6 Ways to Avoid Going Out to Eat

Probably the most common piece of personal finance advice out there is to save money by avoiding restaurants. It sounds so simple: cook at home or brown bag it. For some people, this can be tough.  Here are a few suggestions that can help you if you find it hard to avoid the temptation to go out to eat your meals.

1. Think about why you like to go out to eat.

Is the food better than you can make at home? Do you enjoy the convenience? Are you too tired at the end of the day? Do you find it difficult to cook at home because of a lack of organization and planning? If you know more about why you like to eat out, it will be easier to find a solution that meets your needs. After all, you can have a fully stocked fridge and a gourmet kitchen – but if you’re too tired or unmotivated to cook, you may give into the temptation of dining out.

2. Think about any negatives of going out to eat.

Perhaps you don’t like the noise in restaurants or having to wait for service. It can be a hassle to find parking and time consuming. Restaurants cost a lot of money, the food is often less healthy than homemade, and the portions are larger.

3. Find a way to eat home cooked meals that work with your schedule.

For some people, it’s weekly menu planning. Others may stock their freezers with frozen entrees or live on sandwiches, salads, fruit and cereal. If you aren’t sure how to organize and plan a week’s worth of meals, you can find a wealth of resources like shopping lists and recipes online.

If you don’t love to cook, you can always assemble instead. Why not stock your fridge with ingredients for sandwiches and salads? Many crock pot recipes also take very little effort and can be made well ahead. Restaurant food is great, but remember they generally use more fat, salt and sugar than we normally would at home.

4. Find the right balance in your life.

If you don’t have the time or energy to prepare food at home, it’s time to look at your schedule and find out what you can cut to get that time and energy back. If you have a partner or older children, there is no reason why everything should fall on one person. Even if they are not able to cook, they can help our with some of the other household chores to give you a break.

5. Take care of yourself.

If you’re not getting enough sleep and working long hours, it could be difficult for you to resist the temptation to eat out and have the energy to make smarter food choices. Many times we look at eating in a restaurant as a small treat for ourselves or a break from other responsibilities. By eating in a restaurant you won’t have to cook, serve, or clean up – all you need to do is order, eat, and pay the bill. It’s important to have things in our lives that make us feel good too. If restaurants filled that role for you, you’ll want to find something else that invokes similar feelings and is good for both your wallet and your health.

6. Remember that it’s still okay to go to restaurants, once in awhile.

Be sure to fit eating out into your goals for spending and healthy eating. If going out to eat is not completely off limits, it can make it easier to resist instant gratification. Try to choose places that are memorable and offer you a unique dining experience, without being overpriced.

Article Source: David Ning for Moneyning.com

How to Make Your Money Work for You

Every day you hustle. You’re working hard for your money, but have you ever stopped to think about how your money can work for you?

Making your money work for you goes beyond an emergency fund or simply being debt free – although, both concepts are a necessity in this instance. It’s about taking the money you’re already making and making it generate returns for you.

But, how? There’s no simple answer or even a single way to do it, but these tips can help you get started.

Get out of debt.

First things first, if you have debt – get rid of it. After all, you can’t invest in your future if you’re giving your money to other people or lenders. The first step to a debt-free life is figuring out exactly how much you owe. Most people don’t even know how much debt they’re in, according to a study from The Federal Reserve. Once you know how much debt you have, decide how you’re going to pay your debt off.

Budget.

The most important way to change the way you handle your money is to budget. By creating a budget, you are telling your money what you want it to do. When you assign each dollar into a category, you’re controlling where your money goes and what it does. It’s a great first step in reaching your financial goals. Think about it this way: your budget is like a fitness tracker in that it helps you monitor your money. When you monitor your money and know where it is and what it’s doing, it’s easier to make it do what you want it to do.

 Utilize retirement accounts.

Don’t sleep on opportunities to invest in a 401(k) or Roth IRA. A 401(k) allows you to contribute pre-tax money into your account, and you may even be able to get free money from your employer in the process too. Think about it like this: You earn $100,000 a year and your company offers a 3% match on your 401(k). If you invest $3,000 (3% percent of $100,000), and your company matches that – $6,000 will go into your 401(k). A Roth IRA works just a little differently. Unlike the 401(k), a Roth IRA leverages after-tax income. However, when you begin to withdraw the money at retirement, you won’t pay taxes on your withdrawals.

Start a side hustle.

Uber, GrubHub, Instagram – all of these companies began with an idea that blossomed into billion dollar companies. What’s your passion and can you turn that into a billion dollar idea? Consider starting a side hustle and find ways to make some extra money. It could be a traditional second job, a work-from-home job, or turning your ideas into ways that add to your savings. If you can structure your budget and expenses around your primary source of income, any money you make from your side hustle ideally would go straight into your savings.

 Create passive income streams.

Passive income is money you earn with little to no effort involved. Once it’s set up, passive income will earn you money while you sleep. For example, a rental property is a source of passive income. Creative passive income does require some type of investment upfront, whether that’s time, money or both – but it’s an investment that can lead to a bigger payoff later.

Building your future is important, and it takes a lot of hard work. At First Financial, we’re just as interested in your future as you are. We want to help you take the necessary steps to make your financial dreams come true. Maybe you need to consolidate your debt or look at options to pay off some debt. Maybe you’re looking to refinance your car in order to lower your payments and save a little money each month. Whatever it is, we’re here to help you. Stop by and see us or give us a call to get started!

4 Hacks to Raise Your Credit Score

Your credit score. Chances are you either love it or hate it. It’s either the greatest thing in the world or a total hindrance. Or, maybe you don’t really know enough about your credit score for it to make an impact on your life.

As a whole, Americans’ credit scores are beginning to increase but our knowledge of credit and how it works is declining. A recent survey from credit scoring company Vantage Score and the Consumer Federation of America, found that 32% of the people surveyed didn’t know they had more than one credit score.

Let’s forget about how many credit scores we have for a second and answer a very basic question: What is your credit score? 

Your credit score is a three digit number ranging from 300 (the lowest possible score) to 850 (the highest score). Lenders use your credit score to make decisions about whether or not to offer you credit – such as a credit card, car loan or mortgage. Your credit score is also used to determine the terms of the offer – such as what your interest rate will be.

Your credit score is calculated by looking at these categories:

  • Payment history
  • Your debt-to-income ratio
  • Total debt
  • Length of credit history
  • Types of open credit
  • Public records (such as bankruptcy)
  • Number of inquiries on your credit report
  • New credit

So, what is considered a good credit score? 

The average credit score in the United States ranges between 670 and 710. According to Experian, a “good” credit score is anything that falls between 661 and 780, which is about 38% of the population. Usually, if an applicant falls in that “good” credit range, they’re likely to be approved for credit at competitive rates.

Now that we know what a credit score is and what classifies as a good one, the next question to look at is: Why does your credit score matter? 

Think of your credit score like a report card you used to get while you were in school. Your report card measured your progress during the school year, and your credit activity puts you into a scoring range. But, unlike grades – credit scores aren’t stored as part of your credit history. Instead, your score is generated each time you apply for credit. Fact: It actually negatively impacts your credit score if you have multiple inquiries in a short period of time.

What are your major financial goals? Buying a home? Buying a car? Chances are, your credit is likely going to be a factor in framing that financing picture. Your score will actually tell a lender whether or not you qualify for a loan and how good the terms of the loan will be. For instance, the lower your credit score is, the higher your interest rate on a loan will be.

If you’ve looked at your credit report and you’re surprised to see it’s lower than you thought, there are simple ways to fix that:

  • Pay your bills on time. That goes for ALL your bills – not just credit cards and loans. Fact: Payment history is the most heavily weighted factor of your credit score. It makes up 35% of your total score.
  • Keep your credit card balances low. Credit history accounts for 15% of your credit score, so keep those old accounts open even if you don’t use them.
  • Space out your credit applications. Each time you apply for a line of credit, the inquiry is noted on your credit report. One or two inquiries aren’t a huge deal, but when you have a bunch within a two year period, it can cause your score to fall.
  • Mix up your credit. Your credit mix, or the types of credit accounts you have, makes up 10% of your credit score. Basically, lenders want to see that you can use different types of credit responsibly.

Credit doesn’t have to be scary or overwhelming. There are many responsible ways to start out slowly and build worthwhile credit for the future. First Financial can help! Are you looking to build or establish credit? We have a number of ways to start you on the right path. Stop by one of our branches today or give us a call. You can also check out our credit management guidebook on our website, for some additional tips.

Do You Know Your Credit Card’s APR?

This year wasn’t kind to credit cardholders’ wallets. In 2019, cardholders paid an average of 17% APR – the highest level ever recorded by the Federal Reserve since 1994. To put it into perspective: In 2009, the average APR registered just under 13% and in 2016 it hovered around 12.5%.

Even the maximum APR has climbed significantly. Financial institutions typically offer a wide range of APRs. As a result of the increase, maximum APRs are around 25% with the median standing at 21%. Wow, that is high!

So, what does this mean for you?

It means you’re likely paying more in interest than you’ve ever paid. However, there are several ways around paying high interest rates that will help you in the long run.

Avoid balance carry over. Ultimately, the best and most responsible way to use a credit card is to pay off the balance monthly. By paying your balance in full each month, you avoid paying interest while reaping the benefits a credit card has to offer. Plus, it helps improve your credit score.

Avoid spending more than you have. We’ve all done it. We have a credit card for emergencies only, but something comes up we really want, and it finds its way onto the credit card. Next thing you know, there are multiple unnecessary purchases on there that you’re trying to pay off. The best habit to get into is not spending more than you can pay off monthly. The more you put on a card, the more interest you’re going to be charged.

Do your research. If you’re thinking about signing up for a credit card, do your research. First of all, know your credit score. That’s going to be a huge factor in determining your APR. Also, consider why you want a credit card. Are you looking for cash back options? Do you want to earn rewards points or airline miles? Don’t apply aimlessly. Look at the specific types of cards that are designed for the purpose you want and see which card best suits your needs.

Obtaining and maintaining credit by using credit cards doesn’t have to be a scary experience. First Financial’s Visa Credit Cards offer benefits that include higher credit lines, lower APRs, no annual fees, no balance transfer fees, a 10-day grace period, rewards (cash back or on travel & retailer gift cards), an EMV security chip, and more!* And they can be used anywhere Visa is accepted. Click here to learn about our credit card options and apply online today.

 *APR varies up to 18% 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. No late fee will be charged if payment is received within 10 days from the payment due date.

3 Bad Choices that Could Damage Your Credit Score

Your credit score is a big deal. That number decides what kind of loan you’ll be able to get and what interest rate you’ll have to pay. If your credit score is low, you’ll need to find ways to raise and improve it. If your score is good, here are three things you may want to avoid in order to maintain your high credit rating.

Cosigning a loan: You’re a nice person and you do nice things for people you care about. In reality, you should really never cosign someone else’s loan. If the borrower starts missing payments, your credit score will take a big hit. The last thing you want to do is be on the hook for someone else’s car payments, personal loans, or credit cards.

Closing a credit card account: Maybe you have a credit card that was just used to build credit or have in case of emergencies. You may have paid if off and decided to stop using it, but be sure you don’t close that account. That card’s credit history is good for your credit score. Also, closing the account will lower your amount of available credit which could negatively affect your debt utilization ratio. Closing a credit card account is one action that can damage your credit score in two different ways.

Not looking for errors: Always keep a close eye on your credit score. If you haven’t looked at yours recently, check out annualcreditreport.com. If you don’t keep an eye on your credit report, you could have your identity stolen and not even know it. Even if isn’t the case, there could still be inaccuracies. The day you find an error on your credit report that is negatively impacting your score, is the day you’ll be extremely happy you checked.

If you’d like more insight into your credit score and managing your credit – view our credit and debt management guide here.

Article Source: John Pettit for CUInsight.com

3 Ways to Consolidate Debt

Debt can be overwhelming, but there are definitely ways you can consolidate. The idea of putting all of your debt in one place, with one simple monthly payment can be a big relief.  So, what are your best options for consolidating your debt? Here are three to consider, that you may not have thought of.

A balance transfer credit card: If you’re looking at this option, you’ll want to first make sure that you find a card that will have a high enough limit to contain all of the debt you want to consolidate. If you can find a card with a zero percent introductory rate, this is ideal for paying off debt. If you have $3,600 in debt, and zero percent interest for 18 months – you can pay $200 a month for 18 months, and be completely debt free without paying a cent of interest. However, be advised that if you continue to use this card and rack up even more debt and you don’t pay it off in time – that interest rate could potentially sky rocket at the end of 18 months, and you could really dig yourself into a hole (which is what you were trying to get out of in the first place). This option only works if you stick to your plan, don’t use this card, and continue to pay off your debt during the introductory period.

You also want to transfer your existing balance(s) to a credit card that doesn’t have a balance transfer fee. First Financial has 3 great Visa Credit Card options that have no balance transfer fees and no annual fee either!* Learn more here.

A home equity loan: After the introductory rate on a balance transfer credit card ends, the interest rate can be pretty high – as mentioned above. A home equity loan uses your home’s appraised value and what is still owed on your mortgage, and will provide you with a lump sum that you will agree to pay back over a set fixed rate term (this type of loan is also called a second mortgage). The main benefit of a home equity loan, is that the interest rate will be much lower. You will want to be careful if you go this route – if you default on the loan, you could put your home at risk.

To learn more about First Financial’s home equity loans and lines of credit options, and apply online 24/7 – click here.**

A personal loan: If you don’t like the idea of risking your home (or any other form of collateral), perhaps a personal loan might be the best option for you. If you have a good credit score, you’ll receive a favorable interest rate that is often lower than a credit card’s. If you think this may be a good option for you, ask your local credit union about any debt consolidation loans they have available.

First Financial’s personal loans have a fixed monthly payment, flexible terms, and are a great way to save money instead of opting for the high cost of retail financing.+ Get started here.

*APR varies up to 18% 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.

**First Financial will waive closing costs at inception of loan. If loan is terminated within the first 2 years of opening, closing cost waiver is revoked and the borrower(s) will be required to pay back closing costs in full to FFFCU. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a home equity loan, and is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. See FFFCU for details or visit firstffcu.com for all current rates. Nationwide Mortgage licensing System & Registry ID # 685814

+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.

Article Source: John Pettit for CUInsight.com