Tag Archives: tips

5 Travel Tips for Your Summer Vacation

It’s finally here. That magical time of year when the days are hot, the coffee is iced, and the nights are spent dreaming of upcoming vacations and travel adventures far, far away.

We know that dealing with cyber predators and unsafe travel conditions are not on your bucket list, and we also know that dealing with the fallout from identity theft is no fun.

To help keep you safe and informed, here are 5 essential travel tips for wherever your adventures take you :

  1. Make copies of important travel documents.

You should include your travel itinerary, health insurance cards, credit cards and passport. You should then give the copies to someone you trust in case of an emergency. It is also smart to email any important information about your trip to yourself before you leave so it is easily accessible if something gets lost, especially if you are traveling overseas.

  1. Use a credit card that has travel protection

Traveling can come with a lot of uncertainties, which is why it is always important to be prepared. Using a credit card that helps with emergency assistance, car rental insurance and lost luggage can bring you peace of mind while traveling. Our VISA Platinum Credit Card has all those additional benefits and more.  Connect with us before your next trip to get approved!

  1. Don’t use public Wi-Fi to access financial information or make online purchases.

It is very easy for hackers to steal information from public internet servers. Further, you should never leave your laptop or cell phone in a vulnerable position (i.e. at the breakfast table while you run to the bathroom, or beach chair while you take a dip); this might seem like common sense, but it is easy to let your guard down when you are on island time!

  1. Research, Research, Research.

It is important to learn the ins and outs of your destination and so some digging to find out what areas are safe and what areas you should avoid. A good place to start? Read hotel reviews online to see what neighborhoods and destinations other travelers recommend. Remember that if a place seems unsafe or makes you feel uncomfortable, you should leave right away. You can also download the State Department’s Smart Traveler app  and sign up for the State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which allows U.S. citizens who are traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.

5. Inform the credit unions of your travel plans

To keep your money safe, we automatically block transactions clearing from countries and merchants that have a high risk of fraud occurring. If you give us a call prior to your travels, we can ensure your cards work while you are away from home, giving you peace of mind.


Thinking about your next adventure? Let us help you cruise off this summer with loans for RVs, Boats, and more. Check out our Great Outdoor promotion happening now through June 30th! Connect with us by calling 503.275.0300 Option 2 to speak with one our loan specialists today. 

 

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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Tips to Avoid Fraud This Holiday Season

From our friends at NCUA

While the holidays can be a time of celebration, they can also unfortunately be a time of higher rates of fraud. Here’s a list of tips to help you avoid becoming a victim this holiday season:

Stay Protected Online

  • Do not respond to unsolicited spam email.
  • Understand the risks of using unsecured or public wireless networks. If it’s open to the public, it’s possible that your personal information or your computer could be compromised.
  • Be cautious of email claiming to contain pictures in attached files, as the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders. Scan the attachments for viruses if possible.
  • When shopping online look for the padlock. Secured websites will have an icon of a locked padlock that appears, typically in the status bar at the bottom of your web browser, or right next to the URL in the address bar, depending on the internet browser you use. Don’t enter your personal or credit card information into a website if that icon isn’t present.
  • Never put your credit card information in an email.
  • Do not click on links contained within an unsolicited email.
  • Always compare the link in the e-mail to the web address link you are directed to and determine if they match.
  • Log directly onto the official website for the business identified in the e-mail, instead of linking to it from an unsolicited e-mail.
  • Contact the actual business that supposedly sent the email to verify if the email is genuine.
  • If your members are asked to act quickly, or there is an emergency, it may be a scam. Fraudsters create a sense of urgency to get their victims to act quickly.
  • Verify any requests for personal information from any business or financial institution by contacting them directly using their main contact information.
  • If you see something, say something. Report possible cybercrime to the FBI through the Internet Crime Complaint Center. Go to https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx.

Package Delivery Scam

  • If you receive an email with the subject line reading “USPS Failed Delivery Notification,” or something similar, do not open it. The emails claim to be from the Postal Service and contain fraudulent information about an attempted or intercepted package delivery.
  • Clicking on the link activates a virus, which can steal personal information such as user names, passwords or financial account information. These emails look almost identical to official notifications from the real shippers by using legitimate-looking email addresses and even the official logos.
  • This scam is not limited to the USPS. Similar email and text scams are also circulating that appear to be from other shipping companies such as UPS and FedEx.

Using Public Wi-Fi

  • Using your laptop, tablet or smartphone at Wi-Fi hotspots in coffee shops, libraries, airports, hotels, universities and other public places is convenient, but often they’re not secure. If you connect to a Wi-Fi network, and send information through websites or mobile apps, it might be accessed by someone else. The bad guys are there too, shopping for your information.
  • One way scammers obtain your information is by putting out a Wi-Fi signal that looks just like a complimentary one. Choose the wrong Wi-Fi and the hacker now sits in the middle and steals your personal or financial information. When you use a Wi-Fi connection in a public place, it is better not to use your credit card.
  • To protect your information when using wireless hotspots, send information only to sites that are fully encrypted, and avoid using mobile apps that require personal or financial information.

Online Gift Card Scams

  • Gift cards purchased through online auction sites are often fraudulent or stolen. The safest way to purchase gift cards is directly from the merchant or retail store.

Stripped Gift Card Scams

  • You should also be careful when purchasing gift cards at retail stores, as well. Thieves can write down the code or use a device to scan the magnetic strip on the back of gift cards that are available on racks. Every few days, the thief will check the balance and redeem the card’s value online without the gift recipient’s knowledge.
  • When buying a pre-loaded card, always have the cashier scan the card to verify that the full amount is available.
  • Also, check to make sure that the packaging hasn’t been tampered with or damaged. This may be a sign that the gift card has been compromised, or replaced with a stripped gift card. If possible, register gift cards with the retailer for additional protection if it’s lost or stolen.

Charity Scams

  • The holidays are a time of giving. Before giving to a charity, take a look at two websites from the Federal Trade Commission on the warning signs of charity scams:
  • Also, the Internal Revenue Service has a search feature on its website that allows consumers to find legitimate, qualified charities to donate to. To learn more, visit http://go.usa.gov/cZrTF.

 


 

For additional info and resources on keeping your personal information safe, visit USACU.org/fraud

Indirect Lending: Know Before You Go

Have you ever heard the term “Indirect Lending”? If you’re shopping for a new car or truck, and heading to the dealer, it’s a good idea to understand exactly what indirect lending is, and how it can affect your purchase. Our Lending Supervisor, Callie Gibbs answers a couple of questions about this common dealer lending practice and gives some tips on what you may want to watch out for…

Q. What is Indirect Lending?
A. Indirect lending means that the dealer finds your financing for you. Your general application information is sent to several different credit unions for approval. This can mean several inquiries on your credit report, as well as your personal information in the hands of several institutions. The financial institution that ends up “buying” your loan then pays the dealer for that loan; generally, 2% or more of the loan amount.

Q. How does Indirect Lending differ from lending at USAgencies?
A. At USACU, we already know you. We will decision your loan request based on you, not just the numbers. Our loan officers can give you information about what to look for when shopping, the best rates available to you. We will also advise you on the amount to spend so that you don’t get in over your head and have buyer’s remorse. Your credit union doesn’t feel we should have to buy your loan; we want to earn your loan.

Q. What kinds of things should you watch out for with Indirect Lending?
A. The biggest concern with indirect lending is that the dealer is allowed to add on thousands in products. This can sometimes cause you to finance 130% or more of the value of the car.

Q. What’s better than Indirect Lending?
A. A USACU AutoCheck! With an AutoCheck, you’ll know how much you are approved for before you start shopping, so you won’t overspend, you’ll know the book value of the vehicle you’re looking for so you’ll be sure that you’re getting a good deal, and you’ll avoid sitting in a chair at the dealer for hours dealing with the “dealer finance guy” that your salesperson has to keep checking with. You just make the deal, complete and sign the AutoCheck, and drive off- it’s that easy! Basically, it will save you time and money… and who doesn’t want more of that?



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

 

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.)

 

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.