Winter is Coming: Time to Ready Your Home and Wallet

We are in the midst of the holiday season and that means the temperatures are steadily dropping. As we reach year’s end, it’s time to take a hard look at how you can prepare your home and your wallet for the winter months ahead. Here are four tips for winterizing your home and saving some extra cash.

Keep it low.

Instead of turning up the heat every time you feel a chill, grab a blanket or put the fireplace on and save some cash. Also, take a good look at your heating system and find out whether there’s a programming option. This will allow you to set times when you want the heat to click on (in the morning when you’re getting out of bed, for example) and times when it should remain low (while you’re at work and no one is home).

Let sunshine in.

Many of us like the privacy our drapes and curtains provide us. But, when it’s cold out, open up your blinds and let the sun in. You’ll be surprised how much the natural sunlight will help heat up certain areas of your home.

Freshen up your filters.

It can be very easy to forget about those air filters, but keeping them clean is key to good quality air in your home. Filthy filters not only limit the airflow, but they also up the energy demand (which means more expensive bills). So, make a note in your calendar to check on them monthly to ensure they’re in good shape.

Turn the fan around.

Many people associate ceiling fans with cool air when actually, with just a minor adjustment they can help warm your home as well. Most ceiling fans come with a small switch that allows you to change its direction. A clockwise rotation will push warm air back down into your living space, which can significantly cut your heating costs too.

Article Source: Wendy Moody for CUInsight.com   

Turkey with a Side of Savings

Thanksgiving Day is a time for relaxing with family and friends and reflecting on life’s blessings. While the holidays can be hectic for some, it’s important to not let challenges, including financial stress, put a damper on the season. In order to fully enjoy and appreciate Turkey Day, there are a few things you can do to have a happy Thanksgiving without busting your budget.

Assign sides

One way you can surely save on Thanksgiving dinner is asking your friends and family to bring a side dish. If you take care of the big items such as the turkey and drinks, assigning sides for others to prepare and bring will save you time and money.

Think ahead

Prep ahead and don’t wait until the last minute. Many stores will feature holiday bargains leading up to the big day, so keep an eye on circulars and coupons.

Don’t overdo it

Once you know how many guests to expect, make plans for feeding exactly that amount of people. It’s natural to want to have leftovers for an endless amount of turkey sandwiches, but resist the urge to buy more food than what’s really necessary. Because chances are, your family will get sick of turkey and you’ll end up wasting food (and money).

Don’t use disposables

As cute as those festive paper plates are, don’t spend your money on disposable party supplies. They may be easier when it comes to clean up, but just think how much money you’ll save by using plates and glassware you already have.

Article Source: Wendy Bignon for CUInsight.com

4 Tips for Bouncing Back from Holiday Shopping

metal spring for a car on a white background

You say you won’t go overboard every year – but once again holiday shopping may have gotten the best of you already. In spite of your best intentions, you overspent, you’re probably full of regret, and you’re getting a headache just thinking about your January credit card statement. Now what?

1. With a sober mind, go through what you bought and return/exchange if it’s not too late.

It’s easy to get so caught up in the moment — the rush of shopping, the allure of good deals and sneaky sales tactics — and you probably made a few impulsive decisions, even if you didn’t overspend.

Shoving the items you felt guilty or embarrassed about to the back of the closet might make you feel better, but the act might also cost you the 30-day return/exchange window — in other words, an opportunity to reverse your losses. If you didn’t give some items as gifts, return them stat.

2. Offset over-budget spending by cutting elsewhere.

If you’re in the red after the holidays, it’s time to offset your spending by cutting a different area of your future budget to accommodate it. Start by totaling what you spent and comparing the total to discretionary spending you’ve budgeted for January 2017. Is there something that matches the exact dollar amount? What about two or three ‘luxuries’ that match one half or one third of what your spent? Cut them. You may only need to cut a service or two for a month before you’re back on track, so it’s really not much of a sacrifice. Consider cutting the following:

  • Extra cable channels
  • Netflix and other streaming media accounts
  • Scheduled hair treatments, massages, or manicures
  • Magazine, book club and other subscriptions

Beware: cutting one of these temporarily might show you how little you’ve missed it… and how much nicer it is to have the cash!

3. Pay it back — fast.

If you charged up your credit card(s), the debt you accumulated and the interest attached to it may have even longer side effects than a light bank account. Resolve to pay your shopping debt off entirely within one to three months. If that’s not feasible, try to pay at least three times the minimum amount. Ultimately, aim to keep your balance below 40% of your credit limit so you won’t hurt your credit report.

4. Redeem those freebies.

Many retailers offer cash back in the form of gift cards on special buys through the holiday season or early into the new year, but reports show that many are never used. Don’t let your freebies go to waste – use them to retroactively pay for over-budget spending. If the gift cards aren’t for stores you shop at, go online and sell or exchange them for something you’ll be able to use. Just don’t let them go to waste.

Article Source: Jessica Sommerfield for Moneyning.com

Beware of Counterfeit Clothes and Scam Websites

womanshpgonlineDuring the holiday shopping season it’s important to know that there are scam artists out there who will try to take advantage of you. Be on your guard from a new influx of counterfeit clothes and scam websites. The internet has been a great asset to US clothing shoppers looking for good buys on the best brands. Unfortunately, it has also been a great asset to criminals dealing in counterfeit clothes they try to pass off as the real thing. While the illegal market in fake top brand clothing predates the World Wide Web, the Internet has opened up new avenues of opportunity for those dealing in counterfeit clothes.

The United States has seen a large rise in 2014 of scam websites that typically promise that popular and expensive items of clothing manufactured by the best known brands can be had at bargain prices. They often have fake web addresses that falsely give the impression that they are operating in the US, when in fact the website owners may be scammers operating out of other countries.

The quality of the clothes is often far below the standards set by the real manufacturers, with some websites operating with no actual inventory. Consumers order, their money is accepted, but they never receive anything at all.

The dealing in counterfeit clothes is not some small scale operation. The sums of money involved are huge, with some estimates putting the total take of larger scam websites at millions of dollars per year. The counterfeit clothes racket also ties into other criminal activities, such as banking fraud and identity theft. Once you give a criminal organization your credit card number, there are a wide array of illegal ways it can be used to rob you again.

Because the clothing scam websites are located overseas, it can be all but impossible to complain about poor quality, orders never received or seek relief in the United States legal system. Even reporting the scammers to the law enforcement agencies of the countries from which they operate will seldom bring any results. Sometimes action can be taken to deregister the scam sites so that others won’t get duped, but even this can be ineffective.

The market for counterfeit clothes is not confined to the United States. In Great Britain last year, hundreds of scam shopping websites were closed for selling fake designer clothing and jewelry. In Ireland, poorly made counterfeit clothing became so widespread that the European Consumer Centre made a special plea to consumers to be cautious when buying clothes online.

The center strongly advises “consumers to do comprehensive research on a trader when shopping on the Internet” a spokeswoman said. She continued to suggest that customer look for contact details, as any missing information is a red flag.

It’s also important to know what too look for with counterfeit products. Examine the product as closely as you can online, counterfeit designer goods often have logos that are fuzzy, misspelled, or otherwise off from the brand, something a high quality designer would never allow to ship. The stitching on counterfeit merchandise is often sloppy. If you can see the stitching without much effort, it is nearly guaranteed to be a fake.

Caution should always be used online, but becoming familiar with the genuine product and examining potential deals is one of the best ways to stay safe.

As counterfeit production becomes more elaborate, the proper tags do not necessarily mean a genuine product. As a result, many manufacturers of high quality clothing have taken extra steps to ensure their product stands out. Holographic logos and serial numbers are just a few methods that can ensure a legitimate purchase. Know the designer’s key marks and beware of products that lack them.

Be cautious of high fashion clothing being advertised at greatly reduced prices and only pay using a secure, refundable, method such as a credit card or a secure service such as PayPal.

Make sure you use online retailers that do provide genuine merchandise at a discount. In the end, you’re your own best advocate to prevent getting scammed. Use your common sense and know what you’re buying, and remember the old saying that “if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is.”

Protect yourself this holiday season and all year-round with First Financial’s ID Theft Protection! With our Fully Managed Identity Recovery services, you don’t need to worry. A professional Recovery Advocate will do the work on your behalf, based on a plan that you approve. Should you experience an Identity Theft incident, your Recovery Advocate will stick with you all along the way – and will be there for you until your good name is restored and you can try it FREE for 90 days!*

Our ID Theft Protection options may include some of the following services, based on the package you choose to enroll in: Lost Document Replacement, Credit Bureau Monitoring, Score Tracker, and Three-Generation Family Benefit. To learn more about our ID Theft Protection products, click here and enroll today!**

*Available for new enrollments only. After the free trial of 90 days, the member must contact the Credit Union to opt-out of ID Theft Protection or the monthly fee of $4.95 will automatically be deducted out of the base savings account or $8.95 will be deducted out of the First Protection Checking account (depending upon the coverage option selected), on a monthly basis or until the member opts out of the program. **Identity Theft insurance underwritten by subsidiaries or affiliates of Chartis Inc. The description herein is a summary and intended for informational purposes only and does not include all terms, conditions and exclusions of the policies described. Please refer to the actual policies for terms, conditions, and exclusions of coverage. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions.

Original article source courtesy of Lori Kelley of SavingAdvice.com.

Holiday Credit Card Traps – Beware!


Credit Card Trap, Predatory LendingBeware: Zero interest-rate financing. Store cards with discounts. Cash advances.

As consumers gear up for the holiday spend-a-thon, there are also plenty of opportunities to get into trouble with credit cards. And if you’re not careful, you can find yourself with a lower credit score, high interest payments, and more.

Holiday spending is expected to increase nearly 5% this year, with the average consumer planning to spend $804, according to the National Retail Federation. That can make credit card deals look enticing, and too good to be true.

Deferred interest credit card offers, for example, often surface this time of year, according to Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education for Credit.com. These offers, often announced as “zero percent interest” or “special financing” promotions, typically give consumers a grace period on interest, sometimes for a year or more.

For a consumer making a big purchase and planning to pay it off within that time, deferred interest plans can be helpful, Detweiler said. But she warned that consumers who leave even a single dollar of charges on the card by the time the deferred interest period is over can be hit with retroactive interest charges on the entire balance they charged.

She had just received a letter from Home Depot, for example, explaining that if she took its deferred interest offer and did not pay it off in full within the specified period, she would be charged interest on all her charges retroactively at a rate of 22.9%. (The store’s website describes a six-month deferred interest offer with interest rates on unpaid balances ranging from 17.99 to 26.99%).

According to CardHub, a credit card comparison website, paying off your credit card debt one month behind schedule or missing a single payment could increase your financing costs by more than 27 times if you rack up charges under a deferred interest plan. The site has compiled a list of retailers offering deferred interest plans with varying degrees of transparency.

Regulators are keeping an eye on deferred interest offers as well. In September the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a bulletin warning credit card issuers against “engaging in deceptive and/or abusive acts and practices in connection with solicitations that offer a promotional annual percentage rate (APR) on a particular transaction over a defined period of time.”

Opening new credit card accounts is another potential pitfall for consumers. Many retailers encourage consumers to take out store cards, often by offering enticements like a discount on that day’s purchases, or by offering a discount if the consumer spends above a certain threshold.

“Some of these offers will be designed to encourage you to spend more,” said Jeanine Skowronski, a credit card analyst with Bankrate.com.

High interest rates

Store credit cards often carry high interest rates. And even an application for a new credit card will appear on your credit report, Detweiler said.

“Every time there is an inquiry into your credit file, that’s a risk factor and that drops your score,” she warned. “If you open three or four new retail cards over the holidays, you can wind up not only with a lot of debt but also a lower credit score. If you know you are going to refinance a house or buy a car, be careful.”

Credit card cash advances are another potential pitfall for consumers. The interest on these is often well above the interest on credit card purchases.

“Stay away from them at all costs,” Skowronski said.

For people who really want to shop with cash, Detweiler recommends an alternative to credit card cash advances: a balance transfer. Consumers can ask a card issuer to deposit cash in their account to be used to pay off another card. Often, the interest rate on that balance transfer cash will be lower, Detweiler said — but usually only for a limited time. After that, she said, “any balances left will be charged a much higher interest rate.”

Of course, there are ways credit cards can be helpful with holiday spending too. For example, consumer protections on credit cards tend to be stronger than for debit cards: consumers are typically only liable for a maximum of $50 if they fall victim to credit card fraud, and as soon as the card is replaced they can use it again. Losses on a debit card are capped at a higher level, and it can take longer for a bank to straighten out an account where there has been fraud.

Credit card price protection promises can also be helpful. These guarantees typically allow a consumer to get a refund if the price on something they purchased drops within a specified period of time. Taking advantage of those guarantees takes discipline, though, as does sticking to a holiday spending plan.

Need to transfer a high rate credit card balance without any balance transfer fees, to a lower rate card? This is possible at First Financial, where we have no balance transfer fees!* 

*APR varies up to 18% 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.

4 Ways to Keep the Grinch from Stealing Your Good Credit

GrinchDuring the holiday season, we’re more at risk for fraud and identity theft as we head out or online to shop. Theft of your credit cards or identity can be devastating to your credit, not to mention your finances and emotional well-being. Not exactly something we want to happen during this joyous time of year, right? Here are some tips to remember as we are holiday shopping.

1. Shop Safe Online

Be aware that just because you can shop in the comfort and safety of your home doesn’t mean you’re not at risk for identity or credit card theft. Stay safe online by entering your credit card number in as few places as possible – use a payment service such as PayPal; shop at reputable websites with names you know and trust; and avoid clicking on links sent to you in email or banner ads that could take to you websites other than where you intended to go.

2. Keep an Eye on Your Cards

When you’re out shopping at a brick-and-mortar store, keep an eye on your credit cards and make sure store clerks are not allowed to leave your sight with your cards in hand. Also, pick-pocketers are common this time of year, so make sure to keep your valuables safe when you are in public.

3. Check Your Statements

Checking your bank and credit card statements regularly – even as often as every day – is a great habit to start now, if you don’t already do it. This time of year, when you’re more likely to have increased activity on your accounts, it’s especially important to review them carefully and thoroughly. Get signed up for online access so you don’t have to wait for paper statements to arrive. If you see anything questionable, you can act on it right away and resolve any problems. You can also sign up for alerts to notify you whenever a purchase goes through.

4. Check Your Credit Reports & Credit Scores

The end of the year is also a great time to pull your credit report and/or get your credit score and compare it to your last one. Check your credit reports for any incorrect or unfamiliar information, inquiries, or credit accounts. Report any suspicious or wrong information to the creditor and the credit bureau. You can pull your credit reports for free every year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies on AnnualCreditReport.com, and you can see two credit scores for free on Credit.com.

With these four simple steps and by being smart and aware of your surroundings, you can help keep yourself, your identity, and your credit safer from the Grinch. Cheers to a happy holiday season!

Don’t wait until it’s too late! Check out First Financial’s ID Theft Protection products – with our Fully Managed Identity Recovery services, you don’t need to worry. To learn more about our ID Theft Protection products, click here and enroll today!**

Article Source: Jeanne Kelly of Credit.com, http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2014/12/09/4-ways-to-keep-grinch-from-stealing-your-good-credit/