The Cherry Blossoms Are Here!

The cherry blossoms are here! So you know what that means? We are treated to a beautiful sight locals and tourists marvel in every spring. With the USAgencies branch located just a few blocks south, employees often spend their sunny spring lunch breaks under the pink canopies, enjoying the trees that line the south end of the Tom McCall Waterfront Park.

The 100 trees were gifted from the Japanese Grain Importers Association to Portland 28 years ago to pay tribute to the Japanese Americans that were sent to internment camps during World War II.  The trees were placed on the waterfront side of the Japanese American Historical Plaza.

Head down to the Waterfront before all the petals fall, to experience a Portland Spring favorite. And hey, while you are at it, pop into the USAgencies branch and say Hi!


USAgencies Credit Union is located at 95 SW Taylor St., Portland, OR 97204

Home Shopping Snapshot: Spring 2018

Our friend Brent Schreiber, VP of Real Estate at our mortgage partner Consolidated Community Credit Union, is here to give us some insight on the current housing market, interest rates and more.

Current Status of the Market

As we head into the spring home buying season, inventory continues to be low, which makes it a very competitive situation for purchases. There is still an imbalance of buyers and sellers (more buyers than sellers), which has continued to put pressure on prices. The Portland market (Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington county) continues to see an influx of households moving to the area and with rents being high, many are looking to purchase a home. The past 2 spring-summer periods have seen bidding wars on properties as demand has outpaced supply. Rates have risen measurably to the highest point in the last 4 years, so we will soon see if that has an impact on demand. Homebuyers should look to get pre-approved prior to their home search as agents want to know that they are working with qualified borrowers who are ready to make an offer.

Interest Rates

Mortgage rates recently have risen to a 4-year high and are currently around 4.5% on a 30-year fixed conventional loan. While this rate is still historically low, it’s a significant move up from what we saw in 2017 and prior as rates were 4% and below on the same type of loan. Many factors have led to the increase in rates, but most notably a strong economy with low unemployment and a tax cut in addition to that has created some inflationary pressure (which causes rates to rise). While we don’t know if this will continue, the trend is definitely up as our economy remains strong. As rates rise, borrowers start to look at alternative products such as 5, 7 and 10-year ARMs (adjustable rate mortgages) to secure lower rates and payments. If you’ve been shopping for a home for a while and were working off of lower rates to calculate your payments, make sure you update your pre-approval and get revised payments that reflect the current rate environment.

Home Buyer Tips

First and foremost, if you are looking to buy whether in the near term or further on down the road, make sure to get pre-approved through a lender (your credit union can provide same-day pre-approvals). During the pre-approval, your lender will review your credit, income and assets in order to issue the approval. This is a good process to go through because it will let you know if you are ready to buy or not. If you’re not quite ready to buy, your lender will focus on what items are needed in order to generate an approval; if it’s a credit issue, we can let you know what to work on to improve your credit score; if it’s an income issue, we can discuss options such as getting a co-signer or paying down debt; if it’s insufficient funds for a down payment, we can discuss low down payment options as well as options for gift funds or give you savings strategies to help meet your down payment goals. Real estate agents in a competitive market are going to want to know that your finances have been looked at and approved by a lender, so make sure to do this very early in the process.

Closing costs and pre-paid items (property taxes, homeowner’s insurance and pre-paid interest) are often an overlooked part of the home buying process. Many borrowers fail to take these items into account when they are budgeting for their home purchase and look solely at the amount that they want to put down. Closing costs are in addition to the down payment and in many cases can be 2-2.5% of the purchase price ($6000-$7500 on a $300,000.00 purchase). If you are buying for say $300,000.00 and want to put 10% down ($30,000.00), this means that you are really going to have to bring $36,000.00 to close ($30,000.00 for down payment and $6000.00 for closing costs/pre-paid items). Talk to your lender and realtor about strategies to get some or all of those costs paid by the seller.

 


For more information on the home buying process or to get pre-approved for a mortgage loan, visit our website or contact us.

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I won $500 with Save to Win!

Congrats to USAgencies’ biggest Save to Win prizewinner yet–Jesse! Jesse took home $500 in a quarterly multi-state drawing this January.

Jesse’s very excited about his win and said this was a “nice surprise” and was thrilled with the “good news.” He mentioned he hadn’t won at the Credit Union level yet but that he hopes to win again soon… maybe with “a couple more zeros added onto that check” next time around.

Save to Win was developed by Commonwealth, the Filene Research Institute and the Michigan Credit Union League (MCUL). The MCUL launched the pilot program in partnership with eight Michigan credit unions in 2009 and has since expanded to include several states. The program is now administered by CU Solutions Group, an affiliate of MCUL.

To date, the program has awarded more than $2.3 million dollars in cash prizes and has helped credit union members save nearly $140 million nationwide.


 

To learn more about Save to Win at USAgencies Credit Union, visit https://www.usacu.org/savetowin.

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Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week

From our friends at the Federal Trade Commission

Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. You might find out it has happened when you get a letter from the IRS saying more than one tax return was filed in your name, or IRS records show you have wages from an employer you don’t know.

Learn how to reduce the chance you’ll be a victim and find out what to do if you are during Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week, January 29-February 2, 2018. The FTC and its partners are hosting a series of free webinars and Twitter chats. Follow the links below for information about how to participate.

Here’s what’s on tap:

Monday, Jan. 29

  • 2 p.m. EST ― The FTC and the Identity Theft Resource Center co-host a webinar for consumers. Learn about tax-related identity theft and IRS imposter scams, their financial and emotional impact, how to protect yourself, and how to recover if you become a victim.

Tuesday, Jan. 30

  • 2:30 p.m. EST ― The FTC, AARP Fraud Watch Network, AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program, and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration host a webinar on tax identity theft and IRS imposter scams. Learn how tax identity theft and IRS imposter scams occur, how to avoid them, recovery steps for victims, and about free resources for you and your community.

Wednesday, Jan. 31

  • 11 a.m. EST ― The FTC and the Department of Veterans Affairs co-host a Twitter chat for service members, veterans, and their families. Learn how to minimize your risk of tax identity theft, and what to do if it happens to you. Join the conversation at #VeteranIDTheft.
  • 1 p.m. EST ― The FTC, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration discuss tax identity theft, IRS imposter scams, and how to lower your risk of becoming a victim. This is a closed webinar for Veterans Administration employees, contractors, and patients.

Thursday, Feb. 1

  • 1 p.m. EST ― The FTC and IRS offer a webinar for small businesses: Protecting Sensitive Business and Customer Data ― Practical Identity Safety Practices for Your Business. Learn about tax-related identity theft, imposter scams that target businesses, practical cybersecurity practices for small business, data breach response, and free resources for your business, employees and customers.
  • 3 p.m. EST ― The FTC and the Identity Theft Resource Center co-host a Twitter chat about protecting yourself against tax-related identity theft. Get to know the warning signs, how to reduce the chance of becoming a victim, and how to recover if it happens to you. Join the conversation at #IDTheftChat.

 

For information about identity theft in general, please visit ftc.gov/idtheft.

Tips for Avoiding IRS Scams

It’s tax time. Which, also unfortunately means it is also tax scam time too.

David A. Tucker II, IRS Media Relations Representative, has some great tips on ways you can avoid becoming a tax scam victim, as well as resources if you find you’ve become a victim.

What are some current scams the IRS is seeing?

A sophisticated phone scam targeting taxpayers, including recent immigrants, has been making the rounds throughout the country. Callers claim to be IRS employees, using fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers. They may know a lot about their targets, and they usually alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling.

Victims are told they owe money to the IRS and it must be paid promptly through a gift card or wire transfer. Victims may be threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license. In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting. Victims may be told they have a refund due to try to trick them into sharing private information. If the phone isn’t answered, the scammers often leave an “urgent” callback request.

Some thieves have used video relay services (VRS) to try to scam deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Taxpayers are urged not trust calls just because they are made through VRS, as interpreters don’t screen calls for validity. For details see the IRS video: Tax Scams via Video Relay Service.

The most common way for cybercriminals to steal bank account information, passwords, credit cards or Social Security numbers is to simply ask for them. Every day, people fall victim to phishing scams that cost them their time and their money.

Those emails urgently warning users to update their online financial accounts – they’re fake. That email directing users to download a document from a cloud-storage provider? Fake. Those other emails suggesting the recipients have a $64 tax refund waiting at the IRS or that the IRS needs information about  insurance policies – also fake. So are many new and evolving variations of these schemes.

What are some steps consumers can take to protect themselves?

Here are a few steps to take:

  • Be vigilant; be skeptical. Never open a link or attachment from an unknown or suspicious source. Even if the email is from a known source, approach with caution. Cybercrooks are adept at mimicking trusted businesses, friends and family. Thieves may have compromised a friend’s email address or they may be spoofing the address with a slight change in text, such as name@example.com vs narne@example.com. In the latter, merely changing the “m” to an “r” and “n” can trick people.
  • Remember, the IRS doesn’t initiate spontaneous contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes text messages and social media channels. The IRS does not call taxpayers with threats of lawsuits or arrests. No legitimate business or organization will ask for sensitive financial information via email. When in doubt, don’t use hyperlinks and go directly to the source’s main web page.
  • Use security software to protect against malware and viruses. Some security software can help identity suspicious websites that are used by cybercriminals.
  • Use strong passwords to protect online accounts. Each account should have a unique password. Use a password manager if necessary. Criminals count on people using the same password repeatedly, giving crooks access to multiple accounts if they steal a password. Experts recommend a password have a minimum of 10 digits, including letters, numbers and special characters. Longer is better.
  • Use multi-factor authentication when offered. Some online financial institutions, email providers and social media sites offer multi-factor protection for customers. Two-factor authentication means that in addition to entering your username and password, you must enter a security code generally sent as a text to your mobile phone. Even if a thief manages to steal usernames and passwords, it’s unlikely the crook would also have a victim’s phone.

 

Are there good resources available to help keep yourself aware of current scams?

https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/tax-scams-consumer-alerts is a good resource, as is the Federal Trade Commission website, www.ftc.gov.

If you do fall victim to a scam, what steps should you take?

If you are a victim of identity theft, the Federal Trade Commission recommends these steps:

  • File a complaint with the FTC at identitytheft.gov.
  • Contact one of the three major credit bureaus to place a ‘fraud alert’ on your credit records:
  • Contact your financial institutions, and close any financial or credit accounts opened without your permission or tampered with by identity thieves.

If your SSN is compromised and you know or suspect you are a victim of tax-related identity theft, the IRS recommends these additional steps:

  • Respond immediately to any IRS notice; call the number provided.
  • Complete IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, if your efiled return rejects because of a duplicate filing under your SSN or you are instructed to do so. Use a fillable form at IRS.gov, print, then attach the form to your return and mail according to instructions.

If you previously contacted the IRS and did not have a resolution, contact us for specialized assistance at 1-800-908-4490. We have teams available to assist.

Any additional info you think is helpful for consumers?

I would also say that prevention is the key to not becoming a victim. Here are some ways to reduce the risk:

  • Always use security software with firewall and anti-virus protections. Use strong passwords.
  • Learn to recognize and avoid phishing emails, threatening calls and texts from thieves posing as legitimate organizations such as your bank, credit card companies and even the IRS.
  • Do not click on links or download attachments from unknown or suspicious emails.
  • Protect your personal data. Don’t routinely carry your Social Security card, and make sure your tax records are secure.

See Publication 4524, Security Awareness for Taxpayers, to learn more.

The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels.

Report suspicious online or emailed phishing scams to: phishing@irs.gov. For phishing scams by phone, fax or mail, call 1-800-366-4484. Report IRS impersonation scams to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration’s IRS Impersonation Scams Reporting.

 


 

David has been with the IRS since 2010 and is the Media Relations Representative for the states of Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Northern California.

National Popcorn Day! (Jan. 19th)

If you have ever been to the USAgencies branch down on the corner of 1st and Taylor you know one thing: we have popcorn!

As a member favorite, the popcorn has become a part of our legacy. Each morning we pop it fresh, for members to enjoy when they visit. With tomorrow being National Popcorn Day, we thought it would be fun to post a few little-known USAgencies Credit Union popcorn facts!

  • USACU purchased our now famous popcorn machine in 2005 after moving to the new location of 95 SW Taylor.
  • USACU pops approximately 165lbs of pop PER YEAR (wow!)
  • Over the span of 13 years, approximately 2,145 lbs. have been popped in our popcorn machine (literally a TON of popcorn!!). This is also roughly the weight of:
    • 2 adult male polar bears
    • 6 panda bears
    • 11 kangaroos
    • 18 octopuses
    • 75 gold bars
    • 30 Dalmatians
  • In 13 years, staff has bagged approximately 34,000 bags of popcorn!

Now that’s a lot of popcorn.

Celebrate National Popcorn Day by heading down to our branch to enjoy a fresh bag of popcorn with us! Bring a friend along and you’ll both be entered to win a Regal Cinema Gift Card & Candy Basket.

Can’t make it in to the branch to celebrate? We’ll have something for you too. Follow us on Facebook for details.

Take Control of Your Money in 2018

A Credit Union Can Help You Become Financially Fit

Joining a gym, finally taking your dream vacation, or planning to spend more time with the family this year?  Why not make financial fitness one of your New Year’s Resolutions, too?  It’s do-able, and the first thing on your list should be to join a credit union.

Because credit unions are not-for-profit cooperatives, you’re a member—and an owner. Unlike for-profit financial institutions that must pay stockholders, credit unions return benefits back to you, the member. That means you pay lower fees, and get lower interest rates on your loans and credit cards.

Nearly two million Oregonians are member-owners of credit unions. Here’s how that helped their financial fitness last year: *

  • Collectively, their Beaver State credit unions delivered $180.5 million in direct benefits right back to them.
  • That’s an advantage of $107 that each member enjoyed because they banked with a credit union.
  • Every Main Street household with a credit union member, saw benefits of at least $203.
  • Consumers who got their new car loans from an Oregon credit union, are saving an average of $251 in interest during each year of a 60-month, $25,000 loan.
  • The interest rate that Oregon credit unions charge for credit cards, is as much as 5.4 percent lower than rates that profit-driven financial institutions are charging. That means Oregon’s credit union members spent $29 million less of their hard-earned money on credit card interest rates, than bank customers spent.
  • Credit unions cooperate. Most network their ATMS, meaning members have access to their money as they travel. They can use the ATM at almost any credit union, and they don’t have to pay those annoying fees!

*Source: Informa Research comparing not-for-profit and profit-driven financial institutions’ interest rates and fees in the 12 months ending June 30, 2017; National Credit Union Administration and Credit Union National Association.


Still not a member of USAgencies Credit Union? Join today!

Already a member, but know someone who could benefit from membership? Refer them to USAgencies and you’ll both be eligible for our Refer-a-Member drawing. 

News and Events happening at USACU