Your Complete Guide to Using Your Credit Cards

Q: I’d love to improve my credit score, but I can’t get ahead of my monthly payments. I woman with credit card in hand surrounded by shopping bagsalso find that my spending gets out of control when I’m paying with plastic. How do I use my credit cards responsibly?

A: Using your credit cards responsibly is a great way to boost your credit score and your financial wellness. Unfortunately, though, credit card issuers make it challenging to stay ahead of monthly payments and easy to fall into debt with credit card purchases. No worries, though; Destinations CU is here to help!

Here’s all you need to know about responsible credit card usage.

Refresh your credit card knowledge

Understanding the way a credit card works can help the cardholder use it responsibly.

A credit card is a revolving line of credit allowing the cardholder to make charges at any time, up to a specific limit. Each time the cardholder swipes their card, the credit card issuer is lending them the money so they can make the purchase. Unlike a loan, though, the credit card account has no fixed term. Instead, the cardholder will need to make payments toward the balance each month until the balance is paid off in full. At the end of each billing cycle, the cardholder can choose to make just the minimum required payment, pay off the balance in full or make a payment of any size that falls between these two amounts.

Credit cards tend to have high interest rates relative to other kinds of loans. The most recent data  shows the average industry rate on new credit cards is 13.15% APR (annual percentage rate) and the average credit union rate on new credit cards is 11.54% APR (note: Destinations Credit Union has a lower rate!).

Pay bills in full, on time

The best way to keep a score high is to pay credit card bills in full each month — and on time. This has multiple benefits:

  • Build credit — Using credit responsibly builds up your credit history, which makes it easier and more affordable to secure a loan in the future.
  • Skip the interest — Paying credit card bills in full and on time each month lets the cardholder avoid the card’s interest charges completely.
  • Stay out of debt — Paying bills in full each month helps prevent the consumer from falling into the cycle of endless minimum payments, high interest accruals and a whirlpool of debt.
  • Avoid late fees — Late fees and other penalties for missed payments can get expensive quickly. Avoid them by paying bills on time each month.
  • Enjoy rewards — Healthy credit card habits are often generously rewarded through the credit card issuer with airline miles, reward points and other fun benefits.

Tip: Using a credit card primarily for purchases you can already afford makes it easier to pay off the entire bill each month.

Brush up on billing

There are several important terms to be familiar with for staying on top of credit card billing.

A credit card billing cycle is the period of time between subsequent credit card billings. It can vary from 20 to 45 days, depending on the credit card issuer. Within that timeframe, purchases, credits and any fees or finance charges will be added to and subtracted from the cardholder’s account.

When the billing cycle ends, the cardholder will be billed for the remaining balance, which will be reflected in their credit card statement. The current dates and span of a credit card’s billing cycle should be clearly visible on the bill.

Tip: It’s important to know when your billing cycle opens and closes each month to help you keep on top of your monthly payments.

Credit card bills will also show a payment due date, which tends to be approximately 20 days after the end of a billing cycle. The timeframe between when the billing cycle ends and its payment due date is known as the grace period. When the grace period is over and the payment due date passes, the payment is overdue and will be subject to penalties and interest charges.

Tip: To ensure a payment is never overdue, it’s best to schedule a time for making your credit card payments each month, ideally during the grace period and before the payment due date. This way, you’ll avoid interest charges and penalties and keep your score high. Allow a minimum of one week for the payment to process.

Spend smartly

Credit cards can easily turn into spending traps if the cardholder is not careful. Following these dos and don’ts of credit card spending can help you stick to your budget even when paying with plastic.

Do:

  •  When making a purchase, treat your credit card like cash.
  • Remember that credit card transactions are mini loans.
  • Pay for purchases within your regular budget.
  • Decrease your reliance on credit cards by building an emergency fund.

Don’t:

  •  Use your credit card as if it provides you with access to extra income.
  • Use credit to justify extravagant purchases.
  • Neglect to put money into savings because you have access to a credit card.

Using credit cards responsibly can help you build and maintain an excellent credit score, which will make it easier to secure affordable long-term loans in the future.

Destinations Credit Union offers a low rate Mastercard Credit Card.  We also have options to help you establish or repair your credit if you need that.  If you need help improving your credit score or budgeting, contact our HOPE Inside financial well-being counselor.

Your Turn: How do you use your credit cards responsibly while keeping your score high? Share your best tips with us in the comments.

Sources:
https://www.moneyunder30.com/how-to-use-a-credit-card-responsibly
https://www.npr.org/2020/02/13/805760560/u-s-credit-card-debt-hits-all-time-high-and-overdue-payments-rise-for-young-peop#:~:text=Americans%20owe%20nearly%20%241%20trillion,rising%2C%20especially%20among%20young%20people
https://www.debt.org/faqs/americans-in-debt/
https://www.creditcardinsider.com/learn/using-credit-cards-responsibly/

 

A Beginner’s Guide To Filling Out a W-2

It’s no secret that the IRS excels at making things complicated. And when you’re busy man reviewing paperslearning the ropes of a new job, trying to fill out a 4-page W-4 form can be a huge hassle. It’s not a good idea to rush through it, though, because a small mistake now can mean withholding too much or too little of your salary for covering your taxes. There have also been several recent changes to the W-4, so you may need to make some adjustments to your current form on file.

No worries, though, Destinations Credit Union is here to help! We’ll walk you through a W-4 form and show you how to fill it out in five easy steps. It’s important to note that only Step 1 and Step 5 are mandatory; the rest are optional.

Step 1: Enter your personal information

First, you’ll need to fill out your personal information, including your legal name, residential address and Social Security number. You’ll also be asked to indicate whether you are filing taxes as a single individual, a married partner filing jointly or as the head of a household. According to the IRS, “Head of household” should only be checked if the filer is not married and pays more than half the costs of keeping up a home for themselves and another qualifying individual.

If you believe you are exempt from filing taxes, you may need to complete Step 1(a), Step 1(b), and Step 5 (you’ll also write “Exempt” in Step 4(c), as indicated below.) Before doing this, though, make sure you are truly exempt, which means you have no tax liability and did not need to file a tax return last year. Mistakenly filing as exempt can land you a giant bill come tax time, complete with penalties for late payments.

If you are a single tax filer or married to a nonworking spouse, have no dependents, only have one job and aren’t claiming deductions or credits beyond the standard deduction, you can skip the next three steps. Just sign and date your form now.

 Step 2: Multiple jobs or spouse works

You only need to complete Step 2 if you hold more than one job, or you are married and filing jointly with an income-earning spouse. Be sure to read the instructions carefully. You’ll have three options in Step 2:

  • Use the IRS’s online Tax Withholding Estimator to determine how much to withhold below in Step 4(c).
  • Fill out the Multiple Jobs Worksheet, provided on page three of Form W-4, and enter the result in Step 4(c), as explained below. The IRS recommends only filling out the worksheet on one W-4 form per household, entering only the result of the highest-paying job.
  • You can check off this box on the W-4 form if there are only two jobs in total and both jobs have similar pay.

Step 3: Claim dependents (if applicable)

If you have multiple jobs, or if you are married filing jointly and you and your spouse each have a job, you’ll also complete Step 3 on the W-4 form for the highest-paying job.

Step 3 involves some math: If your income is $200,000 or less, or $400,000 or less if you are married and filing jointly, multiply each qualifying child under age 17 by $2,000 and each additional dependent by $500. Add up these numbers and list the total as indicated by Step 3 on the W-4.

Step 4: Make other adjustments (optional)

Step 4 is optional, but you may want to fill it out if you have multiple jobs, or you are married filing jointly and you and your spouse each have a job. If this applies to you, fill out lines 4(a) and 4(b), but only for one of these jobs. Here, too, the IRS recommends filling out these lines on the W-4 form associated with the highest-paying job. These lines can be left blank on your other W-4 forms.

For line 4(a), you’ll tally up all other taxable income not earned from jobs, including interest, dividends and retirement income. This will enable you to deduct the necessary tax out of your paycheck now so you don’t have to pay it later.

For line 4(b), you’ll need to turn to Page 3 on your form and fill out Step 4(b) — Deductions Worksheet. This worksheet will help you determine whether you’re better off taking the standard deduction or itemizing your deductions. You’ll also be able to tally up any other applicable tax deductions, such as student loan interest or deductible IRA contributions.

Once you’ve filled out lines 4(a) and 4(b), you’re ready to fill out line 4(c), which indicates the amount of additional tax you’d like withheld each pay period, such as taxes for a side job you hold as an independent contractor or gig worker. You may have already calculated this number when you completed Step 2 above. If you are exempt from filing taxes, write “exempt” here, as mentioned above.

Step 5: Sign here

Don’t forget to sign and date the W-4 before turning it in to your employer. If you’ve filled it out carefully, you should have just the right amount of money withheld from your paycheck so that you won’t have a huge tax bill to pay in April, and you won’t have a large refund either.

If your life circumstances change and you need to change something on your W-4, you can always make an adjustment. If you get married, have a baby or take on a second job, you’ll need to adjust your W-4 accordingly.

W-4, done!

Your Turn: Do you have any tips for filling out a W-4? Share them with us in the comments.

Sources:
https://twocents.lifehacker.com/a-beginner-s-guide-to-filling-out-your-w-4-1792359834
https://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/081214/filling-out-your-w4-form.asp
https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/taxes/how-to-fill-out-form-w4-guide

How To Create Your First Elevator Pitch

Elevator pitches take humble-bragging to a new level. At its core, the concept of an young man being interviewed by a womanelevator pitch is to squeeze all you can about your talents, strengths and work experience into the time it takes for an elevator to travel from one floor to the next.

Your last few months in college are a great time for polishing your elevator pitch until it is perfect. You can use it to answer common interview questions as you job hunt, or just have it handy if you happen to run into a potential new employer, anytime, anywhere. Working on your elevator pitch will also help you clarify your work goals as you prepare to transition to a new stage of life.

To make this task easier, we’ve broken down the process of creating a killer elevator pitch into seven simple steps. While reading through each section, jot down a few sentences that cover the details of that category. Don’t worry about the writing or syntax here; we’ll get to that.

Step 1: Introduce yourself

Launch your pitch with a super-short intro about your background. Include your name, your major and your unique interests. You can also throw in a one-liner about any special research projects or volunteer work you’ve participated in during college.

Step 2: Talk about your work experience

Now that listeners know who you are, start listing any work experience you already have in your field. Include paid work as well as internships.

Step 3: Sell yourself

Now, you’re going to step in with your professional strengths and areas of expertise. It’s OK to boast a bit here, as long as you don’t cross the line into arrogance. Just speak matter-of-factly and tell the absolute truth. For example, if you’re a law major looking for a paid internship in a large law firm and you know you have a way with words, you can talk about the way you’ve always been chosen as the spokesperson in college work, or how you dominated the debate team thanks to your fantastic oratory skills.

Step 4: Talk about what you can bring to the team

What are your work goals? What kind of value can you bring to the company? Take a minute to put this into words.

Step 5: Wrap it up 

Close your pitch with an eye toward the future by talking about how you can’t wait to hear back from your listener, or how you look forward to working for them or in their company.

Step 6: Put it all together

Now that you’ve got the content for an elevator pitch written down, it’s time to bring it together in a short, hard-hitting pitch.

First, go through each section to pull out the most important parts. Leave out anything that is not absolutely essential. Next, start the actual writing by putting it all together in one paragraph. Remember: Time is limited here, so keep it short and sweet. Elevator pitches are best when delivered in 30 seconds or less, which gives you approximately 75 words to work with. Once you’ve got it all in one place, read through your pitch again and again, weeding out anything that sounds awkward or isn’t crucial to your pitch. When you’ve got it down to 75 words or less, you’re ready to move on.

Step 7: Practice, practice, practice

A perfectly written pitch is worthless if the delivery is lacking. You want to come off sounding super-confident and capable to any potential employer you meet. Practice delivering your pitch in front of the mirror and with friends until you know it by heart. It’s also a good idea to record yourself speaking so you can hear how you sound and make any necessary changes to the word flow.

Keep at it until you can deliver the elevator pitch in your sleep.

Now that you’ve mastered the art of the elevator pitch, you’re ready to get out there and blow those employers away with your talent and skills. Go get ‘em!

Your Turn: We’d love to hear your elevator pitch! Share it with us in the comments.

Sources:
https://www.monster.com/career-advice/article/college-senior-elevator-pitch-1103
https://homeat30.com/elevator-pitch-example-tips-for-students/

The Back to School Guide for These Unconventional Times

Back-to-school season is traditionally marked by a run on discounted pencils, Mother putting mask on her daughterovercrowded malls and lots of nail-biting nerves about new teachers. But this year, the back-to-school season is entirely different. Forget the crowds and a race to find the hottest-selling backpack. This year, it’s all about the trendiest face masks and getting ready for a school year that promises to be unlike any other. And for a child, that can be more than a little frightening.

As with every transition, proper mindset and preparation is key to smoothing out the inevitable bumps and hurdles. Whether your school district is starting off the year exclusively with distance learning, going back to in-person learning five days a week or they’ve settled on something in between, we’ve got you covered.

Here’s our complete guide to helping you prepare your child for the new school year in these unconventional times.

Talk to your child about what to expect

The more your child knows about the dynamics of the upcoming school year, the better off they’ll be. As the situation evolves, and you learn more details about the year’s schooling, speak to your child about what to expect. If your school’s administration has decided to continue in-person instruction with daily temperature checks, let your child know to expect them. If the school year will start off with remote learning and tentative plans for returning to in-person instruction in January, share this information with your child. The more your child knows, the easier it will be for them to handle changes as events unfold.

Create a back-from-school protocol to keep your home safe

If your child will be going to school full-time, or even partially, it’s important to establish a sanitizing ritual for them to adhere to when they walk through the front door after each day of school.

“When children return from school, they should immediately sanitize their hands,” advises board-certified pediatrician, Dr. Candice W. Jones. “Once at home, at the very least, they should remove clothes/shoes and place them in the laundry, or in a designated safe place for disinfecting. A shower would be great, but is not absolutely necessary.”

Talk to your child about this daily disinfecting routine, and run a practice round or two to make it easier to remember when school starts.

 Zooming in on remote schooling

Many states and school districts have announced the continuation of distance learning for the start of the new school year. If the idea of sitting your child down in front of the screen for hours at a time again makes your head spin, it’s time to rethink your strategy. Dr. Linda Carling, an associate research scientist at Johns Hopkins University, shares these tips for helping children succeed at remote learning:

  • Encourage movement. Squeeze in some stretching breaks throughout the school day and pencil in larger chunks of time for longer exercises, like a bike ride around the block. If your child finds it particularly difficult to sit still for long periods of time, set up a tablet or laptop on a raised surface and have your child stand through their classes.
  • Reduce distractions. Create a distraction-free zone for your child’s learning to help boost their focus. Noise-canceling headphones can also be helpful to drown out auditory distractions.
  • Adjust your schedule as needed.  Many younger children need constant or intermittent guidance to help them with their remote learning. If possible, adjust your own schedule so you can be on hand to help your child as necessary.
  • Use a checklist for focus. A basic visual checklist of tasks that need to be completed can help children focus. Draw up the checklist with your child at the beginning of each day and have them cross off tasks as they’re completed.
  • Provide immediate positive feedback. Each time your child successfully follows instructions, provide immediate and positive feedback. You can keep it small, from a sticker on their work assignment or words of praise to an extra 15 minutes of play before bedtime.

Help your child prepare for face mask wearing while at school

School supply lists are looking very different this year, with “face masks” penciled in right next to “erasers” and “glue.” But having your child wear a mask for hours on end while sitting through school can sound next to impossible.

To help your child prepare for face mask wearing while at school, it’s best to model positivity.

It’s no secret that kids mimic the adults in their lives. Though you may find it difficult to wear a mask yourself, you can help your child build up a positive attitude about mask-wearing by talking about how your mask is keeping you and others safe, as well as how the discomfort is a small price to pay for safety.

It’s also a good idea to practice mask-wearing at home. This will serve the dual purpose of getting your child accustomed to wearing a mask, and help to ensure your child is wearing it correctly before school starts. If your child is particularly resistant to wearing a mask, you may want to employ some strategies, like having them wear the mask for the length of their favorite song, or playing dress-up as a doctor or your child’s favorite superhero.

For the sensory child, face masks can be a nightmare. Make it easier by finding the style that is most comfortable for your child, whether that’s a classic ear-loop mask, a bandanna style covering, or a neck gaiter. Extenders or button headbands can also be a welcome relief for irritated ears.

Finally, make masks fun again by choosing a child-friendly pattern. You can go with these adorable bear face masks from Amazon, have your child design their own mask on Etsy,  choose an extra breathable and lightweight mask from Athleta or pick out a mask featuring your child’s favorite movie character from Disney.

Get the school year off to a great start with these preparatory tips for you and your child.

Your Turn: How are you preparing for the upcoming school year? Share your best tips with us in the comments.

Sources:
https://www.franciscanhealth.org/news-and-events/news/masks-school-how-prepare-your-child
https://education.jhu.edu/2020/04/8tipsforfocus/
https://www.today.com/shop/face-masks-kids-t181575
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/cloth-face-cover.html
https://www.realsimple.com/work-life/family/kids-parenting/back-to-school-supplies-coronavirus

4 Back-To-School Apps For Parents and Students

The new school year is starting soon! Whether your kids are getting ready for another round of remote schooling via Zoom or they’re packing their backpacks with face coverings and hand sanitizer for in-person schooling COVID-style, there’s at least one app to help get the year off to a great start.Here’s a rundown of some of the most likely candidates:
myHomework (iOS, Android)my homework app icon
It’s not easy to keep up with assignments, projects and scheduled tests from so many different classes. Help your child stay on top of their work this year with the myHomework app. With color-coded classes to keep things organized and automatic reminders before looming due dates, the app is super-easy to use. The free version of the app includes assignment tracking, due date reminders, syncing between classes and homework widgets, while the paid version, at just $4.99 a year, offers an ad-free upgrade with file attachment support, enhanced app widgets, external calendar access, a homework import feature and more.
LaLa Lunchbox (iOS)La La Lunchbox icon
This adorable app makes meal planning fun again! No more arguments and frustrations about what to prepare for lunch; with your child on board, it’s easy as pie. Let your child set up a profile with a selected monster avatar, and choose a virtual meal from the LaLa Lunchbox’s food library by dropping their chosen foods into the monster’s mouth. The app will tell the parents what to buy in the grocery store so they can prepare the lunch their kid wants. Parents can also customize the food options for specific diets, and all the choices are preselected by a dietician. Meal planning, done!
Cozi Family Organizer (iOS, Android)Cozi App icon
Between school schedules, meet-the-teacher nights, after-school activities and more, parents have lots to keep track of at the start of a new school year. The free Cozi app helps keep the entire family organized with a synced family schedule and color-coded calendar that streamlines across multiple devices. Save grocery lists and recipes on the app, and keep a running to-do list on Cozi to keep on top of all your errands and chores. You can even manage a family journal on the app for the ultimate in sharing!
Bear Focus Timer (iOS, Android) Bearfocus App icon
If you’ve got a little one at home who has trouble focusing on their tasks, the Bear Focus Timer (BFT) app might be just what you need. The no-frills Pomodoro-style timer is created to help the smallest of minds stay focused on their homework, chores or other activities with the help of simple schedules and white noise. You won’t find a lot of bells and whistles on this $1.99 app, but the timer allows the user to customize focus times and break times for the ultimate in productivity.Back-to-school season can be frenzied as the family adjusts to a new routine and schedule. Let these apps help you keep calm and organized so the entire family can ace the start of the new school year.
Your Turn: What’s your favorite back-to-school app? Tell us all about it in the comments!
Sources:

IRS Reveals List of “Dirty Dozen” Tax Scams for 2020

Each year, the IRS publishes the “Dirty Dozen,” a list of tax scams most prevalent during Hands on computer in shadowsthat year’s tax season. This year, with COVID-19 pushing off the federal tax deadline to July 15, the IRS held off publishing the list until early July, and of course it’s loaded with COVID-19-related scams.

Whether you’ve filed for an extension, you’ve had your taxes filed for months or you’ve gotten them in just in time at the mid-July deadline, be on the lookout for the Dirty Dozen of 2020, which continues spreading for months after Tax Day.

1. Phishing: Fake emails or websites impersonate the IRS in an attempt to steal information about refunds or Economic Impact Payments (EIPs).

Protect yourself: The IRS will never initiate contact with taxpayers via email. Be extra wary of any websites and emails making heavy use of COVID-19 terms like stimulus, coronavirus and Economic Impact Payment.

2. Fake charities: Criminals exploit the fear and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic to set up bogus charities that rob innocent victims who believe they’re helping the unfortunate. The “charity” may even claim to be working on behalf of the IRS to help victims of the virus get their tax refunds.

Protect yourself: Charities with familiar-sounding names that aggressively market themselves are often bogus charities trying to make donors believe they represent the actual well-known organization. They will also refuse to provide an Employer Identification Number (EIN) when asked, and will not have a positive review on sites like Charity.org. Taxpayers can also search for legitimate charities using the IRS charity search tool.

3. Threatening impersonator phone calls: An alleged IRS agent threatens the victim with arrest, deportation or license revocation if taxes are not paid immediately by prepaid gift card or wire transfer.

Protect yourself: The IRS will never threaten a taxpayer or demand immediate payment over the phone. It also will not insist on being paid via gift card or wire transfer.

4. Social media scams: Scammers use information that can be found on social media platforms for a variety of scams, including the impersonation of the victim’s friend to get at the victims’ more private information. This ruse often ends in tax-related identity theft.

Protect yourself: The victim’s “friend” will claim to be in a compromised position and to urgently need the victim’s personal information. When contacted privately, though, the “friend” will have no knowledge of the interaction.

5. EIP or refund theft: Scammers steal taxpayers’ identities, file false tax returns in their names and pocket their refunds and their EIPs.

Protect yourself: Personal information should never be shared online with an unverified contact, even if the contact promises to assist in tax filing or receiving the EIP.

6. Senior fraud: Scammers, or long-term caregivers of the elderly, file tax returns on their behalf and then pocket the refunds and EIPs.

Protect yourself: Seniors should be wary of bogus emails, text messages and fake websites asking them to share their personal information.

7. Scams targeting non-English speakers: Scammers impersonate IRS agents and target non-English speakers, threatening jail time, deportation or revocation of the victim’s driver’s license if an immediate tax payment is not made. The victims have limited access to information and often fall for these scams.

Protect yourself: The IRS will not threaten taxpayers over the phone or insist upon immediate payment.

8. Unscrupulous return preparers: Alleged tax preparers will reach out to the victim and offer their services. Unfortunately, though, they will steal the victim’s personal information, file a tax return on their behalf and pocket the refund, or promise inflated refunds for a bigger fee.

Protect yourself: If a tax preparer is not willing to share their preparer Tax Identification Number (TIN), they are likely to be a scammer. Also, if the alleged preparer promises credits and deductions that sound too good to be true, they probably are.

9. Offer in Compromise scams: Bogus tax debt resolution companies make false claims about settling tax debts for “pennies on the dollar” through an Offer in Compromise (OIC) in exchange for a steep fee.

Protect yourself: An OIC that sounds outrageously attractive is likely bogus. Taxpayers can use the IRS’s OIC tool to see if they qualify for an authentic offer.

10. Fake payments with repayment demands: A scammer steals a taxpayer’s personal information, files a fake tax return on their behalf and has the refund deposited into the taxpayer’s checking account. The scammer then calls the victim impersonating the IRS and claiming the refund was mistakenly inflated, so the victim must return the extra funds via gift card or wire transfer. Of course, this money will go directly into the scammer’s pockets.

Protect yourself: Refund checks will never be deposited in a taxpayer’s account if they have not filed taxes. Also, the IRS does not demand payment by a specific method.

11. Payroll and HR scams: Scams target tax professionals, employers and taxpayers to steal W-2s and other tax information. They will then impersonate the employee and request to change their direct deposit information for their paychecks.

Protect yourself: If an employer or HR representative receives a request for a direct deposit change, it’s best to check with the employee directly to see if the request is legitimate.

12. Ransomware: Malware infects a victim’s computer, network or server, and tracks keystrokes and/or other computer activity. Sensitive data is then encrypted and locked. When the victim tries to access their data, they’ll receive a pop-up message demanding a ransom payment for the return of their information.

Protect yourself: Links embedded in emails from unverified sources should never be opened. Tax software should not be downloaded unless it features multi-factor authentication.

Don’t be a victim of the dirty dozen! Stay alert and stay safe.

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

Sources:
https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/irs-unveils-dirty-dozen-list-of-tax-scams-for-2020-americans-urged-to-be-vigilant-to-these-threats-during-the-pandemic-and-its-aftermath
https://abcnews4.com/news/local/irs-reveals-dirty-dozen-list-of-tax-scams-for-2020

Guide To IRA Products And Their Recent Changes

Q: I’m ready to start saving for my retirement, but the choices are so confusing! I’m also Man sitting at laptop with phonewondering about the recent changes made to Individual Retirement Account (IRA) products through the SECURE and CARES acts. How do I choose the IRA that’s right for me, and what do I need to know?

A: It’s commendable that you’ve started thinking about your retirement planning. There are important distinctions between each type of IRA, so it’s best to review them before making your choice. There have also been several recent changes to the structure and limitations of IRAs with the passing of the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act in December 2019 and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March 2020.

This comprehensive guide to Individual Retirement Accounts, complete with updated information on the recent changes, can help you choose the option that best suits your needs.

Traditional IRA

Traditional IRAs are the most straightforward retirement accounts. Contributions are never taxed. Depending on eligibility, they may even be tax-deductible while significantly lowering your taxable income. Investment earnings aren’t taxed and there are no income limits for contributors.

The downside of traditional IRAs comes after contributions are made. All withdrawals made from a traditional IRA during retirement will be taxed at the going tax rate at that time.

Traditional IRAs are great for individuals who are currently in a higher tax bracket and anticipate being in a lower one during retirement. They’re also a good choice for employees who do not have access to a workplace-sponsored retirement plan.

Roth IRA

Roth IRAs are similar to their traditional counterparts, but have several notable differences. All contributions and growth are subject to taxes and are not tax-deductible; however, account holders can withdraw their money, tax-free, at retirement, as long as they are age 59 1/2 or older and have had the account for 5 years or longer.

There is also no age limit for contributions, though there are income and contribution limits for eligible contributors.  A Roth IRA is a good choice for individuals who anticipate being in a higher tax bracket during retirement and for those who may need to access some of their savings before retiring.

SEP IRA 

Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) IRAs are designed for individuals who have been employed in their place of work for at least three of the past five years. Contributions are made by the employer and are subject to a maximum amount. Earnings can grow tax-free and the account provides tax benefits for the employer. The annual contribution limits are higher than the limits for traditional IRAs, but are subject to fluctuation along with the business’s cash flow. Also, there are no catch-up contributions allowed for workers who are 50 years old and over.

A SEP IRA can be a good choice for small business owners wanting to avoid the heavy startup and maintenance costs that are commonly associated with conventional retirement plans.

Up until the passing of the SECURE Act, the limit for SEP IRAs was capped at 25% of an employee’s salary or up to $56,000, whichever is less. Now, that limit has been increased to $57,000.

SIMPLE IRA

A SIMPLE IRA, or a Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees, functions similarly to a SEP IRA with the distinction that both employees and employers can make contributions. Eligibility requirements are forgiving, with employees who have earned at least $5,000 from the company opening the plan, and who expect to earn at least that amount in the current calendar year, being eligible to participate.

The contribution limit for SIMPLE IRAs was $13,000, with a catch-up limit of $3,000 until the passing of the SECURE Act, which increased the limit to $13,500. The legislation also established a new tax credit of up to $500 a year for businesses establishing a SIMPLE IRA with automatic enrollment. This credit is on top of the startup credit that is already available. Employers converting an existing plan to one with Eligible Automatic Contribution Arrangements (EACA) are also eligible for the $500 tax credit.

Spousal IRA

A Spousal IRA can be a traditional or Roth IRA and is designed for married couples where one spouse isn’t eligible for a traditional retirement account. Couples must file a joint tax return to be eligible and the account must be opened in the non-working spouse’s name. Contribution limits are determined by the working spouse’s income.

SECURE Act changes to retirement accounts

The SECURE Act made several significant changes for all IRAs:

RMD changes: IRAs have rules in place for required minimum distributions (RMDs), or a predetermined time when account holders must begin taking distributions. Up until Dec. 20, 2019, all holders of IRAs were no longer allowed to make contributions, and were required to begin taking distributions when they reached age 70 ½, irrespective of their employment status at the time. With the passing of the SECURE Act in December 2019, the age for RMDs increased to 72 years. Also as part of the SECURE Act, IRA holders can now continue making contributions indefinitely, as long as they can demonstrate earned income.

Changes for workplace retirement plans: Previously, employers were allowed to exclude employees who worked fewer than 1,000 hours per year from all retirement plans. With the passing of the SECURE Act, employees who work at least 500 hours in three consecutive years, and are at least age 21 at the end of the three-year period, are eligible to participate in employer retirement plans. This change takes effect in January 2021. Also, small businesses can now team up with other organizations when opening an employer retirement plan, enabling them to provide their employees with access to low-cost plans.

Changes for inherited IRAs: Until the passing of the SECURE Act, non-spousal inheritors of IRAs were allowed to withdraw funds from the account indefinitely. Now, they must empty the account within 10 years.

CARES Act changes to retirement accounts 

In March 2020, Congress passed the CARES Act in an effort to mitigate the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. Part of the 300+ page legislation made changes to retirement accounts:

Changes for RMDs: The CARES Act waived all RMD requirements of IRAs for the year 2020.

Special allowances for coronavirus-related withdrawals: The CARES Act provides for expanded distribution options and favorable tax treatment for up to $100,000 of coronavirus-related distributions from eligible retirement plans to qualified individuals who have been adversely affected by COVID-19.

If you are considering opening an IRA, contact Destinations Credit Union.  We have many options for IRAs and give you the opportunity to build your nest egg slowly through regular contributions.

Consult your tax advisor for your individual situation.

Your Turn: Have you made any changes to your retirement accounts in light of the recently passed legislation? Tell us about it in the comments.

Sources:
https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/coronavirus-related-relief-for-retirement-plans-and-iras-questions-and-answers
https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2020/04/05/changes-law-provide-retirement-relief-during-coronavirus-crisis/2950518001/
https://smartasset.com/retirement/simple-ira-vs-sep-ira
https://www.marketwatch.com/story/coronavirus-stimulus-package-tax-relief-withdraw-100k-from-your-ira-and-repay-in-3-years-with-zero-tax-liability-2020-03-27
https://news.cuna.org/articles/117793-brings-significant-changes-to-iras
https://www.investopedia.com/what-is-secure-act-how-affect-retirement-4692743
https://www.barrons.com/articles/here-are-4-things-retirement-savers-should-know-after-the-cares-act-and-secure-act-51589634001
https://www.investopedia.com/secure-act-4688468
https://weaver.com/blog/secure-act-brings-important-changes-retirement-plans

Should I Take The Zero-Percent Financing Offered By The Dealer?

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

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

What is zero-percent financing?

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

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

Can anyone qualify for zero-percent financing? 

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

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

When is zero-percent financing a bad idea

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

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

Even if the loan terms do meet the buyer’s needs, it still may be worthwhile to skip the zero-percent financing and take out a traditional loan so the buyer will not miss out on cash-back rebates. These are typically not available on auto loans with special financing offers, and can mean missing out on robust incentives.  You should also negotiate your best “cash” price before taking the zero percent offer.  You may be able to save more by negotiating a better price on the car than you would by the lower interest payments.

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

A car is selling for $20,000 with the offer of a zero-percent financing loan that needs to be paid off in four years. Monthly payments on this loan will amount to $416. Suppose that payment is too high for you and you would prefer to extend the term beyond the four years?  It may not be possible with the zero-percent financing.

Alternatively, the buyer can consider a traditional loan for the same car. An auto loan furnished by a credit union at the average national rate according to data extracted by the NCUA would give the loan an annual percentage rate (APR) of 3.45 percent. Over five years, this would amount to a monthly payment of $363Destinations Credit Union currently offers a rate as low as 2.74% APR, making the monthly payments $357 over that same 5 years.

In addition, with a traditional loan, the buyer can take advantage of manufacturer rebates. If this car would have an offer of a $2,500 cash-back rebate, its price would drop to $17,500. Through a Destinations CU loan with an APR of 2.74 percent, the monthly payments would only be $312. The total amount paid on the car would also be less than the amount paid through the no-interest loan, at $18,757.

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

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

If the offer does not feature a shorter loan term, the difference between scenarios wouldn’t be as dramatic. A five-year loan on $20,000 with zero interest would cost the buyer $333 each month, only $21 more than the traditional loan through a credit union after the rebate ($1,260 over the life of the loan); however, a five-year loan term may not be an option on a no-interest loan. Also, when you take out a loan through Destinations CU, you’ll enjoy personalized service and zero pressure to make a decision.

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

If you’re ready to get started on your auto loan, stop by Destinations CU today to get started. We’ll have you seated behind your new set of wheels in no time!

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

Sources:
https://www.autotrader.com/car-tips/buying-car-whats-catch-0-percent-loans-222702
https://www.bankrate.com/loans/auto-loans/0-apr-car-deals-are-they-worth-it/
https://www.edmunds.com/car-loan/what-you-need-to-know-about-zero-percent-car-loans.html

Beware Back To School Tuition Scams

Back-to-school season means a flurry of shopping — and a flurry of scams. Scammers young man studyingknow that students and their parents are caught up in a frenzy of preparations and errands and are, therefore, more likely to fall victim to schemes. As you get ready for school (whether online or in-person), look out for these scams targeting college students and parents of private school students that tend to peak before the start of the school year.

The tuition fee scam

How it plays out: A college student, or the parent of a private school student, receives a phone call from a caller introducing themself as a secretary or administrator at their school, or their child’s school. The caller claims the student or parent owes tuition fees and will not be allowed to return to school for the coming semester unless the fees are paid. They may explain that a tuition check has bounced or that a credit card payment didn’t clear. Alternatively, the caller claims the student’s grant or scholarship was abruptly canceled and the student is now being billed for the full tuition fee.

The caller insists on being paid the outstanding sum immediately or the student will lose their spot in the school. The “secretary” or “administrator” provides the victim with detailed information for wiring money or dropping off the cash at a private address. Of course, once the money is sent, it will never be seen again.

Protect yourself: This scam is easy to spot because most schools will not insist on immediate payment, or payment through a wire transfer. If you receive a call like the one described above, ask the caller detailed questions about the school, their position and the money owed. If it’s a scam, the caller will not be able to answer well. You can also explain that you need to see the actual bill before making any payments, and that you’d like to pick up the bill yourself from the school. Finally, you can insist on calling the school directly to make the payment.

The student tax scam

How it plays out: In this scam, someone allegedly representing the IRS calls a college student at a public university and claims they neglected to pay their student tax. The caller explains that the student tax helps fund the university and that failure to pay this tax can result in disqualification from class and possible imprisonment. They will insist on immediate payment via prepaid gift card or wire transfer.

Protect yourself: You can spot this scam by remembering that the IRS will always first contact people by mail. Also, the IRS won’t insist on being paid through gift card or wire transfer.

The scholarship scam

How it plays out: A scammer reaches out to a college student telling them they’ve been guaranteed approval for a scholarship or grant. The only catch is that the student must pay a hefty fee to receive it. Unfortunately, the scholarship is bogus and, if the victim falls for the scam, they will never see that money again.

In a similar scam, a victim is instructed to pay a fee to a company that will allegedly file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form in their name. Of course, no FAFSA form will be filed, and the money paid for this “service” will go directly into the scammer’s pockets.

Protect yourself: Student scholarships and grants are designed to help students and their parents pay for education; they don’t charge for eligibility. If an alleged scholarship claims to charge a fee before granting approval, it is most certainly a scam. Also, no company will guarantee approval for a scholarship or grant; there is always a vetting process of some kind before eligibility is determined. Finally, there is no reason to pay to have a FAFSA form filed; it can be completed easily online here.  For additional help, college students can contact the financial aid office at their university.

Scammers are out in full force before the start of the school year. Don’t let them make the grade! Stay alert and stay safe.  Visit the Fraud Page on Destinations Credit Union‘s website for resources to stay informed.

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a back-to-school scam? Tell us about it in the comments.

 

Life Lessons Learned From the COVID-19 Pandemic

If someone would have approached us a year ago and told us that, in 2020, the country woman putting on a maskwould essentially shut down for three months; the busiest thoroughfares in cities across the world would be empty of traffic; schools and colleges would close for an entire semester and blockbuster releases would be put on hold indefinitely, we probably would not have believed them.

Tales of mass shutdowns and cancellations of in-person gatherings, from sporting events to concerts to graduations, sound like scenes from an outrageous sci-fi movie with an unbelievable plot. Not real life, right?

We’ve all changed this year. We’ve lived through historic times, and it’s nearly impossible to experience something of this magnitude without it having an impact. The time-out from regular life forced us to reexamine our values, our relationships and our lifestyles, while determining whether we are living a life of design and not one of default.

Now that most lockdowns have ended and life is starting to return to normal in many states — or at least a warped variation of “normal,” — let’s take a few moments to reflect on some life lessons we can learn from living under lockdown.

There’s not much in life that is truly essential

When federal and state governments mandated that all businesses close their physical stores  unless they were deemed essential, many of us were forced to confront the reality that there are very few things in life that are actually essential. The raging pandemic turned reality upside down. Suddenly, that weekly manicure, daily latte from our favorite coffee shop or Friday night sports bar we thought we could never live without seemed silly, frivolous and completely unnecessary. Forced into our own homes with just our immediate families, we quickly learned what is truly important in life: Family. Friends. Health. Happiness. Everything else is really secondary.

Now that many businesses are reopening, we can use the opportunity the lockdown presented to reevaluate the things in life we call necessities, wants and needs. In practical terms, this can mean rewriting our monthly budgets, changing our daily habits, deciding to donate more money to charity or shifting our financial priorities in another direction.

There’s wonder in everything

When daily rituals and routines we’ve always taken for granted are disrupted for an indeterminate period of time, it lends a new sense of appreciation for the small things in life:

  • Sending our kids off to school
  • Hugging our parents
  • Going to work
  • Shopping in crowded malls
  • Having an adequate supply of toilet paper
  • Eating out
  • Attending weddings

And so much more. Let’s not lose the sense of wonder this surreal time lent to the everyday blessings of life or take for granted the important work of teachers, nurses and those who work in service industries.

Nothing compares to an in-person interaction

At first glance, the lockdown was the party-shy introvert’s dream. There was no longer an antisocial element with missing out on various events, from graduations to birthday parties to baby showers. During lockdown life, you could even attend a black-tie affair in your sweatpants; all you needed was a nice-looking top and a Zoom link.

But the lockdown was also one of the loneliest times for many people. It highlighted the universal need for social interaction, even if it’s as small as a few words exchanged with the clerk while at the checkout counter or the pizza delivery person. And when it was over and people began having in-person visits with family and friends again, there was a newfound appreciation for face-to-face interactions that was previously lost in a social world gone virtual.

Let’s not forget that initial excitement at seeing our family and friends in person again after months of virtual visits. We can let the lessons learned in lockdown continue to impact us positively by resolving to be fully present when spending time together. Whether that means resolving to turn our phones on silent or to put them away completely, this mindfulness can help strengthen our relationships forever.

We are stronger than we know

The first week of the lockdown brought many of us to the edge of panic and despair. No leaving our homes unless it’s absolutely essential? Work from home for the foreseeable future? Kids home from school without play-dates, indoor attractions or playgrounds? It all seemed so impossible, and many of us wondered if we’d make it past that first interminable day.

And then one day passed, and we realized we hadn’t lost it — well, not completely anyway. Another day went by, and then a week, and somehow, we were doing it. We were rolling with these strange new circumstances, adapting to a new routine, a new way of life, without falling apart. And many of us were even thriving under the newer, relaxed routine. We were riding out the lockdown like champions!  Of course, there are those with especially trying circumstances and some who have suffered mightily. Be mindful of this and empathetic as we encounter and interact with others.

Let’s not forget what the lockdown taught us about our own resilience, strength and courage. When pushed into a challenging situation, our true colors shine. Let us never underestimate ourselves ever again.

2020 has been a year unlike any we’ve ever seen. Let’s use these unique circumstances to grow in ways we never have before.  We at Destinations Credit Union are here for you!

Your Turn: What lessons have you learned while living under lockdown? Share them with us in the comments.

Sources:
https://togetherband.org/blogs/news/sustainable-lockdown-life-lessons
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/28/learning/what-have-you-learned-about-yourself-during-this-lockdown.html
https://www.shethepeople.tv/blog/lockdown-life-lessons-take-things-granted/