Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Rising Interest Rates: What Do They Mean For You?

You’ve probably seen the financial headlines announcing that the Federal Reserve is raising interest rates. These headlines are either accompanied by devastating or optimistic predictions, which can be confusing. What does this news really mean for you?

The prime interest rate is the rate the Federal Reserve charges financial institutions to borrow from it. It influences numerous financial prices, many of which only concern economic enthusiasts. Here are, however, some ways the prime rate hikes can affect you!

1.) Get Out of Your ARM 
Many people opted for adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) when interest rates were historically low. These mortgages offer better rates for an introductory period before they adjust to a new rate, which is partially determined by the Federal Reserve rate.

The Federal Reserve plans to continuously increase interest rates as the economy improves. Consequently, your adjustable rate will likely increase, and your monthly mortgage payment may become unpredictable. Fortunately, you can still refinance your mortgage into a fixed-rate loan and take advantage of still-low rates.

2.) Balance Your Portfolio 
The past six years’ low interest rates have done wonders for the stock market. With the affordable borrowing rates, companies expanded rapidly, directly fueling stock price growth.

As interest rates rise, that credit availability will decrease. Companies will find it harder to expand, their growth will slow and stock prices will decline.

Rising interest rates will also increase bond rates. Their price will rise accordingly, as more investors chase those rates. Speak to a financial adviser to ensure that your portfolio is properly balanced in accordance with changing market conditions.

3.) Save More 
The rising interest rate affects the rates financial institutions offer account holders. When it’s expensive to borrow from other institutions, it’s more profitable for those institutions to “borrow” from their members through certificates and savings accounts. As interest rates rise, it’ll be increasingly more profitable to stow your money in an interest-bearing account.

If you’ve been delaying opening a certificate or increasing the deposits in your share account, consider it now. With a 12- or 23-month certificate, you can capitalize on rising interest rates.

4.) Refinance Your Debt 
The service charges on several kinds of debt, like credit cards and private student loans, are tied to the prime rate and may increase along with it. That’s why you might want to consider refinancing now.

Avoid an increased debt rate by refinancing to a personal loan or a home equity line of credit, which bundles your high-interest debt with your low-interest mortgage. Speak with a debt counselor or other financial professional for other options – the sooner, the better.

The terminology surrounding financial news events is overwhelming. Community Financial can help you make sense of a changing economic landscape.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Reasons to Love Your Credit Union

It’s no secret that at Community Financial we love our members! In that same spirit, we’ve compiled a short list of reasons why you should love your credit union too.

1. Free Checking 
Some banks require a $1,500 balance, or a certain number of monthly transactions to get account maintenance fees waived. You may not need to make a large deposit or keep a lot of money at a credit union in order to avoid fees on checking accounts. In fact, Community Financial offers completely free checking accounts with no restrictions.

2. Better Interest Rates 
Credit unions work for their members. Since their members are also the people paying for their services, they don’t have much of an incentive to charge an arm and a leg in interest and fees. Credit unions also offer competitive rates on savings accounts and CDs. Because they don’t have to pay shareholders, they can return that money to their members.

3. Service 
Credit unions provide easy-to-use services and real, live human beings who can answer questions, make recommendations and help you understand the complicated world of finance.

4. Lending Practices 
Credit unions are community institutions, so helping people out is part of what they do. Their auto and home equity loan rates also tend to be lower than those of corporate banks. They also tend to be more willing to make exceptions for details that may not be reflected in the conventional lending formula.

5. Financial Education 
Credit unions want to make their communities a better place. Part of that mission includes financial education. If you need advice about home-buying, making a budget or using credit responsibly, your credit union will be happy to help. Community Financial offers resources like our Financial Resource Center and Money Matter$ blog to help keep people on track.

Community Financial is also deeply committed to the financial education of children through our award-winning Student-Run Credit Union Program. We now operate 48 student-run credit unions, impacting more than 20,000 elementary, middle, and high school students.

6. Free ATM Network 
Many credit unions belong to the CO-OP network, which provides member institutions with access to nearly 30,000 surcharge-free ATMs. These ATMs are located throughout the U.S. as well as some foreign countries, such as Italy and Japan. If you're a member of a participating credit union, you may be able to use these ATMs at no charge. Find surcharge-free ATMs associated with the CO-OP network using its ATM locator.

7. Ownership 
Credit unions, by definition, are not-for-profit cooperatives. As a member and owner of the credit union, you also have a say in how the credit union is run. In fact, we encourage you to join us at our annual meeting on March 9th, and make your voice heard. And, if you have the time and interest, we’d love to have you consider joining our board of directors. You’d just need to submit a letter and resume, no later than August 4, 2017. When members get involved, our credit union benefits from having new people join the board, to share in advising the smooth running of your credit union.

8. Commitment to the Community 
Credit unions are committed to giving back to the communities they serve. Last year, Community Financial donated over 4,000 hours and $480,000 to local events and organizations. The more members a credit union has, the more value it can provide to its membership as a whole. As a credit union grows, it can offer better services at more competitive rates and with fewer or lower fees. That’s the power of community support.

If you are already a credit union member, thank you for being a part of the credit union movement and sharing the love with us!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Romance on a Budget: How to Woo For Less

Spring may be far away, but love is still in the air. It’s almost Valentine’s Day, and that means it’s time to start planning something special for that special someone in your life. How can you show someone you care without breaking the bank? Here are five low-cost romantic date ideas you can use to show your sweetheart (and your wallet) a great time!

1) A Home-Cooked Meal 
Food is love. It’s one of the most traditional ways to show you care. Paying restaurant prices for it, though, can add up fast. A typical meal out costs an average of $13 per person, excluding tip and drinks. Worse yet, getting a table at a popular spot may be a non-starter!

Instead, try making a meal yourself. For added fun, try cooking together! The meal will taste better with the knowledge that you made it yourself, and you’ll save the time and expense of going out to a restaurant.

2) Ice Skating 
Put that cold weather to good use and try ice skating! It’s a chance to be close together, hold hands, and it comes with a wonderful cup of cocoa at the end! Best of all, costs are low, so it’s a bargain-priced way to build memories. You’ll form lasting memories from the bumps and scrapes of falling down, and picking each other back up again will bring you closer than ever.

3) Picnic a Meal 
Somewhere between dinner at a restaurant and home cooking lies a pre-packed meal you can take with you to a special spot. Scope out a nice place with a view and pack up light fare: sandwiches, cheese and crackers, fresh fruit. Pack up your blanket and your basket and grab your sweetheart. With proper planning and an adventurous spirit, a snow picnic can be easily executed and every bit of fun, if not more, than a summer picnic!

4) Discount Theater 
Movies have always been a traditional date night trope, but a new release at the theater can cost a pretty penny! If you look, you can almost always find a nearby theater playing slightly older movies for dirt cheap prices. You can get the whole theater experience, down to the shared bucket of popcorn, and see a good movie you’ve both been waiting to see!

5) Learn Something New 
Find a new skill or activity you want to find out about and take a class together. Many local community colleges offer cooking, dancing and other romantic activities, but learning to play a sport or a fitness class could be a great fit, too. Whatever you choose, be sure it’s something just outside both of your comfort zones! Nothing builds relationships like shared experiences.

Your Turn: What’s your go-to for dates on a budget? Share your best ideas with us in the comments below!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Put Your Trust in a Trust Account

No one wants to think about estate planning. Like it or not, though, you’ll need to make a plan for what happens to your estate when the end comes. It’ll be a tough enough time on your family without adding the hassle of probate court, inheritance laws and asset management. You owe it to the people you love to do some estate planning while you can.

One way to establish a plan for your estate is through a will, which is a contract between you and your heirs that is enforced by the state. There can be some issues associated with wills though, including: going through probate court, cost, and the fact they can be challenged in court.

By contrast, a trust is a private contract that is living, revocable and accessible to you until you die. Then, your designated trustee is responsible for carrying out your wishes, which you articulate in a trust contract. This person is usually the representative of an institution.

Trusts have important tax, governmental assistance, probate, and personal ramifications, so an experienced estate planning attorney should be consulted at all stages of the process -- from preliminary discussions to execution of trust documents.

Here are four benefits a trust account has over a will.

1.) Privacy 
The probate process makes wills into public documents that anyone can look into. This includes the size of the estate and who got what. A trust, however, is a private document that never sees a courtroom. Only the trustee and people you designate can see a copy of the trust contract, preventing quibbling over who got what.

2.) Tax treatment 
There are several ways trust accounts lower individual and estate taxes. For example, they don’t include your life insurance benefits in your estate, which could easily push your estate over the threshold for federal income tax.

3.) Greater control 
A will is one document specifying a single action: one disbursement of assets to a collection of heirs. If some heirs are not financially responsible, this can be problematic. In contrast, a trust allows you to pay out inheritances in smaller payments and condition them on specified milestones, like a grandchild’s college graduation.

4.) Ease of use 
A trust doesn’t need witnesses, never has to be brought to court and can’t be challenged. It lets you pass your assets to heirs in the ways you think most appropriate without complicated legal maneuvering.

While it may not be for everyone, you owe it to yourself and your heirs to look at every option for estate planning. Leave your final days free for remembrance, not mountains of paperwork. A trust account may be a way to help you achieve that.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Fitness for Your Body and Wallet: Shedding Pounds without a Gym Membership

Did you know that 37% of Americans resolved to lose weight, and 32% resolved to stay fit in the New Year? The weight loss industry definitely knows and ramps up its marketing this time of year!

What these advertisements omit is that gym memberships are still expensive, averaging $58 per month. And that’s without counting any miscellaneous upfront charges. If you want to get fit without spending a ton, here are some budget- and body-friendly ideas to help you have a healthier 2017!

1.) Diet 
It doesn’t matter how much you exercise if you aren’t eating well. You won’t lose weight and you’ll still suffer the effects of a poor diet, like low energy and hypertension.

Nutritionists say that weight loss is 75% diet and 25% exercise. The biggest factor in losing weight is your basal metabolic rate (BMR), how much energy your body burns each day. For most people, this is approximately 2,000 calories. Running a mile burns 100 calories, or 5% of your BMR. Worse yet, exercise can have a paradoxical effect with a bad diet. After a vigorous workout, you’re more likely to snack, thinking you’ve “earned” a reward after a run.

Use a calorie-tracking app like Myfitnesspal to get a sense of where your calories are going. You can save a lot with some easy cuts!

2.) Body weight exercise 
One major draw of a gym is access to strength-training equipment. It’s true that cardio alone won’t help as much as strength training. It’s not true, though, that you need expensive machines for it!

Three simple exercises can help tone and reshape your body. Planks work your core, arms and shoulders. Squats work your glutes and legs. Toe raises work your calves. You can find tutorials for these and countless variations online. Pick a routine and stick with it!

You can also try yoga. There are tutorials online for strength-building yoga you can do at home at your own pace. Lots of yoga poses work on muscle building and flexibility, toning your body, and ensuring your weight loss focuses on fat, not muscle.

3.) Make your own groups 
Group classes in gyms force accountability and can make the exercise seem less taxing. Get these benefits outside the gym! If you have friends interested in fitness, start building fitness activities, like bike riding or running, into your regular social time.

If you’re on your own, use sites like Meetup to find exercise groups that work at your skill level. If you’re completely new, now’s a great time, as there will be lots of people also starting a new fitness journey. To take your fitness to the next level, join an advanced group. Get fit and make new friends without spending a penny!

Your Turn: How are you going to meet your fitness goals in 2017? Share your best tips on how to beat the gym and get fit with us in the comments!
Community Financial Credit Union, P.O. Box 8050, Plymouth, Michigan 48170-8050;
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