Financial Wellness

We want you to know we're here to support you during this challenging time. The health and financial wellness of our members are of the utmost importance to us. The best way to get through hard times is to take a few deep breaths and put a plan together. With planning and a careful look at your finances, you will get through this stressful period. We have put together some tips and resources that could help you stay motivated. We even have some educational resources for your kids that are at home.

  • Protecting Your Property

    Protecting Your Property - 10 minute read

    Published 9/10/2020


    When thinking about insurance, protecting your property and other investments should be at the top of your list, and as with any insurance, it is important to have adequate coverage to cover any potential property loss. Below we will discuss the different types of property insurance and what it covers.

    Homeowner’s Insurance

    If you own your own home, you probably had to obtain homeowner’s insurance as part of the purchase. However, it is good practice to regularly check for better rates and make sure you still have the coverage you need. If you are in the market for a new house, making sure your new property is adequately insured will be a requirement, so it’s never too soon to start thinking about it.

    When comparing policies, most will come with the same basic damage or loss coverage:

    1. The structure of the home
    2. Limited personal belongings
    3. Automobiles parked at the home
    4. And injuries that occur on the property.
       

    You generally will also have the option to purchase add-ons to your insurance for potential disasters. And in some instances, may be required to have special insurance add-ons, for example, if you live in an area prone to regular disasters such as floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, or other natural disasters. Before finalizing any insurance policy purchase, you should make sure you understand what types of disasters are excluded from coverage and then add on anything you are likely to need.

    Another consideration when picking a homeowner’s policy is how much coverage you want or need on the structure itself. Generally, insurance companies will offer three different types of coverage for structures:

    1. Actual Cash Value Coverage — This type of coverage will cover the actual cash value of your home and possibly some personal belongings. This is usually the lowest level of coverage.
    2. Replacement Coverage — With replacement coverage, you will receive the amount it would cost to actually replace or rebuild the structure, as well as replace personal property. This is calculated without taking depreciation into account. However, the amount will be limited by the amount of coverage in your policy.
    3. Guaranteed Replacement Cost  —  Generally the highest level of coverage. This coverage will cover the full replacement cost of the structure and personal property, even if the damages exceed the amount of the policy. Some insurance companies also offer Extended Replacement Cost policies, which allow payouts above the policy limit, but only up to a certain percentage.
       

    As with any insurance, it is important to understand the value of your property, the likelihood of loss, and the amount of insurance you really need. Your insurance company or independent broker can help you to calculate your insurance needs. 

    Renter’s Insurance

    • Renters also should consider property insurance in the form of renter’s insurance.
    • Some rentals require a certain amount of renter’s insurance before entering into a lease.
    • Renter’s insurance is generally inexpensive, so it is a smart money move even if it is not required by your landlord. If your landlord requires renters insurance, be sure to find out the amount of coverage required before purchasing your policy.
    • Renter’s insurance covers damage to the rental, as well as some limited personal property. Many policies also include injury coverage. 

    Vehicle Insurance

    If you own a vehicle, you likely already have car insurance. While not all states require auto insurance, they all require financial responsibility to operate vehicles on public roadways. Therefore, it is in your best financial interest to have automobile insurance.

    • Most standard policies cover property damage, theft, or loss to the vehicle, liability coverage for accidents caused by the driver, and medical expenses for bodily injury. However, the coverage limits will differ by policy, so you will want to make sure you have sufficient coverage.
    • When selecting auto insurance, it is also important to know whether you are covered in case of an uninsured motorist. Many accidents occur where the other driver cannot be identified or does not have their own insurance. You will want to know from your policyholder if you are responsible for such an accident, or if your policy will cover the damages. 
    • Another add-on to consider with your vehicle insurance is Gap Coverage. Most vehicle insurance policies will only cover the cash value of your car at the time of the loss. If you owe more on your car than the cash value of the car due to depreciation, you could end up having to continue to pay on a car totaled in an accident. Gap Coverage will cover the full cost of the vehicle, including any amount still owed on the car. If you are financing your car and owe more than it’s worth, you should consider Gap Coverage.
    • If you have more vehicles to insure than just cars, most companies also offer insurance for other vehicles, including motorcycles, RV’s, boats, ATV’s, and other vehicles. These vehicles should absolutely be protected from damage or loss, just like your everyday car. 

    Valuable Personal Property Insurance

    • Even though homeowner’s and renter’s insurance generally have some coverage for damage, theft, or other loss to personal property, this coverage is usually far less than needed to cover all a person’s personal property. 
    • Valuable Personal Property Insurance is designed to cover specific items such as jewelry, firearms, computer hardware, electronic systems, artwork, or other higher value items.
    • When you purchase the policy you will be required to provide proof of ownership of the items as well as their value. You should be prepared to provide photos, receipts, and appraisal reports to your insurance company with the policy. Failure to provide this information could end up limiting your ability to collect on the policy in the event of a loss.

    Bundling The Coverage You Need

    • The last property insurance consideration is to make sure you have the best coverage for the lowest cost.
    • While shopping for insurance, ask about if there are discounts for bundling property insurance. Many companies will lower policy premiums if you have multiple types of property insurance with them. Since most people need more than one form of property insurance, the best financial decision is to try to bundle them together for a discount, rather than going through multiple companies. 
  • COVID19 Scams Targeting College Students

    Published 5/27/2020

    Hey college students: even though you’re likely far from campus, scammers are still trying to find you.

    Maybe you or your friends have gotten an email claiming to be from the “Financial Department” of your university. The email tells you to click on a link to get a message about your COVID-19 economic stimulus check — and it needs to be opened through a portal link requiring your university login. Don’t do it. It’s a phishing scam. If you click to “log in,” you could be giving your user name, password, or other personal information to scammers, while possibly downloading malware onto your device.

    How can you spot and avoid scams like these? Before you click on a link or share any of your sensitive information:

    • Check it out — If you have concerns about an email, contact the sender directly. Look up their phone number or website yourself. Don’t click on a link. That way, you’ll know you’re not about to call a scammer or follow a link that will download malware.
    • Take a closer look — While some phishing emails look completely legit, bad grammar and spelling can be a tip-off to phishing. Another clue that the email is not really from your school: they use the wrong department name. In one example we’ve seen, the scammers called themselves the Financial Dept instead of the Financial Aid Department.

    If you spot something that looks like a phishing scam, report it. Forward the message to the Anti-Phishing Working Group (an organization which includes ISPs, security vendors, financial institutions, and law enforcement agencies) at reportphishing@apwg.org. You can also report phishing to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

    For more information from the Federal Trade Commission, Click Here. 

  • DIY Face Covering

    Published 5/4/2020

    DIY Face Covering

    Effective May 5th, Santa Clara County residents are required to wear some sort of face mask or covering when entering an essential business.  There are many household items that you can use to easily create your own!

    You can use items like:

    • T-shirts
    • Bandanas
    • Scarfs
    • Rags
    • Pillowcases
    • And more

    Below are simple no-sew options provided by the CDC. To see more on the CDC's instructions for face coverage, click here.

    Bandana Mask


    T-shirt mask
  • 4 Steps To Spending Your Stimulus Check Wisely

    4 Steps to Spending Your Stimulus Check Wisely When You Don't Have An Emergency Fund (3 minute read)

    Published: 4/15/2020


    Most Americans don't have an emergency fund. While we're all experiencing this pandemic very differently — some having only minor inconveniences and others finding themselves without a job or having to close their business — those without a savings cushion are vulnerable to feeling the ramifications of COVID-19 for a very long time. With stimulus checks on the way, there will be tough financial decisions to make once received. Here are active steps you can take, along with things to consider to help you develop a solid spending plan.

    Make a list of all expenses

    • Write out every single expense that you have, including essentials like food and utilities. Be sure to go through your checking and savings account history to make sure you don't have any “vampire” expenses, like monthly subscriptions that you may have forgotten about and no longer need.

    Talk to all creditors and lenders

    • The CARES Act puts into effect two mortgage relief provisions: protection from foreclosure, and a right to forbearance (pausing or making partial payments) for those experiencing loss of income due to COVID-19. However, the provisions are not automatic and are only for federal loans, so you MUST talk to your lender. If a creditor/lender offers you a payment plan or other relief, make sure you get it in writing and take note of the names and dates of the customer service representatives with whom you speak.
    • Some utility companies have announced they won't cut off services if they aren't being paid. Be sure you know all of your utility and service providers' stance on this, so there are no surprises. You don't want to make any assumptions.

    Prioritize expenses

    • Expenses relating to food, shelter, and medicine should come first. This would include mortgage, rent, utilities, groceries, diapers, and medications. It also includes medical insurance premiums and homeowners/renter's insurance. If you need childcare to work, that is another essential expense. Next in line are auto-related expenses, including transportation, gas, insurance premiums, and car payments.
    • Loans that are secured by collateral (for example, mortgages and auto loans) are generally considered more important than those without collateral, like consumer credit card debt. For example, if you don't pay your mortgage, a bank can foreclose on your property; if you don't pay your car loan, the bank can seize your car. While not paying your credit card bills will negatively affect your credit score, credit card companies will not come into your house and take your personal possessions. Remember, if you can afford the minimum payments on your credit cards, then make those payments. It will help to maintain your credit score. 
    • Federal student loans are currently not accruing interest until September 30, 2020, and can be put into forbearance so that no payments are due. If you have a private or institutional loan, you will have to contact the lender for other options.
    • Expenses for "elective" items, like gym memberships, streaming services, and other subscriptions, come last. Before simply canceling a contract, make sure to contact the vendor – canceling may come with a hefty penalty, but you may be able to temporarily "pause" the service.

    Pay your debts in the order of priority.

    • Now that you know all your expenses, have prioritized them, and know your payment options with creditors and lenders, it's time to make the payments in order of priority. It's important to note that many are still receiving their tax refunds now, too. If you receive a refund, you can apply the same process to that extra income. If you are still unsure or are overwhelmed with where to start, use our decision tree for guidance on what to do with your stimulus check and tax refund.

    Source: America Saves

    stimulus decision tree
  • The Complete Guide to Prioritizing Bills During a Financial Crunch

    The Complete Guide to Prioritizing Bills During a Financial Crunch (4 minute read)

    Published: 4/02/2020

    If you are one of the millions of Americans on furlough thanks to COVID-19, you may be scrambling to cover your bills. Let’s take a look at what financial experts are advising so you can make an informed decision about your finances going forward.

    Triage your bills
    Financial expert Clark Howard recommends putting your most basic needs, including food and shelter, before any other bills now. Make sure you can feed your family before using your limited resources for loan payments or credit card bills. Similarly, your family needs a place to live, so mortgage or rent payments should be next on your list.

    Housing costs
    If you have been financially impacted by events stemming from COVID-19, please reach out to explore options that may help ease the financial impact of an unexpected income disruption. During this period, members may be able to delay monthly mortgage payments for a temporary period, not incur or be charged late fees, not be reported to credit bureaus as delinquent, and if eligible, foreclosure and/or other legal proceedings will be suspended.

    If you have a mortgage with CommonWealth and you would like to know your options for payment forbearance please give us a call at (800) 564-1588.

    Paying for transportation
    Missing an auto loan payment can mean risking repossession of your vehicle. This should put car payments next on your list of financial priorities. If meeting that monthly payment is impossible right now, it’s best to communicate with your lender to come up with a plan.

    If you have an auto loan with CommonWealth and you would like to know your options please give us a call at (800) 564-1588 or check out our Skip-A-Pay Program.

    Household bills
    Utility and service bills should be paid on time each month, but for workers on furlough due to COVID-19, these expenses may not even make it to their list of priorities. Most states have outlawed utility shutoffs for now. Also, many providers are willing to work with their clients. Visit the websites of your providers or reach out to them by phone to see what kind of relief and financial considerations they’re offering consumers.

    Unsecured debt
    Unsecured debt includes credit cards, personal loans, and any other loan that is not tied to a large asset. Clark urges financially struggling Americans to place these loans at the bottom of their list of financial priorities for now. At the same time, he reminds borrowers that missing out on a monthly loan payment can have a long-term negative impact on a credit score. Consumers are advised to communicate with their lenders about their current financial situation. Credit card companies and lenders are often willing to extend payment deadlines, lower the APR on a line of credit or a loan, waive a late fee, or occasionally allow consumers to skip a payment without penalty.

    Are you making payments towards loans at CommonWealth? We understand that you may not be able to meet your monthly payments at this time and we are here to help. For more information on ways we can help, click here.

    Source: CUContent

  • Financial Dos and Donts During COVID19

    Financial Dos and Don’ts During COVID-19 (5 minute read)

    Published: 4/02/2020

    Since the coronavirus has landed on American shores, each day seems to bring different challenges. What steps should you be taking to protect your finances during this time? The virus ended one of the longest bull markets in history, as the stock market plunged by a full 25% in one volatile month. In fact, it saw its worst day since 1987. More than that, businesses have been adversely affected by the outbreak in many ways: production lines have been put on hold as the delivery chain is disrupted indefinitely; the global-wide halt on travel has caused tremendous losses for the tourism and airline industries; sports and entertainment industries have taken huge hits; and countless other business lines have been negatively impacted by a lack of supplies, decreased spending, and a shortage of personnel due to quarantines or school closures. With all this uncertainty, it’s easy to fall into a panic and wonder if there are some concrete steps you should be taking to save your finances. Here are some practical dos and don’ts to help you maintain financial stability and peace of mind during this time.

    Don’t: Panic by selling all your investments 
    Both seasoned investors with robust portfolios and those simply worried about their retirement accounts can find it nerve-racking to see their investments drop in value by as much as 10% a day. It may seem like a smart idea to sell out just to spare investments from further loss, but financial experts say otherwise. According to The Motley Fool, most sectors of the economy will recover quickly as soon as the outbreak clears. For example, consumers may not be purchasing shoes or cruise tickets now, but they will likely do so when it is safe to shop and travel again. While the global and national economy may not bounce back for a while, experts are hopeful that individual business sectors will recover quickly.

    Do: Trim your spending
    The thriving economy the country has enjoyed for a while has prompted a gradual lifestyle inflation for many people. As the economy heads toward a probable recession, this can be a good time to get that inflation in check. Work bonuses, raises, and promotions are not handed out as freely during a recession as they were in recent years. Some people may even find themselves without a job as companies are forced to lay off workers in an effort to stay solvent. Trimming discretionary spending now can be good practice for making it through the month on a smaller income. It’s also a good idea to squirrel away some of that money for a rainy day.

    Don’t: Put your money before your health 
    Financial wellness is important, but physical health should always take priority. If you’re feeling unwell, and especially if you’re exhibiting any of the symptoms of COVID-19 — such as fever, coughing and shortness of breath — call in sick to work. Do the same if you’ve been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 14 days. Don’t let financial considerations come before your health and the health of those you may come into contact with each day. As part of a package of executive orders to help mitigate the financial fallout of the coronavirus, the Trump Administration has announced that all employees are entitled to two weeks of fully paid leave if they are unable to work because of the coronavirus. This includes contracting the actual virus, self-quarantining for fear of having been exposed to the virus and caring for a family member who has contracted the virus, or for children who are home due to school closures. Be sure to take advantage of this offer by making your health paramount. Similarly, doctor visits can cost a pretty penny, but when necessary, should always outweigh financial concerns. A co-pay or insurance deductible is a small price to pay for your health.

    Do: Consider a refinance
    The silver lining of an economic environment like this is falling interest rates. As of March 17, the average interest rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is 3.3%, down from approximately 4.5% of a year ago. Refinancing an existing mortgage at this lower rate can potentially save homeowners several hundreds of dollars a month. That extra breathing room in a budget can be a real blessing in case of salary cuts or even a layoff during a recession. Be sure to work out the numbers carefully before considering this move since a refinance isn’t cost-free. You can speak with a CommonWealth representative, at (800) 564-1588, about your options and if it is right for you. The coronavirus has already impacted the economy tremendously, and will likely continue to do so for a while.

    Keep your finances safe by remaining calm, putting your health first and taking some of the practical steps mentioned above.

    Source: CUContent

  • Lifes Curveballs

    In a perfect world, everything would go according to plan. But in order to prepare yourself for our imperfect world, it's important to set aside income for life's unexpected twist and turns. There are ways to prepare for and manage the hard financial times that come your way.

    Curveballs come in several varieties:

    • Health issues
    • Unemployment
    • Reduction of overtime
    • Divorce
    • Natural Disaster

    For articles, calculators, and toolkits to help you through life's curveballs, click here.

    Published: 4/02/2020
    Source: BALANCE

  • Youth Resources

    During these constantly changing times, we want to make sure our youth members can continue to boost their knowledge! We have gathered some of our favorite youth resources to get you started.


    EVERFI Family Portal

    CommonWealth has partnered with EVERFI to provide financial education as part of our community engagement efforts. Today, we are delighted to be able to offer EVERFI’s full suite of K-12 courses to your families!

    Signing up is easy! Here are the steps you need to take:

    1. Visit the EVERFI Family Portal
    2. Scroll down and click “Find Your School and Register”
    3. Enter your state and your child’s school name
    4. Register as a “Student/Learner”
    5. Receive the full catalog of age-appropriate courses for your child
       

    There are 100+ Interactive, self-paced, game-based, digital lessons to equip your child with skills for life such as:

    • Character development
    • Mental wellness
    • Financial readiness
    • Career exploration

    Based on your child’s school the lessons available will cover topics similar to the below:

    • Understanding Money
    • Healthier ME
    • Digital Wellness and Safety
    • STEM Career Exploration
    • Keys to Your Future – Career and College readiness
    • Honor Code – Beyond Bullying
    • And MUCH MORE!

    Whether your child is in Elementary School, Middle School, or High School, click here to bring learning to life at home!


    Here are some free educational apps

    • Scholastic - The leading educational company has set up a “Learn From Home” website with free daily courses for kids ages K-12.
    • Zoom - The popular video conferencing app is offering free service during the coronavirus outbreak. It’s also lifted its 40-minute limit on conferences, making the app a perfect choice for hosting your child’s classroom learning, or even a video chat with friends.
    • Neoufitness - Help your kids stay fit through the pandemic with this super-fun fitness app for kids ages 4-12. The app offers a selection of 10-20 minute exercise classes and is free for the first 30 days.
    • Issasedibleadventures - If your child is an aspiring chef, they’ll love this free cooking app, in which gamers race to collect ingredients from around the world and use them to create a requested cross-cultural dish.
    • SmartMusic - The popular music practice app is offering free service through June 30 for all schools impacted by COVID-19. The app includes practice tools like a tuner, metronome, and fingerings, along with an extensive music library and immediate assessment of pitch and rhythm.
    • DuckDuckMoose - The adorable educational app for kindergartners and preschoolers makes learning super-fun! The app is always free and features a delightful array of characters, a brightly colored interface, and a special focus on maps and puzzles.
    • World of Cents - The NCUA’s free money app is the perfect way to teach your kids about personal finances. They’ll learn all about earning, spending, saving and more through the app’s fun games designed for kids ages 5-10.

    Activities to make the time fly!


    It isn’t easy to be holed up at home with only your family for company. As the parent, you have the unique opportunity to set the tone in your home and decide if these weeks will be a nightmare for everyone or filled with precious memory-making and family bonding activities.

    Here are some fun activities to keep your kids busy while you wait out the pandemic at home:

    • Marshmallow Tinker-Toys - For a fun twist on the classic building toy, take pretzel sticks and mini-marshmallows and let your child build a world of sweetness. Have them create pretzel-marshmallow people, houses, and entire towns. When they’re done, they can eat their sweet creations!
    • Scrapbook - Spend some quality time reliving precious memories by digging out the scrapbooking supplies and old photos for creating a timeless masterpiece.
    • Teach a Household Skill - Instead of feeling the stress from endless housework, enlist your child’s help! Even very small children can help sort laundry, load the washing machine and press the buttons to turn it on. Have the older ones help bake, letting them put their math skills to use by adding fractions in recipes.
    • Simon Says, “Draw!” - Set up a table with paper, crayons, markers, stamps and any other fun coloring supplies you have. Seat your kids around the table and begin an intense game of Simon Says, only instead of movements, instruct your kids to draw something. You can have them draw basic shapes in specific colors or something more complex if they’re a little older. If anyone messes up, they’re out!
    • Balloon ping-pong - Tape large popsicle sticks to the backs of paper plates, blow up a balloon and have your preschoolers play ping-pong with their makeshift paddles over your empty kitchen table!
    • Let it snow! - In a large pan or bin, mix 3 cups of baking soda with ½ cup of hair conditioner. Note: If you don’t have enough baking soda, you can also use shaving cream for your “snow.” Keep stirring until the mixture turns cold, soft and feels like … snow!  Dig out the toy cars, beach shovels and collection of Playmobil people and let the fun begin!
    • Scavenger hunt - Set up hints around the house and have your kids race from clue to clue searching for the treasure you’ve hidden for them. If your kids are too young to read, this can work with picture clues as well.

    No, it isn’t easy to be holed up at home with your kids. But with some creativity and a positive attitude (and lots of coffee and chocolate), you can fill this challenging time with warm memories your children will remember for the rest of their lives.

    Last update: 4/02/2020

  • Grandparents scams in the age of coronavirus

    Published 5/13/2020

    “Grandma: I’m in the hospital, sick, please wire money right away.” “Grandpa: I’m stuck overseas, please send money.” Grandparent scams can take a new twist – and a new sense of urgency – in these days of Coronavirus. Here’s what to keep in mind.

    In grandparent scams, scammers pose as panicked grandchildren in trouble, calling or sending messages urging you to wire money immediately. They’ll say they need cash to help with an emergency – like paying a hospital bill or needing to leave a foreign country. They pull at your heartstrings so they can trick you into sending money before you realize it’s a scam. In these days of Coronavirus concerns, their lies can be particularly compelling. But we all need to save our money for real family emergencies.

    So, how can we avoid grandparent scams or family emergency scams? If someone calls or sends a message claiming to be a grandchild, other family member or friend desperate for money:

    • Resist the urge to act immediately – no matter how dramatic the story is.
    • Verify the caller’s identity. Ask questions that a stranger couldn’t possibly answer. Call a phone number for your family member or friend that you know to be genuine. Check the story out with someone else in your family or circle of friends, even if you’ve been told to keep it a secret.
    • Don’t send cash, gift cards, or money transfers – once the scammer gets the money, it’s gone!

    If you get a scam call, report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

    For more information from the Federal Trade Commission, Click Here.

  • Coronavirus stimulus payment scams

    CORONAVIRUS STIMULUS PAYMENT SCAMS: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

    Published 5/13/2020

    We know there’s been a flood of information and updates about the government’s economic impact payments, or so-called stimulus checks, lately. But quickly and safely moving massive amounts of money into the hands of those who need it is a big job with a lot of moving parts. We also know that the more you know about the process, the less likely you’re going to be tripped up by calls, text messages, or emails from scammers trying to steal your money or personal information. Here’s what you need to know about the stimulus payments and how to avoid scams related to these payments.


    Who will get money?

    Adult U.S. residents that meet established income limits are eligible to receive money from the government. This includes:

    • Taxpayers – people who filed a federal tax return for 2018 or 2019.
    • Retirees – people who get Social Security, Railroad, or other retirement benefits.
    • Beneficiaries – people who get public benefits like SSDI, disability, or veterans’ benefits.
    • Non-filers – people who do not have to file a federal tax return, including people who made no income or made less than $12,200 (or $24,400 for married couples).

    What to do

    Most people don’t have to do anything to get their money because the IRS will use the same payment method – direct deposit, Direct Express debit card, or paper check – used to send you your tax refund, Social Security, retirement, or other government benefits money. If the IRS doesn’t have your direct deposit information, you can go to the Get My Payment feature on the IRS website and let them know where to send your direct deposit.

    If you don’t usually file a tax return, go to the Get My Payment feature on the IRS website to access the “Non-filer” portal and to figure out what, if anything, you have to do to claim your money.

    For more information from the Federal Trade Commission, Click Here.

  • Additional Educational Resources

    BALANCE 

    • A free online resource that features educational modules on the core aspects of personal financial management, and you--as a CommonWealth member--can get information and advice on money management, saving and spending plans, housing, credit reports, and debt repayment options. To speak with a financial counselor, call (800) 777-7526 or click here.

    WealthMatters

    Kids/Youth - CommonCents

    • Where learning about money is fun! Penny the Clever Fox is ready to share these simple financial tools and games to help you learn about managing your money. Let’s get started! Click here to visit the CommonCents website.

    Last update: 4/02/2020

  • Monthly Financial Fitness Challenge Analyzing Your Spending

    Let 2020 be the year to start building your savings! Did you know that hindsight is always 2020? At least that’s what we hear. You don’t want to end this year wishing that you had saved more money. Our BALANCE  Monthly Financial Fitness Challenge can help you to accomplish your financial goals this year. Whether you have an item in mind that you want to save for, are looking to build a cushion for emergencies, or simply just want to save for the future, we're here to help!

    Over the next 12 months, we will provide you with personal challenges to help you on your way to a financially fit year. Each month we will feature a new topic and challenge. If you miss one, don't worry, this challenge can be started at any time and can even be repeated!


    Analyzing your spending

    Spending analysis is much more than setting a budget. It’s taking an honest look at where your money is really going, figuring out where it should be going, and then getting it there.

    Do you know where your money is going? Here are a couple of ways to track your spending:

    • Login to Online/Mobile Banking:
      • Categorize your expenses so you can view all of your spending habits. You can even sync your accounts from other financial institutions so you can see everything in one place.
      • Click the Spending tab to:
        • See how much you spend by category
        • View your spending trends over 3 months, 6 months, 9 months or up to 1 year
    • ​Review your statements:
      • Whether you use Online Banking or want to go the classic pen and paper route, you can carefully go over each line to see exactly how much you are spending and where.

    The Challenge


    Now that you have a couple of different ways to analyze your spending, let’s get to it! For this month, take part in our financial fitness challenge and complete these 4 steps to better understand your spending habits.

    1. Use one of the methods above to create a full 6-month snapshot of your spending.
    2. Pick at least one bill to lower, then search to find a better rate or service.
    3. Pick at least one other expense like, coffee or take-out, and commit to cutting it in half.
    4. Cancel one subscription. No excuses, simply pick one and ditch it.

    Optional: Calculate how much you are saving and set an automatic and recurring deposit for that amount from your checking account to your savings each month.
     
    Remember, this challenge can be (and should be) repeated throughout the year. Set a goal to cut a certain amount of spending each month, and decide how you are going to use that extra money. If you aren't sure, we'll share some ideas in upcoming newsletters.

  • Monthly Financial Fitness Challenge Budgeting Basics

    Welcome back to our BALANCE Monthly Financial Fitness Challenge! In case you missed it, over the next year, we will provide you with personal challenges to help you on your way to a financially fit new year. Each month we will feature a new topic and challenge. Last month we analyzed spending and set goals to cut unnecessary expenses. If you missed it, you can always go back and view the previous challenge. This month we are focusing on how to build a budget and stick to it.
     
    Budgeting Basics
     
    Setting a budget is more than just a spreadsheet. It’s a promise to yourself to optimize that budget to make it work for you, to provide you with the ability to do the things you want to do and the peace of mind to enjoy it. There are many budgeting apps out there that can automate some of this, as well as our money management tools within Online Banking; however, sometimes we need to dive deeper into our budget to see what we are spending our money on.

    Tip #1 —  get out a piece of paper or open a spreadsheet and do the manual work. You can then add your budget into those apps or Online Banking to help you stay on track. 

    There are different ways to build a budget, but below is our budgeting checklist: 

    • Put together all your sources of income
      • This may include your main salary or wages, self-employment income, spousal support, dividends, government aide, and even bonuses. Categorize your income into income you can regularly depend on monthly (“fixed”), income that is fixed but occurs on another schedule other than monthly, and income that is not guaranteed or that varies in amount. Any income that is not guaranteed typically should not be relied upon for your regular expenses. We talk later about how to treat this income. The goal for this step is to know exactly when you will be paid throughout the month and year. If you are a visual person, you can even create a calendar so you can see when your money is expected.
         
    • After you have a clear picture of your income, it’s time to turn to your fixed expenses
      • These are expenses that do not normally change from month to month or that stay within an expected range but always occur on the same schedule. These fixed expenses include things like your rent or mortgage, car payments, consumer debt or student loan payments, utilities, and media services. It can even include subscriptions or membership fees. If it is a regular and expected expense, it goes here. Once you have your list, add in payment dates. Next, categorize these expenses into necessary or essential (think utilities and rent) and discretionary (those expenses you can live without). This doesn’t mean you have to cut out discretionary spending (at least not yet), but at least you have a clear picture of what you have to spend and what you choose to spend.
         
    • Next, and much harder to pin down, is to figure out your variable spending
      • This would include spending on things such as entertainment, groceries, eating out, travel, clothing, etc. By pulling your financial records (which you hopefully did with us in last month’s challenge), you should have an idea of what you are spending each month and where.
         
    • Now it’s time to think about your saving habits
      • Are you saving enough and regularly? And where is this money going? In order to add savings to your budget, you need to know how much you need and want to be saving. That amount can vary by your savings goals, but in general, most individuals should be saving between 10%-30% of their income each month. Now let’s talk about how to do that because ultimately, budgeting is not about spending, it’s about freeing up money to save.
         
    • Now it’s time to do the math
      • Start by simply adding up your income and subtracting your expenses. Do you have enough income to meet your current expenses and save your goal amount? This is where the hard work comes in: setting a realistic budget and doing the work to make it happen by setting rules for your expenses. The first rule is to pay yourself first, meaning your savings should be the first non-negotiable expense in your budget, and then treating that money as unavailable. If you are not in a position to save the full amount of your savings goal that's okay! But save something, and save it first.
         
    • After saving, figure out how much you need to cover your remaining necessary expenses (fixed and variable)
      • Do you have enough? If not, where can you reduce spending? If are able to cover your necessary spending, turn to your discretionary spending. Where can you reduce or where do you have more room to indulge a little? Or maybe you want to go back and reallocate extra money into your savings?
         
    • If you have gotten this far and still don’t have enough income to meet your budget, don’t panic
      • Start making a plan to drastically downsize your spending or find ways to add in extra income. How you approach any deficits will depend on the size of that deficit.
         
    • We’re not done yet
      • Remember those extra income items that you may not always get or may vary in amount? Now is the time to figure out where to put those. Do you want to deposit them in savings or a retirement account, or maybe you can pay off a chunk of debt? Look at your overall financial help and figure out how those extra funds can help you. And don’t forget to reward yourself with some of it! 

    The Challange

    This month’s challenge is simple:

    1. Make a budget
    2. Make a commitment to yourself to do a full self-check-in every month, or even every two weeks, for the rest of the year. 

    You may not meet your budget every time, and that’s okay! Make adjustments and keep the promise you made to yourself…Stick to the budget.

  • Monthly Financial Fitness Challenge Paying Down Credit Card Debt

    We are continuing this month with our Monthly Financial Fitness Challenge. In prior months we covered analyzing spending and creating a budget. This month, we look at paying down credit card debt. Even as the financial landscape changes around us, there are still ways to minimize or prioritize consumer debt. In many ways, reducing debt during times of uncertainty, or at least making a commitment to not incur more, is vital for financial stability and fitness. 

    Paying Down Credit Card Debt 

    There are many benefits to focusing on paying down debt. Paying off consumer debt protects your financial stability. It's important to know that keeping credit card debt around 10%-20% of your available credit helps maintain a good credit score. A good credit score can help you make necessary purchases when you need them or secure loans. It also encourages long-term responsible spending habits. Plus, less debt means less money spent on interest charges, extra funds for other necessities, money to put into savings or to use on discretionary spending. Below are a few simple ways to lower your credit card debt in May (and for the rest of the year).
     
    Ways To Pay Off Credit Card Debt 

    • Timely Payments
      • The first place to start when looking to pay off credit card debt is to examine your credit card bills so you know exactly how much you owe, what your minimum payment is each month, due date, and the approximate amount of interest charged to you each month. Paying off credit card debt requires that you aren’t adding to that debt. Make sure you are making your payments on time and in full when possible.
      • Keep in mind, if you are only making minimum payments, your unpaid interest charges will accrue and thus increase your balance. Carefully examine your bills to make sure your payments not only cover the minimum amount due, but any interest that is added to the bill each month. This attention to detail will help your balance drop faster all around.
    • Negotiating Payment Plans Or Rates
      • The next place to look for lowering your credit card debt is your own credit card company. By contacting your creditor directly, they may be able to assist you in either setting up a manageable payment plan or lower your interest rate. Many factors can influence a financial institution’s willingness to agree to these types of changes including, credit score, length of relationship with the institution, and financial hardship.
    • Consolidation
      • Some consumers choose to consolidate their credit card debt through personal loans. These loans vary in requirements, including whether or not they are secured through personal assets. The benefits to consolidation include combining multiple debts into one streamlined bill and lowering the amount you pay each month.
      • Consolidation loans should only be considered if the interest rate is lower than your current card and won’t significantly increase the amount of time it will take you to pay off the loan.
    • Snowball Method
      • Another way that many consumers with multiple creditors pay down debt is by following the Snowball Method; which is a fairly straight forward (and effective) way of paying off debt. Just follow these simple steps:
    1. List your debts from smallest balance to largest balance
    2. Choose your smallest balance to pay off first
    3. Depending on your budget determine how much extra, if any, you can add to paying down your smallest balance first
    4. Ensure that your monthly minimum payments are met for all of your other debt
    5. After you pay off the smallest debt, move on to the next debt with the lowest balance 
    • As you pay off more debt, the amount you are saving grows, allowing you to pay off debt faster as you go along.

    Need Additional Assistance

    Speak to Financial Coach — As a member, you have access to financial coaches at BALANCE. A financial coach will be able to help assess your situation, prepare you to talk to your creditors, and create a debt management plan. To speak with a counselor, call (800) 777-7526 or click here for more information.

    The Challenge


    Now that you have different options for paying off credit card debt, here is your challenge for May: 

    1. Explore at least one of the options above for paying off your credit card debt and start the process. 
    2. Examine your budget (the one you created for our previous challenge) and identify an extra amount that you can add to one of your credit card bills each month and commit to paying that amount for the rest of the year.

     

    Extra Credit: Make your extra payment automatic so it is set for the rest of the year or longer.

  • Monthly Financial Fitness Challenge Creating a Will

    It’s time for another step on our Monthly Financial Fitness Challenge. This month, we look at creating a will. It’s not always an easy thing to think about, but being prepared will ultimately ensure your property is distributed as you wish, and to the benefit of those you care about most. In this article, we discuss why a will is important and how to create one.

    Making A Will

    Why Do You Need A Will?

    • Without a will, the state will decide who gets your property after your death.
    • A legally binding will can prevent family disputes, as well as ensure your final wishes are honored.
    • You can also provide for funeral expenses and appoint a particular person to be the executor of your will. An executor of your will should be someone you trust that is likely to survive you. Generally, people choose immediate family members or close friends. Others chose to appoint a neutral third party in order to eliminate potential conflicts between family members.

    Ultimately, you will protect your assets, allowing you to control the distribution of property, and can forgive past debts owed to you. However, in order to reap the benefits of having a will, it must be properly formed and legally binding. We discuss more on making your will below. 
     
    Difference Between A Will And A Trust
    Most people are familiar with wills, and may even have heard of trusts, but may not know what the key differences are between the two. Both are tools to manage your estate and final affairs, and can even work in conjunction with each other. 

    • The biggest difference between a will and trust is when they become effective. A trust is effective immediately after it is properly formed, while a will does not take effect until your death.

    How To Create A Will
     
    Hire a Professional
    It goes without saying that hiring a professional is the most secure way to form your will or trust. Attorneys and accountants are best equipped to help you decide how to manage your estate, either through a trust, will, or both, as well as prepare the necessary documents. The more complicated your estate, either through diverse investments and property, or the number of beneficiaries, the more you should rely on a professional to ensure any documents are properly and legally formed. Otherwise, you risk hitting your beneficiaries with tax penalties or invalidating the will altogether. When in doubt, consult the experts.
     
    Online Legal Services
    There are also legal services available online that use attorneys or paralegals to assist you in forming your will at a much lower cost. If you want the security of a professional, but without the price tag, a quick online search will lead you to licensed will preparation help. Most offer guarantees for your beneficiaries if there is a problem with the will after your death. However, while these companies use licensed attorneys and paralegals, there may be drawbacks to how specific you are able to get with your estate. 
     
    DIY Will
    If your estate is fairly straightforward and costs are an issue, you may consider preparing your will on your own. Templates can be found at most libraries, office supply stores, and online. After you prepare the document, you will need to execute the will according to the laws of your state, typically by signing in front of a witness and having the document notarized. 
     
    Tip: to save costs on professional services, if you prepare the will yourself, you can always hire an attorney or accountant to review. This review will be less expensive because you did most of the preparation beforehand, and you still get the peace of mind of knowing everything is in proper order.

    The Challenge
     
    Set a goal to start preparing your will (or trust). Identify your assets, beneficiaries, and any special needs you may have. Then get started either by contacting a professional or doing it yourself. Even if you don’t finish your will completely this month, you’ll be well on your way.

    To view previous Twelve Months to Financial Fitness Challenges, click here.

    Additional Resources

    As a member, you have access to financial coaches, financial education modules, financial articles, and more.

  • How to Spot Avoid and Report Fake Check Scams

    How to Spot, Avoid and Report Fake Check Scams

    Published 9/30/2020

    In a fake check scam, a person you don’t know asks you to deposit a check— sometimes for several thousand dollars, and usually for more than you are owed — and send some of the money to another person. The scammers always have a good story to explain why you can’t keep all the money. They might say they need you to cover taxes or fees, you’ll need to buy supplies, or something else.

    Fake checks come in many forms. They might look like a business or personal checks, cashier’s checks, money orders, or a check delivered electronically. Here’s what you need to know about fake check scams.

    Types of Fake Checks Scams
    Fake checks are used in many types of scams. Here are some examples:

    • Mystery shopping — Scammers pretend to hire people as mystery shoppers and tell them their first assignment is to evaluate a retailer that sells gift cards, money orders, or a money transfer service, like Western Union or MoneyGram. The shopper gets a check with instructions to deposit it in a personal bank account and wire it to someone else. But once the money is wired, the person on the other end can disappear.
    • Claiming prizes — Sweepstakes “winners” are given checks and told to send money to cover taxes, shipping and handling charges, or processing fees. But that’s not how legitimate sweepstakes work.
    • Overpayments — People buying something from you online “accidentally” send a check for too much and ask you to refund the balance.

    How to Avoid a Fake Check Scam

    • Never use money from a check to send gift cards, money orders, or wire money to strangers or someone you just met — Many scammers demand that you send money through money transfer services like Western Union or MoneyGram, or buy gift cards and send them the PIN numbers. Once you wire money, or give someone the gift card PINs, it is like giving someone cash. It’s almost impossible to get it back.
    • Toss offers that ask you to pay for a prize — If it’s free, you shouldn’t have to pay to get it.
    • Don’t accept a check for more than the selling price — You can bet it’s a scam.

    What to Do If You Sent Money to a Scammer
    Gift cards are for gifts, not payments. Anyone who demands payment by gift card is always a scammer. If you paid a scammer with a gift card, tell the company that issued the card right away. When you contact the company, tell them the gift card was used in a scam. Ask them if they can refund your money. If you act quickly enough, the company might be able to get your money back. Also, tell the store where you bought the gift card as soon as possible.

    Here is a list of gift cards that scammers often use — with information to help report a scam. If the card you used is not on this list, you might find the gift card company’s contact information on the card itself, or you might need to do some research online.

    If you wired money to a scammer, call the money transfer company immediately to report the fraud and file a complaint. You can reach the complaint department of MoneyGram at 1-800-MONEYGRAM (1-800-666-3947) or Western Union at 1-800-325-6000. Ask for the money transfer to be reversed. It’s unlikely to happen, but it’s important to ask.

    If you paid a scammer with a money order, contact the company that issued the money order right away to see if you can stop payment. Also, try to stop delivery of the money order: if you sent it by U.S. mail, contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 877-876-2455. Otherwise, contact whatever delivery service you used as soon as possible. 

    Where to Report Fraud
    If you think you’ve been targeted by a fake check scam, report it to:

    For more information from the Federal Trade Commission on how to spot and avoid fake checks, click here.