Help! I Overspent On Christmas!


It’s so easy to go overboard on Christmas. If you have kids, you want everything to be perfect for them. You want to build priceless memories, so spending any amount seems worth it. If you’re just getting started, you want to impress your family with how together you have things. Giving extravagant gifts to your family members seems like a great idea … until you’re staring at a huge credit card bill in January.

However it happened, it’s important to approach this problem rationally. Constantly blaming yourself won’t fix the problem. The important part now is to right yourself financially. You can’t take back gifts and return them at this point. You have to deal with the situation that’s in front of you.

Fortunately, you’re not alone. Destinations Credit Union is here to help. Check out these four ways you can patch up your finances and have things right before summer.

1.) Budgeting advice

It can be very tempting to make only the minimum payments on the credit card you used to buy Christmas. Unfortunately, it’s also the best way to ensure you’re in debt for all the Christmases from here on out.

Making minimum payments on credit cards prolongs the length of time you’re in debt. It also makes the total amount you pay for your debt skyrocket. Making just the minimum payment adds an extra $175 to a $10,000 balance at 21% APR.

What you need is an aggressive debt repayment plan. The question you should be asking yourself isn’t, “What’s the least I can pay on this debt?” Instead, identify the most you can afford to pay. Destinations Credit Union can help with informative guides and worksheets on household budgeting.

Making an extreme budget is usually not a good choice, but in this case, it’s essential until you get yourself out from under that holiday-fueled debt. Make some sacrifices and get ready to tighten your belt for a little while. Yeah, coming up with an extra $35 or $50 a month is tough, but it’s the easiest way to get things moving.

2.) Refinancing major purchases

If you went overboard on one or two major purchases, like a car for a teen, it may not be credit card debt you need help overcoming. Slick dealers offer crazy-sounding incentives like zero down and zero percent financing on cars to entice people to give cars for Christmas. Unfortunately, once you’ve signed on the dotted line, you may see you’re in for more than you can handle with a car payment.

Destinations Credit Union can help. Our auto and other major purchase loans often feature rates that are better than dealerships. You may need to finance over a longer term to manage the monthly expenses, or you may just need to restructure to pay less now. Either way, you’ll find more favorable and flexible terms with us than you will at the dealer. 

3.) Debt counseling 
Does reading those credit card statements fill you with a dizzying sense of despair? Destinations Credit Union can help you make sense of them.

Make an appointment to speak with a debt counselor.  Through our partnership with Accel, Destinations Credit Union offers free unlimited debt counseling. You’ll gain a better understanding of your rights and responsibilities. You can also come up with a realistic plan to pay off your debt and avoid falling into the same trap next year.

4.) Personal loans

Instead of making dozens of minimum payments, wouldn’t it be nice to focus your debt into one manageable plan? A debt consolidation loan can do just that. Best of all, it can save you money in the long run by lowering your interest rate and monthly payment commitment. Rather than paying a credit card APR, you can get the low fixed rate on a personal loan.

Although collateral, or something to secure the loan, can help get you a lower interest rate, it isn’t necessary. All you need is some basic personal information and a willing partner, like Destinations Credit Union. Our loan specialists can help you organize and simplify your payments, working toward a debt-free life.

Your Turn: Feeling buyer’s remorse after a big holiday spending spree? Let us know about it in the comments. If you’ve got a system to stay on budget, help your fellow members and share your wisdom!


Make The Nice List With Your Credit Card Use


It’s that time of year again. He’s making a list, and he’s checking it twice. Of course, we’re talking about the major credit bureaus! With holiday spending season upon us, it’s time to broach an uncomfortable subject: how to pay for all that joy and goodwill.
The holidays can be an expensive time of year, and it’s tempting to turn to plastic to finance the whole thing. Consumers are planning to spend more this year than last year, with only 24% of Americans planning to reduce their holiday spending. Regardless, the average American plans to spend $812 on the holidays this year, and that’s more than most people have just sitting around or in their savings.
In the spirit of the holidays, let’s look at some “naughty” and “nice” ways to use your credit cards. Be sure to stay on the right list, or there may be coal in your stocking – and smudges on your credit report!
Naughty: Financing gift-giving with credit
If you don’t have the money sitting around to finance your gift-giving, it can be tempting to pull out a credit card at every store and shop ’til you drop. That’s exactly what most people do when spending with credit. A recent study of consumer behavior found that people spend nearly 20% more when shopping with a credit card. The dissociation between plastic and money can erode our ordinarily thrifty impulses, causing us to overspend.
There’s also interest to contend with. That $812 could easily turn into $1,000 or more thanks to the power of compound interest. Even deferring payment for a month can cost you quite a bit! Less than a third of Americans pay off their holiday credit card bills immediately. Most will end up carrying a balance that can make it hard to start the new year right. In fact, consumer counseling agencies see a 25% increase in requests for help in January and February. Holiday spending can be the last straw for people barely getting by while making minimum payments.
Oh, and by the way, you might end up ruining the surprise on Christmas morning! If you put something special for your someone special on a joint credit card, they might see it on the credit card statement. Nothing ruins a perfect gift like a spoiled surprise.
Nice: Paying for holiday travel
If you’re traveling for the holidays, it can make sense to use credit cards. Most major credit cards offer insurance for rental cars and extra cancellation policies for flights in case things change at the last minute. Using a credit card to make reservations at hotels, rental agencies and other book-ahead services can also prevent the company from placing a hold on your account as a deposit.
Remember to make a clear budget for your travel plans and stick to it! Resist the impulse to take frivolous upgrades. Holiday travel is a chance to bond with family, and fancier hotel sheets won’t help with that! Keeping a clear budget will make sure you can pay off that credit card bill next month and avoid costly financing charges.
Naughty: Guilt spending
The holidays are full of messages that connect spending to caring. These messages would have us believe that, if you love someone, you’ll get them jewelry or another extravagant item. Advertisers encourage consumers to make emotional decisions about spending, rather than looking at what they can afford. Credit cards make this even easier by letting you postpone paying for the gift.
Instead of telling someone you care with borrowed money, show them you care with a thoughtful message and a reasonable gift that’s based on what they want. Don’t buy into the myth that dollars are a meaningful quantification of your feelings. Give sensible gifts with money you have.
Nice: Spending rewards on holiday purchases
If you use a rewards card throughout the year, now’s a good time to cash those points in. Most companies offer discounts on two commodities everyone needs this time of year: travel and gift cards. You can use your rewards money to help absorb some of the impact of gift-giving. Picking up gift cards this way can make last-minute gift-giving easier.
It might also be worth investigating the possibility of giving travel points or miles directly to others. This can make a difference for relatives who travel frequently, or make a trip home feasible for people who live far away. Look into using your rewards generously this year!
Your Turn: How do you manage your holiday spending? Are there secret tricks to keep those costs down, or are there techniques you use to keep you within budget? Let us know in the comments!


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

5 Low-Cost Holiday Family Activities


It can be difficult to find something everyone enjoys doing. Uncle Phil wants to watch the football game while Aunt Linda wants to decorate cookies. You’re trying to keep peace without making family time feel like a chore. What can you do to keep everyone happily spending time together without running up a huge credit card bill?
These five activities can help all of you keep the Christmas spirit in your hearts while spending time with your family this holiday season. Best of all, most of these options won’t cost you a dime!
1.) Caroling
It’s a tradition that spans generations. Family and friends get together to spread joy and good will with cheery music. Caroling is an iconic part of the holiday season. If you live in an area where you know your neighbors and the streets are safe, you can carol in your neighborhood. If you don’t, consider making an appointment with an area nursing home or assisted care facility. These homes are often in need of some cheer during the holidays.
You can find sheet music for most holiday classics for free online. You can also find “karaoke” mixes to download onto a smartphone or tablet to help keep your merry ensemble on key. Spending some of your together time practicing is also a good idea. What’s important isn’t how good you sound, though. It’s the fun you have and the joy you spread.
2.) Volunteering
Many churches, food kitchens and other outreach centers offer Christmas dinners for the less fortunate. Spending some of your holiday caring for those who have little-to-nothing can also help keep your family focused on what’s really important. After your kids have unwrapped their presents on Christmas morning, consider taking them to help out at a community pantry. It’ll help them treasure their gifts all the more.
There are plenty of other causes that could use your help. In the days after Christmas, many animal shelters are overwhelmed with “presents” that didn’t quite work out. The overworked volunteers at these shelters need help cleaning up and exercising scared, confused animals. Consider doing some good with your family this Christmas.
3.) Spit-paper
If you’d rather have some light-hearted fun with your family at Christmas, consider this easy game. Sit everyone down in a circle. Each person gets a sticky note or a small piece of scrap paper. On that piece of paper, they write a person’s name – a celebrity, a political figure, even a fictional character. Then, everyone passes to the right.
Without looking at it, every player sticks the piece of paper on their forehead. People take turns asking “yes-or-no” questions about themselves to the group, with the objective of guessing their “new” identity. Questions like “Have I ever existed?” or “Have I been alive in the last 100 years?” are good ways to narrow the range of options. It’s a fun way to have a conversation about current events in a general, light-hearted way.
4.) Re-watch old family movies
Someone in your family may have a huge cache of old tapes in a closet or basement somewhere. These tapes don’t do much besides gather dust for most of the year, but they contain a treasure trove of family memories. If you’re like most families, someone recorded treasured times to document them for posterity, but either never watched them or hasn’t blown the dust off them in years.
Make this Christmas a time to break that tradition. Pick a year and watch the Christmas or birthday parties. Think back to what life was like then and how much things have changed since. Embarrass the kids a little bit in front of their spouses or significant others. You might find it’s a great way to start a new family tradition!
5.) Check out community or school theatre events
There are a great many works of theatre that everyone recognizes as “classics” despite the fact that very few people have seen them. If you asked someone to name a piece of ballet, most might come up with “The Nutcracker.” It features songs that nearly everyone knows, like “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies.” Yet, despite its fame, most people have never seen it.
Many performing arts schools and amateur dance troupes put on productions of “The Nutcracker” around Christmas-time. This can be a low-cost way to see a high-culture event. The ticket price is usually low and some organizations even offer free admission with a donation of canned goods. You and your family can take in a fancy show while supporting young and emerging artists. Look for posters in your local grocery store or other community establishments.
No matter what you do this holiday season, it’ll be made special because you do it together. Have a safe and happy holiday!

The 12 Scams Of Christmas


The holidays are a time of family togetherness and celebration. Scammers know you’re distracted, busy, and emotional. That’s why their schemes are so devilish. They get their own twist around Christmas time.

In the interest of keeping things in the holiday spirit, let’s look at 12 scams of Christmas. Don’t get taken in by these or similar schemes. Otherwise, you might be footing the bill for twelve drummers drumming and all the rest!

1.) Mobile malice

Be wary of “season-themed” apps that perform frivolous functions, yet demand top-level security access. An app that makes it look like there’s snow on your background image doesn’t need to send or receive texts. Such an app might send premium text messages and leave you holding the bill.

2.) E-card danger

Everyone with an email address will send these little flash programs. Scammers have designed some with malicious code. They can install data leaching programs on your computer and do untold damage. Don’t click links in emails unless you know the sender. Even then, if it looks a little out of the ordinary, it probably is. They may have already fallen victim and it would be good to let them know.

3.) Fake packages

You’ll be receiving unexpected packages this season. Scammers know this and will send realistic-looking delivery failure notifications. They expect you to follow up with them and reveal personal identification information! Head to your local post office or call the parcel delivery service to check with a clerk before you hand over information on the Internet.

4.) Hotel “Lie”-Fi

The FBI issued a warning to this season’s travelers about a malicious pop-up at hotel chains around the country. This scam requests people install a foreign program before connecting to a hotel Wi-Fi network. This foreign program turns out to be data-stealing malware. Remember, Internet connections you don’t own or control can easily be used against you. Before you use the Internet at a hotel, ask yourself if it’s worth the risk. If you do need access, be wary of what you’re installing–there shouldn’t be a need to install anything.

5.) Festive spam

We’ve all gotten used to filtering out spam in our email. Now prepare yourself for it to take on a more holiday-oriented theme. Messages will suggest that off-brand Rolex watches and cheap pharmaceuticals would make excellent gifts. Be careful, though, because these companies might just be in the market for your personal information.

6.) Bogus gift cards

There’s a bonanza of savings to be had buying gift cards through second-hand retailers. Be careful, though, because many of these retailers might be a front for scammers. Gift cards may be invalid, used, or forgeries, and you’ll be left holding the bill.

7.) Fake charities

These crop up every time there’s a major disaster, but they also show up at the holidays. Leaflets and phone calls from organizations with familiar-sounding names will soon appear. To be safe, don’t give to any charity with whom you didn’t start the contact. Do your research and give to charities whose values align with your own.

8.) Must-have gift scams

There will soon be an “it” gift. You’ll know it by the high demand, low supply, and hugely inflated prices. Almost on cue, websites will pop up offering the rare widget at unbelievably low prices. This is a scam – the advertiser doesn’t have the product and is only using the offer to harvest personal information or bilk you of your hard-earned money through sites like Craigslist or eBay, where they will seek payment through PayPal and never send the item you purchased.

9.) Christmas catfishing

“Catfishing” means pretending to be seeking a romantic partner on the Internet to dupe people. Scammers take advantage of the loneliness the holidays can evoke to trick people out of gifts or worse. As tempting as it is to believe in love stories at Christmas, keep your feet on the ground and practice safe Internet dating. A good rule of thumb: If you’re single at Halloween, stay that way until after New Year’s.

10.) Holiday vacation scams

If it’s cold and miserable where you are, it’s always tempting to go someplace tropical for a few weeks. If you’re thinking about getting away, be careful of unrealistic prices or “too-good-to-be-true” travel offers. Scammers have been setting up phony travel sites to harvest personal information. Only book through reputable websites.

11.) Devious Christmas games

If you’re facing a 5-hour flight and a 3-hour layover, it’s fantastic to have a distracting mobile game to pass the time. Be careful, however, not to download the wrong one. Mobile games can harvest data from your phone or steal password information. Always do a quick search to check the validity of the app you’re downloading and read the permissions carefully. A fun game should never ask for permission to send texts or send information to third parties.

12.) Free USB Tricks

Be careful with unsolicited gifts of “free” USB thumb drives. Security firm McAfee warns that many of these devices come pre-loaded with malware. Such scams often target company computers, so ensure you only use approved hardware on your work network. USB storage is cheap enough that you can pass on the freebies.

SOURCES:

http://www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/e-scams