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  • How to Plan and Finance Home Improvements

    Once the thrill of becoming a homeowner wears off, reality sets in. Your home is likely to be the biggest single investment you'll make in your lifetime. If you want to preserve its value over time, that means doing regular maintenance.

    Know what to expect

    Mortgage finance company Freddie Mac has a useful checklist to help you plan for regular upkeep, and you should also expect periodically to do larger home improvement projects like replacing the roof.

    Keep a budget

    Predicting maintenance costs is tricky, but some experts suggest setting an annual budget of 1% to 4% of your home's value for these expenses. Some homeowners divide that number by 12 to figure out how much they need to save each month to prepare for big maintenance bills when they crop up.

    Do it yourself

    Learning to do basic tasks such as landscaping, painting or fixing a toilet can save a lot of money over time. Some hardware stores and home improvement centers offer classes to boost your skills.

    Home equity financing

    Although you may be able to pay out of pocket for minor things such as gutter cleaning, perennials for the garden or a new kitchen faucet, you might not have the cash on hand for more costly repairs. It's only a matter of time before you get hit with something big, such as replacing the furnace, digging a new sewer line or repaving the driveway. If you want to finance repairs or improvements using equity you've built up in your home, here are some alternatives for tapping it.

    • Cash-out refinancing

    Some homeowners have paid for big repair bills by refinancing the mortgage and pulling money out of the property in the process. You may find a lower interest rate while you're at it, but beware of resetting the clock with a new 30-year loan late in your career. If possible, you want to pay off the mortgage before retirement.

    • Home equity line of credit

    Widely known as a HELOC, this provides a certain amount of credit secured by your home. Borrowers can withdraw funds when needed and pay interest only on the amount used. HELOCs generally have variable interest rates that can move up and down depending on market conditions. These are good for ongoing projects with unpredictable costs.

    • Home equity loan

    Unlike a HELOC, a home equity loan typically gives you a lump sum upfront at a fixed interest rate. The loan term generally ranges from 5 to 15 years, and the lender may require your equity in the house to be at least 20% of its market value. That means your primary mortgage plus your home equity loan can't add up to more than 80% of what the house would fetch in a sale.

    The upside of borrowing against home equity is that the interest on the debt can be tax deductible, like mortgage interest. The downsides are that it can be an expensive process, with fees for an appraisal and a title search, for instance, and it puts your home at risk of foreclosure if you fail to pay.

    Other types of financing

    Government lending programs may be available to help you pay for upkeep. The Federal Housing Administration insures Title 1 loans offered through banks and credit unions, for instance. Search the websites of your state and local government to see whether loans to homeowners facing pricey home improvement projects are offered.

    Try to save regularly so you'll be prepared for must-do home maintenance needs when they pop up. Diligent saving may let you take on optional renovations that make living in your house more enjoyable. But if your savings fall short, there are alternatives for financing home projects. However you choose to pay for it, take good care of your house so you can enjoy it for many years to come.

    © Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

    Tags: Home Improvement
  • What's a Good Use for a HELOC?

    When you take out a second mortgage, a name for a home equity line of credit, you're offering your house as collateral to secure another loan. The upside: You can gain access to up to 85% of your home's value, minus your current mortgage balance and adjusted based on your creditworthiness.

    The downside? If you can't make your payments, you could lose where you live.

    Because the stakes are high, you want to make sure you use a HELOC for the right reasons. Here are a few.

    Making home improvements

    Most people who take out a HELOC do so to make home improvements. Experts say you should only do this if the improvements you're considering will increase your home's value. This way, the money you're borrowing will be returned when you sell your house at a higher price.

    The National Association of Realtors' 2015 Remodeling Impact Report lists these six changes as the ones with the best return on investment:

    • Installing a new front door.
    • Installing new siding.
    • Upgrading your kitchen.
    • Adding on to your deck and patio.
    • Making an attic into a bedroom.
    • Installing a new garage door.

    These improvements can range from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars, but they don't change the footprint of your home and tend to be what future buyers look for.

    Supplementing an emergency fund

    Everyone should have an emergency fund to cover events such as unexpected car repairs and appliance breakdowns. Most people keep these in savings accounts, but you might consider a home equity line of credit as another source of cash. You only pay interest on the amount you borrow, and you could pay the loan off quickly to save money. Still, it makes more sense to have an emergency fund that's earning a little interest rather than one that charges you interest.

    Paying off high-interest debt

    Because the average interest rate on a HELOC is much lower than the average credit card interest rate, many people think about using a HELOC to pay off their credit cards. This is a great strategy if you're committed to never carrying a balance again. Otherwise, you're just adding another debt at a lower rate.

    Regardless of how you use a HELOC, remember that the interest rate is variable and may change each time you tap it. And you'll have to repay the entire loan by the end of the payment period set by the lender. On the upside, the interest you pay on a HELOC is tax deductible, like your mortgage interest. If you use a HELOC for the right reason, that's just one more benefit.

    © Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

    Tags: Home Improvement
  • Better Banks Kicks Off Annual Socktober

    Better Banks announces the start of its annual Socktober Sock Drive benefitting the children of Children’s Home Association of Illinois in Peoria. The Sock Drive is a month long community event collecting new socks in any size for both girls and boys, of all ages.

    Socks are the most needed and the least donated item of clothing. While many people donate clothing to shelters and other non-profit organizations, very few people donate socks. Additionally, many organizations don’t accept gently used socks, so the need continues to grow.

    The Socktober sock drive was started a few years ago by Better Banks as a way to give back to the community, as well as a way to help raise awareness of the need within our local communities. The Children’s Home provides services for more than 1,700 children and families each month. To be able to provide new, clean socks to every child takes assistance from the area communities. With that goal in mind, Better Banks will collect socks at every location all month long. Donations will be presented to the Children’s Home in November.

    “We continue to collect more socks every year, and we’re honored to be a part of such a worthwhile drive. The children really appreciate the simple gift of a pair of fresh, new socks,” said Mike Stratton, President of Better Banks. “Seeing their joy in receiving a pair of socks really helps to put things in perspective for me.”

     "It is a great honor to work with everyone at Better Banks. Better Banks is community-minded and what they do for the kids at Children's Home through the Socktober Sock Drive is proof of that," said Matt George, CEO of Children's Home.

    Better Banks strives to support local organizations which focus on community, education and youth. We contribute to the communities we serve through our time, talents and contributions and believe it is our responsibility to give back to the communities that trust us with their financial well-being.

    All Better Banks locations have collection boxes for new packages of socks. All sizes, colors and textures are welcome!

    About the Children’s Home of Peoria
    Children’s Home has been caring for the children in our community for 150 years. Operating from six locations in the Peoria area, our staffs of 400+ professionals are committed to community-based, family-focused programs that provide counseling, education and support to more than 1,700 children and families each month. Programs for children and youth include: residential care, group homes, foster care and adoption, supervised independent living, private school, crisis intervention, mental health assessment, homeless services, in-home counseling and family preservation. For more information on the Children’s Home, visit chail.org.

     

    Tags: News
  • How to Buy a New Car

    The number of decisions you have to make when buying a new car can be dizzying. And while many of them will depend on your individual needs and wants, there are some steps you should take no matter what to ensure you get the best deal.

    Assess your credit and financing options

    Unless you plan to pay cash, your credit will matter a great deal as you look for financing. Get your (free) credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com and look for any errors. If you want to know your credit score, you can buy it at myfico.com — but first look at your credit card's monthly statement, as some issuers include your score there.

    You can get financing through the dealer, but it's far from your only option. Inquire at your bank or credit union about its auto loans and ask to be preapproved. If you are, take the approval with you to the dealer. Consumer Reports offers some useful do's and don'ts at the dealership.

    If you are getting rid of an old car, you can sell it to someone or trade it in at the dealership, and put the proceeds toward a new car. Use the Kelley Blue Book to find estimates of your car's trade-in value and the price you can expect if you sell it. There are also a number of car-shopping apps you can check for competitive offers.

    Set a budget that makes sense

    Add up your preapproved loan, the value of your trade-in and any down payment you plan to make, then subtract about 10% for taxes and fees (rates vary by state). This will give you a good idea of what you can spend. If you want to go by how much you can afford to pay each month, use an affordability calculator to see where you stand.

    Buying the car isn't the last time you'll put money into it, of course. There's gas, maintenance and much more. At sites such as Edmunds.com, KBB.com and NADAguides.com, use a metric called “five-year cost to own” to get a more complete view of how much your chosen vehicle will cost you.

    Do your research

    Look up dealerships on customer-review sites like Yelp (filtering out the nonsense, of course) and on auto websites such as DealerRater.com (where the comments are moderated). Conduct research into your chosen make and model and options, too, so that you'll know when the dealer quotes a price that's just too much.

    When you're ready to get those quotes from dealers, shop around — from home. Edmunds.com recommends calling at least three dealerships that carry the car you want and asking for the Internet sales manager. The idea is this person deals with savvier customers and so is more likely to go lower. And play the offers off one another to really get the best deal.

    Hold your ground

    Like the grocery store stocks goodies in the checkout aisle, the dealer may offer you an extended warranty or service deal just before you start signing the paperwork. The goal is the same: to get a last little bit of money from you. Resist.

    © Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

    Tags: Auto Loans
  • 0% Auto Loan Might Not Be the Best Deal

    In seeking the best deal on your next car, you might've stumbled upon advertisements or offers to get a 0% interest auto loan. As great as this sounds, you may not save as much as you expect with this type of incentive.

    Since auto loans can come through either a dealer or a lender, such as a bank or credit union, it's important to note that a 0% interest loan generally, if not always, is obtained through a dealer. Automakers offer them to attract buyers to certain car models, especially ones that aren't selling well. Here are a few things to consider about 0% financing and why it might not be in your best interest to use it.

    You might be forfeiting a better deal

    Typically, you can't receive both reduced rate financing and a cash rebate when you buy a car, so you may have to choose one. Manufacturers' cash rebates can range from a couple hundred to a few thousand dollars. The well-known auto research website Edmunds found that the cost of incentives that automakers pay to attract customers was around $2,300 per car industrywide, which includes cash rebates and cost of reduced financing.

    While a 0% loan may sound appealing, a cash rebate might save you more money. If you buy a $20,000 car that has a $2,300 rebate, you are really paying $17,700 plus interest. If your interest rate for a five-year loan is 3%, a typical rate, you will pay a total of $1,383 in interest. That brings the cost of the car plus interest to $19,083, saving you $917 compared with what you'd pay with a 0% loan.

    You may want to check the auto loan rates at local lenders too, since you might be able to get a low rate and pick up a rebate when you negotiate with the dealer.

    Rate may not last as long as your loan

    Some car models may have 0% financing for a limited term, such as five years, which could be less than the length of your auto loan. In the third quarter of 2015, the average loan term for a new car was five years and seven months, and the term for used cars was five years and three months, according to Experian's State of the Automotive Finance Market report. These are the longest average terms calculated since the firm began collecting data in 2006.

    You may even receive a longer loan if you want lower monthly payments than you were offered initially. If your term is longer than the 0% financing deal, you generally pay interest on the remaining months or years.

    This offer can be limited

    A 0% rate might only be offered for a handful of models, especially newer cars, and less for used cars or older models. But even if this deal is available for the car you want, qualifying for it typically requires a high credit score. Check on the eligibility rules for getting this rate before stepping onto the dealer's lot if you can.

    As you sift through car prices and incentives, remember that trade-offs are part of the process when buying a car. Although a 0% interest rate may save you money in some cases, you might also be letting a better savings opportunity pass you by.

    © Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

    Tags: Auto Loans
  • Why You Should Get Preapproved for a Car Loan

    When shopping for a new car, many people overlook one important step: getting preapproved for an auto loan. It's a simple process that can make car-buying go more smoothly and save you money.

    Preapproval is a quick assessment of your ability to pay off a loan based on your credit history and current financial state. This is how it works: You visit a bank or credit union, in person or online, and provide proof of your identity — such as your driver's license or Social Security number — your household income, and perhaps your housing costs. The lender will likely run a credit check. Then you'll find out how much it would be willing to lend you and at what rate — sometimes on the spot.

    Here's why you should get preapproved.

    You can get a better interest rate

    If you haven't done your homework, your dealership might try to talk you into a loan at a not-so-great rate. But getting preapproved at a bank or credit union — or several of them — means you can assess the dealership's offer, and you don't have to accept it. Bringing your interest rate down just one or two percentage points can save you hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars over the life of your loan.

    You can set a true budget

    Once you're preapproved for a loan, you can plan your purchase. Use an auto loan calculator to factor in a down payment, the value of your trade-in — which you can find online — and your desired monthly payment. Add about 10% for sales tax and other fees. And don't forget about insurance and the other costs that come with owning a car.

    Adjust your dreams — and budget — accordingly. Then go shopping.

    You can better negotiate with the dealer

    Letting your dealer know that you're preapproved shows that you're a ready-to-buy customer who can walk away at any time. That curtails a lot of the early verbal dancing. Just announce you have your preapproval and will only talk price. Try something like this: “I'm looking for this model, in a deep blue with black leather interior and rear parking sensors. I just stopped in quickly to find out the price I would pay after you take my car as a trade-in.” If the salesman doesn't listen, say, "I just want to hear that one number." It's not rude to be assertive in this situation.

    And as you're signing all the papers in the finance office, if a salesperson tries tempting you with an extended warranty or other last-minute add-ons, you can use your preapproval to stick to your price.

    When you're preapproved for a loan, you have the competitive edge in car-buying. You can say no until they say yes.

    © Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

    Tags: Auto Loans
  • 3 Reasons You Need an Automatic Savings Plan

    “Save money” is a timeless bit of personal finance advice, but actually doing it can be another story. If you need a way to boost your savings and stay consistent with your goals, setting up an automatic funds transfer can help.

    There are two ways you might do this. You can set up a transfer from your checking to a savings or investment account at your financial institution. Another method can be having a portion of your paycheck directed into a retirement or other account by your employer, if possible. Here’s a closer look into why saving this way might help you reach your goals.

    1. NO EFFORT NEEDED AFTER SETUP

    Once you start automatic transfers, which might be made every week or two, you don’t have to give it another thought. This can be helpful if you tend to second-guess your saving decisions, such as whether you actually need to save 5% or 10% of your income this month. This way you can avoid doubting yourself and keep the savings flowing.

    2. BUILDING THE HABIT OF SPENDING LESS THAN YOU MAKE

    Automating the process lets your savings grow unattended. If you schedule the transfer around the time that your earnings arrive, the money for savings never really mixes with your spending funds. Over time, you may get used to living on that smaller amount too, making it easier to let your savings build.

    3. KEEPING ACCOUNTS SEPARATE

    Transferring funds this way can help you limit your spending based on what’s available in your checking account. Plus, if you want to tackle multiple savings goals at once, such as putting away funds for a vacation, retirement and emergencies, these transfers can help you contribute to them consistently. You can stay organized and not have to worry about forgetting a transfer one week or losing track of your goals.

    For these reasons, using automatic transfers can empower you to save without investing much time or energy. Think about it: You can achieve a goal simply by sitting back and letting your money grow.

    © Copyright 2019 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

    Tags: Saving
  • Strong Passwords Are Your First Line of Protection in a Cyber Attack

    It seems like every few weeks we hear of another data breach occurrence. In fact, in the first half of 2019 data breaches resulting in exposed records is up by 54% over 2018, according to USA Today. More than 3,800 data breaches were reported in the first six months of this year, and just eight of those exposed more than 3.2 billion records, nearly 80% of all records exposed so far in 2019.

    As a bank we are continually working to make sure we have the technology in place to keep your data safe. After an unprecedented number of data breaches the past few years, one thing remains clear: People need stronger passwords. The top two most popular passwords – “123456” and “password.” 

    How to Create Strong Passwords and Protect Your Accounts

    The most important takeaway with data breaches is that it’s important that you take every step possible to protect yourself. And your first step should be to create strong passwords. Below are the basic steps to follow when creating new passwords.

    1. Make your passwords complex. 

    a. Don’t use easy to guess passwords such as ‘password’, ‘123456’, any portion of your name or your friends’ and family members’ names.
    b. Do not use words in the dictionary or your username or a combination of adjacent keys on the keyboard such as qwert1.
    c. Use a mix of characters, including upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols.

    2. Easy to remember passwords are not passwords at all but passphrases. Experts suggest creating passphrases of at least 12 characters. Complexity is nice but length is vital. For example, use a phrase from a favorite song, book or TV show and mix in upper/lower case with numbers and symbols. (i.e. Wr1teASymph0ny!)

    3. Be random. Avoid using easily obtained information like your birthday, Social Security number or phone number. As a general rule, the easier a password is to remember, the easier it is to crack.

    4. Don’t use the same password for multiple sites. If a hacker gets one password, he or she will be able to access multiple accounts.

    Tags: Financial Literacy
  • Card Data Breaches

    Fraud comes in many forms. A card data breach is one form that can have a large impact on consumers, banks and credit card companies. Card data breaches occur when credit or debit card information is stolen by cyber thieves who have accessed card payment information without authorization. The purpose of stealing credit and debit card information is to use the card numbers to make unauthorized purchases. 

    If you’re ever the victim or target of credit or debit card theft or fraud, catching it fast and reporting it to your bank or card issuer is key to resolving the situation.

    Closely monitor your accounts daily or weekly with online banking.  Review your monthly bank statements and credit card bills. Look for any unauthorized transactions, large and small. It’s easy to spot large unauthorized transactions but oftentimes small transactions can be signs of fraud.  It’s important to be on the lookout and report unauthorized transactions immediately, no matter how small. 

    Periodically review your credit reports for warning signs of fraudulent activity. You are entitled to at least one free credit report every 12 months from each of the nation’s three major credit bureaus. To maximize your protection against fraud, some experts recommend getting one free report every four months instead of all three at the same time. To request your free report, go to www.AnnualCreditReport.com or call toll-free 1-877-322-8228.

    Pay attention to notices from retailers, credit card companies or your bank about a security breach. In the event of a large-scale breach, you may receive notice that your credit/debit card is being replaced with one that has a new card number.

    Be on guard against scams offering "help" after a data breach. Be very careful about responding to an unsolicited e-mail promoting credit monitoring services. Many of these offers are fraudulent. If you're interested in credit monitoring and it's not being offered for free by your retailer or bank, do your own independent research to find a reputable service.

    Staying vigilant and proactive can help protect your money!

    Tags: Financial Literacy
  • Financial Literacy for Kids

    No matter how enthusiastic you are, trying to formally teach finance to kids is a tall order that is likely to make their eyes glaze over. Hold their attention by keeping money lessons relevant, age-appropriate and a bit playful.

    First finances

    Preschoolers can grasp that money is exchanged for stuff. Teach them the names of coins, and as their counting ability develops, explain their values. Playing “store” lets them gain skills as they “buy,” “sell” and even “price” household items.

    Begin giving your children a small allowance so they can experience money in the real world, and appoint them as valuable “assistants” on your shopping trips. They'll feel important while clipping coupons and helping you find items on the shelves.

    Grade-school growth

    Early grade school kids can understand goals, saving and budgeting. Have them create and decorate wish lists and give them four containers for allowance labeled “spending,” “saving,” “investing” and “giving.” The spending jar is for inexpensive things kids want, such as candy or stickers. The savings jar provides a place to save for wish-list items, while the investing jar builds overall savings. The giving jar can encourage compassion as kids contribute to charities that are meaningful to them, or save to buy presents for family members.

    Bring kids along when you visit a branch of a financial institution, explaining that the institutions keep your money safe and even pay you for letting it rest there. Make sure they understand the automated teller machine doesn't spew free money and only releases cash you've already put in your account. By the later grade-school years, kids should graduate to their own savings accounts. Look for those with no fees and full parental access.

    Middle-school money

    Middle schoolers are ready to be included in appropriate family financial discussions about basic living expenses and savings goals. Wish lists can be swapped for goal charts, and you may want to offer to match your children's savings as an incentive to help them make a special purchase.

    Most kids this age enjoy the experience of running a garage sale where they can set prices, make change and bargain with customers. They'll have fun earning extra cash while you clear out space at home.

    Teen finances

    In the teen years, introduce savings certificates, bonds and securities as investments. You may even want to give your teens a small amount of money and let them choose how to invest for a short-term or long-term goal. Encourage teens to work part-time and help them open a student checking account that has a debit card, mobile access and low or no minimum balance or maintenance fees. Consider downloading a mobile financial app to help them track spending and savings. When tax time comes, let them fill out their own return with your supervision and guidance.

    No matter what the age, odds are kids would still rather play computer games than listen to you discuss money. Rather than get discouraged, introduce some fun financial apps and games. The experience kids gain through your efforts and a little help from technology will pave the way for a lifetime of financial savvy and success.

    © Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

    Tags: Financial Literacy
  • How Much Should You Have for a Car Down Payment?

    “No money down!” These words are nearly impossible to ignore when you're shopping for a car. What could be sweeter than not making a down payment? Believe it or not, paying 20% upfront.

    Here are a few good reasons to put down 20% on a car:

    You might receive a lower interest rate

    Making a sizable down payment means you're borrowing less. It also signals to lenders that you're a saver and probably a lower risk as a borrower. That means lenders are more likely to offer you a lower interest rate.

    You can counterbalance a low credit score

    If your score is below, say, 670, you might have a hard time getting financing. But a down payment of 15% or more can help bolster your credentials if you're looking for a loan at a credit union or a bank, according to car-buying website Edmunds.com.

    You'll qualify for lower monthly payments

    Putting more down upfront means paying less every month after, not to mention paying less in interest over the life of the loan.

    You'll build equity

    The value of a new car decreases in a hurry — typically 20% within the first year. In other words, if you put nothing down, you owe more than the vehicle is worth the instant you drive it off the lot. This is called being “upside down” on your loan.

    Being upside down can have real consequences. For example, if your vehicle is totaled, the insurance company will only pay its value before the crash. Your loan balance won't figure in its calculations. Then you'll need to make payments on a car you no longer have.

    A big down payment negates the first year of depreciation, which is even more important now that 72-month loans are becoming more common. Since the average car owner keeps a new vehicle for about 78 months, building equity early minimizes the likelihood you'll be shopping for a replacement while you still owe more on your current car than it's worth in the marketplace.

    Of course, coming up with several thousand dollars for a down payment isn't always easy. A trade-in and some savings may be able to get the job done. And if 20% isn't feasible, make the largest down payment you can afford, whether it's 15% or 10% — which is actually closer to the national average. Remember that every dollar you pay upfront cuts your monthly payment and saves you on interest.

    © Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

    Tags: Auto Loans
  • Financial Steps to Take Before Buying a Car

    Think about the effort it takes to search for the right new car and to negotiate the lowest price.

    Unless you plan to pay cash in full, the third leg of the stool is finding the best possible financing. Because loans typically come in 12-month increments, we're talking about a decision that will affect your household budget a minimum of two years and probably more like five or six.

    Here are a few things to consider while looking for the best financing option:

    Assess your credit

    Your credit score is likely the single biggest factor a lender will consider in determining what interest rate to offer you. Your score is based primarily on your credit reports, which you can get for free by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com.

    Check the reports for errors and take action to dispute any that you find, because a higher credit score usually leads to a lower interest rate on a loan.

    Get preapproved for a loan

    Borrowing options usually boil down to working with a financial institution or with the dealership. Too many people assume the latter is their only option. But you can find a loan at banks or credit unions as well.

    For customers with excellent credit, dealerships sometimes offer low- or even no-interest rates. On the other hand, dealers' rates can be markedly worse than those available elsewhere. Among financial institutions, credit unions typically offer better terms than banks.

    If you go through a bank or credit union, ask for a preapproval letter. Walking into the dealership with that in hand gives you more bargaining power to negotiate a better price.

    Decide what to do with your old car

    If you have a vehicle already, trading it in may be enough to cover a down payment or at least serve as a credit against the cost of your new ride. Sites such as Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds can help you appraise the trade-in value.

    The dealer may well offer less — sometimes substantially less — than you could get by selling your old car privately. The tradeoff is you'll have the inconvenience and uncertainty of dealing with strangers.

    Figure out how much you can afford

    Take a look at your financial situation to determine how much vehicle you can afford. What other living expenses, such as mortgage or rent, utilities and other recurring payments already have a claim on your income?

    When calculating costs, you might also check with your insurance agent about rates. Why? Because in addition to your driving record, insurance rates can vary depending on a vehicle's maintenance costs as well as the history of claims tied to your specific make and model.

    Buying a new car is a major financial commitment, typically second only to purchasing a home. Taking time to figure out how much car you can afford and finding the smartest financing are well worth the effort.

     

    © Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

    Tags: Auto Loans
  • Landscape Entry Prevents ATM Theft and Increases Debit Card Safety and Security

    It’s no longer enough to take measures to protect your physical safety and your cash after a transaction at the ATM – now you must be aware of cameras and skimming devices that secretly record (steal) your bank account numbers and PIN numbers.

    ATM skimming is a $2 billion problem globally and although skimmers are not a new problem, the technology that powers skimmers continues to improve. Previous incarnations were easy to spot, but the newer versions are all but invisible. And not only are the skimmers getting harder to spot — they are becoming easier to access remotely, thanks to built-in Bluetooth capacity.

    With these skimmers, comes an increased need for security and personal caution. This includes protecting your ATM card number, Debit Card number, Personal Identification Number (PIN), and cash, and being aware of the condition of the machine and your surroundings.

    At the same time, ATM manufacturers are developing new solutions to counter the threat. The new Better Banks ATM machines, developed by Diebold Nixdorf, are designed so you insert your card lengthwise instead of widthwise.

    By changing the direction of the card and how the magnetic strip is read, static skimming devices are left useless. These new machines are actually the safest ATMs available. Once the card is inside the machine, the chip on the card is used to complete the transaction. If the card does not have a chip, a magnetic reader runs across the mag strip, as if you swiped your card. This process allows the ATM to retrieve the data it normally would without the risk of an external skimming device stealing the information.

    ATMs remain the primary, most convenient and most reliable way to retrieve cash. However, with a few additional security measures, you can easily avoid skimmers and other security risks.

    Here are some other tips for safer transactions at the ATM:

    • Use your Better Banks ATM whenever possible to utilize the landscape card reader. 
    • Check your bank statements regularly. Report any unauthorized activity to your bank immediately.
    • Look for signs that the card reader at the gas pump may have been altered. Always check if the gas pump security tape has been altered in any way.
    • Wiggle the card reader, if it moves at all you should use a different machine. Report the machine to the store and notify the police.
    • Cover your pin number when entering it. It may seem old fashioned, but criminals will have a harder time accessing your bank account without the pin and often still use cameras aimed at the keypad.

    The most important safety and security measure you can take is to form a relationship with your bank. The better your bank knows you, the more likely they are to notice suspicious activity. 

    Our Branch Managers are available to answer any additional questions you may have regarding our new ATMs and debit card security.
     

    Tags: Banking
  • Brad Wallin Memorial Tournament

    During the month of May, Better Banks will be collecting cash donations at all branches for the Brad Wallin Memorial Baseball Tournament. The tournament is a fundraiser for St. Jude started by Brad’s parents in his memory. Brad died in 2003 at the age of 10 after a courageous fight with a rare form of bone cancer that eventually metastasized in his lungs, killing him within a year of his original diagnosis. Brad loved baseball and after his death, his parents organized the Brad Wallin Memorial Tournament. The tournament officially became affiliated with St. Jude in 2008, and since that time they’ve donated more than $734,000 to St. Jude Kids. 

    The tournament takes place May 29 through June 2nd – at just about every ball field in the greater Peoria area. Teams come from Springfield, Champaign, Kewanee, Dixon, Astoria and every town in between. Last year 338 teams competed in the tournament.  

    For every donation received of $5 or more, Better Banks will give the donor a commemorative squishy baseball. All funds collected will be given to St. Jude, on behalf of the Brad Wallin Memorial Tournament, after the 2019 tournament.

    Better Banks is proud to support such a meaningful event, for one of our local families. Please stop by any of our branch locations to make your donation soon.
     

    Tags: News
  • Time Is Running Out – File Your Taxes Now!

    More than half of all Americans have no savings to help them cope with even small emergencies. Yet more than 100 million taxpayers get refunds from the IRS each year. For many individuals and families, that tax refund is the largest check that they will receive all year, the perfect windfall to start or grow an emergency fund.

    Make Your Tax Refund Work for You!
    Every year, the middle of April marks the end of the federal tax return filing season. For many Americans, that can mean seemingly endless forms, paystubs and other paperwork. However, tax time can also be a unique opportunity to save for your future! You can maximize tax time in three easy ways and have your tax refund work for you.

    • Put your refund into a saving account 
      For people claiming some of the unique tax credits that benefit hardworking families around the country like the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, their tax refund may be the largest sum of money received the entire year. By opening a savings account, you can deposit a portion or all of your refund and let the amount grow over time. Luckily, you can do this using the IRS Form 8888, which will divide your refund over multiple accounts.
    • Put your refund into a CD 
      Certificates of Deposits allow you to easily lock in your interest rate and terms to meet your needs! CDs give you the security of a fixed rate, on your terms. Stop by one of our Better Banks branches and speak with the Branch Manager or Customer Service Representative to get started.
    • Get your taxes prepared for free 
      If you make less than $54,000 a year, you can get your taxes prepared at no-cost by IRS-certified volunteers in your local community! The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program has served millions of Americans for more than 45 years. If you qualify, you can find your local VITA program here and gain access to expert information to help demystify the tax code and assistance so you can prepare your taxes.

    These three steps are only a small sample of how you can leverage this annual process! Tax time can be confusing but you can maximize your tax return to build for a more sustainable future. Don’t delay and be sure to start saving for your future today!

    Tags: Taxes
  • Where You Choose to Bank Matters

    Community banks make our community better, stronger


    Where you choose to bank matters. Consumers have the power to make change happen at the community level by aligning with their community bank and putting their money to work in the neighborhood that they call home. 

    Your choice of bank is your vote on where your money goes. When you deposit funds in your community bank, that money is redistributed back into the community in the form of loans to residents and entrepreneurs. 

    From local farms to small businesses, banking locally with a community bank connects you to your community and your neighbors and gives everyone a stake in its financial success. Here’s how: 

    • Community banks respect the communities they serve by doing right by their customers and community. Community banks and local communities have symbiotic relationships—one cannot thrive without the other. 
    • Community banks are relationship lenders. They know their customers and understand their financial needs, unlike larger institutions that take a transaction-based approach to banking.
    • Community banks understand and celebrate local economies. As small businesses themselves, community banks are an unequivocal resource for entrepreneurs looking to launch a local small business. A recent study found that small businesses that apply for loans with community banks are the most successful and most satisfied.
    • Community banks give back. Serving local communities is second nature to community banks.

    As a local community bank, we see the positive power of community banking play out every day. At Better Banks, we have the privilege of serving our local community residents and their families by making loans that help them buy a home, pay for a vehicle, or send a child to college—whatever it is, we’re there and happy to lend a hand. We also have the honor of serving many of our town’s small businesses through loans to help them get started, grow and succeed.

    We’ve also served many of the local farms and agricultural enterprises that have been part of our community for generations. And we’re working with the next generation of entrepreneurs to help launch their exciting ideas and bring our community into the future. This is local money at work—a symbiotic relationship between bank and community that makes sense. 

    Making our community better and stronger is something that we all have a stake in!

    Tags: News
  • 6 Fun Ways to Save as a Family

    Meeting financial goals as a family can be challenging. But inspiring your family to help and contribute to a financial goal doesn’t have to be a painful process, especially when the result is an exciting family vacation, a new family car, or college savings. In the spirit of America Saves Week, I’ll share some ideas on how to save as a family for all those items and bucket-list experiences.

    1. Gamify It!

    In my family, we often make a game of who contributes to a joint family pot for that month’s fun activity. A game of monopoly can turn into a real contest, as anyone who loses is asked to contribute a small amount to that month or week’s activity of choice (such as a meal out, or family movie). Of course, contributions should be proportional to earnings – teens might contribute $5 from their part-time job or allowance, while adults would be expected to contribute much more. Still, the spirit of the game is focused on sharing and enjoying together – and because everyone has a stake, we enjoy it all so much more.

    1. Making Money Can Be Fun

    Every year around the holidays, my entire extended family likes to take a vacation somewhere warm, so we start planning and saving a year in advance. By each contributing to the holiday vacation fund, our money goes much farther, and we’re often able to visit really cool places we might’ve not otherwise afforded. Of course, if we can easily afford to contribute our share, we do so, but when money is tight, we find fun ways to raise cash for our share of the contributions. Last year, for example, some of my cousins hosted a bake sale. Others sold items they’d knitted, art they’d produced, and so forth. All of the proceeds went straight into the family vacation fund.

    1. Sell, Sell, Sell!

    A family garage sale can be an enjoyable and rewarding way to raise extra cash for shared activities or purchases. If your family wants a new flat-screen TV, game console, or other piece of technology or furniture, why not start by selling what you already have and don’t need? A traditional garage sale is one good way to raise cash, as is selling unused items online (this tends to be the better option for selling electronics and gadgets).

    1. Match It!

    Often, children’s only way to save is to use their holiday or birthday gift money. It can be challenging for kids to save money they so badly want to spend and enjoy immediately, so it’s important to offer incentives for doing so. One idea is to match dollar for dollar every bit of money they save from their gifts. That ensures kids get the immediate gratification of knowing their saved gift money is being doubled, but also enables them to feel empowered by having chosen to save and contribute to family goals.

    1. The Envelope Method

    When saving for multiple goals, the envelope method is an excellent way of keeping all the monies separate for their intended uses. Simply mark each envelope with a stated goal, and contribute regularly to each until the goal amount is met. For small children, it can be rewarding to contribute to smaller family goals, such as ice cream or a movie rental. A $10 or $15 goal can mean a $1 or $2 monthly contribution from their allowance. This helps children learn the value of saving, and builds confidence in their ability to do so.

    1. Your Credit Union Can Help

    Your local credit union can be an excellent resource for helping your family save together. From traditional savings accounts or CDs to holiday savings accounts, your credit union can help you select a financial product that can help your family in reaching its shared goals faster. For larger goals, in particular, a shared family account can be an excellent resource for keeping your family on track to realizing your financial wishes.

    Happy saving!

    By Janet Alvarez, WiseBread.com Janet Alvarez is the news anchor for WHYY/NPR and the Executive Editor of Wise Bread, an award-winning publication focused on promoting financial literacy

    Tags: Saving
  • Marrying Finances

    Getting Hitched Doesn't Need to Mean Marrying Finances

    Marriage generally implies that two homes and lives become one. Should it also involve a complete merging of earnings, assets and expenses? With money arguments being one of the leading causes of failed marriages, combining finances can be scary. For some couples it's the right approach, but there are several other options.

    The traditional approach

    Just a few generations ago, one spouse was generally the breadwinner who paid all the bills. Although today most marriages involve two people who work, the traditional approach isn't entirely obsolete. It can be effective when one partner is a stay at home parent or full-time student, or one spouse earns much more than the other. It's also appropriate for couples choosing to bank one income to save for shared goals, such as a down payment for a home. Single breadwinner couples may merge assets or maintain separate accounts.

    This type of arrangement works best when both partners have similar financial styles so that no one ends up feeling like a child having to ask for spending money or resenting the other for spending too much.

    The share-everything approach

    With this option, couples completely merge financial assets and responsibilities. All investments and debts are in both names and bills are typically paid from one joint account. Sharing everything works particularly well for couples that enter marriage with similar incomes and limited assets. As with the traditional approach, it's vital that spouses have compatible styles to avoid feelings of resentment or deprivation.

    The four-accounts approach

    Sharing is beautiful but sometimes it's also nice to have a little something of your own. With this arrangement, both partners contribute equally to a joint checking account used to handle household expenses and joint savings to reach shared goals. Their remaining income is deposited to individual accounts to be saved or spent at each partner's discretion. This approach makes sense for couples with comparable incomes and debts, or when one partner is much more frugal than the other, since it lets both manage money as they see fit without straining the relationship. In cases where one spouse earns substantially more than the other, couples may want to contribute a percentage of their income as opposed to a fixed monthly amount to the joint accounts.

    The what's-mine-is-mine approach

    Some couples may simply be more comfortable maintaining totally separate assets and liabilities. With this approach responsibility for household expenses may be split equally, divided according to ability to pay, or each spouse may pick which bills to cover. Keeping finances separate may make sense if one partner has a much larger income, net worth or debt than the other. When entering into marriage with vastly different financial positions, it's also a good idea to consider a prenuptial agreement, whether or not separate or joint accounts are maintained.

    Which way is best?

    Whether and how completely to merge finances is ultimately a matter of individual style. With honest communication and trust, any of these vastly different approaches can work, giving those who choose what feels right a good chance at avoiding the bitter money conflicts that plague so many married couples.

    © Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

    Tags: Life Events
  • Detecting ATM Card Skimmers

    Card Skimming


    Thieves are always looking for new ways to steal your information and although Card Skimming is not a new practice it is on the rise. Card skimming is the illegal collection of personal and account information from the magnetic strip on a debit or credit card.

    How does skimming happen?
    The most common method for card skimming is to add a “skimmer” over the top of a card reader slot on an ATM or at a gas pump. The skimmer typically looks identical to the card reader making it hard to identify. The skimmer will record and store debit/credit card information, the thieves will then use the information recorded to create counterfeit cards. 

    How to detect a skimmer?
    Before inserting your card into an ATM or at the gas pump, check the card reader. Look at the machine for sign of tampering, touch the card reader and move it around to see if it comes loose or off. If the machine appears to have a skimmer, do not use it and report it to the business and local police immediately.  

    Ways to monitor and detect fraud?
    It is very important to monitor your accounts regularly for unauthorized transactions and immediately report any potential fraud. Sign up for debit card alerts through BOLT$, as well as online and mobile banking.
     

    Tags: Banking
  • Equifax Data Breach

    On September 7, 2017, Equifax, one of the three major consumer credit reporting agencies, announced hackers had gained access to company data and personal information of approximately 143 million Americans has been compromised. The information includes Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and possibly driver’s license numbers. In addition, over 200,000 credit card numbers were accessed.

    Equifax, stated the hackers gained access to certain files in the company’s system between mid-May to July of this year. Equifax learned of the breach on July 29, 2017.

    We encourage everyone to take precautions in case you are one of the 143 million Americans who will be impacted by this breach. To find out if you are potentially impacted, please visit Equifax’s website: https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/

    In light of this breach or any breach, the Federal Trade Commission recommends to:

    • Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — for free — by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com. Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft. Visit www.IdentityTheft.gov to find out what to do.

    • Consider placing a credit freeze on your files. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. Keep in mind that a credit freeze won’t prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts.

    • Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize and if available, set up security alerts.

    • If you decide against a credit freeze, consider placing a fraud alert on your files. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you. https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs#place.

    • File your taxes early — as soon as you have the tax information you need, before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. Respond right away to letters from the IRS.

    Tags: News
  • The Tax Benefits of Owning a Home

    From building equity to giving you a chance to settle down and plant roots, homeownership comes with potential benefits that renting simply doesn't offer. Among them are several tax advantages worth knowing about.
    Here's a quick look at how to make the most of those tax deductions.

    Deducting mortgage interest

    Unless you recently won the lottery, chances are good that you took out a mortgage to pay for your home. If that's the case, then you already know that this type of loan is a big commitment that often spans up to 30 years. But you may be able to deduct the interest you pay on a mortgage that doesn't exceed $1 million. That limit shrinks to $500,000 if you're married but filing taxes separately from your spouse.

    As tax season approaches, your lender will send you a Form 1098, which states how much mortgage interest you've paid in the past year. Once you know that amount, you'll have to itemize your deduction using Form 1040's Schedule A. The amount of money you'll save depends on your taxable income. Generally speaking, the higher your earnings, the more money you can save.

    Property taxes also qualify for deductions

    Homeowners can also reduce their taxable income by deducting their property taxes. Your lender has probably set you up with an escrow account, which is used to pay for things such as homeowners insurance and property taxes. To figure out how much money to deduct, take a look at the escrow statement to see how much you paid in taxes. You'll generally be able to cut your taxable income by that amount.

    Other deductions worth noting

    Deducting mortgage interest and property taxes are the two biggest benefits when it comes to taxes. However, if you've taken out a home equity loan or line of credit, you may be able to deduct the interest up to $100,000, or $50,000 if you're married but filing separately. If you made upgrades to your home to curb energy use or related to medical care, those costs can also be deducted. That includes additions such as ramps, handrails and widened hallways.

    The takeaway

    Because financing and maintaining a house or apartment can put a real dent in your wallet, it's a good idea to take advantage of all the help you can get. Maximizing the tax breaks that homeowners qualify for is a great starting point. To do so, be sure to keep an eye out for Form 1098, as well as the escrow statement. Although filling out and filing these documents may take some getting used to, you'll be a veteran in no time, and it may be well worth the effort.

     

    © Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

    Tags: Mortgage
  • Debit or Credit Card: What's the Difference?

    When it comes to making purchases, not all plastic acts the same.

    Debit cards and credit cards both offer a convenient way to pay without cash or checks, and both are accepted in nearly all the same places. But that's where the similarities end.

    The fundamental differences are where the money comes from, and what it can cost.

    Debit cards typically pull funds from a checking account, while credit cards charge purchases using a line of credit. With a debit card, you're spending money from your own funds. Use a credit card and you're borrowing the money and eventually will have to pay it back to the card issuer, perhaps including interest.

    Debit card pros

    The biggest benefit of using a debit card to make purchases is that you're not creating debt and the interest it can accumulate. So if you're looking to stay (or become) debt-free, a debit card is probably the way to go.

    Using a debit card also helps  free you from the interest burden that can come with using credit card. Unless you're paying off the balance every month, whatever charges you make accrue interest. And that can end up costing you a lot.

    Debit card cons

    The biggest drawback to debit cards is the potential for spending more than you have in your account, which can result in overdraft fees. This can get expensive quickly. So it's important to keep track of your available funds and not spend what you don't have.

    Disputed charges can be more difficult to resolve when a debit card is used instead of a credit card. You also can't improve your credit score by using a debit card.

    Credit card pros

    Many credit cards provide rewards when they're used, like points that can be cashed in for store discounts or travel benefits. You can also employ this type of plastic practically everywhere, including abroad.

    Credit cards can also provide a financial backup in case of an emergency such as an unexpected job loss, hospitalization or car repair. Some consumers use them to pay bills, then pay off that balance every month. That can increase those rewards points, and using a credit card responsibly also helps boost your credit score. A better score can pay off in the long run by helping you qualify for lower interest rates on debt, including a mortgage or other loans and new credit card accounts.

    Credit card cons

    One of the biggest drawbacks of spending with a credit card is the interest on unpaid balances that can pile up if you don't pay it off each month. A high interest rate can drag you deeper and deeper into debt if you let the unpaid amount rise.

    Credit cards also make it easy to spend money you don't have and become detached from your spending. If you're not careful, it's easy to fall into suffocating debt, start missing payments and damage your credit rating. That can make it harder to borrow money in the future.

    If you miss a payment, you may be charged a late fee, and between that and interest on an unpaid balance, costs can add up quickly. Plus any missed payment can harm your credit.

    So when you're trying to decide which plastic to swipe at the checkout counter, keep in mind the costs and benefits of both, and make the appropriate choice.

    © Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

    Tags: Credit & Credit Cards
  • Manage Apple Pay

    Change your default card

    The first card that you add to Wallet is your default card. If you add more cards and want to change your default, use these steps.

    Go to Settings > Wallet & Apple Pay on your iPhone or iPad. Tap Default Card, then choose a new card.

    To change the default card for your iPhone, you can also open Wallet, touch and hold a card, then drag it to the front of your cards.

    Update your billing and contact information

    You can update the information for a card that you use with your iPhone or iPad at any time.

    • To change your billing information, go to Settings > Wallet & Apple Pay, tap a card, then tap what you want to update.
    • To update your email address, phone number, and shipping address, go to Settings > Wallet & Apple Pay, then choose what you want to update. 

    While you can't change your card's number or expiration date, it should update automatically when you get the new card. If it doesn't, you might need to remove the card, then add it again.

    Remove a card

    If you need to, you can remove a card from your device. You can keep up to eight cards on a device.  To remove a card that you use on your iPhone or iPad, go to Settings > Wallet & Apple Pay, tap the card that you want to remove, then tap Remove Card.

    You can also remove a card directly from your device. On your iPhone or iPad, open Wallet, tap a card, tap Info icon, then tap Remove Card. On your Apple Watch, tap Wallet on the Home screen, tap a card, press it firmly, and tap Delete. 

     

    Source: Apple Support

    Tags: Banking
  • Using Apple Pay

    Pay in stores

    With your iPhone or Apple Watch, you can pay in stores that accept contactless payments. Just look for one of the below symbols at checkout.

    To use your default card, rest your finger on Touch ID and hold your iPhone within an inch of the contactless reader until you see Done and a checkmark on the display.

    To switch cards on your iPhone, hold your device near the reader without resting your finger on Touch ID. When your default card appears, tap it, then tap the one that you want to use. Rest your finger on Touch ID to pay.

    On your Apple Watch, double-click the side button. When your default card appears, swipe left or right to switch cards. Hold your watch near the reader to pay.

    Pay within apps

    With your iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch you can use Apple Pay to pay within apps when you see Apple Pay as a payment option. Look for one of the above buttons in apps.

    To pay with Apple Pay within an app:

    1. Tap the Buy with Apple Pay or Apple Pay button. Or choose Apple Pay as the payment method when checking out.
    2. Check your billing, shipping, and contact information to make sure that they're correct. If you want to pay with a different card, tap > next to your card.
    3. If you need to, enter your billing, shipping, and contact information on your iPhone or iPad. Apple Pay will store that information, so you won't need to enter it again.
    4. On your iPhone or iPad, place your finger on Touch ID. On your Apple Watch, double-click the side button. After your payment information sends successfully, you'll see Done and a checkmark on the screen.

     

    Source:Apple Support

    Tags: Banking
  • Get your iPhone Ready

    In order to use Apple Pay, you need to have a compatible device and the right version of iOS. For in-store purchases, Apple Pay is compatible with the iPhone 6/6s, iPhone 6 Plus/6s Plus, and the iPhone SE, which are the only iPhones equipped with the requisite NFC radio antennae. Besides NFC compatibility, the other piece of the hardware puzzle is a Touch ID sensor, but—unfortunately—iPhone 5S owners are out of luck. For in-app purchases, Apple Pay works with the iPhone 6/6s, iPhone 6 Plus/6s Plus, and iPhone SE, as well as the iPad Pro, iPad Air 2, iPad mini 4, and iPad mini 3—again, thanks to the Touch ID sensor.

    You’ll also need to update your iPhone to iOS 8.1 or newer, which will turn on your phone’s Apple Pay feature.

    Once your iPhone is in order, you’ll need to link up a credit or debit card to use for payments. If you already have a card linked to your Apple ID for making iTunes and App Store purchases, you can opt to keep using that card with Apple Pay—you’ll just have to re-enter the card’s security code so Apple knows you’re legit. Take note: Some banks will add an extra layer of security to this step, asking you to enter a code they send to you via text, so that they too know you’re on the up-and-up.

    You can also add different cards—just launch Wallet and tap the plus-sign in the top-right corner. You’ll then be prompted to add either a credit or debit card to use with Apple Pay or another pass to store in Wallet. Tap “Add Another Card,” then follow the entry fields on the next screen. You can speed this up by taking a picture of your card with your iPhone.

    Whether you’re using the card already linked to your Apple ID or adding a new one, your iPhone will guide you through the setup process, which includes verifying your card, granting Apple Pay access, and then storing it in Wallet. Be sure to have your card handy so you can verify the card with its security code.

    The card linked to your Apple ID will be listed as your default Apple Pay card, but you can always change that by going to Settings > Wallet & Apple Pay and updating your transaction default information—or do it in-app by selecting your default card, choosing the “information” button on the lower right-hand side of the screen, and changing the details from there.

    Tags: Banking
  • Refinance My Home

    Refinancing can be an opportunity to lower your monthly payments, pay off your loan quicker, reduce your overall interest expense or even get cash out. But be sure to weigh the costs and benefits first.

    Similar to when you first purchased your home, refinancing your mortgage comes with fees and closing costs that could add up to 1% or more of the new loan. Determining your break-even point—when your monthly savings will cover the cost of refinancing—can help you decide if it’s worth it.  Find out more about your different loan options here.

    Find your breakeven point.

    To calculate your breakeven point based upon monthly payment savings, estimate your savings based on your new monthly payment after the refinance.  Then divide the fees and costs of the refinance by your estimated monthly savings. Here’s an example:

    Cost to refinance: $1,800 

    • Monthly savings $100 = Breakeven point of 18 months
    • In this case, if you planned on staying in your home for more than 18 months, the cost of refinancing could be worth it. After reaching your breakeven point, your savings would total $1200 a year.
     Bottom line, while reaching your break-even point may take some time, if you’re in it for the long haul, you may be able to achieve some serious savings by refinancing. 

    Other benefits to consider.

    By refinancing your current loan at a lower interest rate, you may be able to realize interest savings over the lifetime of the loan.  By consulting with a Better Banks loan officer, you can explore the various options for refinancing and the possible benefits.

    Take the next step.

    Contact us to explore your loan options, ask questions, or get started on an application.

    Tags: Mortgage
  • Difference between secured and unsecured credit cards

    There are two primary types of credit cards — secured and unsecured. Secured credit cards are backed by a cash deposit, generally equal to the card’s limit. This acts as collateral and removes the risk of nonpayment for the card issuer. Secured credit cards are great options for those who haven’t built a solid credit history yet.

    Secured cards aren’t the same as prepaid cards. With a secured card, your cash deposit doesn’t run out as you spend, as it does with a prepaid card. You’ll make payments the same way as you would with an unsecured card, and you’ll pay interest if you don’t pay off your balance in full. Once you transition to an unsecured card or cancel your secured card, you’ll receive your deposit back, provided you’ve paid off the balance.

    Unsecured credit cards aren’t backed by a cash deposit or any other collateral. You’ll get a credit limit based on your income level and credit history, so most likely your first card’s limit will be low.

    Issuers take on more risk when they approve unsecured cards. Because of this, those without credit history generally need to start with a secured card, or get an unsecured card with a cosigner. Alternatively, you can ask to be added to a relative or friend’s credit account as an authorized user. As an authorized user, you’ll be able to use a credit card and will likely benefit from the primary cardholder’s good credit habits, but you won’t be legally obligated to pay the balance.

    Source: https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/11-credit-card/#emv

    Tags: Credit & Credit Cards
  • What is EMV?

    An EMV chip is a small microchip embedded in your credit card. Not all credit cards have EMV chips, but issuers will be strongly incentivized to issue cards with chips by October 2015, when a liability shift for fraudulent transactions will occur.

    EMV chips have two major card verification methods (CVMs) — chip-and-signature and chip-and-PIN. Chip-and-signature cards, which are most popular in the U.S., use signatures to verify ownership for purchases. Chip-and-PIN cards are more popular in Europe, and use a four- to six-digit PIN for verification.

    Chip-enabled cards are more secure than traditional magstripe cards. Instead of processing limited data that’s easy to duplicate, EMV chips transmit dozens of pieces of data between the card, the terminal and the acquiring bank’s host. In addition to the extra security, many overseas merchants won’t accept magstripe cards, so it’s a good idea to have a credit card with an EMV chip.

    Using credit cards with EMV chips is a bit different, too. Instead of swiping, you’ll insert your card into the EMV terminal chip first and leave it in until your receipt starts printing. In the meantime, you’ll follow the prompts on the terminal screen, which will include instructions to sign, if necessary.

    Source: https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/11-credit-card/#emv

    Tags: Credit & Credit Cards
  • What is a credit card?

    A credit card looks just like a debit card. However, instead of having the funds removed directly from your checking account when you make a purchase, you’ll essentially take on a short-term loan. This loan may or may not accrue interest, depending on when you pay it off.

    For the purchases made in any given billing cycle — which is around 30 days — you’ll have a small grace period before your payment is due. If you pay the balance in full by that date, you won’t have to pay interest. If you pay less than the entire balance by the due date, you’ll accrue interest on your average daily balance.

    Source: https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/11-credit-card/#emv

    Tags: Credit & Credit Cards
  • Online Banking

    Online banking refers to any banking transaction that can be conducted over the internet, generally through a bank’s website under a private profile, and with a desktop or laptop computer. These transactions include services traditionally offered at local branches without having to go to one. Online banking is generally defined as having the following characteristics:

    • Financial transactions are conducted over the internet through a bank’s secure website.
    • The bank may have physical branch locations or it may exist only online.
    • The user must register with the financial institution online and create a login ID and password.

    Customers can perform financial transactions while banking online, like paying bills or transferring money from one account to another. Other basic activities include:

    • Viewing account balances at any time of day
    • Viewing or printing statements
    • Viewing images of checks
    • Applying for loans or credit cards

    In essence, a customer can do almost any activity online that he or she would be able to do in person when visiting a branch.

    Tags: Banking
  • What Is Mobile Banking?

    Mobile banking allows you to perform many of the same activities as online banking using a smartphone or tablet instead of a desktop computer. However, simply accessing the bank’s website on a mobile device is not the only method of mobile banking. Mobile banking’s versatility includes:

    • Logging into a bank’s mobile website
    • Using a mobile banking app
    • Text message (SMS) banking

    While more banks are making their sites easier to use on mobile devices, mobile banking is more commonly associated with accessing your accounts through an app. Last year, mobile banking apps were used on 52% of smartphones in the US, according to a consumer and mobile financial services report by the Federal Reserve.

    Apps can offer a wide range of services that are not limited to account access and include the following:

    • Making mobile check deposits
    • Transferring money
    • Paying Bills
    • Locating ATMs

    Mobile and online banking provides convenience to customers who want to manage their finances while on-the-go; both options allow a person to conduct financial business from outside a banking facility. Customers interested in using either method of doing business should learn about both their bank’s mobile banking app and online banking website to better manage their finances.

    Tags: Banking
  • 5 Easy Money Saving Tips

    Although saving money can seem daunting, it doesn’t need to be overly complicated or time-consuming. A few simple changes might be all that’s needed to put money back in your wallet. Here are five money-saving tips that are easy to implement and can help now and in the future. 

    1. Use Energy Efficient Light Bulbs.

    According to Energy.gov, LED light bulbs use at least 75 percent less energy than incandescent light bulbs. LED bulbs also last up to 25 times longer. The small upfront investment in replacing your light bulbs can pay for itself in the long run.

    Some other great ways to save money on utility costs are to wash clothes with cold or warm water rather than hot, unplugging electronics when they’re not in use, and using a programmable or smart thermostat.

    2. Cancel unnecessary services.

    Another way to save money is to stop paying for services you don’t need or use.

    If you’re paying for a gym membership but only make it to the gym a few times a month, consider saving money by working out at home instead.

    Try lowering your monthly expenses by “cutting the cord.” You may be able to save by canceling your cable subscription and opting for getting entertainment from Netflix, Hulu, or another alternative source.

    3. Negotiate whenever you can.

    It’s common to negotiate when you’re buying a car, but negotiations aren’t just for the car lot. You can save by negotiating medical bills, insurance or mortgage rates, or your internet bill. Other big-ticket items that might be up for discussion include furniture or yard work contracts.

    Some negotiations are hard won, but that’s not always the case. If you don’t want to cut the cord, lowering your cable bill might be as easy as calling and asking if there are any promotions. Consider asking the cable company if they will give you the introductory rate new customers receive. This tactic may also work with internet providers.

    4. Avoid fees when traveling.

    Many airlines, hotels, and rental car companies tack on extra fees, but there may be ways around them. One of the best money saving tips when traveling is to do a little research and plan ahead of time. It may leave you with more money to enjoy your trip.

    Think about bringing your own snacks and a refillable water container rather than buying food or drinks at the airport or onboard the plane.

    Some hotels charge for Wi-Fi, but you may be able to get free access by joining the hotel’s rewards program or booking the room directly from the hotel’s website.

    Rental car agencies may charge more for vehicles rented at the airport. Compare prices with the agencies located nearby, but not within, the airport. You may find that with a short shuttle or taxi ride you can save money on the rental.

    5. Buy in bulk.

    Buying in bulk is an easy way to save on everyday household goods like paper towels and cleaning supplies, as well as non-perishable food products. Some grocery stores have bulk bins where you can load up on staples, and warehouse stores like Costco or Sam’s Club offer big potential savings. You’ll also help the environment by using less packaging.

    If your home has limited space, or you don’t need such a large stockpile, shop with friends and split the purchase. Those without a vehicle can buy in bulk and have items shipped from warehouses’ online stores and e-commerce sites like Amazon or Jet.com.

    Put your savings to work.

    What could you do with all this extra money? If you might need the funds in the next few years, think about putting the money into a savings account. Consider setting up your account with a particular goal in mind, such as a vacation or rainy day fund, or learning how to budget your money better. The savings from these 5 simple tips may help you reach those goals even sooner.

    Tags: Financial Literacy
  • Budget Basics

    Budget: It’s the word we love to hate. Most of us understand the importance of keeping a budget, but for a variety of reasons still haven’t found the time or energy to actually implement one. The purpose of a budget isn’t to create a complex and lengthy document, it’s to help control spending and maximize savings to ensure financial security. Keep in mind, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all budget; each individual and family is unique, and their budgets should be equally unique.

    Get started on your budget by following these four guidelines.

    1. Know What You Earn Vs. What You Spend

    It doesn’t matter if you’re new to budgeting because all budgets start with knowing how much money you earn as opposed to how much money you spend. All budgets are designed for the same reason: so you can live within your means on a month-to-month basis. Think of budgeting this way – if you spend more than you earn, you may end up in debt, or have to dip into your savings. Spend less than your income and you get to save money. Put a few months of savings together as a result of your budgeting efforts, and you may end up with a little extra cash.

    2. Create a “Zero-Based Budget” Plan

    Once you have a better understanding of how your income stacks up to your expenses, it’s time to establish your budget. One simple method is called “zero-based budgeting” in which every dollar earned and spent is tracked for an entire month. Add up all your expenses including your rent or mortgage, food, cell phone bill, cable and internet, and compare them with your income for the month. The goal of the “zero-based budget” is to have zero dollars left over. Keep in mind that the purpose of creating any budget is to help you reach your financial goals.

    3. Make Savings a Priority

    At first, making savings a priority may be the most difficult part of budgeting. However, it will also make the biggest difference down the road. A simple habit of putting away money before spending ensures you won’t spend more than you earn, and allows you to contribute to retirement funds, rainy day funds, future vacations, car purchases and a variety of other things.

    4. Be Flexible

    Your budget isn’t going to be perfect. Unexpected expenses and emergencies happen to all of us, more frequently than we’d like. So don’t be unrealistic with your expectations. Understand that changes in your budget will happen, and they’ll happen frequently. The important thing is that you remain flexible and maintain your “zero-based budget”. For example, let’s say your car is having problems and you need to take it to the mechanic; you may need to cut back on your recreational expenses in order to cover the repairs.

    This isn’t an exhaustive budgeting list, but it’s a good starting point. Remember that your budget is unique to you, so do what works best for you and your family. The most important thing is that you implement the budget; you won’t regret it.

    Tags: Financial Literacy
  • How to Get Physically and Financially Fit

    Getting fit and saving money are two of the most frequently cited goals, no matter what time of year. But it doesn’t take making a resolution to get you motivated or help keep your spending in check. If you want to slim your waist while padding your savings account, we have four tips to get you started.

     

    • Skip the gym and save the money. Instead of signing up for a gym and getting locked into an expensive monthly contract, look for fun ways to workout outside the gym. Runner’s World suggests 27 free or cheap fitness apps that can help you track and improve your running. If it’s too cold outside or running isn’t your thing, there are plenty of indoor exercises that require little or no equipment. Low on time? Try the scientifically-backed, seven-minute workout from the New York Times, which you can access via a web browser or smartphone app.
    • Find inexpensive classes. If you enjoy working out alongside others in a class but want to avoid the costly fees, you have several options. Jump between classes with discount vouchers from daily deal sites like Groupon or Living Social. Ask the studio if they’ll trade you access to classes in exchange for working a few hours behind the counter or cleaning the facilities each month. You may be able to barter other services for studio time. Alternatively, look for free community center classes or other venues that offer sliding scale fees that vary depending on your income.
    • Make money a motivator. Several apps and websites tie health to wealth in a motivational way. Pact lets users place a wager on how many times they will workout, track their meals, or eat fruits and vegetables each week. If you miss a day you have to pay up, but if you succeed for the entire week you earn a share of the money others paid. In a similar manner, you can put money on the line and bet that you’ll lose weight using DietBet or HealthyWage.
    • Shop healthy and save. Regular exercise is part of getting and staying physically fit, but if you want to be healthy, maintaining a nutritious diet is important as well. Try to stay away from processed foods that are high in fats and sugars. One quick tip is to shop the outer ring of grocery stores, which is often where you find the fresh produce, dairy and meats. According to an analysis of 27 studies by the Harvard School of Public Health, a diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts and fish can cost about $1.50 more a day than less-healthy diets. The initial investment may pay off — the cost of treating chronic diseases is much more than the cost of healthy food, according to Dariush Mozafarrian, senior author of the analysis.

    Saving money and getting in shape can require desire, willpower and consistency. If you want to succeed, try some of these tips to work on both areas of your life at once. Keep with it and the long-term results may surprise you.

    Tags: Financial Literacy
  • First Time Home Owner Basics

    For most of us, buying a first home is a dream come true. However, it can also be a lengthy process where potential — and sometimes very costly — pitfalls trap the unprepared buyer. This guide will help you get prepared.
     

    Decide If the Time Is Right

    How do you know if you’re ready? Making the leap from renter to homeowner is a big decision. For some, renting may be the right choice.  Because the “down payment” is most often limited to first and last month deposit, renting can be viewed as cheaper and more flexible in the short-term. Monthly rent payments are also generally “all in” and usually cover all property taxes, homeowners’ association fees and maintenance costs. Plus, renting can offer flexibility should circumstances unexpectedly change.

    For others, however, buying is the right move to make. They’ve reached the point where they feel confident about staying in one place for a while and are established in their jobs with a dependable income. Their debt obligations – such as car loans, student loans and credit card payments – are manageable, and they’re interested in exploring how the traditional benefits of homeownership, like favorable tax treatment* and equity appreciation, can enhance their long term financial prospects. If that sounds like you, this guide will help you assess your current situation and better prepare you for the home-buying process.

    Renting vs. Buying

    Before you buy your first home, there are important things to do and know. Consider which option is right for you. 

    Know how much you can afford
    Depending on the amount you have saved for a down payment, your mortgage payment should typically be no more than 28% of your monthly income, and your total debt shouldn’t be more than 36%.

    Maximize your credit score
    Generally, a better credit score will help you get a better interest rate on your mortgage. And even a small improvement in your score can have an impact on your monthly payment and save you thousands of dollars over the course of your loan. Learn more about how to improve your credit score.

    Save for extra costs
    Lastly, you’ll need to have some money tucked away for extra costs beyond your monthly mortgage payment. These costs include your down payment and closing costs. A down payment of 20% or more helps you avoid PMI (Private Mortgage Insurance) and lowers your monthly payment. Contact your Better Banks lender for more information.

    Weighing the Costs and Benefits

     Home ownership brings a lot of added responsibilities. But it also has its advantages.

     Costs:

    • Monthly mortgage payment
    • Your down payment – as low as 5% of the sale price
    • Closing costs – (contact your Better Banks lender for  more information)
    • Taxes & insurance
    • Utilities
    • Repairs & maintenance
    • Homeowner association dues or assessments

    While these costs will vary from home to home, you’ll want to know what they are before making a final purchase offer.

     Benefits:

    • Your home may appreciate in value over time
    • You can increase your net worth by building equity through monthly principal reduction payments
    • Your home is your own – you can do what you like with it to reflect your lifestyle
    • You may save money at tax time by deducting mortgage interest and property taxes*
    • A home offers stability, especially as your children grow up. It’s a place where you can live the life you want, and where you can create the memories of a lifetime.

    Getting Pre-Approved

    Getting pre-approved by a mortgage lender shows real estate agents and sellers that you are a serious, qualified buyer. And being “qualified” has its benefits. In fact, being pre-approved indicates that you are a serious buyer and may even put you ahead of other applicants once you make an offer!

     Pre-approval also has additional perks worth noting. For instance, it helps you determine how much house you can afford and how much money you can borrow. That way, your time won’t be wasted looking at out-of-reach properties.

     Part of the pre-approval process includes filling out a loan application. To establish your employment history and financial capabilities, you must provide the lender with the following income documentation:

    • Recent pay-stub with year to date figures
    • W-2 forms for the past 2 years
    • Most recent 3 months’ bank statements
    • All credit account and debt information

     After the mortgage loan officer receives these documents, he or she will then pull your credit report, assess your financial capabilities, and inform you of how much money you can borrow towards your home.

     Finding the Right Home

    Once you’re pre-approved, you can start looking at houses! Now’s the time to contact a reputable real estate agent who can show you homes you can afford.

    It’s important to find a real estate agent who will:

    • Help provide background information on properties of interest to you
    • Guide you through the buying process
    • Make it easier to work with the seller

    You might also consider hiring a real estate attorney to:

    • Be your advocate during negotiations with the seller
    • Review contracts and research liens and encumbrances
    • Make sure there are no legal surprises ahead

     Get a Home Appraisal & Title Search

    Found a home you like? Once the seller accepts your offer, you may strongly consider hiring a certified home inspector who can verify there are no structural problems, code violations or other undisclosed concerns. When your contract is final, your lender will have the property appraised by an independent, third-party appraiser who will confirm the fair market value of the home. In addition, a title search will typically be conducted to:

    • Discover any record claims on the property
    • Make sure you can get a clear title to your new home

    Closing the Sale

    At last – you’re ready to finalize the sale! During the closing, you’ll meet with all parties involved in the sale to make it official by signing documents, receiving the deed and paying your closing costs, which may include:

    • Attorney, broker, credit report and/or lender fees
    • Title search and insurance
    • Appraisal and inspection fees
    • Other costs depending on your particular loan

    Property insurance: Also called homeowner's insurance, property insurance protects the homeowner from losses to the property, as well as potential liability from events that occur on the property and elsewhere. Lenders require homeowner's insurance coverage to protect the collateral that secures their loan. Some homeowner's insurance policies do not cover catastrophic events such as tornadoes, hurricanes or floods. These kinds of events generally require a separate insurance policy. Sometimes additional insurance may be required for your loan.

    Property Taxes and Homeowner's Insurance: A typical monthly mortgage payment consists of amounts for loan principal, interest, taxes and homeowner's insurance. Taxes and insurance are usually paid from an escrow, or impound, account.

    *Consult your tax professional.

    Tags: Mortgage
  • Home Equity

    If you own a home and are looking to borrow money, consider the benefits of a home equity loan or line of credit.

     Home Equity loans and lines can be used to pay for a variety of things including home renovations, consolidating debt, college tuition, major purchases and more. 

     Consider the benefits.

    A Home Equity loan or line of credit gives you cash that you can use any way you wish. You can:

    • Borrow up to 89.9% of the fair market value of your home.
    • Interest rates are typically lower than credit cards and other loans.
    • The interest paid may be tax-deductible; consult a tax professional to assess your situation

     Understand the risks. 

    Since a Home Equity loan uses your home as collateral, you also need to consider potential risks:

    • You can lose your home for missing payments.
    • The maximum amount borrowed is a portion of your home's value which is determined by the market so if the market takes a down turn you can owe more than your house is worth.

    Take the next step.

    To find out if a Home Equity loan or line of credit is right for your situation, contact one of our loan officers.

    Tags: Loans & Debt