Advice & Planning

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POSTED: Aug 15, 2019
MCU’s Energy-Saving Tips for the Fall and Winter

Cooler temperatures are fast approaching and that means your wallet could be feeling the burn. According to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), New Yorkers can spend as much as 60 percent of their energy usage on heat alone during the fall and winter months.

The good news? You don’t have to wear earmuffs in the house to stay comfortable without blowing your budget. Making small changes can go a long way in improving your home’s energy efficiency. Check out our tips below!

1. Air Seal and Insulate Your Home

If you’ve noticed a draft lately, this tip is for you. Air leaks in your home’s outer walls, roof, windows, doors, and other openings – allow for heat to easily escape and cause your heating system to work harder. To help your home retain heat better, add insulation to your attic and cover up any openings under doors and around windows. If you have a fireplace or wood-burning stove, close the damper when it’s not in use.

As an added bonus, these small changes won’t just help your home use energy more efficiently, they’ll also help to reduce outside noise and improve humidity control throughout your home.

2. Invest in a Programmable Thermostat

According to the U. S Department of Energy, lowering your home’s thermostat by 10-15 degrees while you’re out of the house or asleep can reduce your energy bill by approximately 10 percent each month.

The savings are great but returning to a cool home can be less than appealing. To help, homeowners can invest in a programmable thermostat to easily get into this money-saving practice without compromising convenience or comfort. Homeowners can program these devices to automatically adjust the temperature of their home to complement their work and sleep habits, causing your heating system to use less energy when you won’t notice and adjust your home’s temperature to more comfortable levels when it counts.

3. Use Your Curtains to Your Advantage

Don’t underestimate the power of natural lighting! Opening your curtains during the day won’t just brighten up your living space and reduce the need of extra lights, it also helps your home receive a bit of extra heat. On the other hand, closing your curtains at night will serve as an extra layer of insulation that will keep some heat from escaping.

4. Move Furniture Away from Vents

Ready for a new look? Rearranging your living space isn’t just about making a change, it could help you heat your home more efficiently. Large pieces of furniture can block heating vents throughout a home, preventing warm air from effectively circulating and causing unsuspecting homeowners to bump their thermostats up to compensate. Go through your space with a discerning eye, you may be surprised at what you find!

5. Maintain Your Heating System

Routine maintenance is important when it comes to keeping your heating unit in top shape and maintaining energy efficiency. This can be as easy as changing out filters that have collected debris, dust and dirt over time, which will effectively reduce efficiency and airflow.

Units should also be regularly inspected by a professional. These inspections can reduce the long-term costs of repair by identifying any damage or faults that could be effecting the unit’s efficiency and functionality. While small issues will not impact performance or cost at first, they can become major headaches down the road – wasting power and even ultimately causing catastrophic damage to the unit.

For more MCU Advice and Planning Articles, click here.

POSTED: Jul 29, 2019
Budget-Friendly Tips for Back-to-School Shopping

Summer, we barely knew thee.

It’s back-to-school season and that means fresh haircuts, new class schedules, and shopping – a lot of it. According to a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation (NRF), families spent an average of $685 to get each of their children first-day-of-school ready last year. If that sounds like a lot, it is. In fact thirty-two percent of parents surveyed admitted to overspending.

Striking a balance between getting your kids excited for a new school year and sticking to your budget can be tricky, but it’s not impossible. Planning ahead, getting creative, and making small changes to your school shopping routine can go a long way. Check out some of our tips below on how to get started!

1. Review, Reuse, and Recycle Your Supply Inventory

Have you ever opened up a closet only to find a stack of notebooks or a box of pencils you bought on sale and forgot about? We’ve been there.

Your child’s school supply list may be long, but chances are you already have at least some of the required items on hand. Before you load up a shopping cart at your local supply shop, take a look around your home and review your inventory – you may be surprised at what you find.

It’s also important to remember that you don’t have to buy a full set of new supplies just because it’s a new school year. Items like backpacks and binders can easily be used again. And while Kids can be reluctant to reuse old school supplies (even if they still look like new), parents can suggest fun DIY craft projects to help give these items fresh and fun looks.

2. Shop with Gift Cards

Many consumers are taking advantage of reputable digital marketplaces that allow for users to sell unwanted gift cards to popular retail stores at discounted rates. If you’re planning a big shop at one of these major stores, using one of these gift cards will mean automatic savings! We recommend keeping an eye on upcoming sales. Pairing your gift card savings with big discounts is a great way to stretch your budget.

Before purchasing gift cards online (or working with any online retailer), be sure to research the platform or website you are looking to work with and check user reviews. This will help you to understand the terms and conditions of your purchase and ensure that you are working with a reputable vendor that provides quality service.

3. Check out Your Local Grocery Store

Saving big on back-to-school shopping can be as easy as walking down the aisles of your local supermarket.

Big box supply stores have been gearing up for back-to-school season for months. It’s when they make a significant chunk of their annual profit. So if you’re planning on making a visit, prepare for marked-up prices and long lines. On the other hand, your local grocery store likely stocks a small section of school and office supplies year round. This inventory is often overlooked by shoppers and is typically priced to sell. Check it out the next time you’re doing your weekly shop!

4. Dress for a Successful Budget

According to the NRF, parents will spend more than $230 on new clothes for their children before starting the school year. When it comes to outfitting your kids for a new school year, it’s very important to remember that they not only grow quickly, they’re very tough on their clothes (grass stains, much?).

To help keep your budget in check and your kids in great gear, consider doing the bulk of your back-to-school shop in late September when retail chains offer better deals than they do during the summer seasonal sales. Parents should also consider creating a annual budget for their children’s’ wardrobes, instead of spending a lump sum upfront. Staggering your expenses will help you make sure that your children’s clothes can keep up with their growth spurts and style preferences.

Luckily, this strategy can work for children who need to wear a uniform as well. Because most school uniforms are made up of basic clothing pieces (such as khaki pants and white polo shirts), parents can often avoid purchasing these items through the school at marked up prices, and shop for them at different retailers offering competitive prices.

5. Shop for Gently Used or Refurbished Electronics

Students, especially those in junior high school and high school, need more than just fresh notebooks and pens these days. They may be required to purchase an expensive graphing calculator or have the option to bring a tablet or laptop to school. A purchase like this may be a great tool to your child, but it’s also a significant financial undertaking.

To help mitigate this expense, consider buying gently used or refurbished electronics. You may be wary about purchasing a second-hand laptop or tablet, but they often work like new, while costing hundreds of dollars less. And when you consider how often teenagers lose and break their gadgets, this alternative purchase is a win-win.

6. Scout for Sales –They’re Everywhere!

It’s 2019 and there are more ways to find great deals on your back-to-school shop than clipping coupons in your local newspaper. Sales are everywhere and keeping track of ongoing offers from your favorite retailers is as easy as subscribing to email alerts or following your favorite brands on social media.

POSTED: Jul 16, 2019
Debunking Credit Score Myths


It’s no secret that a good credit score is important. It can help you get approved for lower interest rates on loans, rent an apartment, and even receive better pricing on insurance. However, when it comes to getting and maintaining a good credit score, there’s a lot of information out there for consumers and not all of it is accurate.

To help our members take the best and most effective steps towards establishing good credit, we’re debunking some of the most common myths and misinformation here.

Myth #1: Paying off debt immediately removes that debt from your credit report.

The truth is that your credit report is a snapshot of your credit accounts, collection items and public records for the past 7-10 years. This includes late or defaulted payments, collection accounts, discharges, bankruptcies, credit inquiries and even child support obligations. Paying off your debt will give you the freedom to make future financial plans and set goals, but it can’t eliminate your credit history and how it’s documented on your credit report. Only time can do that.

Myth #2: Every time your credit report is pulled, your card is negatively affected.

Not all credit inquiries are created equal. There are two different ways to pull your credit – they’re known as “hard” pulls and “soft” pulls. A hard credit pull typically occurs when a lender is considering your formal application for a loan or credit card. This type of credit pull, which can negatively affect your credit score in a very small way (about five points), will help the lender formally review your credit history and assess your credit worthiness.

However, a soft credit pull won’t affect your credit score at all. You may not have heard of a soft credit pull before, but you’ve likely encountered them many times, maybe even several times a month. This type of inquiry usually occurs when you check your FICO credit score or a lender pre-approves you for a new line of credit or product via mail or email.

Myth #3: You only need to check your credit report if you’ve been flagged for potential fraud.

Your financial institution, credit card company, or utility provider may alert you to potential fraud on your account in certain situations, but you’ll still need to do your part in ensuring that your credit history is accurate and in good standing. To do this, consumers are encourage to check their credit reports at least once a year. This can help you spot errors and potential fraud, which may be bringing your score down. You can report any suspicious activities to the credit bureau for further investigation and correction.

There are three credit bureaus – Experian, Transunion, and Equifax. Consumers can order one free report from each bureau once a year online from annualcreditreport.com, which is the only authorized website that offers free credit reports. Have your information ready to go – you’ll need to provide your name, address, social security number, and date of birth to verify your identity to receive your report.

Myth #4: If a married couple jointly applies for a loan, the financial institution will only consider the better credit score of the two.

Being married means sharing nearly everything. Unfortunately this rule of thumb doesn’t apply to your great credit score– and that can really affect your ability to get a joint loan.

When evaluating a joint loan application, a lender may make their decision based on the lower of the two credit scores, opposed to the higher one. This means that if one spouse is struggling with their credit, you’ll be looking at a higher interest rate or less competitive terms than you initially anticipated.

This practice may vary depending on the lender or the type of loan applied being consider. However, when some borrowers are faced with this situation, they make the decision to not put the spouse with the lower credit score on the loan application. However, if you do choose to go down this route, your lender won’t be able to consider your spouse’s income when determining your eligibility.

Myth #5: The best way to improve your credit score is to close your credit cards after paying off the balance.

Don’t close your credit cards! If this sounds strange, we can explain.

Approximately 30 percent of your credit score is made up of your credit utilization, which refers to your total credit balance, compared to the total line of credit available to you. For example, if you’re using $1,000 out of a $15,000 line of credit, you’ll be in better shape than somebody who is using $1,000 out of a $5,000 line of credit.

Moral of the story: Keep your credit cards and lines of credit open, but leave them out of reach to avoid impulse purchases. Many consumers who practice this strategy will put one utility bill or small payment on each card regularly simply to keep the card active without driving up their debt.

Myth #6: You only need to check your credit score with one credit bureau.

As mentioned above, there are three credit bureaus that will report on your credit history. And contrary to popular belief, they don’t all report the same findings. They won’t even report identical credit scores.

Take advantage of each report so that you can spot errors. You’ll not only be able to feel confident about reviewing and identifying any potential fraud or mistakes associated with your accounts, you’ll also understand your median credit score, which is the score any financial institution or lender will consider when evaluating a loan application.

POSTED: Jul 15, 2019
Six Ways to Avoid an Email Scam

Email scams are on the rise. Last year the IRS reported a 60 percent increase in bogus email schemes that target victims for their money or sensitive data. As consumers have become smarter about identifying fraud, thieves have too, as they are constantly changing up their strategies to confuse and distract you.

The first step to protecting yourself and your finances is to stay informed and alert. Check out our tips on how to spot red flags and steer clear of email scams.

1. Don’t trust unsolicited emails.

This is one rule of thumb that is both effective and easy to follow. Always be wary of unsolicited communications, especially when it’s from an organization or person you’ve never worked with before. The internet offers scammers a cloak of anonymity. They may use convincing images and language to gain your trust, but you can never be 100 percent sure.

2. Never provide your personal information.

And we mean, never. Most commonly, scammers like to put their victims in emotional situations that could dull their reasoning skills. These scams may look like the following:


  • a. A financial institution, government agency, or other authoritative organization looking to confirm or collect your information. These emails may even contain portions of your personal information that they already have such as your mailing address or phone number to appear legitimate.

    b. A utility or credit card account in your name is in default and you need to make a payment immediately, or provide your bank account information. If you fail to comply immediately, you will face legal action.

    c. A sweepstakes or competition notifying you that you’ve won a large sum of money. The organization needs your bank account number in order to make a deposit, or you need to make a deposit payment before your winnings can be released to you.

Don’t take the bait. Remember that a government organization or financial institution will never contact you unsolicited to ask for your personal or financial information, even if they are claiming an error on your part. They will also never make legal threats or use threatening language. Similarly, a legitimate sweepstakes will never require you to make a payment to receive your prize.

3. Look for errors and misspellings.

Always read emails very carefully. One of the most telling and common signs of a scam is when there are misspellings, punctuation errors, or poorly worded phrases riddled throughout the copy.

Another telltale indicator of a fraudulent email can be found in the logo and images used. Compare the logo in the email to the one on the company’s website or on a piece of mail that you’ve received from them. While companies may use different versions of their logo for different types of communications, you can check inconsistencies in the color or if the image is stretched or warped.

4. Pay close attention to links.

No matter how tempting an offer is, never click on a link sent by a person or business you don’t recognize or trust. It could open dangerous malware that will compromise all of the information on your device, including login usernames and passwords and financial accounts.

If you’re using a laptop or desktop, check each link and hyperlink by hovering your mouse over it. This will reveal the actual URL attached to the copy. If you don’t recognize the website or if it is unsecured (does not have an “https” in the address bar), don’t click on it and delete the email immediately.

5. If it seems too good to be true, it is.

Some scammers aren’t looking to steal your identity or gain access to your bank accounts – they just want to make a quick (and dishonest) buck. To do this, they’ll often send victims misleading offers for cheap travel deals, discounted concert tickets or tempting retail offers. In some instances, you’ll make a payment in full upfront only to never receive the goods you were promised. In other scenarios, you may actually receive the items bought, but then find yourself hit with massive fees and surcharges hidden in the fine print.

Either way, stay smart about all offers on the internet. If a deal seems too good to be true, assume that it is and walk away.

6. When in doubt, make a phone call.

If you’re seeing potential signs of fraud in an email that you’ve received, but you’re still feeling unsure about whether to respond or not, play it safe and call the organization or agency. Do not contact them through the email address you received the correspondence from or call them using a phone number featured in the email.

Instead, call the phone number listed on the official website of the organization. Speaking with a representative won’t just give you piece of mind or clarity, it can also potentially alert the company or organization to a scam targeting its clients or customers.

POSTED: Jul 12, 2019
Tips and Tricks for Selling Your Home in a Buyer’s Market

If you’re serious about selling your home in a buyer’s market, it’s going to take more than a “For Sale By Owner” sign on your front lawn. Properties are sitting on the market longer, prices are dropping, and offers are less competitive than they might have been even a year earlier.

We’ve come up with some great advice to help sellers navigate a more challenging real estate market. Check them out here!

1. Hire a Great Real Estate Agent

A real estate agent is one of your most important resources during the process of selling your home – especially when the market isn’t in your favor. These professionals can help sellers understand the value of their home, enlist strategies to motivate buyers, strategically list and advertise the property, and can even identify small changes and upgrades that can bring a home up to snuff on the current housing market. Even during a seller’s market, agents can be a huge help by assisting with paperwork, screening potential buyers, and hosting open houses.

Remember that not all real estate agents are created equal, and in a market when selling your home is a bit trickier than normal, choosing the right professional to assist you is extremely important. Before agreeing to let an agent list your property, ask them about their knowledge of the neighborhood, their marketing strategies, how often they work with homes similarly priced to your own, and how they like to communicate with clients. Additionally, don’t forget to ask about a realtor’s commission fee early on, this expense can vary for each professional but many will be willing to negotiate.


2. Make Small Upgrades and Repairs

With more properties to choose from, buyers are feeling picky. And while you may think your home is in great shape, the truth is that you’ve probably grown used to some of its more tired features that could have a potential buyer thinking twice.

Ask your realtor to make a few suggestions on where your home could use some extra attention. It may seem counterintuitive to spend money fixing up a home you’re leaving, but small updates can make a big difference in motivating a buyer, especially one who doesn’t want to be bothered to make changes once they have the keys. Freshly painted rooms, a healthy looking lawn, and new lighting and plumbing fixtures are among some of the most common budget-friendly upgrades that both have a great return on investment, while brightening up the look and feel of your space.

3. Stage Your Space

Becoming a homeowner is all about possibilities, but it’s tough for a buyer to realize the potential of a home when rooms are cluttered or decorated with items that are to someone else’s taste. Luckily, nudging a buyer’s imagination can be as simple as clearing your space. Start with organizing and storing your clutter, remove unnecessary furniture, and deep clean your home before an open house or professional photographs.

Be sure to maximize the space and lighting in each room. If you’re working with smaller rooms or tight spaces, you may even want to work with a professional stager. This is a professional who will help you to rent furniture and design a space to showcase the functionality and comfort of a home.

4. Consider Sweetening the Deal

When it comes to closing the deal on a property, both sellers and buyers need to be ready to negotiate. The good news: If you’re wary about dropping the price of your home, you can sweeten the deal in more creative and affordable ways.

Buyers, especially first-time homebuyers, may feel overwhelmed by all of the costs and fees associated with the home-buying process. Offering to take on a few of these expenses, such as the cost of a home inspection, may only actually cost you about $1,000 (a small expense compared to the price tag on your home) but can go a long way with getting a potential buyer on board. Sellers can also help cover some of the closing costs, offer to leave some appliances or furniture behind, or even provide an allowance for repairs or upgrades to the buyer.

For more helpful information on how to navigate the home-buying process, visit our MCU Advice and Planning section here.

POSTED: Jul 05, 2019
MCU’s Tips for First-Time Homebuyers this Summer

In the market for your first home? We’re here to help. Check out some of the great tips our MCU Mortgage Team has put together for first-time homebuyers!

1. Get Pre-approved for Your Mortgage

Shopping for a home can feel like a contact sport: You have to move fast or you’ll get pushed aside by a more aggressive buyer. This is where a mortgage pre-approval comes in handy. A pre-approval is a formal estimation of how much you, as a potential homebuyer, are qualified to borrow.

Having this document in your metaphorical back pocket can help set the direction and pace of your home search, more easily secure a real estate agent, and most importantly – motivate sellers.

2. Location, Location, Location

It’s the first rule in real estate, but what does it really mean? A home’s proximity to public transportation and good schools is important. However, where you choose to buy may also determine how financially ready you are to become a homeowner.

The tristate area has some of the highest average purchase prices in the nation. Combined with the realities that there are no mortgage products that accept a zero down payment and closing costs may run you about five percent of the home’s total value, you may find yourself having to do more planning and saving than you initially anticipated.

Don’t forget to consider taxes! The annual taxes for a home in the New York area can vary dramatically between county, towns, and city limits. And while you may be among the many homeowners in New York that qualify for STAR property tax reduction, you’ll still need to closely research the areas you’re interested in to ensure you’ll be able to afford this reoccurring financial commitment each year.

3. Co-ops Vs. Condos: Know the Difference

If you’re on the search for a home across the five boroughs, chances are you’ve come across a lot of co-ops and condos. These properties may look identical on the surface – both have a board and monthly fees – but there are actually some big differences that can affect your experience as both a buyer and a homeowner.

Not knowing the unique details of these property types ahead of time can lead to buyer’s remorse. From the caveats of ownership to monthly expenses and taxes, potential buyers can learn more about differences between co-ops and condos here.

4. Find Your Dream Team

As you become more serious about becoming a homeowner, it’s important to assemble a team of professionals who will advocate for you and your needs throughout the process. This includes a mortgage professional, real estate agent, home inspector, tax accountant, and real estate attorney.

These professionals can make or break your home-buying experience, so it’s important to do your homework. We recommend researching reviews on Yelp and other community boards to get the best idea about how communicative, responsive, helpful, and efficient a professional is across the board, not just in one or two experiences.

For more helpful information on how to navigate the home-buying process, visit our MCU Advice and Planning section here.

POSTED: Jun 28, 2019
Four Steps to Take Before You Invest

Investing your money is an important step to building long-term financial wealth. However, if you’re feeling hesitant, it’s understandable – no matter how you’re planning to invest, parting with a large chunk of savings is a risk. And while the benefits can be great, it’s also a financial move that will almost certainly require you to change the way you manage your money and make important decisions about future goals and plans.

You may never feel fully ready to start investing, but taking the steps below can help you be confident and successful as you plan for the future of your finances.

1. Make a plan for your debt.

Investing is a great way to plan for your financial future. However, before you can look ahead and put funds towards an investment portfolio that will benefit you later on, it’s important to make sure you’re successfully managing current financial responsibilities, including your debt.

Being debt-free, especially when it comes to student loans, can feel like a tall order. However, you should have a realistic and manageable plan in place that will help you pay down these debts as quickly and effectively as possible. To start, focus on paying off payday loans, title loans and high-interest credit card loans. They’re typically guilty of costing you the most in the long run.

For more information on how to strategically pay down debt, check out our tips here.

2. Create an Emergency Fund

Investors – especially young investors – tend to be aggressive. This means that because they can earn higher dividends through stocks, bonds, and mutual funds, they’ll direct most of their money into their investment portfolio, opposed to a traditional savings account. This investment style is common, but it also doesn’t leave a lot of cash on hand that can be easily accessed in the event of an emergency. Before you open a portfolio, remember to build an emergency fund that you can easily access at any time.

A general rule of thumb is to set aside three to six months' worth of living expenses that can help you stay financially afloat in case of job loss, illness or an unexpected bill. If you already have an emergency fund, you’re not in the clear just yet. Remember, that as your financial responsibilities change over time, you’ll need to reevaluate whether you’ve saved enough for a rainy day.

3. Participate in an Employer-Sponsored Retirement Program

You may have big ideas for retirement when you start investing, but what happens if your plans need to change over the years? For example, you may find yourself needing cash for an emergency, a child’s education, or even a new home.

When it comes to safeguarding your financial health in your golden years, you can never be too over prepared and putting all of your retirement eggs in one basket can be a big mistake.

Because of this, it’s important to have a supplemental plan ready to go. The best way to do this is to participate in an employer sponsored retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or 403(b). These plans are especially helpful because your company will often match your contribution, up to a certain percentage. For example, they may offer to match up to 50 percent of the first five percent of your paycheck contributed to your retirement account or match you dollar-for-dollar up to six percent of your paycheck contributed.

If you’re already participating in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, take time to meet with your employer’s benefits manager about how you can increase or optimize your contributions to better prepare you for the future.

4. Decide What Your Next Big Goals Are

You may be financially ready to allocate funds toward an investment portfolio, but do you know why you’re investing? What are your goals? Do you want to buy a house in the next five years? Use dividends to pay off annual expenses? Save for retirement in 30 years?

How you want to use your money down the road will play a big role in how you choose the types of investments that will serve you best. This is also a big question that a financial advisor or wealth manager will ask when they help you create a plan for your investments. Knowing how you want to use your money will give you and a financial professional the first tools you’ll need in making decisions about how to set up and manage your portfolio.

POSTED: Jun 26, 2019
A Guide to Your Home-Buying Dream Team

For many, becoming a homeowner is a lifelong dream, but the process can sometimes feel like a nightmare. The paperwork can be complicated, the financing can be confusing, and nuances can feel endless. The good news: You don’t have to go it alone. There are great professionals out there who can help you throughout your home-buying journey to ensure that you’re choosing a home that both meets your needs and is a great investment for you and your family.

We like to call these professionals the Home-Buying Dream Team! And together, their unique skills and knowledge will prove invaluable during your search. Learn more about who should be on your Dream Team roster here:

1. Mortgage Professional

Getting approved for a mortgage can take both time and (a lot) of paperwork. So, it’s no surprise that meeting with a mortgage professional should be your first order of business as you start your home-buying process (and build your Dream Team). These professionals will not only help you understand all of the requirements and complicated details of a mortgage, they can walk you through what to expect during the home-buying process, discuss the upcoming expenses you’ll need to prepare for, and help you understand how much mortgage you can potentially afford.

You should also ask for a mortgage pre-approval. This is an important document that states how much you, as a potential homebuyer, are qualified to borrow from a particular lender. A pre-approval can be extremely helpful as you start your process – it can help you narrow your search, set a budget, obtain a real estate agent, and even motivate sellers.

2. Real Estate Agent

It may be easy to browse properties online and visit open houses on weekends, but it won’t replace a real estate agent. A real estate agent is a huge asset as you search for your new home – they offer knowledge of the current real estate market, prescreen properties, ask tough questions about a home’s condition, and help with negotiations.

Remember, while the homes you’re interested in may be represented by an agent, you still need to hire your own to represent you and cater to your needs. The role of a seller’s agent is solely to sell the property at the best possible price, not help you make a smart investment.

Check out our helpful tips on how to hire a real estate agent here.

3. Home Inspector

The first rule in home buying: Never purchase a home without an inspection. You could find yourself making an expensive mistake and taking on many unnecessary headaches.

A home inspector’s job is to help a buyer fully understand the ins-and-outs of their potential new home. They will check for safety issues, pests (such as termites), and the current condition of the home’s systems, such as the plumbing, heating and electrical wiring. These findings won’t just help you make the final decision in going ahead with your purchase – it can give you more bargaining power during your negotiations with the seller and forecast future expenses you’ll need to prepare for now.

4. Real Estate Attorney

Like many states, New York requires that an attorney is present during a home closing. However, it’s important to choose an attorney who specializes in real estate law and can advocate for you best throughout your home-buying process in the best ways possible.

Throughout this entire process your attorney’s responsibilities may include assisting in the title examination and insurance paperwork, drafting a formal written agreement for the sale of the home, helping buyers avoid common legal issues that arise during the purchase of a home, and assist in the closing portion of the transaction.

Pro Tip: Research, Research, Research

Your Dream Team can make or break your home-buying experience, so it’s important to do your homework before you employ anybody’s services. Doing the legwork now will ensure that you’ll be able to successfully build a team of professionals that will help you achieve your dream of being a homeowner. Ask friends and family for recommendations and research professionals on community boards to get the best idea about how communicative, responsive, helpful, and efficient a professional is across the board, not just in one or two experiences.

For more helpful information on how to navigate the home-buying process, visit our MCU Advice and Planning section here.

POSTED: Jun 18, 2019
Hang up on Social Security Administration Spoofing Calls

Telephone scams are on the rise and they’re victimizing more New Yorkers than ever before.

Most recently, the NYPD has been warning consumers to stay on the alert for phone scams claiming to be from the Social Security Administration and other trusted government agencies. These scams are simple, sophisticated, and highly effective. In the early months of 2019 alone, New Yorkers have reported losses totaling $2 million!

Staying informed is the key to protecting your personal and financial information. Learn more about how to spot and avoid these scams below.

How It Works:

Thieves posing as representatives from the Social Security Administration (SSA) and other agencies are calling and threatening victims with arrest or legal action, claiming improper or illegal activity on their Social Security account, unpaid back taxes or other legal and financial trouble. These callers are known to be aggressive and will intimidate their victims into providing personal and financial information in order to resolve the alleged issue.

In many of these cases, scammers will claim to be a police officer or law enforcement official threatening legal action. Victims are told that they will be arrested and/or their assets will be frozen if they don’t comply with certain demands. To reinforce these threats, they may even hang up and call again from a different number claiming to be NYPD, FBI, or New York State Police personnel.

In other incidents, scammers switch tactics and say that they want to help an individual activate a suspended Social Security number.

In the past, savvy consumers may have been able to easily spot these schemes just by looking at their caller ID and spotting a restricted or suspicious phone number. Not anymore. More and more phone scammers are reported to now engineer phone calls so that they now appear to be coming from the actual Social Security hotline or other agency’s number. This is known as spoofing.

What You Should Do

Receiving one of these phone calls can be frightening – don’t panic! The following steps can help you steer clear of a phone scam:

  • • Know that while SSA employees do contact citizens by phone for customer-service purposes, they will never threaten you with legal actions if you fail to provide information.


  • • If you receive one of these calls, hang up immediately. If you have concerns and want to verify whether you have any ongoing business with the SSA, call the agency directly at (800) 772-1213


  • • Report suspicious calls to the SSA Office of the Inspector General by calling (800) 269-0271 or submit a report on the OIG website. Victims are also encouraged to report the incident with their local NYPD precinct.

POSTED: Jun 04, 2019
MCU’s Money-Smart Tips for Recent Grads

If you’ve recently graduated college, congratulations!

The ink on your diploma may have just dried, but we know that you’ve already got a lot of big plans for the future. As you work toward your goals, don’t forget that now is also a great time to pay attention to your finances.

Not sure how to get started? Our money-smart tips will help you manage your expenses, plan ahead and create great habits that will last a lifetime!

1. Start with a Budget

No two financial situations are the same – especially when it comes to being a recent grad. Whether you’re living at home, renting your first apartment or going on to get another degree, an effective budget is always essential to balancing long-term goals and everyday expenses.

No matter what your new financial situation looks like, a budget is a great tool that will help you to stay in financially great shape throughout your life. By creating a breakdown of spending, income, goals, and debts, you’ll be able to identify wasteful spending, adapt quickly to financial emergencies, and plan ahead.

Learn more about how to create a budget that can work for you here.

2. Make a Plan for Your Student Debt

Ignoring your loans won’t make them go away. In fact, your student debt will stick with you until it’s paid off no matter what, even if you file for bankruptcy.

Even if your budget feels tight, make your student debt a priority. Put a plan in place to move your finances in the right direction as quickly as possible – this may include setting up automatic payments, or taking advantage of programs such as the Income Based Repayment Plan or Income Contingent Repayment Plan. These strategies will make the process of paying down loan debt more manageable.

Juggling student loans with your new living expenses and other costs can be tough. However, the quicker you pay down these debts, the less money you’ll ultimately pay in interest and the sooner you can start working toward new personal and financial milestones. For help creating a plan for your student debt and any other forms of debt you may have, check out our tips here.

3. Build an Emergency Fund

Saving for a rainy day can sound like a tall order when you’re fresh out of school, but expecting the unexpected is an important part of staying financially fit now and in the long run. A general rule of thumb is to set aside three to six months' worth of living expenses for an emergency fund in case of job loss, illness or an unexpected bill.

If you’re not sure how to build an emergency fund into your budget, consider setting up direct deposit into a separate savings account that you do not use on a regular basis. Even a small contribution to this fund each pay period will help you to prepare for an emergency.

4. Start Planning for Retirement ASAP

Pay yourself first. Your golden years may be way off in the future, but sticking to this simple rule will make sure you’re ready when the time comes.

An easy way to get started is to participate in an employer sponsored retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or 403(b). These plans are especially helpful because your employer will often match your contribution, up to a certain percentage. For example, they may offer to match up to 50 percent of the first five percent of your paycheck contributed to your retirement account or match you dollar-for-dollar up to six percent of your paycheck contributed.

Make sure you fully understand your employer’s retirement plan and how you can maximize your investment. Not doing so now could mean leaving tens of thousands of dollars (or more) on the table when it comes time to collect.

Remember – setting up tracking may be simple a thing that you can do at nearly any time, but it’s an important step to your privacy protection. This is definitely one task you don’t want to hold off on until it’s too late.

5. Invest what You Can

Investing your money is a great next step to building long-term wealth.

While you may not feel financially ready to invest, easy-to-use mobile apps mean you can begin investing small amounts of money without the use of a financial manager. For example, spare change investment apps are becoming increasingly popular because they encourage users to invest small amounts using a system they call "round-ups." These apps monitor your bank account and automatically invests the change from your daily purchases.

Other apps will make it easy to make small investments without having to pay commission fees, or keeping an account minimum.

For more MCU Advice and Planning Articles, click here.

POSTED: May 30, 2019
Devin McCarthy, Winner of the Thomas Diana Memorial Scholarship

Devin McCarthy

A graduating senior at South Side High School in Rockville Centre, Devin is a student leader, competitive athlete, and active community member.

In addition to being a runner and all-conference diver, she has participated in many of her school’s extracurricular programs, including the Science Honor Society, New York State Mathematics Honor Society, Art Honor Society, Model UN, Leo Club, and Habitat for Humanity, where she has participated on three build sites.

Outside of school, Devin helps her peers as an algebra 2 and chemistry tutor. She additionally volunteers with New York State Senator Kaminsky’s office.

Devin is an accomplished student who has participated in an immersive neuroscience class at Columbia University, competed in the Nassau Community College and Molloy College Science Fair, and received an honorable mention at the Long Island Science Fairs.

Devin will use her scholarship to attend the accelerated Physician’s Assistant’s Program at Kings College.

Congratulations, Devin!

POSTED: May 30, 2019
Ryan Kim, Winner of the Willie James Memorial Scholarship

Ryan Kim

A student leader with an impressive academic record and a keen interest in journalism, Ryan is a graduating senior at Stuyvesant High School in Downtown Manhattan.

Combining these passions, Ryan has made a meaningful difference to his peers as a homeroom leader. He is additionally a creative director for his hip-hop team, editor for the School Year Book Committee, and contributing writer for the Stuyvesant Spectator. At home, he continues to enrich his community as a youth program leader.

Most impressively, Ryan is a truly exceptional student, who will graduate with a 4.0 GPA and AP honors. He has additionally received academic recognitions such as the Gold Key Award for the 2019 Scholastic Art & Writing Competition and a silver medal in the 2018 National Spanish Exam.

Ryan will use his memorial scholarship to attend the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University this fall.

Congratulations, Ryan!

POSTED: May 30, 2019
Leila Gomez, Winner of the Louise DeBow Memorial Scholarship

Leila Gomez

A top competitor in the gym and in the classroom, Leila will graduate Monsignor McClancy Memorial High School in Jackson Heights, Queens this spring.

A member of the National Honor Society, Leila has earned an impressive 100.41 GPA throughout her high school career. During this time, she additionally participated in the honors program, received the honor of Principal’s List each semester, and won the Monsignor McClancy Memorial High School Physics Award.

Outside of the classroom, Leila is a level 10 Gymnast and a four-time competitor at the New York State Qualifiers Meet. She is also an active member of the award winning Gym-Amazing dance team.

Despite her busy schedule, Leila is committed to giving back to her community, as she founded and organized a bi-annual diaper drive to benefit teen mothers and their children. Leila will use her scholarship to attend the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University.

Congratulations, Leila!

POSTED: May 30, 2019
Isaiah Elysee, Winner of the Charles Faulding Memorial Scholarship

Isaiah Elysee

Isaiah is a graduating senior at Greater New York Academy in Jackson Heights, Queens who is dedicated to being a leader within his school and community.

Isaiah is committed to academic success. In addition to achieving an impressive 3.93 GPA, he has held the positions of vice president and treasurer of his school’s chapter of the National Honor Society and served as class secretary for three consecutive years. Isaiah’s passion for learning has also inspired him to participate in the National Youth Leadership Forum for Medicine (NYLF) and earn a certificate from the International Culinary Center.

Outside of the classroom, Isaiah is a community leader. In addition to serving as a math tutor, he has volunteered with the Jackson Heights Pathfinder Club to serve at a community soup kitchen, contribute in park cleanup events, and support runners during the New York City Marathon. He has also volunteered as a bible station leader and participated on a 10-day mission trip to Belize, where he helped to build a school for local children.

Isaiah will use his scholarship to attend Andrews University.

Congratulations, Isaiah!

POSTED: May 30, 2019
Andrea Roy, Winner of the John Purroy Mitchel Memorial Scholarship

Andrea Roy

Andrea is not only a gifted student at Passaic County Technical Institute, she is passionate about helping her peers and community.

Andrea is an active member and leader of her school’s Key Stone volunteer group, Student Council and the Christian Student Association. Outside of the classroom, she has volunteered more than 100 hours with Van Dyke Park Place, participated as an active member of her church’s youth group, and raised more than $1,500 for Girls Rising, a global movement for girls’ education.

A member of the National Honors Society, Andrea’s commitment to both academics and community service lead to her appointment to the PCTI Leaders Emerging Among Peers committee, where she worked with administration to discuss curriculum changes and community engagement.

Andrea truly embodies our credit union’s tradition of “people helping people”. In fact, she not only received our MCU Memorial Scholarship, but was also awarded the New York State Credit Union Association Scholarship.

She will use both scholarships to attend Ramapo College, with the hopes of becoming a doctor one day.

Congratulations, Andrea!

POSTED: May 30, 2019
Kristen Palmer, Winner of the Anna Mae Massy Memorial Scholarship

Kristen Palmer

An accomplished student with a passion for science and technology, Kristen Palmer is a graduating senior at Poly Prep Country Day School in Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn.

Kristen is an active member of her school’s community. In addition to being a competitive fencer, she serves as the president of the Girls Who Code and Girl Up clubs and is a member of the Science Olympiad club and Lemonade, an affinity group. She also participates in the Women in Science and Technology program and serves as a peer tutor.

Outside of the classroom, Kristen has worked as a research intern at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering and volunteered as a counselor at the Innovation Space Summer Camp, where she helped children understand the fundamentals of engineering. She additionally volunteers with A Better Chance and works as a web designer for Rockaway Women for Progress, an organization that strives to protect democracy and human rights.

Kristen will use her scholarship to study computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Congratulations, Kristen!

POSTED: May 30, 2019
Michael Ott, Winner of the James McKeon Memorial Scholarship

Michael Ott

A student athlete with a passion for medicine and research, Michael Ott will graduate from Valley Stream High School North this spring.

A member of both the varsity track and cross country teams, Michael is an active member of his school's community. He has participated in several clubs and activities, including Grade Council as well as the Math Honor Society, Science Honor Society, Language Honor Society, History Honor Society and National Honor Societies.

Outside of school, Michael has remained active by volunteering at the Town of Hempstead Animal Shelter, where he learned about training techniques in treating troubled dogs.

Michael will use his scholarship to attend Binghamton University’s honors college, where he will study biology with the intention of attending medical school. During his first year, he will take part in a Freshman Research Immersion (FRI) Program, allowing him to conduct real research and investigate real world problems.

Congratulations, Michael!

POSTED: May 30, 2019
Imera Reyes, Winner of the Julian I. Garfield Memorial Scholarship

Imera Reyes

An AP Scholar and performing arts enthusiast, Imera will graduate from New Rochelle High School this spring.

Imera is an active member of the National Honor Society, National Social Studies Honor Society, National English Honor Society, and Tri M Honor Society. She additionally volunteers as an AP biology and psychology tutor, serves as teaching assistant, participates as a member of the Blessed Sacrament Youth Church Choir, and mentors incoming high school freshmen.

In addition to her academic pursuits and volunteer efforts, Imera is an accomplished performer who has studied ballet for 14 years and actively works to improve her skills through her school’s PAVE program. She uses these talents to volunteer entertaining the elderly within her community.

Imera says that performing for many different audiences has inspired her to pursue a career that will help others. She will use her scholarship to attend the College of Arts and Sciences at Stony Brook University.

Congratulations, Imera!

POSTED: May 30, 2019
Alex Charkowick, Winner of the Malachy T. Higgins Memorial Scholarship

Imera Reyes

An honors student and active community member, Alex is a graduating senior at Wantagh High School.

Alex is an accomplished student athlete and peer leader who will graduate with an Advanced Regents Diploma and 95.62 GPA. During his high school career, he has participated in the National Society of High School Scholars, New York State Science Honor Society, Key Club, and Entrepreneur Club. In addition to these activities, he is an award-winning swimmer, who serves as the captain of his school’s team.

Outside of his school community, Alex continues to help others as a lifeguard and volunteer. In addition to working with the St. Barnabas Church Food Kitchen, he has consistently participated in the annual Jones Beach Clean Up and has volunteered with Skudin Surf, an organization that aims to help special needs children learn how to surf.

Alex will use his scholarship to study engineering at the University of Buffalo.

Congratulations, Alex!

POSTED: May 28, 2019
MCU’s Energy-Saving Tips for this Summer

It’s no secret that combating the seasonal heat can take a toll on your budget. In fact, according to the Energy Information Administration, approximately 42 percent of all home energy costs are directly related to heating and cooling. Luckily, small changes can make a big difference when it comes to staying comfortable without a steep price tag.

1. Mind your lights.

When it comes to reducing energy expenses, we’ve seen the light – literally. Flicking on a light switch can feel like second nature when you walk into a room, but it could also be contributing to your energy bill in more ways than one. Lights during the daytime are not only often an unnecessary power drain in the summer, they also act as a source of heat, which could add to your discomfort and cause your AC to work harder.

It is also important to note that while, energy bills tend to increase in the summer, making a simple change such as replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent light (CFL) and light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs can help to manage the amount of electricity used within the household.

2. Air seal and insulate your home.

If you’ve noticed a draft lately, it’s time to seal cracks and take a look at your home’s insulation. A well-insulated home can help keep cool air sealed in your home. This small change will help your AC to run less often, ultimately making a real difference when it comes time to pay your energy bill. To get started, cover up any openings under doors, around windows and close the fireplace damper when not in use, which is the same as an open window.

Speaking of windows, if you’re looking to take on some home improvement projects this summer, replacing old windows is a great investment. This upgrade will not only increase your home’s value, it will make a substantial difference in your home’s efficiency. In fact, adding new double-paned windows can reduce heating and cooling costs by 15 percent and add savings of as much as $2000 over the life of the window.

3. Invest in a programmable thermostat.

According to the US Department of Energy, by simply lowering your thermostat by 10-15 degrees while at work, or away from your home, you can make a significant impact on your energy bill – reducing it by nearly 10 percent!

We recommend making an investment in a programmable thermostat. These devices can be set up to automatically adjust the temperature of your home based on your work and sleep habits. It can also greatly improve your general comfort levels by already beginning to bring the temperature back down before you return home or wake up.

4. Move furniture away from vents.

You may not know it but it may be time to rearrange your furniture. No, we’re not talking about making your living room Feng Shui-friendly. Take a look around your home and try to spot any large pieces of furniture that may be blocking the heating vents. Moving these pieces may help circulate cooler air in homes that have forced-air central cooling.

5. Since we’re talking about your AC…

Routine HVAC maintenance is important when it comes to keeping your unit in top shape and maintaining energy efficiency. This can be as easy as changing out filters that have collected debris over time, which will effectively reduce airflow. Homeowners should also check their HVAC unit’s cooling lines and external fans, which freeze, crack, or jam, causing them to malfunction.

Units should also be regularly inspected by a professional. These inspections can reduce the long-term costs of repair by identifying any damage or faults that could be effecting the unit’s efficiency and functionality. While small issues will not impact performance or cost at first, they can become major headaches down the road – wasting cooled air and power and even ultimately causing catastrophic damage to the unit.

For more MCU Advice and Planning Articles, click here.

POSTED: May 28, 2019
MCU’s Five Things to Know: Protecting Your Privacy on Your Mobile Device

Your smartphone is amazing. It can provide GPS directions, stream movies and TV, order your morning coffee with the touch of a finger, and track your health and finances.

The perks are great but they come at a price – your personal information. Storing sensitive data (credit card numbers, bank accounts, social media accounts, email addresses, etc.) is convenient but can also make you vulnerable, especially if your device becomes compromised.

Knowing how to protect yourself is key. Check out our tips on how to safeguard your privacy on your mobile devices below!

1. Lock your devices.

Locking your devices may seem like a no-brainer. However, a 2018 study conducted by Kaspersky Lab reported that only 52 percent of people have actually taken the time to set up a password

Phones go missing all of the time. In fact, it’s estimated that millions of phones are lost or stolen in the United States each year. If you ever find yourself in this situation, a locked screen will be your first line of defense when it comes to protecting your personal and financial information.

Recent technological upgrades have made this feature easier than ever to use with options like facial and fingerprint recognition that eliminate the need to remember a code. (So, no excuses – lock it up!)

2. Download apps carefully.

Scammers know that consumers love apps – and they’re not shy about taking advantage.

Many phony apps are relatively harmless and tend to deliver spam-like advertisements. However, some are reported to be especially malicious. Once downloaded, these apps can release malware onto your device or simply lift your personal and financial information stored on the platform for purchases.

Look before you click download. These apps are designed to appear convincing and typically have names and logos very similar to those of legitimate services. You can also mitigate the risk of downloading potentially compromising apps by taking the following steps:

  • • Stick to reputable marketplaces when downloading and purchasing apps. These marketplaces have a well-developed Terms of Service policy, FAQ and developer contact information.

  • • Research the app vendor. Look closely for an app privacy policy, the information made available to advertisers and clear contact information.

  • • Check the number of app downloads and read the reviews. The more downloads an app has, the more reputable it is. And while even great apps will have some bad reviews, taking a look at what other users have to say can help ensure the app is secure, functional and (most importantly) legitimate.

3. Keep software up-to-date.

Chances are you’ve hit the “Remind Me Later” button on a software update prompt more than once. While it can feel like a nuisance to restart your laptop or make time to set your device aside for a system upgrade, delaying this process could put your device and information at risk.

Hackers love security flaws and system vulnerabilities that come with outdated software. This is where software updates come in. These upgrades don’t just include new features to your interface, they often include patches and repairs to security holes or offer new tools and systems to identify and remove viruses that may otherwise compromise your device and the information it holds.

4. Know how to track your device.

Picture this: You reach for your phone after several hours and realize it’s not where it should be. Panic sets in immediately as you begin to sort out the last time you have seen it.

It’s a scenario that has probably happened to you at least once. And when your phone or tablet goes missing, you’re not just looking at a steep cost to replace it – your stored information (credit cards, account logins, etc.) is now vulnerable.

The good news: tracking features are available on nearly all smartphones and iPads. While these features such as “Find My iPhone” may vary across devices, it’s important to know how to access them and enable helpful settings. To learn more about how to enable tracking features on your device, a quick internet search, may be the solution.

Remember – setting up tracking may be simple a thing that you can do at nearly any time, but it’s an important step to your privacy protection. This is definitely one task you don’t want to hold off on until it’s too late.

5. Write down your IMEI number.

You might be scratching your head with this one – it’s okay. We’ll explain.

Your International Mobile Equipment Identity – or IMEI – number is a serial number located behind your phone’s battery and is used to uniquely and universally identify devices that use terrestrial cellular networks. Every device that uses 3G/4G/5G comes equipped with one of these numbers.

Because of this, knowing your IMEI is an effective way to prevent theft. This is because if your phone goes missing (and you know your IMEI), your device operator can use the code to register your device to a black list that will block any use of your phone.

Pretty cool, huh?

For more MCU Advice and Planning Articles, click here.

POSTED: Apr 23, 2019
So, You’re Thinking of Buying a Multifamily Home…

You’ve got a lot to think about, especially if you plan on “house hacking”. This is when a multifamily homeowner lives in one unit and rents the other units out.

We’ve come up with a few considerations you’ll need to make before beginning your search. Check them out below!

1. The Reality of Renters

Renters are an attractive prospect to owners of multifamily homes because they provide passive income. This extra cash flow is a great resource that can help homeowners cover the cost of their mortgage, build long-term wealth, and even reach other important financial goals.

Sounds like a quick win, right? Not so fast.

Passive income is a real benefit but being a landlord can be tough. Bad tenants may mistreat the property, break rules outlined in the contract or even stop paying rent entirely. And a bad tenant is a problem that doesn’t go away easily. The process of evicting an incompliant renter is a lengthy one that may require legal intervention (and a lot of money).

Our advice: vet potential renters thoroughly. Ask for documentation including a copy of their credit score, proof of employment and references. This will help ensure that you and the tenant you choose will have a good working relationship.

2. Great (But Complicated) Tax Benefits

If you’re a landlord, tax season may be the most wonderful time of the year. This is because rental real estate actually provides more tax benefits than almost any other investment. And if you’re planning on house hacking, you’ll qualify for many of these perks. For example, landlords can deduct the interest on their mortgage payments, the cost of repairs they put into the property and any personal property used in the rental unit.

These benefits are great but homeowners should know that they come at the cost of having to navigate complicated rental property tax requirements. There is an entire IRS publication dedicated to the rules of Residential Rental Property (Publication 527) – be ready to take time to read and fully understand your new obligations come tax season.

3. Extra Expenses

The more units in your multifamily home you have, the more expenses you’ll be facing upfront and over time. There are more appliances that may break, walls that need to be painted, faucets that leak– you get the idea. And while you may be eligible for great tax breaks that will help to cover some of these expenses, you’ll still need to manage the costs upfront.

Income from renters can help create a cushion for these financial responsibilities throughout the year. However, property owners need to be financially prepared if this cash flow stops unexpectedly or doesn’t cover the full amount of the cost incurred.

To help mitigate these risks and free up dependency on income provided by tenants, homeowners should build and maintain an emergency fund that can cover 3-6 months’ worth of expenses. This is especially important for long-term financial health because having this money set aside can help you avoid taking on high-interest debt in unexpected situations.

4. More Demanding Mortgage Requirements

Getting the keys to a multifamily home can financially demanding. For example, mortgage lenders may require a buyer to provide a down payment of 25-30 percent, compared to the minimum down payment of 3-5 percent required for a single-family home.

And you’re not done just yet – in addition to this large down payment requirement, buyers will need to prove that they have a six-month financial reserve for their mortgage, property taxes, property insurance, and mortgage insurance.

Lenders may factor in a percentage of your potential income from rent when it comes to qualifying you for a mortgage on a multifamily home. While this can help you get in the door for house hacking (pun intended), buyers should be cautious. As mentioned above, tenants are not always the most reliable source of income. Even if they default on their financial obligations to you, you as the homeowner, are still responsible for the full mortgage payment to your lender.

POSTED: Apr 17, 2019
Five Great Indicators that Credit Unions are Here to Stay

The first credit union was founded in Germany in 1849 to serve and protect low-income urban workers from predatory lending. Since then, our movement, driven by the motto of “people helping people”, has withstood economic recessions, international conflicts and most recently, FinTech disruptors. Today, we’re proud to report that credit unions are thriving, growing and serving our members around the globe better than ever.

A lot may be changing for the financial services industry but one thing is for sure – credit unions are here to stay. Learn more about how our movement is better than ever before below.

1. Membership is on the rise. According to the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), credit union membership is up 4.3% as of June 2018, the fastest pace since before the financial crisis! CUNA expects this trend to remain strong and consistent, with membership growth increasing by 3.5% in 2019.

Similarly, a recent report from the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) has reported that there are now more than 89,026 credit unions serving more than 260 million members around the globe (in 117 countries and six continents to be exact!). If that sounds like a lot, it is. In fact, we’ve reached our WOCCU 2020 global membership goal three years in advance.

The most notable global changes and growth in recent years include 12 million new members in the US, 11 million each in Latin America and Africa, 7 million in Asia and one million in Europe.

2. …And they’re saving like never before. Credit Unions aren’t just bringing in record numbers of members, we’re helping them save like they deserve. According to the 2018 Credit Union Impact Report, savings balances increased by 5.3% at credit unions in 2018 – the average share balance is now a reported $10,498. The report additionally reported that members opened more than 3.4 million checking accounts across the globe and credit unions paid a cumulative $8.4 billion in share dividends this past year.

3. Our lending products are more competitive than ever. Banks may not be our only competitors when it comes to lending anymore, but we’re still rising to the occasion and surpassing expectations along the way. According to the 2018 Credit Union Impact Report, U.S. credit union members generated 9.1% more loan originations in 2018 than in in 2017. We additionally loaned a total of $513.9 billion to members and $70.0 billion to small businesses.

And we’re not just lending, we’re giving back as well. Last year, credit unions around the world returned a total $77.5 million in loan interests to members.

4. We’re making significant strides in our communities. Social responsibility has been part of the credit union movement’s DNA since the very beginning. Today, the global movement is taking this commitment to new heights. According to the 2018 Credit Union Impact Report, 2,170 credit unions offered financial education in 2018 and 1,777 provided scholarships. Additionally 2,543 low-income designated credit unions provided financial services to more than 48.1 million members who may have otherwise gone underbanked.

We’ve been committed to giving back for a long time but our efforts aren’t just helping our members and communities, it’s helping us to build relationships with future members. According to a Cone Communications survey , 87% of Americans will purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about, and millennials are more likely than other generations to research the issues a company supports and the extent to which the company contributes. We’re excited to continue to welcome them aboard!

5. The future is bright with Gen Z (and we’re just getting started). According to the Financial Brand, 58% of Gen Z (individuals born around or after the year 2000) consumers who use credit unions report being very satisfied with their experience, compared to just 46% who use major banks. It’s a great start and as this cohort of young people begin to grow their banking experience, credit unions are gearing up with the products and services they’re looking for. Most notably, digital products.

“We are gearing our efforts toward digitization, including access to core services by online and mobile channels, automation of internal processes and connection to local payments and electronic ecosystems,” said WOCCU President Brian Branch. “If we want to continue growing and competing in tomorrow’s disruptive markets, we take on this challenge, make it our own and market the advantage to serve the under-served.”

POSTED: Apr 17, 2019
Go Green, Save Green This Spring

This year, Earth Day is April 22nd and going green is easier than ever with MCU’s digital banking tools. Signing up won’t just help the environment but also saves our members time, money and hassle. Check them out below!

NYMCU Online Banking: Safely and securely manage your MCU account. With NYMCU Online Banking, members can view account balances, transfer funds between accounts, signup for account alerts and much more.

NYMCU Mobile Banking: The NYMCU Mobile Banking App gives members the freedom to manage accounts, transfer funds, pay bills and find the nearest MCU ATM or branch locations anytime, anywhere.

MCU BillPay: Avoid mailing costs and late fees by paying bills on an ad hoc or prescheduled basis. Members can also save time by paying friends and family quickly and securely with our person-to-person ePayments feature.

MCU eStatements: Never lose track of your statements again. eStatments not only notify you that a new statement has arrive each month via email, but gives our members access to up to 60 months’ worth of statements.

Learn more about these great paperless options and to enroll in NYMCU Online Banking or download the NYMCU Mobile Banking App today!


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POSTED: Apr 10, 2019
MCU’s Tips for Spending Your Tax Refund Wisely

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – tax refund season! If you’re expecting a refund this year, (the IRS has reported that the average federal refund for 2019 is more than $2,300), chances are you have some big plans. You may even be daydreaming of a vacation or a just-for-fun purchase.

Pause. Before you let your refund burn a hole in your pocket, remember that you’ve been working hard for this money all year and that it’s being returned to you because you paid too much in taxes, not gifted to you. Check out our tips below on how to use your refund wisely – it could go a long way in building and strengthening your financial position.

1. Start an emergency fund.

If you have trouble saving, you’re definitely not alone. In fact, nearly 40 percent of US workers have reported having less than $1,000 in savings to cover an emergency. While you may have big plans for your tax refund, remember that it’s important to first have a financial safety net in place. This is especially important for long-term financial health because having this money set aside can help you avoid taking on high-interest debt in desperate situations.

If you already have an emergency fund, consider contributing to it. A general rule of thumb is to set aside 3 to 6 months' worth of living expenses for an emergency fund in case of job loss, illness or an unexpected bill.

2. Tackle high-interest debt.

It’s nearly impossible to work toward long and short term goals when you have high-interest debt hanging over your head. And if you’re having trouble, actively working to pay it down, your debt is compounding expensive interest every month, making it even more difficult to eliminate. It can be a hard cycle to break but putting a lump sum of cash, like your tax refund, towards these debts is a good first step that can prevent expensive compounding interest later on.

Focus on paying off payday loans, title loans and high-interest credit card loans first. They’re typically guilty of costing you the most in the long run. In addition to freeing up cash, paying down your high-interest debt will also improve your credit score. This may open doors for you to take on new financial goals, such as buying a home.

For more information on how to strategically pay down debt, check out our tips here.

3. Take on a home improvement project.

If you’re a homeowner, you already know that home maintenance and repairs are pricy. Your tax refund may feel like it should be “fun” money, but consider reinvesting it into your home. When done properly, cost effective home improvement projects are a great way to maintain the property, prevent expensive future repairs and increase a home’s resale value.

Consider updating lighting fixtures, changing bathroom and kitchen hardware, painting, replacing old windows or insulating pipes. These projects don’t take much in the way of time or money but can go a long way in transforming your home’s aesthetic and energy efficiency.

4. Make a donation.

Making a donation won’t just help others, it’ll work to your advantage when you file your taxes next year. Many donations may be deducted on your taxes if they are made before the end of the calendar year. In order to ensure that your donations work to your advantage during tax time, donors are encouraged to ensure that the charity is eligible for a tax deduction at IRS.GOV. Keep in mind that donations to churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and government agencies are eligible to receive deductible donations even if they are not listed in the tool’s database.

Making a donation is always well intended. However, before writing a check, It’s always recommended that you consult with your financial advisor or tax professional first. Once you do make a donation, be sure to keep a record of it with receipts. This includes the name of the charity, description of the donation and the date of the donation.

POSTED: Apr 08, 2019
Protecting Your Kids from Identity Theft

As a consumer, you’re likely keeping your eyes peeled for scams and schemes that could lead to identity theft and all of the trouble that comes with it. But have you thought about protecting your kids too? If not, it’s time to start. According to a Javelin Strategy & Research report, more than one million children in the United States became victims of identity theft in 2017. Two-thirds of these victims were under the age of eight.

Children are especially vulnerable victims too. Because identity theft of a child can easily go on for years without detection, this type of fraud is also especially damaging. It can affect a child’s ability to get off on the right financial foot when they’re ready, obtain certain types of financial help for college and even hurt their chances of obtaining certain jobs in the future.

Staying informed is key. Check out our tips for protecting your child from identity theft below!

1.Know how your child’s information is being protected.

Daycare facilities, schools, doctors’ officers and extracurricular programs will require varying degrees of your child’s personal information to be kept on file. For example, these databases may include home addresses, directories with contact information, birthdates and even medical information.

Don’t feel shy to ask about how this information is stored and safeguarded, especially when it comes to your child’s school – the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) lays out strict guidelines that protect the privacy of student education records.

2. Safeguard sensitive documents.

Protecting your child’s personal information can be as easy as simply minding your household’s paper pileup. When you’re ready to dispose of old documents (typically five years-old or older) that contain sensitive information, it’s important to do it the right way. Be sure to shred (twice if possible) any papers that contain Social Security numbers or sensitive financial, academic, legal or medical information. Before disposing of these shreddings, be sure to put them in a tightly sealed garbage bag.

To help prevent and mitigate any future risk, we recommend opting into eStatements for any bank accounts or policies in your child’s name when possible.

3. Teach computer and internet safety early on.

Kids are gaining access to the internet at younger and younger ages – sometimes as early as two or three years old. And once they’re “plugged in”, they’re sure to stay that way. Because of this, it’s important that parents take time to teach their children about computer and internet safety as early as possible to help them build habits that will help them protect their personal information (and even yours if your family shares a device).

This includes talking about the important of strong passwords, identifying secure websites, spotting online scammers or predators, avoiding phishing scams and using caution on social media.

It may feel like a lot to impart on your kids, but these conversations should develop and change as they become older, gain access to their own devices and begin utilizing the different functions of the web.

4. Pull your child’s credit report annually.

While most consumers know that they’re entitled to a free official credit report from each of the three credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian and Transunion), many don’t realize that they can pull their child’s report as well.

Doing this takes a bit of legwork all parents and guardians should be ready to take on. Credit bureaus will likely require your child’s birth or adoption certificate and social security number. Parent and guardians should also be ready to provide a government-issued ID or documents proving the relationship between the child and official documents with proof of address.

Once you receive this report, review the included information carefully. If anything seems wrong, always report errors with each credit bureau. These errors will affect your child’s future creditworthiness or worse, it indicates potential identity theft.

5. Know the warning signs and stay vigilant.

There may not be any obvious warning signs on your child’s credit report, but they (and you) aren’t in the clear just yet. To help keep your child’s identity safe, and to head off any threats early on, he Federal Trade Commission (FTC) advices parents to keep an eye out for tell-tale warning signs:

  • • Your child receives an influx of credit card and loan offers

  • • Your child is turned down for Being turned down for Medicaid or other government benefits because the Social Security number has already been used

  • • Your child received a notice from the Internal Revenue Service stating that they didn’t pay income taxes or was claimed as a dependent on another tax return

  • • Your child receives calls or mailed statements regarding missed payments or debts owed

  • • Your child is denied a bank account or driver’s license

POSTED: Apr 07, 2019
Tax Season Scams and Schemes to Know

Everyone is gearing up for tax season, and that includes scammers and identity thieves. As you prepare to file, now is a great time to brush up on recognizing and identifying scams and suspicious activity that could leave your personal and financial information at risk. Check out some of the most popular schemes that could affect you this tax season below!

1. *Ring, Ring* the IRS isn’t calling.

It’s a tried and true scam every consumer should be ready for this tax season. Thieves claiming to be from the IRS will call and ask their victims to immediately send a payment to cover money owed to the government. Oftentimes they will ask for this payment in the form of a preloaded debit card or wire transfer.

These callers are often aggressive, will use personal or financial information against their victims and even make threats. They can be persistent and are sure to try intimidation factors. They may follow up these phone calls with fake emails or phone calls pretending to be from the DMV or local police.

If you receive a phone call or email claiming to be from the IRS, don’t panic and do not send funds. Instead, take the following steps.

  • • Remember that the IRS will always initiate contact with a taxpayer concerning money owed via traditional mail and will never request personal or financial information through email or over the phone.

  • • Hang up the phone immediately if someone claiming to be from the IRS unexpectedly calls and makes threats of any kind. To know for sure that you are working with an IRS representative, call the agency directly at (800) 829-1040.

  • • Always report potential scams to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at (800) 366-448. You can also report these incidents with the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov.

2. They’re not emailing either.

Taxpayers are being warned to be on the alert for emails they receive claiming to be from the IRS. These fraudulent emails bait users to open documents containing malware. The scam email carries an attachment often labeled “Tax Account Transcript” or something similar, and the subject line uses some variation of the phrase “tax transcript.”

Once malware is introduced to a laptop, tablet or smartphone, it can corrupt files and steal sensitive personal and financial information stored on the device.

If you receive an email claiming to be from the IRS, don’t open it. Instead, take note of the following steps.

  • • Remember, the IRS does not send unsolicited emails to the public, nor would it email a sensitive document such as a tax transcript.

  • • Never open these attachments and delete the scam email immediately or forward it to phishing@irs.gov.

  • • If you receive this scam email to your work email or on a work device, notify the company’s IT Department immediately.

3. Choose your tax preparer carefully.

Safely filing your taxes starts with picking a preparer who is trustworthy and reputable. Scammers posing as tax preparers or tax accountants will take advantage of their victims by making false claims on their tax returns, or even stealing their refunds. These scams are especially harmful because they often target and take advantage of those who might not otherwise have to file tax returns, such as the elderly or low-income households. They can also and lead to identity theft.

If you choose to use a tax preparer, it’s important to take the following precautions.

  • • Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Avoid preparers who promise larger refunds than what others preparers can obtain, as well as those who base their fee on a percentage of your refund.

  • • Do your homework. Before hiring any tax preparer, be sure to look closely at their professional credentials and take a look at any online reviews for their services.

  • • Make sure your tax preparer is willing to sign your return and provide their IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). The preparer must also provide you with a copy of the return.

  • • Remember that you are legally responsible for what’s on your tax return, even if you didn’t prepare it yourself. Always look over your return carefully and never sign a blank return.

  • • If you suspect your return has been compromised by your preparer, be sure to report it to the IRS by downloading Form 14157 and Form 14157-A on the IRS.gov website.

POSTED: Apr 04, 2019
MCU’s Five Things to Know: Tips to Avoiding Homebuyer’s Remorse

According to a recent survey, more than 70 percent of Americans dream of owning a home. It’s easy to understand why. For many, buying a home means taking an exciting step towards the future. Besides being one of the most important long-term financial investments one can make, it’s a place where children can grow up, friends and family can celebrate milestones and memories can be made.

But what happens when that dream becomes a reality? The truth is that homeownership can be tough. Really tough. In fact, according to a recent Bankrate survey, nearly half of all homeowners have some degree of buyer’s remorse, including 63 percent of millennial homeowners. The main cause of this regret: Most survey-takers reported that they weren’t as financially prepared as they needed to be.

If you’re in the market to buy a home, now is the time to take important steps to financially prepare yourself for homeownership. Being prepared can make the difference between a smart buy and a financial challenge.

1. First thing’s first – meet with a mortgage professional.

The devil is in the details. And when it comes to buying a home, there are a lot of details. Before beginning your search, meet with a mortgage professional. He or she will walk you through what to expect, discuss the upcoming expenses you’ll need to prepare for, and help you understand how much mortgage you can potentially afford.

When working with a mortgage professional, ask for a mortgage pre-approval. This is a formal letter stating how much you, the potential homebuyer are qualified to borrow from a particular lender. In most cases, realtors will not show you homes without one, therefore this is a highly recommended part of the home shopping process.

If you meet with a mortgage professional and they do not think you are ready to buy yet, they should provide you with tips on how to get yourself qualified and ready to buy. Don’t hesitate to ask for help. Mortgage professionals can get you on the right track by offering options for credit-building, financial planning resources, and home-buying assistance programs.


2. Be realistic about monthly expenses.

You may be pre-approved for a generous mortgage but just because you can technically afford it, does not mean you should spend it. This is where many homebuyers go wrong.

Biting off more mortgage than you can chew is a surefire way to feel financial stress. This is especially true because unlike renting, you’ll have other built-in expenses such as insurance premiums, taxes, private mortgage insurance, and maintenance that you’ll have to account for as well.

Before taking the home-buying plunge, consider all of these costs and make an honest budget that includes all of your financial responsibilities, obligations, and goals. You may find that homes at the top of your budget are actually unrealistic or incompatible with your financial situation.

3. Prepare for upfront costs.

Homebuyers typically make a down payment worth between 10 and 20 percent of a home’s total value upfront. If you’re sweating over how much that may run you, you should know you’re not done yet.

First-time homebuyers often forget to factor in closing costs as a part of their out of pocket expenses. Closing costs, which must be paid during the purchase of the home, are not included in the down payment. These expenses, which may include real estate taxes, loan-processing costs, attorney fees and an escrow fee, average 5-7 percent of the loan amount. Additionally, there can be unexpected expenses such as open violations on the property and tax liens that must be paid by you or the seller.

Our advice: Save, save, save. It may never be easy to part with a large chunk of your hard-earned savings, but preparing for these expenses in advance will help you to stay stress-free and in good financial shape after you get the keys to your new home.

4. Have an emergency fund ready to go.

You should always be planning your finances for the future. After you have spent thousands of dollars on a down payment, legal fees, and closing costs, will you have money left over for incidentals?

Homeownership comes with maintenance expenses. If you are a renter and now you own a house, the costs of maintaining your home fall squarely on your shoulders. Aside from the expense of general upkeep, what will you do if your boiler breaks? If a storm knocked a tree branch through your roof? Or if your plumbing is corroded and leaking under the home? These are just some of the many issues that can present themselves unexpectedly to you.

Without the protection of an emergency fund, you may drive yourself into debt to handle these sudden expenses. A general rule of thumb is to put away three to six months' worth of living expenses set aside from your other savings and have it fully liquid (readily available).

5. Start making financial compromises now.

The financial responsibility of owning a home means you’ll likely have to adjust your lifestyle and spending habits. To prepare for this, it’s time to trade out non-necessity expenses for saving 20 percent of each paycheck. Trust us, you’re going to need that money for home expenses when the time comes!

Dinners out? It might be time to opt for groceries. That new car you want to buy? Maybe buy used instead. The earlier you make these financial adjustments, the sooner you’ll adapt to the financial demands of becoming a homeowner.

The most successful buyers are the ones that create a trial budget for themselves when shopping for a home. For example, if your rent is $1,500 a month but the mortgage loan officer told you that the home your want will be $2,500 a month, try to set aside $2,500 per month, for 4-6 months and see how your finances feel. If the new payment is a struggle during this trial period, then you should probably rethink and adjust your purchase budget to a figure that you can comfortably commit to for the next 15 to 30 years.

POSTED: Mar 29, 2019
A Guide to NYMCU Text Banking

When it comes to managing your MCU accounts, we like to say, “phone sweet phone!”

While many members are taking advantage of our NYMCU Mobile Banking App, don’t forget to enroll in NYMCU Text Banking too! Whether your Wi-Fi or 4G service is spotty, a smartphone isn’t your style, or you’re just looking for a quick way to check your accounts without taking time to log into our app, NYMCU Text Banking is a great way to manage your finances anytime, anywhere.

NYMCU Text Banking lets you access basic information and even regain access to your NYMCU Online and Mobile Banking Account if you’re locked out! Best of all, it’s easy and free to use*.

Check out some of the great functions and tasks you can complete just by texting commands to number 90703!

1. Unlock Your Online, Mobile Banking, and Touch Tone Teller Access.

Locked out of NYMCU Online and Mobile Banking? No need to call us! Just text “UNLOCK” and you’ll be right back to managing your accounts on our platforms.

2. Lock Your Online and Mobile Banking Access.

If you notice potentially suspicious activity on your accounts or have any reason to believe that your login credentials have been compromised, you can temporarily disable access to your NYMCU Online and Mobile Banking account by texting “LOCK”.

3. Check Your Balances.

Not sure about how much money is in your account? Quickly double-checking your balance before making a purchase or transferring funds can help protect you from overdrawing on your account. To check your account balances, text “BAL” to choose from a list of all of your accounts. You won’t even have to take the time to log into NYMCU Mobile Banking!

4. View Transaction History.

Members can track spending and even keep an eye out for potential fraud by regularly checking transaction history. View your transaction history without even sitting down at your laptop. Just text “HIST” to choose from a list of all of your accounts.

5. View Pending Transactions.

Don’t waste time wondering if a payment has been processed! Just text “PEND” to choose from a list of all of your accounts.

6. Check Branch Hours.

By texting “HOURS” you can check our branch hours and ensure that you have the time to stop by and complete your transactions.

7. Learn More NYMCU Text Banking Functions.

There are even more actions you can take through NYMCU Text Banking. Check them out by texting “HELP”.

Ready to give it a try? Enrolling in NYMCU Text Banking is easy through the NYMCU Online Banking platform!

*Cell phone carrier text messaging charges may apply.

POSTED: Mar 28, 2019
Five Questions to Ask When Accepting a New Job Offer

It’s no secret that job hunting can be stressful. And while you may be eager to jump at an offer that comes your way (perhaps after several tedious interviews), pause and be on the ready to ask important questions. These considerations could make the difference between landing your dream job and walking away from a dude.

Check out important questions to ask below,

1. “Is the salary fair?”

This is one question you’ll have to both ask yourself and answer for yourself.

Remember, no matter how good an offer may seem, always do your research before signing on the dotted line. Online resources can offer insights into what kind of salary you should expect from your new position. If the figure offered to you seems low in comparison to similar positions, ask if there’s room for negotiation. This may not always be the case but if there’s flexibility, use hard facts and relevant figures – instead of emotions – to make your argument.

2. “What’s included in the benefits package?”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a salary typically only makes up about 70 percent of your total compensation. To get the best idea about what your new position is actually providing you, ask to see a comprehensive breakdown of the benefits that would be offered to you. This is especially important because even a competitive salary probably may not be enough to make up for the shortcomings of a lean benefits package, especially if you have special personal or familial circumstances to consider.

The rise in healthcare costs often makes quality health insurance a top priority for job hunters. However, make sure you have a good understanding of all of the benefits you may receive. This could include dental healthcare insurance, retirement planning, disability insurance and commuter benefits.

3. “How much paid time off is offered?”

A good work-life balance means different things to different people. As you begin to consider a job offer, don’t forget to consider an organization’s rules and expectations about the amount of time you’ll be spending at work. To do this, ask to see a paid time off (PTO) policy.

This policy will help explain the time off you’re entitled to. A PTO policy may designate specific vacation, personal and sick days. In other instances, these days may be bundled, which means there’s just one bank of paid leave that you can use for whatever reason you want. It’s also important to ask if the PTO policy that allows for time to roll over if you’re not able to use all of your allotted days within a calendar year.

4. “Are there continuing education opportunities available?”

Continuing education is an important part of growing professionally and advancing a career. Whether you’re thinking of going back to school to pursue a new degree or just want to learn new skills that are important to your field, ask your potential new employer if there are special programs in place that can help you along the way. They may or may not offer assistance in the form of an annual allowance for continuing education courses or designate a number of out-of-office days that can be used for conferences.

Even if continuing education isn’t quite on your radar, ask about these benefits and accommodations anyway. You may be pleasantly surprised about how you can use education opportunities to your advantage.

5. “Am I compatible with the corporate culture?”

There are a lot of things to consider when presented with a new job opportunity. However, one of the most important things that many job hunters forget to ask themselves is “Will I be happy working here?” The reality is that you’ll be spending a lot of time in your new position and being content and comfortable will play an important role in your success. This is when it’s time to take a close look at your new employer’s corporate culture.

The truth is that you will never really know the corporate culture until you have worked at a company for a number of months. However, you can do a bit of research ahead of time to get the right idea. Start by reading the objectives expressed in the company’s mission statement, researching workplace reviews available online, and looking for employee engagement initiatives that are made public.

The information you find in your research are important but don’t forget to consider how a company’s corporate culture is compatible with your goals. Be honest with yourself and your potential new employer. If it doesn’t feel like a good fit, it may be best to keep shopping around.

POSTED: Mar 27, 2019
Six Money Lessons to Teach Your Teen

Watching your teenager grow up can feel like a whirlwind as they get their first job, get behind the wheel of a car for the first time, make their first real purchase and start their first day of college. While these milestones can be as exciting for you as it is for them, don’t forget to slow down and make time for important financial conversations. As your teen takes big steps towards financial and personal independence, now is a great time to introduce the lessons that will help them to develop strong money habits that will last a lifetime.

Check them out below!

1. Creating a Budget

Creating and sticking to an effective budget is one of the most important keys to financial wellness. It’s also something that some adults can struggle with their whole lives. Talk to your teen about creating a spending plan that considers their income (such as allowance, paycheck and even birthday money), expenses (including new clothes and gas money) and their goals (saving for textbooks or buying a vehicle). Start slowly – it can be a lot to take in – and consider using visuals such as a spreadsheet or budgeting app that can help them to see how sticking to a plan can really pay off.

If they stray from their budget and get into financial trouble, don’t jump to the rescue so quickly. Letting your teen face consequences can help them to learn from their mistakes. Instead, work with them to find a solution and put a new plan together.

2. Reading a Paycheck

Picking up that first paycheck is an exciting milestone for every young adult. As you celebrate this big moment with your teen, take some time to show them how to read their pay stub. This can be as simple as pointing out the difference between gross and net income and showing your teen how to spot errors, such as unlogged work hours.

Speaking of gross and net pay, chances are your teen will be surprised at how little money they net – as in, the amount that ultimately appears on their paycheck. This is a great time to have a conversation about deductions. All workers pay into Social Security and Medicare and earnings that exceed $7,600 in a year, qualify for federal income tax. Other optional deductions, such as health insurance can play a role in the percentage of pay taken out of each check.

3. The Basics of Tax Prep

Between shopping at retail stores and earning their first paychecks, your teenager likely already understands what taxes are. However, filing an annual tax return is a whole other story and something that young adults often struggle to understand for years.

Help your teen understand that filing taxes is an annual responsibility – even if they don’t think they’ve earned enough to warrant filing. Once your child has their first job, help them plan for filing taxes by encouraging them to store W-2 forms, receipts and any other documents they’ll need when tax time rolls around. If you’re comfortable doing so, parents can even bring their children to meet with a tax preparer or invite them to work with you to prepare the necessary paperwork together as a team.

4. The Importance of Building Good Credit

As your teen starts to consider student credit cards, college loans and other financial responsibilities, it’s important to talk to them about building and maintaining a credit score that can benefit them for years to come.

Explain that credit is important. A good credit score reflects how trustworthy a borrower is and will help individuals to get approved for lower interest rates on loans, rent an apartment and even receive better pricing on insurance. These things may not concern your teen right now but it’s important to help them understand that those feelings will change in just a few short years and to get ahead, they’ll want to start as early as possible.

The nuances of credit and how to build credit can be confusing, to prepare for a chat with your teen, check out our FAQ here.

5. Delayed Gratification

Teenagers are impulsive, especially when it comes to spending money. As your teen starts to earn cash or gains access to credit, it’s important to help them understand that large purchases need to be planned for. If not, your child could find themselves in financial trouble quickly.

A good exercise to practice with your child while they’re still picking up money habits is the “Save Twice, Spend Half” rule. Essentially, if your teen wants to buy a $50 video game, require them to save $100 first. When they’re ready to make their purchase, the other $50 goes straight into a savings account. This exercise will help your teen learn patience when it comes to saving for large purchases and keep them mindful to their budget and financial goals.

6. Saving for a Rainy Day Fund

Expecting the unexpected is an important part of staying financially fit. However, saving for a rainy day is easier said than done– according to a recent Bankrate survey, nearly 60 percent of Americans don’t have enough savings to cover a $1,000 emergency. As your child takes on more financial responsibilities, help them to prepare for a time when they may need to rely on an emergency fund. This is an important financial step because it can keep you from resorting to taking on high-interest debt or making desperate financial decisions in tough times.

A general rule of thumb is to put away three to six months' worth of living expenses for an emergency fund in case of job loss, illness or an unexpected bill. To help your teens put this into context, walk them through how this could mean taking on car repairs, textbooks or unexpected tuition expenses.

POSTED: Mar 25, 2019
A Beginner’s Guide to Car-Buying

So, you’re getting ready to buy a car for the first time – congratulations! While there’s a lot to be excited about, we’re the first to admit that the process can be overwhelming. Don’t be discouraged! Check out our tips below and you’ll be on your way in no time.

1. Start with creating a budget.

Forget rush hour traffic – nothing can cause stress like taking on a financial obligation you can’t really afford. If you’ve been daydreaming about the extravagant auto options you could be driving off with (we’ve all been there), it’s time to pause and get down to the business of creating a realistic budget.

Take time to chart out all of your income and expenses that not only appear every week or month, but throughout the entire year (such as utility bills and tax returns). This will help you understand how much disposable income you can reasonably put towards a car, while also reaching your other goals.

And don’t forget to budget for extra expenses! A monthly car payment is only the first of many bills you’ll face. The cost of taxes on the vehicle, auto insurance, fuel, warranties and regular maintenance (oil changes, brake changes, new tires, etc.) may vary depending on a vehicle’s make and model. However, it’s safe to assume that these costs will amount to thousands of dollars a year.

2. Narrow down your search.

Remember that a car should complement your lifestyle as much as your finances. Extra storage or fuel efficiency? Four-wheel drive or city-friendly features? Doing your homework to figure out how a vehicle can meet your needs will save you both time and disappointment down the road.

Our advice: Don’t venture into a dealership without knowing the car makes and models you really want to see. Salespeople trying to close deals and earn commission can often persuade buyers into vehicles they don’t really need or want. Using online resources like TrueCar, Kelley Blue Book and Carmax can help you identify and compare auto styles, makes, models and competitive pricing so you can be prepared to shop with confidence.

3. Pay careful attention during your test drive.

Test driving vehicles can be fun…maybe even too fun. As you go for a test spin, don’t lose sight of why you’re there – to find a car that’s a great fit for years to come, not just the next 15 minutes.

Take this experience seriously. A car may look ideal online but you won’t know if there’s a troublesome blind spot or uncomfortably low headroom until you’ve actually gotten behind the wheel and on the road.

Pay careful attention to the car’s features and how it handles. You may not have gone for a test drive before, but at the end of the day, a car is just like most purchases – If something bothers you even slightly early on, it will definitely become a problem later on.

4. Research your financing options.

If you’re planning to finance your vehicle, you’re in good company. According to a recent survey conducted by the information service Finder, 44 percent of Americans have an active car loan. However, as you begin to consider your financing options, remember that not all loans are created equal and choosing the wrong one could cost you hundred or even thousands of dollars later on.

A dealership may work with you to offer a competitive interest rate, but don’t take the bait on an impulse. Consider all of the aspects of the loan offered and how it compares to options that may be offered by your financial institution and other competitors. This includes the terms of the agreement, length of the loan and down payment. Learn more about MCU’s auto financing here.

5. Remember that it’s okay to say no.

Dealerships and salespeople can put a lot of pressure on buyers to make a snap purchase. They may even call and follow up with you multiple times with new perks and promotions. The upgrades may be tempting but follow your gut instinct. If a car doesn’t feel like a great fit for your needs or if you think the expense may be unmanageable in the long run, just say no.

Don’t let your emotions get the better of you. Shop carefully, do your research and be patient - you’ll be sure to find the right car.

Looking for more information? We’ve got you covered. Check out our MCU Car-Buying Checklist, guide to shopping for auto insurance and tips for a buying used car.

POSTED: Mar 20, 2019
Four Financial Steps to Choosing a College

Students who are graduating or looking to transfer schools know that while there are many exciting things to consider when choosing a college or university, they won’t get far into their deliberations without having to think about the expense. And it’s no surprise why – the cost of college is affecting more Americans than ever. According to Student Loan Hero, 69 percent of college students graduated with student loans in 2018. The average amount of debt reportedly taken on was more than $29,800!

While loans may seem inevitable, students should take time to carefully consider their options and make decisions that will help them stay in strong financial shape. Check out our tips below!

1. Understand the total cost breakdown.

It’s no secret that tuition is on the rise – the average tuition bill for a private university during the 2017/2018 academic year was more than $34,900! If it sounds like a lot, it is, but don’t forget that there are more bills coming your way.

The additional costs associated with college enrollment may individually seem small by comparison but the cumulative expense could leave you feeling blindsided. This includes textbooks, administrative fees, housing, on-campus health insurance, the cost of supplies and equipment, food and parking. Each university will approach these expenses differently so it’s important to read through the total cost breakdown of each program carefully.

2. Review scholarships and financial aid carefully.

A financial aid letter from a college or university can bring a big sigh of relief, but it can also be tricky to understand. This is because the figure listed next to the term “financial award” doesn’t necessarily mean “free money”. Instead, many colleges will combine loans, grants and scholarships together in order to come up with the total amount offered in your award. Loans, of course, aren’t actually gifted money and will need to be repaid.

Our advice: Proceed with caution. In many cases, financial aid packages and scholarship awards will work in your favor but in other scenarios, they may not be all that they promise. Not knowing these requirements and details upfront could lead to very expensive surprises down the road.

3. Research work-study opportunities.

Many students work while attending college but work-study programs are a bit different from a typical part-time job. Like scholarships and grants, these programs are offered through colleges and universities and are typically selective to certain students who stand out academically or fall into need-base categories. Students will also know if they qualify for a program like this early on (typically with their acceptance letter or soon after).

In addition to providing opportunities to learn professional skills, work-study programs typically pay well and accommodate a student’s class schedule, making them ideal to help take on costs associated with school as they occur.

4. Do the math: Earning potential vs. expense.

It’s true that your education is an investment in yourself but you need to be smart about that investment. The reality is that not all colleges cost the same and not all degrees come with the same earning potential. If you do find yourself taking on student loans (like most students), you’ll need to decide how much debt is manageable considering what you’re expected to reasonably earn in both the short and long-term. Remember, you’ll be expected to begin taking on your debt shortly after graduation.

It may turn out that the “best” college you get into may not be the right fit if it means taking on a heavy debt load to follow a passion or profession that likely won’t give you the financial ability to pay off your loans.

POSTED: Feb 07, 2019
MCU Scam Roundup: Winter 2019

Americans are getting smarter about protecting their identity, sensitive information and finances. But fraudsters aren’t giving up that quickly. These thieves are paying close attention to our new consumer habits and trends to put a new spin on old scams. Staying informed is the key to getting ahead. Check out these recently reported scams that are currently affecting consumers everywhere.

1. Hang up on Social Security Spoofing Calls

According to the National Council of Aging, it’s estimated that older adults are losing billions of dollars to scammers each year. To help protect yourself and your loved ones, experts are warning consumers to be on the alert for one of the top offenders: Phony Social Security calls.

How It Works:

Thieves posing as representatives from the Social Security Administration are calling and threatening victims with arrest or legal action, claiming improper or illegal activity on their Social Security account. These callers are known to be aggressive and will intimidate their victims into providing personal and financial information in order to resolve the alleged issue. In other incidents, scammers switch tactics and say that they want to help an individual activate a suspended Social Security number.

In the past, savvy consumers may have been able to easily spot these scams just by looking at their caller ID and spotting a restricted or suspicious phone number. However, thieves have once again adapted and are reported to now engineer phone calls so that they now appear to be coming from the actual Social Security hotline number.

What You Should Do:

  • • Know that while SSA employees do contact citizens by phone for customer-service purposes, they will never threaten you with legal actions if you fail to provide information.

  • • If you receive one of these calls, hang up immediately. If you have concerns and want to verify whether you have any ongoing business with the SSA, call the agency directly at (800) 772-1213

  • • Report suspicious calls to the SSA Office of the Inspector General by calling (800) 269-0271 or submit a report on the OIG website.

2. Stop Mobile Fraud in its Track

Malware attacks are nothing new to consumers but fraudsters are taking their scams to the next level: Mobile apps. And it’s no surprise why – last year, a reported one-third of total U.S. retail sales took place on a mobile device at some point in the purchasing process. As consumers continue to shop on their phones and tablets at increasing rates, scammers are at the ready to take advantage. According to FraudWatch International, fraudulent transactions from mobile apps have increased by a whopping 300% since 2015.

How It Works:

Scammers are developing fraudulent apps designed to put you at risk. These apps can look nearly identical to a reputable retail or financial services brand or they may just lure shoppers in with the promise enticing promotions. In reality, these apps are designed to steal your information through malware, which once installed onto your device can retrieve any stored sensitive information such as passwords and account login information.

If Malware is installed on your device, your phone or tablet can even become controlled by scammers remotely. Downloading an infected app could even turn your device into a bot.

What You Should Do:

  • • Stick to reputable marketplaces when downloading and purchasing apps. Some characteristics of a safe marketplace are:

  • - A well-developed Terms of Service policy

  • - Clear contact information and troubleshooting FAQ

  • - A history of removing vendors with poor content

  • • Research the app vendor. Look closely for an app privacy policy, the information made available to advertisers and clear contact information.

  • • Check the number of app downloads and read the reviews. The more downloads an app has, the more reputable it is. And while even great apps will have some bad reviews, taking a look at what other users have to say can help ensure the app is secure, functional and (most importantly) legitimate.

3. Don’t Let Cryptocurrency Scams Hurt Your Real-Life Wallet

As investors look to the future, cryptocurrencies continue to be an exciting and growing trend. However, as legitimate companies and individuals are increasingly using initial coin offerings (ICOs) as a way to raise capital for business ventures and projects, investors should be on the lookout for fraud.

How It Works:

Scammers have been reported to invite unsuspecting members of the public to invest in non-existing ICOs. It’s only after buying into the ICO do victims learn that the offer doesn’t really exist. Unfortunately, due to lack of strong regulations in the crypto financial sector, most investors lose their cash for good.

What You Should Do:

  • • Research, research, research. The cryptocurrency market has few regulations in place to protect investors. Before you decide to part with your cash for an ICO, be sure to do your homework.

  • - Be on the watch for promises that seem too good to be true. If an ICO promises unrealistic returns on investments, it’s best to steer clear.

  • - Know the core team. Many fake teams use names of reputed ICO advisors on their websites. Spend time to research each of ICO team members on different sites and see if they are actually associated with the project.

  • - Look at the White Paper. This is a plan developed by the ICO team that extensively outlines an the upcoming project and a company’s business plan – the problem it seeks to correct, the product it will offer, the team, token value and distribution, etc. If this document doesn’t look fully flushed out, don’t invest

  • • If you think you’ve become a victim of an ICO scam, report this incident with the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC)

POSTED: Jan 16, 2019
When It’s Time to Meet with a Financial Advisor

Paying a professional to help you manage your money can be a tough decision to make. It may even seem counterintuitive, considering the cost. However, as your life continues to grow and evolve, hiring a financial advisor is an important step in ensuring a sound financial future and the ability to reach your long and short-term goals.

So, when is it time to make an appointment? Nearly everyone can benefit from working with a financial professional, but if you’re experiencing any of the situations outlined below, it’s time to start right away.

1. Big changes are happening in your personal life.

You may be getting engaged, starting a family or taking on the role of caring for a relative – as life changes, so will your financial responsibilities and goals. It may be an exciting time in your life, but pivoting your finances to fit your new lifestyle can also be overwhelming. This is when a financial advisor can be a great resource. These professionals can help you to prioritize and plan for merging finances, managing new expenses, estate planning and insurance purchasing.

2. You’re getting serious about retirement planning.

You’ve finished your education, paid down your debt and you’re comfortable managing your expenses – you’re ready to start planning for the future. However, if you’re feeling a little lost about how to navigate retirement planning, you’re definitely not alone. According to a recent study, less than half of Americans can confidently explain what a 401(k) is.

A financial advisor can be a huge help in walking you through your retirement options and helping you understand oftentimes confusing topics such as diversifying your savings, earning dividends, and the details of social security. Equally important, an advisor can work with you to make sure you’re on track to retire and even ensure you haves strategies in place to help you stay in financially great shape when you do.

3. Your finances have changed significantly.

There’s a reason why so many lottery winners go broke – having a significant amount of money is only beneficial if you also have a plan to manage it. If you’ve inherited a large sum of cash, won a settlement or received a significant job promotion, your first step should be to make an appointment with a financial advisor. A good financial planner can help you to protect and grow your assets by recommending tax-savings strategies, budgeting tools and long-term investment plans. They can even help you to manage your money if you don’t feel confident enough to do so.

Financial advisors can also work with you if in instances when your finances take a turn in the other direction. They can help you to create a plan if your household income is reduced (for example, if one spouse stops working), identify problem areas in your budget and even create a strategy for effectively paying-down and refinancing debt.

4. You’re self-employed.

If you’re self-employed or planning to make the transition to self-employment, an advisor can help you manage financial nuances that may have otherwise been taken care of by a human resources or benefits professional in a large company, such as retirement planning and insurance options.

You may also need help when it comes to managing a variable income, budgeting for employees or keeping track of business expenses. A financial planner who specializes in working with the self-employed will have a deep understanding of all of these issues and the planning opportunities available to you, ensuring that you’re getting the most out of your business.

POSTED: Jan 15, 2019
MCU’s Five Things to Know: Financial Moves to Make after Marriage

Love may be in the air but if you’re about to get married, there’re more to think about than just where to honeymoon. In fact, now is the time to become familiar with the important financial steps you’ll need to take after saying “I do” in order to ensure a strong future for you and your spouse.

Check out our tips on how to on saving money and creating a sound financial foundation for your marriage below.

1. Update your insurance.

When it comes to properly protecting you and your new spouse, this is one step you’ll want to take sooner than later, especially when it comes to health insurance. This is because you’ll typically only have 30 days after your wedding to add your spouse to your employer’s health coverage or vice versa. If you miss this window, you’ll have to wait until Open Enrollment the following year, which can end up costing both of you an unnecessary amount of money in the meantime.

To help avoid a time crunch, start reviewing your policies before the big day. Remember, cheaper may not always be better. Before you start to file any paperwork, make sure you know the details of each policy so you understand which person has the better plan and/or the cheaper family plan.

Don’t forget your other policies too. To make sure you’re getting the best price for the right coverage on things like auto and homeowners insurance, talk to your current provider about the new changes in your life to get a quote for an adjusted policy. Like with any large purchase, it’s also important to shop around and compare pricing. Many providers offer discounts for multiple cars and multiple policies.

2. Change your beneficiary designations.

Chances are you named your parents, siblings or other relatives as beneficiaries when you first opened your IRA and/or 401(k) plan or bought a life insurance policy. And while retirement may seem like a long way off, officially naming your spouse as your beneficiary now is a very important step in protecting them financially in the event of an emergency. This is because even if you name them as your sole beneficiary in your Will and Testament, the named beneficiaries of your plans will still be legally entitled to them.

3. Open a joint account.

While many couples are opting out of combining all of their funds, a recent Bankrate survey reported that 77 percent of married couples choose to open at least one joint financial account together. And it’s easy to understand why – this financial move helps couples manage shared bills, budget for expenses and even prepare for emergencies.

However, a joint account can also cause a lot of conflict in a relationship if both parties aren’t on the same page. Before taking this step, it’s important to have an honest conversation about your financial attitudes, behaviors and obligations. Check out our tips here.

4. Don’t forget your taxes.

A lot changes after marriage, and that includes your taxes. For example, you may want to claim a personal exemption for your spouse or you might find yourself pushed into a higher tax bracket with your newly combined incomes. This will require you to complete and submit a W-4 Form to your employer to have your withholdings and deductions adjusted. If you need help filling out Form W-4, you can use the IRS Withholding Calculator to avoid having too little or too much Federal income tax withheld from your paychecks.

Getting married will also give you more options regarding which status you can file your taxes under. This will help to determine your tax liability, filing requirements, and eligibility for various tax deductions and tax credits. There are five different filing statuses: single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, head of household, and qualifying widow(er) with dependent child. If you find that more than one filing status applies to you, you can use whichever one offers you the most tax benefits. Learn more about how to choose the best filing status for your needs here.

5. Expect the unexpected.

Marriage is for the long haul and there may be some bumps along the way. Newly married couples can start preparing for possible tough times with an emergency fund. A general rule of thumb is to set aside 3 to 6 months' worth of living expenses that can help you stay financially afloat in case of job loss, illness or an unexpected bill. If you already have an emergency fund, you’re not in the clear just yet. Remember, as a married couple there are more expenses to consider. Make a list of all of your new financial responsibilities and obligations and make sure that what you have saved is still sufficient to cover your cost of living. You may find yourself needing a larger fund than you initially expected.

Being prepared for tough times also means having the right paperwork in place. It may be difficult to talk about but married couples should work together to put together important legal documents such as Financial Power of Attorney and a Last Will and Testament, which will help to protect your financials assets.

POSTED: Dec 28, 2018
MCU’s Five Things to Know: Improving Fuel Efficiency

Drivers know that filling their gas tank can be pricey. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average family spends more than five percent of their monthly budget on engine fuel. Yikes.

However, there’s good news! Taking just a few simple steps and considerations throughout the year can improve and optimize your vehicle’s fuel efficiency to save you money and stay environmentally friendly. Check them out below!

1. Follow the Speed Limit

A heavy foot on the road won’t just mean potential (and expensive) speeding tickets – you’ll also find yourself burning fuel quickly. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), a car’s fuel efficiency typically peaks at speeds ranging from 35 to 60 miles per hour. After that, fuel efficiency will drop significantly – for every five miles per hour you drive above 60 mph, drivers will find themselves paying approximately 24 cents more per gallon for gas.

To stretch your dollar further (and ensure a safer journey), ease up on the pedal.

2. Consider Your Cargo

As the old saying goes: the more you tow, the more you owe. If you’ve been lugging unnecessary and heavy cargo around in your car, you’re likely burning fuel at a faster rate. In fact, according to the DOE, an extra 100 pounds in your vehicle could reduce your fuel efficiency by about one percent.

In addition to the extra weight, hauling cargo on your roof increases wind resistance and lowers fuel economy. To help keep your fuel economy optimal, remove any roof-mounted storage when you don’t need it or opt for a rear-mount cargo box when necessary.

3. Avoid Idling

Idling refers to running a vehicle’s engine while it’s parked. While we’re all guilty of this practice from time-to-time, it can quickly affect your fuel efficiency and, consequentially, your budget. In fact, idling can use a quarter to a half gallon of fuel per hour, depending on engine size and if the air conditioner is being used. Avoiding this wasteful habit is easy and effective. Just turn off your engine when your vehicle is parked – it only takes about 10 seconds worth of fuel to restart your vehicle.

4. Keep Tires Inflated

According to the DOE, drivers can improve their gas mileage by as much as three percent just by keeping their tires properly inflated. If you’re not sure what the appropriate tire pressure is for your car, you can check for a sticker on the inside of the driver-side door or in the glove box.

The information is also available in the owner’s manual. Drivers should not fill their tires to the maximum pressure listed on side of the tire.

As a rule of thumb – check your tires at least once a month. Keeping them well inflated and maintained will also help them last longer and ensure a safer journey.

5. Maintain Your Engine

It’s no secret that keeping up with auto maintenance is an important step in preventing expensive engine damage and ensuring the reliability of your vehicle. However, while these steps help your vehicle to run better, they’re also great for improving fuel efficiency. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, having your car properly tuned can improve gas mileage by up to four percent.

Some basic maintenance tasks that can make a big difference include wheel alignment, changing filters and spark plugs and consistently changing engine oil. It’s also important to note that using the recommended engine oil for your vehicle will increase your fuel efficiency by up to two percent.

POSTED: Dec 10, 2018
MCU’s Tips for Sticking to Your Financial Resolutions in the New Year

Welcoming in the New Year means taking on new resolutions. If your goals for the New Year include becoming more financially fit, you’re certainly not alone. In fact, according to the consumer research organization Nielsen, 25 percent of New Year’s resolutions include the better management of money.

Sticking to your resolutions can be tough, but If you’re ready to work hard and achieve your goals, we’re ready to help! Check out our tips below on how to achieve your financial resolutions in the New Year.

1. Consider your Habits
Nobody likes making mistakes but looking back on your missteps can be a valuable tool when it comes to breaking bad financial habits. By taking time to evaluate how you’ve struggle to manage your finances in the past, you’ll be able to take steps that will make a meaningful impact on your financial fitness.Taking the time to sort these documents in advance will not only save you the trouble during crunch time, but will also help to reduce the risk of errors when filing your taxes.
For example, by recognizing that you have a habit of overspending on your weekly groceries, you can recognize the value in taking time to clip coupons or order groceries online where you can’t be tempted by impulse purchases.

2. Set SMART Goals
Oftentimes, achieving your New Year’s resolutions can be made much easier just by verbalizing or recording them in a way that will motivate you. For example, saying that you’d like to save more money may not emotionally motivate you the way that saying that you’d like to save $5,000 by the end of the year to put towards a new car might.

In order to set a meaningful and motivating goal, it’s important to remember it must be “SMART” – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time sensitive.

  • Specific: Keep your goal as focused and clear-cut as possible. This will allow you to visualize your endgame and take the appropriate steps to achieve it.
  • Measurable: Be sure you can set small milestones or take inventory of your progress as you go so you can feel confident about your progress towards your final goal.
  • Achievable: Your goal can be ambitious, but it shouldn’t be too lofty.
  • Realistic: If your goal is to find a bag full of money on the street, it’s time to try again. Your goals and resolutions shouldn’t only be achievable under the best case or unusual circumstances.
  • Time Sensitivity: A timeline is a key component to setting your goals. Give your goals a deadline and only change them if it’s absolutely required.

3. Get Your Friends and Family Involved
If you’ve struggled with following through on goals, this year is a great opportunity to break the cycle by getting your friends and family involved. By including your loved ones, you’ll not only have extra resources and support, but will also be held accountable for achieving your resolutions. It may not always be easy to talk about money, but by sharing ideas, brainstorming and making changes together can both create help create positive financial habits and bring people together. To learn to get started on how to include your family in your financial goals, check out our blog post Reaching Financial Goals as a Family.

4. Create a Budget
No matter what your financial goals are, your budget will be the key to your success by providing you with a blueprint that will help you stay vigilant of your finances. By creating a breakdown of spending, income and debts, you’ll be able to better identify wasteful spending, adapt quickly to financial emergencies and begin to make headway on your future plans.

To learn more about how to create a budget that can work for you, check out our blog post MCU’s Tips for Creating an Effective Spending Plan.

5. Set Up Direct Deposit
Setting aside savings to achieve your financial goals can seem daunting. However, by using direct deposit and automated transfers, you can begin to put as much or as little away as you want each month without even having to think about it.

Depending on your goals and priorities, direct deposit can be used to allocate funds to a checking account used exclusively to make loan payments, a 529 or other college savings account, Holiday or Vacation Club Account, or even an after-tax investment account.

And using direct deposit won’t just ensure that your annual goals are met, but will give you the confidence to freely use any money still available in your personal account after the deductions.

POSTED: Dec 07, 2018
MCU’s New Year Financial Checklist

The New Year is an exciting chance to set goals and plan for the future. And if your resolutions include improving your financial situation, you’re certainly not alone. In fact, last year nearly 40 percent of Americans said their goal was to save more money.

Changing old habits and building new ones can be undoubtedly tough, especially if you’re not sure where to start when it comes to reaching your goals. As you head into 2019, check out our New Year Financial Checklist below. These tips, along with patience and hard work, will help you better manage your money today and plan for a more financially fit future.

1. Check Your Credit Reports.

Looking to the future and setting realistic and effective goals is easier when you know what your starting point is. This is when a credit report comes in handy. The three credit bureaus –TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian – are required to give you a free copy of your credit report once a year. This will help you to not only fully understand your situation and financial habits, but will also help you check for mistakes and fraud that could be negatively effecting your credit score.

You can order these reports online from annualcreditreport.com, which is the only authorized website for free credit reports, or call 1-877-322-8228. To receive your credit report, you will need to provide your name, address, social security number, and date of birth to verify your identity.

If anything seems wrong, you can also dispute errors through each credit bureau. Keep in mind some disputes will take longer than others. However, once you initiate a dispute, the credit bureaus are required to investigate it and report the resolution.

2. Review Your Budget

A lot may have changed in the last year – you may have gotten married, bought a home or gotten a new job. These major life events, along with many others that may come your way, will likely require you to take a second look at your spending plan and consider how it’s working for you.

No matter what your financial situation is, an effective budget is always essential to balancing long-term goals and everyday expenses. By creating a breakdown of spending, income and debts, you’ll be able to better identify wasteful spending, adapt quickly to financial emergencies and begin to make headway on your future plans.

To learn more about how to create a budget that can work for you, check out our blog post MCU’s Tips for Creating an Effective Spending Plan.

3. Start Investing

Building an investment portfolio may be sitting at the bottom of your to-do list but it’s one of the most important keys to building long-term wealth.

If you feel like building a portfolio isn’t in your budget this year, easy-to-use mobile apps mean you can begin investing small amounts of money without the use of a financial manager. Most notably, spare change investment apps, like Acorns, encourage users to invest spare change using a system they call "round-ups." These apps monitor your bank account and automatically invests the change from your daily purchases.

Other apps will make it easy to make small investments without having to pay commission fees, or keeping an account minimum.

4. Create an Emergency Fund

Expecting the unexpected can be a tall order but having a financial safety net in place will help you to more easily withstand tough times. As you start planning for the year ahead, don’t forget to start paying into an emergency fund. A general rule of thumb is to set aside 3 to 6 months' worth of living expenses that can help you stay financially afloat in case of job loss , illness or an unexpected bill.

If you already have an emergency fund, you’re not in the clear just yet. Make sure that it’s still sufficient to cover your expenses since you last reviewed your financial obligations and responsibilities. You may find yourself needing a larger fund than you initially expected.

5. Become Properly Insured

Having the right insurance is important but overpaying for it isn’t. Now is a great time to take inventory on how your insurance is working for you now and consider if it will compliment any future plans you have for the coming year. Remember, as your life changes overtime, you may need more or less coverage in some areas of your life.

Whether it’s home; auto; health or renters insurance, price shopping can go a long way it’s recommended to request quotes from at least three providers before making a decision. However, don’t let the policy’s price be your only consideration. It’s important to make sure you understand what’s covered and how much protection you’d have from a new policy.

Be sure to do your homework on each of these new insurance providers and to note the details of the policies offered. In the end, you may decide to stick with your current provider but having official price quotes could help you negotiate the best deal possible.

6. Automate Payments

Chances are you already know how hard it can be to keep your finances organized on top of your day-to-day life. If one of your goals for the New Year is to better manage your money, automatic payments could just be the answer. Setting up automatic payments for fixed monthly bills like your cell phone or cable won’t just benefit you credit score, but will also help you stay organized and relieve stress.

7. Plan Your Retirement Account Contributions

Pay yourself first. Sticking to this simple rule will help you to ensure the financial wellbeing of your golden years. An easy way to get started is to participate in an employer sponsored retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or 403(b). These plans are especially helpful because your contribution, up to a certain percentage, is often matched by your employer. For example, they may offer to match up to 50 percent of the first five percent of your paycheck contributed to your retirement account or match you dollar-for-dollar up to six percent of your paycheck contributed.

If you already have a retirement account, now is a great time to take a look at how you can increase or optimize your contributions to better prepare you for the future.

POSTED: Dec 05, 2018
MCU’s Tips for Early Tax Prep

Tax season may be just around the corner but there’s no reason to panic. In fact, taking a few easy steps now could help make the process easier and simpler than in years past. Check out our tips for getting started below!

Check out our tips for getting started below!

1. Get Organized

You’ve been collecting important financial forms and receipts all year and now, new documents such as your annual W-2 form are ready to be reviewed. Keeping track of all of this paperwork can be overwhelming when it comes time to file your taxes but getting organized now can make a big difference.

Take time to locate and assemble all of the documents and important receipts you’ve obtained throughout the year, review exactly what you’ll need to successfully file your taxes, and begin the process of obtaining any missing forms. Doing this won’t just make filing your taxes easier when the time comes, but will also help you to avoid overlooking possible deductions that you’ll qualify for.

2. Consider Your Filing Status

Taxpayers can file under one of five filing statuses on their income tax form: Single, Married Filing Jointly, Married Filing Separately, Head of Household, Widow/Widower with Dependent Child.

Consider your options wisely – especially if there have been some big changes in your life this past year. The status you choose to file under can affect your filing requirements, standard deduction, and eligibility for certain credits, and your correct tax. It may even determine whether you have to file at all.

Learn more about how to choose the best filing status for your needs here.

3. Review Last Year’s Return and Make a Plan

The best way to prepare for filing your taxes, may just be taking a look back on how thing’s went last year. Consider areas that were problematic or deductions you missed out on and make a plan for how to improve your process going forward.

For example, if you had trouble if you had trouble verifying contributions you made to charity that have qualified you for a significant deduction, plan to start organizing these receipts now.

4. Make an Appointment with a Tax Professional

Whether you’re looking for start-to-finish help filing your taxes or just some professional guidance along the way, setting up an appointment with a tax preparer is always a smart idea. And the earlier you meet with a professional, the more time you’ll have to be prepared come Tax Day.

Be sure that the professional you choose has a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) and is authorized to prepare federal income tax returns. It’s also important to ask upfront about the cost of their services , which likely will depend on the complexity of your tax return.

POSTED: Nov 02, 2018
MCU’s End-of-Year Financial Checklist

The end of year can come with many distractions – holiday shopping, parties, vacations and even the occasional gift-swap are enough to keep you busy. If it’s going by in a flash, we recommend hitting the pause button for just a moment and considering your financial goals.

You may not know it by now is a great time to make sure you pay special attention to your finances and take steps that will help you get ready for both next year and well into the future.

Check out our tips below!

1. Contribute to Your Emergency Fund

Saving is a problem for many Americans. In fact, nearly 40 percent of US workers have reported having less than $1,000 in savings to cover an emergency. You may have a lot of big plans in mind for the New Year but before you start working toward exciting financial goals, it’s important make sure your safety net is in place. A general rule of thumb is to set aside 3 to 6 months' worth of living expenses for an emergency fund in case of job loss, illness or an unexpected bill.

While the holiday season can be expensive, setting up a rainy day fund is still possible. Savers can use money given as gifts or end-of-year bonuses to start building out their emergency fund. In other cases, a conversation with a significant other or spouse about the importance of building a nest egg could lead to forgoing large gifts in lieu of saving this year.

2. Max Out Your IRA or Roth IRA Contributions

If you’ve set up a traditional or Roth IRA in preparation for your retirement, you already know the benefits. Individuals younger than 50 can contribute $5,500 each year and individuals 50 and older can contribute $6,500 each year, while compounding tax-free earnings over their entire life. These accounts can also be used to withdraw funds without penalty for various reasons such as qualified higher education expenses and medical expenses.

While these accounts are important tools for your future, it’s important to remember that you can’t make up lost ground when it comes to your contributions. If you don’t max out your contribution for the year, you’re essentially leaving money on the table with missed tax benefits and potential growth from dividends and appreciation.

Even if you can't max out your IRA, putting as much money towards this account before the end of the tax year is extremely important for preparing for the future.

3. Get the Right Insurance Coverage

The end of the year is a time of reflection and we’re not talking about being sentimental. If a lot’s changed over the past year, your insurance will need to as well. As your life changes overtime, you may need more or less coverage in some areas of your life.

Having the right insurance is important but overpaying for it isn’t. Whether it’s home; auto; health or renters insurance, price shopping can go a long way. it’s recommended to request quotes from at least three providers before making a decision. But don’t let the policy price be the end all be all to your search it’s important to make sure you understand what’s covered and how much protection you’d have from a new policy.

Be sure to do your homework on each of these new insurance providers and to note the details of the policies offered. In the end, you may decide to stick with your current provider but having official price quotes could help you negotiate the best deal possible.

4. Start a 529 Pan for Your Kids

While helping your children pay for college may feel even further away than facing retirement, letting another year go by without starting a 529 Plan for each of your children is an expensive mistake. Starting one of these tax-advantaged investment accounts early on will allow many parents and guardians to open to save for a child’s college costs, including tuition; room and board; supplies and textbooks.

These plans are all similar to Roth 401(k) or Roth IRA. Earnings in a 529 plan grow federal tax-free and will not be taxed when the money is withdrawn (as long as it is used for college). So it’s no wonder that earlier you open an account, the better.

5. Make a Tax-Deducible Charitable Donation

Making a charitable donation won’t just help those in need, but will also work to your advantage when you file your taxes. And while you can do this at an any time during the year, the holiday season is the perfect time to check this good deed off of your list.

Many donations, which can be monetary or in-kind, can be deducted on your taxes if they are made before the end of the calendar year. In order to ensure that your donations work to your advantage during tax time, donors are encouraged to ensure that the charity is eligible for a tax deduction at IRS.gov. Keep in mind that donations to churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and government agencies are eligible to receive deductible donations even if they are not listed in the tool’s database.

It’s also important to record these donations throughout the year and to get receipts, which include the name of the charity, description of the donation and the date of the donation

6. Set Up Automatic Payments

Chances are you already know how hard it can be to keep your finances organized on top of your day-to-day life. If one of your goals for the New Year is to better manage your money, automatic payments could just be the answer. Setting up automatic payments for fixed monthly bills like your cell phone or cable won’t just benefit you credit score, but will also help you to stay organized and relieve stress over payments.

POSTED: Oct 30, 2018
MCU’s Guide to Gift-Giving on a Budget

There’s a lot to love about the holidays, but if the Season of Giving is putting a strain on you and your finances, you’re definitely not alone. In fact, according to a 2017 American Psychological Association Survey, approximately 62 percent of Americans report feeling stressed about money during the holidays

While you may have friends or family members who like to splurge during the holidays, remember it’s not a competition and purchasing gifts should never affect your long or short-term financial goals. Luckily, celebrating the holidays and showing your loved ones that you care doesn’t have to break the bank – you may even discover that what you end up giving – yourself, your time, or your talents – ends up meaning more than you could imagine!

Check out our tips for staying on budget this season below.

1. Be Realistic with Your Budget

Like with any financial situation, creating a budget is going to be an important part of navigating your expenses. Keep in mind that your gift-giving budget for the holidays is essentially the money you can reasonably spend on gifts without tapping into the funds you need for other expenses, such as bills and groceries.

The key to any successful budget it to set limits and to stick to them. Remember to be realistic about the funds available to you and what you can sacrifice to help come up with extra cash. For example, giving up your morning run to a gourmet coffee shop for a month to help cover the cost of a gift may be reasonable but cutting back on your grocery bill probably won’t be.

2. Make a List (and Check it Twice)

The holidays can come with a lot of pressure to show your appreciation for the people in your life – friends, family, coworkers – even your mail carrier! Remember that saying thank you doesn’t have to mean spending money. To help stay on budget this season, limit your gift list. As a good rule of thumb, if your shopping list includes more than five people outside of your immediate family, it’s time to start cutting back.

However, just because you won’t be buying gifts for some friends and coworkers, doesn’t mean you can’t spread holiday cheer. In lieu of presents, we recommend choosing to bake treats, write notes or do something thoughtful – these acts can go a surprisingly long way!

3. Give Your Time

As mentioned above, sometimes giving things other than gifts is a great way to stay on budget while also celebrating the holidays. Don’t forget, that means giving your time as well – sometimes, all loved ones really want is a visit.

Our advice: Chances are your friends are also struggling with their budgets this season. Take the pressure off everyone by organizing a group volunteer event in lieu of gifts or and expensive holiday party. You'll get to spend quality time together - plus, you'll come out of the day feeling proud of your efforts rather than suffering from buyer's remorse, and anyone can benefit from volunteering.

4. Use Coupons to Your Advantage

It’s no secret that Black Friday and Cyber Monday mean big sales, but don’t forget about the deals and opportunities running all season-long. Before you shop online, check for coupon codes you can use at your favorite online stores and keep an eye out for coupons you received in your mailbox before hitting the mall. Like with any big purchases, it’s also a great idea to price shop to make sure that a seemingly good deal is actually one worth your time (and cash).

Taking just a short amount of time to research these deals and offers can go a long way – it can even help you to save hundreds of dollars throughout the holiday season!

5. Give Thoughtful Gifts

Remember, a thoughtful gift is worth more than an expensive one. You may feel compelled to go all out for your loved ones during the holidays but sometimes just taking a few extra days to think about the things that really matter to them, could mean finding the perfect gift at an inexpensive price. For example, a first edition of copy of a family member’s favorite book that you pulled out of a second-hand bookstore may be cherished forever, while the novelty of a new (and expensive) gadget could wear off in just days.

6. Plan Ahead

Making small changes to plan ahead for the holidays can make a big difference in relieving holiday financial stress. For example, setting up an account that will keep your keep your everyday expenses separate from your seasonable one will help to keep your from spending the funds will help you to both build out a holiday budget over time and help you not dip into your savings.

For MCU Members, the MCU Holiday Club Account is a great way to save, plan and manage your money for the upcoming holidays. With as little as $5.00 down, you can make direct deposits with each paycheck and watch your savings grow. On November 1, the funds will be transferred to your FasTrack Checking or Share Account for easy access. To start saving for next year’s holiday season, sign up for an MCU Holiday Club Account today!

POSTED: Oct 09, 2018
MCU’s Tips for Hiring the Right Real Estate Agent

If you’re getting serious about buying a home, it’s time to hire a real estate agent. These professionals can be a huge asset in making your home-buying process go smoothly – they offer knowledge of the real estate market, prescreen properties, ask tough questions about a home’s condition and help with negotiations. They serve as a resource who listens and has no problem answering any questions that are asked of him or her.

However, the wrong agent can make your process more difficult by being inexperienced, unresponsive, inflexible, or tone deaf to your needs. They can really set you back in your search or even worse, put you in the wrong home.

If you’re not sure how to get started when it comes to picking the right agent, we’re here to help. Check out our tips below!

1. Take in reviews and recommendations.

Don’t just call the first name you see on a “For Sale” sign. When it comes to finding a real estate agent, recommendations from friends and family members are a good place to start your search. Your loved ones almost always only recommend professionals or services that they trust, have had a great experience working with and believe that could be a real help to you.

Sounds great, right? These recommendations are a helpful point in the right direction but you’ll still have to do your homework. We recommend following up with an internet search before contacting an agent – check their reviews on Yelp and other community boards. These will give you the best idea about how communicative, responsive, helpful and efficient and agent is across the board, not just in one or two experiences.

2. Verify licensing and credentials.

Before moving ahead with any real estate agent, take the time to find out about their credentials. An agent has a responsibility to represent clients ethically and legally. Because of this, agents – like many professionals – need to have the right licensing and accreditations to work with you.

It’s also important to note that agents may have different specialties and additional training in particular areas that could work to your advantage during your home-buying process. Knowing how to recognize these accreditations, usually abbreviated and listed after a broker’s name, can help you make the best choice. Some of these special titles may include:

  • • Certified Residential Specialist (CRS)

  • • Accredited Buyer’s Representative (ABR)

  • • Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES)


Ask the real estate agent for their license number and full professional name and write this information down. To verify their credentials, homebuyers can visit Arello.org and search the database.

3. Check the agent’s listings.

Location, location, location – it’s the first rule of real estate. A realtor may have great credentials and outstanding reviews, but how well do they know the neighborhoods you’re interested in? Before moving forward with an agent, ask them about their track record in the towns and communities you like and check their listings online on their website and other real estate websites.

Does the agent have a good inventory of homes in or near the areas you like? Is the price range similar? How much business does it look like their doing in your neighborhoods of interest? The key is to feel confident that your agent really knows the area and can show you a wide range of homes in the locations that you like without being too busy or in demand that they won’t have time to work with you as much as they should.

4. Know the contract requirements.

An agent will almost always require that you sign a contract with them before you begin working together. While it’s a standard practice, you should fully read and understand what the agreement entails and if the terms are fair and complimentary to your needs before signing it.

These contracts may include a buyer's broker agreement, which is typically a 90-day or more commitment reflecting the availability of the broker, compensation for the broker and even a range of neighborhoods you’ll be shopping in. It may even include penalties if you go ahead and purchase a home that was initially shown to you by the broker but purchase without them. Knowing the ins and outs of an agreement with your agent could make all the difference in your home-buying experience.

5. Understand the difference between a seller’s agent and a buyer’s agent

Typically there are two brokers in a purchase transaction; the broker that represents you (the buyer’s agent) and the broker that is representing the seller (the seller’s/listing agent). If you start shopping for a home without a buyer’s agent, you may interact and begin working with the listing agent for the home.

Realtors are typically paid solely on commission. That means that they have a financial incentive to sell you the homes that they are listing. When a broker is able to sell you a home as the sole broker in the transaction, they will be earning maximum commission on the transaction because they will not have to split their commission with another person. This means that the realtor may not have your best interests in mind. You should especially be wary of referrals offered by the listing agent for an attorney to represent you. Often that attorney will have the agent’s, not your interests at heart.

6. Price Shop Your Insurance

Having the right insurance is important but overpaying for it isn’t. Whether it’s home; auto; health or renters insurance, price shopping can go a long way.

it’s recommended to request quotes from at least three providers before making a decision. But don’t let the policy price be the end all be all to your search. As your life changes overtime, you may need more or less coverage in some areas of your life. This is why it’s important to make sure you understand what’s covered and how much protection you’d have from a new policy.

Be sure to do your homework on each of these new insurance providers and to note the details of the policies offered. In the end, you may decide to stick with your current provider but having official price quotes could help you negotiate the best deal possible.

POSTED: Oct 09, 2018
MCU’s Five Things to Know: Black Friday Shopping Tips

The holiday season is about family, friends, gratitude and shopping – lots and lots of shopping. And with Black Friday signaling the unofficial countdown to the holidays, it’s no wonder why more than 100 million Americans braved the crowds last year in search of great deals. However, while Black Friday is known for its super sales, many consumers can find themselves overwhelmed and/or (really) overspending if they’re not prepared.

Whether you’re a Black Friday veteran or a newbie looking to get in on the shopping fun this year, check out our tips below to get the best deals and avoid expensive mistakes.

1. Make a List and Set a Budget

Hey, Santa makes a list and checks it twice so why shouldn’t the rest of us?

The promise of great sales may have you itching to grab your wallet but shopping without a plan could turn your trip into an empty-handed flop – or even worse, a pricy bill you weren’t anticipating. Whether you’re shopping for much-needed staples for your own home or gifts for your loved ones (or both!), have a list of items written down along with a set amount you’re comfortable spending. This won’t only help you save time in the shops , but will help you avoid unnecessary purchases along the way.

2. Do Your Homework

If offers like “75 Percent Off” and "Buy Two, Get One Free” are quick to tempt you into an impulse buy, you’re definitely not alone. Retailers know that shoppers love scoring great deals and can rationalize overspending if it means getting a great deal. This is one reason some retailers inflate the retail ticket price before marking it down or advertising an appealing bundle. This is known as false benchmarking, and it’s done to make you believe that the item you’re buying is worth a lot more than what you’re spending.

Doing research ahead of time on the items you have your eye on will help you know the difference between a good deal, a great deal and no deal at all. The internet is the great equalizer when it comes to comparing prices and even different comparable products – take your time and browse retailer websites as well as online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay.

Don’t forget that a deal today could be a dud tomorrow. If there’s an item you really have your eye on, check out advertised Cyber Monday Sales – they could be even more competitive than the ones you’ll see on Black Friday!

3. Keep a Positive Attitude

Sometimes, attitude really is everything. Lines and crowds are inevitable when you go Black Friday Shopping and the stress of the outing can begin before you even find a parking spot. Remember patience and an upbeat attitude are going to be the keys to finding all of your purchases and having a great time. Remember, the employees in the store are there to help you navigate the crowds and lines. Be courteous and polite. They are working very late and very long hours to make Black Friday happen. Try not to be disrespectful towards them because, odds are, they already don't want to be there themselves and just want to help you in any way possible.

4. Be Mindful of Your Belongings

You wouldn’t keep your handbag open on a crowded New York City subway car or leave shopping bags on a bench in Central Park. Shopping in a crowded place is no different and Black Friday can really bring in the crowds. Keep an eye on both your personal belongings and your new purchases at all times. If you find yourself carrying too many bags, don’t risk accidentally leaving one behind. Shop with a friend who can offer an extra pair of hands and eyes or make a stop at your vehicle to drop off items (be sure to cover them with a blanket or coat to avoid someone breaking into your car).

5. Keep an Eye on Your Transactions

Identity thieves are always looking for ways to victimize unsuspecting consumers. And between the distractions of the season and increased spending, the holidays can offer many opportunities for them to do so. To help protect yourself best, keep a close on eye on your account activity to see whether funds have been withdrawn that you didn't authorize. As an additional precaution, it’s recommended to set up alerts mobile or text banking alerts so that you're notified when funds are withdrawn.

The sooner you spot any authorized transactions, the sooner you can report them. Acting fast limits your liability for charges you didn’t authorize. Once you report the loss of your ATM or debit card, federal law says you cannot be held liable for unauthorized transfers that occur after that time.

POSTED: Oct 03, 2018
MCU’s Tips and Tricks for Cutting Costs

Whether you’re saving for a major purchase, making long-term plans or working to get yourself financially back on track, creating a spending plan to meet your goals will likely mean cutting costs and prioritizing your spending. If it seems daunting, we have good news. Paring down on your expenses doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing the things you love.

Instead, making a few small changes can go a long way in helping you to save cash and work towards reaching your financial goals. Check out our tips below!

1. Bundle Services When You Can

Your phone, TV and internet service may be staples in your home but that doesn’t mean you’re not overpaying for them. By bundling these amenities, you’ll not only get a better deal but you’ll simplify paying your bills at the end of the month. You may have recently received bundle promotions from a provider but before you take them up on it, it’s important to know that not all deals are created equal and shopping around to compare pricing is an important step in getting the best deal possible.

If you’re looking go a bit further, consider paring down on these services or eliminating them entirely. According a report by Fast Company, more than 5 million Americans will pull the plug on pay TV in 2018 alone, instead opting for online streaming like hulu or Netflix.

2. Mind Your Utility Bills

Your utilities are probably costing you more than they need to be. No, we aren’t suggesting that you try to generate your own power with a bicycle. Instead, easy changes such as replacing old light bulbs with energy efficient ones and unplugging small electronics like your coffee maker or laptop when they’re not in use to avoid “vampire drain” can easily help you save hundreds or even thousands of dollars over time.

Additionally, keeping an eye on your heating and cooling can make a big difference. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, lowering your home’s thermostat by 10-15 degrees while you’re at work, asleep or away can reduce your energy bill by nearly 10 percent!

A programmable thermostat can help you easily get into this money-saving practice by automatically adjusting the temperature of your home based on your work and sleep habits. It can also greatly improve your general comfort levels by already beginning to bring the temperature back up before you return home or wake up.

3. You (and Your Budget) are what You Eat

The answer to saving money may just be found at the dinner table. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistic, the average American household spends about $3,000 a year dining out – that includes singles spending only on themselves too.

If you’re looking to curb your expenses, it’s time to pay a visit to your local grocery story. And when you do go shopping, we recommend preparing ahead of time – by making a list of all of the items that you’ll need for the week, you’ll be less likely to make impulse purchases or buy too many items, which might eventually end up spoiling before you can use them (talk about throwing money away). And don’t forget to use coupons or store membership discounts! These can end up saving you hundreds of dollars over the course of a month.

4. Consolidate Your Debts

Debt is nothing new to Americans. According to a 2017 study conducted by Nerd Wallet, the average household carrying credit card debt has a balance of $15,654. Paying down debt can be daunting, but taking on multiple high interest fees can make it feel nearly impossible. In these instances, debt consolidation may be a smart way to make your debt more manageable and reduce your interest rate fees.

One of the most popular ways to consolidate debt is to transfer the balances of several higher-rate credit cards to a card with lower fees and (ideally) a zero percent APR introductory rate and a lower, more favorable rate after that. Borrowers can take advantage of this grace period to take advantage of paying down the principle of their debt.

A second common form of debt consolidation is to take out a loan (typically a Home Equity Line of Credit or a personal loan) large enough to pay off multiple creditors at once. Once your multiple bills have been consolidated into just one monthly payment, a borrower will not only have a much easier time keeping track of payments but could potentially save hundreds or thousands of dollars in interest.

5. Curb Your Bad Habits

Bad habits – we all have them. However, some may be costing you more than others. For example, cigarettes aren’t just bad for your health, they’re terrible for your bank account. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average cost of a pack of cigarettes is $6.28, which means a pack-a-day habit sets you back $188 per month or $2,292 per year. (Yikes!)

Less obvious and seemingly benign vices can also run up a bill. A morning cup of coffee at a gourmet café can cost you nearly $1,200 per year and driving everywhere (instead of opting for carpools or public transportation) won’t just add constant wear and tear to your vehicle but will leave you constantly paying to fill up your gas tank.

Overall, ditching some bad habits will mean making better decisions for your budget and lifestyle.

6. Price Shop Your Insurance

Having the right insurance is important but overpaying for it isn’t. Whether it’s home; auto; health or renters insurance, price shopping can go a long way.

it’s recommended to request quotes from at least three providers before making a decision. But don’t let the policy price be the end all be all to your search. As your life changes overtime, you may need more or less coverage in some areas of your life. This is why it’s important to make sure you understand what’s covered and how much protection you’d have from a new policy.

Be sure to do your homework on each of these new insurance providers and to note the details of the policies offered. In the end, you may decide to stick with your current provider but having official price quotes could help you negotiate the best deal possible.

POSTED: Oct 01, 2018
MCU Scam Roundup: Fall 2018

Identity theft is on the rise. According to the recently released 2018 Identity Fraud Study by Javelin Strategy & Research, the number of identity fraud victims increased by eight percent last year, rising to 16.7 million U.S. consumers. And as identity thieves are becoming increasingly sophisticated, they’re combining old tricks with new technology and strategies to gain access to personal and financial information.

Staying informed is key. Check out some of the latest scams and schemes being used by identity thieves and scammers below!

1. Avoid the Trials (and Tribulations) of a Jury Duty Scam

Government and tax scams are nothing new to consumers. And while you’ve learned to recognize this kind of fraud, a similar but new scheme could have you letting your guard down. The culprit? Jury duty scams.

Here’s how it works. You get a text, call, or email from someone who says they’re with the government. They say you’ve been flagged for missing jury duty and that you’ll need to pay a fine. Scammers may even try to make this ploy seem legitimate by providing a badge number or some of your personal information, such as the four digits of your Social Security number.

Consider what your financial situation will look like if you’re not repaid and how it will affect both your long and short term goals.

Once they’ve convinced you of their credibility, the scammer will then resort to scaring their victims to act quickly by threatening you with repercussions including legal action, deportation, or arrest if you don’t pay up or give them your financial information.

What you should do:

  • • Never send money – especially by gift card or money transfer. Remember that no government agency will threaten you or demand payment this way.

  • • Don’t give out your personal or financial information to anyone who calls, texts, or emails.

  • • If you have sent money to a scammer, contact the company you used to send the money (gift card company, cash reload card company, or wire transfer service) and tell them it was a fraudulent transaction. Ask to have the transaction reversed if possible.

  • • Report this incident to the Federal Trade Comission (FTC) at FTC.gov/complaint and to the real utility company.

2. Don’t get Burned by Utility Scams

Life can get really busy at times so getting a call from a utility company informing you that you’ve missed a bill payment may not seem out of the realm of possibility. That’s why utility scams are reportedly on the rise.

You may get a call saying that your electricity or water will be shut off unless you pay a past due bill. And even if you believe that you’re up-to-date on all of your bills, the caller may sound convincing enough to have you thinking otherwise. Plus, the prospect of losing your electricity could scare you into reacting quickly.

What you should do:

  • • Know that utility companies don’t demand banking information by email or phone. They also won’t insist that you need to make a payment by phone as your only option.

  • • Never send money – especially by gift card, cash reload card, or money transfer. Remember that no utility company will threaten you or demand payment this way.

  • • Contact the utility company directly using the number on your paper bill or on the company’s official website to confirm your overdue payment. Don’t call any number the caller gave you.

  • • Report this incident to the FTC at FTC.gov/complaint and to the real utility company.

3. Hang Up on Medicare Card Scammers

In recent months, Medicare announced that they will be sending new cards to everyone who gets Medicare benefits, replacing your Social Security number with a new identification number. And as expected, scammers are taking advantage of the opportunity to victimize innocent people.

These thieves are reaching out by phone and have tried a few different tactics in order to gain access to your personal and financial information. In some instances, they claim to be a Medicare representative looking to verify your sensitive information. In other scenarios, they may try to persuade you to pay an upfront fee (which does not exist) for your new card. Others scammers may claim that your Medicare card was compromised and that you need to move your money from your bank into “safer accounts”.

What you should do:

  • • Never give out personal information to get your new Medicare card. If someone calls claiming to be from Medicare, requesting any financial and/or sensitive information, you can be sure it’s a scam.

  • • Know that your new Medicare card is free and that under no circumstances should you have to pay to receive a new one. If anyone calls and says you need to pay for it, that’s a scam. Hang up.

  • • If you’ve already given out your bank account information over the phone, talk to your bank immediately. You’ll want to deal with any unauthorized activity on your account as soon as possible.

  • • For more information about the new Medicare card rollout, visit go.medicare.gov/newcard.

POSTED: Sep 20, 2018
A Guide to Prioritizing Goals for a Financially Fit Budget

Picture this: Rent is due, credit card bills are piling up, your car’s “check engine” light is on and an emergency trip to the dentist is leaving you feeling more than just a toothache.

When it comes to expenses, when it rains – sometimes it really pours. And if you’re overwhelmed, you’re definitely not alone. According to Northwestern Mutual’s 2018 Planning & Progress Study, money is the leading cause of stress among Americans.

Staying financially fit in both good and bad times can seem like a tall order. However, building a budget with certain long and short-term priorities in mind could just be the solution to staying afloat and reaching new goals.

Check out our tips below!

1. Start with a retirement account.

If you think it’s okay to put “saving for retirement” at the bottom of your to-do list, it’s time to think again.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, nearly half of all Americans don’t have any savings at all set aside for a time when they will stop working. While it can feel logical to put off planning for the retirement when pressing financial obligations are facing you today, many financial planners consider planning for retirement (even in small contributions) to be a top priority.

Pay yourself first. It’s a simple rule that will help you to ensure the financial wellbeing of your golden years. An easy way to get started is to participate in an employer sponsored retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or 403(b). These plans are especially helpful because your contribution, up to a certain percentage, is often matched by your employer. For example, they may offer to match up to 50 percent of the first five percent of your paycheck contributed to your retirement account or match you dollar-for-dollar up to six percent of your paycheck contributed.

2. Pay down your high-interest debt ASAP.

It’s nearly impossible to move forward with your goals if you have high-interest debt holding you back. And if you’re not actively working to pay it down, your debt is compounding expensive interest every month, making it even more difficult to eliminate. It can be a hard cycle to break but not dealing with your high-interest debt will only cause greater issues down the road.

This kind of debt will have interest rates in the double digits (sometimes as much at 29 percent APR) and usually comes in the form of payday loans, credit cards, and even some auto loans.

In addition to freeing up cash, paying down your high-interest debt will also improve your credit score. This may open doors for you to take on new financial goals, such as buying a home.

To get started on strategically paying down your debt, check out our tips here.

3. Don’t forget an emergency fund.

You’ve started planning for the future and your debt is under control – so you’re ready to start enjoying what’s left of your budget, right? Not quite yet. Before you start to make large purchases and expensive commitments, you should have an emergency fund set aside from your other savings. This is an important financial step because it can keep you from resorting to taking on high-interest deb or making desperate financial decisions in tough times.

A general rule of thumb is to put away three to six months' worth of living expenses for an emergency fund in case of job loss, illness or an unexpected bill.

4. Protect yourself with (the right) insurance.

An emergency fund won’t cover you in every unforeseen situation. In order to protect yourself from potentially financially crippling setbacks, it’s important to not just buy insurance, but to make sure you continue the right coverage and policies that will protect you as your lifestyle and circumstances changes over time.

Not purchasing insurance might save you some money each month but may just be a (very) expensive mistake down the road. For example, renter’s insurance might cost you $100 annually but without coverage, you could find yourself spending thousands of dollars to replace electronics, furniture and personal belongings in the event of a fire or burglary.

5. Be SMART about your short and long-term goals.

Planning for retirement, creating an emergency fund, paying down debts, and purchasing insurance will put you in an overall good financial position. However, this planning won’t account for your unique and individual short and long-term goals.

Do you want to start a business? Buy a house? Save for a child’s college education?

In order to work towards your goals, you’ll need to make them specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely (SMART). This will help you to create an effective plan, help you to avoid distractions (like a new pair of shoes you don’t need or a weekend away you can’t really afford) and give you an idea about how you’ll need to manage your finances in preparation for these goals.

For example, simply saying that you want to purchase a car doesn’t give you a lot of structure or understanding in how and when you want to reach your ultimate goal. Instead, saying that you want to make a $15,000 down payment on a vehicle within the next two years as an investment in improving your commute to work will make it easier for you to stay focused and manage your money in a way that will help you to become a car owner.

POSTED: Sep 20, 2018
MCU’s Five Things to Know: Lending Money to Loved Ones

Loved ones and money. It’s a duo that can often make for a sticky situation. In fact, according to a recent study, more than half of consumers have seen a friendship end over money owed and 77 percent of Americans believe IOUs are harmful to friendships. However, while logic says to steer clear, finding yourself in a situation where a friend or family member needs help, could cause you to think twice.

The desire help and the need to protect your own finances (and your relationship with your loved ones) is a very tough line to walk. Check out our tips below.

1. Decide if you can really afford it.

As the old saying goes, don’t lend anything you aren’t willing to lose. You want to help, but it’s important to calculate if you can truly afford to both lay out money right now and possibly not get it back for a long period of time (or even at all).

Remember, if a loved one is coming to you for help, their other options are likely exhausted. This means that the odds are he or she does not have strong enough credit history to seek a loan via traditional means and that repayment may not come quickly or smoothly.

Consider what your financial situation will look like if you’re not repaid and how it will affect both your long and short term goals.

And don’t forget your relationship with your loved one – can it afford the possible strain that comes when money is involved? Is the relationship more important? Or are you more concerned about repayment? It’s best to figure this out ahead of time before you’re forced to deal with it in reality.

2. Be honest – discuss the terms of the loan and your expectations.

Before giving your friend or family member a loan, it’s important to have an honest and open conversation about what you want and expect from the arrangement.

For example, it may be very important to you to be fully repaid within a year. And while this may seem like common sense or decency to you, if you don’t bring it up, your loved one may have completely different ideas. This simple miscommunication could lead to resentment, arguments and even the loss of your relationship.

Instead, have an in-person conversation to iron out the details on the loan. Discuss interest, means of payment (in cash, wire transfer, check, etc.) and repayment installments. In some instances, the borrower may even have special skills – such as auto repair or plumbing. Consider if you’re willing to make a “trade” and accept services in lieu of cash. If you’re not comfortable accepting services as a form of repayment, make it clear. Otherwise, the borrower may believe that they will be able to pay off at least part of their debt through these services down the road.

This is also a good time to manage your loved one’s expectations and to make it clear that you only intend to lend them money once.

3. Put your agreement on paper and get it notarized.

Don’t seal the deal with a handshake. Formal agreements with friends and family may feel awkward but they can go a long way. As time goes on, memories will fade; priorities get shifted and clashing opinions over what you originally agreed to can cause problems between friends or family.

At the very least, you should draw up a written agreement and have each party sign. If you’re lending a significant amount of money, make your agreement official by drawing up loan documents and getting them notarized. This will also make it more likely that the borrower will take the loan seriously and pay it back on time.

This formal agreement will also give you the opportunity to pursue legal recourse if the money isn’t repaid on time or the borrower doesn’t follow through on your agreement in any way.

4. Not comfortable? It’s okay to say no.

Keep in mind that loved ones typically won’t ask for financial help unless their situation is desperate. Because of this, being approached for money can feel like a cruddy situation for both individuals. And while the urgency of the situation and your feelings for your friend or family member might make you feel compelled (or even guilted) to help, it’s always recommended to just say no if you’re not truly comfortable.

Lending money when you’re not fully onboard with the idea or uncertain about how it might affect you will likely leave you feeling resentful and may ultimately damage your relationship with your friend or family member. Remember, choosing not to lend money doesn’t make you selfish or a bad friend, it may actually protect your relationship.

5. Don’t forget that help doesn’t always have to be monetary.

When the bills are piling up and a person is anxiously trying to find a source of money, offering other kinds of help instead of cash may not be received well initially. However, a true friend or relative will be willing to accept your decline to lend money.

Not sure what you can do? Help can come in many forms, which includes offering to take a look at a loved one’s finances and budget. A second set of eyes may just be the answer to helping your friend find a way to rework their current financial situation to avoid needing a loan in general. Calculate income and expenses, and see what can be cut from the budget. Determine if a more manageable repayment plan is an option for current debts due.

You can also offer to help a loved on host a garage sale, provide a service that might otherwise be expensive (yard work, electrical work, auto repair, etc.) or even offer to go shopping with them so they can take advantage of a membership discount you may have with a store. A little can go a long way when it comes to helping a loved one get back on their feet!

POSTED: Sep 11, 2018
MCU’s Five Things to Know: Financially Planning Your Wedding

You may have big ideas for your dream wedding but the reality is planning your big day takes patience, cooperation and money – a lot of it. According to leading digital wedding brand The Knot, the average cost of a wedding in the United States was more than $33,000 in 2017. If that sounds expensive, it is. In fact, the same survey found that 45 percent of couples who married last year admitted to going over budget.

To start financially planning for your wedding, check out our tips below!

1. Discuss your budget and financial resources.

Tradition might suggest that that bride’s family pays for the majority of a wedding but in today’s day and age, tackling the cost of a wedding is most likely a combined effort between both partners and their families (if they’re able to help).

Before you can commit to making deposits for your vendors or even picking out your venue, you and your partner will have to talk about your budget – how much each of you are you willing to spend and, essentially, who will be footing each part of the bill. As a couple, build your budget around your current savings (excluding retirement and emergency funds), what you can save from your monthly income and any contributions from family members.

2. Keep perspective – don’t forget how the cost of your wedding may affect your other goals and obligations.

It can be easy for couples to be tempted with more expensive options and upgrades. It’s your dream wedding, after all. However, it’s important to remember the goals and plans that are waiting for you after the last piece of wedding cake is eaten and the DJ plays the last song of the evening.

When creating a financial plan for your wedding, don’t forget to factor in your everyday expenses, financial commitments and goals and how the cost of your big day could affect them. You may be trying to aggressively pay down student loan debt or are working towards purchasing a home. Remember, your financial choices while planning your wedding should reflect these goals and compliment them. There may be some give and take with your overall budget, but your wedding shouldn’t completely derail your other plans.

3. Explore DIY projects.

If you’re envisioning a lot of glue and tissue paper when we say do-it-yourself, think again. Taking time to figure out what you can do on your own can help skirt some of the costs that may otherwise put you over budget. This is an easy way to save money, prioritize details and evaluate exactly how much help and money you actually need.

It may take time and patience but couples can easily manage some of the details of their wedding without the cost of a vendor. This may include designing and printing your own wedding invitations, assembling your own bouquets, catering your own bridal shower or engagement party and even forgoing the cost of a day-of coordinator by asking a friend for a little extra help.

4. Price shop your vendors.

Like any major purchase, it’s important to shop with your head instead of your heart when planning your wedding. Couples should be sure to shop around and compare pricing for different vendors, venues, services and other miscellaneous wedding items. While this can take time and even some discipline, shopping around will help you to avoid dipping into your budget more than you have to.

To get the best idea for both fair pricing and options available to you in your budget, couples should find and compare at least three prices for each item on their list. This may include flowers, entertainment, venues and caterers.

If you do happen to fall in love with a vendor that is a financial stretch, having formal proposals from other competitive vendors may help you to negotiate a better price.

5. Consider your financing options.

You may have had tough conversations about money, compared vendors and created your budget. However, if you still need help paying for your wedding, you’re certainly not alone. According to The Knot, 74 percent of couples will use some form of financing to cover their big day.

While it may be common, it’s important for couples to carefully consider all of their choices in to avoid options, such as high interest credit cards, that will ultimately make your big day much more expensive than necessary.

Financing options such as personal loans, home equity lines of credit and even wedding loans may be great, low-interest borrowing options that can make your day possible and affordable. Be sure to fully explore these options to find the financing that will work best for you.

POSTED: Aug 29, 2018
Considerations Every Couple Should Make Before Opening a Joint Banking Account

First comes love, then comes marriage then comes…a joint account?

It may not be romantic, but for many, it’s true. In fact, according to a recent Bankrate survey, 77 percent of married couples choose to open at least one financial account together. And it’s easy to understand why. If you're married; living with your partner or in a relationship with someone you trust, opening a joint account together could be a much more convenient approach to managing shared bills and budget for expenses.

However, a joint account can also cause a lot of conflict in a relationship if both parties aren’t on the same page. Having an honest conversation about finances and other important considerations can be tough but it’s also the key to successfully managing your money with your partner.

Check out some of the important considerations every couple should make before combining their funds below!

1. Goals

What are your long and short and long-term goals and how are you financially planning for them? Opening a joint account is oftentimes an important step in planning for the future with your significant other so it’s important to talk about your vision and hopes for what’s ahead. Discussing both your personal and shared financial goals will help you decide the best way to combine funds, manage an account and practice similar financial habits.

2. Financial Obligations and Debt

Combining your finances also means potentially combining your financial responsibilities. Before you start the process of opening a joint account and committing to how much of your paycheck you’ll be contributing each pay period, it’s important to be honest about any debt you’re carrying or financial obligations you’re committed to. This may include student debt, credit card bills, child support, car payments or medical expenses.

If you are carrying debt or any of these financial obligations, it will be important for you and your partner to decide if paying for these expenses will be a joint or individual effort. Discussing these details in depth will help a couple create a financial plan that will work for their needs.

3. Spending Habits and Financial Attitudes

You may know your partner’s favorite pizza joint and television show but how well do you know their spending habits? Are they a penny-pincher or an impulse shopper? A gift-giver or a gambler?

Successfully combining your money means understanding how your spending habits and financial attitudes will work together, the expectations you both have and the compromises you’ll both have to make. Your habits don’t have to be identical but both parties should know have a full understanding of their partner’s relationship with money and how those habits may affect them and their shared funds.

4. It’s not for Every Couple

While sharing a bank account can simplify managing your finances, remember, combining funds isn’t right for every couple. In fact, an increasing number of couples are choosing to keep their finances separate. If you and your partner don’t feel comfortable sharing an account, or you’re struggling to work together in blending your goals; habits and attitudes, don’t feel pressured to take the plunge. Instead, feel confident to discuss other financial arrangements that could work for your relationship.

POSTED: Aug 17, 2018
Financial Goals Everybody Should Achieve Before 30

A lot changes in your 20’s – graduations, new jobs, first apartments, relationships and much more! While there are endless ways to enjoy this part of your life, reaching certain financial milestones before turning 30 is an important step for every young person.

Check them out below!

1. Establish Financial Independence From Your Parents

Before you can look to the future, you’ll need to break old habits – especially financial ones. It’s not uncommon for parents to want to help their kids out. In fact, according to a 2017 Harris Poll, 56 percent of parents have admitted to paying for their adult child’s grocery bill, 40 percent have covered their adult child’s health insurance and 21 percent have paid for their adult child’s rent or housing.

While it may seem harmless, rel