It’s Not Time To Panic

It’s time to be calm, but you know that already.  The market has had a crazy week, filled with ups and downs flowing at a quick enough pace to ensure – if you were going into a meeting to discuss market forecasts – you really couldn’t write up an actionable plan.  You could have just as easily relied on an iPhone and a Magic 8 Ball.

Analysts don’t like that kind of uncertainty, so if you feel like the advice you’re getting on TV is aimed at making you panic, you’re probably right. However, don’t let other people’s panic make you panic.  In fact, when everyone else is panicking, it’s the calm person who can actually get something done.  

But the markets will open tomorrow and something could happen. Who knows? And if that something does happen, how do you keep from entering into a panic mode?  How can you resist the urge to pull all your money out of savings or rethink your entire retirement?  We’re going to explain why staying calm is the most important thing you can do, but let’s first play a game.  It’s really quick and it simulates the market using actual history.  

The rules: Start with $10,000.  You can sell once, you can buy once, and then it tells you how much you made or lost.  Open this link in a new tab by either copying and pasting or right clicking on the link (options will vary depending upon your web browser):

How did you do?  Did you play it a few times?  Did it go better when you sold your investments when the price dipped?  That game is based on market trends for the last 35 years or so, and the only real way to win is to just not sell.  Your money will go up and up and up.  The market rewards calm. Here’s why you should relax:

The Fed knows what it’s doing.  The new administration at the Fed has kept interest rates low, and many analysts have been expecting a rate hike throughout 2015, with some of them even predicting two increases.  A rate hike would be bad news for Wall Street, and the same market prognosticators who claim the sky is falling are pointing to an impending rate hike as “Exhibit A” that your retirement is doomed.  First of all, there’s no guarantee that a rate hike is coming. Even if the Fed raises the prime interest rate, it may be good for your stocks, because uncertainty over interest rates is part of the reason the market has taken a hit.  A rate hike, particularly a modest one, could calm fears about the uncertainty of interest rates in the future.

A rate hike also helps your savings.  Every dollar in your savings accounts – from money markets to IRAs – will get stronger when there is a higher prime interest rate.  So, if you’re convinced interest rates are going to take a bite out of your investments, your best move is to simply decrease the portion of your portfolio in stocks and put more of it into various savings products at Destinations Credit Union.
  We’ve always had very competitive dividend rates on our savings accounts.  If the Fed raises interest rates, that usually means good news for savers.

China’s problems won’t hurt us.  While their currency is in crisis, and that has spilled over into other market sectors, it’s premature to panic over market instability at the world’s largest manufacturer.  The economic interconnection between the US and China, the world’s two largest economies, is not the kind that allowed the 2008 financial crisis to spread so quickly. In fact, it’s the kind that prevents that type of spillover.  In general, they manufacture goods and we market/buy them.  The stronger our currency is relative to other countries, the cheaper we can find consumer products.

For example, if Walmart were an independent nation, it would be China’s fourth largest trading partner.  Our largest brick-and-mortar retailer stands to profit, as do their customers.  In other words, if you leave your retirement funds in your savings and trust your credit union to take care of you, you can probably find everything you were going to buy for less, so you don’t need as much cash to live on while you wait for the market to recover.  You can spend less without making sacrifices.

The other benefit to the US economy stemming from China’s hiccup is that it likely means durable goods will sell well. Families that have “made do” with a lukewarm refrigerator or the world’s slowest dishwasher can find replacement appliances at more affordable prices. To put it in simpler terms:  You’re finally going to replace that stove you hate, and so will your neighbors.  You’ll save money on it, and the American businesses that design and sell that stove are going to enjoy the profits.  Those companies will turn the profits into increased manufacturing, which will help stabilize the Chinese economy.  The durable goods sector is going to help buoy the stock market, which will help the overall economy in the process.

If you want to take advantage of this temporary window, talk to us about a home improvement loan.
Remember, if you want to make these kinds of household investments or take advantage of cheaper prices on the parts and supplies that go into other home improvement projects like patios and even driveways, lock in a fixed-rate loan now, before the Fed hikes interest rates.

In the end, market forces are driven by consumer confidence, and your household economy is no different.  Think back to that game you just played. Waiting out temporary market downturns or moving your money to safe savings programs are the only way to consistently grow your money in the long-term. Put your money with someone you trust, take a deep breath, and stay calm.

If you need a calming mantra, try this:  “New washer.  New dryer.  New washer.  New dryer.”

New School Year’s Resolutions

Ah, autumn.  That wonderful time of year when the leaves change color, football takes over the television for five uninterrupted months and students head back to school. Alright, it’s not actually autumn, it’s August. It’s still summer outside, and more of the country is watching grass turn brown than observing the leaves transitioning to orange. School is starting, though, and you’ve probably already gone through a lot of the rituals that accompany a new school year, so you may be in a back-to-school mood. 
Here’s a tradition you might not have tried: Have you made a new school year’s resolution?
We’re not talking about those promises you make to yourself every year about doing homework on Friday nights or not wearing sweatpants to class.  Have you made a resolution for this year that you actually intend to keep?  Now is the perfect time to make a change, while you’ve got a new planner just waiting to have milestones and goals written into it.  We’ve got some tips to aid you in keeping your resolution this school year.
First, set a clear goal.  Goals are only as useful as they are attainable, and goals are only attainable if they’re clearly articulated.  For example, “I want to eat better” is an admirable goal, but it’s difficult to figure out if you’ve actually done it or how that affects your decisions. Eating two cookies is better than three, for example, but would you have eaten three cookies before?
That’s why it’s important to be specific. Instead of saying, “I want to be better with money so I won’t need to eat toast sandwiches at the end of the month,” try making a resolution like “I won’t date freshmen” or “I will set a budget every month.”  You can tell if you’ve set a budget even if you don’t always do a good job of following it.  Having a tangible goal gives you freedom as well.  Are you being good with your money if you buy a latte every once in a while?  Who can tell?  But if you have a budget, you can clearly see when you can afford a latte, and what else you might have to give up to get it. 
You also need to keep the goal simple enough so it is achievable.  “I’m going to work out for two hours every day” sounds great … for about a week.  Then it sounds like a hassle.  What do you do for two hours every day that you’re willing to give up?  Sleep? Homework? Xbox?  An easy to achieve resolution might be something like “I will spend Monday afternoons cleaning,” or “I’ll save $1,000 to put a down payment on a car within a year.”  Saving $1,000 might sound harder than working out, but it’s really not.  Put $85 per month away for a year or $43 per month for two years.  Even if you make minimum wage, $43 is only about one day’s salary each month.
It’s easy to fool yourself into believing you’re living up to your resolutions, which is why you need someone to keep you accountable and help you out when you need it.  That’s a place where Destinations Credit Union can really help.  We’ve got internal experts in budgeting and financial counseling partners who’d love to talk to you, and we offer great rates on Kasasa Cash Rewards Checking, Savings Certificates, Holiday Club accounts, and all sorts of savings plans to make saving for that down payment even easier.  We also have tools, such as MoneyDesktop and simple budgeting software.

The Shoulds Of Retirement

When it comes to retirement, the variety of ways to save money can be so confusing that even the most diligent investors might wonder if they are looking at the right information, doing the right thing or if they’re even on the right track. Would you know if you should be using a fancy savings plan?  Should you put more in? Less?  Should you panic?  While we’ll get to the rest of the questions, the answer to the last one is no, you should not panic.  There is no retirement plan anywhere that does better when you panic.

For anyone confused about retirement, there are lots of sources that explain who, what, how, when and why, but very few places to turn for one of the most important questions – should.  This guide is meant as a quick reference to that really tricky word, with some of the most common “should” questions answered. Like any other guide, though, it can’t be as specific as you’d like, so if you have more questions, get in touch with us at 410-663-2500, or ask questions our Facebook pageAsk us your shoulds or see what shoulds other people are asking.  If you’ve got a question, it’s a safe bet you’re not alone. 
Question:  How much money should I have when I retire?
Answer:  This is the most common “should” question in America right now, probably because of its importance.  The answer that most experts give, “as much as you’ll need” isn’t particularly helpful.  A better, although still maddeningly incomplete answer involves some simple math you can do on the back of a napkin: take your annual income the year before you plan to retire and subtract your annual retirement income (Social Security, pension, trust, etc.) from it. Whatever that difference is, multiply it by the number of years you expect to live after retirement, probably 15-20.  That’s how much you need, give or take a bit.
For example, if your Social Security and pension pays you around $50,000 per year and you’re making around $150,000 before you retire, the difference is $100,000.  Multiply that by 20, and you’ll probably need around $2 million.  If that sounds like a whole lot of money, that’s because it is a whole lot of money.
Question:  How much should I be saving now?
Answer:  Another question that all-too-often results in a frustrating answer. You should save as much as you can, but not more than you can.  A better answer is that retirement should be your savings priority, ahead of college funds or other long-term savings simply because you can’t get a loan to retire, but you can for virtually everything else.  If you feel like your monthly contributions are just drops in the bucket, stop focusing on the bucket.  Instead, take a look at your monthly picture.  Make a pie chart with five big slices:  Bills, debt, spending, short-term savings and long-term savings.  This isn’t yet the time to go through and figure out how to trim your bills or refocus your spending, just look at those five. How much of your long-term savings is being used for retirement?  Could that number be higher?  If so, put more into retirement.  If you want to find ways to reduce your costs so you can save more money for retirement, look at those categories again and start making cuts from right to left.  First, cut some spending from other long-term savings.  Then short-term savings, spending, debt and finally bills.
Question:  When should I start saving?
Answer:  If you read the last two questions and have sharp pattern recognition skills, you might expect a frustrating answer, but this one is actually easy.  If you haven’t started, start today.  Like, right now. Seriously, either click this link for information on our IRA programs. It only takes a few minutes, and you’ll feel so much better.  Remember the motivational cliché: the best day to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second-best day is today.
Question:  What kind of retirement account should I get (or get next)?
Answer:  There are three major considerations when selecting a retirement account.  First, how many years do you have until you retire?  The answer to that question should help determine your risk.  The second question is how much money do you make?  The answer to that question determines whether you’d like to be taxed on the income now or in retirement.  Unfortunately, you’ll have to pay taxes on it at least once.  Finally, have you maximized the benefits of another account?  If you’re past the point of getting your employer to match your 401k, look at all of your options.  If not, put in as much as you can that your employer will match. You’re not going to find a lot of retirement plans that pay more than the 100% rate of return your employer is offering by matching funds, and if you do find one that can consistently outpace your employer’s contributions, it’s probably illegal.

Once you have the answers to those questions, check the link above or drop us a line at and we’ll set you up with the best plan we can.

There are a lot of retirement guides out there, but most of them aren’t very good at those “shoulds” that matter so much in our daily lives. Hopefully, this guide has given you enough information to know what questions to ask.  We’d love the opportunity to talk about these shoulds or any others you might have. For now, check out our Facebook Page and join in the conversation!


What School Doesn’t Teach You About Money

With the new school year either here or just around the corner, it’s time to fill your shopping carts with #2 pencils, protractors and all the goodies the kids will lose by the second day of school.  If they’re headed off to college, it can be even more exciting. But, instead of needing you to replace their pens on day two, your college-aged child will probably be calling to ask for money by then. 

It’s such a ritual that, at this point, many of us don’t really question it. But how much do our kids actually know about money?  You might want to only include the lessons you taught them, because their school probably didn’t teach them much at all.

Common core and other national guidelines don’t include requirements for teaching budgeting skills, how to balance a checkbook, or even explanations of basic concepts such as credit, loans, or mortgages. Basically, the last time your children learned about money at school, it probably involved finding out how many apples and oranges they could buy in some middle school math word problem.

We talked to some credit union members about the lessons they want to pass onto their kids, and below you’ll find some of our favorite lessons to teach your kids. 

  • Pay yourself first.  No one else is going to make you a financial priority, so don’t make them your financial priority.  
  • If you want to know if you can afford something, check your budget. If you have to check your checking account, you can’t afford it.  If you reconcile your accounts every month, you’ll have a pretty good idea how much is actually in each account.  But having enough money isn’t the same thing has having enough money.  Plan ahead. Make a budget. Execute the plan by sticking to that budget.
  • Take risks while you’re young.  You can afford to be more aggressive with your retirement and college funds while you have plenty of time to make it back up, so don’t be afraid to push those funds a little bit.  That said, not saving for retirement is not a risk. It’s just a bad idea.   
  • Make sure the Joneses are keeping up with you.  It’s easy to get lost trying to compete with your peers and almost as easy to ignore those consumer pressures entirely.  But what about the third option?  Instead of ignoring their financial situation, check in every now and then to see if they need help.  Our communities are better when we care about each other.

Whether your kids are in diapers or their kids are wearing them, it’s never too early or too late to teach financial literacy.  Make sure you’re instilling the right lessons, and check back in with Destinations Credit Union, because we’ve always got plenty of resources for young people to learn the lessons they aren’t getting in math class.

Shop Local!

Your credit union is built on the idea of people helping people.  You already know we can do a better job looking after your money than a mega-chain bank that answers to shareholders, because we know you and our community.  So why give that up when you find a bargain online?  Shopping locally is better for the community, better for the environment and the best way to find something unique that can make all of your friends say “wow.”  

Shopping locally benefits your community. 

When you shop locally, the money you spend stays in the community.  Buying a new pair of shoes from a local shop takes dollars out of your pocket and puts them into the pockets of a local resident, of course.  What you might not consider is that those dollars get spent by the business owners as well, and they’re also likely to spend their money locally.

American Express estimates that about 68 cents out of every dollar spent in local shops stays at home, and if that dollar is spent locally three times, it means that – for every dollar you spend at local shops – $1.45 goes back into the community.  It’s what economists refer to as the multiplier effect, and it’s very powerful.

Fun fact:  The multiplier effect is why the government is still willing to make pennies, even though minting them costs more than one cent.  The multiplier effect is powerful enough to justify all that loose change in the jar next to your bed, and it’s powerful enough to make shopping locally a force for change.

Of course, that money doesn’t just go to shopkeepers and restaurant owners. The local government takes out its share in local taxes.  Even if you hate the idea of taxes, and we all may grumble in April, local taxes go to schools, firefighters, and other services in the area.  Buying dinner at a local bistro can be the reason the town has enough money to fix the potholes on your street. Not a bad dessert.

 Shopping locally is better for the environment. 

You already know about the danger of greenhouse gases and the effects of global warming.  If you don’t remember anything else, you probably remember Al Gore’s visual of a polar bear floating away. What’s easy to forget is that everything you buy had to come from somewhere.  If you’re drinking imported spring water from Fiji, that water flew halfway around the world.  If your new pants were made in China, they racked up frequent flyer miles, too.

It’s really hard to avoid foreign manufacturing, but many local businesses have locally made goods for sale, which eliminates at least one flight your product might take, saving on fuel and greenhouse gases.  Even if the product you’re buying was manufactured overseas, buying it locally can shave a flight or two off the product’s carbon footprint.

Shopping locally is the best way to find hidden gems. 

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of finding something your friends have never seen before. Whether it’s jewelry from a local metalsmith, a purse from a local boutique or pottery from a local artisan, local shops have the best potential for one-of-a-kind, where-did-you-get-that, I-love-it-so much uniqueness out of any shopping you can do.  Anyone can get on Amazon or check out a department store.  It takes a real connoisseur with a real eye for style to shop locally and find the best products.  Show off your personal style with buys from local artisans. The Parkville Towne Fair or the many ethnic festivals are great places to look for local crafts.

One final benefit of shopping locally is that many of your finds come with a story.  Those earrings might be from a local artist who got the inspiration from the nursery rhyme her mother told her, or those plates might borrow their pattern from the artist’s love of pop art.  Whatever the story, local artists will tell you how they came up with their unique designs.  Part of the fun of local shopping is the connections you can build with local artists, and hearing their stories is part of it.

San Francisco started recognizing the historic contributions of local businesses by listing important shops on its historic registry.  Looking around Parkville and Baltimore, which businesses would you nominate for historic status?

And, don’t forget to keep your banking local.  Destinations Credit Union (along with many other credit unions and local banks) is right here in Parkville offering world-class financial services and access wherever you travel.  We’re owned by our members and the money is invested back into our residents and our communities.

Check out the Parkville/Carney Business Association to see many local businesses who support our community.


The Best RFID-Blocking Wallets For Women

We recently brought you information about the best RFID-blocking wallets for men. Today, we have a review of the best RFID-blocking wallets for women, who have far more options in terms of styles, looks, and formality. If you’d like to read the previous installment, click here  In it, you can learn about what RFID is and why you need a wallet that blocks the signals from your cards.

Here are our top choices for four very different kinds of card-protecting options:

Women’s Trifold Wallet

by Access Denied ($55.95-$66.95)

Our first option is one of the most basic wallets offered to women that is also capable of holding everything while still looking fashionable. The Access Denied trifold wallet has space for your cash, cards, passport and checkbook, so you know that this wallet can handle whatever you need for your day. It’s also available in a variety of neutral tones and common purse colors to coordinate with your everyday bag. It’s hard to find this much convenience and variety under $60.

That said, if you’re a fan of high-quality leather, you might be put off by the lack of full or top-grain leather with this wallet. If that’s something that upsets you, be warned that this guide is very light on such top-flight materials, because the wallet manufacturers don’t seem to use them very often for RFID wallets. If you want to step into high-quality leather goods that keep your identity safe, you’re going to be paying a lot of money.

RFID-Blocking Secure Ladies Mini-Trifold

By ID Stronghold ($49.99)

Identity Stronghold has an inexpensive wallet that should fit into any purse.  If you want the convenience and storage options of a much bigger wallet, the Identity Stronghold Mini-Trifold has a zippered coin pouch, credit and ID card slots and a pocket for your cash.  The faux-reptile leather finish is a stylish touch that Jane Birkin would appreciate because, unlike the Hermes Bag named for her, no alligators were harmed in making it.  

The wallet comes in a few different faux-reptile finishes, ranging in color tone from muted purple to the bright red pictured here.  It’s deceptively stylish for the price.

RFID-Blocking Cross Body Bag (Left)

by Travelsmith ($99.00)

RFID-Blocking Double Frame Clutch (Right)

by Travelsmith ($68.99)

Another option is to find a small bag that you like and use it for carrying your wallet. Both of these options from luggage maker Travelsmith offer full RFID protection for everything within the bags, including credit cards, IDs and passports. Like the Access Denied trifold wallet above, these bags are available in a variety of colors to suit just about any taste.

If you find the idea of moving away from a beloved bag or purse unappealing, the chain straps can be removed from either of the Travelsmiths and the bags can be used as wallets. Each bag comes with some organizational features, but if you want everything to have a place, you may find the lack of dedicated pockets frustrating.

Fine Art RFID-Blocking Card Sleeves

by Armored Wallet ($9.50)

Finally, we have the option for anyone who would like to keep their current wallet or purse, regardless of style preference or gender. These inexpensive sleeves wrap around your cards individually to protect them from skimmers and look great while doing it. Armored Wallet offers a variety of colors and prints featuring classic works of art. There’s something to be said for the unique touch of carrying classic art in your wallet, and even more to be said for protecting yourself while getting change back from a $10 bill.

The masterpieces featured on the sleeves come mostly from European impressionists like Van Gogh and Monet, and don’t extend much past the paintings you might have had as a dorm poster in your college days. So, if you were hoping for Klimt or Kandinsky, you’re out of luck.

In the end, your choice will be dictated by your personal style. If you’re an upscale fashionista, you may be disappointed with the season’s offerings; among Saks 5th Avenue, Nordstrom, Barney’s New York, and Coach, not a single RFID-blocking women’s wallet can be found. If you prefer simplicity, you might want to check out the men’s wallets, most of which claim to be unisex. If, however, you’d rather save money and protect yourself from identity theft than look good on the runway, you have your choice of a vast number of styles and colors. Whichever you choose, make sure you find a way to protect your cards, even if that means wrapping them in tinfoil until you can find a suitable and fashionable alternative.


Tax-Free Weekend … Every Weekend

Tax-free weekend will end this Saturday (8/15/15) for Marylanders.  It’s a heady rush, getting our Black Friday fix in the sunshine of August  The kids are ready to head back to school with new clothes (that they don’t yet hate) and school supplies (they haven’t yet lost).  But what about the people who missed out?  What about the kids who just need one more thing? What about mom and dad who deserve a tax-free spree, too?  Is there a way to shop tax-free every weekend without ending up with the IRS coming after them?
The answer is yes, you can shop with a 10, 15, or 20 percent discount every day and do it without breaking the law. Some of our favorite tips for keeping costs down are below. They also come with a plan for turning your shopping savings into long-term savings, because it’s not enough to keep money in your pocket, you’ll want to put it to good use, too.
When you’re done reading, hit up our Twitter feed or Facebook page to share your favorite tips and post pictures of your best hauls.
Bring your smartphone.  Don’t buy anything in a brick and mortar store without pricing it online first. If you’re the kind of shopper who frequently buys on impulse, just bring your smartphone and do a few searches of the most likely places you’d find the item you’re looking at, like eBay, Zappos or the website for the store where you’re shopping.  The Amazon app even lets you scan a barcode with your phone’s camera and does the searching for you.  You can save a lot with this simple 30-second step.
Shop for used gift cards.  We all know the feeling of getting a gift card we’ll never use.  Well, a variety of websites offer a place for people to sell their unwanted gift cards, often for well below the face value of the card.  Everybody wins: The seller gets some value out of a gift card that would otherwise be sitting in a junk drawer and the buyer gets a nice discount.
So, before you check out online or in-store, search Gift Card Granny and Gift Card Zen.  They have some gift cards that will transfer to you in five minutes or less, allowing you to save 10-15% right away.  All gift cards are backed by the site, so you don’t have to worry about scams.  For many of the big chain stores like Target and The Gap, those online codes work in store as well, so you can save money while you wait to check out.
Clear your cookies.  Retailers are smart, so they know that getting you to make a quick purchase on your first visit means they’ll probably get you to shop at their store for life.  They’ll offer you a coupon for 10 or 20 percent off of your first purchase if you sign up for promotional emails on your first visit. Those offers often expire within 24 or 48 hours.  As smart as retailers are, their websites are not quite as intelligent.  It’s easy to make websites think it’s your first visit so you can get that coupon every time you visit.  All you need to do is visit the site from a different browser than you usually use.  If you don’t have more than one web browser, you can download Chrome, Mozilla or Opera for free, and use that for this trick next time, too.  Sometimes you just have to use your phone. If none of that works, try clearing your cookies and browser history. Then, all you need is an email address you haven’t used at that site, and most of us have a few of those just waiting to be used.
Turn your everyday savings into long-term savings.  It’s great to save a few dollars every now and then, but it doesn’t always feel like you’re really getting anywhere.  But you were going to spend that money anyway, so if you put it in savings, it wouldn’t be a sacrifice.  You can pull up our website at or use mobile banking and transfer that money to savings before you even leave the store.  If you put an extra $25 away every month, that’s $300 per year … without really trying!
If that seems like a lot of work, you can also work the gift card trick into your monthly budget.  If you normally spend $25 per month on coffee, buy a $25 Starbucks gift card online from Gift Card Zen for $20 at the the beginning of the month, then put $5 into your savings.  Now you’ve got the savings and an easy way to stay on budget.  The gift card can go into their app so the whole family has it on their phones – it’s like Starbucks is paying you $5 to make your life easier.
You can do this for all the places you shop.  For instance, do you budget $100 for clothes, $300 for gas, $50 for eating out, $25 for coffee and $25 for movies each month?  If you get gift cards for those stores at 10 percent off, you’ll save $50 each month, totaling $600 per year.  If nothing else, you can put that in one of our Holiday Club accounts and have it at the ready to take care of your holiday shopping!  

How To Take Advantage Of An Interest Rate Hike

The last time the Federal Reserve raised interest rates, Barack Obama was a U.S. senator, but many prognosticators who watch the Fed say that a number of factors suggest we’re due for a rate hike sometime within the next few months.  If the Fed raises interest rates, it will mean a raise in the price of any new loan you take in the future as well as an increase in how much you pay every month on the adjustable-rate loans you already have.  So, even if the discussion leaves you yawning, it’s important to act quickly if you think the Fed will raise interest rates. That’s because taking the right actions before a rate hike can save you thousands of dollars in interest payments after the rate hike.  Here are some tips to protect yourself, save money and maybe even make a profit if interest rates go up this year:

If you have a high credit card balance, move it to a loan with a low, fixed rate.

Credit card rates have remained around 13 percent, on average, for several years, but a Fed hike would raise those rates.  To make matters worse for people with sizable credit card debt, those rates compound quite quickly on a revolving account like your credit card.  

One way to deal with your credit card debt is to move your balances from the cards you have now to a single high-limit card with a 0% introductory rate and pay it off in full before the introductory rate expires. However, using a credit card to pay off a credit card can be a dangerous strategy, because if you don’t pay off the principle by the end of the introductory period, whatever you have left will start charging interest again, and perhaps at a high rate (pay attention to the fine print).  You also run the risk of falling back into bad habits and filling your new card up to its limit again.  

You can also look for the lowest fixed rate card that you can find and come up with a plan to pay it off.  Destinations Credit Union offers a low-rate MasterCard with lots of benefits (ScoreCard rewards, no annual fee, no balance transfer fees, etc.).

If you want an even lower rate, you might consider a home equity loan or line of credit.  Home Equity Lines of Credit (HELOCs) generally offer lower rates than Home Equity Loans, but the rate is variable so it may go up.  Destinations Credit Union offers its HELOC at Prime minus 1% with a floor rate of 4%.  Prime would need to increase by more than 1 3/4% before the rate on your HELOC will go up.  Home equity loans have a low, fixed rate, so you can avoid an interest rate hike and save money in interest payments every month.  While it might seem a little scary to borrow against your home equity, if you have accumulated significant credit card debt, your home might be the only source of wealth you can borrow against to cover it.  The loan payments should be less than you’re paying your credit card companies every month, so you’ll find it much easier to make your payments and get out of debt.  

If you’re interested in using your home equity to get out of credit card debt, you can find out more by calling a loan officer at 410-663-2500.

If you were planning on buying a house (or refinancing) soon, it’s time to make your move.

Fixed-rate mortgages will be unaffected by any interest rate hikes the Fed might employ, so if you think a rate hike is coming, get your mortgage now.  The difference of a few percentage points in the federal rate could mean mortgage payments increasing by as much as hundreds of dollars per month for some homeowners. Avoiding that fee is as simple as getting the paperwork for a new home loan finished before a rate hike occurs.  

If you wanted the extra few months to bulk out your down payment, or you weren’t sure about refinancing this summer, it’s time to sit down with a professional who can take you through the numbers and find out how much that indecision might cost.  You can speak to a mortgage specialist with our underwriting partner, Financial Security Consultants, or follow this link to get pre-approved right now.

If you’re investing, it’s time to look at conservative options.

As long as the Fed kept interest rates low, it was a good idea to invest more heavily in stocks than investment products offered by financial institutions.  Low rates meant easy loans to businesses and expansion was easy, so it was driving up stock prices.  As rates go up, credit markets slow down, and expansion becomes less profitable for all those corporations in which you own shares.  

At the same time, as the prime interest rate goes up, so does the return you’ll enjoy on your money market account, savings certificates, or any of a variety of investment products you may have.  Find out what we can do to put your money to work by checking out our insured deposit accounts, and if you’re trying to get some money put together for retirement, don’t forget about our IRA accounts.

No one knows for sure what Janet Yellen is going to do.  Predicting the Fed’s rates is a big-money business for a lot of powerful institutions.  In the end, you’re going to have to decide if you want to leave your money in places where a rate hike could increase your costs, or put it into more stable products.  If you aren’t sure what to do and want guidance, feel free to call or come by, we’d love to help you understand your options.


The Best RFID-Blocking Wallets For Men

By the end of the year, you’re going to be carrying some brand new tech in your wallet. That is, if you aren’t already doing so. The major credit card companies have all moved to chip-and-PIN cards, which use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) to prevent fraudulent transactions and keep your data safe. Unfortunately, the cutting edge technology that makes your transactions more secure at the register also decreases your security everywhere else. That’s because scammers can steal radio signals from the air and use your credit card information and then go on a shopping spree before you know anything’s wrong.


When RFID passports were released in the UK, scammers had broken into them within 48 hours. That’s enough to scare even the most tech-ignorant among us.


To combat this vulnerability, you need a wallet that can protect your identity by blocking those radio signals, which many new wallets can do by simply adding a layer of metal that goes entirely around your wallet. So many new wallets can protect you from scammers that you might find the choices overwhelming, particularly if you’re the kind of guy who uses a velcro trifold style wallet. We’ll walk you through your choices and pick the best one for each category, based on style, security, and price, because there’s no point in buying a wallet so expensive you have nothing to put in it.


Here are our top choices for three very different kinds of wallets:

Front Pocket Wallet in Bison Leather

by Herrington ($49.95)


If you don’t carry much cash or the idea of sitting on metal plates bound in leather sounds uncomfortable, you might be in line for a front pocket wallet. Back pocket wallets have been linked to sciatica and other forms of chronic back pain, so carrying a few cards in your front pocket may be the best long-term choice you can make for both your financial and physical health.

Herrington’s front pocket wallet is curved to fit into the front pocket of your pants without bouncing around or disrupting the lines of your outfit. The handsome Bison leather is masculine and stylish, so you won’t be embarrassed to pull it out at a business lunch or on a date.

The wallet is manufactured in Maine out of multiple layers of material that create a Faraday cage for preventing radio signals from escaping and therefore allowing skimmers to get at your cards.  



The Ridge Wallet ($45-$115)


If you want something even slimmer, you may be interested in one of the all-metal wallets that have taken over Kickstarter in the last few years. These wallets wrap your cards in layers of metal held together with a nylon band or screws and look like incredibly modern, wallet-sized Swiss Army knives. Some even have fold-out extensions to hold keys, USB drives or very small pens!

Our choice among the modern, minimalist, metal wallets opts for simplicity. The Ridge Wallet doesn’t have key rings or add-ons, just a simple wallet with a clean look. Ridge offers four different materials ranging from the youthful and inexpensive polycarbonate, which comes in a variety of bright hues, all the way to pricey and indestructible titanium in various shades ranging from gray to black. If you want a wallet sleek and cool enough for Batman, but you don’t want to carry an entire utility belt, you want a black titanium Ridge Wallet.

Derrick RFID-Blocking Flip ID Bifold

Manufacturer: Fossil

Price: $45

It’s tough to argue with the classic bifold. With ample room for cards and cash, a classic design certain to fit any outfit, and all the features you’ve always enjoyed, a leather bifold wallet is a traditional men’s accessory that never goes out of style. 
Fossil offers a selection of RFID-blocking wallets that don’t look too technical or modern, with the Derrick bifold at the top of the list for its combination of looks, materials, and price. The RFID-blocking material is sewn into the lining, so you won’t feel like you’re sitting on a phone book, but you’ll still be protected. The Derrick bifold is the kind of wallet you can buy now and not think about for a few decades, which tends to be the way most men buy wallets.  



Altoids tin

Manufacturer: Altoids

Price: $3


If you’re looking for a budget option, or a stopgap security solution while you shop, you can always keeps your cards in an Altoids tin. The thick metal is an effective Faraday cage that offers top-flight security at a price that can’t be beat. Just don’t be surprised if people are quick to comment how fresh your cards smell!
In the end, you’re going to have to decide what matters to you. Unlike other fashion items, you’ll carry your wallet every day, and you probably don’t want to replace it very often. It’s up to you to weigh fashion, security and comfort and come to a decision for your own peace of mind. The only thing you need to make sure of is that you don’t leave your financial information available for motivated scammers to steal.
Please note:  Destinations Credit Union is planning to convert to the “Chip” cards in early 2016.


Phony Weight-Loss Products

More than two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese, and scammers hope to profit from the desperation many of us feel to lose weight. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns that a company known as “Sale Slash” has been peddling fraudulent weight loss products, using hacked email addresses to convince readers the products were endorsed by friends or family members.  Those emails often support bogus claims of incredible weight loss results with fraudulent versions of respected news websites and fabricated celebrity endorsements, adding another layer of apparent credibility to their claims.

Weight loss scams old and new 
Weight loss scams are nothing new. In fact, the FTC has been prosecuting false diet claims since 1927.  Further, the word “diet” comes from the ancient Greek word “diatia,” meaning Plato might have been dealing with diet scams while he wrote “The Republic.” In the twenty-first century, the Internet has greatly accelerated the speed and impact of scammer successes by gaining access to wide audiences and making it easy for them to reap large profits. 
The variations are many and the tactics are just as varied. Since 2005, the FTC has brought 82 cases against scammers for using false or unsubstantiated claims about weight-loss products.  Surely there are many others that have gone under the radar and/or are lacking evidence for prosecution. That’s why awareness is a valuable tool for guarding yourself. Diet experts and government agencies offer some warning signs to watch for to help consumers avoid these types of scams:
  • The product claims you will lose more than one pound per week.  Diet experts believe about one pound per week is the ideal rate for healthy weight loss.  Any product that claims it can shed weight faster is probably too good to be true.
  • The product advertises you can lose weight without diet or exercise.  It’s not fun to hear, but if you really want to lose weight, diet and exercise are the only proven and healthy paths
  • Be alert if it claims you can lose weight from a specific part of your body, that a single factor is preventing your weight loss, and/or any advertisement using the words “miracle,” “trick,” “scientific breakthrough,” or “secret formula.”
  • The images on the site are obvious stock photos or appear altered.  If you aren’t sure if the images are authentic, use Google images to perform a reverse-image search.  Google can show you all the places using a specific picture. The method for doing this varies based upon your Web browser. Just search “Reverse Image Search Google” to quickly find the instructions that will work best for you.

Google the name of the product and add the word “scam” to the search query. Simply searching for “weight loss scam” returned the following products in just a few seconds:  HCG Diet Direct, Sensa Products, LeanSpa, L’Occitane, Lobster powders & creams, caffeine underwear, double shot pills, Healthe Trim, and many others. 

Who can you trust? 
Medical research progresses every day and even well-intentioned diet experts can find it difficult to determine if any specific product works.  TV’s Dr. Oz recently testified in front of the U.S. Senate about the difficulties he has experienced in keeping up with dietary science. He even has encouraged viewers to interpret his advice as if he were a celebrity rather than a doctor. Whether Dr. Oz encourages misinformation or is the victim of forces outside his control, the green coffee bean supplements scammers have been peddling skyrocketed in popularity after appearing on Dr. Oz’s TV show while the guest promoting them settled with the FTC for $9 million.
If you can’t trust famous doctors, you might then turn to friends for diet advice. That’s why many recent email scams have used Americans’ faith in their loved ones against them by hijacking email addresses to make it look like the scammers’ pitch was coming from a close friend or family member.  In addition, these emails send readers to false versions of respected news websites, giving their false claims an air of objectivity, because even people who might not trust Uncle Fred’s diet tips might accept claims made by famous journalists.  Here are some additional tips for combating those deceptive practices:

  • Always confirm that someone you really know sent you the email before you pay any money or volunteer any personal information.
  • Even if a site shows the logo of a major network, that doesn’t mean it’s legitimate.  Check out the other headlines the page links to.  Take a look at the ads on the page.  Are all the ads directing you to weight loss products or other similar businesses?
  • If a “reporter” tells you about their first-hand experience with the product, be skeptical.  If the claims seem incredible, be even more doubtful. Reporters don’t usually try medical products for a story and they are even less likely to do so for a long period of time.
  • If a major news network were to subject a reporter to experimental medical treatments, they would most likely put the segment on television and do a lot of pre-story promotion.  Weight loss offers a very dramatic visual, after all.  If you don’t see the reporter describing the product on video, or if the video doesn’t look like an expensive, major-network production, it is probably fake.  Scammers will take images and names from authentic news sources and use them without regard to legality, so confirm you are actually seeing the reporter talking about the product on that’s on the video.
  • If you’re still unsure about a product or offer, question everything.  What name did the reporter use in the video?  Search for it online to make sure he or she works for that network.  Look up the product and see if it’s for sale at a legitimate store.  Call the friend who sent you the email. Ask your doctor.    

If you are attempting to shed pounds for whatever reason, remember there are many healthy ways to do so. Some are relatively inexpensive while others can put a heavy strain on your wallet. Armed with awareness of the tricks and tactics will help you be alert and less susceptible to falling for the latest magic pill a scammer claims will get you to your ideal weight without the work.