How to Manage Financial Stress

Are you financially stressed? Here are a few tips to help you maintain your cool and get back on track to achieving your financial goals.

Focus on the positive.

If you’re in debt, it’s a lot easier to focus on the negative. However, staying positive can help you remain calm and clear your head. List out the positive aspects of your money management skills, so that you can clearly recognize your financial strengths. You may be able to expand on those strengths to provide yourself with a solution.

Look back at your budget.

Go over your bills and expenditures with a fine tooth comb. There are always things that you can cut back on, so try to reduce any expenses and put that money to better use. Setting up an emergency fund, paying off debt, and putting money toward retirement are all good options.

Stop comparing yourself to others.

Its human nature to feel jealousy when you feel like you’re missing out. Avoid the fear of losing out by not comparing yourself to those around you. You don’t know their financial status – they may have material wealth, but could still be in worse shape.

Meet with a professional.

In most cases, stress comes from the unknown. If you don’t understand your finances – it can be stressful, but it will only get worse if you don’t ask for help. Before things get worse, seek someone who deals with similar situations every day.  If you are a First Financial member, we offer complimentary annual financial reviews. Stop into your nearest branch or contact us today to schedule an appointment.

Embrace the concern.

You shouldn’t be worrying about money all the time, but a little bit of worry can help you stay aware, keep your spending in line, and your savings on track.

Article source: Tyler Atwell for CUInsight.com

How Much Does it Take to Be Rich?

The results of a recent YouGov survey show that most Americans think you need to make $100,000 per year to be considered “rich.” Assuming you weren’t one of the people interviewed for that survey, does $100,000 a year sound like wealth to you? What if someone makes less than six figures per year? Can they still be considered wealthy? How can someone with a goal of getting rich know when they’ve finally arrived?

What does “rich” even mean? Here’s the challenging thing about defining what it means to be rich or wealthy—it’s all relative. In a recent article for CNBC, reporter Kathleen Elkins shared that, according to a recent Global Wealth Report, “If you have just $4,210 to your name, you’re better off than half of the people around the globe.” That report went on to show that anyone with a net worth of $93,170 or more ranks in the world’s wealthiest 10 percent. How about that? It turns out wealth has little to do with your income after all.

Yes, earning a lot of money can help you build wealth, but there’s more to it than that. We’ve all heard stories of individuals who made massive amounts of money yet wound up broke and bankrupt. At the same time, there are many examples of ordinary people who earned average salaries and somehow managed to retire with extraordinary wealth and financial stability. When you analyze their stories, you find that those who were successful focused less on their income and more on their net worth. If you want to “get rich,” you’ll need to make your money work for you instead of the other way around.

Net worth is the key to lasting wealth. Maybe net worth is a new concept for you, maybe it’s not. Either way, let’s define the term for the sake of clarity. Credit Suisse, the research institute that compiled the Global Wealth Report mentioned above, defines net worth as “the value of financial assets plus real assets (principally housing) owned by households, minus their debt.” Simply put, your net worth is the difference between what you own and what you owe. By this definition, it’s easy to see why income is only part of the wealth equation. You might earn $250,000 per year, but if your debt and payments outweigh your income and assets, you’re just broke at a higher level.

Do you want to get rich? Start with these simple steps.

Follow a budget. Whether you make minimum wage or a CEO’s salary, it’s essential to have a plan for how you’ll spend your money. Some experts recommend zero-based budgeting, which means you’ll designate where every single dollar will go during the month, starting with your basic needs (housing, food, utilities) and financial obligations (credit card payments, loan installments) and placing any remaining funds into savings. Others recommend a broader 50/20/30 guideline, which dedicates 50% of your income to needs, 20% to savings, and 30% to wants. These are only two out of many budgeting approaches. There are pros and cons to each, so take your time and find the right fit for your financial situation. Remember, the best budget for you is the budget you actually follow.

Minimize your debt. To create a substantial net worth, it just makes sense to limit your debt. If you’re starting out on your own and haven’t racked up mountains of debt, do your best to keep it that way. If you’ve made some poor financial decisions that left you saddled with considerable debt—especially high-interest consumer loans and credit card balances, create a plan for paying off that debt as quickly as possible. If you need help formulating a plan, you can find a variety of resources online – including this First Scoop blog. You can also contact your local credit union to see if they offer debt counseling services. If you live, work, worship, volunteer or attend school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties in NJ – you can make an appointment at your nearest branch to go over your financial situation and come up with a debt management plan that works for you. Once your money is no longer going to pay off debt, you’ll be able to take significant strides toward building wealth.

Invest in assets. Speaking of strides toward building wealth, investing in appreciable assets can help build your net worth. The most common assets are real estate, stocks, and bonds. While real estate varies by location and depends on fluctuating market conditions, it is historically a safe investment that typically increases over time. Buying individual stocks is another way to grow your money, but this kind of investing can often be a high risk, high reward proposition. If you’re looking for stable growth over time, investment products like 401(k) accounts and mutual funds offer stability through diversification. Since there are so many investment options available, it’s always a good idea to consult a qualified financial advisor before committing your hard-earned money. Be sure to contact First Financial’s Investment and Retirement Center to learn more and get started today.*

So, how much does it take to be rich? That answer is going to be different for everyone. Your situation is unique, which means your road to riches will be as well. Fortunately, you don’t have to plan your route alone as a First Financial member. Our dedicated staff is ready to help you find your starting point, establish your monetary goals, and select the best products and services to accomplish your financial dreams.

*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. Non-deposit 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. CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc., is a registered broker/dealer in all fifty states of the United States of America.

 

3 Good and Bad Reasons for Personal Loans

A credit card is a valuable tool when you need money in a pinch. But if you’ll need a little time to pay it back, it’s probably not the right financial tool for you. Getting a personal loan is a much better idea if you’re borrowing larger amounts of money that you won’t be able to pay back immediately. Here are some good and bad reasons for using personal loans.

Good Reasons

Investing in Your Home: Whether you’ve got an expensive repair that needs to be made, or you just want to redo your kitchen –  spending money on your home doesn’t usually come cheap.  A personal loan will allow you to up the value on your home and provide you with a fixed monthly payment that you can handle.

High Interest Debt: Credit card debt can be hard to get out from under. If you’re dealing with debt on multiple credit cards, you may be in some financial trouble. A personal loan with a fixed monthly payment can be a great option for you if you’re dealing with a mountain of debt that seems impossible to climb. However, you just have to remember to not continue to use your credit cards along with the personal loan, and further get yourself into serious debt.

Starting a Small Business: You’ve been dreaming about opening up your own business. Follow your dreams and make it happen. Startup costs can be expensive, so this is a great reason to get a personal loan.

Bad Reasons

Vacation: If you don’t have the money you need to take a vacation, the last thing you want to do is go into debt just to make it happen. Staycations are a good alternative and can be just as relaxing as a vacation, so save your money and by next summer maybe you’ll be ready to book that trip to the beach.

Investments: No matter how good you think you are at investing, it’s still a little like gambling. There are no guarantees when it comes to investing, so don’t put yourself into debt for something that may just end up putting you even further into the hole.

Wedding: Weddings can be super expensive. If you can afford a pricey wedding, great. But if you don’t have the funds for your dream wedding, do you really want to start off your new life together with a shiny new pile of debt?

Sometimes, for important items we need in life – the money just isn’t there. First Financial is dedicated to providing small personal loans that can help cover the costs of life’s necessary expenses. If you live, work, worship, volunteer, or attend school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties in NJ – this may be a great financial solution for you. Learn more and apply online today!

*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: John Pettit for CUInsight.com

Ways to Keep Your Medical Expenses in Check

Medical expenses have gone crazy. You don’t have to do the same.

In the United States, healthcare has grown into a $3 trillion industry. That’s $3,000,000,000,000. That’s a lot of zeros—so many that for most of us, the number doesn’t even seem real. But if we break it down to a personal level, that means the average American spends more than $11,000 per year on healthcare costs. If that doesn’t sound troublesome, consider the fact that the annual cost of healthcare for a family of four tops $28,000. With the median household income coming in at $63,000 per year, that means the average U.S. family can wind up spending more than 40% of their annual income on medical-related expenses.

Even with employer-provided health insurance, which covers roughly 56% of the US population, the employee contribution and out-of-pocket deductibles can leave families buried under an avalanche of medical debt. It’s hard to understand how an industry responsible for personal care can seem so unconcerned when it comes to the financial state of its patients. But with a growing number of hospitals being operated as investor-owned, for-profit businesses, return on investment often seems more important than compassionate patient care.

Difficult Times Call for Creative Approaches

As medical bills continue to climb, the corresponding rise in medical collection agencies only perpetuates the healthcare industry’s callous reputation. In a conversation about the cold, impersonal nature of medical collections, Elizabeth Rosenthal, author of An American Sickness, observed, “…to them [collection agencies], a bill is a bill is a bill. They don’t care if it’s for somebody’s heart transplant…or if someone spent a lot more money on a Rolex watch that they couldn’t afford.”

Over the last few years, medical bills have become the number one cause of bankruptcy in the United States. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that GoFundMe campaigns have become one of the most popular ways for consumers to cover their medical costs. According to GoFundMe statistics, approximately 250,000 fundraising campaigns are established on the platform every year just to pay for medical expenses. The $650,000 generated by those campaigns points to a significant problem in the healthcare system.

If you’re one of the thousands of Americans struggling to keep your head above water as medical bills flood in, you might feel helpless. And while there are no magic solutions that can make legitimate medical debt disappear, there are a few steps you can take to stay afloat.

3 Ways to Keep Your Medical Expenses in Check

1. Review Your Bill
When hospital or doctor bills show up, it’s natural to skip right to the “Total Due.” This is not necessarily the best way to approach the statement. Glancing at the amount due could leave you feeling helpless, confused, and overwhelmed. Before you send any money, take time to review every line item listed. Due to complex medical billing codes, it’s not uncommon for incorrect or duplicate charges to wind up on the bill. If you notice discrepancies or questionable entries, it is your right as a consumer to ask your insurance company or medical provider for an explanation. The dispute process may be lengthy, but it’s better than paying for medical services you never received.

2. Consider a High-Deductible HSA
If you and your family are in relatively good health, a Health Savings Account (HSA) can be an excellent way to secure medical coverage while keeping your insurance premium under control. Traditionally available through employers, insurance companies, and some financial institutions, HSAs allow you to set aside money from your paycheck to be used specifically for medical expenses. These accounts feature higher deductibles than traditional insurance plans, but they make up for that by allowing account holders to deposit funds on a pre-tax basis, which can provide some savings and stress relief.

3. Create an Emergency Fund
Setting aside $1,000 in a savings account is a smart way to protect yourself against life’s unpredictable twists and turns. Minor illness and occasional doctor’s visits certainly qualify as unexpected expenses, so an emergency fund can help you address sudden medical needs without derailing your budget. If you decide to follow the previous suggestion and secure a high-deductible Health Savings Account, you may want to boost your emergency fund to a level that would cover your deductible. While this adjustment will likely take more work to establish, knowing you’re able to cover your entire deductible in the event of a medical emergency provides enough peace of mind to make it worth the effort.

The steps we’ve outlined may not solve all your problems or eliminate all your medical debt, but they can go a long way toward helping you feel like you have a little more control. If you need a little help in between – check our Financial Helper Loan, small personal loans that can help cover the costs of life’s necessary expenses.

*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. Federally insured by NCUA.

5 Bad Money Habits to Break Today

When it comes to money, we all have some bad habits from time to time. Sometimes they’re learned early in life, and sometimes they’re picked up along the way. Here are 5 habits that you should kick ASAP.

1. Buying snacks at work

Getting hungry in the afternoon is totally normal. But if you find yourself feeding quarters into a vending machine or swiping your card at the convenience store every afternoon, you may have an issue. Just spending a couple dollars a day can really add up over the course of the year. You can probably buy the same snacks at the grocery store for a fraction of the price, and in larger quantity. And that’s without coupons. So next time you get that 2:30pm hunger pain, jot down a note to hit up your favorite grocer on the way home.

2. Making impulse buys

Whenever some people see something they like, they just have to have it. By taking time to think it over, you may eventually decide it wasn’t a wise purchase. Sometimes, all you need is a few minutes to let it simmer in your brain to realize it’s not worth it. Try out a “waiting period” next time you get the impulse to buy something, and see what happens.

3. Not saving money

We probably all started saving later than we should have – whether it’s for retirement, an emergency fund, or just a fun rainy day fund. If you save money first, and then budget the rest when you get a paycheck, you probably won’t even miss that money.

4. Carrying credit card balances

If you have a credit card you’ve probably heard about the evils of using it. While it can get out of control for some people, it can also be a valuable tool for others. If you regularly use your credit card, you’ve most likely carried a balance on occasion. Anyone who’s ever done this realizes how bad credit card interest can really be. Paying off credit card debt can take decades for some people. Don’t get trapped.

5. Paying big bucks for cable

There are plenty of other alternatives out there for entertainment. Cable can become very costly and sometimes that’s not your top priority in terms of bills. Netflix and Hulu provide hundreds of movies and TV shows at much lower rates. Do a price comparison and decide what’s best for your budget.

Article source: John Pettit for CUInsight

Changing Jobs? Check Your Finances First

Are you considering a job change? If so, it is important to approach your job change with careful consideration.

Not only will a new role involve learning new skills, working with new people, and establishing a new routine, it will also require significant financial planning — at least in the transition period.

So, how can you set yourself up for success while transitioning to a new endeavor? By making sure your finances are in order.

 

5 Financial Tips to Remember When Considering a Job Change

Check your savings. If you already have another job lined up, your savings may only need to tie you over until your new paychecks start coming in. This might sound like a minor concern, but depending on the payroll schedule for your former company and your new employer, it’s entirely possible you could go a month or more between paychecks. If you’re leaving your job without another already lined up, you’ll need enough savings to cover expenses until you accept your next job offer. If you have the luxury of transitioning on your own time frame, aim to have several months’ worth of expenses in a savings account.

Trim your expenses. Admittedly, cutting expenses is never a fun topic of conversation. However, operating on a leaner budget (at least for a little while), can make your career transition far less stressful. So, before accepting a new job offer, take time to review your monthly budget and see if there are any belt-tightening adjustments you can make. Cut back on morning lattes, meal prep at home instead of buying lunch at a restaurant every day, or binge a Netflix series instead of going to a movie at the theater. You’ll be surprised how quickly little savings add up — and those savings can help you bridge the financial gap between jobs.

Review the compensation package. It’s natural to look at a job’s salary when trying to determine whether it’s a better opportunity. This is a good place to start, but there’s more to it than that. Does the prospective employer pay an hourly wage, salary, or combination of base plus commission? Do they cover a portion of employee insurance costs? Is the new employer’s paid time off plan equivalent to the one you’d be giving up? What about holidays? Be sure to compare the entire compensation package instead of just comparing the annual salary.

Account for relocation costs. If your new job will require you to relocate, it’s always a smart idea to look at the cost of living in your new location. A $10,000 per year raise is nice, but if you’re going to spend an additional $15,000 in housing expenses each year, the new job could cause you to fall behind financially. If you need help comparing living expenses, cost of living calculators can be extremely helpful. State income tax rates can be another location-dependent variable worth considering.

Don’t leave money behind. If your current employer offers a 401K or other retirement savings accounts, be sure to make arrangements to take those funds with you. This might seem like a no-brainer, but the fact that orphaned 401K accounts total an estimated $1 trillion – indicates it’s easier to overlook than you might think. When it comes to these employer-sponsored retirement plans, employees have three options when changing jobs: 1. Roll over funds to a 401K plan with the new employer, 2. Roll over the funds into an Individual Retirement Account (IRA), or 3. Withdraw the funds. It’s worth noting, however, that withdrawing the money usually incurs a steep penalty. To determine the best approach for your money, it’s always best to consult with a financial advisor. If you need a good place to start, check out the Investment and Retirement Center at First Financial.*

If you’re currently contemplating a job offer or thinking about what it would take for you to make a change, spend a little time crunching numbers. You can also contact your local credit union, and if you live, work, worship, attend school or volunteer in Monmouth or Ocean Counties in NJ – one of the financial representatives at First Financial FCU would be happy to help you make a financial plan. We can help you analyze your current finances, identify the best retirement rollover plans, and find ways to maximize your money in order to make your job change as smooth as possible.

*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.