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3/8/2018 – How to Have Your Important Tax Information Ready and Organized

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! It’s TAX SEASON!!

Here are some of the emotions associated with tax season: stress, confusion, stress, anticipation (of a good refund), stress, disappointment (when your refund isn’t what you hoped it would be), and stress!

Ok, maybe tax season isn’t THAT bad, but it doesn’t have to be bad at all!  With a couple of easy steps and just a hint of preparation before the middle of April, you can breeze through your taxes, and maximize your return!  The system works!

Also, remember that in 2018, the tax deadline is April 17th, because the 15th is a Sunday, and the 16th is Emancipation Day.

Step 1:  Have Those Important Forms Ready

Are you self-employed?  There’s a form for that.  Do you still owe on loans?  There’s a form for that! Here are all the forms that include income information that you might need.  You should have all of these that apply ready and available when filing.  (via USA Today)

  • Form W-2 (wages)
  • W-2G (gambling winnings)
  • 1099-INT (interest)
  • 1099-DIV (dividends)
  • 1099-B (investment sales)
  • Combined 1099 (brokerage combined tax statement)
  • 1099-MISC (independent contractor work, royalties)
  • 1099-R (retirement distributions)
  • K-1 (MLP, Partnership or S-Corp share of income)
  • SSA-1099 (Social Security benefits)
  • 1099-G (unemployment benefits and state tax returns)
  • 1099-C (forgiven debt)
  • Income Adjustment Documents, including Form 1098-E (student loan interest); 5498 (IRA contributions); 5498-SA (HSA/MSA contributions); and 1098-T (tuition)

Step 2:  Tidy Tax Records Mean a Tidy Tax Return!

This is just a general housekeeping rule; keep your tax information organized in folders and readily accessible!  There’s a lot of documentation that goes into filing, and having it ready can simplify so much of the process, and ensure no mistakes that could lead to owing more.

This can be as easy as keeping all tax info in one designated folder and making sure that folder is somewhere you won’t forget it.  Simple enough, right?  Most tax documents are even notated with some variation of “Important Tax Document”, so you know what to hold on to.  You can also include a list of all the important documents that you know you’ll need going into filing time, and cross off each one as you get it. Easy!

Step 2.5:  Don’t forget state taxes!

Are you an Affiliated Bank customer living in Texas?  Then you don’t need to worry about this part!  If you are an Affiliated Bank customer who lives outside of Texas, you will need to know if you are required to file a state return.  Remember, the states (except AK, FL, NV, SD, TX, WA and WY) require a separate filing from your federal tax return!

Step 3:  Don’t Wait Until April 17th!

This one should be a given, don’t wait until the last minute to file your taxes, but there are some benefits to getting your return in as early as possible; not the least of which is getting your refund sooner.  You are also doing your part to prevent identity theft by scammers who file under other peoples’ name and social security number to get their refund.  Don’t give them the chance!

Legally, you should have received all necessary tax documents on January 31st at the very latest, so once you have everything, don’t wait!

Step 4:  Don’t Dump Everything on April 18th!

It’s important to hold on to your tax documents for at least three years after filing, at the very least, with most experts actually recommending maintaining those records for SEVEN years.  Whatever you decide, just be sure that you’re intentional with what you do after filing.  Make sure that you have everything easy-to-access, just in case a mistake is made.

Ok, you’re ready.  Get to filing and get that refund!

10/23/2017 – Cybersecurity

October is Cybersecurity Month, and we embrace any chance to talk about better practices when it comes to keeping yourself and your information safe online. The fact is, we put more and more of our personal information online every single day. We share our locations and personal info on social media. We increasingly use services like online banking. There is more information about us available online than we likely realize, which is why we need to be increasingly careful to safeguard that information. Here are some quick ways to do that!

Never Say Never

 

The response of many people to stories in the news about another data hack of a major company is often something resembling denial; the belief that it couldn’t happen to you because you’re careful with your online presence. But the recent hacks of both Yahoo and Equifax may prove that to be impossible.

Equifax, one of the three major credit reporting agencies in the US, had its secure data exposed by hackers in mid-2017. Names, social security numbers, addresses, driver’s license numbers and more were stolen. What that means is that if you have a credit report, your data was at risk of exposure.

Yahoo reported that when they were hacked, something like billion accounts were vulnerable. More recently, that number was adjusted upward, to closer to three billion. That’s every existing Yahoo account that was exposed by hackers and could be used to mine private information on every single person who used Yahoo for anything.

We are more online than we realize, and when these massive data breaches occur, there’s a good chance that we are going to be affected by them.

Beware of Public Wifi

 

Full disclosure, this article is currently being written in a Starbucks, on their Wi-fi network, so we could probably stand to take some of our own advice on this one.

That being said, using publicly-accessible wi-fi networks (that is, a network without a password requirement) poses a potential risk of exposure, as a hacker is capable of infiltrating a computer if they are on the same network at the time.

Now, Starbucks has a little bit more security in place than your average public network, but the risk remains. When on a public network, you should avoid using anything with a login, like social media, email, your online banking, etc.

Making your password REALLY COMPLICATED may not be doing anything.

 

You know how a lot of websites with logins require your password to have a mix of upper and lower-case letters, one special character, numbers, letters, etc. etc.?

Turns out, that may not be as helpful as we all thought.

Make no mistake, you should still use something more complicated than “password” to access your bank statements, but there are far more useful techniques than gibberish passwords to keep you protected, like two-step verification, that usually requires you to have an additional code sent to your mobile device. This method alone is always safer than relying on a particularly strong password.

Phishing

 

Here’s the best way to avoid phishing scams – if you receive an email you are not expecting (even from someone you know), and they have included an attachment, a link, or anything beyond simple text in the email, do not click on it.

Phishing is a hacking technique that involves gaining access to a private computer by compelling a user to click on a link or open an attachment, usually by attempting to look like a reputable company or authority of some kind, and then gaining access to credit card numbers, logins, or other personal information. A hacker can’t access your computer simply through an email, but they by getting you to click on something else through a link or attachment. Always be wary of an unfamiliar sender, no matter how legitimate they may seem.

In Conclusion

The world is moving online. That’s not a bad thing! We are more connected than ever as a society, and that has led to an amazing shift in how we live our everyday lives. But this huge shift means a shift in thinking about how we stay safe, both online and off. We use security systems in our homes, and lock our doors at night. We simply have to extend that level of safety to our online lives as well.

9/20/2017 – How to Manage Bills

There are a few things that can be counted on in life.

Death. Taxes. Superhero movies.

And bills!

Everyone deals with bills. After high school, no matter where you find yourself in life, there’s a very good chance you have bills pay.

Want to rent an apartment? There’s rent, gas, electricity, water, sometimes garbage, probably internet.  Want to own a home?  All of those things, plus a mortgage.  Want to go to college?  Get ready for student loan payments!

Want to watch the good TV? Not the basic channels.  We’re talking Netflix.  Amazon Prime.  Hulu.  Those mean bills too.  And don’t even get started on HBO Go!

More like Game of Bills.

Own a cell phone? Those data rates get expensive!  A car?  Health Insurance?

Destiny’s Child said it best. “Bills, Bills, Bills”

We all pay bills. We can’t escape them, but we can certainly manage them!  Just like anything having to do with your finances, all it takes is a little planning and forethought, and you don’t have to feel like you’re drowning in monthly payments.  So, how do we do that?

Know your payment schedule

There is no reason why a monthly bill should sneak up on you, ever. The same bills for (usually) the same amount come due at the same time every single month.  Yet, sometimes it can feel like one slips through the cracks, or your auto-pay debits your bank account at the worst possible time.

Make sure you know when your bills are coming due! Write out a calendar; set reminders on your phone, do whatever it takes!  Just be ready every month, and don’t get caught off guard.  Getting behind on your bills can be so easy, and can snowball so quickly into being unmanageable.  Also, if your bills are on a flexible payment schedule, where you can set the time you’ll be paying them, take advantage of that to plan around when you know you won’t be sweating to cover them.

Affiliated Bank has a great tool for making sure you know when those bills are going to come due, and getting them taken care of in a snap – Online Bill Pay!

Get a little extra cash this month? We can think of something good to do with it!

When tax return season comes around, or maybe you score big in the lotto, or your grandparents were extra generous at Christmas this year, it’s easy to find things to spend your extra cash on; when you have it. It’s easy to justify spending money you wouldn’t normally have on fun things like trips or new electronic toys that you don’t need.  Plus, it feels like a real stick-in-the-mud thing to say that you should spend that extra cash on paying down outstanding balances.  But consider that once those loans or car payments are paid off, there will be more cash for the fun stuff!  And you can enjoy those things more because you won’t be stressing about the bills you have to pay.

You already know

If you’ve read any previous blog post on the Affiliated Blog, you know this last tip – BUDGET.

You should already know what money is going where before the month even starts. You should know where it’s coming from, where it’s going, and when it needs to get there.  Budgeting just takes a few extra minutes of planning for an entire month’s worth of peace of mind, and that’s priceless.  For more info on how to budget, check out the rest of the Affiliated Blog!

7/11/2017 – Tips for Travel

June is National Safety Month, and if you visited the blog last month, you know that we were celebrating graduating seniors! Well, many recent grads take the time right after school has ended to experience the wide world before settling down.  It can be so easy to get caught up in the thrill of exotic locales and unfamiliar destinations and neglect some basic safety measures that are so important.  So, here are some tips on how to travel safely this summer!

Notify your bank

There are several reasons why it’s important to notify your bank of any travel, domestic OR international.  First, sometimes a bank needs to authorize a card to be used in certain foreign countries.  That’s a simple enough reason to call your bank ahead of time.  Secondly, banks monitor the locations of transactions that take place on a debit, credit or ATM card.  What that means is that if you use your plastic in a foreign country, your bank will be notified of it and possibly take it as a sign of fraud, so they’ll deactivate the card and attempt to contact you.  This can result in simply a minor inconvenience or a much larger emergency that could leave you stranded without money in an unfamiliar place.  Ultimately, it’s just wiser to not take the risk, and let your bank know ahead of time.

Of course, you could just keep cash with you, but…

DON’T flash your cash

The problem with carrying cash in a foreign country, or even larger cities in this country, is that you run a risk of announcing to everyone around you exactly how much money you’re carrying.  The moment you pull out a wallet, purse, or billfold, you have to assume that you are being carefully watched. 

It’s also important to be constantly aware of where your wallet or purse is, in large crowds.  Pickpockets can take advantage of any crowded situation, and your valuables could be gone without you ever even noticing.  It’s usually smart to keep a wallet in a front pocket, instead of the back, and backpacks and purses should be held close to the chest. 

Share Your Itinerary

Here’s a personal story –

Several years ago, I was visiting Italy with some friends.  We spent several days each in three different cities – Rome, Florence, and Cinque Terre.  We stayed in hostels and took trains between each town.  Because of a mix-up due to the language barrier, however, we managed to miss our train from Cinque Terre to Florence.  We made it on to a later one that connected with a bus we would take from Venice.  Things got complicated, and because of poor planning, I needed a cash injection from back home.  So, as soon as I got to an internet connection, I messaged home and got the cash I needed to finish off our trip. 

The story doesn’t end there, however, as a family member went on Facebook and posted a status about my asking for money from Italy.  Immediately all of their Facebook friends warned them that this was a scam, and that someone was impersonating me, and that they absolutely should not give me any money under any circumstances. 

The moral of the story is that someone else – family, friends, whoever – should have a copy of your itinerary.  My family knew that I was in Italy, and therefore had no reason to doubt my message.  But if they hadn’t known, they probably would have listened to their friends, and ignored me altogether. 

Aside from the common-sense security reasons to make sure someone knows where you are when you travel, it really helps in case of a cash emergency, or the many other surprises that spring up during travel.

Don’t let money mistakes ruin your adventure! Some careful forethought and planning can ensure you travel, smart, safe, and carefree.  

6/16/2017 – Tips for Nailing Your Job Interview

It’s job hunting season. That means lots of applying, filling out work histories, and hopefully lots of interviews!  This can easily be the most daunting part of the entire job-hunting process.  Don’t worry – we have you covered with some important job interview tips.

1. Look Your Best

There are so many subtle and unconscious factors that play into any interaction, especially a job interview. An employer only has a short time to gauge what kind of employee you would make, whether you are qualified for a position, how professional and competent you are, and how you might fit into the culture of their workplace.  That’s why it’s so important to present your best self, going into an interview.

 This means several things, not the least of which is dressing professionally.  It probably wouldn’t hurt to default to always wearing a suit in job interview situations, regardless of the dress code of the business.  In a relaxed work environment, a suit communicates that you still take your interviewer, and the company’s time seriously, and you’re willing to go above and beyond expectations.  In a more formal office situation, a suit is outright expected, and anything less will likely have a significant impact on your prospects.

2. Look Your Best – Part 2

Looking your best also means how your body language communicates. Many unconscious cues can indicate to an interviewer that maybe you’re not excited for this opportunity, or you don’t work well with others, or maybe you just wouldn’t add to the personality of the office.  So be aware of how you carry yourself.  Be confident in your eye contact.  Speak clearly and avoid mumbling.  Smile when appropriate, and always indicate that you’re listening.  This may sound like a lot to remember, so maybe the best way to sum it all up is that you want to look comfortable, confident, and competent.  Body language can go a long way in communicating in an interview, whether or not anyone involved even realizes it!

3. Reframe Past Experience for the Job at Hand

Maybe you’re applying for your first desk job after a career in warehouses or on your feet all day, or maybe vice-versa! Or you’re making a major career change between fields without much crossover.  If that’s the case, it can be easy to feel like your past experience doesn’t really translate to this new position.  But you would be surprised how effective reframing can be, and how important it is to customize your experiences and history for the job you want!

Maybe you learned how to operate specialized equipment, software, or specific processes for your previous job. Just because your new potential position doesn’t involve operating a forklift, running an inventory management system, or knowing the ends and outs of a very particular model of a copy machine, doesn’t mean those skills are useless in this new setting.  All of those skills can be reframed as “ability to learn and adapt to different environments”, or “diligence in becoming familiar with all aspects of the job”, or “strong problem-solving skills”.

4. Do Your Research

Interviewers don’t simply want to know your abilities, accomplishments, and qualifications. They are looking for ways that you can add value to their company.  A company hires employees to fulfill its own needs and requirements.  That’s why it can be highly beneficial to familiarize yourself with the company before walking into an interview.  Knowing what that company does, who is in management positions, what their audience is, are all going to serve you greatly when it comes to answering questions about what you can bring to the table.  You can tailor (or reframe) your answers to specifically suit what the company is looking for, and offer more relevant information.

5. Ask INTELLIGENT Questions

This point ties back to doing your research. The questions that you ask in a job interview can be just as crucial to your chances as the answers you give. That does not mean asking about pay, benefits, or vacation time.  Often, interviews are a multi-step process, and unless the interviewer brings those things up first, they are best left for further down the line in the process.

Asking specific questions about what your role would look like, or what an employer is looking for in an employee are the kinds of questions that can engage an interviewer and will stick out in their mind when the time to make a decision comes.

Nailing the job interview process takes time, research, and determination.  The more work you put into your interviews, the more success you’ll see in attaining a job offer, especially if you keep these interview tips in mind!

5/25/2017 – Money Tips for Graduates

You’ve just graduated; maybe from high school or college. Congratulations! That’s a huge achievement! Take a minute and feel good about what you’ve accomplished.

Ok. Feel good? Great. Because the rest of your life is now ahead of you, and it’s important that you start planning for it. You are very likely about to experience more freedom and independence than you ever have before, and that can be thrilling and terrifying in equal measures. But preparedness can help with that! So let’s take a look at some ways to get ready to start the rest of your life.

And just to get this out the way now, the first step is making a budget. That’s a given. Start there, maybe with an app like Mint, and then read the rest of this article.

Understand Banking!

If you’re lucky, your school offered some sort of personal finance class; a course to teach the ins and outs of money and banks and credit, what those mean, and why they’re important. If you weren’t so lucky, or you just didn’t pay attention the first time around, now is the time to get a firm grasp on how personal banking works, and why banks are important to managing your future well. In fact, you can drop by any Affiliated Bank branch today and talk to a personal banker about your options going into the next stage of life.

Start an Emergency Fund

Regular blog readers know the importance of an emergency fund. Remember, a good emergency fund has enough money to cover expenses for 3-6 months. This is important because life after graduation can be uncertain in many ways, and financial security can take a load off your shoulders at a time of decision-making.

3-6 months can sound like a daunting amount to save, but the only way to reach it is to start setting aside money now!

Two Necessary Evils – Student Loans and Credit Cards

Credit cards are tricky, as we’ve discussed before, but building credit is hugely important right out of school for things like finding a job, as some companies will run a credit check on prospects as a judge of their reliability, renting an apartment, or getting a loan. A credit card is the easiest way to do this, as long as it is used wisely and sparingly. For more info on credit cards, check out our previous blog on the Pros and Cons of Credit Cards.

Similarly, student loans are one of those things that should be avoided unless necessary. A student loan can open doors for an opportunity in education and growth that are unattainable any other way. Alternatively, repaying those loans can potentially become a financial burden for many years after the fact. There was a time when college was the only and best chance to a secure future, but every day more and more nontraditional career paths are being created, and a student loan for four years of college isn’t necessarily the one-size-fits-all solution it once was. That’s why it’s important to put the proper research and consideration into making this and other milestone decisions.

The future is exciting, especially when the uncertainty that comes with it is accounted for. Don’t let questions about what comes next keep you from experience all that your life has to offer!

5/8/2017 – Tips for Small Businesses

Affiliated Bank has relationships with so many great small businesses, and we are thankful for every single one! We love getting to play a part in the growth and prosperity of our community, and we are so grateful that these businesses have chosen to partner with us!

In honor of National Small Business Week, here are some tips for small businesses looking to grow.

1. Take advantage of the community around you

Being an entrepreneur, focused on finding success in a certain field despite distractions and other obligations, can be an isolating experience. Fortunately, one of the many benefits of a small business is the personal relationships it has the potential to foster, and those can be great for business and for life! A strong network and community is vital to both the well-being of a business and its employees. Aside from the business contacts and networking benefits of community connection, it’s always nice to have reminders of the people that you’re serving, and why you do what you do in the first place. Plus, having a sense of belonging in your town, neighborhood, or even an online community or network can give purpose and drive to any business – these are the people that you are doing your work for! Don’t take that for granted.

2. Make clear goals and value

It’s important to know what you’re working towards in any circumstance, but especially when running a small business. That doesn’t just mean the vague goal of being “successful”, whatever that may mean. What does it look like to be successful in this business or that? What will it look like to be successful 10 years from now? 5 Years? 1 Year? Next Week? Knowing the answers to each of these milestones will help shape the path that a small business wants to take.

Similarly, knowing what’s important for a business, and what it’s priorities are, is necessary from the get-go. Having the values and priorities that you want your business to live by clearly lined out and articulated before they are ever tested is the best way to stick to them. Questions like “how are we going to treat or be treated by our customers?”, or “are we more interested in financial gain or customer satisfaction?” should be asked before they need to be. That way, once the rubber meets the road, and those values are tested, there’s no question about how to react in any given situation.

3. Don’t just hire employees, train leaders

At some point in the growth of any small business, the one-man-band approach stops being sustainable. If that business that started in your garage or your home office finds success and begins to outgrow its homegrown beginnings, then the hiring process begins. This transition can be difficult, especially when the boss is confident in their own ability to run things. They will need to be prepared to share leadership, and teach others how to run things just as well as them. A one-man-band can grow into a huge enterprise and still feel like one person running everything if that one person can’t delegate, and be confident in those that they’re delegating to. Employees in a relatively new or small endeavor need to not only be able to take instruction and work hard, but to be able to make their own leadership decisions if necessary.

4. Don’t lose yourself in your work

A healthy boss is a healthy business! Entrepreneurship can be unimaginably tough work, with work days that never seem to end, and a million tiny little worries and cares that need to be addressed at any given moment. It’s enough to drive a person crazy, and the risk of burnout is very real for small business owners. That’s why taking time to ensure the physical and mental well-being of yourself and your employees is really an investment in the future of your company. There will always be plenty of work to get done, but not if you’ve completely exhausted yourself already.

There are many aspects of owning/running a small business and they can sometimes be daunting! At Affiliated Bank, we have an experienced staff who are eager to help with your questions or needs!  Feel free to give us a call or drop by one of our banking locations!

4/21/2017 – Pros and Cons of Credit Cards

There are few forces in personal finance as polarizing as credit cards. Depending on who you ask, that little piece of plastic is the only way to get by in the modern world, or it’s root of all of society’s problems and will soon plunge us into the apocalypse.   As with most things, the truth is somewhere in the middle and, depends on how mindful you are about your habits.  Credit cards can be a boon to spending, investing, and even saving, or they can lead to serious financial problems that can quickly spiral out of control.  None of this information is terribly groundbreaking, but it can be beneficial to take a brief look at the pros and cons of credit cards.

Pro #1 – Convenience, Pure and Simple

We’ve discussed the lifesaving convenience of plastic money on the blog before. It just makes sense to have all of your money accessible with a swipe or a dip; especially in emergency situations.  It’s a wonder some businesses in the world still insist on cash only (they do exist!), especially with the proliferation of card reader technology.

Con #1 – TOO MUCH CONVENIENCE

As we’ve mentioned before, having access to all of your money is a double-edged sword, and a lot of discipline is required where credit cards are involved. We’ve discussed the studies that suggest that spending money using a plastic card doesn’t have the same psychological heft as cash, and therefore makes each swipe easier than the last.  Instant gratification + delayed consequence = trouble!

Pro #2 – Flexibility in paying for big-ticket items

Whether it’s a gotta-have item that you just can’t live without or an actual necessity that you can’t survive without, a credit card means you are not limited by your actual bank account on what you can buy. Credit cards offer the chance to pay for something over the course of months, rather than all at once, making it easier to afford the necessities of life.

Con #2 – THE DREADED INTEREST

We all understand the basics of interest. The issuer of your credit card charges you what amounts to a monthly fee, a percentage of the amount you’ve charged to that card, for the use of that card.  With the flexibility that comes with a credit card comes the added cost of interest.  Any discussion about whether or not it is worth it to put a charge on your card essentially boils down to whether or not the interest you’ll be charged is worth the benefits a credit card offers.

Pro# 3 – Building Credit               

Credit is one of those things that affects more of your life than you realize. The ability to take out a loan, rent an apartment, buy a house or car, even getting a job can be positively or negatively affected by a credit score.  And regular credit card use can be a quick and easy way to build good credit!  Making small everyday purchases, which lead to a manageable credit card bill at the end of the month, and then paying those off in a timely manner is the quickest way to a better credit score.

Con # 3 – Hurting Your Credit

Failing to pay credit card bills on time, however, is a very easy way to tank that good score. Too much credit card debt has a lasting effect on your credit, which can take years to rehabilitate, and remember, has a profound effect on many aspects of life.  It’s a serious consequence that should carry weight in any decision about using a credit card.

Credit cards seem great in theory, and in practice are great to have in the appropriate situations. However, they cannot be taken lightly.  Credit cards are simply one part of a measured and thoughtful financial plan.  They’re not a solution to debt.  They’re certainly not free money.  They’re simply a tool, to be used or abused.  So use them wisely and sparingly, and talk to a financial advisor about the best practices for you!

3/17/2017 – Five Ways to Save When Shopping

Shopping, whether it’s for your weekly groceries, new clothes, or even a new house or car, can be just as fun and rewarding as it can be stressful and draining. It’s a biological fact that we feel good when we buy new things – it’s just how we’re wired. That rush of dopamine following a big purchase is your brain’s way of telling you that you did a good job and that this new thing will improve your life in some way. However, that rush can often be accompanied by a wave of dread, as you look at the state of your bank account and wonder who has been spending all your money. Here are some ways you can be prepared the next time your wallet is burning a hole in your pocket.

1. Determine how much you will spend on a shopping trip BEFORE you shop.

If you’re trying to save money, a spur of the moment shopping spree should be out of the question. Budgeting, the heart of any savings plan, should play an active role in your shopping decisions. You know best how much money you’ve set aside this month for groceries, and you also know best how many times a month you need to restock the pantry.  That’s why it’s up to you to set limits on exactly how much you’re going to spend at the store. This also applies to large purchases like cars. With enough preparation, you should know exactly how much you’re going to spend when you walk into the dealership.

Speaking of…

2. Do your research

Today, when so much consumer information is available at your fingertips, it is incredibly simple to know exactly what you need before you ever walk into a store, and how much you should spend on it. With the right planning and preparation, you don’t have to expect a surprise on any purchase – large or small. Price-comparing and user reviews are some of the best ways to be an informed shopper.

3. Know your “triggers” for overspending

We all have those stores that we can’t control ourselves. Your favorite clothing store. The home improvement store. The pet store (Just me?). There are just certain places that are guaranteed to get a dollar out of us if we’re not careful. That’s why it’s important to be prepared so those “trigger” points don’t win. If you know you’re going to be near that store that gets you every time, plan ahead! Be ready and know exactly how you can avoid even stepping inside if you don’t really need to.

4. Think. Reeeeaaally think.

Impulsiveness, as we have discussed before, is the arch-nemesis of saving. 90% of saving “tips and tricks” boils down to planning, thinking clearly, and not giving in to every whim. Many deals and sales that stores offer are designed to exploit the impulsive instincts we all have. Don’t let a commercial or salesperson tell you what you need. That’s what research is for! And…if it is on sale once..chances are in your favor it will be on sale again!

5. Couponing!!!

Deals and bargains can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you’re saving money! On the other, businesses are counting on you to buy more things because of those savings. That’s why things like sales and coupons are great, as long as they are used in conjunction with the other points on this list. Couponing has gone online, and there are always different types of deals and offers to take advantage of.

Shopping is important and should be fun; what it shouldn’t be, is a drag on your finances!

2/15/2017 – Seven Ways to Save Money in 2017

Saving money is hard. There are just so many things to buy! And so many things that need to be paid for! The water heater needs to be replaced. The new iPhone is out. The car keeps making weird noises. Hawaii is really nice this time of year.

We get it. That’s why saving money has to be a lifestyle. It’s a mindset that should become a habit, and habits only form through action! So we’re here for you with eight easy steps to becoming a money-saving machine

1. Use Cash

Credit cards are just better than cash. That’s undeniably true. They are faster to use, where just a swipe, a dip, or a tap allows a transaction to happen in a matter of seconds, saving precious time at the checkout counter. They are simpler, without the need to count out the correct amount in dollars and cents or deal with burdensome change after the fact. They are more convenient, replacing bulky cash that makes sitting down on a wallet or carrying a purse that much more cumbersome. They have made the shopping experience, and life in general, much easier.

The problem becomes when your goal is to save money, easier is not better. When you’re trying to save money, it should be as difficult as possible to part with every dollar, which is why carrying every one of those dollars around is important. Studies have shown that using plastic to make a transaction is less painful than using cash and that it doesn’t feel like actually spending money when all that is required is a quick swipe. Counting every dollar out and feeling the lightness in your wallet after every purchase will make you think twice about spending your hard-earned cash.

2. Splurge Smart

Occasionally shelling out for a larger purchase, just to treat yourself or someone else can be good for one’s finances. Living a frugal lifestyle makes every big-ticket item that much more precious and meaningful. However, there is a way to take that mindset one step further in the name of savings.

Try this: every time you spring for that cup of espresso, or movie night, or the more expensive car wash where they shampoo the carpets too, put the same amount you spent into your savings account. That way, even when you’re being a little looser with your pocketbook, you can still be saving just a little bit more!

3. Save A Fixed Percentage of Each Paycheck

Planning ahead is VITAL to every savings plan. We’ll get to budgeting in a minute, but first, it’s important to start with the basics. Every month, or every week, or every whenever you get a paycheck, the very first thing to do is take a fixed percentage of that check, and put it into savings. The percentage you choose should reflect your savings goals as well as your income, but it must stay consistent. If you decide that ten percent of every paycheck will go straight to your savings account, whether you make 100 dollars in a pay-period, or a million, you will know exactly how much to toss in savings. This is a simple and, more importantly, consistent way to get into the habit of feeding your savings account.

4. Don’t sacrifice quality for price

When you’re in the savings mindset, the first impulse when shopping is to find the cheapest version of whatever you need. It can feel great to find six sweaters for the price of that one designer version. The problem is when all six of those sweaters have disintegrated three weeks later, and you have to buy six more. Sometimes shelling out a little extra for the sake of quality can be a wise investment.

Obviously there are instances where the cheaper version of something is just as good (we’ll get there in a second), but there is something to be said for making the investment in something, whether it be a piece of clothing, or a car, or anything that needs to last for a while.

5. Eat Out Less

This piece of advice is useful for a number of different reasons. For one, it’s healthier to cook at home. The portions are smaller; there’s less grease involved. It’s almost like someone realized that grease and fat taste good (who knew?).

Another reason, more relevant to this conversation, is that on average, it’s cheaper to cook at home regularly than to eat out regularly. Reusing ingredients for multiple meals, an easier time storing and reheating leftovers, and having control over your own portions and recipe are all conducive to smarter spending habits at mealtime. Of course, there’s no reason to avoid restaurants altogether, as long as they’re closer to once-a-week than once-a-meal.

6. Research (Coupons, discounts, generic brands)

Yes, sometimes spending a little extra on certain items can pay out in the long-term, but oftentimes cheaper is most certainly better. That’s why planning, preparing, and researching are an important part of saving. That can mean anything from comparison shopping (a site like Amazon or Google Shopping is really handy for this), to simply searching for coupons and discount codes. These kinds of deals can often be poorly advertised or simply not well-known, but seeking them out can be very rewarding. Basically, impulse buying is the mortal enemy of saving, so be prepared before every purchase!

7. Budget

Number seven will probably factor into every article we write about money. That’s because budgeting is so important to a healthy financial life, and yet so underutilized as a tool for saving. All budgeting is, is planning; being aware of where every dollar is going to go each month, or year, or pay-period. It eliminates surprises from your bank statement, and it answers questions about whether or not you can afford this purchase or that expense.

Sticking to a budget, and adjusting it as necessary, provides the structure necessary to be able to save, and not feel lost in your finances.

If there was one overriding piece of advice that could tie all of these tips together, it would be mindfulness. Being aware of how, when, and why you spend your money is the best possible way to achieve savings goals of any kind. In today’s world of commerce, there’s a monthly subscription service that lets you watch any kind of TV show or movie you could want. There’s another that lets you buy anything you could need, from clothing to groceries to a new computer, and have it delivered straight to your doorstep (maybe even by drone). It’s so easy, with the numerous ways available today to spend money, to just toss a little cash one way or the other, and then reach the end of the month and wonder where it went. Making smart decisions, or really any decision at all, about where your money goes and doesn’t go can drastically alter how you spend and save.

1/17/2017 – Four EASY Ways to Plan for 2017

The best way to start a new year is intentionally. That means looking back on the last year, and looking forward to the year ahead, and asking yourself how you want to live. That’s a great idea in theory, but doesn’t always play out in real life in any meaningful way. So, here are four PRACTICAL things you can do in the month of January to make sure you’re ready for 2017.  Financially, anyway.

1.  Examine Your Savings and Debt Reduction Goals

New Year, New You, right? Even though sometimes it feels like the only special thing about a new year is buying a new calendar, every January can be a great time to reassess your goals and priorities for the coming year! And that should include your finances and spending habits. Now is the perfect time to take a look at your savings and debt reduction goals. Examine what worked and what didn’t in the last year, and make the necessary adjustments. A portion of every dollar you make should go towards paying down debt and building up savings. And whether or not that was true last year, now’s the time to either make sure you’re on the right track or reset and get closer to where you need to be!

2. Adjust Your Budget

This is for those who made a budget for 2016. If you didn’t, then change this section to MAKE A BUDGET. The Dallas Federal Reserve provides some great tips for budgeting through their “Building Wealth” toolkit.

If you DID make a budget for 2016, it probably wasn’t perfect. That’s fine! Budgets never are, but a new year means a fresh start! Every year brings unexpected expenses and surprises. That’s just how it goes, and budgets need to be adjusted accordingly. Maybe you over- or under-budgeted for something, or wish you had left more flexibility in your spending habits. However your budget shook out in 2016, the beginning of 2017 is the perfect time to reassess and adjust. Take a look at what worked and what didn’t, and what you want to prioritize in the coming year. Budgeting is the perfect opportunity to ask yourself what’s important, and how you want to spend your time, energy, and money!

3. Add to Your Emergency Fund

Budgeting is smart and important! But sometimes life comes at you fast, and you can’t account for every circumstance you will encounter in a year. That can be anything from a sudden job loss to a big medical bill. That’s why every budget should come with an emergency fund, enough savings built up to have a buffer in case of a sudden change in finances. Dave Ramsey recommends that any financial plan have 3-6 months of emergency funds built into it. That’s a great goal to set, but sometimes it’s not immediately achievable. Plus, even if you have six months of savings built up, it never hurts to build on that, just in case. That’s why the beginning of the year is a perfect time to begin prioritizing that fund. As the year goes on, spending habits become more and more ingrained, and every dollar is accounted for by this bill or that expense. Setting aside some of that now guarantees that you’ll be able to maintain that priority later on, and hopefully you won’t need to tap that fund this year!

4. Review Your Credit Report

Having good credit is essential. A bad credit report can affect your ability to buy a house or a car, or how much interest you are required to pay on a loan or mortgage. That’s why checking your credit report (which you’re entitled to three times a year for free), is so important. Checking at the beginning of the year and working to improve the negative aspects of a weak score throughout the year can be hugely useful in building up good credit.

The idea of getting your finances on track can be daunting. So many of our spending habits and priorities are just a reflection of the responsibilities and obligations we have in daily life. We can feel tied to the way we handle our money, simply because that’s the way we’ve done it until now. But better habits and choices at the beginning of the year can dramatically alter the way we feel, think, and act with our money. Start this year the right way!

10/5/2016 – Mobile Apps Make Depositing Checks a Snap

As routine financial tasks move online, you may have fallen out of the habit of banking at a branch office. If so, receiving a paper check can be a hassle, requiring a special trip just to deposit it.

Thankfully, mobile depositing is now widely offered by banks and credit unions, allowing you to put that refund from the cable company or birthday check from your uncle into your account without having to go to a branch in person.

How it works

Financial institutions that offer remote depositing generally do so through smartphone apps. Although the exact procedure varies, in most cases you start by endorsing the back of the check, the same way you would if you were depositing it with a teller or at an ATM. The app prompts you to snap photos of both the front and back of the check and send them through the phone to your account provider.

If you have multiple accounts at the same institution, you’ll need to select the one you want to receive the money. Most of the time, you’ll be asked to enter the amount you’re putting in. The app usually has software designed to read important information from the photos, such as account and routing numbers and the amount of the check. But having you punch in the dollar figure reduces the chance of a software error that accidentally moves $20 into your account when the check was for $200, for example.

Is it risky?

Ideally, the same privacy and security safeguards are in place whether you’re conducting a transaction online with your computer or logging in with a mobile app. Depositing a check by phone is no different. Financial institutions are refining and improving online security practices all the time, and their customer service departments can answer questions if you’re concerned.

You can decrease your risk of having your personal financial data stolen by changing your passwords frequently, using an authentication code on any mobile device you use to access your financial accounts, and avoiding using unsecured Wi-Fi networks at cafes and other public places.

What’s the downside?

If the camera on your phone isn’t of good quality, it may be hard to take a clear enough picture. To improve your chances, lay the check on a flat surface like a table, and make sure it’s well lit. Some apps require the image to include all four corners of the check, so make sure you’re not cutting off part of it when you take the photo. To be safe, allow a small margin around it.

In many cases, there are restrictions placed on money deposited by mobile app. Some financial institutions limit the total dollar amount you can put in this way each month, or won’t accept individual checks over a certain amount. Sometimes, these limits are lower if you’re a new customer, and you’re allowed greater freedom to deposit checks with the mobile app after you’ve had your account for a while.

Although paper checks are becoming less common, you may still receive them from time to time. Having the option to deposit them with your smartphone eliminates a lot of the associated inconvenience. This will only be more true as the technology improves.

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