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.

6 Ways to Save Money on Your Wedding

wedding.jpgSpring is a very popular time for weddings. I’m sure you know at least one person getting married soon, or maybe you’re the one getting married! Either way, we’ve compiled these tips to help you navigate the often expensive world of wedding planning. The more you know, the better off you (and your budget) will be!

One of the very first things you should do is set your budget. Determine how much you and your partner feel comfortable spending, and make a promise to stick to that number. Next, you should come up with a list of your top five priorities. That way you can work your budget to include those things and try to save money on all the other things.

Here are a few ways you can save some money:

  1. Season/Time of Day
    If you aren’t set on a certain time of year, do some research on wedding costs at different times of the year for your area. You are likely to get a better price for venues and rentals in January than you would for a coveted June date. On a similar note, venues charge a premium for Saturday night events. Consider holding your reception on a Thursday, Friday or Sunday night. The savings could really add up fast!
  1. Location
    By having your ceremony and reception at the same venue, you can avoid paying multiple site fees and transportation costs from one place to the next.
  1. Destination Wedding
    If you don’t plan on having an extensive guest list, you may want to consider a destination wedding. This can end up costing less than a traditional event held where you live. After the wedding festivities, plan a honeymoon nearby so you don’t have to pay additional travel expenses.
  1. Flowers
    While everyone loves peonies, they have the potential to blow your budget if they are not in season. Work with your florist to pick in-season blooms for beautiful yet cost effective flower arrangements.
  1. Band vs. DJ
    Making a choice between a live band and a DJ can be a hard one, but you will save at least half by choosing the DJ. If your heart is set on live music, try looking for local bands that like to perform just for fun. They are likely to cost a significant amount less than a professional wedding band.
  1. Cake
    There are multiple ways you can save money on your wedding cake. Choose a smaller two- to three-tier cake for your display and cutting, and supplement with a sheet cake in the back for serving your guests. Chances are your guests won’t even notice the difference! You can also save money on your cake by keeping the design simple and choosing buttercream frosting instead of fondant.

We hope these tips help you or someone you know save money! Do you have any other money saving tips for planning a wedding? If so, comment and share them with us!

April is Financial Literacy Month!

iStock_000016288401_Large.jpgIn the United States, April has been deemed Financial Literacy Month.  The goal of FLM is to help Americans understand the importance of managing their money and credit.  During the month of April, you will notice articles, blog post, workshops and community challenges focused around how we can improve our own finances.  In a moment, close your eyes and think about all the things you require in life and consider which of these do not require money.  Then think about all the things you want in life and consider what you can get without money.  Money touches every aspect of our lives, yet we put little focus on it in one way or another.

This month, no matter how intimidating it may seem, be bold and make a decision to improve at least one area of your financial life.  Each person’s goal may be different.  Maybe you want to become debt free. Your goal is to build the budget that helps you get there – a road map to financial freedom.  Maybe you want to better understand how to manage your bank account. You can learn how to manage your money by signing up for a workshop, purchasing a book or doing research on the internet. Maybe your goal is to finally open an account for your child so you can start saving for his or her future. Whatever your goal, there are tons of resources out there to help you achieve all of your financial goals. Check out some of the resources below:

You can also stop by any of our branches if you need help or have questions.  The point is taking control of your finances begins and ends with you, but you have to start somewhere.  Just know, we are rooting for you and we are happy to help you in any way we can!

 

4 Ways to Reduce Your Vulnerability to Identity Theft

iStock_000012554417XSmallThe holiday season is upon us, and with the holidays comes a spike in identity theft. Are you taking the necessary precautions to minimize your risk? Here are some questions and tips to make sure you protect yourself.

Q1. Do you check your credit report every four months? If not, there could be fraudulent accounts on your report that you’re unaware of.

T1. Get your free credit report every four months and dispute any suspicious activity! Use the guideline below:

  • October – Equifax
  • February – TransUnion
  • June – Experian

Q2. Do you shred all incoming junk mail and outgoing garbage that includes your name, address and any other identifying information about you? If not, identity thieves could be collecting your mail and gathering information on you.

T2. Consider getting a Cross Cut shredder and a secured mailbox that only opens with a key. You can purchase one at your local home improvement store.

Q3. Do you reconcile your bank and credit accounts monthly? If not, you aren’t going to catch identity theft as quickly as you could!

T3. Reconcile your account statements every month. This will ensure you’re the only one spending your money. Catching fraud early can help you catch the perpetrator and stop the theft before you’re put in a really tight spot. Not sure how to do so? Click here to learn how to reconcile your bank statement.

Q4. Do you carry your Social Security card in your wallet? If so, you’re certainly at risk! Identity thieves only need three or four pieces of information to get going. A social security number with your name and date of birth or address can go a long way for a thief.

T4. Keep your Social Security card somewhere safe and locked rather than in your wallet. This way you’re not handing someone who steals your wallet everything he or she might need to steal your identity.