The Ins and Outs of Elder Abuse Scams – June ‘22

Unfortunately, older adults are easily targeted for financial exploitation scams because they tend to possess more wealth than other victims. According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, roughly 20 percent of older Americans fall prey to financial exploitation, losing on average $120,000. The COVID-19 pandemic has made these problems even worse. Scam artists are coming out of the woodwork. In recognition of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (June 15th), here are a few scams to be aware of and tips to avoid becoming a victim.

Phishing and Internet Fraud

Con artists use fake internet addresses to send phony emails and texts to trick consumers into clicking on bogus links alleging things like account suspensions, credit card or bank account problems, online shopping order concerns, or issues with a particular program. When these links are clicked, the victim inadvertently downloads malware on their computer, exposing their personal information to the scammer. Many of these messages contain realistic looking logos to lure their victims in. To limit your exposure, avoid clicking on links from unsolicited emails or texts. If you suspect a problem with an account, contact the bank or service provider directly.

Telemarketing/Phone Scams

Phone scams are just as common as text and email scams. Scam artists are continuing to prey on older adults posing as someone they are not over the phone. Three notable examples are:

  1. The pigeon drop: con artists pretend to share found money in exchange for a “good faith” payment drawn from your bank account.
  2. The fake accident/arrested ploy: con artists pose as a loved one who has been injured in an accident or has been arrested and needs money for medical expenses or bail.
  3. Charity scams: con artists solicit funds on behalf of a charity for which they are not affiliated with or is not legit.


Remember, if it’s too good to be true it probably is. If you want to give to a charity, go directly to the source. In the same manner, if you are worried about a family member or friends wellbeing, verify the information with them directly or another point of contact.


Scams are constantly changing and next year there will be a new set of schemes out there. The Federal Trade Commission has a “scam alert” page with information about the ever-changing ways that scam artists target consumers, at consumer.ftc.gov/scam-alerts.


Washington State Bank employees are also trained in fraud prevention. We can help you spot potential scams and take appropriate measures to protect your account if you suspect you have been a victim of financial fraud. Click here to find each branch’s contact information.


Five Financial Tips for Vacation Planning- May '22

Spring is here and summer is just around the corner, making this an ideal time to start thinking about summer vacation plans! Finding a vacation you can afford as well as enjoy can be tricky but with a little planning, it’s possible to not break your budget on your summer travels.


Following are five tips you can use to make your vacation affordable and relaxing.

  1. Set a budget. With anything related to finances, budgeting is critical. Do some research online to come up with an estimate of what your vacation will cost. This amount will be your budget. Once you have settled on that amount, stick to it. Be leery of adding new activities that will derail your budget.
  2. Start a savings account specifically for vacations. Contact Washington State Bank to set up a specific savings account for your vacation budget. With these savings out of sight and out of mind, you know your vacation funds are available when it’s time for your trip. Determine how much you need to set aside each month and make it a habit to contribute that amount to build up your savings. After your trip, keep contributing to your vacation savings account to get a head start on next year’s travel plans.
  3. Cut back on spending before your trip. About three months before your trip, take a look at what you can temporarily cut out of your budget that will help you save for your trip. Entertainment expenses are a key category where you can find some last-minute savings. Whether you eat out less during those three months, skip the extra coffee runs or put off seeing a few new movies at the theater, the savings can add up quickly.
  4. Use prepaid travel cards, gift cards, or a credit card. Once you have your vacation savings built up, consider loading those funds on a prepaid card which can help you stay on budget by keeping your vacation spending separate from your funds for monthly bills and living expenses. If you have a rewards credit card, you may be able to earn cash back on your trip, and still pay off the full balance from the money you set aside in your savings.
  5. Monitor your accounts. Notify your debit and credit card issuers of your travel plans to prevent valid transactions from being blocked or declined as suspicious.  And continue to monitor your account transactional activity through our Online Banking and Mobile Banking so you can notify us timely if something happens to your account.


These tips are provided by the Iowa Bankers Association.


6 Tips for Teaching Children to Save Money – April ‘22

In recognition of Financial Literacy month, this edition of WSB Banknote is dedicated to teaching children to save money at an early age. It’s important for kids to understand the delayed gratification one can feel after putting money aside for future expenses or wants.

  1. Discuss Wants vs. Needs

Helping children differentiate between a want and a need are critical when it comes to saving money. Explain that the wants are all the extra things in life, such as video games, trips, or a new bike and needs are things like food, shelter, basic clothing, healthcare, and education. Once a child has discovered the difference between the two, it makes it much easier for them to understand the importance of saving money.


  1. Set Savings Goals

To a child, saving money for the future can seem pointless. Creating small goals for them to save money towards things they want to buy can be very motivational. For instance, if a child decides they want to buy a new toy, help them create small goals to save up for that. If they receive an allowance each week, how long will it take them to have enough money to purchase the toy?


  1. Provide a Place to Save

Once your children have goals in place, they will need a safe place to keep their cash. Younger kids may prefer a piggy bank, but once they are a little older consider bringing them into your nearest Washington State Bank branch to open their very own savings account. WSB offers a variety of saving account options, including a Student Savings Account that doesn’t have a minimum balance and no service charges for anyone under the age of 23.*


  1. Help Them Track Their Spending

Knowing where your money goes is part of being better at saving. If your child gets an allowance or has money to set aside from holidays, have them write down their earnings versus spending. This can truly be an eye opening experience. Discuss how changing their spending habits could increase their saving ratio and put them closer to reaching their goals.


  1. Talk About Money

Some parents find it difficult to talk about finances with their children but starting the discussion can help them see how saving money can benefit them in their adult life. Consider making it a point to talk about money on a daily, weekly, or monthly routine. Discussing healthy money habits can set a child up for a bright financial future.


  1. Set a Good Example

Studies have shown that many parents do not have money set aside for retirement or even an emergency fund. It’s hard to teach children to save money if they don’t physically see it being done by the adults in their life. Taking steps like opening an IRA, increasing your 401(k) contributions, starting an emergency savings fund, or even putting money aside towards a family vacation can turn saving money into an activity everyone can participate in.


*A Washington State Bank Student Savings Account has a minimum account opening balance of $10. For more information on our Savings Accounts, visit our webpage.


These tips are a summary of the following article:

Lake, Rebecca. “10 Tips to Teach Your Children to Save Money.” Edited by Margaret James, Investopedia, 24 Feb. 2022, https://www.investopedia.com/personal-finance/10-tips-teach-your-child-save/.


Tips to Improve Your Credit Score – March ‘22

What makes up a credit score? Credit scores are based on a variety of factors including payment history, amounts owed/debt and your length of credit history to name a few. In most cases there is no speedy way to improve a low score, there are some things that can make a big impact over time.

If you’re preparing to apply for a mortgage or other type of loan, chances are you want the best interest rate possible. To obtain a low rate, you will need a high credit score. Think yours could use some finetuning? As part of Credit Education Month, we’ve gathered some helpful tips to earning a healthy credit report.

  1. Check Your Reports for Accuracy

Credit reporting agencies like Experian, TransUnion and Equifax gather your credit information from places like banks, credit card companies, and even utility companies. Their goal is to give and collect accurate information, but an FTC study found that 26% of participants had a potentially substantial error in one of their credit reports. First, confirm that all accounts and negative marks on your report belong to you by checking your free annual report at annualcreditreport.com. If you notice something is incorrect, file a dispute with the reporting agency and the business associated with the incorrect information.

  1. Always Pay Your Bills on Time

Your payment history makes up 35% of your FICO credit score. Even if you have a high score and have a 30 day late payment, this could result in your score dropping 90 to 110 points according to Equifax. While the significance of the negative mark will decrease with time, late or “delinquent” payments will stay on your report for 7 years. If you have missed a payment in the past or want to avoid putting your score at risk, consider putting all recurring bills on auto-pay and set reminders for other accounts. You can easily set up recurring payments to vendors using Bill Pay within Online Banking.

  1. Manage Your Credit Utilization

The second most significant factor in a credit score is the amount of debt. This utilization makes up 30% of a FICO credit score. According to Forbes, “credit utilization is the amount of debt outstanding on your revolving credit sources like credit cards or home equity lines in relation to your available credit”. This is commonly recommended to stay below 30% of your available credit. You can control your credit utilization by paying down revolving debt and paying more than once in a billing cycle. This may lower the balance that is reported.

  1. Get a Credit Card if You Don’t Have One

While credit cards can have a negative effect on your score when used irresponsibly, they are also one of the fastest ways to improve your credit score when used wisely. When you sign up for a credit card and make timely payments each month, you build a positive payment history. If you also keep the spending on the card low, you create a low utilization ratio. If you are worried about overspending with a credit card, consider one with no annual fee and use it only for a few recurring expenses. You’ll be building up your credit history quickly and won’t need to worry about missing a payment or stacking up a large bill.

Finally, don’t expect changes to happen overnight. Doing things like disputing errors or paying down debt can result in a higher score in the short term, improving your credit score is a long-term process and can take months to do. Continue to check your credit reports, pay your bills on time, make payments to your revolving debt, and you will slowly see the improvements.


This article is a summary of the following:

Brennan, Chelsea. How to Improve Your Credit Score, Forbes Advisor. April 2021. https://www.forbes.com/advisor/credit-score/how-to-improve-credit-score/


Be Prepared This Tax Season- February '22

With a new year upon us, it’s time to start preparing to file your income taxes.

Filing Your Own vs. Hiring a Professional

Once you have collected all documents — Social Security documents, income statements, tax deduction records, expense receipts — it’s time to determine whether you will file your own taxes or hire an accountant. The answer depends on the individual.

If you are single with one source of income and rent an apartment, you may be able to either file them yourself or through one of the many tax preparation websites available today. If you are married with children, own a home, and have multiple investments, hiring an accountant may be the best idea.

There are many positives to hiring a tax professional. They can help you file your taxes accurately and on time and discover tax deductions and credits for which you are eligible. Hiring a tax preparer, however, can be expensive. Using a credible tax preparation website is generally more affordable. Many are intuitive and review your returns for potential mistakes, which can give you peace of mind. The choice depends on your comfort level and the complexity of your return.

               

When to File Your Taxes

When filing income taxes, you can start working on them as soon as you have all necessary documents. Once you have all necessary tax forms, you can either give them to your tax preparer or start working on your return. With income taxes, the most important date to remember is April 15, 2022 — the deadline for filing tax returns and making tax payments. If you need an extension, April 18 is the date by which you should submit an individual tax return extension form. Additionally, this is the last day you can make individual retirement account (IRA) contributions for the 2021 tax year.


Key Things to Consider in 2022

Every year, there are changes to income tax laws, including new tax credits and deductions that are available to taxpayers. This year is no different. Key changes for 2022 include:

  • The standard deduction increased to $12,550 for single filers and $25,100 for married couples filing jointly.
  • Income tax brackets increased for inflation.
  • The Child Tax Credit increased to $3,600 for each child under 6 and $3,000 for each child age 6 to 17. If you’re eligible for this tax credit — unless you opted to receive the full credit at tax time — you’ve been receiving a portion of the credit through payments from the IRS since July 2021.

There are many other deductions and tax credits you may be eligible to claim, including charitable, medical, and business deductions, the Earned Income Tax Credit and education tax credits. Be sure to discuss these with your adviser before you file your tax return.


Protect Your Identity

As always, it’s important to beware of IRS impersonation scams this tax season. These involve phone calls or emails from someone claiming to work for the IRS. They may tell you that there is an issue with your tax return or that they need to update tax filing information. Be wary of any emails, phone calls or text messages telling you something is wrong with your tax return. If you are worried there is an issue with your return, contact the IRS directly, and be sure to report any tax-related phishing attempts to phishing@IRS.gov.


This article was provided by the Iowa Bankers Association.


7 Money Moves to Start the New Year Right – January ‘22


  1. If you’re still working, raise your retirement savings…

One of the most important tasks related to financial security is to save more for that time when earnings stop coming in. Choosing a tax-favored retirement account is a good choice, and you have more time than you might think to boost your 2021 contributions. You can deposit as much as $7,000 in earnings until April 15, 2022 into a traditional or Roth IRA. It’s easy to open an account with the Washington State Bank Trust Department; just give them a call at (319) 653-3921.

  1. … and go automatic.

If you have a 401(k) account available at work and you’re not currently adding to it, tell your HR department you’d like to start (or resume) having contributions deducted from each paycheck. If you are already in a plan, consider increasing your annual deduction another percentage point or two. For further savings, go through us to make an automatic monthly contribution to an IRA or another account you’ve created for a onetime need, whether it’s a new furnace or a dream vacation.

  1. Reassess your budget.

Making sure your monthly spending is less than your monthly income is another golden rule of financial security. Your needs before the pandemic versus now may be very different. Start by making a list of all your regular bills (mortgage/rent, insurance, cellphone, utilities, etc.). Then look at some of your recent credit card and bank statements to see what you’re spending on food, health care and other expenses in life that may be hard to keep track of. Finally, look for places to cut things like small items that add up, recurring charges for services you no longer need, or big changes that could have a major impact, such as moving to a less expensive location. Another great tool for tech savvy folks is a budgeting app. There are many great ones out there. These apps can pull all your information for you and help you keep track of your spending from week to week.

  1. Consolidate and simplify.

You may have accumulated a variety of retirement accounts from former employers through the years. Track down those accounts and weigh the benefits of combining them into one account- an IRA or, if you’re still working, possibly your current 401(k). That makes it easier to track required minimum distributions, and you may also save money in the process.

  1. Eliminate your paper trail

Gather all the old financial and medical documents you no longer need to refer to and shred them to protect your personal data. Be on the lookout for organizations in your area that will do this for free. Washington State Bank hosts a free Shred Day event each summer in Washington! We will advertise the event as it gets closer on our social media as well as KCII.

  1. Review your legal paperwork.

Set aside time to reread your will, power of attorney, estate plans, and other legal documents to see if they are up to date and still reflect your wishes. Are there any changes that need to be made due to family, residency, or your net worth? Check with your retirement plan administrator to be sure those accounts have the correct beneficiary designations, since they regularly determine who receives any money after your death, even if you will says otherwise.

  1. Reassess your priorities.

The pandemic has changed many people’s life goals, as well as financial goals. Create a list of goals you hope to accomplish in 2022 and organize them in four different categories: relationships, wellness, interests, and work. Your financial decisions could be come quite simple when you have a clear picture of what’s most important in your life.


This article is a summary of the following: Kimberly Lankford, AARP, December 10, 2021  https://www.aarp.org/money/budgeting-saving/info-2021/great-ways-to-organize-your-finances-now.html


Four Things to Keep in Mind While Holiday Shopping-Dec. ‘21

The holiday season is here and that means many will be busy shopping online and in-person. Below is a list of tips to help keep you safe from falling victim to a grinch this season.

  1. Shop Smart Online

The FTC recently reminded consumers who may be searching the internet for those hard-to-find gifts to be vigilant when making purchases through online marketplaces or with retailers you’ve never heard of before. Check the rules about refunds and returns, and what happens if there is an issue with the order. If someone tells you to pay with a wire transfer, gift cards, or cryptocurrency, stop and find another seller. This is how scammers ask for payment. Look for pictures of the actual item, as well as the condition and location. If you still run into issues and paid by credit or debit card, file a dispute with your card carrier.

  1. Avoid ID Theft

According to the FTC it can be easy for scammers to put up fake websites that look very similar to the real one. These scam websites may show up in your search results or come in an email that appears to be legit. Rather than clicking a link, type in the store’s URL yourself. Only share personal information that is necessary for the payment to process. None of these companies will need your bank account or Social Security number.

  1. Be wary of unexpected emails, calls, and text messages

Phishing scammers lure their targets by spoofing familiar, trusted names and logos of legitimate companies, such as Amazon. The FTC reports that from July 2020 to June 2021 Amazon impersonators increased from 16,000 to about 96,000 and nearly 6,000 consumers said they lost money. Scam emails will often encourage the recipient to call a number with queries about the purchase. If the consumer calls, the help center operator informs the caller they would need to send money before a refund could be established for an item they did not purchase. If you get an unexpected email or text message, don’t click the link. If you think it could be legit, contact the company using the phone number on their website.

  1. Make your donations count

Unfortunately, your generosity could be someone else’s greed. Fraudsters sometimes prey on donors. Do your research before donating.

If you believe you’ve been scammed or suspect a charity is acting fraudulently, contact your local law enforcement agency or the Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division. To file a complaint, go here or call 888-777-4590.


This article is a summary from the following: https://www.iowaattorneygeneral.gov/for-consumers/consumer-focus/consumer-focus/five-things-to-keep-in-mind-while-holiday-shopping/five-things-to-keep-in-mind-while-holiday-shopping-this-year.


How to Improve Your Credit Score- Nov. '21

When it comes to personal finances, your credit score is the single most important number you should know. A strong credit score can open doors to loans and credit cards that offer better terms and rates than you would receive with a low score.

A credit score of 750 or higher is considered excellent but having a rating above 700 is still considered good. Typically, you don’t want your rating to fall below 700. There are five main factors that determine a credit score. Some have a larger impact than others, but each area is examined to determine a person’s ability to repay a loan.

  • Payment history — Consistently paying bills on time is the quickest way to increase your credit score.
  • Credit utilization —Maxing out your credit cards or consistently carrying large balances will negatively impact your credit score.
  • Length of credit history — The longer you have held an open credit account will positively impact your credit score.
  • Number of accounts or inquiries — Having too many credit inquiries can cause your score to drop. Only apply for what you need.
  • Credit mix — Having a variety of credit accounts — mortgage, auto loan, student loan, credit cards — shows you’re able to handle different types of loans and can increase your score.


Tips for Improving Your Credit Score

Building and maintaining an excellent credit score requires organization and willpower to live within your means. Following are steps you can take to get your score moving in the right direction.

  • Pay bills on time — Payment history accounts for 35% of your credit score. Set up automatic payments on your accounts to ensure you don’t miss a payment and get into a habit of paying bills on time.
  • Make multiple payments each month — Credit utilization accounts for 30% of your credit score. If your balances are too high on certain accounts, consider making multiple small payments each month to reduce the amount of credit you’re using.
  • Keep credit card balances low — Just because you have a $20,000 limit on a credit card doesn’t mean you should use it all. Try to keep your credit utilization below 30%. That will tell lenders you are a safe borrower.
  • Check your credit report each year — Visit annualcreditreport.com at least once a year to request your credit report and dispute any errors that may be pulling your score down.


With these tips in mind, you can keep your credit score in good standings, or make improvements where needed.


This article was provided by the Iowa Bankers Association.


Spotting Email Scams- Oct. '21

In recognition of National Cybersecurity Month and the ABA’s #BanksNeverAskThat campaign, this month’s blog post covers phishing emails and how to spot them.

What would you do if you received an email about a charge on your credit card for something you aren’t expecting or didn’t want? Many would immediately call the company to stop the payment or respond to the email. Scammers know that and are taking advantage by developing a new phishing scheme.

Let’s say you go ahead and give the number on the email a call. You’ll be connected to a scammer who may ask you to “verify” your credit card information, or they might say they need your password to remote into your computer. In the later case they could then install malware on your computer and block you from getting your own files.


What should you do?

  • Don’t click on any links.
  • Don’t use the number in the email. Instead, look up the company’s phone number online.
  • Never give your password to a stranger, even if they claim to be from a company you recognize. If you do give them your password, change it right away and run a scan to detect any problems. Also remember to use unique and strong passwords.
  • Don’t give your bank account, credit card, or personal information over the phone to someone that contacts you out of the blue.


If you do happen to receive a phishing email, help others by reporting it to the FTC at reportfraud.ftc.gov.


The content of this post comes from the following website: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2021/03/spotting-scammy-emails.


5 Financial Don’t for Ever Millennial- Sept. '21

Even though many millennials worked through the Great Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic, many are taking big steps towards their financial goals. While many are actively saving others are struggling with debt. One study found that one in six millennials owes $50,000 or more, excluding mortgages. No matter which side you are on it’s good to have a financial plan moving forward. Here are five things to stop doing to keep you moving in the right direction:

  1. Don’t forget about an emergency fund & don’t give up on cash.

You never know when you might find yourself without an income or in need of cash quickly. It’s crucial to keep money in the bank set aside for an emergency. Many recommend having at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses set aside in cash for things like an unexpected car repair or other pop-up expenses.

  1. Don’t only save into your 401(k) for retirement. Do more.

Saving the maximum amount in a 401(k), or other similar retirement plan, is a great start, but try to do more. For example, open a traditional Individual Retirement Account (IRA) or a Roth IRA. These will supplement a retirement savings account and have you in better standings when it comes for you to take that next step in life. To learn more about Washington State Bank’s various retirement accounts visit our webpage, or give our Trust Department a call at (319) 653-3921.

  1. Stop putting off your will.

Many older millennials can attest to the feeling of invincibility starting to fade. Many young individuals and families put off some crucial decisions because of the uncomfortable nature of the topic. However, life is unexpected, and planning for the worst-case scenarios is especially important because only you can do it – and you must before you need it. Work with an estate planning attorney to get a will, powers of attorney and health care directives in place. This will make things easier in the future if you become unable to make decisions or pass away.

  1. Don’t try to keep up with the Jones’.

Most millennials have 24/7 exposure to their friends’ every move through social media, including their perceived wealth. The fastest way to lose your wealth (or prevent having any) is to spend it all trying to keep up with your friends. If you have spending at or above your income level through your 20s and 30s, now is the time to stop. The number 1 key to long-term financial success is spending less than you make. Saving now will leave you more flexibility in the future.

  1. Don’t procrastinate- be deliberate.

Don’t be wishing you had gotten your plan together sooner. Many have such regret that they didn’t get it together in their 30s and 40s. Learn from their mistakes and don’t be under the assumption that you have more time. Take a small, but deliberate step today toward a better financial future. For the long term, begin to set priorities and research what you need to do to achieve those goals.


It takes time to develop and implement a financial plan. Take the time now to get started or re-evaluate the strategy you have in place.


This article was taken from the following: Skylar, Patricia and Monroe, Josh. 7 Financial Don’ts for Every Millennial, Kiplinger. Aug. 08, 21. https://www.kiplinger.com/investing/wealth-management/wealth-creation/603247/7-financial-donts-for-every-millennial



Protect Yourself and Others from These Elder Fraud Scams – Aug. ‘21

In recognition of National Senior Citizens Day on August 21st, Washington State Bank is helping to create awareness on ways to help prevent financial abuse of older adults.

According to the FBI, older adults collectively lose more than $3 billion each year to elder fraud schemes. Common elder fraud schemes include:

  • Romance scams — Criminals will reach out through dating sites and social media, pretending to be interested in companionship while gaining the trust of their victim and eventually asking for money. These scams have increased by 50% since 2019, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
  • Grandparent scam — A fraudster may pretend to be a relative and ask for financial assistance due to an emergency. They may express urgency and try to sound panicked to motivate their targets to act quickly.
  • Charity scam — In these scams, the criminals will try to get older adults to contribute to a fake charity, often by cash, gift card or a wire transfer. The criminals may try to pressure their targets to give immediately.
  • Sweepstakes/lottery scams — The criminals will contact an older adult, informing them that they have won a sweepstakes or lottery and can collect their winnings for a fee.


How to Protect Elders from Fraud

Anyone can help protect themselves from financial abuse by following these tips:

  • Keep personal information private. Never share your Social Security number, account information or personal details over the phone or internet, unless you initiated contact with a trusted source.
  • Shred! Shred! Shred! Shred receipts, bank statements and unused credit card offers before throwing them away so fraudsters can’t piece together your personal information.
  • Don’t let a so-called adviser pressure you. Never let a new or untrusted adviser pressure you into sharing personal or financial details. They could be a fraudster.
  • Check your credit report. Check your credit report at least once a year to ensure no new credit cards or accounts have been opened by criminals in your name. You can access your free credit report at annualcreditreport.com.


If you believe you or someone you know may have become a victim of fraud, contact your bank for help monitoring your/their accounts for fraudulent transactions. You should also file a complaint through the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.

 These tips were provided by the Iowa Bankers Association.


 6 Tips to Financial Freedom- July '21

Many people have a goal to reach financial freedom in their lifetime. This usually means having enough savings, investments, and cash on hand to afford the lifestyle you desire. Unfortunately, many people fail to achieve this as they are often troubled with debt, financial emergencies, and overspending. These 6 habits can help put you on the right path.


  1. Set Life Goals

Get specific. Write down how much you need to have in your bank account, what the lifestyle entails, and at what age you want to achieve it. The likelihood of you achieving these goals is higher when your goals are more specific. Then, count back to your current age and define smaller goals and dates at regular intervals leading up to the larger goal.

  1. Make a Budget

The best way to guarantee that are bills are paid for each month is t o make a monthly household budget and stick to it.

  1. Pay Off Credit Cards in Full

Credit cards with high-interest rates can be toxic to achieving your goal of financial freedom. Make a point to pay off the full balance each month. Making your payments on time will also build a good credit rating.

  1. Create Automatic Savings

Setting up an automatic withdrawal each month for an emergency fund is a great way to get started. If you set it up for the same day you receive your paycheck it can help avoid any temptation. Enroll in your employer’s retirement plan and make full use of any matching contribution benefit.

  1. Watch Your Credit Score

Your credit score determines what interest rate you qualify for when purchasing a new car or refinancing a home. It also makes a difference on things like premiums for car or life insurance. Therefore, it’s important to obtain a credit report regularly to make sure there are no black marks. Find your free credit report here

  1. Live Below Your Means

This isn’t a challenge to change to a minimalist lifestyle or to put off needed maintenance, but rather a suggestion to make small adjustments by distinguishing what you need versus what you want. Making these changes is a helpful habit to put into practice.

These 6 steps won’t solve all your money problems, but they will help you develop healthy habits that can get you on the path to financial freedom.

This article is a summary of the following website: https://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/112015/these-10-habits-will-help-you-reach-financial-freedom.asp


Should COVID-19 Change Your Retirement Strategy? - June 2021

While much of the United States is getting back to “normal” and things seem to have slowed with COVID-19, no one can say for sure how much financial damage has been done yet. Does that mean you should change your retirement strategy? Here are some things to consider when addressing your current situation.

People who were fortunate enough to continue to work were in decent shape to ride out any financial crisis. Thankfully many who lost their jobs or were temporarily furloughed in 2020 have since returned to work. If you’re currently working and saving for retirement through a 401(k) or similar plan, it’s a good idea to keep putting money towards that. If you have found yourself fortunate enough to even have more income coming in, you should also consider contributing to an IRA in 2021.

For those that lost their job because of the pandemic and have yet to go back to work, your goal should be to preserve your retirement savings as best as you can. If you have an emergency plan and haven’t already exhausted it, you may want to tap into it first when needed. While the CARES Act loosened the rules on 401(k) loans and early retirement plan withdrawals in 2020, that has come to an end. Those income funds should never be your first resource when you need cash.

If the financial crisis did cut into your retirement savings or made it hard for you to continue to contribute to the funds, think about retiring a little later than you may have originally planned. Working longer will allow you to save more and delaying Social Security will mean bigger monthly benefits when you do collect them. If you’re out of work and must tap into your savings, it’s best to start with nonretirement accounts.

Build (or Rebuild) An Emergency Fund

If you didn’t have an emergency fund prior to the pandemic, you probably wish you would have. If you did have one, you may need to replenish it now. Some suggest saving at least three months of living expenses in a liquid account, while others recommend saving six or more months’ worth. Achieving this can be very difficult when you’re living paycheck to paycheck, but it’s a goal worth building towards at any age. If you’re about to enter retirement, or are already there, you may want a much larger emergency fund. Keeping two or three years’ worth of expenses in a money-market account could help you weather another financial crisis while leaving the rest of your retirement portfolio intact.


This post is a summary of the following article: Daugherty, Greg. “Should COVID-19 Change Your Retirement Strategy?” Investopedia, Investopedia, 29 Apr. 2021, www.investopedia.com/should-covid-19-change-your-retirement-strategy-5069395.


3 Questions to Consider Before Buying Your First Home- May '21 Entry
 

First and foremost, it’s important to determine your long-term goals and how ownership fits with these goals. Whether you see it as a sense of independence, or just a good investment, these are important things to think about beforehand. Narrowing down your big-picture goals will help steer you in the right direction.


  1. How’s your financial health?

This is a big one! Before falling in love with your dream home, you should give your finances a serious check-up.  Look at your savings. It’s recommended that you have three to six months of living expenses in a savings account before purchasing your first house. Remember to consider things like the down payment and closing costs, too. Review your spending. See how much you’re spending each month and where your money is going. This will help you determine how much you can put aside for a mortgage payment. Don’t forget to include things like utilities, food, maintenance expenses, vehicles, etc. Check your credit. In most cases you will need a good credit score, a history of paying your bills on time, and a maximum debt-to-income (DTI) ratio of 43%.


  1. How much mortgage do you qualify for?

Before you start shopping, it’s important to talk to a lender to see how much the bank will give you to make that big purchase. Make sure to get preapproved for a loan before placing an offer on a home. You can get this process started on our website by filling out our Mortgage Information Form!


  1. How much home can you actually afford?

Number 2 and 3 go hand-in-hand. You may be preapproved for a $200,000 home, but that doesn’t mean you have to borrow that much. Many first-time homebuyers make this mistake and end up “house-poor” with little left after their monthly mortgage payment is due. When deciding how big of a loan to take, look at the house’s total cost, not just the monthly payment. Consider things like property taxes and homeowners’ insurance as well.


Remember that the more you educate yourself about the process beforehand, the less stressful it will be, and the more likely you will be to get the house you want for a price you can afford. When it's done, you'll have the confidence that comes from successfully negotiating a major step in your life.

This article is a summary from the follow website:

Fontinelle, A. (2021, March 21). First-time homebuyer's guide. Retrieved April 22, 2021, from https://www.investopedia.com/updates/first-time-home-buyer/