When you take a look at your finances — what’s coming in, what’s going out — do you approach each bill or expense as a surprise item rather than an item you’ve prepared for?
Let’s look at it this way… you’ve finished school, you’re ready to move out of your parent’s basement and you’ve got money to burn. What’s your plan?
If your first thought is more I want a sweet, high-rise apartment, downtown with a view of the city and less I have XX amount available to me each month…what can I afford on that budget?, you might want to rethink your strategy. Take a look at this spending ratio. Try your own. What can you afford? Does your dream apartment on the upper west side become a reality or did you just have a reality check?
Just like you had to prepare a budget at some point so you’d know how much pizza and ramen noodles your budget could take (oh, and those pesky cellphone, internet and insurance bills you may have been forced to pay while living at home), living on your own has its own category of expenses you may not have even thought of.
If you hear the words “renter’s insurance” and your first thought is yes, I’d like someone to ensure that I will obtain rent, then read on a little further, my friend. While you may have thought as far as what your monthly rent might look like and maybe even where you’d like to live, don’t forget these one-time expenses.
If you’re lucky, you might have a few friends you can pay in pizza and soda that will help you move. You might even have the packing materials and a few staple pieces of furniture to help get you started.
Unfortunately, living expenses won’t stop there.
It’s important to also consider the location you’d like to live and do a little research on monthly rental averages. A suburban apartment or home may dole out a much more affordable scenario than a renter’s monthly expenses in a more city-like environment. On top of that, the average rental expense increases and decreases by the area. Look at your budget… then take a look at this. Is your budget more Manhattan- or Tucson-friendly?
So… are you rethinking your strategy for living on your own? How many household expenses did you budget for? Is there something you’ll have to give up in order to live comfortably? Let us know! Comment and share below.
For more on rent and living on your own, stay tuned. We’ll take a look a rental agreements–what to look for and what to avoid–and dig a little deeper into your budget to make sure you’re maximizing your income while still being able to enjoy and afford life. After all, that’s why MembersFirst is here.
Ready to make the switch to a financial institution interested in seeing you at your financial best? We’re ready when you are.
Your personal and financial safety is very important to us. In the past few posts, we’ve covered multiple topics related to protecting your identity and your money. This time, we want to remind you of ways to protect yourself against a more “traditional” form of fraud – CHECK FRAUD.
Although fewer people are writing checks for everyday bills and expenses, criminals today can defraud you and your financial institution quite easily with a blank check taken from your check book, a canceled check found in your garbage, or a check you mailed to pay a bill. Fraud professionals have become increasingly skilled and sophisticated in accessing and altering information thanks to advances in readily available technology. Here are some tips to help arm yourself against check fraud:
Review Company Checks for Security Features, Logos and Company Names – When you receive a check from a business or financial institution, ensure that the security features are incorporated in the check. Most corporations have these security features printed on the face of the check.
Guard your Account Information – Store your checks, statements, deposit slips and cancelled checks in a secure location. If you have a checkbook, NEVER leave it in the car or in the open. Limit the amount of personal information on your check. Exclude Social Security, driver’s license or telephone numbers from your check.
Be Assertive – If someone pays you with a cashier’s check, have them accompany you to the credit union or bank to cash it. If at all possible, only accept a check during normal business hours so you can verify whether it is legitimate. Make sure you obtain identification information from the individual.
Be Specific With Your Payee – Don’t Make a check payable to cash. If lost or stolen, the check can be cashed by anyone. If you need cash from your account, visit a branch and do a withdrawal. Otherwise, visit a surcharge free ATM. Finally…
If It’s Too Good to Be True, Ask Questions. – We’d all like “someone” to send us some money, a windfall of cash, a well-needed boost to our cash flow, “a gift from beyond”– but don’t be fooled. Scammers and fraudsters prey on our emotions and our hardships – If you weren’t expecting a check or notice that the payment you received for a job you did is for more than what you were due, BE CAUTIOUS.
Luckily, your Credit Union is here, checking and double checking (pun intended) you so that your finances are protected. We ask a lot of security questions, we question the source of your funds when you make a deposit, we review your account history with you when you call and we do not email confidential account information or statements through the open internet. We do these things to make sure your information is safe. If you’re in doubt about a check you received, come see us; we can help you determine if it’s legitimate before you make a deposit.
Be on the lookout for more on this topic and many others. It’s all part of our goal to put you first and help you afford life!
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!
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…
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
√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.
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.
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.
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.