Nightmare On Your Street – Finances And Horror Movies



As Halloween gets closer and you want to avoid the chilly darkness of October evenings, grab a blanket and stream a marathon of scary movies. Horror flicks are classic fun, whether they’re good enough to keep you up all night when you’re home alone or bad enough to laugh at while with a group of friends because we all know what’s going to happen next. The classics follow a simple formula, but it works. 

The same is true when it comes to your finances. Spend less than you earn, pay off debt and invest your money with trustworthy people.  Still, we have trouble getting all of the complex parts of our financial lives sorted out.  Let’s try applying the scary movie formula to your finances so you’ll never have that heart-racing moment of panic when you check your balances again. 

The scary cat.  In the first 15 minutes of all the classic horror movies, our protagonist gets startled by a cat. It’s a silly little trope that keeps coming up, but screenwriters use it because viewers tend to get bored without a scare in the first few minutes. Bringing out the monster too early can kill the suspense, so it’s an easy-to-insert moment to keep viewers on edge.  Watching scary movies in my household, I can tell you that it works: That stupid cat has caused my heart to race faster than any workout I’ve done.

Are you jumping from the cat?  Does every market hiccup cause you to change strategies?  Are you yanking money out of savings to throw at the stock market (or vice versa) every year?  It’s time to get past that initial scare.  The market isn’t going to kill you overnight, just like it won’t make you rich overnight (Black Tuesday 1929 and Google’s record-breaking July 15th notwithstanding). 

If you want to develop a plan with which you can feel safe during the scary cat moments, give us a call at 410-663-2500. If you want to do it yourself, we can get you into a safe plan for saving with a high yield account or certificate in just a few minutes, which can help balance the risk of your other investments.  If you’re trying to build a safer safety net for retirement or college savings, we’ve probably got more savings options than you’ve ever heard of, many of which have major tax benefits. We can walk you through a few plans, help you pick the one that’s right for you, and in many cases, we can even set it up with automatic deposits so you don’t have to think about it again.

The victim who runs upstairs when she should run out the door. Why?  Why?  Why are you running upstairs, you silly soon-to-be victim?  Of all the silly horror movie clichés, this is the one that drives me bonkers.  We always get a few establishing shots of the house early in the movie, which shows us that this house is enormous enough for a final-reel chase scene with the killer.  No one needs this much house. It’s usually a teenage girl with a single parent (who is not at home) in a house big enough to hold the entire football team of her late boyfriend.

Do you have too much house?  Are you cleaning extra bedrooms you don’t use? Do you have a home gym, office, or library that you never visit?  Maybe it’s time to simplify.  You can sell that house and move into something a little sleeker, and use your windfall to put in all of the custom features you’ve ever wanted on that new house.  Which would you rather pay for:  the storage room that’s basically a walk-in junk drawer or a dressing room with a walk-in closet?  Give us a call to find out how we can help you. 

The killer who just won’t die.  In every great horror movie, there’s a killer with an uncanny ability to survive anything the protagonists throw his or her way.  In your finances, sometimes large debts can feel that way.  No matter how fast you run, they just keep coming, like Michael Myers chasing Jamie Lee Curtis through two decades of Halloween movies.  You throw cash at the balance every month, but nothing happens.  What can you do?

If you want to kill a scary movie monster, you can’t do anything that the protagonist does in a scary movie.  After all, the scary movie wants to make a sequel, but that’s the last thing you want out of your debt. Instead, let’s adapt a strategy from the Terminator:  Even an unkillable robot from the future can’t stand up to a vat of molten steel. You need to submerge your debts in one large vat that can consume them all: Turn all of your high-interest, variable-rate, hidden-fee credit card debts into one simple, low-interest, fixed-rate homeequity or debt consolidation loan with all of the transparency and confidence you’ve come to expect from Destinations Credit Union.  The first step is calling a Loan Officer to discuss your goals. Through our partnership with Accel, you can also get free unlimited financial counseling to develop a plan. 

Hopefully, your finances aren’t a horror movie.  Horror movies play on our fears for entertainment, but it’s not as fun in real life.  If they are, though, it’s better to call in some help than it is to split up and try to explore the woods alone. That’s why we’re here.  With a little help, your money can look more like a swords-and-sorcery epic:  Everyone’s a hero and everyone gets a happy ending.

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

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.

Sources:

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.

Sources:

Four Ways To Repay Your Student Loans With Help From Destinations Credit Union!


Graduation day seemed like it would never come. As a freshman, you saw
seniors swaggering about like they owned the place. Then, just a few short years later, there you are. You’ve crammed for your last final, written your last paper and said tearful goodbyes to your friends. For many graduating seniors, though, leaving college isn’t “real” for quite some time.

For many college students, the reality of moving on from college doesn’t set in when they throw a mortarboard. It comes a few months later, when they get their first billing statement for their student loans. Seeing a balance of $30,000 can make the gravity of adult life hit home in a very real way.

It’s easy to put making the minimum payment on auto-pilot and to treat your student loan bill like your cellphone bill or rent payment. It gets sorted into the pile of bills to pay and never gets a second thought. However, you might be leaving money on the table by using the loan company’s bill pay service.

Destinations Credit Union can help you pay back your loan in more ways than you might realize, and save you money in the process. Here are four convenient ways you can pay for your education and get greater flexibility. You might be able to get some extra rewards out of the deal, too!

1.) A savings account for college students

You can’t start paying off your student loans while you’re in college. But that doesn’t mean you have to sit and wait to get buried under an avalanche of debt. You can take proactive steps while you’re in school to make your life easier.

Your student work or part-time job might not make a dent in astronomical tuition costs, but it can still help you get out of debt faster. Setting up automatic savings account transfers will force you to put away a little bit each month. Check out Destinations Credit Union Kasasa Cash or Cash Back (free checking with rewards) to see how you can get extra money for your savings every month.  You can use that once you’re out of school to make a big first payment. It’ll really take the sting out of the debt load.

Make sure to put this money into an account you won’t be tempted to use for other things. The $100 or $200 you put away every month could rapidly disappear through dinners out and concert tickets. Automating savings is a way to keep yourself disciplined and on target.

2.) Automatic bill pay

Your student loan provider is a business, and they’re out to make money. All aspects of their operations, from the materials they send you when you start borrowing to the bills they send you each month, are marketing materials. They’re designed to maximize profit. For lenders, that means keeping you paying the minimum amount for as long as possible.

That’s why their bills make it as easy as possible to pay the minimum and require extra work to pay more than that. They want you to pay the “amount due” every month. It’s more profitable for them that way.

You can get the advantage back by setting up automatic bill pay. When you do, you can designate an amount of your choosing to be paid to the lender every month. You can pay your bill back at your own pace and save some money on overall interest while you’re at it! As a bonus, you can often get around nuisances like “technology fees” with automatic bill payment.

3.) Pay with a Destinations Credit Union credit card

One of the benefits of a student loan is the bump you get on your credit score by paying it regularly. Lenders see your management of student loan debt as evidence of responsible borrowing, making them more likely to trust you in the future. If you want to maximize the benefit to your credit score, you can use a credit card from Destinations Credit Union to make your student loan payments.  You can earn rewards with each “purchase” but make sure you are paying down the credit card as you make these payments.  There’s not much point in trading one kind of debt for another unless there is a long-term benefit.

This advice deserves some qualification. Many lenders don’t accept credit card payments, and many others charge handling fees. A 1% transaction fee for using a credit card should be seen as a 1% increase in interest. Also, credit cards can be an easy way to get into trouble. Don’t use them if you don’t have an emergency fund to fall back on. Credit card interest rates are frequently much higher than student loan interest rates and missing a credit card payment is just as detrimental as missing a student loan payment!

Still, if you’re careful about it, you can build your credit score twice for the same loan. Both your student loan and your credit card will show as paid each month, which will make you look twice as responsible for paying one bill. You will be able to earn a few rewards points as icing on the cake.

4.) Consolidate and refinance

College is about the journey, not the destination. If your journey was a longer one than usual, you may have debt from several places. You may have used your credit card to finance your living expenses or taken out unsubsidized loans from private lenders. These variable interest rate loans can really hurt you financially.

It might be time to consider refinancing. You can take a personal loan for all your outstanding debt and consolidate it into one monthly payment. You can lower your interest rate and simplify your financial life at the same time.

This process can also include one-on-one time with a trained financial professional at Destinations Credit Union. You can gain advice on budgeting and make a roadmap to a truly debt-free future. To see if consolidation is right for you, call, click, or stop by Destinations CU today!

SOURCES:

http://www.bankrate.com/finance/college-finance/repay-college-loans-fast-4.aspx

Five Reasons To Use A Credit Union Instead Of A Big Bank


Many people go to a big bank because they’re easy to find.  Those banks spend billions on advertising and building branches on every corner.  Becoming a member of a credit union takes a little more work – finding one that you can join takes a little bit of research.  But, it’s easier than you think.  Most people in the United States are eligible to join a credit union.  You can find one through work, or where you live, or through organizations you belong to.

Last year, 2 million people between the ages of 18 and 35 joined a credit union. 28% of credit union members are under 35 while 54% of them are under age 50. The tools of technology are making it easier to see the value that credit unions offer.

Don’t just take our word for it. Do your research and see for yourself how credit unions compare to for-profit banks. Consider these five categories:

1.) Ease of service

Here’s a fun game. Call a corporate bank with a simple request, like checking the balance of a savings account. Count the number of irritating phone tree menus you have to sift through before you could talk to a real person who could answer your question. You win when you get frustrated and slam the phone down in anger!

For-profit banks have earned a reputation for cumbersome customer service and out-of-touch policies. Getting information on financial services, like credit repair or auto loans, means sitting on hold for hours. Credit unions, on the other hand, provide easy-to-use services and real, live human beings who can answer questions, make recommendations and help you understand the complicated world of finance.

2.) Lending practices

For-profit banks answer to corporate owners. They expect a predictable, stable rate of return on their investments. This demand puts a straitjacket on lending and ensures those practices never deviate from a pre-determined formula. Take income, multiply by credit score, divide by 2, that’s the interest rate they’ll charge.

However, let’s pretend you just got a new job, so last year’s tax returns aren’t a good indicator of how much you are earning. That’s not in the formula, so it doesn’t matter. Credit history ruined by an old medical bill? Corporate banks stop reading after the first three words of that sentence. In short, there’s no room for flexibility and interest rates tend to be much higher.

Credit unions are community institutions, so helping people out is part of what they do. Their rates tend to be lower than those of corporate banks. They also tend to be more willing to make exceptions for details that may not be reflected in the conventional lending formula.

3.) Online banking is everywhere

In the wild west days of the Internet, only corporate banks could afford online banking. Now, your pet gerbil can have his own website. The Internet is everywhere and credit unions are on board. The services you use every day, like online bill pay, direct deposit and checking on account balances are just a click away. Credit unions are increasingly integrated with e-commerce services like Paypal and Square, making it easier than ever to send and receive money electronically.

Mobile services, such as transfers and remote deposit are increasingly more common at credit unions.

4.) Educational resources

Corporate banks have historically made a killing by keeping people in the dark about their practices. Credit card companies made it hard to tell exactly how much interest you were being charged. Banks charged overdraft fees without ever telling you they were doing it. These things got so bad, Congress took action. Consumer ignorance was built into the profit model of big financial institutions. Educating consumers was not just a waste of money to them, it was actually costing them business.

Credit unions are not-for-profits that want to make their communities a better place. Part of that mission includes financial education. If you need advice about home-buying, making a budget or using credit responsibly, your credit union will be happy to help.

5.) Savings

Credit unions work for their members. They pay back the money they make to their members in the form of dividends. Since their members are also the people paying for their services, they don’t have much of an incentive to charge an arm and a leg in interest and fees.

Credit unions also offer competitive rates on savings accounts and Certificates. Because they don’t have to siphon off money to pay shareholders, they can return that money to their investors: you know, the people who do their banking with the credit union. Compare the earned interest on a credit union checking or savings account to those offered by a for-profit bank. Then, go open an account at a credit union. You’ll thank yourself later.
Destinations Credit Union offers many of the same services you’ll find at the big banks, but can save you money on your everyday banking needs.  Want to get started?  Join Destinations Credit Union today!

Borrowing Against Your 401(k) – Is It Ever A Good Idea?

One of the many perks available to working folk is a company-matched retirement plan, named after the part of the tax code authorizing it. These tax-deferred retirement packages are the principal retirement vehicle for just over half of all people in the United States. Americans sock away about 6% of their pay in 401(k) plans to receive employee matching and tax breaks.
One feature many people don’t realize about 401(k) funds is that the account holder can borrow against the balance of the account. About 87% of funds offer this feature. The account holder can borrow up to 50% of the balance or $50,000, whichever is lower, but the whole amount must be repaid within 5 years. There’s no approval process and there’s no interest. It’s basically a loan you give yourself, and is a popular enough option that 17% of millennial workers, 13% of Gen Xers and 10% of baby boomers have made loans against their 401(k) accounts.
Despite these benefits, borrowing against a 401(k) is a risky proposition. There are harsh penalties for failure to repay and taking money away from retirement savings is always risky. Borrowing from a 401(k) account should not be a decision that is made lightly.
As with most financial moves, there are benefits and disadvantages to borrowing from a 401(k). It can be difficult to sort through them, particularly if your need for money is acute and immediate. Before you borrow from a 401(k), though, ask yourself these four questions:
1.) Will the money fix the problem?
Many borrowers use money from their 401(k) to pay off credit cards, car loans and other high-interest consumer loans. On paper, this is a good decision. The 401(k) loan has no interest, while the consumer loan has a relatively high one. Paying them off with a lump sum saves interest and financing charges.
But the question of whether repaying that loan will fix the underlying problem remains. Take a look at your last six months of purchases. If you had made a 401(k) loan six months ago and paid off revolving debt, would your debt load still be a problem? Perhaps not – your current situation may reflect an emergency or an unplanned expense. On the other hand, if your credit cards are financing a lifestyle that is above your means, you may find yourself back in the same position a year down the road – and with no money in your 401(k).
Borrowing against a 401(k) to deal with a medical bill, a first-time home purchase or an emergency car repair can be a smart move. Using a 401(k) loan to put off a serious change in spending habits is, as one financial expert put it, “like cutting off your arm to lose weight.” Before you borrow against your future, make sure it will really fix your present.
2.) Will the investment offer a better return?
Your 401(k) is earning money for you. It’s invested in stocks, bonds, and mutual funds that are appreciating, usually at a fairly conservative pace. If you pull money out in the form of a 401(k) loan, that stops.
The statement that a 401(k) loan is interest-free is only technically true. You have to pay back what you pull out, but before you do, it doesn’t earn any interest. Therefore, the “interest” you pay on your 401(k) loan really comes in the form of the gains you never produced on the money you borrowed since you were not investing it during that time.
If you’re borrowing from your 401(k) to invest in a business, ask yourself if your new venture will beat the return you’re currently getting. If you’re planning to pay off your mortgage, compare the interest rate you’re paying to that return. Don’t worry about trying to time or forecast the market. Assuming a 4% return (a safe average) is the most prudent course of action.
3.) Is your job secure?
If you’ve recently been promoted or gotten new training on an important job duty, you can be pretty confident you aren’t going to be let go from your job any time soon. If your recent performance reviews haven’t been stellar, or if your company has some layoffs pending, you might want to beware. If you’re at all hesitant about your future at the company, hold off on borrowing from a 401(k).
If you lose your job or retire with a loan outstanding, you have 60 days to repay the loan in its entirety. Otherwise, it counts as a “disbursement.” You’re responsible for taxes on the entire amount and you’ll have to pay a 10% early withdrawal penalty. Staring down big bills like that after you’ve just lost your job is not a fun predicament.
While job loss can happen at any time, you want to make sure you’ll be happy and welcome at your current employer for the next five years before you pull money out of your 401(k). You may also want to consider accelerating your repayment plan to get your 401(k) refunded as quickly as you can. Unlike some loans, there’s no penalty for early repayment. Plus, the sooner the money is back in your account, the sooner it can start earning for you again.
4.) Do you have other options?
If you’ve identified your need for money as immediate, consider what other options you may have available before you dig into your retirement savings. For home repairs, using your home equity line of credit can be a smarter choice. For an outstanding car loan, refinancing may make more sense. For a medical bill, it may be wiser to negotiate a repayment plan with the hospital.
If you’re purchasing a first home, consider the tax implications of mortgage interest. In many cases, you’ll receive preferential tax treatment for interest paid on a home loan. You won’t receive that same benefit from a 401(k) loan.
Borrowing from a 401(k) can be a good way to solve a short-term, specific problem. It does have risks, however, and the consequences to your future can be severe. If you’ve got another option, that’ll be better option for you more often than not.
SOURCES:

http://www.investopedia.com/articles/retirement/08/borrow-from-401k-loan.asp

Hackers Develop New Attack Method: Charities


It’s around this time of year that most charitable organizations run their biggest fund-raising drives. In so doing, they’re getting millions of contributions from many new contributors. Yet while they must make it as easy as possible for folks to donate, their limited personnel are overworked, making it difficult to thoroughly review all credit card authentication data.

Meanwhile, another group is working some holiday overtime too: Internet scammers. Because many consumers are shopping for goods they don’t usually buy, fake websites pop up, taking advantage of this inexperience to harvest payment information. The biggest challenge is sorting out the real sites from the fake or canceled ones. These two problems may have more in common than you think.

A new report by security firm, Phishlabs, unveils a shocking new strategy for solving that hurdle. Hackers use a chat-based program to transmit credit card information to make a small donation. If the transaction is successful, the program confirms the data the hacker supplied is legitimate.

In essence, hackers are using charities as a trial run for stolen credit card numbers. To understand what this means for you, let’s look at how the authentication process works, why charities are ideal targets, and how to keep yourself safe.

Authentication explained

Before you make an online transaction, the retailer will take some steps to verify your identity. You provide a credit card number, a security code and some other information. The form might ask for your billing address or ZIP code, for example. The idea is to keep your account safe by requiring several authentication factors. It works fairly well at frustrating casual scammers.

That’s why this bot is so useful to cyber-criminals. It can check data in low-risk, easily concealable ways. The operators of these services charge a fee in “credits” to would-be scammers. They earn these credits by paying for them or by performing a variety of “services” for the operator’s criminal enterprise.

By making a small donation to a charity, the bot can check to see if the information a scammer stole works. These donations are usually between $1 and $5 to one of a selected range of charitable organizations. If the payment sends, the scammer is free to use the information to buy other, more expensive goods.

Why charities?

Charities are the perfect target for this kind of operation. They use the same authentication strategies as every other business, but they seldom have the resources to investigate fraud. They also want to make it as easy as possible for people to donate. This means they use static donation website names and don’t use anti-bot software like Captcha. This makes them easy for a program to target.

Charities are also good targets because they have little at stake in stopping fraud. Defrauding a retailer puts them out the goods they sell. A fraudulent credit card used to buy a TV leaves the seller of that TV responsible for replacing the TV. Nothing like that exists for a charity. The donation amounts are usually miniscule, so their loss won’t seriously affect budgets.

Finally, charities are good targets because they are innocuous. Average consumers are more likely to overlook small charges to charitable organizations. They might think of them as contributions they made without thinking about it.

Protecting yourself

If you take all the usual measures to keep your identity safe online, this shouldn’t be much of an issue for you. If you think your information might have been stolen,though, consider taking the following steps:

1.) Watch for oddly specific amounts that have been sent to charities in your statement. Neither you nor your partner would give $4.48 to a charitable organization.

2.) Be preemptive in your giving. Donate to charities where you’ve done your research and only give to those that align with your values. Keep a list of charities you support and check your statement for any organization not on that list.

3.) Report these charges immediately both to your card issuer and to the charity on your statement. They can use a variety of indicators to track other fraudulent charges and catch other scammers in the act.

Beating this scam requires care and vigilance, just like every other scam. You need to know where your money’s going and be careful with where you make your payments. Don’t shop at websites you don’t know and trust, and don’t give out credit card information to anyone you don’t know. Check your statements regularly and report any suspicious activity.
SOURCES:

FOMO: Do You Live For Now Or For The Future?

Do you suffer from FOMO? It’s a generational phenomenon, like absinthe was for the Greatest Generation. For those not in the know, FOMO is an acronym that stands for Fear Of Missing Out. It’s that sensation in the back of your mind that makes you go out even when you’re tired. It’s the reason you go to the concert featuring that band you don’t even like that much because your friends are going. An adventure can happen anywhere, and if you’re not there, you’ll be the one person in the world who missed it.

How much influence does this fear have on today’s millennials? A recent Eventbrite survey found that 78 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds prefer to “invest in experiences instead of things.”  Seventy percent cited FOMO by name as a motivator for their financial decisions. But seeking out adventures, rather than investing in your future, has consequences. Its fine to live a low-maintenance lifestyle, and no one should criticize the decision to not have more stuff than you need. But that’s not always what’s happening in these decisions.

It’s not a coincidence that this same group is suffering financial hardship. Millennials have the highest debt percentage and lowest credit scores, according to Experian. The same study also finds that half of millennials were late on at least one payment last year.

Fighting FOMO is a serious challenge. It may be best to fight fire with fire and think about what you might be missing out on in the future. Let’s look at three ways you can use the Fear Of Missing Out to feed your financial future — rather than your financial fears.

1.) FOMO on retirement

Road tripping with friends across the country could produce some priceless memories. What could be even more priceless, though, is getting to take that trip with your spouse and family once you’ve retired. Cutting your travel budget now and putting the extra into an IRA is the difference between a life of leisure and dying at your desk.

Don’t think of it as not having wonderful experiences. Think of it as investing in future adventures. Consider opening a vacation club account to save for one great excursion a little bit at a time. You’re not missing out on anything; you’re saving for better experiences later in life. Besides, with your savings, you can make arrangements that don’t include 16 hours in the seat of a sedan.

This savings emphasis doesn’t mean giving up on travel or other fantastic events. It does mean you should save and plan for events that really matter. That round-the-world cruise you take with your family later on in life surely outweighs the weekend trip to the mountains right now. Also, consider opening a vacation club account to save for one great excursion a little bit at a time.

2.) FOMO on home ownership

The biggest difference in wealth for older generations is time in home ownership. If you’re renting, your housing money goes out the window each month. You don’t build equity and you have to keep making that payment as long as you live there. With a mortgage, the money you pay each month stays with you as you build equity. Once you pay the mortgage off, your housing costs plummet.

Those opportunities may seem distant if you’re burdened by student loans and credit card debt. Getting out of debt is the best way to ensure you can qualify for and pay a mortgage. That means cutting spending now and committing to paying off loans and credit cards with any extra money.

Don’t think of the nights out that you won’t have. Instead, focus on the wonderful experiences you’ll have in your new home. Think of having a holiday meal at your kitchen table surrounded by family and friends. That’s the experience you’re investing in when you position yourself for homeownership.

3.) FOMO on financial security

Fifty-eight percent of millennials live paycheck-to-paycheck. That’s a stressful life. The constant worry over making rent and paying for basics can contribute to stress and lower quality of life. It’s an experience, frankly, that’s not much fun. Many millennials see this constant scramble as emblematic of their generation’s lifestyle, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Setting aside money in an emergency fund can help you escape that cycle. A few hundred dollars in a savings account can provide a great deal of peace of mind. It’s a tremendous comfort to know that, even if an unexpected expense crops up, you’ve got rent and other basics covered.

Financial security is an experience just like going to a live show or a craft beer festival. The difference is that it’s an ongoing, long-lasting one. There is no closing time, and there is no last call. Being secure in your finances will never leave you with a hangover or ringing ears the next morning. It will make it easier to have the kind of experiences you want.

Fighting Fear Of Missing Out is a challenge. You only live once, as another generational acronym (YOLO) reminds us. Don’t use that as an excuse to not think about the future. You only get one life to have the kind of experiences you want to have, but that doesn’t mean you have to have them all right now. You can’t go back and study harder or save more for retirement. Live an enthusiastic, out-loud life in a financially responsible way.

If you’re interested in your financial future, get in touch with Destinations Credit UnionThe friendly, knowledgeable staff can help you plan for home ownership or retirement. Any great experience, whether it’s living debt-free or retiring early, can be a little easier when you get help. Call, click, or stop by Destinations Credit Union today, and get help overcoming FOMO.

 

SOURCES:

Card Security Breaches: Why They Occur And Who’s To Blame

It seems like there’s another financial disaster at every turn lately. Target’s card databases get hacked. Heartbleed puts your passwords at risk. Home Depot’s credit card numbers are compromised. JP Morgan Chase’s credit information is breached. Shellshock threatens the integrity of the Internet. It’s enough to make you long for the days of the corner store keeping credit on a sheet of graph paper.


To better understand how these things happen, let’s first take a look at the steps involved in a financial transaction. Then, we’ll see where vulnerabilities exist. Finally, we’ll check out a few strategies you can use to keep yourself safe.

When you swipe your debit or credit card at a terminal, the only thing you see is an approval screen. Behind the scenes, the process from the moment you swipe a card to leaving the store with your purchases is complicated. And you want it to be that way. A less complicated process would remove many layers of security.

First, there’s an “authentication” process. The point-of-sale terminal in which you swipe your card reads the card’s information from the magnetic strip, encrypts it, and sends it to a payment processing center. This facility streamlines the data into a format your issuing company can understand and sends it along. Your card network company – Visa, Mastercard, Discover, etc. – validates the legitimacy of the information. You may be prompted for some information, most commonly your billing ZIP code. This is done to help authenticate the card.

Second, there’s the reconciliation process. This is usually done at the end of the day for most retailers. The retailer sends all the day’s receipts to a payment processor, which then sends them to the issuing institution – the credit union, bank, or credit card company. That institution debits its member or customer accounts for the amount of the transaction, then sends that money to the payment processor, which sends it to the retailer.

This is an explanation of how things work in a very simplified example, but it gives you an idea of the complexity that’s involved in the process of paying with a card. While it’s a lot of steps, it’s the best system that the brightest minds in the financial industry could develop. Unfortunately, each step also introduces a layer of vulnerability.

The encryption protocol for card authentication can be busted (that was, in part, what Heartbleed was about). The retailer’s receipt records they use for reconciliation can be hacked (like what happened to Target and Home Depot). The bank can have their register of accounts hacked (like JP Morgan did). So many layers of complexity create more possibilities for hackers to compromise sensitive information.

You might notice that there’s only one step in the process that involves Destinations Credit Union or its computer systems. That comes at the very end of the process, when customer records are debited for purchases. In the latter example, the only victim of that theft was a big Wall Street bank. In such cases, the kind of hacking hardware and know-how that is required to orchestrate such an attack are expensive. Because credit unions are smaller and less centralized, they’re much less likely to be targeted by this kind of attack.

That’s not to say Destinations Credit Union doesn’t take cybersecurity seriously. We keep up-to-date with the latest in computer hardware and software to make sure our members are secure against illegal access. We also have to adapt to a world where everyone else doesn’t follow those same values. That means we have to adjust our security protocols to cover for the failings of other parts of that big, messy system.

We’re all in this together. The convenience of the modern economy makes things better for everybody. If you go on vacation, you don’t have to fuss with traveler’s checks or currency exchange troubles. You can take your debit card or credit card and spend just the same. Electronic record keeping helps financial institutions keep costs down and we all benefit from a growing economy. If we want to keep getting these benefits, we all need to put the work in to make sure our networks are secure. Here are five small tips to make your little corner of the Internet more secure.                                                 
  1. Install updates for your computer, tablet, and mobile phone regularly.
  2. Don’t open suspicious e-mails or questionable links.
  3. Don’t install software you don’t recognize.
  4. Monitor your financial statements closely to check for unauthorized activities.
  5. Get an anti-virus program and run it regularly.                      
            If you follow these five steps, you can help make the Internet a safer place for people to share things they love and buy things they need. You can help make sure the big system of merchants, processors, and institutions keeps chugging along while providing benefits to everyone.