First Financial’s Response to COVID-19

March 15, 2020

Over the past few weeks, it is clear that the world and our nation are facing an unprecedented challenge as we learn how to navigate the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in New Jersey.

Like you, we are deeply concerned and want to do all we can to help keep our members, employees, and the local community safe. We are continuing to monitor the situation as it evolves, and we will notify our members should anything change regarding any of our locations.

Rest assured that all First Financial locations are actively following U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to maintain a healthy and safe environment.

At this time we would like to remind you to please follow the CDC’s preparation advice, and that First Financial has a number of electronic banking services available to our members that you may wish to utilize at this time:

Remote Deposit Capture (Deposit checks on your mobile phone)
Mobile Banking App
Online Banking and Bill Pay
Electronic loan closings
• Online loan applications available 24/7 on the left side of our homepage under Apply for a Loan
• Drive thru service/ATMs at all branch locations
Co-Op surcharge free ATM network with access to over 30,000 ATMs nationwide

The spread of COVID-19 has all of our attention, and First Financial is doing everything possible to keep our employees and you – our valued members, safe while continuing to deliver the best member experience we can.

Despite the inconvenience posed by COVID-19, we remain committed to serving you and your family with as little service disruption to your banking as possible. Our membership is part of our family, and we will get through this together.

Should you have any questions or concerns about banking during this time, please contact our Member Relationship Phone Center at 732.312.1500 Monday-Friday 8am to 6pm, and Saturday 9am-12:30pm.

Thank you for your understanding during this time and be well,

Issa Stephan
President/CEO
First Financial Federal Credit Union
732.312.1500 – Local Callers
866.750.0100 – Out of Area
www.firstffcu.com

Shopping Online? Best Practices to Keep Your Identity Safe

Shopping online is easy and convenient. But don’t forget the possibility of fraud often lurks in Internet nooks and crannies. However, here are a few safety precautions you can implement to be as safe as possible and protect your identity and financial information while shopping online.

Only shop on trustworthy websites.

Shopping online can be addictive.  Who wouldn’t want to shop from home cozy in their pajamas while also saving money?  There are many trustworthy retailer websites out there that are safe to shop on.  However, be weary of clicking on email links or website sidebar ads.  Before checking out your online shopping cart and entering your card information, be sure you are visiting the actual website of the business to ensure it is safe.  If something seems too good to be true, it is probably not a legitimate website.

Don’t shop on public WiFi networks.

Hotels, restaurants, and coffee shops often offer free WiFi.  Trouble can arise though, when sensitive personal or financial information is shared over these public networks.  The open nature of public networks can compromise your financial security.  Public WiFi should always be used with caution – never access your bank accounts, personal data, or shop through a public network.

Protect your computer with anti-virus software and secure your internet access with a password.

Often we assume our home WiFi network is safe.  However, vulnerabilities within our home network can also do a lot of damage.  Safe home networks have a personalized SSID, strong passwords, encryption enabled, and updated anti-virus software.  Computers should also be protected with spyware software.

Shop online only with a credit card or use digital wallet.

The Federal Trade Commission recommends that consumers shop online using a credit card over a debit card, to be protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act.  This law allows consumers to dispute charges and withhold payment while under investigation. To read more about which card is safer to use, click here to access our educational guidebook.

For added security, take these preventative measures:

  • Monitor all your accounts through online banking, mobile apps, or monthly statements.
  • Make sure your address, email, and cell phone numbers are updated with your financial institution.
  • Enroll in your smartphone’s digital wallet like Apple Pay or Google Pay, which can be used to pay online. Merchants store a token number and not the actual card to authenticate transactions using you fingerprint, phone’s passcode, or face recognition during checkout.
  • If PayPal is a payment option when checking out online, this is another protective solution that doesn’t have your card entered into a retailer’s website. Plus you also have protective disputing power here too.

Ensure the card entry webpage is secure. 

Entering card information online is definitely something you want to be cautious about.  If the retailer’s website is compromised and you paid with a debit card, you may eventually find $0 in your checking account.  When paying online, try to check to make sure you are on a secure website that will protect your personal information.  There are two ways to check to enure you are on a secure site. First, verify the site’s URL begins with https:// and that there is a small lock in the URL bar.  The “s” in the URL indicates you are on a secure website.  You can also hover over the small lock to the right of the web address to read further details about the site’s security.  An unsecured website will often display a small letter “i” that will also offer information about the site’s security when you hover over it.  Never enter card information on an unsecured site.

Print or save receipts as PDFs. 

As an added security measure, it’s good practice to print or save any online purchase receipts as PDF documents.  Compare the saved receipt with your credit card billing statement to confirm accuracy.

Always be careful when shopping online.  If you follow the above security measures, you’ll have a great chance at keeping your sensitive financial information safe.

Article Source: MaryAnne Colucci for LSC.net

How to Stick to a Food Budget

If you’re spending a lot of money on food, the quickest fix is to take a look at how and where you are buying food and eat out less (or not at all). In addition to cutting back on dining out, here are a few easy ways to keep your food budget in check!

Don’t wander around the store: It might be convenient to get all your shopping done in one location, but that might not always be the best money saver. There are certain items you can purchase at the grocery store, but if you’re looking to save – it’s probably best to buy these items elsewhere. Think: Cleaning products, detergents, medications, and so on. You might not be a fan of having to drive to another store, but the money you’ll save by purchasing these household items at Walmart or Target will quickly change your mind.

Don’t buy what isn’t on your shopping list: No matter where you’re shopping, it’s easy to buy something that’s not on your list. This can be especially true when at the grocery store, and can break your budget. One important thing to remember: Never shop while you’re hungry. Be sure to have a snack or meal prior to going to the store to protect your budget. Also ensure your list is complete before you go to the store, and force yourself to stick to it.

Sometimes it pays to buy in bulk: It’s never a good idea or money saver to buy more than you really need, but for those items you buy often (and that aren’t perishable), it’s usually best to buy a larger pack. If you’re a member at a warehouse shopping club, you already know about saving money by buying in bulk. Even if you aren’t a warehouse shopping club member, your local grocery store may also carry household necessities in bulk for a cheaper price (paper towels, toilet paper, etc.). Just look at the price carefully and the quantity before you buy, to make sure you are getting the best deal and maximizing your savings.

Article Source: John Pettit for CUInsight.com

How to Plan the Wedding of Your Dreams on a Budget

You’re engaged, congratulations! We’re sure you’re over the moon with stars in your eyes and visions of wedded bliss. You’ve probably been thinking about this day for as long as you can remember. You’ve got your Pinterest boards, a planning notebook, and you’re ready to hit the ground running. But, have you actually put a price tag on any of those ideas and visions?

$35,329

That’s the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. And that doesn’t even include the honeymoon! After hearing this sky-high number, you’re probably ready to simplify the process, save money, and elope. However, it’s absolutely possible to have the wedding of your dreams without spending well over what you can afford and without going into debt for years to come after the honeymoon. Prioritizing your must-haves, creating a strict budget, and allocating your money accordingly will go a long way in planning for your big day. So, let’s get started!

What’s important to you?

Before you can create a wedding budget, there are a few things you need to decide. First, determine what kind of wedding you want. What do you see when you think of your big day? A country club reception? An elegant downtown loft? A backyard barbecue?

Once you answer this question, have the budget talk with everyone contributing to the wedding. When you start talking money, make sure you talk about more than the total amount you’ll spend. For instance, break down the wedding budget into categories – ceremony, reception, decorations, etc., and decide what you’ll spend in each category.

Now that you’ve taken this step, you’ll need to determine the most and least important items on your checklist. Is there anything you can cut out altogether? Sit down with your fiancé and determine what you both REALLY want and let that vision guide your budget.

Track your spending.

Leave some room in your budget. No matter how down-to-the-penny it may be, unexpected expenses are going to pop up. Your budget will evolve over the planning process, so be prepared by giving yourself a little bit of a cushion.

If you hop on the web and search “wedding budget worksheet,” you’ll find a ton of different options. Find what works best for you. This could look like an Excel spreadsheet, a Google Doc, or one of the hundreds of templates available on wedding planning websites. Regardless of your template, tracking your spending throughout the entire process will be imperative. You’ll be able to ensure you’re staying well within the lines of your budget. Plus, it serves as a great guide or list to see what you’ve paid for, how much you’ve spent, and how much you have left to cover.

There are apps. Use them!

There are a few fantastic wedding-related apps that are either free or inexpensive. Use them! Most apps have the option to create free wedding websites, invitations, and save-the-dates. Get started with these suggestions:

  • ZolaZola has everything you need in one place. They even have a great selection of templates for you to design your wedding website for free! Your website is crucial for keeping your loved ones informed by sharing information about travel arrangements and relaying the important details of your big day. You can also build and manage your registry, design and order invitations or save-the-dates, and review your guest list.
  • ThumbtackPhotographers, DJs, bands, or florists – no matter what service you’re looking for, Thumbtack will have it. This app allows you to browse services in your geographic region to compare prices, check out reviews, and even talk directly to the vendor.
  • WeddingHappyAre you a list maker? If so, WeddingHappy is the app for you! It is the ultimate to-do list. It’s a great app that will help you manage your wedding-related tasks, payments coming up, and vendors you’re working with.

Your wedding day will be one of the most amazing days of your life! Don’t let money and budget-related stress take that away from you and your significant other. There are many options out there to make this day incredible – no matter what your budget is.

Once you have a set budget, financing your big day might be an option that comes up for you. Stop in and talk to us! At First Financial, we have a variety of financing options such as personal loans, lines of credit, and low-rate credit cards – that could help you with the cost of your wedding. Let us help you make your big day one you’ll never forget!

How to Create a Budget and Make Your Money Work for You

Budget. Did you just get cold chills reading that word? It’s not a popular word, and it’s certainly not a popular idea. Typically, the idea of a budget is enough to take away any sense of fun you might have when thinking about spending your money. But, it doesn’t have to be.

There are several benefits to creating a monthly budget. When you have a budget in place, you instantly:

  •     Make your money work for you
  •     Assign each dollar in your account a job
  •     You get 100% control of your money
  •     You can track your expenses
  •     You’ll relieve some of the stress that finances can bring
  •     You will create a “safety net”

There are obvious benefits to creating and maintaining a budget, and there are just as many tools to help you budget as there are benefits.

So, where do you start?

First, figure out how much you make each month. Then, figure out how much you spend. Once you figure out what you’re bringing in vs. what you’re spending, you can start creating specific categories for your money. This is where you get to tell your money what to do.

Now, you’ve got a basic budget in place. You know what you’re making, what you’re spending, and your money has a specific goal. But, how do you keep track of all that information in a manageable way?

Budget apps! The great thing about budget apps – not only do they keep track of your budget, but you can take them with you everywhere you go. Check out some of the best budgeting apps for 2020.

Wally — Get the details of all your financial activity in an easy-to-digest template. Categorize spending destinations, set goals, and create charts. Wally provides you with the full picture of your account in a simple and colorful template. Easy to look at and easy to understand, Wally makes tracking and analyzing your financial habits easy.

Acorns — You know how it’s hard to overcome the mental hump of setting money aside? Well, Acorns removes that struggle from the equation. By rounding up each of your transactions to the nearest dollar, it puts the funds into an investment portfolio. This app looks out for “future you” and makes sure you always have a few acorns hidden away for a rainy day too.

Mint – Create budgets, track bills and receive a free credit report when you use Mint. However, it’s the budgeting feature that really makes Mint shine. It allows you to link your bank, loan, and credit card accounts and then uses the information from those accounts to suggest a budget for you based on your spending. Mint takes it a step further by breaking that spending down into categories like “entertainment,” “food and dining,” and shopping. The best part? You’ll be able to see how much you can save by cutting back in each category.

Mvelopes – A popular budgeting method is the envelope system, a style of budgeting, where you put cash in envelopes for different spending categories and when the envelope is empty, that budget category is spent for the month. This is great for people who like a cash only system, but for people who use credit and debit cards, this can be challenging. Enter Mvelopes, an app that makes it easy to follow cash style budgeting in a digital world.

Of course, while you’re downloading apps, make sure you’re using our mobile app! At First Financial, our app allows you to check your balances, transfer money, pay bills, review your spending and deposit checks remotely. Still have questions about budgeting and financial planning? Check out our handy budgeting guide, or make an appointment with one of our member service representatives and let us help get your budget on track!

 

Things to Do on a Budget in Monmouth & Ocean Counties this March 2020

Let’s spring into March with a little bit of luck and have some fun with family and friends! Check out the list below of local (free or inexpensive) activities to do with your loved ones all month long.

March 1: Annual Belmar St. Patrick’s Day Parade begins at 12:30pm and runs through 3:30pm on Main Street. Don’t miss the 47th Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade – one of the most well known in Monmouth County!  See the parade route and get more information here, call 732.280.2648 or watch the parade streaming live the day of.

March 7: Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade (Seaside Heights) begins at 12pm on the Boulevard. Don’t miss Ocean County’s premiere St. Patty’s Day parade! There will be plenty of fun to be had, music, Irish pipes & drums, the Irish Woman of the Year will be featured, and much more. Find out more details and check out the local fare here.

March 7 and 8: Shamrock Festival at Laurita Winery (New Egypt) will feature an awesome Irish weekend! Grab your green and enjoy live bands, delicious food, and of course wine. General admission is free. Learn more by calling 609-758-8000 or click here.

March 8:

Asbury Park St. Patrick’s Day Parade begins at 1pm and will go to 4pm at 5th and Ocean Avenues. Don’t miss the city’s 7th Annual St. Patty’s Day Parade, which attracts up to 10,000 visitors! The parade includes participation from honored veterans, local scout troops, dance teams, high school marching bands, classic cars, cyclists, pipe & drum groups, first responders, clowns, live bands, Asbury’s zombies, and more. Find out additional details here.

Belmar’s Annual Dine & Discover event begins at 11:30am and goes until 3:30pm. Don’t miss this one of a kind food tour and tasting with 30 of Belmar’s best restaurants! Tickets are $35 per person or there is also special discounted pricing for larger and smaller groups. You can find out more details about the event here.

March 14: St. Patrick’s Day 1830s Celebration at Allaire Village (Wall) from 11am to 4pm. All of Allaire’s historic buildings will be open, including the bakery and general store. There will be live Irish music, dancing, cooking demonstrations of traditional Irish food, and kids can make their own paper shamrock. Advanced ticket purchases are $5 per adult, $3 for kids ages 2-12, and under 2 are free. Learn more here and reserve your tickets online.

March 15:

St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Freehold from 1-2:30pm. Don’t miss downtown Freehold’s 9th Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade featuring several community organizations including the Freehold Elks, Knights of Columbus, and more. The parade route takes place starting at McLean Street to the Elks Lodge. Parking will be available in Borough Public Parking Lots on the day of the parade. Learn more here, and find out about additional activities going on in downtown Freehold all week following the parade!

Breakfast with the Easter Bunny at Casino Pier (Seaside Heights) at 9:30am or 11am. Enjoy breakfast with the Easter Bunny, Tower Princess, and others. Pre-registration is required. Cost is $15 per person and includes the breakfast buffet, $5 arcade card, photos with the Easter Bunny, and facepainting. Find out more by calling 732-793-6488 or click here.

March 21: Flea Market at Allaire Village (Wall) from 8am to 2pm. Hunt for bargains among vintage treasures, books, art, handmade items, knick knacks and more! Admission is $2 per person. A gourmet food truck will be on site, as well as the historic village, general store and bakery will be open. Find out more information here.

March 22: Donut Chase 5k (Wall) from 9:30am to 12pm. Join in the fun at Wall Recreation on Allaire Road, where there are two different courses (a 5k and a 1 mile course). Donuts will be provided by Main Street Donuts in Belmar and the event benefits Memorial Sloan Kettering of Monmouth. Learn more and purchase tickets to participate here (*Pre-registration for this event is required).

March 25-29: Garden State Film Festival (Asbury Park) begins at 10am each day and goes until 10pm. Over 200 films from around the world will be shown over the course of the five day film festival, as well as attendees will be able to meet various filmmakers and actors. Tickets can be purchased online and more information can be found at https://www.gsff.org/

March 29: Teddy Bear Tea (Middletown) from 1:30 to 3:30pm at Navesink Country Club. This event is perfect for kids ages 3-8 and will include conversation, a lesson on manners, a teddy bear parade, gourmet treats and music. Learn more and purchase tickets online here.