Category Archives: Educational

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.

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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.

Equal Housing Lender Logo blog
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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Homebuying 101 – VA Loans

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.

What is a VA Loan?

The VA (Veteran’s Administration) Home Loan Guarantee Program helps veterans purchase or refinance homes through VA-approved lenders, like USAgencies Credit Union.

Loans are backed up to $417,000 in Oregon and Washington (and more in some areas) with low closing costs and fewer fees than conventional loans.

Packed with money-saving advantages such as no down payment requirement and no private mortgage insurance (PMI), it’s no surprise that the VA home loan has been used by over 18 million families. For nearly 70 years, this program has made it possible for families just like yours to experience the pride of homeownership.

The VA home loan program continues to shine brightly and forge ahead on its mission of making homeownership possible for the brave men and women who serve our country

Advantages of a VA Loan

  1. No Down Payment Necessary. Traditional loans typically require a buyer to provide between 3 to 20 percent of the home’s price as a down payment. For many first-time homebuyers, supplying this amount of money up front may not be feasible. The VA Loan is a good option for those who may not have a large sum set aside for a down payment, and who meet certain requirements (see Qualifications section).
  2. Less Stringent Qualifications. Many first-time homebuyers might not yet have a strong credit history, which can make it more difficult to get approval for a mortgage or qualify for an affordable interest rate. Since the VA Loan is government-backed, VA Loans are easier to qualify for at competitive rates.
  3. Lower Monthly Payments. Since VA Loans don’t require the added monthly expense of PMI, they tend to leave more money in your pocket each month. In addition, the competitive VA Loan rates can save a typical buyer thousands over the life of the loan.

Qualifications

In general, an honorably discharged service member is eligible for a VA home loan if he or she meets any one of these requirements:

  • Served 181 days during peacetime (Active Duty)
  • Served 90 days during war time (Active Duty)
  • Served 6 years in the Reserves or National Guard
  • The spouse of a service member who died while in service or from a service-connected disability

For more specific information about VA loan qualification, it is best to speak with an experienced home loan officer, like USAgencies’ Steven Raymond.

Next Steps…

The first step toward securing your VA loan is getting pre-approved. This involves a pre-qualification process, where a loan officer assesses the borrower’s financial situation and determines the maximum the veteran qualifies for. The borrower then must submit a completed loan application and documentation to obtain a commitment, otherwise known as a “pre-approval”.

For more detailed information about getting pre-approved for a VA loan, please contact an experienced mortgage loan officer, like Steven Raymond, VP of Residential Lending at USACU.

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.

Equal Housing Lender Logo blog
USAgencies Credit Union
NMLS#: 441193

Homebuying 101: Refinancing – What to Consider

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.

Summer is just around the corner and it’s prime home-buying time. However, not everyone is in the market to buy. If you’re happy with your current home, you can still take advantage of some of the lowest mortgage rates we’ve seen by refinancing your mortgage. There are three main reasons to refinance your home: to save money, to borrow cash against your equity, or to do a combination of the two.

 

Refinance to Save

If you’re trying to save money by reducing your monthly payments, you need to divide cost of getting the loan by the monthly payment savings. This will tell you how many months it will take for you to “break even” and start saving money. If you plan on staying in the home past the time frame shown, you should refinance. Here’s a good rule to follow:

If the “break even” point is…

Under 3 years: Good time to refinance

3 to 5 years: Consider options carefully

5 years or more: Best to wait and refinance later

If your overall goal is to refinance to a shorter term loan (for instance going from 30 to a 15-year mortgage) to pay your house off faster, be sure the rate is dropping enough to recover the costs as if the refinance was a 30-year loan. If it doesn’t, you should just start pre-paying principle on your current loan at the 15-year payment amount instead of refinancing and paying costs.

 

Refinance for Cash

You can get cash for any purpose you want: home improvements, pay off debts, family needs – there are no restrictions based upon how the cash will be used. The common 30-year fixed first mortgage allows you to borrow up to 80% of the appraised value for the refinance loan amount.

The two other ways people choose to borrow cash are with a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) or a Home Equity Loan.

 

Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC)

A HELOC is a revolving line of credit that allows borrowers to obtain a predetermined amount of money drawn against the equity of their home. (Think of it as a “credit card” secured by a mortgage or deed of trust on the property). Borrowers will be approved for a specific amount of credit (their credit limit), which is the maximum amount of money they can borrow at one time. The credit limit is normally set by the lender based on a percentage of the home’s appraised value and subtracting that from the balance still owed on the first mortgage. Additional factors will also be used to determine a credit limit such as: income, debts, credit history and ability to make payments. HELOC funds can be accessed by special checks or a credit card.

Many HELOC plans have fixed periods known as “draw” and “repayment” periods – which can vary in length. During the draw period the borrower is able to borrow money and may have smaller monthly payments or interest-only payments. Some plans call for payment in full by the end of the draw period; other plans that use a repayment period ask that the money be paid over that fixed amount of time, or may have a repayment period and balloon payment at the end.

A HELOC is good for borrowers who desire a lower up-front rate and access to money at unpredictable times. Borrowers will only need to pay back the amount of money that is actually used from the line of credit and they only face credit reviews on a 1 to 3 year basis. Competition among lenders has encouraged the growth of introductory “teaser” rates and other incentives.

 

Home Equity Loan

A Home Equity Loan is an example of a second mortgage. Borrowers receive a check for the entire loan amount and will need to make payments on the loan until it’s paid off.

Home Equity Loans are a good choice for borrowers who need a specific amount of money and payment stability. These are fixed rate loans which allow borrowers to lock-in the interest rate for the entire life of the loan. Unlike a HELOC, there are no annual (or “maintenance”) fees associated with this type of loan.

Note: The combined mortgage along with either the HELOC or Home Equity Loan typically cannot exceed 80% of the current value of the home. 

 

Your Choice Home Equity Options

If a Home Equity Loan or Line of Credit is the right option for you, USACU has a special promotion running during the month of May: Your Choice Home Equity Options. Click here for more info or to apply (limited time only).

 

Next Steps…

For more detailed information about the refinancing process and different financing options, please contact an experienced mortgage loan officer, like Steven Raymond, VP of Residential Lending at USACU. Steven can help you evaluate your current financial situation, your long term goals and help you make the best decision possible.

For more info on our Home Equity Loans or Lines of Credit, including our ‘Your Choice Home Equity‘ promotion, please contact Lending Services (503.275.0300, opt. 2).

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.

Equal Housing Lender Logo blog

USAgencies Credit Union
NMLS#: 441193