Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Help us Donate $25,000 with Thumbs Up For Charity!

https://www.cfcu.org/thumbsup

Community Financial is once again giving residents in the communities it serves the opportunity to reward their favorite charities through its Thumbs Up for Charity program. Throughout March and the beginning of April, the public is encouraged to nominate charities they think deserve a donation for the work they do in their community. They will then be able to vote on which charity deserves the top prize and help Community Financial award $25,000!

The charity that receives the most online votes will receive the grand prize of $10,000. Second and third place winners will receive $5,000 each, and the fourth and fifth runners-up will each receive $2,500.

Nominations have already begun at cfcu.org/thumbsup and will continue until April 3rd. Voting on the top five nominees will then run April 13th- May 1st, so don’t miss this chance to give recognition to the group you think deserves it most!

Thumbs Up for Charity gives residents the chance to be a part of giving back to local nonprofits that have already given so much to the communities where they live, work and play.

“The nonprofit groups in our communities do an amazing job and we are proud to support them throughout the year,” said Community Financial marketing manager Sarah Cousineau. “We wanted to provide the residents of our communities a chance to tell us which groups they think deserve recognition, and ‘Thumbs Up for Charity’ gives them that opportunity.”

If you would like to nominate a charity, please make sure that it is a registered 501(c)(3) organization or associated with an accredited educational institution serving southeast or northern Michigan.

For complete rules and more information about the Thumbs Up For Charity program visit cfcu.org/thumbsup or facebook.com/CommunityFinancial.

Now is your chance to make a difference in your community!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Gardening Trends in Michigan

As the long winter begins to break and the snow melts away, Michiganders are more than ready for warmer weather and sunshine. With the spring season on the horizon, now is a good time to develop a gardening plan. Here are a few popular gardening trends this year to help get you inspired. 

  • Low maintenance. Busy home owners want to enjoy yards that don’t require a lot of time and effort to maintain. This trend is translating into more low-maintenance, carefree choices for outdoor spaces. This includes things like: materials for decks, patios and columns that don’t require repainting or replacing, furnishings that can be left outdoors throughout the year, and plants that don’t have to be constantly watered, fertilized, or pruned. This leads to a greater use of perennials instead of annuals in gardening, since annuals require yearly replacement.
  • Containers/raised bed gardening. Another trend in gardening is the use of raised beds and containers. Many would-be gardeners decide against growing things because they lack the property to accommodate a garden. Raised garden beds and containers, such as pots and planters, provide a way for people to grow pretty much everywhere and even make it possible to take your garden with you when you move! Individual containers for each plant can also make it easier to gauge how much water is needed for any particular plant, and possible to optimize sunlight absorption on a plant-by-plant basis.
  • Edible gardening. Growing fruits, vegetables and herbs at home is becoming increasingly popular as people want to live healthier lifestyles. People are also starting to see the value of urban farming and how it can benefit communities. Urban farms are a great way to teach future generations about healthier living and giving back to the communities where they live, work and play.
  • Rain barrels. With the melting snow and unpredictable weather patterns of our beloved Mitten state, it can be hard to be prepared to keep up a garden. A proper amount of water is necessary for the success of any plant, so it’s important that there is a source readily available. Rain barrels provide a way to collect water that would otherwise run off the roof and down into the sewers. The collected water can then be “portioned” out in the proper amounts, over the suitable time period. Using rain barrels not only gives gardeners more control over their plants hydration, but also saves money by decreasing their water bill!
  • Animal or bee gardens. Another trend worth mentioning is the growing amount of animal gardens, or homesteading. Animals can improve the health of almost any garden in a variety of ways. For a relatively small amount of money, a beehive can be started and maintained, and provide not only delicious honey, but help keep plants and gardens in the vicinity thriving. Honey can also be a great secondary source of income. A chicken coop is generally more expensive to start up, but many people find it more appealing to keep chickens instead of bees. Chickens also help fertilize and eat bugs that might ruin a garden. Be sure to check your city ordinances regarding “live” gardens before you buy your chickens.
Careful planning and timing are important for the success of any garden, so start researching ideas on the type of garden you want to have this summer. The MSU Smart Gardening website is a great place to start to get an idea on how to start gardening and what types of plants will thrive in Michigan. Have any Michigan gardening tips of your own? Share them in the comments section below.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Surprising Ways to Sabotage Your Credit Score

Remember those library books you keep meaning to bring back? Well, they may be costing you, and not just the small fine the library charges. In fact, they may be costing you a shot at a new car, your own house or even some job opportunities. Those overdue library books just may hit you where it hurts -- in your credit score.

Our credit score is more than a joke in commercials with guitar-toting pirates singing about "free credit report dot com" while serving sandwiches to tourists in T-shirts. "Your credit score is your 'permanent transcript,' in many ways more important than your GPA," said Peter J. Nigro, Sarksian Chair at Bryant University College of Business. "The information stays on record for seven years and is critically important to all Americans," Nigro said. After all, those three little digits are actually the key to getting some of the things we really want out of life -- like a car loan, a cell phone, an apartment or even a good rate on insurance.

We all know we can hurt our credit score by defaulting on a loan, declaring bankruptcy or not paying our credit card bills. But what about those library books? Here's the scoop, along with some other surprising ways you can sabotage your credit score:

  • Overdue library books. Any type of late payment can result in a hit on your credit score. Though the library itself may not penalize you, overdue notices that go overlooked may result in the fine being sent to a collection agency, which will notify the credit bureaus. If this happens, that old copy of Moby Dick may end up on your credit report for seven years.
  • Closing an account. Paying off an account and closing it is a good thing, right? Not exactly. "Even if you have paid off your credit card, closing the account can harm your credit score," said John Heath, directing attorney at Lexington Law. "Any good credit you may have accumulated with that credit card will be taken out, raising your credit utilization ratio."
  • Ignoring traffic tickets. Ignoring traffic tickets won't make them go away. "In the old days, if you got a traffic ticket in a city you were just passing through, you might get away with ignoring it," Howard Dvorkin, CPA and chairman of debt.com, said. "Not today. The city or county that issued the ticket can submit it to a collections agency or one of the three main credit bureaus. Once that happens, your credit score hits the brakes."
  • Buying a new cell phone plan. Many major carriers check your credit before handing over that new iPhone -- and for every credit check, a hard inquiry is placed on your file that lowers your credit score. The same goes for every credit card you apply for, even if you don't use it (or get it at all!).
  • Never carrying a credit card balance. Surprise! Having nothing at all on an opened credit card may be more harmful to your score than having a high balance. The best strategy for building credit is to make a small purchase each month and carry it into the next cycle.
  • Reneging on a gym membership. If you forget your resolutions by February, you better not sign a contract. Most major gyms report missed payments to the major credit bureaus.
One safe resolution? Vow to monitor your own credit rating at least once a year. You have the right to contact each of the "biggies" (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) annually to request a copy of the report -- and check out what's influencing your score.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Could You Benefit from a Health Savings Account?

Living a healthy life isn’t always easy. The difficulty is that we don’t always see the results that a healthy lifestyle will bring us. We know exercise, vegetables, more rest, and regular check-ups with physicians will improve our quality of life, but do we always take the best care of ourselves?

The good news is many employers are now offering an incentive to keep up with doctors’ appointments and other healthy habits. It is known as a Health Savings Account, or simply a HSA. A HSA can have a positive impact on not just your health, but your wallet too!

In simplest terms, a Health Savings Account is a tax-deductible savings account for medical expenses.* People with high deductible insurance plans are eligible to have funds taken out and deposited into a HSA, which allows them to save pre-tax money and withdraw it tax-free for qualified medical expenses.

Eligible individuals must not be enrolled in Medicare, cannot be claimed on someone else’s tax return and cannot participate in another health plan that’s not a qualifying high deductible plan. Health Savings Accounts can be transferred between different employers, and the funds deposited belong to the individual regardless of where they are employed.

If an employer offers a HSA, it typically works just like a traditional 401(k) where the employee contribution is taken out of his/her paycheck on a pre-tax basis. The employer may also kick in a contribution to the employee’s HSA.

If employees have their own HSA, they claim the contribution as an “above the line” deduction on their tax return. If you are interested in starting a personal Health Savings Account, consider opening one with Community Financial.  Our HSAs have no fees, no minimum balance, and are only $5 to open.

Some of the services and expenses that these funds can be used for are medical and dental appointments, as well as prescription medications. Be sure to check out an HSA expense list to get a better idea of which health expenses apply. You might be surprised at some common-use items that make the list, such as bandages and thermometers.

The bottom line is paying for health care can get expensive. It is important to have a plan to pay for out-of-pocket costs (either from your HSA or from your own pocket) to satisfy the deductible before your insurance coverage kicks in. There is no universal solution for everyone, but the Health Savings Account could prove a beneficial ally in helping to pay for necessary medical expenses.

*Consult tax advisor before opening.
Source: www.irs.gov

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Cut College Costs with Scholarships

Scholarships are the most underutilized source of financial aid for college. Many organizations end up keeping money set aside for scholarships because they don’t receive qualified applicants.
Parents and students should look for scholarships in unusual places because chances are, they’re out there!
 
You’ve probably heard of the Stuck at Prom Duct Tape Scholarship where students design and wear a prom dress or suit out of duct tape. But did you know that there are thousands of other scholarships like this? If you are a student with a creative flair or know someone who is, there are plenty of scholarships that involve designing everything from posters to greeting cards.

If you don’t think you’re the creative type, maybe you’re an expert duck caller? No? Perhaps you are a member of the Michigan Llama Association? You get the idea. Don’t forget to research scholarships based on your hobbies.

Some helpful tips when looking for scholarships are:
  • Apply only to scholarships you are eligible to receive. Read all the scholarship requirements and directions carefully, and make sure that you are eligible before you send in your application.  Your application will not be considered if you are not qualified to apply.
     
  • Customize your application to each scholarship instead of sending a “one size fits all” application. Just like a resume cover letter, the success is in the details you include that speak to the scholarship provider.
     
  • You should never pay for a scholarship search. Utilize free websites such as Fastweb.com and Scholarships.com.
     
  • Don’t stop applying for scholarships once you graduate from high school. There are literally thousands of scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students. Some of these awards are only open to students who are already in college.
The key to getting scholarships for college is to apply, and apply often! Students should spend time at their school’s career center and begin searching for scholarship options in their sophomore year of high school.

Prospective college students should also ask different local organizations if they give out college scholarships. Many organizations and companies give grant money to students looking to major in the same field they serve.  Don’t overlook scholarships offered in your hometown. Odds are you will have a better chance of securing the scholarship if it’s a local organization.

A great example of this is the Community Financial Scholarship Program! We give away thousands of dollars in college scholarship money each year to student members who embody our “People Helping People” philosophy.

Taking the time to do your research could reduce the total amount needed through student loans. Just remember that every amount helps when you are paying for your education!
Community Financial Credit Union, P.O. Box 8050, Plymouth, Michigan 48170-8050;
© Community Financial 2013
Federally insured by NCUA.
Equal Housing Lender
Additional coverage provided by ESI.
Federally insured by NCUA.