All posts by USAgencies

Saving on Landscaping

For the green-thumbed homeowner, there are few things as pleasurable as running fingers through soft, moist earth, catching sight of the first flowering buds of spring and inhaling the scent of freshly cut grass.

Tending to a lawn and garden can get expensive. Between seeds, fertilizer and gardening supplies, costs can be high enough to take the pleasure out of lawn care.

Here are 10 creative ways to save on landscaping, so you can have your well-tended lawn and your budget, too.

1. Plant perennials

Go green with your garden by choosing plants that flower year after year. You’ll have to pay more out of pocket when you first plant these blooms, but the cost-free plants you’ll have each year will more than make it worth the price.

2. Make your own compost

Mulch and other soil products may keep your garden healthy, but they’re not as kind on your wallet. Save money by going the DIY route with compost. All you need is a designated outdoor bin to collect your old fruit and veggie peels, plant clippings and dead leaves. After a few weeks, you should have a pile of nutrient-rich soil ready to give your garden the boost it needs to grow and glow.

3. Grow and trade

For a colorful variety of flowers, plant perennials that grow and multiply quickly, like hostas or daylilies. Within a few years, you should have more of these flowers and plants than you need. Then, you can trade them with friends and neighbors for new and interesting plants.

4. Propagate your plants

Grow your garden by helping your plants propagate. You can do this by separating an already growing plant into two and replanting; rooting a leaf or rooting a small stem with leaves. You can propagate new plants in soil or in water. Find out more about propagating here.

5. Choose plants that are natural to your region

For lower-maintenance plants, choose species that grow naturally in your area of the country. You’ll save on extra watering, soil correction and special plant food.

6. Shop the end-of-season sales

The plants in the nursery and home improvement store won’t look too attractive in the fall, but that doesn’t mean they’re useless. Plants that look wilted now can grow beautifully in the spring, as long as the roots are alive and well. Best of all, you can score these healthy plants at bargain prices.

While you’re shopping during the fall sales, you can pick up discounted potted plants, planters, gardening tools, lawn chairs and more.

7. Leave your grass clippings

Looking for an easy and cost-free way to improve your lawn? You already have one! Just leave your grass clippings on the lawn after mowing instead of cleaning them up. The clippings will break down quickly, adding organic matter and nutrients to your grass.

8. Don’t cut your lawn too short

Shorter grass attracts more weeds and will need more herbicides. Higher grass will shade out those pesky weeds while also developing a deeper root system, thus requiring less watering. Keep your grass at 2- 2 ½ inches for best results.

9. Pay attention to pH

It’s important to measure and control the pH level of your lawn. If the ground is too acidic or alkaline, your plants and grass won’t absorb nutrients, no matter how much fertilizer you feed them. Ideally, pH levels on lawns should be between 6.5 and 7. If your lawn’s pH level is too high or too low, you can add lime or sulfur to correct it.

10. Save extra flower seeds

Bought too many seeds to plant this year? No worries; you can save them for another year! Most flower seeds will keep well if stored in a cool and dry place. You can even buy seeds in bulk with plans to save the extra for a more cost-effective purchase.

Gardening is fun and rewarding — and it doesn’t need to cost a lot of money. Use our tips to cut back on landscaping costs without compromising on the health of your lawn.

The Comprehensive Guide to Insurance Coverage

EX: Does talking about insurance make your eyes glaze over? You’re not alone!

Insurance premiums can take a big bite out of a monthly budget, but not having enough coverage can be even more costly. Let’s take a look at the five primary insurance types and the most important information to know about each one.

1. Health insurance

Health insurance is coverage that typically pays for medical, surgical and prescription drug expenses in exchange for a monthly premium. Many states mandate health insurance coverage and will collect fees, along with state taxes, from taxpayers who do not have sufficient coverage.

Types of health insurance plans

Health insurance plans are divided into two primary categories: public and private.

Public health insurance is provided at low or no cost through the federal and/or state government. The most common public insurance plans are:

  • Medicaid – Public insurance plan for low-income families and individuals. Eligibility requirements vary by state.
  • The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) – A federal and state program designed to cover children below the age of 18 whose families have incomes above the qualifications for Medicaid, but are too low to afford private health insurance.
  • Medicare – A federal health insurance program for Americans age 65 and older.

Private health insurance may be provided through an employer or purchased privately from the insurance provider, or through a broker.

These are the most common private health insurance plans:

  • HMO: Health Maintenance Organization – The most restrictive plans that only work with a network of healthcare providers. The insured must choose a primary care physician (PCP) who is in the network to benefit from coverage. To see an out-of-network specialist, the insured will need a referral from their PCP. HMOs tend to have cheaper premiums than other health insurance plans.
  • PPO: Preferred Provider Organization – The most flexible health insurance plans, which allow the insured to choose an in-network doctor at a lower cost, or an out-of-network doctor at a higher cost. There is no referral necessary to see a specialist. Premiums are generally more expensive than other plans.
  • EPO: Exclusive Provider Organization – A blend of HMO and PPO plans, EPOs do not cover out-of-network physicians, but do not require referrals for specialists. Premiums on EPOs fall between HMOs and PPOs.
  • POS: Point of Service – Another blend of HMO and PPO plans, POS plans will require a PCP on an HMO-style network, while also allowing out-of-network options at a higher cost. A referral is required for specialists. Premiums are generally more expensive than HMO plans but less expensive PPOs.

2. Life insurance

Life insurance is a contract between an insurance company and a policyholder that guarantees a sum of money to the policyholder’s designated beneficiaries when the policyholder dies, in exchange for monthly premiums paid during the insured’s lifetime.

Types of life insurance

These are the five most common kinds of life insurance plans:

  • Term insurance – The most basic form of life insurance, with a predetermined term, usually ranging from one to 10 years. Plans are renewable at the term’s end, but the premiums will increase with each renewal. Term policies generally have the cheapest premiums, but no cash value.
  • Whole life insurance – Offers policyholders a cash-value component coupled with increased protection. Premiums can be locked in throughout the term, and a portion of premiums goes toward the policy’s cash value. The insured can borrow up to 90% of the cash value, tax-free, but loans reduce the policy’s death benefit.
  • Universal life insurance – Offers increased flexibility for policyholders. Premiums can go up or down, or even be deferred within certain limits. Cash values can be accessed and withdrawn, though this directly decreases the death benefit. Face values can be modified as well.
  • Variable life insurance – Fixed premiums and investment options make this policy the choice for true risk-takers. The policyholder’s cash value will be invested in the insured’s choice of stock, bond or money market portfolio. Cash values and death benefits will fluctuate along with the investments’ performance. These policies usually have higher fees than universal life insurance, but all cash value accumulation grows tax-free.
  • Universal variable life insurance – A blend of universal and variable life insurance, these policies offer flexible premiums and the ability to modify face values, along with investment options.

3. Auto insurance

Auto insurance is a contract between a policyholder and insurance company, protecting the policyholder from financial loss in the event of an auto accident or theft. The coverage is provided in exchange for a monthly premium. Some form of auto insurance is required in all 50 states.

Types of auto insurance policies

These are the primary categories of auto insurance coverage:

  • Liability coverage – Includes coverage for bodily injuries, property damages or auto damages to another motorist if the policyholder is at fault.
  • Comprehensive coverage – Pays for damages and losses to the car that were not caused by another driver.
  • Personal injury protection – Covers medical bills for the policyholder and their passengers in the event of an accident.
  • Collision insurance – Covers damages to the policyholder’s car if it’s involved in an accident.
  • Uninsured/underinsured motorist protection – Pays for damages caused by another motorist who does not have sufficient (or any) coverage.
  • Gap insurance – Pays the difference between what the policyholder owes on a financed or leased vehicle and what it is valued at when there’s a total loss of the vehicle.

4. Long-term disability insurance

Long-term disability insurance is an insurance policy that provides income replacement for workers if they are unable to work due to a debilitating illness or injury.

Types of long-term disability insurance

There are two primary types of long-term disability insurance policies:

  • Own-occupation disability insurance defines a disability as an inability to work at your regular occupation. Benefits are paid even if the policyholder can work at another job.
  • Any-occupation disability insurance defines a disability as an inability to work at any occupation. These plans are generally cheaper, but claiming benefits can be more difficult.

5. Homeowners and renters’ insurance

Homeowners insurance is a policy designed to protect homeowners and their families from liability and financial loss in case of damage to their home and belongings in exchange for monthly premiums. Renters insurance is purchased by tenants and only covers damage or theft of their personal property.

Types of homeowners insurance policies

  • HO-2 – A policy that only protects against 16 specified perils.
  • HO-3 – A broad policy protecting against all perils other than those excluded in the policy.
  • HO-5 – A premium policy that usually protects newer homes and covers all perils, except the few excluded in the policy.
  • HO-6 – Insurance for co-ops/condominiums, which includes personal property coverage and liability coverage.

Each plan type will also include some extent of liability coverage. Most policies will only cover events if they are sudden and accidental. Some natural disasters, like earthquakes and floods, require a separate policy for coverage.

Types of renters’ insurance policies

Renters insurance policies will generally fall within either:

  • Replacement-cost plans – Will pay for the full cost of replacing your damaged or stolen belongings up to a predetermined cap. This plan offers more robust coverage, but premiums are generally higher.
  • Cash-value plans – Will only offer payouts to cover what the damaged item was worth at the time of the disaster.

Insurance is a big part of financial responsibility. Use our guide to help you make the right choices in all major types of insurance coverage.

All You Need to Know About the New Stimulus Bill

On March 6, the Senate passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. The coronavirus relief bill now goes back to the House of Representatives, which must approve the Senate’s changes, before the president can sign it into law. The bill promises further financial relief and assistance to millions of Americans who may still be struggling with the financial devastation of COVID-19.

Below, we’ve outlined some of the most significant measures included in the bill:

Stimulus payments

The third round of stimulus checks are set at $1,400 for all eligible recipients. Here’s who is getting checks:

  • Single taxpayers with an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $75,000 or below.
  • Taxpayers filing as heads of household with AGIs of $112,500 or below.
  • Married couples filing jointly with AGIs of $150,000 or below.

Parents will also be getting checks for every child they claim as a dependent on their tax return. This includes college students and adult children with disabilities.

Older relatives living together with taxpayers will also be counted as dependents; the payment will go toward the taxpayer and not toward the dependent adult.

Higher earners will receive partial payments, but these will phase out quickly. For single filers, the amount decreases to zero at an AGI of $80,000. For heads of household, the checks stop at AGIs of $120,000, and for joint filers, the cutoff is $160,000.

Eligibility will be based on the taxpayer’s income during the year of their most recently filed taxes: 2019, or 2020. To be eligible for a payment, an individual must have a Social Security number.

As during the last two rounds of stimulus payments, information on the status of individual checks can be found through the IRS’s Get My Payment tool.

Also like the prior rounds, payments issued through direct deposit will be distributed first. You can still share your account information with the IRS here.

Changes to unemployment insurance

The relief bill will extend unemployment benefits for another 25 weeks, until Sept. 6. The weekly supplemental benefit of $300 will continue running through that date as well.

The new legislation will also make the first $10,200 of benefits tax-free for people with an income of less than $150,000. This only applies to unemployment paid in 2020.

In addition, unemployment benefits received through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)  program, which covers self-employed, gig workers, part-timers and others who are usually ineligible for regular unemployment benefits, will now be available for a total of 79 weeks and run through Sept. 6.

Finally, benefits received through the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation
(PUAC) program would also run through Sept. 6.

Health insurance

Under the relief bill, buying insurance through the government program, COBRA, will be a lot more affordable. Usually, the insured must pay a minimum of 102 percent of the premium of insurance secured through COBRA; however, the government will pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30.

Changes to the child and dependent care tax credit

The bill will expand the child and dependent-care tax credit significantly, but only for one year. The credit, which helps families offset the cost of caring for children under age 13 and other dependents, will now be fully refundable and worth up to $4,000 for one qualifying individual or $8,000 for two or more. The credit is calculated by taking up to 50 percent of the value of eligible expenses, up to certain limits and depending on your income. The credit is currently worth between 20 and 35 percent of eligible expenses, with a maximum value of $2,100 for two or more qualifying individuals.

The bill would also increase the income level at which the credit begins to be reduced from the current AGI limit of $15,000 to an AGI of $125,000.

Changes to the child tax credit

Another significant component of the relief bill is the expansion of the child tax credit. The credit is currently worth up to $2,000 per eligible child. That credit will now increase to $3,000 for children ages 6 through 17, and to $3,600 for children ages 5 and under. Also, the credit will now be fully refundable.

In addition, the bill changes the way these funds will be distributed: Half of the child tax credit may be advanced to parents before the end of 2021. Plans for the distribution are still being finalized, but lawmakers are hopeful that parents will begin receiving monthly payments toward their child tax credits for 2021 as early as July.

The bill will also change eligibility requirements for child tax credits. Payments will be based on 2019 or 2020 tax information. Married couples with a modified AGI of up to $150,000 for the relevant year (or up to $112,500 for heads of household and up to $75,000 for single filers) would receive the full value of the new benefit. After that, the beefed-up benefits would be reduced by $50 for each additional $1,000 in modified AGI.

Housing

The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling with their housing costs and are under risk of being evicted from their homes.

Approximately $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance; the majority of these funds will be used to replenish the Coronavirus Relief Fund. In addition, the bill would provide nearly $10 billion to help homeowners who are struggling with mortgage payments, utility bills and other housing costs. Approximately $100 million would be dedicated to housing counseling and another $5 billion would be designated to help the homeless.

Changes to student loans

Under the new law, there would be no income tax on forgiven debt for those qualifying for loan forgiveness or cancellation, such as those who have been in an income-driven repayment plan for the required number of years. This would apply to all debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021 and Dec. 31, 2025.

The most recent coronavirus relief bill is both ambitious and comprehensive. Referencing these guidelines, you can learn all about the American Rescue Plan and better know what to expect going forward.


If you need further assistance, don’t hesitate to connect with us at 503.275.0300 or info@usacu.org. We’ll be happy to help you maintain financial stability during these uncertain times.

Don’t Get Caught in an Auto Warranty Scam

Another phone call, another scam.

It can sometimes feel like scammers have some kind of competition going to see who can hit you with the most robocalls in a day. In fact, according to Truecaller, scams and robocalls account for 67% of all phone calls in the U.S. Each American will receive an average of 28 of these calls a month. More than just an annoyance, scam calls cost 56 million Americans a financial loss in 2020.

One of the most common scams pulled off over the phone is the auto warranty scam. Here’s all you need to know about this scam and how to protect yourself from falling victim:

How the scam plays out

In this ruse, scammers posing as representatives of a car dealer or manufacturer will call to tell you that your auto warranty is about to expire. The scammer will then segue into a pitch for renewing your warranty. During the call, you may be prompted to press a number to stay on the line, and then are asked to provide personal information to continue the process of renewing  your warranty. If you follow instructions, you will be playing right into a scam.

How to spot a scam

It is possible for legitimate auto warranty companies to call you about purchasing or renewing a warranty. Look out for these red flags to help you pick out the authentic calls from the scams:

  • Hello, it’s Mr. Robot calling. When it’s a robocall on the line, you’re almost certainly talking to a scammer. A legitimate company will hire a live salesperson to promote their services.
  • Feel the pressure? Scammers notoriously lead victims to act without thinking by claiming their offer is available for a limited time. If a caller pressures you to act now, you’re likely talking to a scammer.
  • Just a small fee … Is the caller demanding a small processing fee, or a down payment on the plan before supplying you with real details and information on it? If yes, you’re being scammed.
  • You’ve got mail! Scammers aren’t content with playing games over the phone; they’ll often send bogus documents in the mail, too. These can be disguised to look like genuine alerts from the DMV or auto manufacturer, prompting you to act now because your auto warranty is expiring. Of course, when you call the number on the letter, you won’t be connected to the DMV or auto manufacturer, but to a full-blown scamming operation.

Protect yourself

Follow these tips to keep yourself safe from auto warranty scams and similar ruses:

  • Never share your personal information, such as your Social Security number, credit card information or checking account details, with an unverified caller.
  • It’s also a good idea to screen all incoming calls by checking the Caller ID before answering the phone. Legitimate telemarketers are required to display their phone number and the name/or phone number of the company they represent. If this information is missing, it’s likely a scam.
  • It’s important to note that scammers often spoof authentic phone numbers to make it appear as if they are calling from a legitimate company. If you suspect spoofing, you can always ignore a call, and then call the number of the company that allegedly reached out to you, to ask about the contents of the call. If the call was indeed spoofed, the company will not be aware that the call was made.
  • If those robocalls are not letting up, consider blocking the number on your phone. You may have to do this several times, as scammers often use more than one phone number to carry out a scam.

Alert the authorities

If you are targeted by a suspected scammer, you can alert the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) at the FCC complaint center . These calls likely violate telemarketing and robocall regulations, and by alerting the FCC, you can help them identify the scammers.

If the call you received involved fraud, you can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov.


Robocalls are incredibly annoying, but getting scammed is more than just an irritating experience. Follow our tips to protect yourself from auto warranty scams and similar ruses. Stay safe!

USAgencies Credit Union will never contact you to ask for any personal or account information, when in doubt, connect with us at (503) 275-0300 or toll-free (800) 452-0915.