How to Turn Your Back Yard into an Oasis

Image of two Charis surrounded by purple flowers in a back yard.

Most of us have spent lots of time at home this spring, and it looks like summer might not be much different. With many attractions still closed and some states seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases, safe travel will be challenging. For many Americans, this means choosing to staycation at home instead of hitting the road this summer.

A stay-at-home summer doesn’t need to be boring. You can turn your own backyard into a summer oasis without breaking the budget. Here is how to cost effectively maximize your outdoor space. From entertaining in style to keeping the kids busy, we’ve got you covered!

Upgrade your outdoor furniture

Chances are, you’ll be spending lots of time out in the yard this summer, and whether that means sunning on the patio or sipping lemonade under the shade of a tree, you’ll feel more of that vacay vibe with the right furniture. It doesn’t have to be pricey; a little ingenuity will really make those dollars stretch.

Make your outdoor space seem bigger by creating different seating areas for different purposes. Think a cozy coffee nook for mornings, a lazy hammock for getting lost inside the pages of a summer thriller, a pair of lounge chairs for catching the afternoon sun and a patio table for entertaining guests. You can even go all out and designate a small area for nighttime fireside fun.

If you’ve already got a nice patio set, freshen it up by replacing the cushions and adding some summery throw pillows for a whole new look.

Don’t forget to take a look at your outdoor lighting as you spruce up your patio and yard. Brighten up your outdoor space with some sconce lights along the walls or string up some old holiday lights for a truly festive feel.

Add a splash of fun

It may be too late in the season to think of installing an in-ground pool, but you can still have your floating fun with an above-ground pool this summer. Above-ground pools can cost as little as a few hundred dollars or as much as a few thousand for a larger, upgraded model. Most take a week or less to install. And then it’s an endless splashing summer!

Make it natural 

Yes, you’re already outdoors, but that doesn’t mean you’re surrounded by greenery. Even city slickers can add the natural touch to small apartment porches with some potted plants, a container garden or a trellis with climbing flowers. Stick that greenery wherever it can go for an added layer of relaxation.

If you want to go all-out to get that resort-like feel, consider building your own waterfall this summer. It may not be on your bucket list, but it’s a super-fun project with rewarding results.

Fun for the kids

Don’t forget to create a fun space for your kids in your backyard oasis. The sky’s the limit when it comes to outdoor play; just have fun and let your creativity flow freely. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Put up a rock-climbing wall. If your kids are climbing the walls from being home for too long, try a DIY rock-climbing kit for endless fun that also builds strength and coordination.

Build a swing set. Swing sets provide hours of entertainment, but they can get pricey. Save money without compromising on the fun factor by choosing to build a swing set yourself instead of purchasing it pre-made. You’ll have to buy materials and maybe the tools, but you’ll still come out way ahead. Plus, you can make the construction a family project that will keep everyone involved for days.

Install a backyard splashpad. Your favorite spraygrounds might be closed this summer, but you can have your water fun at home with a DIY splashpad kit. Splash pads promise hours of fun for kids of all ages.

Create a natural playspace. According to a natural playground study by the University of Tennessee, children who play on natural playgrounds, or playscapes, tend to stay more engaged than those playing on brightly colored equipment. Building a natural playspace is easy — think a small pile of sand, a set of logs arranged as stepping stones and some tall grass or plants to act as hiding spaces.

Financing your oasis

If you’re short on the cash you need to turn your backyard into an oasis this summer, Destinations Credit Union can help with a Signature Personal loan. Our terms are always favorable and our payback plans affordable. Also you may want to consider a HELOC (Home Equity Line of Credit) Put your mortgage payments to work for you today with a home equity line of credit from Destinations Credit Union. With this open, anytime credit line, we’ll help you transition your home’s equity into financing for a wide range of other needs. Call, click or stop by to discuss your options with one of our Loan Officers today.

Your Turn: Have you upgraded your outdoor space? Tell us about it in the comments.

Sources:
globalnews.ca
blog.rismedia.com
statesman.com
installitdirect.com

Against All Odds: J.K. Rowling

Photo of Author J.K. Rowling

She grew up in poverty and spent years struggling to get by as a single mom. She battled severe depression and her first book was soundly rejected by a dozen publishers.

And then she went on to become the wealthiest author of all time.

Welcome to the magical world of J.K. Rowling.

The early years

Joanne Rowling was born on July 31, 1965, in Yate, England, where she lived with her parents and sister, Dianne.

“As soon as I knew what writers were, I wanted to be one,” Rowling writes on her website. She wrote her first book at age 6 — and has been writing ever since.

Rowling’s childhood was far from idyllic. The family didn’t have much money and her mother’s 10-year battle with multiple sclerosis affected each of them in myriad ways.

The author studied French at Exeter University, where she claimed she did “no work whatsoever.”

After college, she worked as a researcher and secretary for human rights organization Amnesty International in London.

While riding a train from Manchester to London in 1990, the idea for the story of a young boy who doesn’t know he’s a wizard took root in Rowling’s mind. By the time the ride was over, Rowling had a basic outline for a seven-book series.

So goes the origin story of a legend.

Hard times

Rowling describes the day her mother died as the most traumatic event of her life. She was 25 years old at the time, and six months into writing the early drafts for the Harry Potter series.

After her mother’s passing, Rowling moved to northern Portugal, where she dated Jorge Arantes. She worked afternoons and evenings teaching English and devoted her mornings to writing Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

In 1992, Rowling married Arantes and, in 1993, she gave birth to a daughter, Jessica Arantes. However, the couple separated four months after Jessica’s birth.

Following the split, Rowling relocated to Edinburgh, Scotland, to be nearer to her sister while experiencing the darkest time of her life. Desperately poor and relying on welfare to survive, the single mom battled severe depression that sometimes bordered on suicidal thoughts. She was jobless, penniless and she had a small girl depending on her for her every need.

“I was the biggest failure I knew,” Rowling said during a 2008 Harvard University commencement speech.

Throughout the five years following her mother’s death, Rowling continued creating the secret wizarding world of Harry Potter, further outlining the series while writing the first draft of the first book. She’d sit in cafes throughout the city, painstakingly writing her manuscript on small scraps of paper that she would later transfer to pages using a rickety typewriter. Finally, in 1995, the first book in the series was complete.

Harry Potter was ready for his grand debut. Not everyone was quite as ready, though.

Getting published

The muggles of the world had no idea that an entire society of spell-casting wizards inhabits the same planet as they do, but J.K. Rowling was ready to reveal all — if only someone would agree to publish her book!

Rowling submitted her manuscript to 12 different publishing houses. The publishers must have been under a confundus charm, as each one soundly rejected the manuscript, claiming it was far too long for a children’s book. Ironically, at 320 pages, it is the shortest book in the series, with the fifth and longest book measuring nearly three times its length.

Finally, Rowling commissioned the Christopher Little Literary Agents to find a publisher for the story of The Boy Who Lived. After several failed attempts, the series was accepted by Bloomsbury, a small publishing house in London. The publishers encouraged Rowling to use initials for a book geared toward young boys, and after adding a “K” for her paternal grandmother, Kathleen, Joanne (Jo to her friends) became J.K. Rowling.

On June 26, 1997, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone hit the bookstores — and it was an instant sensation. All 500 copies of the initial printing sold rapidly, and just three days after its release, American publishing house, Scholastic, paid $105,000 for the rights to print the book in the United States. Rowling celebrated by purchasing her own apartment.

On July 2, 1998, Bloomsbury published the second book in the series, with an initial print run in the U.K. of 10,000.

In October of the same year, Scholastic published the first book in the series with a slight name change, illustrations at the beginning of each chapter, and an initial print run of 50,000. To date, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has sold 120 million copies around the world.

Also in October 1998, Rowling signed a seven-figure deal with Warner Bros. to turn the books into movies. The chart-topping series ended in 2011, with total sales from the franchise grossing at $21 billion, making it the most profitable movie franchise of all time.

Rowling continued writing Harry Potter books with just one-year breaks between each release until her catapult to fame finally caught up with her after the release of her fourth book in July 2000. She needed a break.

“The pressure of it had become overwhelming,” she told The New Yorker in an interview. “I found it difficult to write, which had never happened to me before in my life.”

Rowling also explained that she hadn’t had time to process the level of her fame and wealth.

“I needed to stop and I needed to try to come to terms with what had happened to me,” she said.

During this break from writing, on Dec. 26, 2001, Rowling married anesthesiologist Neil Murray. The couple have two children.

In June 2003, she published Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the longest book in the series. The sixth book was released in July 2005, with a record-breaking 10.8 million copies sold in the U.S.

In 2004, Forbes reported that Rowling was the first person in the world to become a billionaire by writing books. She later dropped off the billionaire list after giving much of her fortune to charity.

Harry Potter casts his final spell

In 2007, Rowling finished the series with the fastest-selling book of all time: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The seven books have collectively sold more than 500 million copies around the world.

In 2010, Universal Studios opened The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a theme park where guests can visit Hogsmeade, choose a magical wand and ride a roller coaster on a Hippogriff.

Rowling often speaks about how the hardships she endured in the early years of her life enabled her to create the wonderful world of Harry Potter.

“I couldn’t have written this book if I hadn’t had a few years where I’d been really as poor as it’s possible to go in the U.K. without being homeless,” Rowling said in 2012.

Elsewhere, Rowling said that she used her experience of depression to describe the despair and blackness the Dementors spread in Harry Potter’s world.

“It was entirely conscious,” she told the Times.  “And entirely from my own experience. Depression is the most unpleasant thing I have ever experienced.”

The author’s net worth stands at $92 million. The very best thing her wealth has given her, she writes, is the absence of worry. “I have not forgotten what it feels like to worry whether you’ll have enough money to pay the bills. Not to have to think about that anymore is the biggest luxury in the world.”

Rowling pays it forward with her remarkable philanthropy, giving special attention to charities that serve orphans.

The magic of Harry Potter lives on.

Do you have dreams but need help bringing them to fruition financially?
Destinations Credit Union can help with our HOPE Inside Financial Counseling – get your finances on track and get the help you need to realize your dreams.

Your Turn: What’s your favorite Harry Potter moment of all time? Best answer gets 10 points for Gryffindor!

 

Sources:
businessinsider.com
jkrowling.com
newyorker.com
insider.com
time.com
businessinsider.com
people.com

Watch Out for These Scams as the Country Moves Toward Reopening

Woman in Mask Using Laptop.

As the coronavirus continues spreading across the country in waves and peaks, every state is making bold moves toward reopening under a strange new set of circumstances dubbed the “New Normal.” Face coverings are de rigueur. Floor markings have been slapped down exactly 6 feet apart near checkout counters in retail stores. Shoppers are weary, cautious and careful. And, as the country moves forward and adapts to the new realities, scammers aren’t far behind.

Watch out for these trending scams as the country reopens:

Account Takeovers

Even as retailers work toward reopening, shorter hours and percentage-capacity rules mean many consumers are still shopping remotely. Retailers are also busier than ever now as they comply with new rules and work to meet customers’ changing demands. This leads to an increase in online retail scams, like account takeovers, in which scammers hack a company’s database and break into a customer’s account. Using the customer’s remembered payment information, the scammer goes on to place large orders to their own address — all on the client’s dime.

Protect yourself:

Account takeovers are most commonly pulled off on dormant accounts. The scammer assumes these accountholders won’t notice this activity, but you can outsmart them by checking your retail accounts for sudden orders or deleting the remembered information from accounts you rarely use.

Business owners can spot these scams by looking out for sudden large orders from customers who haven’t purchased anything in months, or even years.

Job Scams

“Help Wanted” signs and ads are a welcome sight for the more than 40 million workers who have filed for unemployment since the pandemic hit American shores. Unfortunately, though, the flood of unemployed people looking for work has led to a rise in job scams. The FBI is warning against a surge in scams where cybercriminals pose as employers by spoofing websites and posting bogus job openings on online job boards. They may even go as far as conducting interviews with applicants. The scammers ask for personal information, and sometimes demand payment, before the “application” can be processed. Of course, there is no job waiting for the applicant, their information is now in danger of being abused and they’ll never see that money again.

In a variation of this scam, “employees” are given work to do remotely, and then paid with an inflated paycheck. They’re told they had been overpaid and instructed to cash the check and reimburse the employer for the surplus funds via money order or prepaid debit card. The check will appear to clear, but in a few days, it will bounce and the victim will never be able to reclaim the lost funds.

Protect yourself:

Beware of outrageous job claims that promise big money for little work; they’re likely bogus. As always, never share sensitive information online with an unverified source. Don’t accept a job that overpays and asks you to refund the extra money; it’s likely a scam. Finally, before agreeing to an interview, research an alleged employer and company on the BBB website.

The Contact Tracer Scam

Many states have hired armies of contact tracers to track the movements of individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19. The FTC is warning of a new ruse in which scammers impersonate a contact tracer and reach out to people via phone call or text message. They’ll ask for the victim’s personal information, including their Social Security number, claiming they need this information for their work as a contact tracer. Of course, they’ll use this information to pull off identity theft or hack the victim’s accounts. The scammer will sometimes ask the victim to click on an embedded link, which will grant them access to the victim’s phone.

Protect yourself:

Contact tracers will always identify themselves and the department where they work. If a contact tracer reaches out to you, you can easily determine their authenticity by researching this information. The tracer will also have a basic understanding of COVID-19 and how it spreads. Most importantly, they have no need for your Social Security number nor will they ask you to share it.

As the country moves into a new period of healing and recovery, scammers are doing all they can to continue disrupting daily life. Stay aware and stay safe!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a reopening scam? Tell us about it in the comments.

Sources:
https://www.news5cleveland.com/news/continuing-coverage/coronavirus/scammers-aim-to-target-small-businesses-during-reopening-efforts

https://www.idtheftcenter.org/consumers-should-watch-out-for-covid-19-reopening-job-scams/

https://camdencountypros.org/paying-attention-to-potential-scams-as-new-jersey-moves-toward-reopening

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2020/05/covid-19-contact-tracing-text-message-scams

How to Navigate Life’s Next Major Milestone – Downsizing Your Home in Retirement

by: Michael Longsdonwww.elderfreedom.net

Life is full of milestones, and just because you’re retired doesn’t mean those milestones are behind you. It’s becoming common for seniors to reach a new milestone after (and sometimes before) retirement: downsizing to a smaller, more manageable place to live. There are countless benefits to making this move, but once you’ve decided to downsize, you’re left with more questions to answer. Where should you move, and how do you go about de-cluttering, packing, and moving years’ worth of stuff?

Man standing with woman

You’re Ready to Downsize, But Where?

If you don’t already have a place in mind, this is the first question to tackle. You may want to escape to the quiet of the country, or as HGTV suggests, some seniors prefer a condo in the city so they live in a walk-able neighborhood and close to necessities. Along with choosing the right community, you’ll also need to decide on the type of home you want. If you plan on buying, make sure you consider all the financial obligations involved. You may even decide that renting an apartment is a good fit, especially if you want the freedom to move again.

On the other hand, you may feel more comfortable choosing a retirement community. One thing to keep in mind is how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting communities, especially those where residents live in close proximity. The bottom line is that each option for downsizing has both pros and cons, so the answer comes down to whatever best fits your needs and your budget.

Finding the Features You Need

If you move into a retirement community, you can expect it to be designed to meet your needs as you age. However, if you’re buying a home or renting an apartment, you’ll need to look for features that maximize accessibility and safety. For starters, an accessible home should only be one level and have a zero-step entry. Your top safety concern is the risk of falling, which can be reduced by adding non-slip flooring, good lighting, and grab bars in the bathroom.

Some homes may not have every accessibility feature you need, but if you’re buying a home, you can always make modifications. Make sure to leave room in your budget for all renovations, including minor changes that you can DIY, along with bigger projects. Keep in mind that major accessibility modifications, such as installing a stair-lift, replacing a shower, or installing new flooring, will require a professional to ensure it’s done right.

Selling Your Home

In addition to finding the perfect place to call home, you may be asking yourself, “How am I going to sell my home?” Because COVID-19 is still a concern nationwide, one option is to use an online real estate service like Home Captain. The benefit of using a service like this is that it’s a financial technology platform, so it’s designed to not only make the selling process easier, but also to ensure you’re getting the best deal.

De-cluttering and Packing

It’s normal for seniors to feel overwhelmed by the thought of packing and moving. The good news is that this process is much easier when you tackle it with a plan. For example, the website Senior Safety Advice recommends decluttering by taking it one room at a time – and even one section of a room at a time. Another way to ease the burden is to look at the benefits of de-cluttering and moving. As hard as it may be, the reward is that it gives you the opportunity to start fresh and organized in your new home.

Taking the step to downsize is a major life change, and it comes with both rewards and challenges. The first step is deciding if this is the right move for you; then there are the questions about how to make it happen. This article may not have all the answers, but hopefully, it can get you started on finding the answers that are right for you.

Photo credit: Rawpixel

Snowball Method vs. Avalanche Method: What’s the Best Way to Tackle Debt?

Debt is the ultimate killjoy. It can destroy a budget, make long-term financial planning impossible, and shadow every purchase you make with guilt. No one wants to live with that debt burden. But how do you kiss your debt goodbye?

Woman sitting at table working on Phone and laptop.

Crawling out from under this mountain won’t be easy, but if you’re ready to realign your priorities and do what it takes, you can shake off debt no matter how large.

Let’s take a look at two popular approaches for paying down debt and explore the pros and cons of each.

The debt snowball method

The snowball approach to getting out of debt was popularized by financial guru Dave Ramsey. It involves focusing on paying off the smallest debt first, and then working on the next-smallest debt until they’re all paid off.

Let’s take a look at how this would work using an example scenario. Say you’ve squeezed an extra $500 out of your budget to channel toward paying down debt and you have the following debts:

  • $2,500 personal loan at 9.5% interest; minimum payment $50
  • $10,000 car loan at 3% interest; minimum payment $200
  • $13,000 credit card debt at 18.99% interest; minimum payment $225
  • $18,000 student loan at 4.5% interest; minimum payment $300

In this scenario, the snowball method would have you paying just the minimum payment on all debts except for the smallest. On that, you’d put the extra $500 you have toward quickly paying off the personal loan. Once that’s paid off, you’d take the $550 you were paying toward the personal loan and add it to the $200 you’re paying for the car loan. Now you’re paying $750 toward your car loan and you’ll be kicking it in approximately one year. Keep doing this until you’ve kissed all your debts goodbye!

Pros of the debt snowball method

The most significant draw of the debt snowball method is that it works with behavior modification and not with math. The small but quick wins are excellent motivators to keep you going until you’ve worked through all debts.

Like Ramsey says on his site, “Personal finance is 20% head knowledge and 80% behavior.”

It’s not just a nice theory. A study published by Harvard Business Review proved that starting a journey toward a debt-free life with the smallest debt actually does help keep the motivation going until the job is done.

Cons of the debt snowball method

The primary disadvantage of the debt snowball method is its indifference toward interest rates. Paying off the smallest debt first can mean holding onto the debt with the highest interest rate the longest. This translates into paying more in overall interest, sometimes to the tune of several thousands of dollars.

Debt avalanche method

The debt avalanche method takes the opposite approach of the snowball method and advocates for getting rid of the debt with the largest interest rate first and then moving on to the next-highest. This enables the debt-payer to shed heavy interest rates quicker and to put more of their money toward the principal of their loans.

In the scenario above, the debt avalanche method would involve paying down the credit card debt first, followed by the personal loan, student loan and finally the car loan.

Pros of the debt avalanche method

Paying off the debt with the highest interest rate first can save hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of dollars in interest. Some people also like the idea of kicking their most weighty debt sooner. Finally, in most cases, choosing the debt avalanche route will be shorter than the snowball method.

Cons of the debt avalanche method

The debt avalanche requires self-motivation to keep the debt-payer plugging away at the plan despite seeing little progress. It’s harder to feel like you’re getting somewhere when the numbers are barely moving, but for individuals who are sincerely motivated and believe they can stick with the plan until they see results, it can work.

Which method is right for you?

Factors like your personality and lifestyle play a role in determining which of these methods is the best choice for you. If you think you’d need early motivation to keep going, you may want to choose the debt snowball method. Is your chief concern finding an approach that will cost you less time and money? In that case, you might want to go with the avalanche approach.

Before you make your decision, you may want to run your numbers through a financial calculator to see how much interest you’d be paying by using each method and how long each approach will take.

There’s no reason to think you’ll be stuck with one method once you make your choice. You can always switch approaches down the line, or decide early on to get rid of your debt with the largest interest rate first, as per the debt avalanche method, and then work toward paying off the rest in order from smallest to largest, as per the debt snowball method.

Are you ready to tackle your debt? Choose your approach and get started today. A glorious debt-free life awaits! For information on how Destinations Credit Union can help you reach your short term and long term goals, visit us at our website. Destinations Credit Union

The HOPE Inside model created by financial dignity nonprofit Operation HOPE, provides no-cost one-on-one financial literacy coaching, workshops, and education programming to participants through the support of financial and corporate partners. Destinations is the first credit union in the country to offer this service. Credit and Money Management, a core program of the HOPE Inside adult offering, is provided at this location. The Credit and Money Management Program is designed to transform disabling financial mindsets—teaching people the language of money, how to navigate credit, and make better decisions with the money they have.

Your Turn: Have you paid off a large amount of debt? Tell us how you did it in the comments.

Am I Really Ready to Buy a House?

Q: I’ve saved a down payment, narrowed my choices of neighborhoods and drawn up a wish list of what I’m looking for in a home, but I’m getting cold feet. How do I know if I’m really ready to buy a house?

A: It’s perfectly normal to feel hesitant about going through with what may be the biggest purchase of your life. To help put you at ease and to make sure you’re really prepared for this purchase, we’ve compiled a list of questions to ask yourself before buying a new home.

Man and woman looking at lady using laptop in office setting.

Can I afford to buy a house?

Before viewing properties, remember that purchasing a new home will cost more than just the down payment. Buyers also need to cover closing costs, which typically run at 2-4 percent of the total purchase, as well as moving costs, and possibly new furniture and renovations for their new home.

Can I afford the monthly mortgage payments?

Most lending companies will grant a loan to a home buyer if the monthly mortgage payments do not push the buyer’s debt-to-income (DTI) ratio above the recommended 43 percent. This means that the total monthly debt the buyer carries, including their mortgage, credit card, loan, and car payments, do not exceed 43 percent of their monthly income. You may want to work out the total for your pre-mortgage debt before applying for a loan so you have an idea of how much house you can afford.

When determining whether you can actually afford your monthly payments, though, remember that there’s more to home ownership than a monthly mortgage payment. Be sure to include calculations for taxes, insurance and a possible increase in utility bills. A mortgage lender should be able to provide some of these numbers for you.

Am I ready to settle down? 

The average length of time that homeowners in the U.S. live in a house is only seven years. Buyers who don’t plan on staying in their homes long-term may end up incurring a loss. Consider factors like your career, family planning, changing demographics of a neighborhood and more when trying to answer this question. Experts advise buyers to only purchase homes they plan on living in for a minimum of five years.

Does buying a house in my neighborhood make financial sense? 

Many Americans view home ownership as a rite of passage into adulthood, but that doesn’t mean purchasing a home always makes financial sense. In some neighborhoods, rentals are relatively cheap while houses sell for far more than they are actually worth. In these neighborhoods, buying a home may not be the logical choice, even if the buyer can easily afford the purchase.

Is my credit score high enough?

A fairly decent credit score is necessary to qualify for a home loan. Most lenders will only grant a home loan to borrowers with a credit score of 650 or higher. A score that doesn’t make the cut can be increased by being super-careful about paying all bills on time, not opening new credit cards in the months leading up to the home loan application, paying credit card bills in full each month and keeping credit utilization low.

Do I have a plan in place for repairs? 

When a renter has a leaky faucet, they call the landlord and the problem becomes theirs. When a homeowner has a leaky faucet, it’s their own problem. They can either fix it or hire someone to do the job, but it’s a good idea to have a plan in place before the first thing in a new home needs fixing. If you’re handy enough to handle repairs on your own, you’ll need to be ready and willing to give up some of your free time on weekends to tend to things around the house.  Otherwise, it’s best to have a tidy sum put away to pay for necessary repairs before purchasing a home.

Sometimes, an appliance or a system in the house will be broken beyond repair and will need replacing. Homeowners need to have enough money stashed away in their emergency fund or rainy-day account to cover these purchases, too.

Buying a first home is an exciting milestone that only happens once in a lifetime. If you think you’re ready to take this step, first make sure this purchase is the right choice for you at this time on a financial and practical level.

Your Turn: How did you know you were ready to buy a house? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

Don’t Toss That Junk Mail — It Might be Your Stimulus Payment

Four million Americans are receiving their Economic Impact Payment in the form of a prepaid debit card — and many are mistaking it for junk mail.

Mail sticking out of mail slot in door.

Last week, the U.S. Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) began sending out Economic Impact Payments (EIP) as prepaid debit cards. The cards arrive in plain white envelopes that are strikingly similar to junk mail from credit card companies and scam mail. There’s no way to know that the card is from the federal government unless the recipient knows to expect it.

Reports are already pouring in from all over the country of people mistakenly tossing their EIP cards along with their junk mail. By the time they realize they’ve thrown out their long-awaited stimulus payment, it’s too late.

Here’s how to spot your EIP card, activate it and use it, in three easy steps:

Step 1: Spot your card in the mail

If you’re eligible for a stimulus payment and you haven’t yet received it via direct deposit or paper check, be on the lookout for your EIP card in the mail. The prepaid debit card will arrive in a white envelope with a return address from “Money Network Cardholder Services” of MetaBank in Omaha, Nebraska. There is no other marking on the envelope to indicate it’s been sent from the federal government.

If you think you may have mistakenly tossed your EIP card, don’t panic. You can still receive your payment by calling the toll-free customer service line at 800-240-8100 (TTY: 800-241-9100) to ask for a replacement. You can also check out the EIP website for additional information and assistance.

Step 2: Activate your card

Your EIP card will be accompanied by a letter with instructions for activating it. If the card has more than one name on it, only the primary cardholder — listed first on the card — may activate it.

Dial 800-240-8100 (TTY: 800-241-9100) and be prepared to share your name, address and Social Security number. You’ll also be asked to create a four-digit PIN, which you’ll use for all ATM transactions, automated assistance and to hear your balance. For security purposes, it’s best not to use personal information, such as your birth year or home address, as your PIN.

Watch out for scammers! Pay close attention when dialing the number to activate your card. Scammers have set up bogus EIP card call centers and are using numbers that are similar to the official one shared by the IRS.

Once your card is activated, you can create a username and password to use your card online at the Money Network site. You can also check out your balance information and transaction history at EIPCard.com or by calling the toll-free number listed above.

Step 3: Use your card

You can use your EIP card to make purchases anywhere Visa debit cards are accepted.

If you’d rather have your stimulus money in cash, you can get cash back with PIN debit purchases where available, or by withdrawing cash from an ATM that carries the Allpoint brand.

It won’t cost you money to use your card, except for a select few transactions. For example, if you make a balance inquiry at an ATM, you’ll need to pay $0.25. Also, you can make one free withdrawal from an out-of-network ATM, but you’ll be charged $2 for every withdrawal afterward. To find a surcharge-free ATM near you, check out EIPCard.com.

Keep your card safe; if you lose it, you’ll have to pay $7.50 to replace it. It’s also a good idea to keep track of your balance so you don’t end up at the register with a card that’s declined because of an insufficient balance.

Your Turn: How are you using your stimulus money? Tell us about it in the comments.

Should I Take the Zero-Percent Financing Offered by the Dealer?

Mercedes Benz Car Show Room Floor.

Q: I’m in the market for a new set of wheels, and I’ve seen some dealers advertising zero-percent financing. Should I take this offer?

A: An auto loan without any interest sounds like a dream; however, there are many considerations before deciding to take out a zero-percent financing loan. Let’s take a closer look at zero-percent financing so you can make an informed, responsible decision about your auto loan.

What is zero-percent financing?

An auto loan offer of zero-percent financing means the dealer financer is offering to lend the buyer money without charging any interest over the life of the loan.

With traditional loans, the lender is willing to extend money to the buyer because the lender will reap the benefits of the interest payments over the life of the loan. A zero-percent car loan, though, offers no reward for the lender. In fact, the loan is actually being offered by the auto manufacturer. The automaker stands to benefit from the loan as much as it would from an upfront cash payment for one of its cars. The only difference is that the money is earned over a longer time span. Automakers may offer zero-percent financing on slower-selling models or to help clear out stale inventory to make room for newer models.

Can anyone qualify for zero-percent financing? 

Zero-percent financing may be heavily advertised, but it can be difficult to qualify for one of these loans. They are typically only offered to buyers who have excellent credit, including a credit score above 700 and a long credit history. These buyers are more likely to make every payment on time and they may even pay off the loan early, making it low risk and profitable for the automaker.

It’s also important to note that not everyone can afford to take out a zero-percent financing loan. Since the lenders are only profiting from the actual sale on these loans, they will rarely agree to bargain down the price, nor do they offer any other incentives, such as cash-back rebates.

When is zero-percent financing a good idea?

For buyers who qualify, a zero-percent financing loan may be a way to save on steep interest payments throughout the life of an auto loan. A buyer can easily save several thousands of dollars in interest payments over the life of a zero-financing loan.

It is crucial that qualifying buyers crunch the numbers to be sure they can easily afford the monthly payments on a zero-interest loan. If all the numbers add up and the buyer’s credit makes the cut, a zero-interest loan can be a great way to save money on a new set of wheels.

When is zero-percent financing a bad idea

Zero-percent financing may not be in the best interest of buyers who can’t actually afford the loan. As mentioned, lenders generally will not bring down the price on a car with a zero-percent financing offer. Buyers may be blinded by the temptation of not paying any interest and therefore consider a vehicle that has a higher monthly price tag than they originally planned.

Another point to consider before committing to a zero-down financing loan is the term of the loan. Some of these loans feature longer terms than traditional auto loans, as much as six years. Six years is a long time to be paying for a car. The buyer’s auto needs may change before then and they won’t own the car for a year longer than they would have through a traditional loan. On the flip side, lots of zero-percent financing loans are only four years long, which can significantly increase the monthly payment amount.

Even if the loan terms do meet the buyer’s needs, it still may be worthwhile to skip the zero-percent financing and take out a traditional loan so the buyer will not miss out on cash-back rebates. These are typically not available on auto loans with special financing offers, and can mean missing out on robust incentives.

Let’s take a look at the purchase of a single car and run it through both kinds of loans.

A car is selling for $20,000 with the offer of a zero-percent financing loan that needs to be paid off in four years. Monthly payments on this loan will amount to $416.

Alternatively, the buyer can consider a traditional loan for the same car. An auto loan furnished by a credit union at the average national rate according to data extracted by the NCUA would give the loan an annual percentage rate (APR) of 3.45 percent. Over five years, this would amount to a monthly payment of $363.

In addition, with a traditional loan, the buyer can take advantage of manufacturer rebates. If this car would have an offer of a $2,500 cash-back rebate, its price would drop to $17,500. Through a loan with an APR of 3.45 percent, the monthly payments would only be $318. The total amount paid on the car would also be less than the amount paid through the no-interest loan, at $19,080.

If the buyer chose to take out a loan through a bank, with auto loan APRs averaging at 5.10 percent, the monthly payments (without the manufacturer’s rebate) would be $378. If the manufacturer offered a rebate, that amount would fall to $331 a month.

Evidently, when there is a shorter loan term involved, it is not always worthwhile to take out a zero-percent financing auto loan.

If the offer does not feature a shorter loan term, the difference between scenarios wouldn’t be as dramatic. A five-year loan on $20,000 with zero interest would cost the buyer $333 each month, only $15 more than the traditional loan through a credit union after the rebate; however, a five-year loan term may not be an option on a no-interest loan. Also, when you take out a loan through , you’ll enjoy personalized service and zero pressure to make a decision.

It’s best to run your own numbers through a free auto loan calculator to see what your actual monthly payment would be before taking on a loan. It’s the best way to determine if you can afford the payments without overextending your budget.

If you’re ready to get started on your auto loan, stop by today to get started. We’ll have you seated behind your new set of wheels in no time! Below you will find some links to our page for our Auto Loans.

Auto Loans Vehicle Search

Your Turn: Have you chosen to forego a zero-percent financing option? Tell us about it in the comments.

Ways to Celebrate Memorial Day during the COVID-19 Lock Down

Most years, Memorial Day is the unofficial kickoff to summer. Americans salute and honor the memory of our military heroes with grand parades, lively family picnics and crowded barbecues.

Man Holding American Flag in left hand, while draped in American flag.

But, this year, everything is different. Even as the country moves forward with the reopening process, people continue to practice caution and avoid unnecessary contact with others. Some states and counties are still under lock down, and many state and local governments continue to mandate mask-wearing and social distancing, which severely limits in-person socializing. Also, many annual Memorial Day events have been canceled around the country.

Don’t let any of that put a damper on your Memorial Day plans, though. While you may not be able to celebrate the way you usually do, you can still commemorate the day dedicated to our fallen military heroes without compromising your health and safety.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

Create your own parade 

The town’s yearly Memorial Day parade may have been canceled, but you can get together with your neighbors and salute our heroes, COVID-19 style. Arrange a car parade for the neighborhood and have everyone decorate their vehicles with patriotic signs and banners in honor of the day.

Watch the National Memorial Day Concert from home 

You don’t have to head out to Washington, D.C. this year to watch the National Memorial Day Concert. PBS will be broadcasting the annual concert on Sunday, May 24, at 8 p.m. As always, the concert will feature performances and tributes filmed from around the country to honor our servicepeople who gave their all.

Get outdoors

Celebrate the start of summer in the glorious outdoors. Break out the bike, take a fishing trip, lace up your hiking boots or enjoy a nature walk with your family.

Visit George Washington’s Virginia estate 

Why not treat the entire family to a fascinating history lesson this Memorial Day? Mount Vernon might currently be closed to the public, but you can now enjoy a virtual 360-degree tour of the estate on its website.

Run in a virtual race

Live races are still prohibited in much of the country, but you can compete in a virtual race this Memorial Day. Check out Racehawk.com for a list of virtual races you can join this Memorial Day weekend.

Pay a virtual visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

The memorial, based in Arlington, Va., will be hosting its annual Memorial Day Ceremony via webcast this year. The event will run from 1-2 p.m. Eastern time on Monday, May 25, and will honor those who served in the U.S. armed forces during the Vietnam War.

 Your Turn: How are you celebrating Memorial Day this year? Tell us about it in the comments.

Stay Fit with Household Chores During the Corona Virus Lock-down

Gyms are shuttered and you may be stuck in the house all day without much to do. In some cities, outdoor exercise is off the table, too, as hiking trails are roped off and parks are closed. With all of your socializing happening on Zoom, there’s no pressing reason to get out of your PJs or sweats either. All of these factors create the perfect recipe for letting your fitness commitments slide and slowly turning into a couch potato.

Woman with glasses wearing blue rubber gloves cleaning windows.

Eventually, though, life will return to normal and you’ll need to fit into real clothing again. And when that happens, you want to be ready. Lucky for you, you don’t need the gym or a jog around the block to keep fit. All you need is a list of household chores to tackle.  Let’s whip your muscles — and your house — into shape!

Chore # 1: Vacuum your rugs

Calories burned per hour: 190

It’s time to break out the vacuum; your abdominal muscles are waiting! The forward and backward motion of vacuuming is a fantastic workout for your abs.

To get more for your muscles: 

As you vacuum, flex your muscles one at a time, beginning at your pelvis and moving into your upper abs.
Do leg lunges every few minutes as you push the vacuum back and forth across your floors.

Chore #2: Mop your floors

Calories burned per hour: 195

Make those floors sparkle — and give your abs and arms a great workout!

Tip: Before you start, clear your floors from clutter and dirt so you’ll be able to clean as many surfaces as possible in succession, quickening your heart rate.

To get more for your muscles:

Flex your abs and squat instead of bending if you need to get to a hard-to-reach space.
Switch arms as you sweep or mop so you’re reaching and pulling back with your right and left sides evenly.
When you hit a hard spot, get down on your hands and knees to scrub. This will help tone your shoulders and upper arms.

Chore # 3: Wash your windows 

Calories burned per hour: 180

Wipe that grime off your windows while you tone your upper and lower arm muscles.

Get more for your muscles: 

Use your left and right hands equally.
Wipe in a circular motion for maximum workout.
Reach up as high as you can to work your abs and lower back muscles, too.

Chore # 4: Wash your dishes 

Calories burned per hour: 120 

All that scrubbing and rinsing under sudsy water provides a great workout for your arm muscles.

Get more for your muscles:

For really tough stains, use vigorous scrubbing in place of soaking. This will boost your calorie-torching to 160 an hour.
While waiting for your dishes to air-dry, do some squats on your kitchen floor.

Your Turn: How do you turn housekeeping into a fitness workout? Share your tips with us in the comments.