Six Ways to Boost Your Credit Score
An excellent credit score is the ultimate goal of the financially responsible consumer. Those three magic digits tell a story of accountability, good financial sense, and the ability to spend mindfully. A great credit score also unlocks doors for large, affordable loans; employment opportunities, and more.
Its significance notwithstanding, achieving and maintaining an excellent credit score is easier said than done. There is no quick and easy way to dramatically boost your score over a short amount of time, but you can take steps to increase your credit score gradually. Below, we’ve listed six ways you can start amping up your credit score today.
1. Pay your bills on time – Your payment history is the single most important factor in determining your score. A missed credit card payment can significantly impact your score and it can take months to recover the loss. Set a reminder a few days before your bill is due to ensure you never miss a payment.
2. Reduce your credit utilization ratio –Another crucial factor in your score, your credit utilization ratio refers to the amount of available credit you use. It’s best to keep your utilization under 30%, or even 10% if you can swing it. This means, if you have $50,000 of available credit, try to keep your usage below $15,000 at most and, ideally, below $5,000. It can also be a good idea to accept offers of increased credit or to request an increase on your own, which can instantly bring down your credit utilization ratio. However, only go this route if you know you are not at risk of overspending as soon as you have more credit at your disposal.
3. Use your cards- Taking a pair of scissors to credit cards can seem like the perfect way to increase your credit score, but you need to use your cards to keep your score high. A great way to make sure you use your cards on occasion but don’t overspend is to charge fixed expenses, like monthly subscriptions, to your card. Just be sure to pay the balance in full before the credit card bill is due.
4. Work to pay down outstanding debt- If any of your cards are carrying a balance from month to month, showing that you are working to get rid of this debt can do wonders for your credit score. Maximize your monthly payment by trimming an expense category in your budget and channeling that extra money toward your credit card bill. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your credit card company to ask for a lower interest rate as you work to pay off debt. Finally, consider consolidating credit card debt with a personal loan from Five Star CU, which will help you get rid of your credit card debts and leave you with one low-interest payment to make each month.
5. Look for errors on your bill and credit history- A fraudulent charge on your credit card can bring down your score without your knowledge. That’s why it’s important to check your statements each month and to look for charges you don’t remember making. If you see anything suspicious, contact the credit card issuer immediately to dispute the charge. It’s also a good idea to get your free credit report once a year from annualcreditreport.com for a more comprehensive look at your credit usage and signs of possible fraud.
6. Become an authorized user on another cardholder’s account- If you’re new to the world of credit, and you’re looking to thicken your credit file to build your score, becoming an authorized user on another cardholder’s account can be a great way to get results quickly. Team up with someone who has excellent credit and never misses a payment. Your partner’s responsibility will reflect well on you and help build your credit history and boost your score.
Credit scores are a crucial component of financial wellness, but achieving and maintaining a high score can be challenging. Use the tips outlined above to start boosting your score today.
Six Tips for a Budget-Friendly Road Trip
With many indoor attractions still closed or operating only at a limited capacity, there’s never been a better time to pack up the car, RV or camper van and set out on the road trip of a lifetime. However, without careful planning, a road trip can get pricey, especially with soaring gas prices and the rising costs of food. For this reason, we’ve put together seven solid tips for a budget-friendly road trip. This should help you hit the road in style without breaking your budget.
1. Save on food costs – Food can quickly turn into the biggest expense of your trip unless you plan ahead. And no, this doesn’t mean dining only on canned baked beans or instant soups for the duration of your trip. Here’s how to save on food costs during your road trip:
- Stock up on staples while at home. Shop your local stores for basics before setting out. Once you’re on the road, you won’t have as many choices for food shopping, which may stimulate overspending.
- Get your “kitchen” into gear. Unless you’re road-tripping in an RV or camper van that comes with a fully equipped kitchen, you’ll need to gear up for basic food prep on your trip. A good knife, cutting board and small cooking appliances, like a portable grill, panini maker and plug-in burner, can be great starting points.
- Plan a mix of meal types. You likely want to eat some meals out during your trip, but overdoing the dining out will quickly kill your budget. Instead, mix it up, alternating between home-cooked meals, dining out on fine cuisine and tasting local street foods.
- Only eat out at places you don’t have at home. For further savings, save the dining out for delicacies that are unique to your current location. Think fresh seafood on the Oregon coast, authentic Korean food in K-Town of Los Angeles or Cajun food in New Orleans.
2. Camp out instead of sleeping in hotels- Sleeping under the stars whenever possible will add another layer of awesome to your trip. Check out recreation.gov, where you can book accomodations at 3,600 facilities and 103,000 individual sites across the country. Lots of camping spots will run just $20 a night.
3. Find free attractions- Who says you need to pay for your fun or it doesn’t count? Most tourist hotspots will have a wide selection of free activities and sights to see at no cost, like the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. and city street art in Pittsburgh, PA. Check out local websites or ask around on the street to find the best-kept secrets at each location.
4. Map out your route for greater savings- Instead of blowing money on gas, create a detailed schedule of all your stops before setting out, choosing the most efficient and inexpensive route. Look up local attractions in the areas you plan to stop at to book reservations in advance when possible. In many places, you can save a tidy bundle of cash just by pre-booking. Also, keep in mind that many attractions still require reservations as a COVID-19 precaution, so be sure to plan accordingly.
5. Check in on a Sunday – For those nights when you must have a hot shower and comfortable bed, you’ll likely be checking into a hotel. If you can swing it, check in on a Sunday. According to a study conducted by the travel app Kayak, hotel reservations are at their lowest rates on Sundays.
6. Explore more and drive less- Hit the brakes and get out of the car! Spend some time covering miles on foot by hiking through local trails or even backpacking through city streets. You’ll enjoy an enriching experience and save on gas costs at the same time.
Easy Ways to Save on Landscaping
Spring is in the air, and for the green-thumbed homeowner, there are few things as pleasurable as running fingers through soft, moist earth, catching sight of the first flowering buds of spring and inhaling the scent of freshly cut grass.
Tending to a lawn and garden can get expensive. Between seeds, fertilizer and gardening supplies, costs can be high enough to take the pleasure out of lawn care. Here are seven creative ways to save on landscaping and your budget.
- Plant perennials – Go green by choosing plants that flower year after year. You’ll have to pay more out of pocket when you first plant these blooms, but the cost-free plants you’ll have each year will more than make it worth the price.
- Make your own compost -Save money on mulch and other soil products by going the DIY route with compost. All you need is a designated outdoor bin to collect your old fruit and veggie peels, plant clippings and dead leaves. After a few weeks, you should have a pile of nutrient-rich soil ready to give your garden the boost it needs to grow and glow.
- Grow and trade – For a colorful variety of flowers, plant perennials that grow and multiply quickly, like hostas or daylilies. Within a few years, you should have more of these than you need. Trade the extra blooms with friends and neighbors for new and interesting plants.
- Choose plants that are natural to your region – You’ll save on extra watering, soil correction and special plant food with these lower-maintenance plants.
- Shop end-of-season sales – Plants that look wilted when on sale in fall can grow beautifully in the spring, as long as the roots are alive and well.
- Leave your grass clippings untouched – The clippings will break down quickly, adding organic matter and nutrients to your grass.
- Don’t cut your lawn too short – Shorter grass attracts more weeds and needs more herbicides. Higher grass will shade out pesky weeds while also developing a deeper root system. That means less watering! Keep your grass at about two inches for best results.
Gardening should be fun and rewarding — it doesn’t need to cost a lot of money. Use these tips to cut back on landscaping costs without compromising the health of your lawn.
Seven Resolutions for a Richer New Year
The New Year is a great time of renewal. That makes it a good time to make bold, decisive changes in your life. Leave behind the baggage from last year and start fresh with a blank slate. If you’re looking for some resolutions to improve your personal finances, we’re pleased to offer seven ways to make this the year of the dollar!
1. Track your spending. If you’re looking to take your first steps toward financial literacy, figuring out where your money goes should be at the top of your list. If you don’t know where your money goes, it’s going to be tough to follow through with any other money plans. You may have a general sense of how much you spend, but after a month where you’ve recorded every dollar, you’ll have a much better picture. Using apps like Mint or Personal Capital can automate the process. You might even find that keeping track of what you do with your money encourages you to spend a little more judiciously.
2. Make a budget. About 70% of Americans live financially spontaneous lives. They don’t make a plan for spending or saving. When asked why they chose not to do so, the most common response was that the family spent all the money anyway. This is a circular problem. If you don’t have a budget that includes setting aside money for long-term expenses and savings, you’ll end up spending all your money on unplanned things and events. The best way to stop the cycle is to sit down and make a budget that modifies your spending to be more in line with your priorities.
3. Get out of debt. Easier said than done, right? However, there’s no bigger stumbling block to financial security and wealth building than debt. It’s hard to save for long-term goals when so much of your monthly income gets eaten up by interest and fees. There are a variety of methods you can use to help accelerate your payoffs. For instance, you can add an extra $50 or $100 to your credit card payments. Or, you can focus all your payment resources on the highest interest debt until it’s paid off and then move it all to the next highest for snowballing your way to freedom from debt.
4. Start an emergency fund. The best way to avoid going into debt is to have some money on hand to handle the occasional, yet inevitable, emergency. Most Americans, though, can’t come up with $500 in such instances. Set a specific goal, like adding $10 per month to a savings account. At the end of the year, you’ll have more than $100 available in case something goes wrong.
5. Start a retirement account. You can’t save for what you don’t think about. When retirement is years or decades away, it’s difficult to incorporate thinking about it into your daily routine. If you have a retirement account open, you’ll get monthly statements, which serve as reminders. The challenge, though, is taking that first step. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. While there are important differences between Roth and Traditional accounts, either one is better than no retirement savings at all. If your job offers a 401(k) matching program, sign up to get at least the full matching funds amount – it’s free money. Do a little bit of research, then open the account that seems like the best idea.
6. Automate your savings. Saving money takes willpower. Because it’s hard to practice self-denial on a constant basis, that extra $5 you’ve earmarked for savings can very easily turn into a midmorning coffee. Fighting that impulse is a constant struggle. That’s why it’s easiest to avoid the decision altogether. Change your direct deposit to put some of your paycheck directly into a savings account, where you won’t even think of spending it impulsively.
7. Get educated. Knowledge is power, and that’s especially true in the world of personal finance. What you know about your money goes a long way toward determining how much of it you get to keep. There’s a lot to learn, but you’ve got a wealth of information at your fingertips. Resolve to read one personal finance article a week. Five Star also offers free financial education courses. Not only will this give you good ideas for improving your personal financial situation; you’ll also spend more time thinking about your money. That’ll lead to positive results down the line!
We at Five Star hope you have a safe, happy and prosperous new year!
Fraud in the Cash App
Peer-to-peer lending has become one of the hottest ways to send money to friends and family. The Cash App is one of the most popular mobile payment apps on the market. For Five Star members it’s a quick and convenient way to transfer money to other Cash App users.
Unfortunately, the Cash App has also become an easy target for scammers. Many users send money to people with the wrong name and never get their money back. Since the Cash App is a third-party site, it has less consumer protections than your typical financial institution would have.
In October, Five Star put a Cash App fee of $1 per transaction in place due to the overwhelming amount of fraud within their app. It takes a large amount of staff time to investigate each case of fraud. While Five Star works diligently to protect our members’ accounts, resolving fraud cases from the Cash App has proven to be challenging and time consuming.
There are other peer-to-peer lending apps that do not experience the same type of fraud as the Cash App. PayPal and Venmo are just two examples. You can also transfer money within the Five Star app to other Five Star members, and you know your money will be protected.
If you have any questions or concerns, please call Member Care at 888-619-1711 or click here for more information.
When Does it Make Sense to Pay a Bill with a Credit Card?
Credit cards and debit cards both offer incredible convenience. With just a quick swipe or a linked account, a payment can be instantly processed. It seems like a no-brainer to use that convenience for taking the hassle out of paying bills. But, is it a smart idea to pay monthly bills with a credit card or debit card?
Choosing to pay a bill with a card can have a significant impact on your general financial wellness — for better or for worse. That’s why it’s important to consider the many variables of this decision before going ahead with it.
Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of paying monthly bills with a credit card or debit card.
There are many reasons you may want to pay your monthly bills with a credit or debit card when possible. Here are just a few of the advantages of paying with plastic:
• Automate monthly payments. Setting up automatic payments for monthly bills through a credit card or debit card will help ensure payments are always on time.
• Build credit with a consistent monthly payment. Using a credit card for a monthly bill is a great way to amp up a credit score without running the risk of overspending. Just be sure to pay the bill in full and on time every time.
• Enjoy consumer protection. Paying with plastic offers the consumer the advantages of purchase protection, zero or minimal liability in case of fraud, guaranteed returns and more.
• Pay your bills quickly without the hassle of writing out checks and using snail mail. With a credit or debit card, paying a bill only takes a few clicks or phone prompts.
• Budget easily. Paying with a credit or debit card makes for easy tracking of monthly spending.
• Payments post promptly. Bill payments made via credit or debit card will generally post within one or two business days. Contrast that with a check that needs to be mailed out, delivered to the correct party and then deposited and cleared until the payment is finally processed.
Here’s the flip side of paying bills with plastic:
• There may be fees for paying the bill with a credit card. Pay close attention to the payment options on every bill; some service providers charge a processing fee for paying with a debit or credit card.
• It can make a difficult financial situation worse. For consumers who are already carrying a sizable amount of debt, it may not be the best idea to charge a monthly bill to a credit card. Similarly, it isn’t responsible to set up an automatic monthly payment through a debit card that is linked to an account that may not have enough money to cover the charge each month.
• Credit utilization may cross the threshold to an undesirable rate. One of the key components of an excellent credit score is a low credit utilization rate. For consumers with a minimal amount of available credit, charging too many bills to a credit card can cause their score to plunge.
• Interest may accrue. Consumers who cannot pay their entire credit card bill each month would be saddled with more accrued interest than
You will likely not be able to pay the following monthly bills with a credit or debit card:
• Car payments
These monthly bills can usually be paid with a credit card, but you may need to pay a fee to do so:
• Car insurance
• Home insurance
• Health insurance
The following monthly bills usually allow you to pay with a credit card or debit card, and without a fee:
• Subscription services
• Phone bills
• Utility bills
• Internet providers
• Cable providers
Before deciding whether to pay a specific bill with a credit or debit card, it’s best to check with your provider to find out if this is a viable option and if there will be a fee attached for paying with plastic.
The bottom line
Sometimes, paying bills with a credit card or debit card makes perfect financial sense, but it sometimes does not. Before deciding which way to go on any particular bill, consider all the relevant factors detailed above to be sure you’re making the responsible choice.
How To Dispute An Error On Your Credit Report
As a financially responsible individual, you should be checking your credit on a regular basis. If all goes well, your credit card statements and report hold no surprises. Sometimes, though, you may find a mistake. When this happens, you’ll need to officially dispute the error to fix your score.
Credit report mistakes
Most credit report errors can be traced back to clerical mistakes, though some are caused by a lack of action on your part, or by criminal activity.
To avoid credit report errors, use your legal name on every line of credit you open, remove your name from any accounts you are no longer associated with and have all of your creditors report your accounts to the credit bureaus. It’s also crucial that you monitor your score to find mistakes as quickly as possible.
How to dispute an error
If you’ve spotted an error on your credit report, follow these three steps to fix your credit:
Step 1: File a dispute with each of the major credit bureaus
Inform all three major credit bureaus, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian, about the error.
In your written dispute, clearly identify each disputed item in your report, explain why you are disputing these items and ask that the errors be deleted or corrected. Include your full contact information, as well as copies of any documents that support your claim.
To file your dispute online, follow these links for each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion, Experian.
You can also file your disputes by mail to Equifax and TransUnion; Experian currently accepts online disputes only. If filing by mail, it’s best to send your letter via certified mail with a requested return receipt.
Step 2: Contact the creditor
After you’ve contacted each bureau, also reach out to the creditor linked to the error. This step isn’t necessary, but it may speed up the correction process.
Follow the guidelines above and include all relevant information and documentation. Let the creditor know you’ve also contacted the credit bureaus, as they’ll want to include a copy of your dispute if they report their findings to the bureaus.
Step 3: Follow up
Expect to be contacted by the bureaus and the creditor within 30 days after filing your disputes. If all goes well, your dispute will be accepted and your credit will be restored.
If one of the credit bureaus or a creditor does not resolve the error in your favor, you can ask them to include a copy of your dispute in your file and in all future credit reports for a small fee. You can also consider hiring a lawyer to help you contest the report.
Always monitor your score and be vigilant about correcting errors. The payoff can affect your financial wellness for years to come.
What Should Be On My Financial To-Do List This Spring?
It’s wonderful that you’re using the spring season to clean up your finances. Let’s review some ways you can improve your money management this time of year.
1.) De-clutter your finances. As you sift through the junk in your home, do the same for your finances. Review your budget to cut extra expenses that are cluttering it up, like subscriptions you don’t use or upgraded apps you don’t need. Next, simplify your monthly bill-paying by moving all due dates to the same day and setting up an automatic payment so you’re never late again. Finally, simplify your savings by setting up an automatic monthly transfer between your Five Star Checking Account and Five Star Savings Account.
2.) Throw away a debt. Get serious about getting out of debt by making a list of your debts in order from smallest to largest. Work out a plan for maximizing your payments on this debt, acquiring the necessary funds by pruning an expense category on your monthly budget or taking on freelance work for extra cash. Begin by paying off your smallest debt, then move on to the next-smallest debt until you’re completely debt-free.
3.) Review your W-4. Post-tax season is the perfect time to look over your W-4 to determine if you’re withholding too much money — or too little. A generous tax refund might seem like good news, but it’s like giving the government an interest-free loan throughout the year. You don’t want to withhold too little money and end up with a big tax bill to pay at the end of the year either. Ask an accountant to help you find that sweet spot, or work out the numbers using the IRS’ withholding calculator.
4.) Shop for springtime deals. Consumer Reports recommends shopping for vacuum cleaners, digital cameras, air purifiers, space heaters and roofing in early spring.
5.) Start saving for summer. If you haven’t already done so, now’s the time to start putting money away for your summer getaway. Every little bit adds up, and the earlier you start saving, the more money you’ll have to spend on that dream vacation. A fun thing to do is get a vacation account and name it where you want to go. That makes the dream more real.
Five Ways to Trim Your Fixed Expenses
When trying to trim a monthly budget, most people don’t consider their fixed expenses. These recurring costs, which include mortgage payments, insurance premiums and subscription payments, are easy to budget and plan for since they generally remain constant throughout the year. While people tend to think there’s no way to lower fixed expenses, with a bit of effort and research, most of these costs can be reduced.
Here are five ways to trim your fixed expenses.
1.) Consider a refinance. Trim your mortgage payments by refinancing at a lower interest rate. It will cost a bit, but you can roll closing costs and other fees into your refinance loan. Plus, the money you save each month should more than offset these costs. A refinance is especially smart in a falling-rates environment or if your credit score has improved a lot. Our mortgage team at Five Star can help you get started today!
2.) Lower your property taxes. Taxes are inevitable, but you may be able to lower your property taxes by challenging your town’s assessment. Each town will have its own guidelines to follow for this process, but ultimately, you will agree to have your home reappraised for proving that its value is less than the town’s assessment. This move can drastically lower your property tax bill; however, if you have made improvements to your home, it may be appraised at a higher value, which could raise your taxes.
3.) Change your auto insurance policy. If you’ve had the same insurance policy for several years, speak to a company representative about lowering your premiums. By highlighting your loyalty and excellent driving record, you may be able to get a lower quote. If your insurance company is not willing to work with you, it might be time to shop around.
4.) Consolidate debt. If you have multiple credit cards with outstanding balances, consider a balance transfer. This entails opening a new, low-interest credit card like Five Star’s Platinum Visa card and transferring all debt to it. You will now have just one debt payment to make each month. Another way to consolidate debt is to take out a personal loan at Five Star. Our personal loans will allow you to pay off all of your credit card debt at once. You’ll only need to make a single, affordable monthly payment until your loan is paid off.
5.) Cut out subscriptions you don’t need. Take some time to review your monthly subscriptions to weed out those you don’t really need. If you’re paying for a gym membership, consider just paying for classes you attend instead of the full membership, or springing for your favorite workout machine to use at home. Drop your cable service or downgrade to a cheaper plan by cutting out expensive channels you don’t watch often. Also, you might be paying for premium versions of apps you don’t need. Dropping these costs can give you more wiggle room in your monthly budget.
Scams to Avoid This Black Friday
Black Friday and Cyber Monday can be fun — but they can also put you at risk. Here are three scams to look out for as you brave the frenzied crowds while trying to snag the best deals after Thanksgiving.
1.) Crazy deals that are actually bogus. An iPhone X retailing at just $12? A pair of Ugg boots for $9? These deals sound insane because they are. And yet, thousands of people fall for these scams every Black Friday. And, of course, once the scammers have your credit card information, they’ll use it for their own shopping spree — on your dime.
Be smarter: Don’t believe any advertised price that is ridiculously low.
2.) Delivery problems. If you receive an email claiming there’s been a problem with the delivery of one of your purchases, be wary. You may be asked to click on a link or download an attachment to arrange an alternative delivery date. Ignore these emails; they’re likely to be scams. If you have a problem with the delivery of your purchase, contact the seller or company directly.
Be smarter: Never download anything or click on a link from an unverifiable source.
3.) Bait and switch. Want to win a brand new iPhone 11? Just fill out a form with your personal details, and you might be the lucky winner! Your personal details and a site whose authenticity you can’t verify are two things that should never meet. The sweepstakes is just the scammer’s bait to get at your information. “Bait and switch” scams can happen offline, too. Retailers advertise deals so amazing, you’ll find yourself travelling across town to grab the bargains. Once you reach the store, though, you’ll be told those items are sold out, but you can check out what they do have in stock. You may be offered similar, but inferior, products and cheap knockoffs, or nothing you’re interested in at all. These scams are a waste of your time and money.
Be smarter: Don’t enter any sweepstakes or believe advertisements for heavily marked-down prices on sites and stores you’re unfamiliar with.
Enjoy your Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping, and don’t let any of these scams turn you into a Grinch this holiday season!
Five Money Myths You Need to Stop Believing
We all grow up hearing the same financial advice: Spend less, save more, and invest early. While most of these words of wisdom ring true, there are lots of widespread money management tips that are actually false.
Here are five myths that might be causing you more financial stress than benefit.
Myth #1: Debit is always better than credit. The real deal: Credit cards may actually be the payment method of choice on occasion. Building and maintaining a strong credit history is crucial for your financial wellness; the best way to achieve this is by using your credit cards and paying your bills on time. Also, lots of credit cards offer purchase protection (like the Five Star Visa Platinum card), which makes them the smarter payment method for big-ticket items.
Myth #2: Investing is for rich people. The real deal: Anyone with a small pile of funds can get a foothold in the stock market. A smart investment strategy puts you on the track to financial independence.
Myth #3: I have enough money in my account for my expenses, so I don’t need to budget. The real deal: Budgeting is for everyone, regardless of their financial standing. A budget will force you to make responsible money choices, and ensure that you’re fully aware of the state of your finances at all times. This will stop having your money control you.
Myth #4: I’m so young; I don’t need to think about retirement. The real deal: The younger you are when you start building your retirement fund, the less you’ll be required to put away each month, and the more you’ll save by the time you’re ready to retire. Gift yourself with a comfortable retirement by maxing out your 401K contributions and/or opening an IRA or another retirement fund. Start today and let compound interest work its magic!
Myth #5: Credit cards will get me through any financial crisis. The real deal: Depending on credit cards to get you through a financial emergency is the perfect way to dig into a deep pit of debt. Thanks to interest, you’ll be paying back a lot more than you spend. Credit cards should not be relied upon for a real financial emergency, such as a job loss, divorce or illness. It’s best to build an emergency fund with three to six months’ worth of living expenses so that you’re completely covered in case the unexpected happens.
Try to implement at least one of these tips and you will be amazed at how good you feel when you truly control your money.
Time to Spring Clean Your Finances
Spring is a prime time for whipping your finances into shape. So, let’s get cleaning!
1.) Dust Off Your New Year’s Resolutions: Use the fresh energy of spring to revisit your list of New Year’s resolutions. What were your budgeting goals? What were your savings dreams? Have you achieved any of those goals? If not, what’s holding you back?
Do it today: Dig out your New Year’s resolutions and go through your financial goals. Tweak and adjust as necessary. Create a new tracking system if the existing one isn’t working. Then, get out there and own those goals!
2.) Sweep Out Your Monthly Budget. Review your spending habits of the last few months. What are your weak spots? Where can you cut back? It’s time to take stock!
Do it today: Review your monthly budget and choose one area to trim. Create concrete and realistic steps to make that happen. Your budget will thank you!
3.) Pile Up Your Savings. Once you’re trimming your budget and taking home a larger check each payday, why not bump up your savings? You can add to an existing fund, build a new one, open a Savings Certificate or start investing. Speak to a Five Star Credit Union member specialist to learn about our fantastic savings options.
Do it today: After choosing a savings option, stop by Five Star to set up a Direct Deposit. Then, your money will be automatically transferred from your checking account to your savings vehicle. Savings, done!
4.) Toss Your Debt This spring, while you make piles of junk to toss in the trash, why not get rid of your debt too?
Do it today: Paying down debt isn’t easy, but you can do it! All you need is a realistic plan. Review your debts and pick the one you want to pay off first. Find a way to double your payments, either by increasing income or trimming expenses. After it’s paid, add the extra payment to the next one to toss. Eventually, you’ll kick all of your debt to the curb!
Simple Ways to Pay Off a Loan Early
If you’re like most Americans, you owe money on a large loan. Whether that’s credit card debt, a mortgage and/or a car loan, loan debt is part of your life. And that means you’re looking at hundreds of dollars in interest over the life of the loan. There’s also the mental load of knowing you’ll be paying on the debt for years to come.
Did you know there are simple tricks you can employ to lighten the load? With a carefully applied technique, you can pay off your mortgage, auto loan, credit card debt and any other debt you’re carrying sooner than you thought possible. These tricks are light on your finances, but they can make a big difference to the total interest you’ll pay over the life of the loan and get you debt-free faster.
1.) Make bi-weekly payments. Instead of making monthly payments on a loan, do half-payments every two weeks. This way, your payments will be applied more often so less interest can accrue. You’ll also be making 26 half-payments each year, which translates into an annual extra full payment, shortening the life of the loan by several months or even years.
2.) Round up your payments. Round up your monthly payments to the nearest $50 to shorten your loan. The difference is usually too small to make a tangible dent in your budget, but large enough to knock a few months off the life of the loan and save significantly in interest.
3.) Make one extra payment each year. If you can’t make bi-weekly payments, but you like the idea of an extra yearly payment, accomplish the same goal by committing to just one more payment in the year. You’ll only feel the squeeze once (tax or bonus time, perhaps) and you’ll still shorten the life of the loan.
4.) Refinance. If interest rates have dropped since you took out your loan or your credit has improved dramatically, contact Five Star Credit Union to ask about refinancing, whether the loan is with us or not. Refinancing makes the most sense if it can help you pay down the loan sooner. With a lower interest rate, you should easily be able to afford shortening the life of the loan.
Financial Preparation for 2019
2019 is here – are you ready? The best way to usher in the New Year is with plans for financial improvement and resolutions to do more.
Here are some ways to get started:
1.) Tune your budget. A budget shouldn’t be scary. It’s a blueprint for your month. Start with the income you expect and your fixed expenses such as mortgage, insurance and utilities. Make sure to incorporate your savings goals, and the remaining money is designated for your other expenses. Now you will know where all of your money goes each month.
2.) Plan ahead to meet your goals. Consider how you will accomplish your goals. You might have short-term goals, such as purchasing a new home, as well as long-term goals, like retirement. Each set of goals requires different kinds of planning and saving. Financial planners recommend setting up a separate savings account for each goal. This way, your progress toward that goal is clear.
3.) Spend mindfully. A good way to start the year is by identifying your wants and needs. Your needs are necessary for survival and include food and shelter. Your wants are things you desire like a new car or a vacation. Your needs should go first and remaining money can be allocated for your wants. For many of us, the lines between wants and needs are blurred. Being honest will help you achieve your financial goals quicker.
These are just a few ways to prepare financially for the coming year. With a little attention to some often-overlooked details, a little perseverance and a mindfulness throughout, you’ll be moving forward with a strong foundation and positive outlook. Make 2019 your year!
Christmas without Stress- How to Control Holiday Spending
The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy and celebration. But too many of us find them to be a time of great financial stress, too. You want to give gifts to so many loved ones but you need to balance how much you spend; but not put yourself into a financial bind? Here’s some ways to balance it out.
Start early. By starting well before Thanksgiving, you have more options. There are more sales to choose from, and you have more time to shop. But starting early gives you another valuable advantage – time.
Make a plan. Don’t impulse spend. Before Thanksgiving, write out your gift list. Have a maximum amount you can afford, and dial that number back just a bit. Once you have your list and the number of dollars you’re planning to spend on each recipient, add it all up. If it’s too high, refine the dollar amounts on your list and recalculate. Repeat until you have landed in your spending comfort zone.
Join a Christmas Club. Back before nearly everyone had a credit card, people joined Christmas Clubs at credit unions. Their credit union would help them set aside money each month for 11 months. Then, at Christmas time, that money was available, with the interest earned, for holiday spending. You can join a Christmas Club here at Five Star! Any one of our Member Relationship Specialists can assist you!
Try these tips and you will have a Merry Christmas without a lump of coal.
Remodel Your Kitchen – The Right Way
Many people want a different kitchen. It’s the heart of the house. It’s where everyone gathers to talk, eat, and just hang out. It should reflect the owner. But, to get it right, means a remodel. That can get expensive. Here are ways to do it right.
1.) Know your budget
Before picking new countertops and appliances, sit down and crunch the numbers. You might need to put together a savings plan, dip into existing savings, or take out a loan to cover the costs of the renovations. A complete kitchen remodel can be as much as $40,000, but there’s lots you can do on a smaller budget. When you’ve figured out what you can spend, these ideas will help you:
- With $5,000, you can give your kitchen a superficial touch-up that can pack a big punch. That means new paint, replace the faucets, pick up a new light fixture, reupholster or change the fabric on your chairs and windows and spruce up the area with modern accessories.
- With $15,000, you can do all that plus buy a new appliance or two, replace your countertops and install new, budget-friendly cabinets.
Kitchen upgrades can pay for themselves. Experts say that recently remodeled kitchens usually return between 80 and 105 percent of their cost when a home is sold.
2.) Choose your cabinets
Cabinets can monopolize the visual wall space in a kitchen, making them a first choice for an upgrade. Here’s some good options:
- Cabinets with wood or plywood panels and solid wood frames are sturdy, budget-friendly, and fashionable.
- Porcelain-tile cabinets are a fantastic new option that look almost exactly like wood for half the price.
- Laminate is your cheapest option for cabinets. It’s durable, easy to clean and comes in a variety of colors and patterns.
- Refinish the outside of your cabinets instead of replacing them for a new look that doesn’t bust your budget.
- Install wall-mounted shelves to add storage space to your kitchen without splurging on new cabinets.
3.) Make a splash
Don’t forget your sink when upgrading your kitchen.It can modernize the look and feel without costing much.
Brushed nickel is the most popular choice for faucets, largely due to its durability. If you hate scrubbing those fingerprints and water spots, you’ll be happy to hear that nickel conveniently hides dirt and grime. The least expensive faucet finish is chrome. For a long-lasting material that won’t cost a pretty penny, go with brass instead.
If you’re looking to change your sink’s bowl as well, there are three main styles to consider:
- Farmhouse bowls are super-large and deep and are the perfect choice for people with numerous dishes to wash on a daily basis. On the flip side, their large size means they might require a customized base cabinet for installation.
- Top-mount bowls have a “drop-in” rim that keeps the sink in place on the countertop. This makes installation simple, but creates a prime place for dirt and grime to accumulate.
- Undermount sinks are trendy and look sleek, but can take double the time and work to be installed.
4.) Choose your countertops
The trending countertop choices are granite, quartz and stone. These materials are beautiful, easy to maintain and can last for years and years. If these options are not in your budget, consider engineered stone. It will give you a similar look for a cheaper price. For something more budget-friendly, you might want to go with ceramic tile. It’s durable, comes in almost any imaginable color and is a fraction of the price of stone.
If you need more help with planning the budget for your kitchen remodel, call, click, or stop by Five Star today to learn about our Personal Loans, Home Equity Loans and Home Equity Lines of Credit.
We’ll help turn your dream into reality!
Keep Your Debit Card Safe
Debit and credit card compromises continue to rise. At Five Star, your data is important. However, you can’t always control who has access to your card. It’s smart to think about your purchases and the card that you use. Here are four purchases where cards are most often compromised.
Gas stations – Card skimmers at gas stations are real. Use your credit card instead of your debit card, you’ll have an added layer of protection against fraud. Always check the card reader to make sure a skimmer is not in place.
Unfamiliar locations – While on vacation, think before you swipe. You don’t know the area and you can’t be certain which clerks are to be trusted. You’re better off paying with a credit card or with cash so your purchases are protected.
Online purchases – When buying expensive items or everyday things online, use your credit card. Many times you have dispute rights in case the product doesn’t turn out as expected. Plus, if the site is compromised, they don’t have access to your checking account.
Restaurants – When you hand your debit card to a server, you don’t really know them. The server has more than enough time to clone your card and then use it or sell it. You are better off using a credit card or cash to pay for your meal.
Download the Five Star app so you can control your cards and freeze them after purchases. By freezing the card, hackers can’t use it and they will move on to the next one. Search Five Star in your device’s app store.
Communication Leads to Happier Life
When you and your spouse or partner take different approaches to money, it causes tension. Money is one of the major reasons cited for divorce and breakups. Why? Because money is personal – communication is important. You have your ideas on how to spend it, save it, and earn it. It’s inevitable that your approach will clash with your spouse or partner.
Here’s a few ideas that will get the finance discussion going in a constructive way.
Agree on a time that you’d like to talk about money and, together, choose a place that works for both of you. Make it a time when you both can focus on the topic without distractions.
Lay out a vision
Begin the discussion with a vision or a goal. Examples include:
- Would you like to spend a week at the Grand Canyon?
- Wouldn’t it be amazing to buy a home next year?
- I’d love to finally upgrade our car.
Talking about future goals sets a positive tone for the conversation.
Attach monetary values to your goals
Now that you’ve shared your goals, start talking numbers. How much would it really cost to achieve what you laid out above?
Create a saving plan
With your goals in mind, start building a plan. Together with your spouse or partner, create a reasonable savings plan that will help you reach your shared goal.
Build a budget
Let’s turn the dream into reality. Discuss specific ways to cut back. Don’t point fingers; each should admit to their own shortcomings and be honest about your own vices.
Together, work out a monthly budget that accounts for all of your expenses and your new savings goal. Put in the budget a number you want to save each month.
See it come together
The next step is watching your Five Star savings account grow. The more you save and then pay for your goals in cash, the happier you will both be in the long run. By being on the same page, you will see less tension and more happiness.
If you need help getting started, stop by your local Five Star branch. We’re here to help!
Does Living Frugally Make You Happier?
It’s the first of the year and many are thinking about New Year’s resolutions. A popular resolution is saving money or living more frugal. But, does living frugal make you happy? The perception is that spending money will make you happy. However, it usually leads to more problems down the road; namely heavy debt. That debt then leads to stress, worry and unhappiness. It may be hard to believe but living frugally can make you happier than living lavishly.
If you’d like to start to live more frugally, get focused by establishing a goal. Write down your objective and place reminders of your goal where you’ll see them often. A few things to remember about living frugally, you will learn to repurpose, you will begin having more experiences than objects, you will find joy in helping others because you have more money, and your debt will disappear.
Here’s a few ways to get started. The savings will amaze you.
Make a list of what you’d like to do, how much money you’ll need to achieve it, and make a plan. Brown-bag your lunch instead of eating out. Make a weekly meal plan and cook your meals at home.
If you have credit card debt, consolidate the debt into one loan or into a single, lower-interest Five Star credit card to save on interest charges. Once you’ve consolidated your credit card debt, keep your oldest card, but use it infrequently and close all others.
Stretch your money
When grocery shopping, clip coupons and look for sales. Find ways to lower your monthly bills. Consider giving up your cable service and stream.
Give frugal living a try. You have nothing to lose but debt – and only happiness to gain!
Teach Kids to Shop Responsibly
- Give your child a designated amount of cash for a treat. The amount can be chosen at your discretion and should range anywhere from fify cents to five buck. You don’t have to do this every time you go to a store with your child; it can be just once a week or even once every two weeks.
- Tell your child that they are going to be in charge of purchasing their own treat this time, using the money they’ve been given.
- Here’s the kicker: If your child doesn’t spend all their allotted money at the store, you’ll let them keep the cash and match the amount when you get home! And then they can do whatever they want with that money. They can choose to use it the next time you go to the store, they can add it to their savings, or just put it away for a rainy day.
Seven Tips to Make Your Thanksgiving Affordable
Watch your money grow
Now is one of the best times to move your money to Five Star. In August, Five Star raised its deposit rates for certificates of deposit. You can now make as much as 2.05 percent annual yield (APY) on a 48-month certificate of deposit with a minimum balance*. If you prefer a smaller minimum balance, the deposit rates are still very good at 1.50 percent annual yield**.
To get the best rate available, you will need to be a Five Star level member. It’s pretty easy to achieve that status. Open a checking and savings account with 10 transactions per month, along with at least one of either a direct deposit, debit or credit card spending of at least $500 per month, e-statements, or a certain type of loan. This will qualify you for a .25 percent bump on the annual percentage yield.
Let’s do some math to show you how you can make some serious money on your certificate with Five Star. Let’s say you take out a 48-month certificate of deposit for $100,000. If you are a Five Star level member, you will get a 2.05 percent APY rate for 48 months. You will make $8,544.09. That is some serious return on your investment. Plus, you don’t have to worry about the volatility of the stock market. This is safe and secure.
Five Star has the most competitive rates around. If you want to make the best return on your hard earned money, deposit it at Five Star. By becoming a Five Star level member, you are rewarded with a quarter percent bump on your rate. Don’t get frustrated, get happy and watch your money grow at Five Star.
*For a 2.05% APY, a $100,000 minimum deposit is required, as well as being a Five Star level member.
**For a 1.50% APY, a $500 minimum deposit is required, as well as being a Five Star level member.
New Year, New Scams
Gas, electricity and water are necessities that usually aren’t thought about a lot. However, in the winter they can be prime vehicles for scams. If someone called to say your account was overdue and that your service would be shut off – it’d be frightening. You would do whatever they say to avoid the consequences which is exactly what scammers hope.
The Department of Consumer Affairs warns of a new scam targeting utility customers. A scammer calls claiming the consumer is overdue on a utility bill, and that someone is coming to turn the power off. The scammer will instruct the victim to buy a prepaid debit card. The scammer asks for the number on the card and then takes its whole value. Transactions on these cards are difficult to trace, which means recovering the money is nearly impossible.
If you’re targeted by one of these scams, do not comply. Here’s a few things to remember.
Know your rights
A utility company representative would not tell you that your service will be shut off in minutes unless you pay immediately. There are regulations that govern how and when service can be turned off. The company is required to send a notification of termination, a letter identifying the reason, the date, and how you can prevent this shut-off. This process is cumbersome, so most companies won’t send one until you’re more than two payments behind.
Turning your service off is expensive, so utility providers will first make several attempts to contact you. If you are called, ask for a record of past attempts at contact. A utility company will gladly provide this information; a scammer will hesitate when questioned.
Pay it right
Utility companies process hundreds or thousands of payments every day using established procedures. They will never insist on a specific means of payment. Always choose a secured means of payment, like your credit or debit card. These cards offer fraud protection and limit your liability if something goes wrong with the transaction.
If you’re not using online banking, Five Star offers automatic bill payment to make paying your bills simple. You can access it through www.fivestarcu.com.
If you’ve run into payment trouble with utility companies in the past, work to get ahead on your utility payments. If money is the issue, there are federal and state programs designed to help. One such program is the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which provides utility payment credits for low-income individuals.
If you are called by a scammer, use the procedures above to ensure you do not become a victim.
Don’t get scammed this holiday season
The holiday season can be beautiful time spent with family. So many memories are made not just at Christmas but the weeks leading up. With the holiday season, comes scams. It’s an unfortunate part of the holidays. There are a few practical things you can do to ensure that you are not taken advantage of or have your Five Star account compromised.
Before we got any further, always remember that your account is our utmost priority. We take great pride in keeping it and all of your information as secure as possible. But, scammers are everywhere and they are more sophisticated today than they were this time last year. The old adage that if it sounds too good to be true, it is. Always remember that when shopping online and through Craigslist or Facebook marketplace. They will simply copy a picture from the internet and post it when they don’t really own the product. It’s always good to ask specific questions about the product before you buy.
Another scam that happens a lot during the holidays is the email scam. You receive an email from FedEx, Amazon, or UPS stating that there is a problem with a delivery. Even though you did not order anything, they will try to make you think you did. They ask for personal information or credit card numbers to clear up the problem. Remember, large companies will never ask you to divulge sensitive information in an email or through a text. They will always ask you to update your account information on their actual website. Look closely at the email reply address and it is usually not affiliated with the major company. The big retailer also appreciates when you alert them that their name is being used in a scam.
Finally, be smart when you purchase online and have the packages delivered. Thieves will drive through neighborhoods looking for packages on doorsteps. If you are going to be out of town or working, alert a neighbor to be on the lookout for you package. Another idea is to have the package delivered to your work address; assuming that is allowed at your workplace. Some simple ideas can help ease the stress of the holidays by not having to take extra time to talk to the police or your financial institution about being scammed.
The holidays are a wonderful time. The smarter your are while making purchases the less likely scammers are to be successful.
Don’t Let Debt Crush You
One of the more common questions Five Star gets is, “How can I pay down debt when I have so much?” This can be one of the most stressful things in a person’s finances and especially marriages or young earners. There are a few steps that you can take to help reduce debt and get control of your finances. It will take some work at first, but it will be worth it.
First start out by figuring out how much you owe, to whom you owe it, at what interest rate you’re paying it back, plus any other fees, penalties or costs that go with any of your debts. This gives you a snapshot of how much debt you have. Sometimes it’s hard to look at it, but that’s the first step to paying it down. Next, lower your interest rate, if possible. A higher interest rate can sometimes eat up a lot of your payment. This is usually the best way to climb out of credit card debt.
A second way to begin climbing out of debt is by consolidating debt into one loan. Make sure the interest rate is lower. This will mean more of your payment will pay down the principle debt. If your car loan interest rate is high, look to refinance the loan to get a lower interest rate. You might also consider selling the car to get one that is cheaper while you get out of debt. This way you can put more money toward existing debt.
Five Star can help you put a plan together to get out of debt. Five Star is offering 0% interest on balance transfers until June 2018. There is a 3% transfer fee, but it will most likely save you money in the long run. You can also get a 5.99% balance transfer with zero transfer fees for life. Check out your options at your local branch or have a Five Star professional call you and get you started on transferring those large balances.
Whose Fault Is Fraud?
Fraud is more prevalent today than any other time in our country’s history. With so much business being transacted online, it’s inevitable it will happen. Five Star goes above and beyond to keep your accounts and debit/credit cards safe. If you don’t know how these transactions work, it is basically you tell a merchant you’d like to buy something, the merchant tells Five Star to pay money from your account, and then Five Star asks you to authorize the transaction. It’s quick and easy.
However, if something goes wrong in that process, you assume it’s the fault of one of these three parties. That’s not necessarily the case. Fraud can happen at the Point of Sale (POS) terminals which is the systems that process credit and debit transactions. POS systems have other vulnerabilities, from PIN tracking keypads to miniature cameras. Always be watchful for small modifications in the keypads and other devices. If something looks suspicious, back out of a transaction or ask for another register to use.
Some businesses keep costs low by using third-party payment-processors, which tally up the day’s transactions of a merchant, bill the appropriate entity, and pay the merchant. In exchange, they take a tiny percentage of each transaction. There’s lots of competition in this niche and that can mean that companies cut costs to stay profitable – often by cutting corners with security. When shopping at unfamiliar places, be extra cautious by using a pre-paid debit card, cash or another form of non-electronic payment. Don’t be afraid to use an ATM – they’re usually maintained by organizations with in-house processing, thus limiting the steps your data goes through.
The last stage in this chain is the clearing house – external organizations that transfer funds, acting as the intermediary for the merchant’s payment-processor and the credit organization. There’s a wide network of American Clearing House (ACH) payment centers. Most of them smoothly process millions of dollars worth of transactions every day. However, occasional mistakes happen and some transactions are processed improperly. Clearing houses are insured against losses and they quickly correct mistakes.
Every payment system has potential for fraud. Electronic payment processing is among the most secure forms of exchange possible, and its failures are fixable. Swipe with confidence, knowing your liability is limited thanks to the strong trail of protection offered by electronic payment processing. Five Star takes fraud seriously and works every day to ensure your account will not be compromised. Take a few seconds before every transaction to make sure the machines and businesses are also taking fraud seriously.