Eco-Friendly Ways to Save Money

Today is Earth Day, so we wanted to not only bring you positive ways you can impact the planet, but how those changes can impact your savings account as well. We came up with 11 ways to save money all while going green.

1. Use the Sun to Save Money

You don’t need expensive equipment to do a little solar heating. Just open the curtains on the south side of the house during winter days to let the sun shine in. And open the drapes on east-facing windows in the morning (if they’re not shaded).

Of course, the opposite is true when you need to keep the house cool.

2. Drink Tap Water

Not only can a bottled water habit get expensive, it takes it toll on the environment as well. The Water Project says:

  • It takes three liters of water to package one liter of bottled water.
  • Water bottles can take 1,000 years to biodegrade, and if incinerated they produce toxic fumes.
  • Making water bottles for U.S. demand alone takes more than 1.5 million barrels of oil.

We know not every state has access to drinkable tap water, so if you can, drink from the tap.

4. Develop Green Laundry Habits

There are a number of ways to save money doing your laundry — and almost all of them are also environmentally friendly.

Here are some of the best green and frugal habits, according to these various sources, along with the potential annual savings:

  • Wash in cold water ($40)
  • Use less detergent ($80)
  • Line-dry your clothes ($85)
  • Skip the fabric softener ($65)
  • Replace the old washer ($55)
  • Run full loads (savings vary)
  • Keep the dryer lint trap clean (savings vary)

5. Hunt Down and Put an End to Energy Vampires

The U.S. Department of Energy says energy vampires — electronics and appliances that keep using power when turned off — can add 10% to your electrical bill.

For example, phone chargers keep sucking down power even when you’re not charging, and a digital cable box can add more than $40 per year to your bill if you don’t unplug it between uses.

But who wants to run around unplugging things all the time? Instead, plug electronics into power strips that have an on/off button so you can easily cut the power to the TV and DVD player with a flip of a switch.

6. Walk and Bicycle More

If the store is nearby and you only need to carry a few things, walk or take your bike. 

Depending on how many places are within reasonable walking and biking distance, you can significantly reduce your car-related expenses — and you’ll put a lot less pollution into the air.

7. Use Public Transportation

Even if you own a car, you can save money using public transportation. Take the bus or train on longer cross-town trips that would eat up more gas, or to avoid paying for parking.

Here in Portland, Tri-Met is always looking for ways to do more for the environment. Choosing public transit in Portland eliminates over 200,000 daily car trips, which reduces carbon emissions by over 60%.

8. Get an Energy Audit

A home energy audit can identify easy-to-correct energy waste issues in your home, and many utility companies offer them for free or a small charge.

If the cost of a professional audit or assessment is too high for you, just do it yourself. The U.S. Department of Energy has a video to walk you through the process.

10. Stop Those Water Leaks

Leaky faucets and showers are bad enough, but constantly running toilets can be really expensive. A moderately leaky flapper can cost you $70 per month!

Given the potentially high cost of this wasted water, it’s probably worth $5 or so to buy and install a new flapper if you ever hear the toilet running in the middle of the night.

11. Vacation Closer to Home

Of course, this green habit can also save you a lot of money.

12. Dress Warmer

One of the easiest ways to save on your heating bill is to simply turn down the thermostat. You can knock $10 per month off your winter heating bill for each degree you lower the setting.

To do so comfortably, you may have to start another new habit and wear warmer clothes around the house.


Want to get a savings account started for all the money you are about to save? Connect with a Member Relationship Specialist today to find the one that fits your needs best by calling 503-275-0300 Option 3. You can also stop by our branch located at 95 SW Taylor St., Portland, OR 97204.

Tax Return Not What You Expected?

In collaboration with our friends at Greenpath

Are you hoping to get a refund from your 2018 tax return? Many people intend to use their refund as a “forced savings plan” (essentially withholding extra taxes on purpose so that they get a larger refund at the end of the year, instead of being tempted to spend it during the year).  However, 42% of taxpayers who file their tax returns early end up using their funds to cover things like rent, food and utilities – catching up on expenses, rather than putting money away for savings.

How you plan for your taxes and what you do with your refund can give you a boost in your overall financial health. On the flip side, if you don’t receive the refund you expected, or if you find yourself owing taxes, it can cause a lot of stress. Our financial counselors offer a few tips for putting your tax return to work for your financial health.

1. Get a Clear Picture of Your Financial Situation

If you didn’t have a specific plan for the funds but typically depend on them for breathing room or extra cash, take a step back and work to get a clear picture of your financial situation. A great place to start is by using Money Management to track your income and expenses, which can help highlight the areas you may need to make adjustments. Our certified financial counselor can also provide free financial counseling and can assist you with setting your budget and figuring out next steps based on your individual situation.

2. Address Past-due Bills

If your plan for your tax return was to catch up on past-due bills, consider how you still might be able to address the issue. See if you can trim expenses in another area to free up money so that you can get current on your bills, and open a dialogue with your lender/creditor. They may be willing to consider your situation and find flexible solutions for temporary relief or even permanent refinancing options to help the debt fit better into your budget. Getting ahead of a problem you are anticipating is key. You may be surprised at how willing a lender will be to work with you.

Another way to stay on top of your bills, is by setting them up for automatic payment with free Bill Pay. You can pay virtually anyone, anytime in the United States, saving you time and money from having to remember several logins for different payees.

3.  Pay Off Debts to Save Money and Find Breathing Room

If you did get a refund, it can be an extra boost on your journey to financial health.

Often, addressing highest-interest debt is the first step. By paying off debts faster, you save money on interest, and as you pay it off, you free up more money to devote to savings. If you’re all caught up on debt, a great next step is to build an emergency fund that will protect you if you have an unexpected loss of income or unplanned expense.

What to Do If You Can’t Afford to Pay Your Tax Bill

If you did not anticipate having to pay taxes at the end of the year but now have a bill, you still have options. The IRS has pre-set guidelines on options that are available to filers that may not be able to foot the entire bill at once. Flexible options like deferred payments or long-term payment plans allow a restructuring of an existing repayment plan, depending on the circumstances.

While there are typically some additional fees associated with these options, this may be a  more affordable way to address the tax debt, as opposed to borrowing from high-interest sources like credit cards, cash advances, or payday loans.

Get Ahead of Next Year: Adjust Your Withholding if Needed

If you owed taxes in 2018, you may need to increase your withholdings (the amount that your employer deducts from each paycheck for taxes). Paying a little more in each check so that you don’t have to pay a large tax bill at the end of the year, can be a much more appealing alternative. Consult with your company’s Human Resources department, or the equivalent, for more information on this. Consulting with a tax professional can also be a helpful experience in determining what the best course of action would be.


Questions? We are here to help. Connect with us at 503-275-0300 or by visiting our branch located at 95 SW Taylor St., Portland, OR 97204.

What to Keep and What to Toss

It is Financial Literacy Month, and we are dedicated to bringing you tips and educational information on how to stay financially healthy.

Today we are talking about clutter.

How does clutter begin? A junk drawer with old batteries, gum and receipts? A desk full of abandoned paperwork? Pretty soon your dining room is looking like a thrift store with clutter all over the place, and you’re not even counting the garage or the attic!

The problem with clutter in your life is that it reduces your effectiveness. It gets in your way, impedes free movement, blocks progress and essentially keeps you from living your life at 100%.

Financial clutter is especially troublesome. Financial clutter can block your progress toward a clear financial path, and the cost can be tremendous if it keeps you from paying bills on time or leaves you vulnerable to identity theft. When you’re ready to clear the financial clutter, refer to these guidelines to help you decide what to keep and what to toss:

  • Keep sales receipts until the product warranty expires or until the return/exchange period expires. (If you need sales receipts for tax purposes, keep them for three years).
  • Keep ATM printouts for one month, or until you balance your checkbook. Then they may be thrown away.
  • Keep paycheck stubs until you have compared them to your W2s and annual social security statement (usually one year).
  • Keep paid utility bills for one year unless you’re using them for tax purposes (deductions for a home office, etc.). In that case you need to keep them for three years.
  • Keep cancelled checks for one year unless you’re using them for tax purposes. In that case you’ll need to keep them for three years.
  • Keep credit card receipts for one year unless you’re using them for tax purposes. In that case you’ll need to keep them for three years.
  • Keep bank statements for one year unless you’re using them for tax purposes. In that case you’ll need to keep them for three years. Keep quarterly investment statements until you receive your annual statement (usually one year).
  • Keep income tax returns for at least three years (six if you have multiple sources of income).
  • Keep paid medical bills and cancelled insurance policies for three years.
  • Keep records of selling a house for three years as documentation for Capital Gains Tax.
  • Keep records of selling stock for three years as documentation for Capital Gains Tax. Keep annual investment statements for three years after you sell your investment.
  • Keep records of satisfied loans for seven years.
  • Keep contracts as long as they remain active.
  • Keep insurance documents as long as they remain active.
  • Keep stock certificates and records as long as they remain active.
  • Keep property records as long as they remain active.
  • Keep records of pension and retirement plans as long as they remain active.
  • Keep marriage licenses forever.
  • Keep birth certificates forever.
  • Keep wills forever.
  • Keep adoption papers forever.
  • Keep death certificates forever.
  • Keep records of paid mortgages forever.

In collaboration with Money Management International


Questions? Connect with us by calling 503-275-0300 Option 3, or stop in our branch located at 95 SW Taylor St., Portland, OR 97204.

Spring Clean Your Finances

In collaboration with our friends at Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

There is something about Spring that makes us feel like we have a fresh start. From the sunnier skies to the blooming flowers – this time of year always gives us a little extra boost to tidy up around or homes and yards. It is also important to take the time to do the same with our finances! Here are a few ways to get started on Spring Cleaning your finances.

1. Request a free credit report

You can request a free credit report  every 12 months from each of the three major consumer reporting companies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). Once you have your credit report, you can check for and correct any errors. This is especially important if you’re thinking of making any big purchases, like buying a new home. Our checklist will help you know what to look for in your credit report. Try setting a calendar reminder so you remember to check your credit reports on a regular basis. You can request all three reports at once or you can order one report at a time. By requesting the reports separately (for example, one every four months) you can monitor your credit report throughout the year.

Just like with the big three consumer reporting companies, you can also get free copies of your nationwide specialty consumer reports every 12 months from many of the specialty consumer reporting companies. Specialty consumer reporting companies collect and share information about employment history, medical records and payments, check writing, or insurance claims.

2. Address debt

If you’re facing a large debt or your payments are overdue, your first instinct may be to ignore the debt or hope it goes away. But, that will things worse and lead to more stress down the line. There are strategies that can help you make payments that work for your current financial situation.

First, review your bills and make sure you understand what you owe. Using automatic Bill Pay with your credit union, or utilizing a bill tracker can help you stay on top of your payment due dates.

Second, contact your lenders to see if alternative payment options are available. You may be able to change your due date so that a payment is due closer to when you receive your income.

3. Review your spending

Have you ever looked at your credit card bill and wondered where all those charges came from? Or, have you found yourself swiping your credit card for a purchase before you’ve had a chance to think about it?

Gain control over your credit card spending by taking a close look at your credit card purchases over the past couple months. If you’re looking to cut back, try breaking down necessary expenses vs. wants. Once you see how you’re spending, try creating a “rule to live by” to make sure you stay on track. These kinds of simple personal guidelines, such as using cash for smaller purchases, make it easier to stick to your goals over time.

You can also utilize money management tools to help keep all your finances in focus. By knowing all your accounts and tracking your budget all in one place, it can help reduce stress and give you peace of mind.

4. Save automatically

After checking your budget, you may see some more opportunities to boost your savings. For example:

  • If you have a credit union membership and direct deposit, you can arrange to automatically deposit some of your paycheck to a savings account every time you’re paid, instead of all of it going into a checking account.
  • You can check with your employer to see if it’s possible to split your paycheck into two accounts. You may also be able to transfer some of the money in your checking account into a savings account at another institution to keep it out of sight out of mind.

Did you know that nearly 46 percent of consumers indicated that they could not pay for an emergency expense of $400? When you save for unexpected expenses, you can handle them when they happen without having to skip other bills or borrow money. Start with $500 as your goal. This is enough to cover a lot of common emergencies, like car repairs, a plane ticket to care for a sick family member, or smaller medical costs.


Questions? Connect with our Member Relationship Specialists today at 503-275-0300 Option 3, send a secure message or chat with us when you log into your Online Banking! You can also stop by our branch located at 95 SW Taylor St., Portland, OR 97204 – we are here to help!

Comparing the Costs: Buying a New Car vs. Used

Letter from the CEO: We’re here to help!

At the beginning of 2019, the government shutdown added to a lot of members’ financial worries. As a credit union with a primary membership field of federal employees, we actively assisted our members who were affected by the government shutdown with our Furlough Assistance Program. Our goal is to provide members with some peace of mind, and we are always here and ready to help.

As a member-owned financial institution, we are here to serve our members by living up to our mission to provide solutions to improve each member’s financial life. We pride ourselves on things we do and won’t do, including how we won’t turn our backs to our members when they need us the most. Your financial wellbeing is and will always be our top priority.

Looking ahead, we will continue to provide our members free financial education and counseling to guide them in their financial success. It’s important to start building good financial saving and spending habits in our youth, and that is why we are excited to bring financial reality fairs to local high schools in 2019. The program will help students gain a good understanding of the benefits and importance of budgeting, and practice making sound financial decisions as an adult.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank our members for the trust they place in us, and thank you for being a part of USAgencies’ family!

Jim Lumpkin, President/CEO, USACU
Jim Lumpkin
President/CEO
USAgencies Credit Union

 

 

 

Tax-Related Identity Theft

Brought to you by our friends at the FTC

An identity thief may use your Social Security number (SSN) to get a tax refund or a job. This is tax-related identity theft. You may not know it has happened until:

  • the IRS sends you a letter by mail saying they have gotten a suspicious tax return that uses your SSN, or
  • you try to efile your return but it’s rejected as a duplicate because a return already has been filed using your SSN

If the IRS sends you a letter, follow the instructions in the letter. Then visit IdentityTheft.gov to report the identity theft to both the IRS and the FTC and get a recovery plan.

Uncovering Tax-Related Identity Theft

If someone uses your SSN to file for a tax refund before you do, here’s what happens: When you file your return, IRS records will show that someone else has already filed and gotten a refund. If you file by mail, the IRS will send you a notice or letter in the mail saying that more than one return was filed for you. If you try to efile, the IRS will reject your tax return as a duplicate filing.

If someone uses your SSN to get a job, the employer may report that person’s income to the IRS using your SSN. When you file your tax return, you wouldn’t have included those earnings. IRS records will show you failed to report all your income. The agency will send you a notice saying you had wages that you didn’t report. But the IRS doesn’t know those wages were reported by an employer you don’t know, for work performed by someone else.

IRS notices about tax-related identity theft are sent by mail. The IRS doesn’t initiate contact with a taxpayer by sending an email, text, or social media message that asks for personal or financial information. The IRS also does not call taxpayers with threats of lawsuits or arrests. And, the IRS will never ask you to wire money, pay with a gift card or prepaid debit card, or share your credit card information over the phone.

If you get an email, text, or other electronic message that claims to be from the IRS, do not reply or click on any links. Instead, forward it to phishing@irs.gov. And report IRS imposters to the US Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at tigta.gov.

Dealing With Tax-Related Identity Theft

If the IRS sends you a notice or letter saying that someone used your SSN to get a tax refund, or saying there’s another problem, respond quickly and follow the instructions in the letter.

  • Call the IRS using the telephone number given in the letter. You’ll need the letter and a copy of your prior year’s tax return when you call to help verify your identity. Visit the IRS’s guide, IRS Identity Theft Victim Assistance: How It Works, for more information.

If you think someone used your SSN to file for a tax refund, but you haven’t gotten a letter from the IRS, use IdentityTheft.gov to report it to the IRS and FTC and get a recovery plan.

  • Visit IdentityTheft.gov to complete an IRS Identity Theft Affidavit (IRS Form 14039) and submit it to the IRS online so that the IRS can begin resolving your case. You’ll also be reporting the identity theft to the FTC.
  • File your tax return, and pay any taxes you owe. If you can’t efile your tax return, you may need to mail a paper return.

Other Steps to Repair Identity Theft

Next, it’s important to limit the potential damage from identity theft.


Questions? Visit IdentityTheft.gov for help with these important steps. 

Have access to your accounts with USAgencies Credit Union 24/7 with our Online and Mobile Banking. Not enrolled yet? Connect with us today to get started by calling 503-275-0300 Option 3.

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