Was There A Credit Union At The First Thanksgiving?


Was there a credit union at the first Thanksgiving?

The short answer is no, there was not. The first Thanksgiving occurred in 1621, which was 150 years before the creation of the first credit unions. In fact, the first modern financial institutions wouldn’t reach the country of the Pilgrims’ origin until the middle of the 17th century.  However, the Pilgrims did believe in many of the principles that would come to define the credit union movement that swept the globe in the 19th and 20th centuries. 
The Pilgrims wanted to work together as a community.
While the extent of the religious persecution endured by the Pilgrims is a matter of debate, it is clear that they were united by a sense of community and togetherness.  Convinced they couldn’t maintain the values that most mattered to them if they stayed in England, they risked life and limb to cross the ocean, hoping to build better lives for their families.
That’s really the basis for credit unions.  We believe that, if we work together, we’ll all be better off. Destinations Credit Union is made up of members and employees that live in our community.  We work together and our kids play together.  There’s a good chance that, if it’s snowing on you, we’re shoveling our driveways, too. 
The Pilgrims were unsatisfied with a financial system that took away their power. 
When the Pilgrims wanted to travel to the New World, it was a difficult and expensive task.  A group who wanted to leave Europe would need to find an experienced captain, which was no easy task at a time when crossing the Atlantic took months and often killed those foolhardy souls who were willing to take on the challenge.  Then that group needed to pay the crew, save enough food and supplies for the journey and pay all sorts of taxes and fees.  In order to come up with enough money to make the trip, they couldn’t just get pre-approved online. There was no “online” or “pre-approved” or even a financial institution.
Instead, loan decisions were made by the King or a few incredibly wealthy individuals.  In today’s context, it would be like getting a small loan to start a business but your only choice of lenders were Barack Obama or the owner of your nearest NFL team.  The Pilgrims were denied a charter for a new colony by King James I, so they had no choice but to seek out the wealthiest individual they could find.  In their case, they secured a loan from Thomas Weston to pay for the trip.
Credit unions were first formed for the same reason.  As a drought ravaged parts of Switzerland, Austria and Germany, few banks were willing to extend loans to farmers who were unlikely to be able to repay the debts.  Of course, that meant that the drought turned into a famine, as farmers who have no food to sell and no capital to buy seeds have little chance to make money, which means they had no opportunity to buy food.  The first credit unions extended loans to these farmers, saving their communities from starvation.  Suddenly, people realized that they didn’t have to be powerless in the face of super-rich individuals who didn’t have their best interests at heart. 
They could have used a much better loan 
We all learned in grade school that the Pilgrims carried all of their possessions with them, and the historical record confirms that the passengers on the Mayflower were very poor, even for 17th-century colonists, a particularly poverty-stricken lot.  So, how on Earth did they secure the loan to head to the New World?  It was pretty ugly.  The terms of the loan were seven years of indentured servitude.  They wouldn’t make any profit or own any land for seven years, at the end of which half of the land would revert to Weston and the company to whom he sold shares in the Mayflower voyage.

At Destinations Credit Union, we don’t have shareholders, we have members.  We are not driven to generate profits for the pure sake of looking good on a quarterly report or justify embarrassingly large bonuses that mega-bank executives award themselves.  The money generated by your credit union is put into lowering the interest charges on your loans, reducing fees, enhancing our technology and more. You’ll never get a loan from us that you’ll end up regretting. 
The Thanksgiving feast was a celebration of the credit union spirit 
Of course, Thanksgiving isn’t just about Pilgrims.  We know a lot more about them than we do the native people with whom they shared dinner that November, but it was the feeling of community and well-being that brought everyone together.  While the history of the settlers and the natives would take a very dark turn later, for one night, it really looked like people choosing to help people was the basis on which the groups would work together forever.
This Thanksgiving, between the turkey and the football, we hope you’ll reflect on the spirit of the day. It’s a great time to think about your community and everything for which you’re thankful.  We’re thankful for all of you.  We exist to serve a community, and we’re thankful to do good work for the people we know and love.  We’re thankful that somewhere in our history, we all chose to come together and help each other, even if most of us didn’t make it to these shores for several centuries after that first Thanksgiving.
Happy Thanksgiving.
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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.

Building A Bridge To Retirement: Leaseback Arrangements

Whether they want to get more sun, get closer to grandchildren or downsize their home to cash out some equity, Baby Boomers are moving more often during their first few years after retirement than did the previous generations of retirees. The final year in the workforce can feel a lot like moving, as individuals run themselves ragged trying to make last-second arrangements, finalize budgets and journey into a yet-unexperienced phase of life. So retirees who are moving often have twice the stress, too.  Leaseback arrangements, a staple of commercial real estate, have become far more popular as Boomers retire, allowing retirees to eliminate some of the stress and uncertainty involved in moving during retirement. 

How it works 

A leaseback is a financial arrangement in which an individual sells their home with the understanding that they will immediately enter a lease agreement with the new homeowners so they can stay in the house for an agreed-upon amount of time.  Leasebacks can work two ways for those nearing retirement. First, a retiree can sell the house in which they’ve been living and lease it from the new homeowner until they retire, or alternatively, retirees can buy the perfect retirement property as soon as it becomes available and lease it back to the previous homeowners until the retiree is ready to move in.  Leaseback arrangements don’t have to be complicated or intimidating, and they can provide security to both sides of a home sale. 

Benefits for home sellers 

  • Selling a home before retirement ensures retirees know exactly how much money they will get for their home.  One of the scariest parts of retirement planning is the fear that something will go wrong. Knowing exactly how much money a soon-to-be-retired individual will get for their home can help provide some peace of mind.
  • Leaseback arrangements let homeowners take a long time selling their home while having the confidence they can begin the process early without ending up without a place to live. The extra time ensures they don’t have to jump at the first offer that comes along, and can wait for a good bid.
  • With a traditional home sale, there is the potential that retirees won’t sell their home in time and then end up with two monthly mortgage payments.  A leaseback arrangement lets retirees sell their home first, guaranteeing they won’t end up with two mortgages.
  • Arranging a leaseback gives retirees cash in hand to improve their financial outlook.  By selling their home and becoming renters for a year, retirees can reinvest their home equity in the high-return parts of their portfolio, pay off high interest credit card debt or finance the business they plan to run in retirement.
  • The cash from a leaseback also helps reduce the uncertainty of the first year, when most retirement calculators ask people to guesstimate their expenses.  The first year of retirement is often the most expensive, as newly retired folks take celebratory vacations, buy hobby supplies or make COBRA payments while they await Medicare or Medigap eligibility.
  • Leaseback arrangements can also help retirees who are too young for full Social Security or pension payments by giving them cash up front to hold them over until they can receive full benefits.

Benefits for homebuyers

  • While leaseback arrangements offer more benefits to sellers than they do to buyers, they still offer buyers some pretty big advantages.  Most importantly, buying a home and leasing it back to the current residents ensures that retirees who can wait a little while to move in can get exactly the home they want.
  • Nothing says that homeowners need to lease their home at the same price as the mortgage.  By entering a leaseback agreement and waiting an agreed-upon amount of time, retirees can make a profit off of their retirement home while they wait!
  • Leasebacks give those near retirement the ultimate bargaining chip when they’re negotiating the sales price: By starting the process earlier and having more time to shop for a retirement home, those nearing retirement have the ability to walk away, helping ensure they get the best possible price.

Arranging a Leaseback

Arranging a leaseback is actually quite simple and only involves two steps, one of which you’ve done before.  First, arrange a home loan like you would for any other residential property.  If you already know what you want to buy, apply for your mortgage at Destinations Credit Union.

Then, talk to your realtor about a leaseback arrangement.  Many realtors offer temporary leaseback agreements as a standard part of a sale, so even if they haven’t arranged a long-term leaseback before, it should be a piece of cake.

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Bubble Bursting

The economy has always moved in cycles. There are times of vigorous expansion followed by periods of slower growth or retraction. It’s been happening since the dawn of recorded history and will likely continue to go that way for generations to come. There are a million theories to explain this phenomenon, from sun spots to demographics, but the “why” is less important than the demonstrable fact of the business cycles.

When people talk about “bubbles” and “bursting,” they’re putting this widely observable fact into panic-inducing language for the purpose of sensationalism. A headline reading “Economy doomed due to bursting bubble” sells a lot more papers than one that reads “Economic cycles continuing as normal for past and foreseeable future.” Yes, some periods of economic retraction are more intense than others, but the sky is not falling.

Federal Reserve meetings have begun regularly discussing the possibility of raising interest rates. Such a move might make several investments that have been lucrative for several years, such as insurance companies and financial service providers, suddenly less attractive. Such a shift, particularly by investment-generating annuities and other managed funds, will drive down prices in these sectors.

Changes are likely coming in the economy and it makes sense to modify your investment strategy. Sensible investors respond to market conditions to protect their portfolio. There are a number of seasonal adjustments that can help to insulate you from the inevitable retraction. You should discuss these moves with a qualified financial advisor.

1.) Sell off risky investments

Most people who predict a bubble bursting have some idea of what industries are exposed to the greatest levels of risk. Popular choices include real estate, financial services and manufacturing. These industries are generally more exposed to volatility in the market, so it makes sense to shade your portfolio away from these sectors.

This isn’t a permanent move. This is part of the most basic wealth-building strategy: sell high and buy low. Stocks and funds that comprise these sectors are likely near a temporary high. Their prices will fall and investors who sell will have the opportunity to reinvest at much friendlier prices.

2.)  Shift to non-cyclical stocks

“Sell in May and walk away” is common stock market advice. Many sectors, especially cyclical consumer goods, tend to notice dropoffs in their stock prices during the summer months. Families choose to spend their discretionary money on vacations and other experience-related items instead of electronics or fancy clothing. While this advice is generally good, it’s incomplete.

Rather than leaving your investments in cash, move them into less volatile options. With interest rates poised to go up, bonds and other savings instruments can be a good way to shield yourself from risk. This is called “defensive investment.” When you expect stocks to perform slightly worse than average, investment vehicles, which are less influenced by market forces, become smarter picks.

3.) Adjust your retirement plans

One of the only dangers to the coming retraction is to people who are planning to retire in the next year or two. Those folks may experience a dramatic dip in their available retirement funds right at the time they need it. If retirement plans are flexible, it makes sense to wait out a market downturn. Postponing retirement by a year or two can improve your standard of living dramatically.

Otherwise, not only will you not be pulling out money from your retirement account at the time you can least afford it, but you’ll also lose out on years of buying cheaper stocks. Those prices will rebound eventually, which will magnify the return on those dollars. Earnings invested in down economic times are worth more in retirement than those invested in boom times.

4.) Stay calm

If you’re invested in managed funds, you may not need to take any action. Mutual funds, which are widely diversified, will likely continue to experience a similar rate of return. Individual securities will fluctuate wildly in price and sector funds will also be subject to some day-to-day volatility. Market-wide index funds will have slightly higher day-to-day changes in price, but on the whole, will still experience the same gradual rate of return. Odds are good your retirement account is in one of these funds if you selected it in consultation with a retirement planner.

As always, you need a certain amount of money available easily in case of emergency.  This is where Destinations Credit Union can help.  We have lots of savings options that will help you get the best return on your safe (insured) and liquid cash.  Payroll deductions or automatic transfers can help you save painlessly.  
You don’t need to panic about your 401(k) and put all your money in a mattress. You don’t need to quit your job and run for the hills. You may need to adjust your portfolio to take advantage of changing market conditions, but you shouldn’t stop planning for the future. Keep calm and save on!

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America Saves Week – Saving For The Future Can Save The Day


The week of February 23-28 is America Saves Week. The event, put together by the American Savings Education Council, began in 2007 as a way for organizations and individuals to talk about one of the most serious problems facing American consumers: the lack of savings. While American consumers are in a better position than they were at the height of the economic crisis in 2007, we still have a long way to go.

Only 64% of households have sufficient emergency funds to cover temporary crises like car repairs, medical bills, job loss or some other serious life change. That number is down 7% from 2010. 68% say they are saving more than they are spending, down from 73% in 2010. It seems as though the lessons of the great recession have been forgotten.

This lack of savings puts individuals at risk of financial ruin, but it also places the economy itself in jeopardy. Declines affecting one industry are bad news for the economy, but they don’t trigger a credit crunch without a number of other problems. Low rates of consumer savings and high lifestyle maintenance debt can make job loss a vicious cycle. Consumers with high debt loads find themselves unable to spend, which slows growth in the rest of the economy. This leads to job loss in other sectors, snowballing throughout the economy.

Savings and low debt represent a way to fight back against this cycle. Reducing debt and increasing savings provides a way for consumers to maintain their lifestyles through career setbacks, which prevents the worst parts of economic crises. That’s right: You can save the day with your savings.

If you’re interested in participating in America Saves week, here are three great ways to do so.

1.) Make a pledge and set a goal

By making a commitment to spend less, save more and get out of debt, you can motivate yourself to do just that. The America Saves week website, www.americasavesweek.org, has a pre-written pledge you can sign. It’s a great first step toward building personal wealth and making yourself a backstop against recession.

The site also lets you set a monthly savings goal. If you’re just starting out in trying to get your finances under control, you might set a small goal – such as save $40 a month for 3 months. The website has a calculator that lets you see how much small savings add up over time. If you’re a veteran saver looking for a way to keep yourself on track toward a goal, the tool will let you work backward from a vacation budget or loan balance to see how much you need to save each month.

Let Destinations Credit Union help with your pledge. Sign up for automatic transfers from checking to savings (or create your own within online banking) to keep yourself honest to your pledge. With a Kasasa Rewards Checking, you can attach a savings account and your rewards are automatically swept into the savings.  With these tools, you’ll be at your goal in no time!

2.) Show the world what you’re saving for

It’s easy to get discouraged when your goal is something abstract. “Savings” is hard to compare in your head to a new cellphone game or a dinner out. That’s why it’s so important to make your goal something concrete. Save for a vacation, or for a new vehicle, or for your education.

Picking a concrete savings goal is step one in keeping yourself motivated. Next, you’ll want to document your goal. Snap a picture of yourself with what you’re saving for. If you want to pay off your mortgage, take a picture of yourself in front of your house. If you want a new car, take a picture of yourself behind the wheel at a dealership. If it’s a tropical vacation you’re after, take a picture of yourself in a swimsuit in front of the giant piles of snow outside. Document your goal so you’ll always have something to look at when you get discouraged.

Best of all, snapping that picture could get you $500 toward your goal. Share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other social media. Use the hashtag #imsavingfor. Then, navigate to the America Saves Week website and let them know what you did. You’ll be entered in a drawing for $500 to kickstart your savings and you’ll inspire your friends to set and follow their savings goals as well!

3.) Stay inspired

There’s a rush of enthusiasm that comes from starting a new project. At first, it’s novel and effortless. Then the days drag on. The novelty starts to wear off. The project becomes just another routine. A missed day turns into a missed week. The enthusiasm that characterized the start of the project just isn’t there.

Make sure this doesn’t happen to you with your America Saves Week pledge. Take some time to flip through the inspiring stories, like Mary Brown. A Wisconsin resident, Brown spent 7 years in Milwaukee public housing before saving to her goal of $2,000. Now, she’s finished her B.A. and moved her family into their first home. Stories like these remind us of the power of commitment, discipline, and dedication.

Take time each day to reflect on the progress you’ve made and the challenges you’ve overcome. Take a look at your goal and think about how good you’ll feel once you’ve accomplished it. Thank yourself for helping to keep the economy strong and your career on track. Most importantly, keep saving!

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Cash Flow Budgeting: A Fast, Flexible Way To Fix Your Finances


You’ve heard it from a million places: Budget your money! Make a firm plan and stick with it. It’s the pathway to prosperity!

For many people, though, that advice just doesn’t resonate. They feel constricted by a budget. Keeping cash in separate envelopes makes them feel like they can’t have a life. It takes too much planning and too much rigid denial. They break their budget and sometimes wind up in serious financial trouble.

Other people have an inconsistent cash flow, making creating and keeping a budget difficult. Maybe they’re freelancers who work gig-to-gig. Maybe they’re in commissioned sales. Maybe their hours fluctuate month-to-month. Whatever the reason, it’s hard to make a detailed plan when your bottom line changes every month.

The answer isn’t to give up on budgeting. The collective wisdom, that monitoring your expenses and income streams is the way to stability, still holds true. It might just require a different approach to budgeting: cash flow focus.

Cash flow focus is the strategy used by most businesses. They pay their fixed costs, and whatever is left is used to grow the business. You can manage your finances the same way. Just follow these four steps:

1.) Automate your savings

Even if you disregard everything else in this article, implementing this one tip can be life-changing. Figure out how much of your income you can save, then take that out as soon as you get paid. You can set up monthly transfers from your checkingaccount to your savings account. You can also divide the money between the accounts on a per deposit basis. How you choose to do so is less important than doing so.

Like the saying goes, pay yourself first. This savings provides you the flexibility to cover big expenses or make major purchases on your schedule. It’s the single most important step in any budget, but it’s even more important with cash flow budgeting.

When you automate your savings, you remove the money you saved from consideration. You can’t spend it; you’ve already spent it on savings. The importance of this kind of savings will become more clear once you see this budget in action.

2.) Pay your needs and your priorities

Make a list of your essential expenses each month. Include your rent or house payment, your car loan and your utilities. Also include your student loan payments, your insurance and other necessary expenses. These are your “fixed costs.” They get paid after your savings contributions are made.

Next, make a list of your priorities. Include your charitable contributions, vacation savings and retirement account contributions. These are your “growth expenses.” They get paid after your fixed costs.

If you don’t have enough money to make these bills, you don’t need a better budget. You need to lower those bills or increase your income. No amount of spreadsheet magic will change that bottom line.

It’s helpful to automate savings for these expenses, too. That way, you never get caught short on these bills. Transferring this money to a special savings account can be a helpful way to ensure you don’t spend it.

3.) Spend the leftovers

This message may sound peculiar for personal finance advice. Remember, though, that you’ve already automated your savings. What you’re spending here is the leftovers – the extra that’s left at the end of the month.

Spend this money however you like – don’t worry about putting this much in entertainment and that much in travel. Just keep track of how much you’ve spent so you don’t accidentally overdraft your account.

This approach allows you to go out or indulge in a latte. You don’t have to worry about including it in your budget. Your spending habits might change as the month goes on, just like a business. If you know there’s a big outing before you get paid again, you may want to save some money for that. You don’t need to say that you can’t go because you didn’t budget for it.

4.) Roll over what’s left

If you’ve worked in a big business, you’ve seen departments desperately spending at the end of the fiscal year. Departments buy cases of pens and paper, knowing that they’ll lose whatever they don’t spend. Fortunately, you’re more flexible than a big business. You don’t have to spend it all. If you have money left over at the end of the month, then you have more to spend the next month.

If you have a month with slightly higher expenses, you can cover it from a previous month’s slightly lower expenses. Your spending will change from month to month, as might your income. So long as you keep the former smaller than the latter in the long run, you’ll be fine.

That’s what cash flow budgeting is about: flexibility. You don’t have to write your unbudgeted spending purposes in stone. You don’t have to mess with cash envelopes or other strategies. You can spend when you have money and save for when you don’t.

If you’re thinking about adopting a cash flow budget, Destinations Credit Union can help. A friendly, knowledgeable representative can walk you through the savings tools you need. You can automate your savings, flex your spending, and build toward financial security. Call, click, or stop by today to find out how!

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Three Tricks To Retire Rich


The difference between working yourself to death and retiring to live a life of comfort is smaller than you think. We like to believe in the simple caricature that rich people retire rich and poor people don’t retire. The truth is, much of the difference between retiring and continuing to go to work every day comes down to a few simple choices. Let’s take a look at three tricks that separate the successful retirees from the workers who are too insecure to retire:

1.) Timing your retirement

Investment professionals like to tell you that successful investment is about time in the market. Timing the market, they insist, is far less important. That’s true for putting money in. The more time you have to take advantage of the power of compound interest, the better off you’ll be.

When it comes time to retire and start making withdrawals, though, timing does matter quite a bit. Consider identical workers who made the same median income. Each saves 10% over their 35-year careers. Yet, they end up more than $200,000 apart in retirement savings.

How? One retired during the height of the Great Recession in 2009. The other waited four more years until 2013 when stocks had rebounded. It’s not just that stock prices rebounded during that time. It also gave the one who worked longer four more years of buying dirt cheap stocks that shot back up in value.

The lesson here is simple: if the market is down, keep working and investing. Wait another few years for things to rebound and reap the rewards. If our early retiree worked four more years, his retirement savings would have doubled. Market prices tend to even out over time, so prices that are low now will return to normal. Waiting until they do can make your retirement much better.

2.) Don’t over commit, especially when things are good

You may already know you should save between 10 percent and 15 percent of your income. Aim to split your savings between conservative and aggressive investment options. However, many people forget one important part of that split: some part of your aggressive investment needs to remain in cash.

As stock prices rise, you need to be leaving yourself more and more cash on hand. This is so you can take advantage of the inevitable retraction that follows these expansions. “Buy-low, sell-high” isn’t a well-kept secret. But it’s still sound advice for retiring with enough money to support a luxurious post-work life.

How much cash should you keep in your aggressive investment portfolio? The frustrating answer is that it depends on a variety of factors. If you’re not heavily involved in your portfolio, you likely don’t need to keep more than 5 percent cash in your account. If you’re an active participant in your retirement investments, keeping a little more cash on hand isn’t a bad idea. This will let you pick up undervalued stocks and reap the profits of your savvy judgment.

3.) Get professional help

Spectrum Group conducted a survey of households with more than $1 million in net worth. They found that only 20 percent of them see themselves as experts on investing. About 40 percent of respondents are adviser-assisted or adviser-dependent investors. That means they consult with a financial expert before making most of their investment decisions. Another 30% are “event-driven.” They get professional help before major life milestones, like retirement or home-buying.

There seems to be one big difference between millionaire investors and less successful ones. The millionaires recognize their weaknesses and find help to compensate. They devote their effort and energy to what they’re good at: their job or small business.

There’s no harm in getting some help for your retirement savings plans. Our knowledgeable representatives are standing by to assist you with opening or funding an IRA, rolling over a 401(k), opening a certificate, or saving money in any one of a dozen other ways. Call, click, or stop by Destinations Credit Union today!

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Social Security Calculators: Planning Retirement to Win


Effective retirement planning is a simple equation. You have to make sure your passive sources of income meet or exceed your monthly expenses. For most of your income, like your retirement accounts, certificates and investments, that income is easy to calculate. You know the rate of return and you know the amount you have saved.

One potential source of retirement income that’s a lot harder to predict, though, is Social Security. While it shouldn’t be your only source of retirement income, Social Security benefits can provide an added layer of comfort to your retirement. Planning around them, though, requires knowing the amount of your benefit.

That can be a tricky process. The complex web of contributions and regulations can make figuring out your monthly benefit a nightmare. You may need something stronger than a COLA once you’re done working your way through the nightmare of acronyms and bureaucratic doublespeak that make up Social Security laws.

Fortunately, this part of your retirement planning just got a lot easier. A new wave of apps called Social Security benefit calculators can simplify the process dramatically. They couldn’t be much easier to use.

Just input your yearly income, your age, and the date of your retirement. The program takes that information and generates a monthly benefit for you. Some of these programs even include an inflation adjustment tool to let you see how your benefit may change in response to changing economic conditions.

Basic calculators, like those available from the Social Security Administration, will do that and nothing more. These more advanced utilities will let you adjust the information you get based upon a variety of factors. This helps you to visualize the kind of portfolio performance you’d need to supplement your Social Security income.

More than figuring out how much your benefit will be, though, these utilities let you fiddle with numbers to see how to best optimize your Social Security benefit. By changing your retirement date, modifying your income and/or shuffling other variables around, you can see how your retirement income will change in response to your decisions. These adjustments can help you make an informed decision about how and when to retire.

More to the point, these tools will help you make the difficult decision about when to claim Social Security. The monthly benefit you and your spouse will receive increases every year between the time you turn 62 and the time you turn 70. The caveat to this increase is that you’ll likely have less time to spend it. Balancing these demands can be made easier with a calculator tool.

But keep in mind, there are more than a few hazards to making firm plans using one of these utilities. Even the best Social Security benefit calculator can’t predict the future. Social Security regulations are a hot-button political issue. Things like cost of living and inflation adjustments can change in response to political as well as economic circumstances. If these regulations change, so will your benefit.

Social Security itself is always in jeopardy, too. It’s the single largest expenditure in the federal budget and it comes under fire every year. If you build your retirement around Social Security income, you might be in trouble as government budgets get tighter.

Also, remember that these tools are for informational purposes only. You shouldn’t interpret these results as a guarantee of benefit. Many personal circumstances are considered when figuring your benefit and no calculator can capture them all. Treat this information as a useful planning guideline, but not as a contract.

The most basic planning tool is offered by the Social Security Administration. It’s regularly updated and provides the most direct pipeline to the byzantine network of regulations that govern Social Security. While it doesn’t allow you to customize your results much, it’s a good introduction to planning.

Probably the best tool of the bunch is SSAnalyze! SSAnalyze offers the greatest range of flexibility in input options. It allows you to set a range of life expectancies, adjust for changes in income (if your spouse was to retire early or you were to go part time), and account for a large number of household arrangements (domestic partnerships, blended families, and so on). SSAnalyze! has a little bit of a learning curve, and anticipating the results can be daunting, but the flexibility of this powerful tool makes it a great resource for retirement planning.

No matter the result you get from your experience with a Social Security calculator, it’s only one part of the retirement planning package. You need to take this information and add it to the list of things you know about your retirement options and plans. If you want personalized financial advice that uses that information to get you on the path to your truly golden years, speak with a representative from your credit union today. The trained financial service experts there can set you up with a range of savings and investment instruments that will let you enjoy the retirement lifestyle of your dreams. Call or stop by Destinations Credit Union today, and get on the path to your financial future.

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Still Not Saving? You’re Not Alone!


We like to think of ourselves as learning animals. We take our lived experiences, extract valuable lessons from them, and use that information to improve our daily lives. This is how we get better at doing things over time.

However, a recent survey from Bankrate.com shows that we haven’t yet learned the lessons of the Great Recession. While Americans paid down their debt in the months since the recovery, a shocking 26% of Americans still report having no emergency fund. Another 24% have less than three months living expenses saved. Only 23% of survey respondents have the recommended 6 months living expenses saved.

It’s not for lack of caring. The same survey reveals that 60% of Americans don’t feel comfortable with their current savings position. We all know we need to save more, but we still don’t actually do it. Why is that?

Many experts say the problem is there’s just not enough money left at the end of the month for savings. This is true no matter how much you make; fewer than half of people with incomes more than $75,000 have that 6-month cushion. Rebecca Kennedy, the founder of Kennedy Financial Planning in Denver, says that after utilities, rent, and other expenses, there’s no money left over for savings.

Not having an emergency fund is like walking a tightrope without a net. No one likes to think about it, but what you would do tomorrow if you lost your job, wrecked your car, or had to miss work due to illness? In 2008, the answer provided by many would have involved tapping into a home equity line of credit. But, when house prices began falling and interest rates rose, these people had to rely on expensive debt to finance their lifestyles. That forced them to postpone retirement, miss vacations, or compromise on educational plans for their children.

You can avoid this problem. It may seem impossible to create an emergency fund, but there are always ways to squeeze a few extra dollars out of each month. Consider these seven ideas:

1.) Start small. If you save $5 a week for four years, you’ve got an emergency fund of just over $1,000. That’s a great start to a rainy day fund, and you can do it by giving up one vending machine soda a day. Many people stash every $5 bill they get in a coffee can or store all their loose change. You might also consider a 52-week plan where you save $1 the first week, $2 second, and so on. These incremental steps can make a big difference in the long term – at the end of a year, you’ll have saved almost $1,400.

2.) Take on a second job. It’s never fun to leave one job and head to another. Remember, though, that you’ll have to work fewer hours to build a savings than you would have to work to pay down debt. Don’t limit your search to part-time jobs. Consider freelancing, taking surveys, babysitting, or selling tupperware. You don’t need to finance another lifestyle. You just need to make enough to start a savings fund.

3.) Pay yourself first. Think about your savings as another bill. This mode of thinking prevents you from treating the money as discretionary and frittering it away on impulse buys and luxuries. Make your savings as important as your house note, car payment, and utility bills.

4.) Automate it. Consider setting up a Club Account or a savings account with direct deposit. This step ensures you’ll remember to take the savings out of your budget each month. You’ll also be earning a little bit of interest on your savings to help you on your way. These savings products have the flexibility to allow for immediate withdrawals if you need it, but are limited by law in how many withdrawals they allow. This means your money is there when you need it, but far enough away that you won’t be tempted to spend it.  With one of Destinations “Kasasa” rewards checking accounts, your rewards can automatically be swept into a high-yield savings account.

5.) Put luxury in the back seat. Whether it’s a fancy coffee drink, a pack of cigarettes, a fast food meal, or the latest cell phone, things we don’t need will consume much of our income. You don’t need to give up your vices all together. In fact, financial expert Candice Elliot compares these choices to dieting. Repeated denials can drain our will-power, leading us to snap back harder. The answer may be to cut back on our consumption instead. Go without your Starbucks on Friday or wait 6 months for the price to drop on a gadget. Put the difference into your savings account.

6.) Look at recurring expenses. If you’re honestly spending everything you get on your monthly bills, it may be time to look at them. Consider cutting your TV services or switching to a pre-paid cell phone plan. Simply giving up a premium movie channel for a year could save you as much as $240. Now that Game of Thrones is over for the season, do you even need it? These don’t have to be long-term choices. Your goal should be to make temporary sacrifices to ensure yourself against future loss.

7) Don’t spend it. Your emergency fund should only be used for actual emergencies. Ask three questions before you take even a dollar out of your emergency fund. Is the thing I’m paying for absolutely necessary? Is there nothing I can cut back on this month to pay for it? Do I have to pay for it right now? Unless the answer to all of these questions is yes, leave the money where it is.

SOURCES:

http://www.wtop.com/675/3649150/Americans-arent-saving-enough-money

Q&A: Cruise Line Vacation: Planning For A High Seas Getaway


Q: My friends just got back from a relaxing 2-week cruise. Swimming, sun, and relaxation for a single price sounds like a great deal. Are there any hidden costs or other things to take into account when designing a budget for a cruise vacation of my own?
A: It sounds so simple. Instead of paying for your hotel, your travel, food and fun extras separately, you pay one bill. Your hotel IS your destination! Many of these cruise lines even advertise themselves as “all-inclusive.” It’s tempting to look at that price and think that’s all you have to pay.
Unfortunately, it’s a little more complicated than that. Cruise fares typically include your room and meals in a buffet-style dining hall. If you want more than that, you’ll need to budget a little bit more than the quoted price. Let’s take a look at a few extras you might have forgotten about and how to budget for them.
1.) Tipping: You’re surrounded by a virtual army of service workers, most of whom depend on gratuities to make a living wage. Most cruise lines know this. Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian all include a $12 per person per day automatic gratuity. Most other cruise lines charge a similar fee. You pay these charges at the end of the cruise, and they can be quite frustrating if you’re not expecting them.
The cruise lines add the same automatic gratuity to optional services. If you and your partner get cocktails each at a poolside bar, you can expect to see an 18% gratuity added to the bill. The same is true if you get a massage or attend a yoga class. This extra charge is on top of any tip you add to ensure prompt service or reward personnel who go above and beyond their job descriptions.
How much you should budget for tips on your cruise will depend upon how much you rely on the service workers on the cruise line. At the lowest, you should expect to pay $200 per person for a week-long cruise.
2.) Internet access: We’ve become accustomed to constant access to our e-mail and social media profiles. Many people experience a sense of anxiety if they’re cut off for any length of time. If you actively manage your investments or have a high-pressure job, being out of touch can cost you quite a bit of money. 4G access isn’t available on the open ocean and cruise lines charge a hefty premium for onboard Internet usage.
Expect to pay $0.75 per minute for data usage. If you know beforehand that you’ll need some e-mail and web-surfing time, bulk packages can drop the price to $0.55 per minute. If you want 20 minutes every morning to check your e-mail and flip through your news sites, expect to pay $100 for a 7-day cruise.
You can cut down on this price somewhat by using Internet cafes during port excursions. The trade-off is that you’ll spend your tropical island time in front of a screen rather than in the sand.
3.) Shore excursions: Cruise lines take advantage of the fact that their audience is usually unfamiliar with the locations the ship visits. They charge inflated prices for tours and other shore trips. You can save money by booking these trips on your own with local tour services. You can even save by taking self-guided tours or just wandering the port. Even so, you can expect to spend between $50 and $100 per excursion. Be sure to include the price of souvenirs, meals, and drinks in tropical locations.
If all this seems overwhelming, bear in mind that it’s still worth it. A cruise is a fantastic way to get away from it all and see many different locations in a quick vacation. These are costs you’d have to pay with any other vacation; they’re just hidden a little bit behind the price tag for the cruise.
Now that you have an idea of what your fantasy cruise vacation will cost, you might want to explore savings options. Destinations Credit Union offers a Vacation Club SavingsAccount. You can take your vacation budget, divide that by the number of weeks you have to save, and auto-withdraw the amount from your paycheck or checking account every week or pay period. You’ll even earn some dividends on your savings.
So make a plan, do some math, and then call Destinations Credit Union. The adventure of your dreams is waiting!
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