monthly refills, and more convenient too.
  • Vehicles. In the nicer weather, you will save money by washing your own car at home instead of going to the car wash. Also look for coupons and deals online before you take your car for regular maintenance such as oil changes or tire rotations, there is usually always one available.
  • Insurance. Call around and see if you can find a better deal and pay less. This includes car insurance, homeowner’s insurance, renter’s insurance and the like.

Things to try:

  • Don’t Bring Your Credit Card Out for 1 Month. At first, you will probably feel restricted but this exercise will help you realize what you are spending money on. Which most of the time it’s probably an impulse purchase or an item you don’t truly need. When you pay with cash, you’ll often find you are more conservative with your purchases.
  • Pretend You’re Broke. Try this for 30 days – live on ramen noodles like your college days, and so on. This will show you that the salary you work hard for now should not be wasted on things that aren’t absolutely necessary.
  • Add Up Your Monthly Subscription Costs. As mentioned previously, jot down how much you are paying out in subscriptions every month. Even something that’s $40 a month adds up to nearly $500 a year. That’s a lot of money.
  • Check Your Statements. Watch out for those monthly automatic payments. Review all your monthly purchases and really scrutinize what you are buying. It always adds up to more than you think.

Need some help creating a monthly budget? Check out our easy fillable PDF budgeting worksheet!

Article Source: David Ning of Moneyning.com

Winter 2020 Newsletter

We hope your 2020 is off to a great start. Here is a copy of our Winter 2020 Quarterly Member Newsletter!

In a continued effort to go green, we’re publishing our newsletter electronically – it can also be found on our website and social media sites. Paper copies will be available in our branches.

The Winter Newsletter features the following articles:

To view a copy of the newsletter, click here.

We hope you have a wonderful winter season!

*APR varies from 12.40% to 18% for the Visa Platinum Card and from 14.40% to 18% for the Visa Signature and Secured Cards 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.

 

How to Navigate Charitable Contributions and Tax Deductions

We all know the saying, “It’s better to give than to receive.” Giving makes us feel good, right? And we usually don’t think about what’s in it for us.

But, what about charitable giving? Depending on the amount of your charitable contributions, you could be in for a sizable tax benefit. As a matter of fact, if you factor your charitable donations into your budget, it will allow you to be more generous and lead to strategies that could improve your financial planning long term.

With tax season in full swing, let’s take a look at some benefits of charitable giving and what can be deducted.

That Altruistic Feeling

Whether we donate to them or not, we all have causes near and dear to our heart. If you’re an animal lover, ASPCA commercials probably tug at your heartstrings. If helping kids is where your passion lies, then charities like St. Jude’s and Shriner’s Hospital probably resonate with you. Regardless of where your loyalties lie, we all love the feeling of helping other people. Scientific studies have even shown that charitable giving activates pleasure centers in the brain.

Tax Benefits

Charitable donation deductions actually allow you to lower the amount of taxable income. Of course, you can’t donate to just any organization. In order for donations or gifts to qualify, they have to be recognized tax-exempt organizations. Typically – religious organizations, veterans’ organizations, and community organizations qualify as being tax-exempt.

Have you made any donations to state, federal, or local government for public purposes, such as to rehab a public park? You can deduct those donations. You can also deduct any expenses you incur as a volunteer for a qualified organization or if you donate a qualified vehicle.

What Does this Mean for You?

Let’s be honest. Taxes, deductions, and tax law can be overwhelming and difficult to understand if you don’t speak that language. It’s always a good idea to sit down with a qualified financial planner to come up with a plan for donating to charities. Your financial planner can help you figure out what types of donations will work for you and your future plans. They can also help you find organizations that share the same goals and ideals as you. Also, if you want to make charitable giving a recurring activity this year, look at setting aside money in a First Financial Special Savings Account.+ That way, you can save smaller amounts at a time to make it easier to give back instead of one lump sum all at once.

No matter which way you decide to give or which charity you choose to give to, giving back to organizations that do good – feels good. Additional information about charitable giving and tax deductions can be found in this article from the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial Federal Credit Union.* If you have other questions about charitable giving and how it may impact you this tax season, contact the Financial Advisors located at First Financial or click here.

*Securities sold, advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor. 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. CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc., is a registered broker/dealer in all fifty states of the United States of America.

 +A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account. All personal memberships are part of the Rewards First program and a $5 per month non-participation fee is charged to the base savings account for memberships not meeting the minimum requirements of the program. Click here to view full Rewards First program details.