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MembersFirst Credit Union

Simplifying the way you think about finances.

Don’t Neglect Financial Health When Making Resolutions This Year

Think back on each New Year. Notice anything in common with years past? Maybe you’ve resolved each year to make better nutritional decisions. I will not eat the WHOLE plate of cookies. Or, maybe you’ll take it a step further and throw in a promise to yourself to take your health a little more seriously. My neighbor can get up at 5:00 am for a run before work. Why can’t I?

Whatever your resolutions may be, why not resolve to take better care of your financial health as well? It’s no secret that having a healthy understanding of your financial outlook can positively affect your physical health. We have enough sources of stress – money shouldn’t be one of them.

Start small. You already have a savings account! It’s the first account you open to become a member of the credit union. Use it. It’s there to help you plan for the future. Whether there’s a European adventure or an unforeseen emergency on the horizon, save so you’ll be prepared for it.

Set a budget. That’s the easy part. It’s sticking to it that becomes tricky. You may have heard it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. Budgeting is no exception to that rule. If dropping by a Starbucks® every morning on your way to work gets you going, plan for it in your budget. Identify any unnecessary purchases and see how they affect your budget. If it takes you over your budget, eliminate it.

Make savings a budget category. Pay yourself first! Seriously! Either write yourself a check or automatically transfer funds to your savings account each time you get paid. You already know how much to set aside for bills and other obligatory charges, so take a reasonable amount of money and place it in a savings account. Don’t forget that MembersFirst offers Christmas Clubs and other special savings accounts that make saving simple.

Track spending trends. Ever wonder where all that money goes each month? Make budgeting fun by tracking spending and saving trends with our free MoneyDesktop™ program. Log in to MoneyDesktop™ via FlexTeller and begin tracking your finances, even if they aren’t in accounts with MembersFirst. You may be surprised to see just how much you spend at the grocery store or on fast food.

Commit to stick. Like many New Year’s resolutions, we tend to be gung ho about sticking to them, only to ruin that plan by MLK, Jr. Day (sooner, for some of us). Sometimes it’s just a matter of forgetting to track your spending. Stay on top of your spending and make it simple by designating a time and place each week to keep up with your finances. This is when you’ll also plan for future expenses and track spending habits.

We know that everyone’s financial situation and goals differ, so at MembersFirst, we provide options that help you afford life, regardless of the stage in which you find yourself. Stop by a branch and have a conversation with one of our member advisors about your short- and long-term goals today! Or, visit membersfirstga.com for a listing of products and services to help you succeed!

Budgeting Basics: Not just for beginners anymore.

We talk a lot about credit and great ways to access and spend your funds, but there’s one very important step we should take when it comes to our money…

budgeting.

Does that word sounds scary or boring?  It must as budgeting seems to have such a negative connotation surrounding it.  Though it’s true one could live off the available credit of a credit card for a short period–charging every desire of the heart–this will eventually catch up and bite you soon enough.  Slow and steady wins the race… most of the time.

So, why does budgeting seem like such a dirty word for some?  Here are our top 5 reasons.

“Ain’t nobody got time for that.”

Between work, getting kids to after-school and weekend functions, taking care of daily tasks and trying to get to your own extracurricular activities, budgeting seems, well, tedious. Who wants to spend their free time deciding how much to throw in savings when you could be watching this week’s episode of The Walking Dead?

A little time spent making sure your finances are in order can really save you a lot of time in the long run.  If staying out of debt sounds like a good plan, you’ll find the time to devote to budgeting.

I forgot to make budgeting a priority.

Like a physics student starting on a 20-page essay the night before it’s due, panic starts to creep in, you start looking for the coffee and energy drinks and wondering how little sleep you could get by on if you stay up all night getting it done. Then, morning comes and you sleep through class and miss your opportunity to turn it in.

Don’t miss out on great financial opportunities because you forgot to make budgeting and planning for surprises a part of your weekly routine.  It takes 21 days to make or break a habit.  But, you can’t succeed unless you start somewhere–so start with making a calendar entry (with a reminder) in your trusty smartphone or within your email program.  Set aside the time to budget and the task won’t seem as gargantuan as the poor physics student’s.

I don’t even know where to begin.

If you’re in that boat, it’s likely because you feel a bit overwhelmed and haven’t stopped to look at not only where you’re trying to get–AKA: Point B–you’ve forgotten to take a look at what you have in front of you–Point A.  ‘Point A’ usually consists of taking inventory of what your current financials look like (how much liquid cash you have available to you at the present moment) and how much of that will soon go out to cover expenses like utility bills, home and auto payments and other necessities like child care expenses and medical bills.  It’s as easy as using the skills you learned in 1st grade:  addition and subtraction.  Write it all down and subtract what you owe from what you currently have and keep doing so as long as you earn and spend money.  If you don’t know how much you have, you can’t plan to put some of that hard-earned cash into savings for a trip to the Bahamas to reward yourself for being so diligent with your recordkeeping.

It’s just too hard.

It may seem that way at first, but just as it takes 21 days to make or break that habit, it takes just as long to learn how to budget like a pro.  Just be sure to PYF!  What’s PYF you ask?  Pay Yourself First.  Before you spend cash on anything not already assigned to a bill or other expense, take a portion of it and put it in a savings account.  A special savings account, like a Christmas, Vacation or other special purpose savings account at MembersFirst is one excellent way to corral excess cash while also earning dividends and keeping it separate from your checking.  Make it easy on yourself by setting up an automatic deposit from you payroll check or checking account to your savings.  Fast and convenient–it’s like the money was never there, making the temptation of spending it obsolete.

My goal is too big, I started to late.

If you don’t take anything away from this message, please remember one thing:  It is NEVER too late to begin taking care of your financial health.  It’s never too late to begin putting money away for a rainy day or a goal of any size.  Using the knowledge you’ve already gained in previous paragraphs, you absolutely can reach your savings goals.  If you’re looking to become completely debt-free, by all means, do it!  Just be sure to make responsible spending habits for yourself.  If you’d like to pay cash for a vehicle rather than finance it, it will take some time, but as you’re tracking your spending and saving habits, keep your debt-free goal in mind.  Every dollar spent frivolously is another dollar taken away from reaching your goal.  Just remember life isn’t all about what you’ve have in your savings account.  It isn’t meant to be boring–we still have to spend money on fun and entertainment.  Keep this in mind when creating your goals.  If it seems there isn’t much wiggle room for the ‘fun’, maybe you should take another look at what you’ve labeled as a necessity or how much of your ‘leftover’ cash you’re throwing in savings each time you’re paid.

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Still feel completely lost on the budgeting topic?  Check out Jen’s latest adventure with the Budget Fortune Teller above… she might make looking into your financial future a little easier.

Want to talk to your own Financial Fortune Teller?  Just give us a call at 404-978-0080 or drop by a branch and set up an appointment with one of our Member Advisors to discuss your financial goals or to have them help you get on track with spending.  After all, our goal is to help you afford life.  Funny how that works out!

Brainy Browsing and Purchasing Tactics

It seems every time you turn around there’s another item you need—and you needed it, like, yesterday.  A replacement water filter for the fridge, new carpet, an extra garage door opener…

So, what do you do?  If you can’t visit your favorite retail shop, you’ll probably go to your second best option — online shopping.

Whether on your mobile device or a computer, you may have a few of your favorite online shops bookmarked.  Online retail giants like Amazon.com, eBay.com and Zappos.com continually update their safe-purchase policies, but have you checked the security settings of other websites lately?  Are you sure your purchases and personal info is still protected?

There’s plenty you can do to protect your info whether you’re online or out and about.

Spam filters are there for a reason.  Don’t disable (or forget to activate) the spam filter settings on your browser and in email programs.  Though you may not receive notifications each time a suspicious email or a website pop-up is blocked, rest assured the spam filter is doing its job.  If you’re worried it may redirect a legitimate email to the wrong location, just check your spam or ‘junk’ email folder every so often.

Don’t ignore update notifications.  Keep firewall and anti-virus programs up-to-date.  As new malware seems to pop up daily, your computer and mobile device support systems work constantly to keep your content protected by creating new protection policies and pushing them through to you via updates.

Be a skeptic.  If an email or link on a website seems too good to be true, it probably is.  Fraudsters work hard to reach you in various ways.  Don’t assume the email you just received from Aunt Rhonda bragging about the gigantic sum of money she won is legit.  Her email could have been hacked.  Look for phrases that don’t quite make sense, hover over links in emails to see where they point and be leery of shortened URLs that don’t give you clues as to where the link is taking you.

Keep your cards in sight.  Card readers, also known as skimmers, can be present anywhere.  Skimmers retain information when someone runs your card through a smaller machine under a counter or concealed in clothing.  These card readers can even fit over the top of a legitimate card reader at an ATM.  The stolen information can be copied onto another card for use by someone else.  Keeping an eye on your cards at all times and being on the lookout for fake readers can reduce the risk of your information being stolen.

Trust your instincts.  When in doubt, make a purchase from another location or website.  Doing so can save you a lot of time and financial hassle later on.

If you think your personal information has been used by someone other than you or if your cards have been compromised, be sure to alert your financial institution immediately.  The sooner you take back control of your finances, the easier it will be to clean up the mess another may have created for you when unjustly using your information.

If your credit and debit card company don’t come equipped with services like fraud prevention and account monitoring, consider switching to a financial institution like MembersFirst–we take every threat very seriously and will work with you to identify where the information leaks might be.  Don’t put a bandage on the issue; get to the root of the issue by protecting your info as much as you can.

Staying Financially Sound During A Job Loss

Planning. It’s singlehandedly the best thing you can do for your budget. It allows room to allot funds for retirement, unexpected bills such as an increase in a utility bill, a veterinary or ER visit and even room to budget for entertainment and family weekend activities.

But does your financial outlook include a plan for an unexpected job loss?

You may be making plans for the funds coming in each pay period, but if those funds cease to find their way into your checking account, you’ll likely be forced to access savings, or worse—available credit. Looking ahead and planning for a loss such as this is just good practice. As you may consider setting aside a portion of your income each pay period for unforeseen circumstances, putting away a little each month in the event you or someone in your household loses income will assure you’ll stay financially sound as you search for another job.

In the September issue of Consider This, a publication issued by Georgia Credit Union Affiliates, a recent poll suggests close to 31 percent of respondents stated they would not be able to cover even a month’s expenses after a loss of income.

Though the unemployment rate is down to 6% from 10.5% in 2010, the rate at which Georgians have experienced a job loss or loss of income still has a great impact on our economy and the financial choices we make.

When creating your financial plan, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Begin contributing funds to an emergency funds account. A minimum of 6-9 months is suggested. MembersFirst offers special savings accounts with no fees that you may use for any purpose.
  • Even a little income is better than not at all. If having difficulty finding another job that’s right for you, consider working in a temporary or part time position to continue bringing in an income. Contact the Department of Labor for assistance if needed.
  • Stay diligent. Should you experience a lay off or termination, try to get ‘back in the game’ as soon as possible.
  • Borrow funds from a current investment. If you find yourself out of work for an extended period of time, avoid accessing lines of credit – this could cost much more in the long run.
  • Evaluate and reevaluate. What are you spending money on that could be cut from your budget temporarily? Try lowering your cable or cellular plan to the minimum until you’re back on your feet.
  • Consolidate your credit cards into a fixed-rate loan. Making one payment to one financial institution at a fixed rate is better for your credit (which a new employer may check) than missing payments.
  • De-Fee Yourself. Are you paying unnecessary fees for banking services? Open a no-fee checking, like our No Fee Checking account at MembersFirst.
  • Consider making a Credit Union your primary financial institution. Credit Unions, in general, charge less in fees on products and services, such as checking and savings account, and less interest on loans than a traditional bank.
  • Talk to a Member Advisor. Let one of our team members help you identify the best way to maintain financial calm as you search to replace lost income.

 

Do you have a plan in the event you have a loss of income? Which unnecessary expenses will you plan to remove temporarily? We’d like to know–weigh in on the discussion.

For more on how you can reduce fees and keep more of your hard-earned money, stop by one of our locations, visit us online at MembersFirstGA.com or give us a call at 404-978-0080.

Keeping Identity Thieves at Bay

When more than just you is concerned with your money.

Remember our post about safe mobile browsing and shopping?  We hope you had a moment to read it and consider the dangers of using a mobile device without following safe web-browsing practices.

But, what about when you’re not coffee shop bound, sipping a latte and checking out the latest technology steals and deals?  Maybe you’re sitting at work or with friends catching the latest Hunger Games installment.  Your cell is likely tucked away in your pocket or purse.  Think your money and personal info are safe?  You may want to think again.  There could be others digging for your personal information and you may not even realize it.

Identity Theft — You’ve heard the term, but do you really know just how easy it could be for someone to steal your identity? Mistakes like using the same password for multiple logins, not shielding your credit card numbers and pins from Nosy Ninas and oversharing on social media are just a few ways you’re putting yourself at risk for financial woes.

In this second installment of Fun Financial Ed, Jen learns just what she’s doing right (and wrong) to protect her identity.  Check it out.

Can’t access the video?  No problem.  Check out the info below.

Looking to make the switch to a Credit Union that understands the unique needs of its members?  Join today and discover what over 24,000 others already have!  We’ll make the process simple and convenient.

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Make the switch to simplify your life and your finances today!

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5 Identity Theft Jackpots (and How You Can Safeguard Against Them)

Identity theft is nothing new, and yet it still manages to cost its victims billions of dollars (yes, that’s billions with a “b”) globally each year—not to mention the time and hassle involved in recovering a stolen identity.

The good news is that there are tons of things you can do to deter identity thieves. The bad news is that many of us do little beyond choosing a decent password—and some people don’t even bother doing that! Here are the top 5 information jackpots for identity thieves, along with helpful tips on what you can do right now to protect yourself.

  1. Your Trash Can

Even if you’re really careful about the information you put online, your trash bags and recycling bin can still be an easy target for identity thieves. Dumpster diving may sound old school, but it’s still an easy way for identity thieves to get access to your personal information.

Get a shredder (a basic model will run you $20 to $30 at a big-box store) and use it!

Get into the habit of shredding things before throwing them out, especially things like bank statements, expired credit cards, utility bills, cellphone bills, paycheck stubs, old boarding passes and travel itineraries, and ATM receipts.

Don’t forget to check your envelopes! Anything with your name and address on it needs to be shredded, too.

  1. Your Phone

Odds are that you’re carrying a lot more in your phone than just your contact list. With smartphone theft on the rise, protect yourself:

Have a password-protected lock on your home screen. This is a standard feature on all smartphones for a reason, so take advantage of it! Bonus points if your smartphone also has location tracking (also known as the “find my phone” feature).

Public Wi-Fi networks are not secure, so avoid checking your bank accounts or doing your online shopping from the local coffee shop or during your layover at the airport.

Do not store sensitive information on your phone—storing passwords or login information in a note-taking app is bad news.

  1. The PIN Pad

It seems like every few months a new point-of-purchase scheme emerges—skimming devices, keystroke loggers, ATM hacking… the list goes on! Here are some good practices for when you’re out and about:

When making a purchase, keep your debit or credit card in sight at all times.

Use your hand to block the buttons when entering your PIN number, even if there’s no one immediately behind you—a camera can always be watching.

Choose a good PIN. Avoid PINs derived from your personal information, like your telephone number, address or birthday. Avoid an easy-to-guess PIN, like the dreaded “1234.”

Change up your PIN, especially if you use the same combination for your debit card and for unlocking your cellphone.

  1. Your Mailbox

Like the trash-picker approach mentioned above, mail tampering is a low-tech but relatively easy way for identity thieves to compromise your personal information. Here’s what you can do:

Familiarize yourself with your billing cycles. A late credit card statement or a bill that never shows up could be a sign of mail tampering.

Identity thieves will sometimes request a change of address to illegally reroute your mail to a different location. If you suddenly stop receiving mail, check with the post office to make sure this isn’t the case.

Use a mailbox with a locking system to deter thieves.

  1. Your Computer

You would think that this one would be common knowledge by now, but every so often a virus or scam comes along that trips us up. Stay one step ahead of scammers:

Keep your firewall, anti-virus and operating system software up-to-date. No matter how new and fast your laptop is, it still needs protection.

Enable spam filters on your email accounts.

Look out for sketchy links and emails. Ignore any suspicious password reset requests, unexpected tracking numbers or anything that asks for your personal information via email.

Don’t overshare on social media. Do your Facebook friends really need to know what year you were born? Can people tell when no one is home based on your Instagram feed? Keep your accounts private and make sure you’re not accidentally broadcasting sensitive information.

By being aware of the top 5 information jackpots and by implementing these simple strategies, you can keep identity thieves at bay.

Online Banking and Bill Pay–it’s just what the doctor ordered.

To Do:

√Take Sarah lunch at school.
√Change batteries in remote.
√Pick up kitty litter.
  Mail Chad cash for uniforms.

Feeling a bit stressed?  Our lives are packed full of random tasks and things we have to remember each day so our days can run a little more smoothly.  While we can’t take little Sarah her forgotten lunch (we wish we could!), we can lend a hand in sending Chad the cash for this season’s football uniform.

Let us help you simplify your day with our easy and convenient Online Banking and Bill Pay services.

With just a little info and a few simple clicks, you can mail payments to a person or business, make bill payments, check balances, monitor savings goals, transfer from one account to another and much more.

Save yourself the stamp and time by enrolling today!  It’s just the thing to relieve a little of the financial worries we tend to pile on ourselves day in and day out.  All you need is a membership and checking account at MembersFirst and a computer, tablet or mobile phone.

Plus, get helpful step-by-step-instructions for scheduling payments, setting up eBill, making transfers and setting up bill pay alerts. See how simple it is to take online banking to a new level of convenience with online bill pay.

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Online Bill Pay Tutorial

Not a member?  That’s ok.  Become a member today by opening a membership share account with a minimum deposit of $25 and a valid government issued identification card.  Click here to join or by clicking the Join Today! button below.

Questions before you join?  Give us a call at 404-978-0080 or stop by one of our branch locations.  We’d love to hear from you and begin the process of simplifying your financial life.

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Understanding Credit–it’s not as scary as you think.

It doesn’t matter how old you are–whether you’ve been borrowing money and using credit since the 70’s or if this is your first (credit) rodeo–understanding credit can be a bit tricky at times.

What’s a credit score anyway?  How is it used?  Why is it important?  The answers are a little easier than one might think.  And, luckily, we ran into a very wise Credit Squirrel who has the short answer to what a credit score is and how it’s used. Let’s listen in on his latest lesson.

For even more information on credit and what it is, bookmark our blog and check out our Financial Education Page!

We’d like to hear from you!  Let us know how we’re doing or if you’d like us to cover any topics you’re interested in!

No App for Smart Mobile Use

Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

A recent report states close to 75% of the world’s population owns or has access to a smart device.

That’s 5.3 billion people who are potential targets of mobile fraud.  That’s a lot of private information to keep safe.
With a new way for fraudsters to scam you out of your hard earned cash every day, it’s no surprise smart mobile use is such a popular topic these days.

Think about it this way.  You’re sitting in a restaurant connected to their Free Wi-Fi, slurping tomato bisque and checking email when you see your favorite Bath and Body product is on sale (3 FOR $10? What a deal!)

You follow links to the website and make your selections then proceed to your cart to check out.  You input your personal info, including your email, password, first and last name, mailing address and full credit card information and click ‘Complete My Purchase’.  You’ve saved yourself a little money on your lunch break so you decide to reward yourself with a larger-than-life chocolate chip cookie.  You hop up to find your server—it’ll only take a moment, right?  Life is grand.

You’ve made a few dire mistakes which could cost you a lot of time and money in the long run.

While your sweet tooth had you hunting down a little gratification, you’ve left your personal belongings at the table and your mobile device unlocked, making it all too easy for someone so swipe.  Even if they weren’t interested in your personal information, mobile phones can be pretty costly to replace.

The funny thing is—or not-so-funny, in this case—you’re not the only one that knows you’ve just purchased 3 bottles of Energizing Ginger body spray.  While you’ve been happily shopping away, Mrs. Scam E. Fraudartist has hijacked your internet session and now knows a lot more about you than you really intended to share.  Additionally, she could use this information to log in as you using unfortunately easy-to-find scamming tools and begin her new life—your life.

Even if you do have the most complex of passwords, there’s plenty more you can do to protect your information.  Here are 3 easy tips to follow to protect your info:

  1. When connecting to a mobile hotspot, be sure you’re only sending information to websites that are full encrypted. There are two ways to tell if the site is secure.
    – The site address begins with “https://” or,
    – You see a closed padlock somewhere on the web browser page (usually in the address bar or at the bottom in the status bar. When clicking the padlock, you should see the name of the company and a message that reads “The connection to the server is encrypted.” membersfirst website securesecure lock example
  2. Never leave your computer, mobile phone or smart device unattended in a public place, especially while unlocked. The number one most common mistake made by a mobile user is bypassing the option to have a passcode/password on your device.  Set one up as soon as you can, make it complex and DON’T share it.
  3. After logging into sites like Facebook, FlexTeller and other sites you may have personal information stored, be sure to log out then close your browser session.

For every new way of protecting your information, it won’t be long before scammers will develop a device or system to hacking those as well.  The best thing you can do is be smart with your devices and follow your instincts—if something doesn’t feel right, don’t proceed.  Log out and close the browser session.  The worst you could lose is a little time logging in later using a more secure site.

Meet MembersFirst… the credit union with simplicity in mind.

hmmWith so many options on every corner, how do you know which financial institution is right for you?  Furthermore, what’s the big deal with ‘credit union vs. bank‘?

The answer is simple–credit unions are owned by their members (those with an account at the credit union) and banks are typically controlled by stock- or shareholders.  Additionally, decisions are made on the local level with credit unions by a board of directors with one purpose in mind–to simplify the financial lives of our members.

The most common misperception of credit unions is that we’re all about credit–credit cards and loans–and, while we do offer those products, we’re less about pushing products and more about pushing the philosophy of “people helping people”.  We understand that, while banking is important, it shouldn’t be the most time-consuming, stressful part of your day.  Instead, we believe our products and services should, in fact, add value and help you afford life.  In a time when just about everything can be done digitally, our aim is to not only keep up with the technological advances of the banking world, but to remain personable and approachable.  Our members do have member numbers, but they also have names and stories, hopes and dreams, just like each one of our employees.

Since 1953, MembersFirst Credit Union has existed to serve.  By making sound credit decisions and listening to our members, we’ve built a credit union which stands well-capitalized and able to cater to the needs of our Sponsor Groups, their family members and the communities in which we’re located.

If you’re looking to make the switch for a better financial outlook, look to us, MembersFirst Credit Union:  Your finances. Your credit union. Your life…simplified.

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