Cash, Credit or Debit–How Should I Pay?

Q: When paying for my everyday and occasional purchases, should I be using cash, credit or debit?

A: Some purchases should be paid for with cash, some with a credit card and others with a debit card. Let’s take a closer look at each method and when they should be used.

When should I use cash?

Some retailers offer discounts for paying in cash, making it the wise go-to. Also, if you have a tough time sticking to your budget when shopping, it can be helpful to only take along the cash you plan to use. Finally, some small businesses only accept cash payments. 

On the flip side, cash offers no purchase protection and should not be used for large purchases. Also, cash leaves no paper trail, so it may be difficult to track expenses. Finally, cash always carries the risk of being lost or stolen. 

When should I use my credit card?

Credit cards are the double-edged sword of personal finance. Credit card debt is a leading cause of consumer debt. However, owning credit cards and using them responsibly is a crucial part of your credit rating. 

Credit cards also offer two primary advantages: rewards and purchase protection. Many credit cards can earn rewards as you spend on them, so it earns you something for your use. The purchase protection a credit card offers also makes it the ideal choice for paying for large purchases. In addition, using a credit card and making on-time payments can help boost your credit score while also making expense tracking easy. 

Ideally, credit cards should only be used to cover fixed or steady payments and for purchases you know you can pay in full when the bill is due. 

When should I use my debit card?

Debit cards allow you to track your spending and help you stay within budget since you can generally only spend what you have. In addition, if your card is lost or stolen, you can cancel it and/or close the connected account. 

Debit cards can be a great choice for everyday purchases of any kind. However, since they usually don’t offer rewards or the same level of purchase protection as credit cards, they are not the best choice for large purchases. 

Use this guide to help you choose the right payment method in every situation. 

What Kind of Home Improvement Projects Will Add Value to My Home?

Q: I’m doing work on my house soon, so it has me wondering how I can increase my home’s value at the same time. What kind of home improvements can add value to my home?

A: Renovating your home with an eye toward its future value can help you recoup the costs of the project – and more. Here are five home improvement projects that can boost your home’s value when it comes time to sell.

Kitchen remodel

The biggest return on investment in home projects is the kitchen. This is where realtors and interested buyers usually spend the most time while checking out a new home. And the kitchen is the hub of many households. 

The most recent Cost vs. Value Report shows that a kitchen remodel involving cosmetic changes like new floors, cabinet fronts and appliances, can net an 85.7% return on investment (ROI). For example, a $26,790 kitchen remodel can add $22,963 to a home sale. If you do go with a kitchen remodel, keep costs down. A major remodel, such as replacing cabinets, adding custom lighting and expensive appliances will likely not return as much as a more modest renovation.

Bathroom remake

Next up, the bathroom. Potential buyers pay these areas extra attention. Updated walls, floors and fixtures can really make your home more marketable. Plus, you can charge more for your home when the bathrooms have been remodeled. According to the RenoFi Renovation Index, a mid-range bathroom remodel has an ROI of 64% while an upscale remodel can net a 56% return. 

Upgrade your insulation

Improving your home’s insulation generally pays for itself when you sell your home, according to the Remodeling Impact Report. However, in addition to breaking even on the cost of the project, your home will feel warmer in winter and lower your energy bills.

Basement conversion

Converting a basement into a livable area can be another fabulous way to increase the value of your home.  According to the National Association of Realtors, a basement conversion can cost $57,500 on average while bumping your home value up by $49,250 for an 86% ROI. 

Replace your roof

A roof replacement is one of the most expensive homeowner jobs, so a new roof can significantly boost your home’s resale value. According to the 2022 Remodeling Impact Report, a new roof at $12,000 will easily pay for itself. However, a larger, metal roof, at $52,436, will only boost a home’s value by $28,196, netting you a 54.8% ROI.

What determines if a renovation will add value to your home?

In addition to the type of remodeling job, several other factors can determine if home improvements will increase the value of your home, including: 

  • Current real estate market
  • Home décor trends
  • Quality of the work
  • Materials used 
  • Buyer preferences

Are there any home renovations that can decrease the value of my home?

Believe it or not, yes, some remodeling projects can lower home value. This includes renovations that are highly personalized, converting bedrooms into closets and remodels that require ongoing maintenance.

Are you looking to fund a home improvement project through a HELOC? Call, click or stop by today to get started. Our favorable rates, generous eligibility requirements and easy terms, make a HELOC a great choice. 

Spring has Sprung Scams: Facebook Marketplace

With Spring in the air, a lot of people have started their Spring Cleaning, selling unused, unwanted items on Facebook Marketplace. Facebook Marketplace has become a hotspot for scammers. Here are some things to look out for:

Prices that are too good to be true

One red flag to watch out for is if a seller is offering an item at a price that seems too good to be true. Scammers often lure in buyers with significantly low prices to attract attention. In the end, the buyer never receives the item. Another warning sign is if the seller insists on using unconventional payment methods or requests personal information such as your bank details or social security number. Never share your personal information and report any suspicious behavior.

Rental Scams

A scam that has become increasingly popular is rental scams. These scams show fake listings for a number of different items. Such as, boats, bikes, equipment, properties, etc. In this scenario, the scammer will ask for payment upfront or a deposit to secure their rental. The victim then ends up with no rental and lost money. Protect yourself by first seeing the rental in person and paying after, use reputable rental platforms instead of Facebook, be cautious of below-market pricing, and avoid wire transfers.

Return Scams

In this scam the buyer states that they want to return the item that they purchased, they will ask for a refund. The scammer will then either not return the item or return a similar item that is broken or something totally different than the original item. The fraudster will send fake tracking information to show “proof” that they are returning the item. To avoid this scam, sellers should wait for the returned item and check that it is in good condition before issuing any sort of refund.

Two-Factor Authentication Codes

Never share a two-factor authentication code! If someone asks for this code, there’s a high chance that you are speaking to a scammer. These codes are ONLY meant for you. Phishers will ask you to send them this code to verify that you are who you say you are. In reality, they are really going to use this code to log in to one of your accounts. You are at risk of being hacked if you share a two-factor authentication code.

Trust your Instincts

To stay safe while using Facebook Marketplace, it’s recommended to meet sellers in person, in a public place, and inspect the item before making any payment. Share your meeting location/plan with a friend or family member and avoid carrying large amounts of cash with you. Additionally, trust your instincts – if something feels off or suspicious, it’s better to walk away from the deal. By staying informed and alert, you can enjoy the benefits of Facebook Marketplace without falling prey to scams.


https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2024/facebook-marketplace.html

https://www.comparitech.com/identity-theft-protection/top-facebook-marketplace-scams/

https://www.facebook.com/help/2374002556073992

Emergency Funds – Not Just For Adults

Divvying up your kid’s allowance into different jars, each with a specific label and purpose, has become pretty standard. Your kids probably have one jar for savings, one for spending and maybe another for giving.

What most parents and kids omit, though, is one more jar for emergencies. Yes, emergencies, even for kids. Granted, they won’t be shelling out thousands of dollars for a roof repair or a medical crisis like their parents might, but emergencies come in all shapes and sizes, and to all-sized people.

No one needs convincing that having funds for an unexpected expense is crucial to financial security. In fact, building an emergency fund is the first of Dave Ramsey’s famous seven baby steps for getting out of debt. It’s definitely something you want to build into your kids’ psyche. So why not start now?

Some examples of small and not-so-small emergencies for children are:

  • The pair of new sneakers left in the locker room after PE, now gone forever
  • The shattered car window from an overeager, but poorly aimed, baseball
  • The huge data plan overage charge
  • The misplaced spending money for an afternoon at the mall

So yes, kids have emergencies. Helping them set up a fund to pay for some of these mini crises instead of bailing them out each time will teach them to be prepared.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Help your kid add an extra jar to their existing set and mark it for emergencies.
  • Allocate a portion of your kid’s weekly allowance or chore payment to the emergency fund.
  • With your child, create a goal for the new jar. For a younger child, $25 should be enough, with the number steadily growing to about $100 for preteens.
  • Once the jar has hit its target, revert back to the original division of money among the other jars.

The next time your child has a financial emergency, have them pay for all or part of it. It’s okay to share the costs for larger emergencies, or even for smaller ones. Your child will still learn responsibility by coughing up some of the funds on their own.

These should be situations due to negligence, irresponsible behavior or simple forgetfulness on the part of your child.

When the fund is depleted for an emergency, be sure to encourage them to replenish it by going back to step two.

Remember, it’s baby steps like these that will prevent your child from having to crawl their way out of debt later on in life.

Don’t Get Caught in an Emergency Scam!

Your grandson’s calling – and he’s in bigtime trouble! He’s been kidnapped and being held for ransom, so he needs you to wire over money ASAP.

Before you wire over anything, stop! You’re probably being scammed. Here’s what you need to know about emergency scams and how to protect yourself. 

How the scams play out

In an emergency scam, a target gets a phone call, email or text message pretending to be a close relative. The caller will claim to have been caught in hot waterwhich can be anything: a kidnapping, an issue with the police, a car accident or getting stuck overseas with no money. 

The caller will then ask the target to send over money pronto, using a wire transfer or prepaid debit card. While emergency scams are commonly played out with a grandparent of an alleged caller, they can also target the parents, uncles, aunts, and siblings of the “caller.”

Unfortunately, if the target follows the caller’s directions by sending over money, these funds will go into the scammer’s pockets. 

Red flags

Here are some signs that can alert you to the possibility of an emergency scam:

  • Your “relative” calls to tell you about an emergency situation they’re in, but they ask you not share this information with family members or anyone else.
  • You’re urged to act quickly.
  • You’re asked to send money by a wire transfer, prepaid gift card or cryptocurrency. 
  • You’re asked to share sensitive information over the phone.

Protect yourself

Follow these tips to help keep yourself safe from emergency scams:

  • If a friend or family member calls you with an urgent request for funds, hang up and call them directly from a number they’ll recognize. 
  • Never wire money or send a prepaid gift card to an unverified contact. 
  • Ask an alleged caller some questions about your shared memories to determine if they actually are who they claim to be.
  • Always be cautious and avoid acting rashly regardless of the situation.
  • Don’t share your personal info with an unknown contact. 
  • Don’t be afraid to share details of a phone call with other family members and friends.

Stay safe!

Building Financial Resilience: Strategies for Overcoming Financial Stress

In today’s fast-paced world, we face many financial challenges as we juggle a lot of responsibilities. The constant pressure to earn enough for covering day-to-day expenses while remembering to put away money for your financial goals never lets up. To make it even more difficult, life only gets more expensive as time goes on. However, despite the inherent hurdles, overcoming financial stress and living a financially fit life is very doable. Let’s take a look at key strategies for building financial resilience. 

Manage debt

Debt can be a big source of financial stress. To effectively manage debt and gain control of your finances, take a proactive approach:

  • Assess your debts and choose which to prioritize.
  • Create a repayment plan, like the snowball or avalanche method. 
  • Maximize debt payment until you’ve paid them all off.

Build an emergency fund

Building an emergency fund is important for creating financial resilience. Here’s how to do it:

  • Start small. Gradually increase the amount you regularly save over time. 
  • Automate your savings. Make saving automatic by setting up regular transfers from your checking account to a separate savings account. 
  • Aim for three to six months’ worth of expenses.  While this can take time, make this amount your ultimate goal so you can weather any surprise and keep your finances intact.

Set financial goals

Setting clear financial goals will empower you to take control of your financial well-being and build your financial resilience. Follow these steps to successfully set financial goals: 

  • Identify your short-term and long-term goals. 
  • Make your goals specific and measurable. 
  • Break goals into actionable steps.

Practice self-care

Taking care of yourself is a vital part of reducing financial stress. Find time to pursue your interests and to take frequent breaks from the daily grind. And it doesn’t have to put you into debt, either. You can go for a walk alongside a beautiful lakefront, learn a new language, visit free galleries showcasing your favorite art or develop a hobby by watching free DIY videos.

Managing money responsibly in current times is super-challenging, but financial resilience is within reach. Use the tips outlined here to achieve and maintain financial resilience. 

Practical Budgeting Made Easy

With the right tools and information, building a budget can be quick and easy. Here’s how to create a simple and practical budget for the time-strapped consumer. 

Review your income and expenses

Most budgeting plans recommend tracking income and expenses for three months. If you’re pressed for time, though, you can choose to look at one month and review your spending and income throughout this time. Review your checking account details and credit card statements to see where your money went and what funds came in. 

Compare income and expenses

Hold up your two numbers from the previous step and see how they compare. If your income outweighs your expenses, you’re doing great! If it falls short, you’ll need to trim your expenses in the next step or look for ways to boost your income. If the numbers balance each other out, it’s still a good idea to trim expenses to leave some budget wiggle room.

Assign a dollar amount to every expense category

Next, review the ways you spend your money and assign a dollar amount to each category. Include fixed and changing expenses as well as savings contributions.

If you’re pressed for time, you can make your categories more broad. For example, instead of setting a separate number for groceries, work lunches and dining out, you can set a larger number for all monthly food expenses.

If your income does not cover your expenses or just barely covers them, look for ways to trim the fat however possible. 

Jot down your dollar allocation on paper, or create a digital version of your budget and upload it to your personal devices for easy access.

Use technology

Harness the power of technology to help you track and manage your expenses well. A budgeting app can make tracking your monthly spending super-easy. You can upload your budget to the app and track expenses throughout the month. The app will let you know how much you’ve spent in each category and warn you when you’re approaching the limit. 

Live with your budget

You’re ready to live with a budget! Remember to keep your monthly expense categories in mind as you spend throughout the month. 

If you find it too hard to keep track of your spending throughout the month, the money envelope system can make it easier. Simply withdraw cash amounts for each non-discretionary expense category in your budget at the start of the month and only use the money in these envelopes to pay for these costs throughout the month.

Review and adjust

Your budget is up and running! Review your spending plan regularly to see if it’s still working for you and adjust as needed.

Budgeting doesn’t have to take a lot of your time or be overly complicated. Use this guide to learn how to create a practical, easy budget that works. 

All You Need to Know About Tech Support Scams

There’s little in life that’s more frustrating than a computer that won’t do its job. But sometimes, like your own private miracle, a message appears on your screen. It says: “Technical difficulties? Click here for assistance.” 

Unfortunately, if you follow these instructions, you’ll probably fall directly into a scammer’s trap. Here’s what you need to know about technical support scams and how to prevent yourself from falling victim.

How the scams play out

In a tech support scam, a target may have an unresponsive computer with a message, get an email, text message, pop-up or even a phone call allegedly from a computer technician who works for a well-known company. The “rep” will offer to help with any computer issues they may (or may not) have. They’ll direct the target to call a specific number or click on an embedded link, which will connect them to the “rep” who can supposedly help them. Once connected, the scammer will ask the victim to pay for the services before they’re rendered using a wire, prepaid gift card or cryptocurrency. Once the payment is made, the scammer disappears.

Red flags of technical support scams

  • You get an unsolicited message or phone call offering tech support for an issue you aren’t having.
  • Your computer may be unresponsive playing an alert audio with a phone number to call.
  • You’re required to pay for tech support by wire transfer, prepaid gift card or crypto.
  • A pop-up message appears claiming there’s a security issue with your computer and directing you to call a specific number. 

What you need to know about tech support

  • Legitimate tech companies won’t reach out to you by phone, email or text message to let you know your computer is having issues. 
  • Security pop-up warnings from authentic companies won’t ask you to call a number or click on a link. 
  • Legitimate companies won’t demand that you pay for a service by wire transfer, prepaid gift card or crypto. 
  • Logos are easily spoofed and should never serve as proof of a message’s true origin.

Protect yourself

Don’t fall for a tech support scam! 

First, if you run into technical difficulties with your computer, don’t wait for a rep to contact you to offer assistance. Instead, directly reach out to a trusted company.

Also, if you believe there may be a problem with your computer, update its security software and run a scan to identify any potential problems.

Finally, never provide an unverified contact with access to your device or credit card information.

If you’ve been targeted

If you believe you’ve been targeted by a tech support scam, here’s how to mitigate the damage. 

If you’ve given a scammer remote access to your computer, update your computer’s security software, then run a scan and delete anything that’s flagged as a problem. If you’ve shared your login credentials with a scammer, change all your passwords.

If you’ve provided any credit card or banking information, contact the institution and relay the situation.

Report the scam to the FTC

Stay safe!

How to Avoid Romance Scams this Valentine’s Day

Don’t be the next victim of a romance scam! Here’s all you need to know:

How the scam plays out

In a romance ruse, a scammer will create a bogus online profile and attempt to connect to singles on dating apps and websites, as well as through social media platforms. After a connection is formed, the scammer will work to build up the relationship with the victim, calling and texting often. Once the scammer has gained the victim’s trust, the scammer will spin a sorry story and ask the victim for money.

The scammer may explain that they cannot meet in person because they are currently living or traveling outside the United States. They’ll claim to be a doctor working for an international organization, a blue-collar worker in the middle of a construction project or to be part of the military and currently serving overseas. They may ask for money to help cover travel expenses, pay for medical treatment, cover customs fees at the airport or to pay for a visa or other official travel documents.

The scammer will ask for payment via wire transfer or prepaid debit card. Once they’ve received the funds, they will disappear. Alternatively, the scammer will ask their “date” to share personal financial information and then go on to empty the victim’s accounts.

How to spot a romance scam

If you’re in the market for a new date and you’re hoping to meet someone online, look out for these red flags:

Profile is too good to be true. If a single’s profile has unrealistic credentials, including a magazine-worthy photo, you’re likely looking at a scam.
Single rushes into the relationship. If the contact comes on too strong, too fast, it may be a scam.

Single asks you for money. Don’t believe a money-starved story of someone you just met online, especially if they start asking you to help them out.

How to play it safe online

Avoid falling victim to romance scams and similar ruses by following basic online safety rules.

First, never share personal details online with anyone whose identity you cannot verify. This includes all financial information, credit card details and personal information that can be used to unlock a password on any of your accounts.

Second, only visit secure sites and keep all the settings on your social media pages private. Never engage in conversation with a stranger who reaches out to you on a platform you’ve just begun using, or who sends you personal texts or emails you without any prior communication.

It’s equally important never to send money to anyone online.

If you suspect a romance scam

If you believe you’ve been targeted by a romance scam, take these steps to avoid further damage:

Research the name on the profile to see if the details check out. You can also use an online background checking tool, such as BeenVerified or TruthFinder, to verify the credibility of the profile.

Do a reverse-image search of the profile picture to see if it’s a stock photo or an image that was plucked off the internet. You can also ask the contact to share a current photo of themselves.

If your research confirms your suspicions, stop all communication with the scammer immediately. Block the scammer’s number and flag their emails as spam. If you’ve already paid a romance scammer with a prepaid gift card, call the company that issued the card to ask them to refund your money.

Report the scam to the FTC. It’s also a good idea to alert the website or app that the scammer is using. You may also consider warning your friends about the scam.

Follow the tips outlined above to keep your love life scam-free.

How do I Prepare for Tax Season?

Gather your documents

The first step in prepping for tax season is to gather all the necessary documents. Depending on your personal circumstances, these can include:

  • W-2 forms
  • 1099 forms
  • Receipts and invoices
  • Mortgage and loan documents
  • Investment statements
  • Business income and expenses
  • Other miscellaneous income

Organize your finances

Store all your documents and receipts in a folder, binder or digital file so you can access them whenever necessary. This will help ensure you don’t miss any deductible expenses.

Prepare your personal information

In addition to your income information, you’ll need the Social Security number and date of birth of each dependent you claim. It’s a good idea to have this info, and any other details your tax preparer will need, ready before you start your return. 

Review tax law changes

The tax code changes every year, and some of this year’s modifications may impact your tax situation. Be sure to review the most recent updates so you can take advantage of any new deductions or credits. 

Determine your filing status

Your filing status determines the tax rates and the standard deduction you’re eligible to take. Choose the status that best fits your situation. The most common filing statuses are:

  • Single
  • Married filing jointly
  • Married filing separately
  • Head of household
  • Qualifying widow(er)

Learn the deadlines

It’s important to be aware of tax filing deadlines. For most individuals, the deadline to file federal income taxes is April 15th. If the 15th is on a weekend or holiday, the deadline is typically extended to the next business day. 

Choose your filing method

You can file a paper tax return and mail it to the IRS, use tax prep software like TurboTax or H&R Block, hire a professional tax preparer or e-file your return on your own.

Plan for next year

Finally, use the tax season as an opportunity to plan for the future. Consider adjusting your tax withholding to avoid owing large sums at tax time or receiving large refunds. 

You’re ready to file your taxes!

Which Purchases Should I Charge to My Credit Card?

Q: I’m reevaluating my credit card use and wondering if I’m doing it right. Which purchases should I charge to my credit card?

A: Your credit score, which is the key to long-term loans at favorable rates, employment opportunities and more, depends on your credit card usage. To build credit, you need to use credit. You want to make sure you use your cards, but you don’t want to spend more than you can pay. In addition, there are some purchases that are best off being made with a credit card. 

Here are six purchases you may want to charge to your credit card:

1. Electronics and appliances

It’s a good idea to pay for big-ticket items, like electronics and appliances, with your credit card. This will provide you with an insurance of sorts on these purchases, such as doubling up on the offered warranty. Some cards also offer price protection, which covers the difference if the price of an item drops after you’ve bought it. 

2. Car rentals

Here, too, paying with a credit card can provide you with a level of insurance on the car. The insurance likely won’t be as robust as temporary insurance you might buy through the rental service, but it will probably offer some collision coverage at no extra charge.

3. Purchases made abroad

When traveling and making purchases abroad, a credit card is usually your best way to pay. Cash has the risk of loss or theft and debit cards may have fees for transactions that are made outside the country. They may not even be accepted at some vendors. Credit cards from well-known issuers, on the other hand, are accepted almost everywhere and are a lot safer to carry than large sums of cash. In addition, many credit card companies offer a favorable exchange rate.

4. Fixed monthly bills

If you’re looking for an easy way to build credit, pay a fixed monthly bill, such as a subscription or payment for phone or internet service, on your credit card each month. This will ensure regular transactions are made on your card. As long as you’re paying your credit card bill on time or early each month, you will show a pattern of responsible credit usage!

5. Online purchases

When shopping online, you’re usually best off paying with a credit card. Unlike other forms of payment, credit card transactions are always traceable and provide some coverage for fraud. 

6. Mobile phone bills

Another good candidate for credit card payments is your monthly mobile phone bill. Many credit card companies offer some coverage for phones that are lost, damaged or stolen if the card was used to pay a specific number of bills and the cardholder is up to date on their bills.

8 Creative Ways to Save on Heating Costs this Winter

Q: I’ve sealed all leaky windows and doors in my home, but my heating bill is still astronomical. Is there anything else I can do to keep my heating costs down?

A: Sealing air leaks is a great first step toward lowering your heating bill. Luckily, there are many other methods for hacking your way to a lower heating bill.

Here are some creative ways to save on heating costs.

Dust your vents

This can be an easy, effective way for lowering your heating bills. Dust acts as a natural insulator and can block some of the hot air from heating your home.

Lower your thermostat 

The Department of Energy recommends setting your thermostat to 68 degrees in the winter for maximum energy savings. For every degree you crank it down over an 8-hour period throughout the month, you can shave 1 percent off your heating bill. If you can lower your thermostat by 10 degrees at night or while you’re at work, you’ll save 10 percent off your heating bill! A programmable thermostat can do the job for you so you don’t have to remember to turn it down.

Turn on your ceiling fans

Most ceiling fans are equipped with a “summer” and “winter” setting. In the wintertime, set the  blades to move in a clockwise direction so hot air, which naturally rises toward the ceiling, can be blown downward to warm up the room.

Use aluminum foil

Tape a piece of aluminum foil behind the radiator to reflect heat into the room instead of into the wall.

Use zone heating

If you live in a large home, keep the lesser-used areas just warm enough to prevent pipes from freezing. Close some of the vents in these rooms and shut the door to keep that heat in. On the flip side, open the doors of the rooms that see heavy use so hot air can flow evenly throughout the house.

Rearrange your furniture

Check if you have any furniture situated near your heating vents. You don’t want to be paying all that money just for hot air to be flowing into the underside of your living room sofa.

Let the sunshine in

The low-in-the-sky winter sun can give you hours of free solar heat each day — if you let it in. Be sure to open the curtains in the early morning hours and to close them at night to keep that warm air inside. You may also want to swap your curtains for thicker, insulated ones in the winter for further protection against the cold night air.

Humidify your air

Use humidity to your advantage by investing in a humidifier for the winter. Moisture helps to hold onto heat and will keep the air warmer longer.

6 Financial Resolutions for the New Year

It’s a brand-new year, so now is a great time to set budget-friendly resolutions to pave the way toward a more financially fit future. Here are six financial resolutions to get you started.

1 – Create (and stick to!) a budget

If you don’t have a monthly budget, let’s get one started! Track your spending and income over several months, and then make a list of all expenses and all monthly income streams. Assign a dollar amount to each expense category. If your columns are equal, or your income is more than your expenses, you’re doing great. But, if your expenses are more than your income, you’ll need to trim your spending or find ways to increase your income.

After you’ve created your budget, or if you already have one, resolve to actually stick to it each month. You can use one of the many budgeting apps, like YNAB, to help. 

2 – Build an emergency fund

An emergency fund is your financial safety net. Experts recommend having three to six months’ worth of living expenses in your emergency fund. Resolve to build an emergency fund this year by setting aside a small sum of money each month until you have a nest egg that can get you through virtually any emergency. 

3 – Trim your expenses

Have your expenses started trickling upward in any area(s)? Identify your weak points and brainstorm for ways to start spending less. Small change today adds up to big bucks tomorrow.  

4 – Pay down debt

Make this the year you pay down debt, or at least make real headway toward getting rid of it for good. You can choose to prioritize high-interest debts, or work on paying off your smallest debt first to keep your motivation going. Maximize payments on your chosen debt until it’s paid off. Then, keep on rolling to the next debt on your list until you’re completely debt-free. 

5 – Automate your savings

It’s all wonderful to resolve to put more money into savings each month, but how do you turn those good intentions into reality? Set up automatic monthly transfers from your checking account to your savings so you never forget to feed your savings. 

6 – Expand your financial education

Invest in your financial education this year by reading books, taking online courses, listening to podcasts or attending seminars on personal finance. 

High Point FCU Brings Mad City Money to Salamanca Seniors

High Point Federal Credit Union staff shared their Mad City Money program with Salamanca High School with almost 90 seniors participating in this program. The Credit Union (CU) first implemented Mad City Money in 2013, presenting the program in Olean and Allegany high schools.

Originally purchased through the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), Mad City Money is a financial education tool that helps high schoolers get a taste of the “real world.” Students get to choose an “identity” at the start of the program, where they’re given an occupation, salary, spouse & children, student loan & credit card debt, and medical insurance payments. They then have to visit various stations to decide on what housing, transportation, childcare, food, and other necessities to purchase while staying within their budget.

Students learn how to calculate their credit card monthly payment, practice writing a check, experience unexpected bills – as well as unexpected financial gains, and discover how much they can actually afford with their given “identity.” While some of the students had money left over at the end to put in their savings, many had to return to certain stations to switch out their purchase for something more affordable. When asked what the main takeaway of this program was for the students, they reiterated a better understanding of their parents’ spending habits, a realization of how expensive living in the “real world” is, and the importance of paying off debt. Being able to experience these scenarios in a controlled way provides students with a level of financial wisdom they likely wouldn’t have otherwise.

Your Complete Guide to Santa Shock Recovery

The holidays are over, and with the start of a new year, we are often dealt a case of “Santa shock”. Its main symptoms are the result of the house and daily schedule being in disarray as well as those first post-holiday credit card statements haunting you as the ghosts of purchases past!

The good news is, all it takes is some self-care and planning to make a full recovery from Santa shock. Here are four ways you can bounce back from the post-holiday slump.

Declutter and reorganize

Get your house organized! To ease the overwhelm, move all the holiday clutter into one area. Then make a list of all you need to do to get your home looking liveable. Finally, enlist the help of all household members to divide and conquer it all. In no time, your living space will be looking neat and organized again.

Reestablish routine

Getting back into a normal post-holidays routine can be challenging, but the sooner you start, the easier it’ll be to get back into real life. Set a regular sleep schedule, plan balanced meals and reintegrate exercise into daily life. Returning to a structured routine will help you feel more grounded and reduce the disorientation that often accompanies the post-holiday season.

Help your budget recover

Get your budget back on track after the holidays with these tips:

  • Consider a no-spend month. Resolve to only spend money on what you truly need for an entire month after the holidays. This will help your budget get back on track quickly.
  • Assess your holiday spending. Take a look at how much you spent so you have an idea of how much you’ll need to pay off sooner than later.
  • Make a plan for any carryover debt. If you put a bit too much on credit (meaning “borrowed money”) during the holidays, make a plan to pay it off as soon as possible. 
  • Consider opening a Christmas Club Account for next year. A Christmas club account will allow you to spread the cost of the holidays across the rest of year to help pay for all of the season’s expenses without taking on debt. 

Prioritize self-care

The holidays can leave you feeling drained. To fully recover from Santa shock, prioritize self-care in the weeks after the holidays. This may mean reading a book, meeting friends for coffee or indulging in a spa day. Whatever revives you!

Follow the tips outlined here to recover from Santa shock and transition smoothly back into real life.

High Point FCU Donates $7,000 to Local Food Pantries

High Point FCU has donated $7,000 to support seven local food pantries in their field of membership. As a community-focused credit union, High Point FCU is committed to making a positive impact in the lives of their neighbors. The Olean Food Pantry, Creekside Chapel, Portville Community Food Pantry, Harvest Field Outreach Center, CAC Food Pantry, YWCA of Bradford, and Hinsdale Ischua Food Pantry each received $1,000 donations.

“We believe in the power of community and the importance of lending a helping hand,” said Rich Yeager, President & CEO. “By partnering with these local food pantries, we hope to make a meaningful difference in the lives of individuals and families facing food insecurity.”

High Point FCU would like to thank the dedicated staff and volunteers at the food pantries for their tireless efforts in serving the community. Their commitment to making a difference is inspiring.

High Point FCU is the 2nd largest credit union in Western New York, with assets of over $400 million. The credit union currently serves over 20,000 members with four branch locations, 1201 Wayne Street and 206 North Clark Street in Olean, 180 West Main Street in Allegany, and 160 South Main Street in Portville.

Financial Preparation for The New Year

The new year is almost here. Are you ready?

Usher in the new year with plans for financial improvement and resolutions to do more.

Here are some tips to get you started:

Tune your budget

It’s great to start off the new year with a plan. A budget is just that — a plan — that starts with the income you expect and your fixed expenses such as your mortgage, insurance, and utilities. The plan incorporates your savings goals, and the remaining money is designated for your other expenses. A realistic budget will help you set your financial goals and will remind you to stick to them. Now is the perfect time to assess last year’s budget or create a new one if you don’t yet have one in place.

Reviewing how you spent last year’s money will help you make better financial decisions for the year ahead. While thinking about it, include a method for tracking your spending. You can do this on a spreadsheet or tag items in your checking account.

Even with a solid plan, there can be surprises along the way, so be sure to build an emergency fund into your budget.

Plan ahead to meet your goals

Consider how you will accomplish your goals. You might have shorter-term goals, such as purchasing a new home, as well as longer-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.

It’s best to work backward for determining how much you need to save for each goal. Determine the cost of your goal and then establish a reasonable timeframe as well as how much you’ll need to save each month to reach it.

Spend mindfully

Make your financial future more secure this year by identifying your wants and needs. Your needs are necessary for survival and include food and shelter. Your wants are simply things you desire-like a luxury car. Tend to your needs first. Then, if there is money remaining, consider your wants.

This might sound obvious, but for many of us, the lines between wants and needs are blurred.

Maximize tax contributions

Tax deductions can be a valuable source of savings. If you have employer-matching funds available, take advantage of them. Also, verify with your HR contact and your accountant that you are contributing the optimal amount to your 401(k) and IRA.

Check your flexible savings account (FSA)

If you have unspent money in your FSA, now is the time to use it. Your pre-tax dollars in such accounts typically need to be spent before the end of the year or they are lost.

Put the brakes on holiday spending

Avoid going overboard on holiday spending or you might spend the beginning of the year trying to pay it all back.

These are just a few of the many ways you can prepare financially for the coming year. With a little attention to some often-overlooked details, a little perseverance, and a little mindfulness throughout, you’ll be moving forward with a strong foundation and positive outlook.

6 Naughty Holiday Scams to Beware of This Season

‘Tis the season to be jolly! Unfortunately, though, not everything about the holiday season is all happy and nice. As always, scammers are on the scene, ready to turn the joyous season into a nightmare. Here are six naughty-list scams to watch out for this holiday season. 

Online shopping scams

In this classic scam, a shopper is lured into a bogus site that appears to belong to a popular retailer and proceeds to purchase an item that does not exist. Alternatively, a too-good-to-miss deal will be heavily promoted through pop-up ads and emails. In either scenario, the shopper will never receive the ordered item and won’t be able to reclaim their lost funds. In some cases, the product will be delivered to their home, but it will be of inferior quality, in poor condition or completely different from the advertised item. 

Protect yourself: Only shop reputable websites. Check the URL of each landing page you visit to ensure you are still on a trusted site. Also, if a deal seems too good to be true, it likely is.

Charity scams

Here, a charity targets do-gooders in the weeks leading up to the holidays, asking for donations. Unfortunately, though, the charity is completely bogus, and the money will go right into the hands of scammers. Sometimes, scammers will impersonate a well-known charity and use its name and/or logo to appear authentic. 

Protect yourself: If you want to donate money to a specific charity, seek it out yourself instead of following a link or an ad. It’s also a good idea to verify charities on sites like Charity NavigatorGuideStar or CharityWatch

Gift card scams

Gift cards have always been a popular choice for holiday gifting, but scammers have found ways to exploit them. In a gift card scam, fraudsters convince victims to share their gift card codes by pretending to be tech support or another believable contact. 

Protect yourself: Never share sensitive information with an unverified contact. 

Porch pirates

In this simple but devastating scam, thieves stake out private residences and snatch up delivered packages from porches soon after they arrive. Scammers may even follow UPS and Amazon trucks so they can pilfer more easily. They’ll wear hats, hoodies or masks to avoid detection via security camera, and once they make off with the goods, there’s virtually no way to recover the packages. 

Protect yourself: Track your ordered packages, and once notified that an item has been delivered, bring it inside immediately. If you aren’t home when an item’s been delivered, ask a neighbor to take it in for you. 

Travel scams

Traveling during the holidays can get expensive, and scammers know this. In holiday travel scams, they’ll offer vacation packages, or what looks like a dream vacation rental at rock-bottom prices. Then, they’ll disappear once the victim has paid. Alternatively, the victim will arrive at their vacation to find it is quite different than the way it was promised. 

Protect yourself: Don’t believe travel deals that are far too cheap for what they are offering. Research any travel agency you are using and be wary of sites and/or ads containing poor grammar and/or lots of spelling mistakes. Finally, be sure to read reviews on vacation rentals before booking and to do a reverse image search on the rental to see if it’s an authentic pic or a stock photo. 

Romance scams

The holiday season can be lonely for some people, and romance scams tend to pick up this time of year. In this scam, a love interest will build a relationship with an unsuspecting target, and then ask the victim for funds to help them out of a financial tight spot. 

Protect yourself: Be wary of anyone who wants to build a relationship very quickly. It’s also a good idea to do a reverse image search on any photos a new love interest has shared with you to determine if it’s authentic. As always, never wire money to an unverified contact. 

Don’t let scammers be your Grinch this Christmas. Watch out for these and similar scams, and use the tips outlined here to stay safe!

What’s the Best Way to Pay for Holiday Shopping?

Q: Holiday shopping season is here, but I can’t pay for it all! What’s the best way to fund my holiday shopping?

A: When it comes to covering the cost of your holiday shopping, you have several choices. Let’s take a look at some options and explore the pros and cons of each so you can make an informed decision.

Credit cards

For many shoppers, the most obvious way to pay for a purchase you can’t cover now is with a credit card.

Pros:

  • Significant purchase protection.
  • Convenient payment method.

Cons: 

  • Interest charges for unpaid bills can be very high.
  • You may be paying off these bills for months or years.
  • Extended debt can hurt your credit score. 
  • You may be more tempted to (or unknowingly) overspend. 

Savings

Dipping into savings to pay for your holiday purchases can free you from sky-high interest charges but comes with drawbacks.

Pros: 

  • You’ll enjoy a debt-free holiday season.
  • No incurred interest charges.

Cons: 

  • Depleting the savings that’s meant for emergencies can leave you up a creek later.
  • You’re losing the money your savings may have earned had it been invested or saved longer.

Unsecured/holiday loan

An unsecured loan, also known as a personal loan or holiday loan, is a loan that’s taken out with no collateral. 

Pros: 

  • You’ll secure quick funding. 
  • Low interest rates compared to credit cards.
  • You can stretch the repayment over a longer term for smaller monthly payments. 

Cons: 

  • You’ll need to pay the full monthly payment when it’s due.
  • You may be hit with a fee if you pay off the loan early.
  • Missed and late payments can hurt your credit score.

Check out our Holiday Loan Special!

Holiday club account

When you open a holiday club account , you’ll make regular contributions toward your set goal throughout the year, and then have funds you’ll need for covering your holiday purchases when the season arrives. 

Pros:

  • Holiday costs get more manageable when spread across the year. 
  • Favorable dividend rates.
  • Prevents overspending and accumulating new debt. 

Cons: 

  • Funds in the account cannot be accessed until the goal (or preset date) is reached. Tying up savings can be irresponsible for those who do not have an emergency fund. 

Use this guide to make an informed choice about paying for your holiday shopping. 

Don’t Get Caught in a Utility Scam!

Knock, knock! It’s your energy company, here with the bad news that your bill is overdue, so we’re shutting off your electricity unless you pay up right now. 

Sounds like a nightmare, right? Well, it’s going to get worse: this is a scam. Pay the visitor at your door, and you’ve just paid a scammer. 

It’s happening a lot more lately. So, here’s what you need to know about these scams and how to keep the lights on without falling victim.

How the scam plays out

In a utility scam, a target receives a phone call, email, text message or even an in-person visit from an alleged representative of their gas, water or electric company. This “rep” will claim to be collecting a past due account that’s pending shutoff unless payment is made immediately. They’ll often ask for the payment to be made via wire or through a prepaid gift card. Unfortunately, any money paid will go directly to the scammer, and not to the utility entity they claim to represent. 

What to do if you’re targeted

Do not engage with the caller or visitor. If the alleged rep sent you an email or text message, mark it as spam, block the address and do not respond. You can also call the company the scammer claimed to represent to confirm that your account is not pending shut off. 

Red flags

Watch out for these red flags which can help you avoid a utility scam:

  • A demand for immediate payment with no prior warning. Authentic company reps will always give you ample warning, in writing, before enacting a shutoff. 
  • Pressured to act quickly. Scammers want you to act now and think later. 
  • The “representative” cannot provide details about your account or a means to verify their identity. 
  • They request a specific form of payment. Prepaid card requests are almost always a huge red flag in any scenario.

Stay safe

To avoid utility and similar scams, follow these precautionary measures:

  • Never wire money or send a prepaid gift card to an unverified contact. 
  • Keep the security on your devices at its strongest and updated settings.
  • Update your spam list often. 
  • Never share your personally identifiable information with an unverified contact. 

Utility scams pose a real threat to your financial security. Follow these tips to stay safe!

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