Tag Archives: financial education

Introducing… GreenPath

USAgencies is pleased to announce our newest member benefit – GreenPath Financial Wellness.

As a valued member of USAgencies, we are committed to serving you.  And as a benefit to you, we are providing you with free access to money management and financial education services.

USAgencies has teamed up with GreenPath to bring you GreenPath Financial Wellness, a financial education and counseling program.  Through comprehensive education and exceptional service, GreenPath has been assisting individuals for more than 50 years.

As a member of USAgencies, you can receive assistance from GreenPath with:

  • Personal and family budgeting
  • Understanding your personal credit report and how to improve your score
  • Personal money management
  • Debt repayment (fees may apply)
  • Avoiding bankruptcy, foreclosure, and repossession

GreenPath can give personalized answers to your individual needs.  For issues ranging from developing a proactive savings plan to preventing home foreclosure, advice is only a phone call or click away.

To learn more about this new service, simply call 1-877-337-3399 or visit USACU.org/education.

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.)

 

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.

Homebuying 101: Purchasing Costs

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.

You’ve decided to buy a home. Congratulations! That’s a big step.

The next step? Gaining a full understanding of the costs associated with your purchase. People often assume the only cost of buying a home is the price of the home, and that’s it. Unfortunately, that’s not the case- there can be a lot of other costs you should be prepared for. Here’s a quick overview of some common purchasing costs you should expect when buying a home…

Down Payment
The down payment is a percentage of the purchase price. It could be anywhere from as low as 0% down for veterans and those in rural areas, to 3 to 3.5% for first time homebuyers, to as much as you would like. However, if you put less than 20% down, most lenders will require Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI), which is an insurance fee that protects lenders against loss if a borrower defaults.

PMI Discontinuation

  1. Borrowers may request cancellation when the loan amortizes to 80% Loan-to-Value (LTV) or is paid down to 80% LTV, if certain other requirements are met.
  2. If you’re current on your loan payments, PMI will automatically terminate on the date the principal balance of your loan is first scheduled to reach 78% of the original value of the property.

Pre-Paids
Pre-paids consist of property taxes, homeowners insurance, daily interest through the end of the month and the amount needed to establish an escrow account for paying property taxes and insurance. Therefore, pre-paids will vary depending on the price (value) of the home as both property taxes and insurance are based first on the value of the home and the value will vary from county to county and the state that the property is in.

Closing Costs
Closing costs are made up of services and/or products that are required to complete a home loan. These items will include appraisals, credit reports, title insurance, escrow, county recording, flood determination, tax service, processing, underwriting and other fees and points.

Many of the closing cost items are a fixed amount and will be consistently the same for all loans. However, some of the items of closing costs are based on the purchase price and/or loan amount. Therefore, closing costs will vary with each transaction.

Next Steps…
Buying a home involves more than just the cost of the home itself. Fortunately, there are a few different ways to go about paying these costs – for instance, the seller may be able to pay the pre-paids and closing costs. The most reliable way to discover your payment options is for you to speak with an experienced mortgage loan officer. They can offer suggestions and help guide you through the process.

 

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 purchasing costs, 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

Freshen Up Those Finances for Spring

Give Your Finances a Checkup This Spring
Spring brings showers, flowers and an urge to tidy up. When you dive into spring cleaning this year, don’t forget your finances. Here’s how to give your money a thorough checkup to prepare for a great summer and beyond.

Check the health of your credit report
By monitoring your credit regularly, you can identify problems early. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com to get your free annual report from each of the three national credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Your credit score is not on your credit report, but what’s on your report influences what your score is. You can pay to see your score for a small fee.

Some financial institutions, like USAgencies Credit Union, will connect members with free financial counseling. They can discuss things that may be affecting your credit standing, as well as look at whether options such as consolidating debt or refinancing your home might be worthwhile.

Bolstering an anemic credit score
To bolster credit, take steps to clear demerits on your reports. Dispute errors and contact creditors to see whether they’d be willing to make “goodwill adjustments” to remove legitimate blemishes in return for paying a balance in full.

Another strategy for rebuilding credit is taking out a secured credit card. With a secured card, you deposit enough money to cover the limit you’re applying for, and your financial institution keeps that amount on hold for as long as you have the card. A secured card lets you establish a record of responsible credit use — boosting your credit standing in the process.

Tackling costly debt
High-interest debt from credit cards and loans can spiral out of control. To lower interest rates and reduce monthly payments, look into debt consolidation, which combines debt from multiple sources into a single loan. Choose from several solutions including home equity loans and lines of credit as well as personal loans.

With mortgage rates still near historic lows, those holding older mortgages might also benefit from refinancing to get a lower-interest loan.

Tuning up your credit score and tidying up your debts can refresh your finances. Before you know it, your budget will be in healthier shape, and you’ll be able to afford more summer fun.

Roberta Pescow, NerdWallet
© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Questions about how USACU can help you freshen up your finances for spring? Contact us.

 

Cut Tax Time Stress with These Quick Tips

Key Tax-Preparation Tips to Cut Stress

Although it comes around every spring, tax season tends to inflict the same headaches year after year. To reduce your stress — and maximize your refund — it’ll help to stay organized and be aware of recent changes to the tax code.

For additional motivation to get on track, keep in mind that the average refund has been about $3,000 in recent years. Even if you don’t expect to get that much back, there are plenty of ways to put a refund to good use. But first, you’ll have to file your returns properly, taking advantage of any deductions you might qualify for. Here’s a look at where to get started.

Compiling the necessary information

For starters, you’ll need your W-2 form listing earnings and tax withholdings, which employers typically send out in January or early February. Be sure to have your Social Security number or taxpayer identification number available, as well as those numbers for any dependents you’ll claim. You’ll also need documentation of any income they may have had.

Affordable Care Act penalty

The 2010 Affordable Care Act ushered in one of the most significant tax law changes in recent years. It stipulates that if you didn’t have health insurance for more than three months in 2015 and didn’t qualify for an exemption, you may face a penalty.

For tax year 2015, taxpayers who lack adequate insurance may be penalized at either 2% of a portion of their income or $325 per adult and $167.50 per child, to a maximum of $975 per family — whichever is higher. Those fees are set to increase in upcoming years, which means it’s a good idea to get insured as soon as possible.

Tax deductions reduce taxable income

Deductions reduce the amount of your income that you have to pay taxes on. Sit down and figure out whether the standard deduction or itemized deductions will work best for you. The former is a set amount that reduces your taxable income depending on your filing status; the latter lets you list qualified expenses separately, such as mortgage interest and local property taxes. If your itemized deductions add up to more than your standard deduction amount, go with that.

So what kinds of expenses can you deduct? Contributions to eligible organizations and interest on education loans are among the more well-known deductions you can take. Others, such as medical and home office expenses, aren’t as widely used for various reasons. Make sure to look into which of your expenses you can use to reduce your taxable income, which will probably increase your refund. Bear in mind that income limits and expense thresholds may limit these deductions or eliminate them entirely.

If you qualify to contribute to a traditional individual retirement account, or IRA, you may be able to shield up to $5,500 of income from taxes — plus $1,000 more if you’re 50 or over — by putting it in an IRA. You have until April 15 to make deductible contributions for the previous year. Withdrawals are subject to income tax, however.

Also, if you’re in a same-sex marriage, stay alert for further changes in the rules governing your tax status and other financial issues.

The bottom line

Completing your tax returns won’t be much fun, but it’s the first step in claiming a refund. Once you’ve filed your returns, you should expect to get what you’re due within three weeks — or in less than half that time if you ask for the money to be directly deposited to a savings or checking account. Just remember to compile all the essential paperwork before getting started, keeping an eye out for tax credits and changes to the tax code.

 

 

© Copyright 2016, NerdWallet.

USACU does not provide tax consulting or advising services. For specific tax advice, please consult a certified tax consultant.