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POSTED: Sep 11, 2019
MCU’s Guide to a Financially Stress-Free Holiday Season

The holidays may be a time for fun and family, but it’s no secret that the “Season of Giving” can also mean overspending and financial anxiety. Entertaining, shopping, and traveling can quickly put a strain on your budget and take the happy right out of “happy holidays”.

The good news: Avoiding holiday financial stress is possible. Check out our easy tips here on how to get started!

1. Create a Budget and Stick to It

It’s all fun and games until your post-holiday bills start to show up. While it’s easy to get carried away during the holidays, setting and sticking to a defined budget will help you stay focused on not breaking the bank. A great way to stay on track is to create a micro budget for each component of your holidays – travel, entertainment, gifts. You can even create a budget for each person on your shopping list. This strategy will keep your budget at the front of your mind at all times.

2. Plan Your Holiday Travel in Advance

There’s no place like home for holidays, but if you’re like a reported 98 million Americans who plan on traveling this season, you could be looking at a pretty steep bill. In fact, last year, Americans expected to spend an average of $930 traveling during this holiday season!

Our advice: Plan ahead. Holiday travelers 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

Life can get pretty hectic this time of year, but leaving your holiday shopping to the last minute is a recipe for a blown budget. Shopping on a tight deadline can leave you much less interested in getting the best price and much more eager to get in and out of stores (and away from the crowds). Sound familiar? We’ve been there.

Start your shopping early. This strategy will give you the time to find the right gifts that are also right for your budget, instead of rushing to 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 ahead of 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 purchases. These codes oftentimes go unnoticed and aren’t well publicized, but this little known trick can go a long way when it comes to this holiday season!

Shoppers should also follow their favorite retailers and brands on social media. These companies are constantly tweeting and posting about great promos and limited offers during the holiday season, which will help you stay up-to-date on great deals.

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 not only set savings aside, to also build your holiday budget throughout the whole year. 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: Aug 30, 2019
Financial Steps to Take after Long-Term Unemployment

Starting a new job after being out of the workforce can be a great feeling. However, it’s actually only really the first step to getting back on your feet. Unemployment, especially long-term unemployment, can come with significant financial implications that can last for months or even years after you’ve settled into your role.

The good news: taking steps early on to create a recovery plan can go a long way. Check out our tips below on how to get started!

1. Take Inventory of Your Financial Situation

Facing your financial reality after a period of unemployment can be daunting, but it’s the first step to making a plan that will get you back on track in a way that works best for you.

The good news is that taking inventory of your finances is pretty simple and something that you can successfully do on your own. Start by going through all of your outstanding bills, bank statements, and credit reports. Think of each of these financial components as puzzle pieces that, when put together, will help you gain full picture of your current situation.

2. Create a New Budget

Your financial situation will change many times throughout your life and your budget will have to adjust as well.

You may have had a budget before unemployment and even a new (and leaner) budget while you weren’t working, but neither of these spending plans will work for you now. It’s time to go back to the drawing board and create a budget that will account for your financial reality. By creating a breakdown of your current expenses, income, goals, and debts, you’ll be able identify areas that need the most attention, cut back on wasteful spending, adapt quickly to financial emergencies, and plan ahead.

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

3. Prioritize High Interest Rates

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that high interest debt is expensive and it only gets more expensive as the months go by. To help combat these growing costs, prioritize these debts, which usually come in the form of high-interest credit cards and short-term loans, in your spending plan.

However, it’s important to note that prioritizing debt repayments doesn’t mean paying off one bill at a time and ignoring the rest. Borrowers should always work to make the minimum payment on each debt in order to help keep their account and credit score in good standing.

To learn more about strategically taking on debt, check out our tips here.

4. Start to Rebuild Your Emergency Fund

It can be tough to focus on rebuilding your savings when you’re catching up on your financial obligations and faced with the opportunity to make essential purchases you’ve been holding off on (such as home repairs or appliance upgrades). However, if the realities of unemployment teach anything, it’s the importance of having an emergency fund when faced with unexpected expenses. Not only do these savings serve as a safety net, it can keep you from resorting to taking on high-interest debt or making desperate financial decisions in tough times.

Start saving as early as possible. A fully funded emergency fund is completely separate from your other savings and makes up about 4-6 months of your total living expenses – so it’s no surprise they take a lot of time and planning to create!

5. Be patient and set SMART goals.

Turning around a tough financial situation takes time. Expecting quick fixes and immediate gratification will not only leave you disappointed, it may derail your progress. To help stay on track as you work to get back on financial track, it’s important to set goals that are “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 conditions, but under your current circumstances as well.

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.

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

Summer, we barely knew thee.

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

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

1. Review, Reuse, and Recycle Your Supply Inventory

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

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

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

2. Shop with Gift Cards

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

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

3. Check out Your Local Grocery Store

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

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

4. Dress for a Successful Budget

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

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

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

5. Shop for Gently Used or Refurbished Electronics

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

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

6. Scout for Sales –They’re Everywhere!

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

POSTED: Jul 16, 2019
Debunking Credit Score Myths


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Make a plan for your debt.

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

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

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

2. Create an Emergency Fund

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

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

3. Participate in an Employer-Sponsored Retirement Program

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

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

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

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

4. Decide What Your Next Big Goals Are

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

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

POSTED: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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
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 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: 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 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: Oct 13, 2017
Reaching Financial Goals as a Family

Whether you’re looking to purchase a new home, save for retirement or just get out of debt, enlisting every member of your family and household is an important step as you work towards reaching your financial goals. It may not always be easy to talk about money but sharing information, brainstorming and making changes together over time can help families create positive financial habits and even bring people closer together.

To get started on successfully creating and implementing a new family budget, check out these tips below.

1. Get Everyone Involved

Families can often make the mistake of relying on one person to manage the money but the first step to successfully reaching a financial goal is to get everybody involved and aware of the situation.

If you’ve been primarily managing the family finances, it’s important to help everyone understand that the family has new goals that require everyone to make changes. While these conversations are difficult, it’s important for them to take place while every member of the family (including children) is present and to remember to consider all of the comments and questions of each family member.

These conversations are especially important, otherwise absent family members can derail the process.

2. Work Together to Develop an Accurate Diagnosis

Before a family can begin to manage their money differently, they’ll need to take time to fully understand their cash flow. To do this, keep track and make a list of all of your earnings and spending for approximately 2-3 months. Be sure to record every purchase, no matter how small.

Tracking your spending will quickly reveal where problems occur but it’s important not to let family members blame each other. Many small problems may resolve themselves once every member of the family understands the issue, but others will require you to work together.

3. Create a “Game Plan” Everybody Can Get Behind

A game plan can’t be successful if the whole family isn’t on board and ready to follow it. This means everyone’s input, priorities and ideas will need to be included so that each person feels heard and validated. Including the entire family will also help everybody understand that these changes require teamwork and collaboration. For example, the family may agree to start packing lunches instead of eating out, take public transportation more often or begin sharing more often.

Putting this plan together is a great opportunity to get creative. When every member of the family is involved and willing to be flexible, approaches or schedules that seemed unworkable can suddenly become possible.

The game plan should always be put in writing, and should include a contingency plan to specify what happens if the family fails to meet the goals. This is especially reassuring for children, who need to know there’s a “Plan B” so family members can refer to it when questions arise.

4. Don’t Keep Spending Changes a Secret From Extended Family

Sharing your decision to make positive financial changes with friends and extended family is a great way to find additional support from loved ones and even pick up a few tips. For example, they may be more willing to hold a potluck instead of having dinner at a restaurant if they know an evening out isn’t in your budget anymore.

Your announcement may even free other family members to discuss their own issues and concerns. Issues that can be addressed include meals out, unnecessary driving trips, gifts, clothes, and special activities.

POSTED: Sep 26, 2017
Credit 101: Tackling Frequently Asked Questions

Credit is important. However, if you’re feeling in the dark about what it is and how it works, you’re definitely not alone. According to a recent study conducted by NerdWallet and Harris Polls, most Americans don’t understand the basic ins and outs of credit.

Knowing how credit works and how it can affect you is an important step in the journey to achieving your financial goals. Not sure where to start? Check out our FAQ!

What is a Credit Score?

A credit score is a number between 300 and 850 that is calculated from an individual’s credit report and can play a significant role in how lenders assess your credit-worthiness, which is simply how trustworthy a financial institution or creditor determines you to be. For example, a strong credit score and history demonstrates to potential employers, utility companies, financial institutions and even landlords that you are a responsible person who pays their bills on time.

It’s important to note that each person has several different credit scores. Most notably, the three major credit rating agencies Experian, Equifax and TransUnion will each generate their own.

What Makes Up a Credit Score?

While information such as age, income, ethnicity and marital status don’t influence your credit score, five key factors will affect your score to varying degrees. They are:

  • Payment history (35 percent). You payment history takes into account how reliable you have been in making payments on time and if you have any payment delinquencies.
  • Credit utilization (30 percent). This factor measure how much you owe on your accounts and the amount of available credit used on your revolving accounts.
  • Length of credit history (15 percent). Your credit history is made up of how long accounts have been opened the length of time since credit cards were last used.
  • Types of credit used (10 percent). The mix of accounts you have, such as revolving and installment can play role in your credit score.
  • New credit (10 percent). This refers to your pursuit of new credit, including credit inquiries and the number of recently opened accounts.

What are the Benefits of a Good Credit Score?

Having a good credit score, which is considered to be 720 or higher, comes with several important benefits, including:

  • Increased credit card limits
  • Competitive mortgage and refinancing rates
  • Lower financing rates for loans and insurance
  • Excellent credit card deals
  • Leverage when negotiating with lenders

How Can a Poor Credit Score Affect Me?

Having a poor credit score, which is considered to be 620 or lower, can come with significant drawbacks, including:

  • Higher interest rates on credit cards and loans
  • Difficulty getting approved for a loan or credit card
  • Trouble getting approved for an apartment
  • Security deposits required for utilities
  • More expensive insurance premiums

How Can I Build Credit?

The key to building a good credit score is to avoid carrying a lot or debt and to create a borrowing history that demonstrates you are able to consistently pay your bills on time.

To start, set up automatic payments for fixed monthly bills, like cell phones or cable. This will not only make paying your bills easy, but will ensure you never miss a payment. If you are unable to set up an automatic payment, setting a reminder for when bills are due can also help.

Having a healthy relationship with credit is also important and having a credit card can help to bolster your credit score even if it’s only used minimally. If you don’t qualify for a traditional credit card, consider a secured credit card like the MCU Secured VISA® Credit Card, where you can obtain a credit line equal to the deposit you make, helping you to steadily improve your credit score.

My Credit Isn’t Great. How Can I Started to Rebuild it?

In addition to working towards creating a strong payment history, those with already damaged credit will have to work extra hard to show they can have a healthy relationship with credit. This means that paying down your debt is essential. Freezing your credit cards or using them only in emergencies is the first step.

Once you’ve taken on a new attitude towards using your credit card, you’ll need to set up a plan in which you can put a large piece of your budget towards your highest interest credit cards, while maintaining your other minimum payments will be the most effective step to minimizing your debt.

You can also consider consolidating your debt in order to pay it off more easily. However, It’s important to make sure the loan you are taking in order to consolidate your debts comes with decent rates and terms.

How Can I Check My Credit Score?

Before you look to an online service for your credit score, check your credit card and loan statements. Many major credit card companies and some auto loan companies have begun to provide credit scores for all their customers on a monthly basis.

However, checking your credit score isn’t enough. As a consumer, you’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies Equifax, Experian and Transunion. 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.

POSTED: Aug 22, 2017
MCU's Tips for Saving Your First $1,000

If you’re having a difficult time building a nest egg, you’re definitely not alone. According to a recent survey conducted by GoBankingRates.com, a whopping 69 percent of Americans have reported having less than $1,000 in savings. More than half of those surveyed also reported that they would be unable to cover a $500 expense.

Breaking a paycheck-to-paycheck cycle can be difficult but it’s an important step in becoming financially secure and working towards long-term goals. Whether you’re new to managing your money or trying to break old habits, we’ve come up with some easy ways to start working towards saving your first $1,000. Check them out below!

1. Create a budget

A budget is a visual tool to help you manage your spending within your means so it’s easy to see how it’s the first step to creating spending plan that will allow you to start saving.

To start, keep track of your cash flow to help understand all of your costs and prioritize your spending. For example, once seeing your cash flow written down, you may be able to decide that while you need Wi-Fi, you can do without an expensive cable package. You’ll need to pay rent or your mortgage but can decide not to run your AC unit all summer or pay down debt before you can take a vacation. You may also prioritize exactly how much of your budget you would like to save.

Remember, not all expenses or sources of income occur within a single month. For example, your tax return may appear once a year, your car insurance bill may come due twice a year and homeowner association fees may only occur quarterly.

2. Cut back on small luxuries

If you’re working on a tight budget, making compromises on small luxuries can pack a big punch. These changes may include:

  • Packing lunch
  • Making coffee at home
  • Buying generic brand items
  • Canceling unnecessary magazine/newspaper subscriptions

3. Find a “side gig”

When cutting back isn’t enough, picking up a side gig is a great way to earn extra cash that can go straight into savings. 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.com, 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!

4. Open a savings/share account that’s right for you

If you’re one of the more than 9 million people in the United States who don’t have a savings account, it’s time to open one. Having a savings account will not only give you a secure place to keep your savings but it will help you make your money work for you with interest. As an added benefit, account holders can set up direct deposit so a percentage of their paycheck goes directly into their account, helping them to set a pace for their savings without thinking about it.

However, not all savings products are created equal so it’s important to shop around for the account that works best for you. This means considering a credit union (who have share accounts), as they are known for having better interest rates and fewer penalties and fees.

POSTED: Jun 13, 2017
MCU’s Tips for Using Your Credit Card When Traveling

Whether you’re traveling for business or taking a much needed vacation, using your credit card is an easy and convenient way to cover your expenses when you’re on the road. Before leaving home, check out our credit card tips for traveling below!

1. Let us know you’re traveling.* If you’re traveling, your card activity will certainly look unusual and may result in a hold being placed on your account for security purposes. Letting us know your travel plans will help us keep your card active and your trip running smoothly.

2. Check your card’s expiration date.* An expired credit card won’t be any help on your trip. Double check your expiration dates before you leave home, especially if you’ll be traveling for an extended period. MCU will send members a new credit card approximately two weeks before the current one expires. However, if you plan to be away during that time you can call to request a new card ahead of schedule.

3. Set up NYMCU Online and Mobile Banking. Having access to your accounts and credit card information can prove to be extremely helpful when traveling, especially if you need to make a payment or check your balance. Members can sign up for NYMCU Online Banking at nymcu.org or download the MCU Mobile Banking App to their iPhone or Android smartphone.

4. Spend Like a Local. 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 exchange rate and save money by opting to initially pay with local currency.

5. Report a lost or stolen card ASAP. Mistakes happen. If you lose or misplace your credit card, contact us to put a stop on it immediately and prevent it from being used by someone else. A replacement card can also be arranged. To contact MCU regarding a lost or stolen credit card, call (800) 449-7728.

*To contact MCU, call (212) 693-4900.

POSTED: Apr 21, 2017
MCU’s Summer Energy Saving Tips

It’s no secret that combating the seasonal heat can be expensive. In fact, according to the Energy Information Administration, approximately 42% of all home energy costs are directly related to heating and cooling. As the summer months are quickly approaching, New Yorkers may be excited for the longer days, barbeques and trips to the beach but their understandably less excited for the much anticipated bump in their energy bills. Luckily, small changes can make a big difference when it comes to staying cool and sticking to a budget this summer. Check out our tips below!

Mind your lights

It’s easy to forget that your household lights can be a source of heat in your home. By turning off unnecessary lights, you’ll help to mitigate the heat in your home on a warm day. It is also important to note that while, energy bills tend to increase in the summer, making a simple change such as replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent light (CFL) and light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs can help to manage the amount of electricity used within the household.

Use your fan

Running a ceiling fan can help make a room feel 3 to 4 degrees cooler. While that may not seem like much relief from the summer heat, it can help you cut back on your energy-eating air conditioning system by working to circulate the cooler air.

Air seal and insulate your home

Noticed a draft lately? Air that leaks through your home's envelopes - the outer walls, windows, doors, and other openings – allows for cool air to easily escape, which wastes a lot of energy and increases your utility costs. Well insulated homes can help keep cool air sealed in your home and make a real difference on your utility bills. To get started, cover up any openings under doors, around windows and close the fireplace damper when not in use, which is the same as an open window.

Invest in a programmable thermostat

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!

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 down before you return home or wake up.

Move furniture away from vents

If you have central air, you may want to check the placement of your furniture. You may not realize it but large furniture pieces or area rugs throughout your home may be blocking air vents, obstructing air flow and causing you to be setting your air conditioning to a higher setting than actually needed.

POSTED: Apr 04, 2017
MCU’s Tips for Creating an Effective Spending Plan

If you’re struggling to keep track of how you’re spending, a spending plan or budget will help you to plan and 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 a financial emergencies and even achieve new financial goals.

1. Know Your Cash Flow

A budget is a tool to help you manage your spending within your means so it’s easy to see how the first step to developing an effective spending plan is to know both your income and expenses. Remember, not all expenses or sources of income occur within a single month. For example, your tax return and your car insurance bill may only appear once a year and home owner association fees may only occur quarterly.

To get the best idea of your cash flow, keep track and make a list of all of your earnings and spending for approximately 2-3 months. Be sure to record every purchase, no matter how small. Remember, a daily cup of gourmet coffee may not seem like much but the expense will add up! Known expenses and sources of income that occur outside of that time frame should be factored and planned for as well.

Creating a visual of your cash flow will not only help you determine how well you are managing your money, but will also aid you in determining how you can make changes to your spending habits.

2. Identify Your Financial Priorities

For most consumers, making choices about where to allocate funds is a necessary part of budgeting. This requires being able to differentiate between your wants and needs.

For example, once seeing your cash flow written down, you may be able to decide that you while you need wifi, you can do without an expensive cable package. You’ll need to pay rent or your mortgage but can decide not to run your AC unit all summer or pay down debt before you can take a vacation. You may also prioritize exactly how much of your budget you would like to save.

Prioritizing these expenses will help you to make the tough choices that will help you live within your means.

3. Set Goals

It’s difficult to change your spending habits and lifestyle without a goal to work towards. Whether, you’re working to pay off debt or reach a financial milestone, setting an objective for you budget will play an important role in how successfully you stick to it. In addition to staying committed to your budget, a long or short-term goal will also help you to focus your actions, research and resources.

4. Expect the Unexpected

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 situation. No matter what your debt situation is, you should also begin saving for a rainy day. Before you work toward your financial goals, it’s important to have a safety net 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 saving for a rainy day make mean a delay in achieving other financial goals, these savings will ensure that your financial situation will be secure even during a difficult time.

POSTED: Mar 15, 2017
MCU’s Tips for Talking to Kids About Money

Talking to kids about money can help them develop positive habits that will stay with them throughout their entire lives. According to the National Standards for Financial Literacy, young people who learn about money early on are more inclined to make positive financial decisions, and better understand the trade-offs in the financial choices they make.

While it’s important to talk to kids about money early on, it can also be a challenge. To get started, check out our tips below.

Budgeting: Show and Tell

An allowance can help to introduce children to money but discussing a budget can help further their understanding of its importance.

By discussing expenses like the cost of new school clothes or favorite toys, kids can have a better idea what a dollar is worth and how important it is to plan on how to spend their money. These budgets can also help children to understand the importance of long-term saving for larger expenses they may want.

Depending on your level of comfort, parents can also invite their children to help plan the family budget to help them consider larger and more complex goals, such as monthly bills, groceries and saving for college.

Play money- themed games

Kids learn in many different ways. For many, this is through doing activities and having fun while they’re at it.

In addition to talking about a real-life budget, age-appropriate games, apps and toys can engage children and help them to think about the value of money and financial strategies. Games like Monopoly, Pay Day and the Game of Life may be classics but are still a great place to start.

Open a Youth Savings Account

A youth savings account is a great interactive way to get kids on their way to financial literacy. Taking children on trips to your credit union to complete to make a deposit and sitting down to review monthly statements are not only opportunities to spend time together, but to also teach basic banking skills and the importance of saving for the future.

MCU’s Smart Apple Savers and Future Investors accounts offer our young members features and benefits to make saving easy including:

• Minimum opening deposit of $10

• Earned share dividend rates

• Quarterly statements

• Dividends compounded and credited quarterly

• No minimum balance requirements, changes or fees

POSTED: Dec 29, 2016
What to Know About Debt Consolidation

Even in the best of situations, managing debt is stressful and it can quickly become increasingly complicated as individuals struggle to manage multiple overdue balances and work with different creditors. As accounts become difficult to keep track of and interest continues to compound on unpaid bills, it can be easy to feel like the situation is out of control. Fortunately, options such as debt consolidation can help individuals regain control and begin the path to being debt-free.


Know Your Options

There are a few different methods to consolidate debt, in order to make the best decision for your circumstances, it is always best to be informed.

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 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. A loan may be obtained from your financial institution in the form of a personal loan or Home Equity Line of Credit or can be provided through debt relief companies.

Always Remember to be Mindful

While debt consolidation is a smart solution for many, it’s not for everybody. For example, it is primarily for those who have unsecured debts, such as credit or retail cards. If most of your debt and liabilities include tax debt, unpaid child support or old parking tickets these plans won't help. Borrowers should also be sure that they will be able to make the payments on the new card balance or loan they have taken out – this includes reviewing the details of the product agreement and interest rates. To help combat high interest rates, choose your lender wisely. Working with a financial institution you already have a relationship with can help ensure a more favorable loan agreement.

Debt consolidation also is not the end-all-be-all to financial troubles. As you consolidate debt, the credit cards and store cards that you’ve paid off could still remain open, which makes it easy for to run up new bills, on top of your consolidation loan debt. Consolidating debt also does not address underlying spending and financial problems. Because of this, those considering consolidation should also seek financial counseling for long-term success.

POSTED: Dec 29, 2016
Budget-Friendly Tips for Last-Minute Travelers

Whether it’s a change of plans, unexpected time off or just a sudden urge to get away, the opportunity to take a vacation may come along without much warning. And if you’re looking to travel without the luxury of time to plan ahead, you could be looking at a both a challenge and an opportunity.

Traveling should never break the bank. Check out our money-saving last minute travel tips below!

1. Consider your flights first

Because of potentially high costs, airfare can often be a deal breaker when it comes to planning a last minute vacation. While deals can sometimes be found 14 to 21 days in advance, it’s more common that airfare becomes more expensive the closer you get to your travel dates. This is why it’s important to plan your airfare before booking hotel rooms, as you may find your trip isn’t as affordable as you originally thought.

To give yourself the best chance of finding an affordable last minute flight, travelers are encouraged to search for deals during the midweek. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are known to be the best days for booking last-minute travel, as prices tend to climb as the weekend approaches.

2. Sign up for last-minute travel email lists.

In order to fill empty seats and rooms, hotels, and cruise ships will often offer great discounts about two weeks in advance. Subscribing to weekly e-newsletter offered by travel websites and some airlines will help you stay informed on some of these great deals, which can be perfect for anybody who can take time off from work quickly and easily.

3. Be flexible!

If you’re on a quest for a great deal – rest assured, it’s out there! However, travelers may find themselves heading to unexpected destinations or traveling during off-peak times during the week.

Because airlines and hotels are less crowded on weekdays, midweek vacations will offer you the best deals and the most options for your budget if you’re looking to book a trip last minute. Staying open-minded about where you’ll travel will also help you to shop and compare hotel deals. You may even find yourself taking in some unexpected sights.

4. Negotiate for a rental home.

Take advantage of vacation home vacancies by suggesting a fee lower than the owner’s asking price. A rental homeowner will almost certainly prefer to have their property occupied at a price less than what they originally asked for, opposed to not at all. This will give you some leverage in a last-minute rental home negotiation, allowing you to get a deal, while sticking within your budget. It is also worth considering a rental home in a town next to your destination. The available properties may be easier to find and more affordable.

5. Let us know you’re traveling.

No matter whether your vacation is last-minute or not, letting your credit union or bank know you’re traveling before you go will keep your getaway secure and can even help keep you on budget by preventing financial hiccups.

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.

POSTED: Sep 16, 2016
Financial Tips for a Stress-Free Vacation

Planning a getaway? Whether it’s a brief weekend out of town or a trip around the world, these money tips can help keep your vacation stress-free. After all, that’s what a vacation is all about!

1. Let us know you’re traveling!

Our priority is to protect your money and personal information. One way that we do this is 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. Download the NYMCU Mobile Banking App and take us with you.

Downloading the NYMCU Mobile Banking App means managing your money is as easy as snapping photos on your phone. With easy access to your accounts when you’re on the go, NYMCU Mobile Banking lets you stay on top of your finances, pay bills, check balances and much more.

A great vacation tool for staying on top of your accounts for day-to-day transactions and handle emergency situations? We think yes.

3. Preorder tickets and book excursions in advance.

Looking to take a museum tour or see a show? Preordering your tickets can help you stay on a predetermined budget while you’re away. This won’t just help you plan out your trip better but will minimize the amount of spontaneous credit and debit card transactions made while you’re away.

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

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

4. Be mindful of important documents and currency.

If your passport is lost or stolen on a trip, you could 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 and keep this information in a secure place. This will make it easy to make a report with your card provider if you have to, while adding an extra element of security.

And if you are planning to mostly use cash on your trip, you can save yourself stress and aggravation by ordering foreign currency ahead of time. For the same reasons that you must be mindful of your documents, don’t carry large amounts of cash at once.

5. Plan ahead with an MCU Vacation Club Account.

There’s nothing more stressful than feeling the financial pinch before or in the middle of your vacation. The best way to avoid these nerve-wracking situations? Plan ahead. Opening an MCU Vacation Club Account means putting away a little bit each pay period in preparation for your travels. It’s not only easy and convenient, but also financially prepares vacation-goers by helping them set a predetermined budget.

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: Aug 05, 2016
Financial Conversations to Have 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, these conversations about money help both get your marriage off on the right foot and remain successful throughout the years to come.

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 is important to know how your partner prioritizes saving money in relation to traveling, expensive goods, entertainment, etc. While knowing these preferences is important, talking about how closely you each stick to a budget right now is important as well to help create an understanding about how money will be managed.

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, it’ll be nearly impossible to work as a team as to not find yourselves coming up short each month – or, even worse, find yourself with a mountain of debt.

Joint or Personal Accounts?

While marriage means living together, some people don’t believe in keeping 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 when one party sees sharing money as a marker of commitment more than the other but it is beneficial to have in helping to set expectations.

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 instances. There are also cases where it’s advisable to have a prenuptial agreement – for instance, when one partner is substantially wealthier than the other and has other heirs to consider. It will also save you a ton of time and money in the event that you divorce and go your separate ways.

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 in both setting an effective budget and creating trust between both parties, as it eliminates surprises that may arise once you’re married.

Retirement

Marriage is for the long run 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.

Back Up Plans

There’s a reason why many couples include the phrase “for richer or poorer” in their vows – life can come with hard knocks. When money gets tight, fear or frustration can cause couples to fight. The best way the weather these stormy times is to plan ahead by discussing the importance of creating and growing an emergency fund. Important questions to discuss include what the ideal amount of savings is and what the rules are for withdrawing funds from this back up account.

POSTED: Nov 06, 2014
Credit Score FAQ

1. What Is a Credit Score?

A credit score is a number between 300 and 850 that is calculated from and summarizes an individual’s credit report and history. This number can play a significant role in how lenders determine credit-worthiness for a loan or credit card.

2. How does my credit score affect me?

A credit score projects how trustworthy an individual is to pay back future loans. However, your credit score plays a role in more than determining if a lender will approve you for a loan. It will also affect the interest rates you are offered, cost of some bills or utilities and your ability to rent an apartment or hold a certain job.

3. How is a Credit Score Calculated?

Personal information like age, income, ethnicity and marital status don’t influence your credit score. However, there are five factors that will affect your score to varying degrees. These include:

  • • Credit history (35 percent): This includes late or missed payments, bankruptcies, foreclosures and collection information. How much a single incident will affect your score may be related to how late your payments were, how much was owed, and how recently and how often you missed a payment.


  • • Available credit (30 percent): This refers to how much you owe on your accounts in relationship to your line of credit. For example, if you are currently using $5,000 on a $20,000 line of credit, you will be considered to be in better financial shape than somebody who is using $5,000 on a $7,000 line of credit. Lenders and creditors also like to see that you are responsibly able to use credit and pay it off. Credit cards and other lines of credit that are “maxed out” may negatively impact your credit score.


  • • Length of credit (15 percent): The longer a line of credit is open, the more it will increase your credit score. Other factors that may be taken into account when calculating this portion of your credit score include the age of the newest credit account versus the longer credit account and how active each account’s history has been.


  • • Credit mix (10 percent): The mix of accounts you have, such as revolving and installment. This includes credit cards, retail accounts, installment loans, finance company accounts and mortgage loans.


  • • New credit (10 percent): Your pursuit of new credit, including credit inquiries and number of recently opened accounts. However, research shows that opening several new credit accounts in a short period represents greater risk - especially for people who don't have a long credit history. Your FICO Scores take into account several factors, including how you shop for credit.

4. What are the benefits of a good credit score?

A very good credit score is considered 720 or higher while a poor credit score would be considered below 620. Having a good score is very important and will give borrowers access to benefits, including:

  • • Increased credit card limits
  • • Competitive mortgage and refinancing rates
  • • Lower financing rates for loans and insurance
  • • Excellent credit card deals
  • • Leverage when negotiating with lenders

5. How Can I improve my Credit Score?

Rebuilding your credit score can take time but is possible by targeting key problems and working to take the appropriate steps. This may include:

  • • If you have a lot of debt, it’s time to pay it down. While doing this can prove to be difficult, it’s not impossible. The most important step you can take is to create a plan that will help put a large piece of your budget towards your highest interest credit cards, while maintaining your other minimum payments on your other cards. It is strongly recommended not to stop making payments on any of your cards. This will be the most effective step to minimizing your debt and, ultimately, repairing your credit score.


  • • No credit? Apply for a credit card. Having and using a credit card can help to build your scores, even when you don’t carry a balance. If you don’t qualify for a traditional credit card, consider a secured credit card like the MCU Secured Credit Card, where you can obtain a credit line equal to the deposit you make, helping you to steadily rebuild your credit score.


  • • Strengthen your credit history and set up automatic payments. Making payments on time will help to build a strong credit score. By setting up automatic payments for fixed monthly bills, like cell phones or cable, you will make paying your bills as easy as possible. If you are unable to set up an automatic payment, setting a reminder for when bills are due can also help.

6. How can I check my credit score?

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, individuals should check their credit reports once every 12 months in order to check for mistakes that may hurt their ability to obtain a line of credit, protect against identity thieves and to be sure that all personal information is up to date and accurate. The only authorized site source under federal law that provides free credit reports is AnnualCreditReport.com. There are other websites that offer to check your credit score for you as well. However, these resources will eventually charge you for other services and products you may not necessarily need.

POSTED: Nov 06, 2014
MCU’s Five Things to Know: Building and Improving Your Credit Score

Building a good credit score is important. It plays a role in more than determining if a lender will approve you for a loan – it will affect the interest rates you are offered, cost of some bills or utilities, your ability to rent an apartment and even obtain certain jobs.

If you’re just financially starting out and don’t have a credit history or you have experienced financial setbacks that have damaged your credit score, there are several things you can do to build, improve or re-establish your credit and raise your credit score. Check them out below!

1. Know how your credit score is calculated.

The first step to building a healthy relationship with credit is knowing how it is calculated and what you should focus on most when considering your financial habits. To start, it’s important to know that personal information like age, income, ethnicity and marital status don’t influence your credit score. However, there are five factors that will affect your score to varying degrees. These include:

  • • Credit history (35 percent: This includes late or missed payments, bankruptcies, foreclosures and collection information.
  • • Available credit (30 percent): This refers to how much you owe on your accounts in relationship to your line of credit.
  • • Length of credit (15 percent): The longer a line of credit is open, the more it will increase your credit score.
  • • Credit mix (10 percent): The mix of accounts you have, such as revolving and installment. This includes credit cards, retail accounts, installment loans, finance company accounts and mortgage loans.
  • • New credit (10 percent): Your pursuit of new credit, including credit inquiries and number of recently opened accounts.

2. Review your credit reports.

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.

3. Pay down your current debt.

If you’ve accrued a large amount of debt, the prospect of paying it down may seem intimidating. However, it’s not impossible and this is one of the fastest ways you regain control on your credit score. The most important step you can take is to create a plan that will help put a large piece of your budget towards your highest interest credit cards, while maintaining your other minimum payments on your other cards. Do not stop making payments on any of your cards. This will be the most effective step to minimizing your debt and, ultimately, repairing your credit score.

4. Set up automatic payments.

Making payments on time will help you to establish a responsible payment history. One of the best ways to do this is to set up automatic payments for fixed monthly bills, including cell phones or cable. If you are unable to set up an automatic payment, setting a reminder for when bills are due can also help.

5. No credit? Apply for a credit card.

To a newcomer, credit can sound incredibly stressful or like something to avoid. However, credit is a necessity. To start, apply for a credit card – having and using a credit card can help to build your score, even when you don’t carry a balance.

If you don’t qualify for a traditional credit card, consider a secured credit card. These cards require a cash collateral deposit that becomes the credit line for that account. You can charge on the card only up to the amount you have on deposit. It’s a small step but it will help to prove your financial trustworthiness to lenders, employers, landlords and utility companies.

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