Simple Steps to Save on Home Heating Costs this Fall

Family Relaxing Indoors Playing Chess And Reading Book

The air is getting crisper every morning and the leaves are starting to change color and drop. It means that fall is truly here. You probably don’t want to think about what season is coming next, but it’s a good idea to get an early start to slashing the upcoming “w” word’s energy bills. Here are some simple things you can do now that will pay off in the colder days to come.

Clean, Service or Upgrade Your Heating System                                                       

One of the simplest and cheapest things you can do to maximize your furnace’s efficiency is to replace the air filter – now, and then every 30 to 45 days. Make it easy for yourself by setting mobile calendar reminders. If your furnace hasn’t been serviced by a professional in a few years, that’s also a good idea too. Just like other pieces of equipment, heating systems need a ‘tune up’ every now and then. Finally, if you’re due for a new furnace, take advantage of federal tax credits (up to $500) by purchasing one that meets the Department of Energy’s efficiency standards. Upgrade to solar, wind, geothermal or fuel-cell technology, and you’ll be reimbursed 30% of the cost, including installation (you’ll need to fill out Tax Form 5695 when the time comes).

Install a Programmable Thermostat (and Lower It)

It makes sense not to waste heat when you don’t need it. Even the cheapest programmable thermostat can save up to $150 a year, so invest the time and money to install one. Lowering the temperature 10 to 15 degrees during the sets of eight hours you’re at work and sleeping at night could lower your bill as much as 10%. Even lowering it one degree during the day correlates to a 2% decrease in heating costs.

Keep the Heat – Curtains, Leaks and Upgrades

Keeping the curtains on south-facing windows open during the day helps heat your home naturally with sunlight, while closing them at night keeps out chilly air. Besides weather-proofing windows, look for other places your home is leaking energy: worn weather strips, mail slots, around pipes and wire holes, through unfinished spaces, and in the attic – where the majority of heat rises and then escapes. Caulk, weather strip, and insulate everything you can. Replacing old insulation, roofing, windows and doors with more energy-efficient counterparts will ultimately save the most, especially since you can recoup the expense by claiming that energy tax credit (10% of the cost up to $500, or a specific amount from $50 to $300).

Enjoy the Fireplace

Fall is the perfect time to take advantage of a natural fireplace if you have one, not only for the ambiance – but for the energy savings (as long as you remember to close the damper between uses). Lower the thermostat to between 50 and 55 degrees and close surrounding doors to keep the area toasty. The energy savings only work if your fireplace is a traditional log burning one. If you turn on a gas fireplace, you aren’t really saving anything by turning that on instead of the heater since both units typically run on gas.

Increasing your heating efficiency and lowering your energy bill really isn’t that hard, and just think what you could do with that extra wiggle room in your budget: debt repayment, retirement savings, college savings, or just some short-term savings goals (maybe even holiday spending).

Take a few steps while it’s fall, and you’ll be thankful the rest of the winter!

Article Source: Jessica Sommerfield for Money Ning,

9 Hacks for a Perfect Monthly Budget

Pencil on the statement of payroll details

While the word “budget” may want to send some of us screaming in the other direction, creating a successful budget is actually one of the biggest gifts we can give ourselves. It not only helps you out financially, but it does a ton to reduce the day-to-day anxiety so many of us feel when it comes to our finances.

If you’re losing sleep over your monthly finances but don’t know where to begin, here are eleven helpful tips for getting started with a monthly budget.

Grab Your Calculator and Block Out Some Time

Grab your calculator, a pen and paper, and open that Excel doc — and most importantly, block out some time for this. Really figuring out what you spend can take a few hours, and one of the most important parts of this process is simply scheduling some time to do it.

Record Your Take-Home Pay

The first step in any budgeting process is to figure out how much you take home each month. Don’t include anything that automatically gets subtracted, like a 401k or taxes — you just want to know what you actually have in your pocket each month.

Subtract The Essential Expenses

Subtract all of the “essential” expenses you absolutely have to pay each month, like student loans, rent, car payments, cell phone, etc. Take time to really think about every bill that comes in.

Allocate For Savings

You now have the amount of money you can use for personal choices — as in you can literally do whatever you want with it. Things like groceries, clothes, and take out all fit into this category. And in a piece for Nerd Wallet, financial writer Anika Sekar says this is now when you allocate for savings (or “paying yourself first” as some retirement planners put it). She recommended saving at least 20 percent after taxes, which comes to about 12-16 percent pre-tax. If you already accounted for a retirement fund in a previous step, you can factor it into this assessment.

Assess The Numbers

Now is the time when you assess the balance of your numbers. In a piece for the financial site Learnvest, financial writer Laura Shin recommended the 50/20/30 rule of thumb. This system says that no more than half your income should go to necessary expenses, no more than 20 percent should go to savings, and no more than 30 percent should go to everything else. If your ratio is coming off far from this, think about re-balancing.

Get Into The Nitty-Gritty

Now it’s time to break down that 30 percent, “personal choice,” portion of your budget. Figure out all the little things you spend on each month — from coffee, to manicures, to ordering in. It’s important to be realistic during this process.

Make Some Cuts

It’s entirely possible that after completing the above step you realize that you spend way more than your allocated 30 percent on random stuff. This is the stage where you might need to figure out where you can cut some expenses. Maybe it’s making coffee at home, or limiting yourself to a take out order just once a week, or maybe it’s not letting yourself “just pop in” to a store after work because you know you always end up buying something.

Consider A Money Tracking App

If all of this seems overwhelming, consider a money-tracking app on your phone. recommended, Goodbudget, and Mvelopes as a few of their top choices for personal budget helpers, but you can definitely research around to see which one best suits your needs.

Remember — Treat Yourself Sometimes!

Budgeting doesn’t mean restriction. It just means knowing where your money is actually going. Don’t get overwhelmed at the thought of a monthly budget or think a solid budget is out of reach. Just remember it’s about informed choices so you can enjoy the money you make!

Article Source: Toria Sheffield for,

7 Benefits of a Credit Union Credit Card

FFNJ%208160%20m%20platinum%20card%20designs3-resized-600Here are seven reasons why consumers should consider using a credit union credit card:

1. You’re a member-owner. When you join a credit union you are a member-owner, not a customer, and this means you have the privilege of voting for the board of directors – volunteers who help lead the credit union.

When’s the Best Time to Buy a Car?

Happy woman buying a carIt’s a good time to be in the market for a new car – especially if you plan to finance the purchase, as nine out of 10 Americans do. Buyers with good credit can take advantage of some very low interest rates.

Rates for new and used car loans are at “their lowest point in the past few years,” according to a new survey of 157 lenders by the website WalletHub. The average interest rate for new-car loans is currently 4.29 percent and 4.96 percent for used cars.

WalletHub found that car loans at credit unions are 25 percent below average, national banks are roughly average, and regional banks are 40 percent above average.

Jack Gillis, author of The Car Book 2015, cautions buyers that the financing arranged through a dealer may be higher than what’s offered from the manufacturer.

“Often the low interest rates advertised by dealers require extraordinarily high credit ratings and sometimes are accompanied by extra fees,” Gillis told NBC News. “Before you talk financing with the dealer, check with your credit union and banks to see what they offer. It’s the only way to know if the dealers’ financing is a good deal.”

Good credit is a real money saver

WalletHub reports that it will cost you about four-and-a-half times more to finance a car if you have fair credit rather than excellent credit. That translates into additional interest costs of about $5,500 for a five-year, $20,000 loan.

Someone with excellent credit can also get extremely low rates for used car loans now. The average rate for these loans dropped nearly 18 percent from last year, WalletHub reports.

“So a few months before you go shopping for a car, check your credit report,” WalletHub’s Jill Gonzales said. ”Make sure everything is in order and there are no errors that could affect your credit score and drive up that interest rate.”

Car loans are also getting longer

As car prices have gone up, car loans have gotten longer. The average car loan in the U.S. is now 67.2 months – a record high and the average price paid for a new vehicle last year was $32,386, reports

“A longer loan will lower the monthly payment, but you will be ‘upside down’ in that loan longer,” noted Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education at “So if you need to sell the car or something happens to it – maybe it’s totaled in an accident – you could owe more than it’s worth.”

A longer loan also drives up the cost of financing that vehicle because you’re borrowing the money longer. The experts at Consumer Reports Autos point out that extended loans also tend to have higher interest rates. Their advice: limit your loan to about 48 months.

First Financial has great low Auto Loan rates – and they’re the same whether you plan to purchase a new or used vehicle!  You can view our current rates by clicking here, and if you like what you see – you can apply right online 24/7.  If you need a handy tool to help you figure out those monthly auto loan payments to see what you can afford before you buy, try our free loan calculator application called AutoCalcubot. We also provide a free auto buying and research tool, AutoSMART – a great place to find new and used vehicles!

Article Source: Herb Weisbaum – NBC Contributor,




First Financial’s Freehold/Howell Service Center is Now Open!

Press Release

First Financial Federal Credit Union’s newest branch is now open for business at 389 Route 9 North (next to the Howell Park & Ride) in Freehold, NJ 07728.

New Branch and Drive Thru

Pictured above: First Financial’s new Freehold/Howell Service Center – now open!

The credit union’s newest branch will be a primary banking location for approximately a quarter of the credit union’s 20,000 members.  First Financial’s newest branch features many important banking conveniences such as a drive thru, drive up and walk up ATMs, and more.

In regard to the credit union’s latest branch location, Issa Stephan, First Financial’s President/CEO stated, “We look forward to bringing the Howell and Freehold community a high-tech banking facility featuring modern convenience. Member experience is extremely important to us, and our first priority is achieving our members’ financial dreams by defining their financial goals and lifestyle, empowering them with financial education, helping them to plan their retirement, and more – and our newest branch will be a key vehicle in helping us to fulfill this promise with our membership.”

A ribbon cutting ceremony and grand opening week featuring outdoor activities is planned for warmer weather, and will take place starting Monday, April 27th. Stay tuned for future details!

Feb 2 Soft Opening Teller Line

Pictured above: The teller line inside the new Freehold/Howell Service Center.

How to Build Credit if You Have a Small Income

Building and maintaining a good credit score is one of the best moves you can make for piggy bankyour financial health. It might seem intimidating at first – the credit scoring system is definitely complex – but when it comes time to apply for a mortgage or other loan, you’ll be happy you made building a solid score a priority.

How does the picture change if you make a small income? As it turns out, not much. You don’t need to be a Rockefeller to achieve good credit. Take a look at the details below to learn how to build a great score, no matter how large or small your paycheck is!

First, know what makes a good score.

Before digging into specific recommendations, it’s important to understand the factors that affect your credit score. The FICO scoring model – which is the most widely used credit scoring system in the United States today, takes a lot of variables into account to create your score. These include:

• Payment history
• Amounts owed
• Length of credit history
• Mix of credit accounts
• Recent credit inquiries

You’ll notice that income is not one of the factors used to determine your credit score. This means that earning a big salary doesn’t equate to earning a high credit score. Even if you have a small income, you can succeed at scoring high, as long as you’re using the right strategies.

Obtaining credit is an important first step.

It’s empowering to know that the steps to good credit are about financial behaviors, not the size of your bank account balance. But what exactly should you be doing to get there?

Above all, it’s important to start using a credit account responsibly as soon as you can. Proving to potential lenders that you can be trusted with borrowed money is the best way to start building your credit momentum.

One of the easiest ways to do this is with a credit card. If you’re not earning much money, you might be shying away from plastic to avoid the temptation to overspend. But this may in fact stall your efforts to build good credit.

If you’re not interested in getting a credit card, obtaining another type of loan to establish a credit history is a good idea. You might have trouble getting approved if your income falls below the lender’s requirements. In this case, offering a big down payment or securing a co-signer might help you qualify as well.

Did you know First Financial has a lower rate VISA Platinum Credit Card, great rewards, no annual fee, and no balance transfer fees? Apply today!*

Keep up with good habits.

Once you’ve gained access to credit, keeping up with good habits is essential to building your score further. Specifically, you should focus on a few important behaviors.

The two most important factors the FICO score looks at are:

  • Payment history – Are you making the minimum payment required on time every time? This accounts for 35% of the FICO Score.
  • Credit Utilization – Are you keeping the balances on revolving credit (typically credit cards) below 30 percent of your available credit? This accounts for 30% of the FICO Score.

In short, paying your bills on time and in full are the two most powerful things you can do to create and hold onto a good credit score.

And just to be clear: Neither requires a big income. Spend and borrow within your means, and it will be easy to manage your payments properly.

The takeaway: Those with small incomes have the same opportunity as their high-earning counterparts to build good credit.

Use the tips above to get started today!

*APR varies from 10.90% to 17.90% when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. This APR is for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Subject to credit approval. No Annual Fee. 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 Platinum Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

Article Source: Lindsay Konsko of NerdWallet