10 Facts about Credit Unions

October 19 is International Credit Union day and being a member of a credit union is a win for your finances for many reasons. Here are 10 facts to help you learn a little more about credit unions and what makes them a great option for your money.

Fact #1: President Roosevelt signed the Federal Credit Union Act in 1934 to promote thriftiness and prevent unusually high interest rates during the Great Depression.

Fact #2: Credit unions are insured. Most credit unions are insured by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), which provides essentially the same coverage on funds as does the FDIC. If the word “federal” is in the name, they are insured. If not, check with your credit union. It may be state-chartered or have private deposit insurance, or both. Insight Credit Union is federally insured by the NCUA .

Fact #3: Eligibility is fairly flexible at most credit unions. Most require residency in a certain community, city or state, or that you are employed by the credit union’s sponsor company. But requirements are pretty broad on most, making eligibility at a credit union a possibility for almost anyone.

Fact #4: Credit unions are not-for-profit institutions and are owned by the people they serve, not by a few shareholders.

Fact #5: Credit unions can offer better rates on savings accounts, lower interest rates on loans, and little or no fees on accounts because they are exempt from federal taxes. Credit unions still pay state taxes.

Fact #6: The credit union’s board of directors, which is elected by members, can set loan limits in an effort to help the credit union grow.

Fact #7: Credit union members have democratic control of the credit union and can attend and participate in regular and special membership meetings.

Fact #8: Non-members benefit from credit unions too. Competition for low rates keeps banks’ fees in check, thereby benefiting nonmembers.

Fact #9: With more than 5,000 credit unions across the globe and access to tens of thousands of ATMs, credit unions are increasingly convenient on a national scale.

Fact #10: Once you are a member of a credit union, you stay a member for as long as you maintain your deposit account (share), regardless of whether or not you continue to meet the original eligibility requirements.

Learn more about how you can become a member of Insight Credit union by visiting our website today.

 

Financial Planning for Single Parents

Single parenting brings unique budgeting challenges. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture it costs an estimated $241,080 for a middle-income couple to raise a child to age 18 – and many single parents shoulder that responsibility alone. Even with adequate child support, it’s smart to be proactive about financial matters as a single mom or dad. Here are a few things to think about to get you started.

First, estate planning should be your top priority. It’s essential to make arrangements for your children should something happen to you. Draw up a will, designating a guardian for your children, and a “power of attorney,” giving someone the legal right to make decisions on your behalf.

Second, consider setting up a trust – a legal structure that is overseen by a trustee, in which your assets can be held for your children. Also, ask your employer about disability benefits. Generally, you will receive a smaller income when you claim disability; however, ensuring even partial income is crucial for single parents who don’t have another source of income to cover a gap.

Next, taking out a life insurance policy is equally important. The policy you purchase will depend on your finances. A term policy is the most economical because it offers a straightforward death benefit.
Health insurance is also essential. Premiums may be high, but if you’re uninsured, a serious medical procedure can be financially crippling. Comparison-shop for policies to find one that fits your needs.

Lastly, don’t forget about tax breaks! If you’re a single parent, file as head of household. You’ll pay less and claim a higher standard deduction – you can claim exemptions for yourself and each qualifying child. You also might qualify for the earned income tax credit, the child and dependent care credit, and the child tax credit. Always be sure to speak to a tax professional for the proper procedures.

Whatever your income, it’s important to give yourself a safety net. Put aside a bit of money from each paycheck to set up an emergency fund for car repairs, broken refrigerators and any other unexpected expenses that might come up. Every little bit helps, and we hope we’ve given you information to get your financial planning moving in the right direction.

 

Is Unlimited Cell Phone Data Worth It?

Cell phones have become a staple in our lives – we don’t leave home without them. We watch videos, scroll through social media and read articles all on our devices. With so much activity, do you ever think about how much data you’re using? Has the thought of an unlimited data plan ever crossed your mind? If so, here’s some information to help you decide if switching to an unlimited plan is right for you.

Q: I’m shopping for a phone plan for my family. Is an unlimited data plan a good option?

A: Unlimited data sounds like a great deal, because who wants overage charges? There’s also something about the word “unlimited” that makes the plan seem more attractive.

Cell phone companies are taking advantage of that word’s power. T-Mobile was first with an unlimited data plan. AT&T and Verizon soon followed. Whichever carrier you use, you’ll likely have the option of signing up for unlimited data. Unfortunately, unlimited data plans aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Before locking yourself into an expensive year-long contract, ask yourself these questions:

1) How much data do I actually use?

The average smartphone user needs between two and three gigabytes of data each month. There’s no need to estimate; simply look through your old bills and calculate an average data use per month. That will take into account your habits and the habits of your family.

If you’re an average user, a 3-4 gigabyte plan is sufficient. These plans are usually 30% cheaper than unlimited plans. You only see savings with unlimited plans if you use more than 10 gigabytes per month.

For a family plan, take everyone’s data usage into account. The average family of four consumes 12 gigabytes each month. That might make the unlimited plan worthwhile.

2) Can I change my data usage?

If you regularly exceed your monthly data allotment, consider changing your habits before changing your plan.

If you’re a regular Spotify user, download your playlist to your phone using wifi and listen data-free. Lower your video streaming quality, especially if you use an app for music. Set your phone to only download system and app updates when connected to wifi.

3) Can I rely on smartphone data exclusively?

Some people can’t kick the data habit. You might use your smartphone extensively for business, or live in an area that doesn’t get high speed internet. In that case, there are other cord-cutting strategies to help reduce your total monthly expenses.

If you don’t use the internet much at home but need data on the go, consider cutting your household internet and relying exclusively on mobile data. Wireless hotspot devices that broadcast a wifi signal and use your mobile data subscription are approximately $50. Check with your internet provider for specific pricing.

Remember: No company is really unlimited. Expect to see slow-downs in service after you’ve used 20 gigabytes in a month. If there’s lots of internet use in your household, you’ll go through that cap quickly.

Whether an unlimited data plan is right for you depends on how much data you use, and whether that data use can be curtailed. If you need an unlimited data plan, make sure you get the most out of your service. Monthly fees add up quickly, so think before you upgrade!

 

The Recovering Spender – Lauren Greutman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In The Recovering Spender, Lauren Greutman draws on her own life experience to teach invaluable lessons about living within your means.

To outsiders, Lauren and her husband, Mark, appeared as though they were living a charmed life. As she says, “On the surface, we had it all. Custom home, luxury cars, beautiful babies, and all the bells and whistles…” But disaster lurked beneath the surface.

Though the Greutmans seemed like they had more than enough for all their necessities and many luxuries, they were living way beyond their means simply to keep up with the neighbors. Too soon, they found themselves with a mortgage that had not been paid in months, their car seized and sky-high debt that reached $40,000.

Their dream had become an awful nightmare.

Through a long journey of recreating their relationship with money and spending, the Greutmans arrived at where they are today: back in the black and fully committed to spending less while living within their budget.

In The Recovering Spender, Greutman details the steps she and her family took to pull it off. She shares her hard-earned tips and practical advice to help others who find themselves ending each month with a deficit that keeps growing.

Lauren also shares many of her personal struggles in ways relatable to readers to help them learn from her mistakes. It’s easier for an over-stressed mom who never feels like she can stretch the dollar far enough to take tips from another mom who’s been there, than it is to heed advice from a financial expert who’s never experienced anxiety about being able to pay for groceries.

The book also takes readers through the process of going from being in the red to living completely debt-free, offering a step-by-step guide with actions readers can take immediately as they work their way through the book.

Some of the actionable chapters in the book include:

  1. Take an Inventory of Your Spending.
  2. Declutter Your Finances.
  3. Do an Expense Audit.
  4. Curb Your Spending and Define Your Values.

Most importantly, The Recovered Spender is a guide for getting off the path of debt, and living happily within your means.

Can you relate to Lauren’s experience? Have you successfully changed your spending habits? We want to hear from you. Share your story in the comments!

 

Tax Free Back to School Shopping

TaxFree blog

With the start of the new school year days away, shopping for clothes and supplies is probably at the top of your to do list. This weekend’s tax holiday is the perfect time to get that task done. You can enjoy tax free shopping on clothing, school supplies, personal computers and much more! The tax exempt sales run from August 4 through August 6.

Sales tax will not be collected on purchases of:

  • Clothing, footwear, and certain accessories priced $60 or less per item
  • School supplies selling for $15 or less per item
  • Personal computers and certain computer-related accessories priced $750 or less per item.

This is a great time to take inventory of your home or office space as well as your closets. Do you need new work shirts or a new laptop? Now is the time to buy

You can certainly use this weekend to grab savings for the entire family or you can purchase items and donate to someone that is less fortunate. There are a number of organizations that will be taking donated school supplies during the upcoming weeks. Check out your local news outlets for school supply drives in your area.

We know shopping for school related items can get expensive; however, you can save quite a bit of money by purchasing them during the tax free weekend. Click here for more information and for frequently asked questions about Florida’s sales tax holiday.

Happy Shopping!

10 Ways to Make Extra Money From Home

Whether you’re saving for a vacation or just want to have a little more cash in your rainy day fund, we want to offer ideas to help you reach your goals. We’ve put together a list of easy ways to make extra money at home so a lack of funds doesn’t keep you from achieving your objectives. Keep reading for more.

Tutoring

The school year will be starting before we know it and with that comes students needing assistance with a variety of topics. From math and reading to helping with instruments, your expertise is valuable. Utilize your skills to help a student learn.

Photography

Another option for creative types is photography! Submitting your pictures to stock photo sites is a fun and artistic way to make some extra cash. If you want up to brush up on your photography skills to make this an option, visit your local public library to see if they may offer free classes.

Baking

If family and friends always rave about your cookies and cakes, why not take what you’re naturally good at and turn it into a business? You’ll be immersed in something you love and can make money doing it. Make sure to look up your county’s rules on food based home businesses before you get started.

Online surveys

If getting paid to share your opinion interests you then online surveys may be something to try. Many companies look to shoppers for feedback on the products and services they offer. Providing your thoughts can help improve a service, and you’ll get compensated for doing it.

Freelance writing/editorial work

If you’re the creative type and are good with words, freelance writing and editorial work may be right up your alley. There are many opportunities to be found from ghost writing blogs and articles to editing manuscripts. You can even take a look at your favorite magazine’s editorial calendar and consider submitting articles to be published.

Childcare

This option is great if you’re a stay at home parent. While you may have your hands full with your own children, watching after a few more for a fee can help bring in some much needed extra cash. If you have the space and energy, this is a lively option that will ensure you stay busy throughout the day.

Online jury

Did you know there’s such a thing as online jurors? As part of an online jury you provide opinions and feedback on potential cases that attorneys are working on. If you’re interested in the legal system this may help provide a little insight into the jury process.

Crafting

Are you a master crafter? If you are skilled at making clothes or jewelry, knitting, embroidery, crocheting, monogramming or any other craft, selling your creations can prove to be a worthwhile endeavor. The website Etsy is a great starting point for a side business like this.

Customer service

Many companies hire home based service representatives to provide assistance to their customers. This is a common way to make extra money from home. Before you sign up for a gig like this be sure to check with the Better Business Bureau for additional information on the credibility of the company.

Garage Sale

What better way to make money and get rid of stuff you been meaning to clean out than a garage sale? The saying goes, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” You may have some hidden gems in your home that neighbors and visitors will be willing to dish out cash for.

Now that you have some ideas on how to add a little extra cash to your wallet, you can put the extra money you make aside in one of our savings accounts. You can establish any number of *share savings accounts at Insight Credit Union and watch your money grow for whatever purpose you choose such as a vacation, new car, or holiday shopping.

Have you had success with any of the options above? Share your story in the comments below.

*Federally Insured by NCUA

5 Ways to Raise Your Credit Score

credit-report1.jpgCredit score – even reading it might make you nervous. So many people have come into our branches asking about this mystery. What does it mean? How do I start it? How do I fix it? Before we give you some tips on how to boost your credit score, let’s explain what we are talking about.

  1. What is a credit report? It’s a report card of your history of paying bills and credit habits over a period of time. We like to compare it to homework.
  2. What is a credit score? It’s a “grade” given to you based on your history of paying bills and credit habits. It interprets how well you have done on “homework.” The higher the credit score, the better.
  3. What does it say about me? Lenders, insurance companies, employers, etc., look at your credit as a way to determine your trustworthiness. If your credit is high, you are more likely to get approved for a loan at a great rate, or maybe you won’t have to put a down payment on your new cell phone plan.

Now that you have a general idea of what we are talking about, here are some tips on how to boost that “grade” you are given based on your credit report.

  1. Pay your bills on time! – This accounts for approximately 35% of your score.
  2. Try to pay off your debt quickly, and keep your revolving debt below 30% of the available loan. Approximately 30% of your score is based on how much you owe to creditors.
  3. Get in the game – The length of your credit history contributes 15% of your score. If you decide you want to build credit, starting the process sooner is better.
  4. Have a healthy mix – The types of credit you have contribute to 10% of your score. Do you only have credit cards on your report? That appears as a red flag to lenders.
  5. Pay more than the minimum balance and do it early – This helps you pay down debt faster and reduces the amount of interest you will pay later.

What other tips and tricks do you know of to keep your credit score up? Share them in the comments below.

PS – Click here to check your credit report and learn more about credit reports and scores.

7 Easy Ways to Pay off Debt

DebtFree.jpgThere are several different approaches to pay off debt, and to say one is the best isn’t really fair or accurate. You need to choose a method that works best for you. The difficult part is designing your plan and sticking to it. That’s why we want to showcase an easy method that seems to work well for most people. Have you heard of the Snowball Method to pay down debt? Click here to read all about it. This method is a great way to pay down your debt because: 1. The process is laid out – you just need to fill in the blanks. 2. It is designed to help you see progress quickly, which keeps you motivated to keep going!

Here are some other great ways to pay down debt:

  1. STOP spending money on your credit card. Some people will go as far as to freeze their cards in a container of water. This forces them to wait out their impulsive decision, which often changes by the time the water thaws.
  2. If you have credit card debt with interest, start looking for lower or 0% APR balance transfer deals.
  3. Put all money from work raises or bonuses towards paying down your debt.
  4. Sell unwanted or unused items in your home. From clothing to furniture, there is likely something you have that someone else wants. Alternatively, sell items you receive for birthdays or holidays that you know you won’t use.
  5. “Fast” one of your more expensive luxury items for a period of time (a week or a month) and use the money you would have spent to pay down debt. For example: $5 McDonald’s breakfast x 5 days per week = $25 a week or $100 for the month.
  6. Change your expensive habits and reroute the money to pay down debt. For example: Smoking a pack of cigarettes at $6 per day is $2,190 per year.

Paying off debt isn’t easy. If it was, most of America wouldn’t be in debt. However, it isn’t the act of paying off debt that is hard, it’s changing our habits and committing to those changes. Are you willing to commit? Tell us about your journey to become debt-free below in the comment section. What is working for you? What are your challenges?

10 Ways to Avoid Fraud

PiggyBankShield-small.jpgFraudsters use clever schemes to defraud millions of people every year. From skimmers to phishing emails, they will stop at nothing to steal your personal and financial information. Protect yourself and keep your hard earned money in sight with these helpful tips!

  1. Only open emails from people you know. Fraudsters often send emails that ask you to click on a hyperlink or open an attachment and enter your personal or financial information. Ignore any emails that make these requests.
  2. Don’t pay upfront. Fraudsters may ask you to pay in advance for debt relief, credit and loan offers, mortgage assistance or a job. They may even say that you’ve won a prize, but need to pay taxes or fees first. Don’t do it! Chances are they will take your money and disappear.
  3. Avoid sharing your personal or financial information in an email, text or over the phone. You never know whose hands that information could fall into.
  4. Shred everything. Shred all documents that contain personal information, including your address, telephone numbers, account statements and other sensitive data.
  5. Create strong passwords and change them at least every six months. Use a unique password with a mix of letters, numbers and symbols for each of your important accounts. Don’t use names, birthdays, common words or sequential patterns.
  6. Monitor your accounts weekly. Keep an eye on your accounts to catch any fraudulent charges as soon as they happen. It’s also a good idea to save your receipts and check them against your statements.
  7. At the gas pump, inspect the card reader and PIN pad. Before you swipe your card, study the card reader and give it a good tug or shake. If it moves, it probably has a skimming device on it. Check the PIN pad as well to make sure it hasn’t been tampered with.
  8. Consider the payment method. Not all forms of payment are alike. Credit cards have significant fraud protection built in, while other payment methods don’t. Wiring money through services like Western Union or MoneyGram is risky because it’s nearly impossible to get your money back. You should also avoid using mobile payment apps, such as Venmo, with people you don’t personally know.
  9. Check your credit history and score regularly. There are a variety of ways you can access your credit report for free. With Credit Karma, you can view your scores and reports anytime, get useful tools and tips to help you understand and improve your score, and get credit alerts to help you spot fraud.  Many credit card companies, like Discover and Capital One, offer free credit tracking tools and send you monthly/weekly updates of your score.  You can also order a free credit report once a year from the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com.
  10. Talk to someone you trust. Fraudsters want you to make decisions in a hurry and they may swear you to secrecy. Before you do anything, check out the story, do an online search, or consult a friend or expert – like a Financial Services Representative at Insight!

We hope these tips help you stay one step ahead of fraudsters! Click here for more fraud prevention information.