Home Improvements on a Budget and the Mortgage Market Seminar Summary

girl redecorating homeAt our recent Home Improvement on a Budget and the Mortgage Market Seminar, attendees learned about today’s mortgage market, information on our home improvement loan and home improvement tips on budget. Below are a few home improvement tips that were presented that can help you get the most out of your budget during your home improvement period.

Maximize Your Decorating Budget:

What’s the dirtiest word in decorating? That’s right: budget. Whether you have just a few $100 for a room makeover, or tens of thousands, you’ll need to plan carefully and make tough choices to meet your bottom line.

1. Make a design wish list: Give your imagination free reign. Write down everything you’d like to do and buy – be specific. Although you’re indulging in a bit of fantasy, don’t forget to include the practical stuff that needs to be fixed, upgraded and purchased.

2. Determine your actual budget: Be brutally honest here: Take a look at your monthly inflows and outflows, as well as any funds you’ve set aside for rainy day projects, and see how much you realistically have to spend. If the money just isn’t there, it might make sense to put off your project while you set a savings goal, rather than maxing out your credit card.

3. Familiarize yourself with price tags: Before you draft an itemized budget, hit the stores, catalogs and Internet to research how much the items on your wish list will cost. If it’s been a few years since you’ve decorated — or if this is your first major home project — expect some sticker shock. Couches, for example, can range from a few $100 to $1000+, so price out sofas that meet your style, quality and comfort standards.

4. Prioritize your purchases and labor: Start itemizing with your decorating wish list, real costs and your total budget in front of you. If you have a whole home to decorate, decide if you need to tackle the project by room or category: furniture first, then window treatments, etc.

5. Keep common budget busters in mind: Just as you would with a remodeling budget, tuck away 10 to 15 percent of your total for unexpected expenses. If, you’ve set aside $5,000 to create a bedroom sanctuary, do your best to draft an initial budget that tops out at $4,250. That way, you’ll have money in reserve to pay an electrician when it turns out that hanging the bedroom chandelier isn’t a simple matter. Other common errors and oversights that can break the budget are impulse buys, freight and delivery charges, and supplies.

6. Phase it in: Unless your budget is unlimited, you may not be able to do everything right away. But don’t lose heart — you can spread out the expense by making a long-range plan and implementing your design in phases, as time and money allow. Designers tend to tackle jobs in this order: backgrounds and surfaces (ceilings, walls, floors), buildables (built-in shelving), furniture, fabrics, lighting and accessories – take your time to do it right!

Some Other Home Improvement Tips to Keep in Mind:

  • Re-paint a room: A great way to spruce up a room for cheap with the most dramatic result.
  • Do-It-Yourself: Use Pinterest.com and get some crafty inspiration and don’t be afraid to paint and do flooring yourself – try something new!
  • Call in friends & family: Why pay for workers when you have family & friends (Just don’t forget to feed them lunch)!
  • Shop secondhand stores: Great way to find unique and inexpensive pieces that you can easily fix up or paint.
  • Wait for sales & discounts: Wait to find what you really want at a price you’ll really love.
  • Sew your own linens: Don’t be afraid to get a little “Martha Stewart” and sew your own window treatments and linens.
  • Reuse items you already have: Be imaginative and find ways to reuse décor – slipcovers and new hardware do wonders!

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Credit Management Seminar Summary

Recently we held a seminar filled with information on the importance of credit, what makes up your credit score, rates and fees and ways to improve your credit score.

Taking the information below and applying it will strengthen and increase your credit score and we promise it will make your life that much easier.

  • Importance of credit: Good credit helps you build personal financial wealth, allows you to secure goods and services now but pay for them later and also increases the confidence of lenders and creditors. Your score even affects interest rates and the fees you pay and helps you achieve short and long term goals.
  • What makes up your credit score: Your credit score is actually a mathematical equation that evaluates different information that is on your credit report in order to identify your future credit risk. Your credit report does not contain information about your income. Visit this site for additional credit score information. If you would like to see your credit report, you can go to EquifaxExperian or Trans Union Corp.
  • Ways to improve your credit score: Make sure you pay your bills on time and try to keep your credit card balances low and pay them off when possible. You want to get your bills current and stay current. You also don’t want to close unused credit cards to try and boost your score. It will actually raise your balance to limit ratio and can lower your score. So try to not open unnecessary credit card accounts if you can avoid it.

How long does information remain on your credit report?

  • Bankruptcy: 10 years
  • Judgment, Suit: 7 years
  • Tax Lien: 7 years
  • Collection, Charge-off: 7 years
  • Inquires/Late Payments: 2 years

In order to obtain loans after a derogatory credit, you will first need time. You will then need to write a letter to accompany your request to explain the discrepancies. It’s very important to be honest and provide documentation that supports settlements or credit correction.

If you still have questions, please call us at 732.312.1500 or email info@firstffcu.com.

Job Search Strategies Seminar Summary

job-wanted-sign-resized-600Recently we had SCORE join us for an informative and engaging seminar on job search strategies. Seminar attendees were provided with the current elements that are crucial in order to start a successful job search.

Some helpful information that was provided, included:

  • Focus on finding your strengths: Ask yourself – Who are you? What are your skills, training and work experience? How can you develop those traits into a positive image? The answers to these questions will help you define who you are when answering questions during an interview.
  • Elevator speech: Incorporating the strengths that you came up with, you need to create a 30 second speech that tells a short story about yourself. It’s great to use when you first meet someone outside the workforce – perhaps in an elevator? You can expand on your 30 second speech by another two minutes in order to answer the “Tell me a little bit about yourself” question that frequently pops up in interviews.
  • Addressing your weaknesses: A perceived weakness is the perfect time to sell yourself. This is where you need to provide the interviewer with a positive response. For example, a good response for “positive weakness” would be, “I have to work on having more patience and giving myself a break. There have been times where I take on too many tasks and then expect to have everything done at once, but I have learned to be more realistic in what can be accomplished given the time and resources available.”
  • Time management: Once you develop a plan, set aside a portion of each day to execute the plan. Don’t feel that you need to devote 12 hours plus each day job searching. A job search is always full of rejection and dashed expectations. By scheduling down time you can recuperate from these downers.
  • The “Tell-All” resume: This is the part where you sell yourself. Your resume is essentially your sales pitch to the company you’re applying to. You want to tell a story about your experience and history while keeping in mind that it needs to be concise and to the point. Employers typically only look at the first page of your resume, so putting the important information first and making sure the layout is neat and organized are going to be in your best interest.
  • The “Search”: Once you’ve decided what position you are looking for, begin to look for opportunities in that field. You can research online, in newspapers, the One Stop Center and dozens of other ways. However, networking is the most effective way to get leads and land the job you want. Just a hint, if you take the time to introduce yourself to someone in the industry you want to be in, ask for their help in a way that they will want to assist you. A great, FREE tool to use is LinkedIn, you can search for various companies, people who work in those companies and even apply to jobs – everything you need all on one site!
  • Use company and job websites: A lot of the time, companies will internally post any positions they have available on their corporate website. You can also try job websites like Indeed, Career Builder, Monster, Google, etc. Just be sure to look into the company your interested in to make sure it is not a scam.
  • Word of mouth = Networking: Make it a point to reach out to friends, neighbors and relatives to see if they have any job openings at the company they are currently employed at or if they know any contacts in the industry you’re looking to apply to. Sometimes the “It’s all about who you know” phrase is pleasantly true!

The bottom line is that you need to try harder in marketing yourself and remember there are no automatic opening doors to employment. You must make the effort to reach out and seize the handle.

Social Security and Your Retirement Seminar Summary

350xFirst Financial’s Investment and Retirement Center recently held a consumer seminar titled Social Security and Your Retirement. For those of you who couldn’t attend the seminar, here is a recap of what was covered. Regardless of when you plan to retire, Social Security will likely be an important part of the road ahead and we want to make sure you’re educated and prepared so you can enjoy your retirement years!

Just some facts about Social Security…

  • Established in 1935 during the Great Depression and designed to help alleviate the problems of poverty for senior citizens
  • Roughly 75% of all retirees are receiving reduced Social Security benefits
  • Only 66% of workers remember ever receiving or reviewing a Social Security statement
  • Only about 33% of employees visit with a financial professional for help understanding the role of their Social Security benefits
There are things you should know about Social Security and the various features and benefits that are offered to you and what it provides you with. It is important to read the statements below; you may even want to print these out and keep them in a safe place for the future!
  • Steady Income: Social Security provides you with a regular retirement income, delivers an amount you don’t have to guess at and offers you the comfort of a “retirement income check” to replace your “working paycheck.”
  • Income for Life: Social Security is one of the few sources of income you can’t outlive and the longer you live, the more money you receive from the Social Security system.
  • Spousal and Survivor Benefits: A spouse who didn’t work and earn any Social Security on his or her own can receive up to 50% of their working spouse’s benefit. After one spouse dies, the survivor can receive the greater of their spouse’s or their own benefit and dependent children may also be entitled to benefits.
In order to make your road to retirement as smooth as possible, follow these “10 Rules of the Road” to ensure an easy journey.
  1. Eligibility: You become eligible for Social Security benefits by working in a Social Security covered job for a minimum of 10 years. The typical threshold is that you must have 40 credits to be eligible (4 credits a year by earning a minimum dollar amount). Once those 40 credits are earned, you are insured under Social Security and your benefits are based on your earnings history not credits.
  2. Insurance Amount: The formula consists of your 35 highest years of earnings and fills in missing years with $0. Divided by 35 for an average then divided again by 12 for Average Indexed Monthly Earnings (AIME), then finally a 3-part formula is applied to your AIME to determine your Primary Insurance Amount (PIA).
  3. Full Retirement Age: If you were born in 1937 or prior to, your full retirement age is 65 as well as those born between 1938-1942. 1943-1959 you must be 66 and 1960 and later you must be 67.
  4. Start Date: Anyone can start receiving benefits as early as 62 but if you do start before your full retirement age, your benefit will be reduced and that reduction will continue for life and will not go up one you’ve reached your full retirement age.
  5. Spousal Benefits: Your spouse is entitled to receive up to 50% of your benefit and would still claim their own benefit if it was higher than their spousal benefit.
  6. Survivor Benefits: At death, a survivor can switch and receive the benefit for the spouse who has passed if it’s higher than their own. The survivor must be at least 60 for reduced benefits, but survivor benefits are not available for same-sex couples. The couple must be married for at least 9 months before benefits will be paid and ex-spouse benefits are also available if the marriage lasted for more than 10 years.
  7. Earnings Test: The maximum amount you can earn before benefits are withheld is called the earnings test and the amount is adjusted each year for inflation. Up until the year you reach full retirement, for every $2 you earn over the earnings test, Uncle Sam will withhold $1.
  8. Pension Income: If you receive a pension from a former employer, your Social Security benefits are not affected as long as you contributed to Social Security while at that job (including IRAs and 401(k) plans).
  9. Taxation: Your Social Security benefits may be taxable depending on how much other income you earn.
  10. Inflation Adjustments: Cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) are announced each year in October for the following January. COLA is based on increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) from the third quarter of one year to the next and if there is a negative inflation (deflation), your Social Security benefit will not decrease.
For additional information about your social security and retirement, please visit the Investment and Retirement Center at First Financial or give us a call at 732.312.1500.

Representative is not a tax advisor. For information regarding your specific tax situation, please consult a tax professional. 

Representatives are registered, securities are sold, and investment advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor, 2000 Heritage Way, Waverly, Iowa 50677, toll-free 800-369-2862. Nondeposit investment and insurance products are not federally insured, involve investment risk, may lose value and are not obligations of or guaranteed by the financial institution. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution, through the financial services program, to make securities available to members.


Identity Theft Seminar Summary

We recently held an Identity Theft seminar where attendees were taught what identity theft is, how it happens, and how to deter, detect, and defend themselves against it.

b4_3d_pig_with_calculator_03-resized-600Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information such as your credit card or social security number, and uses it fraudulently.  Once the thieves have your information, they can charge large amounts with your credit card, open new accounts using your social security number, or even give your name to the police if they get arrested.  All of this will likely cost you time and money, as well as it can potentially ruin your credit and good name.  Identity thieves can obtain this information in many different ways, such as computer hacking, “dumpster diving” into your trash, or simply stealing your wallet or purse.

Although there is no guarantee you’ll never fall victim to identity theft, you can minimize your risk by following the “3 D’s” of identity protection:  Deter, Detect, and Defend.  By safeguarding your information, you can deter identity thieves from stealing your identity:

  • Shred financial documents
  • Protect your social security number
  • Don’t use obvious passwords
  • Avoid giving out personal information unless you’re sure who you are dealing with.

The importance of being proactive in protecting your identity was stressed, as knowing your identity makes it a lot more difficult for thieves to steal it. The next step in avoiding identity theft is to detect suspicious activity by routinely monitoring your financial accounts and billing statements.  Always be alert for mail or bills that don’t arrive and denials of credit for no reason.  Also, contrary to the myth, you are not punished for inspecting your credit report.  In fact, the law entitles you to a free credit report each year from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.  These three companies urge you to review your annual free credit report at  http://www.annualcreditreport.com/, which is the only authorized site to view your credit report for free each year.

The final step of the “3 D’s” is to defend against identity theft as soon as you suspect a problem.  You will want to close faulty accounts, file a police report, contact the Federal Trade Commission, and even place a “Fraud Alert” on your credit reports by calling one of the three credit reporting bureaus.

If you’d like more tips or advice on identity theft, be sure to check the Federal Trade Commission’s website at http://www.ftc.gov/idtheft for helpful tips, documents, and videos.  First Financial also posts important articles in protecting yourself from online fraud on our website.

Managing Your Finances Seminar Summary

Recently we held a seminar on How to Manage Your Finances.  Attendees were taught about the importance of creating and sticking to a budget or spending plan, how to reduce acquired debt, and how to improve their credit score.

b4_3d_pig_with_calculator_03-resized-600The importance of managing credit and controlling debt was discussed.  Attendees were given a few creative ways to cut unnecessary spending, and how to pay off debt as quickly as possible.  It was stressed to attendees the importance of why a good credit score was important -good credit helps you to build personal financial wealth, secure goods and services now – but pay for them later, it affects interest rates and fees you pay, and it can help you to achieve your short and long term goals. Seminar attendees were also informed that their credit scores were made up of the following information about them: 35% of your credit score comes from your payment history, 30% from other amounts you owe, 15% comes from the length of credit history, 10% from the types of credit used, and another 10% from new credit.  A credit score can be improved by paying bills on time, keeping credit card balances low and paying them off in full when possible, not opening unnecessary credit card accounts, and by not closing unused cards – which can raise your balance to limit ratio and actually lower your credit score.

The budgeting portion of the seminar emphasized the significance of creating a plan for monthly expenses at the beginning of the month – and tracking it on the computer in an Excel spreadsheet, or by using a budgeting program such as Microsoft Money, online banking, or a mobile phone app.  Regardless of the method chosen to create a budget, recurring or fixed monthly expenses should always be entered first, examples include: mortgage/rent; monthly utilities; and any debts such as auto loans, student loans, or credit card.  Next, flexible expenses, or things you have control over should be entered – such as: entertainment, food, clothing, and household expenses.

It’s important to find a healthy balance between the power you have over money, and the power money has over you.  A budget is often considered a spending plan, but it’s also a savings plan.

Stay tuned for future seminars at First Financial by visiting the event calendar on our website.