Category Archives: Educational

Auto Solution: They Shop, You Save

The holiday season is here and with it comes the never-ending to-do list. This time of year, we know that your time is even more precious. If you’re currently shopping for a car and you’d like to save both time and money, why not try our trusted auto broker– Auto Solution?

Auto Solution is an auto-buying service available for USACU members that is dedicated to the elimination of any and all hassle in the auto-buying process. They’ll locate the vehicle you want from their dealer network and negotiate on your behalf. They can often find you vehicles at or near dealer invoice or wholesale to you save big!

Here’s a quick Q & A with Mark Loebner, owner of Auto Solution, on how they can help save you time, money… and maybe even give you a warm fuzzy feeling this holiday season.

Q. What does Auto Solution do, in a nutshell?
A.
In a “nutshell” we help members purchase new and used vehicles without hassle, and help provide them with financing from their Credit Union. With access to nearly 1,000 dealerships and a helpful staff that is here to guide you along the way, we’re happy to help with your next car purchase.

Q. How long have you been in this industry?
A. 
We have been providing new and used auto buying for Credit Unions for about 25 years in the Pacific Northwest.

Buy an Auto Solution vehicle, and donate a bike to a child in need.
Donated bike in USACU lobby.

Q. What does the auto-buying process look like?
A.
It’s a good idea to get pre-approved with USACU first, so that you know what kind of budget you’ll want to stick to. Next, you’ll work with an auto buying expert from Auto Solution who will learn all about your vehicle needs and budget. Auto Solution will then locate the vehicle you want from its dealer network and call you back frequently within a couple of hours! We’ll negotiate with the dealer to get you the best price we can (often near wholesale) and then deliver your vehicle straight to your home or credit union branch. Oh, and we take trade-ins too!

Q. Tell us about the kids bikes promo going on now.
A.
The kids bike promotion is done every year, and when a member purchases a vehicle, the Credit Union and Auto Solution purchase a new bike and it is given to a local charity prior to Christmas.

It is a great feeling to wake on Christmas morning knowing 50-60 children from under-served families are seeing their new bike for the first time!

Q. Favorite member story?
A.
As far as a member story, there are many of them, but one that stands out was a member who came all the way down from Sitka, Alaska to get his new truck drive it back home (and brought us 50 lbs. of bear meat!).

We love what we do and members love our service!

Questions?

Contact our lending department to learn more about how Auto Solution can help you:
Local: (503) 275-0300, ext. 2
Toll-free: (800) 452-0915, ext. 2
Email: loans@usacu.org

Ready to shop?
Get pre-approved with USACU first, then
Browse some of Auto Solution’s inventory (or call 503-238-2429)

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The Benefits of Volunteering

From our friends at Idealist.

(It really is okay to ask, “What’s in it for me?”)

Volunteering can be far more than simply doing a good deed.

In fact, volunteering can be a great way to develop skills, learn more about career options, make friends, garner new professional contacts, get exercise, spend time outdoors/with animals/with kids, or even just shake up your routine.

Yet volunteers rarely speak of the benefits of volunteering to themselves — maybe it feels a bit too self-centered, or too far from the altruistic vision of the selfless volunteer.

But who says that doing good and enjoying yourself while meeting your own personal/professional goals can’t happen at the same time?

Part of finding the right volunteer opportunity is being honest about what you hope to learn and accomplish.

If in the process of meeting your personal and professional goals, you are also serving as an effective volunteer, helping to meet the goals of your particular volunteer project or role, and/or helping to move an organization’s mission forward, it’s a win-win situation.

Personal and professional benefits of volunteering

With that in mind, here are some of the personal and professional benefits one can gain from volunteering:

Skill development
Always wanted to learn about sustainability and conservation methods? Have experience creating podcasts and would like to try using them as an advocacy tool for a nonprofit? Volunteering helps you learn new skills, keep skills sharp, or use existing skills in new ways.

Career exploration
Regardless of your age or career level, volunteering will introduce you to new professional paths.

Volunteering can be an excellent way to learn more about a particular role or sector (particularly if you are coming from a for-profit job and hoping to switch to non-profit or government), workplace or office culture, or cause.

Also, never underestimate the power of networking; volunteering offers the opportunity to cross paths—as well as, in many cases, quickly bond—with people from across your community, including many with whom you may otherwise not have had contact.

Personal growth
Lifelong learning includes hands-on experiences as a volunteer which can teach you about issues ranging from adult literacy to public health to animal welfare.

Need a break from your day-to-day life? Recharge by walking dogs, playing basketball with kids, or taking tickets at a film festival. Need to work off some stress? Consider some of the more labor-intensive roles like helping to remove invasive species or chopping out non-native trees and bushes.

Lastly, don’t forget that sometimes it just feels good to be valued; as a volunteer you can contribute unique skills, experiences, and perspectives. For example, you might be great at using online sites like MySpace and Facebook.

Many organizations are looking to branch out into social networking to help connect with new audiences; as a volunteer, you can be the in-house expert to get them started.

Socialize
In addition to professional networking, volunteering can be a fun, meaningful way to make new friends. New to the community? Looking to branch out socially? Simply looking for something to do with new people? Volunteer and get to know others who care about the same issues that you do.

Have an impact
Last but most certainly not least, volunteering is one of the best ways we know of to make a difference in your community. Whatever your passion, however you get involved, volunteering offers a way to have a real and lasting impact on the world.

 

Did you know you can become a volunteer at your favorite CU?

It’s true–USACU is guided by a group of Volunteers! If you’d love to join in and help set the tone at one of the best member-driven cooperative credit unions in the Pacific Northwest, click here to learn more.

Interested, but not sure you’re ready to become a full-fledged Volunteer? Check out our Associate Volunteer program.

Questions?
Call: 503.275.0300

Click: info@usacu.org

Saving for Your Child’s Education Without Going Broke

The cost of higher education seems to spiral upward every year. Here’s what you need to do to be financially prepared when your child heads to college.

Start early
The average cost of earning a four-year degree could top $205,000 by 2030, according to some estimates. Amassing that kind of cash takes time, so it’s important to begin saving as early as possible, perhaps even right after each child’s birth. The combination of consistent saving, compound interest and investment returns can add up to significant growth over the years.

Explore options
While any investment can be earmarked for college expenses, some savings accounts are designed for this purpose and can provide tax advantages as well:

529 plans
Run by states or schools, 529 plans like the Oregon College Savings Plan let you save for a kid’s college costs with the money’s earnings growing tax-free. While there’s no deduction from federal taxes for contributions, that benefit is fully or partially provided by many states. There are no income or contribution limits, but the money has to be used for a designated beneficiary’s education expenses. Also, gift taxes may apply if you contribute more than $14,000, including any other gifts, to the recipient in a given year.

Coverdell Education Savings Accounts
Formerly known as Education IRAs, Coverdell Education Savings Accounts are trust funds that pay qualifying education expenses for a designated beneficiary. Contribute up to $2,000 annually until the beneficiary turns 18, then use all funds for education before the child reaches 30 years and 30 days old.

Contributions aren’t tax-deductible, but interest and returns earned are tax-free as long as the money is used for qualified educational expenses. To be eligible, your taxable income must be under $110,000, or $220,000 for those filing jointly.

Invest by age
Saving for college parallels retirement planning in that an aggressive investment portfolio, weighted with growth stocks, is recommended during early years with a shift to more conservative assets such as municipal bonds as the time approaches to start withdrawals. Start with equity and stock index funds and begin to adjust the mix once your child turns 9 by putting new contributions into less volatile things like muni bond funds. At 14, begin moving the money out of equities to beef up bond holdings, and aim to be completely out of stocks and equity funds by the time your child starts college.

Better late than never
Saving from an early age is best, but what if you missed that chance? These strategies can help you catch up:

  • To reduce costs, consider enrolling your child in a community college for the freshman and sophomore years
  • Explore available grants and scholarships
  • Keep adding to 529 plans after college expenses start
  • Have your child check out work-study and part-time campus jobs
  • Federal student loans can provide more favorable rates than private lenders

Further stretch your dollars by taking advantage of education tax credits. To avoid being disqualified, pay the first $4,000 of qualified college expense out of pocket before tapping into 529 funds.

With today’s tuition costs, a gap often remains even for those who’ve had a savvy saving and investing strategy coupled with scholarships and federal loans. If you don’t have enough for tuition, check out programs offered by financial institutions and private lenders like Sallie Mae. Look for loans that don’t have application or disbursement fees. Some institutions, like USAgencies Credit Union, participate in loan programs that have competitive rates, flexible payment terms and don’t charge prepayment fees.

With a little planning, research and creativity, your child can earn that diploma while you keep your financial health intact.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

 

If you have questions about navigating the student loan process, USAgencies can help. Give us a call (503-275-0300), shoot us an email, or just stop by. We’d love to talk!

(Oh, and Oregon residents… we should also mention the Oregon Promise. It’s a great resource for certain Oregon students planning to attend community college.)

 

What’s the Difference?

Auto Dealer vs. Credit Union Financing:
What’s the Difference?

Here’s a quick Q & A with our Lending Supervisor, Callie Gibbs, on the benefits of getting pre-approved with USAgencies before you set foot in the dealership, and what to do once you get there…

Q. What are some of the benefits of getting pre-approved before shopping?
A. When you get pre-approved with us our loan officers work hard to make sure you are educated before you go shopping. We do our best to put you into the lowest rate and most comfortable payment possible. You help decide what your loan will look like, instead of someone else putting you in a box. Ensuring your loan is here means you get personalized service from beginning to end.

Q. What does the pre-approval process look like at USAgencies (if I’m buying from an auto dealership)?
A. You can simply apply online anytime of the day or night, or call us during business hours for a quick decision. Once approved, we do offer an Auto Check. That is a “blank” check good for up to your approved maximum. You just write it out to the dealer as if you were paying cash. Once that check clears our account, we call you and finalize the terms of the loan. We also now have the option of electronically signing your loan documents to make the process as easy as possible.

Q. What if the dealer tells me they can offer me a better rate? Should I take it?
A. A better rate isn’t always as good as it seems. The dealer wants to find you financing because they GET PAID for that. We don’t believe that we should have to buy our members’ loans. We want to EARN your business through excellent service. Even 0% interest really means the price of the car is increased to begin with; nobody gives money away for free! Besides that, if you are already pre-approved, and the dealer offers you a better rate than we have, check with us first. We always quote a base rate up front, and sometimes we have discount options available.

Q. What if my credit is less than stellar? Should I assume that the dealer is the only one who can finance me?
A. Absolutely not! We have a great loan program for our members with “less than stellar” credit. If your initial rate is over 5%, every year that you pay us on time, we automatically reduce that rate by .50% (until it reaches 5%). This will not only reward you for on time payments, but also take a lot of time off of your loan, saving you money!

Q. Should I take the dealer warranty/GAP?
A. This is NOT recommended. Here at USACU we offer all the protection that you need: Add-On Warranties, GAP, and Debt Protection for Loss of Life, Disability and Involuntary Unemployment. We want you to feel secure in knowing that your loan, credit, financial well-being and vehicle are protected. The dealer offers some of these things as well, but at a much higher cost… and, their little secret is the more the finance person can get you to pay, the more they put in their own pocket!


For more Q & A with Callie, you can contact her directly:

Callie Gibbs, Lending Supervisor, USACU

Callie Gibbs

Lending Supervisor
Certified Financial Counselor
cgibbs@usacu.org
(503) 275-0312

 

Going Somewhere this Summer? Use your Cards with Confidence

USAgencies Credit Union is looking out for you in the fight against fraud.

Nearly 60 percent of Americans are taking a vacation trip this summer. Whether you plan a white water rafting trip close to home, or a Caribbean cruise, you can use your credit and debit cards with confidence.

As your financial services partner, USAgencies Credit Union is looking out for you. One of the ways we do that is by offering monitoring systems that help you track your card use. You can easily set up email or text alerts to notify you of transactions, deposits and other activity on your account. Report any suspicious activity to us immediately so we can help to protect you and stop the fraud.

We offer the new EMV chip cards. They provide you with an extra layer of security because every time you buy something, the chip card creates a unique transaction code that cannot be used again. There are some things you should be aware of when it comes to EMV cards. For example, if the merchant doesn’t have a chip reader then you have to swipe the card. If you are buying something online, of course, there is no chip reader. That’s why we recommend that you monitor your card activity and alerts.

When you travel, remember the convenience of the CO-OP ATM Network which gives you access to thousands of ATMs where you won’t pay a fee.

Unfortunately, thieves can place “skimming” devices on ATMs to steal your card and PIN numbers, so they can make fake cards and steal your money. Look for anything unusual near the speakers and beside the screen. Pull or twist on the device where you insert your card to make sure it’s secure. If it is loose, there may be a skimming device inside. If you find a  skimming device has been attached, don’t use the ATM – call police immediately.

When you’re entering your PIN number, use your other hand to shield the number from anyone who may be watching. Know that your PIN can be stolen in other ways too. There is a heat signature left on non-metal keypads for several minutes after you use it. Infrared cameras installed on Smartphones can be used to measure this heat signature and obtain your PIN. Stop this fraud by resting your fingers on other keys while typing in your PIN.

One of the things we do to prevent fraud is to keep our eyes open for any unusual use of your cards. For example, if you normally only use it locally and all of a sudden charges occur at a European resort, that could indicate suspicious activity. For your protection in that case, we might block further transactions from your card and try to contact you. You can avoid that inconvenience by letting us know when and where you’ll be traveling.

Take your receipts with you—never leave them at the counter or in your shopping bag. They might contain information helpful to thieves.

In case you do have to report fraud or suspicious activity, make a list of cards and account numbers, but keep it in a secure place instead of in your wallet. This list will help to stop fraud as quickly as possible.

If you fear you may have lost your card, but you’re not sure, contact us as soon as possible. We have the ability to put a “soft block” on your card while you look. This ensures that no one could find your card and use it while you look. If you did indeed lose the card, let us know and we’ll block it and issue you a new card number.*

If you suspect your card has been stolen, we are here to help. If you report suspicious activity to us we will stop further use of the impacted card, replace it and issue a new card number at no cost to you.

Don’t get burned this summer; Take these small easy steps to protect yourself from fraudsters… and don’t forget that sunscreen!

 

*There is a fee associated with lost cards.

Homebuying 101: A Brief History of Rates & Home Prices

Throughout the next several weeks we’ll be posting articles and info on various aspects of the home buying process. Topics will cover everything from saving for a down payment, to refinancing, to purchasing investment properties, and more. We encourage you to connect with us on any questions you might have, and to share this information with friends and family.

 

Purchasing a home could be one of the biggest financial moves you’ll make, and deciding when the “best” time to make that move can play a big part in how much you’ll end up paying. With fewer properties for sale and rising home prices benefiting sellers, and rising rent rates and low mortgage rates encouraging buyers to jump in, both groups could recognize the benefits of the current housing market.

Currently, those home shopping (or looking to refi) are facing some of the lowest mortgage rates in history. Ultra-low mortgage rates weren’t always the norm, though. Curious about how the market has changed over the years? Let’s take a look…

Year 30-Year Fixed Mortgage Rate Inflation-Adjusted Median Sale Price for a Home Inflation-Adjusted Monthly Payment
1971 7.50% $135,696 $948.81
1976 8.87% $169,352 $1,346.83
1981 16.63% $165,228 $2,306.05
1986 10.19% $183,014 $1,631.83
1991 9.25% $192,124 $1,580.55
1996 7.81% $194,631 $1,402.44
2001 6.97% $215,760 $1,431.10
2005 5.87% $268,974 $1,590.22
2010 4.69% $221,800 $1,149.01
2016 3.75%* $295,600* $1,368.96*

If you look at 2016 vs 1976 you can see that, although the two payments are almost the same, the 2016 payment is based on a much more expensive house. Those buying in today’s market also have the advantage of today’s benefits and wages, so they are likely feeling the effects of the mortgage payments much more lightly than those from 1976’s market.

You can also see from the above data that, although you can’t do much to control the effects of inflation, you can take advantage of much lower-than-average mortgage rates to help keep those monthly payments low. The table shows that rates can, and will, change and that these are some of the lowest rates we’ve seen in decades. If you’re on the fence about whether or not it’s a good time for you to buy or refi, be assured that the low rates we’re seeing are well below average for the past several years.

 

Questions?

Steven Raymond, VP or Residential Lending at USAgencies Credit Union, has over 30 years of experience in the mortgage industry. Steven’s seen it all, as far as mortgages go. If you have questions—about refinancing, getting pre-approved, or anything else mortgage-related—talk to Steven!

Steven Raymond
Vice President of Residential Lending, NMLS#: 234025
Direct: (503) 275-0329
Toll-free: (800) 452-0915 x329
Email: sraymond@usacu.org

Ready to go?
Apply for a mortgage online now.

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USAgencies Credit Union
NMLS#: 441193

Sources:
mercurynews.com/real-estate-news/ci_30047385/since-1971-how-much-home-would-have-cos

*Data for Portland-metro area, Oregon.

Get a Jump on Back-to-School with this Quick Checklist

Although it’s mid-summer, and school may be the farthest thing from our mind, it’s a great time to get a jump on that back-to-school checklist. Those lazy days of summer have a tendency to slip quickly by, leaving you in a mad dash to get everything done in time. Why not head into fall prepared and confident that your student is ready to go, making the transition from summer to school is a smooth one?

Here are a few tips for getting back-to-school ready:

  • Assess where you stand.If you set a financial goal to save for school expenses as a New Year’s resolution, now is a great time to check in on that progress. Ask yourself: How much have I saved? Am I on track for my goals? Or am I behind? Not quite where you thought you’d be? Talk to one of USAgencies’ Member Service Reps about tools that can help you save, including account alerts, direct deposit, or which savings product might help you best reach your goals.
  • Ensure your student has access to funds. For some students, this may be their first time with their own bank account- others may be old pros. Whatever the case may be, getting your student set up with an account from USAgencies will ensure they have many ways to access the funds they need. With everything from our easy-to-use mobile app, to Shared Branching, to the thousands of surcharge free ATMs across the country, your student will be sure to be able to connect to their money when & where they want. One feature parents especially enjoy- account-to-account transfers inside Online Banking.
  • Keep track. Using credit and debit cards can sometimes make it easy to lose track of what you spend. Using a budgeting program–like MoneyMark from USAgencies’ Online Banking–can help you stay on track of your monthly expenses. You can even use the Cashflow Calendar feature this July & August to win some extra cash! Learn more about how this promotion can help you stay on track of money coming in and going out, plus even help bring in a little extra if you win!
  • Check in with your school’s financial aid office. All schools have different requirements when it comes to financial aid. Make sure that your school has an updated version of your FAFSA and that everything is in order for the upcoming school year so your student’s financial aid is not delayed.
  • Refinance to a lower rate & help save. If you haven’t checked in with USAgencies to see if we can reduce your auto, home or credit card rate, it’s worth a look. Reducing your interest rate can save you hundreds of dollars over the life of your loan. Contact us to see how we can put more cash in your wallet at the end of the month.
  • Explore transportation options. Car, motorcycle or bike, USAgencies can help your student get wherever they’re going with a low-interest loan, flexible terms and easy-pay options, like direct deposit. Your Credit Union has an Aspire Auto Loan option for those with little or no credit, too. A transportation loan could be a great way to help you get your student’s credit history started on a positive note.
  • Look into a responsible private education loan. As college costs continue to rise, more students are in need of private student loans to fill the gap financial aid doesn’t cover. USAgencies partners with Sallie Mae to offer the Smart Option Student Loan to help cover education expenses. With the Smart Option Student Loan, you can take advantage of some of the lowest private education loan rates in the nation, and you can choose repayment options to help pay off your loan faster than with a conventional private loan.
  • Check out a low-interest Signature loan. If your student needs another resource for paying for the ever-rising cost of books, school supplies, athletic gear, etc. consider applying for a low-interest unsecured personal loan. This July & August, USACU is offering a loan special on Signature loans – with up to 1.25% off already low rates! Learn more here.
  • Consider asecured Visa card for those unexpected expenses. The credit limit on a Secured Visa Gold card is protected by funds in your savings account — it’s the perfect tool to help students establish good credit. Have a student with a little more credit history? Check out our Visa Platinum card- it offers rewards (1 point for each $1 in purchases) that you can use towards travel, merchandise or a better interest rate on a certificate or auto loan with us. Another benefit of the Visa Platinum- USAgencies invests 5% of the net income from our Visa Platinum cards into charitable giving programs. Last year we contributed almost 21 thousand dollars to back into the community that we serve. Learn more about our Community Giving Program

Many don’t want to start thinking about back to school already, especially in the midst of these beautiful long summer days. However, back to school finances can creep up on you quickly, so planning ahead pays off. This list is a good starting place, but if you should need any help along the way USACU, your Trusted Financial Service Provider of Choice, is here to help you in any way we can. Give us a call or stop by, and we can help you make back-to-school a breeze this year.

Do you have any savvy back to school shopping tricks you use to save money every year?

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