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Money Matters Blog

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Post a #PicturePerfectMI Picture on Instagram for a Chance to Win $50

 @bluebirdphotos was one of the
2014 #PicturePerfectMI winners!
Fall is one of our favorite seasons here at Community Financial. We love the changing colors of the leaves, crisp cool air, pumpkins, hayrides and of course, warm apple cider with donuts! Nothing quite compares to the picturesque scenery of a Michigan fall. If you love this great state as much as we do, join us in celebrating #PicturePerfectMI!

From October 1-31, you are invited to post your own original photos from all around the mitten state on Make sure to use #PicturePerfectMI and tag us on Instagram @CommunityFinancial to give us permission to share your photo. Each week, the person who submits the best photo will receive a $50 VISA© gift card!

We’re inviting all members and non-members to celebrate the beauty of Michigan by sharing their photos with us. We’d love to see your photos of our great lakes, road trips up north, giant colorful trees, football game excitement, cider mill fun and more. This is the perfect way to celebrate the season and our beautiful state.

Your Michigan memory could add $50 to your wallet! Find out all you need to know by visiting Happy fall and we’ll see you on Instagram!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Celebrating Fall in Michigan

When it comes to celebrating the fall season, no state does it better than Michigan. Between changing leaves, football games and cider mill visits, now is the perfect time to experience the beauty our great Mitten state has to offer. Plus, your next fall excursion gives you the perfect opportunity to take some pictures to submit in our #PicturePerfectMI Instagram campaign! Stay tuned for more details on how you can participate and possibly win a $50 gift card in October.
In the meantime, here are a few fall excursion ideas for you to complete before the cold weather sets in!

Create a Fall Color Tour
Many people who have moved away from Michigan say that one of the things they miss most is the changing colors in the fall. Visit the Fall Color Blog or for the dates and locations the colors are predicted to appear, and create your own Fall Color Tour!

Explore Waterfalls
Michigan, especially the Upper Peninsula, is known for its many magnificent waterfalls. If you find yourself venturing north, be sure to check out Great Lakes Waterfalls & Beyond for lists, maps and photographs of waterfalls surrounding the Great Lakes. Still need inspiration to make the trip? Check out 5 of Michigan’s Most Enchanting Waterfalls.

Go For A Brew
According to a recent article, the number of breweries in Michigan has more than doubled since 2010 with more than 200 operating breweries in this state.  Brewery tours are the perfect way to try an amazing selection of Michigan craft beers right in the microbreweries that brew them. Whether your favorite is Bellaire Brown, Mad Hatter, or Huma Lupa Licious, you’ll learn how each one is made and what makes them unique. Visit for a complete list of available brewery tours.

Visit a Cider Mill
Usually only open during the fall months, cider mills serve fresh cider, donuts and other goodies that just seem to fit with a crisp fall day. Most Michiganders have at least one fond memory of visiting a cider mill, and many will passionately defend which one is the best! Visit one of the Historic Pure Michigan Cider Mills for an iconic taste of fall.

Whatever you do this fall, it won’t take long for you to see and experience why our state is anything but common. Between mild temperatures and beautiful scenery, a Michigan fall is hard to beat.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Housing 101: When to Buy

Unless you live in a cave you've surely heard the advertisements about the "historically low interest rates" for buying a house. And that's mostly true -- rates are quite low after the 2008 housing shenanigans. But, does that necessarily mean it's a good time to buy a house for you? There are a lot of financial factors that first-time homebuyers often forget, or were never aware of to begin with. Renting often makes financial sense, despite the higher monthly payment. So, when is it time to consider buying a house?

First, ascertain if you can even buy a house. A credit score of 660 or above can usually get a fair loan, provided you have a solid job history -- meaning you've had a stable, well-paying job for at least a year or two. Lenders also like to see a debt-to-income ratio (DTI) of around 36 percent (including the mortgage) with the mortgage taking up about 28 percent of your total income. This is somewhat flexible, but if you're in the 45 percent or more range, it's probably better to eliminate some debt first and raise your credit score in the process.

If you meet these criteria, there's still more to consider. Can you afford a down payment of ten percent? If you can't, there are programs out there that allow you to purchase a house without a down payment, provided you meet the credit criteria, but it's always best to make a down payment, as you'll pay thousands less down the road. If you don't have at least ten percent down in savings, the chances are you are not ready to buy a house -- even if you can qualify. Being able to buy a house and being financially responsible or financially sound enough to buy a house are not synonymous. Be honest with yourself here -- no one will reap the benefits or pay the price but you.

In addition to the down payment, maintenance costs can be significantly higher. Many older houses have quirks and damage that you may not notice until after it's yours -- even with a thorough inspection. If your air conditioning goes out, can you afford a $300 service call and still make your mortgage and car payments? If your hot water heater tanks (pun intended) can you swing $400 for a new one? Once you move in, you'll likely want to paint, maybe put some carpet in and buy a lawn chair or two. These obviously aren't free, and it's best practice to double what you think you'll spend on these. Most houses won't come with appliances, but most apartments and duplexes do -- so if you're a first time homeowner, it's not uncommon to spend several thousand on a refrigerator, washer and dryer -- and putting this on credit is a huge financial mistake.

Buying a house has a ton of benefits -- you can change it to what suits you and build equity in something valuable and keep it years after it's paid off. But before you buy, be sure that it makes smart financial sense. If not, calling a landlord to repair the heater is much more preferable than living without heat until you can afford a service call.

Photo by Nan Palmero via cc.

By Mark Bayley Copyright 2015 brass Media, Inc.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Tips for Saving Money While Away at College

For many students, the beginning of a new school year is a great time to develop good habits regarding studying, exercising and socializing. Yet what about developing good money habits? Students might think that because they aren’t making money (or are making very little) that there really aren’t many ways to save while attending college. We’ve compiled a short list of ways to save while away at school.

  1. Rent Your Textbooks or Buy Them Used:
    Buying textbooks from your campus bookstore can get very expensive, but there are ways to get around these costs. Try renting your books or buying them used. With renting, the prices are normally discounted making them a lot cheaper than buying them outright. Once you’re done using them, you can turn them back in. Sites like let you rent textbooks and provide free returns so you won’t need to worry about shipping and handling costs.

    Buying used textbooks is also a great option. The price on used textbooks will be significantly lower and the books can still be in great condition. Check your campus or surrounding cities for a used bookstore or consider finding used books on sites like Once you are done with your used textbooks, you can sell them back to the school or sell them online. This is a great way to make additional money at the end of the semester.
  2. Coupons and Student Discounts:
    Coupons are a great way to shop smart and save money. You can print them online, cut them out from a newspaper or even snag a coupon book on campus. For more deals and savings, consider signing up for grocery or drugstore loyalty rewards programs. These programs usually offer member-only exclusive deals and savings for your favorite products. You should also ask retailers if they offer student discounts. You’d be surprised at how many places do. You can receive discounts at places like movie theaters, restaurants, online retailers, transportation companies and much more!

    Stick to a Food Budget: 
  3. Meals are one of the biggest offenders when it comes to putting a dent in your college finances, so make a weekly food budget to save money. You could consider buying groceries and snacks in bulk with your roommates and splitting the cost with them. If you have a campus meal plan, make sure you are using it so you can cut down on unnecessary restaurant spending. Try to eliminate daily specialty coffee drinks, smoothies and other treats. A regular habit of buying these treats will add up fast. Why not pick up a cheap coffee maker or a blender instead, and make your own specialty drinks in your dorm room?
  4. Sign Up for a Student Checking Account:
    The college years are a great time to learn about and establish effective banking and budgeting habits. Opening a checking account will help you get a clear understanding of how much money you have and where your money is going on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.

    Community Financial offers FREE Student Checking Accounts to make your life easier. We’ve got you covered with free ATM transactions, no maintenance fees and no minimum balance requirements. Plus we offer free mobile banking so that you can access your money from any location at any time. The best part is you can open an account online right from your dorm room! 

Remember that small expenses can really add up over time, and you might be surprised at what a little sacrifice and saving in college can do for your bank account in the long run!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Investing Made Easy: There’s an App for That

Investing can seem like a complicated and mysterious beast. How are we supposed to make sense of all of the jibber-jabbery jargon and numbers? Company-matching 401ks, Roth IRAs maxed out at $5,500 annually, $3,000 minimum investments, $8.95 fees for every trade, any time you trade and many more mind-boggling figures.

Prices like that make investing intimidating to anyone remotely interested in putting their money to work. Fortunately, three companies are taking advantage of new technologies by releasing apps and services that make investing a lot friendlier to people with a bit of pocket change, enabling us all to do something a little different it than letting our money gather lint in our sock drawers.

Just how much easier are these companies making it? Of the following three listed below, the highest minimum balance required is only $250. As far as introducing us to investing, one app is completely passive, meaning you don't need to do anything but set it and forget it. Another asks that you know a little bit about the company you want to invest in, and the last is variable - you can do as much or as little research as you like. No time needed, to as much time as you want. Prices range from (almost) free to $250. Sounds good, right?

Today's Top Three Investing Apps 

Acorns (no minimum $ needed): Acorns is an app that rolls over the change from any purchases you make into an investing account. Say you buy a used book that's $4.85; $.15 gets rolled up, and every time your rollups add up to $5, an investment is made in a diversified portfolio, meaning a combination of stocks, bonds and short-term investments. You can pick between several different assortments, depending on how long you'd like to invest for, and how much risk you'll tolerate. Acorns will then make projections for your portfolio with best and worst case scenarios over a span of time. Though there are small fees and they are higher proportionately than they would be for large investment firms. Acorns allow you access to investing in great funds that no other company does.

Robinhood (minimum $ needed: the cost of a single share of stock): Their motto: “Stop paying up to $10 for every trade.” That means if you only want to buy a share of a company worth $10, you don’t have to pay an additional fee on top of that, thus simplifying the math and the process of buying stocks. What's more, the company is open about how they make money and about how technology makes their non-existent trading fees possible. They also have no minimum deposit, which when compared to the $500 minimum for both E*Trade and Scottrade, and $1000 for Schwab, it makes Robinhood a great beginner's option into the world of stock trading.

Motif Investing (minimum $ needed: $250): Motif is a way of packaging up to 30 companies together, called a concept, and you only get charged $9.95 for the entire transaction instead of the 30 trading fees you would be charged at other brokerages. Concepts can be trends (like tablets, wearable tech, and healthcare), a trading strategy (buying when stocks take a dip) or a retirement focus with an accompanying timeline. This allows you to invest in what you know, whether that is a certain industry, a place in the world or companies that are socially responsible. Motifs is both professionally built and generated by the community, so they all come with extensive history, user ratings and feedback.

These apps are a great, low-risk place to start for those interested in dipping their toes into the (not so scary) investing tide pool.

Photo by Pictures of Money via cc.
 By Alex Jeffries Copyright 2015 brass Media, Inc.