Considering a Pet? Do Your Financial Homework First

While many people have been spending more time at home and working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ve decided you’d like to bring home a furry friend also. You’ve done your research, you’ve figured out what type of pet you want, and you’re ready to sign on the dotted line. But, have you thought about the ongoing cost(s) associated with getting a pet?

There are two main areas regarding costs to consider when it comes to owning a pet. First, there are initial costs (adoption fees/breeder fees, first vaccinations, training, etc.) and then general costs over your pet’s lifetime (food, toys, routine vet visits, grooming, etc.). It’s a good idea to prepare for the several different types of costs you might have, before you decide to bring your pet home.

Adoption Fees vs. Breeder Fees

One of the first expenses pet owners experience is an adoption fee or purchase price. Typically, adoption fees are going to be less expensive than breeder fees.

Most shelters and rescue organizations will provide medical care, vaccinations, and possibly even spaying or neutering animals. If you decide to go the shelter route, it’s essential to ask what services your adoption fees include.

It’s also a good idea to find out what the adoption process looks like. It could be different depending on the shelter or rescue organization you choose, but usually the basics are the same. Once you select your fur-ever friend, you’ll have to fill out paperwork to be approved. The shelter or rescue organization will want to know where you live, whether or not you have other pets, if there are kids in your home, and they may even do a house visit before you’re allowed to take your new friend home. Once you pay the adoption fee and your application is approved, then the real fun begins!

If you plan to purchase from a breeder, the type of breed you’re interested in determines the amount you’ll pay in fees. When buying from a reputable breeder, you’ll likely get a fair, competitive price, and most will have official paperwork on the animal you’re purchasing. Do your homework on the breeder and make sure you’re buying from someone who is breeding ethically.

Medical Costs

Vet bills are often the most expensive aspect of owning a pet. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a relatively healthy animal that only needs a vet visit once or twice a year. On the other hand, if your pet does need additional vet care, it can be pretty costly and you’ll want to be prepared.

The average vet visit can cost a pet owner anywhere from $50 to $400, depending on the nature of the visit. If you’re trekking to the vet once a year, it’s not as challenging to work into your budget. However, if it happens every couple of months, you could find yourself in over your head with vet bills.

Eating Right for Less

For every question you have about pet ownership, there are a million different answers – and that includes what to feed them! When you’re picking out what your pet eats, think about their size (are you feeding them once a day or do they require multiple feedings), how much they eat, and what they like. You might find that your cat loves a particular brand (let’s say it costs less than $20 for a 22-pound bag) or that your dog lives for a specific brand (let’s say that a 50-pound bag is less than $25). Don’t automatically buy the most expensive food. See what works for your animal and your budget.

Toys!

You can’t have an animal without toys. Every cat needs a scratching post, and every dog needs a good rope to play tug-of-war. The great thing about toys? You can spend as much or as little as you want. You might have a cat that would rather play with bottle caps than catnip mice. Before you spend your paycheck buying toys, get a few and see which ones your furry companion likes. You might be surprised.

Training & Grooming Costs

Training and grooming are additional costs that you may not have to consider. If you’re getting a cat, you won’t have to worry about training classes or grooming (unless you choose to do so). With a dog, however, training classes might be something you need to consider. Depending on the breed of your dog, grooming might be a necessity too. Do your research. Look around and find the best deals on grooming and training.

Bringing home a furry friend is a huge commitment. It’s essential to evaluate your current financial situation before deciding to purchase a pet. We have affordable personal loans or low-interest credit cards that meet your needs for multiple parts of your life.* We’re your credit union, let us see how we can help! Contact us today.

*APR = Annual Percentage Rate. Actual rate will vary based on creditworthiness and loan term. Subject to credit approval. A First Financial Federal Credit Union membership is required to obtain a loan or credit card, 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. Federally insured by NCUA.

 

How to Dispute and Pay for Large Medical Bills

If you’re looking at astronomical medical bills due to the coronavirus pandemic or another health emergency, you might think there’s no choice but to pay thousands of dollars for your treatment. This may not always be the case. Here’s some advice on how to bring down the numbers on your medical bills and tips on how to cover the remaining costs.

Step 1: Review your bill(s).

Typically, you’ll receive an Explanation of Benefits (EOB) from your insurance company along with the actual bill, which tells you how much you’re responsible for paying. It’s important to hold onto both of these documents and to review them carefully.

The EOB is a document provided by your insurance company explaining your insurance benefits as it pertains to a bill. It will usually include the following information:

  • Amount Billed by Provider (this refers to the amount the doctor or hospital charged)
  • Plan Discounts (this refers to a discount negotiated by your insurance company)
  • Amount paid by insurance company
  • Amount you owe the provider

Most EOBs will also include information about your deductible, co-pay and co-insurance. If a procedure or treatment is not covered, the EOB should include a short explanation about why it’s not covered. If your statement includes charges for COVID-19 testing or related expenses, like co-payments and deductibles, your insurance should be covering the entire amount, as per the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

Review your bills carefully and make sure the EOB and the medical bill correspond with each other. If there is a discrepancy between the two documents, it may be a billing error. If you suspect an error, you may want to ask for itemized bills. This will provide you with a detailed breakdown of all costs charged to you for services and/or inpatient stays.

If you’re being billed for a hospital stay, review the charges carefully to be sure you’re not getting billed for a treatment you haven’t actually received.

Step 2: Review your insurance coverage.

It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with your health insurance policy before disputing any charges. Most health insurance providers will present their members with a detailed manual that outlines exactly which treatments and charges are covered and which are not. Here, you can refer back to the EOB to see if the insurance paid for all the procedures it claims to cover.

Step 3: Dispute any errors.

If your insurance billed you incorrectly or did not cover a procedure or treatment that is covered under your plan, call a company representative to ask about the charge. Be sure to have your bill in front of you when you make the call, note the time of your call, the contents of the conversation, and the name of the representative you speak to in case you need it for future reference.

If the error is with your doctor’s office, ask to speak to an office billing representative and explain your position. Here too, keep a record of the conversation for future reference. Be prepared to make multiple phone calls until you reach a party who can make the change. It’s also a good idea to follow up with a written request to challenge any charges in question.

Step 4: Negotiate the remaining bill.

If the bill is unimaginably high after all the errors were corrected, you still have options. Consider negotiating with the billing department at your doctor’s practice for a lower price on the treatments rendered. You may want to do this in person, and most practices will allow you to schedule an appointment with a representative of the billing office. Bring all your bills and other supportive documents, such as receipts from the pharmacy and information from your insurance provider. If you believe a charge for a procedure has been unreasonably inflated, it’s a good idea to research the going rate of coverage through sites like HealthcareBluebook.com and My Healthcare Cost Estimator first.

At the meeting, explain that you are having difficulty with your bill and that you’re looking for a way to lower the costs. Here are some open-ended questions to guide your negotiations:

  • What discounts do you offer for financial hardship?
  • Which of these fees can be waived?
  • Many hospitals have charity relief plans for patients having difficulty meeting their payments, can you tell me about yours?
  • Can you charge me what Medicare would pay for this service?
  • Can you lower some charges if I pay this off sooner?

Step 5: Create a payment plan or seek funding.

Once you have your final bill amount, you’ll need to choose to pay it now or work on creating a payment plan to make it more manageable.

If you’d rather not have a huge bill hanging over your head for awhile, or your doctor’s office insists on immediate payment – consider some other options. One way to help pay your bill is by applying for a personal loan from First Financial.* This method will provide you with the funds you need to pay your bill, along with a payback plan offering flexible terms and manageable monthly payments. Another option would be using your emergency savings fund, if it will help cover any expenses.

Step 6: Going forward.

To avoid an unexpectedly large medical bill in the future, you may want to consider switching your insurance plan to one that provides more robust coverage and less expensive co-pays and deductibles – if at all possible. Your premiums will likely increase, but the change may be financially worthwhile if you know you may have ongoing medical expenses.

Another long-term option to consider is setting up a Health Savings Account (HSA). The funds you contribute to this account are tax-deductible, grow tax-free and can be withdrawn to cover qualified medical expenses.

If you’d like to talk to us about personal or consolidation loan options, contact us! We’re here for you.

*APR = Annual Percentage Rate. Rates are subject to change. Maximum loan is $25K and maximum term is 60 months. Not all applicants qualify, subject to credit approval. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a personal loan, 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. See credit union for details. 

Article Source: CUContent.com

Should You File for Bankruptcy?

Your debt feels impossible. New bills and past due notices are showing up constantly. Creditors won’t stop calling. As you feel like throwing your hands in the air, you wonder – should I file for bankruptcy?

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is a reality that many might be facing. Millions of Americans across the country have been unemployed since earlier this year. It’s incredibly easy to get behind on bills when the money isn’t coming in, but the bills are still showing up. It’s an overwhelming feeling.

The longer this pandemic continues, the more likely it is that you’ll see an attorney on a TV commercial asking if you’re thousands of dollars in debt, feeling overwhelmed by creditors and looking for a solution. Next – they’ll present the option of filing for bankruptcy, which who wouldn’t want to have their debt forgiven, right? Not so fast.

Filing bankruptcy might help you get rid of your debt, but it’s important to understand the serious, long-term effects it can have on your credit. When you file bankruptcy, it remains on your credit report for 7-10 years as a negative remark, and it affects your ability to open credit card accounts or get approved for loans with favorable rates.

What exactly is bankruptcy? Bankruptcy is a legal process designed to help individuals and businesses eliminate all or part of their debt, or in some cases – help them repay a portion of what they owe. There are several types of bankruptcy, but the most common types are Chapter 7, Chapter 11 and Chapter 13.

Chapter 7 forgives most of your debt and allows you to keep all of your assets with a few exceptions, depending on state and federal laws. During the process, you and your creditors are invited to a meeting where they are allowed to make a case as to why a federal bankruptcy court shouldn’t forgive your debt. Once your case is approved, your debt will be forgiven, and none of your creditors will be allowed to hassle you over the forgiven debt.

Chapter 11 is generally for small business owners. It allows small business owners to retain their business while paying back debts according to a structured plan. With this option, business owners give up a certain amount of control to court officials, debtors, or counselors assigned to help them rebuild their credit. Despite losing some control of the business, owners are able to keep their business running while working on their financial future.

Chapter 13 is different than Chapter 7 in that it requires you to come up with a plan to repay your creditors over a 3-5-year period. After that, your debt will be forgiven.

Things to consider if you’re thinking about filing bankruptcy:

It’s important to note the serious impact bankruptcy can have on your credit report. Bankruptcy effectively wipes out everything on your credit report – good and bad remarks, and will stay on your credit report for 7-10 years.

This also means any account you’ve paid off or left in good standing that could positively impact your credit score, is also wiped out. Any hard work you’ve put into building your credit is basically nonexistent once you file bankruptcy. All the negative remarks will be gone as well, but you will also be considered high-risk when it comes to lending moving forward.

Bankruptcy affects your ability to open lines of credit – credit cards, mortgages, auto loans, personal loans, etc. Because you will be labeled high-risk, most banks will likely deny any application you submit for a line of credit – even though your credit score might have gone up when your credit report was initially wiped out. If you are approved for a line of credit, you’ll likely get a much higher interest rate which will make your monthly payments higher too.

Should you file for bankruptcy?

When it feels like your debt is caving in on you, bankruptcy might seem like the only way to reach financial peace. Here are a few steps to consider taking before you consider filing.

  • Take a moment to talk to your creditors. Negotiate and see if there are options to make your debt more manageable. Can you lower the interest rate? Is it possible to settle for less than you owe? Can you set up a payment plan?
  • Talk to us about your financial picture. We might have options that will allow you to consolidate your debt into one, more affordable payment.
  • Go through your house. Do you have things you don’t use or need that you can sell? If so, sell some of those items and apply that money to your debt.

Also, it’s important to note that not all debt is eligible for bankruptcy. While bankruptcy can eliminate a lot of your debt, some types of debt cannot be forgiven:

  • Most student loan debt.
  • Court-ordered alimony.
  • Court-ordered child support.
  • Reaffirmed debt.
  • A federal tax lien for taxes owed to the U.S. government.
  • Government fines or penalties.
  • Court fines and penalties.

Bankruptcy should be the last option you consider. Look through your debt, see what you owe and carefully weigh all your options. Again, make an appointment to come in and talk to us and we can help you review your options. We’re your credit union, and we’re here for you!

Questions to Ask Before Applying for a Personal Loan

Personal loans are a popular alternative to credit cards, because like credit cards – they are paid in monthly installments and come with a low interest rate if you have a good credit score. From debt consolidation to paying for life events, personal loans give borrowers money which can be paid back over time. Typically, payments are the same amount each month – as opposed to credit card payments that might vary depending on your balance. Keep reading to get all your questions about personal loans answered, and find out if this is the best financial option for you before you apply.

Is a personal loan right for me?

Personal loans are a way to consolidate high-interest debt at a lower rate. A personal loan can be used for just about anything – a home improvement project, wedding, debt consolidation, or other costly undertaking when you don’t have cash on hand or in the bank. Personal loans give borrowers money up front to be paid back in monthly installments over a fixed period, usually at a rate much lower than a credit card would have.

How much can be borrowed with a personal loan?

This amount will be based on your income, employment, financial history, and how much debt you currently have.  A lender will look closely at your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio, which is the percent of debt you currently have in relation to your before tax income. A favorable DTI is 43% or less, typically.

How much should I borrow?

Just because you get approved for a certain loan amount, doesn’t mean you should accept it. You also need to look at the other items you spend money on each month. Borrow the amount you know you will need to fund what you need the loan for, and don’t acquire extra debt. For help deciding what amount you should borrow or what your monthly payments might be, check out our financial calculators. Make sure your personal loan gets factored into your monthly budget and that you can comfortably afford the payments.

How can I get the best loan rate?

Do your homework ahead of time, and shop around. Often a loan with a shorter term will cost you less over the life of the loan, than one with a longer term will – though your monthly payments will be less on a loan with a longer term. Your credit score (the number that tells lenders if you are credit worthy and the financial risk you would pose) is another important component in receiving a competitive rate. The higher your score, the better your rate will be.

Is there a way to pay off my loan faster?

If you have room in your budget, it’s always a good idea to make extra loan payments when you can. Perhaps you can make bi-weekly payments instead of just once per month, or an extra payment every so often. This will only help you pay your loan off faster and you’ll also pay less in interest. Even rounding your monthly payment up can also help you pay your loan off quicker. For example, say your monthly payment is $173. If you round this amount up to $200 you’ll continue to pay the loan down and will ultimately pay less in interest over the life of the loan. Just be sure your loan doesn’t include any pre-payment penalties before you begin making extra payments.

Can a personal loan help my credit rating?

Part of your credit score is based on credit utilization, and lenders usually like to see that you’re not using more than 30% of your available credit. If you’re planning to use a personal loan to pay off credit card debt, you can actually lower your credit utilization – which should boost your credit score. Because a personal loan is considered an installment loan, whereas credit cards are considered revolving debt – adding it to your credit profile can demonstrate that you can successfully handle other loan types.

How can I apply?

If you live, work, worship, volunteer or attend school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties in New Jersey – check out our personal loan options! Our personal loans have a fixed rate, start at $500, have flexible terms up to 60 months, and no pre-payment penalties.* You can apply over the phone or right online, and we even have electronic closings available.

A personal loan is a great option that can help you save money instead of going through the high cost of retail financing or racking up high-interest credit card debt. Do your research and find the best option for your budget!

*APR = Annual Percentage Rate. Actual rate will vary based on creditworthiness and loan term. Subject to credit approval. A First Financial Federal Credit Union membership is required to obtain a Personal Loan, 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. Federally insured by NCUA.

Article Source: Gobankingrates.com

More Ways to Make the Most of Your Coronavirus Stimulus Check

If you already received your stimulus payment directly deposited into your bank account, or even if you are still awaiting a paper check in the mail – it’s a good idea to have a plan on how you will use this payment. Everyone’s financial situation is different, but here are four additional ways to consider spending your coronavirus relief check.

First and Foremost: Cover Your Needs

If there were ever a time to prioritize needs over wants, it’s right now. This is especially important if you’ve lost income due to unemployment, reduced hours or slow business. If this is the case for you, your stimulus money should go toward making sure you have a roof over your head and food on the table.

Create a budget and add up the cost of your essential expenses. Then look at how much money you have in your bank accounts as well as your stimulus check, to get a good picture of how long your money will stretch. Feeling overwhelmed? Create a budget that works for you with our budgeting guidebook.

If you are having trouble paying your bills, reach out to your financial institution or lender as soon as possible. Many are offering payment deferments and other relief options during this time.

Increase Your Savings

If you’re still working and bringing in enough money to cover your essential needs, look to using your stimulus check to boost your emergency fund.

No one can predict how long this pandemic will last and shelter-at-home advisories have forced many industries to change how they do business or temporarily shut down.

While the typical advice is to have at least three months’ worth of living expenses in an emergency fund, you might want to increase that if you can. Your emergency fund should help you feel financially secure. You will also want to separate your emergency savings from your spending money. A higher yield or money market account will earn interest while your money is sitting in the bank.*

Think About Your Future

If your finances are in good shape and you have an emergency fund, consider spending the money you’ll get from your stimulus check to set yourself up for a better financial future (i.e. going toward that side or start up business you’ve always wanted to get off the ground).

Making a dent in your debt up front could also help you save money in the long run. You also might want to think about using your stimulus money to cover initial expenses that’ll help you save money over time (i.e. buying gardening supplies so you can grow your own produce and cut costs on groceries while also staying out of the store right now).

Help Others

If you’re in a financially stable situation with a healthy emergency fund, another good use of your stimulus money could be to help others who need it.

Use the extra cash to help a family member or friend in need, or donate to a reputable charity. You could also spend your money to support local businesses and restaurants — whether that’s through online orders or purchasing gift cards for future in-person visits.

*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. A First Financial membership is required to open an account or loan and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean counties.

Article Source: Nicole Dow of The Penny Hoarder

6 Ways to Spend Your Stimulus Payment Responsibly

Did you receive your COVID-19 stimulus payment on April 15th? Have you started thinking about how you should spend it?

It’s tempting to think about all of the ways you could spend an extra $1,200 or $2,400 – depending your filing status and the number of dependents you claim. Before you get that list finalized, we want to give you some tips to help your money stretch as far as possible.

Prioritize. Look at your bills. Which ones are essential (rent or mortgage, car payment, utilities), and what bills are non-essential (entertainment, streaming services, unusable memberships)? Make a list of what you need and what you can live without. Focus on paying the essential bills first.

Save. Save. Save. Don’t miss an opportunity to pad your savings account with some of your stimulus money. It’s a one-time payment, so think of your stimulus as a mini emergency fund. You may want to set aside some of the payment as “just in case” money.

Divide and Conquer. You only get one stimulus payment, but your bills will still come monthly. If you’re currently unemployed, it’s especially important to be strategic in how you spend your stimulus payment. Take this opportunity to divide it up into smaller chunks to help cover some of the essential bills you pay each month. Also, talk to your landlord or mortgage lender, your utility company and internet service provider, if you’re having trouble meeting your monthly obligations. Many companies are finding ways to help their customers defer payments during this unprecedented situation.

Don’t Hoard Cash. Hoarding cash is a bad idea in general. Your money is much safer at your financial institution than it is in your home. So, bring it to us and let us safeguard it for when you need it!*

Pay Down Debt. Paying off debt is almost never a bad financial move, but think about it and prioritize carefully. Even in these uncertain times, paying off any highest interest debt isn’t a bad idea. However, don’t feel like you need to be in a hurry to spend all your stimulus money to pay off debt. Look at your options for forbearance, payment deferrals, or even the option to skip a monthly payment. If you can get some relief on your debt in the coming months, let your stimulus payment sit in your savings account.

Splurge Smartly. We’re all feeling the weight of stress and uncertainty as we wonder when this pandemic will end, and life will return to normal. No matter how you decide to spend your stimulus check, see if you can set aside a little bit to spend on something fun for yourself. Maybe even shop at some of your favorite local businesses to offer support. Remember: the government is hoping these stimulus payments will put some cash flow back into the economy to stimulate it.

Over the past couple of months, we’ve faced a situation no one could’ve possibly prepared for. We know that our members have been affected in some way by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the stimulus payments will certainly help and offer some relief to most, please know that First Financial is here for you. We want to help you stretch your stimulus payment as far as can go. Give us a call and let us figure out a way to help you!

*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. First Financial membership is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties in NJ.