Tag Archives: financial education

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.

Holiday Shopping Safety Tips

Whether in-store or online, it’s the time of year where we all need to be diligent about protecting our finances.

Here are some safety tips from the Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA):

In-Store Purchases:

  • EMV chip cards provide an extra layer of security when you buy on site (not online). Not all merchants have caught up with this technology trend. Ask the merchant if they have the chip system in place. If they don’t yet support it, use your card but continue to monitor your transactions daily. Take advantage of your credit union’s online account monitoring services. Report any suspicious activity to your credit union immediately.
  • Be sure your card is returned following each purchase and that it is indeed your card.
  • Wait for the card receipt. Never leave it at the checkout counter, and keep receipts with you; not in your shopping bags.
  • Check your statements and watch for multiple or incorrect charges. Compare receipts to your account statements, and then destroy your receipts.
  • Report unauthorized transactions to your credit union immediately.
  • Keep a list of your card account numbers and telephone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen. Keep that list in a secure place.
  • Make sure you have signed your credit and debit cards. Do not write your PIN on the card!
  • When entering your PIN, block the keypad from the view of the cashier or other customers.
  • Know that your PIN can be stolen in other ways. 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.
  • Running your card as credit rather than debit is another way of protecting your PIN.

Online Shopping:

  • Use a secure Internet connection.
  • Do not use public wireless networks for online purchases.
  • Shop on sites with https:// in the URL, and be sure that an icon with a lock appears to the left. The “s” stands for “secure” and indicates communication with that site is encrypted.
  • Type the merchant’s address directly into your browser; avoid links.
  • Use complicated passwords with at least eight characters. Include numbers, special characters and upper and lower case numbers.
  • Keep the antivirus and security software updated on your computers and mobile devices.
  • We recommend that you don’t store your payment information. Many websites or apps let you store your credit and debit card information for convenience, but this might also be too convenient for thieves.
  • Do not respond to pop ups, and do not share card information via email or texts.
  • Set up payment and purchase alerts via text and email. If you notice suspicious activity, notify your credit union immediately. 

The Northwest Credit Union Association is the not-for-profit trade association representing over 160 of Oregon and Washington’s credit unions and their 5.2 million members. The NWCUA is the voice of the Northwest credit union movement, providing legislative, regulatory and public advocacy in addition to education, compliance, networking support and business solutions to credit unions. For information on how to join a credit union, please visit http://www.asmarterchoice.org.

USACU Honored with Two Regional Awards

A press release from the Northwest Credit Union Association

We are honored to accept these first place awards in our asset category and are especially excited that they will go on to be judged nationally later this year. Hats off to our staff and members for the support of these efforts.

A special thanks to our partners Enterprise Car Sales and SMART (Start Making a Reader Today) for the collaboration on the “Drive Into Reading” Campaign.

October 9th, 2015

USAgencies Credit Union Wins Awards at Regional Association Conference

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Northwest Credit Union Association presented USAgencies Credit Union with two prestigious awards at its annual Amplify Convention Awards Banquet last night.

USAgencies Credit Union won a Dora Maxwell Social Responsibility Award for the work its staff has done to support their local community. Dora Maxwell was an early leader of the credit union movement. This award is given to credit unions that significantly improve the lives of members and non-members through community outreach. USAgencies’ staff members have given 100 volunteer hours serving more than 1,400 people and raising $10,500 to support various causes. In particular, the credit union used its social media presence and worked with its business partners to raise $3,000 to purchase books for young children.

The credit union also received a Desjardins Adult Financial Education award for its Feast and Forum program, in which staff members visit businesses to provide financial fitness programming during Financial Planning Month and Financial Literacy Month. The award is named after Alphonse Desjardins, who founded the first credit unions in the United States and Canada and who pioneered youth savings clubs and in-school banks.

Find out more about USAgencies Credit Union at usacu.org.

The Northwest Credit Union Association is the not-for-profit trade association representing over 160 of Oregon and Washington’s credit unions and their 5.2 million members. The NWCUA is the voice of the Northwest credit union movement, providing legislative, regulatory and public advocacy in addition to education, compliance, networking support and business solutions to credit unions. For information on how to join a credit union, please visit http://www.asmarterchoice.org.

Bring the Credit Union to your Workplace

The benefits of membership at USAgencies run deep and make for a happier employee.

Whether you are a business owner looking for tools to improve your HR offerings, or you’re an employee who thinks you and your co-workers could benefit from some education, connect with us!

What We Offer:
New Employee Orientation: we can be a part of the onboarding process for new hires and even open accounts for them onsite.

Financial Newsletter: we can provide short article for publication in your employee communications with a focus on financial tips, upcoming promotions, and more.

Financial Education: free financial education seminars on a variety of topics such as “Understanding Your Credit Report,” “Social Security,” and many more.

How to Get Started:
Contact Kasey Rockwell, Director of Credit Union Relations at krockwell@usacu.org | (503) 275-0346

5 Steps to Safeguard your Financial Data from Thieves

Most people leave a trail of data nearly everywhere they go.

Some of that data links to critical information, such as bank or credit card accounts. Hackers want access and are constantly deploying new tactics to steal that data from unsuspecting consumers.

You don’t have to make it easy for them. These five simple steps can help you protect your financial information from data thieves.

1 > Use Secured Networks and Websites
The majority of Americans shop online, and data thieves try to exploit that fact. You can help protect your bank and credit card accounts by sticking to secured websites, which typically include “https” in the Web address and display a locked padlock icon near the address. When using a wireless network outside your home or workplace, avoid making financial transactions unless the network is password protected.

2 > Beef Up Your Passwords
Make it harder for hackers to access your data by choosing complex passwords that include a mix of numbers, letters, and symbols. Steer clear of passwords that use personal information, such as your birth date or address, and avoid using the same password across multiple sites or accounts. Tools such as LastPass and PasswordBox will generate a random password for each site, store them securely, and automatically fill them when you log in to a site, so you only need to remember one password.

3 > Protect Your Phone
A stolen smartphone could be as risky to your finances as a stolen wallet, especially if you use mobile apps to manage your finances. So, while you’re strengthening the passwords you use online, consider doing the same on your phone. Some newer handsets are now equipped with fingerprint scanners, which could give you an added level of security if your phone is swiped.

4 > Be Smart at the ATM
Getting cash from an ATM is a fairly routine transaction. Many people insert their card, enter their personal identification number, or PIN, and take their money without giving it much thought. Doing so could put you and your money at risk, though. Before using a cash machine, check your surroundings, and the ATM’s card reader and PIN pad, for anything suspicious or unusual. If something seems amiss, it might be wise to find another machine.

5 > Upgrade to an EMV Card
Many card issuers are upping their security game by adding microprocessors to newly issued cards. Know as EMV chips, the devices create a unique code for each transaction with a given account, making it harder for hackers to steal your data or skim it from a card reader. Even if a hacker does get your account information, it’s virtually impossible to copy your card and its chip. EMV cards also require users to enter a PIN or give their signature to complete the purchase, adding a layer of security. (Note about EMV cards: USAgencies will be making the swith to EMV technology. Details coming soon!)

Despite taking every precaution, it’s possible your data could still be compromised. Use caution when doling out your account information, especially online or over the phone, and keep a close eye on your account and credit card statements. If you spot signs of a breach, alert your financial institution as soon as possible to help stop the fraud in its tracks.

Copyright 2015, NerdWallet