Keep Yourself Safe During The Holiday Season

Every year, we hear about the same holiday safety tips – don’t drive tired, don’t drive drunk, assume every other driver is drunk and/or tired, etc. Those are all good ideas to keep in mind year-round. Occasionally, we’ll hear one that’s specific to the season, like how frying turkey in the driveway is as dangerous as it is delicious, and it’s also not something to try while drinking or overly tired. Unfortunately, this time of year is also one of financial dangers, many of which you won’t hear about on the morning news or read about in the paper.  Take some time, read our tips, and hopefully you won’t be a holiday victim. 

Keep an eye on your surroundings – Crowded malls and shopping centers are a savory opportunity for pickpockets.  You’re expecting to get bumped and won’t notice one more jostle in a day full of them.  If you do recognize you’ve been robbed, the thief can probably get away into the crowd, disappearing like a needle in a haystack.  Purses should be worn across the body, wallets kept in the front pocket or inside a closed jacket.  Consider leaving the house with the bare minimum, such as your driver’s license or ID, health insurance card and our debit card – which offers fraud protection and security features not available with cash. 

RFID, RFID, RFID – Today’s pickpockets don’t need to take your wallet to cause you problems, because many modern debit and credit cards emit RFID signals with personally identifying information.  If any of your cards have a chip, then you need to account for them. Check our RFID wallet guide for some tips. In a pinch, you can wrap chipped cards in two layers of aluminum foil, which will offer you protection from high-tech pickpockets, but you may get some bewildered stares or questions from folks at the register.

 

Don’t leave checks in the mailbox – At some point, we all learned not to use those colorful envelopes that tell thieves which cards might have checks in them, but we never learned the next step: Don’t put checks in the mailbox at all.  It’s not hard for thieves to grab stuff out of the outgoing mail, whether it has the power company’s name on it or is shaped like a holiday card.  Drop all checks into a big blue mailbox, bring them into your post office branch, or hand them to your postal carrier in person.  By the way, this tip should be followed year-round, and you might want to consider setting up our online bill pay feature to minimize the number of checks you write, as well. 

Understand the dangers of every form of payment – Every form of payment has its dangers.  Cash is portable and untraceable, so it’s a target for thieves.  Cards without EMV chips are in danger from skimmers built into the card reader at registers (like what happened at Target).  EMV cards can be skimmed by people with specialized equipment who bump up next to you.  All cards, cash and mobile phones are in danger of being stolen.  Some experts are even saying that check fraud will be the most dangerous type of identity theft over the next five years.  Even if you attempt to return to agrarian-era bartering, an enterprising thief could run off with the cow you were going to trade for an Old Navy gift card.

Take a breath, recognize the dangers and take reasonable precautions. Do you know what kind of fraud protection you have on each of your credit cards?  Any card about which you’re unsure needs to stay home until you find out.  Unsure about a small boutique’s cyber security? Bring cash. 
Bring your own bag – Shopping bags are a great way for stores to advertise, but they also advertise to thieves.  “This overburdened, overtired, potentially unwary individual is carrying goods from all of these stores,” the bags say “some may even have receipts in them and might have been paid for with cash.” Don’t make it easier for thieves. Instead, bring a tote bag that zips up if you have one, or your canvas grocery bags if you don’t. 
Take a trip to the car – Carrying too much is asking for trouble.  It makes you less mobile, you’re less likely to feel someone remove an item from your bags, and even if no one hassles you, it’s a good way to end up with back pain.  If you’re enduring a marathon trip to the mall, take time every few stores to take your purchases out to the car. Keep receipts in your wallet and take pictures of the bags you put in your trunk (where thieves can’t see), so even in the worst possible scenario, your car insurance can cover the loss of your shopping from a car thief.
Plus, you’ll have less to carry, you’ll get some exercise, and the cold air can help you clear your head to decide if you need to purchase anything else.  Not a bad way to keep from overspending! 
Buy yourself a holiday drink from the coffee shop – You’re probably safer if you’re alert, but that’s just an excuse.  Holiday coffee drinks are delicious, you want one, and we just gave you an awesome excuse to justify the everyday luxury of a peppermint mocha to yourself.  You’re welcome. 
January is coming, be ready – If you’re going to binge on holiday shopping in December, you’ll need to purge in January.  Keep all of your receipts and do an extra-careful reconciliation of your accounts in January.  Be ready to spend a few afternoons making phone calls to make sure every charge is correct and accounted for.  Make sure to check your credit report in January as well.  While you’re checking your credit and your accounts, take the opportunity to start the new year off right:  you have your financial info gathered already, you have your credit report in front of you and your W-2s are starting to show up, so it’s time to do three things:
  1. File your taxes.  Don’t get mad at us, it’s not our fault.  We’re only reminding you to do it early because you’ll already have most of what you’ll need, so getting your homework done on Friday will give you the rest of the weekend off. And don’t forget to have any refund directly deposited to your Destinations account.
  2. Rework your debt.  You have every one of your credit card and other account statements in front of you, so it’s time to make some calls.  For your higher interest cards, it’s time to pay them down, transfer the balances to a MasterCard at Destinations Credit Union or negotiate a lower rate.  This is easier if you’ve got some cash in hand, possibly from the tax refund you now know you’re getting.  You can also take this time to explore using your home equity to eliminate some of the high-interest cards. 
  3. Set up a Holiday Club for 2016.  Alright, you just saw how much money you spent this holiday season.  Next year, resolve to do it all without taking on unnecessary debt.  You’ll save a ton of money and a ton of stress.  The best way to do that is with one of our Holiday Club accounts.  Use this year’s budget as a guide. Next year will be a breeze.

And that’s it.  It sounds like a lot, but it’s really taking the same level of vigilance you would use for normal shopping and increasing it to correspond with the increased spending of the season.  For a good rule of thumb, maybe we should just establish the “3-Mariah” rule:  Once you hear Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” for the third time on any day, you have to go home – you’ve either spent too long at the mall, or your brain has been turned into holiday slurry and you can no longer be trusted to remain vigilant.  Three Mariahs and you’re out.

It’s Almost Halloween, So Let’s Talk Christmas


Football has begun, the leaves are changing and the kids are back in school. Clearly, it’s time to start thinking about Christmas.  Some of you are reading this on your phone while waiting in line at Starbucks, preparing to buy your first Pumpkin Spice Latte of the season, but it’s time to start thinking of peppermint mochas instead.  Even if you’re the “Bah, Humbug” type of person who regularly posts Facebook rants about the neighbors putting up their lights before Thanksgiving, making financial plans for the holiday is still a really good idea.  It might be too early to hang a stocking, but it’s never too early to sock money away.

Question: How much will I be spending on the holidays this year?

Answer:  Recent studies have pegged the price of the holidays at roughly $300 per child, while one in 10 shoppers admit to spending over $500 on gifts for their children.  Overall, Americans spent about $600 billion on Christmas last year, which comes out to around $2,000 per person. This includes decorations, hams, ugly sweaters, and whatever else you tend to buy.  That’s a lot of money.

Question:  Ugh.  Why are we even talking about that money now? It’s not even Halloween!

Answer:  Halloween is exactly why we should make plans now.  Since 2005, American spending on Halloween has spiked.  Last year, we spent about $7 billion on Halloween, including $350 million on costumes for our pets!  It’s easy to overspend in October, let that lead into an indulgent Thanksgiving in November, and then find ourselves putting all our Christmas spending onto a high-interest-rate credit card.  Planning ahead is a necessary step to prevent you from a holiday hangover in the New Year.

Question:  How bad is it to put Christmas on a credit card?

Answer:  It might be worse than you think.  It’ll cost you about $200 per month to pay off an average Christmas debt in time for next year if using a typical high-interest credit card. And if you don’t pay it off by next year, you’re suddenly trying to pay off two holidays at once. That’s bad news.  Even if you think you can handle the extra debt load, remember that the Fed just raised rates, and it may do so again. Whenever it does, you can expect your credit card bill to go up.  On top of all that, paying around $400 in interest charges and fees over the course of the year is still $400.  That’s probably enough money to turn your average Christmas into something worthy of a televised Christmas special.  If you have to use a credit card, make sure it’s a low rate card like your Destinations MasterCard.

Question:  Is it too late to get ahead for this year?

Answer:  Not at all.  You have a lot of options to save yourself from your own spending.  You can sign up for a Holiday Club account, a High Yield Account or a variety of other plans.  But that’s not the only approach.  You can also get ahead of the rate hikes by moving all of your credit card debt into a home equity loan (check out our rates) or signing up for one of our low-interest credit cards.

But even all those options don’t represent all the various ways to save money. Remember that Christmas spending doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition.  You can combine savings, credit cards and budgeting to attack the holiday from several angles.  Start now, and by Christmas you’ll have a well-stocked war chest, or in this case, toy chest, to give you a variety of options.

Question:  What about the holidays between now and then?

Answer:  Between Halloween and Thanksgiving, Americans spend around $150 per person on average, which is far more affordable than Christmas. But that can still add up quickly, especially in larger families.  It can also be difficult to tighten the belt at this time of year, because it can mean less candy and less family time for the kids.  If you’re worried about this spending, one way to rein it in is to make a combined holiday budget you pay into every month.  Figure out how much you plan to spend on birthdays, holidays, anniversaries and the like, then divide that by 12.  That’s how much you need to put away every month.  Does that sound like a lot of money?  Then you can cut down all year long.  Maybe you don’t need to send birthday gifts to as many people or your anniversary can be a smaller occasion this year. The bottom line: If you start planning ahead, you can keep your holiday spending from being an obstacle to your financial future.

Sources:

http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/archives/guess-how-much-americans-plan-to-spend-on-christmas-and-halloween-this-year
http://www.today.com/parents/yes-we-spoil-our-kids-6-000-moms-come-clean-1C7397939

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/10/the-halloween-economy-2-billion-in-candy-300-million-in-pet-costumes/247531/

http://abcnews.go.com/WN/mailform?id=14998335

College Credit: It’s On The Syllabus

No matter what you ask your professor over the course of the semester, the most likely response you’ll get is something like “It’s on the syllabus.” Yes, professors love to write up big documents governing every aspect of behavior in their class. In some instances, it might seem like the iTunes terms and conditions are easier to get through than that 30-page syllabus. Even worse are the instructors who offer a half-page of instructions while expecting you to interpret in a manner similar to applying the Ten Commandments to a dispute in your fantasy football league.

As exasperating as those syllabi might be, there’s something to be learned from them.  When you have a document that outlines your principles, it helps clarify confusing situations.  Do you have a syllabus in your life?  What is your policy for missing class?  What guidelines do you have for civil behavior?  How do you know if you’re living up to your principles if you’ve never sat down and tried to figure out what your principles actually are?  Without a syllabus, you’re just left to figure out every confusing situation as it comes along.

Your financial life needs a syllabus, too.  What’s your policy on work hours?  Will you pick up a shift during finals week?  Are you willing to quit your job if it interferes with school?  A budget can be your syllabus for spending to answer many of those questions.  For instance, if you know ahead of time that you can spend $20 per month on video games, then you know buying that video game you want this month means that you can’t buy another until the end of the year. It also means that, if you haven’t bought a new video game all summer, you don’t have to feel guilty about buying one now.  

This weekend, put together your syllabus.  Use one your professors have provided as your example … and fill in all the sections.  Start with who you are, what your expected outcomes for the semester are, and determine your tentative schedule.  Don’t worry about some of the odd sections until the end. You can probably find a way to incorporate them – for example, sexual harassment policies might become “dating principles” – but that’s something you can handle later.  For now, try to get down the most important principles to guide your path ahead.

Finally, after you know what you value, put together a budget.  Do you value time with your friends?  Then put more money aside to cover spending leisure time together.  Or maybe you value that time with your friends, but don’t value going out to eat or dancing on Saturday nights.  Maybe your budget should reflect that, so maybe consider putting money aside to host a dinner party or watch football.

Whatever plan you come up with, try not to deviate from it too much once you have it established.  That way, when a strange situation comes up in a few months, you’ve got a list of principles to help your decision process.  Tell yourself, “It’s on the syllabus” and use that to help guide you.  Creating a budget, scheduling your time, and formalizing your principles can be difficult, so drop us a line if you’d like some help.  You can find us here.

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.

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.

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 www.destinationscu.org 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!  
Sources:

http://www.giftcardgranny.com/

The New Homeowner Diet


Saving money is a lot like losing weight. It’s no fun, requires sacrifices and no one at a dinner party wants to hear about your plan.  For many first-time home-buyers, trying to save enough money for the down payment on a house can seem like a diet that won’t end. It might even be tempting to click one of those email links that promise magical results, even though you know there’s no magic pill for weight loss and no magic plan for saving money.  

Fortunately, if you’ve ever tried to lose weight, you already know how to save money. While most weight loss results are temporary, buying a home is something that won’t disappear if you skip the gym for a week: You’ll be living in a home you own, building equity and moving closer to financial independence.  So, here are some tips to get you moving toward that down payment, based on what you already know about trimming your waist:  

Don’t bite off more than you can chew

One of the biggest mistakes new homeowners make is buying more house than they can realistically afford. At Destinations Credit Union, we want to get the right loan for you so that you can move into the home that’s comfortable and fits your lifestyle.  That doesn’t mean you have to use every dollar you qualify for. Let’s talk it through to figure out exactly how much you can spend every month and make sure you don’t get in over your head.  

A good rule of thumb when planning is that you want to put down around 20 percent of the sale price. Before the financial crisis, a lot of people were putting down 10 percent or considerably less – as much as 0%. It didn’t turn out well for many of those folks, nor did it for their lenders.

Even if you feel comfortable with the risk that comes with a low down payment, putting down more money now can lower your interest rate, so you’ll pay less money in the long term and have a lower monthly payment.  It’s easy to see the down payment as your goal and forget about the rest of the mortgage, but this won’t be the last purchase you make.  You’re going to want to save for college, retirement or your dream vacation.  If you don’t put the money in now, you’ll have to do so later, and you’re essentially taking a loan from yourself against those future purchases.

No matter how long you run, you can’t burn off that midnight cheesecake

You may be making sacrifices and saving as much as you can, but still not feel like you’re getting any closer to your dream home.  You’re not alone.  Unlike their parents or grandparents, today’s typical middle class family has more than one job, and a surprising number of those families has three or more sources of income. Even with the popularity and necessity of taking on a second job, some people are embarrassed to do so, as if having a working spouse or taking on extra work on the side is a sign of failure.  Don’t be that person who’s too embarrassed to go to the gym because they don’t want anyone to see them get healthy.  There’s no shame in working.

You can’t lose weight without a scale

Most people keep track of their weight every day while dieting.  Some keep a food log.  Some count calories, points, or carbs.  The bottom line: You need to be able to see how you’re doing so you know when you can splurge and when you need to cut back.  The same is true when saving for a home. Make a budget and stick with it.  If you have a bad month, don’t get frustrated. Instead, commit to doing better next month.

Everyone needs a spotter

When you save money every month, where does it go?  Do you have a series of Mason jars filled with crumpled singles?  Is it sitting in your checking account, looking pretty when you check your balance but not doing anything else?  Even if you keep your money in one of our savings accounts, there’s a lot more we can do to help make your money work for you.  Our Kasasa Cash Rewards Checking pays a really high rate when you do a few simple things to qualify.  And, you can attach a high rate Kasasa Saver account to that checking which sweeps all of the rewards into the savings automatically.  We have a variety of great savings plans, from low-risk savings certificates to High Yield Accounts, which earn a higher dividend rate for your savings. High Yield accounts share many of the same conveniences as our regular savings accounts, including no-penalty access to your money if an unexpected emergency occurs.  

If you want to own a home, you need to save money, but you don’t have to do it alone.  Think of us as your personal trainer for your financial health.  Call us at 410-663-2500 or info@destinationscu.org, and we’ll help you figure out what you can afford and how you can get there.  Our plans are always easier to swallow than a kale smoothie. But then again, what isn’t?
Sources:

Lessons from the Richest Nation Ever


As of June 2015, America is the richest society ever, after a strong spring in which Americans accumulated $1.4 trillion in total assets. With the Dow and NASDAQ recently hitting record highs and home prices finally reaching pre-bubble levels, there’s no telling what records might be broken in the future.

Not everyone is enjoying this windfall, though, and you may be one of those who are wondering where your gold-plated Ferrari is or why your etched crystal brandy decanter isn’t as jewel-encrusted as your neighbor’s.  If so, it might be a good time to take stock of your surroundings and draw some lessons from the country about accumulating wealth.

Who has all that money?

A very small number of people have a very large share of American wealth in 2015, as many middle class families are still feeling the effects of the 2008 financial crisis and The Great Recession.  A recent Pew study found the gap between the rich and the middle class is at a 30-year high, and most of the typical American’s net worth is tied up in their home.

While America’s total net worth is at a record high, the typical American household’s net worth is $81,200, down two percent in the last five years.  The top 10 percent of households are worth about 40 times more than the typical household, with an average of $3.3 million.  The top one percent of the top one percent of American households is even more staggeringly rich, with about 16,000 families owning 12 percent of American wealth, about $630 million each, on average.  More distressing, about half of  

Americans have a net worth of $0 or less.

Who are the rich people in the country?

The rich tend to be older than the country as a whole, with millionaires being 57 years old on average, while the typical American is in his or her late 20s. Millionaires typically come from more humble backgrounds, with about 80 percent being first-generation millionaires.  They are likely to be married, have two children and live in middle-class neighborhoods.  In other words, millionaires look a lot like the middle class, except a few years older and wiser.

What do I need to do to become a millionaire by my 50s? 
The first steps to accumulating wealth are the things you’d expect: 

  • Spend less than you earn
  • Save the rest
  • Invest patiently and
  • Own your home

It might seem obvious, but those four steps can be difficult and the difference between understanding the concepts and achieving them can be daunting.  If you’re looking for some guidance, Destinations Credit Union can help. Our online accounts and tools such as MoneyDesktop make budgeting a breeze and we offer a variety of savings products for members of any financial background. We have home-buying specialists who can guide first-time homebuyers through the process, from putting together a down-payment to securing one of our competitive mortgage rates. 
What might be more surprising is that the rich tend to own their own businesses, with about 4 out of every 5 American millionaires identifying as self-employed or retired from self-employment.  There are 28 million small businesses in the United States, defined as companies with 500 or fewer employees, and small businesses have created nearly 2 out of every 3 net jobs in the last 20 years, currently employing more than half of all working Americans.
Owning a piece of the American economy is a clear path to wealth, and with the knowledge base that comes with 21st century technology, that path is more well-worn than it has been in the past.  Seven out of 10 new small businesses with more than one employee survive for at least two years, half last for at least five years, and a quarter of those new small businesses are expected to still be going strong in 2030.  Over half of the small businesses created this year will operate out of their owners’ homes, often starting as an extension of their founder’s favorite hobby. 
Are there any other ways to grab the brass ring?
If you’re not interested in starting a business, you can still build a comfortable savings account by putting away part of each paycheck. It may be difficult, but it’s not impossible.  Of course, there are other options too. One woman in Las Vegas won the lottery four times in the last 25 years, so you might want to borrow her lucky rabbit’s foot.

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College Credit: Where will you live?


Brought to you by Destinations Credit Union

Top on the priority list for high school graduates is often, “Move out of mom and dad’s house.” And while sometimes mom and dad can’t agree more, this is not always the best financial move for teens.


What are some options for room and board while you are in college? There are plenty. Weighing the financial and personal benefits and downsides to each living situation can help you find the best possible option. Here are some possibilities for you to consider:

  • Staying at Home. This is often the most affordable option, especially if your parents will let you live in their home rent-free. If your college is within driving distance, you can live for free, eat for virtually nothing, and have the moral support of your parents nearby. The downside is being an adult and living in your parents’ home. This is not always an ideal situation for some new college students.
  • Living in the Dorms. The dorm life will help you meet people on campus and make it easier to get involved. However, the convenience comes with a price tag. The cost of living in the dorms varies by college and you often have at least one roommate in a very small room. There’s also the added cost of campus meals plan to consider.
  • Finding an Apartment. An apartment provides you the privacy of a home but at a lower cost than a house or some dorms. Finding a roommate will help defray some of the cost so you don’t have to foot the bill all on your own. The downside is that apartment living can be more expensive than a dorm room when utilities and other expenses are added in. Don’t forget to factor in the cost of food as well.
  • Live with Family. If your college is away from home, living with other family members that reside in or near the college town is a great option. You’ll get to know your extended family a bit more, plus live at a relatively low cost. Perhaps you can babysit for younger cousins to help cover expenses. The downside, again, is living in someone else’s home. If you’re looking to reconnect with family, though, this could be a great option.

Whatever housing option you choose during college, make sure you do your research and find an option that works for you-both financially and personally.

Rebuilding An Emergency Fund


A significant financial crisis can wipe out your emergency savings.  If this has happened to you, rebuilding your savings must be a priority. 

All the best financial experts agree you need to keep an emergency fund. Keeping 3-5 months of living expenses in a savings account, certificate account, or investment account can be the difference between a temporary hardship and a life-long debt trap. Using that money instead of credit cards or short-term loans is a lot less expensive in the long run.

There are many reasons why you might need to use that money. It could be from an unexpected expense, like a medical bill or a car repair. It could also be job loss that forces you to tap out your savings. Whatever the cause, it’s a whole lot cheaper to pay for it out of savings than to have to borrow, and it’s much less embarrassing than having to beg friends or family to cover your bills.
In the midst of a stressful crisis, it can be hard to focus on the positive. It’s important to take a moment to congratulate yourself for having the foresight to manage your problem. Things could be much worse than they are now. In addition to all the stress you’re currently feeling, you could have a big ball of debt to add to it. It’s not because of luck, it’s because of good planning.
Despite that relief, you’re not out of the woods yet. Without savings, you’re in a position of significant insecurity. Another crisis right now, even a very minor one, can cause financial problems that will create a ripple effect on into the future. You could find yourself in a much worse position in three months’ time than you are now.
Getting back to a position of financial security should be your highest priority. That means rebuilding your emergency fund as quickly as possible. These three steps will have you back on track before you know it.

1.) Make an emergency budget – and stick to it! 
Without an emergency fund, you’re one blown tire, one missed shift or one broken arm away from a financial catastrophe. That’s why an emergency fund is so important. Cut spending wherever you can. If you can do without cable for a few months, call and suspend service. Temporarily cutting back on media, clothes, and other discretionary spending is also a great idea.
Also, consolidate your savings. If you’ve been saving for a vacation, a new car or some other big ticket item, stop putting money into those “buckets” until you rebuild a few months’ living expenses. Once you return to having a decent cushion, you can get back to saving for your other priorities.  Visit a Destinations Credit Union Member Service Representative to see if there are higher rate options for your saving or if refinancing a loan from elsewhere could cut your payment amounts.
If these cuts aren’t enough, finding money in more extreme places might be helpful. If you can, spend a few months taking public transportation. If it works out well, you might find yourself thinking about selling your vehicle for another quick infusion of cash.
Remember, a budget is only as good as your commitment to it. If you make extreme cuts that you can’t keep, you’ll end up spending even more because you feel entitled to it. Make sure your budget is realistic and humane! 
2.) Build income wherever you can 
There’s no secret about building your savings. You can only save the difference between your income and your expenses. In your budget, you worked on the minimizing expenses part of that equation. Now, it’s time to turn your attention to the income side.
Raising your income at work could be as easy as asking for a raise. It could also mean taking additional hours or picking up extra shifts from co-workers. You don’t have to do so for the rest of your career, just for a few months until things get better.
You may also need to boost your income outside work. Selling old clothes and books can be a source of quick cash. Picking up freelance or contract work can also be a way to earn extra money. It’ll create a stressful few months, but it’ll be worth it to get back to security. You might also make connections that could help your career over the long term. 
3.) Build a backup plan 
The worst thing that could happen right now would be another crisis with no way to pay for it. You may not have the money to deal with it, but you’ve still got your financial smarts. It’s time to make a plan. 
Think about what you’d do now if you lost your job, even without your emergency fund. Make a list of phone calls you can make to find temporary work. Who in your network do you know who could use your skills on a temporary or contract basis? Do you know anyone who, if you absolutely had to, you could call for a quick loan? 
There are a few other questions to ask. What stuff sitting around your house would you sell if you had to? What does your food budget look like with $50 taken out of it? It’s easier to make these decisions when you’ve got the time and space to reflect on it. Making these choices with a past due notice in hand is much harder to do. 
Hopefully, you’ll never have to use these ideas, but you’ll feel better for having thought about them beforehand. It’s also something pro-active you can do instead of worrying. Taking action, any action, to remedy your situation can help fight the stress involved in insecurity and get you in a better head space. That alone is worth the effort. 

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