Category Archives: Educational

Getting Ahead on Your Student Loan Before You Graduate

As you begin scouting different employment opportunities, be sure to look at the larger picture before you accept a position.

Hopefully, you’ve chosen a career path that will bring you joy and gratification. Equally important, though, is a job that can support your lifestyle choices. While the positions you consider for your post-college job will likely offer the opportunity for growth, you’ll still need to pay your bills—and make your student loan payments—as soon as you graduate. A job that brings you satisfaction and a pleasant working environment will not last long if the salary it offers causes you to sink into debt.

How do you determine what kind of salary will be large enough to support your desired lifestyle?

To get this information, you’ll need to create a mock monthly budget for your post-college self.

Using a spreadsheet or paper and pen, create two columns, one for expenses and one for actual dollar amounts. In the expense column, list your typical monthly expenses, including housing costs, transportation costs, health insurance, groceries, entertainment costs, clothing costs, dining out, savings, etc. In the dollar column, list the amount of money you expect to pay every month for each expense.

Your budget should look something like this:

Expense Monthly Cost
Housing $1200
Transportation $300
Health insurance $250
Groceries $350
Student loan payments $350

It will take some research and some hard, honest thinking to come up with these numbers. For housing costs, take a moment to think about where you see yourself settling down after college. You don’t have to know the exact neighborhood you’ll live in, but it’s good to know the city that will work best for you in terms of lifestyle, career path, and family plans. You can narrow this down to a few choices so long as you keep it reasonable. Once you’ve chosen your desired location, research the median rental prices in the area on real estate sites like Zillow and Redfin.

Next, work on transportation costs. If you already own a car, you’ll have an idea of what it costs you each month. Otherwise, spend some time thinking about what kind of car you want to drive. You can find listings on Carfax.com. Include costs like auto insurance, gas, and upkeep, in this category.

Or, if you plan on living somewhere with reliable public transportation, you might choose this route instead. Make a calculation of how much you’ll spend on bus and/or train rides, along with the occasional cab or ride-share ride.

Complete your budget using your best estimates for each category. Once you’ve filled out each expense amount, add up your total and multiply it by 12 to give you the amount of money you’ll need each year for supporting the lifestyle of your choice. (This number will increase with inflation, but since current salaries will likely increase along with the inflation rate, this exercise can still give you an idea of the annual salary you’ll need.)

Now that you have these numbers, you’re ready to go ahead with your job search. When considering possible positions, you don’t have to choose the one that pays the highest salary if there are other things about the job you don’t love. However, it’s best to pursue positions that can actually support you.


Are you choosing your first job for the salary or for other factors? Share your take with us in the comments.

How Should I Spend My Stimulus Check?

The stimulus checks promised in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act are starting to land in checking accounts and mailboxes around the country. The $1,200 granted to most middle class adults is a welcome relief during these financially trying times.

Many recipients may be wondering: What is the best way to use this money?

To help you determine the most financially responsible course of action to take with your stimulus check, USAgencies Credit Union has compiled a list of advice and tips on how to use this money.

Cover your basic life expenses

First and foremost, make sure you can afford to cover your basic necessities. With millions of Americans out of work and lots of them still waiting for their unemployment insurance to kick in, many people are struggling to put food on their tables. Most financial experts agree that it’s best not to make any long-term plans for stimulus money until you can comfortably cover everyday expenses.

Charlie Bolognino, CFP and owner of Side-by-Side Financial Planning in Plymouth, Minn., says this step may necessitate creating a new budget that fits the times. With unique spending priorities in place, an absent or diminished income and many expenses, like subscriptions and entertainment costs, not being relevant any longer, it can be helpful to reconfigure an existing budget to better suit present needs. As always, basic necessities, such as food and critical bills, should be prioritized.

Build up your emergency fund

If you’ve already got your basic needs covered, start looking at long-term targets for your stimulus money.

Emergency funds should ideally be robust enough to cover 3-6 months’ worth of living expenses. If you already have an emergency fund, it may have been depleted during the pandemic and need some replenishing. If you don’t yet have an emergency fund, or your fund isn’t large enough to cover several months without a steady income, you may want to use some of the stimulus money to build it up so you have a cushion to fall back on during lean times that are likely to come in the months ahead.

Pay down high-interest debts

According to the Federal Reserve Bank, Americans owed a collective $930 billion in credit card debt during the fourth quarter of 2019. Using some of your stimulus check to pay off high-interest debt would be a great way to get a guaranteed return on the money, says Chris Chen, of Insight Financial Strategists in Newton, Mass.

This advice only applies to credit cards and other private, high-interest loans. The federal government put a 6-month freeze on most student loan debts, so they should not be as high a priority right now.

Boost your savings

If your emergency fund is already full and you’ve made headway on your debt, it can be a good idea to use some of the stimulus money to add to your USAgencies Credit Union savings account. The money in your savings can be used to cover long-term financial goals, such as funding a dream vacation or covering the down payment on a new home.

Consider all your options before choosing how to spend your stimulus money. In all likelihood, this will be a one-time payment received during the pandemic.


How are you spending your stimulus check? 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.

The Money Talk with Kids

National Credit Union Youth Month is here, keeping your kids educated about saving and spending money is crucial for their financial success. Are you looking for ideas to start the money talk? We’ve got some conversation starters for you!

Saving Smart

For the responsible adult who thinks about being prepared for the future, savings are a fixed expense that is built into the monthly budget just like car payments and insurance. For most people, though, this habit does not come naturally. It needs to be acquired and practiced. Teach your kids those saving smarts now when they’re young to help make it a lifetime habit they’ve already mastered by the time they hit their 20s.

Give your kids a clear understanding of why saving is crucial to financial wellness and how to make it happen. Here are some points to cover:

  • Why putting money aside each month is crucial
  • How interest and compound interest work
  • Long-term vs. short-term saving
  • Reasons to save

Conversation starters (For kids under age 9):

  • Let’s say you’ve only got $15 and you want to buy a drone that costs $65. You get $5 a week as your allowance. How can you buy that drone?
  • When did you wait for something and find that it was more enjoyable because you waited for it?
  • Can you think of some things that Mom or Dad saves up for?
  • If you earn 10 cents for every dollar you save, how much money will you earn by putting away $5?

Conversation starters (For kids over age 9):

  • Are you saving up for anything important?
  • Can you think of some things that Mom or Dad saves up for?
  • Have you ever had to pay for something unexpected? How did you come up with the money?
  • Some things we save for are short-term goals, and others are long-term goals. Can you name some of each kind of goal? How will we save differently for each kind?
  • Do you think it’s smart for Mom and Dad to keep money they’re saving under the mattress? Why or why not?

Working It Out

One of the most fundamental financial lessons your kids are going to have to learn is about how you work for your money.

Do your kids understand that every time you pull out a wad of bills or swipe a card to pay for a purchase, that money is directly linked to time you put in at the office? Do they realize all of your money is earned through hard work?

Here’s how to make sure your kids — at any age level — understand this concept.

Goal: Teach your children that money for purchases, whether it’s paid through cash or a card, is earned through hard work. Here are some points to cover:

  • Money is earned through work.
  • Every dollar spent is time you spend working.
  • Any method used to pay for purchases comes from the same source.

Conversation starters (For kids under age 9):

  • What do you think mom/dad does all day at their job?
  • We work to do what our bosses want and need. How do you think our bosses reward us?
  • When we spend money for pizza, groceries, toys or movies, where do you think that money is coming from?
  • This is mom/dad’s paycheck from work. When we give it to USAgencies Credit Union, we have money to spend. Why do you think we put the paycheck in our account at USAgencies Credit Union?
  • When I swipe my credit/debit card, how does that pay the store owner? Where is the money coming from?

Conversation starters (For kids over age 9):

  • Why do you think people work?
  • Do you think people who work harder for their money spend it more carefully?
  • Would you still want that (article of clothing/toy/gadget) if you had to work for it?
  • If you had the choice to work 16-hour days for double the salary of an 8-hour day, would you take it? Why or why not?

We’ve also got a few fun activity pages for your kids to complete.

Youth_activity_pages preview
Download printable worksheets

Youth_activity_pages preview
Download printable worksheets

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Download printable worksheets


Do you encourage your kids to save money? How do they spend their allowance, chore money and money they earn from odd jobs as soon as they have it?

Connect with us to help get your children ready for their first savings or checking account to establish healthy financial habits. Call us at 503-275-0300 Option 4, or email info@usacu.org. Everyone deserves a better banking experience. Get it here.

Financial Resources Available for Veterans

We owe the strength and security of our country to our heroic veterans. These brave men and women sacrifice the comforts of home, time with family and often their physical well-being to protect us. Unfortunately, though, many veterans are struggling to make ends meet and to support their families.

If you are a veteran, you likely already know about VA loans, which are no-money-down home loans just for veterans. But did you know there are many other ways the government and charitable organizations can help you get back on your feet?

Here’s a list of financial resources created especially for veterans. Having served our country, you deserve all this and more.

USA Cares Emergency Assistance Program

If you’re a retired service person who is struggling to cover your basic monthly bills, including rent and utilities, you may be eligible for a grant from this organization. The exact amount awarded varies with each case, but the average grant size is $650. You can apply for a grant from the USA Cares Emergency Assistance Program.

The American Legion Temporary Financial Assistance

This organization helps veterans who are also parents of young children to create a stable home life for their families. It offers cash grants to help qualifying veterans pay for expenses like housing, utilities, food and medical costs. You can read up on the eligibility requirements and apply for a grant.

Operation Family Fund

Veterans who were severely disabled while serving in Operation Enduring and Iraqi Freedom may be eligible for grants to help cover their medical bills, emergency transportation, vehicle repair and housing. Review the eligibility requirements and apply for an Operation Family Fund grant.

Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes

This organization provides financial assistance to veterans who were severely wounded while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Click here to apply for assistance.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Aid & Attendance and Housebound Assistance

If you are a veteran receiving a VA pension, you may be eligible to increase your monthly amount through Aid & Attendance and Housebound Assistance. If you are bedridden or you need the services of an aide to help you with everyday activities, you can apply for assistance here.

Operation First Response

This organization offers financial assistance for wounded veterans and their families while they are in the midst of the VA claim process, which can stretch on for a year or more. Qualifying veterans can use the funds to cover immediate needs like housing, transportation, utilities, groceries, clothing and more. You can review the eligibility requirements and apply for assistance.

The Armed Forces Foundation

The Armed Forces Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing comfort and financial relief to members of the military community through career counseling, housing assistance, recreational therapy programs and financial support. These programs are available for service members who are on active duty as well as those who are retired. You can read up on the assistance offered by The Armed Forces Foundation and apply for aid.

Hope for the Warriors

The mission of this noble organization is to enhance the quality of life for members of the military and their families who have been affected by physical injuries or death in the line of duty. Its programs include financial assistance for immediate needs, as well as a special “Warrior’s Wish” program for families.

Operation Homefront

This wonderful organization provides financial assistance for the immediate family members of the wounded, ill, injured or deployed. Exact criteria for assistance varies by location. Visit Operation Home Front, click on “Get Assistance,” input your ZIP code and an application for assistance through your local chapter will be available for download.

Semper Fi Fund

The Semper Fi Fund (SFF) provides financial relief for any needs that may arise during the hospitalization and recovery of a service member due to an injury sustained while serving in the line of duty. Programs under the SFF include Service Member and Family Support, Specialized & Adaptive Equipment, Adaptive Housing, Adaptive Transportation, Education and Career Transition Assistance, Therapeutic Arts and Team Semper Fi.  Assistance is available for all post 9-11 Marines and sailors, as well as members of the Army, Air Force or Coast Guard who serve in support of Marine forces. Apply here.

If you or anyone you know is an active or retired service member who is struggling to make ends meet, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Use the resources listed above, and connect with us if you could use further assistance in basic money management. We’re here to help!


Have we missed any major financial resources for veterans? Let us know in the comments.

Questions about USAgencies Credit Union? Contact us at 503.275.0300 Option 4.