Advice & Planning

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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, relying on financial assistance is actually holding you back. Establishing financial independence from your parents or loved ones in your 20’s is important step in becoming a self-sufficient adult who can take full responsibility for your financial and lifestyle choices. Remaining financially dependent (even for seemingly small things like a cellphone bill) will give a false sense of your budget and what you can afford. This will leave you unprepared when your financial support ends inevitably ends.

2. Have a Budget that Works for You

While no two financial situations are the same, 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. Create a Strategy For Your Debt

If you’re still struggling with debt, your plans for the future will almost certainly be delayed.

Being debt-free by the time you’re 30 is ideal but for many, it can also be a tall order. Instead of setting unrealistic goals that leave you frustrated, start with putting a plan in place to move your finances in the right direction. Juggling student loans, credit card debt and the cost of living can be tough but creating a strategy that will help you effectively manage and pay down your debt is the first step to moving forward and reaching new personal and financial milestones.

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

4. Establish and Regularly Contribute to a Retirement Account

According to a recent study published by the Economic Policy Institute, nearly half of all Americans don’t have any saving at all set aside for a time when they will stop working. And while retirement may seem way off into the future, avoiding this predicament means starting to save now.

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 is often matched by your employer 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.

5. Have an Emergency Fund

Life happens and having a financial safety net in place will help you to more easily withstand tough times. Before you start to make large purchases and expensive commitments or take vacations, you should have an emergency fund set aside from your other savings. A general rule of thumb is to put away 3 to 6 months' worth of living expenses for an emergency fund in case of job loss, illness or an unexpected bill.

While saving for a rainy day may mean a delay in achieving other financial goals, these savings will ensure that your financial situation will be secure in both good and difficult times.

6. Become Properly Insured

Buying insurance protects you from major financial setbacks in the event of the unexpected. While most young people know that this includes either buying into an employer-sponsored health insurance plan or purchasing one independently when they can no longer stay on their parents’ insurance plan (typically at age 26 in the United States), other policies should be considered as well. This includes dental insurance, disability insurance and even renter’s insurances.

Not purchasing insurance might save you some money each month but it will leave you vulnerable to crippling expenses down the road. For example, renter’s insurance may 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.

7. Start an Investment Portfolio

Investing your savings may seem like a complicated task sitting at the bottom of your to-do list but it’s important to diversify your money in order to receive potentially greater interest returns compared to that of a simple savings account. This is one of the most important keys to building long-term wealth.

If you’re one of the reported 40 percent of Millennials who feel like they don’t have enough money to start an investment portfolio, 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.

8. Establish Good Credit

You may have made some financially mistakes in your past – you could have accidentally missed an occasional payment or even overstretched yourself financially at some point. However, improving your credit history and bringing your score up to snuff is an important milestone to reach before you hit 30. Doing this will help you to get approved for lower interest rates on loans, rent an apartment and even receive better pricing on insurance.

Thirty-five percent of your credit score is based on your payment history, which is good news for responsible credit card holders. Using your credit card on items you would normally pay for with cash and then paying your bill on time each month will help you create a strong payment history, building your credit score with the added benefit of not having to take on extra debt.

POSTED: Aug 14, 2018
Financially Planning for Your Child’s College Tuition and Expenses

When families talk about planning for college, money should always be part of the conversation. That’s because Americans are more burdened by student loan debt than ever before. In fact, the average student loan debt for students graduating in $39,400, which is a whopping six percent more than the previous year.

While many parents would like to help their children with the cost of college, even contributing a small amount can be an expensive goal – especially because some parents are still paying off their own student loans as their children matriculate.

Luckily, families have options that – individually and combined – can help them create a plan. And as the old saying goes, the earlier your begin to plan, the better.

Check out some of the ways you can help your child with their college expenses below!

1. Start a 529 Plan

Planning for college when your child isn’t even in kindergarten may not feel like a priority but it is actually an ideal time to start a 529 plan. This is a popular tax-advantaged investment account that many parents and guardians choose to open in order to save for a child’s college costs, including tuition; room and board; supplies and textbooks.

There are many different state-sponsored 529 accounts which give parents many contribution and investment options for those looking to choose the right plan, but 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).

It’s also important to note that there are two different kinds of 529 plans. Prepaid Tuition Plans let you pre-pay all or part of the costs of an in-state public college education (although they can be converted for use at private and out-of-state colleges). The Private College 529 Plan is a separate prepaid plan for private colleges.

2. Consider a Coverdell Education Savings Account

Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESA) are very similar to 529 plans, as they are tax-advantaged investment accounts that can be set up for any student under the age of 18 in order to pay for qualified education expenses, including college costs. And while earnings are also grow federal tax-free and will not be taxed when the money is withdrawn, ESAs come with some distinct differences.

For example, while Coverdell ESAs have much lower maximum contribution limits per child ($2,000), and they are only available to families below a specified income level. (in 2018, these limits are $220,000 a year for couples and $110,000 for singles), account holders have more control over their investments.

Additionally, the assets in an ESA must be withdrawn by the time the student reaches the age of 30. However, accounts for beneficiaries with special needs generally are not subject to the age restrictions on contributions and withdrawals.

3. Gift U.S. Treasury Bonds

To help their children prepare for the future, parents can give Series EE or I Bonds as gifts for birthdays, holidays and graduations. When it's time to redeem the bonds to pay for college, these bonds can be cashed in or rolled into a 529 plan.

Gifting bonds is especially helpful to students because of a special exemption in the tax code called the Savings Bond Education Tax Exclusion. Essentially, you won’t have to pay taxes for the bonds listed above. The catch? Parents will need to plan carefully. In order to qualify for this exemption, you must pay for your child’s college expenses during the same tax year in which the bonds are redeemed.

And while these bonds are gifts, it’s important to make sure that the bonds are purchased under your and/or your spouse's name – the beneficiary child cannot be listed as a co-owner unless you are using bonds for your own education, in which case the bonds must be purchased under your name.

4. Use the Equity in Your Home

You may not have been able to plan for your child’s education early on but you still have affordable options that may be able to help your child take on college expenses. Most notably, if you're a homeowner, there are some distinct benefits that come with using your home’s equity to help take on some or even all of your child’s tuition and other college expenses. For example, home equity loans and home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) often have lower rates than other types of loans. The interest paid on these loans is also tax deductible.

These loans are also easy to procure in a hurry – if you already have a HELOC, you can simply write a check – and come with fewer restrictions than most other types of loans.

5. Apply for a Parent PLUS Loan

The Parent PLUS Loan is a federal student loan available to the parents of dependent undergraduate students in order to help them pay for college or trade school expenses with the added advantage of a relatively low rates and flexible loan limits. For example, the Parent PLUS Loan offers a fixed 7.6 percent interest rate for the 2018-2019 school year.

To obtain a Parent PLUS Loan, parents should request a PLUS Loan at StudentLoans.gov or contact the financial aid office at the student’s college or university. Like most loans, loan applicants will need to prove that they have a strong credit history and will have to pay an origination fee.

Some parents may want to parents borrow Parent PLUS Loans to make sure their children don’t take on too much student loan debt. However, before parents take this step, it’s important to remember that it’s best if their child exhausts eligibility for Direct Loans first, since these student loans have lower interest rates and fees.

6. Help your children understand their financial aid

You may not be able to help your child financially at all (many parents can’t) but you can help them to make the best financial choices possible by keeping them knowledgeable and informed about the financial responsibilities they’ll be taking on. This includes helping them to understand any financial aid they receive from their college or university of choice.

For example, a financial aid award letter can bring a big sigh of relief to its recipient but it can also be tricky to understand. This is because the number next to the term “financial aid award” typically does not 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.

POSTED: Aug 09, 2018
Renting 101: The Real Cost of Moving into your New York City Apartment

It’s no secret that New Yorkers love to complain about paying rent– the average monthly cost for a one bedroom in New York City is $2,700! Despite the steep price, you may find a way to make your first apartment in the boroughs work within your budget. So, you’re ready to pack your things and move, right? Not quite yet. Before starting your search for your new apartment, potential renters will need to consider additional costs and fees that’ll come with the keys to their new home.

Check them out below!

1. Two Months’ Rent and a Security Deposit

As a security measure against potentially unreliable tenants, landlords and building management companies will require the first and the last month’s rent upfront. In addition to this initial cost, tenants will also be required to provide a security deposit (typically worth one month’s rent) upon move-in.

While you may be able to expect to get all or most of your security deposit back when you move out (barring damages), most renters are faced with providing their landlord or building management company a lump sum worth three month’s rent just to move in.

2. Broker’s Fee

Apartment shopping with a real estate broker may be out of the ordinary in most communities, but “no-fee” apartments (apartments that don’t require a broker’s fee) are especially tough to come by in New York City. As you begin your apartment search, chances are you’ll be looking at a lot of units represented by brokers who will get commission when you sign on the dotted line, which is almost always paid by you, the renter.

This fee isn’t cheap either. While the cost may vary, brokers’ fees in New York City are often about 15 percent of your annual rent. For example, a $2,000/month apartment will cost you $24,000 for the year. Fifteen percent of this annual cost is $3,600. And while it will take you a whole year to spend that much money in rent, the broker’s fee must be paid in a lump sum upfront.

3. Application and Credit Check Authorization Fees

You may have found the perfect apartment, but before you move in, you’ll need to fill out an application and authorize a formal credit check. Both of these actions come with a cost. Together, these expenses can cost approximately $150 per person for a rental building but can cost even more – up to $1,000 – in a condo or co-op building. Every person on the lease needs to pay these fees, so if you're applying with a roommate, this is one expense you won’t be able to split.

4. Utility Deposits

Your rent likely won’t cover all or even most of your utilities. If this is the case, you’ll also have to open new accounts to activate utilities like electricity, gas, water, cable and Wi-Fi. For each utility you open, you’ll likely be required to put down a deposit. This can cost up to $150 for each new account.

If all utilities are included to or tacked on as a blanket fee in your monthly rent, your landlord may still require a utility deposit. This is less common than other types of deposits and fees you might find in a lease, but if you live in a multi-unit building with a single meter — or if your landlord keeps bills for all utility services in his or her name — it may apply to you.

It's important to note that while utility deposits are an upfront cost you’ll need to consider, they may also be returned to you later on.

5. Renters Insurance

Expecting the unexpected is an important part of protecting yourself, your finances and your belongings. Most apartment complexes and landlords only have insurance that covers the damage to the actual dwelling. This means that all of your belongings – electronics, furniture, clothes, whatever—vulnerable. So, to protect your belongings in case of fire, theft, or damage, you need your own renter’s insurance policy.

Renter’s insurance doesn’t cost much – approximately $200 – but unlike some of the other fees and upfront expenses, you’ll need to pay this expense annually in order renew your policy.

6. Pet Fee

If you’re an animal lover, you’ll be happy to know that pet-friendly apartments aren’t uncommon. However, unless your pet is a service animal, living with your furry best friend will come at a price. Renters may be asked to pay both a refundable pet deposit and a nonrefundable pet fee. Together, these costs may amount to about $500. In addition to these upfront expenses, landlords and property managers may also charge recurring “pet rent”, which costs about $100 each month.

7. Stocking Essentials

You’ve paid all of the fees, deposits and upfront costs to get the keys to your apartment but the expenses don’t stop there. Purchasing and shipping furniture is an obvious next step but have you also thought about the small essentials you’ll need to make your apartment functional? If this is your first apartment or you’re unable to take these small items with you, you may be in for a big (and expensive) surprise. Cleaning supplies, toiletries, small appliances and kitchenware may not seem individually expensive but they add up quickly!

You may be able to source some of these goods from loved ones but it's recommended to create a budget before you begin your apartment search in order to keep all of your spending in check and on track.

8. Pro Tip: Create (And Pay Into) an Emergency Fund

By now it’s clear that moving costs a significant chunk of change. And while it’s important to understand these expenses, it’s equally important to avoid cleaning out your entire savings account in order to make your move possible. Your financial circumstances may change after your move and not having savings to rely on could put you in a predicament.

Our advice? Before you choose to move create and designate an emergency fund that will cover your new expenses (rent, utilities, groceries, transportation, etc.) for three-six months. This safety net will help to make sure that you’re financially secure in your new digs.

POSTED: Jul 13, 2018
MCU’s Five Things to Know: Buying a Used Car

Buying a used car is an opportunity to get behind the wheel of a great deal. However, if you’re not careful, you could be driving off with an expensive mistake. To make sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck and a vehicle that will last you for as long as you need, check out our tips below!

1. Shop around. Falling in love with a car can make you want to sign on the dotted line pretty quickly but comparing similar makes and models can help ensure that's you're getting a fair deal. Taking this time will also help you really think about your purchase, opposed to buying with your emotions. To help ensure you’re not overpaying, you can use car buying website like TRUECar and Enterprise.

2. Research the vehicle's history. It may appear practically new but it’s important to look past the car’s paint job and into its history. This includes past owners, use, maintenance and if the car has been involved in any accidents or natural disasters. Running the vehicle identification number (VIN) will help confirm the car's history.

3. Check the warranty. In most cases, auto warranties transfer to the new owner after purchase. In other words, if you buy a car and sell it to a new owner, the warranty will still remain valid for the new owner until the end of the original warranty period. However, it’s important to contact the manufacturer to confirm that you can use the coverage.

4. Have your car inspected by a mechanic. A car may be advertised as being in good condition by a dealership or private owner but getting a second opinion is recommended so you can be sure to make your purchase with confidence. If you take the car to a garage for an inspection, the mechanic will put it on a lift and look for evidence of fluid leaks under the vehicle. Mobile inspectors can't provide this service.

5. Know your financing options! If you’re planning to finance your vehicle, choosing the right option could save hundreds or even thousands of dollars down the road. And while a dealership can sometimes work with you to offer a competitive interest rate, it’s important consider the other aspects of your loan and how they compare to options offered by your financial institution. These include the terms of the agreement, length of the loan and down payment.

When it comes time to make your purchase, MCU members have access to exceptionally competitive auto loans, including:

  • • Up to 125% financing available


  • • Low interest rates


  • • Flexible terms
POSTED: Jun 20, 2018
MCU Scam Roundup – Summer 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.

Knowledge is power. Learn more about the recent scams currently affecting consumers below:

1. Don’t play the odds on lottery winner notices.

Recent reports are warning consumers to keep an eye out for lottery and sweepstakes scams. Here’s how they works: potential victims receive a notice (through email, mail and phone calls) telling them that they have won a lottery or sweepstakes worth a considerable amount of money. However, warning signs will appear quickly. In order to claim their winnings, winners must wire money, provide their bank account (or credit card) information or send gift cards to cover supposed fees or taxes before they can collect their winnings.

The promise of a large financial payout can be an emotional experience for many individuals, which can inhibit them from thinking clearly and acting cautiously. This is why lottery and sweepstakes scams are one of the most common consumer frauds operating today. In fact, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), these scams were the third-most common type of fraud reported to the agency last year.

To help protect your personal and financial information remember to follow these important steps:

  • • Remember that a legitimate contest or sweepstakes will never ask you to provide sensitive financial information.


  • • Never wire money to or share gift card numbers with anyone who asks. This is a sure sign of fraud.


  • • Report all suspicious contests, sweepstakes or giveaways to the FTC.

2. Don’t take a vacation from protecting your timeshare.

Timeshare owners looking to sell their properties this summer may be at risk of encountering scammers. Recent reports have shared that thieves pretending to be timeshare resale companies are scamming (typically older) victims. The fake company will promise the seller that they already have a promising potential buyer and that the sale will go through quickly and easily. Once the timeshare owner agrees, the company will charge them an upfront fee, which can amount to thousands of dollars. The owners pay the fee and the scammers disappear.

In some instances, similar schemes aren’t exactly scams but shoddy business practices. Timeshare resale companies may promise a quick sale for an expensive upfront fee and then fail to deliver entirely.

To protect yourself and your timeshare, we recommend following these important steps:

  • • Be sure to research any company you are looking to hire. Look for a legitimate website, social media presence and third-party consumer reviews. You can also check the Better Business Bureau to check a company’s legitimacy.


  • • Negotiate fee payments. Sellers would do best to negotiate that all fees and expenses be paid after their timeshare is sold. with a reseller that takes fees after the timeshare is sold. If fees must be paid in advance, always get a refund policy outlined in writing.


  • • Carefully review the contract and make sure it fulfills verbal promises made by the timeshare resale company.

3. There’s something phishy about cryptojacking…

As cryptocurrency continues to gain popularity, so do the efforts from identity thieves and scammers to steal it from innocent consumers. This is known as cryptojacking or cryptocurrency mining.

While these scams have been around for several years, they also continue to evolve. Most recently, cryptojackers have been reported to mimic phishing scams, as they now install sophisticated code onto websites, pop-ups or digital advertisement that will infect your computer with malware. Victims may notice changes to the way their device is operating, is it may slow down or crash.

To protect yourself from phishing and cryptojacking, consumers can protect themselves through the following steps:

  • • Always use and update antivirus software. Many of these programs can be set to update automatically.


  • • Don’t click on links without knowing where they lead. Oftentimes users can hover their mouse over a link to see the true URL before clicking on a link or hyperlink. This will help you to feel confident about the site you are about to visit.


  • • Consider closing sites or uninstalling apps that slow your device or drain your battery. This is a key indicator of a phishing or cryptojacking software.

4. Don’t open your door to work-from-home scams.

Earning money while working from home is an enticing offer but job-seekers should be skeptical. Scammers have been reported to post fake, but convincing-looking, job postings that promise high earnings (more than $5,000 every month) for following a multi-step work-from-home program. To get started, you’ll just need to buy into the program or entry-level package.

Don’t be so quick to take the bait though! Despite the promises, most people who paid for the online business program made little or no money. On the other hand, fake businesses have made off with millions of dollars.

Recognize the Signs of an online scam is important when it comes to avoiding fake job offers. jobseekers should steer clear of offers that:

  • • Guarantee that you can make a lot of money.

  • • Promise that you can make money quickly and easily.


  • • Ask applicants to purchase a software or buy into a program.


  • • Use high-pressure sales tactics, like saying you’ll miss out if you don’t buy in now.

POSTED: Jun 20, 2018
Budget-Friendly Activities for an NYC Staycation

Even when it’s not in the budget, it’s tough to say no to some summer fun. In fact, according to a 2017 LearnVest Money Habits and Confessions Survey, 74 percent of people admitted to incurring an average debt of $1,108 just to take a vacation!

Our advice? A few days in the sun are great but they aren’t worth derailing your financial goals and the stress that comes with it. Luckily for New Yorkers, great budget-friendly activities across the city can help create memories, build bonds and reduce stress without breaking the bank this summer.

Check them out below.

Take a daytrip to Governor’s Island.

Visit this small island off the tip of lower Manhattan to walk, bike, learn up on its Revolutionary War history, lounge in a hammock or enjoy a picnic.

Price:Free if you take the Manhattan ferry at 10am, 11am, or 11:30am on Saturdays and Sundays, or the 11am or 11:30am from Brooklyn’s Pier 6. Otherwise, it’s a $2 round-trip ferry fare.

Check out the Socrates Sculpture Park.

The Socrates Sculpture Park hosts art exhibits imaginative enough to make you feel like you’re walking through a dream. The park is open and free to the public year round and sits atop nearly five acres of landfill in Astoria, Queens, creating a great urban feel to the waterfront landscape while also allowing guests to enjoy nature. The park boasts more than 90 varieties of trees and plant life blanket the park, from birch trees to daffodils.

Price:Free!

Kayak at the Downtown Boathouse.

Kayaks are available for public use in the Hudson River from May through October. Participants are only allowed about 20 minutes of paddle time but then can enjoy all that Riverside Park has to offer afterwards!

Price:Free!

Take a midweek excursion to the Bronx Zoo.

While General Admission to the Bronx Zoo is typically $20.00 for an adult and $13.00 for a child, admission is free on Wednesdays! However, it’s important to note that special exhibits – like the Butterfly Garden, Congo Gorilla Forest and JungleWorld -- are not included.

Price:Free!

Enjoy movie night in a park.

From family friendly animated films to classic comedies and foreign flicks, outdoor movie nights pop up all across the city during the summer months. Check out this summer’s lineup to start planning a free movie night with friends and family.

Price:Free!

Ride the Staten Island Ferry.

Leaving every 15 or 30 minutes from lower Manhattan, the Staten Island Ferry is an easy and free way to get impressive views of the Manhattan skyline.

Price:Free!

POSTED: Jun 14, 2018
MCU’s Guide to Home-Buying Terms

The home-buying process can be confusing at times but the language and terminology doesn’t have to be. Check out some common real estate terms to know when getting ready to buy a home – it could save you time, frustration and even money down the road!

Buyer’s Agent: A real estate professional who is hired by and will advocate for a potential homebuyer. This means they will share their knowledge of the housing market, discuss the pros and cons of any home and assist with all legalities, negotiations and paperwork.

Listing Agent: A real estate professional representing a specific home and its owners by creating a strategic plan for how to market and sell the property. This agent will also properly prepare a home for showings and bring the right prospective buyer to the listing.

Fixed-Rate Mortgage: A mortgage that has a predetermined interest rate that will not change throughout the duration of the loan. Most commonly, there are 15-year and 30-year fixed-rate mortgages.

Adjustable Rate Mortgage: A mortgage that may has an interest rate that will change over time as interest rates fluctuate. Most adjustable-rate mortgages have an initial fixed-rate period, which can last between 3-10 years.

Mortgage Prequalification: An unofficial estimate made by a financial institution or lender regarding of how much mortgage a potential homebuyer can afford. This is done by reviewing an individual’s debt, income and assets but does not include an analysis of their credit report.

Mortgage Preapproval: An official letter provided by your financial institution or lender stating you are a suitable candidate for a mortgage (up to a certain amount). This requires a potential homebuyer to complete an official mortgage application, then supply the lender with the necessary documentation to a credit check and look into their financial background.

Home Inspection: A professional consultation that determines the structure, safety and system functionality (rather than its design or cosmetics) of a home. This inspection focused on evaluating a home’s major features including plumbing, electrical wiring, foundation, heating and appliances. A home inspection is not always mandatory before finalizing the purchase of a home but it is strongly recommended.

Home Appraisal: An objective assessment of a home’s market value, which will ensure that the amount of money requested by a borrower is appropriate. This assessment can be based off recent sales information for similar properties, the current condition of the property and its location.

Earnest Money: A monetary deposit made by the homebuyer to show that they are serious about going forward with purchasing a property. This amount is deducted from the sale price at closing.

Title Insurance: A form of insurance required by most lenders to make sure the home seller actually has the rights to the property title and that there are no liens on the home, such as unpaid taxes or utilities.

PMI / Private Mortgage Insurance: A type of mortgage insurance a homebuyer will be required to pay if they are providing a down payment of less than 20 percent on the total cost of a home. This will protect the lender if the homebuyers stops making payments on their mortgage.

Closing Costs: Taxes and fees that must be paid during the purchase (or closing) of a real estate property. These costs may amount to approximately five percent of the purchase price of the home and may include excise tax, loan-processing costs, attorney fees and an escrow fee.

Escrow Account: An account set up by the mortgage provider at the time of closing that is designed to help the new homeowner pay annual property taxes and insurance. This is done when the mortgage provider builds a small additional cost into the homeowner’s monthly payment in anticipation of the mentioned expenses. The mortgage provider then saves these funds on the behalf of the homebuyer until the expenses come due. Then, they will make the necessary payments on behalf of the homebuyer.

POSTED: Jun 13, 2018
MCU’s Identity Protection Travel Tips

Whether you’re planning to sightsee in a busy city or relax on a quiet beach this summer, protecting your personal and financial information is an important step to a stress-free and safe vacation.

Check out our easy tips below:

1. Avoid unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots

Free public Wi-Fi networks found in coffee shops, restaurants and airports can be convenient when you’re away from home but travelers should avoid them if possible. While these hotspots are handy, they should be used cautiously, especially when it comes to accessing personal information. Unsecured Wi-Fi networks don’t require passwords and can be easily hacked by thieves who can gather all of the sites you accessed and all of the personal information you entered while on the network.

Stick to a secure Wi-Fi hotspot that requires a password or use your phone’s network data.

2. Safeguard your wallet.

Some vacation hotspots are notorious for pickpockets that target tourists. To help protect your financial and personal information, leave your passport and any credit or debit cards you don’t plan to use in a hotel safe at all times if possible. To deter theft, travelers are encouraged to keep their wallet in a front pocket or to carry it in a cross body bag that can be securely closed. Avoid using backpacks and stay alert at all times.

If your wallet is lost or stolen while traveling, immediately place a fraud alert on your credit and notify card issuers. You’ll also need to report any stolen credit cards to your financial institution(s) and contact the nearest DMV branch to report your lost driver’s license. This will help to flag your license number to law enforcement officers if a criminal presents your driver’s license as their own if they get pulled over.

3. Make copies of your passport (but not your credit cards).

If your passport is lost or stolen on a trip, you could both find yourself stuck at the border and at risk of identity theft. To avoid this issue, it’s recommended to make two copies of your passport ID page. Give one copy to someone you trust such as a friend or family member and keep one copy in safe place, such as a hotel safe. Having a copy of your passport handy will make sure you have all of the information you’ll need to make a report and get a replacement.

It may seem natural to want to duplicate this process with your credit cards but instead, it’s recommended to write down your credit card numbers and details in a discrete manner. This will make it easy to make a report with your card provider if you have to, while adding an extra element of security.

4. Stop your mail while on vacation.

Your mail can include sensitive documents such as bank statements and medical bills. Because of this, mail theft is still common throughout the United States. To help protect yourself from this kind of identity theft while you’re away, you can request the United States Postal Service to temporarily stop delivering your mail through the USPS Hold Mail Service.

5. Let us know you’re traveling!

The priority of your financial institution is to protect your money and personal information. This is done by keeping an eye on card transactions in order to spot irregular activity and detect fraud.

While many travelers will contact their financial institution to let them know where they will be and that their card transactions may look abnormal, they are also providing helpful information that will help us to identify fraud quickly. For example, if you notify your credit union or bank that you will be in Florida for two weeks, your financial institution will know something is wrong if there is activity on your credit card in your local neighborhood or somewhere else during that timeframe.

Let us know your plans to travel! Give us a call at (212) 693-4900 or visit your local MCU Branch to speak with a member of our team. We recommend giving us at least two days’ worth of notice before you begin your trip.

POSTED: May 31, 2018
Finding Your Perfect Match: MCU’s Tips for Credit Card Shopping

Savvy consumers know that the right credit card can serve as an invaluable financial tool – it can help to consolidate bills, reduce debt and offer a layer of security when making purchases.

However, Not all credit cards are created equal and those in the market for a new card should always do their homework before signing on the dotted line. Gimmicks like shiny rewards programs and low introductory interest rates are designed to get your attention but once you’ve signed on the dotted line, a seemingly good deal may become an expensive mistake.

Check out the top five things to look for in a new credit card order to make sure it fits your budget and your lifestyle!

1. Annual Percentage Rate (APR).

While a credit card’s introductory interest rate may be as low as zero percent, you’ll need to know the APR that will follow once the introductory period expires (typically after six months). If you’re not careful, you could find yourself with a card (and a balance) carrying an APR as high as 30 percent, which could cost your hundreds or even thousands of dollars over time!

2. Minimum Payment.

You may not be able to pay your credit card balance off in full each month (that’s okay!) but you will have to make the minimum payment to avoid penalties and protect your credit score. Each credit card determines this payment differently. For example, it may be a small percentage of your total current balance or it could be calculated as a percentage of your total balance plus all of the interest on your balance. Cards may also come with a floor to their minimum payment, which means there will be a fixed dollar amount that the minimum payment won't fall below.

3. Annual Fee.

Some credit cards, especially those that come with perks and high-end rewards program, typically charge an annual fee to cardholders. This fee, which can cost as much as $500, is added to your balance due. Because of this, you’ll have to pay interest on it along with the rest of your bill, unless you pay it in full. Carefully consider this fee before signing up for the credit card. While the card’s benefits may be enticing, the annual cost may not fit your budget.

4. Hidden Charges

Like all financial products, your credit card should fit your lifestyle. Because of this, it’s important to know that some credit cards may come with hidden charges that will penalize your financial habits. Be sure to check for these details before signing up! For example, you may be faced with late fees, balance transfer fees, cash advance fees, foreign transactions fees or even inactivity fees.

5. Perks.

Rewards points and cash-back programs are becoming an increasingly popular way to appeal to credit card users. However, not all perks are created equal and some programs will have dramatic limitations. In some instances rewards points may only be used at certain shops or can only apply to airline tickets during certain times of the year. Similarly, cash-back program may only benefit certain cardholders, depending on your spending habits. For example, cash-back might only apply if you pay your balance in full each month or you’ll need to spend a minimum amount on your card throughout the year.

If perks and benefits are an appealing part of using your credit card, you’ll want to know the details about these kinds of programs ahead of time.

If this seems like a lot to take in, don’t forget that consumers can easily check for many of these details by checking the Schumer Box. The Schumer Box is a chart designed to outline credit card terms in a standardized and easy-to-read format. This chart can be, which can be easily found on a financial institution or lender’s website, will make it easy for consumers to understand rates, fees and details of any credit card product.

POSTED: May 24, 2018
MCU’s Seven-Step Auto-Buying Checklist

Whether you’re ready to upgrade to a new set of wheels or are shopping for your very first car, navigating the process of purchasing a new vehicle can be a confusing one. For many potential buyers, choosing the right car, financing options and even shopping method can leave them feeling overwhelmed.

Not sure where to start? Check out our MCU Auto-Buying Checklist below!

1. Determine your budget and get preapproved.

There’s no point in getting attached to a car that you can’t afford. Before you begin your search, start by reviewing your income, expenses and how a car may fit into your financial circumstances. As you begin to do your research, remember a car isn’t just an initial price tag or even a monthly payment – be sure to consider fees, taxes, the cost of fuel, insurance and repairs down the line.

If you’re planning to finance your car, getting preapproved has its advantages, including reinforcing your budget. While you may have already had an idea of how much you afford, getting preapproved for an auto loan will keep your budget in the black. It will also give you the best idea about what your financing options will be in the near future.

To get preapproved, you’ll likely need to provide employment and salary information as well as any other debts you may have.

2. Research, research, research!

Your car isn’t just a large financial purchase, it’s an investment in your lifestyle.

Extra storage or fuel efficiency? Four-wheel drive or city-friendly features? Taking time to do your homework to figure out which vehicle will meet your needs and compliment your budget will not save you time at the dealer but will also help to avoid disappointment down the road.

Auto buying apps and online resources such as TrueCar, Enterprise and Kelly Blue Book can help you to narrow your search, stay focused and feel confident about pricing when you visit dealerships.

3. Go for a test drive.

You’ve done your homework to narrow down your options and understand your financing options. Now, you’re ready to visit local dealerships and car-buying events to evaluate your top picks in person, make note of their details and take them for a spin.

Test driving vehicles may sound like a lot of fun (it can be!), but shopping in person can be an emotional experience too. As you test drive vehicles, it’s important to keep your excitement from taking over and to avoid distractions – i.e. cars that won’t work for your lifestyle or budget.

Remember, a car may look nice online but you won’t know if there’s a troublesome blind or uncomfortably low headroom until you’ve actually taken it for a test drive. Take careful inventory of the car’s features and how it handles. If something bothers you even slightly early on, it’ll certainly become an annoyance (or even a safety hazard) in the future.

4. Compare pricing and warranties to get the best deal.

Buyers may be surprised to learn that different dealerships will offer varied prices, complimentary service packages and warranties for the make and model you’re interested in purchasing. And while you may be tempted to jump at the opportunity to drive a car off the lot as soon as possible, you could be making an expensive (but common) mistake in your haste.

Before you even start shopping in person, digital car-buying tools like TrueCar can help you to easily compare prices that other customers paid for the same or similar vehicles in your area. You can use this information to get an idea of which dealerships you should work with, and also negotiate the best deal with confidence.

You can also get these details by working directly with dealerships in your area. Be sure to ask about the total sale price, including any additional accessories that may have already been installed on the car; maintenance plans; warranties and any upcoming dealership sales.

5. Decide how you’ll finance your vehicle

Now is the time to compare the financing and loan options offered by the dealership, compared to the auto loan preapproval you received from your credit union or other lender.

To do this, you’ll likely have to let the dealership run a credit report and assess your credit. And while a dealership can sometimes work with you to offer a competitive interest rate, it’s important consider the other aspects of your loan. These include the terms of the agreement, length of the loan and down payment.

This may sound like a lot of back-and-forth between yourself, the dealership and your lender. The good news is that many dealerships have relationships with credit unions, banks and private lenders, which means if you want to go the route of financing through one of these options, the dealership can work with you to secure the financing right onsite.

6. Close the deal.

Most buyers will finalize their purchases at a dealership. Once you've agreed on a deal, the salesperson will take you to the finance and insurance office. This is where you’ll sign the contract and make decisions to add any of the additional products discussed earlier, such as an extended warranty.

Be sure to review the agreement carefully and make sure the pricing matches the itemized expenses. There can be a lot of paperwork so it’s important to be assertive and to ask questions about any discrepancies.

Once you sign on the dotted line, the car is legally yours!

7. Receive your vehicle!

Whether your car is ready and waiting for you on the lot or is delivered from the manufacturer within a few days, receiving your vehicle isn’t just an exciting moment, it’s also an important step.

Be sure the gas tank is full and carefully look for any damage to the interior or exterior of the car. This is includes scratches, dings and scuffmarks. If everything looks to be in order, let the salesperson give you a tour of your new car and walk you through important features and safety devices.

POSTED: May 21, 2018
Four Things to Know: The Pitfalls of FHA Loans

If you’re a potential homebuyer struggling to save for a down payment or working to rebuild your credit score, a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) Loan may seem like the key to homeownership. These government-backed mortgages only require borrowers to have a 500 credit score and provide a 3.5 percent down payment in order to qualify. However, as the old saying goes, “If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

FHA Loans do have some benefits and have helped many homebuyers achieve their goals but the product comes with pitfalls, drawbacks and limitations that could slow down the home-buying process, cost you more money and have you considering other options.

Check out our top four need-to-know facts below!

1. Insurance costs may surprise you.

It’s commonly known that homeowners who do not make a large enough initial down payment on a home will pay private mortgage insurance (PMI) alongside their mortgage until they have 20 percent equity in their home. After which, PMI can be cancelled.

However, FHA Loans are a bit different. While homebuyers are allowed to use this product to make a modest 3.5 percent down payment on a home, they’ll be signing up to pay mortgage insurance premiums for the entire duration of their loan (or until they refinance).

These premiums aren’t necessarily inexpensive either. Most recently, FHA mortgage insurance premiums can reportedly amount to nearly one percent of your loan balance (for a 30-year fixed-rate FHA loan).

And while many homebuyers anticipate a residual mortgage insurance premium for at least some time, those going forward with an FHA Loan will also have to pay an upfront premium, which is currently 1.75 percent of the loan amount and will be have to be paid at the time of closing.

When everything is said and done, these extra costs will make an FHA Loan more expensive than initially expected.

2. There are limitations to the kinds of property you buy can buy.

Looking to take on a fixer-upper or pay a bargain price with a foreclosed property? An FHA Loan probably won’t be an option. Before a homebuyer can be approved for an FHA Loan, a property will need to meet certain standards, including health and safety requirements.

This loan product will even be off the table to certain properties that are move-in ready. FHA Loans don’t apply to coop units. Condos may also be a challenge to get approved if there is a high number of empty units in your building or problems with your Home Owners Association are apparent.

3. Sellers may be hesitant to enter into a deal.

The current home-buying market is highly competitive and in many cases, buyers need to make an offer with their best foot forward or they will quickly lose out. That being said, home sellers do not always like to accept offers when the buyers are using an FHA Loan, as it suggests a lack of financial strength. They may also be wary of any extra requirements (from both themselves or the buyer) that could delay or even threaten the deal. To seal the deal in a hot market, buyers would do best to use another form of financing.

4. Your financing options will be limited.

FHA loans are only available to borrowers as a standard 15-year or 30-year fixed loan. And while this may work for most borrowers, for some, an interest-only mortgage or an adjustable rate loan may better suit their needs and long-term plan.

While these financing limitations may not fit your lifestyle, further stipulations may mean that these loans won’t work for your budget either. In response to the changing home prices, every year the FHA changes the maximum and minimum loan amounts that it will insure. In 2018, these parameters in high competition areas will be between $294,515 and $679,650. If you’re looking outside of this price range in either direction, an FHA Loan won’t work.

POSTED: Apr 04, 2018
Scam Round-Up: Spring 2018

Identity theft is on the rise. According to the recently released 2018 Identity Fraud Study today 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.

As we work hard to keep our members’ information safe, consumers can do their part by staying up-to-date on some of the scams and fraudulent activity that could put them at risk. To get started, check out our scam round-up below:

1. Be Smart about Student Loan Scams.

Americans are no strangers to student debt. If you’re one of the more than 40 million people in the United States who are currently working to pay off your student loans, you’ll need to keep an eye out for a growing trend in which scammers are posing to be loan repayment assistance agencies. These identity thieves will contact you via phone, email or letter claiming to be able to resolve any repayment issues you may be having. They may offer to eliminate a portion of your debt or create a more advantageous and affordable repayment plan. However, as soon as you provide money upfront on sensitive personal information, these scammers disappear.

While there are some loan assistance agencies that do help a lot consumers repay student loans (and other kinds of debt), you can protect yourself from scammers by following these simple steps:


  • • Never pay an upfront fee. A legitimate loan assistance program will never ask for an upfront payment or fee before beginning to work on your case.
  • • Research the company carefully. A Department of Education seal featured on a letter or email doesn’t mean a company is real. Scammers will often use official-looking names and logos to gain their victims’ trust. The only sure way to be sure you’re working with a legitimate company is to do your research.
  • • Don’t share your Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID. Along with cash, scammers could be after your personal information. This includes your FSA ID, which identity thieves can use to take control of your personal financial aid information on U.S. Department of Education websites.
  • .
2. Don’t Fall for an Employment Overpayment Scam.

Overpayment scams have been affecting consumers for years. But as technology changes, this old scam is certainly taking on new forms. Most versions of this scam involve a scammer sending victims a convincing-looking, but fake, check or money order for more than the asking price of something they are selling. The buyer will then ask you to send the remainder back at some point. So when the check you’ve received doesn’t clear, you’ll lose the money you sent back to the thief, as well as the object you shipped to them.

Today, these scams have evolved to include job offers and consumers who post their resumes on job websites could be at risk. If you’re being targeted, you’ll receive what is supposed to be a job offer to become a “financial representative” of an international company. The reason for the position? The hiring company has problems accepting money from U.S. customers and is looking for financial representatives to handle the payments. In exchange, you’ll receive a five-to-15 percent cut of the transaction you handle.

Searching for a job can be stressful but never take a position that requires you to make financial transactions. Falling for a scam like this may result in identity theft and money stolen from your account.

3. Don’t let Fraudsters “Getaway” with a Vacation Rental Scam.

Planning for a vacation? Travelers are being warned to shop carefully for rental properties. Scammers have taken to posting fake rental properties online, most notably through Airbnb. Once a victim books the rental, the scammers will email him or her stating that the property is no long available but will then send a link to a similar rental nearby.

Oftentimes, victims don’t realize that the link they’ve been sent is not actually on the official rental property website, but a similar looking duplicate. These sites may even be indistinguishable from the original, with the exception of the URL. Victims then unknowingly submit their personal and financial information to the fake website, putting them at risk of theft.

To make sure you don't get tricked, always stick to links you can access after typing in the website's legitimate address into your browser. And, if you're asked to send money outside of Airbnb's system, immediately cut off all contact. For your protection, this practice isn't allowed under the site's terms and conditions.

4. Combat Mobile Phone Port-Out Scams.

Switching your phone carrier and keeping your original phone number is called porting and may be an extremely convenient feature for mobile phone owners. However, it can also be the key for identity thieves to steal your personal and financial information. Fraudsters are reportedly exploiting this capability by impersonating consumers with the purpose of having their victims’ mobile phones ported to a different carrier.

So how does this put your information and financials at risk? A fraudster will often port a victim’s phone to a different carrier after they have already obtained their online banking username. Many financial institutions will allow their members or customers a one-time passcode, which is text messaged to their phone, to login to their online and mobile banking account if they’ve forgotten their password. By transferring a victim’s mobile phone, the thief can then receive the passcode and then easily gain access to their accounts.

Luckily, this new scheme is easy to avoid. Phone carrier are recommending that their customers place a “port validation password” on their accounts. This means that before your phone is switched to a new carrier is made, the existing carrier must receive your password, validating your identity.

POSTED: Apr 04, 2018
MCU’s Five Things to Know: Taking on Student Debt

No matter what they choose to study, most college students will graduate with one thing in common: student debt…and a lot of it! Today, more than 70 percent of college students will take out a student loan and the average borrower is expected to leave school owing more than $37,000.

If you or a loved one is entering college next year, there’s a lot to be excited about! However, if you haven’t quite figured out how to navigate student loans, we’re got you covered here. Check out some important must-knows below:


1. Your loans can be federal or private.

Not all loans are created equally and it’s important to understand all your federal and private student loan options before signing on the dotted line. One loan isn’t necessarily better than the other but federal and private student loans definitely come with distinct differences.

Federal loans, which are offered through the federal government, will generally offer more flexibility for borrowers compared to private student loans. For example, some federal student loans offer income-driven repayment plans, where the rate of repayment is based on the borrower’s salary after college. These types of loans will also often let borrowers adjust their repayment plan over time. These loans come in three forms:


  • • Direct Subsidized Loans
  • • Direct Unsubsidized Loans
  • • Direct PLUS Loans
  • .

On the other hand, private loans are offered through credit unions, banks and other financial institutions. These loans can be especially helpful in taking care of expenses that aren’t covered by federal student loans and other forms of financial aid. And because you are working with a private institution, your eligibility and interest rate will depend on your credit score.

Private student loans can come with many options and amenities too. They may offer different fixed and variable rate options, as well as helpful repayment plans—including options that allow you to start paying down your debt by making interest-only payments while you’re in school.

2. Don’t assume interest starts accumulating after graduation.

All student loans come with an interest rate but how it’s applied may differ. Your student loan may have a repayment grace period, which allows you to defer making payments while you’re still in school and even for a short time afterwards, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your loan isn’t accruing interest in the meantime. If it is, you’ll have a more significant debt to take on than you thought when it comes time to start making payments.

Understanding how your student loan’s interest works will help to eliminate surprises after graduation and help you to devise a plan to start tackling your interest as soon as possible (even before your loan comes due).

3. Read your financial aid “award” letter carefully.

A financial aid award letter can bring a big sigh of relief to its recipient but it can also be tricky to understand. This is because the number next to the term “financial aid award” typically does not 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.

4. Keeping a good credit score will give you the chance to refinance your student loans.

As the demand continues to grow (there are more than 44 million Americans with student debt!), more financial services institutions have begun offering individuals the ability to refinance their student loans. A refinanced loan will come with a new interest rate and repayment term. Maintaining a very good credit score will help you to get the best deal, which will not only help you save thousands of dollars in interest over time but will also leave more cash for your monthly budget.

5. Don’t default on your loans!

Defaulting on a student loan can come with serious consequences. Not only will it damage your credit score but over time, the federal government may seize your tax refund and apply it to your outstanding debt or even garnish your paycheck.

POSTED: Mar 29, 2018
MCU’s Guide to Shopping for Auto Insurance

Drivers know that insuring their vehicles is a responsibility that comes with getting on the road. However, it can also be an expensive bill to pay. In fact, the average driver in New York State pays more than $1,170 per year for their insurance. That’s nearly $100 per month! Luckily, drivers aren’t married to their insurance companies and shopping around for an insurance policy could lead you to better deals and lower monthly bills. Check out how to get started here!


1. Get quoted.

Most auto insurance policies are issued to drivers every six or 12 months. While getting a quote a month or two prior to when your policy is up for renewal, drivers are also recommended to shop for rate quotes if they move, purchase a new car, have seen a significant improvement to their credit score, or are looking to change the kind of coverage their insurance would offer.

It’s recommended to request quotes from at least three insurance providers but don’t let the policy price be the end all be all to your search. Not all policies are created equally and 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. This includes liability protection, collision coverage, bodily injury protection and the kind of coverage provided if you’re hit by an uninsured or underinsured driver.

2. Contact your current insurance provider.

Your insurance provider may be more willing to keep your business than you think. By bringing your new rate quotes to the attention of your provided, the company may offer to match or even beat your best offer.

Your circumstances may have also changed since your last policy with your current insurance provider. Be sure to let your insurance provider know if you now qualify for bundled policies (with renters insurance, home insurance, etc.) or if there are steps you can take, such as a driver safety course, that will improve your current rate. You could be missing out on discounts and financial opportunities.

3. Beware of penalties.

Auto insurance companies will typically give you the right to cancel your policy at any time. And as long as you give them the required noticed outlined in your contract, they will also typically refund your premium.

However, if you decide to switch insurance providers before your current policy has expired, you might be responsible for an early cancelation penalty. Be sure to understand if you’re responsible for any penalty fees before you go ahead and cancel your current policy. It’s important to weigh any potential fee against the savings you’ll experience with your new insurance policy. You may even find that it’s cheaper to stick with your current insurance provider.

4. Don’t leave a gap in your insurance.

A lapse in insurance coverage is a legal and financial liability, especially if you have an accident during that time. Because of this, it’s important not to cancel your insurance before you have the new policy in place. To do this, make sure you have something in writing from your new insurance provider before canceling your old policy.

5. Cancel your old insurance policy.

This may seem like a no-brainer but you’ll need to formally let your insurance provider know that you are canceling your coverage. Be sure to call or write to notify the company that you’re ending your policy and are going with someone else. It’s important to follow up to make sure you get written confirmation that you’ve canceled.

If you don’t formally cancel your premium, your old provider will continue to bill you. Even if you didn’t realize this bill wasn’t cancelled, not making payments will hurt your credit score.

6. Drive carefully!

Most insurance providers can drop you easily and quickly if you file a claim within 90 days. The same goes for if you receive a speeding ticket or earn points on your license.

POSTED: Mar 23, 2018
MCU’s 10-Step Home-Buying Checklist

Dreaming of the day you can stop renting? The path to homeownership can be a long and confusing one. The key to start early and plan ahead! Get started today check out our 10-step home-buying checklist below.


1. Save for a Down Payment

While a mortgage may be able to cover up to 97 percent of your new home’s price, you will still need to plan and save for a down payment. In addition, the more you can save, the better – having a larger down payment will not just reduce your monthly mortgage bill but will make a more competitive offer on a home. Putting down a 20 percent down payment will even help you to avoid paying the monthly expense of private mortgage insurance (PMI).

To start saving, potential homebuyers will need to sort out their finances and are encouraged to pay off any outstanding credit card debts, boost savings and look into special down payment assistance programs (these are especially helpful to first-time homebuyers).

2. Get Preapproved for a Mortgage

A mortgage preapproval from a lender is a formal estimation of how much you, as a potential homebuyer, are qualified to borrow. This preapproval, which will come in the form of a letter, can speed up the home-buying process by helping you to pinpoint your price range, secure a real estate agent, narrow down potential neighborhoods and motivate sellers.

3. Narrow your Search

Once you know approximately how much house you can afford, it’s time to look at the details of where to live and the type of home that can best fit your lifestyle and budget. To get the best idea of what you need, buyers can browse real estate websites, visit potential communities and take advantage of open house events.

By taking time to prioritize your needs and identify the specifics of how you’d like to live in your new home, you’ll be able to set realistic expectations and narrow down the neighborhoods you’d like to start your search.

4. Shop with a Real Estate Agent

You’ve done your homework and determined the types of homes and locations best suited for you and your budget. Now, it’s time to hire a real estate agent!

While it isn’t always necessary to hire a real estate agent, they can be a huge help. An agent will understand the real estate market and will save you time and frustration by working in your best interest to prescreen properties, ask tough questions about a home’s condition and help with negotiations. Your agent should also be someone who listens and has no problem answering any questions that are asked of him or her.

Despite working with a real estate agent, it is important to know that should you never feel pressured to rush into a decision.

5. Make an Offer

Making an official offer on a home is more complicated than calling up the seller and naming a price you’re willing to pay. This is also a time when having an agent will really come in handy. Because an offer is legally binding, it must be written down and include the details of what you’re willing to pay and the terms of the offer. These terms may include the target date for move in, your down payment, the type of deed that will be granted to the buyer and the method by which real estate taxes, rents, fuel, and utilities are to be adjusted or probated between the buyer and seller.

Most sellers respond within 24 hours to accept, reject or counter your offer. If a counteroffer is proposed, your agent will recommend a plan and then start negotiations with the listing agent. Once an offer is accepted, you and the seller will be in what’s known as mutual acceptance and will proceed to closing.

6. Complete a Home Inspection

Completing a home inspection should always be a contingency to any offer made on a home, as it is an easy and relatively inexpensive way to know the reality of your potential purpose.

A home may look move-in ready, but an inspector will cover features of the house such as electrical wiring, plumbing, roofing, insulation, as well as structural features of the home and may unveil issues that are not noticeable to the buyer’s eye. Once the inspection is completed, the home inspector will provide you with a report suggesting any improvements or repairs deemed necessary to bring the home up to current standards.

If potentially expensive flaws or damages are uncovered in the home, you’ll have the opportunity to renegotiate with the sellers for a better price or to back out of the deal.

7. Secure your mortgage

While being preapproved for a mortgage will speed up the process, you’ll still need to apply for your mortgage. Even if you have been preapproved, you as a borrower should always shop around for the best rates and terms.

To secure your mortgage, a lender will need to feel confident that know you’ll be able to repay the loan. At minimum you’ll need to show proof of steady income and provide last year’s W-2 form, approximately two months of recent pay stubs, and your tax returns from the past year. Depending on your income history and the size of the loan, you may also have to show additional paperwork including your earnings outside of your primary employments, debts, assets and recent monetary gifts.

8. Home Appraisal

A home appraisal is an important part of securing your mortgage because it assures you and your lender of the property’s value. Unlike a home inspection, a home appraisal does not solely focus on the structure and condition of the home. Instead, a home appraisal estimates the property's approximate value by considering the location of the home, its proximity to desirable schools, the size of the lot, the size and condition of the home itself and recent sales prices of comparable properties, among other factors. This is completed by MCU during the mortgage process.

9. Obtain Home Insurance

Because your lender holds a lien on your house until you've paid off your mortgage, they will want to ensure that their (and your) investment is protected. This means that in most cases, you'll need to prove to your lender that you've prepaid one year's worth of home insurance coverage on the home before you can close.

Among other things, a standard homeowner’s insurance policy will generally protect you against hazards like fire, hail, theft smoke damage, falling objects (like branches) and frozen plumbing. And while the requirements may vary depending on the lender, it’s recommended that you carry enough coverage to pay for the cost of rebuilding your home from the ground up in the event of a disaster.

10. Close on your home

You’re almost there!

A closing meeting is the final step to becoming a homeowner. During this meeting, you and the seller will gather your attorneys, real estate agents, closing agent, lender representative and a notary public to complete the necessary paperwork and final steps.

As the buyer, you’ll first do a final walkthrough of the home to ensure everything is in order. The seller will then sign certain documents transferring property ownership. You’ll review and sign all your loan documents, provide documentation on homeowner’s insurance and inspections and provide a certified check to cover the down payment, closing costs, prepaid interest, taxes and insurance. Depending on your loan terms, you may also be required to set up an escrow account to cover property taxes and homeowners insurance.

This is also when your lender will distribute the funds covering your home loan amount to the closing agent.

POSTED: Mar 09, 2018
MCU’s Tips for Strategically Paying Down Debt

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 and households with any kind of debt owe $131,431 (including mortgages). While it may be common, the consequence of debt can be severe – causing stress, lowering credit scores and affecting careers.

If you’re feeling ready to successfully tackle your bills and eliminate debt, simply staying on top of monthly expenses may not be enough. Check out our tips below to get started today!


1. Know the difference between “good debt” and “bad debt”.

Not all debt is necessarily bad. Before you can make a plan to strategically eliminate your debt, you’ll need to understand what is considered good debt and what isn’t. A simple rule of thumb is to determine if the interest rates are low, whether your debt will increase your net worth or if this debt has future value. If the answer is no and you don’t have cash to pay for the debt quickly, it’s considered bad debt.

For example, a home mortgage is typically considered good debt. While it is a long-term loan (typically between 15-30 years), relatively low monthly payments will free up money for investments, living expenses and emergencies. In addition, a mortgage allows you to gain the asset of a home, which will likely increase in value, which will enhance your net worth and ideally cancel out the interest you’re paying over time.

Contrarily, bad debt carries high interest and the purchases made with it lose value quickly and can’t generate long-term income. For example, if you buy an expensive pair of jeans for $200 with your credit card, but can't pay the balance for several months or even years, you’ll only end up spending more money over time, potentially even after your purchase has been donated, damaged or misplaced.

As you begin to tackle your debt, avoid taking on any additional bad debt. As a rule of thumb, If you can't afford an expense and you don't need it, don't buy it.

2. Prioritize your debts based on interest rates.

Prioritizing debt repayment doesn’t mean paying off one bill at a time and ignoring the rest. It refers to taking on all of your bills and debts at once but identifying which debts should be paid off the fastest in order to save you the most money down the road.

Debts that have higher interest rates cost more money, every dollar of debt owed costs more each month and will carry over if it goes unpaid. By focusing on paying these debts first, you’ll save the most money because the interest that's accruing on your accounts will decrease.

By this reasoning, high-interest revolving debt, such store cards and reward credit cards, should ideally be paid off in full within one payment cycle. Lower interest credit cards should usually be prioritized next. Once these debts are paid down, you can focus on fully eliminating long-term and low interest loans such as student loans, auto loans and mortgages.

3. Carefully read loan terms.

As the old saying goes, the devil is in the details. Always take time to carefully read through and understand the details of the debts you are taking on.

Carefully read through the terms of the introductory rates you’re receiving on new credit cards. This will help you create a plan for paying off these debts before a higher interest rate is applied. Otherwise, you can have a balance of hundreds or thousands of dollars that’s suddenly getting hit with a high interest rate that can be over twenty percent.

I addition to rate changes, it’s important to understand what will happen if you make extra payments or larger payments on certain loans. This is because in some unusual cases, a lender will actually penalize you for making early repayments.

You also need to be aware of how making extra payments may affect your loan. In most instances, your lender won’t adjust the cost of your monthly payments but they will reduce the length of your loan. This is good news because a shorter loan period means you’ll pay less interest.

4. Consider consolidation.

Choosing to consolidate your debt won’t just make managing a pay schedule easier by combining multiple bills into a single low-interest monthly payment – it can save you a significant amount of money, as you’ll eliminate the high interest rates.

One of the most popular ways to do this 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.

To learn more about how debt consolidation, check out our blog post here.

5. Use moderation.

Allocating extra funds towards debt elimination is a good idea, but don’t forget your other goals. While the idea of being debt free may be an exciting one, a common mistake people often make is that they solely prioritize debt elimination before giving attention to other important financial priorities, such as creating a nest egg.

In creating a moderate and balanced financial plan, both debt elimination, savings and even investing can occur at the same time. For example, don’t let the prospect of paying your auto loan off sooner prevent you from allocating funds to a retirement account.

POSTED: Mar 06, 2018
Five Things to Know: Spring Auto Maintenance Tips

There are a lot of things to love about our cars but pricy auto repairs definitely isn’t one of them. Luckily, by periodically taking care of your vehicle with inexpensive maintenance tasks, you’ll not only keep your car running efficiently and safely, but will also prevent expensive repairs down the road. As spring approaches, now is the time to get your car ready for the warmer temperatures, spring showers and notorious potholes plaguing the streets.

Check out these easy vehicle maintenance checks that can help keep your car running smoothly, your passengers safe and your wallet happy.

1. Check tire pressure

Due to cold temperatures, your car’s tires will likely have lost pressure over the winter, leaving them partially deflated. Driving with low tire pressure for an extended period of time can reduce your car’s efficiency (costing you more in gas) and even weaken your tires, which could result in tire blowouts. This means that checking the pressure won’t just save you money down the road, but is also an important safety precaution.

If you don't feel comfortable checking your car's tire pressures and filling your tires by yourself, take it to an auto parts store or gas station, which will usually perform the check at little to no cost.

2. Maintain visibility

More than 23 percent of car accidents in the United States are caused by the combination of hazardous weather and poor visibility. This means keeping your windshield wiper blades up to snuff is important for any car owner. Snow and ice throughout the winter months can crack, wear and damage your wiper blades, leaving them less effective when you need them most. This upgrade is easy and inexpensive but can go a long way in keeping you safe on the road.

In addition, always be mindful of any chips (even small ones) in your windshield. If you spot one, have it repaired as soon as possible. If left unattended, sudden temperature changes (such as defrosting a freezing windshield) can cause these chips to become large cracks, which means you’ll have to make the expensive repair of replacing your entire windshield.

3. Check alignment and suspension

With potholes, rocks, sand and salt, the winter roads can be tough on your vehicle’s alignment or damage its suspension. Over time, parts such as suspension springs can become worn and slack, leading to a shift in the wheel alignment, which can affect tire performance and safety. In this case, prevention is more effective than repairs so regular service checks are recommended to car owners looking to stay ahead of the damage.

4. Change the oil

If you let basic auto maintenance like changing your oil go by the wayside this winter, you’re definitely not alone. According to a recent Car Care Report, nearly 22 percent of cars on the road have dirty oil. Proactively changing a vehicles’ oil and filter won’t just help your engine continue to work at its best it’s also an inexpensive and highly effective way to prevent thousands of dollars in engine damage. We think that’s definitely worth a trip to your local automotive shop.

5. Check fluid levels

In addition to oil, drivers need to pay attention to transmission fluid, power steering fluid, brake fluid, air conditioning coolant, radiator fluid and washer fluid levels. Experts recommend checking these fluids every few months. Each of these fluids serve different functions but work together to keep you engine running smoothly and your transportation safe.

POSTED: Mar 06, 2018
MCU’s Money-Smart Travel Hacks

Feeling like you need an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life? Taking a vacation is a great way to relax and recharge. The best part? It doesn’t have to blow your budget. Whether you’re planning a weekend away or a trip around the world, check out these tips that will help you manage your money, spend smart and feel stress-free while you travel!

1. Contact your financial institution

The priority of your financial institution is to protect your money and personal information. This is done by keeping an eye on card transactions in order to spot irregular activity and detect fraud. If you’re traveling, your card activity is almost certainly going to look abnormal and may result in a hold being placed on your card or account for security purposes. This is especially true if you’re traveling abroad or a significant distance from your home.

While this could surely put a hitch in your vacation, it’s also very easy to avoid. Just let us know your plans to travel! Give us a call at (212) 693-4900 or visit your local MCU Branch to speak with a member of our team. We recommend giving us at least two days notice before you begin your trip.

2. Book flights in advance (but not too far in advance!)

There are many theories about how travelers can get the best deal on airline tickets but according to CheapAir.com, the best time to find the most inexpensive deals on domestic flights is between three weeks and three months before departure. Travelers are encouraged to book international flights at least two months in advance in order to get the lowest ticket prices possible.

3. Pre-order attraction tickets and excursions

Looking to take a museum tour or see a show? Preordering your tickets can help you stay on a predetermined budget made before you start your travels and minimize the amount of spontaneous credit and debit card transactions made while you’re away.

The more you plan ahead of time, the less there is to think about on your trip – financially and otherwise!

4. Live like a local

Giving up a chain hotel for a rental property in a less commercial or tourist-oriented area of a city may be outside of your comfort zone but will mean big savings. Travelers will also have an easier time sticking to a tighter budget by cooking their own meals or dining at restaurants outside of tourist districts or city centers. You may even gain a new perspective on your host city or country in the process!

5. Consider the currency

If you’re looking to travel abroad, the exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the native currency of the country you plan to visit could be the difference between coming in under budget or breaking the bank. For example, traveling to Cancun, Mexico may cost roughly the same as a flight to London, England but your dollar will stretch much further compared to the peso than it will compared to the pound.

It’s also important to note that when charging purchases abroad, you may have the option of paying in U.S. dollars, instead of local currency. This is often referred to as “dynamic currency conversion.” While it may be easier to keep track of costs when choosing to pay in U.S. currency, travelers will usually receive a better rate and save money by opting to initially pay with local currency.

If you are traveling to an international location and plan to use mostly cash, you can save yourself stress, aggravation and an extra expense by ordering foreign currency ahead of time. You may otherwise be at the mercy of a pricy currency exchange services.

6. Purchase travel insurance

When it comes to traveling, expect the unexpected. For a relatively small cost, travel insurance will cover the expenses you could potentially incur while you’re away. Travel insurance will help absorb the cost if you lose anything, need to visit a hospital, check out of a hotel early because of weather or need to change your flights.

7. Plan ahead with an MCU Vacation Club Account

The best way to have a financially stress-free vacation? Plan ahead. For MCU members, opening an MCU Vacation Club Account means putting away a little bit each month in preparation for a getaway is easy and convenient. Check out the benefits below:

  • • Open your MCU Vacation Club Account with as little as a $5 deposit.

  • • Add to the account like any other savings account, through direct deposit or automatic payroll deduction, and watch your account balance grow.

  • • During the first week of May, the money you have accumulated in your Vacation Club Account will automatically be deposited into your FasTrack Checking Account or Share Account for you to access.

  • • Save for an even bigger vacation in the future by rolling over your funds right back into your Vacation Club Account.

POSTED: Mar 02, 2018
Energy Saving Projects to Tackle this Spring

For homeowners, the coming spring weather means it is time to take on the home improvement projects that will both freshen up your home and prepare it for the summer months. While you may be busy cleaning up your yard, patching your roof or cleaning your windows, you may be missing easy and inexpensive updates and projects that won’t just save you money down the road, but will also benefit the environment. Check them out here!

1. Replace your light bulbs with LED Lights.

It may not be the most obvious spring project to take on but it’s certainly an easy one to accomplish! A small upfront investment in LED energy efficient light bulbs can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars in energy costs over time. And they’re not good for environment and your wallet – they’re long-lasting and can work for as long as 10 years without having to be replaced!

2. Install a programmable thermostat.

As temperatures rise in the summer months, your energy bill is sure to see a spike. By investing in a programmable thermostat, you can easily save money and help the environment by having the temperature in your home automatically adjusted to your work and sleep habits. According to the U. S Department of Energy, lowering the thermostat 10-15 degrees while at work, or away from your home can make a significant impact on your energy bill – reducing it by nearly 10 percent!

Unlike simply turning your air conditioning off while you’re out of your home, a programmable thermostat can also greatly improve your general comfort levels as it can be set up to begin cooling your home off before you are expected to return home or wake up.

3. Put all of your electronics on power strips.

Even when they’re switched off, TVs, Laptops, Lamps, kitchen appliances, cable boxes and WIFI routers will still pull electricity. By putting these gadgets and appliances on power strips or surge protectors, you can easily shut them off completely at night or when they’re not in use in order to conserve energy, save money and help the environment!

4. Close ducts and seal cracks.

Air leakage through air ducts and cracks can reduce heating and cooling efficiency in your home by 20-30 percent. Taking time to seal ductwork and caulk cracks in your home is an easy do-it-yourself project that anyone can take on with just a little bit of patience. For just a small cost and a few hours of work, you can make your home more efficient and save money on cooling costs during the hot summer months that will soon follow.

5. Replace old windows

While replacing your windows may be a more expensive project to take, this upgrade will not only make a substantial difference in the efficiency of your home, but will also increase its value. By adding new double-paned windows can reduce heating costs by 15 percent and add savings of as much as $2000 over the life of the window.

POSTED: Feb 20, 2018
Selling your Car when you have an Auto Loan

According to the Federal Reserve of New York, a record 107 million Americans had an auto loan in 2017. That's nearly 43 percent of the entire adult population in the US!

If you have a current auto loan on a car you’re looking to sell or trade in, you’ll need to take a few extra considerations into account before starting the process. This is because when you have an auto loan, the lender is technically a partial owner of the vehicle. Their name may be listed on the car title and they could even hold the title. This is to ensure you can’t sell your car and transfer the title without the lender receiving the current balance of the loan.

1. Talk to your Lender

You may not know where to start when it comes to selling your car but consulting with your lender is a great way to get started and gain important insights on the steps you’ll have to take. It’s important to remember that no two lenders are the same and they’ll each have different requirements and processes when it comes to helping car owners through the selling process. Your lender might even have a local office where you and the buyer can meet, which would make the process easier.

2. Determine your Car’s True Value

It’s important to remember that it’s illegal for a car to transfer owners if there are still liens on it. This means that in order for your lender to sign off on the title of your vehicle, your auto loan must be paid off completely first. This aspect of selling your car highlights the importance of knowing the value of your car before selling it. In some situations, the sale price won’t cover the remainder of the loan.

By using resources like Kelley Blue Book or Cars.com, car owners will be able to determine both the sale and trade-in value of their vehicle. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll get a better deal from a sale compared to a trade-in.

Once you know your vehicle’s standard value, you’ll then have to subtract the payoff amount, or the dollar amount outstanding on your loan, from the value of the vehicle. Knowing your car’s value, compared to the amount you owe on it, will help you decide if selling your car is right for you.

3. If your Car has Positive Equity…

If your car has positive equity, meaning it is worth more than the loan you have on your vehicle, the process of selling your car can be quite simple. The buyer will either pay the total amount to the lender and the lender will then pay the difference to you, or the buyer will pay your remaining loan balance to the lender and then make a separate payment to you.

For example, if you still owe $7,000 on your auto loan and a private buyer pays $15,000 for your car, you will receive $8,000 for the sale.

4. If your Auto Loan is more than your Car is Worth…

If you’re underwater on your auto loan, meaning you owe more on your auto loan than your vehicle is worth, selling your car could become more complicated. This is because you’ll have to somehow give the lender the difference between the sale price and what you owe. For example, if you still owe $8,000 on your auto loan and a private buyer is only paying $6,000 for your car, you would have to pay the lender $2,000.

To do this, you can pay cash or you might have to take out another loan. The private buyer will pay the sale amount to the lender and then you will have to pay the difference.

Finally, you and a representative of the lender will sign and hand off the title to the buyer.

5. If you’re Trading in your Vehicle

If you’re trading in your vehicle, the auto dealership can be a big help in handling all of the paperwork surrounding the purchase of your car and paying off the remainder of your auto loan. This is because unlike privately selling your car, you can trade your vehicle in before all of the loans have been officially cleared.

If you're trading in a car that’s worth more than the balance on your auto loan, the dealer will give you a credit for the difference to use toward the purchase of your next car.

However, if you’re underwater on your auto loan, the dealer could add the negative equity amount into the loan on your new car. This means you’ll actually be taking out a bigger loan for the next car. In situations like these, you may end up paying more than your new car is actually worth or worse, biting off more than you can chew financially.

Sellers should always be wary of trade-ins, as a dealership will likely not give you the same amount of money you may get from a private sale. If they do give you the retail market value of your car, some of that cost could be tacked onto the vehicle you are buying or leasing from the dealership.

Finally, as a seller, it is your responsibility to follow up with the dealership to ensure that they’ve worked with your lender to pay off the debt on the car.

POSTED: Feb 15, 2018
MCU’s Tips for Planning for Retirement as a Millennial

Planning for retirement is a challenge. In fact, according to a recent study published by the Economic Policy Institute, nearly half of all Americans don’t have any saving at all set aside for a time when they will stop working. For Millennials, or individuals born between 1981 and 1999, the challenge to save can be amplified by student loan debt, economic downturns that have at times limited career opportunities, and the looming prospect of reduced social security benefits in the future.

While it may feel like your career is only beginning when you’re in your 20s and 30s, financial planning is the key to successfully retiring one day. Check out our tips on how to get started below!

1. Create a Budget

Like many young people, you may be feeling like you’re already stretching your paychecks just to cover daily and monthly expenses. But if you’re serious about being financially ready for retirement one day, you won’t just have to create a plan that will help you save, but will also help you to pay down any debt you may have from school or otherwise.

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.

2. Take Advantage of Employer Match Plans

If you belong to an employer sponsored retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or 403(b), your employer may offer to match up to a certain percentage of your paycheck that is contributed into that account. 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.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, nearly 30 percent of employees under the age of 30 will miss out on using or maximizing their employer match program.

To help prepare for retirement, It’s important to contribute as much as you can, but if you’re maximizing your employer’s match program, you’ll be passing up on free money. For example, you may choose to contribute four percent of your paycheck to your 401(k) but your employer might match you dollar for dollar up to six percent of your paycheck. This means you’d be missing out on hundreds of dollars each year that could be contributed to your retirement account by your employer.

3. Put your Change to Work with Investing Apps

It may feel like there are many factors working against Millennials as they financially plan for retirement but this generation’s native understand and comfort with technology is one big advantage. Once you’ve got a handle on your budget and employer retirement programs, Investing your money is a great next step building long-term wealth.

While a reported 40 percent of Millennials feel like they don’t have enough money to look towards investing, 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, encourages 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. Consider a Side Gig

Picking up a side gig is a great way to earn extra cash that can go straight into savings or help you take on financial responsibilities you’ll need to manage before you can plan ahead. Unlike a second job, a gig typically allows an individual to pick their own hours and work as little or as much as they want. This could include dog walking, house sitting or even joining a ride-sharing program. It’s popular too. According to Bankrate, 44 million Americans have taken on a gig to help get ahead. More than 35 percent of those surveyed reported earning more than an additional $500 a month!

POSTED: Feb 09, 2018
Four Reasons to Refinance your Mortgage in 2018

For many homeowners, refinancing your mortgage could give you the benefits and resources to make home sweet home a little bit sweeter. Check out these reasons to refinance your mortgage in 2018!

1. Switch to a Fixed-Rate Mortgage.

Rates are beginning to creep up in 2018 and homeowners with Adjusted Rate Mortgages (ARM) could end up taking on a more expensive monthly payment. By refinancing from an ARM to a Fixed Rate Mortgage (FRM), you could save yourself thousands of dollars throughout the course of your mortgage.

2. Reach Financial Goals

A cash-out refinance is a new mortgage that increases from the amount you currently owe. The increase goes to you as cash, which you can use on home improvements, debt consolidation or other financial needs. Cash out refinancing will only work for homeowners who have available equity in their homes.

3. Drop your Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)

According to leading real estate marketplace Zillow, New York home values increased by 10.9% in 2017 and are predicted to rise another 3.6% over the next year! This is great news for homeowners looking to refinance! If the value of your home has significantly increased and/or you paid down your mortgage enough to ditch the PMI, a refinance might save you a lot of money via both a lower interest rate and from the absence of said PMI.


4. Shorten your Mortgage Term

Homeowners who want to aggressively pay down their mortgages could benefit by refinancing their 30-year mortgage into a shorter-term loan. In fact, a 15-year mortgage typically saves about 50% in interest over the life of the loan. That means you’ll not only be able to pay your mortgage off a lot faster without potentially breaking the bank, but will also save hundreds or even thousands of dollars in interest you would have otherwise paid throughout a 30-year mortgage.

POSTED: Jan 31, 2018
The Pitfalls of Buying a Foreclosed Home

At first glance, buying a foreclosed home may seem like an appealing option to homebuyers. These properties can give you an opportunity to move into a neighborhood that may otherwise be too expensive and give you a chance to take on remodeling projects that suit your style. However, homebuyers (especially first-time homebuyers) should think twice and proceed with extreme caution. These homes are likely to come with pitfalls and complications that will quickly turn a seemingly good deal into an expensive mistake.

Before you get into the murky business of shopping for a foreclosed home, check out these important considerations.

1. Neglect can lead to expensive repairs.

You might be ready to renovate a few bathrooms; install new floors and paint, but it’s important to remember that a home became foreclosed upon because its owners were in financial distress for an extended amount of time. This means that long-term neglect and the absence of even basic maintenance could result in a home needing significant repairs just to make it habitable.

While foreclosed homes will be in varying states of neglect, damages such as mold, broken pipes, vermin, faulty wiring, water damage and broken appliances are common and can run up an expensive bill.

Most importantly, potential buyers may not even have a chance to understand the extent of a home’s damage before they have to make a bid. This means you could be getting yourself into a money pit without even knowing.

2. The previous homeowners could create complications.

In addition to wear and neglect, it’s not uncommon for disgruntled homeowners facing eviction due to a foreclosure to intentionally devalue the home. Commonly, this includes breaking windows, pouring paint on the floors and breaking the thermostat. They may even remove fixtures such as countertops, vanities and appliances with the intention of making the process as unpleasant and expensive as possible for the homebuyer.

Current inhabitants can also become problematic if they refuse to leave the property. Legal eviction takes time and money and can delay your home buying plans.

3. Beware of inheriting unpaid bills.

Between a down payment; escrow; closing costs and fees, buying a home is an expensive milestone. However, buying a foreclosed home could mean you’ll also become responsible for any debt connected to the home as well. You could be on the hook for unpaid tax obligations, construction loans, unpaid utilities or liens on the property. It’s important to take the time to understand any financial obligations associated with the home and carefully consider what it may mean for you.


4. The buying and financing process is often frustrating.

Buying a foreclosed property can be a long and frustrating process with extra paperwork and slow response times. For example, if you’re buying a short sale you’ll be waiting on all parties – including the current owners, the primary lender, and any lienholders – to approve your offer. Occasionally, this process can take months.

Real Estate Owned (REO) properties, which are in the final stage of foreclosure, can be even more tedious to purchase, especially when it comes to financing. Because conventional mortgages are limited by the appraised value of the property, you’ll often need a lender approval letter saying that you qualify for the amount of the offer you are making. In other scenarios, you might need to use a use a loan product other than a mortgage, as some lenders and financial institutions do not offer mortgages for distressed properties.

These longer-than-normal processing times can also result in delays in the acceptance of your offer, which can impact financing. Most lenders have time limits on rate approvals. Waiting for a response could result in less favorable mortgage or loan terms if your approval expires and rates increase.

5. The competition is high.

From first-time homebuyers to seasoned investors, foreclosed properties attract a lot of interest because of their potential value.

Homes in the auction stage of foreclosure are particularly attractive to investors because they present the best opportunity to acquire property at a significant discount. However, those who aren’t accustomed with investigating foreclosed homes and are unsure of local property values might find it difficult to compete. Even worse, they may let their emotions get the better of them and end up overpaying for an undesirable home..

POSTED: Jan 30, 2018
MCU’s Five Things to Know: Must-Have Financial Conversations Before Getting Married

Money can’t buy happiness but being on the same page about finances with your partner can make for a happy relationship. If you’re looking to tie the knot soon, having important conversations about money can help start your marriage off on the right foot and remain successful for years to come.

Not sure where to start? Check out the five financial topics we think are most important for couples to discuss!

1. Budgeting

There’s no way around it – if you’re going to be spending your life with somebody, you should have an understanding of how you’ll be spending your money together too. It’s important to know how your partner prioritizes saving money in relation to traveling, expensive goods, entertainment, etc. And while knowing these preferences is important, it’s crucial that you’re both honest about you each stick to a budget. This will help create an understanding about how best to manage your money together.

You may not agree on everything but a conversation can help you avoid surprises and help to create a spending plan. This is important because without a budget and spending plan, you may find yourselves coming up short each month – or, even worse, find yourself with a mountain of debt.

If you need help creating a budget, check out our tips for creating an effective spending plan.

2. Sharing Fund and Accounts

While marriage means living together, some people don’t believe in keeping all or even some of their money together. A conversation about holding joint or personal accounts will help a couple to talk about the financial benefits of marriage and if they are comfortable sharing all of their new responsibilities and expenses. This topic can get especially tricky if one party sees sharing money as a marker of commitment more than the other. Nevertheless, the conversation it is beneficial to in set expectations for the future.

This conversation may also lead to the topic of a prenuptial agreement and how both parties feel about keeping their money together or separate in all potential scenarios. While discussing prenuptial agreements can feel uncomfortable on the eve of a marriage, more and more people are considering these contracts to be like insurance policies in the event that their relationship dissolves later on.

3. Financial Obligations

As mentioned above, couples should communicate their expenses and responsibilities before getting married. Oftentimes, this conversation will include any financial obligations or debts that each person is currently responsible for. Putting these expenses on the table will help couples set an effective budget and create trust between both parties, as it eliminates surprises that may arise once you’re married.


4. Retirement

Marriage is for the long haul so talking about the far-off future before walking down the aisle isn’t farfetched. Retirement savings and planning, as well as life insurance policies, will eventually be an important factor in the household income. To prepare for that time, talk about whether you participate in a retirement plan at work or contribute to an IRA. You could also make a plan to change the beneficiary information on any currently existing insurance policies.

5. Back-Up Plans

There’s a reason why many couples include the phrase “for richer or poorer” in their vows – life is full of financial surprises. When money gets tight, fear or frustration can cause couples to fight. The best way to weather these rough patches is to plan ahead by creating and growing an emergency fund. Important questions to discuss include what the ideal percentage of income should be funneled into the savings account and what the rules are for withdrawing funds from it.

POSTED: Jan 18, 2018
Five Things to Know: Protecting Yourself Against Card Skimming

Using your debit or credit card at an ATM or gas pump may seem harmless enough but consumers need to beware of the increasing popularity of card skimming scams on devices just like these. A card skimming scam occurs when an identity thief or criminal attaches a small, discrete device to a card reader in order to collect personal and financial information from your card. Most importantly, it reads your card number, which can be used later to print fake cards or for online payments.

These devices can be difficult to detect but taking a few simple steps can help keep your information safe.

1. Check Your Surroundings

As a rule of thumb, consumers should avoid freestanding ATMs and self-serve gas stations in less trafficked, poorly lit areas. However, you should always be aware of your surroundings before using your card, no matter where you are. Always take a look around to see if any sings on or near the machine have been disturbed, cameras appear to be moved or tampered with, or there are any individuals lingering near the machine and acting suspiciously. When in doubt, don’t use the machine.

2. Inspect the Machine

As criminals become more sophisticated, skimming devices will as well. However, consumers should always pay careful attention to what the card reader and keypad normally look like on the ATMs you use most frequently. If anything seems loose or out of place, don’t insert your card. It’s also important to check for small cameras that may also be tacked onto the machine near the key pad.

3. Turn on Your Bluetooth

Your phone can do more than help you send text messages and check your email – it can alert you to skimming devices. If your phone has Bluetooth scanning abilities, turning on your Bluetooth may help you to identify the connection used to remotely send information from the device to the criminal. If you do activate your Bluetooth near an ATM or gas pump and you see a random series of numbers and letters pops up, it could mean a skimmer is present. Never connect to the Bluetooth device and immediately notify a branch employee, shop owner or gas station attendant.

4. Cover Your PIN

As mentioned above, small cameras may be placed on the device in order to collect your PIN. While everything may seem in order and a keypad cover is in place, it’s always a good practice to use your hand as a cover the keypad as you enter your PIN just in case because in some scenarios identity thieves will stick a camera directly on the underside of the keypad cover.

5. Check Your Statements

Regularly checking account statements is the best way to detect fraud and mitigate damages. Consumers have limited time to report unauthorized activity on their checking account. However, if you report unauthorized activity within two days of that unauthorized activity, your financial institution will reimburse you for anything over $50. Additionally, letting us know about suspicious activity soon after it occurs could help your financial institution save others from the same kind of fraud.

POSTED: Jan 12, 2018
An MCU Scam Alert – January 2018

It may be a New Year but millions of Americans continue to face an old problem – identity theft. And while consumers are getting smarter about protecting their personal and financial information, scammers are too by combining classic tactics with new technology. Staying informed is the key to getting ahead. Check out these recently reported scams that are currently affecting hardworking people everywhere.

1. Don’t Get Caught in a “Confirm Your Account” Email Phishing Scam

An email from a retailer or utility asking you to verify your account information may seem harmless but consumers should be wary. Recent reports of fraudulent emails posing as companies like Amazon and AT&T are leaving many the victims of a phishing scam.

The emails look legitimate with subject lines that read similarly, to “We could not confirm the address associated with your account” and use official company brands and colors. However, once users click on the enclosed link, identity thieves are able to gain access to their victims’ personal and financial information stored on their devices and even saved on certain browsers.

How to Avoid an Email Phishing Scam

While identity thieves have gotten good at disguising email phishing scams, consumers can protect themselves by taking a few easy steps. These include:

• Check the URL: By hovering your mouse over the top of the URL, you should be able to see if the actual hyperlinked address is different from the one that is displayed. If it is, the message is likely fraudulent and clicking the link could leave your information compromised.

• Look for poor spelling and grammar: If a message is sent from a large company, it won’t be filled with poor grammar or spelling mistakes. If you see any of these errors or notice strange formatting in the email, disregard it immediately.

• Never share personal information or send money: No matter how official an email may seem, a reputable company will never send an email asking for password, credit card or security information. Similarly, any request or demand for a payment to cover expenses, taxes or fees is a strong indicator of a scam.

• When in doubt, make a phone call: Sometimes there won’t be anything particularly wrong about an email or the request a company is making. However, if you feel uneasy, trust your gut and call the organization to confirm the email is legitimate. Always use the phone number on the official website, not one provided within the email.

2. Don’t be Tempted by a TAP Tax Return

IRS scams aren’t new but as tax season continues to leave many feeling stressed and overwhelmed, some taxpayers may become vulnerable to fraud. A second phishing scam consumers should watch out for this season is one sent by identity thieves posing to be the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel (TAP) informing victims that they are eligible for a tax refund. Once they click on the link provided, their information will become at risk of theft.

Do not respond to the email, click on any link and delete the email immediately. TAP is a volunteer board that advises the IRS on systemic issues affecting taxpayers. It will never request, and does not have access to, any taxpayer’s personal or financial information.

It’s important to note that according to the IRS, thousands of people have lost millions of dollars in tax scams. As the tax season continues through April, some warning signs that your may have been victimized by one of these scams include:

• A delay or denial of your tax refund

• Loss of unemployment or disability benefits

• Damage to your credit history or score

• A notice from the IRS that your taxes have already been prepared and submitted

3. The “Easy Money” Scam Could be a Hard Lesson

The recent Mobile Money Code scam reported by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has cost victims $7 million and could be paving the way for similar “Easy Money Schemes” consumers will need to watch out for. The scam works by offering victims a chance to pay for a “secret code” to make huge sums of money automatically. Scammers are even taking extra steps to make their offers look convincing by using fake testimonials and high-pressure upselling.

Despite a convincing façade and an offer that will surely appeal to your emotions, consumers should remember that if a deal ever seems too good to be, you should always assume that it is. It is also important to never provide your credit card information or send a money order in exchange for prizes or returns that are promised to arrive in the future.

POSTED: Jan 12, 2018
How Your Spouse's Bad Credit Can Impact Your Score

By Ashley Dull

For many marriage-bound couples, one of the most stubborn myths they face when beginning sort their finances is the one insisting that our individual credit scores somehow merge when we get married, creating a single, joint credit score for each new couple.

The fact of the matter is that there are no joint credit scores, nor does your personal credit score take into account your marital status or alter because of a change in your marital status. Neither will changing your name, whether you take on your partner’s surname or choose to hyphenate, affect your credit score. (Although you should notify your creditors and the bureaus of your new legal name.)

That said, It’s important to note that some occasions do exist in which your partner’s credit can have an impact on your own credit. Specifically, any credit accounts co-signed by both partners will be reported on both credit reports, and both partners will be responsible for repaying the debt. This means if one partner misses a payment on a co-signed account, both credit scores will see the negative impact of a missed payment.

Additionally, if both partners apply for a joint line of credit, such as a home mortgage loan, the credit of each applicant will be assessed by the lender to determine the overall credit risk of the loan. While applying as a couple can improve the size of the loan -- two incomes are better than one, in many cases -- a low credit score can have its own costs.

In particular, if one partner has poor credit, the lender may charge a higher interest rate than the higher-credit score partner would receive alone. An increased interest rate on even a percentage of a percentage point can mean thousands over the life of a loan. Worse, depending on the credit of both applicants, the lender may choose to reject the credit application altogether.

While this issue can be circumvented by having only the partner with good credit apply for the loan – then adding the second partner to the account after the fact, if desired – applying with a single income can decrease the size of the loan for which you can qualify. A couple with a joint annual income of $100,000 may qualify for a mortgage of $425,000, for instance, while a single filer with an income of $50,000 may only qualify for a $200,000 mortgage.

In these cases, the best solution may be to focus on cleaning up the credit of the poor-credit partner, then apply again when both partners have good credit. Some issues, like erroneous or incomplete information, can be easily removed through a credit report dispute filed with the credit bureaus. With help from the best credit repair experts, the process can be remarkably simple, and an experienced company may be able to remove other types of negative marks, as well.

You can also start rebuilding a positive payment history with a new credit card, making sure to pay it on time every month. Even with troubled credit, you can find a card to help you rebuild, such as applying for the MCU Secured VISA®, or, for more options, try using a site like CardRates.com to compare credit cards for bad credit.

Of course, some things you will simply need to wait out, letting them fall off naturally as they expire. Legitimate, substantiated delinquencies, defaults, and other negative accounts can remain on your credit report for seven years, at which time they must be removed. The exception to this rule is a bankruptcy discharge, which can remain on your report for up to 10 years. On the plus side, as the accounts age, they will have less impact on your overall credit score.

One last reason to address credit issues sooner, rather than later, is the fact that any joint credit accounts remain the responsibility of both partners as long as both names are on the account -- regardless of the state of your marriage. Whether you end with divorce or make it “‘til death do we part,” your shared accounts will tie you together as surely as (if not more than) the ties of matrimony.

Ashley Dull is the Finance Editor at Digital Brands, Inc., where she oversees content published on CardRates.com and BadCredit.org. Ashley works closely with experts and industry leaders in every sector of finance to develop authoritative guides, news and advice articles with regards to audience interest.

This article is provided for general informational purposes only. The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not reflect an official position of MCU. The information contained in this article, including text, graphics, links or other items are provided "as is." MCU does not warrant the article’s accuracy, adequacy or completeness and expressly disclaims any liability for errors or omissions in this article. Any links contained in the article are provided as a convenience and inclusion does not imply any relationship or endorsement between MCU and the linked site

POSTED: Jan 04, 2018
Homeownership and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

The recently passed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA) is the largest overhaul to the American tax system in 30 years, bringing reforms to tax rates, tax brackets, and tax deductions. While these changes will affect taxpayers across all socioeconomic backgrounds, America's more-than 80 million homeowners may be among the first to be affected by this new legislation.

If you’re a homeowner or potential homebuyer in the New York area, important tax code changes could affect you. Check them out below!

1. Limits to Property Tax Deduction

Limitations to the state and local tax deduction (SALT), which includes property taxes, is one of the most buzzed about changes included in the TCJA. The deduction, which is often one of the most significant for homeowners, often helps push them over the standard deduction, putting more money in their pockets when they receive their tax refunds.

While the TCJA’s newly imposed SALT deduction limit of $10,000 ($5,000 for married taxpayers filing a separate return) won’t affect all homeowners, it may affect those living in high-tax areas. According to Moody's Analytics, this includes 30 percent of homeowners in New Jersey and nearly 20 percent of homeowners in New York.

It is important to note that while affected homeowners could be losing out by not being able to fully deduct their expenses, the new higher standard deduction could offset the loss. This means that many may no longer find it financially beneficial to itemize their taxes.

2. Reduced Mortgage Interest Deductions

New limitations on mortgage interest deductions may not affect most homeowners but could influence homebuyers shopping in expensive housing markets, including the greater New York area.

Previously homeowners could deduct the interest on a mortgage up to $1,000,000 (or $500,000 for married taxpayers filing separately). Under the new Act, anyone who takes out a mortgage for a primary home between now and December 31, 2025 can now only deduct interest on a mortgage of up to $750,000 (or $375,000 for married taxpayers filing separately).

The cap applies to all homes and mortgages. This means if you already have a $750,000 mortgage and want to buy a second home next year you will not qualify to deduct the interest on that loan. However, if you have a $500,000 mortgage and plan to buy a second home, the interest on up to $250,000 of your new mortgage will be deductible.

Existing mortgages are grandfathered into the previous tax code and current homeowners can continue to deduct the interest on a mortgage up to $1,000,000.

3. Closing a Home Equality Loan Loophole

One of the benefits of being a homeowner is the ability to use the equity in your property to cover expenses such as paying for tuition or taking a vacation. However, while home equity loans and home equity lines of credit (HELOC) have historically offered homeowners a relatively inexpensive form of borrowing, these financial products will now go without a once-added advantage.

Under the TCJA, homeowners will no longer be able to deduct the interest on their home equity-based loan products, something they were previously able to do up to $100,000. This new provision could cost a borrower several hundred dollars a year, depending on the loan amount.

4. Opportunities in the Housing Market

Less affordable monthly and annual costs for homeownership in high-tax, high-cost areas are expected to cause home prices to dip. Some experts believe the effects could trickle down to more affordable properties as well, which means opportunities for homebuyers across the board. According to Moody’s Analytics, housing prices will drop an estimated four percent nationwide and as much as 9.5 percent in Manhattan.

Taxpayers should be aware that the TCJA will affect individuals differently depending on many circumstances. To learn more about how this new legislation will specifically impact your tax situation, speak to your accountant or financial advisor.

POSTED: Dec 29, 2017
Planning for Retirement in 2018: What to Know

In 2018, important modifications and changes to retirement savings programs could impact the way savers plan for the future. Check out what’s new and different in the coming year to help maximize your retirement savings and best plan for the future.

1. Higher Contribution Limits for Workplace Retirement Plans

Employees who participate in certain retirement plans, including 401(k)s and 403(b)s, will be now be able to contribute as much as $18,500 to these accounts in 2018. This is a $500 increase from the current $18,000 limit, which was established in 2015.

2. Changes in Traditional IRA Deduction Phase-Outs

This year, contribution limits for both Traditional and Roth IRA plans will remain at $5,500 in 2018, with catch-up contributions of $1,000 for those 50 and over. However, retirement savers covered by a workplace retirement plan (such as a 401(k)) will need to keep an eye on new traditional IRA tax deduction income phase-out limits.

For single taxpayers, the 2018 Traditional IRA full deduction limit will be an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $63,000. The tax deduction is then phased out at a reported $73,000 adjusted gross income.

For married couples, the phase-out range will depend on whether the IRA contributor is covered by a workplace retirement plan or not. When the spouse who is investing has access to an employer plan, a couple can make an AGI of $101,000 to $121,000 in order to enjoy a full IRA deduction. For individuals who don't have a retirement plan but are married to someone who does, the phase out has been raised to and AGI of $189,000 to $199,000.

3. Increased Income Limits for Roth IRAs

An after-tax Roth IRA is a great way to plan for retirement, as it offers tax-free withdrawals made after the account holder turns 59 ½ years old. However, income limitations apply to those interested in contributing to these accounts. In 2018, individuals who earn less than $135,000 ($199,000 for couples) are eligible to make Roth IRA contributions; this is a $2,000 increase from 2017.

4. Increased Income Limits for the Saver’s Credit

The Savers Credit is geared to help low-to middle income retirement savers by offering a tax credit worth between 10 and 50 percent of retirement contributions, up to $2,000 for Individuals and $4,000 for couples.

In 2018, workers can now earn $500 more than last year and still qualify for the retirement savings contributions credit. This means savers who earn up to $31,500 as an individual, $47,250 as a head of household or $63,000 as part of a married couple are now eligible for the saver's credit, which can be claimed in addition to the tax deduction for saving in a traditional 401(k) or IRA.

It’s important to note that the Savers Credit can reduce the amount of tax owed to zero, but it cannot be used to provide a tax refund.

5. The Discontinuation of MyRA

Due to lack of participation, the MyRA program has been discontinued and, as of December 2017, no longer accepts new deposits from participants. However, retirement savers who want to continue to enjoy the tax benefits the program have the option to roll over their balance to a Roth IRA.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury has notified MyRA participants of the program’s discontinuation. However, those with questions about the changes and options ahead can visit www.myRA.gov for additional information.

POSTED: Dec 20, 2017
MCU’s Tips for Sticking to Your Financial Resolutions in 2018

Welcoming in the New Year means taking on new resolutions. If your goals for 2018 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 2018.

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 19, 2017
The Benefit of Direct Deposit For Your Tax Refund
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Still getting your tax refund by mail? Try direct deposit and receive it earlier! Without having to visit a branch location, your refund will be made available quickly and easily as it is automatically electronically deposited into your checking or savings (share) account! According to the IRS, eight out of 10 taxpayers have already jumped on board with this method of receiving their refund and it’s easy to understand why – at no cost to you, your refund can be safely and securely deposited into up to three separate accounts.

To receive your tax refund through direct deposit, simply select it as your refund method through your tax software and type in the account number and routing number (you can even select this option when filing your taxes on paper!) or let your tax preparer know you want your refund delivered via direct deposit. To help avoid any errors, be sure to double check your entry to avoid errors.

If you’re not sure what your routing and account numbers are, you can locate them easily on your personal checks.

POSTED: Dec 06, 2017
Five End-of-Year Tips for Preparing your Taxes

For many of us, end-of-year celebrations and the holiday season can fill our calendars and minds. However, they can also become distractions from the upcoming tax season looming ahead. By taking just a few small steps with your taxes now, you can make a big difference when it comes time to file. Check out our tips below!

1. Get Organized

Whether you plan to file your taxes yourself or to hire a professional preparer, you’ll need to be sure you have all of your paperwork in order. This means taking time to locate all of your invoices, bank statements, W-2 forms and proof of investments and putting them in the same format and the same system. This may be as easy as scanning them into a PDF document or preparing original documents in a folder or file that can be saved securely and located easily.

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.

Because taxpayers are supposed to hold onto these tax documents for up to seven years, creating an organized system won’t just prepare you for this year’s tax filing, but will also come in handy if you should ever find yourself being auditing.

2. Contribute to your Tax-Deferred Retirement Accounts

If you’ve received an end-of-year raise or bonus, consider putting it towards your 401(k) or IRA in order to maximize your tax-deferred contributions for the year. According to the IRS, a worker under the age of 50 is allowed to contribute up to $18,000 to his or her 401(k) in 2017, while those over the age of 50 can contribute up to $24,000.

While it may not seem plausible to set aside the maximum contribution amount, workers should aim to at least contribute the maximum that may be matched by their employer or whatever may fit your budget. Learn more about maximizing your 401(k) contribution here.

According to TurboTax, taxpayers should also consider contributing to their Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), which can be made for 2017 up until April 17, 2018. You can contribute a maximum of $5,500 to an IRA for 2017, as well as an extra $1,000 if you are 50 or older.

These contributions will not only allow you to benefit from tax-deferred financial growth, but will also reduce your taxable income.

3. Consider your Charitable Giving

If you plan to itemize your tax deductions, any donation you’ve made to a charitable organization throughout the year, even as late as December 31, can benefit you with a tax deduction. These donations can be both monetary and nonmonetary and will require different kinds of paperwork for when filing your taxes.

For example, a monetary donation, whether by cash, credit card, check, or payroll deduction will require a written statement from the charity, which you can ask for at the time of your donation. If you’re lacking an acknowledgment, contact the charity and ask for it, as you’ll need it for when you file your return.

Similarly, if you have donated an item, you’ll need to keep detailed receipts for your records. If the total value of your donation exceeds $500, there are certain items that your tax preparer will need to claim the charitable contribution on your tax return, including a receipt of the donation (along with the date of the donation and the charity’s details) and the market value of the item donated.

4. Set up a Meeting with your Tax Preparer

If you do plan to have a professional file your taxes, now is the time to set up an appointment. April 17 – tax day – may seem far away but tax accountants and preparers can become inundated quickly. Booking early can save you the stress of potentially being turned away and will give you time to make sure your preparer has everything he or she will need.

POSTED: Dec 06, 2017
Holiday Scams to Avoid this Season

To many, the holidays mean gift giving and family. Unfortunately, this time of year is also a time when fraud and identity theft affect consumers at alarming rates. While consumers are getting smarter, identity thieves are using new tricks and schemes to get their hands on financial and personal information. In fact, according to ACI Worldwide, fraud attempts are expected to increase by 30 percent this peak holiday season, compared to last year!

From gift card scams to fake charities, check out the common holiday scams consumers will need to watch out for this year!

1. Charity Cons

The holidays are a great time to give back to your community and donate to charitable organizations. However, an intended good deed could put leave you a victim of scammers or identity thieves. Recently, scammers have been found to send emails posing as popular or seemingly legitimate charities and asking for you to make a donation via your credit card. Once you make a payment, thieves will have access to your personal and financial information.

If you receive an email asking for a donation, it’s best to be skeptical and to go straight to the charity’s website and make a donation there. If you’re unsure if the charity is legitimate, check out charities at give.org before donating, or contact the charity directly to make sure they sent the donation request.

2. Gift Card Fraud

Gift cards can be great gifts for loved ones during the holidays. However, consumers should be aware of the following gift card schemes that could sour the Season of Giving. For example, scammers are increasingly selling counterfeit and fraudulent gift cards on auction websites and sellers have been found to overstate the value of real gift cards they are selling so buyers will overpay.

To make sure you’re getting a fair deal on your purchase, avoid purchasing gift cards from third-party vendors.

3. Holiday eCard Phishing Scams

It’s not uncommon to receive a holiday eCard but don’t let a subject line like “Merry Christmas” distract you from always being alert and cautious before opening an email. Fake notifications for eCards have become an increasingly common and an often-successful way for scammers to trick you into letting down your defenses. You click on a link that will supposedly take you to a greeting, but instead the link unleashes a malicious program that will give cyber-crooks remote access to your online bank accounts and passwords.

To help combat this scam, always check to see if you recognize the email address from which the e-card was sent and keep an eye out for grammatical or spelling errors within the email’s content. If it seems suspicious, do not click on any links within the email and delete it immediately.

4. Fraudulent Shopping Apps

Shopping on your smartphone or tablet? You’re definitely not alone. eCommerce statistics show that in 2017, 62 percent of smartphone users have made a purchase online using their mobile device in the last 6 months.

To help protect your information this holiday season, look twice before you download a shopping app. In 2016 alone, hundreds of fake retail and product apps were reported in the Apple App Store in the weeks leading up to the holidays. Oftentimes, these counterfeit apps look strikingly similar to those belonging to popular retail chain stores and luxury-goods makers.

While many of them may be relatively harmless knockoff apps that serve for popup ads, accidentally entering any card or personal information can lead to potential fraud.

POSTED: Nov 16, 2017
MCU’s Tips for Avoiding Financial Stress this Holiday Season

The holidays may be a time of fun, feast and family, but the “Season of Giving” can also mean overspending and financial anxiety. Between entertaining, buying gifts and traveling, the holidays can leave a strain on your budget and cause financial anxiety. Luckily, avoiding holiday financial stress is possible. Check out our easy tips can help you save money, stay on budget and keep the “Happy” in “Happy Holidays!” this season.

1. Create a Budget and Stick to it

It’s easy to get carried away during the holidays but according to a survey commissioned VISA Inc., shoppers shouldn’t spend more than 1.5 percent of their household annual budget on holiday gifts and entertainment. A great way to stay on track financially with gift-giving is to create a micro budget for each person you plan to buy a gift for. This will keep you thinking about your budget with each purchase.

2. Plan Your Holiday Travel in Advance

It’s true the holidays can sneak up on you, but getting a head start on your shopping before the season is in full swing will give you the opportunity to take advantage of more sales and compare prices as you go. If you’re one of the more than 98 million Americans who will travel during this holiday season, you can save hundreds of dollars just by booking tickets in advance. According to a study published by CheapAir.com, the optimal time to book flights at the lowest price is more than seven weeks in advance. For example, the cheapest flights around Thanksgiving were booked 14 weeks in advance.

3. Avoid Last Minute Shopping Situations

In addition to planning your travel in advance, making enough time to check everything off of your shopping list in advance will help you to avoid over spending. This is because you’ll have enough to time to find the right gifts that are also right for your budget, instead of rushing to get items wrapped and on their way to loved ones. Shopping in advance will also help you to fight stress and avoid chaos, crowds and long lines that come with heading to the stores just days before the holidays.

4. Keep an eye out for coupons, discounts and deals

While Black Friday and Cyber Monday are known for their great sales, seasonal and holiday coupons can also save you some money when it comes to shopping. If you’re shopping online, be sure to search the web for existing coupon or promo codes before finalizing your purchase. These codes oftentimes go under the radar and aren’t well publicized. This little known trick can go a long way when it comes to saving this holiday season!

5. Create a Separate Savings Account for Holiday and Gift Expenses

Creating a designated account for gifts, entertainment and travel can help relieve financial stress by keeping your everyday saving separate from what you’ve set aside for the holidays. By only allowing yourself to withdrawn from your designated holiday account will also help to stick to your designated budget.

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!

6. Set up Account Alerts

There’s nothing more stressful than having your financial or personal information compromised during the holiday season. As you increase your card utilization online, at ATMs and while making purchases at the shops, you may be at a greater risk of having your card information compromised. Keeping an eye on your accounts is one of the best ways to spot and report potential fraud as early as possible, potentially saving you time, hassle and money.
One of the easiest ways for members to monitor their MCU accounts for suspicious activity is to enroll in MCU Account Alerts through NYMCU® Online Banking. These email or text message* notifications will be automatically sent to your cell phone or email when certain activity occurs within your account. If you do receive a notification regarding your account that looks out of the ordinary or suspicious, be sure to let us know immediately!

* Standard text message rates apply according to your plan. Delivery of alerts may be delayed for various reasons.

POSTED: Nov 07, 2017
Cyber Monday Shopping Safety Tips

With bigger and better deals every year and the convenience of avoiding the holiday mayhem at the shops, it’s no wonder why nearly 70 percent of consumers are expected to jump online to take advantage of Cyber Monday deals this year.

While Cyber Monday may mean saving big, it’s important for consumers to stay savvy when it comes to shopping online all holiday season. And with a reported more than 50 percent of Cyber Monday shoppers planning to make purchases from their mobile devices, protecting your financial and personal security will mean taking extra precautions.

Check out our tips below!

1. Stick to Secure Websites

Only submit your card details or sensitive information to secure websites. These websites ensure a safe, encrypted channel for a website to transfer data to a browser, and vice versa. They also verify the identity of each party — the vendor and consumer – and guarantee that your data will not be intercepted.

To be sure you are using a secure website, check for a small padlock symbol in the address bar. The web address will also begin with “https://:” (the s stands for 'secure').

2. Don’t Shop on Unsecured Wi-Fi Hotspots

Free public Wi-Fi networks can often be found in coffee shops, restaurants and airports. While these hotspots are handy, they should be used cautiously, especially when it comes to accessing personal information. Unsecured Wi-Fi networks don’t require passwords and can be easily hacked by thieves who can gather all of the sites you accessed while on the network and all of the personal information you entered there.

Stick to shopping on a secure Wi-Fi hotspot that requires a password or use your phone’s network data.

3. Don’t Fall for “Too-Good-To-Be-True” Offers

You may be on the prowl for great Cyber Monday deals but if it looks too good to be true, it’s best to assume it is. Identity thieves and cybercriminals are known to prey on bargain hunters this time of year. Watch out especially for email and text messages promising unreal deals. By clicking on links within these messages, you could be leaving your device vulnerable phishing software or malware.

4. Update Your Anti-Virus Software

Keeping Anti-virus and anti-phishing tools on all computers can help you to detect and remove viruses and keyloggers that can steal your personal and financial information. Updating these systems regularly will help you to protect your devices from the latest viruses and will help to cover any upgrades you may have made within your operating system.

5. Check for Fraudulent Apps

Shopping on your phone or tablet? Look twice before you download an app. In 2016 alone, hundreds of fake retail and product apps were reported in the Apple App Store in the weeks leading up to the holidays. Oftentimes, these counterfeit apps look strikingly similar to those belonging