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Are You Ready to Buy a House?
Authored By: Community Focus FCU on 3/2/2021

A couple in front of the house with the Sold sign.

Homeownership is a goal for many Americans, and it can be good for your financial health as an investment…but only if you go in well prepared and know under what circumstances it isn’t a good move for you and your wallet.

How much can you afford?

Answering this question as accurately as possible is crucial to moving forward in your house search. The factors that go into the answer will help you decide what “affordable” means for you and keep you from buying too much house.

The first factor to know about is your debt-to-income ratio (DTI). To calculate this, add all of your monthly debt payments (credit card, car loan, personal loans, student loans, etc.) and divide it by your monthly gross income. Including anticipated housing-related expenses—mortgage, mortgage insurance, homeowners’ association fees, property tax, homeowners insurance, etc.— your debt payments shouldn’t be above 43% of your monthly gross income.

So, to figure out how big of a monthly mortgage payment you can afford using this DTI, multiply your monthly gross income by 0.43. This gives you the total you should be spending on debt payments. Now, subtract existing debt payments (those credit card, student loan, etc. payments listed above). That final number is what, theoretically, you can afford to spend each month on a mortgage.

Of course, the lower your DTI, the better!

The 43% debt-to-income (DTI) ratio standard is generally used by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to determine if the borrower can make their payments each month. But you should also consider the front-end debt-to-income ratio, which calculates the monthly debt you would incur from housing expenses alone, such as mortgage payments and mortgage insurance. For this, lenders like the ratio to be 28% or less.

The affordability of a house for you should also include the money needed to cover closing costs, which can range from two to four percent of the purchase price, a down payment of 10 to 20% of the purchase price, and the credit score you need to secure the best interest rate.

Do you have the down payment?

The ideal for most people is to be able to put down 20% of the home price. This allows you to avoid paying private mortgage insurance (PMI). PMI is added to your mortgage payments and can add anywhere from $30 to more than $70 to your monthly payments for every $100,000 borrowed. And PMI is not the same as your homeowners’ insurance policy, which you’ll also need to purchase separately.

If you can’t put the full 20% down, you can still buy a home with as little as 3.5% down, for an FHA loan, for example. However, in general, it will limit your choice of lenders and increase your monthly mortgage payments in the long run.

Where do you want to put down roots?

If you’re considering tying your finances to a 15- or 30-year mortgage, you’d better be confident where you’re putting your roots down! Will your job or education likely change in the near future and require you to relocate? Are you near a support network, like family? Would you rather remain flexible about your living situation?

How much time do you have to spend on being a homeowner?

Are you ready for the time commitment of homeownership? We promise most maintenance issues, DIY projects, and rehabs aren’t as easy or as quick as the TV shows would have you believe!

If you can’t pay for someone else to clean your gutters, repair your driveway, install a new bathroom, landscape your backyard, etc., you’ll need to spend time learning how to do it yourself. And then do it.

Not everyone wants to commit the amount of time a home can take. Be sure you consider this lifestyle change before you buy a home.

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Avoid Costly Mistakes When Buying a Car
Authored By: Community Focus FCU on 2/5/2021

Two young people in the car with a smart phone

Are you buying your vehicles backward? Most people seem to. What do we mean? This: most people, when shopping for a new vehicle, go to the dealer, pick out their car, and then figure out financing.How is that backward? You might think they don’t know their budget until they start talking numbers, but the result is almost always spending more than they intended to.How can you avoid this costly mistake? Keep reading for a few tips and a few things you should keep your eye out for when starting your journey to buy a new vehicle.

First things first

Preapproved or prequalified? What’s the difference?

Preapproval:

  • Full credit check
  • Makes you a cash buyer
  • Rate locked-in, as long as the car is in the criteria of the loan
  • Less back-end work with your lender

Prequalified:

  • Credit score is most likely all they looked at
  • Interest rate may change for any number of reasons
  • Not guaranteed, lender could deny you in the end
  • More back-end work with your lender

It’s your choice in the long run. You have more freedom to do what you want with pre-qualification, but preapproval will speed up the process if you know what to do.

Budget

Knowing how much you can spend before you get to the dealership is more than putting some information into an auto loan calculator and getting a vague idea.

Going to your credit union before you even start seriously shopping is the best way to know your budget ahead of time and set it in stone.

The high ground

Holding the high ground in any fight is to your advantage. Negotiating the price of a car is no different. And one way to get the high ground is to have cash. That is what you have when you walk in with a preapproved or prequalified loan: cash. The dealership will get paid the second you sign the papers. And like anything, cash gets things done faster.

Avoid markups

Having your financing squared away before you go to the dealer helps you avoid any financial markups before you close the deal. You’ve already signed the papers and have a clear understanding of what your interest rate is going to be. Waiting to figure out financing with the dealer, you could end up with higher rates, random fees, and generally just spending more than you should.

Avoid upsells

The stereotype of dealers finding random ways to up the price has truth. Mostly gone are the days of un-necessary underbody coatings or strange fees like making sure the bolts are tight and the paint is fresh.

When you have your financing in place before you even start shopping, it’s harder to sneak those fees. If the price you shook on starts going up, walk away from the table and go to another dealer. The ball is in your court. You’re helping them by buying a car; they aren’t helping you by financing it.

The process

Getting your pre-loan work out of the way is going to vary depending on your credit union or the lender of your choice. However, many lenders have simplified the process over the past few years. So simplified in many cases that you can apply online or through an app.

The best way to get the details is to contact your lender and ask a few questions. Due to Covid, there is a chance their process has changed, depending on how you’d like to apply. Other than that, enjoy your new vehicle.

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Buying a Home In the Spring
Authored By: Community Focus FCU on 1/21/2021

Young Couple Holding Keys in front of New Home

Home shopping season is upon us! Spring is the most popular time of the year for buying and selling homes. With so many buyers in the market, you’ll want to make sure you stay competitive. Follow the tips below to help you land the home of your dreams.

Research & Preparation

If you are planning to move to a new area, it is a good idea to explore and talk to locals. Drive around in the neighborhoods you like most and use online tools to research the town and local real estate agents. Visit the neighborhood during different days and times to get a better understanding of traffic and lighting.

Finding a local real estate agent that is well versed with the neighborhoods you are looking in is extremely valuable. They will be able to tell you what the market is like, how fast the homes are selling, and information about the neighborhood. You can ask for a referral from a real estate network you’ve used in the past or ask friends from the area if they have an agent they could recommend.

Your Mortgage & Pre-Approval

Get in touch with a mortgage lender to figure out how much home you can afford. Our partner, Mortgage Center, offers a free pre-approval that will show sellers you’re serious.

Your pre-approval letter will show you the maximum loan amount you are approved for, but you’ll want to create a budget to figure out how much home you can afford. Don’t forget about expenses like utility bills that could increase depending on your home. Make sure you’re comfortable with a new monthly budget.

Have Questions?

Join us for a free homebuyer webinar on March 4th at 6pm from the comfort of your home! Together with our partner Mortgage Center, we will be discussing the ins and outs of the home buying process. There will be experts on hand to answer your mortgage questions.

As an added bonus, you can receive $500 off* your closing costs for attending the seminar. Click here to learn more and RSVP, limited seating is available.

 

Equal Housing Lender
Mortgage Center NMLS# 282701

Information as of January 2021.

*Offer for $500 off closing costs is valid for 90 days after the seminar. Must have attended the seminar to be eligible. Applies to Residential 1st Mortgages only and excludes Home Equity Loans and Home Equity Lines of Credit. All loans subject to credit approval.

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Pay Off Debt or Save for Retirement
Authored By: Community Focus FCU on 1/14/2021

Middle age couple sitting at the table and looking at paperwork.

Paying off debt. Saving for retirement (or financial independence, if you prefer). They’re both important to your financial health, but is one more important than the other? Can you manage to do both at the same time and call it a wise decision?

Ultimately, the answer depends on your current situation, including the types of debt you have and at what interest rates, and what retirement matching plan is offered by your employer. As your situation changes throughout life, your strategy to both pay off debt and save may change, and that’s okay.

Formulate a plan with manageable steps and automate your savings as much as you can. Here are eight steps you can follow to pay off debt and save for financial independence.

1. Figure out what you have and what you owe.

Essentially, this is a snapshot of your net worth. By laying out what your income is and what your debt obligations are, you can more clearly see your current balance between savings (for retirement and an emergency fund) and debt. Knowing where you’re starting from will not only show you which direction to take but will also show you when progress is made.

2. Find and list the interest rates on all of your debt.

Create a simple spreadsheet where you list out your total remaining debt balances, their interest rates, and the monthly minimum payments. Organize the debts from highest interest rate to lowest. Include credit cards, hospital debt, student loans, personal loans, payday loans, car loans, mortgage, etc. You will use this to prioritize debt payments against the potential growth of retirement contributions.

3. Create a budget.

The goal of your budget should be to pay all of your fixed expenses (rent, loan/debt minimums, insurance, etc.) and needs (food, utility bills, gas in car, clothing on your back, etc.) and then divert as much money as possible toward paying off debt, building an emergency savings fund, and saving for retirement. If you can set aside at least 20% of your net income for these goals (excluding what you put into your 401(k) pre-tax), then you’ll make progress at a steady pace.

4. See if you can refinance your loans.

If interest rates on car loans and mortgages are currently lower than when you took out the loans, it may be a smart move to refinance and take advantage of the lower rates. When refinancing your mortgage, consider looking at a shorter-term mortgage. See if your budget will comfortably allow the bump in monthly payments to shorten the loan and ultimately pay less in interest. If you have questions about refinancing, speak with a financial advisor at your credit union.

5. Reevaluate your credit card usage.

Start using your credit card like a debit card: only spend the money you have in the bank. Cancel automatic charges and turn them into auto-debits from your checking account (if the expense still fits in your new budget). Call your credit card companies and ask for a lower interest rate or to wave the yearly fee. If you can’t lower the interest rate, see if you can transfer the balance to a card with a 0% interest offer. The goal is to not continue racking up credit card debt while you’re working to pay off the balance.

6. Create an emergency savings fund.

At minimum, you need one month’s worth net income saved for emergencies before aggressively paying down debt. While building your emergency fund, continue to pay the minimums on your loans and debt, but put all extra money into savings. Once you’ve saved your goal amount, apply those extra dollars toward paying down debt. An emergency fund prevents you from falling back on credit cards (and amassing more debt) when an unexpected expense comes up—like a car repair, vet bill, or home repair.

7. If you can afford it, take advantage of your employer’s 401(k) or 403(b) match. If you can’t, then cut expenses or earn more money so you can.

Not taking advantage of an employer retirement 401(k) or 403(b) match is like throwing away free money. While paying off the minimum monthly payments on your debt, do whatever it takes to take full advantage of the offered retirement match. If they’ll match up to 6%, scrounge every penny to meet that full 6%. It’s an immediate return on your investment.

8. Now figure out how much you can pay toward your debt.

You have a budget that prioritizes saving and debt repayment. You’re cutting expenses and perhaps creating new income. You have an emergency fund of at least one month’s net income. You’re making the minimum monthly loan payments. You’re meeting any retirement match offered by your employer.

Now’s the point where you aggressively pay down your debt. Where before every extra dollar not paying for food or the mortgage went toward your emergency fund and then your company’s retirement match program, now any and all extra money goes toward paying off debt, starting with the loan with the highest interest rate.

Depending on your time horizon for retirement and the interest rate on your debts, you may be advised to shift the balance of those extra dollars in favor of saving for retirement. Or, if you have any debts with interest rates over 6%, some financial advisors suggest paying off those debts first before going back to minimum payments on lower-interest-rate loans and more aggressive retirement savings.

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Black Friday 2020 Cancelled?
Authored By: Community Focus FCU on 11/23/2020

Family window shopping

We can now confidently say that the Black Friday traditions of lines out the door for doorbuster deals, crushing crowds, and in-store sales starting on Thanksgiving Day are a thing of the past. And while online shopping and events like Cyber Monday had already weakened Black Friday’s position as the biggest and best day for deals, the coronavirus pandemic is forcing retailers to press the “reset” button on how this year’s holiday shopping season will run.

Retailers have more responsibilities to juggle this shopping season, namely creating a safe shopping and working environment through social distancing logistics, limited store capacities and opening times, and additional cleaning protocols. But they must also contend with ongoing inventory challenges, disrupted supply chains, an economic recession that weakens their customers’ buying power, and building and running a new shopping experience that relies heavily on e-commerce and curb-side service.

What you can expect

With all of these factors in mind—not to mention the pressure on retailers to make up for money lost during the shutdowns earlier in the year—many big-name stores will be starting holiday sales in October. That’s right. You’ll be able to buy stocking stuffers and Halloween candy at the same time.

Hooray?

If you’re not happy about mixing holiday-themed sales and decorations, you might be happy to learn that many stores won’t be open for shopping on Thanksgiving Day.

The trend of starting Black Friday shopping by dessert time on Thanksgiving kicked off when, because of where Thanksgiving fell relative to Christmas, there were going to be six fewer days of shopping between the holidays. And then the trend stuck—until public backlash encouraged some retailers to stay closed on Thanksgiving, putting time with family before a few extra hours of sales and profit.

The pandemic is now giving a bigger and harder push for all stores to reconsider opening on Thanksgiving.

Here are the holiday shopping changes that have been announced so far from some of the biggest names in retail:

  • Target will launch holiday sales in October but will be closed on Thanksgiving Day.
  • Amazon is moving its annual Prime Day sales into October as well, with rotating, limited-time deals.
  • WalMart will be closed on Thanksgiving, with normal shopping hours resuming on Black Friday.
  • Best Buy, Kohl’s, the TJ Maxx family of stores, Costco, and Bed Bath & Beyond have all said they will be closed on Thanksgiving.

In the end, these new changes could all work out in your favor. An extended season of sales means more time to consider and spend wisely.

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Coronavirus Scams
Authored By: Community Focus FCU on 11/20/2020

A photo of a computer screen with a Fraud Alert notice

Fraudsters and scammers take advantage of fear and uncertainty—two things in abundance during the coronavirus pandemic. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had logged about 192,700 consumer complaints related to COVID-19 and stimulus payments by September 7, 2020. Victims reported a median loss of $300, for a total of $134 million lost to scammers.

To keep your time, money, and personal health information safe, review this list of top pandemic scams. For a continually updated list, visit the Federal Trade Commission website (www.ftc.gov) or the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) website (www.fcc.gov).

Fake contact tracers

Fake coronavirus contact tracers hope to use your fear of exposure to the virus to extract payment, financial information (bank account or credit card number), your Social Security number, or immigration status. A legitimate tracer will not need nor ask for any of this information. Depending on your state’s program, legitimate contact tracers may call, email, text, or visit your home to collect very specific information: your name and address, health information (but not Medicare or Medicaid information), and the names of places and people you have visited within a specific timeframe.

Stimulus payment scam

There are a few different stimulus payment scams that have been reported to the government. The easiest way to avoid all of them is to follow these rules:

  • Only use www.irs.gov/coronavirus to submit stimulus information to the government.
  • Do not respond to texts, emails, social media messages, or calls claiming to be from the IRS about your stimulus payment (that’s not how the IRS would contact you if they have questions; they’ll do it by snail mail).
  • You don’t have to pay anyone to get your stimulus money. If you receive a communication claiming to be the IRS and instructing you to deposit your stimulus check and then send them money back because they overpaid you, it’s a fake check scam.

Fake vaccines and test kits

Phony vaccinations and home test kits for sale are rampant on the internet and as a part of email phishing schemes. There is no guarantee these products work, and in most cases, nothing shows up at your door, but you’re already out the money. Some scams are targeted at Medicare beneficiaries, requiring the Medicare and personal information needed to commit healthcare fraud.

Illegal robocalls

Even if you avoid scams on the internet, scammers are also using illegal robocalls to sell low-priced health insurance, free virus test kits, cures, work-from-home opportunities, debt consolidation services, and student loan repayment plans. Some versions target high risk individuals with diabetes, offering a free COVID-19 testing kit and a free diabetic monitor; others claim to be from the U.S. Department of Health, warning of a coronavirus outbreak in your area and recommending a (fake) vaccine sold by a phony "health advisor."

What all of these robocall scams have in common is asking for your personal and financial or payment information.

Fraudulent government and health organization emails

Health organizations like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) will never email you personally. But scammers want you to think that’s who’s contacting you with dire warnings and some request for personal or financial information.

Only use sites like www.coronavirus.gov and www.usa.gov/coronavirus for the latest information.

Small business scams

Small businesses can also be victims of fraudsters. Businesses can receive phone calls, emails, or targeted ads online about fake virus-related loans or Payroll Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan process help. The only place to officially and safely apply for government assistance related to the pandemic for a small business is at www.SBA.gov.

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When it's better to use a Debit Card?
Authored By: Community Focus FCU on 11/16/2020

Woman holding shopping bags and a debit card

“Debit or credit?”

It’s a question you probably hear every time you buy something in person. If you have the option of using either a debit or a credit card, is there a reason you choose one card over the other? Is there ever a wrong choice between the two?

There could be, depending on your situation.

How your cards work

It’s first important to understand how the two types of cards work.

Debit cards draw money straight from your checking account. You won’t get a bill later or pay interest on what you spend, but you could pay an overdraft fee if you spend more than what you have in your account. A debit card also allows you to get cash from an ATM, drawn from whichever account you choose (checking or saving).

Credit cards allow you to borrow money that must be repaid, with interest if you don’t pay your entire credit card bill when it comes due. You will have a credit limit on each credit card—the maximum amount of money you can charge to a card, but it will likely be much more than you have in your checking account.

Credit cards have many perks, like fraud prevention, helping you build credit, earning perks (like cash back or airline miles), extended warranties on electronics, and additional insurance on air travel or car rentals.

If someone steals your debit card information and withdraws money from your account, there’s a good chance that money is gone forever, although your credit union may offer additional protection up to a certain dollar amount. However, with a credit card, you are protected against fraudulent charges by federal law, and you can dispute any charges by dishonest sellers.

Even with all of the advantages of using a credit card, there are times when it might be smarter for you to use your debit card.

If using a credit card incurs a fee

It’s not uncommon for a surcharge to be added to your bill if you use a credit card. Examples include using a credit card to get money out at an ATM, to pay taxes, or to pay a tuition bill.

If you’re buying from a small business

Businesses must pay a credit card processing company money to offer credit cards as an accepted form of payment. To help offset this cost, the store may set a credit card minimum, ensuring you spend enough to make the credit card charge worth it. Using your debit card when shopping from small, local businesses helps the business keep more of the profit, helps keep you from overspending to meet that purchase minimum, and helps prevent the business from increasing its overall prices to compensate for the credit card processing fee.

If you’re in credit card debt

If you’re currently facing deep consumer debt on your credit cards, or have only recently paid off your credit card debt, or struggle to resist spending beyond your means, you should be reaching for your debit card more than a credit card.

When you run out of money in your checking account, your credit union won’t let you spend any more! It’s a natural prevention to overspending!

Summary

An easy way to decide which card to use in the moment is to match the card type to your goal.

If you’re avoiding debt, use your debit card.

If you’re trying to build credit and can pay off your bill each month, use a credit card.

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The Most Fuel Efficient 2020 Models
Authored By: Community Focus FCU on 11/9/2020

Man holding dollar bills by a fuel pump

On a day-to-day basis, fuel is going to be the biggest cost of owning a car. Even with the pandemic and most people driving less, it still takes money to get your vehicle moving. If you’re in the market for a new vehicle and looking to save for those times you do drive, here is a list of the most fuel-efficient vehicles on the market, both hybrids and standard configurations.

Hybrids

Since the arrival of the Toyota Prius, hybrid vehicles have dominated fuel efficiency.

  1. Toyota Camry Hybrid – The first car on the list to crack the 50-mpg mark with a 52-mpg rating, the Camry Hybrid comes in at around $28,430. Another legend of reliability, the Camry gives you a little more than you need without breaking the bank.
  2. Toyota Corolla Hybrid – Sharing its big brother’s 52-mpg capability, the Corolla saves even more with its smaller size and minimal appointments, bringing the price tag to $23,100.
  3. Honda Insight – The first model on the list to only come as a hybrid, the Insight offers 52 mpg and a price of $23,930. Don’t expect a lot but also don’t expect to empty your wallet to fill it up.
  4. Toyota Prius – The original modern hybrid, the Prius continues to set the standard for fuel-efficiency. With 56 mpg and a $24,325 price tag, the Prius has solid value. Not to mention, the Prius also has history as a safe car—now made safer with a full suite of driver-assist features.
  5. Hyundai Ioniq – At 58 mpg, this is the most fuel-efficient vehicle of 2020. And a price tag of $23,200 sets it below many of the others on the list. If you’re looking to skimp on gas and don’t need much in the way of features, the Ioniq is a solid choice in the saving category.

Standard

  1. Nissan Versa – With 30 mpg combined fuel economy, the Versa sips fuel for a standard configuration, and at $14,830 it’s a bargain all around.
  2. Toyota Yaris – The Yaris boasts 35 mpg and a price tag of $17,750. You aren’t going to get a lot of exciting features, but the Yaris is going to last a long time.
  3. Honda Fit – This compact comes in at 36 mpg for $16,190. If you need to haul around anything, the ample cargo space of the Fit is something you should check out.
  4. Kia Rio – If you want the fuel economy of a hybrid from a decade ago, here you go, 36 mpg. With a sticker price of $15,850, the Rio is a value car all the way around. The aggressive styling makes up for a lack of power.
  5. Hyundai Accent – With an impressive 37 mpg, this is a solid contender even against hybrids. And at nearly half the cost ($15,395) of hybrids, you’re going to have plenty of cash left in your pocket to make up the difference in fuel costs.

Things to think about

None of these are recommendations for any particular car. What suits you best is what you should shop for.

Another thing to think about is buying used. Newer models will have better fuel economy, but one or two mpg isn’t going to really be noticeable, especially when the purchase price of the car is greatly reduced.

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Tax Credits: Electric and Hybrid Vehicles
Authored By: Community Focus FCU on 10/1/2020

Electric and Hybrid Vehicles Tax Credit

A lot of people buy electric vehicles or hybrids for fuel savings, but the tax credit associated with these vehicles may be an even bigger draw. A $7,500 tax credit can be quite the incentive! But there is more to know than just a number (like everything to do with taxes). Here is what you should know about electric vehicle (EV) and hybrid tax credits.

Don’t expect a check. It’s a credit not a rebate. That means you can receive up to the maximum amount reduced from your income tax. If your tax bill is only $5,000, then receiving the full EV tax credit would zero out your bill—but you won’t get a check for the remaining $2,500. The small print basically says that it’s up to a $7,500 non-refundable credit.

Not all credits are the same. Depending on the vehicle you’re looking at, you may not get a $7,500 credit. As time passes, the amount of tax credit offered on a vehicle drops because the amount offered is based on sales volume—the more popular vehicles that have been around longer (i.e. higher sales volume) get a smaller credit when purchased. A 2012–18 Ford Focus EV will net you a $7,500 credit, but a Prius will get you somewhere between $2,500 and $4,502, depending on the year of the vehicle.

There is a limit. The credit only applies to a certain number of vehicles. Each company is limited to 200,000 credits. There is some leeway since it’s impossible to know who bought the 200,000th car, but if there is a car you want and the manufacturer is getting close to its limit, act soon. Tesla is the first to have run out of credit qualifications. GM followed shortly behind. So if you want a Tesla, sorry, you’re not getting a tax credit. But don’t worry; there are still plenty of options out there. If you’re more focused on the deal than the vehicle, you should have no problem finding something that suits your needs.

There are more credits. Most people focus on the federal credit. However, there are state credits too! So even if you missed out on a Tesla federal tax credit, you might still get a credit through your state’s program. Better yet, you can stack your credits and rebates. If you live in a state with a credit or rebate, you can get more money back by cashing in at both the federal and state levels.

More than cars. As mentioned above, states are doing their own thing. Not all of those credits or rebates are for the vehicle itself. Electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids require special equipment to charge. A lot of states offer programs to reduce or totally off-set the cost of installing a charging system. Some of these programs apply to businesses too. If you own a business, you could install a charger at little to no cost.

This could also be applied to an apartment complex or condo development. If you live in a communal living development and buy or lease a plug-in vehicle, you could work with the property management to install a charger for your new vehicle.

Paperwork. To claim your federal tax credit, you’ll need to fill out Form 9836 and Form 1040. There are a few other criteria you’ll need to meet to get your credit:

  • Proof you own the vehicle. If it is leased, only the lessor can claim the credit since they actually own the vehicle.
  • Proof the vehicle is registered and used during the tax year.
  • Only using the vehicle on public roads and highways.
  • Being the first person to use the vehicle.
  • Not acquiring the vehicle for the sole purpose of resale.
  • Mostly using the vehicle in the U.S.
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Exposing Hidden Fees - They Are Everywhere!
Authored By: Community Focus FCU on 9/15/2020

Exposing Fees

Undisclosed and deceptive fees are becoming commonplace and end up costing American consumers billions of dollars each year. According to a report by the Consumer Federation of America, hidden and additional fees can increase bills by up to 25%.

Companies may choose to hide the true cost of a product or service through fees—often added at the very end of the purchase process—so they can appear to be the lowest-price provider in a competitive marketplace. When, say, an airline service disguises part of a ticket’s cost as fees, the true and total cost may not be picked up by online shopping engines, showing you a much lower price. Industries notorious for hiding fees include shipping, airlines, non–credit union banking services, cable providers, car rental agencies and dealers, hotels and resorts, phone providers, medical services, and retirement funds.

Types of hidden fees and fee pricing

  1. Drip pricing. This fee tactic slowly accumulates costs as you progress through check out. A company might lure you to a product with a super-low price, but once you hit the “purchase” button, additional options (some of which are unavoidable, like a charge for the color of the item), upsells, tax, and shipping and handling costs will slowly push that price up.
      
  2. Default upgrades. This often happens with bargain-basement travel deals with airlines, hotels, and car rental companies. The seller has boxes automatically ticked for product, service, or shipping upgrades by default. If you don’t go through and uncheck each box, you’ll pay a much higher-than-advertised price.
      
  3. A surcharge. This is an additional fee that is usually higher than what you could pay for the item or action on your own. For example, the fuel surcharge from a car rental company.
      
  4. Transaction fee. These are simply for the act of fulfilling an order, like for an online concert ticket purchase.
      
  5. Undisclosed/Hidden fee. These are the fees that you weren’t told about or able to discover on your own. These can be legal or illegal. They are considered illegal if they or the quoted price was deceptive, fraudulent, or the result of false advertising.
      
  6. Excessive costing. You might know this scheme as the claim “You only pay shipping!” A company will sell you an item “for free” and you only have to pay shipping and handling fees—but of course those fees are inflated. This is how the company covers manufacturing costs and generates a profit.

Examples

Here’s where you’re most likely to find hidden fees:

  1. Hotels. Today, hotels often charge “resort fees” to cover items that you might expect to be a part of your basic hotel price and experience. Resort fees can run $10 to $100 per night. They usually cover your room’s “free” wifi, “complimentary” bottled water or coffee, access to the gym and swimming pool, towels, housekeeping service, the “included” breakfast, the safe in your room, and potentially other items and services. Ask about resort fees before you book your next hotel room and ask if any of them can be removed (like the one for a safe in your room if you don’t need it).
      
  2. Car rentals. Be sure you look for these fees and charges before deciding which company truly offers the best deal: additional insurance, age surcharge, additional driver fees, overcharged toll feels, fuel charges, drop-off fees, mileage fees.
      
  3. Car dealerships. These might be some of the most well-known fees, which are added to the sale price before you sign documents and drive off the lot: advertising, documentation, dealer prep, inventory, and delivery fees, as well as extended warranties. Many of these can be negotiated.
      
  4. Phone service. Beware of “cramming”—adding fees to your phone bill for services you didn’t sign up for. They’re often small-amount fees, but they add up over time. They can include voicemail, mail server, membership, minimum monthly usage, premium text message, or simply “other” fees. These aren’t always illegal, but you have the right to contact your phone company and ask to cancel or negotiate a better deal.
      
  5. Modem fee. Many internet providers charge broadband customers a monthly fee to rent a modem. You can avoid this by purchasing your own. It will most likely pay for itself in less than a year!
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When is it better to use a Debit Card?
Authored By: Community Focus FCU on 9/4/2020

Debit Card or Credit Card

“Debit or credit?”

It’s a question you probably hear every time you buy something in person. If you have the option of using either a debit or a credit card, is there a reason you choose one card over the other? Is there ever a wrong choice between the two?

There could be, depending on your situation.

How your cards work

It’s first important to understand how the two types of cards work.

Debit cards draw money straight from your checking account. You won’t get a bill later or pay interest on what you spend, but you could pay an overdraft fee if you spend more than what you have in your account. A debit card also allows you to get cash from an ATM, drawn from whichever account you choose (checking or saving).

Credit cards allow you to borrow money that must be repaid, with interest if you don’t pay your entire credit card bill when it comes due. You will have a credit limit on each credit card—the maximum amount of money you can charge to a card, but it will likely be much more than you have in your checking account.

Credit cards have many perks, like fraud prevention, helping you build credit, earning perks (like cash back or airline miles), extended warranties on electronics, and additional insurance on air travel or car rentals.

If someone steals your debit card information and withdraws money from your account, there’s a good chance that money is gone forever, although your credit union may offer additional protection up to a certain dollar amount. However, with a credit card, you are protected against fraudulent charges by federal law, and you can dispute any charges by dishonest sellers.

Even with all of the advantages of using a credit card, there are times when it might be smarter for you to use your debit card.

If using a credit card incurs a fee

It’s not uncommon for a surcharge to be added to your bill if you use a credit card. Examples include using a credit card to get money out at an ATM, to pay taxes, or to pay a tuition bill.

If you’re buying from a small business

Businesses must pay a credit card processing company money to offer credit cards as an accepted form of payment. To help offset this cost, the store may set a credit card minimum, ensuring you spend enough to make the credit card charge worth it. Using your debit card when shopping from small, local businesses helps the business keep more of the profit, helps keep you from overspending to meet that purchase minimum, and helps prevent the business from increasing its overall prices to compensate for the credit card processing fee.

If you’re in credit card debt

If you’re currently facing deep consumer debt on your credit cards, or have only recently paid off your credit card debt, or struggle to resist spending beyond your means, you should be reaching for your debit card more than a credit card.

When you run out of money in your checking account, your credit union won’t let you spend any more! It’s a natural prevention to overspending!

Summary

An easy way to decide which card to use in the moment is to match the card type to your goal.

If you’re avoiding debt, use your debit card.

If you’re trying to build credit and can pay off your bill each month, use a credit card.

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COVID-19 Fraud Scams
Authored By: Community Focus FCU on 8/31/2020

Fraud and Scams

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in large numbers of unemployment filings. Unfortunately, many agencies are also reporting an increased number of unemployment scams in which victims’ identities are being used to file false unemployment claims. Victims, who have not filed unemployment claims, are receiving notification from their employer’s Human Resources department, or the Unemployment Insurance Agency indicating an unemployment claim has been filed on their behalf. Unemployment Insurance Agency is recommending the following steps for anyone who knows or believes that they are a victim:

Steps to report fraud and identity theft

1. Contact Human Resources – reach out to your HR department to coordinate and report the incident to your employer.

2. Report the fraud to the Unemployment Insurance Agency fraud unit in your state 

3. Get a free credit report and place a fraud alert– contact one of the credit report bureaus: Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion at www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228. Report that the fraudulent claim was made using your identity. You can then put a free fraud alert on your identity with one or more of the credit report bureaus or freeze your credit. Find more information about freezing your credit here.

4. Contact the IRS – if it is confirmed that a payment has been made as a result of unemployment identity theft, report the payment as fraudulent by completing an IRS Affidavit Form 14039 (Search Forms and Instructions).

How to protect yourself from becoming an identity theft victim

  • Guard your Social Security Number. Give out your number when absolutely necessary and don’t carry your Social Security Number card with you.
  • Don’t respond to unsolicited requests for personal information (your name, birthdate, Social Security Number, or bank account number) by phone, mail or online
  • Shred receipts, credit offers, account statements, and expired cards, to prevent “dumpster divers” from getting your personal information
  • Review your credit report at least once a year at www.annualcreditreport.com to be certain that it doesn’t include accounts that you have not opened.

How can Community Focus FCU help you in preventing identity theft and fraud?

  • Sign up for e-Statements in Online Banking to reduce the chances of becoming an identity theft victim through mailed account statement
  • Sign up for SavvyMoney in Online Banking to view changes to your your credit report 24/7. If you see any fraudulent or unknown accounts, you can easily dispute your report via the Dispute Report button within SavvyMoney.
  • Sign up for MobiMoney and get instantaneous notifications anytime your Debit Card is used 
  • Set up E-Alerts in Online Banking and get updates on your balances, transactions, unauthorized logins or upcoming loan payments

For more information on the Unemployment Insurance Agency fraud, please visit the Unemployment Insurance Agency's website.

To learn more about identity theft and fraud prevention tips, please click here

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Don't Forget to Ask These Questions When Buying a New Car
Authored By: Community Focus FCU on 8/28/2020
Buying a new car
There are many questions you’ll be asking yourself, the dealership sales associate, and probably car review websites before you decide to buy a new vehicle—but here are six questions you should ask before signing any purchase papers. These questions should be your “deal testers,” a way for you to verify the purchase terms, understand all the fees, and ultimately decide if further negotiation is needed.


"What's my out-the-door price?" or “What other fees will I be charged?”

Usually, up to the point of signing the vehicle purchase contract, you’ve only been discussing and negotiating the price of the car. However, there are always additional fees to pay—some legitimate and unavoidable, others questionable or negotiable. Fees to expect include sales tax, registry and new license costs, tire recycling fees, and a documentation fee.

“How much is your documentation fee?”

All car dealers charge a documentation ("doc") fee for filling out the contract to buy a new car. As ridiculous as it may sound, it’s a universal fee charged by all dealerships. Doc fee rates vary state by state. Some states cap the doc fee, usually at a price under $200. Other states don't regulate the fee at all, so it can be $500 or more. If you live in a state without a capped fee and feel the fee is too high, your best bet is to negotiate the price of the car down to compensate for the high doc fee, rather than try to get the dealer to waive the fee altogether.


“Are there any dealer-installed options on the vehicle?”

Dealers often add options to new vehicles after they receive them from the factory. Options added by dealers are called “add-ons” and the markup can be steep to boost dealership revenue. Add-ons can include nitrogen-filled tires, LoJack car recovery system, window tinting, wheel locks, all-weather floor mats, paint protection, and others. Dealers will sometimes install an add-on to all new cars in their inventory to make it appear as if it’s a standard feature. But, if you know it’s not a standard feature, you won’t be tricked into paying for an add-on you don’t want. Because the mark-up for the feature is set by the dealer, its price can be negotiated by a savvy buyer.


“What tax credits are available for this vehicle?”

If you’re considering buying a new fuel-efficient hybrid or electric vehicle, you may be eligible for a federal tax credit. But did you know there are other tax credits that may be available for other types of vehicles? Researching this question before you get to the dealership, as well as asking the sales associate, will give you more information when trying to calculate the final take-home price of a vehicle.


“How many miles are on the vehicle?”

This question is important for both internet and in-town shoppers. Even a brand new never-been-owned car can have more miles on the odometer than expected, which may change how much you’re willing to pay for it. Perhaps the vehicle has been taken on a lot of test drives, or it's a "dealer trade” and was driven from one dealership to another. As a general rule, if there are more than 300 miles on a car, you should negotiate a lower price if it isn’t already marked down. For any new car that has higher mileage or has been on the lot for a while, ask to see the “in-service date.” This is the date when the factory warranty begins, and it’s important to know if some of that time has already elapsed before you purchase it.


“Can you deliver the car?”

This question applies primarily to internet shoppers. Delivery of your new car is a great last perk to negotiate that saves you time and gas. Vehicle delivery also has the added benefit of allowing you to skip the sales pitches from the finance and insurance manager at the dealership for extended warranties and additional services. If you do want one of these extras, you always have the option of speaking with the appropriate manager over the phone.
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