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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

 

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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Pre-Qualification vs. Pre-Approval

Pre-Qualification vs. Pre-Approval

You may have heard of these terms before, but maybe you don’t necessarily know the difference between the two, or for that matter, what either one of them really mean. Below is a short description of each and how both can benefit you as you make your way through the home buying process.

Pre-Qualification

Pre-Qualification is the process of determining how much money you will be eligible to borrow based on an initial interview to exchange essential financial information, including your income, savings and debts. A credit report is not needed.

By “pre-qualifying” you are not only made aware of the general amount of money you’ll be able to borrow, you will also learn about your current financial situation as it relates to purchasing a home. You will also be given tips on how to change or improve your financial status, if needed, to better meet your home purchasing goals. You’ll also learn about specific loan programs that you are qualified for and that will help you meet these goals.

Pre-Approval

Pre-Approval is the act of becoming conditionally approved for a specific home loan, prior to finding and making an offer for a home. The dollar amount submitted for approval is based upon your personal level of comfort, not to exceed an amount that is likely to be approved.

Documents that you must submit in order to obtain this service include*:

  1. Income: One month of pay stubs & two years of W2 forms.
  2. Assets: Previous two months’ worth of savings, checking and retirement account statements.
  3. Credit History: A credit report, which will be used for a mortgage transaction.

Once we receive the necessary documents, a completed loan application and all other required disclosures needed for a home loan can be produced. Typically, within 24 to 48 hours a “conditional loan approval” (commitment to make a loan) can be issued in the form of a letter that can be presented to real estate agents and sellers as evidence that you are ready and able to purchase a home.

Let’s Talk!

To find out what you can be pre-qualified and/or pre-approved for, USACU is here to help:

  • Questions? Contact Steven Raymond, our resident mortgage expert, via email (sraymond@usacu.org) or phone (503.275.0329). He has over 30 years of experience in the industry & loves to talk mortgage.
  • Ready to go? Apply for a mortgage online now.

 

*On a case by case basis more documentation may be needed to provide evidence of additional income, assets or debts.

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