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Credit Cards - March 30, 2013 by WWFCU

CreditCardsHere are some ways to responsibly choose and use a credit card.

Read the fine print. If you receive an offer for a pre-approved credit card or if someone says they’ll help you get a credit card, find out the details first. You need to know what interest rate you will be paying and for how long. Some credit cards offer low rates as “teasers” that are raised after a certain period of time or only apply to balances transferred from other cards. You also need to know about any annual fees, late charges or other fees, and whether there are grace periods for payment before interest is applied. If the terms of the offer aren’t provided or aren’t clear, look for a credit card from someone else.

Shop around. Interest rates and other terms vary widely. There are also different types of cards, such as secured cards that require a deposit to cover any charges that are made, cards that can also be used as telephone calling cards, cards that allow you to either charge something and pay later or deduct the charge from your checking account immediately, and cards that can only be used to charge merchandise from a catalog. Make sure you know what kind of card you’re being offered and what type of card meets your needs best.

Don’t pay fees up front to get a credit card. Legitimate credit card issuers don’t ask for money up front, unless you’re applying for a secured card. If you are applying for a secured card, make sure you understand how your deposit will be used. Don’t pay someone to help you get a credit card; if you have good enough credit, you can get one yourself, and if you have bad credit, no legitimate lender is likely to give you one.

Use your credit wisely. Many Americans are in debt because they have taken on more credit than they can handle or have not used credit responsibly. Don’t apply for more cards than you absolutely need, and don’t charge more than you can afford. To maintain a good credit rating, pay bills promptly. Avoid interest charges by choosing a card that offers a grace period and paying the entire balance due each month. If you can’t pay the full balance, choose a card with the lowest interest rate.

Get help if you feel you’re in over your head. Ask your credit union for assistance. For additional help, visit the National Foundation for Credit Counseling’s website.

This article was submitted by the National Fraud Information Center, a program of the National Consumers League that assists consumers with recognizing and filing complaints about telemarketing and Internet fraud. Submission of this article does not imply an endorsement or recommendation of Wayne Westland Federal Credit Union.

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Lions, Tigers, Bears, and Lenders? - March 22, 2013 by WWFCU

bigstock-Father-and-girl-signing-loan-c-24613052Let’s play a game. I’ll give you a word and you tell me what comes to mind. Ready?

“Predator.”

Did you think of a prehistoric animal with claws and stabbing teeth? Or, a stealthy cheetah prowling for gazelle in the grassy plains of the Serengeti? Perhaps a portly Siamese cat stalking a house sparrow?

How about a slick-talking and personable sales person who promises easy credit? These crafty bipedal predators engage in an act called predatory lending — the practice of deceiving unsuspecting consumers with marginal credit into taking high interest loans, usually against the equity in their homes.

The Pitch

If you listen to the radio or read your junk mail, you’re probably very familiar with this pitch: “Slash your monthly payments by combining all of your high interest credit cards into a home equity loan. You’ll write just one check each month, and you’ll be able to deduct the interest from your taxes.” Many homeowners successfully use the equity in their homes to pay down debt in part because they’re able to secure prime loans, conventional loans at reasonable interest rates. Borrowers who obtain loans with good interest rates typically have a Fair Isaac & Company (FICO) credit score, a three-digit number that represents credit worthiness, in the range of 700 to 850. (Recall the credit score scale ranges from 300 to 850.)

Individuals who have marginal credit, a FICO score below 450, often qualify for what are known as subprime loans. Fair subprime lending has enabled low to moderate-income borrowers with blemished credit histories to secure credit. But, because of this population’s propensity to default on loans, subprime lenders charge higher interest rates for their loans. According to the consumer advocate group Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), predatory lending practices—financing excessive fees, charging higher interest rates than a borrower’s credit history justifies, and prepayment penalties—occur most often in the subprime lending market.

Who is at risk for becoming a victim of predatory lenders? Low income, elderly and minority consumers who are anxious to have access to credit are at risk. Borrowers—particularly those who can’t speak English—who don’t understand the loan application process, are also at risk.

Predatory lending practices — a cursory look
As the subprime lending market has grown so has the incidence of unscrupulous lending practices. The following are examples of predatory practices that have stripped consumers of their wealth in the way of high-interest rates and exorbitant up-front fees, and if they can’t keep up their monthly payments, foreclosure.

Financing excessive fees into loans — Predatory lenders often charge up to eight percent in loan origination fees, compared to one to three percent assessed by other financial institutions.

Your right: If your lender wants to charge you more than three percent, find out why, and then consider applying for a loan at your credit union. In addition to offering fair loans at reasonable interest rates, these democratically controlled financial cooperatives counsel members on the differences and advantages of lending products and help them understand loan disclosures, rates, fees, and terms.

Charging higher interest rates than a consumer’s credit warrants
— Consumers who don’t know their credit scores, or don’t understand that good credit scores can mean an interest rate difference of two to three percentage points (thousands of dollars over the life of the loan) are vulnerable to this predatory lending practice.

Your right: Protect yourself by checking your credit history and score. You can access a multitude of credit score providers online. Most providers offer a range of services from a one-time check of your score to a one-year subscription, which will enable you to monitor all changes to your credit information. If you use more than one provider, you’ll likely discover you have different credit scores. This is because providers may apply competing mathematical formulas to the data held by the three major credit bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax and Experian) to determine your score.

Consolidating debt in a high interest loan without regard to the borrower’s ability to make the monthly payments — The motivation for some lenders, especially when there is a significant amount of equity built up in the home, is foreclosure on the house which then can be resold for profit.

Your right: Before you consider borrowing money against your home, consider seeking help from a legitimate non-profit credit counseling service such as GreenPath Debt Solutions. To locate an office near you, go to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling’s (NFCC) Web site and click on the Member Agency Locator link. You can also call (800) 388-2227 for 24-hour automated office listings.

Attaching prepayment penalties to a loan — According to ACORN, more than two-thirds of subprime loans come with prepayment penalties, which come due when the borrower pays off a loan early through refinancing or sale of the house. One particularly disturbing example of a prepayment penalty is when it’s combined with an adjustable rate loan. In this instance, a borrower pays a lower rate in the first couple of years of the loan, after which, the rate rises dramatically. Unable to make the monthly payments, the borrower is forced to refinance, and in doing so, must pay a prepayment penalty, often several thousand dollars.

Your right: Predatory lenders often fail to call the borrower’s attention to the prepayment penalty clause in the loan application. Before you sign the papers, ask a lawyer or a trusted friend to review the documents.

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Saving Money on Car Insurance - March 4, 2013 by WWFCU

rubber stamp with inscription INSURANCEHere are a few ways to save money on car insurance:

Shop around.

Prices vary from company to company, so it pays to shop around. Get at least three price quotes. You can call companies directly or access information on the Internet. Your state insurance department may also provide comparisons of prices charged by major insurers.

You buy insurance to protect you financially and provide peace of mind. It’s important to pick a company that is financially stable. Check the financial health of insurance companies with rating companies such as A.M. Best and Standard & Poor’s and consult consumer magazines.

Get quotes from different types of insurance companies. Some sell through their own agents. These agencies have the same name as the insurance company. Some sell through independent agents who offer policies from several insurance companies. Others do not use agents. They sell directly to consumers over the phone or via the Internet.

But don’t shop by price alone. You want a company that answers your questions and handles claims fairly and efficiently. Ask friends and relatives for their recommendations. Contact your state insurance department to find out whether they make available consumer complaint ratios by company.

Select an agent or company representative that takes the time to answer your questions. Remember, you’ll be dealing with this company if you have an accident or other emergency.

Before you buy a car, compare insurance costs.

Before you buy a new or used car, check into insurance costs. Your premium is based in part on the car’s sticker price, the cost to repair it, its overall safety record, and the likelihood of theft. Many insurers offer discounts for features that reduce the risk of injuries or theft. These include air bags, anti-lock brakes, daytime running lights, and anti-theft devices. Some states require insurers to give discounts for cars equipped with air bags or anti-lock brakes.

Cars that are favorite targets for thieves cost more to insure. Information that can help you decide what car to buy is available from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Ask for higher deductibles.

Deductibles represent the amount of money you pay before your insurance policy kicks in. By requesting higher deductibles, you can lower your costs substantially. For example, increasing your deductible from $200 to $500 could reduce your collision and comprehensive coverage cost by 15% to 30%. Going to a $1,000 deductible can save you 40% or more.

Reduce coverage on older cars.

Consider dropping collision and/or comprehensive coverages on older cars. It may not be cost effective to continue insuring cars worth less than 10 times the amount you would pay for coverage. Any claim payment you receive would not substantially exceed your premiums minus the deductible. Claims occur on average only once every 11 or 12 years. Auto dealers and banks can tell you the worth of cars. Or you can look it up online at Kelley Blue Book. Review your coverage at renewal time to make sure your insurance needs haven’t changed.

Buy your homeowner’s and auto coverage from the same insurer.

Many insurers will give you a discount if you buy two or more types of insurance from them. Also you may get a reduction if you have more than one vehicle insured with the same company. Some insurers reduce premiums for long-time customers. Shop around; you may save money buying from different insurance companies despite the multi-policy discount.

Take advantage of low-mileage discounts.

Some companies offer discounts to motorists who drive a lower than average number of miles per year. Low mileage discounts can also apply to drivers who carpool to work.

Ask about group insurance.

Some companies offer reductions to drivers who get insurance through a group plan from their employers, through professional, business and alumni groups or other associations. Ask your employer and groups or clubs though which you belong.

Seek out safe driver discounts.

Companies offer discounts to policyholders who have not had any accidents or moving violations for a number of years. You may also qualify for a cut if you have recently taken a defensive driving course.

Inquire about other discounts.

You may get a break on your insurance if you are over 50 or in some cases 55 and retired or if there is a young driver on the policy who is a good student, has taken a drivers education course or is at a college, generally at least 100 miles away.

When you comparison shop, inquire about discounts* for:

  • $500 deductible
  • $1,000 deductible
  • More than 1 car
  • No accidents in 3 years
  • No moving violations in 3 years
  • Drivers over 50-55 years of age
  • Driver training course
  • Defensive driving course
  • Anti-theft device
  • Low annual mileage
  • Air bag
  • Anti-lock brakes
  • Daytime running lights
  • Student drivers with good grades
  • Auto and homeowners coverage with the same company
  • College students away from home
  • Long-time customer
  • Other discounts

*The discounts listed may not be available in all states or from all insurance companies.

Don’t forget that the key to savings is not the discounts but the final price. A company that offers few discounts may still have a lower overall price.

Source: Insurance Information Institute

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Top 10 Ways to Prepare for Retirement - February 25, 2013 by WWFCU

Retirement1. Start saving, keep saving, and stick to your goals

If you are already saving, whether for retirement or another goal, keep going! You know that saving is a rewarding habit. If you’re not saving, it’s time to get started. Start small if you have to and try to increase the amount you save each month. The sooner you start saving, the more time your money has to grow Make saving for retirement a priority. Devise a plan, stick to it, and set goals. Remember, it’s never too early or too late to start saving.

2. Know your retirement needs

Retirement is expensive. Experts estimate that you will need about 70 percent of your preretirement income—lower earners, 90 percent or more—to maintain your standard of living when you stop working. Take charge of your financial future. The key to a secure retirement is to plan ahead.

3. Contribute to your employer’s retirement savings plan

If your employer offers a retirement savings plan, such as a 401(k) plan, sign up and contribute all you can. Your taxes will be lower, your company may kick in more, and automatic deductions make it easy. Over time, compound interest and tax deferrals make a big difference in the amount you will accumulate. Find out about your plan. For example, how much would you need to contribute to get the full employer contribution and how long would you need to stay in the plan to get that money.

4. Learn about your employer’s pension plan

If your employer has a traditional pension plan, check to see if you are covered by the plan and understand how it works. Ask for an individual benefit statement to see what your benefit is worth. Before you change jobs, find out what will happen to your pension benefit. Learn what benefits you may have from a previous employer. Find out if you will be entitled to benefits from your spouse’s plan.

5. Consider basic investment principles

How you save can be as important as how much you save. Inflation and the type of investments you make play important roles in how much you’ll have saved at retirement. Know how your savings or pension plan is invested. Learn about your plan’s investment options and ask questions. Put your savings in different types of investments. By diversifying this way, you are more likely to reduce risk and improve return. Your investment mix may change over time depending on a number of factors such as your age, goals, and financial circumstances. Financial security and knowledge go hand in hand.

6. Don’t touch your retirement savings

If you withdraw your retirement savings now, you’ll lose principal and interest and you may lose tax benefits or have to pay withdrawal penalties. If you change jobs, leave your savings invested in your current retirement plan, or roll them over to an IRA or your new employer’s plan.

7. Ask your employer to start a plan

If your employer doesn’t offer a retirement plan, suggest that it start one. Many retirement saving plan options are available. Your employer may be able to set up a simplified plan that can help both you and your employer.

8. Put money into an Individual Retirement Account

You can put up to $5,000 a year into an Individual Retirement Account (IRA); you can contribute even more if you are 50 or older. You can also start with much less. IRAs also provide tax advantages.

When you open an IRA, you have two options—a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA. The tax treatment of your contributions and withdrawals will depend on which option you select. Also, the after-tax value of your withdrawal will depend on inflation and the type of IRA you choose. IRAs can provide an easy way to save. You can set it up so that an amount is automatically deducted from your checking or savings account and deposited in the IRA.

9. Find out about your Social Security benefits

Social Security pays benefits that are on average equal to about 40 percent of what you earned before retirement. You may be able to estimate your benefit by using the retirement estimator on the Social Security Administration’s website. For more information, visit their website or call 1-800-772-1213.

10. Ask questions

While these tips are meant to point you in the right direction, you’ll need more information. Talk to your employer, your bank, your union, or a financial adviser. Ask questions and make sure you understand the answers. Get practical advice and act now.

Source: United States Department of Labor

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How to Budget - February 18, 2013 by WWFCU

Portrait of a mature couple planning their financial budgetYou can make your own budget worksheet using either a pen and paper or a computer spreadsheet program. Think of your budget in terms of two things: money and time. Money, of course, is divided into its own two categories: Income and Expenses.

Follow these steps to make your budget worksheet:

  1. List your income in a vertical column down the left side of the page. Think of all the sources of income (including paychecks and interest) that you receive. Also, consider how often this income becomes available to you. For example, are you paid weekly or every other week?
  2. List your expenses below your income in that same column. Begin with major expenses such as a car payment, car insurance, food (including school lunches), clothing, and entertainment. Include all expenses, whether you pay in the form of a check, cash, credit card, or the amount is deducted from your credit union account. Remember to include any finance charges, such as interest on your auto loan.
  3. Now, list the related timeframes in a row across the top of the page. For instance, does the expense or income occur weekly, per paycheck, monthly, quarterly, or yearly? Is the expense tax-deductible? If so, add a heading for this in your horizontal row. When you are finished you should have the beginning of a grid or chart. Use this as a worksheet to help you categorize and plan. When you first start using your budget worksheet, you might find that you change it often. That’s good! Your worksheet should be a working document.
  4. Now that you have a “skeleton” worksheet, add anticipated expenses. Are you planning to go to college or participate in a wedding (as either a bridesmaid or a groomsman)? All of these require that you spend a lot of money. (Hint: Anticipate that you will have to spend more than you’d prefer, and budget accordingly. It’s better to be prepared than shocked.) You can also consider anticipated sources of income, such as the yearly birthday check from your Aunt Mildred. Be careful, though; don’t spend the money before you have it.
  5. Don’t forget the “small stuff”! Do you buy soda pop or special coffee, eat lunch out, or buy snacks from the vending machine? If so, keep track of how often you do—and how much you spend. All of these purchases add up throughout the week, the month, and the year. So budget for these, or do without!

Remember: Use your budget as a tool to help you achieve your goals. Once you set up your categories and make it a point to record the appropriate dollar amounts, you’ll see how easy it is to continue recording your income and expenses.

The most difficult part is getting started. But once you have your plan in place, you’ll recognize the power of the information that you have at your fingertips!

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Double Your Refund with Turbo Tax - February 11, 2013 by WWFCU

Turbo_Tax

You don’t have to break the bank by visiting a tax professional. Try TurboTax now to get your taxes done right – and to enter the TurboTax Double My Refund Sweepstakes. You’ll get a chance to win one of:

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Don’t delay! Start for FREE at your credit union’s website by February 28 to be automatically entered to win!

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How to Protect Yourself from Credit Card Fraud - February 4, 2013 by WWFCU

Here are a few tips on how to avoid becoming the victim of credit card fraud:

  • CreditCardFraudPeriodically review your credit reports. There are three main credit bureaus. Order your credit report from each of them at least once a year. Request copies of your credit report from TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. You can also obtain a free copy of your credit report.
  • Properly discard documents. Cut up, shred, or otherwise destroy credit card statements, bank statements, pre-approved credit offers or any other documents that contain your personal information. Destroy credit card receipts, too.
  • Limit identification pieces. Carry only essential identification pieces in your purse, wallet, backpack, or car. Do not carry your Social Security card or your birth certificate with you unless absolutely necessary.
  • Limit the number of credit cards you carry. Try to only carry one or two.
  • Memorize your PIN and password numbers. Do not write them down.
  • Make and keep copies of account numbers in a secure place.
  • Guard your personal information. Don’t give out credit card or Social Security numbers to people you don’t know.
  • Do not have your Social Security number printed on your checks or driver’s license
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Selling Versus Tradein - January 24, 2013 by WWFCU

SellingCarSo you’ve decided to buy a new car. Congratulations! Now comes the decision of what to do with your old car. These steps can help you make the choice that’s right for you.

Research Your Car’s True Value
The first bit of research you’ll want to do is establish the current value of the vehicle you are going to sell or trade in. Kelly Blue Book is a good place to start. Many other Internet sites and buying guides are available to assist you in your research. Make sure the information you are looking at is current, as prices can vary greatly from year to year. Don’t forget that other factors, such as mileage, accident history, maintenance records, and general appearance, will factor into the amount a buyer is willing to pay. The sentimental value you place on your car may be just that. “Your baby” may not be as charming to others as you think.

Decide How Soon You Must Sell
Determining your car’s value will help you decide if it is worth the time and effort to sell it yourself. Do you need the money as a down payment before you can buy your new car? Selling on your own may take more time than you think. Making appointments with prospective buyers as well as keeping your car clean and attractive may not be worth the additional dollars you’ll gain from the sale. It can be tempting to trade in your old car for an immediate down payment on your new ride.

Determine What is Most Important to You—Cash or Convenience
Dealers use your trade-in to make money. You’ve already determined the fair market price for your vehicle, but the dealer is going to pay you less. You must decide what price you are willing to pay for convenience. For example, if you believe you can get $5,000 selling the car yourself, and a dealer will give you $3,000, is it worth the $2,000 difference for the immediate gratification of having the cash in hand? For some people, the answer is yes. The hassle of advertising, taking to strangers (and the potential danger of strangers coming to their house to look at the car), and the days or weeks of waiting for the car to sell is enough to convince most people to let the dealer make the profit. But for some, the additional moneymaking potential is worth the additional effort.

Preparing Your Car for Sale or Trade-In
Whether you trade or sell your car, there are few things you can do to increase the perceived value. Make sure the car is very clean and any obvious flaws, such as a cracked windshield, have been repaired. Provide a list of all maintenance records, such as major repairs or recall work, so the buyer will know the history of the car. If necessary, deodorize the interior to remove smoke, pet, or food odors.

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Map Out Your Finances - January 14, 2013 by WWFCU

MapFinancesThe details of our financial lives can be tricky, and without a clear road map it’s easy to feel lost. Changes in tax laws and the family structure offer potential complications in how we handle our money, so heed these tips as you make financial plans for the future.

Invest. If you have extra money after paying the bills and funding tax-deferred retirement plans to the max (and perhaps socking away a few dollars for your kids’ college tuition), think about investing what’s left. In the long run, you’re likely to find compounding returns far more rewarding.

Assess your financial relationship. As your financial relationship with your spouse matures, consider combining more of your assets, opening investment accounts for retirement purposes or your kids’ college costs, and diversifying your investment strategies. It doesn’t mean that you have to merge all of them (and remember that 401(k) and IRA plans can’t be) so you’ll still have some financial autonomy.

Save for college. The right strategy to save for your children’s higher education depends on several factors—your tax bracket, the investment flexibility that you require, and the amount you have to save. You may think your kids can apply for financial aid, but know that many colleges are taking education savings into account when calculating a family’s need for grants or loans. Explore 520 savings plans, Education IRAs, or taxable investment accounts.

Protect yourselves. There’s no such thing as total job security, so financial advisers recommend an emergency fund. While you may find it difficult to start a “just in case” fund, plan for one by knowing what your fixed expenses are, guessing how long you may be unemployed, and by starting to make regular deposits into a dedicated “lost job” account.

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Seven Key Points About Auto Financing - January 4, 2013 by WWFCU

AutoFinancingThe automobile is an essential part of American life. Even high school students, the ink barely wet on their drivers’ licenses, often expect to have a car at their disposal. Most of us would have a hard time getting to work, doing our shopping and leading our daily lives without a car.

The problem is the cost. For most people, a vehicle is the most expensive purchase they make except for a house. Therefore, financing a new or used car is a major transaction. However, there are seven simple steps to financing a car that you should keep in mind. Follow these steps when you’re planning to finance:

  1. Shop for your financing first. Don’t wait until you have a car picked out and the salesman is dangling keys in front of your face. You may make an impulsive decision that isn’t your best deal. Check around for financing before looking for a car. Credit unions are often the best deal for car loans, so be sure to contact your credit union for rates. Figure out what you can afford and stick to it. You won’t help yourself if you spend more than you can afford.
  2. Remember that there are three steps to the car buying process. You can win or lose on all three. The process includes a) buying your new car, b) selling your old car, and c) financing your new car. Look at each step separately and make your best deal on each.
  3. Any car you look at is not one-of-a-kind. There will always be another vehicle. Get your best deal from one dealer, and then take that to another dealer to see if there’s an even better deal for you.
  4. All things are negotiable. This includes price, features, financing, terms, trade in, and warranties. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, make counter offers, or even get up and walk out of the dealership.
  5. Although the differences can be small, there is a better time to cut a deal. At the end of the month, the dealership sales department is running up against its monthly quotas and the pressure to meet the goal intensifies. Sometimes, if the salesman or sales department hasn’t met the quota, they’ll be open to a better deal.
  6. Get your best deal in writing then go home and sleep on it. The deal will almost always still be there in the morning and your thoughts will be clearer.
  7. If you’re not having fun buying your new car, go home. This is not a time to succumb to high pressure sales pitches or your own tiredness. Buying a new vehicle should be fun.
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